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Realistic or Modern Moonlit Retreats [Closed]

Sub Genres
  1. Supernatural

Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
Supporter
Nose flick was not on the list of reactions Cassidy expected, and she reared back a bit more, more confused than anything as the new blood settled to warm her face. She wasn’t at all upset. It wasn’t as if it hurt or really bothered her, it was just a surprise. Her expression settled into a confused frown as she wiped the unshed tears from her eyes with the back of her hand and listened to Lilian explain that she was still very human – she just had a very different experience then the vast majority. Then what was, perhaps, expected.

Certainly different then what Cassidy expected, and she nodded, tight smile, as she went back to her cup to finish off her blood as if it were fruit punch. “I guess you’re right. It really isn’t ever the same, there are just some…similarities the television shows me.” Not that TV families were completely honest, but they had to be relatable, right?

Naturally, Lilian asked of her childhood.

She resisted the urge to swirl the remnants of blood in her cup when she glanced down, trying to figure how best to say it. She wasn’t ancient by any means, but what was normal then was still significantly different than what was normal now. Hells, public education wasn’t even dreamt of, really.

“So, I’m a bit over a century old,” she confessed, “and I grew up in America during it’s Wild West phase, not that we really knew that. My father had me traveling most of my life in his pursuit of gold. It wasn’t much of a childhood either. I grew up doing a lot of adult work to try and survive, since my father was delusional, and we still needed to eat, you know? Did a lot with cattle, met a nice cattle hand,” She brushed some of her dark hair behind an ear as she smiled up at Lilian, “Tried to escape it all by getting married young to said cattle hand and running away. Not my brightest idea.”

Not at all.

“I had more of my father in me than I wanted to admit, and I ran away from that marriage, too, just…looking for more. Ended up roaming around the States for a while before I settled in one of the large towns, befriended the wrong person, and got killed by vampire hunters for it,” she could chuckle at it now. Smile, even, as she shook her head. “Dumb luck that the vampire would feel some guilt for it and turn me to keep me alive and make amends, huh? But I still lived more than most did while I was human. I saw a lot…I’m still seeing a lot. I haven’t been here too long.”

She wandered, quite a bit. It was what she did.

The mutant mystery had kept her in the area longer than usual.

~***~

The call was unexpected, especially considering who it came from. Antonia answered, of course, and agreed she had time even though Amon was right there. That Inga received a letter from Matteo was interesting enough to excuse the literal leader of her clan from her villa, after all, and he’d understand.

Not like there was much more to discuss about the situation. She wasn’t about to ask Amon, hey, hypothetically, if hunters attacked the feast – how would we play this out? Although, his hypothetical answer would have been amusing, it was too much to say, too much to ask, and she could deal with the fallout.

After all, this wouldn’t go through Michael.

No, the wheels were already turning for her next visit to Gabrielle, how to drop the information on a bar full of drunk hunters. Where Gabrielle would have to blubber through an explanation of why a vampire was there, and why a vampire had the blessings of the god in her hand. Yes – it could work. A repentant vampire. Even if she had to drink it on the spot to prove it. Matteo’s face when his feast went up in flames would be wonderful.

Michael would be furious.

But these thoughts occurred in rapid fire as Antonia rose from her lounge, “I’m afraid I do have to ask you to leave, Amon,” Antonia said, a touch apologetic. “I have another guest arriving to discuss the Matteo situation. It seems she also received a letter.”

“Is this your new Veturia pet?’

Antonia blinked, startled. “Oh please, Antonia. If they know, why wouldn’t I?” He laughed, “I keep close watch on my own,” he glided towards the exit, and Antonia followed, “I knew something was going on here, but I didn’t quite know what. Let us hope it isn’t leading to a sliced neck for you.”

“No….” Not for her. “I’ll see you after the feast. I’ll call, something you should have done.”

Amon laughed, “Aaah, I see why you’re really kicking me out. I forgot to announce myself again.”

“Yes, yes you did.”

“Well, I will look forward to your call,” he emphasized. “I will be dying for the gossip.” Antonia just rolled her eyes at his exaggeration, and when they reached the door, the sound of Inga’s bike dying down could be heard.

Amon stepped out, of course, and lifted his hand in a wave to the vampire on her bike, “A lovely vehicle!” he complimented, his own vehicle not at all a bike, though he, too, had at least gone the way of motor vehicles and had a sporty white-and-gold vehicle. It wasn’t the sort of expensive thing Antonia had, no fancy import, but he didn’t care to spend too much money there. Horses, and so vehicles, had never been of great interest to him.

“Apologies I cannot stay to enjoy your company, Miss. It seems I was lacking in manners by not calling ahead as you did.”

Antonia just sighed, but her exasperation wasn’t fully sincere. It was hard to be honestly mad at Amon. Whatever fear others had of him, Antonia didn’t share in it. Oh, she knew what he was capable of – but when he was on your side, why be afraid? He didn’t respect those who cowered. He never had. It was how Tristan had earned his immediate friendship. Strange sorts, really.
 

Syntra

Baba Yaga
That Cassidy also watched the television to integrate a hint of normalcy into her life probably shouldn't have come off as a surprise, but somehow, it still did. Just how many weird parallels were there? "I fucking wish it was like the TV," Lilian sighed. "I'd always have a comeback and a sense of direction. A satisfying conclusion. Well, maybe not that, considering how shitty the shows have been lately, but you know what I mean." She had to. After all, wasn't it ridiculous? It really did feel like an elaborate joke at her expense; like the universe going 'oh shit, wouldn't it be fun to fuck with Lilian?' and then going out of its way to do exactly that.

(At the same time, though? She wasn't sure if she hated it, per se. Yes, losing everything she had ever known wasn't great, but living what seemed to be a fucking lie also didn't fill her with a lot of happy feelings. She wouldn't have known in the first place if not for Cassidy, to be sure, but... well, between knowledge and ignorance, Lilian liked to think she preferred the former anyway. Even if ripping that bandage off fucking hurt.)

But then it was time to listen to Cassidy's story, and the huntress shifted a little closer to her in order to... uh, she didn't know what, actually. Provide some emotional support? Probably not, considering how much she sucked in that department. To make it obvious she really was paying attention? Cassidy did at least deserve that, seeing as she was about to share something deeply personal.

Deeply personal, and, as it turned out, also utterly fucked. No surprises there.

