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Realistic or Modern Moonlit Retreats [Closed]

Sub Genres
  1. Supernatural

Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
Supporter
Occasionally, Cassidy wished she wore more jingling-jangling things, as she walked through the city, her lips curled in a half-smile as she passed by friends, couples, loners, and acquainted strangers underneath lights so bright, you would think humans were trying to challenge the stars. Cassidy was fairly certain it was what humans were doing in their too-short lives. Challenging stars. Challenging gods. Planets. Suns. Challenging themselves, really.

Be more.

Be better.

Cassidy always liked the changes, unlike others who bemoaned them. She itched to go to Dubai, Shanghai, Tokyo, to see so much more, but she’d need to pull a favor with the Optimates for good forgeries, and she didn’t have many strings to pull for that, and rumors circulated that the things Optimates wanted were…unsavory. Of course, that could be the rumors of their enemies. Who didn’t have enemies?

Even Cassidy, who kept herself as out of politics as she could, had enemies.

At least her enemies were usually straight to the point, with something sharp. They knew better to bother with bullets, that would only piss her off. Most arrows were also fairly ineffective. To pierce the heart, you have to pierce it fully, after all. A bullet to the heart didn’t seem to work.

Cassidy didn’t ask why.

That was for other people to research and figure out.

She asked why about the new monstrosities no one seemed to care about. Hunters.

She only knew that for certain, because she’d seen a few before they…changed. ‘Ra is cursing them for hunting his children.’ That had been the Sun God’s blithe response, she recalled from a meeting. Not that anyone took Amon seriously anymore when he went on these tangents about vampires being the children of the sun god, who existed in darkness to make sure it never overcame the sun.

What kind of fucked up vampire thought he was a sun god – and lived this long?

Questions she probably didn’t actually want an answer to, if she considered the fucked up things elder vampires were said to do. It still made her chuckle, as she wished again for jingling while turning into a quiet corner.

She was hunting, too.

Not officially on the payroll of the city, she had still informed them of what she would be doing, and no one, not even the official ambassador to the hunters, protested. ‘If you’re only hunting mutants, they shouldn’t have an issue with it. They should be giving them up themselves, but we’re at war here, so, let loose the hounds of hell.’

That meant even those not-quite affiliated.

Or perhaps, especially, those not-quite affiliated. Their actions could be denied.

Cassidy knew the way to a dive bar that several hunters went to. She did not intend to go quite that far, that was suicide, but she intended to scour the grounds near it for any more of their strange handiwork. She wished she could take the form of a cat, like her sire, but she made do with quieting her steps through subtle manipulations of her form, and kept her head down as she walked those paths, where once industry boomed, but now, were left mostly abandoned, or shells of what they had once been only a century ago. Only a few decades ago.

Time changed things so quickly.

She didn’t stand out, not much. Dark denim jeans and red flannel wasn’t strange in the grungy setting. She wasn’t wearing one of her cowboy hats. That might have set off alarms. Her gun wasn’t visible, safely kept in her purse, in a case she could open quickly – if she needed it. She didn’t often, but everyone preferred hunters die in means that authorities could explain.

Bullets made more sense than something that looked like a bear mauled them, here. If authorities ever got a hand on them, which wasn’t ideal in these cases.

Cassidy perked at the sound of voices, and stilled, eyes staying on the ground even if she wasn’t close enough to be seen. The situation wasn’t sounding good, although she was too far too make out much.

Making a split-decision, as the tone and volume level changed, Cassidy rushed towards the sounds, pulling her gun from the black purse on the way as she swept around the corner and found herself face to face with a not-entirely unfamiliar situation.

~***~

“Ach, Antoni. Everything revolves around bread and death.”
“Bread and circuses, Gia. We hide the death with the bread and circus.”
“For you Romans, maybe.”


Such reflections were easy for fair Antonia to make in the shadows of the church, with its beautiful stained glass saints casting colors about the shadows, as she examined a piece of so-called ‘flesh’ of Jesus. Bread.

Such was an easy reflection to make given her own state, and her actions of always playing to the show, when she heard the sudden gasp of an all-too familiar hunter and looked up from her investigation of the bread, crushing the non-flesh into crumbs and letting it fall to the floor for rats – or more likely, a hand-vacuum held by an annoyed altar boy. “I wasn’t expecting you tonight.”

“Nor was I,” Antonia said, stepping lightly down the two steps, heels making no sound on the purple fabric that led to the podium as she walked between the pews to where the hunter straightened himself up. “Situations changed. Tyr is visiting his childe and arrives at the airport today,” her eyes all but glowed as she came to stop in a particular beam of light.

She was a showman.

She knew how the play of light worked on the champagne dress and her fair skin, the way it threw colors upon her, and around her. She knew how powerful she looked as she stared down the hunter, who was a respectable 6’, but her heels bumped her up to match – and he was smaller, no matter how he tried to hold himself, no matter how Angelic he also seemed with his tousled blond curls and blue eyes.

And name.

“All the information is here, Michael,” she passed the hand-written information over. Technology was too easy to track. Paper burned. “He’s called for an uber. Replace the driver and put an end to him.”

“You make it sound easy,” he said, and then, gave that cocky smile, “Of course, it is,” and of course, it would be, “I do appreciate all you’re doing. Perhaps one day the god will smile upon you and remove your own curses.”

Always the god. Never God alone.

Antonia had questions, but she’d lived through so many false religions, she had also just stopped caring.

If there was a god – the god that cursed Cain and made them vampires as her sire used to say – he would be smart to never let her die, because if he did, she would find out how to commit deicide, and he would regret existing.

So she only smiled, “Perhaps,” was her non-committal answer. If they wanted to think she sought repentance for existing, they could do that. She didn’t really care what they thought, so long as they continued to kill everyone she despised. It was a very long list. It would go on for quite a while…but what did she have, if not time? “I’ll look forward to the update.”

Michael nodded, took the folded paper, “Now if you’ll excuse me, I do need to make new preparations.”

Antonia gave an amused smile and inclined her head, before walking towards the door, letting her presence fade, drawing it in to almost subtract it. Michael had use of the church at night. So did his hunters. He would hate for her to be seen by those who followed him. They weren’t prepared to know who one of their benefactors was, after all.

She understood that.
 

Syntra

Baba Yaga
The world didn’t belong to them. Many believed it did, but, just like with a shell game, where you thought the pea was hiding versus where it actually was could be two very different things. Often, even, if the conman was worth his salt. And, really, were there liars better than those cold-blooded bastards?

No, it wasn’t theirs. It never had been. Lilian had grasped the truth of it ages ago, before she’d really had the capacity to understand anything else. When the truth smacked you in the face that hard, you could either fold or learn how to hit back, but what you couldn’t do was to pretend it wasn’t a thing. That it had just… not happened. Much like you couldn’t squeeze the juice back into the dried-out shell of a lemon, you couldn’t un-know just how fucked they all truly were.

Un-know. Heh. Was that even a word? Lilian supposed it was now, as the grand laws of language usage dictated. Once spoken, and understood, it sprang into existence. You know, kind of like ambitions? And, oh, ambitions she did have, alright. Not to take the world back, no, but to truly own it for the first time, without all the buts and ifs and excepts. Without them grinning in the background, as if there was some inside joke she wasn't privy to. Fucking leeches. Good thing they now had what they hadn’t before, right? The grace of god, in which they all basked. The hope for something better.

Night had fallen over the city, with only a few lamps flickering in the darkness. The fruit of the local activists’ efforts, Lilian did not doubt; something, something, ‘light pollution,’ something, something, ‘silencing the stars.’ Poetic metaphors aside, the hunter was pretty sure they’d be much less inclined to love the shadows if they know just what was lurking in them.

Then again, it was her job to make sure they didn’t know. Civilians had to keep the cogs turning, otherwise the machine called ‘their society’ would grind to a halt. Couldn’t exactly afford that, huh?

Admittedly, Lilian wasn’t on clock tonight. That meant she likely should have stayed cooped out in their hideout, mainly because hunters attracted unsavory attention harder than corpses did flies, but sometimes, the urge was stronger than her. Well… a lot of times. ‘I can stop anytime I want,’ she heard Eugene’s critical voice in her head. ‘Sure, Jan.’ But, fuck, she really could! She just didn’t want to, was all. Going out for a drink or two was no bloody crime, especially after another squad member had bitten the dust.

It wasn’t that they’d been close. After a few incidents, Lilian had made it her personal rule not to get too attached until about five missions in, which filtered out a depressing number of candidates. Self-care, she called it. Lilian looked out for Lilian, and this Lilian-based system worked just fine. Actually, maybe it worked a little too well? Because she’d realized yesterday that she didn’t even remember the latest girl’s name, and… yeah, that had gotten awkward. Life hack: look at the deceased’s ID before giving a funeral speech. At least she didn’t have a family that would get offended by that?

Ha, ha, ha! (She wasn’t laughing.)

And yes, that was more or less why Lilian stumbled out of the club in the state she found herself in. She wasn’t drunk per se, because of course that she wasn’t; no self-respecting hunter would do that to themselves. Still, it was more than fair to say that she was tipsy. The world’s usually rough edges had gotten pleasantly blurry, and the warm feeling in her stomach was… warm. Get off her case, would ya? She was far too gone to come up with fancy descriptors, and everyone knew what it was like to get pissed besides.

It was only a few blocks. That alone probably should have tipped her off, because the promise of almost-safety was one of the classic horror clichés. The second thing that should have tipped her off, and somehow didn’t, was the way the air tasted. You could cut the tension with a fucking knife, but apparently she’d left hers at home. It was a bad idea to take a shortcut through suspicious alleyways in general, and an ever worse to do it when everything screamed ‘danger.’ The third warning, though? The spark of electricity tingling through her entire arm, all of a sudden? Yeah, Lilian wasn’t nearly dumb enough to ignore that.

Not that the sudden alertness helped much.

Granted, it could have been the alcohol. It also could have been the fact that the human-shaped something was too fucking fast, though, and as Lilian reached for her sword, she found herself on the ground. Fucking…! (She couldn’t get a good look, with the darkness and everything, and it also wasn’t her top priority. Still, the writhing mass of limbs… did it have more arms than usual? That was a first, alright. The vamps were weird fucks, but she hadn’t quite encountered such a comic book villain level of fucked-up-ness yet.)

"Get away from me, you freak!” Lilian recommended to the creature. As per usual, the thing did not value good advice, and so she used her good arm to push it away. Or rather, she tried to do that; somehow, it didn’t budge. It didn’t budge, despite her blessing. What? Ah, fuck, if she could only get to her sword…!

~***~

If there was something the many, many years spent on this Earth had taught Inga, it was the value of patience. You could kick the door open, an axe in your hand; or you could just wait till someone else did it for you and slip in. Your choice, really. It wasn’t even that the axe approach didn’t have its own appeal as well, but… well, sometimes you still wanted to keep using that door. No point in destroying it, right?

That was her logic, more or less, when she decided not to raze that church.

It would have been a hassle, for one. These weren’t the good all days, when you could slaughter a family or two and the most consequences you’d ever face would be some distraught relatives. No, the humans had gotten… smarter. More connected, if not necessarily stronger. One of them could so much as skin their knee and the whole world knew about it in a second, it seemed; indeed, the internet was a powerful foe. Still, something being a hassle had never quite stopped Inga. The main thing was… something else. Wasn’t it just oh so interesting, the way the puzzle pieces fit into one another? Almost as if there really was a bigger picture, and not just a bunch of splatters on a canvas.

(‘They’ve got someone on the inside,’ Maya had told her over some coldblood. ‘They just have to. No way the fools would discover so much on their own.’

‘Aren’t you just being paranoid?’
Inga had raised her eyebrow. ‘My dear, you see conspiracies wherever you look. Had you still been human, I bet you’d turned out to be one of those vaccine deniers.’

‘Oh, you shut your big mouth! You know I’m the biggest vaccine fan ever. Disease-ridden blood is the worst, my dude. How will you explain they took the fuckin’ bait, though? Showed up right where they thought they would, after I made it look as if certain someone would be there.’
)

As fun as it had been to pull Maya’s leg, Inga didn’t actually think she was being delusional. Not in this, at least; there were many, many areas where she wouldn’t trust Maya with even her enemy’s life, but this wasn’t one. If there was a connection, she would be the one to sniff it out. And given the long, long claws the Church had… Oh, time had clipped them, alright. Time, various eras of enlightenment, and the fact that people just did not care that much anymore. Inga rather enjoyed that about the modern times. Still, claws grew back… and possibly stronger than ever.

Something was afoot, she knew. It was simmering right under the surface, and if she read the signs right, it would boil over soon. And you know what the second thing that her years on the Earth had taught her? That it was better to nip these things in the bud. Right now, before the cancerous growth spread.

And so she had visited that church a few times before, for her personal reasons. There had been locks, but what could a lock do against a shadow? Not too much, from her experience. Once inside, Inga installed a few gadgets in strategic places, making sure that they weren’t too obvious. (Who said that only humans could resort to these things? She, for one, was happy to expand her repertoire whenever. That which didn’t learn was dead, Inga believed; no amount of crying for the good old times would change that.)

Her efforts bore fruit one night, and, as Inga watched the stream on her smart watch, she couldn’t help but grin to herself. Got you, Antonia Lenart.

She let her get away from the church, if only because confronting her there would have been inconvenient. That wasn’t to say that she allowed her get very far, though; it only took a few minutes before Inga melted out of the shadows, a small smile on her lips. (Needless to say, that did not make her look any less frightening. With her height and build, it was hard not to look like you were a second away from killing someone at all times.)

“Found God, Antonia Lenart?” Inga said, in lieu of introducing herself. “After all those years? My, my, what an unexpected turn of events.” (Not that she knew that much about the woman, aside from what everyone else did. Well-connected, dangerous and old was about the extent of it; now she could also add ‘stunning’ to the list of descriptors, though that wasn’t much of a surprise.) “Do you perhaps need a friend to vent to? We could talk about this, you and I… or,” Inga shrugged, “I could just release the recording.”
 

Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
Supporter
A creature had toppled a civilian. ‘Hunter.’ Cassidy’s nose told her, that strange tang the hunters in this town had reached her nose. The creatures and the hunters smelled the same, but there was no civilian blood here as Cassidy raised her pistol and fired straight into the head of the creature trying to get a meal.

Or she assumed it was a meal. Of course, she thought of these things more as modern-day zombies, although she didn’t actually know if the ate flesh, or craved blood. That was part of the problem, she didn’t know anything about them. They were never lucid enough to talk, so it always seemed to end this way.

Or, well it usually ended.

The creature stumbled backwards, roaring in anguish and reaching up for the wound, but it didn’t fall over dead. Apparently, headshots didn’t matter anymore. They were getting better at this, how long until they kept their minds? ‘Maybe that’s actually a bad thing.’

