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The Pale Web: Book III(2)

Count Vashra

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#1
A redraft of the third Pale Web story. This time, after a narrow escape from the Living Shadow, Niklaus, Lucinia and Annabella go to Bretonnia to stop a Necrarch planning a very deadly experiment.

Chapter One

Morning was coming. It was time for Lucinia and Annabella to enter their coffins and go to sleep.

“Good morning, Annabella,” Lucinia said, smiling at her adopted mother.

“Good morning, Lucinia,” Annabella said. She held her adopted daughter briefly, her Lahmian aura filling Lucinia with magic-induced happiness. That it was an illusion didn’t matter to Lucinia. She practically adored Annabella, and Annabella loved her. They were not related, but Lucinia’s now-deceased Blood Dragon sire had asked Annabella to care for her, and a bond as strong as that between an actual sire and get had developed.

Feeling excellent, Lucinia lay down in her coffin, shut the lid, and fell asleep. Annabella did the same.

The moment she closed her eyes, the blonde Lahmian found herself sitting on a throne. Not just any throne, but the throne of Neferata, her Queen and sire, who had turned her over 850 years ago at the age of 34 as a reward for her intelligence and acrobatic performance. Annabella then realised she was not wearing her usual sleeveless black, but the clothes of Nehekharan royalty, and a crown. Her black eyes widened and her mouth opened in horror as she leapt off the throne, fearing her Queen might arrive at that very moment and kill or torture her, or both and in that order,

Why are you afraid in your own palace, Queen Annabella? a voice asked in her head. She froze. A black cloak resolved before her, holding a black staff. Well, the staff seemed attached to the cloak. Or maybe it was just floating close by. Either way, it was creepy. You are Queen of the Silver Mountain, of the Lahmians.

“I’m not. Neferata is,” Annabella responded, confused.

For now. But do you wish you were Queen? the voice asked.

Annabella expected to give a quick “No,” but surprised herself by hesitating before saying it. Maybe she did want to be Queen. But she would never rebel against her sire!

Why not? Mannfred let the humans steal his sire’s Ring. Necrarchs kill their sires all the time.

“Who are you?” Annabella demanded.

Do you not recognise me? Did your daughter not tell you who stalks her dreams?

Annabella swallowed. This was the Dreamer, the 10th and secret Dreadlord of Nagash who had manipulated Lucinia! As she made this realisation, she saw a skeleton inside the cloak for the briefest second. “Go away! I want no part of your schemes! I am a loyal child of the Queen!” she screamed, sending a fireball at the Dreamer. The fireball simply vanished shortly after leaving her hand.

You cannot harm me in a dream. And if you refuse this time, I will ask again.

Annabella woke, blinking. She did not sleep after that.

When night came, Lucinia turned to see Annabella’s coffin still closed, which was unusual, as she normally woke before Lucinia. She opened her mother’s coffin, smiling. “Good night, Annabella.”

Annabella raised herself up and exited her coffin. “Good night, Lucinia.” She smiled, and looked as perfect as ever, and Lucinia felt warmed by her aura, but knew her mother well enough to see there was something wrong in her eyes.

“Annabella. Your eyes…something seems wrong,” Lucinia said.

‘”ust a bad dream, my daughter,” Annabella responded, not yet wanting to reveal her first encounter with the nightmarish Dreadlord.

Lucinia had had her share of ‘bad dreams,’ and hoped that this had just been a regular bad dream. She nodded.

“Do you want to feed tonight?” Annabella asked.

Lucinia shook her head. ‘No, thank you. I’m fine.’

“Good.” Annabella turned to the ladder that led to a trapdoor in the house’s bedroom, where a regular double bed was kept to help keep the house looking normal. Lucinia had tried sleeping on it, but could not find much comfort. She could sleep if necessary, but felt wrong and much preferred the ground – not holy ground, of course – or a coffin. Annabella had similar tendencies.

In the house, they saw an Undead bird hovering. Annabella took the message from its claws with her deceptively delicate fingers and read it.

Annabella and Lucinia

Your work over the past 50 years has impressed me. I know the quality I expect and receive from you, Annabella, but Lucinia, you have proven your place in the Sisterhood. For this reason, I am assigning you a very dangerous task. I am aware of your lack of years, Lucinia, but this has proven no obstacle to you in the past, and should continue to. There is a Necrarch in a secluded part of Bretonnia, He has captured a Strigoi, and a von Carstein. I have no idea why, though I suspect he is planning an experiment with Vampiric blood. Finding this out is your task

The Queen of the Silver Pinnacle

Annabella shredded the letter, happy to receive a new mission.
 
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Count Vashra

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#3
Glad you like it! And then of course there's the underlying Dreamer manipulation storyline. I'll have the next chapter up soon.
 

Count Vashra

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#5
Chapter Two

Lucinia was excited to receive such praise from Neferata, and to be sent on such a dangerous mission. She put her red armour on. It was a mix of plate and chain designed to mix protection and agility, though she wore no helmet. Lucinia had a certain liking for her hair as it was, and a helmet might well require cutting it, and she knew hair did not grow back. She sheathed her sword, and returned to Annabella, who was patiently waiting for her.

“I assume that by now you know what a Necrarch is?” she asked.

“Yes. They are brilliant and magically powerful, but relatively weak and usually insane. Also their skin sloughs off at a high rate.” Mentioning this made Lucinia shiver.

Annabeella smiled. “Correct, Lucinia. They also love experimenting.”

“What kind of experiments?”

“You really don’t want to know.”

Lucinia swallowed. Suddenly she was rather less excited to have been selected for this mission.

“But we shall stop him before he can carry out whatever experiment he plans with these,” Annabella determined.

“Do we have to rescue the Strigoi?” Lucinia asked. She knew they were devolved, monstrous beasts, barely human anymore.

Annabella shrugged. “We’ve been sent to stop the Necrarch, not rescue the captives.”

“Good. Shall we depart, Annabella?” Some magic made Lucinia taste sweetness on her tongue when she spoke her mother’s name.

‘We shall, Lucinia.’

Their departure did not go unnoticed. A cloaked figure hid in the darkness across the street. He observed the Vampiresses as they left their house, careful to stay out of their line of sight, as darkness was no barrier to a night hunter’s eyes. He followed them. The shorter one was wearing armour and a sword, suggesting they were going on a dangerous mission. For now, he only observed. He was not to report until the targets had moved to a less densely populated part of town. There was no change in the behaviour of the targets, hopefully a sign he had not been discovered. But he had been spying for long enough to know that sometimes targets who knew they were being spied on pretended they didn’t.

Lucinia and Annabella came upon a bridge they would need to cross to continue their journey. Normally, this would be no problem, but Lucinia couldn’t shake the feeling they were being followed. She just felt eyes gazing at her and her mother. Nothing had happened yet, however, so she crossed the bridge.

Annabella crossed the bridge after her and had just reached the other side when the darkness began to move. She stopped. This shouldn’t be happening. She sensed Shadowmancy. Before she could gather her suspicions in her mind, a human shape resolved from the moving darkness. She recognised the tall, pale Vampire immediately.

“Niklaus!”

“Hello, Annabella.” The Master of Shadows smiled as he held a shadow sword to Lucinia’s neck. “I should have killed her 50 years ago. Now, her debt to me is cleared, and I can.” Darkness surrounded both, and when it was gone, they had vanished.

“Lucinia!” Annabella shouted into the night. She was gone. But Annabella knew that she had likely been taken to Niklaus’ house, and she could easily follow the trace of magic that his Shadow-merging left.

Lucinia blinked in panic when she became solid again. She was pinned to a wall by strong hands, and a group of cloaked men – mortals, not Vampires – began chaining her limbs with silver. There was a bowl of blood on a table in front of her, just out of reach. Her sword had fallen to the ground. When she was securely bound, Niklaus stepped back.

The silver chains hurt her badly, and she desperately tried not to scream. She knew that if she survived this torture she would be scarred for weeks. Or maybe forever, as in the case of a silver sword cut on her neck that had never healed, the only imperfection on her otherwise beautiful body, usually hidden by her clothes or armour.

“As I said to your mother, I should have killed you 50 years ago. And so I shall keep you chained for 50 years, with just enough blood to survive until I decide how to kill you,” Niklaus said, smiling.

Lucinia bared her fangs and hissed. “When Annabella-“

“She won’t find me. How could she?”

Lucinia didn’t know. She stared at the bowl of blood hungrily.

Niklaus laughed, adding to the torture. “You will feed when I decide, and not a moment sooner.”
 
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Count Vashra

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#6
The Necrarch V'raztra is named in honour of Get of W'soran's Necrarch V'azrin, and with Get's permission. Lokeron's personality and place of origin should give sufficient clues as to the derivation of his name.

Chapter Three

The Necrarch V’raztra’s tower, Bretonnia

V’raztra dragged the screaming mortals by their necks. “Silence, fools! This way, your life will have some purpose: serving me!” The Necrarch was walking through the dungeons of his tower, where, amongst others, two very special prisoners were held, both requiring powerful wards to keep them in their cells. He approached the first cell with a feeling that might have been approaching fear. For this contained a Strigoi, a monster he had barely managed to trap the first time, and doubted he could stop if it somehow escaped its prison without warning. When the creature came into view, V’raztra was reminded of why he both hated and almost feared the Strigoi. It was huge, easily twice if not more the height of a man, and mostly animal yet sickeningly, still vaguely humanoid. Its claws were each larger than his hands, its fangs three times the size of his. His feelings of the Strigoi constantly flickered between disdain at the foolishness of their Master, Ushoran, having been fool enough to wear the Dark Lord’s Crown, confusion at why the Strigoi had been looked down upon, their pleadings for hospitality ignored by the other bloodlines, and gratefulness at such animals to experiment upon. The third feeling was strongest right now.

V’raztra hissed the deactivation spell for the wards sealing the Strigoi’s cell, threw a mortal in, and reactivated the wards. The hurried on before the Strigoi began its meal. He could still hear, however, the sickening crunch of bone. Feeling a shudder pass through his withered body, the Necrarch arrived at the cell containing the second special prisoner. While the Strigoi would likely rip him apart if it escaped, this prisoner would take its time to kill him in very imaginative and painful ways. He was Necrarch yes; the most magically powerful of the bloodlines, but there was no point in taking risks. He could see with his Aethyr-sight the magic power radiating off the prisoner. This one was dangerous. V’raztra deactivated the ward, hurled the second mortal into the cell, and quickly reactivated the ward. The prisoner caught the mortal, and bit into his neck, seeming to relish the fresh blood. When he was finished, he threw the carcass to the back of the cell.

“I suppose it would be too much to hope you have realised your mistake and decided to release me,” the prisoner said.

“It would be. I will never release you. Or that…thing.” He glared when the prisoner laughed at his discomfort at speaking the word.

“Please release it, V’raztra. I need some entertainment.” This use of his name grated on him even more. He should never have revealed his name.

The prisoner was von Carstein, as V’raztra had correctly deduced from his arrogance and noble appearance, with that well-built face, blue eyes and blond hair, and the tone of voice. He thought he could sense the beginnings of an Aura of Dark Majesty. It rankled that the gets of Vlad were arrogant enough to project it as a radius of power, demanding all kneel before them. The von Carstein wore fine blue clothes, because V’raztra had not been willing to give any conceivable opportunity for escape a change of clothes might provide. What opportunity he had no idea, but he was sure if one existed, this prisoner would find it.

