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Realistic or Modern Moonlit Retreats [Closed]

Sub Genres
  1. Supernatural

Syntra

Baba Yaga
It was a strange, dream-like state of consciousness that Lilian found herself in, as she walked down the dimly lit street. She wasn't outright panicking, no, but something told her that was only true because her brain hadn't quite accepted the new reality yet. After all, Cassidy had told her earlier that she smelled like them; she, specifically, and not just hunters in general. Am I somehow going to turn into one of those things? Fucking great, just what her life needed! More supernatural bullshittery, as if the vamps weren't more than enough on their own.

(And, even more worryingly, she had a creeping suspicion that a blade to the heart wouldn't help now. A fucking shame, given it was the only solution she had.)

"Lilian. Lilian, what the fuck was that?" Finally, Maria had caught up with her, and it didn't seem like she was too pleased. "I can't believe you just... did all that."

"That makes two of us, yeah." Her eyes were trained on some unspecified point on the horizon still, and she didn't even try to meet her friend's gaze. (Did Maria smell like them, too? Or was it just her?)

"Don't just agree with me! Can't you see what this is about, you dumbass?"

Lilian could see, actually, and that was kind of the problem. "Listen, I'm not in the fucking mood right now. I'll explain later, promise. It's not like I trust her blindly, there are just some things that--"

"What things? The things that she told you, yeah? For how long have you been talking, really?"

That was exactly the reason why sharing all of that had been a bad idea. Still, Lilian was the undisputed queen of bad ideas, and so it wasn't all that surprising she'd caved in the end. "I haven't been lying to you, Maria. You know I wouldn't." Finally, the huntress looked at her for real. "Is it so fucking hard to believe?"

The steel in her gaze softened somewhat, then. "I... yeah, sorry. It's just an entire situation. I knew that vamps were dangerous that way, but to think she'd get to you this fast... Fuck, that's kinda impressive. Good thing she's not walking away from this."

What, Lilian thought.

"What?" Lilian then also said, stopping in her tracks. "What did you just say, Maria?"

And, again, it was yet another thing that didn't need explaining, based on the 'oh shit' look she gave her. Even so, Maria wasn't one to give up easily. "Lils, we both know it has to happen. That's why you told me in the first place, didn't you? We all falter, from time to time. You needed help. If someone else was to find out--"

"No. I needed a fucking friend." The word tasted like bile on her tongue, now. To think that Maria of all people would turn around and, what, run to the higher-ups? After all those years? After everything they'd been through, as if it had never mattered at all?

"One day, you're going to thank me for this."

And, hey, maybe that was right! Maybe she did need that reality check; maybe Cassidy had been lying, for whatever fucked up reason that vampires tended to have.

Maybe Lilian cared fuck all about any of that, though.

(Fuck, Cassidy. Cassidy, who was good, but probably not good enough for whatever group Maria had sent her way. Cassidy, with her stupidly earnest eyes and even more earnest words. Her one link to all of this.)

The queen of bad ideas, eh? Make that an empress.

And that was when Lilian turned around and ran, praying with all her heart that they'd be loud enough for her to hear.

"Lilian?!"

"Don't you dare!" she shouted after her. "Just... don't, Maria. Fuck."

~***~

Hmm, yeah, her house. It may have been a bit of an overstatement to call it that - both the 'her' and 'house' parts - but Inga didn't think that worth pointing out. For all she knew, Antonia was allergic to everything that wasn't a Roman-style mansion, and she didn't want to risk her changing her mind. It'll be good for you, okay? Getting to know how other people live and everything. After all, what was diplomacy if not learning how to relate to others who weren't like you?

And, to be honest, the idea of someone like Antonia in her living space was quite funny. Something about the contrast, she guessed. (Contrasts were Inga's favorite, whether it was a drop of lemon in her favorite tea or blood on milk-white walls. Not that she drank tea much these days.)

"Sure, sure. Aren't these things great? They've sure come a long way, those distant cousins of ours. Mobiles! Who would have thought it possible, a hundred years ago?" That was why humans were the best. They were like children, Inga thought, but the thing about children was that they learned.

(Maybe that was why they were locked in a stasis. Why she'd never really invented anything worthwhile, despite having several lifetimes at her disposal. Given that one was already more than enough to break most, perhaps that wasn't even so odd. Oh well! Inga was no stranger to cheering from the sidelines, herself.)

"Thanks, by the way," she said, once the door closed behind her. "My bike's broken and that's a huge pain." What? Of course Inga had a motorbike. She was no poser, dressing like that. "You won't regret it, I promise." Coming from Inga's lips, that was usually fate's way of signaling that that was precisely what was about to happen. "Antonia, tell me, have you ever--?" the vampire trailed off, for once not because she got side-tracked by her own thoughts.

"Hey, can you smell that?" Not even the closed windows could mask the tang hanging in the air, suggesting that there was a group of those things nearby. The Servants of Apep. Or just hunters, still?
 
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Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
Supporter
Cassidy Rivera should have known better than to trust a hunter. Considering how her life ended, and began, she really should have known better. Yet, she had shown up alone, and now she was paying the penalty as the unusually empty bus stop area turned out to have been emptied out and blocked off on purpose.

She only noticed the construction signs just a moment before hell broke loose – but thank goodness she noticed! It tipped her off enough that she heard the sound of the stake-gun as it went off (stake crossbow? There wasn’t any actual gunpowder in it) and she managed to step out of the way lightning quick to only have it graze it arm.

There would be no talking. She knew this and didn’t bother wasting her breath as she pulled her gun from her purse when a few of the hunters appeared from seemingly nowhere. Not that it was nowhere – some jumped from tops of roofs, landing steady, others stepped out of alleys, or out of parked cars that she’d disregarded. At least none had been let in any buildings nearby, but it was still annoying as she did her mental tally and knew she was very outnumbered, and they all might be fast enough to keep up if she ran.

She fired as three rushed forward to try and get her into melee combat, as a fourth began to reload the stake-thrower. It was at that fourth Cassidy aimed, and thankfully she struck them, but not fatally. Enough to definitely slow down any reloading since it went through an arm, but not much else.

She didn’t have time for a second shot at them as one of the three got up close with a machete and tried to hack through her. She lifted her gun to aim at them, dodged the Second of Three, and ended up grabbed from the side by the Third of Three, who had strength enough to hold her arms tight against her side. “What the fuc—AUGH!” She threw her weight backwards as First of Three came with the machete and planted both of her feet into the woman’s chest with a strong kick, but it didn’t knock Third of Three back to the ground.

They were fucking strong.

Her feet returned roughly to the ground as the stake-throwing one, threw a stake again. And this time, Cassidy was in no position to decently dodge it. She threw her weight forward and managed to get the hunter to pull with her, which helped the stake avoid being fatal as it jammed itself down into her shoulder – but not by much. ‘Okay, fuck this.’

She let out a huff of air and moved the blood rapidly through her body, forcing it to begin to go through the process of shapeshifting, giving herself long fingers, and longer claws, as well as talons on her toes which wrecked her cowboy boots, but it was worth it to survive. She’d buy another pair. It’d be fine.

Ahead, a burgundy car broke through the construction warnings.

~***~

Antonia didn’t bother mentioning that humans had been thinking of long-distance communication for a while. Perhaps not the current method, but telepathy and astral projection had long been fantasies of humanity that were on the same thing. So was teleportation. Travel and communications had both advanced far, and it was those things that Antonia had invested in all her life.

Travel meaning also hotels, and places to stay.

Communications had meant computers. She got rich on that. Not that she wasn’t before, but far richer.

She had always understood the human need to better these things, coming from Rome, and knowing how crucial information speed was. People would pay exorbitant rates to a courier to get letters delivered first, so their story was the one first heard by the Roman people of what things had been like on a battlefield, in a meeting – first was crucial.

Still, like Inga, she knew humanity moved. Humanity produced, created, and were the true advancers of the world, not vampires.

“I already regret this,” Antonia did say that much, knowing that feeling was unlikely to change as they went down the road. Especially as Inga started to ask her more, something probably frivolous. Thankfully, it was interrupted as that scent hit the air. She’d come to associate it with hunters, since Michael reeked of it. ‘Thank Apep?’

Not something to say aloud. “Mm,” she hummed agreement, but ignored it. It wasn’t her business to go see what was up, and she assumed the directions wouldn’t take her right into the mess.

Except, of course it did.

There were construction signs up the GPS didn’t know about, and in the dark she could see the fight ahead. ‘Four? No…seven.’ Three on the sidelines, but she saw the Molotov cocktails being prepared. ‘Son of a bitch.’ She didn’t know the vampire they were attacking. The vampire was no one to her, but that also meant she hadn’t authorized it.

Technically speaking, she had to act on behalf of her kind in this situation. “Hold on.”

The car wasn’t just for show. Mostly for show, but it had all the protections money could buy, so when Antonia put the pedal down, it roared to life and caused quite the stir amongst the hunters who heard it. Naturally, they scattered to get out of the way, even the one that had been holding the shapeshifted vampire – not their best decision as Antonia was able to ram the car into them and send them rolling, before she skid the car to a stop and stepped out, slamming the door shut behind her for impact.

The real impact was simply that presence which fell on them all like the Eye of Sauron. Even the vampire, who seemed to almost shrink so much one would think she was undoing the shapeshifting.

She didn’t know any of these faces, which meant name-dropping was her only hope here before they managed to overcome the stupor of awe. “I know very well Michael Serafis did not authorize this assault. If you all want to walk away alive, you will leave immediately and I will not report this activity to him.”

There was hesitance. Uncertainty. Some exchanged looks. No doubt, the ‘how did she know this name, who the fuck is she’ sort of questions. Talk with enough authority, and people let you get away with murder.

She looked to the vampire, wanting to clear this up before they got their heads on straight. “In the car. Now.”

Cassidy didn’t need to be told twice. She bolted towards the door, but her quick action woke up the hunters to reconsideration. “It’s a lie! She’s tricking us, she doesn’t know Michael—Michael would never work with vampires!” The hunter who had been rolled by the car said (of course they couldn’t just politely die, could they?) and a Molotov cocktail was thrown at the car.

Three of them.

Antonia wasn’t afraid for her car, but she couldn’t open the door and pull herself inside it before the cocktails would have exploded, and fire hurt.

So, she had to dash away from the safety of her vehicle, much as Cassidy did, cursing her luck.
 

Syntra

Baba Yaga
Be okay, be okay, be okay! Never before had Lilian Perry considered she'd be thinking that about a vampire, of all people, but here she fucking was. Well, at least her existence had gotten more interesting? In that exact way in which you did not want it to be interesting, especially when it had already been more than interesting enough. Like, shooting-a-movie-about-you levels of interesting! Fuck this shit. There were few things she wouldn't give for the chance to end that sentence with 'I'm out,' but she also knew that she wouldn't be able to look herself in the eye in the mirror if she did that.

(Cassidy was a vampire, yes. A vampire she didn't even fucking know, all things considered. Still, there was a... what, debt? Could you call it that? Something far too corny for her to even bother thinking about directly, though also apparently precious enough to make her throw her whole life away. Perhaps she should have thought this through better, but, like so many times before, her legs were faster than her brain. Oh well.)

Thankfully, the hunters were loud.

Muttering curses under her breath, Lilian drew her blade. She wished she had something that wasn't necessarily deadly - a baseball bat, maybe? - but at the end of the day, she wasn't a baseball player. She was a hunter, and hunters... oh, hunters killed. Or were killed, occasionally.

Was that what was going on here, with the fancy-ass car in the background? Because while Lilian obviously didn't know what being killed felt like, it did seem somewhat close to this in her mind.

What the fu--? A terrible pressure descended on her the second it happened to the others, and for a second or two, Lilian genuinely didn't know what to do. Run away, maybe? The first good idea she'd had this week, but her legs weren't cooperating all of a sudden. Curl up and die? Reasonable enough, though she couldn't just command her body to do it. Not like humans worked! And besides, her arm was tingling like crazy, sending little shock waves of pain all over her torso. Another vampire? Scratch that, two of them!

If there ever was an impression in Lilian's mind that she, in fact, knew what the fuck was going on, this shattered it. Well, at least Cassidy seemed alive enough? Or as alive as a vampire could get, anyway. "Come on," the huntress said, perhaps hoping against hope that this didn't have to end in bloodshed. Regardless, she didn't lower her sword. "Can you just... not? We all know this isn't an officially sanctioned hunt, so let's--"

Clang!

Yeah, there was her fucking answer. If not for her reflexes, the bastard would have cut off her arm!

"You should have stayed right where you were, Perry," the man spat out. "Maria's good will won't save you this time. Do you even comprehend-- OUCH!" No, the ramifications may not have set in yet, but at least Lilian knew not to monologue in the middle of a fight.

"Go fuck yourself, asshole!" Not the most eloquent thing to say, though it did the job. (...Had she really just stabbed him? A fellow hunter? Jesus Christ. Jesus fucking Christ!)

Two more of her (former?) comrades seemed to switch priorities on the fly, deciding the traitor had to be dealt with now. They charged at her, though Lilian was faster, parrying a strike from one with her sword and throwing the other away from her with her good arm. The one who stayed closer to her earned a swift kick into the gut, which promptly sent him into the pile of construction signs. So far, so good. Should she get closer to Cassidy? Most likely, but there were also two other vampires, and she didn't know what their stance on rogue hunters was.

Then again, she knew what her comrades' stance on rogue hunters was, and it wasn't too good. Maybe she'd have more luck with them?

A split second passed, a decision was made, and Lilian did, in fact, run over to the vampires' side. Oh, Lord. I'm so, so, so screwed, it's not even funny. "Will you believe me if I say I had fuck all to do with this?" she shouted. "Listen, Cassidy, I'm sor--"

Shit.

Out of the corner of her eye, Lilian saw something approach, and that something was fast enough for it to only plausibly be one thing. A stake. And since Cassidy stood in its trajectory...? The huntress had no other idea than to push her away, leading to it getting stuck in her waist instead.

~***~

"Ooo, getting some action tonight!" Not gonna lie, Inga was pretty excited about the prospect. It had been a while since a group of hunters had targeted her, either due to luck or because they'd developed a better sense of self-preservation, and she'd honestly missed it. Nothing like a fight to get your blood pumping, eh? Even if they didn't amount to much these days, it was still better than watching the TV.

(Well, maybe aside from In the Shadows. In the Shadows was good.)

So, when Inga left her car, she did her best to look threatening. (For her, that meant looking the way she always did, with the added threat of drawing her sword.) "Looking for trouble tonight, pals?" she growled. "Better leave us and the lady alone, or else." (Not that Inga actually intended to solve this peacefully in any case. But, hey, gotta stay in character, right? If she was going to cosplay a knight in shining armor tonight, might as well go all out!)

Fortunately for her, and unfortunately for pretty much everyone else, a fight broke out. Interesting things were happening, to say the least; Inga really couldn't say she saw the plot twist with the hunter chick coming. Has she lost her mind? Immediately, the vampire came to the conclusion that a) yes, b) she liked her.

Moving on, though. With her blade drawn, Inga ran towards the unlucky fucker standing in her way. Perhaps it would have been better to use the past tense for him, really, because her sword did reduce him to that quite quickly. "Oh damn, did I really get fired up for that?"

"Well, maybe you'll like this better!" It was too late to dodge the Molotov entirely, even if Inga did make an honest attempt. The glass still shattered near her, as expected, and so she prepared herself for a world of pain... that did not come? Fucking what?

(Fire. The one thing that she still had to be afraid of, aside from the sun. And now, now even that did nothing, somehow.)

The world kept finding new ways to disappoint her, and that pissed her off more than anything in recent memory. "How the fuck am I getting more immortal?" Inga shouted. Giving up on all conventions, she grabbed the hunter in question by the hem of his shirt and lifted him in the air. "That's the opposite of what I wanted. Explain yourself!"

To his credit, the hunter also looked disappointed. "I... I would love to kill you, believe me--"
 
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Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
Supporter
Chaos. It was utter chaos. Three vampires shouldn’t have this much trouble with even this many hunters, but the hunters were prepared. Very prepared. ‘Really want me dead, huh?’ But possibly not Lilian. She saw Lilian try to get them to back off, and then saw her attacked just after she’d dodged away from her salvation.