The fiend came rushing at her and she put another bullet in it, this time towards the heart, before darting right by it as it screamed again. She thought, she hoped, more in agony than in outrage, as she came up alongside the hunter. If the hunter still needed a hand up, she’d offer it, but otherwise she’d just manage a cursory look to make sure they seemed in good health.

No, Cassidy didn’t like hunters as a rule – but they were individuals.

Cassidy had stopped looking at vampire clans to the individuals long ago. She did much the same with hunters. No one deserved to be lumped in with groups – until they proved themselves worthy of that disservice. “Let’s take care of this and we can both live tonight.” Assuming the hunter would honor such a thing, which was always debatable.

Then again, the hunter likely thought the same of her offer – with just as much doubt.

Either way, she assumed it would take down this fiend. Then whatever problem they had between each other wouldn’t matter so much; something that hurt indiscriminately would be dead. That was the important part. Then Cassidy could run with her life.

~***~

Antonia did not anticipate being confronted over her departure from the Church, although if it was going to be someone, it was going to be a fucking Veturia. The name of this one didn’t rise to her tongue immediately, but she still knew them by face. Not by name. They weren’t someone that notable, although the taste in the back of her throat let her know she had been seeing this one long enough.

This one, also, ought to be on her long list. It likely was.

She considered her answer to finding God as making some quip about Amon. Why not? However, the nature of the questioning changed quick enough that such quip was unnecessary. This Veturia was not here to simply mock – this one was here to blackmail with a recording, and Antonia didn’t really need to question what they recorded that could be so damning.

Tyr wasn’t insane. There was no reason to have Tyr killed at all, other than, that he was Veturia, and every single one of them deserved the void. This one ‘Fuck what was her name?’ suddenly became quite relevant for that list. It was a shame Antonia knew her strengths, and while she was developing a mastery in swordplay, that wasn’t helpful when her sword wasn’t anywhere near her. She tended to forgo it in these situations, part of not appearing like a threat, part of the fact her mere presence did the rest, with mortals.

Vampires were another story, and while not immune, age jaded many to the point such things were easy to overlook. She didn’t waste her time with that aura right then, and managed not to even wrinkle her nose in disgust or sneer at the offer made, the silk hiding the dagger. ‘What part of myself do I need to sell now?’ At least she was given the option to give a piece, and not her whole life.

For now.

“I’ve known a god for quite a while – he goes by Amon nowadays, though, and there are some things I do prefer not to chat about with him,” he actually would have laughed his head off and congratulated her, before inevitably having to kill her, but that was besides the point. Most days, she liked Amon. And she even knew he’d approve.

Plausible deniability was better for him. For the Optimates. Better no one know, in case…well, in case of this very moment. “I suppose I could use another to vent some of those distresses to,” she allowed, “although I imagine your ear doesn’t come cheap.”

Find the price. Pay it. Murder her before too long.

No one was silent forever. Blackmail was ever too tempting, and the price always rose. People always wanted more.
 

Syntra

Baba Yaga
Lilian didn't think much of the newcomer, mostly because she wasn't really thinking about anything at all. She was aware of their presence, in the same way you'd be aware of a mosquito buzzing annoyingly close to your ear, but... well, let's say you probably wouldn't pay too much attention to the mosquito if you were staring down the barrel of a shotgun, either. Besides, why bother with them? If nothing else, you could always count on civilians to run away. Rarely did you bump into a hero out in the streets, and that was a good thing. No point in them bleeding to their deaths, eh? That was why they were there, for better or worse.

And, sure, all of that was true. Except that this, this wasn't a civilian. Far from it. A bloodsucker, Lilian realized belatedly, when her arm tingled with pain once more. A vulture, then? Fucking hell! As if she needed more of them here, now that she was--

The expectation of what they had or had not come to do was kinda flipped on its head, though, when the vamp pulled out a fucking pistol. Bang! Either their - her? - aim was incredibly off, or she... wasn't aiming at her? Say what, again? Lilian didn't wait for her answers and instead collected herself from the ground, the blood pumping wildly in her ears. The alcohol had long since worn off, courtesy of all the adrenaline, and so she saw it clearly; the first vampire, as well as the other, obviously engaged in combat. Okay. Okay! Lilian Perry could safely say that she'd seen everything, now.

Mind you, it wasn't as if she thought the bloodsuckers had a lot of love for one another. They were a miserable bunch, fighting wars over conflicts much older than herself, and Lilian was reasonably sure that, if they even slightly could, they would have murdered their way to their own extinction years ago. Still, she was a hunter. Didn't that take precedence? It always had, in the past. Humans who hoped to be more than blood cans, she'd found, were pretty fucking good at making them forget all of their old grievances real fast. But then:

"Let's take care of this and we can both live tonight."

Fine, now she'd also heard everything.

Did Lilian believe her? No, not in the slightest. This had to be some... some kind of weird mindfuckery, where she hoped to play with her like a cat did with a mouse before inevitably going after her throat. They were all like that, for reasons she couldn't understand. Still, a decoy was a decoy, right? And for what it was worth, the first vamp did seem to want to kick her teeth in, moreso than it was interested in doing it to her.

What happened next was a blur. Lilian grabbed her blade and, faster than a human any right to, jumped to the creature. There was a disgusting, wet sound as she proceeded to pierce its heart from behind, a few drops of blood landing on her white shirt. Gross. The thing screamed, so much she was tempted to cover her ears, and then it just... stopped. All the tension left its body before it dropped on the ground like a sack of potatoes. A sack of potatoes that could have killed her.

"Rest in fucking peace," Lilian spat out. Then she looked up, her gaze interlocking with that of the other vampire, and-- shit. Yeah, shit, she was still there. "Why...?"

(She definitely should have just attacked her instead. Damn, damn, damn!)

~***~

Well, then? What are you going to do, princess? Probably not attack her, if Inga had to guess. She was the one who was visibly armed here, for one, and Antonia most likely wasn't one to embrace death. For that, she'd lived for far too long; if you could call what they had 'life,' that was. It wasn't just that, though. More than anything, a gesture so desperate simpy didn't strike her as Antonia's style. She'd always have to sleep with one eye open from now on, Inga supposed, but to think she'd act like a cornered animal? Unlikely. Unlikely, and oh so very boring. How sad would it be, if it all ended in this anonymous little street? So much effort wasted!

Fortunately for both of them, it seemed that her instincts were right. Good. Now to not fuck up the rest of this. Easier said than done, though that went without saying. But, really, had there ever been a truer proverb than 'no pain, no gain'? One had to give it to the humans; when it came to catchy slogans, they were pretty much peerless.

"Understandable," Inga's smile widened somewhat. It wasn't a pretty smile, because of course it wasn't; in it, you could see the reflections of the battlefield, if you knew how to look. (Somehow, she believed that Antonia did.) "Not even gods need to know about every little worry of ours. How selfish it would be of us, to burden them so? Best keep these things to ourselves."

The look she gave Antonia was calculating, though not necessarily unfriendly. Is she imagining all the ways in which she could kill me right now? Some part of her, the one that was still Valhalla-bound, almost hoped so. The rest... not so much. "Doesn't come cheap? I wouldn't frame it that way. Friends do help friends, though, and as luck would have it, I could use some help." Inhale, exhale, dramatic pause. See, first impressions were important. "The name's Inga. Shall we discuss this over a cup of something good?" And in private, which honestly didn't need to be emphasized.
 
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Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
Supporter
Sword to the heart.

A standard method for killing a vampire, that any hunter worth their salt knew. This one was worth her salt – and perhaps some paprika. She was fast. Too fast to be human, which explained that tangy smell to her blood. Cassidy slipped her gun back in its case and into her purse to show she had no intention of furthering assumptions she might be a threat.

Not that she wasn’t.

But she didn’t want to be, especially as the huntress didn’t come at her with that sword. The least she could do was show she meant her words about living to see another day. Now, how to answer that question without invoking the hunter’s ire? ‘Definitely don’t mention they smell the same. Definitely don’t ask how she moved so quickly.’ The vampire lifted her hands to show they were empty of weapons, the infamous sign of surrender, of peace.

Why?

“I’m hunting those things,” Cassidy answered, “they’re a mutual threat, and a threat to civilians. Trying to figure out what they are, too,” that was as good an answer as any. It didn’t threaten the hunter with questions, or assumptions. All Cassidy had were assumptions, no solid proof. Wolves and dogs smelled the same, too.

They weren’t. Fuck, they were not.

“I guess you don’t know much about them, yourself? I could use some help,” that might be the better route to go, although she doubted the hunter was going to willingly help her out. Although, Cassidy’s nose twitched. ‘More.’ Had the screaming alerted others like it? She hadn’t sensed any so close before, how good was their hearing? Or maybe it was something else? She didn’t say anything right then, in case they weren’t heading this way, but she and the hunter might need to be running.

Conversation might have to wait, but she’d wait and see if they were heading this way, first.

~***~

Inga – that was it. Some memories clicked back into place. Inga hadn’t been much to her in the grand scheme of things, because she had never appeared to be much to the Veturia. She was an acter, not a schemer, and though she may have acted during that infamous feast, she was small fry, comparatively speaking, to the grand movers of the Veturia.

Well, until now, of course. Now, Antonia had a different sort of respect for her, but one that wasn’t at all good for the smiling beast. ‘Amazon.’ Antonia doubted she’d prefer Amazon to whatever it was she had once believed it. Was it the Fair Folk for her? Angels? Valkyries? There was too much to keep track of such delicacies when she wasn’t actively planning harm.

Oh, but when she was…well, the deaths spoke for themselves.

And she hadn’t been told to call off Tyr’s death, so she wasn’t.

Fuck Tyr.

“I suppose that depends on what you call good,” Antonia allowed dryly, “but yes, we can go have a drink and sort things out.” Her car hadn’t been far, and she gestured to the sleek, burgundy vehicle. “We can retire to my place, unless you had an alternative destination in mind?” Oh yes, by far one of the most expensive cars on these streets. Antonia had been selected long ago for her financial acumen, and that continued into the modern day of stocks, bonds, investments, technology, and real estate.

She may have taken a few too many lessons from Crassus in real estate for the comfort of some.

But she’d understand if Inga thought that a bad idea. Not that Antonia planned to kill Inga there, but stupider people might have tried that. Antonia understood the concept of timed releases, and she didn’t yet know if Inga had set this information up for a timed release, if Inga herself didn’t stop it.

No, she had to figure this situation out more.

Not to mention, she was quite curious what favor Inga wanted over just reporting her. It had to be something worth knowing, at the very least. Probably not worth helping on, but knowing was always important.
 
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Syntra

Baba Yaga
"Those things?" Pretty self-deprecating coming from a vampire, though Lilian supposed that she couldn't really disparage the assessment. Ta-dah! Open a bottle of champagne, ladies and gentlemen, because she had just agreed with one of the bloodsuckers. History was being made right there, even if there probably was some deceptive component involved. It had always been that way. The chick may have put her guns away, but--

A mutual threat? Lilian blinked, once then twice, perhaps hoping to dispel some leftover drunkenness. Needless to say, it did not work; if anything, the feeling of not knowing what the fuck she was talking about only got more persistent by the second. What was this, some kind of advanced psychological warfare? (In some ways, Lilian supposed, she could only blame herself. Here she was, a hunter, talking to a goddamn vampire! What was worse, the interaction was getting dangerously close to the territory of what one might call 'polite conversation.' How this had happened, Lilian couldn't quite tell; it probably did have to do with the... the all-around strangeness of this, though. What did you even do when a vampire asked you for help? Probably the same thing you did when a velociraptor inquired about the same. Meaning, yeah, you kind of just stared!) Silently, the hunter wiped the blood off her blade, using one of the handkerchiefs kept in her many, many pockets for this exact purpose.

"Listen," Lilian said, her eyes never leaving the other woman's face, "there's about ten percent of this I get and I don't like that. Can you just--?"

She couldn't. Not because she didn't want to, necessarily, but because it appeared they had company. A pretty big company. Fuck!

If nothing else, this was the perfect opportunity to put this all behind her. It was just a glitch in the fabric of universe, nothing more and nothing less; a once in a lifetime occurrence, kind of like winning the lottery or, dunno, not being fucked over by a vamp for a change. (A purely theoretical example, of course!) Choosing the opposite direction for her strategic retreat would be all it really took, and nobody would be any wiser for it. It would be just... between her and the god. Still kind of fucked up, though not hopeless.

As the growling got closer, though? For some godforsaken reason, Lilian instead ran after the vampire. With the vampire, if she had to be honest with herself. Oh, god. "Not deeper into the city," she shouted. "Too... many targets. The sewers. We can hide there, and then you can tell me more about this mutual threat. The fuck are you about, killing... killing your friends?"

No, Lilian still didn't believe her. What exactly was the danger of wanting to know more, though? The vamp turning against her? Big deal! As if she didn't kill those every day.

~***~

"Oh," Inga revealed her teeth, "but how could I refuse such an invitation?" Pretty easily, and a lot vampires in her place would have doubtlessly done it. They woud have been too afraid; too caught off-guard by the development; too whatever, in case you were too polite to mention 'cowardice' explicitly. And Inga... well, Inga wasn't any of that. It turned out that fear's blade was rather dull when you'd faced it one too many times. Dull, and also covered in rust. Unlike real steel, it could only bite you when you allowed it. And besides, why would Antonia make any moves now? It made... little sense, all things considered, and ultimately, Inga trusted the woman to act sensibly. (That was the only thing she truly trusted her with. And no, that wasn't an insult.)

"Shame I didn't know earlier, though. I would have... picked something more appropriate to wear."

It was little more than a joke, but when Antonia's car stopped in front of what seemed to be a veritable mansion, Inga did almost wish she had dressed better. (Almost, of course, being the operative word. It wasn't like she even had anything that wouldn't look horrifically out of place here, and most of the initial impulse probably came from... well, wanting to fit in. Not looking too odd. It was never good, drawing too much attention to yourself, though Antonia didn't seem to place much importance in that axiom. Then again, people like her only ever put that kind of importance in themselves.)

"Homesick?" she asked her, half a jab and half a genuine question. Yearning for a place that was no more was a feeling she could emphasize with, for better or worse. (Although, Inga supposed, in her case it was more of a yearning for a place that she'd never even seen. In some ways, that was probably better. In many others, it was worse.)

The servants - of course there were servants, and most of them human - swarmed them like flies. Mistress this, mistress that; it honestly turned Inga's stomach, the way they all kissed her feet. Don't you have no spine? No honor at all? Probably not. The newest iPhone was what this lot likely prayed to, and Inga's disappointment was immeasurable. Still, they weren't here to discuss humans. Or... well, they were. Not like that, though.

Without really waiting for Antonia's permission, Inga plopped down on the nearest couch. If she was going to stick out like a sore thumb no matter what, then she was also going to embrace the role. And, really, who had ever heard of a Viking with good manners?