“You are not here for entertainment, scum!” V’raztra would not please the prisoner by using his name, Lokeron. The prisoner claimed to be from the Chaotic North, a Tzeentchian acolyte before participating in an invasion of Sylvania. Supposedly a von Carstein had destroyed the Chaos army, but had been impressed by Lokeron’s cunning, and, as he was not yet marked enough to be unable to be sired, had offered the Blood Kiss, With no option, and more than a little willingness, Lokeron had accepted, and taken well to his new life. V’raztra had sent an army to capture him, seeing his potential, and other a long, hard battle that had resulted in the loss of many of his precious experiments, and the deaths of most if not all of Lokeron’s gets, captured the northern Vampire. Since then, he had kept Lokeron under tight watch, knowing the Tzeentchian’s capability.

“What a shame. I could do with watching that monster destroy a few things,” Lokeron said, sounding disappointed. V’raztra was unsure if he was faking his tone.

“It will not escape. Neither will you.” V’raztra’s mouth curled into a twisted smile. “In fact, your capture may have provided some extra benefit for me. My agents have informed me of a relationship between you and a female Blood Dragon. Or, at least, her employer.”

Lokeron shrugged. “And how is that relevant?”

“The Blood Dragon appears to have a tenuous link to the Sisterhood and that female Blood Dragon who recently joined their ranks.” It had been half a century ago, but V’raztra was very old, and time seemed to pass quickly. “That Vampiress in particular is fiercely loyal to her friends, and friends of friends, as is her adoptive sire. You’re clever enough to work out the rest.”

“I wouldn’t annoy the Sisterhood, if I were you,” Lokeron said, almost scolding. “They have vast resources.”

“Don’t lecture me, scum,” the Necrarch said irritably. “I know what they can do. The Blood Dragon and her adoptive sire will be mine.” V’raztra wondered for a second whether it was a good idea to have a Strigoi and three intelligent Vampires in his tower, then dismissed the worry. The Necrarchs were the superior bloodline. He could handle whatever they could do.

“That confident, are you? They did outwit that assassin the Dreadlord sent after them.” The thing V’raztra hated most about Lokeron was his eternal, unchanging, annoying smile, as if he was superior. Von Carsteins always believed themselves to be superior. V’raztra hated it.

“He was a fool to go alone with a 2nd generation Lahmian. I will not make that mistake.” Suddenly asking himself why he was talking to Lokeron, the Necrarch walked away, leaving the prisoner alone in his empty cell.
 
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Count Vashra

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#7
Chapter Four

As she followed Niklaus’ magic trace, Annabella mentally chastised herself. How hadn’t she killed him earlier? She certainly had the power to. And how hadn’t she found him? Because she assumed he’d moved, and had never bothered looking? It wasn’t a very good answer, no it was a terrible answer, and she knew it. She will kill Niklaus when she found him. Burn him to dust.

Niklaus knew that Annabella would look for him, and despite what he had told Lucinia suspected that the extra motivation of rescuing her daughter would be very useful in helping Annabella find a way to locate him. He could hide in darkness when she arrived, but that would be letting his captive go without a fight and she might be able to stop his magic, forcing him into corporeal form. He needed to escape with Lucinia, would need to when Annabella found him. He doubted being her grandson would mean anything after all he had done.

He called his seconds, the master of assassins known as the Shadowed Blade, and the master of spies known as the Hooded One.

“I just captured Lucinia, the Vampiress I have been hunting for 50 years. Her sire” - no need to mention the adoption – “may soon arrive to rescue her, and this place will not survive. I would advise both of you to escape, and take any agents around here with you. Go.”

The seconds bowed and left. Niklaus walked back to where Lucinia was held. She roared at him, sounding furious. He could see her wrists and ankles were burning from the silver. “You’ve been a brave lady. I must respect that.”

“I don’t want your respect!” she snapped.

“I know. I was just stating fact.” Niklaus picked up the bowl of blood and took a sip. “You do know, Lucinia, only fresh blood provides sustenance? Even Strigoi only drink 2 month old blood. You can’t drink old, stale blood for refreshment. But you must know that. And I gather you are not at all satisfied by your current accommodation. I have a better place.” He smiled, and shadows stretched out to embrace the helpless Blood Dragoness.

Lucinia’s eyes widened in panic; where was Niklaus taking her? It couldn’t be good, that was certain. She had never used much magic beyond enhancing her natural regeneration, but now had to make a decision: Was her honour worth being taken somewhere Annabella couldn’t find her? She was hardly a walking honour code, so it wasn’t like bending it was new. She felt the tendrils wrap around her. That was enough. Honour or not, she would not be taken. The Blood Dragoness focused all her effort into resisting Niklaus’ magic, staying corporeal, and even focusing on the pain of the silver chains.

“You are resisting?” Niklaus asked, surprised.

‘I am,’ Lucinia said through gritted teeth and bared fangs. Her humanity had completely vanished from her face.

“A surprise, but not-“

He was interrupted by an enraged shout from the doorway. “Niklaus! Leave my daughter alone!”

Surprised, Niklaus stopped his attempted Shadow-merge. “How did you find me, Annabella?”

“Your magic trace, and, whatever else, you are my grandget,” Annabella explained. Her fangs were bared and the heat rose in the room, but she did not lose her mask of humanity, except that her eyes glowed. “Now let her go.”

‘I’ll take her somewhere beyond your reach,’ Niklaus said, trying again to Shadow-merge Lucinia. Annabella gestured, and a stream of flame went towards the Shadowmancer. He immediately turned to shadow, allowing the flames to pass harmlessly but disrupting his attempt on Lucinia. He knew he did not have the power to defeat Annabella, and so, still in shadow form, attempted to Shadow-merge Lucinia. Annabella easily stopped his magic, causing him to reform.

Annabella ran to Lucinia and with a flaming sword cut her chains. The Blood Dragoness dropped to the floor with a relieved gasp and grabbed for her sword. But Niklaus, Lahmian as he was, grabbed it and pressed it into her throat before she could respond.

“Now, let me take her, or she will die,” he promised, fangs bared.

Lucinia looked at Annabella. Her mother smiled. “In the time it would take for you to drive that sword through her neck, you would be burned to death. And I doubt your life is worth the death of one enemy.”

‘You are correct. But in the time it for you to kill me, I would kill her,’ Niklaus said, smiling horribly.

Lucinia worked out what was going on. Annabella and Niklaus were trying to call each other’s bluff. Perhaps selfishly, Lucinia thought that the fact Annabella hadn’t acted yet meant she wasn’t willing to risk her, which proved that Annabella did care about her. Not that she should have needed proof, but all the same…

“Look at me, Niklaus,” Annabella said. “Are you so rude as not to look at who you are speaking to?’

Niklaus turned his gaze. “I am not-“ Too late, he remembered why he hadn’t been looking.

“Let her go,” Annabella ordered using hypnotism. “And give her back her sword.” Completely enthralled, Niklaus gave Lucinia her sword back, and pushed her towards Annabella.

Lucinia sheathed her fangs and her face resumed its humanity as she ran towards Annabella and hugged her. The Lahmian wrapped one arm around her daughter, and then released Niklaus from her hypnosis. When he saw what she had made him do, he cursed, causing Annabella to smile. Knowing there was nothing he could do, he Shadow-merged. Annabella let him escape.

“You should have killed him,” Lucinia said, almost angrily. “Look what he did to me!” She showed Annabella her scarred hands and then pointed at her ankles.

Annabella cast a quick Invocation of Nehek, and then said, “I could have, but I think humiliation is the best punishment for him. I’m not a murderer, and I haven’t heard of many Vampires he’s-“

“He killed Father!” Lucinia shouted, eyes blazing as she recalled the death of her father to assassins in the predawn light.

“I know.” Annabella’s voice hardened. “Next time, I will kill him.”

“Please,” Lucinia said.

As they left, Annabella let magic fire drop to the ground, burning away Niklaus’ base of operations, and his house.

“Now, shall we investigate this Necrarch?”

Lucinia smiled. “Yes, Annabella.”
 
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Count Vashra

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#8
Chapter Five

Annabella and Lucinia had made good progress, and were across to the western side of the Empire. They had found a house to sleep in when the sun came, and were currently sitting on the bed, talking.

“Annabella, you do realise I used magic to resist Niklaus?” Lucinia said.

“I do,” Annabella asked. “What of it?”

“I…I promised I wouldn’t use magic beyond healing. I feel like I have been dishonourable,” Lucinia admitted, sounding worried.

Annabella smiled comfortingly, and Lucinia felt her aura. “You had to. Otherwise he would have taken you far away, and made sure I couldn’t follow. There is nothing dishonourable in protecting yourself.”

“But I used magic,” the Blood Dragoness insisted.

“Oh, don’t be so hard on yourself, Lucinia. Resisting magic is not dishonourable. In fact, I think you are retaining your honour quite well, given your adopted bloodline,” the Lahmian said proudly. ‘A lesser Vampire would have broken their honour by now.’

Lucinia smiled, feeling reassured. “Thank you, Annabella.”

“Now, it is time for us to sleep. I expect you to be sure of yourself by evening.”

Lucinia laughed, and lay down on the floor. Annabella lay down beside her.

Annabella dreamed again. This time, she was outside a large tower, which she sensed powerful dark magic radiating from. The cloak and staff of the Dreamer were beside her.

This is the tower of V’raztra, the Necrarch you are being sent to investigate. Or stop. He is quite mad, as all Necrarchs are. You really don’t want to know what experiment he plans to conduct. Suffice to say, it involves a subject from all five bloodlines. Evidently it is not worth the effort to find examples from the more minor bloodlines. Are you sure you wish to take the risk of being in the same tower as a mad Necrarch and an enraged Strigoi?

“I will do what it takes to achieve the Queen’s mission,” Annabella told the Dreadlord sternly. “A floating cloak will not dissuade me.”

I am so much more than cloak and staff. I am a true lord of the night. I am your path to rule over an entire bloodline.

“I am a loyal child of the Queen. I have no desire to supplant her,” Annabella insisted. She felt the Queen’s crown on her head. It felt- wait! No! She couldn’t believe she thought Neferata’s crown felt good on her head. She tore it off and threw it at the Dreamer. He instantly changed form into a rather handsome Vampire in his early 30s and caught the crown. Shockingly, the Dreamer had taken the form of the image Annabella had in mind of the perfect man she would want if she ever chose to marry. How dare he!

I would be your advisor. His mouth moved, but Annabella still heard the words in her head like he was using telepathy. Or King, if you would prefer...though a King over the Lahmians would hardly be proper.

“Go away! I don’t want to be Queen!” Annabella screamed. The Dreamer resumed his usual appearance before vanishing, leaving Annabella wearing a crown – it had returned to her head – she didn’t want. Or did she?

With that traitorous thought in mind, Annabella woke, horrified. She was loyal! She would never betray Neferata? Why was she considering it? Surely it wasn’t the power controlling a bloodline would give? She didn’t want power; she simply wanted to be her Queen’s loyal servant. Then she looked at Lucinia. Her adopted child looked so peaceful, in her death sleep, and wondered if her adopted daughter knew anything of her turmoil. But how could she? Annabella shook her head. She had to focus. She could hardly protect her child if she was confused about her own loyalties, if she was being tempted. She needed a clear mind. Oh, Lucinia, she thought. If this is how you felt when he tormented you, now I understand.

Needing to collect her thoughts, she transformed into a small black cat and groomed herself, returning to human shape when she finished. Annabella did not go to sleep again.

When Lucinia woke, she saw Annabella sitting beside her. “Good night, Annabella.”

“Good night, Lucinia. Do you want a duel before we continue? I think we’ll need all the practice we can get.”

“I would love a duel!” Lucinia grinned. “I think I need to drink, as well.”

Annabella smiled and gently slapped the back of Lucinia’s shoulder. “Good girl. You need to recover your strength.”

Whilst duelling, Lucinia thought she saw a moving shadow. She looked. Confused, Annabella followed her gaze.

