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The Pale Web: Shadows of the Mind

Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
#1
Here's another of Lucinia and Annabella's adventures. The Dreamer uses his mind-magic to delve into Lucinia's core, and find the answer to how to convince her to become a Dreadlady.

Chapter One

"Lucinia!" Annabella called. Lucinia Draconia, practicing her sword-skills outside, easily heard her adoptive mother's call, and sheathed her blade. Walking around to the front of the house, she entered and moved through the building until she found Annabella sitting on a chair in the living room. The Blood Dragoness went over to the Lahmian and sat beside her.
"Yes, Annabella?"
She smiled and held Lucinia's hand. Although Vampires were generally cold and dead to the touch, Annabella seemed warm due to her aura of beguilement, which she used to a small extent on Lucinia. Not that she really needed to, the Blood Dragoness thought. With her perfect, long-limbed body, sleeveless black dress, black eyes and long, sun-blonde hair, and sweet voice, she already seemed the pinnacle of beauty.
"Lucinia, I've been thinking. We've been mother and daughter for 50 years, but I feel as though we have not done anything particularly special together."
"No, we haven't," the crimson-haired Blood Dragoness agreed. She was nowhere near Annabella's physical standard, but had sky-blue eyes on an attractive face, a smile befitting the 23-year-old woman she appeared as, and a well-muscled body. Her only fault was a scar from a silver blade on her neck, which she hid under her crimson clothing.
"So, I was wondering what you would say to sailing around the world." Annabella smiled.
Lucinia's eyes widened. She'd never sailed more than rivers, when necessary. "Around the world?"
Annabella's eyes sparkled. "Yes, my daughter. It'll be a great adventure. Consider it a reward for being my daughter."
"Being your daughter is reward in itself," Lucinia protested.
Annabella stroked her short, blood-red hair, causing her to smile. "Then consider this further reward. I promise it will be fun."
"What if the Queen requires us for missions?"
"Don't worry about that, Lucinia. We are free to act as we wish for a while yet."
Lucinia jumped to her feet, excited. "Then let's find a boat and go."
Annabella stood, revealing her to be a head taller than her daughter. "I have already arranged it. I knew you would not be able to refuse the opportunity."
"You were right."

They arrived at the busy port - in full daylight, both of them old enough to not be concerned about the sun - and found that even their Vampiric grace and agility were not enough to avoid all the crowds going to and from boats and stalls. Lucinia could smell much blood around her, and knowing she would be unable to feed for a long time once she stepped onto the boat increased her temptation, but she was Blood Dragon, of strong will, and knew she could not give in to such base instincts. They had both fed before, and she was confident Annabella had taken her needs into account when she planned the voyage.
Apologising to the last person she brushed past in her red half-plate armour, Lucinia followed Annabella down a finger of the dock.
Annabella pointed at the boat moored beside them. "This one's ours."
A man came to the side of the boat. It was immediately clear from his beard and lined face he had been sailing for years.
"Annabella and Lucinia?" he asked.
Anabella nodded. "Yes, Josephus," she replied with a smile.
"Then come aboard," he said gruffly.
Lucinia did so, careful not to appear to have too much balance on a gently rocking ship. She politely helped Annabella aboard, and then looked around, eyes wide. She'd never been on a large boat before, and could see many masts on the deck, sails currently furled. The prow curved up into a figure somewhat resembling a wooden lady. Curious, she asked Josephus, whom she guessed to be the captain, "Who's the lady?"
He laughed. "No one in particular. It's mainly a good luck charm. Don't want Vampires, among other things, aboard, now do we?"
"No, we don't," Lucinia responded, hoping her silent laughter at the irony would not be detected.
"Lift anchor!" Josephus called. "I want to get moving!" Crew rushed to carry out the order, unfurl the sails, and untie the boat from the dock.
Josephus looked at Lucinia's armour and sheathed sword. "You're a fighter, then?"
"Yes, I am," Lucinia answered proudly. As is my mother, but you don't need to know that.
"Good. We need some way to keep the pirates away."
The Blood Dragoness swallowed. "Pirates?"
"Pirates. Not just humans, either. They kill you for your treasure. Elves take you for...you really don't want to know. And I won't even start on Norsemen."
Lucinia blinked. Suddenly the voyage seemed a lot less appealing. But it was too late, and she would relish the chance to practice her skills.
Annabella laughed softly. "Thank you, Josephus. I think the girl knows more than she really wanted to, now."
"Can't avoid it, though. That's another thing the lady is for."
Lucinia's eyes flashed when she recovered. She didn't need her hand held, literally or metaphorically. "I believe I will be equal to any task required."
"You certainly look capable. This is a merchant ship, bound for Ind. Given the value of our cargo, your skills may be needed," Josephus told her.
Lucinia nodded. "I will do my best to protect this ship."
"Will you be requiring refreshments? Or can you wait until the regular time?"
"I can wait," Luicnia said quickly. She didn't know about Annabella, but whilst she was able to eat normal food and drink normal drink, she had to vomit it later, something that could get awkward on a boat. She decided the best strategy would be to eat as little as she could, and empty her stomach at night, when the meal could be safely disposed of overboard.
"I can wait also," Annabella said.
"Welcome aboard the Sea Dragon," Josephus said.
Lucinia suppressed a laugh. She was a Blood Dragoness, travelling on a boat called the Sea Dragon!

That night, after vomiting her food into the sea Lucinia saw Annabella place her hands over the side of the boat beside her.
"So, is this worth it?" she asked, smiling.
Lucinia's eyes shone, and she reflected her mother's smile. "Yes, Annabella! I like the wind in my hair, I like the sense of freedom the ocean gives, and I like exploring."
"I thought you would, my daughter. I like these things too."
"And its so different! No cities, no manipulation, just a few people on an artificial island." She turned to Annabella, a serious look on her face. "I must confess to you, this is a far better rest from Sisterhood work, and my complications than a few days' leave." Though living as aLahmian, with a Lahmian mother, Lucinia still tried to live true to her Blood Dragon sire's teachings, something that often stressed to her to near breaking point.
Annabella nodded, smile vanishing. "I know. That's the real reason I arranged this. Every mission I think you get closer to tearing yourself apart between your loyalties. Several months away from it will do you good."
"Thank you, Annabella."
Annabella's smile returned. "There's no need. I'm your best friend. Now let's go back to sleep before our absence is noticed."
 