‘Fuck.’

At least the car looked okay. So did the driver, at least immediately, and Cassidy turned her attention to how to fight their way back into the car. That probably meant killing everyone. ‘FUCK.’ Partially shifted, it was easier, as she caught the strong vampire who had held her – and been hit by the car – around the throat and slammed them into the ground before letting her claws dig in, and break the flesh, break the muscle, break the bone.

Harder than a typical human, but her transformed strength was also more than a usual vampire.

She straightened up and assessed things, as one vampire yelled about being more immortal, ‘What the fuck?’ and Lilian came rushing over to her side, explaining that this wasn’t what she wanted, before she was shoved to the ground.

Lilian had a stake in her guts.

Cassidy’s eyes widened substantially as she took that in, and she gulped down the fear that rose in her throat, that an important vein or artery may have been hit. That Lilian might bleed to deat here. Hopefully it wasn’t that severe. Hopefully, hopefully, hopefully…. “Considering you’ve just killed for me, and almost gotten killed, I buy it,” Cassidy said, getting up to her feet. “I don’t know these other two.” They might not buy it, “but I’ll get you in the car.” And away from all of this. “Maybe you can go see if it’s open?” Get in to safety. In theory. “Go try that, we’ll—I’ll finish this up.”

First things first for Cassidy, she sought out the one who hit Lilian with the stake, and she saw them just as the fancy vampire said something about a God’s Blessing and name-dropped again.

Enough to startle the hunters, so Cassidy lunged at the stake-thrower, almost taking their head off in the first swipe. The second did that as fancy vampire brought more trouble on herself, though in her way opened up opportunities for Cassidy and whoever the brutish vampire was –but not before there was trouble, and Cassidy had to make a decision.

~***~

This was a future headache.

That was probably not the concern that Antonia needed to have, but her mind was running scenarios with Michael as she straightened up away from her vehicle and sighed as the fighting broke out around her. Strange Vampire, Inga, and then a Rogue Hunter all decided to get in on the violence. ‘He’ll understand, but….’ But what, she didn’t know.
This had blown itself out of proportion for a role, one the hunters were already hoping she would break from. If only they knew the truth about why she gave over other vampires.

But now was hardly the time to consider it, as she sprinted back to the vehicle now that it wasn’t burning with residual flames that had clung to it.

Apparently, one hunter wasn’t occupied with the other combatants and they had a fucking stake thrower. Antonia managed to catch sight of it out of the corner of her eye, and knock it off target so the wood clattered to the pavement instead of her. “Fine.” She hissed the word from between her teeth, letting her fangs extend, before she rushed the idiot with the stake gun. To his credit, he chose to set the gun down, and just tried to fight on melee terms with a stake.

To his credit, he wasn’t bad, though he would have been dead if Antonia had a weapon. As it was, he managed to get the stake in her, but not far enough. She caught his wrist with one hand and held with one hand, before grabbing his hair in her other hand and drawing his neck right up to her teeth.

Out went his throat, blood wasted on the pavement.

Then she pulled the stake out, blood immediately drenching her blue dress. No, it hadn’t penetrated her heart, but that didn’t feel good. Before she tossed the stake aside, she heard Inga’s shout, and saw her complaining about immortality. Better immortality.

“The vial, Inga,” she called. ‘Redemption indeed.’ Her mind hadn’t slipped to forget that little oddity. It might not be true -- but it was going to fuck with the hunters to say it. “The God’s Blessing.” Saying it loud enough was enough to get some of the remaining hunters looking at her. Including the stake one that shot the Rogue Hunter.

Pity they allowed distraction. The other vampire clawed Stake Shooter’s face into ribbons, not that they were alive long enough to worry about cosmetic issues. “The one Gabrielle at the Neon Moon gave me,” ah yes, lay it all on the line and piss them off more. Worry them, more, about who she was.

Who they worked with. “What…what do you mean Gabrielle….”

“She’s a fucking liar!” Molotov cocktail flew from behind Antonia.

She heard the voice. Looked back and saw it. Felt her life go up in flames as instinct moved faster than thought and she did move, but her thoughts had been right – not faster than the Molotov. Fast enough not to die, perhaps, but oh, by every GOD it burnt, and it took everything in Antonia not to give the hunters the pleasure of her scream.

Or Inga, for that matter, as she stopped and stumbled, forgetting the ‘stop, drop, and roll’.

Someone else didn’t.

The vampire that started all of this tackled and rolled with her a moment, catching on fire briefly, but her heavier clothing and intent to put the flames out, aided by the jacket that she’d taken off, put an end to that nightmare of fire.

Antonia’s eyes widened a bit in surprise, but before she could get a word out, the other vampire said: “I saved you, save my hunter friend.”

As if she wasn’t going to already. Antonia gave a quick, single nod, and let the other vampire help her back to her feet with her massive claws.
 

Syntra

Baba Yaga
This wasn’t good.

It didn’t hurt per se, but Lilian knew that was mostly a combination of shock, adrenaline, and too many things going on at once for her brain to register all of the inputs. The pain would come later, and most likely with a vengeance— if, of course, she was alive long enough for that to happen in the first place. A big fucking if. The huntress mumbled a few incomprehensible swears and looked down, where the wound was beginning to bloom on her shirt. It… probably wasn’t that bad? As far as being stabbed went, which honestly wasn’t too great. “Yeah, I… kinda figured,” she managed a small smile. “Not that I was… planning on it. Fucking Maria.” Lilian also hadn’t been planning on getting stuck in a car with three vampires, but life had already taught her by now that plans could change pretty quickly. No, she sure as fuck wasn’t about to play a hero with a stake stuck in her guts; she may have been stupid, but not that stupid. Believe it or not, everyone had their limits!

And so Lilian stumbled her way to the car, trying her best to hold the stake in place. She succeeded, more or less, and she also happened to be rather lucky in that the remaining hunters were far too busy fighting for their very lives to even really notice her. The one thing that she couldn't get a break from, though? Her own fucking mind.

("You’ve just killed for me,” Cassidy had said, and Lilian wished she hadn’t. It changed nothing about what had or had not happened, of course, but having it pointed out like that somehow made it feel more real. Something, something, the power of language? What-fucking-ever. Not like technicalities mattered, when she’d already razed her life to the ground.)

Undisturbed, the huntress climbed into the backseat and pretty much collapsed in there. Checkpoint reached, she guessed? Because this was starting to hurt, and pretty fucking bad at that.

Would the owner mind that she’d gotten blood all over her car? Lilian hoped not.

Lilian also didn't know why she was prioritizing a vampire's feelings all of a sudden, but she guessed the way her world was gradually getting blurrier and blurrier had something to do with it.

~***~

“Tch,” Inga spat out, “then try harder in next life.” Decapitating him was easy enough to do, and so she went with exactly that, to the chorus of horrified gasps from his comrades. Too bad, so sad. How did the young’uns say it these days? ‘Fuck around and find out?’ Inga rather liked that saying, as crude as it was.

“Got any more volunteers here? Anyone wants to discover what else I’m apparently immune to? The first one to get a stake through my heart gets a bonus round of ass-kicking!” Needless to say, not that many people were interested in that. The numbers of hunters had already thinned considerably, and with that, a lot of their courage had vanished as well. They exchanged uncertain looks; after all, they’d just seen what had happened, both with their friend and the Molotov. Neither was too good for the morale. (That one thing hadn’t really changed from her times, no matter how many centuries had passed. Often, all it took was a single crazy motherfucker to sow fear among the enemy’s ranks, and Inga aspired to be exactly that motherfucker. And that she’d kind of died doing that? Water under the bridge, really.)

“Oh, that,” Inga turned around to face Antonia, choosing to ignore the hunters for the time-being. “That would make sense, I suppose? I really will have to confirm that in the lab, though now that I know what I’m looking for, that shouldn’t be too hard.” The hypothesis did calm her down somewhat, mostly because she didn’t believe for a second it would be permanent; see, the vampiric physiology was way too good at eliminating outside influences. It really was a miracle that something had been able to affect her like that in the first--

“AHHH!”

“…You really thought you could close the distance without me noticing?” Inga gave the woman, who was now bleeding out on the ground, a look that could almost be interpreted as pitiful. “Try having a vampire’s nose and you’ll see just how braindead that idea actually is. By Odin’s beard, you reek.”

Then more things happened in a quick succession, the events somehow culminating in Antonia having to be extinguished. “Shit, are you okay, my friend? Shame about the dress, that one suited you.” You could call Inga many, many things, though ‘unfriendly’ definitely wasn’t one of them. Then again, most people would probably have preferred that. In a true cyclical fashion, that was also part of why she was like this.

Antonia wasn’t hurt much, though the same thing couldn’t be said about the rogue hunter. Inga had dealt with injured humans plenty, both those that she had hurt and tried to cure, and it really only took one look at the girl’s pale, bloodless lips and vacant eyes to know she was in trouble. Some kind of shock, most likely?

(Humans. Lived so fast, died so quickly. Maybe this one didn’t have to yet, though.)

“Sure thing, I’ll see what I can do,” Inga gave the stranger a thumbs-up, even though the plea hadn’t really been addressed to her. “You don’t see something like that every day.”

“N-not the hospital,” the huntress requested, slipping in and out of consciousness. “I can’t show my face--”

“Anywhere now, I get it.” It wasn’t all that surprising that the hospital would be crawling with hunters since the fuckers tended to be everywhere. Inga liked to believe they reproduced via cell division. “Well, you’re in luck because I can patch you up. Hold that stake in place for her, will you?” she asked the strange vampire, mostly because she wasn’t going to sit in the backseat. Just, nah. “Not sure how much you remember from your time as a human but they are fragile. It really is shocking how they manage to walk and not shatter.”

The huntress looked like she wanted to say something to that, but then thought better of it. Or maybe she was too fucked up? Probably, because she did start laughing, in this borderline hysterical way. “Hey, hey, hey!” Inga frowned. “That’s not how you prevent stakes from moving, man.”

And then, shortly afterwards:
“Antonia, will you, please? My place’s closer.”

It really was, and so it didn’t take them too long to reach it. Unmistakably, the GPS led them to what seemed to be one of the shadiest parts of the town, with buildings that had been – or should have been – abandoned for years. Inga couldn’t figure out why they hadn’t been torn down, though her personal tip was a combination of corruption and laziness. All the better for her, though! The added benefit of the authorities not snooping around too much made up for the lack of scenery.

“Got this one for free when I chased out the local junkies,” she announced to Antonia, after the GPS beeped the obligatory ‘you’ve arrived to your destination’ in front of a particularly sorry-looking building. It could have been neither greyer, nor more run down. “The lab was already there, so that was a pretty big bonus. Just had to refurbish it a bit.”

Quickly, Inga opened the door and grabbed the almost-limp huntress. “Carry her with me?” she asked, not addressing the request to anyone in particular. Anyone who would be willing to help would do, though she guessed the answer to that question probably wasn’t Antonia. “Can’t really do that carefully enough on my own, I’m afraid. And, oh! Who are you, anyway?” she finally thought to ask. “Also, what’s up with… all that?” ‘All that,’ indeed, was a good way to cover the events of this night. If there was a better descriptor for the utter chaos, Inga honestly didn’t know it. “Are you fucking her or what?” she gestured towards the huntress, with her signature tact.
 
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Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
Supporter
For a woman not known for fighting, murder was on Antonia’s mind frequently, especially as she stood in the tatters of her dress, bloody and burnt, to hear Inga comment on the dress. That it suited her. She wanted to just tear the shreds off immediately and storm back to her car; of course, that wasn’t decent even by vampire standards, and no matter how much Antonia sometimes just wanted to shred decency alongside everything else – become a nutcase – she still had those shreds that held the broken shards of her being together into some semblance of lucidity.

And so Inga’s compliment was only answered with a glare and silence, as the field of hunters cleared, and Antonia could storm back to her car, open her door, and slam it shut as she got the car started. She murmured softly in Latin to the vehicle as it played at being hurt by not starting the first time. “You’re fine, August, you’re fine.” And it turned over on the next turn of her key, as the others piled in, Inga returning to the passenger’s seat.

Why was this her luck? Her skin still tingled with the burns but she could ignore it. Mind over matter had always been her greatest strength. Likely why she was still lucid – and understood even before the hunter said it why she couldn’t go to a hospital. ‘Where am I supposed to take you, then?’

The other vampire held the huntress steady and kept the stake in place, Antonia noticed in her mirror, before Inga said to continue on to her home. “Fine,” she had no better ideas, and if Inga had a lab, that would work out. Assuming she actually could do anything for the stupid hunter who went against her own.



Cassidy held the stake as best she could, but winced as the huntress started laughing, and again when the car jerked forward. “Are you sure you should be driving?” A dumb question, which apparently didn’t deserve an answer, because the vampire driving ignored Cassidy completely. ‘Okay, rude.’ Then again, she’d probably be a bit curt in the other vampire’s position, car suddenly invaded with wounded people – and wounded herself – with no introductions.

Just the Lady and the Knight in Bloody Armor.

‘Wait, she called her Antonia? Oh shit.’ This was not her idea of making a good first impression with the Princess of the city. That did explain why she thought she could talk the hunters into backing down, and everything that had been said in the fight—oh shit they were in over their heads, weren’t they?

“Don’t worry, we’re almost there,” Cassidy didn’t know this, but she lied anyways in what she hoped was a soothing tone, and not one rattled by panic. The scent of blood was heavy in the air, and she had restraint – of course she did – but that didn’t make it easy when it was this thick. At least not for her.

The other two seemed unbothered. ‘Ancients.’ If what she heard of Antonia was true, definitely. She assumed the other was an actual friend. I mean, Antonia knew the likes of Tristan, this one had to fall into the same sort of weird category, right?

It didn’t cross her mind that practically everyone in the town knew Tristan because they had to, not because they wanted to.

The neighborhoods gradually became darker. Dirtier. And when the GPS told them they were present, even Cassidy looked at the blonde stranger a bit askance. Nothing like the quiet fury in the eyes of the other vampire, she wasn’t angry, just…trying to verify. “So this used to be a meth lab?” probably not something to say with Lilian there suffering, wondering about her future. ‘Meth Lab’ wasn’t hope-inspiring, after all.

But Inga was moving, and Cassidy did quickly as well, rushing to help almost before it was asked for. Antonia did not – she just kept that look on her face of absolute disgust and completely, helpless, anger.

Cassidy heard the car door lock, before Antonia spoke, “If there is a key that’s needed, I can take it to unlock the doors for you,” perhaps as generous an offer as they were going to get so far as help went, given her hands, and the braided vampire’s hands, were full.

‘Maybe they’re not friends.’

Her thoughts were abruptly taken from that by the questions the stranger asked, and the way her nose wrinkled, “Why are you and Tristan like this?” Wait, did this one know Tristan? Never mind that, “No, we’re not fucking, and I’m Cassidy. This is Lilian – and – look let’s get her in and get her safe and then I can tell you what’s up with us.”

“Cassidy Rivera?”

Cassidy sighed, “Yes,” she mumbled.

Yeah, she had not made a good first impression from the sounds of Antonia’s own sigh. Not at all. “Let’s get moving.” Cassidy would just push through this and worry about those things later. At least now she definitely got her meeting.
 

Syntra

Baba Yaga
"I mean," Inga raised an eyebrow, "it's only a meth lab if you make meth in it, isn't it? Once it's meth-free, it's fine. Your regular lab, even if a little under-equipped." Not that she thought there was anything particularly wrong with meth, but it was her understanding that its presence didn't inspire a lot of confidence in humans. And, sure enough:

"Fuck," the huntress moaned in the background, somehow keeping herself on the verge of consciousness, "I get it, this is god's punishment for... for what I did. Maybe kill me outright?"

"A little picky for someone who is about to bleed to death, aren't you?" Inga rolled her eyes. "I fixed the under-equipped issue, and I'm actually keeping everything in pristine condition. Who do you think I am, some sort of charlatan? Truly, I'm wounded. Wounded, I'm telling you!"

Lilian didn't actually at all know what to think of the stranger, and that made everything about a thousand times worse. Fucking vampires. Why do they all have to be like this? All of them aside from Cassidy, perhaps, who somehow seemed to be the sole island of sanity in the sea of madness. A relatively safe person. Wasn't she? Which was why Lilian made sure to lean on her way more than she did on the other vampire.