“I can sense a weak trace of magic, but there’s nothing there, my girl.”

“I’m sure…” Lucinia trailed off. The shadows were still.

‘Then take your mind off it,’ Annabella said, baring her fangs as she attacked Lucinia. Lucinia nodded and defended herself.

Niklaus reformed on an empty field. That had been too close. Lucinia had seen him, and it was only luck that had prevented Annabella from recognising his magic.

After the destruction of his house, for which she would pay, he had followed the two at a distance, looking for a chance to take Lucinia. But Annabella never let her out of her sight. It was no important. It would be a terrible confusion escaping from the Necrarch’s tower – he had heard about V’raztra, and suspected that Lucinia and Annabella would be sent – and he could steal her then. For now, he would establish another base, somewhere else in Middenheim.
 
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Count Vashra

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Messages
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#9
Chapter Six

Lucinia and Annabella had reached the Southwest border between the Empire and Bretonnia. Lucinia looked at her sire’s homeland. She had been here twice before, and it looked just the same – castles surrounded by villages.

“The Queen said the Necrarch’s tower is in a secluded area,” Annabella remembered.”‘I think the South would be secluded. We shall begin our search there.”

Lucinia nodded. “We shall.” They entered Bretonnia.

‘And try not to destroy any temples on the way,’ Annabella added, laughing. On her previous visit, Lucinia had been tricked into making a body for the Dreamer in a temple to the Lady of the Lake. When it had been destroyed, it had exploded, destroying the temple and infuriating Annabella.

“I did apologise. And it wasn’t a temple to my god,” Lucinia responding, grinning.

“You will be respectful to all gods!” Annabella mock-scolded, baring her fangs.

“I’m sorry!” Lucinia said, grinning and baring her fangs. She wanted to enjoy herself before turning serious and focusing on the most dangerous mission of her unlife.

“Apologise to the Lady!” Annabella said, pushing Lucinia to the ground. They began tickling each other, laughing. It was an illusion caused by Annabella’s aura, but Lucinia either didn’t know or didn’t care, and Annabella pretended to respond, for her part.

After quite some time, the Vampiresses rolled off each other and lay beside each other. Annabella had needed the play, felt much better after it, and Lucinia had simply enjoyed it.

Many spirits float through the world, some harmlessly and invisibly, some maliciously, some drawn to a Vampire or Necromancer’s dark power and the promise of death, others still are enslaved. One such enslaved spirit observed Lucinia and Annabella.

V’raztra looked through the spirit’s eyes, smiling at the Vampiresses’ behaviour. They were going in the right direction. A few more days, and they would find his tower. Or maybe he would find them. Yes, yes, he would find them. That would be so much fun. To see the look of horror on the child’s face when she saw her first Necrarch. At least, he thought Lucinia hadn’t seen a Necrarch before. And such behaviour was not what he associated with effective operatives. He was no spymaster, but simply couldn’t understand how such playfulness was conductive to fulfilling missions. Surely they would be easy to capture. He laughed and laughed. ‘They will be mine! Mine!’ he shouted. ‘They will be mine! And I will succeed! I will succeed! Not even the Queen herself, the Queen, will be able to stop me!’ V’raztra stopped himself. Why was he repeating his words? he shook his head. it must be the Necrarch madness. Curse W’soran for breaking his bloodline’s sanity. Curse W’soran, curse W’soran, curse- Not again.

Lucinia lay beside Annabella for a while, then said, “Thank you. I needed that.”

So did I. “I’m happy to have obliged,” Annabella responded.

“Are you ready for the mission?”

“I am.” Annabella went to her feet.

Lucinia stood, and asked, “What about the possibility that we will be captured by the Necrarch?”

“How could he know we are coming? Even if he does, it would make our entry guaranteed,” Annabella answered.

‘Our entry to a prison cell,’ Lucinia said.

“Correct, unfortunately. Then we shall have to be careful.”

“How do we enter a Necrarch’s tower without being stopped?” Lucinia asked.

“I’m not entirely sure we can,’ Annabella admitted. ‘We will just have to enter quickly, kill him, and then escape.”

“What about the prisoners?”

“The Strigoi can rot. As for the von Carstein, we’re here to kill the Necrarch, not rescue the prisoners. If we can rescue him, we will, if not” A thought occurred to Annabella. “Was that a question from your honour?”

“Yes,” Lucinia admitted. “It was.’”

“Then we will attempt to rescue the von Carstein, to satisfy your honour.” Despite her adopted bloodline, and life of subterfuge, Lucinia attempted to retain her honour, and Annabella attempted to facilitate this. “What about the Strigoi”

“They’re not human.”

You’re not human.”

Lucinia bared her fangs for a few moments. “You know what I mean. Strigoi are just devolved beasts. There’s nearly nothing human left in them.”

“If that’s how you see it, then fine,” Annabella said. “Are you ready?”

Lucinia bared her fangs again, excited. The danger of the mission made it more thrilling. And proved Neferata trusted her and accepted her nearly as much as her own daughters – she knew the Queen would never hold any from another bloodline in the same regard. Also she was Blood Dragon, and it was bred into her to seek danger and worthy opponents. ‘I’m ready.’

“Excellent, Lucinia,” Annabella said, baring her own fangs.

V’raztra was asleep in his coffin. He had closed his eyes in a state of delight, anticipating his final subjects. He would surpass W’soran’s achievements, yes he would.

He woke in a large square in a massive fortress. a black cloak holding a staff was in front of him. It spoke telepathically.

V’raztra, I do hope you are not going to kill the Lahmian and the Blood Dragon.

“Who are you? Where is this dream? Go away!” V’raztra demanded.

You do not recognise your Dark Lord’s fortress?

V’raztra looked around, and realised that indeed he was in Nagashizzar. “What am I doing here? Who are you?”

I am a servant of our mutual Dark Lord and his regent Arkhan. I am here on Arkhan’s behalf.

V’raztra was loyal to Nagash, as a number of his bloodline was. “How may I serve the Lord of the Walking Dead?” he asked in a deferential tone.

Answer my first question. Will your experiment kill the Lahmian and the Blood Dragon?

“It is not likely.”

Not likely? The voice rose a pitch in his head. Not likely?

“Does our Lord wish them dead?”

The opposite! They will be kept alive, or you will answer to his regent, Arkhan!

“Yes. I obey our Lord’s will. I shall do my utmost to preserve their lives.” V’raztra did not question why. Arkhan’s motives were inscrutable, and he would not risk punishment for inquiring.

Good. You may return to your sleep.

V’raztra returned to his sleep knowing he must not kill Annabella and Lucinia, for unknown reasons. He hated constraints on his work, but would have to obey the Dark Lord.
 
Last edited:

Count Vashra

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Messages
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#10
Chapter Seven

It was daytime, and the Dreamer was disturbing Annabella in her sleep again. This time, she was standing in the house she and Lucinia were sleeping in. She saw Lucinia still sleeping. The Dreamer, in his normal form stood beside the Blood Dragoness.

I still advise you that this is a dangerous mission that has nothing to do with you, the Dreadlord said. Do you want to spend forever risking your life on missions that will not be of benefit to you, but could be lethal – to you or your baby girl?

“I will loyally serve the Queen in everything she tells me. I seek no more reward for my missions than her acceptance of my work,” Annabella answered.

A hopelessly small life goal, the Dreamer said. When your time comes, which it surely will, for even the immortal cannot avoid death forever, you will be remembered, if at all, as a blindly loyal servant. Do you wish to be a greater person? Do you wish to have achieved anything?

“My death, if it comes, will be far in the future, and I wish to achieve no more than the satisfaction of the Queen.” Annabella’s mind was set, and no Dreadlord would change it. This she knew.

I wonder what your child will say to that, the Dreamer said, sounding curious. I know she wants to find her place in the world, to belong.

“She belongs with me!” Annabella snapped.

Of course she does. But I am talking about her bloodline. A Blood Dragon committing subterfuge? A Lahmian refusing to use magic?

“Her methods are unusual, but they work.”

If you were Queen, and she your Princess, she would not have to worry about where she belonged. She would have everything she could want.

“Except her father,” Annabella said.

That had nothing to do with me. And both of you rejected my offer to restore him.

“Firstly, he completely disintegrated. There is no resurrection from that. Secondly,’ Annabella continued, baring her fangs. “Any resurrection of yours would be a servant of Him, and Lucinia would not want her father to be enslaved to the Lord of Undeath.’

Then he would be instructed to use free will. Behave as he did.That would be close enough, would it not?

“Enforced freedom or goodness is still slavery,” Annabella stated.

Hardly. He sounded annoyed. We would allow you to live your life out normally, with no more interference.

Annabella laughed at this, a harsh laugh entirely at odds with her appearance. “You expect me to believe that, from a Dreadlord? How foolish are you? Your interference would never end, he may be a spy, and Nagashi can hardly be trusted to keep their word.”

You question me, Lahmian? You who live as humans and use your powers to seduce high-ranked men, and then rule as puppetmistresses?

“I don’t do that.”

Others do. I was talking about your bloodline.

“Be that as it may, you Nagashi are just as bad. Let’s call it mutual distrust and move on, shall we?”

I know you love the Blood Maiden as your own flesh and blood, the Dreamer said, using a derogatory term referring to Lucinia’s duel bloodline…status. Are you sure you wish to risk her becoming a Necrarch’s test subject?

“She knows the risks,” Annabella snapped, as if the Dreamer was being childish. “If she didn’t want to do this, she would have refused.”

I was not aware Neferata’s missions were voluntary.

“Arrangements could be made.”

As Queen of the Lahmians, such danger could be avoided. Nobody could harm you.

“Actually, those who seize power cannot claim that, as they successfully challenged the previous ruler, meaning the position is not invulnerable.”

No other would have a Dreadlord’s assistance.

“I told you, I don’t want to be Queen,” Annabella said, her voice rising before she realised she was sounding like an upset child and controlled herself.

And your child would not be exposed to…Necrarch experiments. The Dreamer stood beside Lucinia, who was lying on her back, arms across her chest. He reached for her with a hand that appeared to be the same substance as his cloak, and stroked her cheek. You would not want such a beautiful face ruined, would you?

“Don’t touch my daughter!” Annabella screamed, rage coursing through her. How dare this Dreadlord touch Lucinia. Flames crackled around her, but vanished.

You cannot hurt me in dreams. You should have remembered from last time. He sounded disappointed. She is so beautiful. Would you expose her to a Necrarch? She would want to be your Princess, if it meant she could have anything, do anything, and be safe.

“She does not want to be overprotected. She is Blood Dragon. It is her nature to seek danger.” Annabella’s eyes still burned with fire, especially knowing she could not harm the Dreadlord.

Maybe If I showed her the benefits, she would. And now, you should know what the Necrarch plans. It may change your mind. He plans to take blood from each of the bloodlines including him and combine the samples. With the mixed blood, he will sire a Vampire with their combined strengths. von Carsteins shifting, Lahmian speed and beguilement, Blood Dragon fighting ability - as he said this, the Dreamer looked at Lucinia - Necrarch magic and Strigoi strength. The negatives will be diluted by the mix of blood.

“An abomination!” Annabella gasped, horrified. “The conflicting bloodlines would ruin if not kill it!”

There is a small chance of that. But it is unlikely. And do you wish yourself and Lucinia to be participators in the creation of this abomination, as you called it?

“We will kill the Necrarch before he can complete the experiment,” Annabella said, determined.

Or you could sit in the Pinnacle and be safe, with your baby girl. The Dreamer’s tone was mocking as he said those two words.

“Go away! We will stop him, without your help, and I have no desire to be Queen!”

As you wish. Next time, I will show you how Neferata destroyed Lahmia and Strigos.

