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The Pale Web: Book IV

Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
#1
In this installment in the continuing series, Lucinia adjusts to life as a normal i.e. wandering Blood Dragon, with a new home at Hawk's Tower, run by the Lahmian Rachelle and her unsanctioned get Albrecht, As she adjusts, she learns of a plot by the Necrarch V'raztra, seeking to create a hybrid super-bloodline.

Chapter One


Early evening, Lucinia Draconia woke from a peaceful sleep, the first in a good while. The malevolent dream wizard haunting her sleep had recently given up trying to convince her to serve Nagash, or so he said - one could never trust Nagashi - but she had been plagued by nightmares for several days afterwards. Finally those dark dreams had ended and she had rested undisturbed.

She climbed out of her coffin and clad herself in crimson armour - lacking a helmet as she did not want to ruin her shoulder-length red hair - placing her sword in its sheathe. Tonight she would hunt, and forget her past troubles. The quickest route outside was through the throne room. As she entered, she saw Albrecht standing beside on of the two thrones. Albrecht was the only, and unsanctioned, get of Lucinia's new friend, Rachelle who held the castle of Hawk's Tower as regent until its true owners returned from a mysterious disappearance. Albrecht was Rachelle's advisor, sired so he could guide her decisions for eternity.

The Lahmian turned as he saw Lucinia approach. "Good evening, Lucinia." He spoke respectfully, and though not required to address her by any title was deferential.

"Good evening, Albrecht," the Blood Dragoness responded cheerfully.

"Are you looking for my Lady Rachelle?" Rachelle liked her servants to call her 'my Lady'.

Lucinia shook her head and kept walking.

"If you need her she is in her study. The guards will let you in."

"Thank you, Albrecht." She stopped. She had hunted the previous night, filling her for at least a month. “In fact, I will see her.” She turned and found her way to the study.


Two mortal guards stood either side of the door, dressed in yellow armour that appeared to be more ceremonial than effective, though Lucinia was sure they could fight. At least, she wouldn’t hire incompetent guards. Recognising their Lady’s friend, the guards moved aside.

Rachelle’s study was well organised, with labelled sections on various topics, ranging from dance and party related subjects, including acrobatics, to political and military subjects. Rachelle was at her desk, reading a thick yet elegant, if that were possible, book.

“Hello, Rachelle,” Lucinia said.

The Lahmian placed a marker on her page, delicately closed the book, stood and spun to face Lucinia. “Hello, Lucinia.” She had the appearance of a 16-year-old, having been sired at that age, wanting eternal youth despite warnings about the drawbacks of such a young final age. Like most Lahmians, her appearance was calculated to be as beguiling as possible, even without her aura. Rachelle had short blonde hair, green hair, a slender body, her small size somewhat accentuating her beauty, and extravagant yet refined yellow clothes. Her obsession with yellow, which she had also repainted the inside of the castle in, was a result of her dislike of the darker aspects of the Vampire. She drank blood, but disliked doing so, and there was a marked lack of books on Necromancy amongst her collection. This she delegated to Albrecht.

“What are you reading?” Lucinia asked curiously.

“Political material,” Rachelle answered. “I should thank you for being here. It becomes boring reading.” Rachelle was a keen learner, her collection of books testifying to that, but was easily bored.

“I can only imagine,” Lucinia said.

“It gets worse,” the Lahmian child sighed. “This is homework. Albrecht wants to quiz me at the end of the month.” In addition to being her advisor, Albrecht was Rachelle’s political and financial tutor. Despite her occasional negative thoughts, she was diligent and the lessons were nearly always rewarding in the end.

“He makes you do homework? Aren’t you too busy managing the regency?” Lucinia couldn’t help smiling. She had never gone to school, but had received more than enough homework from her mortal parents to understand what Rachelle might be thinking.

“I wish. I’m 16. He says that means I’m at school age, even though we both know I’m also centuries old, and won’t age. Whenever I remind him about my duties he volunteers to do them for me.”

Lucinia found it almost funny how Rachelle and Albrecht had turned the usual sire/get relationship on its head; although officially by blood his superior, Rachelle almost deferred to Albrecht more often than the other way around. She had certainly never directly refused a command from him, or used much authority on him.

“I am fortunate, then, to have matured before receiving the Dark Blessing.”