A servant girl brought her a cup of blood, never once making eye-contact, and Inga took it from her with the same amount of care. "You know, it's funny," she began, swirling the liquid around. Nice color. "The kind of business that you do. It's also convenient, though. I assume that you have many friends in the right places?" And, by right places, Inga actually meant wrong places. The wrongest places that you could imagine, if you were a vampire who wanted to stay alive. "That works out nicely. See, what I want is to take them down. Stamp them out, with the roots and everything. And you, Antonia Lenart, are going to help me with that. You will, won't you?"
 

Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
Supporter
The Hunter was obviously confused. That didn’t surprise Cassidy. She’d be confused in her shoes, too. Hell, she was confused in her own boots about all of this, but that’s why she investigating it. To get un-confused. The fact the huntress understood 10% was impressive. Cassidy thought she got a little more, but then again, she wasn’t sure on that.

One was never sure until they knew everything going on.

She was about to indicate she could explain some of what she knew, but the interruption came quicker than she expected. ‘Got to account for their speed.’ “Run!” Cassidy probably didn’t need to say it, before she turned towards one of the paths not-yet full of monsters, and booked it.

Maybe there was a good reason not to have the jingling.

She still wanted it.

The huntress followed after her, rather than cut her own path and split up. The monsters were following, but Cassidy thought she could outrun and lose them. The huntress made a good point though. Sewers.

But – “Friends?!” there was no denying the offense and confusion at that, before she saw a manhole cover and slid to a stop, nails raking asphalt to slow herself down. Those outgrown nails quickly became tools to get under the cover and lift it up, “Go,” she directed the huntress. “I can follow and bring the manhole to cover.”

Perhaps their strength was close enough to similar that so could the huntress, but now wasn’t the time to debate and find out. At least, she hoped the huntress disagreed, “And I don’t know how much you drank, but those things? They’re not vampires.” Not her friends, which was what she assumed the huntress meant, but she didn’t bring out that accusation they were hunters.

No, if she was thinking they were vampires, that was just going to fuck things up even more.

Patience.

If the hunter did go down first without qualms, Cassidy would be right behind her, and the manhole cover would go right over them, helping to keep their destination unknown. Even if a smart vampire would figure it out by the marks in the asphalt.

These things…as far as Cassidy had seen, they weren’t that smart.

~***~

No, Inga wasn’t dressed appropriately, but that really didn’t matter much to Antonia. It was one of those things she became used to, when she had all manner of sorts coming in and out of her home, paying tribute or offering something – or, in this case, demanding something. Antonia didn’t let it perturb her, just as she feigned not hearing Inga’s question.

She had good reason for her supposed deafness. A couple of servants came to greet them, “We weren’t expecting guests, Domina.” Felix the Wolf pointed out, but Antonia merely shrugged it away.

“Things change rapidly, you ought to know this better than I. This is Inga,” a causal introduction, “We’ll be taking up….” She was about to indicate another room when Inga simply sat down where they’d strode. She managed not to roll her eyes, “this room for a while, be sure the others of the house are informed.”

“Of course,” Felix nodded his head and turned to head off, as Antonia caught another and requested blood for both, which was brought out only moments later as she slid into the nearby chaise lounge, drawing up her feet to recline, shoes and all. It wasn’t that difficult to clean, though her shoes weren’t dirty. At least, she was fairly certain they weren’t.

She wasn’t going through the hassle of unstrapping them now at any rate, as she took the blood, but held it.

She wasn’t really that thirsty, she drank before she went to pay a visit to the hunters, but image dictated she at least look like she was partaking as Inga stated what she wanted. ‘Not very bright, are you?’ Of course, she couldn’t say that. She had to be polite about all of this.

“I do have friends in many places, that is my job,” Antonia pointed out, not at all bothered by the implications. She’d had friends among hunters and werewolves and humans and gods knew who else, for centuries. It was necessary, but it was also incredibly useful. “I’m assuming the friends you want to ‘take down’ are the hunters. Obviously, I won’t quote you the rules on that matter,” she broke several rules that night.

Rules were out the window.

“We do have those in place in order to prevent genocide of our own species, though.” But if Inga wanted to throw that out the window, sure, she’d play. She wouldn’t be dealing with Inga for long, after all. “Why don’t you tell me what it is, besides the obvious,” that hunters killed vampires, “as to why you want them all taken down, and perhaps we can come to a satisfying agreement that also doesn’t lead down the path of every hunter organization becoming aware of what we’re doing, and every treaty forged with them being thrown out the window, hm?”
 

Syntra

Baba Yaga
Lilian didn’t have the time to question the life decisions that had led her to this point, and quite honestly, she didn’t even know what ‘this point’ actually was. The one thing that was crystal-clear, though? Staying up there would have been a fucking death sentence.

Not particularly wanting to argue with the bloodsucker (what), she jumped into the darkness beneath. The sound her shoes made was wet and sticky, suggesting that she landed into something nobody really wanted anything to do with, but that barely registered on Lilian’s radar. No, it was occupied with… other things. Fishy-as-hell things, even for the usual leech antics. What, is she gonna clutch her pearls over vampire politics now? ‘Not her friends’ must have meant he belonged to some other clan, which wasn’t an excuse that Lilian was remotely ready to accept. Like, hello? A vampire was a vampire, and it mattered fuck all to her whether they cosplayed Dracula or Lestat. At the end of the day, they were all just… cattle to them. Things to use, then throw away. Since time immemorial, this had been as black-and-white as it got. Why should she look for shades of grey in it, then? So that they had an easier time killing her as she had an existential crisis over trying to determine who, if anybody, deserved to die?

They certainly didn’t have the qualms. That much Lilian was sure of, and--

“I don’t know how much you drank, but those things? They aren’t vampires.”

“None of your business,” was Lilian’s automatic response, because people should really give that a rest. The last time she had checked, none of them were her bloody doctor, and that went double for any bloodsucker who thought they could-- uh. Wait, what? Yeah, that was when the rest of the message reached her brain, and it made the huntress stop in her tracks. Not vampires? Well. Well, that explained the ‘mutual threat’ comment. It hardly helped with anything else, though, and Lilian found herself feeling even more lost than she had in the beginning. Just what had she gotten herself into…?

(Yes, vampires were liars. They lied because they could, and because they liked it, and probably because it was fun to laugh in someone’s face right before you killed them. It should have been easy to dismiss those words as the usual mind games, but… well, Lilian had seen that thing. She’d thought it odd for a vampire, too. And, for what it was worth? The woman hadn’t attacked her yet.)

First things first, though. Lilian reached behind her belt and pulled out a lamp, filling the corridor with sharp, artificial light. (Not that the scenery deserved any lighting, but no self-respecting hunter would allow a vampire the advantage of total darkness. Although, she supposed, no self-respecting hunter would end up in this position, either.)

“I know these sewers,” she said. “Through here, you can get pretty much anywhere within the city. For now, we can… walk.” ‘For now,’ meaning ‘until you fuck up.’ (Or, alternatively, until she gathered her senses. Lilian had no idea which scenario was more likely out of the two, and refused to give it more thought. It was bad enough already, the fact that she was even talking to her.)

“Let’s say I believe you,” the hunter finally acquiesced. “If not vampires, then what are they? And how do you even know?”

~***~

Caring about contracts all of a sudden, huh?

It was funny, in this vaguely cheeky way that reminded Inga of her favorite British comedies, although there probably wasn’t much to laugh about. There never was, where people like Antonia Lenart were concerned. You’re a massive headache, aren’t you? But, again, that was to be expected. Those who preferred words to swords weren’t any less dangerous; they just used different weapons, in different ways. Sometimes, it just manifested in this… distinct sense of headache-ness? Except it was the kind of headache you got from poisoning. Slow-acting poisoning, perhaps, but poisoning nonetheless.

All the vampires Antonia had gotten killed could attest to that. Or rather, they could have; had they not been dead.

“That’s personal,” she smiled, before taking a sip from her cup. Not bad. Maybe a little too cold, though. “And not all that important. Don’t we all have our pet causes? You could say it’s a little bit like what you are doing here.” ‘What you are doing here,’ of course, referred to pretending that time had stopped. Inga wasn’t really judging her for that; if nostalgia was Antonia’s drug of choice, then, by all means, she should get to indulge. It was likely the most harmless thing about her by far. Still, Inga herself preferred looking forward. Forward, into a better future. Wasn’t it better than dwelling in the past? It seemed silly, to have all that time at your disposal and spend it on looking back.

“But I can spare some of it, as a token of our new friendship. I wouldn’t say I want all of them dead.” After all, humans did have the right to defend themselves. Inga wouldn’t begrudge them for an instinct every living being had, and it made things all the more entertaining when they fought back besides. And the vampires who fell victim to the hunters? Oh, those richly deserved their fate. With the kind of upper hand they had, Inga just couldn't find it in herself to feel sorry for them.

"It's not about that, if that is what you are asking. In fact, I rather like humans. Just not the ones who toy with things they don't really understand." Finally, Inga lifted her gaze from her cup. "Don't tell me you haven't noticed? That the hunters you are affiliated with have a strange taste for turning into monsters. It's something they're doing, and it's a problem. A problem that will only get worse if we let it fester."
 
Last edited:

Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
Supporter
The sewers were wretched smelling, but that was expected. And the wonderful thing about not needing to breath! Cassidy stopped that automatic process, but the rank smell still burned at her nostrils despite that. The huntress lit a lantern, and they could see the dank walk ahead, which caused Cassidy to press her lips together, before pulling out her phone to check the time. ‘Don’t want to end up sleeping in here.’

She breathed in enough to say, “Until 4am,” so that the huntress knew she wanted to be topside by then so she could get back into shelter from the sun – and have plenty of time to wash the stink off.

Then came the actual questions. At least she was positing belief – for now. “I’m not sure what they are. Saying they were once human doesn’t quite cut it, does it?” So was she. So was every vampire, as far as Cassidy knew. Some posited vampires came from a non-human source at the start of it. Some claimed there were pure vampires.

Some claimed a lot of bullshit.

She inhaled again to speak, wrinkling her nose with the smell and trying not to look too disgusted. She was failing miserably at all that. “I can identify them by smell. Sadly they smell better than these sewers.”

‘Oh and guess what? You have their smell.’

Then she’d be up before St. Peter, telling him that’s how she got a stake to the heart. Yes, St. Peter, I know I was a vampire, but aren’t we all God’s creatures, and hey, I tried to be nice, right? That’s worth something?

At least some spurs to kick around in hell? No? That was definitely taking the cowgirl schtick too far.

“I’ve been calling them mutants, sometimes zombies. Amon calls them Servants of Apep, someone called them Pepe Le Frogs from that – point is, we’re aware of them, and we don’t know what they are.” And that meming blue-haired bastard of a vampire really needed to turn off his video games and get off the internet for once. The fact he was somehow older than her was still disturbing.

~***~

Antonia assumed what she was ‘doing here’ referred to her own pet cause of murdering off vampires, which she was happy to explain to the Veturia sipping coldblood across from her. Honestly, Antonia never understood why people liked coldblood, but they did so she had it ready. She couldn’t really stand it. Warm, preferably from a vein, was how she preferred it. Old school, maybe, but it was delicious.

It was why the blood in the glass continued to draw no interest from her.

At least Inga gave her something. It wasn’t all hunters, just those hunters, and she chuckled, “Yes, of course. The ones cursed by Ra.” Except not all were cursed. She’d seen herself how quick they could move, how strong they were, and lived to tell the tale. Lived to use them, like any other hunter.

The group didn’t matter to her. She could use another group just as easily to her ends. Dispatching one? Not much of a problem, except it still roused suspicion. Given, “They’ve already overstepped all contracts made with them, explaining away their deaths will be easy to the larger community. I suppose it was about time they were exterminated.”

It wasn’t much to her, really.

She wasn’t friends with them in a way that mattered. This was always going to be their end given they recklessly crossed the lines. Of course, it made them easy to use, too. They killed with no questions asked. A vampire ought to die. They would do the same to her, one day, as well. “I’ll help you with it. I suppose you aren’t wanting to make this official, though, are you?”

They had protocol and procedure to send out their own hunters or call for reinforcements. Even to call in other human hunters to help mediate and negotiate.

She assumed Inga didn’t want any of that red-tape.
 

Syntra

Baba Yaga
"You lot and your curfews. Doesn't it get old?" An independent observer might have guessed it was a joke, and that hypothetical person would have been very, very wrong. See, Lilian Perry didn't joke around with vampires, which obviously made this remark not-a-joke. Duh! Wasn't that how it worked?

(The huntress hoped it did, for many reasons. The main one, though? The whole thing felt wildly inappropriate, much like laughing during someone's funeral when you were very much expected to cry. Got the mental picture? Okay, now add knowing the corpse would sit up and shoot you in the face for it, and you could sort of imagine the depth of her doubts here. Yes, Lilian did know her comrades wouldn't have appreciated this... this development, whatever the fuck it was. She wouldn't have either, in their place. Still, wasn't info just... info? Did it matter where it come from, if they could use it to save more lives?)

Smell, though. That made sense, she supposed. It wasn't something that a non-vampire could easily verify, and thus it was, in turn, also something this woman could easily lie about. There probably wasn't much sense in doing that, though. "Enjoying your stay here?" Lilian gave her a smirk. No, she also wasn't enjoying it; few people did, even if the huntress had zero doubts that someone out there was, in fact, damaged in exactly that way. Even so, knowing just how sensitive a vampire's sense of smell was in comparison to hers was a pretty big source of childish schadenfreude right now. Why aren't we using smell grenades on them, again? Oh, right! The whole secrecy thing.

When the bloodsucker lay out what she did and didn't know, the look in Lilian's eyes morphed into one of contempt. "Good to know you've got your terminology on point. Pepe Le Frogs? Who the fuck came up with that?" Not that it changed the nature of the problem, which was that they collectively knew fuck all. Great.

Somewhere behind her eyes, Lilian could sense an approaching headache, and she rubbed the bridge of her nose in an attempt to keep it at bay. "Awesome. Just what we needed. Vampires, and then creatures who aren't vampires. What is this, a bonus level of some shitty videogame?" As far as she was concerned, they could leave her out of it! ...Something told her that wasn't gonna happen, though. It never did.

"Alright. Alright, so you do know about them. That's more than we have. Any specifics? Do they only turn up at night, or do they like certain places, or... whatever? Anything might help."

~***~

Cursed by Ra. Did that theory surprise her? Not in the slightest, though it did make her chuckle still. It really was quite endearing, the way kindred stubbornly insisted on their interpretation of events; there was something almost human in it, even if Inga wouldn't say that aloud. See, some took their specialness way too seriously.

"Somehow, I think that isn't it. I'd love to meet Ra and ask him why he dawdled so much with his punishment, though." Yes, the theory had reached her; no, Inga wasn't convinced. Where gods and curses were concerned, she tended to be... skeptical. More often than not, talks of those were only there to mask the stench of an agenda.