Annabella woke, gasping, horrified by what she had learned, and torn as to whether to tell Lucinia. To do so, she would have to admit the Dreamer. She herself had scolded Lucinia for not revealing him, but her daughter knowing about these dreams would be an unnecessary distraction. She could tell all when the Necrarch was dead and they were safely home. She stroked Lucinia’s cheek, as if to brush off the Dreamer’s illusory fingers. No one touched her child without her permission. Lucinia was hers. And they would kill the Necrarch together.
 

Count Vashra

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#11
Chapter Eight

V’raztra grinned as he looked through his spying spirit. Annabella, if she had sensed it, had not recognised his bond of dark magic. The pair was within range of his tower. He could almost smell their blood, their blood. He would take them, and they would be his, his. Their blood would be his. It would be his. It would be his. Oh, not now. He couldn’t go mad now, so close to victory.

Before his madness could take serious hold, V’raztra cut the bond with the spirit, setting it to drift, and went to Lokeron’s cell.

“They are nearly here, northern scum. The Lahmian and the Blood Dragon, as I knew they would be! My victory should wipe your smile,” the Necrarch growled.

“Really?” Lokeron asked, grinning. “You think any of us will give us your blood willingly? You must be more insane-“

“Don’t call me insane, scum!” V’raztra shouted, interrupting the smiling von Carstein. “I am not insane! And I will take their blood!”

“Good luck with the Strigoi.”

“I don’t need luck. I’ll kill him if I need to.”

“Please don’t. I was looking forward to some entertainment.”

Hissing, V’raztra moved away from the cell and went outside his tower. Witchfire blazed in his eyes as he summoned his mount. A skeletal Dragon with a skeletal snake for a tail flew from the top of his tower and landed beside him. He loved the feeling of power the Dragon gave him, and the flight. He directed his mount to the last location he had seen Lucinia and Annabella.

The Vampiresses were walking at a steady pace towards the tower, when they heard a mad cackling from above them. They looked up, and saw a skeletal Dragon swooping down on them. A withered, almost skeletal Vampire rode it, laughing like he was insane - which he probably was, considering he was Necrarch. Lucinia was horrified at how corpselike the Vampire looked. A shiver went down her spine at the sound of its parchment-dry voice.

Annabella pointed at the Dragon, and a torrent of flame headed towards it. The Necrarch laughed and made a sweeping motion, knocking the flame aside. Annabella tried sending more flames at the Necrarch, but her magic was either dispelled or deflected.

“Ha ha! I knew the Sisterhood would send you after me!” the Necrarch shouted. “I had no idea that you would be so powerless against me!”

Annabella’s eyes blazed. “Come down here, and we’ll see who’s powerless!” Flames blazed into the shape of a sword in her hand. The Necrarch was now close enough to be seen grinning and he snapped his fingers. The fire sword sputtered and died. Annabella blinked. She had never encountered someone this powerful. But then, she had generally lived a sheltered life and most of her missions had been dealing with humans or other low-risk assignments. She turned to Lucinia, who was staring at the Necrarch and his Dragon with a mixture of fear and awe. “Lucinia, run.”

“What?” she asked stunned.

“I said, run. And don’t make me hypnotise you. I don’t want to.” She sounded like she was pleading with Lucinia.

“But, Mother –“

“But nothing!” Annabella snapped. “Go!”

Lucinia nodded, and began running. Unfortunately, by now the Dragon was very close, and she had not made more than a few steps before she could hair its claws reaching for her, snapping.

“Come here, child! You cannot escape me!” the Necrarch gloated.

“What about me?” Annabella shouted.

“Ah. A Vampire willing to give her life for her child,” the Necrarch observed. “Not something I often encounter. You stay there until I’m ready for you.” He splayed his hand in her direction and closed it to a fist. A web of darkness shot from his hands and wrapped itself around the Lahmian. She tried to dispel the web, but the Necrarch’s magic was far too powerful. With Annabella trapped, the Necrarch turned back to Lucinia, who was barely running fast enough, even with her Vampiric speed, to stay ahead of the Dragon. “Just give up, child. You can’t outrun a Dragon.”

“I’ll try,” Lucinia muttered. This was not how the mission had been supposed to happen. How had they been found? Obviously through some sorcerous means, as Necrarchs were very powerful wizards.

“Why bother?” the Necrarch asked. He gave his mount more energy, and it ran faster. It reached out for Lucinia and grabbed her in its claws. The Blood Dragoness writhed and squirmed, but the Dragon’s grip was firm and could not be broken.

Then the Necrarch turned it around and walked it to where Annabella was trapped. He dispelled the web and the Dragon grabbed her with its other foot. She attempted to summon flames around her body to burn the Dragon, but the Necrarch casually dispelled her magic and healed the damage. “You really think you, Queen’s get, can defeat me, V’raztra, get of W’soran?” he taunted. His subjects secure, he commanded the Dragon to return to his tower. His victory was near, and these Vampires were the final keys to that victory.
 

Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
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#12
Chapter Nine

Fangs bared and eyes glowing in fear and anger, Lucinia saw V’raztra’s tower as she approached. From the outside it looked bare. The Dragon dropped her and Annabella – literally, as it turned out, though the distance to the ground was low enough that both Vampiresses easily landed on their feet. V’raztra jumped from the Dragon’s back with more agility than his form suggested he should have been able to, and the Dragon flew away to the top of the tower.

“Now, Annabella, Lucinia Draconia,” V’raztra said. Draconia was a family name Lucinia had received for completing training at a Blood Dragon monastic cult. The cult no longer existed, but Lucinia sometimes used the name, as it was that of her mentor and best friend at the cult Georgina Draconia, and they had remained on good terms. “Welcome to my tower. You will contribute to a great experiment, with the aim of furthering the limits of Vampirekind.”

“And your knowledge,” Lucinia whispered.

“Silence!” the Necrarch snapped. “You will contribute your blood. Willingly or not is up to you. Until you do so, you will be kept in separate cells. I know how clever the two of you are, and there is no need to take risks.” When he reached the base of the tower, he spoke an enchantment, and a segment of wall faded away, revealing the entrance. He led them in, taking delight in describing his achievements, though sometimes repeating himself. Lucinia shuddered as she passed some of the more grotesque drawings and animals.

Eventually they came to a set of cells. Growls could be heard from the far right cell, whilst a well-dressed, aristocratic Vampire sat smiling in the central cell. Lucinia and Annabella were roughly thrown into the cells on either side, Lucinia next to the Strigoi with only a stone wall keeping her safe from the beast. Wards flared to life at the entrances of the cells.

“You need to be strong for the experiment, and unfortunately I’m not allowed to kill either of you, so I will return with food.” The Necrarch sounded annoyed at the restriction and he showed it as eh turned on his heel and stalked out.

“So you’re the Blood Maiden, then.” The aristocrat’s voice was well-spoken and fluid. “And her mother. I am Lokeron.”

“Lucinia.”

“Annabella.”

“What’s it like, being a Blood Dragon living as a Lahmian?”

Lucinia could feel an aura of power radiating off Lokeron, and she struggled to resist bowing. “A daily struggle between my honour and the life I must lead. I usually manage, but sometimes I get confused.” Lucinia was usually honest, and what else was there to do? The Strigoi wouldn’t be interested in a conversation.

“What happens when you come into conflict with either bloodline?’”Lokeron asked.

Lucinia swallowed. She recently had, and her indecision and confused loyalties had allowed the Dreamer to possess her. “I try to find a compromise. If I can’t…I side with the Lahmians.”

“You are a traitor to your bloodline then.”

Lucinia nodded, though neither Lokeron nor Annabella could see. “I am,” she said ashamedly.

“How in the name of Vlad did you join the Sisterhood?” Lokeron asked.

“You don’t need to know,” Annabella said firmly. “You shouldn’t be asking my daughter these questions. Who are you?’

“She’s your daughter?” Lokeron asked. “Well, I suppose someone would have had to adopt her.”

“Answer me!” Annabella sounded annoyed.

“A Sylvanian aristocrat of the von Carstein line,” Lokeron answered. “But then, my aura should have told you that.”

Lucinia remembered that von Carsteins possessed an Aura of Dark Majesty, which she was feeling right now.

“How were you captured?” Annabella asked.

‘After a long siege,’ he answered.

“Which I didn’t hear of?” Annabella sounded disbelieving.

“You are here because of that siege,” Lokeron explained. “An ally of mine, who found out, employs a certain female Blood Dragon as his head of security. Evidently Neferata was unimpressed with a friend of a relative of you being captured.”

“Georgina?” Lucinia asked. She was proud of her friend/blood-cousin’s achievement. Months earlier, Georgina had said she didn’t know what to do, her sire having abandoned her to atone for pretending not to be an Ice mage. “How did she rise so quickly?”

“My ally was travelling and was challenged by your relative. He won, but was impressed by her skill and offered a place amongst her personal guard, who are a mix of von Carstein and Blood Dragon. Rank is earned by challenging higher-ups, in this guard unit. I will just say your relative was a proficient fighter.”

Georgina should be proficient, Lucinia thought. She was 500 years old, all of those years in which she had trained under a 1000 year 2nd generation Blood Dragon. “When we escape, I want to see her,” Lucinia said.

“Of course,” Lokeron said. “My ally will want to know I am safe as well.Sh

“You may see her, Lucinia. But for now we have to escape,” Annabella said, sounding like she was putting Lucinia back on task.

“Yes, Annabella,” the Blood Dragoness said. ‘How will we escape?”

“Can we breach the wards, or escape when he throws our food in?”

“You think I enjoy being here?” Lokeron asked. “If it was that easy, I’d be gone already.”

“I shouldn’t have asked,” Annabella said.

“No need to apologise, my lady. It was a possibility, at least.” he paused. ‘Do I feel attracted to you?’

Annabella laughed sweet laughter that relaxed Lucinia greatly. “You have an Aura of Dark Majesty. I have an aura of beguilement.”

“So you don’t even know if people like you or not.”

“I don’t care, as long as they’re useful.”

“What about Lucinia?”

‘She loves me, adores me, even. But she does like me for myself as well, not just because of my powers.’

‘Could you beguile V’raztra? He’s too arrogant for my aura to work.’

‘I’m not sure Necrarchs care for being beguiled,’ Annabella said quietly, just loud enough for the sound to carry through the stone. ‘But I could try it.’

Just then V’raztra returned holding two humans, whom he threw into Annabella and Lucinia’s cells through momentarily deactivated wards. Lokeron had been right. The wards were reactivated almost as soon as they were deactivated. Way too fast even for an old 2nd generation Lahmian.

‘Why can’t I eat? I’ve been a good boy,’ Lokeron asked, though he sounded more like he was joking than pleading, to Lucinia.

‘You are not hungry, scum. Now be silent.’ V’raztra walked away.

‘Why does he call you scum?’ Lucinia asked.

‘No idea. And I can’t see what being a Tzeentch worshipper would have to do with it,’ Lokeron answered nonchalantly.

‘You’re a Tzeentch worshipper?’ Lucinia asked, stunned. She heard Annabella gasp.

‘Not anymore. My warband was slaughtered by a Vampire whose castle we had invaded. I was not yet tainted enough to resist the Blood Kiss. He was impressed with my cunning.’

‘How can we trust you?’ Lucinia asked.

‘You can’t, but what choice do you have?’

‘If you’re so cunning, how were you captured?’ Annabella challenged.

‘The castle was surrounded. There was no way out. I was weak from casting spells and fighting by the time I was captured. My sire and everyone else were slaughtered.’

V;raztra returned. ‘So, will you volunteer your blood?’

“No!” The three Vampires said together.

“I thought so. I will get it.”