Hunters killed her? Back when she was human? Something in her wanted to argue with the narrative, to protest that, no, it couldn't possibly be true, but she also knew in her heart of hearts that it could, and that it was. Cassidy wouldn't lie to her. Nothing suggested that she would; meanwhile, hunters had been lying to her for most of her life.

What should she say in response to that, though?

"Uh, that sucks." Duh? As if she didn't already know that! Lilian winced, internally cursing her brain for not being able to keep up with her big fucking mouth. Lilian vs. the world, 0:1! Or rather, Lilian vs. Lilian. Really, this entire fiasco was on her. "I mean, not all of it. The Wild West, that... must have been fun, if you ignore all the not-fun things. And the murder. Mainly the murder." You know, it really was a skill, what Cassidy was doing; reaching into that seemingly endless well of empathy and saying all the right things, at the exact right time. Sadly, it was also a skill that Lilian didn't have.

"Ugh, do me a favor and wipe that from your memory. Please. I suppose, what I really wanted to say before," before she'd made a complete idiot out of herself, "before I said that instead, was that, yeah, objectively it's not great. For both of us." She put her hand in her hair and released it, letting it fall down in long waves. Not her go-to thing, usually, but weren't they just going to chill? Should be fine enough for that. "But now we're here, and that's not so terrible. Well, okay, it kind of is," with the hunters and mutants and whatnot, "but maybe it won't always be. There's always... something new on the horizon, I guess." Could this possibly get more corny? 'Hold my beer,' Lilian's brain said, only to then produce: "And if it has to be like this, then I don't hate that I'm here with you." What!!! Immediately, blood rushed to her cheeks, and with that, a long-forgotten flight instinct reared its ugly head. How could she shut up now, though? That kind of shit demanded an explanation, dammit! "I know we don't know each other and such, but I really am thankful for everything. I won't forget that."

~***~

"And you, mister," Inga gave the stranger a thumbs-up, "have lovely taste. If you want a similar one, I thiiink there should be more of those left at the scrapyard I looted my baby from." Did she know the vampire was ridiculously powerful? Yeah, not like that could be easily missed. There was this particular aura that surrounded most of those who really shouldn't be fucked with, and you either learned to read it quick or died an infamous death. This guy was oozing it in spades. Now, did that scare her? No, not really. He obviously wasn't hostile, and Inga wasn't going to cower just because he could probably kick her ass, if he so desired to.

(If anything, that made her like him a bit more. Running out of potential foes to fight would have been a sad, sad fate, and Inga was ever-so-grateful that the world kept producing new threats.)

"Yeah, yeah, no worries! We can catch up later." ...Whoever you are.

But, back to the main program.

"Antonia, sváss mínn!" her face lit up, happy sparks dancing in her eyes. Immediately, it seemed, the stranger was forgotten. "How have you been?" Probably not too great, considering that Matteo had decided to ruin her day. The rest of her days as well, if he'd really meant the joke of a letter.

"I have to say," Inga said, once they were finally alone, "that I didn't expect him to lose his marbles in such a ridiculous way. I did expect him to fold under the pressure because, duh, pretending that you're not actually a joke can get pretty tiring, but for him to write something like this in all seriousness? Tragic."

With that, she reached into her front pocket and handed the letter to Antonia. It was a tearful, pathetic thing, full of drivel about everyone supposedly "missing Inga" and "wanting to see her again," but, see, "her loyalties have regretfully become doubtful" and they could really use a "proof that she hasn't forgotten her roots." And, to his great shame? Yes, Inga did remember. Mostly the things he didn't want her to.

It wasn't explicitly stated that he wanted her to off Antonia, though if you knew how to read between the lines, it was also clear who the thorn in their side was. "Thoughts, sváss mínn?" she grinned. "Would you like to die so that dear Matteo can pat himself on the back, or did you have something else in store for him? Of course, I'd be delighted to help."

If only to fuck with Matteo. Well, that, and also because Antonia getting hurt would be sad. So what? Sue her!
 
Last edited:

Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
Supporter
That sucks? Cassidy could only blow air out through her nose a bit harder in an effort not to scoff, snort, or outright laugh at the response. It did, of course, suck at the time. Now? Well, it seemed a blessing. She had seen so much change! Met so many people! Perhaps one day she’d grow into one of the vampires who saw this as more of a curse than a blessing – God knew her love of the sun and her longing for it, meant somedays it felt like that – but not yet.

She was still young.

Lilian tried again, speaking of things she didn’t quite understand, trying to offer something more than the obvious. And so, unable t really help it, she did begin to chuckle a bit at Lilian’s attempts to say something right, and failing pitifully, before she asked for it all to be forgotten and let her hair down.

And slipped right into words Cassidy couldn’t forget, with that rush of blood that suggested she also knew what she’d just said, and how it could sound. Cassidy’s laughter had already trailed off, so there was no abrupt stop to the sound. She just smiled, “I don’t hate that I met you, either. I hate how we’ve ended up here – well, how you’ve ended up here. I do. But I’m also glad I was able to reach you. I’m glad we’ll be seeing this through, together.”

Maybe saving some more people. Some other hunters.

“And really – don’t worry about needing to say anything about my past. I’ve had a long time to get over what happened,” obviously, “it’s kind of funny, in hindsight. Some of it. Not all of it. There’s still sore parts, but…every life has those, right?” she shook her head, still smiling, “I’m okay. I promise.”

And she moved away from the counter, blood drained, “Besides which, we need to do something about your hair, right?” a quick way to get off the sappy, emotional stuff, and she had already messed with her hair so the transition couldn’t be too awkward.

Although maybe Cassidy didn’t need to reach out and run her fingers over the waves of Lilian’s hair to emphasize the point. That not necessary hadn’t stopped her, though. “Then we can finish up your IDs and you can start paying rent!” A bit of a teasing note was in her tone, because of course, that wasn’t the hugest thing on their agenda.

But it was a hint of normality.

It was a hint that this could be a normal…for a while. “I’ve always wondered what having a roommate would be like.”

‘Wait, what’s that meme Tristan loves?’

And it hit her the second after she wanted.

‘Oh my god, they were roommates.’ She couldn’t even laugh at the thought, just try not to fluster with it and question even more why it was so easy to take Lilian’s hand, or touch her hair. Or anything else.

~***~

Still with that nickname. Antonia really needed to try and figure out what it meant, but so far she hadn’t yet tried to run it through any searches. It wasn’t as important as the letter she had received, after all, and that had come so shortly after Inga’s last visit, to tell her about the strange fluids that left her relatively unharmed by fire. She let Inga in, and strolled with her back towards the atrium she’d only just departed.