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Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
#2
Chapter Two

Lucinia had been hoping for a full night's sleep - she was nocturnal by now, but could accept a day-wake night-sleep method - but these hopes were soon quashed by panicked shouts. She woke to see sailors rushing about the ship. Taking her sword, which she held in her sleep, though with no time to put on her armour which she had removed before closing her eyes, she woke Annabella and together they went to the deck to see what was happening.

A great bone ship was approaching, with skin for sails, amongst which bats hung. Lucinia swallowed in revolt and even Annabella looked somewhat disconcerted. Skeletons could be seen on board the ship with weapons and armour.
"I had hoped for an incident-free voyage," Annabella said apologetically.
"It's not your fault, and this could be fun, as long as we maintain our disguise," Lucinia responded, disappointed with the interruption but enjoying the thrill her Blood Dragon blood was giving her from the anticipation of battle.
"I think I'll just burn it," Annabella said.
"You think revealing yourself as a fire mage is advisable on a boat?" Lucinia demanded sternly.
Annabella shook her head. "You're right. I'll stay below deck. Call if you need me."
Lucinia grinned, for the tiniest of seconds showing her true face. "It will be a pleasure."

The Blood Dragoness waited until the ship was close enough for a human to jump to, and leaped across the water. She'd never swum in her life, or been in water for any other reason, and didn't know what it would do to her. She had no intention of finding out. But she easily made the jump, and was soon happily dismembering skeletons all around, none able to match her skill or even her self-restricted speed and strength.
Lucinia parried a rusted sword and destroyed its wielder, then realised something she should have considered as soon as she had seen Undead. The Necromancer. Where was he, or she? Her excitement must have dulled her rational thinking.
As this thought came to her, a familiar adversary coalesced before her from the swarm of bats, and drew a silver sword. He held his other hand high, and several of the skeletons Lucinia had killed before reassembled and rearmed themselves, whilst others she had not yet encountered approached. Soon, she was surrounded by bone.
The Blood Dragoness' eyes narrowed. The dark-haired von Carstein, whose name she had never learned, smiled. "I have not come to kill you. Surrender, and I won't have to." He lowered his unarmed hand.
"I'll never surrender to your Dreadlord. Never!" Lucinia's eyes blazed and she spun her blade in a circle, killing several skeletons. Some reassembled.
"What a shame. Kill her." The skeletons closed in, but soon Lucinia had killed them all, though not without minor cuts that required a little magic to heal and left small tears in her dress.
"Now, the real fight." Bat-wings sprouted from the assassin's back. He used them to attack Lucinia from the air, where she could not easily strike back. She made a brave effort, however, and her defence was not broken. Lightnign flashed, and she sensed her opponent had summoned it.
The assassin flew to the top of the ship, then darted towards Lucinia. She realised he was trying to carry her off the deck, and twisted aside just in time. He slowed and righted himself before turning to face her. "Not calling for your mother?" he mocked.
"I have no need, for such a coward as you, assassin," Luicnia snarled.
"Coward? I am no coward!" He attacked again and drove her back. "You are the coward, hiding behind honour." He rose vertically, wings flapping, and then looked like a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders. The ship began to disintegrate. In a panic, Luicnia ran from the prow, but was held by her feet and dragged down to the sea with the collapsing ship. She felt herself submerged, and then went blank.

Lucinia woke to darkness. When she moved her hands, she touched wood. A coffin, then. She opeend the lid, and found Annabella standing behind her. They embraced, Lucinia delighted to see her mother after her horrifying experience.
"What happened?"
"When I heard the ship collapse, I dived overboard and found you. I swam until I found shore, fortunately a beach where I have a house."
"Our beach?" Luicnia asked hopefully.
"No, my child. Far away. But we are safe," Annabella soothed.
"So nothing happens to me in water then?"
Her mother nodded. "It seems that way."
"I need a drink."
"A hunt?"
"No, just whatever you have in the kitchen."

Lucinia sipped from a glass containing some stored blood. The kitchen seemed the same as the one at home, though on a wall there was an image of a man who looked rather like Annabella, with blond hair.
"Who's that?" Lucinia asked.
"My Father. He had himself painted, and when I bought this place I took it with me. Do you like it?"
Lucinia nodded, and with that motion decided to look at what she was wearing. It was black.
Annabella smiled. "I thought it would be better if your clothes matched mine in colour, too."
"I agree. Thank you."
"No need, Lucinia."
It was day outside, reminding Lucinia of where she should be. "I should be asleep now," she said, standing.
"Of course. Wake when you are ready."
 

The Dread King

Moderator
Staff member
True Blood
#3
I'm enjoying this, @Count Vashra ! I'd recommend putting up a link to it in your signature so those who don't browse the Tales from the Crypt section of this forum regularly can read it. :thumbsup:
 

Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
#4
Chapter Three

When Lucinia woke the nextv evening, she pushed open her coffin to find Annabella sitting on her own. When the Lahmian saw her, her eyes lit and she wrapped her arms around Lucinia. The Blood Dragoness smiled and returned the gesture, before pulling away and walking towards her wardrobe. Obviosuly in this house the coffins were in the bedroom, which was odd, as Annabella normally had them in an underground room. She asked her about it.
"This house doesn't receive many visitors, and I can always cast an illusion," Annabella explained.
Lucinia nodded. "Would you mind leaving the room? Or turning around?" she asked as she opened the wardrobe, inside which was her dress and armour.
'Certainly, my girl." Lucinia heard her mother leave the room. When she was sure she was alone, she exchanged her sleeping clothes for her day - well, given her nature, night - clothes. She would wear the armour when she was confident with her local geography enough to find a path to block.