Chapter Ten

When V’raztra fell asleep, he found himself in Nagashizzar again, with Nagash’s servant standing beside him.

They will not give their blood, the cloak said. It was a statement.

“Correct.”

When they go to sleep, I will put them into dreams they will not be able to wake from until you have their blood.

“Then allow me to wake.”

V’raztra came awake. He grinned. Finding a glass, he deactivated the wards on the cells and entered. He went into Lokeron’s cell first. He knelt beside the sleeping Vampire, extended his claws, and held the glass beside his neck. V’raztra cut Lokeron’s neck, allowing the blood to drip into the glass. It was only a small amount, but it would be enough. He repeated the procedure on the other three Vampires, and then on himself. He reactivated the wards, and considered disposing of the subjects there and then. He certainly didn’t need them anymore. But no. he decided he would make them watch his triumph, to which they had contributed. With that thought in mind, he set the glass beside his coffin, and shut the lid. The Strigoi could stay imprisoned until he had finished his…demonstration.

Annabella dreamed again, but not in any locattion she recognised. She was in a temple of some kind. A group of priestesses were conducting some kind of ritual involving cutting themselves and letting their blood drain into exotic-looking chalices. Then another lady appeared and walked towards the group, sipping from the chalices. Annabella started when she recognised the newcomer. Neferata!

Welcome to Ancient Lahmian, your sire’s homeland. This is over 3000 years ago. Neferata has just been made a Vampire through a combination of a crude Blood Kiss, incantations and luck. This is the Sacrament of Blood, essentially a cover for new diet. Yes, this is how Neferata first fed, by mocking religious ceremony.

Annabella was stunned Neferata could have corrupted religion so.

It gets worse. The Dreamer showed Annabella highlights of Neferata’s attempt to make someone called Alcadizzar into a tame pet.

This was how Neferata had behaved in the beginning? Corrupting religion and manipulatively grooming children? Not that Annabella didn’t groom her gets though she did make sure they understood what was happening, and let them go if they had rejected her. Neferata it seemed had been overprotective of Alcadizzar.

This is the Queen you are doggishly devoted to, a Queen whose arrogance caused her kingdom to fall. And she tamped in my master Nagash’s works. Is this the Queen you want to be loyal to? the Dreamer asked.

‘I…don’t know.’ Annabella had never doubted Neferata before, but she was appalled at what the Queen had done to Lahmia, especially as more and more highlights of her reigh played out.

Then let me help you take over. Be Queen. Be a just Queen.

‘No! You are manipulating me!’ Annabella shouted desperately.

I am showing only what happened. It is up to you what you do with it. With that, Annabella woke, confused as to what to do. How could she serve a Queen who had destroyed her kingdom through selfishness? She had to talk to Lucinia.

When night came, Lucinia gladly woke from a nightmare. She couldn’t remember what had happened, but knew it had been scary. A quick round of questioning revealed that Annabela and Lokeron had had the same experience.

“Lokeron, is V’raztra a dream wizard?” she asked. It was too big a coincidence they had all had similar dreams. She only hoped Lokeron wouldn’t need to find out, and that Annabella wouldn’t tell him, if she came to the same conclusions Lucinia did.

“He must be. It’s the only explanation,” Lokeron said.
 

Count Vashra

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#13
Chapter Ten

When night came, Lucinia gladly woke from a nightmare. She couldn’t remember what had happened, but knew it had been scary. A quick round of questioning revealed that Annabela and Lokeron had had the same experience.

“Lokeron, is V’raztra a dream wizard?” she asked. It was too big a coincidence they had all had similar dreams. She only hoped Lokeron wouldn’t need to find out, and that Annabella wouldn’t tell him, if she came to the same conclusions Lucinia did.

“He must be. It’s the only explanation,” Lokeron said.

So the secret was safe, then. Lucinia slowly blinked in relief. She had no idea how Lokeron would respond to the knowledge that a mysterious Dreadlord was manipulating events.

The Necrarch appeared, grinning. ‘My triumph will soon be complete. And you shall witness what you have created.’ He roughly placed a man before him, and drained his blood. When he finished, he poured a glass filled with blood – their blood, the Vampires concluded in shock – into the mortal’s mouth, then released him and stepped back. ‘Soon, he will awaken as something far more powerful than could ever be imagined. He will combine the strengths of all five bloodlines – the authority and shapeshifting of the von Carsteins, the cunning, speed and beauty of the Lahmians, the martial prowess of the Blood Dragons, the strength of the Strigoi, and the magic of the Necrarchs. He will be the supreme Vampire. And I will control him!’ V’raztra laughed madly, taking several minutes to calm down.

“Yes, but for how long will you control someone that powerful?” Lokeron sneered. ‘The thrall bond only lasts a few decades.’

“With mind control, of course.”

“That is my speciality,” Annabella hissed.

“Then it will be a power of his. And his loyalty will be ensured by agents in his blood. There will be no betrayal.”

Suddenly a transformation came upon the mortal. He began shivering, trembling. His skin bulged, his mouth split wide in a scream, soon joined by V’raztra’s renewed cackling. Power surged in the new Vampire, the experiment. He stood shakily, turned to V’raztra, and knelt.

“Master,” he choked. Dark Majesty radiated from him in waves. V’raztra had him turn and face Lokeron.

“You caused me the most trouble, and so you shall die first. Kill him!”

The new Vampire pointed at the cell. Lightning shot from its fingers, shattering the ward, although the power left did nothing but singe the shocked von Carstein. Then something unexpected happened. Lightning sparked form the new Vampire’s hands wildly, uncontrollably, exploding all over the room. It screamed, whilst V’raztra stood frozen in confusion. ‘But-but the Necrarch blood was supposed to balance it!’ he wailed, eyes blazing. He tried to control the roiling energies, but the more magic eh used to control it the worse the explosions got. Lokeron summoned a blue shield around himself which was barely strong enough to stop the wild lightning. ‘Lightning is my power!’ he shouted,completely bestial. Lucinia crouched at the back of her cell, just hoping the Vampire would run out fo energy before the ward failed. Annabella’s body was surrounded by flame. The Strigoi roared and hammered on its ward, but could not breach it.

Then, the Vampire exploded. The room was filled with blinding lightning and a defining bang. When the explosion ended, all the wards were destroyed, and V’raztra was nowhere to be seen. Lokeron’s shield was destroyed, but the Vamprie himself had survived. Annabella was drained from having protected herself from the explosion. The Strigoi was reduced to a smoking carcass. Lucinia, upon removing her hands from her eyes, was relieved to find herself still alive, though her armour was scorched and her sword shattered.

“I only wanted some entertainment,” Lokeron said, smiling. “And V’raztra gave me just that!”

“Entertainment?” Lucinia shouted, ears ringing from the explosion. “That was an abominable experiment that should never have happened. Now I want nothing to do with Necrarchs! They’re horrible!”

“Some people…” Lokeron muttered.

“Now we need to get out,” Annabella said. “I have no idea what happened to V’raztra.”

Lucinia nodded and slowly stood up. She left her cell to find Annabella and Lokeron already waiting for her. She nodded. “I’m ready.” She growled. “I’m angry about the sword though.”

Annabella laughed. “Come, Lucinia. We’ll make a replacement.”

The three Vampires ran from the dungeon, happy to have survived.
 

Count Vashra

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#14
Chapter Eleven

V’raztra cursed. He had been caught in the epicentre of the explosion; only a hastily conjured sword had saved him. Even so, he was badly burned, almost deaf and thought some of his bones were broken. Why hadn’t it worked? It seemed hybrid Vampires were not as stable as he had thought they were. But he would not give up. He was immortal, and had until the End Times to experiment and find a solution. The Necrarch slowly, painfully pushed himself to his feet. Pain shot up his arms, which he saw were badly burnt. They were probably broken. He cursed, and with an effort of will healed his body, using the dark arts to accelerate his natural regeneration. “You think you can escape a Necrarch’s tower, scum?” he shouted. “See what happens when you test your wits against a get of W’soran!” Growling in anger, V’raztra sent his Dragon to wait outside the door, the only entrance and exit to the tower, and awakened the garrison. He and his soldiers knew the tower. The captives did not. It would only be a matter of time before he found them.

Lucinia heard the enraged shouts of V’raztra as she ran. “We need to hurry!” she gasped, trying to putt on more speed. Then she heard a roar outside and cursed. The Dragon was waiting for them.

“Don’t worry!” Lokeron said as he grabbed a sword from an attacking skeleton and proceeded to decapitate the walking corpse. “We can destroy it.”

“How?” Annabella asked. “Last time, V’raztra dispelled my magic like I was a new blood.”

“This time he is too far away, and the explosion will have greatly weakened him, as well as any healing he has had to do.”

As they ran through the tower, trying to remember the route they had arrived by, resistance increased. The skeletons were easily destroyed by sword and flame, but Lucinia could see Annabella and Lokeron were becoming drained.

“Lokeron!” she said. “I’m a Blood Dragon! I can fight!”

He threw her the sword. It wasn’t made for her, but she was skilled enough to use it without much inhibition.

They reached the door, which was blocked off by halberd-wielding, armoured skeletons, far larger than the others they had encountered. Annabella flicked her wrist, setting the skeletons alight. This seemed to have little effect, however. Lucinia attacked one, but found her every blow parried, and was soon on the defensive.

“Go back,” Lokeron warned. Lucinia did so, and the Northern Vampire spoke an incantation. Lightning fired from his fingers, blowing the armoured skeletons apart. Then he slumped to his knees. Skeletal feet could be heard behind them.

“Lokeron!” Lucinia shouted. She touched his shoulder. “Take my power.”

The von Carstein looked into her eyes, and the full force of his aura slammed into her, driving her to her knees. ‘No. I will remain here. Save your strength. You will need it to get to the Empire. Your relative is at the castle where Annabella’s noble friends lived. I will deal with V’raztra.’

Lucinia tried to protest, tried to say a weakened von Carstein could not possibly kill a Necrarch in his own tower, but his aura was too strong. Then Annabella grabbed her and pulled her out of the tower, burning the Dragon as she did so. It collapsed, charred.

“Come with me, Lucinia. He was nothing to us. V’raztra would catch up to us either way. This way, we may have enough time to escape.”

Lucinai nodded, grudgingly accepting the reasoning, and followed her mother. The sounds of an arcane duel could be heard, and the Vampireses increased their speed.

Then silver crossbow bolts slammed into them, and a cloaked figure stepped out of the night.

“Niklaus…” Lucinia hissed.

“Indeed.” He stretched his hands out, Shadow-merging himself and the Vampiresses. The assassins could escape themselves.

Then Niklaus’ magic vanished. He looked around in confusion, and then cursed. Why had he decided to abduct someone next to a Necrarch’s tower? Annabella attempted to burn Niklaus, but V’raztra dispelled her magic as well. Then an explosion could be heard. The three Vampires looked to the tower, and saw Lokeron blow apart. Lucinia hissed in frustration. They had wasted his sacrifice, and it seemed they would have to fight alaongside Niklaus for now, an idea she hated.

V’raztra strode out of his tower, laughing. “Did you, did you, did you think you could escape from a Necrarch’s tower, from a Necrarch’s tower? You cannot. I have no need for you, Shadowmancer.” Bolts of dark magic erupted from his eyes, whilst Niklaus found he couldn’t Shadow-merge.

Then Annabella did something she never thought she would do: She saved Niklaus’ life by dispelling V’raztra’s magic. “I hate you, Niklaus, but we must work together if we are to survive.”

Niklaus nodded, surprised but grateful. Seeing the developing fight, the assassins had returned, and aimed their crossbows at V’raztra. As they did so, Lucinia charged the Necrarch, features bestial, roaring, Niklaus summoned a greatsword and Lucinia summoned a fire sword.