She would not have done that had she known what the total charlatan was going to ask next.

"Wha- ouch!" Yeah, yeah, no sudden moves. Fuck. (Why should she be fucking a vampire? The thought had honestly never crossed her mind, and obviously a lot of thoughts had crossed her mind. It was also true that she had never really taken a good look at most of her targets, though, and-- wait, what? Alright, fine, no thinking while tripping on pain. Clearly, that would only lead her down some very dark, very questionable paths.)

Meanwhile, Inga only shrugged. "Is that such a weird assumption to make? She really did run in there like you were doing just that. I could hear the dramatic soundtrack. Right, Antonia?" Why she thought Antonia would agree with her, or whether she even did, was a mystery Inga herself couldn't really solve. "But sure, I'm Inga. Nice to meet you!"

Wait, Tristan knows her? And Antonia has heard of her? Probably not that weird considering who Antonia was, and how many vampires she interacted with on the regular. Still, this meant that this Cassidy was likely someone important. Right?

The inside of the building was somehow even less impressive than the outside, with its bare walls, a single one-person sofa and a TV so old it had probably seen the Cold War. Bizarrely enough, there was a single wilting flower in a vase standing on the battered table; in Lilian's opinion, that did not make it any better. Fuck. Fuck, I'm so dead.

How many times had she thought this, within the span of a single hour? Probably enough times for her luck to run out, and this, this had to be it. She would not be killed in combat, but by a vampiric version of Dr. Fucking Frankenstein. A great cautionary tale for hunters, really! Just not fun to live it.

"Welcome to my humble home!" Inga smiled, apparently blind to all of Antonia's death stares. "I can lend you some clothes of mine, if you like?" she asked her, which... yeah, definitely confirmed the blindness. And most likely a glaring lack of self-preservation. "They will be a little oversized but that can have its own kind of appeal as well."

It was probably a good thing they had a maybe-dying hunter on their hands, otherwise a war may have broken out right there. (Perhaps it still would? It was hard to tell these days, honestly.)

True to Inga's word, the lab did look miles better than pretty much anything else in the house; pure white, with many glass containers and unidentifiable machines buzzing quietly in the background. On the shelves, there were pipettes and burettes, as well as test tubes full of... something. Probably blood? The microscope, which was sitting on the large table, Inga put away with her free hand to make enough space for the huntress.

"Alright, let's just... put her in there. One, two, three--!"

Lilian bit her lip so that she didn't scream, though the small 'tsk' still escaped from her lips. Could this vampire actually help her? Would she?

"Now, I don't actually have any proper medical equipment for humans, but--"

"For fuck's sake!"

"--but," Inga said, and her eyes had that 'let me fucking finish' vibe to it, "this doesn't look too bad. Bleeding-to-death bad, yeah, but it doesn't seem like any organs have been hit?" Still seemed plenty bad enough to Lilian, and if she even slightly could, she would have decked the vampire. "Which," Inga happily continued, "means we can cauterize it! A little medieval, but it gets the job done. Really, it was one of the less bullshit procedures in the Middle Ages. Most survived. Antonia, can you help with holding her down? This one is pretty strong and it would suck if she moved around too much."

After lighting the gas and starting to heat the... whatever the fuck the giant metal rod was, Inga turned back to Cassidy. "Care to share more now?"
 

Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
Supporter
“No,” Antonia disagreed with Inga on principal, barely caring for the conversation but knowing it had something to do with Lilian’s behavior. Whatever it wasn’t hadn’t seemed too dramatic to Antonia, but then again, she worked with hunters regularly. Had for years. Dramatics were par for the course with them, considering they thought they could stand up to vampires.

Idiots.

A meth lab.

Inga, a vampire old enough to have been part of Antonia’s worst day, lived in a home that housed a meth lab.

The day could get worse, but Antonia wasn’t going to dare say it aloud lest she make it so, as she followed Lilian, Cassidy, and Inga into what passed for a home. It did not inspire any confidence whatsoever. ‘How did you ever manage to get footage of what I do?’ Perhaps all Inga’s funds went into everything but a comfortable living space.

Antonia followed in, but then stepped aside to let Inga and Cassidy take Lilian to wherever it was she needed to be taken, seeking her phone which, unfortunately, had gotten broken in the scuffle. “Damnit.” The curse slipped again in her native tongue; like so many, when Antonia got angry, the slips became more frequent.

There would be no calling Felix for blood and clothes. She was stuck there, with an offer of over-large clothing that would absolutely not be anything she wanted to wear. Or, the blue dress. Would she rather die than wear Inga’s clothing? Probably. Would she show that in front of strangers? Probably not. “Considering I cannot reach my own staff right now, I suppose it matters little how much appeal any of it has.”



Cassidy wondered if there was much available for her, but her clothing wasn’t as fucked up. Fire didn’t burn denim quite the way it burnt…whatever fabric Antonia wore. Too expensive for her blood, no doubt. At least clothing was going to be a secondary concern. Cassidy had barely held her tongue to not interrupt that blithe conversation as it occurred, busy glancing at Lilian and where they were heading, until they reached a place they could set Lilian.

And Inga explained she didn’t have much for human repair – except to cauterize it. ‘Fuck, is there no one else?’ No, no one they could reach in time. “Sorry,” she murmured, but supposed Lilian would rather have a scar than be dead. At least, she hoped Lilian felt that way.

And so, she positioned herself to hold Lilian down, as Antonia also approached. Cassidy noted the wary way she looked at the equipment; probably no surprise, considering her own recent injuries, but she still went along with this.

Cassidy flinched as the question was thrown her way while the scent of gas became to permeate the air, “Long story short, I’m investigating what’s up with the…the Pepe Le Frogs.”

“Please do not help Tristan’s ideas. He does not need any help with that.” Antonia said dryly.

Cassidy noted that, but wasn’t sure she’d stop. “Right. Well, I ran into her getting attacked by one, we agreed to kind of work together to figure it out, and I guess she told some other hunters, and they, uh, attacked me. I was going to talk to you about it and see if you knew anything, Ant—Lady Lenart.”

“Plenty more than you know, yes.”

“That’s so helpful.”

“Forgive me, I don’t know you from Cain.”

Cassidy wanted to be upset, and she was, a little. However, she supposed that was fair. They could get things sorted a bit when Lilian was in better condition, and perhaps when Antonia was a bit…in a better mood. If that ever happened. Cassidy and Lilian probably did need to introduce themselves a bit better than this for someone like Antonia to start divulging anything. But, “Okay, fair. But I hope you’ll tell us more about what you were saying earlier to the hunters.”

Antonia just hummed. Cassidy wasn’t sure if it was agreeable or not.
 

Syntra

Baba Yaga
Cauterize it. As in, to use fire? Lilian knew damn well the answer to that was 'yes', but it was nice to exist in a world where this was only a distant possibility, not the cold, hard truth. Not the only thing to expect from this. Alas, her stay in that imaginary world was short, and she had to return back to reality.

Cassidy then proceeded to apologize to her, which Lilian honestly didn't get. "No, that's fine. The first good idea she's had. Fire is good. Fire... heals." Fire also fucking burnt, though the huntress preferred not to think too hard about that. Considering that she was about to get intimately familiar with just how much it sucked very soon, what would the point of a mental preview be? To make herself suffer even more? Believe it or not, she wasn't at all about that life. "Probably... not even the worst thing that's happened to me," Lilian forced a smile, for reasons she didn't fully understand. Maybe because Cassidy looked so damn guilty? As if she had made her jump in front of that stake; as if it wasn't her own fucking fault. Why did she pity her so, then? It made no sense. It really didn't, and besides, wasn't Cassidy a vampire? Shouldn't she cackle and celebrate a hunter's demise and-- alright, fine, maybe Lilian already did know better than that. Still didn't mean she enjoyed being looked at with those eyes, though!

Stupidly earnest.

Dammit.

"Are you?" Inga tilted her head aside, casually bulldozing her way into the conversation. (The rod was beginning to bloom with warm shades of orange, and she turned it around to make sure it would get heated evenly.) "Funny, since we're kind of doing the same. How do you feel about your friend here maybe turning into one of those things soon-ish? Hoping to domesticate her?" All in all, trying to keep Lilian alive was most likely a waste of time. Even if she did somehow retain her humanity, what would she do with her life? Get slaughtered by her hunter friends? Die in like a fifty years, having accomplished nothing regardless?

Humans were like dandelions, only blooming for a short time before wasting away in the wind. Inga could admit to herself that that was part of what made them so interesting, though. The sense of ephemeralness; the 'grasp-it-and-it's-gone' feeling, forever denied to her. In that sense, she thought, it was probably more worth it to save Lilian than it would have been to save her.

Well, it wasn't like anyone was trying to save her.

(Also, it was true that wasting her time happened to be one of Inga's greatest hobbies. Just so you know!)

"Ready, hunter girl?"

Lilian still hadn't quite recovered from the remark about her possibly changing, and she didn't, in fact, feel ready for anything. Of course, it wasn't like she had much of a choice. Asking for permission and whether the other had braced themselves were two very different things, weren't they?

Faster than Lilian thought it possible, Inga yanked the stake out. She might have screamed then; she definitely did later, when the red-hot rod connected with the wound. Against her will, tears welled up in her eyes, and the huntress wished she had something - anything - to bite on. Sadly, Inga hadn't thought of that. The air was soon filled with the smell of burning flesh, and knowing the source was her was almost worse than actually feeling it. Shit! Just... shit. Would it ever fucking end?!

It felt like eternity, frozen in a single scream. A song that had gotten stuck on the single most annoying part, except it also fucking hurt. Then it did end, though, and all of a sudden Inga was putting the thing away, a self-satisfied smile on her face. "See? All good. Till the next time you choose to let yourself get killed, hunter."

Drenched in her own sweat, Lilian didn't have a whole lot to say; instead, she allowed the tension to leave her body, all but collapsing again. This was... fine. She was fine, for the time-being. When she closed her eyes, she could pretend she was somewhere else, and Lilian did intend to take advantage of that feature of the human mind. What should she go with? The Bahamas?

Unfortunately, she couldn't block out the sound.

"So now what, she's going to live... where? On the street?" Inga piped up. "I am not an expert, but maybe it's not a good idea to let her go. You could keep her and investigate her, if you're so keen on the mystery. That way, you wouldn't need to beg us for the info. Unless you can actually contribute something?"

Because, duh, helping out two clueless disasters was something entirely different to letting them in on a plan they could destroy within seconds. In that, Inga understood Antonia's stance perfectly.

And then, a second later: "Ooo, Antonia, want a lab coat? It's the most elegant thing I have. Very chic."
 
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Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
Supporter
Cassidy wasn’t sure she believed Lilian on that ‘not the worst thing’, but she was going to try to believe it anyways and smile back, although the smile quickly melted as Inga butted in. It was a needed butt in, but Cassidy wasn’t looking forward to what it entailed, and she shut her own eyes as the heated rod was applied and Lilian began to scream. Her own heart ached for the pain of the huntress, but she kept hoping it wasn’t in vain, that it would be enough.

And then the rod was removed.

The screaming tapered down, and Inga made her comment as Lilian opened her eyes to see Antonia had already released Lilian and stepped back. “She’ll stay with me,” Cassidy said as Inga wondered aloud about where she would go, “Unless she has something better. Give us a minute, she just got…you know, betrayed and fucked up.”

It was all a lot. Even for Cassidy and she hadn’t had to get cauterized. “Please, just a few minutes to clear her head and rest.” She hadn’t let go of Lilian, though she barely noticed how her hand had moved to grip Lilian’s own, as if she could give her some strength through a squeeze. Probably not. But she’d want someone holding her hand through this kind of situation.

Then they could figure out how to get information.

Which – well, being nice couldn’t hurt. “You said – you said you couldn’t reach your staff. I have a phone that I don’t think is messed up,” admittedly, she hadn’t looked. By the look Antonia gave Inga, though, she bet she’d appreciate, well, anything else.

Why was Antonia staying in the first place? She had a car. She’d driven like this. Could she not return home like this? Cassidy had a feeling she wouldn’t get an answer if she pried.

Antonia, for her part, was going to humor the lab coat until Cassidy spoke up to offer her own phone. “Thank you,” that would be far better, “I’ll take that, then,” and Cassidy dug into a pocket to get it out, thanked Gabriel it wasn’t broken, and handed it over.

‘Is Gabriel patron saint of cell phones? Is there a patron saint of cell phones?’ Pointless questions to ask right now, but she hadn’t kept on saints of new technology. She ought to look in to that. She was sure the saints forgave her for mixing it up; Gabriel was patron of messages, she was pretty sure, being the messenger.

Antonia took it, input the number for Felix by memory, and he answered quick enough, “Vale,” she held up a finger to Inga for silence as she strode out of her makeshift lab to continue the conversation with Felix, to get clothes and blood delivered to this place. It was in Latin, so odds were it wasn’t understood anyways, but she didn’t need to stay and find out.

Cassidy watched her leave a moment, then sighed, “We—I really do appreciate your intervention,” she said to Inga, since Inga was the only one left in the room. Well, and Lilian, but Lilian was recovering. “It would have gone a lot worse. And I’ll do what I can to get more information so this mess can be cleared up.” And Lilian could have a life.

They all could have a life.

“I really don’t know much other than…I guess what you already know. Or guessed. About them turning into those mutants. I wasn’t even solid on that.” Then, she asked, “Is it better to go through you, or Anton—”

“Me,” Antonia strode back into the room, call apparently done, and handed the phone back to Cassidy, “Inga’s not involved in any official capacity, and the less you know, the better.” No one needed to know Inga was blackmailing her. “I’m having Felix bring me things, so I won’t need that lab coat.” Then, almost pointedly, “How long do you two think you’ll need to stay?”

Inga needed to start running her tests on herself.

She assumed it’d be better if these two were gone. Or Inga could run the tests and just not tell these two anything. Either way.

Cassidy scowled at the question, and considering how often it’d been asked of her, she couldn’t help but bite back, “Why, are you two planning to fuck in here?”

The way Antonia’s face blanked was almost worse than anger. ‘Oh, I fucked up.’

Then the expression recomposed to neutrality. “Hardly,” clipped, before going to business, “You can continue to use Tristan if you need anything from me, but make sure not to waste my time as you clearly intended to do this time, and offer a week’s warning at the least.” And even Cassidy could hear the ‘no guarantees’ and ‘fuck you’ in her tone before she left the room again, no doubt to wait for whoever this Felix was.

Well, that was on Cassidy. She should have held her tongue, but really? Lilian was still recovering. Did she expect her to force Lilian to move in a few minutes?
 
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Syntra

Baba Yaga
Lilian kept her eyes closed. Someone – was it Deana? – had once told her it was better not to look in these cases; better not to acknowledge what had happened, in any way you possibly could. Something about the brain not registering it fully, as long as you didn’t see? The cheapest placebo effect ever! And, like most cheap things, it didn’t fucking work.

Everything hurt, for one; the rod may have been gone, but the memory of it being there wasn’t, and the body tended to remember fire in particular very vividly. Worse still, the smell also lingered. Fucking hell, why couldn’t Ms. Frankenstein over there open the-- oh, yeah. Windows. It probably shouldn’t surprise her too much that someone who burned to ashes in sunlight wasn’t too keen on the idea of having a whole lot of windows, though it somehow did. Call it cultural shock, maybe?

But yeah, shit sucked, and the huntress was convinced it would only get worse. Maybe not necessarily this injury, no, but… well, pretty much everything else. Picking up the pieces of the life she’d left behind. Because, really, what else was there? Where else would she go? For better or worse, Lilian didn’t even know that much about what civilians would call ‘normal life,’ aside perhaps from what she’d seen in the movies. Which, convenient enough, but also, the artistic license didn’t really make it all that great for educational purposes.

How did you even get… anything? An ID, or a copy of your birth certificate, or all those other things that you apparently needed to have? There hadn’t been a moment in her life when she had to worry about that, and so she hadn’t. Always, those things had been there for her when the need had arisen, courtesy of their clerical department. Connections got you everywhere, you see?

Connections that she didn’t have.

She had nothing, not even a fucking degree. That was bad enough on its own, without the whole ‘possibly turning into a zombie’ thing.