Antonia didn't mind, of course. Why would she? That was the sweetness of the deal; give up something you don't want, to preserve something you must keep. One plus one equaled two. (Of course, one also had to say two plus two equaled four. She had no delusions that Antonia not minding would also translate to Antonia giving up on her revenge. Inga hadn't been born yesterday.)

"I figured we'd find some common ground," Inga said, putting one leg over the other. "Thank you. But, no, I would prefer not to leave very many traces behind. See, I also have... other interests in there." Death, after all, was cheap. It came every day, whether you invited it or not, and humans especially dropped like flies. Wasting her favor on that alone would have been foolish. No, what was truly precious was knowledge; how things worked, and why. Why they were turning into abominations, how to stop it, how to induce it, if necessary. Inga wasn't necessarily planning on using any of that, but she did like tinkering with these things, in the same way a clock-maker would dismantle a pretty piece to look at the mechanism inside. And, hey, what did she know? Better to be prepared than regretful.

"Call it a researcher's instinct, if you will. I want to find out what is truly causing this. Involving too many people - and too many wrong people, at that - could be... counter-productive."
 

Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
Supporter
‘Every fucking day.’

Cassidy didn’t say that.

She didn’t talk about sunsets and sunrises, and how every day she wanted to linger, to catch a little more color on the horizon. She’d been burnt enough to know it was stupid. She didn’t talk about the films she watched, just to get a glimpse of the sun through the television. Just to hope. She wondered if she lived long enough, if she could leave Earth. Would it be as bad on Mars?

Could she go to another galaxy? Was this sun kind of like Krypton, or whatever Superman’s issue was – would another sun spare her? Questions without answers, but Cassidy dreamed that she’d live to find those answers.

Dealing with these mutants would help. Ignoring a disrespectful hunter would, too. The comment about enjoying it did bother her.

Enough, it seemed, that she let her answer hint at some of what she knew. “I’ve only encountered them at night, but I only encounter anything at night. Werewolves, humans, cats – for all I know, that’s the only time anything comes out.” Needlessly rude, but it had to get the point across, right? “Usually around hunter areas, though. I keep confusing your scents with theirs nowadays. You actually smell quite a bit like one, but maybe it rubs off in their touch or spit or something. Like cats,” a brush-off, but hey, she knew nothing, right?

And maybe it would annoy Lilian enough that it would stick with her so when she said it more seriously, it would have more weight. “I mean, right now you smell like shit, so who knows?” So did she. At least that would wash off.

“This really isn’t being talked about in your circles?” Maybe she wasn’t a high ranking hunter. Or maybe they were hiding it. “I guess if you’re all confusing it with us, that could explain it…don’t know how you’re confusing them with us, though.” Of course, she didn’t see them in the day. If they didn’t come out in the day, that could explain it.

~***~

‘No, neither did I.’ For all of Amon’s proselytizing, he had few converts. Then again, he didn’t care about having converts. He was aware of how he sounded. It was the only reason he maintained his status as head of the Optimates. He knew he seemed crazy…and he definitely wasn’t, in the ways that mattered.

At least, she and Inga could very well agree on that, although she audibly sighed at Inga’s want to research this. It wasn’t a bad want, persay, but it did remind her of what the hunters said. So similar to Amon, really. Blessings from the god. Of course, vaccines, medicines, the internet – all manner of things had been considered blessings at one point or another. Someone’s violin skills were a blessing.

It was a non-answer.

Antonia knew nothing about the truth because she hadn’t cared. “Well, I advise taking what they say with a grain of salt. Their face value answer is that it’s a blessing from the god, but that encompasses everything, depending on who you ask.” And Antonia was about as atheist as they came nowadays. Fuck Ra, fuck the god, fuck Jesus, Buddha, Kali – actually Kali could stay, Kali was interesting.

“Of course, I’ve never asked much about it. I suppose I could, if that is what you’re wanting. I’m not sure how else you expect me to be of use, other than organizing places for you to kill them.” Antonia was hardly going to offer up every possible way she could help. Inga could figure it out for herself and Antonia would play along until she didn’t need to any longer. Still, she had to offer something.

She had to help a bit.

She wasn’t even going to ask about at what point her confessional got deleted. There was no answer she’d trust. What she needed to know, however, was, “But what security do you have that I won’t just use these hunters to kill you while organizing anything, Inga? I understand you have my confessional, and you understand that means you’ve made it to the top of my list, so tell me, why wouldn’t I do such a thing?” And she smiled, something almost genuine, because there was still something terribly amusing this line of dialogue and in breaking away from the niceties to lay bare the truth between them once again.

“I assume you want to remain friends for as long as possible, after all.”
 

Syntra

Baba Yaga
“Uh huh. Got it. Sorry for assuming you had some way of gathering intel on what’s going on during the day.” They probably did have that, Lilian still thought; after all, having to wait for the nightfall did not mean they also had to do so locked-up in a coffin, with their hands wrapped in chains. Surprise, surprise! Yet another thing all those horror movies didn’t fucking get right. “But yeah, fair enough.” And also pretty much worthless. Did the bloodsucker really know nothing, or was she denying her the info? Instinctively, Lilian wanted to go with the option B, but it was also true that this one had been… shockingly cooperative so far. Even helpful, during the incident earlier. (Then again, where vamps were concerned, ‘shockingly cooperative’ could be defined as ‘not tearing her throat out at the first opportunity.’ The bar truly was in hell.)

“Around hunter areas?” Now that, that was interesting. Assuming that her companion wasn’t lying – and that was a big if – this probably meant that they were being targeted. By whom, though? Likely not by the things themselves, judging by their intellectual capabilities. Physiologically speaking, hunters were just… humans. Well trained ones, and with an annoying penchant for staying alive when they should have been long dead, but humans still. Clearly, there had to be some kind of agenda involved?

(Of course, that only raised more questions. If they were being hunted, why hadn’t they noticed? Did the higher-ups know? And if they did, why hadn’t they just told them? A little ‘be careful out there, new threat ahead’ would have gone a long fucking way, but nope, not a peep. From anyone. It could have been a very fresh thing, Lilian supposed, except that the vamps had apparently known for a while. Were they involved? Was this, like, a failed bio-weapon? A result of some fucked-up experiment to try and get rid of them for good, without the bloodsuckers themselves having to lift a finger? Granted, maybe she was reading too much sci-fi; maybe this was an insane conspiracy theory, on the level of the Flat Earthers. Could you really blame her, though? Having seen the shit she had, Lilian knew just how blurry the boundary between reality and fiction could get.)

“You’re not smelling like daisies yourself, you know,” the huntress quipped, almost absent-mindedly. It was a lazy retort; the equivalent of swatting away at a fly, rather than her usual laser-guided precision. Maybe because she wasn’t really bothered? They were expected to insult one another, among… other things.

“Not that I know of.” Which, of course, was a problem in itself. A huge one. “And I dunno, that’s an easy enough guess to make. We don’t have your nose. When something human-shaped lunges at me at night, I assume it’s a vampire.” 99% of time, it was true; the remaining 1% were lowlives who most definitely should have known better. (Their fault, really, for falling for the ‘lone woman’ cliché. Lilian liked to think she’d at least taught those a lesson about approaching strangers in public.) “No offense.” All the offense in the world, actually! But currently, the vampire was the only lead that she had, and Lilian didn’t believe in burning bridges she still planned to cross.

It was a bad idea, she knew. The nuclear bomb among ideas, easily capable of wiping out everything that she’d worked for this far. Still, wouldn’t it be stupid? To just… let her go, when she could be useful instead? Again, information was information. And if the vampires really were involved, just as she thought they were, it could come in handy to keep the line of communication open.

God would forgive her, right? Because her intentions were pure.

“I’ll know what to look for now, though. Even during the day, when you can’t.” The implication was almost there, which was the best way for an implication to exist. Lilian took a deep breath. “Would you like to know more about that?”

~***~

A blessing from their god?

Now, where had she heard this before? Oh, right: everywhere. As fascinating as humans could get, they tended to default to the ‘god’ explanation with a frequency that was downright shocking. Storms? God. Fires? God. Your cow not giving you enough milk on a particular day? An evil god, or barring that, a witch. It really was the same old song, dressed in a new rhythm. In a way, Inga had expected more from those guys. Just, hello? The tenth century called, and it wanted its ideas back!

“Hmm, yes. I don’t think I’ll be satisfied with that. It is kind of entertaining, though: the way these gods supposedly keep responding to the biggest nutjobs’ requests. When I asked, I got nothing.” Not that that was surprising in any way, shape or form. Inga’s biggest failure was staying alive, and for that, she was punished with silence. With loneliness, where there should have been companionship. In time, she’d learned to fill the void left after both, though she did still wonder sometimes. About what, she couldn’t quite tell; it was easy to go down the road of what-ifs, with nothing to do and an ocean of time.

That was part of the reason Inga made sure there was always something to do.

“Ask around? Seems like a dead end to me, especially if all you’re going to get are ramblings about god. I think I’d prefer something more tangible than that. Documents, knowledge of secret spaces? You’re creative, Antonia. I’m sure you could help me obtain both.” Inga didn’t think anyone had talked to the Roman like that for quite a while, and wasn’t that oh so funny? In the same way that sticking your hand in a tiger’s cage only to back away at the last moment was funny, but still. (Maybe that was the entire appeal.)

But then, then Antonia revealed her cards, and Inga gave her a wide smile.
“I suppose you could do that. Why would you, though? You cannot possibly believe the evidence would die with me. We both know that it isn’t as simple as burning a letter these days, Antonia. Once recorded, information… leads long lives. Possibly longer than ours.” For that, Inga was grateful. Book-burning she thought to be one of humanity’s greatest crimes, and this ensured there would be no Alexandria 2.0.

Slowly, deliberately, she took another sip.

“It comes down to me believing that you are reasonable, in the end. Of course, I may be mistaken. These things happen. But,” Inga reached into her pocket, fished out an old coin she kept for good luck, and tossed it; then, upon catching it, covered it with her palm, so that it couldn’t be seen. Heads, or tails? Nobody could tell.

“Life's kind of like that in general. A coin toss. And, in all honesty?” Somehow, Inga’s already impossibly wide smile got even wider. “I’d love to see you try. It could be interesting, once we’re done with everything.”
 

Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
Supporter
Cassidy stretched her arms out a little in a casual shrug. ‘Sorry doll, I’m not the vampire with the connections.’ That was other people. Cassidy didn’t have that kind of money to pay off humans or others to bring her intel. Comparatively speaking, she was piss poor, and lived in a rather sad basement apartment by the standards of her kind. It wasn’t really a bad place, but Cassidy knew it was naught like the mansions or penthouses of other vampires who had connections.

She was just Some Girl with was known, if she was known at all, by a cowboy hat.

There probably could have been a good cheesy western-comedy made out of her situation, now that she thought of it. ‘Ought to pitch it to Hollywood, or maybe some video game company.’ Blue-Hair quoted some games at her that he thought she’d enjoy. Why the kid thought she’d enjoy video games was beyond her.

Why she kept thinking of him as a kid when hew as older than her, really wasn’t beyond her.

“None taken,” not really. The woman was a hunter. 99% of the things that were going to lunge at her, were vampires. Cassidy really wasn’t upset with that. 90% of the things that came at her were hunters. The others were drunk humans, upset vampires, and then mutants, and other assorted oddities of the world she’d learned existed in it. “Welcome to learning the world is bigger than you expected.”

She didn’t mean that cruelly, although there was something of a derisive drawl in the way she said it. Cassidy knew it really wasn’t all that fun.

The huntress extended an interesting offer – to be her eyes in the daylight. Cassidy almost paused in their walking, but didn’t, as she considered it. All she’d have to give up would be a phone number, right? But phone numbers were tied to addresses, and she’d be a fool to think hunters couldn’t track that kind of thing. She didn’t exactly have the best security system. Sure, there was a passcode and intercom system at her complex, but that wasn’t stellar.

Oh and a little key that went in a door to get to her home.

Yeah, she was well protected.

Still, what choice did she have? The hunter hadn’t tried to stab her. So, she sighed, “Name’s Cassidy,” she withheld the surname as if it wasn’t one of the most common surnames in the world. “And yeah, I think that would be good. We can share information. I’ll try and find out more from my side, you find out more on yours, and we’ll compare notes. If I see any, I’ll let you know when and where…and you do the same. I can give you my number.”

‘And this, St. Peter, is why I have a stake through my heart. I trusted a hunter to want to save the world with me. Sue me.’

She’d get spurs in heaven for that, right? Hope?

~***~

Inga gave nothing about a timed release, only that data lived on. There were likely multiple copies on multiple drives, but perhaps nothing so cleverly foolish as a timed release. Those were always dangerous to play with, even in the right hands. One missed alert, and the game was over – and situations did have a way of getting tense right when one needed to signal they still didn’t want anything sent out.

But Inga didn’t deny that possibility either, and she seemed fool enough to play with time. She rather seemed to be enjoying this, but then, she wasn’t the first. She wouldn’t be the last. Though it had been a while since Antonia found herself in this situation, it was far from foreign.

And everyone who took Inga’s role was dead now.

“Clearly, your god hates you. I have no questions of why.” Perhaps a simple jab at the fact she suspected she wasn’t the first to end up blackmailed, though it wasn’t. Blackmail wasn’t offensive to any god she’d ever feigned belief in. Mass murder usually was, though. “But I’m sure the silence will one day drive you into an assumed answer and then you, too, can be the next happy nutjob.”

As if she was far from it.

“Thankfully for you,” not really, “I’m quite reasonable. It’s why I asked, after all.” And now she knew she needed to do significantly more research into Inga. Where she lived. If she had any safehouses or storages. Friends, allies. She would learn how to get at the data, and remove it. Whether or not Inga’s death occurred a little before, or a little after, was debatable.

“Which leads to the second consideration in all of this. Assuming I go forward and start revealing other locations, or getting my hands on documents,” not too difficult, at least the locations part. She’d just have to signal the church was not safe for her any longer. “there remains the matter of my relationship with these hunters. They expect me to continue my own role among them. You haven’t seemed to ask me to stop, either. Can I assume that persists without interruption?”

There were legitimate ways it persisted, with vampires deemed dangerous to all.

That wasn’t what she was asking, of course.
 

Syntra

Baba Yaga
"Welcome to learning the world is bigger than you expected," the vampire said, and Lilian fought the urge to roll her eyes. Needless to say, the odds of her emerging victorious from that fight weren't very good. As in, not at all. Were they going to pretend she was a clueless civilian now? Fucking really?

(Because that she wasn't. She'd never been, thanks to those like her. Instinctively, Lilian gripped her arm roughly where the old injury had once been, and thought of the home that she did not have. Big world, yeah. Big world her ass.)