“Well,” was Antonia’s singular answer. Sure, Matteo’s letter was annoying, possibly a threat (definitely a threat), but it was of the more familiar variety, at any rate. Inga moved on to the point of her own letter, which Antonia took from her to read, wondering how much of a joke Matteo really was.

She didn’t need the letter translated, although Inga offered it anyways. ‘Well, at least I know subtlety isn’t lost on you.’ Not that this was terribly subtle. What else could Matteo be referring to when he started out with questioning her loyalties? There was only about one way to prove them.

“No, I do not care to die before Matteo,” she offered Inga back the letter, “but I have plans to meet him. I thought I would bring some friends along to the feast he’s so graciously invited me to. They’ll be a bit late, but I’m sure he won’t mind that.” Inga could figure out who she meant easily enough. It was only fair, considering the last feast she’d been unfortunately unable to attend.

No…attendance wouldn’t have changed anything. She knew that.

But they really couldn’t expect her to come to a feast without a gift, could they?

“I shouldn’t need your help with that, but if you want to play up any false intentions to murder me, you can do so. But, if I may ask,” and even if she may not, she was going to, “what is your personal history with Matteo?” Inga had given reasons for why she left the Veturia. Showing Antonia this suggested she had no intention of going through with it, unless it were some elaborate misdirection – always possible.

Yet, there had to be a reason Matteo wrote to her. Certainly, it meant a good history – or the Veturia were deluded. It wasn’t as if Antonia and Matteo had a good history, but they were about equal in rank where their clans were concerned, and no one beneath him could really expect to be heeded without a dismissal. They didn’t have enough weight behind their name for a refusal to be turned into something offensive.

Matteo did.

Unfortunately.
 

Syntra

Baba Yaga
Lilian Perry had never truly been alone. Strength in numbers, or something like that; that was why hunters lived together, fought together, died together. Often they were also buried together, for some fucked-up reason she'd never really grasped. The presence of other people thus wasn't something that you treasured, per se, because you got used to it easily, the same way you got used to the sun rising every morning. It just... kind of was, you know? And yet, when Cassidy said it, the word that began with t and ended with r - together - Lilian couldn't help but feel it was different somehow. She also couldn't help but smile.

"Yeah, together," she said. "And thanks. Obviously, I haven't really studied what to say to people when they... discuss their deaths? Or to people in general, in pretty much every situation," Lilian admitted with a sigh. "Good thing Tristan hasn't gone with the lawyer idea. Can you fucking imagine?" Even if the clients were purely fictional, the huntress still did feel some trace amounts of sympathy for the poor, poor souls that would be left at the mercy of her, uh, diplomatic skills. Unless punching the judge would work? Which she wasn't sure it would, even with her limited understanding of the law.

Now, whether what had happened to Cassidy was amusing was a whole another issue, and Lilian furrowed her brow. "Not my style of humor, I gotta say. Is it weird that I sort of get it, though? I mean, what you are referring to is next level," getting killed, that was, "but it sure as fuck wasn't funny when I got caught by a vampire while trying to sneak out on my first date. Now? My favorite story ever. It has everything: horror, action, romance. Fine, probably not really romance because she ended up ghosting me, but," she shrugged, "the idea was there. Plus, tragic endings do have that fateful vibe to it. Scorned heroines and such."

Then, all of a sudden, Cassidy touched her hair, and... yeah, fine, maybe her heart did skip a beat, or two. Because it was unexpected! No other reason. Duh. "I-if you want," Lilian stammered, once again feeling the damnable heat in her cheeks. "Man, I haven't done something like this in ages. I was just trying to keep it out of my eyes, mostly, but... well, I guess I do like it, in the end. Otherwise I would have cut it off."

No, discussing her hair wasn't what she'd imagined for this evening. What else was there, though? And Lilian knew she had to say something, otherwise there would only be silence and the sensation of Cassidy's fingers in her hair and, for some reason, focusing on that alone seemed nigh unbearable. Like, the kind of thing that would short-circuit your brain? If short-circuiting your brain could also be sort of nice.

"You're right, though," she reached for another topic, in the end. "I wish I could just... reach my friends and beat some sense into them. Not that I enjoy the idea but something tells me talking wouldn't work." See: fucking Maria. Fuck! It still hurt, the way she was so ready to believe a vampire had brainwashed her, rather than accepting there may have been something she didn't know about.

"We'd need something tangible."

~***~

Classic Antonia! Always had a plan, always knew what to do. Inga was half-convinced that if she told her that the aliens were going to attack the Earth within 24 hours, the other woman would have responded with a sigh and a blithe 'yes, that's what my anti-alien shelter is for.'

It was impressive, as well as slightly infuriating. Mostly just impressive, though.

(These days, Inga felt like she would do just about anything to see Antonia genuinely surprised. Would kissing her work? Briefly, she imagined running her hands through her hair and doing just that, but-- nah, not worth it. Not in the long run. It was precarious, the balance they somehow kept alive, and for all her fucking around, Inga knew there were lines that couldn't be crossed. Shouldn't be crossed, really. A daydream could easily turn into a nightmare.)

"Let me guess," she grinned, not letting any of her thoughts leak into her expression. "Friends who know how to make a grand entrance? Matteo's little tea party just got about ten times more interesting. Of course I will attend! After all, I haven't seen the poor dear for such a long time. It would be impolite to ignore the invitation."

Then, perhaps a little unexpectedly, Antonia asked her question. "Oh, Matteo?" Inga gave her a bright smile. "A comrade, a friend, a beloved leader. That's what he would say, anyway." But what was he to her, really? The definitions blurred into one another, and, strictly speaking, Inga wasn't all that sure.

'A fucking asshole' would probably work well enough, though.

"We worked together, Matteo and I," she finally said, after giving herself a second to think. "Saved me more times than I can count, and then doomed me some more. Used me, fed me lies. You know, the usual things!"

(They weren't, but the illusion of normalcy did dull the edges somewhat. This was to be expected, and therefore fine. The pain had stopped being pain long since, but Inga still couldn't say that she liked dissecting the corpse of that relationship. Or most of her relationships, for that matter. There were enough of them to fill a graveyard, and she just didn't feel like it.)

"What, afraid I'll run back to him?" she raised her eyebrow, her grin turning impish. "Please, Antonia. Why would I do that when I have you?"
 

Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
Supporter
‘Oh God, if Tristan ever finds out she has a history with women, too.’ It was a she that ghosted Lilian. Cassidy had her own mixed history of men and women even before turning; the woman had been a surprise in Salt Lake City, but not an unwelcome one. She hadn’t been sure of herself and what she felt then.

She was a bit more certain now, as language and openness came around.

Tristan was going to blow a fucking gasket. Best he not know. ‘Best he think we’re…roommates.’ She could only hate herself for that more, as her fingers finished going through Lilian’s hair, considering the texture with a lessening scientific view on it as Lilian fumbled through the reason it was so long now. She hummed agreeably – the length was good.

But it wasn’t one that could hold long before action was taken to change the strands.

Lilian grasped onto the topic of her friends, and Cassidy sighed, “I wish I knew what to tell you to help them,” but of course, she didn’t. She hadn’t been in a situation like this before, either. “Antonia and Inga had something,” frustration touched her tone at bringing them up. Some sort of Blessing – but how could that be turned against the hunters?

They probably knew about the blessing.

“Well…what do you all know and what can you guess might be evidence that could work?” Cassidy asked, “It seems you all know there’s a god that provides its blessings. It seems this blessing may be a curse. The only way I can think to prove that, is find a hunter they’ll recognize who’s…well, changed.”

She frowned, “That sounds difficult. And if they’re inclined to call it a vampire, like you did, possibly impossible.” What was to stop them from claiming a vampire turned a hunter out of spite, really? It happened. “Perhaps a log, if they’re keeping records?” Those who tried it. The amounts.

Maybe she was giving them too much scientific know-how for people who believed in faith.

“What…okay, I don’t mean to blaspheme, I’m a not so good catholic, but what…what is your god? Is it the same Christian god? I’ve never been clear….”

~***~

'Do you even have the proper attire?’ Antonia wondered if this was going to be turning into a surprise shopping trip to make sure Inga looked appropriate. Then again, that wasn’t her problem. She wasn’t the one who invited her. Matteo should know what to expect, shouldn’t he? He was paying close enough attention to know she and Antonia were chatting, after all. ‘But he doesn’t know what….’

In theory. That this could be an elaborate trap where Inga revealed the blackmail did cross her mind. Especially as Inga seemed to suggest she wouldn’t turn against Antonia. The Roman scoffed. “Please, Inga. Let’s not play innocent now. You are, after all, blackmailing me. The least you can do is own every bit of distrust I have for you.”

And understand that Antonia would kill her one day for it. Not that day, no, but the future wasn’t bright for Inga given her decisions. “There are plenty of reasons why you would join any other side to protect yourself. This could very well be an elaborate trick to reveal you’ve provided all my foes with the proof they’ve need for decades.”

Centuries, but who was counting? Besides, it amped up in recent decades.

“I’m at least willing to humor your resentment for Matteo may outweigh any decisions to play your hand that quickly,” Antonia noted, reaching the atrium and returning to her seat, “Your relationship with him sounds abusive enough to harbor enough of that delightful vindictiveness usually reserved for personal foes.”

Matteo was a nuisance, but he wasn’t that personal to Antonia. Marked, certainly, and marked highly for his position – but he hadn’t been so high back in the day. His hands were still dirty. “I may even request my friends leave him be, if you want the dubious honor of claiming his head.” She couldn’t help the wryness, even if it was also serious. She wouldn’t enjoy suggesting anyone be spared, but…well, she knew what it was to want something personally.

She knew what it was not to have the strength to take it.

Inga had that.
 

Syntra

Baba Yaga
Antonia and Inga. The two from before? Lilian's memory had grown somewhat hazy on the details, with much of that night having been consumed by sheer chaos, but she did, of course, remember Ms. Frankenstein and her inappropriately fancy sidekick. Or was it the other way around? Lilian didn't know, and didn't much care to get it right. "I'm not sure that I enjoy the idea of working with them," she frowned. "They seem like the types to... I don't know? Do shit I wouldn't want to do." 'Like the types to star in a fucking horror movie' would have been a more appropriate way to describe them, and if not for the whole conversation they'd just had, Lilian sure as hell would have gone for it. This was... her attempt to be more open-minded? The opposite of unthinking asshole? Yeah, something like that. It is true they saved us, she had to admit to herself. Maybe I'm just being biased? Not everyone could be a Cassidy, with her endless cheer and sunshine smiles, but that didn't mean that not-Cassidies of the world were all necessarily bad. Hell, she wasn't a Cassidy.

"But, yeah, not like we can afford to be picky," the huntress sighed. "Except, if memory serves well, they also aren't interested." Not that she could really blame them for that; after all, their track record so far hadn't exactly been stellar. They'd discovered - wait for it - a big whopping nothing! Aside from the fact that, yes, hunters were willing to kill their own.

(And that the same went for her. Once a hunter, always a hunter?)

"Well, yes," Lilian nodded, shifting around in her seat, "we do know about the blessings. Good luck convincing anyone that the shit is harmful, though. Do you even understand just how much the thing has helped?" No, most likely not. It took facing a vampire to really grasp it, ideally while not being one yourself. Obviously, Cassidy had missed her window for that. "It's... I don't know, it's complicated. Before the blessings, fighting vampires was like bringing a knife to a gun fight. Technically doable, but yeah, not great. Things feel a little more even now, and that little more is everything to some people."

Now, what Cassidy said next was more interesting. "Records?" Lilian raised her eyebrow. "I bet there are some. If there's anything at all I'm sure of, it's that assholes love their pointless fucking records. Gabrielle would have those, or perhaps Serafis?" It had to be said that stealing from the likes of Michael struck her like a supremely bad idea, though; the kind of thing you maybe entertained when you were high, thinking it could be a lot of fun, and then felt lucky about not trying the very next day.

Still, what other options did they have? Not like they'd bring them evidence on a silver fucking plate.

"I think we should pay them a visit," Lilian suggested. "The HQ, I mean. Listen, I know how this sounds," like assisted suicide, "but where else do you want to get those answers? I sure want to know what--"

Wait, wait, wait. A Catholic? A Catholic vampire? Alright, now she'd officially seen everything. The rest of the world could stop trying, because it sure as fuck wasn't going to top that. "And how is that working out for you?" Lilian blurted out, in her typical Lilian fashion. Ugh, shit! Could she please, please have her tongue surgically removed? Insulting what Cassidy believed in was just about the last thing she wanted to do, for fuck's sake. "I am not laughing or anything, I'm just... curious, is all. And to answer your question, I think it's supposed to be an aspect of the Christian god? One that only reveals himself to us. Honestly," Lilian shrugged, "I'm not sure if the stories are true. I mean, I haven't combusted yet."