To say that this was a headache would have been an understatement, and so, when someone gripped her hand, Lilian… didn’t really question it. Instead, she just squeezed back, thankful for whatever pathetic scraps of comfort that she could receive. (No, she didn’t have to open her eyes to know just who had done that. It was probably too early to say ‘classic Cassidy,’ but it did genuinely feel like that kind of thing. This is so fucked. How are vampires being more helpful than--?)

Perhaps to spite her, Cassidy then decided to be even more outrageously nice. Lilian blinked, wondering whether she simply couldn’t follow the flow of the conversation all that well due to, quote unquote, being ‘too fucked up,’ but the message seemed clear enough. To live with her. “I… are you sure?” she finally asked. “I don’t have anything better,” sad, indeed, “but they’ll be looking for me harder than they will for you. It’ll be… all kinds of fucked. A whole new dimension of fucked-up-ness.” And, yes, that was a word now! Because while the world may not have needed it, Lilian sure as fuck did.

Inga, meanwhile, had apparently moved on pretty quickly. Antonia’s concerns were unfounded, to say the least; the moment it looked like the huntress was going to live, she sat down on a nearby chair and hooked herself to one of those strange machines. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the purpose of the first one was to draw blood. It promptly did so, and she watched with unconcealed fascination as it traveled up the plastic tubes. Wasn’t the shade of red just criminally pretty?

(Blood. Blood was one of the few things that never really got old. Everything always came down to it, in one way or another. It was Inga’s theory that vampires were just more attuned to that reality, and that was why they were… what, blessed? Cursed? Depended on your point of view, and which arguments you decided to ignore. As with all things.)

“Hmm? Yeah, she definitely would have died without that. You’re welcome,” Inga nodded with a smile, because it was just nice to receive some recognition. People rarely did that, even if she sort of could see why they wouldn’t want to thank her for, say, killing them. Or blackmailing them. Oh well! Speaking of, Antonia didn’t have to be so harsh on those two. “Leave them be, Antonia. I’m not expecting any visitors,” now or ever, really, “so that is not a huge problem. Unless Miss Hunter over here decides to show off her skills, now that she’s not trying her hardest to kick the bucket?”

Lilian glared in response, which she could only assume was a ‘no.’ What, would it have killed her to grow a sense of humor? Cassidy, at least, didn’t seem to have a problem with that. Ha!

“Probably not,” Inga giggled, a sound that was surprisingly girlish in nature. “I would take her somewhere nicer.” One of the many, many things she was to regret one day, she knew, but without those, where would the fun in life be?

(Even with them, it was somewhat lacking most of the time. Like plain bread. It worked well enough, yeah, but it was still bread. Unless you were Jesus, you didn’t really expect miracles from it. Hell, even Jesus had known miracles that were more fun!)

“Though if you care that much about them leaving, Antonia, maybe give them a ride?” she shouted after her. “You know that I will be… otherwise occupied.” That, and her bike was still broken, which made it not great for anything that wasn’t just standing around and looking cool. Admittedly, it did a good job of that.

“Inga? That is your name, right?” the hunter said, probably addressing her directly for the very first time. Inga just raised her eyebrow. “I… thank you, I guess?”

“…Yeah, sure. Remember that gratitude when you are about to stake me!”
 
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Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
Supporter
Cassidy probably would have flushed under Inga’s continuing commentary on her stupid, stupid comment about Antonia and Inga. At least Inga didn’t mind, so she clearly hadn’t lost her – but damnit she’d upset Princess. Of course, that didn’t seem like a challenge, all things considered. It was probably far more difficult to actually make her happy.

At least she wasn’t too upset, “Felix can take them where they need to be,” was what Antonia called back.

Cassidy didn’t know who this Felix was – she was assuming a vampire, of course. “That’ll be fine,” she said, finally letting go of Lilian’s hand, “Don’t worry, we’ll figure something out at my place. First day won’t be too comfy, but after that we can hit up a department store to get some things. Er…might have to ask some favors of Tristan.”

She wasn’t even thinking of the identity issues right then, so much as she was thinking she might need to take out a loan with him, or do some favors, to get a second bed in her apartment. She had a spare room, but it wasn’t made into a bedroom. It was just packed with Stuff she didn’t know what else to do with.

She probably needed to buy a storage unit.

“I guess that gives us some time for you to get to feeling better,” which, stupid question, “how are you doing right now, Lilian?” she had been well enough to thank Inga, but Lilian had yet to sit up and orient herself to her surroundings any further. She imagined there was still some pain. “I guess we might want to consider picking up some pain medicine on the way…well, or after. I live close enough to a convenience store.”

Felix probably wasn’t going to be doing them any favors if Antonia was even slightly annoyed with them. Which, “Do you know Felix?” she asked Inga, still assuming Antonia and Inga were at least friendly. Or something. They arrived in a car together, they knew each other, so Inga might know this Felix?

~***~

Antonia did not return to the lab, of course. There was little reason to, and she remained indecent. Her job of holding the hunter down was over, so she just waited the time out for Felix’s arrival. He found it – her car was likely the tipoff – and made his way no doubt by his nose until he reached the place Inga resided in. Antonia let him in, taking the clothing and the thermos of blood.

Nice and warm.

“What exactly is going on?” their call hadn’t been long.

“Hunters – I’ll need you to come with me to Michael tomorrow.” This wouldn’t be allowed to let lie. She slipped into one of the rooms and shut what passed for a door, before stripping out of the tatters of the dress, which she would also bring to Michael if he had any doubts, considering she expected to be mostly healed up by the time she saw him.

At least, healed up in any visible way that he’d see.

Felix had brought a cream, silken blouse, and a black skirt with a bit of a flair. Nothing fancy so far as Antonia reckoned, but far too fancy for this place. She didn’t have time to prepare “slum” attire, of course.

The heels were also exchanged for ones with a neat, cream bowtie on them.

She handed off the blue dress to Felix once she stepped out, and the heels, broken phone – everything. “You’ll be taking a vampire and a hunter to the vampire’s home, then go back home. I’ll be back before dawn.” There was no way she was sleeping over in this place.
 

Syntra

Baba Yaga
How was she feeling? Well, what did it fucking look like? Lilian was tempted to count all the ways in which she was not, in fact, fine; having a barely sealed hole in her guts would definitely take the top place, but she could think of about ten other reasons why some sort of breakdown was imminent. Still, Cassidy had been… helpful. Not even the asshole kind of helpful, where you did what you did because you had to, and never let the poor fucker on the receiving end forget just how stupid they were for needing help in the first place. Lilian would even call it sort of sweet? Disregarding the whole ‘vampire’ thing, of course. “Alive enough, I guess,” the huntress said, and then tried to sit up. She did succeed, but almost wished she hadn’t, because it really did hurt something fierce. At least they wouldn’t have to carry her to the car? “Some painkillers… would be good. Thanks.”

Inga, who barely looked up from whatever the fuck it was that she was doing, just snorted in the background. “Oh, you’ll see who Felix is. I wouldn’t make any barking sounds if I were you, the lad is sensitive. Don’t wanna break his heart, now do you?”

The rest of the night passed in a strange blur, along with the next few days. Looking at it now, it was probably adrenaline that had kept her conscious past numerous breaking points; adrenaline that, the second it started to wear off, couldn’t really do much for her anymore. Not that Lilian minded. Some sort of restart was exactly what she needed, and so she didn’t bother fighting it. It was almost kind of… what was the word, nice? To stop ruining her life all on her own and let someone else take the initiative for once. Ah, the sweet delegation of responsibility! Thanks a bunch, Cassidy. No, unironically.

(Not ruining her life at all would have been ideal, though it was also a meta she wasn’t convinced she could reach. These days, being Lilian seemed to be synonymous with ‘catastrophe.’)

How she got in Cassidy’s – blessedly normal, thank fucking god – apartment, the huntress couldn’t tell. Somehow, she ended up on her couch, and then it was in and out of consciousness, punctuated with weird dreams. She could see Maria’s face, her lips pursed in disappointment; blood dripping from that familiar altar; and, worst of all, that small window from… from back then, in the dungeon. The only source of light in otherwise total darkness. Wanting to reach it and never quite managing to was one of the few things she really remembered, and… yeah. Not a fun thing to recall. After those dreams Lilian rarely managed to fall asleep again, and instead slid into what was a feverish sort of coma.

Sometimes, during the brief moments of full clarity, the huntress wondered what it was that Cassidy wanted from her. There had to be something, right? No fucking way that a vampire had all but adopted her just because she’d been stupid enough to almost get herself killed. Not even a human would have done that! Maybe she wants my blood as payment? The thought did make her shudder, though she also had to admit that it would be… fair. Sort of. Again, not her dream career or anything, but it sure as fuck beat being a corpse. And that god would hate her for that? He must have resented her already, given… well, everything that she’d done. Killed her own, to save a vampire’s skin. How did you come back from that? Right, you fucking didn’t!

(She wished she could, though. More than anything.)

It was, what, maybe the fourth day? When she felt good enough to both join Cassidy for her trip to her friend’s (?), and discuss it all. “I’m fucking broke,” Lilian stated bluntly. “I mean, I’m not, but taking my savings out now would be like painting a target on my back. Not even sure if my card works anymore. I can’t…” she waved her hand, in a vain attempt to catch the words that were eluding her, “…do much to help with the rent and the like.” Anything at all. Duh! “I will pay you back once I find some job, I suppose? But that’s a whole different kind of headache because I don’t even have any documents on me, it’s…” she hid her face in her hands, “…I’m fucked, yeah. No other way to say it.” Inhale, exhale. Fuck, don’t be a fucking leech!

Haha, a leech. Fate did have a funny way of twisting things, Lilian had to admit.

“If you want something before I get that sorted out, then maybe my blood could work…?”

~***~

As always, Inga kept herself busy. As always, that didn’t prevent her from also becoming sort of bored with the whole thing.

It wasn’t that the research wasn’t fun, because it was. The samples she’d collected were like nothing she’d ever seen in numerous ways, and that alone would have been more than enough to send any proper scientist into a frenzy. The thing was, Inga wasn’t a proper scientist. A hobbyist, and a good one, but also someone who wanted to do things other than just… staring into her microscope? To come up with fresh ideas, one’s mind needed a reset. A break, so that you could see patterns instead of dots, constellations instead of random splotches. Facts were just that: facts. A true visionary needed to know which way to bend them, so that they revealed more. If Inga had to compare it to something, she’d say it was like looking glass; you also had to know which way to turn that, so that you could see what you really wanted to see.

Something told her Antonia wasn’t really interested in her looking glass metaphors. Antonia probably wasn’t interested in anything Inga-related, so long as it wasn’t the optimal way to off her. But, that being said? There was this strange symmetry to their relationship, because Inga didn’t really care that Antonia didn’t care. Not-care-ception! And since the Princess had the misfortune of being one of the few people she could truly bounce her ideas off of, she was going to have to bite the bullet.

“Antonia, my friend!” Inga exclaimed, shortly after she’d barged into the other woman’s office. (It seemed Antonia’s staff was getting used to all the barging, and that must have been all the more infuriating to the Roman. Which, good. Russian roulettes were no fun unless you played with all the rounds loaded.) “So good to see you again, I’m glad I have someone to discuss this with. See, it’s fascinating. Pretty much everything about it.”

“I collected multiple samples to see just how it would behave in my blood as time went on, before and after feedings, and such. I tried to simulate as many conditions as I could, basically. Whatever it is,” Inga invited herself to sit on the couch, “it is definitely getting weaker. I don’t think I could pull off that immunity stunt again, because the concentration levels were very low when I checked today. So, I don’t think they were trying to poison you? Or they knew nothing about what it would actually do. You could plausibly say you drank it and nothing happened, it wouldn’t even be that much of a lie. I mean,” she smiled, “what are the chances of you randomly being exposed to fire within that time-frame?” After all, there was no need to feed their enemies her precious data. If they wanted it so much, they could find their own samples! And more reliable guinea pigs than Antonia fucking Lenart. What they had been thinking with that, Inga truly couldn’t tell.

“The really interesting thing is that I managed to isolate the… acting agent, I suppose? The driving force behind the changes? And, guess what! It’s a protein, too. A very similar one to what we have going on, structurally. If I didn’t know any better,” and she really didn’t, “I’d say it was maybe derived from that somehow? No idea how that could be done, but the resemblance is staggering. Could be that they’re messing with vampiric blood?“ Which, in all honesty, was almost too impressive for Inga to buy. Progress was fast, but usually not that fast. They barely knew what to do with their own genome, let alone with anything else. If they’d discovered anything, it likely had been just them… shooting blindly and hitting the target by complete accident. Lucky bastards.

“You feeling okay, by the way?” Inga quipped, raising her gaze to meet that of Antonia’s. (And, yes, how innocent she looked all of a sudden definitely should have been a red flag.) “You could probably use some bodyguards to travel with if that was the extent of what you can do.”

…What? It was true. Rude, but true.

Well, maybe the rudeness did make it all the more fun.
 
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Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
Supporter
Voicemail.

Deana sighed as she sat at the counter of Neon Moon, Gabrielle washing a glass nearby, shooting her looks. The bar wasn’t officially opened, but she’d needed somewhere to go outside of her own home when she heard what happened with Lilian. So now, the older woman with graying hair looked every bit the worried mother as she finally decided to leave the voicemail, despite having ignored that each time so far.

She kept hoping Lilian would pick up.

She shut her brown eyes tightly against the tears of both worry and frustration that threatened to spill out, “Lilian, this is Deana…of course, you know that,” a heavy sigh, “please, call me back. I’m sure you’re scared after what happened – all of that was rash, stupid, and we’re very sorry. I’m sorry – Lili you should have come to me.”

She bit her bottom lip, “I’m always here to talk. And I want to talk now. I want to know you’re okay. If you could even just…just send me a text letting me know. Please.” The hand in her lap twisted over the fabric of her shirt, wrapping it up tighter within her shaking fist. “We’d like to help you. Explain what’s happened. Talk to you. Please call me back. Please let me know you’re okay.”

How did she end something like this without sounding like a pleading, desperate mess? Probably too late for that. “I’m going to leave you alone for a bit. Please, take care, Lili. I love you. I’m worried.” Terrible way to end, “I love you,” she reiterated, since that should have come last anyways, and then hung up, and sighed.

Gabrielle set a cup down, as Deana set her phone down, and took the cup, drinking the somehow both citrus-and-mild drink. “That sounded good. Convincing.”

Deana only clenched the cup harder. Of course it did. There was nothing faked there. But she knew better than to show that to one of the Seven, who were only concerned with silencing Lilian. No, she’d arrange something else, if she could. What would it take? Probably a vampire like Amon. Probably a lot – everyone liked the story of the Prodigal Daughter.

They’d spin this – if they wanted to.

Deana just had to make them want to…and she had to save the one who felt like her daughter.

~***~

Cassidy spent her days looking after Lilian, and googling whatever seemed relevant at the time. Apparently, sports drinks were good to have around for hydration, so she stocked up on a variety. So were soups for actual nutrition, or soft things like applesauce. So, down went more money, not onto hot things like soups (she didn’t want to inadvertently scald Lilian) but soft things like yogurts and applesauce, whenever Lilian was lucid she’d get her to eat and drink a bit, before she was down into another long nap.

It was stressful.

But the days got better, and Lilian was soon ready to get on to real shopping, and get some things set up for her. And, it seemed, she was also really concerned about being a leech. She even offered up her own blood to pay her way for now, and Cassidy sighed as she heard that, smiled, “Don’t worry about that right now, all right? Let’s give you some time to get on your feet, first. Most of us get that.”

She had time to establish herself.

Lilian deserved that, too. “I’m not rich, but I manage. I probably need to figure out how to manage a bit more,” her jobs were always mobile, usually online nowadays. Thank God for the internet making it easier to work any hours and from anywhere. She was able to do a lot of transcribing work.

“Besides, we’re going to visit Tristan. He’s, uh…he’s our forger. He’s going to get you some documents, you’ll just have to talk to him and let him know what’s realistic, okay? I promise he’s a good guy. A bit, um, weird, but a good guy.”