Rachelle raised her eyebrows. “Given how you’ve ended up living here, I wouldn’t say you’re very mature,” she commented, grinning.

“Says the 16-year-old immortal being assigned homework by her unsanctioned get whose presence is only tolerated because it can be ignored!” Lucinia responded, laughing.

“Do not question my siring decision!” Rachelle bared her fangs, causing Lucinia to laugh even more.

“Well, I would never have sired someone who I defer to.”

Bursting into laughter, Rachelle swiped at Lucinia, claws sheathed.

The Blood Dragoness dodged, allowing her own fags to slide into view and making her eyes glow. “Should we go outside?”

Rachelle looked at the book on her desk for a second, and then looked at her friend, all thoughts of homework forgotten.

“We should. But if I fail this month’s assignment, you will be personally responsible and burn your coffin.”

Lucinia pretended to look horrified. “How could you?”

“Because I am the Lady of Hawk’s Tower, and will not be reprimanded by my own get.”


After Rachelle armed herself the Vampiresses went outside through the throne room. Albrecht bowed as they passed. “I heard your jesting, my Lady. I understand your feelings and will allow you this one night to excuse yourself.”

Caught up in the excitement of a duel, Rachelle barely heard her advisor.
 

Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
#2
Chapter Two

As they fought, Rachelle commented on Lucinia's fighting style. "I've never seen a Blood Dragon fight like that before."
"I was taught by a Blood Dragon for 6 years, and then by a Lahmian for 50 years," Luicnia responded. "i think there would be some mixing of styles."
Rachelle smiled. "I like diversity. I'll have to practice more with you."
"Any time."

After the duel, which Rachelle easily won, with her Blood Dragon training, Lahmian speed, and advanced age, they returned to the throne room. Lucinia noticed someone who had not been there before standing beside the other throne, Georgina, in a suit of armour that, complete with a Dragon crest and an illusory effect of fiery eyes. She and Albrecht bowed as Rachelle jumped onto a seemingly too large throne.

Lucinia exchanged a greeting with Georgina. She was her best friend, get of the Grandmaster of a cult of Blood Dragons who had worshipped Abhorash as a god. Since the cult’s disbanding Georgina had wandered, lost, until found by Rachelle, and after impressing the Lahmian, offered a place in her bodyguard. She had swiftly achieved the rank of captain.

“I see you’re armed. An early evening hunt or a duel?” she asked.

“A duel, which I lost, of course,” Lucinia answered.

“You should let her win sometimes,” Georgina suggested, humour in her voice.

Rachelle’s eyes twinkled. “And why would I do that?”

“No one likes a perfect person.”

“Maybe I should fight you. That would break my record.” Rachelle was not entirely joking. It was possible Georgina was a better fighter, having been sired a Blood Dragon and trained for 500 years.

“Maybe it would. My Lady, I wish to hunt with Lucinia tonight. We have not done so for far too long. What use are friends if one does not hunt with them?”

“I am not currently threatened.” Rachelle’s voice sounded much more serious. She had an ability to switch between being a playful 16-year-old to being a far more mature Vampire Lady. “You may, if Lucinia wishes?”

Lucinia smiled. She too wanted to hunt with her best friend.


As they waited at the side of a road, the usual Blood Dragon ‘hunting’ method, they talked.

“So, how long have you been in Rachelle’s bodyguard?”

“Around a year,” Georgina answered. “I reached captain last month.”

“That sounds fast.”

“Not really. The bodyguard is a mix of mortals and Vampires. Before you have ideas, we can’t drink from the mortal bodyguards, Lucinia,” Georgina added lightly.

“I wouldn’t dream of it!”

Georgina laughed. “That aside, only a Vampire is allowed to be captain, and there are few of us, so there is little competition. Sometimes I question whether my Lady requires a bodyguard. We are almost never threatened, and between my Lady’s knowledge of blades and Albrecht’s military and magical ability I think they can survive anything that does threaten them.”

“You never can have too much protection,” Lucinia pointed out.

“I suppose you’re right. Lucinia, have you told me about your mortal family before?”

“I haven’t,” she answered.”

“I’d like to know what they were like,” Georgina said.

“Before you scold me for running away from comfortable life, a sword through the heart is good incentive to accept immortality,” Lucinia said, smiling.

Georgina laughed. “I won’t. Now, as captain of my Lady’s bodyguard, I should tell her everything I hear, but you’re as much a cousin to me as a mortal cousin, and…I won’t tell her anything you don’t want me to.”