The assassins fired. Five silver bolts streaked towards V’raztra. The Necrarch contemptuously punched the air in their direction, sending them the way they came. The assassin rolled aside, dropped their crossbows and pulled their swords out to join the melee.

Seeing the oncoming Vampires V’raztra clapped his hands together. The shadow and fire swords disappeared, and the fighters were knocked of their feet.

“This is far too easy,” V’raztra said. “I need a challenge.” Skeletons approached from behind, but he held them back, unnecessary for the moment.

Lucinia rose, struggling to control the beast within, and leaped at V’raztra. He sent a burst of flame at her, which knocked her off her feet again. Annabella hurled a fireball, but V’raztra stopped it, though it got close enough to singe his already torn and burnt robes. He growled.

“He’s weakening,” Niklaus said, swiping with his claws. V’raztra knocked him to the ground.

“And yet I am strong enough to defeat the three of you.” Fire burst from his hand, splitting into three streams, one targeting each Vampire. The Necrarch stumbled when he felt 5 silver blades cut into his back, the streams of fire making contact but not causing serious damage. He made a sweeping motion with his hand, and a wall of darkness burst outwards. The assassins screamed as their flesh melted.

Seeing the wounds on V’raztra’s back, Lucinia stabbed at him, catching his side as he turned. He reached for her heart, but Annabella knocked the grasping hand aside. Lucinia had no desire to experience her heart being torn out.

V’raztra balled his hands into fists, and then released them. Balls of darkness flew towards Annabella and Niklaus, the wounded Necrarch forgetting the orders not to kill the Vampiresses.

Annabella shouted a counter-spell, and the bolts fizzled out. “It seems you’re running out of magic,” she taunted.

“No! I am Necrarch, master of magic!” V’raztra shouted. The skeletons from the tower began approaching. The Vampiresses could not destroy all of them. They seemed to be marching faster than normal, eyes glowing with witchfire.

“We can’t defeat them all,” Niklaus said. “Annabella, burn him enough to distract him, then let me Shadow-merge the three of us. What choice do you have?”

"Yes we can," Lucinia growled. "He is weakening. Between us we can defeat skeletons.And then...he must be too weak to fight alone, otherwise he would never have sent the skeletons." The thought of being rescued by Niklaus revolted her.
"Excellent thinking," Annabella said, eyes glowing.
Niklaus shrugged. and vanished into shadow.

"Annabella, block his magic. I can fight him in this state," Lucinia said.
"Lucinia, you can't!" Annabella protested.
"We can't escape now, with Niklaus gone. And I'm sure I can fight him in a duel."
Annabella nodded, accepting. "Alright, Lucinia." She went to work destroying the skeletons and attempting to dispel V'raztra's magic.

"V'raztra! Come and fight me, one on one!" Lucinia yelled. "Or are you scared?"

"Scared? Scared? Never let it be said a get of W'soran was scared!" V'raztra summoned a flaming sword and attacked Lucinia.
The Blood Dragoness quickly discovered V'raztra was not helpless in close combat, the superior strength and speed granted by his age compensating for any lack of skill. At least his skeletons were being destroyed.

Their blades touched. Lucinia strained against the Necrarch's. Her weaker arms were pushed back, and she was driven downwards, about to touch the ground with her knees. Then she snarled and unleashed the beast. With the extra strength and ferocity it provided, she drove V'raztra back and gained the upper hand. Surprised by the change of fortunes, the Necrarch paused, letting his concentration slip and allowing Annabella to destroy his skeletons, and then attack him with her fire sword. He blocked and jumped backwards, but could not hold back his opponents forever. Eventually, his sword was not aside, and Lucinia ran her blade into his heart. V'raztra clutched at the sword, incinerating it with a final burst of magic, but before he could recover, Annabella cut his spine. He collapsed, apparently dead.

Lucinia suppressed the beast with a force of effort. "Another successful mission, then," she said, smiling at Annabella.
Annabella nodded. "Another mad Necrarch finished. I hope. You never know what tricks they use." She tried summoning fire to immolate the body, but was too tired. "Let's go and check on Georgina, shall we?"
 
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Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
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#16
Thanks, Get! To tell the truth, I'd already drafted the first few chapters, so it was just a case of copying them over.
 
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Count Vashra

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#17
Chapter Twelve

Having recovered from their mission, including Lucinia’s sword being replaced and her armour repaired, Lucinia and Annabella were ready to go to Sylvania to see how Georgina was faring as head of a noble’s bodyguard.

Lokeron had said Georgina was at the castle where Annabella’s noble friends had lived. How he knew they had no idea, but it presumably meant Hadros and Hadria’s castle.

“It will be interesting to see how it’s changed,” Annabella said as they walked.

“I’ve never been before,” Lucinia told her.

“I know. It’ll be a good experience.”

“I certainly hope so.”

They had sent a letter to Neferata requesting leave from duty for personal reasons, and the Queen had accepted.

Annabella knew she would have to reveal the Dreamer at some point. Or maybe not. He couldn’t force her to do anything. But what he had shown her disturbed her…She would decide later. Right now she wanted to see her friends’ castle, and Georgina, again.

They reached the castle without incident. It looked unchanged from the outside. A mortal soldier called down from the wall. “Declare yourselves!”

“I am Annabella, this is Lucinia. We are friends of Georgina, and your mistress is my daughter.” The guard saluted and ran inside.

“A daughter of yours runs the castle?” Lucinia asked, confused.

“Rachelle. I was a handmaiden to the von Draks, then the von Carsteins for some time. Rachelle was another handmaiden. I liked her. it went from there. When Hadros and Hadria disappeared, I arranged to put Rachelle in charge of their castle. Mannfred obviously doesn’t think it’s worth the effort of knocking it down.”

“Why didn’t you tell me about her?”

“I admit I am somewhat ashamed of myself.”

“Why?”

“She’s 13.”

Lucinia gasped. “Annabella…13 forever sounds great, but you get tired of it. You want to be an adult.”

“I know,” Annabella sighed. “She was my first daughter. I didn’t consider it at the time. I’ll never again sire someone under 15.”

Lucinia shook her head. “What’s she like?”

“She liked to party. She might be holding one right now.”

The gate opened, and Georgina appeared, grinning. Her armour was elaborate, dark red. She normally wore a helmet, but had deemed it unnecessary for the context of the meeting. Lucinia smiled and hugged her.

When they separated, Lucinia said, “Congratulations on your position.”

“It’s something I enjoy. I’m glad I found it.”

“The armour looks impressive.”

“Thank you. The helmet’s amazing,” she added

“Hello Georgina,” Annabella said, smiling.

Georgina bowed. "Hello, Annabella.”

Annabella blinked, and then laughed. “Since when have you bowed to me?”

“I’ve been taught to bow to superiors. I consider you a superior.”

Annabella laughed again. “Now, may we enter?”

Georgina nodded. “You pose no threat to Lady Rachelle,” she joked, causing Lucinia to smile.

Inside the castle was elaborate. The original mosaics and tapestries remained, but the inside had been repainted yellow.

They entered the throne room, and Georgina bowed. “Mistress, these are friends of mine. They wanted to see me.”

Rachelle sat on one of the two thrones. The other was empty. Obviously the original thrones had not been removed. A well-dressed Vampire stood beside Rachelle, wearing yellow. He was attractive enough – black hair, brown eyes – but not what Lucinia would call handsome.

Rachelle herself looked her mortal age. Her aadolescent body seemed too small for the adult-sized throne she sat on. Her blonde hair was quite short. Her eyes were green, and her face seemed perfectly proportioned. She wore yellow. Lucinia wondered why she was obsessed with yellow.

“Hello, Rachelle,” Annabella said pleasantly, as if their last meeting had been yesterday, not 400 years ago.

"Georgina, thank you,” Rachelle said warmly. The Blood Dragoness walked towards Rachelle and stood just in front of her and to her left, close enough to protect her if necessary but not obscuring her view, or her guests’ view.

"Hello, Annabella,” Rachelle said coolly, evidently aware of the length of time since their last contact. “Who is that?”

“Lucinia Draconia, of the Blood Dragons,” Annabella answered.

"She is Blood Dragon?” Rachelle snorted. “They are far too honourable for my liking.”

Lucinia ignored this.

“I adopted her some decades ago. I love her like a daughter.”

Annabella had obviously said the wrong thing, because Rachelle’s eyes blazed and her fangs slid into view. “Like a daughter? What about loving your actual daughter?”

“I -“ Annabella began, but Rachelle interrupted her.

“Do love me? Then why is this visit your first in 4 centuries? Georgina said you are here for her, not me.”

Annabella was looking uncomfortable. Lucinia would have visited her daughters more regularly.

Annabella sighed. “Rachelle, please don’t take this the wrong way, but I feel ashamed of myself when I think of you.”

“Is that it? I bring shame to you?”

“I should never have sired you at 13. You were too young.”

“I like being 13.”

“Don’t you wish to be an adult?”

“It would really just be my size that would change if I were, so I have no great regret as to my final age.”

“Truly?” Annabella asked. “I swore never to sire anyone under 15 again.”

“Swear what you will, I like being 13,” Rachelle said in a definite tone.

“Then it has been a simple misunderstanding,” Annabella said hopefully. “Am I forgiven?”

Rachelle was silent, as if she was thinking. Then she stood, walked towards Annabella and hugged her. Her eyes dimmed and her fangs receded. “Yes. You are forgiven, Mother.”

“Annabella will be fine.”

“Yes, Annabella,” Rachelle murmured, voice muffled by her face being pressed in close.

In that moment, Lucinia knew in her heart she was not a true Lahmian. For all her determination, she could not fully shed her honour code, nor did she want to, and she was not of the blood. She was not Annabella’s get. Rachelle was. Maybe if she left the Sisterhood Annabella and Rachelle would be able to re-forge their long-rusted family bond.

Rachelle detached herself from Annabella, and did not seem affected by her aura. Not even fighting to resist it. Probably because it wasn’t being used on her, Lucinia thought. Did that mean her own love for Annabella was an illusion made over decades until she couldn't tell magical attraction from true friendship? Annabella’s daughter took Lucinia’s hand, making her feel comforted. She pushed the hand away.

‘Don’t touch me unless you turn your aura off.” Annabella, Rachelle and Georgina looked stunned. “It is an artificial feeling, and I cannot know if I love someone if they beguile me all my life.”

Annabella blinked.

Lucinia guessed she was feeling rejected. “Annabella, I do like you. It’s just that seeing natural, non-enchanted love between you and Rachelle made me realise I cannot live my life being beguiled. So please, no more aura. Not even when I’m upset.”

Annabella nodded slowly. “Yes, Lucinia.”

“That is a very brave and mature decision, Lucinia,” Rachelle said.

Lucinia nodded.

The Lahmian offered her hand again, this time without her aura. “Can we be friends?”

Lucinia hesitated, then smiled and nodded. “Yes, we can.” She shook Rachelle’s hand.

“Annabella, you may sit on the other throne,” Rachelle offered as she took her place of rule. Annabella accepted the offer. “I should introduce my assistant, Albrecht,” Rachelle continued. “He is my only child, and has been instrumental in helping me manage this holding. He also handles my Necomantic needs, as I feel above such business.”

‘Do you have permission for him?” Annabella asked, knowing all too well the trouble unauthorised or hastily sired gets could cause.

“No. He’s only 4th generation, and the only reason I sired him was I wouldn’t have to keep seeing my advisors die as the years passed.”

Annabella shook her head. “We require permission to sire.”

“I turned him centuries ago. Nobody’s complained. He’s only an advisor.” Rachelle smiled at Lucinia. “You came to see Georgina? See her. I doubt I am threatened right now.”