She tried to explain a little of what ‘weird’ meant on the way over to Tristan’s, but ended up just showing a few memes from the group to try and explain. Lately, he’d been sharing memes of this weird cat giving bad advice called ‘Cracked Out Wall Kitten’. Apparently it was a Dark Soul’s thing.

She was pretty sure the weirdness of them was the best way to explain Tristan, though.

When they arrived at the hotel he lived in, and shot up to the penthouse, he was there with a smile and now green hair tipped pink, short but framing his face and going over his ears. His attire was more of the “emo” or “punk” brand, Cassidy wasn’t sure how to describe outside of those words – mostly black with splotches of neon, like his bracelets. “Sup! Been a while, Cass! And you must be the lil’ hunter girl! Come in, come in,” he gestured them in to his home, which was full of wires and electronic devices, as well as numerous computers, gaming systems, and a host of other things.

Plenty of cosplay weapons, like keyblades. Difference was, they were actually usable. Cass had been hit by one of those things before. They hurt. “So we need to get you a whole new identity, right?” He gestured her towards a spinning chair near a laptop he had set up on the kitchen table, which was also littered with various papers. “Whatcha good at besides murdering me and my friends?” no accusation – well, no obvious accusation – all cheer. And a fangy smile.

~***~

The night following the hunter incident, Antonia was indeed visiting Michael – with Felix in tow – on her grounds. Not her home, of course, but one of the more vampire-friendly bars that served blood as wine, and other such things. Blood dolls were the main operators and guests, but the occasional unaware human wandered in.

Michael was let in through a backdoor and escorted to Antonia, of course. He wasn’t exactly an unknown – and Antonia didn’t draw back her presence when he stepped in. The vampires bowed out; Michael stood stock still a moment, before gathering enough of himself to approach the table, “May I—”

“No.”

Michael remained standing, but his expression lost some of its politeness. “I was attacked last night. Are you aware?”

“Unfortunately.” He said, “I’m aware of those who organized it. Do you want their heads?” It wasn’t a real offer. Not yet. Antonia could hear the twist, that it could be arranged. And she had some people to get off her back, although she was sure some of her accusers were soon to silence themselves.

“One. Your choice.”

“I didn’t mean it.”

“Then I’ll have to rescind my services, and you won’t be leaving this room alive.” Michael’s gaze carefully moved to Felix, who looked dangerous even when he wasn’t shifted, before Antonia. She held his gaze.

“They’re not aware.”

“I don’t care how you arrange it. I’m not asking for anything formal. If you send some thugs to behead them behind a dive bar, that’s fine. But I need repentance or this has to become a formal declaration of war and I can’t meet with you anymore.”

Michael groaned, pushed a hand back up through his hair, “Fine, I’ll give you a head.” It wouldn’t be any of those involved in arranging it, but he had people who had annoyed him. Plenty. People who weren’t worth the blessing shared with them. “It wasn’t intentional, Antonia.”

“I know. My people don’t know.” She rose, “I’d rather they have no reason to interrupt us. I’m sure you would, too. There’s plenty more I can still give you to make up for this one hunter.” And she would, of course. Inga wasn’t stopping her from murder, and Michael remained good at murder. “You should find a way to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

“I will. But what of Lilian?”

“Who?”

My hunter that was corrupted by Cassidy. I want them.”

“I’m afraid to say, I don’t even know who they are.”

“The attack was on Cassidy, you interrupted—”

“I had to interrupt, I wasn’t alone. I didn’t care to find out who I saved, or why.”

“You’re lying.”

“I’m not. I don’t even have their phone number. I didn’t see where they lived.”

Felix kept silent, of course. He’d never betray Antonia’s trust like that. And she wasn’t precisely lying. She never saw where they lived. That made it honest, and though Michael sought for something to press, he couldn’t. “If you find out—”

“—I’ll see what I can do about your problem.” She walked around the table towards the exit, “This is always the problem that comes with black and white teachings, Michael. I’ve seen it plenty of times.” She smirked, “Try to learn from someone who’s seen hunters for thousands of years. Room for grey works better.”

“Room for grey is why we’re in such a desolate world right now.”

“Oh? You allow it for yourself.”

A heavy silence.

“Your hypocrisy is adorable. I hope you’re planning to purge yourself at the end to create your blessed utopia.”

“My hands are clean.”

Antonia snapped a hand out and caught his, caressing the back of his palm with her thumb, “Is it still?” He flicked his hand out of her grasp, but did not respond.

‘You’re not on your game today.’ No surprise. He was out of his comfort zone, forced into her lands, her world – and he knew it too well. He walked out alive, though. And Antonia had three heads rather than one the next day, with an explanation for the Vampire Council to hear, that Michael was working to reign in all the rogue hunters.

Pretty words to cover the fact that there were plenty of them, and more vampires were going to die. But, it gave Antonia the coverage she needed.

And she fed Michael another name the next day – Veturia, of course.

The fourth day, Inga barged in.

Antonia really was getting tired of that greeting. Of the manners Inga had, and how easily she flaunted her untouchable status. It grated on every nerve she had, but she retained that fairly neutral expression as she turned to listen to the newest bit of news that Inga had.

It was interesting, of course. It was perhaps the only reason she didn’t lash out at Inga about calling ahead first.

‘Vampiric blood?’ That didn’t make sense to Antonia at all. Shouldn’t that make them weaker to fire and sunlight. She crossed her arms over her chest, frowning at the deduction that seemed entirely irrational. Was Inga fucking with her? She couldn’t tell. She didn’t seem to be, but nothing about Inga ever seemed to be what Antonia suspected. “Can’t be vampiric blood if you’re not burning to flame,” she shook her head, “there must be some other explanation for it.”

She could probably get more. “I can tell Gabrielle next time I see her that the bottle broke in the fight. I should be able to get more for you to study.” Hopefully, “and then I’ll consider your other…note, about it weakening.”

Or she might try some herself, although she didn’t consider herself that suicidal. Perhaps the first one was meant to be a trick, anyways.

Inga changed the topic quick enough, asking after her with heavy implications of her seeming inability to fight. Antonia scoffed. “I am well, thank you,” there was definitely a curtness there. “Felix happens to be my bodyguard, among others, but I am not without skill. I’m just not a brute who charges in like a bull.”

Nor was she skilled without a weapon, something she knew she ought to consider rectifying one day, given how often she went without a weapon.
 

Syntra

Baba Yaga
Time. Yes, time would be nice. Wasn't that just the thing she didn't have, though? And how would it even help? Time healed broken hearts and wounds and things that fucking fixed themselves on their own, not... not whatever she had gotten herself into. The documents wouldn't just materialize out of thin air, would they? And if Inga was right - and Lilian hated that she lived in a world where that was a distinct possibility - then time would be what would one day do her in. Bam! Say bye-bye to Lilian, and hello to another new zombie. Should they be just waiting for it? What kind of fucked up logic was that? A hunter knew to pick their battles, though, and Lilian in particular had already learned the hard way that it was pointless to fight Cassidy when she was being Like This. "Tsk," she bit her lip. "Fine. But once I actually have money, I'll pay you back. Every fucking cent, you hear me? Plus, I will buy you something outrageously nice, and-- and if you complain about it, I won't stop. So you'll have more nice things than you really wanted in the end." Well. Well, that was... a threat? It was definitely something, and considering just how fucked up Lilian still was, she didn't really feel like analyzing it. Like, at all.

There was also this sense of relief, distant but immediate. She doesn't want my blood. Was that really a good thing, though? If Cassidy fed on her, Lilian would at least know that nobody was dying for it. Recently, she... had wondered, just how this unlikely companion of hers was keeping herself alive. It was hard to imagine Cassidy ambushing people in dark alleys, but what else could she be doing? Wasn't that what vampires did? And she was a vampire, despite it all. These days, it was getting almost all too easy to forget.

Of course, that was precisely why Lilian couldn't do it.

Not that she knew what to do with that knowledge anymore. With the knowledge, and with... everything, in general. Fun fucking times ahead!

"What do you even do for a living?" the huntress asked Cassidy absentmindedly, before checking out her phone out of instinct. Another voicemail? Deana never knew when to give up, and, for the most part, that was a trait all of them shared. Many more messages were shining on her display; messages from Maria, Eugene, Josh, and honestly even from people whose existence she'd kind of forgotten about. Family, huh? That was what everyone said hunters were, and not just because most of them had lost their actual blood relatives. Risking your lives together did make for some tight relationships. Yeah, except that families don't betray one another. That was why it was all too easy to delete Maria's texts; it was also why it was next impossible to do the same with Deana's.

Deana had always had her back. Deana, with her kind eyes and that uncanny ability to always say the right fucking thing, no matter what. There wasn't a thing Deana couldn't make better, everyone agreed with that. It was also true that Deana had always had the guild's back, though. What could she possibly think of her, now that she'd...? I cannot open those now. Or ever, if she was being honest with herself.

That, too, had been a struggle recently.

And no, those weird-ass fucking memes weren't helping! Though, to be absolutely fair, Lilian wasn't sure they were supposed to help, per se.

"I get it, we're dealing with a man of culture here," the huntress rolled her eyes. "I fucking swear, these people love being ridiculous." That seemed to be Tristan's biggest hobby in particular, at least judging by his... entire situation. And by what he looked like. Is he for real? Lilian almost felt stupid for even asking herself that question, because duh, of course he was! This was absolutely in line with nothing making any sense, which was her new normal. At this point, a discount My Chemical Romance member felt par for the fucking course.

"Uh, fucking my life up?" she raised her eyebrow. "I'm a world-class expert on that." Aside from that one thing, though... "I don't know," she admitted, with the little 'please-kill-me-now' unspoken but clearly present. "I guess I could be someone's personal trainer? A fencing instructor? Look, this will sound bad, but I wasn't ever planning on not killing. That's kind of how it is when you are a hunter."

~***~

It wasn't too often that Inga had an opportunity to explain one of her weirder conclusions, and she sure as hell wasn't going to throw this one away. After all, Antonia seemed interested! And that was honestly more than she could say about, well, most people. Hahaha. "You don't get it, do you?" she asked, a small smile playing on her lips. Despite the pointedness of her tone, there was no real accusation in it; if anything, Inga actually sounded rather tame for her usual standards. Serious, almost. "I'm not saying that it is vampiric blood, just that it maybe was that at some point. Doesn't mean it's that now, though. For example, take water. We all agree that water can turn into ice, right? The same substance, technically, but vastly different physical properties. All it takes is a few different conditions, and poof!" Dramatically, Inga extended her arms, and for a terrible, terrible moment, it almost looked as if she wanted to hug Antonia. Fortunately, the moment came and went.

"A whole different world of possibilities. Nothing is as you thought it to be! Mind fucking blown. Listen, Antonia, I don't actually know what it is that makes fire in particular so... hm, so not fun, but it's clearly something in our blood. Has to be. Isn't it obvious, then, that something in our blood could also reverse it? You often make antidotes with poison. It's one of those universal principles, such as," she flicked her wrist, "I don't know, murder usually being good. All I'm saying is, this totally makes sense and I'm a genius."

More samples never hurt, though, and so the blonde nodded. "Sure, that would be appreciated. Try to get more of it if you can, some tests only really work with bigger volumes. We could also contact, hm, what's her name? Lilian? Could be helpful to see what it does to humans and it's not like she isn't infected already. Considering I saved her, she should be happy to volunteer."

Translation: if she wasn't, then Inga would explain to her why she should be. Her explanations worked 100% of the time, mostly because nobody really wanted to argue with a sword.

Not without skill, hm? Alright, this was getting interesting in more ways than just one. See, Antonia Lenart may have been a lot of things, but Inga hadn't come to know her as a liar. No, there had to be something in there. Something that could be fun to unearth, and shit, could she still look herself in the eye in the mirror if she didn't try?

Well, yes! That didn't mean she wasn't going to, though.

"Really, Antonia? Then, theoretically," Inga drew her sword, in a way so slow and theatrical that nobody could mistake it for a genuine attempt on her life, "if I were to attack you right now and Felix wasn't there, what would you do? Come on, show me that skill of yours. I'm dying to see it."
 
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Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
Supporter
‘You have no idea how much Tristan would like these comments.’ And Cassidy didn’t tell Lilian how Tristan would just preen at being called a man of culture, even with the obvious derision. So, she didn’t, and remained fairly quiet as she walked into the familiar penthouse without glancing around much at all, taking a nearby seat and letting Lilian answer just who she was.

Or could be.

“Okay, you’re too honest, so lawyer is way, way out,” Tristan noted, though Cassidy was sure that had never been a real consideration. “Probably GED is better than high school diploma right now,” he typed a bit, “And hey, you’re not as bad as some,” he tossed a grin at her, “I’ve seen some fuck-ups with vamps, too."

He leaned back in his chair, “Is your situation really one where you can…ya know, work face to face?” he gestured back between his face, her face, and back to his face, “Not sure what the hunter situation is like, so I’m trying to figure out realistically what your options are. ‘Cause if we can just get you into a McDonald’s, then bam, I can make this easy. But if that’s not gonna be a thing, we’re gonna have to do a bit…more.”

Which, he supposed, wasn’t that hard, that’s what he did with most vampires, but a lot of vampires had skills that worked that way. “Personal trainer’s still an option, and I can forge plenty of relevant docs for it, but you kind of need a place to meet people.”

“There are some 24/7 gyms.” Cassidy noted.

“Yeah, I guess that could be a thing,” Tristan nodded, “no one says you have to work at the gym, officially, so long as you’re paying a membership and so are the people you’re training. That could be good under the table work till shit clears up. But that depends on you, Lils.”

‘Lils?’ Cassidy bit the inside of her cheek, not sure if she should smile or cringe at the easy way he nicknamed people. She knew her nicknames weren’t terrible.

“So, how much face to face can ya do, and what sorta things we gotta consider for all that?”

~***~

The “every medicine is a poison” was a familiar enough sentiment to Antonia, and that did make it click in her head, her brows lifting as she let Inga explain things a bit more. That made more sense. There was something in water that made it freeze, and made it dissolve. There was something in the blood that made it hate the sun, so wasn’t there something that could be reversed?

Was Inga actually making sense?

Hard to believe.

“I can have someone speak to the hunter later,” she wasn’t enthused about revealing she even could. Sure, Michael probably wasn’t watching her like other people, but there was a chance, and she’d rather wait a bit longer, let the humans forget about her in favor of other things. Then perhaps she could talk Lilian into meeting Inga at her…lab.

There was also the question of what Lilian would want as payment for it. Perhaps they could find a way to offer her something inconsequential. A way to reverse it, or perhaps just money. Plenty of people shut up for money, and Antonia had more than she’d spend in a hundred lifetimes.

But of course, that wasn’t the focus.

She should have just lied. Not bristled under the accusation of weakness. But no, she couldn’t do something as simple as that, could she? Inga dramatically drew her blade, though Antonia didn’t even bother to reach for the weapon she had in the room. There was no point. Inga wasn’t actually going to rush her.

She didn’t think, anyways. There was still doubt.

She rolled her eyes at the dare. “I’m not showing you anything in my study.” She wasn’t going to have anything messed up in here. There were too many things she was trying to preserve in there, after all. “However if you would like to get cut to ribbons, I have a lovely outside area I am not worried about messing up with another person’s blood.” It was said dryly enough to be either completely serious, or completely not-serious.

Sure, Inga dwarfed her in many ways. That didn’t bother Antonia too much; she knew how to fight humans and vampires alike that had numerous advantages in size and weapon mass.
 

Syntra

Baba Yaga
"Oh?" Lilian raised her eyebrow and put one leg over the other, in a way she hoped looked casual rather than nervous. "Then you must know some real disasters." She wasn't actually sure whether she believed Tristan in or not; it was hard to imagine literally anyone crashing and burning harder than she had, and with greater flair. To go from Lilian, the Esteemed Hunter to Lilian, the Literal Pariah within the span of a few minutes truly had been an... accomplishment, let's say. One she'd rather not boast about. "You're the boss here," the huntress told him bluntly. "I, uh, don't know much about the whole 'making this believable' thing. Whatever you think will work is fine enough for me."