The Blood Dragoness met Annabella outside her room, and smiled. "I was thinking you could show me around the town tonight, if we will be here for some time."
"I'd love to, my daughter."
"Do Georgina and Rachelle know we're here?" Georgina and Rachelle were, aside from Annabella, Lucinia's two best friends, and 'family' to varying degrees.
Annabella nodded. "I sent a message yesterday. They should know in time."
"Then let's go. I want to know where the best hunting sites are." The Vampiress bared her fangs.
Annabella laughed. "There's always a dark, empty road somewhere warriors travel down. You'll have your fill." She bared her fangs, which had a predatory beauty to them. Or maybe that was just Lucinia's thoughts.

The town was similar in many ways to Middenheim, Lucinia's home, and without the thronging crowds of daytime the Blood Dragoness found it easy to learn her way around. One of the advantages of being nocturnal, Luicnia had discovered after accepting she would need to readjust to sunlight, was walks were usually peaceful and uneventful, unlike during the day. It was something she liked about Vampirism, though she supposed she could have forced herself to become nocturnal as a mortal.

Lucinia found a river near the edge of town, and sat by it. She had an attraction to water, she had discovered, and often sat by bodies of water to calm herself or just look upon something peaceful. She didn't know why. Maybe it was a contrast to her unnatural blood drinking nature. Whatever it was, water called to the Blood Dragoness.Sometimes she dreamed of peacefully swimming, and now she knew that there was actually no danger to her at all.

"Lucinia," Annabella began, sounding hesitant. "You're my daughter, and I love you."
Luicnia smiled. "You're my Mother, and I love you."
'But I feel I have perhaps not been the best of parents."
"Why not?" Luicnia asked, confused.
"Several times I have been too lenient, or at least I think I have."
"I've always learned from my mistakes," Luicnia countered.
"Yes, but still I may be too light in my dealing with you."
Luicnia didn't like where this was going.
As if reading her mind, Annabella stroked her hair, her touch reassuring. "You have nothing to worry about. I believe you are mature enough now to require little more than warnings. There isn something else that has been bothering me. Maybe I should have found a Blood Dragon to take you as a get. You are Blood Dragon. Was I selfish to keep you?"
"It was Father's dying wish," Luicnia protested. "You can't disregard that!"
"I know. But what I mean is when eh died your Blood Dragon training finished. Aside from swordfighting, everything I have taught you has been Lahmian. Maybe I should have given you to a Blood Dragon temporarily, so you could decide for yourself your preferred bloodline."
"You sent me to the Blood Monastery."
"For a time. From what you told me, you learned little beyond religious insanity. You can hardly call that proper Blood Dragon training."
Luicnia's eyes blazed. "I met one of my best friends there!"
"I didn't mean to insult Georgina. I just meant the organisation in general."
"Where are you going with this?"
"What I mean is, your midn would not be so conflicted if you had a Blood Dragon master," Annabella explained.
"It's too late for that. You are my mother in just about every sense," Luicnia protested.
"I know. But what if you could have your father back?"
Luicnia blinked. "Father? But he's gone." he had been assassinated, and then destroyed by sunlight.
"I know sorcerers powerful enough to restore him."
"Please," Luicnia blurted before thinking. of course she would give anything to have her father back for even one night.
'I knew you would say that," Annabella said, smiling. "But have you considered how you would live? i doubt a 2nd generation Blood Dragon could live with a 2nd generation Lahmian. Our viewpoints would be irreconcilable. You would be split more than other between your bloodlines."
Luicnia blinked. "I...hadn't thought of that."
"Who would you rather live with, if it came to a choice?" Annabella asked.
"I...I loved Father, but I love you as well, Annabella, and I've spent almost all my Vampiric life with you. I'm too attached to just let go of you."
"You could visit," Annabella suggested.
"It wouldn't be the same," Luicnia told her.
"No, it wouldn't." Annabella shook her head. Then she looked determined. "But we have faced greater challenges before. We can face this."
"Yes, we can. Talk to your sorcerers."
"I can't promise success, but I do promise to try my hardest, Lucinia."
"I understand, Mother."
"You don't have to call me that, Lucinia." Annabella threw her arms around her daughter, who squeezed into her embrace. After all these years, she would have her father back!
 

Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
#5
Chapter Four

Some nights after the discussion by the river, Lucinia was sitting in the lounge when Annabella came to her and sat beside her.
"I've received a response from one of my contacts," she said. "He's willing to help."
"Let's go then." Luicnia stood.
"You should put your armour on. This wizard lives in a dangerous place," Annabella warned.
"Where?"
"Lustria."
"Oh." Lustria was a place of poisonous jungles, sourcerous toads, giant lizards and Skaven, Lucinia had heard.
Annabella smiled. "There's no need to worry, my girl. I'll protect you."
Lucinia nodded. "I know."

Unlike the previous sea voyage, this one was uneventful. They reached Lustria without incident.
"The wizard I know, who calls himself the Lord of Doors - you'll see for yourself why - lives far inland. We shall have to proceed with caution," Annabella said. They were on the beach, which soon turned into a jungle.
"Can't you just burn your way through?" Luicnia asked. It seemed far simpler than fighting the horrors.
"I could, but that's incredibly inconsiderate, You don't just burn your way everywhere. You should know better than that," Annabella scolded. "Also it would attract everything within leagues."
"I know. I'm sorry."

They moved inland through the forest, but encountered no dangerous creatures, something that Lucnia was both relieved and confused by. Shouldn't there be some kind of lizard or other thing blocking their path? There was nothing, for whatever reason, and eventually a huge, black tower came into view,.
Lucinia stopped, mouth sliding fractionally open in awe. "What is this?"
"The Tower of Doors, home of the Lord of Doors," Annabella replied, smiling. "And no, I have no idea what he is."
"You don't know who he is?"
"I don't know who everyone is, my girl," Annabella protested.
"I just mean, is it safe dealing with someone you don't know?"
"Even those you know can be dangerous. It's just whether the risk is worth it."
Lucinia nodded. "For my father, anything is worth it."
Annabella smiled.