She, clearly, was willing to blaspheme.

~***~

To protect myself? Is that what you think I'm doing here, sváss mínn? If Inga seemed amused in that moment, it was because she did feel that way, and perhaps more than she had in recent weeks. Yes, Antonia's assumptions were entirely logical - but only if you ignored that she operated with a different set of logical arguments entirely. Mainly, with life being of utmost importance.

(What kind of vampire unironically thought that? Time was the one thing they had too much of, in her opinion. That made it close to worthless. It was nice to be there and witness all those changes, to be sure, but there were only so many 'wow' moments you could take before, inevitably, going 'yawn' instead. Wonder wasn't a renewable resource.)

"I would not have blackmailed you if I believed you'd help me without that," Inga pointed out, as if it was the most logical conclusion in the world. In her book, it probably was. "Perhaps try being a little more charitable? That could lower the amount of blackmail in the future."

Yes, Inga very much was fucking around here. What did it matter, though, when she was also looking forward to finding out? More anger could only make it that much sweeter, in the end. That much more memorable.

"But you're right," she nodded, before sitting down on the other seat. "If I wanted to do that, it would have made sense for me to betray you. When have I ever made any sense, though? I will have you know that I take my nutjob aspirations very seriously, Antonia."

It was then that Antonia made her offer, and Inga's eyes widened in what was genuine surprise. "You... would do that for me?" 'But why' was the other question that was burning her on her tongue, though she also had to wonder if it was wise to ask it. In absence of the true reason, other reasons could be invented! Reasons that could never be true, but could, potentially, exist in that grey zone of 'maybe,' as long as never revealed the truth.

Pitiful, that that was what she'd been reduced to. Weirdly enough, Inga sort of liked it.

"And what would it cost me?" she asked in the end, ever the realist. "I could likely demand it as part of our deal," since Matteo's head definitely wasn't worth everything she had, "but let's say I want to play nice. You were kind enough to offer. So, what would you have of me, sváss mínn?"

But, speaking of requests: "Also, I suppose you don't have any formal wear I could borrow? I think I would like to look splendid for Matteo's big day."
 
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Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
Supporter
‘I’m not sure we have a choice.’ Although Cassidy wouldn’t deny Lilian’s suspicions about those two being the sort to do things that would make even her skin crawl. One didn’t get that old without committing…multiple atrocities. She was pretty sure things started clearing up around 500 years ago. She wasn’t sure if that was due to advancements, but it was popular belief that anyone over 500 years old were soaked in blood up to the neck.

And anyone older than Jesus could put the fear of a worse evil into the Devil.

‘You hunters seem to do pretty well with UV flashlights.’ Cassidy didn’t mention that. Or daylight in general. Of course, that was probably just against the rank-and-file vampires like her, who couldn’t afford security. If they wanted to take on the likes of Amon, they probably had to play on his field. At night, when he was out, and seemingly prepared for anything.

Which, it seemed her faith was going to be on the table for mockery, which only caused her to sigh – was this how Amon felt daily?

Just when they were on a good topic! “It works a lot better than believing I’m favored by a sun god, you know,” she couldn’t help but crack a bit at Amon’s beliefs anyways, “Trust me, you don’t want to meet that guy. I haven’t met him, but I’ve heard enough to never want to meet him.” Supposedly he could throw fire around. Supposedly, he had as short a temper as that implied.

Cassidy liked living.

“Is it really that strange? It’s not like going into a church burns me. I can’t really take eucharist anymore without vomiting it up, but I still go to confession once in a blue moon and hope that vampires were in His Plan,” she managed a smile, though it faltered, “It’s not easy, but even God showed mercy to Cain by protecting him as he wandered out, so why not us?” There were probably numerous reasons someone could come up with.

After all, people were denied salvation because of the color of their skin, according to some assholes out there. Some because of those they loved. Hell, once upon a time, infants were damned to hell if they weren’t baptized. God could be pretty messed up, depending on what you believed was true about Him.

Cassidy never quite knew what she believed, even with the Bible in front of her telling her what she needed to know. It didn’t exactly tell her what to expect about vampirism, werewolves, and all the other things she’d learned about since turning.

A chuckle, “Well, I guess your version of things would say it differently, huh? What are we in your stories – people who willingly damned themselves for eternal life?” It would be good to know what the other side thought, wouldn’t it?

~***~

Inga was right about one thing – the only sensible thing she’d done, if it could be called that, was blackmail Antonia. The rest of her actions really didn’t align with someone who operated on the sense of the head. Perhaps the sense of the heart, but even Antonia found that questionable, as someone who still operated on the whims of her heart. Given this entire vengeance scheme was because of her heart, she was only fortunate to have enough years of understanding she still had to operate with her head.

And a little heart.

Emotional pleas still worked in the vampire world. Why else would Tyr’s wake have been a thing, and Amon only too pleased with himself over bothering Joseph? At least Joseph had an easy out for doing much of anything for a while.

“Point.” Antonia conceded that, before it was her turn to be amused, although, in a way, she expected that. Inga took the offer of Matteo’s head as if she’d presented a feast and not crumbs. Truly, Matteo must be someone she hated in that strange way.

“Please, Inga. If I wanted something I would have started with that. Matteo’s death is a mutual desire. It matters little to me who kills him. However, if you want to help, you can make sure to wear my sword to this feast, since I…ah…if I were to do such a thing myself it would raise too many alarms. I imagine it isn’t unexpected for you to show up with a few weapons.” She probably seemed naked without them.

“Well, and to keep this letter of yours,” she smiled, “It’s not directly incriminating, but there’s a chance the feast will be used against me if anyone survives, and Amon could use a copy of it,” so could she, but she’d put it into Amon’s safe keeping.

If she didn’t survive and Inga did, she could trust Amon to at least apprehend the one most likely for her death. Or find out what happened and do his own blackmailing, “That was the man you saw earlier, in case you didn’t realize it,” she tended to assume everyone knew Amon, but that wasn’t true.

“As for attire…I have nothing in your size, I’m afraid. Likely nothing in any style you would appreciate, besides that. I’m sure the local mall has something,” not that Antonia wasted much time on that. For years, she had her own clothing made, and she continued that tradition.
 