“Tell her as much as you like. My family won’t matter to her,” Lucinai said dismissively. Then she launched into her description; that she had four brothers, all of whom were soldiers, the family had been military for generations, her father had been an important officer of some forgotten rank, she often played military games with her brothers, her favourite, brother, Hans, had playfully called her Lucian, an altered spelling of her name that was intended to make her sound more masculine than feminine.

‘Can I call you Lucian?” Georgina asked with a twinkle in her eyes.

“No!” Lucinia responded.

“It sounds like you had a good family. What would your future have been?”

“It was 50 years ago, Georgina. I can’t remember, and honestly I think being Blood Dragon is the most I could have asked for.”

“From your history, it does seem the best result,” Georgina concluded, nodding.

“And however I came here, I do like how it’s turned out,” Lucinia agreed. She smiled at her friend. “Meeting you was great.”

“I liked you from the start, too.” Georgina smiled back.

The night of hunting was successful, and after only a short time both Vampiresses felt refreshed. They returned to Hawk’s Tower, and Georgina told Rachelle what she had learned about Lucinia’s family.

“Why didn’t you tell me this before, Lucian?” she asked with a grin.

“Don’t call me that!” the Blood Dragoness laughed. Then she spoke more seriously. “Because I did not feel it relevant,” she said. “When Georgina asked, I thought I might as well mention it. I mean, their lives are over, and I have nothing to do with any nieces or nephews I may have.”

Rachelle nodded. “A good idea, Lucinia. I haven’t told anybody about my family because they had no bearing on my life since Annabella became my Mother.” The child Vampiress blinked, and spoke softly, almost so softly Lucinia couldn’t hear. “But I miss them. I wish there was some way I could have told them…could have told them what I’d become.”

Lucinia smiled. She couldn’t imagine wanting to be 13 forever, but could well imagine a 13-year-old having to abandon her family with no explanation, no warning, and being unable to ever return. Again she was reminded of why 13 was too young an age to receive the Blood Kiss. “I had the same wish, Rachelle, and also knew I could not see them. But that is the past.”

“Thank you for your understanding. Albrecht, will you explain to them your family?”

The advisor began speaking, but some way into his story Lucinia noticed Rachele’s eyes had closed. “Is she well?” she asked. “I mean, we don’t get ill, but…”

Albrecht picked up the Vampiress in his arms. “My Lady is well. She simply easily grows bored. She really shouldn’t have asked me to repeat what she has experience in front of her. I was born to serve her. We were…putting it simply, childhood friends. When I was old enough she sent me to learn magic with a Necrarch so she would not have to be a Necromancer herself, and I have advised her and taught her since the final years of my parents’ lives. We agreed that should she fall sleep on her throne certain actions were to be taken depending on circumstance. You are not dignitaries, so I can afford to simply place her on her bed and remain with her until she wakes. There are limits to what a 13-year-old can pay attention to, and a recital of her life – she was absent from very few parts of mine – is not one of those. She must have forgotten that.” His explanation finished, Albrecht carried Rachelle out.

Lucinia turned to Georgina. “Does this happen often?”

“More often than you would think, but most often during boring lessons or endless political discussions.”

Lucinia couldn’t help grinning at the thought of Rachelle sleeping whilst talking to political representatives. “How do you deal with that?”
Georgina returned the grin. "It is funny, I must admit. But don't tell her I said that."
"I won't."
"With mortals, we can say that she has fallen ill - her colour does suggest that - and take her to her room. With immortals, it's harder. They know she's a Vampire, so sickness can't be claimed. Sometimes we tap her on the shoulder. usually wakes her up."
"I would love to see this," Luicnia said, still grinning.
"You will. Just don't laugh."
 

Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
#3
Chapter Three

The night's hunting finished, Lucinia and Georgina returned to Hawk's Tower to see Rachelle and Albrecht in urgent discussion over something.
"Can I ask what you are discussing?" Lucinia asked.
Rachelle looked up and smiled at her. In fact she was grinning wider than Lucinia had thought possible, and he eyes were shining almost too brightly to look at. "Albrecht has received word - he is also my spymaster - of a knightly tournamnet in southern Bretonnia. You'll want to attend because-" the child jumped off her throne, ran over to Lucinia, and tightly squeezed her. Lucinia returned the embrace, confused.
"-because one of your brothers will be there."
Lucinia's heart stopped, if indeed it had been beating. "My brother? But-"
"Then presumably he has become a Vampire since last you spoke," Rachelle suggested.
Lucinia didn't know what to say to this incredible and completely unexpected news. She lowered herself to Rachelle's level, stroked her hair, and firmly wrapped her arms around her. She saw Albrecht smiling, which surprised her, because he didn't usually show his emotions. Lucinia felt an arm around her back.
"I'm delighted for you, Lucinia."
"Thank you, Georgina. Neither of you know how much this means to me. Rachelle, if I find my brother, I will be in your debt for life, and I mean that as a Blood Dragon."
"But Lucinia, you're my friend, and my mother's daughter," Rachelle protested. "At least you were. You don't need to indebt yourself to me."
Lucinia held Rachelle's shoulders and looked into her green eyes, smiling. "I know. But I am Blood Dragon, and what you have possibly done for me I cannot repay. Please accept my debt."
"If you insist. Now, Albrecht will tell you where the tournament is. i imagien you'll want to go as soon as you can."
"I do. I also want to tell Annabella. She would love to meet my brother."
"Of course."
"Can I come?" Georgina asked.
"Sorry, Georgina," Lucinia said. "I think Rachelle needs you here at least sometimes, and I'm not sure you speak Bretonnian."
"Do you?"
"Father was Bretonnian. He taught me some of his language."
"But why can't I come? I'm your cousin."
"I know. But you have duties here. You might meet him later."
Georgina removed her helmet and placed it on the floor, revealing her short brown hair and roughly beautiful face. She embraced Lucinia, who returned the gesture.
"Promise me you'll look after yourself," Lucinia.
"i promise, Georgina. And if you come after me, I'll bite you. and you Rachelle, for letting her go."
Georgina laughed softly. "I'll stay here."

--

Southern Bretonnia, the Necrarch V'raztra's tower

V'raztra cursed when he realised he was dreaming, and cursed even louder when he recognised Nagashizzar, the mysterious Nagashi dream wizard's favourite scene for talking to him. The Necrarch was still fuming over the escape of his cptive Vampiresses, and the death of his captive Vampires, and how the dream wizard seemed to blame him for it. He clenched his fist, stretching his withered skin to breaking point, and glared. "Now what?"
You will have a second chance, the dream wizard said in his mind. What made him even worse was the fact that he seemed made of no more than a black cloak and a black staff, which even V'raztra, who had created so many things creator gods would not dare make, found disturbing. The Vampiresses will come to you again. I am giving Lucinia a reason to come here. And she will surely want Annabella to come with her.
"Thank you for my second chance," V'raztra said, his tone not at all suggesting subservience.
You are most welcome. But this will be your final chance. Fail again, or kill Lucinia or Annabella, and I will kill you.
When he woke, V'raztra had no doubt the dream wizard could.

The Necrarch went to his laboratory, a room filled with potions and animals and sights that should not be possible. He didn't want to risk failure again. He needed less dangerous subjects than Lucinia and Annabella. He picked up a vial. it contained blood from Albrecht, an apprentice from centuries ago. The blood was so old the link was weak, but he was a get of W'soran, and if it was possible to do what he would attempt, he could do it.
 
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Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
#4
Chapter Four