When Lucinia came to the base of the tower, the entrance appeared a simple door. She opened it, stepped inside-
-and after what felt like a rush of wind was standing in a huge circular chamber, surrounded by doors on thousands of levels.
Annabella appeared behind her. "So he is a Lord of Doors, then."
"Indeed, Annabella." The voice sounded like it was coming from everywhere. In the darkness even Lucinia's Vampire eyes could not breach, the speaker could not be seen, which added to her discomfort.
"Greetings, Lord of Doors. As I told you in my message, my daughter Lucinia wishes for her father, Luis, to be returned."
"Lucinia Draconia..." He sounded like he was measuring her, examining her. The Blood Dragoness couldn't shake the feeling eyes watched her, but when she turned, she found nothing. "The Blood Dragon. Or the Lahmian, whichever she is feeling like on that day. I cannot...resurrect your father. He is gone. However, I can send you to a reality...where he never died."
Lucinia nearly laughed out loud at the ridiculousness. "Another reality? That's impossible!"
"Nothing is...impossible for me. And there are infinite...realities." The Lord of Doors was making Lucinia increasingly nervous with his seemingly random pauses in his speech. "Every decision, every action makes a new reality. Behind each door...is a reality. This chamber...grows every second."
"It's not infinite outside."
"This chamber is...enchanted to be smaller on the inside."
"That's even more impossible!"
"Nothing is, Draconia."
Lucinia would have to accept that. "But if I go into a reality where Father never died, I would never move in with Annabella, and I would never meet Georgina or Rachelle, my best friends."
"These things...can be arranged, Draconia. When the assassins strike, Annabella will rescue you and your father. You will have...half the year with each. You shall meet your...friends.
"Thank you."
A door glowed. "Step through, Draconia."
Luicnia turned to Annabela. "Annabella, are you sure you can let me go?"
"Yes, my daughter."
"How will you explain it? To the Queen? To my friends?"
The Lahmian smiled. "I can explain things."
Lucinia embraced her mother for the final time. "I love you, Mother."
Annabella squeezed her. "I love you too, my dearest daughter."
After a few moments, Lucinia reluctantly pulled away from her mother and walked towards the door. She opened it and-
 
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Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
#6
Chapter Five

-Lucinia was walking a side street in Middenheim, disappointed to have not made it home from the barracks blacksmith before nightfall. One of her brothers was a soldier there and had convinced the blacksmith to make her a suit of armour. She liked the suit, having found that it fit her well. As she walked, she became aware of an armoured figured on an armoured warhorse ahead of her. It became aware of her and approached. When it spoke, it spoke in a deep voice. "You look to be a warrior of some talent."
"A little," Luicnia admitted nervously.
"That will suffice." The dark knight - he resembled a twisted version of the Brettonian knights Lucinia had heard about - dismounted. "I challenge you for right of passage."
Lucinia was scared, very scared, but her heart was like the steel of her armour and she would die before she backed down. "I accept."
They clashed blades. After a very short time, Lucinia had the impression she was being toyed with, or even tested.
"You impress me." The dark knight disarmed her and knocked her off her feet. "Tell me your name."
"Lucinia."
"My name is Luis. You have two choices, Lucinia: I can kill you here, or I can make you immortal."
"Make me immortal, please," Lucinia chose without thinking.

Later in the night Lucinia woke in the entrance of a house. Luis stood at the doorway. She felt full of darkness, and wondered if dying would not have been preferable.
"I sense you have recovered," Luis said in his deep voice.
"I have." Lucinia stood. "What did you do to me? My senses are far stronger than normal."
"I gave you my blood. You are now a Vampire. And my daughter."
"Yes, Father." Lucinia fingered the inside her mouth until she felt two extremely sharp fangs. Pulling her hand out of her mouth, she bared them, and tried to look as ferocious as she could. As she did so, she felt a monstrous feeling deep inside her still heart.
"Retract your fangs and hide your beast. Mortals hate Vampires, and I will not have you lose what is left of your humanity."
"Yes, Father." She retracted her fangs, and made her face return to normal. "i sense magic. I feel...connected to it."
"You must not use it, my daughter. We Blood Dragons - I will teach you of the others later - are warriors, not wizards. However, I will teach you to aid your regeneration. Beyond that, no magic."
"I understand, Father."
"Come, I will show you how to feed. You must be starving."
Now that she thought about it, yes, Lucinia realised she was starving. But not for food and water. For blood. This horrified her, but she would have to accept it as part of who she was now.
 

Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
#7
Chapter Six

Luis had set Lucinia to some solo practice with her sword outside the house. She enjoyed swinging her sword, imagining she was cutting through enemies.
She saw a girl approaching, who couldn't have been more than 14. She lowered her sword and greeted her. "Good night."
"A good night to you, too." Closer, Lucinia could see the girl was blonde, and pale, with an...unhealthy smell.
"Are you a Vampire?"
"Are you?"
"Yes."
"I am."
"You look young. Too young."
"I'm 13, and I'm old enough to look after myself!" the girl snapped, eyes blazing.
"I meant no offence," Luicnia apologised gently.
The girl's eyes calmed, and her voice softened. "I know. I'm sorry. I just get iritated whenever its pointed out. My mother was overeager."
Lucinia sat beside a wall. "Sit with me," she invited.
"Thank you. I'm Rachelle."
"I'm Lucinia. How many years ago was it?"
"800," Rachelle said proudly.
Lucinia laughed. "Only a few nights for me."
"You'll love it," Rachelle promised. "Immortality, powers, enhanced senses." Then she grinned. "And staying up as long as you like."
Lucinia shrugged. "I'm 23. I don't have a bed time." Until I can sunwalk, that's not quite true, at least, she thought bitterly.
Rachelle laughed, a playful, childish sound Lucinia hadn't heard for a long time. "I am so sorry, Lucinia. I often forget how old I, and others, are. Must be because I'm 13."
"And 800," Lucinia reminded her.
"Yes, but Annabella - my mother - told me a Vampire's maturity doesn't increase. Which is why everyone was so against my turning so early, then."
"Then why did you accept it?"
"Annabella was, and is, my best friend, and I trusted she knew what she was doing," Rachelle explained.
"I can imagine that. Now, you said we have powers. My father won't let me use magic beyond regeneration."
"How restrictive. What are you?"
"Blood Dragon. Sword only, it seems."
"How limiting," Rachelle commented.