Syntra

Baba Yaga
Favored by a Sun God? Pardon her French, but what the actual fuck? Though perhaps it wasn't that strange, considering there were also Catholic vampires and cosplaying vampires and vampires who took Mary Shelley's fantasies way too fucking seriously, among others. Clearly, Hollywood had failed to capture their true diversity. "I have no idea who you're talking about," Lilian said, "but yeah, I don't think I'd like to meet that one. He sounds too crazy to also not be like, crazily powerful. I'm not sure why it's always somehow true, but it is. Maybe because they'd be killed if they were just loonies? So they fight their way to the top of the food chain so that they can be loonies in peace."

Of course, the conversation was going too smoothly for her to not fuck it up. "No, I..." the huntress inhaled sharply, "...I didn't mean it that way. It just surprised me, is all." But, the more Lilian thought about it, the more it made sense. If Cassidy had been a believer in her pre-vampire life, why would it change? It could, though it didn't have to. Not necessarily. Updating one's beliefs to the latest version of reality wasn't always easy, nor was it even needed. After all, it was her understanding that, when people weren't asking god for help against vampires, what they wished for was usually some kind of solace. Some kind of hope. A reassurance that, no matter how fucked things seemed, there was a point to it, at the end of the day.

Why would Cassidy not want that, just because she wasn't human anymore? Vampirism didn't fucking turn you into a robot.

(Also, shit. It only took about three seconds of being on the opposite end of what was Cassidy looking at her as if she'd just drowned her beloved kitten for Lilian to decide that she never wanted to experience that again.)

"I'm sorry, okay?" she bit her lip. "That, yeah, that was thoughtless of me. I don't know, it's just hard to imagine you guys doing... all those normal things, I guess. Which isn't your fault. I'll have to," she knocked on her forehead, "restart my brain. It's a fucked up thing, though, so it may take a while. But, Cassidy, that doesn't mean I wanna be rude or hurt you, or whatever. Because I don't." Aaah, corny alert! Maybe she really was restarting her brain, but in ways that made it perform worse? That would explain a lot of the weird mental blips she'd had recently. That, or perhaps Cassidy's earnestness was contagious.

"Feel free to smack me when I'm being ridiculous, yeah? I can take that." But Cassidy's next question kind of required for her to slip back into that ridiculousness, and Lilian winced.

"Something like that. It's also more complicated, though? I wasn't paying that much attention in the church," because duh, boring sermons, "but essentially it's... seen as a curse. And when you're cursed, you need to be put out of your misery no matter what. I don't know that they think you're asking for it," or at least not always, as hunters had been turned against their will before, "but once you have it, you stop being you. Bloodlust takes over. Some likely think they're saving you from yourselves?" Lilian had seen that angle before, and deemed it ridiculous. Now she thought much the same, though for different reasons.

"I don't think you need it, though."

~***~

Alright, so both of them wanted Matteo dead. Very relatable, if you asked her! But, bear with her for a second: wasn't this still Antonia making a gesture that she didn't have to make? Doing something nice for her enemy? She could have killed him herself and laughed in her face, or ignored her, or done about a million other things that weren't humoring her. Instead, what Inga got was... this.

A kindness.

She wasn't complaining, but it sure did feel suspicious. A step away from what they were, and a little closer to what she maybe wanted them to be.

A dangerous thing, considering just how hopeless that idea was. But, hey! Might as well enjoy the ride, right? Before she inevitably crashed and burned, the way stars always did.

(Or were those meteors? Inga supposed she could also call herself Icarus, if she wanted to be really pretentious about this. There was a good metaphor about vampires and the sun in there somewhere, it seemed, though she didn't much care to dredge it up.)

As always, her lips curled up in a cocksure smile. "Oh, it will be safe with me. I will guard it like I would my own heart, sváss mínn." Again, not terribly subtle, but you really did get away with all kinds of things when you were, as she'd put it, an aspiring nutjob. Freedom in madness, or freedom from madness? You could only really have one. Inga had picked her poison years ago, and was more than willing to choke on it now. "Keep the thing, too," she waved her hand. "But - wait, that was Amon?" That did get through her armor of indifference, though it also had to be said that she recovered rather quickly. "Seems like a nice enough sort! Will you send him my regards?"

Of course, nice enough sorts were the worst. Matteo himself was 'nice enough,' according to almost everyone. In her experience, 'nice enough' was a code word for 'too smart to get caught not being nice.'

"Fair," Inga sighed, because duh, that was obvious in hindsight. And then, carelessly, stupidly: "How about you join me for the trip? I don't know what kind of thing I should wear for this, and that would mean undue attention. Don't you want to help me with that, Antonia?"
 

Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
Supporter
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure Amon’s murdered his way to the top, I’m not even sure that’s a secret,” Cassidy wasn’t even sure it was true, but she doubted anyone would say otherwise. That was the thing about being on top. The thing with her sire, too. Oh, he was nowhere near as old as Amon, she didn’t think he broke 1,000 years – but it hadn’t been a bloodless rise. One didn’t become Head Bitch In Charge of Vegas by not murdering a few people.

And a lot of luck.

But there was little need to dwell, or even bring up her sire right then.

Faith was on the table. Likely, Lilian’s slowly losing faith, and Cassidy’s strange, steadfast faith.

And Cassidy sighed, “I know.” She did understand Lilian understood next to nothing about vampires. She really had been fucked up by this group. She would have to get used to saying ‘I know’ and not feel exhausted by it. Of course, Lilian was going to have to grow, and that couldn’t be expected in four days, especially since this was the first one she was actually, really, better.

“I’m not going to smack you over it, Lilian,” she said, “I get it. And yeah, at some point I’m probably going to be tired of getting it, but so long as you keep learning,” and changing, a little, “I’ll manage. And you’ll manage. Just…when you hear vampire, maybe just think ‘really old person’ – because I think that fits. Some of us go a bit crazy, but so do old people,” dementia and Alzheimer were sadly common among human elderly.

And vampire elderly…well…sun god said it all.

“Those teachings make sense in the larger scheme, though. It explains why they’d turn on their own, if they figured it was a curse and they couldn’t escape becoming a monster. Like…like zombies, I guess.” Shame they were turning themselves into literal monsters to do it. “But I appreciate that you don’t think I need saving. I still think I do…but not from this,” existing.

She’d die when she died.