"Been there, done that," the huntress waved her hand. She was sort of tempted to add something more spicy as well, but what would the point of that be? To get a bloodsucker to pity her? Yeah, no. Lilian would rather chew her own fingers off. "Gotta say, it also keeps getting worse with every expansion that comes out. For once, I would like to find out about something nice. Where are my unicorns? I'd prefer those to... to my list of targets somehow getting bigger every time." And that, ladies and gentlemen, was the story of how Lilian Perry was completely, 100% honest with a vampire. A bad habit to form, she knew; especially if she wasn't going to get rid of another bad habit that she'd picked up along the way, called 'talking to vampires instead of killing them.' Ugh, this was getting complicated.

"We've got a deal, then," she said, before extending her hand to the bloodsucker Cassidy. Weird, to have an actual name connected to one of those. Had any of the vamps she had un-vamped ever introduced themselves? Definitely, now that she thought of it, but it had always been more of a 'I'm Dark Lord Juan, now prepare to die' thing. Hard to take those seriously. "And I'm Lilian. Glad to meet ya, I guess."

What she wasn't too happy about, though, was having to get home. Or rather, the process of arriving there. There were many good things about living with other hunters - most of them safety-related - but the absolute lack of privacy wasn't one of them. And the fact that nothing ever got past any single one of them? Lilian couldn't say that she was a fan. It was slightly past three am when she was sneaking through the living room, praying to god the bathroom wasn't occupied, when--

"Lilian Perry! Where have you been?!"

Fuck. Fucking... fuck. Eugene was just about the last person she wanted to meet right now, but there she fucking went.

"...Enjoying a walk?" Technically not untrue. She had gotten to the bar on foot, so there had obviously been walking. She had also done a lot of things besides that, but he hadn't asked her to list literally everything that had happened that night. See? With some very careful interpretation of events, you could say that Lilian wasn't lying! Ha, ha, ha.

Eugene narrowed his nose. "And then what, you fell into a sewer?"

"No, no. See, I jumped in there."

The expression on his face, predictably enough, turned sour. "You're drunk again, Lils."

"Maybe so, but," she raised her index finger triumphantly, "that doesn't make any of that untrue. Oh, and also, I got attacked by some weird, vampire-adjacent... thing."

"...What?"

~***~

Inga shrugged, clearly unbothered. "I mean, I have a couple of them. I wouldn't say they all do; that's unlikely, for one, and they've also always been very hands-off." Unlike the one with whom she had an axe to grind. "It's not impossible, though. Back in my day, it was all about 'here's a sword, now go conquer something and make your ancestors proud.' I suppose I haven't done that nearly enough." And, again, she had failed to die properly. That was kind of the most important part of this fiasco, Inga suspected, but she wasn't going to bring it up. And besides, what did it matter? Obviously Ragnarok hadn't come yet; there was no need for her, then. Till the next apocalypse, things were going to be just fine.

"We can only hope so," Inga beamed at Antonia, instead. "I aspire to be a nutjob. Truly, such existence must be very freeing. Have you ever considered the career?" Alright, maybe she was playing it up a bit, but it was just too amusing, talking to Antonia like that. (She hadn't come here seeking entertainment, though sometimes, fate just... gave you an unexpected gift. Inga certainly wasn't going to complain.)

And well, well, well. Wasn't that a question? Once again, the vampire shifted in her seat. "It would be less suspicious if your activities continued normally, no? I don't have anything against it, per se. I would just like to be informed about the targets so that it doesn't interfere with my plans." After all, what was the point in making this deal even sourer for Antonia? She had a list of enemies to work through, none of whom Inga particularly cared about. If their blood had to flow, then so be it.

(Better them than her, she thought. Even if her turn would come up as well, sooner or later.)

There probably wasn't much left to discuss, and Inga couldn't help but seize the opportunity to push things a little further. Partly, it was to see how Antonia would react, and partly because... well, yeah. There wasn't any other reason, aside from maybe turning Antonia's earlier powerplay of inviting her to her home right on its head. "Thank you for the hospitality, by the way. I'm thinking I'll stay the day, to seal our new friendship. What do you say?"
 
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Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
Supporter
Numbers were exchanged, names as well. Lilian was the huntress. Seemed an odd name for a hunter, but then again, it wasn’t as if they were all going to be Alexandria and Hectors – no, there were a lot more standard, non-awe inspiring names. And besides, Lilian came from Lilith, right? Demonic enough.

A comment Cassidy kept to herself as she nodded and took the information. “Right. We’ll talk…sometime.” When they had more to say. As it was, they parted ways, exiting different parts of the sewer. Cassidy didn’t really know where her exit would lead, but she was able to find her way back home and get in a shower, washing off the stench of shit as best she could.

It was late then.

Or early.

Depended on who you asked, but all the same, she sent a message to the Blue-Haired one known as Tristan. She didn’t expect an answer from him quick, but of course, the one never off the internet – or his phone – responded in seconds with a ‘call me’.

Sighing, Cassidy called him, flopping back on her leather couch and putting her legs over the arm of it as she waited for him to answer. He took longer doing that. “Cowgirl!” He chimed in a cheerful voice.

Yeah, no wonder she thought he was a kid.

“What’s this you’re needing the Princess for?” no one called Antonia ‘Princess’ to her face, except Tristan, and rumor had it, the first time hadn’t gone over well at all. Or the second time. Rumor said a lot of things, but it was enough that no one else really wanted to find out just what would happen if they started insulting Antonia to her face.

“I, ah, may have gotten myself involved with a hunter.”

“What, like, fucked a hunter? We’ve all done—”

No Tristan, and what the fuck? Fucking hunters is normal?”

“Deliciously taboo.”

Cassidy put a palm over her face and shut her eyes, exhaling and starting to count to ten.

Thankfully, Tristan loved to fill silences, “So if you’re not fucking one, how are you involved? What’s the scoop?” She could hear him typing in the background. She wondered idly what game he was playing.

“We’ve agreed to help each other out about the,” and she hated herself more for humoring Tristan, “Pepe Le Frogs.”

“Oooo, those things. Why would you need to go through Princess? She’s not working that case. She’s not going to care what you do.”

Because,” Cassidy couldn’t help the annoyance in her tone. “I think the hunters and the mutants are related, and we need to get to the bottom of it. If she works with the hunters, she might know more than I do about this.”

“Eh, maybe, but probably not. I mean, not like she’s been able to stop them overstepping their lines. Tyr was just fucking wrecked tonight, after all. Just got into town, and then bam! Dead."

‘Who is Tyr?’

“But if you want, I guess I can try to get you an appointment with her. Any times don’t work?”

“No.”

“Kay! I’ll see what I can do! Oh, uh, should I drop your sire’s name? I mean I know you don’t affiliate….”

“Will it help or hurt?”

“Dunno.”

“Then don’t bother complicating it.”

“You’re gonna owe me. She’s a pain, you know?”

“So I hear,” Cassidy muttered, “Thanks, just let me know the favor later, I have a headache.”

~***~

‘Ah gods, you are a nutjob if you still believe in whatever pagan deities still exist.’ Antonia bit the inside of her cheek, careful not to dig her fang in too far. Sure, vampire blood was sweet, but not her own blood. She’d rather not deal with that. Antonia didn’t even hide the eyeroll when Inga asked if she ever dreamed of being a nutjob.

“I have already seen the results of that in my family.” Ah, Mark Antony. Truly insane, calling himself Bacchus and reveling in Egypt with his Isis. True, he was a beloved tragic hero according to Shakespeare, and even modern depictions played him sympathetic, where Antonia had no love left for the fool and his pride. “I would rather remain lucid and unhappy, thank you.”

Hatred at least gave her purpose.

Loss of purpose was often what led to insanity.

Curiously enough, it seemed Inga had no qualms with her continuing the massacre, either. That did raise up her brows, curiosity painted on the once-irritated expression. This was unexpected. Smart, for a greater purpose, but unexpected all the same. After all, they were Veturia. Her own clan, last Antonia knew. She may not have known Inga’s name at first, but she knew Veturia faces. She’d burned them into her mind.

The question annoyed her. As if she had extra rooms at the drop of a hat. She did but that wasn’t the point.

“Maybe,” she said, “I will have to see if I have any spare rooms, but while I have that checked,” and she took her phone out to send such a message, “tell me why you’re allowing me to kill your clan.”
 

Syntra

Baba Yaga
The morning was cruel. They usually were, especially where her drinking escapades were concerned, but when the sun peeked through the curtains this time, Lilian genuinely felt that the light straight up wanted to murder her. A punishment for cooperating with a bloodsucker, maybe?

Oh.

Oh.

Sprawled out on her bed, the huntress stared into the ceiling and re-played yesterday’s events for herself in front of her mind’s eye. Mostly, she was looking for evidence that it all had been just a bad dream; that, for some godforsaken reason, her brain had sided with Eugene and the others and thought she deserved to suffer for daring to have a life. Because, yes, that would have explained a great deal! Unfortunately for her, though? Everything checked out. It was all batshit insane, of course, but, unlike what tended to happen in dreams, the cause-consequence bond held firm. The puzzle pieces fit together. Every bad decision she could track back to a not-so-insane assumption, and in the end, the resulting mosaic showed—

Fuck.

Yeah, fuck. There really were no more excuses, Lilian had to admit to herself, when the screen of her mobile lit up and the name ‘Cassidy’ shined bright in her contacts. Clearly, she hadn’t made that one up. Should I just delete it? Except that that would do nothing about the vamp having her number, and having her call unexpectedly, not even knowing who she was, was something Lilian wasn’t at all keen on. Besides, the not-vampires were still a thing. Time to live with my shitty decisions, I guess. And to investigate.

So she did what hunters did whenever they found themselves in a pickle, and that was to ask other hunters. Blah blah blah, sense of community; blah blah blah, ever so grateful. Lilian did like a lot of them, make no mistake, but she was also convinced there was something about the organization that attracted the biggest assholes in the fifty kilometers perimeter.

“Something weird about the vampire?” Julie asked, not even bothering to look up from her morning coffee. (Fucking Julie.) “You sure about that, Lili? I mean, I wouldn’t trust my perceptions if I were you.”

Why had she slept with her, again? Oh, right! Contrary to popular opinion, Lilian did, in fact, hate herself. That was the only conclusion she was getting from this, and the incident from yesterday had further cemented the suspicion.

“Thanks a bunch,” she retorted, going for tea instead of coffee. “Remind me to never talk to you again, eh?”

“Jesus Christ, high school really never ends.”

Eugene was sitting on the couch, flipping through a magazine that Lilian did not at all care about. Knowing him, it was probably something related to gardening; the man was always half-expecting some kind of zombie apocalypse, and, quote unquote: “Sustainability is important, Lilian. Where will you get your food when you can’t go to the Walmart?” She’d responded she’d rather resort to cannibalism, and the conversation had died quickly enough. Most likely, her joining the zombies’ side had been a twist.

I believe her, for one.” Sure, because Eugene would believe just about anything. Not that Lilian would say that aloud, though.

“Hmpf.”

There really wasn’t much to do during the day, aside from getting ready for the night… and, frankly, also fucking around. While they really weren’t in high school anymore, releasing tension did work wonders when it came to not being distracted later. Therefore, Lilian made sure her schedule was reasonably free. Yes, she did go to inspect the spot where she’d been attacked; an action that didn’t reveal much, though thankfully only took a fraction of her day. And the rest of it? Spent on a different kind of investigation, mostly. That, and wrestling with the guilt.

The former didn’t go all too well, because nobody seemed to know anything. As far as the rest of the world was concerned, it really could have been just a dream. There was one puzzling incident, though; Joshua, a hunter several ranks higher than her, quipped that it wasn’t a ‘a good idea to stick her nose in that one’ and also that ‘god’s guidance will explain all.’ Josh liked her, Lilian knew that for a fact. She’d done a favor or two for him before his career had really taken off, and he’d never forgotten about that. So what was that about?

But, all in all, Maria was a bigger problem.

Not that it would be fair to call her a problem, being the sweetheart she was, but she could read her all too well. Came with the territory of being, what, an empath? She had used that word once, even if Lilian knew fuck all about what it really entailed.

“But are you really okay, Lilian?” she asked her, measuring her with a careful look. “You’ve seemed really stressed out lately. Bad vibes all around.”

“Being a hunter is stressful,” was her laconic answer.

“Oh geez, really? What I mean to say— god, Lilian, that’s awful. Sorry, but it has to be said.” No, Lilian didn’t need to ask what she was referring to. When she had… uh, a lot on her mind… the huntress usually took up some embroidery to try and sharpen her focus. Needless to say, skill with a blade did not translate into being skilled with a needle.

“Are you actually getting worse? Impressive.”

“Maybe,” Lilian rolled her eyes. “Are you also trying to make me feel worse?”

At that, Maria’s face fell. “Come on. Can’t you see you’re doing it to yourself? You act like a hen that’s lost her chickens, and yet you say it’s ‘nothing.’ Nothing, my ass! You know you can say anything to me, Lils. Don’t you?”

“Anything?”

Maybe she could. Maybe Maria of all people would understand, after all the years they’d been friends. Who, if not her? Besides, she always had been one to look for ‘sensible solutions.’

“Anything.”

It still wasn’t a good idea. It really wasn’t, but Lilian felt as if she was about to burst.

“Alright. Don’t get mad, I swear I can explain. I… may be kinda talking to a vampire.”

~***~

‘Lucid’ wasn’t unexpected. People clung to that concept fiercely, as if it really changed anything. The universe was chaos; minds were, too. Pretending that you were a sole beacon of rationality often meant that you were the craziest motherfucker out there, actually, except you didn’t know. ‘Unhappy,’ though? Now that, that came off as a surprise.

What it is that you don’t have, Antonia? Although maybe it was a matter of all the things that she did have, Inga thought. As cliché as it may have been, possessions really could drag you down; before you knew it, your things owned you, and it was hard to crawl your way back up from that hole. Of course, the things in question didn’t necessarily have to be tangible. Although wealth did come with the package, she guessed it would be something along the lines of prestige for someone like Antonia.

“What a shame,” Inga said, unexpectedly soft. She tilted her head aside, and all the braids followed the movement. “Our lives are far too long to be unhappy.”

Inga herself… wasn’t. She wasn’t always happy all the time, because who the hell was, but she also wouldn’t say that she hated her life. It was what it was. It was what she’d made it, and that was more than most people could say. There were pangs of regret as well, but how could she just reduce her existence to a single word like that? Unhappy. The definitiveness in Antonia’s voice did strike her as somewhat sad, enemy or not.

“You should do something about that, when you have more time. Find something you love.”

That Antonia was willing to let her stay honestly surprised her, and briefly, Inga thought about how far she could take this. Would it be fine for her to stay a week? A month? There was a certain appeal to turning Antonia’s mansion into her personal hotel, if only for the laughs. As for keeping actual tabs on her while there… no, Inga wasn’t nearly delusional enough to think she could accomplish that. For that, she would have to leash herself to the woman.

But it seemed that Antonia had a few questions of her own.