“I’ll show you my helmet.”

Lucinia nodded, but had lost interest in socialising for now. Currently, all she wanted to do was escape from the reminders of how artificial her relationship with Annabella had probably been. Georgina was sensible enough not to enquire, and led her to her room. A coffin was in the centre, and there was a helmet on an armour-rack. Georgian took the helmet and placed it on her head. Immediately her eyes blazed with orange flame.

This banished Lucinia’s negative thoughts entirely. “That’s amazing,” she gasped, meaning it.

“It is. Usually I hate magic, but Rachelle insisted on placing an illusion on it. It goes well with the Dragon crest and scaled appearance of the whole suit.”

“I’m jealous,” Lucinia said, again truthfully. “I just have the colour red.”

“It pays to be the Lady’s favourite,” Georgina said.

Lucinia gently punched Georgina, gently so she didn’t smash her hand on the armour. “Not fair! I spend 50 years with a wealthy lady and get red armour. You spend a few months with a wealthy lady and get a helmet with blazing eyes and a Dragon crest and armour with imitation of Dragon scale!”

“You dented my armour. You’ll die for that, you know,” Georgia laughed.

“We'll go outside.’ Lucinia whispered.
 
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Count Vashra

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#18
Chapter Thirteen

Whilst the Blood Dragonesses played with each other, Annabella and Rachelle caught up on their history. Despite their long period of no contact, they were eager to reconnect.

“I assume there has been no word of Hadros and Hadria?” Annabella asked. She had set Rachelle as ruler of this castle to watch it until the original owners returned, if they ever did.

“No, Annabella.”

“Unfortunate. But we have forever. How long have you had Albrecht?”

The assistant bowed. “I was born to serve her. She sired me at the age of 40. I served 300 years since then. I am the son of her previous advisor.”

“Then I may presume he impresses you?”

“He does, Annabella. Otherwise I would not have sired him.”

“Have you had any trouble?”

“Not really. Mannfred tried to force me to join his war, but I ‘convinced’ him to go away.”

“Shall I inquire as to what you mean by ‘convinced’?”

Rachelle smiled wickedly. “You shall not.”

Annabella laughed. “Then you’ve done well, for a 13-year-old.”

“I’m 690 years old.” Rachelle stated, smiling.

Annabella placed her arm around Rachelle. “And why do you love yellow?”

“It’s a bright colour.”

‘You’re a Vampire,” Annabella pointed out.

“I know. I just don’t like the darkness. I mean, I’m nocturnal, but that’s instinct.”

Annabella smiled. “Live as you wish, Rachelle. You’ve run this place for 400 years, so I think your methods are working. Do you party often?”

Rachelle laughed and grinned. “Once a week,” she answered. “There’s lots of blood drinking, not all of it from necks.”

Annabella laughed. “You’re 13. You’re allowed parties. I trust Albrecht runs the holding whilst you are…occupied?”

Albrecht bowed. “I taught her everything I know about running a kingdom – this, essentially is, a small kingdom. As she said, I was born to her previous advisors, and they were part of Count Vlad’s circle.”

“You called Vlad a Count, but not Konrad or Mannfred,” Annabella observed, curious.

“Konrad butchered the bloodline. He was no Count. Mannfred was Count almost by default. There was no one left to oppose him. I certainly wasn’t going to,” Rachelle answered.

“I chose well then, if early.”

“Annabella, please don’t be ashamed over it,” Rachelle insisted.

“You forgave me rather easily.”

“Would you rather I have not?”

“No! Just…it’s a big thing to not visit your daughter for 400 years.”

“It wasn’t your fault. I understand your position, and you didn’t do it out of rejection.”

“Albrecht, I must congratulate you on how you have trained my daughter.”

Another bow. “My parents started. I merely continued their work. But I appreciate your thanks.” Albrecht smiled. “She is a willing student.”

“I hired his parents on condition they would have a child if I did not sire them. I knew there was more to learn than one can teach in single life time.”

“A wonderfully binding agreement,” Annabella said, smiling. “Very Lahmian of you.”

Rachelle smiled. “Thank you. I am…aware of the Sisterhood, but do not keep daily records. What has happened over the past 400 years?”

Annabella told her everything that had happened in 400 years, apart from the Dreamer’s manipulations, not wanting to scare or concern Rachelle.

“I’m sorry Charlotte died.”

“She may have deserved it, though, for siring a Vampire-hating male,” Annabella conceded.

“Will he arrive here?” Rachelle didn’t sound nervous.

“I doubt he’s heard of you. Even if he has, he’s only 100 years old, a fraction of your age, far weaker than you. And you sound like a good fighter.”

“I need as many combat options as I can have. What are you like?”

“Competent.”

“Albrecht, hold the throne room. Mother and I have a lot of dueling to catch up on,” Rachelle said brightly, jumping from her throne with all the energy of an immortal 16-year-old.

Albrecht bowed. “As you wish, my Lady,” he said.

Well, she's roughly 690 years old.
 
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Count Vashra

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#20
Great! Any specific advice/comments? Especially interested in whether I got across V'raztra being a bit of a madman but also very powerful very well. I suspect I did, but never hurts to check.

And next chapter:

Chapter Fourteen

When morning came, the Vampiresses reconvened in the throne room. Rachelle offered her sleeping rooms, and Lucinia and Annabella accepted. As she pulled her lid shut, Lucinia noticed that she and Georgina were in one room, and Annabella and Rachelle were in another, yet another sign that Annabella was more a mother to Rachelle than she ever should have been to Lucinia.

Before she went to sleep, she whispered, “Georgina!”

“What?” she sounded willing to talk, but more interested in going to sleep.

“Seeing Annabella and Rachelle has made me…reconsider my family arrangements.”

“What do you mean?” Georgina asked, confused.

“I mean, I’m wondering if I ever should have stayed with her past that first week, whether she should have adopted me.”

“She loves you!”

“Perhaps, and I thought I did, too. But maybe it was just her aura flooding my system.” Lucinia sighed. “I should never have joined the Sisterhood.”

“Don’t say that! I know how you love each other,” Georgina insisted.

“Yes,” Lucinia admitted. “But I’ve seen her and Rachelle, now, and it seems more…real, somehow.

“Lucinia, you’re my best friend, and I hate seeing you like this. We’ll discuss it tomorrow night.”

“Thank you for understanding my complications, Georgina.”

“I just don’t want my cousin’s mind falling apart.”

Lucinia dreamed she was in the Silver Pinnacle. She could not see the Dreamer, but his voice filled her mind.

I did not expect this from you, Blood Maiden. I thought you adored Annabella.

“I do, but now I wonder if my adoration is artificial.”

Why? Is not the fact that you love her enough?

“I want to have real feelings, not illusory ones. I see that between Annabella and Rachelle.”

Give it time and you will discover your feelings for her are real.

“Maybe I will. I do not feel Lahmian anymore.”

Leave this behind –

“Join Nagash and all my doubts will be cleared. I know. You’ve said it enough times. I’m still not impressed.”

I can help you become Queen of the Silver Pinnacle. You could have anything you wanted.

“I may not be Lahmian, but I will never betray the Queen.” On that, at least, Lucinia was certain.

The Queen who used religious sacrament ot hide her bloodthirst, and raised a child to be her Vampire pet?

This was new to Lucinia. But not shocking. ‘She’s a Vampire. What else was she supposed to do?”

She became a Vampire by tampering with my master Nagash’s elixir.

“Again, new to me, but no reason to rebel,” she responded. Her eyes blazed. “Go away. Stop haunting me. You know I will never give in, so you may as well go now. Get out of my dreams!”

You are strong, Blood Maiden. Perhaps you are right. But if ever you need me, think of me when you sleep and I will come.

Knowing she would never need the Dreamer, Lucinia woke feeling better than she had in decades. There was a strong possibility she was finally free of the Dreamer and his manipulations! When she told this to Georgina, her friend embraced her.

“I knew you would find the strength to make him go away. You’re the strongest Blood Dragon I know.”

“Thank you, Georgina.”

That night, Rachelle and Annabella sat on the two thrones, Albrecht to Rachelle’s left, Georgina standing to Annabella’s right in her full armour, helmet included, and Lucinia standing in front of the two thrones.

“Lucinia, these dreams –“

Lucinia placed her finger to her lips, and smiled.

“What dreams?” Rachelle asked.

“Nothing to concern you,” Lucinia said.

Georgina leaned in close to Annabella and informed her quietly the Dreamer was beaten. She smiled, and looked 10 years younger, as if the manipulations had beena huge weight on her shoulders.

“Now, Annabella and I should be going now,” Lucinia said. “But…” she explained her problems.

Georgina’s face was hidden, but Lucinia knew the Blood Dragoness would support whatever decisions she made. Annabella was nervous. Rachelle looked concerned.

Rachelle came up with a solution. “Annabella lives here, with permission from the Queen. Or lives in Middenheim and visits occasionally. By which I mean more often than every 400 years!” she added with a smile, but no one felt like laughing. “Lucinia becomes a wanderer, with my protection. That way, she has a home here, I assume Annabella would welcome her?”

“I would.”

‘Good. And she wanders, like Blood Dragons should. Or even join my bodyguard, if she so wishes. And have more time with Georgina.”

It sounded like the best solution to Lucinia, and Annabella agreed. “I’m sorry our lives have come to this point, Lucinia. But you will always be my friend. Rachelle, I’m we have reconnected. You seem to have the situation well in hand, so I will only visit from time to time. Georgina, I’m glad you are here to support Lucinia. I think you’re the best influence she’s had since her sire died.”

“Thank you, Annabella,” Georgina said. “I will do everything I can for her.”

“I know you will.”

“Annabella, thank you for being my mother,” Lucinia said. “I did need a sire in my early days, and you were good to me, even if…”

Annabella nodded, standing. “I enjoyed every moment of it. Thank you for being my daughter. I will go to the Pinnacle and inform the Queen of the decision that has been made here.”

“Should I not come too?” Lucinia asked.

Annabella nodded.

Lucinia turned to her friends. “I’ll see you in a few weeks!”
 

Count Vashra

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#21
Chapter Fifteen

On the way to the Pinnacle, Lucinia clad only in day-clothes and without her sword, the Blood Dragoness tried to start a conversation, but was always stopped by her awkward feelings.

“Lucinia, this is nobody’s fault, least of all yours. Of course a Blood Dragon is not meant to be a Lahmian’s child. Perhaps my aura just suppressed that realisation. I was your mother when you needed a mentor, when you were young, but it ended up splitting your loyalties, which wasn’t fair on you. You should never have had to choose. If you had ignored the Dreamer and lived at the Blood Monastery then maybe things would have been better for you. I hope you still have your honour, and I hope you do not begrudge me.”

Lucinia shook her head. “I don’t. I enjoyed our time together, and you were good to me.” She smiled. “You were a real mother.”

Annabella smiled back. “Thank you. You were a good daughter. it is time for us to return to our natural lives. You should feel better being a normal Blood Dragon.”

“It will be easier without having to go against my core,” Lucinia said. “I’ll be free to do as I please, as any Blood Dragon should.”

“And maybe find a Dragon, or meet Abhorash,” Annabella suggested, laughing.

Lucinia smiled. “Maybe I will.”

When they arrived at the Silver Pinnacle, both were reluctant to enter. The closer they got to the throne room, the less time they had with each other. They did like each other, for all the artificiality of their relationship. This was major point in their lives, and they knew it.

Therefore, it was with an element of hesitation that the conversation with Neferata began.

“Greetings, Annabella, Lucinia. In your letter you hinted at toubles in Lucinia’s mind, but you did not specify these. Will you elaborate?”