But she was going to try and live until then. And hopefully not become as fucked up as Amon and start believing she was the Second Coming of Christ. Christ the Cowgirl. ‘Oh god no.’ She needed to burn that image out of her head, before her mind went too far with it.

“We’ll try to save them, though. So…tell me about this HQ. What are you thinking?” It couldn’t be as easy as waltzing into the place.

~***~

‘What does it MEAN?’ Antonia’s mind was still raging at her to know what that damn word? Words? Whatever it was that Inga was calling her. It sounded like two words, but she wasn’t certain, the way she spoke it was far different than the way she spoke English, which wasn’t a surprise. Anyone speaking their native language spoke it differently than a learned one. Even learned languages were often spoken different from other learned languages.

She continued to ignore it. Inga had agreed to these miniscule terms, which meant Antonia got to keep a weapon near, and Amon would be aware of things and prepared to deal with the fallout when hunters attacked the feast. ‘He’ll know. He already knows.’ Antonia did want to tell him, as much as she didn’t.

It was enough that he probably knew, and continued his feigned ignorance.

“Yes, that was Amon. He is my oldest friend,” a strange sorrow hit as she wondered if he could say the same, driving home just how many were killed that day. Amon had likely lost more in a way, given he’d been around longer. Had known everyone, therefore, longer.

Antonia did not want to be Amon’s oldest friend.

Younger friends were only too easy to have, although Antonia couldn’t say she had made many new friends since the feast. She was always paranoid. Suspicious. And every time she’d stumbled – she found a reason to sabotage it. A reason to dislike the other person, enough not to get close.

Inga had already made it painfully easy to keep her at a distance. “I’ll offer him your regards,” she moved to fold up the paper and set it aside safely, and sighed as she was asked about finding proper attire. “A dress, I would presume,” Antonia noted, “do you really need my help to find something nice?”

Probably.

Not the point. She didn’t want to. She wasn’t too concerned about Inga and undue attention – it was more likely she’d cause a stir in something too nice. “Besides, you know their expectations of you better than I do. My help couldn’t improve it.” It also couldn’t be this easy to get out of helping Inga, and she knew it, but she had to try.
 
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Syntra

Baba Yaga
“I can also just smack myself, you know,” Lilian offered a quick, grateful smile. “And you cannot stop me. It’s called negative reinforcement. Real good for fucked up brains.” She could tell from experience that it did work, though perhaps the things that had been getting reinforced for her weren’t always the best. That she was actively abandoning most of them now also spoke volumes. “But no, I… I can promise you I’m gonna try. I’ll probably fuck up, but I do want to get right. So I’ll make an effort.” Wow, communication! Had it always been this simple? Perhaps, though now that Lilian thought of it, she didn’t really remember anyone talking to her the way Cassidy did. With most of her friends, it had been quick, fun jabs, not meant unkindly but also not super transparent. Often, you couldn’t tell what the other person was thinking. Probably not anything bad, but how could you really know? And with people who weren’t her friends… well, your average drunken fist fight was probably less aggressive.

With Cassidy, it was easier. Like, dunno, like having to scale a scary-ass mountain, but also knowing the support ropes were there.

Ugh, wasn’t she becoming the queen of corny?

“Really old people,” Lilian repeated, with a slight frown. “Well, that sure does make me feel more heroic. You know, murdering pensioners and the like. I… suppose it probably isn’t a bad comparison, though?” Not at all, especially considering Cassidy was a little over century old. Mind-blowing, even if she did understand on the rational level that that was probably young, as far as vampiric standards went. A lot of those fuckers had been around for millennia. “But I’m not gonna say it isn’t weird to accept. I mean, you don’t look old.” Cassidy definitely didn’t. If someone asked her, Lilian would probably guess she was around her own age; in her twenties, more or less. That she wasn’t bad-looking at all further complicated the who—wait, what?

Alright, shoving that thought away.

“Yeah, it… helps you kill them without really worrying about it.” Couldn’t have something as pesky as ‘conscience’ interfering, now could they? Lilian could sort of see how it was impressive from that standpoint, though she obviously didn’t appreciate being one of the suckers to swallow the story.

“Right,” she shifted in her seat, “the HQ thing. This is going to sound stupid,” because it fucking was, “but I’m not thinking of anything too sophisticated. I mean, not like we have the resources to pull a Leverage-tier heist off. I just know how things work, more or less? There honestly aren’t that many people around during the night, because hunters are out hunting,” or drinking their sorrows away. “I also don’t think they would be looking for me there. I mean, what kind of idiot would return on her own when she’s wanted by the entire goddamn guild?” Lilian Perry, apparently. “And people see what they want to see. For example, I know that I have never looked properly at our cleaning staff in my entire life. They have uniforms, so they kind of blend in. So, if we manage to get our hands on those… you see what I’m getting at? They also wear like, caps, so if they don’t look at me too much, I shouldn’t be that recognizable.”

And then, because that absolutely had to be said: “You don’t have to go with me, though. I get it if you don’t feel like entering a lion’s den.” It would have been nice to have Cassidy there as support, though it was also true that the fewer people went, the less noticeable things would be.

~***~

“Must be nice to have old friends,” Inga said, somewhat wistfully. “They pair well with old enemies.” She herself only really had the latter, with most of her current friends having been acquired rather recently. Half the time, Inga wasn’t even sure how those relationships had happened in the first place; one moment, she was making fun of them, and the other she was in their apartment holding their hair as they vomited their guts out because, dammit, KFC smelled good. It was one of those things that came with living, she supposed.

(Of course, she had no delusions about those new friendships turning into old ones. It was a well-established tradition that her mannerisms eventually got on people’s nerves, even if they hadn’t initially been a problem. Too much Inga-exposure seemed to breed resentment. And even if it didn’t… well, what would the point of that be? Considering that she never planned to stay anywhere for too long, or even to keep in touch. Not like there was much to talk about, without the spontaneity of the moment.)

Still, she was glad Antonia had someone like that. It clearly didn’t help much with the whole ‘unhappy’ thing, but not everyone was made for the lone wolf life.

She also probably wasn’t, though nobody had really asked. You either dealt or you didn’t, and because she somehow kept staying alive despite placing herself into all those SituationsTM, a sort of acceptance had come with age. It wasn’t even that bad, once you adjusted your expectations.

That it wasn’t really good was a whole another issue. And, hey, distractions helped!