Well. Well, why not go with the truth? Inga didn’t like lying all that much, and it wasn’t like anything in the story could really hurt her. She’d left it all behind her, now.

(Or she’d tried to.)

My clan?” Inga repeated. “I don’t think you have the story right, Antonia.” She didn’t have it wrong, necessarily, but the devil was in the details. What did she even know, aside from her being affiliated with the clan at some point? Probably not that much. To be frank, Inga had never been important enough to be on any bigshot's radar.

“I was a stray,” she said, simply. “Alone and clan-less, with no sire in the picture. They did take me in when I was young and foolish, that’s true enough. But it’s also true I was never anything to them. Always the stranger, always the barbarian, sometimes the inconvenience. So tell me, Antonia: why should I hold any love for them?” And then, to make her point even more clear: “I haven’t seen any of them for a couple hundred of years. What happens is of no consequence to me.”
 
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Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
Supporter
Tristan was as good as his word, both about arranging a meeting, and complaining incessantly about it. “The Princess says she has some time on Sunday, apparently she doesn’t do the Midnight Mass thing, so if you want to go see her—”

“Wait, Midnight Sunday, or Midnight Monday?”

“Ya know, I never really considered if she tracked time differently from me. Assuming not, since our meetings have gone off without a hitch, midnight Sunday into Sunday morning.”

Cassidy had her meeting, but that was still a bit after her next meeting with Lilian. She hadn’t sent any messages, wanting to try and figure something out, but she came up with little more than she already knew: they frequented hunter areas (at night – as far as she knew), and some hunters had a similar smell.

So, when she did send a message to Lilian, it consisted of the fact she’d figured out nothing new but she had a meeting with Antonia, and she’d like to get some details ironed out so she didn’t inadvertently betray Lilian’s trust with Antonia by saying something she might not want said. Not that Lilian seemed to have known much…it was also a way of asking if she had anything new to talk about, as well.

Better to do it in person. Tristan warned her of too much correspondence otherwise. Could be pulled and used against her, not that he really figured it would. Vampires didn’t have the same taboos for interacting with hunters, that hunters seemed to have with them. Hunters were just another sort of human, with weird employment, though perhaps not as weird as being an office drone.

Honestly, how could anyone spend that much time in a cubicle doing fuck all?

When the meeting was set, Cassidy was informed another hunter would be joining – but they’d keep it public-ish. An outdoor café at night, to talk. Anyone who overheard would probably just think they were talking about a novel, or a movie. People heard what they wanted to hear, after all.

So, Cassidy got herself ready, not at all extravagant – just jeans, a blue tanktop, and a flannel jacket. The temperatures didn’t bother her much anymore, but she knew there was a nip in the air and she’d look a bit more normal this way. She threw her hair in a ponytail and set out for the café, catching a bus to get to the area and then walking the rest of the way.

She was there first, so she picked out a seat and ordered a tea she had no plans to drink. At least it smelled nice, and she could hold it in her hands so they were warm and the aroma could waft up into her nose.

Small pleasures.

She still smiled when she saw the hunter approach and lifted a hand in that very human signal of ‘here!’.

~***~

Antonia did not believe the expression of softness, and perhaps, concern were genuine. She took it for mockery. Of course their lives were too long to be unhappy. Of course she should try to be happy in it. And this, coming from a Veturia who ought to know damn well why she wasn’t happy, was rich. Even if Inga claimed to have left them behind a couple of years ago. It was impossible to imagine her ignorant.

She wouldn’t dignify it with a response. Stating people should be happy was rhetorical, anyways.

Believing that Inga left the Veturia was another matter. There was little reason to lie, and evidence enough to support it, considering she was going to let them keep dying off. Bitterness was often a part of leaving anything behind. Bitterness at time lost, bitterness at futures lost. There was always something that one longed to see a payment for in those situations. “Pity it was only a couple of hundred years and not much longer,” was all Antonia had to say on that.

Her own losses craved payment still.

Antonia rose, “If there is nothing else to discuss, I shall retire for the evening. You have a room in the east wing prepared. You may stay the night, after that, I can have you driven back to your home if you like, or you can walk out, call an uber – whatever method you prefer, but I will not house you for longer than that.” Right now, it could easily be blamed on the time.

Not that there weren’t several hours of night left. Antonia never did her business with the hunters close to dawn, that was just begging for trouble. Closer to dusk was better. Then she had all the time in the world. “Felix will show you to your quarters, and should you need anything, you can speak to him, as well.”

Felix was a good wolf, though he might loathe her for tossing Inga at him to deal with. Then again, this wasn’t uncommon when Antonia had houseguests she didn’t care for. He dealt with it all. Even Amon.
 

Syntra

Baba Yaga
“Really though, Lilian. No offense, but— are you off your rocker?”

And fuck, as if that wasn’t the very same question that she had been asking herself at least three times per day! But, unfortunately for Maria, she still had no answer. Nothing definitive, anyway. Lilian didn’t feel crazy, though she also sort of assumed that most crazy fucks didn’t feel all too crazy. That was, after all, the entire point of craziness.

“Look, she’s… she’s not so bad,” the huntress muttered under her breath. “I mean, she is,” a vampire, duh, “but she’s been transparent enough. Whatever this new threat is about, the vamps don’t like it, either.”

“There are many things both we and the vamps don’t like,” her friend pointed out. Unlike Lilian, who had only bothered to put on one of her old, well-worn jackets and a pair of comfy jeans, Maria was still getting ready. How she managed to apply mascara and speak at the same time, Lilian would never understand; that level of multi-tasking for sure would have cost her an eye. “Being burned alive, for example. Wanna base your friendship on that?”

“Cassidy’s not my friend. We’ve spoken, what, once?” As if that wasn’t already far too much. The protocol only allowed very little communication, and the things it did allow boiled down to, like… epic one-liners. Scathing comments shortly before you finished them off. Since there wasn’t a lawyer good enough to paint her interactions with the bloodsucker in that light, Lilian could only hope that nobody would find out. Well, nobody else. At least for the time being? Once the threat got worse – if it ever did – she could see the higher-ups changing their minds on some of the… hmm, more rigid aspects of the code. That was how things worked. “And you fucking know that it isn’t the same.”

“Likely not,” Maria agreed. “I’m just worried, is all.”

Classic Maria, always worried about everyone. Not that Lilian didn’t appreciate it, but it could get a little tiring… and it was honestly also the main reason why she was trying to come off so confident about this. Did she suddenly believe that Cassidy the Vampire was somehow their salvation? Fuck, no! But she did know for certain that having two panicking hunters on one team was a recipe for disaster. Balance, in all things. That was how the proverb went, right?

“That’s why I’m taking you with me,” she said, grabbing her blade. “You’ll see for yourself.”

Something told her that Maria remained unconvinced, but that was fine. She could use a voice of skepticism in this, too.

Well, a louder voice of skepticism. Not like Lilian believed her blindly, you know? But on the proverbial spectrum, Maria was clearly closer to the ‘fuck that chick’ end of it, and that perspective was sorely needed. Vampires always ought to be fucked.

It didn’t take them too long to reach the café, and finding Cassidy was even easier.

“Is that her?” Maria whispered in her ear.

“What, expected someone more metal?”

“I mean… probably.”

Lilian chose not to point out that Maria hardly looked metal herself, especially in her floral dress.

“Hello,” she said instead, trying to silence the little voice in her head that was telling her just how fucked this entire situation was. Her, talking to a vampire! Sitting down with her in a nice little café, too! What was next, her inviting Cassidy to her fucking birthday party? Not that she’d ever had one of those, but… yeah, you got the gist.

“This is my friend, Maria. Maria, Cassidy."

Maria didn’t shake the vampire’s hand, instead going with a little wave. “Hi!”

Ah, Maria. The queen of faux casualness. Lilian knew her well enough to guess she was probably freaking out in this very moment, but you couldn’t tell it from just looking at her. In fact, you might think she was having a jolly good time.

“So, did you find out anything?” she asked, to get the conversation flowing. “You also said you had another meeting arranged?”

I fucking wish I could have some rum with that tea.

~***~

Inga enjoyed Antonia’s hospitality for as long as she was allowed to, which honestly wasn’t that long. The other vampire didn’t seem all too interested in having her around, and since that was a standard reaction to Inga from most people who… also weren’t Inga, she wasn’t bothered. Still a pity, she thought, as she walked down the street. The room was nice. The room, yes. Antonia herself couldn’t be called ‘nice’ by any metric of that word, but what she was was interesting, in her own way. Interesting enough to poke a little bit, find some chinks in her armor, and see for herself just how mad she could get. What would it take to push her over the edge? What would break her?

Inga would be lying if she said she’d mind talking to her more.

Inga also doubted Antonia shared the sentiment.

Then again, blackmail kinda did that, didn’t it? It didn’t get you many genuine friends.

What it could get you, though, was exactly what you wanted, and if you got really lucky, then also a good death. And if you were slightly less lucky… well, then you still got to live. As far as the vampire was concerned, that was the next best thing. You’re a genius, Inga.

It would be something of a poetic justice, she supposed, if it was Antonia of all people who got to take her out in the end. All things ended, one day; all Inga asked for was to be ended memorably. After all those centuries, she’d really hate to be yet another notch in the belt of a clueless hunter, hunting just because they could. What was the epic in that? The narrative importance?

(Not that she thought it would happen, of course. These days, most swordsmen’s technique was… notably lacking. That was one of the things Inga did allow herself to get misty-eyed about, for better or worse; the duels she had fought, and all the blood she had shed. Good old times, indeed.)

The new times were also good, though. Definitely better for most other things, and partying was one of them.

Such were the vampire’s thoughts when she entered the club, Storm’s Eye, even if she hadn’t really come to party.

“It’s my liiiiife, it’s now or never, but I ain’t gonna live FOR-E-VER—”

It had been a choice to go with that particular song, alright, and Inga didn’t quite know whether it was supposed to be some kind of statement, irony, or just total cluelessness on Bon Jovi’s part. Knowing him, all seemed equally plausible.

(Of course, it wasn’t the real Bon Jovi. Nathaniel had just preferred that name for himself since he’d discovered his songs and dedicated the rest of his days to pretty much cosplaying the man, which certainly… had been another kind of choice. Never one to rain on anyone’s parade, Inga had happily adopted the nickname.)

“Getting real good out here,” she gave him a thumbs up, after she’d glared her way onto the backstage. (Not a hard thing to do, when you happened to look like her. Death glares, it seemed, were a lingua franca even more universal than English.) “Almost got the goosebumps.”

“Oh man, Inga! You really think so?” There were sparkles in the man’s eyes, and honestly— good for him. Few had been able to prevent their enthusiasm from aging like milk, when their days and minds were unchanging. (Inga supposed the key was in not letting them be unchanging. How did the saying go? Panta rhei? Something like that. No wonder that so many acted out when the old pleasures got even older, and the new ones just didn’t come with the same dopamine release. Perhaps they were all broken in some fundamental way, though Inga didn’t resent the particular flavor of broken-ness. That, too, was what it was.)

“For sure. Stellar performance. Would have shed a tear, if I wasn’t too badass to cry.”

“So what have you been up to these days?” Always cutting to the chase, that one. Both knew that Inga’s visit wasn’t just for fun, because they rarely tended to be.

“Ah, the usual. You know, just doing my own thing. Traveling, enjoying life, getting involved with the Optimates--”

“What.” It wasn’t a question, more like an expression of exasperation. Bon Jovi didn’t know that much about her Veturia-related affairs, but he did know they held little love for one another, now. He also knew the Optimates were bad news. “Does that have to do with--?”

“Yes and no, I suppose. Most of it is confidential. Just wanted to let you know things might turn a little hot.”

“And that means?”

“That means,” Inga smiled, “that I’d love to say hi to some old friends.”

And afterwards? Well, it was mostly a matter of waiting for whatever Antonia would come up with. Don’t disappoint me, please. My heart wouldn’t be able to take it.
 
Last edited:

Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
Supporter
The hunters arrived, Lilian looking far more threatening than her friend in the floral dress, Maria. Cassidy still nodded politely at the woman, aware that floral dress or not, she was probably prepared to kick ass if it came down to it. “Good to meet you, Maria,” Cassidy greeted, letting her attention move back to Lilian as she asked her question.

Sadly, all she could do was shake her head.

“No, I just have that meeting coming up with Antonia. She’s supposedly an ambassador to your…kind – I’m not sure how closely she works with your group,” Cassidy noted, glancing between them for recognition, though not expecting much. She had a feeling it probably wasn’t common knowledge.

Might even be assumed to be a vampiric lie. Hell, there were probably vampires who believed it was a lie, especially considering current events. Not like the hunters weren’t killing whoever they wanted. At least, that’s what it seemed like. Cassidy was in dangerous territory here. Very dangerous territory.

“I was actually hoping you had gathered something more, or barring that, we could discuss what I actually tell Antonia. I don’t think we’ve really figured out anything we wouldn’t want her to know.” Hells, they hadn’t figured anything out, “but we’re working together so I wanted to clear things with you, first.”

Which led to one of their first questions, “Have you figured out if the mutants are able to move during the day?” That was the one thing Cassidy would never be able to figure out on her own. The one thing that would definitively separate the mutants from the vampires, by all standards. Even Sun-Worshipping Amon couldn’t move in daylight. If these things could, then they weren’t vampires.

That had to help put them on the same side against this threat. And once they were able to solidify that, they could really work together. At least, Cassidy hoped. It was a naïve hope, but it was a hope all the same.

She had to have something to be crazy enough to meet two hunters, even if it was public.

And of course – on the heels of that question, a waitress would come over, “Welcome! Can I get you two anything to drink?” Cassidy bit her tongue against a sigh. She knew the consequences of public places.

Other people.

Interruptions.

~***~

The day was too long with Inga present, even though Antonia isolated herself during it. Perhaps that was why. She preferred run of her own home at all times, and not to feel trapped, even if technically speaking she was trapped every day by the thrice-damned sun. That was a feeling she was used to, and she made sure to spend most of her nights out because of it.

The visit to Gabrielle fell only a couple of days later, after a rather annoying call from Tristan.

“So, this Cassidy Rivera wants to talk to you about the hunter situation. She’s real earnest about it, thinks she knows something that might be driving them to disobey all those treaties and contracts you’ve attempted to negotiate with them.”

Tristan could be serious when he needed to be. Much as Antonia didn’t care to meet with Cassidy, she understood the importance of controlling the narrative, and controlling what others knew by knowing what they knew, so she agreed to a meeting, faked sorrow (well, not sorrow – concern?) over the loss of Tyr, and moved on.