What Tristan asked next was a good question, though, and Lilian shot a careful glance at Cassidy. "I mean... working face to face is not great." To put it mildly. There were few things worse than roaming the streets with a bounty on your head, and Lilian could only imagine how high hers would be. Probably high enough to set someone for life? Hunters' lives were expensive; their deaths even more so. "But considering the kind of skillset I have, it's not like there are many other options for me. McDonald's, though... I'd rather not do that. That's one of the places where I could see myself running into someone I know." It wasn't the kind of food a hunter should be eating, according to the official guidelines, but Lilian knew all too well how pleasant it could be to get some quick, greasy calories in when the night seemed endless. McDonald's was always open, its red and yellow always inviting. Nobody ever asked any questions. Was that any wonder, then, that hunters loved it so?

"A 24/7 gym seems like the most feasible option to me. Still not great, though I could probably get away with showing my face in a place like that." One could guess that gyms would be crawling with hunters, but that hypothetical person would have been very, very wrong. After all the physical exercise they already were getting, most avoided those like the plague and instead conserved the precious energy. Besides, it wasn't like you could actually learn anything too useful at your regular gym; places that prioritized leg days over picking up effective ways to stab a bitch just couldn't give much to a hunter. Different clientele, different needs.

Lilian glared a bit at being called 'Lils,' but decided to let it slide... well, partially. "I'm not that recognizable at a glance, Tris. I'll just..." she shrugged, "...wear different clothes. Hide my tattoo, maybe cut my hair. Dye it."

Could Cassidy cut her hair for her? A weird thought, but one that Lilian didn't immediately disregard. And, honestly, why should she? It was a good, low-cost solution, with almost no risks involved. Potentially looking like a clown was one of the downsides, but it wasn't like she hadn't put on her clown shoes already. "How good are you with scissors, Cassidy?" she asked, barely thinking it over.

~***~

Talking to the hunter later was better than not getting to do it at all, so Inga just nodded. She could only hope that whatever was wreaking havoc in her bloodstream wasn't advancing too fast; losing such a convenient specimen would be, in scientific terms, a damn fucking shame. Hang in there, girl. Don't make me regret saving you. Still, that wasn't at all what Inga was thinking about now.

She hadn't thought it would actually work, mind you. The prolonged harassment campaign towards Antonia she was engaging in rarely yielded any real results, either because the other woman couldn't care less or just didn't have that kind of temper. It was true that Ancients were nothing if not patient. Maybe that was her weak spot, though? Accusations of incompetence did sting, and perhaps they stung no less even if you happened to be called Antonia Lenart.

Jackpot, baby. "Oh, I would love that," Inga gave her a bright, cheerful smile. "I've honestly been waiting for exactly that for, what, a few hundred years?" More like over a millennium. "But people just promise and promise and then never deliver. Shameful, really. I suppose I can count on you to stay true to your word?"

To be fair, Inga didn't think Antonia could reasonably pull it off. The downside of staying alive for as long as she had was that you got really good at what you did, and in her case, a lot of time had been spent on honing her craft. Realistically, the Roman didn't stand a chance. The one thing Inga did trust her with, though? That she would genuinely try, from the bottom of her heart.

(And, well, maybe she also wanted to see her angry. Physical exertion did tend to make these things more pronounced, and there was a... hm, certain appeal to that cold fury she liked to wear so often. Heh.)

Once they arrived at the spot Antonia had chosen, Inga smiled some more. "You can have the first hit? Since I'm the challenger. Come on, no need to be afraid."
 

Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
Supporter
Naturally, Tristan’s eyes lit up at how quickly Lilian nicknamed him. Was he aware it was not meant kindly? Yes. Did he care? Absolutely not. Besides, she was giving him the information that he needed to get things set up, rather than fighting with him or arguing his points and questions, and that was better than some who had yet to accept their fall from grace. Far better than some.

When she asked about cutting her hair, he had to physically bit down on his bottom lip to interject that he could do it. He did most of his hair himself and he thought it looked pretty damn good.

He wasn’t asked.

Cassidy did look hesitant. “Um.” She glanced over Lilian’s brown hair, “I mean. If you put it into a ponytail I could probably lop it off, but it’s not going to look good,” she’d need a professional for that, or someone who knew how to see details.

“Yeah, but once it’s shorter it’ll still change how she looks. There’s also wigs, dying it, color contacts – there is a lot out there on the market, and lots of youtube contouring tutorials to change the shape of your face. Or, well, how it looks.” He would know, of course. His latest obsessions were all cosplay and costume related. Probably why forging ended up coming easy for him.

Although, Cassidy was sure the forging came first .Then he got bored.

“Then he got bored” was a warning when it came to him.

“But before we get too carried away, here,” he turned his laptop to a map, which had a few areas highlighted, “These are the gyms in the area. Which area works best for you? Not sure which one you’re most likely to see your friends at, so you’re gonna have to give me some options, Lee-lee.” Naturally, he went to another nickname.

Because she gave him one, now he had to add another to the list. Fair was fair, right? No, never.

Cassidy, again, restrained herself from laughing, which wasn’t too hard, because now she was worried about cutting Lilian’s hair in a way that didn’t cause her to shriek in terror. Also one that did not say “Lee-lee”. Although, she supposed Lilian would still look good with a pixie cut. She just…couldn’t trim it up to that nicely. The best she could do was probably an uneven bob.

~***~

Antonia honestly didn’t doubt that Inga rarely found a challenge. Nor was she foolish enough to be certain of herself, but she had found that a healthy overestimation and alertness went a long way in facing down any foe. And she’d learned both out of pricked pride and necessity; the living embarrassment of her family had made them known for martial prowess, rather than words. Why Mark Antony the Orator couldn’t be more famous than Mark Antony the Buffoon, she’d never know (well, she knew, the Buffoon was more entertaining) – but it had forced a reputation upon her that she had to rise to.

And she loathed it.

They reached the atrium, and there were nearby swords. The atrium served as a training yard at times, so the weapons were always near, though most of the time it was used to host others. It was where she would have brought Inga that first night, had Inga not chosen elsewhere to sit herself down.

The sword itself was a typical knightly sword – a cross-guard hilt, a double-edged straight blade, and it truly was simple, though Antonia had spared no expense where it came to material, or forging. As Inga offered her first strike, she kicked her heels off to the side, and though it was tempting to tell her that was a mistake, she only looked up, nodded, bowed – and then rushed forward to engage.

There were many opinions about whether or not it was better to act first, or second. Antonia was rarely the aggressor, that was likely a given, but that didn’t mean she was unaware of how to open. There would be no overwhelming Inga with strength. Speed was questionable.

Misdirection and confusion were another story, and though her rush was straightforward, as she moved her arm for the upwards slash, she began a turn towards Inga’s left, so the cut would also be off-center, raking up towards her shoulder rather than her arm – but not stepping back.

No, Antonia knew better than to fight at a range. That gave her opponents too much room to lunge, tackle, or otherwise give them the advantage of length to close distance. She’d keep the fight close and on her terms.
 

Syntra

Baba Yaga
"I'm not gonna wear a wig in a gym," Lilian protested. "Do you know how hot it gets under one? My face would be so red everyone would be calling an ambulance within five fucking seconds." Not to mention that the things didn't even hold all that well when you, uh, dared to move. She didn't expect to be doing any serious acrobatics as a trainer, but it wasn't too unreasonable to think a client might want her to demonstrate the routine. After all, she would want that. "The same goes for make-up. I cannot have too much of anything on my face. Do vampires not sweat, or what?" And, yes, that was a legitimate question. Lilian had always sort of wondered just how they managed to look so unbothered even in the middle of getting staked; it was sort of infuriating, the way you could think they'd just left a fucking photo shoot.

"I... suppose I can just dye it, then," Lilian sighed, after considering her options. While looking like an idiot would not have been the worst thing to happen to her, it also wasn't something that she necessarily wanted to do. "And maybe wear it in a different way than usual. Braid it, or whatever." Note to self: learn more about braiding hair. Yeah, that... wasn't something she'd expected to have to study for her career, but she also hadn't really expected to trust vampires with her life. Something, something, things changed.

"What kind of color do you think would look good?" she asked absentmindedly, as if that fucking mattered. Still, maybe it was normal to overfocus on nonsense when everything else was falling apart? A good justification, Lilian decided.

Lee-lee?! Alright, the huntress had been playing nice, but that was a step too far. Several steps too fucking far! She did not have to sit here, in this tumultuous time in her life, and put up with being called an abomination like Lee-lee. This, she decided, was a declaration of war. "Let me take a look, Trixie. Something not too close to Cassidy's apartment," in case she had to run, "but also not too far. Hmm, this one might work?" It was one of the densely populated areas, too; disappearing in the crowd should be all too easy, most of the time. As long as she didn't have to do it in the dead of night.

~***~

So far, Antonia Lenart hadn't been too surprising. Inga had expected a smooth talker, wise in all the ways in which their world worked, and she'd gotten that, more or less. She'd also heard about her being a pain in the ass, which... yes. While Inga herself wouldn't necessarily say that, she could sort of see where all those people were coming from. Antonia was just the type, you know? The lady in a dress far more expensive than your entire house, with the kind of air about her that made it pretty obvious she was very keenly aware of that.

Probably not someone too compatible with swordplay, right?

Wrong.

Inga noticed it even before Antonia charged her; it was kind of obvious, both from the way she gripped the weapon and from her stance. This was someone who meant business. Someone who was unambiguously really quite good, even if perhaps not at her peak yet. Getting there, though. "Whoa, whoa, whoa," Inga laughed, the sound of it clear like a bell. "Why have you been hiding this from me, Antonia? Afraid I might come to like you a little too much?"

Yeah, yeah, a stupid thing to say. Not like that wasn't her entire modus operandi, though, and so Inga didn't even attempt to rein herself in. After all, nobody took you all that seriously when about 90% of what left your mouth could be described as... hm, what did the cool kids call it these days? 'Elaborate shitposts?' Something close to that, anyway.

Unlike Antonia, Inga did hold herself back a bit, dodging and deflecting more than anything else. Trying to end this quickly would have been a waste; she wanted to see what Antonia could do, for one, and you really couldn't rush these things.

There was also one other aspect to this, and when she noticed, the realization kind of took her breath away. Plainly, she was just having fun. Shit, how long had it been?

Far too long. An eternity, frozen in greyscale. A monochrome picture, as dead as it was boring.

Finally, there was a bit more color.

"Not so hasty," Inga offered a piece of friendly advice, in between parrying the blows. "Watch your other arm. Don't wanna have it cut off, do you?"
 
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Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
Supporter
“You, clearly, do not cosplay,” Tristan stated as Lilian complained of wigs. Of course, he heard those complaints in his circles. Hells, he complained of it, but was that going to stop him from doing ridiculous things in costumes and wigs? Absolutely not. “But you’re right, dying is usually more comfy, and you should definitely do pink or orange. Leaning to orange.”

Cassidy rolled her eyes, but she’d add her two cents to the color question. “Blonde tends to go well with blue eyes. It’s…normal.” Blue and brunette were actually a mix Cassidy didn’t seen much of it. It’d be a shame to lose it. “Maybe a darker blonde. Or just a darker brown. And I know how to braid – I can teach you.”

Boring.” Of course Tristan would say that, but he also knew his advice wouldn’t be taken, and he grinned wickedly at his new nickname. “Ooo, Trixie. I like that one,” he nodded, “I should update my nickname in the group to—hold on,” as Lilian was looking at options, he began to update his nickname to just that.

Everyone had nicknames in the group, although some were obvious. Cassidy hadn’t been very creative, but then again, she didn’t have much shame about this.

Cassidy was pretty sure it was entirely for anonymity. Few people wanted to admit they enjoyed Tristan’s antics, lest they give him an even larger ego. Not to mention, plausible deniability if anyone tried to accuse them of being in the shitposting group. “Aaaand, done! Okay, that one, huh?” he looked at where Lilian had indicated, “Okay, I’ll see what strings I have there, and at these two,” he gestured to a couple others not terribly far away. “Can’t always guarantee first options, you know?”

He went on, “If you’re gonna do some changes to your hair, I should let you get that done before getting you a license, but we can probably handle birth certificates and anything that doesn’t need pictures. We can keep your first name, if you want – not like Lilian is outrageous, but last name’s gotta go. Miller, Anderson, Smith – these are pretty common names in the area, and I’d suggest something boring like that.”

“You didn’t let me keep my first name on identifications.” Cassidy frowned. Admittedly, she kept it as a middle name so she could explain going by it, but still – what nonsense was this? Cassidy was common enough, right?

“Yeah, I was bored, and you didn’t argue.” Tristan shrugged. “Besides, Jessie has more of a cowgirl feel to it, don’t you think, Flower Power?” Well, Lilian did come from Lily. Or vice-versa. He figured it was obvious enough for the hunter to catch on, and realize, he could not be stopped.

~***~

Antonia knew how to tune out her foes in the midst of a fight. People used words as weapons, and she knew that better than anyone. The words felt like they came at a delay, not enough to stop Antonia in the moment, nor enough to slow her – not that Inga was saying anything important as she parried blows. Nor was she expecting it, so it was easier to disregard her entirely.

But Antonia could see the enjoyment, and that bothered her.

Was Inga just fucking around?

Although she didn’t let her temper rise to cause her to lose the battle, it was the strength behind a few blows, and the grounding that kept her balance so she didn’t topple, either – and something she didn’t quite notice, a smirk that cut across her lips when Inga warned her about an arm. Arms could be healed, eventually. Enough blood and rest, pretty much anything could be healed.

But something about it stirred her own amusement, something she didn’t realize, either – it had been a while since she faced someone she knew she didn’t need to hold back with. Felix couldn’t stand to her when she had a sword, though bless his soul, he tried. Of course, she couldn’t stand to him without one, so it evened out, but that wasn’t fun.

Was this fun?

Antonia would deny it, of course. She rarely admitted to pleasures unless they were at the expense of someone else, and this, clearly, was not at Inga’s expense.

Well – not quite.

Inga did leave herself open, perhaps too focused on trying to get a reaction out of her silent foe, or underestimating Antonia’s intentions as she moved around, waiting for the tell-tale signs in Inga’s legs and core that her balance was off – and her own position to be right. It came, and Antonia was able to use that closeness she maintained to break from the elegance of the swordplay in a sudden, brutal slam of shoulder and elbow into Inga’s chest and stomach with every intent to floor Inga.

Antonia wouldn’t claim that she’d been holding back – that would be a lie. But she had, intentionally, left out using anything but the sword and footwork so that Inga might think she wouldn’t resort to such things.

Assuming it worked, Inga would find the blade over her heart after her back hit the ground, and a casual, “You were saying?” from Antonia’s only too smug lips.
 

Syntra

Baba Yaga
"Uh, obviously? Because I'm a functioning fucking adult?" And then, after realizing just how much that had stopped being true: "Okay, fine," Lilian sighed, "Not anymore, I'll give you that one. I'm not dying my hair orange, though. We're trying not to attract too much attention here, remember?" Although, considering what kind of person this Tristan was turning out to be, she probably should have been thankful he hadn't suggested those ridiculous rainbow highlights. That, or a pink mohawk.

As expected, Cassidy's suggestions were much more reasonable. (The idea of her hands in her hair was... interesting, though Lilian couldn't fully explain why. Probably because she just wasn't used to those things from other people? With the rare exception of Deana, who she sure as fuck wasn't going to think about now. Or, you know, ever. Ignoring her wouldn't make the situation any better, Lilian knew, but she also knew that not doing that would have made it worse.) "Sure, thanks," she bit her lip. "Appreciate that."

Wait, is he fucking enjoying it? The realization was devastating, and indeed, that may have been the moment Lilian realized she was fighting a war she couldn't win. "Is he always like that, or just pretending for my sake?" she asked Cassidy, as if Tristan wasn't even there. In part, it was a genuine question; although, to be entirely honest, she knew the answer before her roommate could even begin to articulate it.

Fucking vampires.

Well, no. That was just the thing. How come that they were like this? Had she not known any better, Lilian could have mistaken them for humans, given just how normal they seemed. Okay, fine, 'normal' probably wasn't the word to describe the likes of Tristan, but he was no nightmare crawling from beyond a grave, either. He was a... a guy. A guy you could easily talk to in a bar, if you didn't mind his number one hobby was ripping people's throats out. Wake the fuck up, Lilian! What the hell are you thinking?

Killers were killers, no matter what. It meant fuck all they weren't currently targeting her, because that didn't make their hands any cleaner. Right?