Just then, Luciniab heard hooves galloping up the road towards them. They both stood, and Lucinia's expression turned to worry when she saw Luis, eyes blazing.
"Lucinia, why are you speaking to that Lahmian?" he demanded.
"She just approached me, and we started talking. She's very friendly."
"I should imagine so, from a Lahmian. I told you they get into your heart, and then twist it from the inside out," Luis grated.
"I'm sure she's not. Can't I even have a conversation?"
"With another Blood Dragon. With a mortal. Even a von Carstein, because they are too arrogant to lie, usually. But a Lahmian? I will not have my daughter corrupted by progeny of the Pinnacle."
"But -" Rachelle began in a subdued voice.
"No buts. You, leave. You will not want to see the punishment for speaking to Lahmains."
Lucinia held Rachelle's shoulders, and whispered into her ear, "He just hates other bloodlines. We can still be friends, if you like."
Rachelle nodded, then ran into the distance.
"Now, my daughter, what punishment will suit?"
 
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Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
#8
Chapter Seven

Six years later

Lucinia and Luis were walking up a road, returning home before the sun rose and killed the still-too-young Blood Dragoness.
As they went up the road, cloaked figures wielding silver swords appeared, two ahead, and one behind, with another behind wielding a crossbow.
Luis growled. "Assassins are dishonourable, an impersonal way of killing enemies. And that one uses a ranged weapon!" he added, drawing his sword. "But we can defeat them."
"Yes, father." Lucinia bared her fangs and drew her own sword. What happened next was a confusion of silver and black, and stinging agony, and warm, empowering liquid sliding down the young Blood Dragoness' throat.

Lucinia heard a gentle voice. "I'm here." She recognised the voice as Rachelle's, and smiled. Then her smile widened when she heard a scream - a glance told her Rachelle had set the crossbow assassin alight.
"Now, you need to come inside," the Lahmian child said urgently. "The sun is almost up."
Lucinia nodded.
"I would say begone with you, daughter of the Queen," Luis said. "But you did save my life, and possibly my daughter's. So I will accept your request."
Inside, Lucinia met a tall, slim Lahmian with long blonde hair. "Hello, Luicnia. Rachelle told me about you. " She smiled. "My name is Annabella. Rachelle is my child, and yes she is young but she knows how to look after herself." She moved her eyes. "And Luis. I hear you are the reason my child could not spend more time with yours. hav eyou revised your views?"
"A warrior is foolish to deny at least one request by one who gave unasked assistance," the Blood Dragon responded. "I have not entirely revised my opinion, but placing all Vampires in a bloodline in the same category is presumptive. We will stay the day, and I will allow my daughter to acquaint herself with yours."
"Thank you, Luis. Rachelle?"
Rachelle took Luicnia's hand. "Put your sword away. We have things to discuss."
Lucinia sheathed her blade, glad Luis was now allowing them to enjoy their friendship. "Thank you, Father." She followed Rachelle to the lounge, and sat beside her.
Rachelle smiled. "You have blood around your mouth. How...untidy."
Lucinia wiped her mouth, somewhat embarrassed. "I suppose you never make a mess," she responded.
"I'm Lahmian. It's beneath me," Rachelle answered, trying to look and sound as superior as she could, a mask lasting all of three seconds before she burst into laughter, quickly followed by Lucinia. "But...I...still...do," she conceded.
Lucinia smiled. "I thought so."
"I'm glad your father let us speak," Rachelle said after recovering.
Luicnia nodded. "He distrusts other bloodlines. You made him realise something."
"I can teach you magic," Rachelle offered brightly.
"No!" Lucinia responded, harsher than she intended. "I'm sorry, Rachelle. I didn't mean to shout," she added when she saw her friend's hurt expression. "Blood Dragons don't do magic."
"Why not?"
"It's dishonourable."
Rachelle shrugged. "It helps you win."
"I know, but..." Lucinia felt awkward.
Rachelle must have sensed it. "I'm sorry. We'll have to leave that, then."
"Yes, we will," Lucinia said, relieved. "So, what's Annabella like?"
Rachelle grinned. "I love her. She's the best mother anyone could have. She's kind, understanding, playful, and always does what she believes best for me, even at risk of personal expense."
"How flattering," Annabella said as she entered the lounge. "I'm also quite intelligent, and I taught Rachelle her fire magic. And, I'm a performer."
"There's no need for you to show off, Annabella," Rachelle said.
Annabella smiled. "You started describing me, Rachelle. But yes, perhaps I was showing off. I suppose I have to return the favour by saying Rachelle is fun to be with, excitable, eager to learn, obedient - not that I ever make her do unreasonable things - and loyal."
Rachelle smiled at the praise. "Thank you."
"And I'm teaching her my performing skills."
"I can only say, then, you are a perfect match," Lucinia said. "You're lucky to have each other."
"Yes, we are," Annabella agreed.
 
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Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
#9
Chapter Eight

Lucinia was dueling outside with Rachelle, a favourite sport of hers that she was happy to discover Rachelle also enjoyed, with Annabella. Perhaps foolishly, she had thought the Lahmian's child body would put her at a disadvantage, but instead it meant she carried less weight, freeing energy for activities other than supporting herself and making her actions more efficient. Also, she was 800 years old, which gave a definite advantage to the already fast girl.
After the first round, which ended with Lucinia on the ground, Rachelle's sword resting on her throat and a smile on her face, Rachelle helped her to her feet.
"Thank you. I suppose I shouldn't underestimate any opponent," the Blood Dragoness mused.
"You shouldn't," Rachelle agreed. "Now, I have an offer to make you."
"What?"
Rachelle smiled. "Would you like to learn magic? I can do Necromancy and Fire." The girl's eyes shone. "Please, Lucinia. I always wanted an apprentice of my own."
Lucinia blinked. Magic was dishonourable, Luis ha said. But what would a Lahmian know of honour?
"Then I wish you luck in finding one, but I must decline. Magic is too dishonourable for me."
"But..." Rachelle pleaded.
"I'm sorry," Lucinia said, genuinely regretting the limitations of her honour, though she would not break them.
Rachelle nodded. "I...think I can understand. Did I insult your honour by asking?" She suddenly sounded nervous.
Lucinia smiled. "No harm was done by the offer. I simply cannot accept it."
Rachelle smiled back. "How about another round, to take our minds off it?"
"An excellent idea, my friend."