Neon Moon was the name of this particular tavern which had a terribly country, twangy vibe. Likely, because it took its name from a Brooks and Dunn song, which was as country as country got. It was all wooden and neon, with the fanciest thing being a jukebox that hooked up to an internet playlist system that let people pay to drown their sorrows to whatever song felt right. Antonia, of course, wasn’t allowed to cross into the main room where hunters drank those sorrows away. She was let in at the back, by Gabrielle directly, and entered into a small office full of papers, police reports, and all manner of things Gabrielle used to keep the business running and prevent legal action from tearing them to shreds.

They couldn’t all be Michael’s.

Although, the markings on Gabrielle’s arm hinted that she could be Michael, if she really wanted to be.

Gabrielle was a strange woman, well into her 30s with the healthy plumpness of a soft life, and a the warmth of a mother who knew ‘tough love’ worked alongside unconditional love. Or suspected it did, even if half her children resented her. She was also fairly responsive to that elusive power Antonia wielded, and so she turned it up a notch on stepping in, giving a genial smile to the hunter of paperwork, and accepted the physical photographs of the scene.

The smile warmed in a way that murder shouldn’t inspire.

“Beautiful.” It wasn’t in the least. “However he was found. Your hunters got shoddy.”

Gabrielle shrugged, “It happens, but he is dead. That is what matters, no?”

“It is,” and Antonia handed the photos back. They would be disposed of. Safety for all meant no proof of murders. Usually, that was handled by the sun. In Tyr’s case, his body had been found and preserved. There would be a fucking memorial for him. Antonia wouldn’t bother being in attendance, even if Amon would.

“I don’t have any information on anyone else just yet,” Antonia said, “but I’ll be monitoring others.”

Gabrielle took the photos and set them aside near the computer. “We appreciate all your efforts to redeem yourself, Antonia,” she didn’t scoff at it, eyes moving from Gabrielle easily towards the computer, before noticing a few cups – not yet cleaned – and a few vials near them.

She didn’t think her gaze lingered overlong, and she was more interested in what she might be able to grab that wouldn’t be easily missed, but Gabrielle noted, “I know, I should bring those cups up front to be cleaned,” she giggled, walking to the cups, but picking up the vial, “This is the blessing of the god, though. I’ve been entrusted with passing on the blessings as deserved.”

There was an opening there.

“I suppose such a thing would burn me like some humans think holy water would.”

Gabrielle’s smile held some mischief to it, a glitter in her eyes, as she held out the vial, “Why not find out? You’ve done so much for us. Michael thinks you could be redeemed.”

“And you?” she took the vial.

“No,” she answered simply, but added, “but I do not speak for the god. Their power can speak for itself.”

‘Can it now?’

Antonia offered it back, though had no intention of really giving it back, and she let that aura shift around her. No more awe, more pity, much as she hated the emotion, “I shouldn’t take this. One amongst you may need it far more than me.”

Gabrielle took her hand, and closed it over the vial, “Do. You need not drink it now, only…consider.” Her gaze was imploring, “I may not think you deserving but there are many I have been wrong about. I am only human,” she bowed her head, “we err. We err so much, we are lucky to even be blessed at all. If you are to be among us, who are we to deny it?” She squeezed Antonia’s hand, pushed it towards Antonia, and let go. “But you can tell me of it later. If you really wish to deny the god, then we’ll accept it back.”

Antonia wasn’t blind to the threat of that denial. This was a test in and of itself. She had time to think, and if she denied it, that might be her death.

Looks like they were planning to work her out of this, too. Well, at least the feeling was mutual. “Thank you for giving me time to consider. But you know, I don’t know much about your god, other than they seem to hate vampires.”

“What else do you need to know?” She seemed dismissive of that, “you yourself know how despicable vampires are.”

Antonia couldn’t contradict that, although it was on the tip of her tongue to mention humans and nazis. Or crusades. Or any other genocidal event. So, she didn’t, just hummed agreement, allowed a few more exchanges, before she left with the vial. She’d send a message to Inga once she was home and had secured the vial, and they could arrange her next visit.

Antonia was loathed to consider it, even if her own interest was piqued.

And she was now on a timeline with the hunters to “accept Jesus” or whatever.
 

Syntra

Baba Yaga
An ambassador to her kind? Lilian arched her brow, wondering what in seven hells that meant, when a connection in her brain was made and the realization hit her like a truck. She's insinuating that we... work with vampires? A bunch of filthy fucking lies! Hunters never would have--

Oh.

Oh, right. She was a hunter, and she was currently working with a vampire. For a few blessed, blessed seconds, the detail had almost eluded her, and Lilian would do just about anything to return to that version of reality. Alas, though! It did not exist. Not anymore, because she'd smashed it into a million very sharp pieces.

(How long till they cut her hand in half? How long till they pierced her heart? At least she still had her options, she supposed. Variety was good.)

But also - if Lilian had had the idea, could she really claim that the others before her hadn't? Particularly those who were so fond of, as it was sometimes said, 'seeing the bigger picture'? She'd always sort of assumed it was about justifying hacking the police records and all those nearly suicidal missions, but... well, maybe it was also about something else. Something much darker. Something that could make a hell of a mess, if spilled.)

Lilian wanted nothing more than to scream her lungs out, but, fortunately for Cassidy, she had promised to herself to be on her best behavior tonight. Just... no need to be too unfair about this, okay? She could acknowledge, despite everything, that the vampire had risked quite a lot, coming here alone and even letting her bring a friend along. The least she deserved was some kind of respect. "Antonia," she said simply. "Can't say I've ever heard of her. Apparently she's not ambassadoring it up with us, lowly street patrollers? Not that I don't understand that."

Maria gave her a look - that look - and shrugged. "No, I... I also don't know her." 'Provided that she even exists,' was likely the unspoken part. Which, yeah, good point.

"But sure, I am not keen on having my name dropped. If she somehow works with us..." with them, yes, but not with her specifically, "then she may know someone who knows me and that could make things messy." Messy, as in murderous. The hunters loved to teach by example, and she didn't even want to imagine what kind of example they'd make of her. Likely one who missed a few limbs? And her head. Yeah, the head that had hatched such an idiotic idea!

With the rest she waited until after the waitress left, and when her form finally disappeared behind the counter, Lilian leaned closer to the vampire.

"See, it's hard to prove these things," she sighed. "I haven't met any of the bastards since, so really, fuck me if I know. It would be easier if we could bait them somehow, instead of me just strolling through the city and hoping I'll be their kinda victim. Or - I don't know, if we could catch one whenever? Then we could wait for the sunlight and see. If you have any ideas, I'm all ears."

~***~

Inga's days were about as peaceful as they got, meaning 'not very'. A Valkyrie only knew rest within the walls of Valhalla, and while she wasn't one yet, she kind of thought it would be smart to get used to the routine. Hard to learn new tricks after your death, you know?

Or your second death.

Or maybe your third death, if you also counted your ego.

Inga had lived through many, many different deaths, but apparently not one of those had truly mattered. It was the definition of unfair, if you asked her. (Nobody had ever asked her, which was another kind of unfair. Really, why she hadn't written a book about all the ways in which she'd been wronged yet was a complete mystery.)

But, if nothing else, there were still many things to do. Endless meetings; sweetening deals so that they seemed a tad more appealing than they were; reminding those with faulty memory of favors owed. These days, she felt more and more like Antonia herself, and the idea of that struck her as rather disconcerting for some reason. This, too, is like sharpening your sword, Inga reminded herself. You cannot do it alone. Obviously, otherwise she already would have. About a thousand years earlier, too. The Church was kind of like a hydra in many ways; when you cut off one head, three others appeared. (Was the solution to just keep hacking heads off? Inga sincerely hoped so, because it was the only one she had. Oh well. She was sure that, if she did what she always had stubbornly enough, fate would yield in time. After all, what was probability against her will? Just some pathetic numbers.)

Needless to say, it was like a small holiday when her phone finally rang. See, it meant things would start moving soon. Hopefully in the right direction.

"Antonia, my friend!" Inga gave Antonia her signature smile, right after barging inside. (No, she wasn't really waiting for a permission to enter. Why? The woman had already invited her.) "What is it that you found? Something interesting?"
 

Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
Supporter
No one knew Antonia. ‘Bet she’d hate that.’ Cassidy didn’t really know Antonia by anything except reputation – but she knew her, and what she knew, suggested Antonia liked to be known. Of course, that was among vampires. Might be something else among humans, or hunters. So, she nodded as the stipulation was made. Cassidy wouldn’t reveal her sources.

“I’ll keep your name out of it, too,” though Maria hadn’t asked directly she still nodded to the other human to let her know that. It wouldn’t just be implicit because Lilian asked. There was little room for too many implicit agreements here. They all had vastly different understandings of the world, considering they were usually trying to kill each other. Well, hunters were trying to kill them. As far as Cassidy considered it, most vampires acted in self-defense. There were probably some that relished hunting hunters.

Unfortunately, Lilian had little to add. Cassidy huffed, blowing a few strands of loose hair out of her face that she then combed back behind an ear once she realized it was also just irritating her. “Figures.” It couldn’t be that easy. Of course, Lilian hadn’t seen one before that night, so what were the odds of her finding another one that easily? They weren’t in great numbers, that was obvious.

Also a good thing. They didn’t need these fiends running amuck.

“Might be easier to try and set up some cameras,” Cassidy mused, “I’m not too sure how to bait them, and though I can smell them, there’s a radius for that,” not to mention, hunters smelled like them. That could fuck up her plans if she went looking for them and ran into a squad of hunters. Sure, she was actively trying to hunt them, but things could still go wrong, especially if she got careless. “We can also try to catch them. We probably don’t need them alive. A dead vampire burns in the sun just as easily as a living one.”

A great way to dispose of them, really. And often used.

They couldn’t exactly admit to having much of a presence in the world, after all. The sun was a great acid barrel to hide the truth in! “I’m not great with the camera thing myself,” she acknowledged, “I’d have to catch one personally on my phone, and…yeah,” she canted her head a bit, “but if I can kill one, I can ring you as soon as I have it, and you can figure out the exposing it to the sun thing from there.”

~***~

Antonia had a feeling she ought to be relieved that Inga hadn’t tried to wrap her in a hug with that wide smile and cheerful greeting. Perhaps some of her bristling helped, but she got the idea that Inga would hug a porcupine to spite its spikes. Perhaps Inga just knew Antonia would only tolerate so much before this stopped being worthwhile.

“That is for you to determine, but I considered it interesting enough as it came with its own threat,” she noted, the door being shut by one of her servants as she led Inga in. “Seems your timing at befriending me was perfect.” Dry humor. Really, terribly, dry. And not at all funny.

She’d set the vial in her own office, under lock and key. The office retained the aesthetic of the building, but there was some touch of a life outside of Roman nostalgia. There was a torah and a tallit, the only hints of religion. There were silver coins from India, long, long ago (and of course, alongside Roman coins). A hand-painted silk tapestry depicting a phoenix was on the wall behind the desk, an artifact of times long lost in China, and evidence of her long history in diplomacy around the world.

The more ‘recent’ item was one of Japan, an aluminum tin which had once contained candy made of blood by one innovative vampire. Antonia kept it to remind herself to order more again, one day. A visit to Japan was long overdue, anyways.

Of course, these things didn’t even earn a glance from her as she unlocked the desk drawer and pulled out the vial, offering it to Inga, “They wanted me to drink it to find some redemption.” The word was all but scoffed, “I have time to think it over, of course, but there’s no doubt what eventual rejection leads to. They said it was a blessing from their god, like everything else.”

No surprise there.

“I’m assuming you might be able to figure out what it actually is. Or pull some favors to do so.”
 

Syntra

Baba Yaga
“Thanks!” Maria smiled. “I don’t need that on my record. I mean, you never really want anything on your record. It’s all just one giant collection of fuck-ups.” A spot-on analysis, because everything good about a hunter could be read from the tattoos. A thick folder had never been known to mean anything but trouble.

As Lilian sat behind the table, stirring the lavender tea that she had ordered earlier, there was one dominant thought in her mind: Can’t even be too mad about this, can I? Because, really, her investigation had been about as fruitful as Cassidy’s. Something, something, throwing rocks in glass houses, something, something, not being too much of an asshole. Keeping your asshole levels under a certain threshold was important, Lilian felt. (The threshold was usually pretty high for vampires, though the life-saving incident from earlier had lowered it for Cassidy specifically somewhat.)

“Yeah, I guess we can’t just waltz into this, YA protagonist style, and solve it within seconds.” Not that that wouldn’t have been ideal. The longer this went on, the bigger the chance of it getting out of hand, and Lilian wasn’t all that curious about playing that particular game. “Works for me,” she nodded. “Good idea about the camera thing. I might have a solution for that already.” The hunters didn’t really have any active cameras themselves, thinking them to be too much of a hassle. They manufactured evidence where no evidence was needed, and that was just asking for problems. One leaked video was all it took, and poof! Years of secrecy down the drain, mass panic, Eugene’s apocalyptic dreams coming true. An all-out war, instead of the guerrilla one they had now.

Of course, that also meant they had to ensure that no other recordings would emerge. Police recordings, for example. Recordings that would go through their editing process, one way or another.

It wouldn’t be easy, getting her hands on one of those, which was why she hadn’t really considered it earlier. With all the other options exhausted, though? Yeah, beggars couldn’t be choosers. Given the sheer coverage of the city the police had, it was also a surer bet than ordering like five cameras off e-bay and hoping for the best. “We’ll see.”

But speaking of the cameras… Shouldn’t her people have really, really known about this? Considering the recordings would go through them? It could have been a case of inconvenient placement, or them just… not looking at the day recordings, considering that was not what they were usually focusing at, but the more Lilian thought about this, the more fishy it all seemed.

And then there was Josh. Josh, with his strange fucking musings. And what Cassidy had said earlier.

Sometimes, you didn’t really want to connect the dots. It was kind of hard not to do that when they punched you right in the face, though.

“But level with me,” Lilian gathered her courage. “You said we smelled like them. What’s up with that?”

~***~

Somehow, Inga being a more than a thousand-year-old vampire failed to stop her from looking like a kid in a confectionary. It was only through sheer willpower that she managed not to touch any of Antonia’s trinkets, especially the ones from places she’d never been to. Somehow, Asia never seemed to fit into her schedule. Gotta change that one of these days. “My timing is always impeccable,” she nodded in her not-friend’s general direction. “Except when it isn’t, but we don’t talk about that. It always turns out alright eventually, so I suppose it’s all part of some grander plan.”

Maybe all of this was. That helped her to… well, not sleep at night, because she obviously didn’t do that, but be okay with some of the things that weren’t necessarily all that okay on their own. A splotch of black here and there wasn’t so bad when it was part of a bigger picture.

The idea of a bigger picture not being there at all was too depressing, and so Inga did what she usually did: put it into her mental shredder.

(Every day, the pile of shredded paper seemed to grow a little more. As long as it still fit into the bin, she supposed, this was fine.)

But, truly, what Antonia had in there might have been a jackpot. “Ooh, let me take a look! I’m all about redemption, myself.” The vial seemed innocent enough, though all of them did. Inga knew just how easily you could hide death in one of those; how many forms it had, how many faces, how quickly it could act. Of course, none of that was really relevant to vampires.