Lucinia had no idea what to expect from Annabella when she knocked on her door. True, they were still friends, but the Lahmian might be angry at her for exiting the Sisterhood and dissolving their family bond. She only hoped they were on good terms.
So it was a complete surprise when Annabella opened the door, smiled, and, embracing her, said, "My daughter."
Lucinai briefly returned the gesture, then stepped back, blinking. "I'm not, anymore."
"Yes, you are. Even if you do not regard me as your mother, I regard you as my daughter."
Lucinia just nodded.
"Come inside."
As Lucinia followed her in, she could see, even without feeling her aura, Annabella was attractive, with her blonde hair, perfect face and a black dress matching her eye colour. But she noticed something wrong.
"Annabella, you look...worried," she observed as they sat together on the couch.
"Something happened. But why are you here?"
"I found out something I never thought possible, and it's amazing. But I want to know what happened to you."
Annabella nodded. "Niklaus attacked me."
Lucinia gasped. "He did?"
"Yes. Alone. I suppose he thought he could defeat me in a duel. or maybe it was never his intention to defeat me. It's impossible to know with him. Either way, I defeated him and could have, should have killed him."
"Why didn't you? I would have."
Annabella blinked, and her eyes met Lucinia's. Her face hardened. "My daughter, when you have children of your own, they may turn out...not how you expected them to. They may even try to kill you or your friends. But they will still be your children. Niklaus is my grandson, for everything he is, and I cannot kill my grandson. You may understand one. I hope you do not have to."
Lucinia bared her fangs. "I would kill any child of mine who threatened me or my friends."
"Lucinia, do not make that declaration. You have no children as of yet, and cannot understand until you face the situation yourself."
"i accept your words."
"I wish you never to have to make that decision." Annabella softened. "Now, let us talk about why you are here."
Lucinia grinned and repeated what Albrecht had told her. In shock, Annabella's mouth opened and her eyes widened.
"He is alive? Then you are fortunate indeed. Blood-siblings are siblings, but actual siblings are truer. At least, I would willing exchange all my blood-sisters for one mortal sister, even for a day."
"i know. My brothers were my brothers. Georgina is my cousin, but only by a stretch of the meaning of the word, and I do not feel close to others of my generation and line."
"I'm pleased for you, Lucinia. Now find him."
"Annabella, I came to you because...because I wanted you to come with me. I don't know his opinion of Vampires as a whole, Georgina and Rachelle have obligations, and I'm not close enough to any other Vampire. Your presence would help reassure him that Vampires are not...all monsters, if that his opinion, and he would want to know you cared for me. Also you're my friend."
"Lucinia...You find this out days after escaping from V'raztra's tower, and this tournament he is at sounds very close to that tower. Are you sure this isn't a trap?"
"I don't want to believe that!" the Blood Dragoness screamed. "This is my chance to reunite with someone I thought long dead, and now I have to consider it's a trick?" Her eyes blazed witchfire.
Annabella touched her shoulder. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have put it that way. Just be careful. But I am pleased you might find your brother."
"Sorry. I didn't meant to shout," Lucinia said apologetically, eyes calm again.
"You are forgiven."
"Will you come with me?"
"Yes."

Rachelle pushed her bed-sheets away and jumped out of bed. She was a Vampire, yes, but disliked the darker aspects, such as sleeping in a coffin, and tried to live as 'normal' a life as possible, including sleeping in a normal bed. Her room, like the rest of the castle, was yellow, a colour matched by the dress she quickly pulled on. There was a large collection books in her room, all the material that could not fit in her study, or was not important to her current learning topic.
With the energy of a 13-year-old immortal, she sped out of the room and down the corridor to Albrecht's room, excited to wake him for the new night. Though she was sire and he was get, the reasons for his siring and her respect for him had turned the normal sire/get relationship on its head to the point where Albrecht was, essentially, almost Rachelle's sire, a relationship she was perfectly happy with. She certainly didn't like the idea of a 13-year-old being superior to someone nearly middle-aged, as least in terms of mortal age. She respected him as a tutor, even if the lessons sometimes bored her to the point of her falling asleep, which he always accepted her apologies for, and respected him as an advisor.
Being a youthful child, Rachelle was almost always awake before Albrecht - in fact, the only time she could recall him waking before her had been during his childhood when they had had an awkward relationship as 'childhood friends,' awkward because he had aged and she hadn't - so she was surprised to see his coffin open and empty. Thinking he might be in the study preparing an early lesson, she went there. But no, it was as well organised and untouched as Rachelle's obsession with neatness made it between lessons. Increasingly confused, she searched the entirety of Hawk's Tower, until she found a guard in her throne room, a talented mortal rumoured to be the next candidate for the Blood Kiss from an existing Vampire guard.
"have you seen Albrecht?" Rachelle asked, her voice betraying her panic.
The guard bowed. "My Lady, he was with Captain Georgina outside the castle just before evening. Nothing seemed wrong."
"Just before evening? Has he been seen since?"
"No, my Lady."
"I'm worried about him. Search for him."
"Yes, my Lady." The guard hurried out of the throne room, fortunate not to see the sight of his child mistress sitting on her throne with her head in her hands.
 
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Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
#5
I've decided to alter some events of the previous story, and end this one. not quite sure where to take it that couldn't have been resolved before.
 
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