Late that night, Lucinia stood at a roadside with her father. She had been considerong Rachelle's offer, and...Blood Dragoness or not, she wanted to accept it.
"No, my daughter," Luis said firmly when she raised it. "You gave the reason yourself. And personal desire cannot make you bend or break your code."
"But is there anything wrong in just learning?"
"A skill is learned in order to be used, otherwise it is a waste of time, even to an immortal like yourself. You will not use magic, so you will not learn it."
Lucinia nodded, disappointed. She derived no enjoyment, however, from the night's drinking.

In the predawn hours, still feeling conflicted, Lucinia searched for Annabella, finding her in the coffin room. That surprised her.
"It is hours before dawn yet, Annabella."
"And I have a busy night tomorrow. I need rest."
"I understand." She swallowed before continuing. "Annabella, may I ask you something?
The Lahmian smiled. "Of course, child."
"Your daughter offered to teach me magic. I don't feel I'm supposed to, because of my honour, and Father is against it, but..." she trailed off.
"Your honour conflicts with your wish?"
"Exactly."
"I'm not surprised Luis is against it." Annabella smiled. "But I say that there is no dishonour in learning magic. I will speak to Luis. Until then, tell Rachelle you accept."
"Thank you. I must say I am impressed with Rachelle's skill."
"She is 800 years old."
"Still, she's good. I like her. And she has a good mother."
"Thank you, Lucinia."
"In fact I'd go as far as to say I'd become a Dreadlady for either of you."
That is what I wanted to know, Blood Maiden, said a horrible voice in Lucinia's mind.

In a moment, she remembered everything. And in the next, she was on a hard stone surface, with the Dreamer standing above her.
"That was all a lie? You...you..." Her chest rose and fell, though she did not breathe.
"I'm here, my daughter," Annabella's soothing voice said.
Lucinia turned and saw Annabella on the other side of a green ward. They were in a dungeon.
And now, if you would fulfill that promise, I will release your mother and never harm her again, the Dreadlord said.
 

Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
#10
Chapter Nine

Lucinia was terrified. Annabella's calming aura was suppressed, and she didn't think that would have made a difference even if it wasn't. She was on her knees, helpless, before one of the 10 most powerful servants of the First Necromancer, and he had just made her life out an alternate life in which she had abandoned her friends for a false reality where she remembered nothing of her actual life. Compared to him, she was magically powerless - not that she had much to begin with, and not that she liked using it. She was imprisoned by a Dreadlord, and had just given him an excuse - not that he needed one - to make her a Dreadlady. And with Annabella captive as well, he had the leverage. The young Blood Dragoness had never been so terrified. The cloak-and-staff appearance just made it worse.
She pulled herself together when his repeated question echoed in her head. "I was exaggerating," Lucinia said, unsure if she was lying or not. She probably had been, but now, with her mother and best friend in danger...
I expected that. Which is why I also have Annabella here. There is a Necromancer in this tower who loves working with souls, and would not pass up such a...spark.
"He does know a Vampire's soul is bound in their body?" Annabella asked.
Yes. He views such challenges as mere obstacles, or tests to his intelligence.
"I like intelligent people," Annabella informed the Dreamer. "Can I meet him now?"
Lucinia had no idea how Annabella could be so calm - she wasn't even baring her fangs, but was instead smiling - in such a situation.
He is leverage on your child, Annabella. If she does not cooperate...
"Why are you so desperate for me to be a Dreadlady? Aren't there more suitable candidates, without honour forbidding use of magic?" Lucinia asked.
I have my reasons. Blood Maiden, I could have forced you to take the mantle before now, but voluntary Dreadlords are always better...quality.
"And why do you want a new one?" Annabella challenged. "Is one of the current group disloyal?"
My actions are not for you to question.
"No? That's disappointing. I like engaging conversations."
If the Necromancer succeeds, having your soul ripped from your body will be the least of your concerns. Think on that until I return. He floated away. No guards were left, but none were necessary as the captives' magic was suppressed by their cells.

"What do we do, Annabella?" Lucinia asked in a scared, low voice.
Annabella smiled. "First, my daughter, try not to let your terror overcome your thinking. You have a good mind, my child. Try to use it," she encouraged.
"Thank you." Lucinia tried to concentrate on escape plans, tried to block out the hopelessness that being in a Dreadlord's tower generated.
"Think on this. He specialises in mind magic, and I sense something unusal about that staff. Unless it's just an illusion, I've never met a Vampire whose form is a cloak and staff."
Lucinia nodded. "Mind magic...that means if we refuse to believe what he is doing, the illusory parts won't affect us."
Annabella nodded. "Good thinking, Luicinia."
Lucinia smiled at the encouragement. "And I imagine a cloak can't fight very well. So, we overpower him, and then..." Her thoughts deflated. "We still have to escape the tower."
"With magic, I think a tower can't hold me," Annabella said, her fangs coming just into view before retracting again.

The Dreamer returned. Have you reconsidered? he demanded.
"Yes," Lucinia said, hating herself for even pretending.
The ward imprisoning her deactivated. She felt her magic returning, not that she could do much with it.
Follow.
Somehow, that simple command nearly froze Luicnia's spine. She followed the Dreamer, and as they rounded a corner, grabbed for his staff. The moment she touched it, she felt burning and frozen at once, and a presence in her mind. You would steal from the Dreamer, 10th Dreadlord of Nagash? he thundered, each word a sword-stab of pain in her mind even as steam rose from her burning hands, and her frozen fingers turned black. Then you will die! Pain like she had never felt surged through Lucinia, making her want to release the staff whilst locking her fingers around it. The Blood Dragoness screamed, fangs an claws fully extended, her human mask almost completely gone, turning that scream into a roar.
And then she no longer felt anything, but was instead looking down at her body. Fire and ice was spreading across it, killing her as they cancelled each other, her face nothing like the sweet young lady it had been the last time she had seen it in a mirror, all those decades ago. Let go or you will die, Blood Maiden, the Dreamer said, his voice low and chilling.
Lucinia didn't know how she responded, but she did. "No."
Then die. Suddenly darkness spread from the staff, through Lucinia's body, over her body, into her, out of her, beginning to disintegrate her.
"Stop!" she screamed hopelessly.
Or not so hopelessly, because at that moment Lucinia returned to her body, and the magic coursing through her faded. She still hurt all over, and all inside, almost too much to stay conscious, but she had done something. She retracted her fangs and claws, and tried to suppress her beast. "What happened?"
No answer.
"I said, what happened?"
Still no answer.
"Tell me!" she screamed.
With the greatest reluctance in his voice, the Dreamer said, The staff controls me, Blood Maiden. Few survive long enough to find out.
Keeping a firm grip, in case physical contact was required, Lucinia said, "Then let us go, and promise not to interfere in our lives again."
As you wish. And I promise not to interfere.
Lucinia released her grip, and ran back to Annabella, whose ward had disappeared. She embraced her mother tightly, feeling her aura again.
Annabella returned the embrace. "What happened?"
"His staff controls him. I made him let us go and not hurt us ever again."
"You do have a good mind, Lucinia."
With that, Lucinia let go of consciousness.
 