Clearly all too curious, Inga unscrewed the lid. She sniffed at the liquid, and… hmm, interesting. It wasn’t gross, not necessarily, but the tang was overpowering, in ways she wasn’t really familiar with. Well, aside from her brief encounters with the so-called ‘Servants of Apep.’ A connection was there, definitely.

“It’s not magic, you know,” she said, to nobody in particular. “Analysis, I mean. I may be able to identify the individual components, but that’s only if I know them. You still need a point of comparison. It isn’t too helpful to recognize all the things that aren’t interesting about this sample, only to come to the conclusion that, yes, there is an Element X. What about it, though? What does it do? And how? Those are the real questions. Finding out can take months. Years, occasionally.” Sometimes, when Inga talked about one of her precious pet interests, she even had a way of sounding sort of lucid. That kind of thing never lasted long, though.

“Have you ever thought about what makes us us, Antonia?” she looked up at the other woman, a half-smile playing on her lips. “I have. And I know. It’s an enzyme. A tiny protein,” not that any of them were big, “that is all about regeneration. A true warrior, that one. Cannot be isolated, cannot be destroyed. I ran some experiments and, really, it’s nothing short of incredible. I tried poisoning myself so many times, you wouldn’t believe it! Even drank concentrated nitric acid at some point,” among other things, “and nothing. It wasn’t fun, but what wouldn’t I do for research?”

Very few things, as it turned out.

That was why Inga raised the vial, pretending that she was about to give toast. “To your health!” she quipped. “And to redemption, I guess.”

No, she didn’t drink all of it. It was just a gulp, in truth; hopefully enough for it to be detectable, but not enough to waste the entire thing. “Can I draw my blood somewhere in here?” Inga asked Antonia, oh so casually. “I’m pretty familiar with my personal chemistry, so the changes will be easier to spot.” Not that she thought they would be permanent. The enzyme, the little fucker, tended to nip these things in the bud real quick. How frustrated had she been with it, back when getting rid of it had been her one goal in life? It was only fair for it to help her now.
 

Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
Supporter
Cassidy could only shake her head with a smile as Maria spoke of records, agreeing wholeheartedly with the sentiment that more fuck-ups were never needed. She understood well enough, even if vampires didn’t have records. They just had memories, some reputed to be very, very long, and very unforgiving. Cassidy was glad not to be one of them. She hoped never to become one of them.

Her sire didn’t seem to be, and he was older. That gave her some hope.

Although she did furrow her brows at this ‘YA Protagonist comment’, the initial meaning of ‘YA’ not dawning on her until she remembered some shitpost of Tristan about Twilight that used it. ‘Oh right, that.’ She didn’t really understand it, she hadn’t read that genre of fiction, but she nodded along as if she did anyways. Maybe she should look into YA fiction? Where would she even begin? Could she even relate to it?

‘You’re not in a book club right now!’

No, she was in a very serious conversation with two very serious hunters who wanted to get to the bottom of this mutant issue. And question Lilian asked, which caused Cassidy to tense. So, the throwaway comment in anger did get to her. ‘Ah jeeze.’

“Okay, look, the only reason I’m saying this is because you’re asking, and the reason I didn’t want to say anything more is I’m trying to continue this in good faith, and I don’t know anything. Dogs smell like wolves, but there’s a huge difference between a chihuahua and a wolf, okay?” Cassidy couldn’t help but beg understanding in that way, now that she wasn’t angry, and didn’t smell like shit herself.

But the tang was still there in the air.

She let out a breath, setting down her cup and moving a hand to the back of her head, under her ponytail, over her neck. “You smell like the mutants. Many hunters do. I don’t honestly know why, but I think the connection between the mutants being in hunter territory, and that smell, aren’t just a casual coincidence. But I don’t know!” She insisted on that, again, drawing her hands forward in a gesture of surrender, “there could be a lot more to it than that, I just don’t know. Maybe there’s something weird in the water that could cause that change of smell in anyone! Could be just a neighborhood thing or city water – people complain about the city water often enough.”

Too hard, they said.

Cassidy didn’t understand these complaints. “I’m not trying to accuse you, or the hunters, on anything based on a smell. So that’s why I wasn’t wanting to say anything just yet. It can only sour things that are already sour between us.” Us, meaning Vampires and Hunters. Strangely, she didn’t mean her and Lilian. It didn’t feel that sour. Maybe she was delusional.

~***~

‘You actually need redemption.’

Sure, Antonia was likely neck deep in blood herself, innocent and not-so innocent. No one could deny there had been some hedonistic years during the fall of Rome where everything went to shit, and even after that, before learning – really learning, that discretion was truly necessary for maintaining all of their lives.

Antonia didn’t bother to stop or warn Inga as she opened up the vial and rambled on about chemistry not being magic. ‘No shit?’ Not that she said that. She could only appear mildly intrigued, the way one of those rich housewives with nannies forced themselves to look mildly intrigued by their child’s excited yammering about something actually important happening in their lives. If it didn’t concern the housewife, what did it matter?

Sure, the protein thing was new knowledge, but it didn’t answer the quintessential question of how and why. Humans weren’t randomly mutating into vampires. What put that protein there? That was ever the question. Antonia had stopped asking it a long time ago. Long lost interest in the “why” of vampires. If Amon didn’t have an answer outside of Ra after who knew how many centuries, why should she expect to find any answers?

She was pretty sure the answer wasn’t in chugging strange liquids, though.

“Apparently you won’t die for it,” Antonia said as she shook her head at Inga’s actions, “nor wait until you’re safely at your own lab. I’d be happy to draw your blood,” with a sword, “but I’m afraid I don’t have any professional way to do it nor a lab.” She didn’t run science experiments. That wasn’t her area of interest.

Well, it was an interest, but not in a practiced way.

There were several things about this situation that Inga should have thought about. “You’ll want to scurry on home or to your own lab quickly. Preferably before whatever it is tries to redeem you, I don’t want to try and explain your corpse.” Not that she would, she’d just have Inga exposed to sunlight and be rid of it.

Sure, she might have to explain Inga’s presence, but she saw a lot of people. It was easy to explain things like that away.
 

Syntra

Baba Yaga
"Okay? Chihuahuas aren't wolves, that I can agree with. Not sure I've come here for taxonomic hot takes, though." The 'your point?' remained unspoken, though Lilian didn't really have to say it. Although... yeah, Cassidy didn't really have to say what she had in mind, either. There weren't too many reasons why she'd look so damn apologetic all of a sudden, as if she had to tell her that her beloved granny had died.

Still, Lilian wanted her to say it. With her whole chest, too. As if running circles around it would fucking change anything! If there was a goddamn problem, then they had to acknowledge it, and... and do something about it. Paralysis wouldn't help. Denial wouldn't, either. You could hide under your bed if you wanted, but, surprise, surprise! The monsters weren't stupid enough not to know that they could also fucking crawl in there, and then you'd be stuck under a bed with a monster. Wouldn't it be better to not be there? To stand, with a sword in hand?

(Inhale, exhale. Breathe, Lilian.)

"Lils," Maria pulled on her sleeve, most likely picking up on her discomfort, "what is that supposed to mean?"

"Not now," she shook her head, instead fixing her gaze on Cassidy. "Well? I'm not gonna tear your head off," a historic moment, ladies and gentlemen, "so go on. Say it."

There couldn't be any ambiguity. Maybe it was what she was thinking, maybe it wasn't, but dammit, Lilian was going to get her answers and she was going to get them now. She'd listen to her, consider everything, and then - do whatever that needed to be done. Always, she'd done exactly that.

Instinctively, her hand flew to the old injury. It often did, whenever things got stressful; Lilian couldn't fully explain why, though Deana had once described it as her 'trying to hold herself in one piece.' (Sometimes, she hated just how right the woman could be. Fucking Deana and her mom-telepathy.)

And, there, there it was!

Just as she'd thought.

Just as she'd dreaded.

"Alright," Lilian said, maybe not entirely present. (For one reason or another, it felt like watching a sword swing at her in slow motion. Too bad that she was also stuck in that weird non-reality, though, and so there was little more to do than stare.) "Alright. Got it."

"Got it?" Lilian couldn't say she'd ever heard Maria raise her voice like that, but she could have done without the experience. "That's all you're going to say to that? Lils, she's lying. Obviously, 'cause that's what they all do. Look at her, trying to seem all innocent! With that... that girl-next-door shtick. That's why it's a bad idea to talk to them, they get under your skin. You need to--"

"No, I don't think she is." It wasn't even the stupidly earnest way Cassidy said it, even if that probably did play some role. No, it all just... sort of made sense, in the light of the previous revelations.

Terrible, terrible sort of sense.

She still needed to breathe, even if her lungs didn't really feel like it.

(Inhale, exhale. One, two, three.)

Maria next to her froze, but Lilian hardly registered it. "Alright, I just... think I need a fucking moment." Several moments, and a bottle of gin. Probably enough gin to drown herself in. Intending to obtain exactly that, the huntress rose from her chair. "Talk to you later? I'm not accusing you or anything either, just to be clear, but right now I... can't."

And the one other thing that she couldn't, right now? Notice the familiar faces nearby.

~***~

"You don't know that!" Inga corrected her cheerfully. "Some poisons are pretty slow-acting. But, as I said earlier, I really don't think I'm going to kick the bucket." Unfortunately. "It just doesn't seem to be our thing, to die from something other than bloodshed. Poetic justice, I suppose?" That same poetic justice wouldn't protect her from the other effects of the substance that was currently being spread through her bloodstream, though, and so she braced herself.

Would it hurt? Would it make her scream? Inga hoped not, but it couldn't really be ruled out. The nitric acid in particular had been pretty bad; she still remembered the way it tore at her stomach, like razor-sharp nails burying deep into her flesh. She had screamed, then. Would it be like that, again? Would it?

Part of her was almost looking forward to it, if only because it would be something different from the usual routine. You know like humans liked to drink alcohol, despite it burning their tongue? This was kind of like that, except it wasn't. Booze 2.0, the hardcore experience!

Except, so far, there was nothing.

Nothing.

Nothing.

Still nothing.

And Antonia, as it turned out, didn't even have a lab! Judging by the look Inga gave her, you might have guessed she'd just told her there was no bathroom in her mansion. "Really?" she raised her eyebrow. "What do you even have that many rooms for, then?" But, alright, no judgment. Antonia probably did have her reasons, even if Inga didn't think any of them could possibly be legitimate.

"I mean, you wouldn't have to explain it," she pointed out. "A lot of people want me dead." Including you. "I bet they'd even try to take the credit for it, cowards that they are. Is it advisable to send me alone like that, though? If I really die, then - poof! Gone. Both me and my data." No, Inga didn't feel like walking, and yes, Antonia's car would be much faster. Was she playing it up, the way she was stressing the dangers? Perhaps, but it wasn't like she really knew what the liquid would do. It wasn't an excuse as much as it was an, um, window into the world of possibilities.
 

Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
Supporter
Cassidy knew the information wasn’t going to go over well. Except, she expected both hunters to explode on her, not just one. She didn’t feel any surprise at Maria exploding, though, and trying to get her friend back on the ‘straight and narrow, and assuming Cassidy was a liar. What could Cassidy even say? She was damned simply for being a vampire.

‘Don’t you know how often you humans lie?’ that would only get her in further trouble, even if she could point to every politician, and every person in a relationship asked about how clothing looked. As it was, she didn’t need to defend herself.

Lilian believed her.

Well – believed she wasn’t lying, which might not mean she believed her about her suspicions, which she had been clear she had no basis on other than what she knew about smell, and location, which could be utter bullshit for all Lilian knew. There was little objective material she could provide right then.

But Lilian believed her, and it was heartwarming. Maybe this was why some vampires worked with hunters? It was good to find common ground. To see through the monster to the humanity of them. And Maria was very upset with that, which Cassidy couldn’t find it in her heart to resent her for.

She was the friend of someone about to make what looked like a stupid decision. Cassidy understood, even if she wished Maria would extend a little more good faith her way. Probably hard to do when vampires had been attacking her most her life, and Cassidy hadn’t personally saved that life.

“I get it,” Cassidy said as Lilian got up, and started to walk off. To Maria, she said, “I don’t blame you for not trusting me. Not at all. I’m going to go ahead and go, let you both have time to consider this. And I’ll pick up the bill,” she smiled, but it faltered quick; Maria wasn’t giving her much of a friendly look. Paying for some tea wasn’t a life-saving offer.

“Take care,” she rose and did indeed go pay for all of it, in card. Thank god for Tristan and his fake IDs that let them continue to take out bank cards and other things that made life easier in this century.

But also fuck humanity for all the IDs.

She was half-convinced that was all done by hunters to make their lives harder.

With the bill paid, she’d leave the area to get to a bus stop not too far away, so she could get back to her home. She wasn’t too surprised to find it dead at that hour, it was a Thursday, after all.

But perhaps she should have been. She disregarded the smells, since she had just been around a couple of hunters. It was just that lingering smell…right?

~***~

Antonia was sort of hoping Inga would curl up in pain. Burst into flames. Vomit blood on her floor (even if that meant cleaning it up later). Alas, there seemed to be no reaction as seconds ticked by, and then Inga addressed the matter of a lab. And her surprise that Antonia didn’t have one. ‘Is that the new normal now?’ Not among the Optimates at any rate. Antonia frowned at the obvious way that Inga was trying to convince her to go along with this.

Go to a lab.

Yeah, that was a smart thing to do. Go to a lab with someone blackmailing you, and trust they weren’t going to then abuse that proximity and ask for even more. ‘Then again, she literally downed that vial.’ She was more likely to experiment on herself at this rate, not Antonia.

“Fine,” Antonia knew she probably should have offered to have Inga driven to her home anyways. It was the polite thing to do for someone who ingested unknown substances. Besides which, Inga had a point, and she was curious enough as it was. “You’re lucky I have a vested interest in what they’ve tried to poison me with,” the drawer was closed and locked up once again, “Pull up a GPS to your house on your phone and I’ll drive you there myself.” She strode around her desk and towards the door, gesturing over her shoulder for Inga to follow as if she were some dog.

Given how many werewolves she was used to dealing with, it probably was no surprise such gestures had become the norm. That, and her general way of viewing the vast majority of others, of course. She was tempted to grab Felix as well, but thought better of it. Inga was still…behaving. Sort of.

She would lead Inga out to the garage, passing by another room to grab her purse and keys, before sliding into the burgundy car again. It was her favorite, though clearly not her only vehicle. Some she kept for certain members of staff, some she had just because. Why not? She remembered the days when horses were status symbols, and cars were an even fancier, more customizable version of a horse. So, she had some, just for fun, even if “fun” wasn’t the word she’d use.

She’d have a diplomatic answer about “different audiences” and “different activities”.
 

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