(As if the same wasn't also true for her, though. Hadn't she killed for Cassidy? Fuck. Fuck this fucking headache!)

"Understandable, yeah," the huntress nodded. "Smith sounds like too much of a fake name to me, so let's go with Anderson." Having to get rid of Lilian honestly wouldn't have fazed her, but it seemed that Cassidy felt differently about her own name. The feud that broke out didn't concern her much, until--

"Flower..." Okay, that was her limit. Lilian stood up abruptly, her hands automatically balling into fists. "I'm going to have to ask you to never say that again, Tristan. I really mean that, and... shit. I just made that my nickname for the rest of my fucking life, haven't I?" What a great prospect for the future! Lilian could honestly imagine it on her fucking tombstone, considering the connections Tristan seemed to have. "Cassidy," she turned to her companion, only half-serious. "How do I recover from this?"

~***~

It was a mistake. A small opening, but an opening nonetheless. Inga could see it the moment it came into existence, and she could also see the moment Antonia decided to act, but it was too late for anything but looking, in the end.

Thud!

For a second, there was nothing but stunned silence. Lying on the ground, Inga was acutely aware of the sword pressed against her heart and just how easily it could end her right there, if Antonia so desired. Of just how fragile this moment was. You know what else she was aware of, though? Of the way moonlight put silver in her hair; of how full her lips were; of just how good it looked, the victory in her eyes.

Ah, was her first thought after that, and honestly also her second one. It may have been her third one as well, though it was somewhat hard to tell. Was she always this beautiful?

Oh, yeah. She was kind of fucked.

Nothing new under the sun, Inga guessed, although the particular flavor of fucked-up-ness did make it somewhat exciting.

A big, impossibly dumb grin spread over her lips, and Inga laughed, seemingly without a care in the world. (There was no real attempt to get back on her feet from her side, either. Maybe she thought Antonia deserved the triumph, and maybe she liked the view. Maybe both were true at the same time.)

"Antonia, sváss mínn," my sweet, although she hadn't really expected it to come out in that language, "it really would be an honor if you were to kill me one day. No, I mean it. But before that happens - can we maybe do this more often?"
 
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Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
Supporter
“Yeah, he’s always like this, we all kind of worry about him,” Cassidy said, also as if Tristan wasn’t there, which he was good at pretending he wasn’t as he typed away at his computer to set things up like the fake birth certificate, and so much else, chuckling to himself as Lilian erupted over what was, absolutely, now her new nickname.

“Oh yeah, Flower Power. That’s yours forever.” Tristan grinned, fully intending to abuse the name until she learned to accept it. And probably after that, admittedly. These things became endearing after a while, unless you had a stick lodged all the way up your ass and into your large intestines.

Cassidy couldn’t help but chuckle then, to her own dismay as Lilian looked to her for help and she gave a bit of a helpless shrug, “Do something to earn yourself a worse nickname?” it was terrible advice, but it was also how it worked. “I’m just Cowgirl.”

“And Antonia’s Princess, and Inga’s Braidy Bunch. For the braids. She could probably give you some really cool braids.”

“What’s Amon?”

Tristan put on a dramatic display of falling silent, and looking awkwardly off to the side. “We don’t talk about Amono.”

“Wha—oh come ON, no.”

As soon as Cassidy recognized the reference to the damnable song, Tristan cackled the additional, “No, no.”

Cassidy hadn’t seen the film. It was tempting, but something told her it would hurt her soul, given the narrative of generational trauma and immigration. With all her moving, and all her long-lost, never rectified, family history, she didn’t want to see it. But she couldn’t escape that song.

It made it to the radio.

The day’s amusements didn’t end with Tristan. He promised Lilian to have her papers ready within the next day, and told her to be ready for photography to get some IDs. He’d also be pushing forward applications on her behalf to the gyms and trying to see what he could do to guarantee her the position – see who he knew that used those gyms or if anyone owned the land they were built on.

Not out of the goodness of his heart, though he didn’t mention a fee and Cassidy wondered at it when they left to go handle a few shopping details to make things comfier for Lilian. Food, bed, simple things like that. Things like that. Hair dye, as well as some variety of hair clips and ties so Lilian could figure out her new ‘style’.

Lilian made sure to have the larger bed delivered and set up. She didn’t yet own a truck, after all. It was on the list. One day.

The people were in and out fairly quickly, leaving Lilian and Cassidy alone with quite a bit of work done for the day, and Cassidy needed a drink. So, she walked right to the fridge, took out one of the blood bags, and cut it open with scissors to dump into a cup…before flushing in both realization and embarrassment. “I—I guess this is probably weird for you, but I do need to…drink. I can try to be more mindful of your presence.”

Never mind that Lilian had offered before to let Cassidy drink from her veins, this was probably still really difficult for her to accept. “There’s still, um, plenty of room for your food and drink…I don’t have another fridge…” and that was a bit expensive.

~***~

Antonia read Inga’s shock well enough, though of course, hardly knew the depths of it before laughter broke out. Prior to that, it had been deeply satisfying. The laugh wasn't a terrible surprise, Inga seemed the sort to literally laugh in death’s face. Antonia still pulled the sword away and stepped away, exasperated with her all over again. Naturally, she did eventually speak.

Nothing really stopped Inga from talking, though the slip into a foreign tongue was unexpected. Naturally, it had to be one that Antonia didn’t know, although the cadences were familiar enough. It was a language she’d been around, but not one picked up. Then again, she had been entrusted with eastward negotiations, not northward. Inga’s mother tongue was never learned, compared to Hindi and Mandarin.

The wish for death, after that laugh, also seemed not terribly surprising, though she still arched a brow at it. ‘Beg better.’ She could let Inga live out of spite, since she asked for death. She was that sort of person – but she did have much larger goals, and Inga’s death was written into them, what with the blackmail, and the likelihood Inga’s hands were stained, literally or metaphorically, with the blood of Antonia’s family.

But she wanted to spar more.

And Antonia had enjoyed it.

Maybe,” she let the word itself be drawn out, the threat of taking it away present, because, well, that’s who she was. And she didn’t have any real leverage here with Inga. Withholding something felt like power. “I can at least grant you a death at my hands, one day, and not my hunters.”

One day – when the game they were playing was finally over. When the hunters were figured out, and Antonia knew it was safe to murder Inga. How long would that be? She didn’t know, though likely within the next couple of years, considering Lilian was likely to help speed things up. The little hunter Michael wanted. The little hunter Inga wanted more from.

Poor dear.

“Get up,” she gestured carelessly with the blade, “I know you can do better than what you showed. So try and take me seriously this time, hm?” The ‘maybe’ would be a yes…for now. For tonight. If Inga wanted to prove she, too, was a bit better by taking this seriously. “Otherwise I might just spill your heart’s blood on principal of being offended that you’re still underestimating me.”

She did her best to hide the smile – which was fairly good – but there was no denying the glint in her eyes, even where her lips didn’t quite curl.
 

Syntra

Baba Yaga
It wasn't until the door of Cassidy's apartment shut behind Flower Power Lilian that she realized just how fucking strange the day had been, and not even for the obvious reasons. Yes, forging a new identity had been weird as hell; cooperating with vampires as well, for that matter. Both of those were your usual, run-of-the-mill flavors of weirdness, though, and so, strangely enough, also something that she was kind of used to. It was a hunter thing, you see? To always be prepared, on some level, for things to go sideways so fucking fast that your eyes couldn't even follow the movement. The center of balance was all off, to compensate for the tightrope they all walked. Whenever some bastard shoved you - and, fuck, did they like doing that - you had to find your footing again real quick. And when there had been no sense of it in the first place... well, that did make things easier. Somewhat.

You know what very much wasn't a hunter thing, though?

Buying your own bed. Buying your own anything, aside from clothes and items too personal for the HQ to reasonably supply you with. Everything had been a standardized, practical grey; it worked, after all, and hunters shouldn't care about such frivolous things besides.

That was part of the reason why Lilian had gone, perhaps a little unexpectedly, with a bed with frankly ridiculous pink covers, bright enough to burn pretty much anyone's retinas. It had been impulse, and she couldn't even say she liked them, but it felt good. A little bit like teenage rebellion? Like sneaking out past midnight to go enjoy some booze with your friends, when you very much weren't 21 yet and your dad could wake up at any moment.

Of course, that Lilian was 27 did make it somewhat more pathetic. That, and the fact that 'her dad' was instead an employer that couldn't wait to put a bullet in her brain. Probably not the best thing to put on her CV, was it?

"You know, I've never actually bought my own furniture before," she said to Cassidy, probably in an attempt to escape those thoughts. "It's... it's fine, I guess. But I don't see why the world needs so many designs for fucking tables of all things. Hello? How is it practical to make a million of those, with just tiny variations?" It wasn't and couldn't be, and Lilian personally thought that humanity should collectively strive towards something greater. Perhaps she would have added more to it as well, had it not been for... well, Cassidy doing that.

The huntress's eyes widened. Blood bags? Sealed blood bags, fresh from the hospital. Not that Lilian had had a lot of experience with those, but she could tell at a glance that you couldn't really hope to make that kind of packaging at home without some serious equipment. "I... what? I thought you only drank from the vein. That's what everyone said." The thought suddenly felt real stupid, and hearing it from her own mouth immediately made it about 100% worse. Fucking duh? "No, I'm sorry, I... I guess that makes sense. There are too many of you for you to be murdering people each night and for it to not be noticed." It may have been easier in the past, but in the age of the internet? The internet, the police, and the ever-present records, records, records, of pretty much everything? Yeah, not likely.

(And, privately, Lilian was really glad that it was that way. Cassidy probably didn't kill... all that much. It was weird to watch her pour herself a cup of blood this casually, but at least she wasn't tearing anyone's throat out.)

"Fuck, no, this is your home. I'll manage," the huntress shrugged, before she sat down on the couch. "I... I don't know, I feel like an idiot? I've just never given all of that much thought," she winced, hoping Cassidy understood what she meant exactly. That, as in 'the not-so-hidden tears in the narrative.'

Out of the vampires she'd killed, how many of them had deserved it? All of them, Lilian would have said yesterday. Today, she wasn't so sure. Mostly sure, still, but there were doubts that sure as fuck hadn't been there before.

"I guess it was easier. Do you think I'm stupid?"

~***~

If Inga hadn't known any better, she would have said that Antonia was blatantly flirting with her. That was so distant from the realm of possibility, though, that what she said and did next could only plausibly be explained as one thing; that, for all intents and purposes, this was simply who Antonia was.

That made it worse. Better, too, but ultimately worse, in all the ways that actually mattered.

Why does this always happen to me? Not necessarily that, because that was a rare occurrence in the grand scheme of things. What bothered her was the greater pattern, more like, wherein she pivoted without a hint of hesitation towards the one thing that would surely destroy her, like a magnet to steel. There was something almost fated in it, akin to those Greek epics she had honestly thought to be kind of corny.

No, it wasn't that serious. It could easily become that serious, though, and Inga was old enough to know just where those things ended. It really was quite like blood, in the sense that the more you drank, the more hooked you got. The worst endorphine storm that even existed, biologically. Leaving the town would honestly be the best solution; the sensible solution, to cut the strings before they even had a proper chance to form. The thing was, Inga wasn't really known for her sensible solutions. The opposite of that was more in-character, really.

Yes, she was fucked, but it was also sort of nice. It felt nice, to be sure. Why not allow herself this small indulgence, then? Not like it really mattered, considering she wasn't planning to stick around for long enough for the consequences to really catch up with her.

"You don't have to say that twice," Inga grinned. "Come, sváss mínn. We'll dance a more interesting dance this time, I promise." And that they did. Victories weren't granted easily anymore, though Inga never quite stopped with her advice, commenting on Antonia's posture here and there, or on the way her blows would sometimes get a bit sloppy. "I know you can do better than that. Try harder, for me?"

It was... it was fun, dammit. More than she had learned to expect from life nowadays, in most ways.

When it was time to leave, Inga desperately wished she didn't have to, and that she still had the kind of audacity to force herself into one of Antonia's spare rooms. But, yeah, things changed. At the drop of a hat, sometimes. In the end, it really was that very unpredictability that made things not just bearable, but also downright entertaining. Ah, wasn't that oh so exciting? The new way in which she was going to absolutely fucking wreck herself.

"Thank you for tonight," Inga squeezed her hand, figuring that was probably fine. How could it not be? They'd spent the last few hours invading each other's personal space, so she didn't think it was too out of line. "Really, from the bottom of my heart. I'll call you next time. Or you call me, whenever. See you, Antonia."

Was she being subtle? Hardly. Then again, that had also never been her strong point.

~***~

The moon was particularly striking tonight, Matteo noted, as he looked out the window. It was only fitting, of course; Tyr's wake deserved such a scenery, if nothing else.

The whole thing had ended an hour ago, a fact which he accepted with a quiet 'finally.' Naturally he'd never say that aloud, but weren't these such a waste of time? Tyr was fucking dead. No amount of fake sympathy, especially from that bastard Amon, would bring him back, nor would the crocodile tears. Did he look as if he'd been turned yesterday?!

He didn't, and he knew that. He also knew that that was how things were done, though that didn't make it hurt any less.

Sighing to himself, Matteo wet the quill in the ink well. Some called him pretentious for it, though not often to his face, and he was quite content to let them have that freedom. Why not? Far too often, those little freedoms were all it took for people to forget about the big ones, so easily yanked away from their grasp. Matteo knew that better than anyone else.

Or - well, better than most people. It was never a good idea, falling victim to one's hubris. Was that what had gotten Tyr in the end?

"Matteo, you fucking bastard!" The older vampire didn't lift his gaze from the letter, mostly because there was no reason to. He knew the voice, and his owner, all too well.

"Is there anything you need, Joseph?"

A silly question, of course. Joseph always needed something, and his sire's death had not improved it in any way. Matteo wished he controlled himself better, though he did know that that fiery nature of his was what Tyr had liked about him so well. Out of respect for that, he would not demand the man's head. Not like it was worth much, anyway.

"Yeah, I do need something. You need it, too, and that something is a fucking grip! Are you just... going to let the bitch keep getting away with this?" The bitch, naturally, being Antonia Lenart, of the Optimates. Matteo quite agreed, though he didn't like Joseph's... embarrassing lack of manners.

"Language," he reprimanded him. "It's Lady Lenart, for you. Has she allowed you to speak of her that way?"

"Well, have you allowed her to fucking end Tyr?"

There was no real proof that she'd done it, of course. Antonia Lenart was never sloppy enough to leave something tangible behind, and really, wasn't it such a shame that hunters just couldn't be controlled? Her hands were clean, as far as the Council was concerned. Matteo wasn't the Council, though. He very much wasn't, and what he also wasn't was young enough to believe in such ridiculous coincidences.

She'd had him killed. Somehow, she'd had it arranged. And for stepping over that invisible line, she would pay dearly.

"Patience, my friend. Nobody is letting her get away with anything, as you surely know. It is just not easy to get to her without muddying the waters. Speaking of that, though... there have been some exciting new developments." He opened one of his drawers and handed Joseph a big, yellow envelope.

With his eyebrow raised, the man reached inside, and-- "The fuck is this? Is that Inga?" A stunningly accurate observation, Matteo thought, but said nothing. It would have been hard to confuse her with anyone else, though he supposed he couldn't expect much from Joseph of all people.

"Inga Singedottir, yes. Look more closely."

Finally, recognition flashed in Joseph's eyes. "...That is Lenart's villa. That's where she is."

"Yes. See, Joseph, she already has gotten close to our Lady Lenart somehow." The rest of the photos proved it; all had been taken at a different time, and some of them even contained both women together. Needless to say, they did not look as if they were about to kill each other. Were they friends? Matteo couldn't tell, but it did prove that Lenart had some questionable tastes. Questionable tastes they could use, if nothing else.

"Remember dear sweet Inga, Joseph? She has never minded getting her hands dirty. It won't be hard to explain to her why she should return home, and why we expect a gift for welcoming her back. Always wanted to belong, that one."

"Inga's fucked in the head, though. The last time I spoke to her, she wanted to... what, become some kinda god? Utterly deranged."