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Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
#11
Chapter Ten

Lucinia flickered in and out of consciousness. Sometimes it was night, sometimes day. Once or twice she saw skeletal riders with burning eyes and not-quite-there steeds. Each time she briefly woke pain, or memory of pain, it didn't matter, sent her back to sleep.
Eventually, the Blood Dragoness found herself inside a coffin, a comforting feeling she was coming to know instinctively. She opened the lid, to see Annabella on a chair beside her. They were in a yellow room.
"Welcome back, Lucinia," Annabella said, smiling. "Do you intend to stay this time?"
"Yes, Annabella." She began to rise, but Annabella firmly pushed her down, surprising Lucinia with her strength. Her Lahmian delicateness was deceptive.
"Don't, Lucinia. You're not ready yet. I expect it still hurts."
"You shouldn't have reminded me," Lucinia gasped as pain rushed through her.
"I'm sorry, my daughter. Rachelle and Georgina have been waiting outside, so as not crowd you when you first awoke, for hours. Their very worried for you."
"Rachelle? Georgina? So we're..." Lucinia deduced.
Annabella nodded as she stood. "In Hawk's Tower. Yes." She opened the door to admit Rachelle, Annabella's 800-year-old daughter who appeared as a blonde 13-year-old, and Georgina, Rachelle's chief bodyguard and Lucinia's brown-haired 500-year-old cousin and best friend.
Both had a mixture of worry and relief on their faces. "Lucinia!" Rachelle said, running over and placing her arms around her. "Are you alright? I heard what happened. I was so scared for you. Please say you're alright."
"I would be if you weren't choking me." Lucinia joked.
Rachelle rolled her eyes, though her mouth split into a smile. "Sorry, Lucinia. Try something else. You don't need to breathe." She wore bright yellow, dislikng the darker aspects of her nature.
"So your humour is still intact then," Georgina commented, also smiling. She wore a darker red than Lucinia.
"Among other things. I still hurt a lot, though."
"I can pull my Lady off, if you like," Georgina offered.
"Rachelle's alright. I was just joking."
'I know. I'm just not someone who likes to wake up to a clingy child around their neck."
"Don't call me clingy!" Rachelle shouted, releasing Lucinia from her grip.
Georgina smiled at her. "As you wish, my Lady."
"Lucinia, it's good that you're up to joking with your family, but how are you feeling?" Annabella asked.
"Terrible. That staff nearly killed me. I think I spent a lot of energy just regenerating that."
"You struggled to wake on the way here," Annabella observed.
"I know. I probably need a good day's sleep and a lot of blood."
"You can have mine," Georgina volunteered, with no hint of humour or sarcasm.
"You're offering what?" Lucinia asked, dumbfounded.
"You're weak and need blood. From that ritual at the Blood Monastery we made a link. A weak link, but enough for me to sense you're very weak. It also helps our sires were the same generation."
"Are you sure?" Lucinia asked. This was the first time someone had volunteered for her to feed on them.
"Yes," Georgina said determinedly. "You need more than a mortal has, and my Lady forbids fatal drinking. I can survive what you need, mainly because I'm 10 times older than you."
"Do you have to?" Rachelle asked. "I mean, several mortals could -"
"Also Vampire blood is stronger, and I doubt the Queen would be impressed if Lucinia took yours or Annabella's blood. And I'm her cousin, so I have some obligations to her."
"That's very kind of you," Annabella said. "And I agree with your reasoning."
"Alright. I'll do it, but Rachelle, Annabella, please leave. I prefer to feed in private."

When they left, Georgina leaned over Lucinia and presented her neck. Luicnia felt strands of hair in her eyes. "Turn your head around. I've got your hair in my eyes."
When Georgina corrected her angle, Lucinia bit. Blood flooded down her throat - though because of her unusal position, some of it spilled down her neck - invigorating her, chasing out the influence of the staff, healing her, clearing her mind. She felt stronger and faster than she ever had. It tasted so good, she wanted to keep drinking, but knew to stop when she had had enough.
Georgian raised her head, gasping. She looked paler than usual. Lucinia wondered if she'd made the right decision
"I'm sorry," she said.
"Don't be. I volunteered. It hurt a lot, but I managed to ignore it. It was worth it." Georgina smiled. "You have very sharp fangs, Luicnia."
Lucinia laughed. "Thank you, Georgina."
"No need. It's what best friends are for."
Lucinia nodded. "You're a very good best friend."
Georgina stretched. "I've never been bitten before. Except when...you know. That actually took a lot out of me. I need a lie down."
"Some of my blood, perhaps?"
Georgina grinned. "Somehow I think an exchange would benefit neither of us."
"Take all the time in the world."
"Ah, but I have all the time in the world," Georgina laughed as she went to the door.
"So you do. And could you send Rachelle in on your way?"
"Of course."