“She is Blood Dragon, and I am Lahmian. Our bloodlines are not…parallel in interests or methods,” Annabell began. “On every mission, she felt split between her honour and blood and the Sisterhood.”

‘Did you?”

“I did,” Lucinia answered.

“And a dark spirit haunted her.” They had decided not to risk Neferata’s reaction at learning about a tenth Dreadlord. “It tempted her, preying on her split loyalties. Once it possessed her until drastic action was taken.”

Lucinia was amused by the euphemism for being killed by her best friend.

“You were possessed? What drastic action was taken?”

Lucinia sighed. “Death and resurrection.”

“That is drastic. Are you still tempted?”

“I told it go away. I think it received the message.”

“Good. Now, why are you here?” Neferata asked.

Lucinia kneeled as low as she could. “I wish to exit the Sisterhood. The way I was born to live, changed to live, taught to live, is at odds with how I must live.”

“You wish to leave? Did you not consider these things when you joined?”

“I did not expect them to mean so much, and I must admit I was mainly considering wanting to live with Annabella.”

“I always warn my daughters not to let emotion cloud their judgement,” Neferata said.

“Which is why I should leave, before a mission goes wrong because of me,” Lucinia said. “Worse than last time, I mean.” Lucinia had abandoned a mission to rescue Annabella from a Vampiric assassin, but no serious damage had been done to the mission.

“A good reason,” Neferata said. “I was never entirely sure I made the right decision letting a Blood Dragon into the Sisterhood to begin with. We are so different. Maybe you did well to practice subterfuge for as long as you have. You may leave.”

Lucinia released an imaginary breath, stood and turned to Annabella. “Goodbye, Annabella.”

“Goodbye, Lucinia.”

“However,” Neferata added before Lucinia reached the door. “I cannot believe your feelings for Annabella were entirely false, and I know she loves you. You may continue to live with her, and have my explicit permission to accompany her on missions. I will not tell the Sisterhood of this. Despite your difficulties, I have been impressed by your skills, and you may just need time to reconsider your relationship.”

“I’ll see you another time, then, Annabella.” Lucinia was unsure what she felt of the compromise.

Annabella nodded.
 
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Count Vashra

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Sep 29, 2013
Messages
1,554
#22
Chapter Sixteen

Lucinia returned to the castle without Annabella.

She arrived to find Albrecht whispering something to Rachelle.

Georgina saw her first. “Lucinia!” She resisted the urge to embrace her friend. That would not be befitting of the captain of the guard.

Rachelle smiled at her, and Albrecht was expressionless.

Lucinia smiled. “Geogina. Rachelle.”

“So you have now left the Sisterhood?” Rachelle asked.

“I have, Rachelle. Although I am still allowed to accompany Annabella, including on missions.”

“My Lady, to you,” the Lahmian child joked, grinning.

“I apologise most sincerely, my Lady,” Lucinia replied, making an exaggerated bow and laughing.

“Do you want to know what this castle is called?” Rachelle asked.

“I do,” Lucinia answered.

“Hawk’s Tower,” Rachelle stated. “Hadros was a bird lover. When he became a Vampire, it increased his command over astral magic. Supposedly Hadria gave him a bird pendent to protect him, especially against avian foes.”

“That sounds like something good to have,” Lucinia said.

“Obviously not good enough,” Georgina said.

“Obviously not,” Rachelle agreed. “Albrecht, Lucinia will be a regular guest, if not permanent resident. I would like you to give her a tour and organise her accommodation.”

Albrecht bowed. “Yes, my Lady. Follow me, Lucinia.”

Lucinia followed Albrecht out a back door leading to a corridor. “The room you slept in before was a guest room. I will show you to your permanent room.”

They came to a room with a coffin, a rack which Lucinia’s armour was on and a desk. On one wall there was a mirror. On the far wall there was a window, currently closed.

“We’re all Vampires,” Lucinia said, confused. “Rachelle should know we don’t have reflections.”

Albrecht smiled. “My Lady has a sense of humour. Now, if you would follow me to the banquet hall.”

There was a large table with several chairs, and a kitchen.

Before Lucinia could say anything, Albrecht said, “We have many mortal guests. They require sustenance.”

“Are they aware?”

“This is Sylvania. Everyone knows they are ruled by the living dead.”

Hawk’s Tower also had a barracks, where Lucinia was introduced to the guard, training square and everything else she could want.

“What are your skills?” she asked Albrecht on the way back ot the throne room.

“I was taught magic by a Necrarch, and swordsmanship by Blood Dragons. My Lady taught me to make the most of my diluted bloodline powers.”

“You are lucky. Though I don’t use magic for more than healing,” Lucinia stated. “It’s dishonourable.”

“You are Blood Dragon. I am aware of your…habits.”

Albrecht returned to his position beside Rachelle.

“Does Hawk’s Tower look suitable to you?” she asked.

Lucinia nodded.

“Annabella told me before that you love duelling.”

“I do.”

Rachelle smiled, revealing her fangs, and gracefully slid off her throne onto her feet. “Arm yourself. I want to see if all those years of soft living blunted your skills.”

Lucinia glared, faking offence. “You, a childish Lahmian, accuse me, a Blood Dragon, of living soft?!

“Childish? I am 16, but I am also 850. I am an adult in all but siring age,” Rachelle responded, laughing.

The Vampiresses continued spitting fake venom at each other whilst they put their armour on. Rachelle wore elegant light blue which seemed to meld with her form. von Carstein heraldry was on it. Presumably they wanted everyone to know who their servants were.

“Why do you not wear a helmet?” the Lahmian asked.

“It got frustrating rearranging my hair, which I would quite like to keep this way.”

Rachelle nodded.

“And one more thing, can you shapeshift?”

“No.”

Their preparations complete, the Vampiresses went onto the training square and fought. Lucinia was surprised by Rachelle’s speed. She was only a few decades older than Annabella, but she seemed more than twice as fast. Maybe Annabella had held back. What was certain was that Rachelle’s 13-year-old body had less weight to move around, so she could use more energy.

Rachelle won the duel. Magnanimous in victory, she offered Lucinia her hand. Lucinia took it and climbed to her feet.

“A good effort,” Rachelle said. “You are skilled.”

“Thank you. You are talented too, Rachelle.”

“I can see you being a bodyguard eventually.”

Lucinia smiled. “You can?”

“I can.”

This was high praise from one of Rachelle’s martial talent. “I am honoured.”

“You mean, honoured?” Rachelle asked.

“Yes. On my honour,” Lucinia confirmed.

After some more rounds, all off which Rachelle easily won, they returned to the throne room.

“So, how do your skills compare to my Lady?” Georgina asked.

“She easily beats me. But I like fighting her, and she says I could be a bodyguard.”

“Well, you’ll never be captain.”

“Why won’t I?” Lucinia challenged.

“That would require killing me. Which I know you won’t do for two reasons. You are far inferior in skill to me, and I know you wouldn’t kill your friends. Especially your best friend.”

“I know. Rachelle, I have a request to make.”

The Lahmian smiled. “What do you need?”

“An acrobatics room,” Lucinia answered. “I performed as a day job – literally – and it was great for my agility. I would like to stay in practice.”

“Of course,” Rachelle said. “Anything for a friend,” she said.
 
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Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
True Blood
Joined
Sep 29, 2013
Messages
1,554
#23
Chapter Seventeen

Annabella returned to her home confused. She poured blood into a glass and took a long drink. She didn’t understand Lucinia’s action. True, Lucinia’s feelings for her were perhaps exaggerated by constant exposure to her aura, but surely her daughter didn’t believe their relationship was that shallow? That her mother was manipulating her all along? It simply wasn’t true. Annabella loved her, and would never dream of manipulating her.

At least they would sometimes visit each other, and Lucinia would sometimes go on missions with her, but it wouldn’t be the same. Annabella could only hope Lucinia changed her mind at some point in the future. Already she missed the Blood Dragon, the regular duelling and playing, and just the company. Yes, there were others in her bloodline, but…she sighed.

Shadows gathered, and Niklaus’ form coalesced. Annabella jumped off her chair, fire sword in hand.

“I am not here to fight, Annabella. You went to the Pinnacle with Lucinia. You did not return with her. Where is she?”

Annabella’s eyes blazed with flame. “You know I will never tell you that. She has decided we should…separate for now.”

“Interesting. Why would she decide that?” Niklaus asked.

“I will not tell you that either.” Annabella walked closer, sword raised. ‘In fact, now would be a good time to end this. I won’t let you go, but I will let you fight.”

“Is that so?”

Spiked shadow armoured former around Niklaus, and a shadow sword appeared in his hand. He clenched his other hand into a fist, trapping Annabella in swirling shadow. Smiling, she dispelled the shadows with barely a thought and sent a jet of fire at Niklaus, which he blocked with his sword. He flung his hand forward, and a shadowy hand gripped Annabella’s neck and began squeezing it.

Annabella dispelled the hand with some effort, and rubbed her neck. It had hurt. Then she concentrated, and attempted to dispel Niklaus’ shadow armour. She felt his will resisting, supporting the armour, and after several weeks of long travel her powers were not quite at their peak. She did dispel the armour, but clenched her teeth with the effort. Bored, she charged Niklaus. She allowed him to Shadow-merge, but only within the house. This led to a chase around the house as Annabella attacked and Niklaus Shadow-merged,

Eventually Niklaus ran out of energy. He reformed and knelt before Annabella, hlowering his head in defeat.

“You’ve won. Kill me.”

“Gladly.” Annabella lowered herself so her mouth was near his neck. She slowly bared her fangs, and pressed them against his flesh. The smell of his blood, the sound of it, was so intoxicating. But…

She sighed and stood, sheathing her fangs. “I hate myself for saying this, and hate you even more for it, but you are my grandson, no matter that you have killed your sister/mother. I can’t kill my grandson.”

Niklaus lunged upwards with his fangs, but Annabella pushed him down. “Go. If I ever see you again I will kill you, but not right now.”

Niklaus nodded. “I love you too, Grandmother,” he mocked, smiling.

She glared as he walked away, extinguishing her sword. She knelt, feeling her eyes burn red with tears she couldn’t cry. Why couldn’t she kill Niklaus? He was only related to her by definition. They hated each other, and he wanted to kill all Vampires, including her. What kind of a Vampire was she?

When she went to sleep, she dreamed she was in the Silver Pinnacle again.

I am as surprised as you that the Blood Maiden has made this decision. If the two of you had accepted my offer, you would still be living together. The Dreamer sounded like an adult reminding a child its problems were a result of ignoring its parents’ warnings. If you were Queenffo the Silver Pinnacle, then maybe she would want to live with you.

“Maybe?” Annabella laughed bitterly. “You have no idea! She wouldn’t want to know a traitor.”

She is.

“It wasn’t really treachery. It was a difficult solution to a compromise. And she certainly wouldn’t want to know someone who killed their mother.”

You could give her anything she wanted. Endless duels, endless affection or anything else.

“She wouldn’t want that, and you know it. I hope she reverses her decision, but it will be her decision, not yours, and I will never betray my Queen. I am loyal. Now go away.”

Or perhaps you do not deserve Neferata’s crown. She overthrew her brother, whom she once loved. You cannot kill your grandson, whom you were always suspicious of. You do not deserve rule. You lack the ruthlessness Nagahsi require. I concede the game. But if you need me, think of me, and I will come.

Niklaus walked back to his base, drained of energy. Though Annabella had, essentially, defeated him, he had won the battle that really mattered. She could not kill family. Even family that tried to kill her. She was weak, and he could use that. He smiled as his mind thought of many schemes he could enact with that knowledge.

And...finished! Further sequels are possible, and I'm drafting a backstory ot the Lady Rachelle. And one of these characters will appear in TVCII, but no hints as to which!
 
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