As if you aren't fucked in the head yourself. And besides, that's an asset. Do you even think we could welcome her back, after she kills Lenart? Fools, all of them. Sometimes, Matteo thought he was the only sane one. "A Valkyrie. It's an important part of her culture, which you would have known had you paid any attention. Not that it really matters, though. Don't you want Lady Lenart's head? She'll give it to us, if we play our cards right. That, my friend," he pointed to the letter, "is why I'm writing this."

"Hm?"

"Oh... we need to prepare our playing field. Let Lady Lenart know just how sorry we are for the misfortune that has befallen her recently, and how much we apologize for the previous grievances."

Joseph glanced at the last couple words, and - as expected - erupted in laughter. "Wait, did you seriously invite her to a fucking feast?"

"This one is safe enough," Matteo said, cracking a rare smile. "Just wanted to see her reaction to that." And maybe let her know, in an underhanded way, that her little ivory tower wasn't as safe as she thought. It was usually foolish to tip your hand so early, but... well, had he even done that? Considering that the true danger would come from somewhere else entirely.
 
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Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
Supporter
Cassidy could see plenty of reasons for all the designs, and it made her wonder if she’d been more, well, human than Lilian ever had been. It was kind of sad in a way to consider, but the way Lilian responded to so many things that Cassidy thought of as small suggested that Lilian really had been sheltered quite a bit, in an atypical way.

Most were sheltered from the reality of vampires, and had whatever bedding they wanted.

Lilian knew vampires were out there, and was apparently sheltered from pretty bedding. How fucked was that? ‘Choice, they’re sheltered from choice, and the thinking that implies.’ Which was…pretty terrible. A pretty terrible that became more obvious as she responded that she had no idea about blood bags.

‘Oh….’ And did she think they always killed? No, it couldn’t be that, she’d offered her throat to Cassidy. “You know…even those that prefer the vein,” which was probably most of them, to be honest, they just adapted, “don’t often kill.” She took a long draught from her cup after that, and left it as she moved to where Lilian was.

Reached for Lilian’s hands, and smiled, “No, I don’t think you’re stupid. I think I figured it out, actually, with this…bedding stuff. You hunters…you’re sheltered from choice, and all the thinking that’s involved in it. I think that’s the best way to put it. To think of it. If you can’t see choices, then you’re not going to think anyone else has choices, especially not as elaborate as what kind of color to pick for bedding…and then thread counts, material, designs or no designs, minute alterations of the designs…if you’re not given these choices, how can you know they exist?”

She shook her head, and felt tears, “I don’t think you’re stupid, Lilian. I think…I think you just didn’t know. And that’s different from being stupid. Ignorance can be fixed.” Stupid, well – stupid couldn’t.

Realizing she had reached for Lilian’s hands, she let them go, and stepped back, awkwardly put a hand to the back of her head. “I feel kind of sad that I had more of a childhood than you. And seem to have more of a…well…human-hood than you.” How else to put it? “I didn’t know this about hunters, either.”

Was it all of them?

Probably not.

Was she able to feel a bit more sympathy for the assholes who killed her? Maybe.

“I really thought it was different for all of you. I mean, I understood why you always wanted to kill us boiled down to mistakes some vampires made, and a larger misunderstanding and miscommunication, but I didn’t realize it was…like this.” She gestured vaguely out, because what could she really gesture to that emphasized the size of how fucked Lilian’s situation was? “I wish there was a way to reach them and make them understand. But some of them…might be stupid.”

As in, not ignorant.

As in, aware. And willfully still doing these things. Like the…whatever it was they were doing to others that was making monsters of them. Bad time to bring it up? Probably.

~***~

Antonia still had no idea what Inga’s term meant. She was half-convinced it was insulting – but then again, when wasn’t she half convinced of unseen insults existing where they may not? That was fairly par for the course with the Roman, but when violence was involved, it wasn’t too difficult to overlook it, and keep trying to tune out the advice.

Well, until it became obvious it was genuine advice, at any rate.

Little by little, those tips weeded themselves in. Not for Inga, of course – but for Antonia, who did not want to disappoint, even more than she didn’t want to be disappointed. True, now victory was not so easily grasped with Inga aware of what she could do, and Inga having the years and experience over her – but it was there, those flickers of moments where it could be grasped, and Antonia enjoyed that chase.

Even if it meant losing.

It had to end, of course. Inga had to get home before sunlight. That Antonia had rooms was irrelevant; she wasn’t offering, and as the adrenaline faded (was it still adrenaline? Antonia didn’t know) she was left with the reminder she could have killed Inga when Inga grasped her hand and squeezed.

Antonia managed not to pull her hand away. This wasn’t an unusual discomfort. Petitioners were sometimes so bold, unaware of Antonia’s revulsion. It wasn’t as if it was something she could actively show, nor was it something that had always been present. Time changed much. What was now revulsion had been once beloved, simple touches among friends, or would-be friends.

‘And Inga is neither.’ It was a forced reminder as she merely nodded at Inga’s words of calling, not believing them at all. Inga would come barging in next time, with that stupid smile and that “My Friend!” nonsense. And Antonia would grin and bear it – well, bear it, at any rate.

“Good night, Inga,” Antonia dismissed, and left Inga to leave, deciding afterwards to send a message to Tristan about the little hunter girl. Well…she may as well get started on that, right? Although there was no rush put on Tristan, either. If nothing else, she could now claim it was in his hands.

“So….” Felix dared to interrupt her thoughts when she left her study, wounds still upon her skin that would heal in time. They didn’t bother her. “What, exactly, is Inga? I thought you hated her.”

Antonia scoffed a laugh at the question, “I do,” easily said, easily believed, despite the questions starting to arise to counter it – that Felix alone was asking was yet another question to the list, “Since when has hating someone ever stopped me from working with them?”

“Working is a bit different than sparring….”

“Not at all. Bread and circuses, Felix,” she grinned wickedly, even if she still heard Giannis’s response to that. Well. No, she didn’t. She thought it, but it was no longer in his voice. She didn’t remember how he sounded anymore. Just as she couldn’t say what color his eyes were. He was an indescribable color she’d know in a second…if she ever saw it, again. “Distraction and friendliness has its place in every scheme.”

Just as it did, not long after that, when a letter from Matteo arrived, penned in that exquisitely old-timey fashion, the gorgeous lines of his penmanship unmistakable. Antonia recognized it without the signature, and recognized the too fucking obvious trap in it. It couldn’t have been meant to be subtle, though.

A feast.

Apologies for mistaking her for so long about all the murders.

There was no apology. There was a promise that nothing was forgiven or forgotten, only now it was in her hands to decide how far she played the game, by accepting a feast on Veturia grounds or not.

Despite herself, she sent Inga a message with a picture of the message, and sent another to Amon.

Despite the many years of knowing Amon, there was still plenty Antonia wasn’t certain about. His response was one of them, and so when he didn’t reply to the text, she assumed he didn’t think much of it – or had forgotten. Amon was prone to look at something, do something else, and forget the text ever existed for weeks at a time. So, when Amon showed up at her doorstep, she was a little surprised – but not completely.

That was how Amon ended up in her atrium with the letter in his hand and a glass of chilled blood in the other, musing over the words with evident amusement. He was an interesting figure, though much of that ‘interesting’ was lost on Antonia by years of knowledge.

He didn’t look like a vampire. His skin was still nearly black, and his eyes a hazel-amber that had a way of reminding anyone who looked at it of the sun. Within the sanctity of havens he knew, he dressed as he liked, today being no except as the black-and-gold robe hung around him while he paced the atrium, shendyt worn as unselfconsciously as most men wore pants. To others, perhaps, he would have been a sight, a relic, but Antonia was long familiar with him clinging to Egypt as much as she clung to Rome.

“Well, you are certainly not in any danger if you go,” Amon noted as he finally relinquished the letter to float to the ground, and took a seat upon one of the lounges. “Is that what you wanted to know?”

“No,” Antonia leaned into the arm of her lounge, cheek in her hand, “I know that. Matteo’s not stupid. I wanted you aware. I wanted your advice.”

“You wanted someone to say it was fine to go since you couldn’t bear to tarnish your reputation by refusing,” his smile was impish, “and it is, of course. You’ll both receive the public acknowledgment of reaching out and making amends, and when more Veturia die, you’ll seem more innocent as you offer false tears and words.”

“The hunters are out of control here, that’s hardly my fault the Veturia have grown so brazen and arrogant with themselves.” Amon couldn’t know. But she also couldn’t force herself to outwardly lie. Omissions were key.

Amon waved it away, “You could have come to Tyr’s wake and avoided this.”

“I would have laughed.”

“So? I told Joseph he looked more alive in death than he ever had in unlife.”

“AMON!” Yet there was the trill of laughter in her outcry.

Amon laughed, “Oh don’t worry, I had tears in my eyes,” that impish smile remained, “I felt so sad that he’d only found something to give him life at the end, something dear Joseph apparently never could do for his sire.”

“You didn’t—”

“No, no, I was heavy-handed enough otherwise.” Amon relaxed, feline as ever in lounging, in play. “You should have seen Tyr, though. The kill was clean, he really did seem quite at peace, as if he hadn’t seen it coming. And it isn’t a lie that we look more alive in death. I think it begins to restore us to life since it severs us from unlife. Everything starts moving normally again…it’s not an unusual thing with Tyr. It’s quite fascinating, really. A shame they won’t preserve him longer, I would have liked to study it.”

“I’m sure they’d appreciate that.”

“Maybe the next one they’ll let me.” He shrugged, sipped at his blood. “You know, you can decline.”

“And suffer the fallout of that?”

“What, a few sheep bleating about your precious reputation, calling you unworthy of anything because you can’t forgive and forget?” his grin turned sharp, feral, “do you think I got here by giving a fuck what the sheep bleat?”

‘No, you got here by murdering our previous leader.’ Yet that, she approved of. Power after The Feast had been dictated by the Veturia, but never truly followed. When Amon murdered their figurehead, Antonia had finally been able to start making her moves.

“There is something to be said for having a reputation like mine.”

“Which one?” There was a teasing note, “The insane man who believes he’s a god? The pyromancer? The diviner? The one who walks in the sun? Or maybe the insane vampire who’s completely lost his shit and people only follow him out of fear?”

“Mmmm, I like the diviner today,” he sipped again at his blood, changed the subject, “You know, I don’t understand why you don’t drink it this way.”

“It’s disgusting.”

“And I’m the old one so traditional and held back.” He grinned, “You really should give it another chance. Add some ice,” Antonia’s face screwed up, “It’s like the kids and their iced coffee. You think it should be warm, but then you have it, and it’s mmm divine~.”

“Pass.”

“They won’t be serving warm blood at the feast.”

“Well, you know what they say about cold dishes,” Antonia lifted her goblet of warm blood, and sipped it down as Amon raised his in a similar cheer.

“It is funny though – it mostly is Veturia they target.”

‘I know you know.’ Antonia shut her eyes, but would still confess nothing. It was for his own protection. “They became too confident. That doesn’t change in a night.” Or ten years. A hundred years. Whatever excuse could be grasped, was always grasped. Although, somehow, it stirred another thought.

What if hunters attacked the feast?

Ah, but Michael would never go for that sort of risk. ‘Still….’ Drop enough hints to his chaotic hunters…maybe… ‘No.’ But maybe.
 

Syntra

Baba Yaga
It shouldn't have been like this. She, a hunter, sure as fuck shouldn't have been looking for absolution from a vampire of all things, but Lilian felt that the ship had already sailed. Like, a few days ago. Maybe the moment the vampire had stopped simply being a vampire, and instead morphed into Cassidy in her mind? Which had been easier than it should have been, given... well, all of that.

Then again, maybe it was also time to stop dwelling on those 'should have's. The god hadn't struck her down with his lightning yet, had he? There she fucking was, saying the worst things she possibly could, in the boldest words imaginable, and the only answer was... a resounding nothing. Silence, loud enough to deafen her. As far as Lilian could tell, he hadn't even withdrawn his blessing. What kind of god did that, upon being disrespected so openly?

(Was it even a blessing? Could it have something to do with the weird shit going on, instead?)

But then Cassidy started to talk, and all the thoughts of that dissolved into nothingness, with the huntress fully focused on what she was saying now. Sheltered from choice? "We did have one, you know," Lilian interjected. "I... guess it wasn't really what you'd call a choice, though." It was true that, when you raised an animal in a cage, the cage was all it knew, and everything else terrified it. Realistically, humans probably felt the same. What were they, if not animals with oversized fucking brains? "Most of us," as in, hunters, even if Lilian really wasn't sure whether she should be using that pronoun anymore, "grew up in the orphanage that hunters also run. You can probably imagine why we were parentless." Even if, according to Cassidy, vampires didn't kill all that often, some of them definitely did. Enough of them, judging by the numbers.

"And, really, we could have left when we turned eighteen. There were no penalties for that, but it just never occurred to me. I mean, where else would I have gone? All my friends stayed, too." Eugene, and Maria, and, yes, literally everyone else. There wasn't a single person who'd left them for... well, for a reason other than them being killed. That did happen relatively often; new recruits were a crapshoot, either dying relatively early on or not, and you really couldn't tell at all in the beginning which way they'd swing. Luck probably played a large part in it, in all honesty. How else to collect experience from which you could learn? Not by fucking skill, to be sure.

And, to be absolutely, one hundred percent honest? Lilian hated to be pitied, still. There were few things she hated more, and the unshed tears glistening in Cassidy's eyes should have been like a red rag to a bull. Maybe sympathy didn't necessarily trigger the same response, though? That could also be why it was so easy not to resent her touch, and instead squeeze her hands back. Cassidy was just... like that, she supposed. Easy to relate to, because you could tell she fucking meant it.

Stupidly earnest eyes.

Still, that didn't mean Lilian just had to sit there and take all of this, as if it made any sense.

"A step too fucking far," the huntress chuckled, and gently flicked her nose. (To release the tension? Because she just kind of wanted to? Honestly hard to tell these days.) "I am human, silly. Of course my experiences were human, just not what you had. That's also how humans work. It's never the same."

And then, after a while: "What did you have?" The huntress was curious now, despite knowing that asking probably wasn't a great idea. Not a lot of it could have been too happy, and seeing Cassidy unhappy... well, that was kind of like kicking a puppy. With a steel boot, too.

~***~

Inga didn't get mail all too often, so when she received two, she knew it was going to be a very special day. The first one arrived through mobile; the other the old-fashioned way. Feeling rather curious indeed, Inga even paused one of her tests to tear through the envelope, letting the pieces of paper fall on the floor.

Matteo? A rhetorical question, of course, because Inga knew damn well just who that obnoxiously perfect handwriting belonged to. Nobody in their right mind really used a quill anymore, either, and that eliminated pretty much everyone but him even before her eyes truly focused on the letters themselves. Heard I'm in the town, huh? Somehow, Inga doubted he just wanted to invite her for a glass of coldblood and chat about the good old days, when both their names had been all but synonymous with death. Matteo was just boring like that; all business, no play. Even back then, she'd been able to tell he'd climb the ranks easily, if only because he was all too eager to follow all those 'you must's and 'you cannot's. A born politician, though without any of Antonia's flair. What did you call someone who bent his back all too easily? Ah, yes-- a fucking coward!

Although, reading through that appeal?

Perhaps he did have a few unexpected jokes left in him.

The entire goddamn letter, for example.

Inga stared and stared and stared, grasping for something, anything, that made sense about this. Maybe a different message hidden between the lines? For someone so talented at connecting the wildest hypotheses together, she came up dreadfully short, and that was when she allowed herself to holler with laughter. Oh, Matteo. Never fucking change, you pitiful, pitiful bastard. Not that that was a real concern. The Veturia had even provided actual evidence, which Inga supposed was what happened when you forgot to pull your head out of your ass for too long. Tragic!

Reading Antonia's message only made everything fall into place, and it wasn't before long that Inga was revving up her - now fully functional! - bike.

But-- oh, yeah. She'd promised.

Wow, was that the first time she was going to call her? The call history did seem depressingly short, at a glance.

"Antonia, sváss mínn," she greeted with her usual cheer when the other woman picked up, "you got some time in about, what, ten minutes? Because I do. Matteo sent me a little something as well, and you're not gonna believe what it is!"

Oh, she definitely was going to believe that. Of that, Inga was certain.
 
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