Rachelle entered again. Her eyes widened when she saw the blood on Luicnia's neck. "Is that Georgina's blood?"
"Yes. I'm sorry. I'm not normally a messy eater."
"From that angle, I'm surprised you got anything. It's just that I've never seen her blood."
"Blood's blood,' Lucinia shrugged. "Now, my sister, I wanted to talk to you because I'd like to make a request."
"Anything for my sister."
Lucinia smiled. "Can I stay for some time?"
Rachelle's eyes brightened. "Yes! Of course! You're my favourite sister! Stay as long as you want."
"Thank you, Rachelle."
 
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Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
#12
Chapter Eleven

Lucinia stood on the front wall of Hawk's Tower, the name of Rachelle's castle. Well, not hers exactly. She was just looking after it since Annabella's friends who ruled it disappeared and she had accepted regency. It was night, the stars out, and Lucinia was resting her arms on the battlement. She was feeling fully recovered, especially after drinking some of her cousin's blood, something she'd never expected to do and never wanted to do again. Despite Georgina's outward calm, it must have hurt, and Lucinia didn't want to put her through that again.
Then her peaceful observation of the land was ruined by the sensation that something was behind her. She turned, and her eyes widened when she saw the Dreamer.
"I...I made you leave us alone," she stammered.
Indeed. I simply wanted to check on how the Blood Maiden is faring. You are doing better than most after touching my staff without permission.
"I..."
Your cousin's generosity is not unexpected. Your reluctance to accept it, however...
"It's not as if I liked feeding on her."
Is it not? I sensed your equal reluctance to stop feeding.
"The bloodlust is strong," Lucinia protested.
Are you calling yourself a weak Blood Dragon? You are the Blood Maiden.
"Isn't everyone ruled to an extent by their desires?"
Many are. Which makes me wonder, why do you cling so tightly to your mother?
"Because she's my mother!" Lucinia snapped. That had been insulting.
Not really. I am surprised a Blood Dragon and Lahmian could be so...close. Of course, your less than rigid honour makes espionage less dishonourable.
"Why are you mentioning this again?" Lucinia demanded.
You are not truly loyal to your bloodline, are you?
"I am," Lucinia said firmly. Or, at least, she tried to. There was some doubt there.
I sense your doubt. What true Blood Dragon would willingly spend their life as a Lahmian's daughter?
"One who..."
I understand Rachelle is holding a party this night. Sneak away.
"Why would I?"
You have been Lahmain for 46 years. You should try being Blood Dragon. You have not been very loyal, with that bent honour code, have you?

Lucinia woke with a start, remembering only a subconscious command to leave tomorrow night and temporarily cast aside her Lahmian identity. The idea horrified her. She didn't want to. But then, it would be simpler and easier to live for only the thrill of the blade, fighting whomever she liked, and seeking a cure for the bloodthirst. Her Lahmian life strained her at times. Her family would be confused, angry, but surely they would understand her need to live as her bloodline, once she explained? She resolved to do it.
 
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Count Vashra

Lord of Shadows
#13
Chapter Twelve

When night came, Lucinia woke, refreshed by a combination of blood and sleep. The bedroom, as with everything in the castle, was yellow.
As usual, Annabella stood beside her.
"How are you feeling, Lucinia?"
"Much better, thank you." Lucinia smiled.
"That is good to hear. Are you up to walking around?"
Lucinia pushed herself up. "Yes, I am."

After changing into a new set of clothes, Lucinia went to the living room where Rachelle and Georgina were talking.
They turned wen they saw her.
"So you're rested now?" Rachelle asked hopefully.
Lucinia smiled at her friend. "I am, and I'm ready for anything this night."
"Including a performance?"
Lucinia's smile widened. "Where?" She loved stage performances.
"Here. I'm having a party tonight, and I thought you could provide the entertainment."
"I'd love to."
"Thank you!" Rachelle exclaimed, placing her arms around her. "I knew you'd accept."
"Georgina, how are you feeling?"
"You have sharp fangs, Lucinia." She laughed. "But I'm alright. You just worry about not ruining my Lady's party."
"Ruin? How would I ruin it?" Lucinia detached Rachelle from her, and the Lahmian returned to her seat as she took her own.
"By falling apart on stage. Don't tell me that hasn't happened before."
Lucinia bared her fangs. "I don't like that suggestion."
"What, are you going to bite me again?"
"I'm considering it."
"No!" Georgina pleaded with false desperation. "I'm sure you'll do fine."
"I thought so," Lucinia said, hiding her fangs.
"Just don't disappoint me," Rachelle warned, half-seriously.
"I won't," Lucinia promised.

Later in the night, Lucinia performed, impressing the audience, incluidng Rachelle and Georgina. Annabella was also present. That was good. It was always more rewarding when her work was appreciated.
Afterwards, however, she remembered her subconscious need to leave. Did she have to sneak out? Surely her friends would allow her a few weeks as her other self. She requested a meeting in the living room.
"I...have a request to make. I've been as a Lahmian for several decades, doing espionage and subterfuge. But now I'd like to spend some time as a Blood Dragon. I mean, just walking the earth looking for powerful creatures to fight."
"I'll let you do anything you want," Rachelle said. "But only hours ago you wanted to stay."
"I know. I've changed my mind."
"You should do what you think best, my cousin," Georgina said. "You know I'll support you. And I do think you should be more Blood Dragon at some point."
"Well, I'm not entirely surprised," Annabella said slowly. "I think you do deserve to live your own life. Send a letter to the Queen, if you're sure."
"I'm sure."
"Good luck," Georgina said. "Although I doubt you'll find a dragon. They're very rare."
"You doubt me? I will find a dragon."
"If not, will you do something for me?"
"What is this, a bet?"
"I know you won't lose a bet, so it's just a way to get you out of my hair for a while," Georgina said, laughing gently.
"I see. And if I fail?"
"If you fail, I'll put you on a regular bed. With a soft cover. And a silver headrest."
"Georgina!" Lucinia shouted, feeling like standing up and giving her cousin a good slap on the cheek. She couldn't get comfortable on normal beds.
Georgina just smiled. "If you do find a dragon, you won't have to suffer it."
Lucinia's face hardened in determination. "I will succeed. And when I return, you'll have to do something for me."
"What?"
"I haven't decided yet. But because I'd have to do something, I just thought..."
"I'll accept that. Now, time for you to write that letter."

This adventure will continue in the next story.
 
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