Now, did it shock her that Antonia didn’t, in fact, want to tag along? Not at all. Similarly, Inga guessed it wouldn’t shock Antonia that she was about to start arguing with her entire premise very hard. “A dress?” she chuckled. “Me? Come on, sváss mínn, this isn’t the Middle Ages. I think I’d look way less ridiculous in a suit. I mean, have you seen me?”

Inga honestly hoped she had, even if the thought was also a little terrifying.

“And geez, Antonia. It will be…” fun, she almost said, though realized quickly enough that was probably a con in Antonia’s book. “…a disaster if you don’t help. They won’t even let me inside. I mean, yes, I do know them, but have you read the letter? Clearly, our expectations for one another haven’t matched for a while. And it’s not like I was even invited to fancy events back then.”

Well, save for one. Etiquette had mattered very little, there.

“We can discuss strategy while shopping, too. Changing the scenery can bring fresh ideas to mind.”

Why was she even trying so hard to get her to go? Oh, right – maybe Inga did want to know what kind of dress (suit?) she would prefer her in. For reasons.
 
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Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
Supporter
‘There is only going to be positive reinforcement here, and positive only.’ Cassidy frowned as Lilian spoke of the negative. Then frowned at herself, internally, for thinking in what she associated with dog and animal training. Lilian was more than that, and she could reason things out, as she kept doing, out loud.

Like talking about killing pensioners. It made Cassidy chuckle, “Okay, maybe that was a bad example,” but it had been the first way she thought to humanize them, forgetting the additional physical feebleness that came with age for humans. She knew it, but as she’d never experience it, it became less and less a concern.

Although, of course, that wasn’t meant to make Lilian feel heroic.

Cassidy didn’t want her feeling heroic for killing vampires, even if she also didn’t want her…well, to feel depressed. But she did need her to feel bad, to recognize there had been something fucked up in what she did. It was a quandary, to want Lilian to feel bad but not…dwell and let it fuck her up even more.

So, she wouldn’t make any additional comment on that to try and avoid it.

Besides, there was the HQ thing to consider. Apparently the plan was to…walk in. Yeah, that didn’t fix Cassidy’s frown at all. Besides, Cassidy knew she had a point. People really only did see what they wanted. If she was in the uniform, they might just see her as a random employee. Strange they didn’t hire better help, but humans were that way.

So were vampires.

“No, no, I’ll come,” there was hesitance, but she was still determined to go and help, considering they needed information if they wanted, well, more information from Inga and Antonia. “We just…want to make sure it’s the best time. Like is there a particularly slow day?” Sunday, maybe. “And maybe get you some fake glasses,” to help mask her further than what they’d do with her hair. At least Cassidy didn’t think she could be recognized, except by Maria, and Maria would recognize Lilian long before she figured Cassidy out.

~***~

Antonia couldn’t help but arch a brow at Inga’s protest of a dress. Oh, now she wanted Inga in a dress. Partially to spite her. Partially to prove her wrong about her own view of herself. A dress could look quite good on her. A halter, or an asymmetrical neckline, possibly even a Grecian cut at the top….

‘Or throw her in something with wide straps and make her hideous.’

Antonia quickly shut off all thoughts. She shouldn’t care enough about what would be flattering on Inga. It didn’t matter.

Inga did have a point about her and the Veturia not seeing eye to eye, though Antonia could only roll hers, “Please, they think you’re there to kill me, they’ll let you in wearing anything and pretend to like it,” still, Antonia knew she wasn’t getting out of this. That had been too much to hope for. “But fine. We can go tomorrow, most of the stores are closed now. I’ll show you that you can manage a dress just fine.”

It would also give Antonia a little time to research where to go, so hopefully they weren’t there too outrageously long. The less time Antonia spent in a store, the better. People annoyed her in retail. They didn’t understand the crafts of the things they were selling, made even worse by large department stores. A mishmash of teenagers who knew nothing.

Antonia did miss the Middle Ages somedays for the ease of finding experts.

And for the difficulty of travel, that kept people away from her – but the evening resolved itself well enough. When Inga left, Antonia dropped off the letter with Amon, who seemed…significantly disappointed with Matteo. Angry. However, he didn’t change his advice about going, and Antonia didn’t mention she had any guarantees besides what Inga said.

She also offered Inga’s regards, which caused Amon to laugh and mention some show he had watched. Something that also had a brutal feast, apparently. Antonia hadn’t seen it; the fact it amused Amon also made it unlikely to ever be watched, not that Antonia was huge on watching television anyways.

Then, it was a quick drive to the Neon Moon, and meeting with an agitated Gabrielle who hadn’t expected her, or her excuse of wanting to try the God’s Blessing because it got broken when the hunters attacked. Antonia didn’t know if Michael spoke to Gabrielle or not – she had a feeling he did based on her mannerisms and pointed courtesies, but it still got her the vial, and Antonia still made sure to make the fatal slip of stepping out the door and into the bar, rather than take the exit.

To say the reaction should have stopped the jukebox from playing was an understatement.

Gabrielle was ashen with fear as hunters turned their attention and saw a vampire stepping out of one of the Higher Ups offices. Several were more than a little buzzed. It was nearly 2am, after all.

As for Antonia, she made sure to look surprised with her own screw-up (that wasn’t a screw up), and when a hunter rose from their stool, she held her hands out. “Mercy,” she shifted her presence. Not awe-inspiring. Pity. Worry. “I’ve been granted the blessings of your God. I ask mercy.”

“What blasphemy is this?” One of the drunken ones roared.

“It’s—it’s true,” Gabrielle had to save her own hide, “she’s been giving us information to destroy the others, and has been seeking absolution.”

“Yes. I was telling Michael about a feast that was coming up, only he didn’t think it would be possible to handle it.”

Drunk hunters were bold hunters. Antonia soon had them eating out of her hand, angry at Michael for doubting them, and willing to go prove themselves. Gabrielle was forced into the secrecy until after when they came back victorious, and Antonia was able to walk out without having to so much as sip the drink.

Michael was going to be furious, but Antonia didn’t care.

Things were going downhill anyways.

The next night, she pulled up to Inga’s in the burgundy car, the vial in the passenger’s seat for Inga to collect as she sent a quick text that she was ‘here’.
 

Syntra

Baba Yaga
Slow days? Oh, if fucking only. "I wish I had that kind of info," Lilian shook her head, "but nobody really does. I mean, there are planned operations, but a lot of what happens is a spur-of-the-moment thing. As a hunter, you just... patrol the streets. Sometimes nothing happens for a month, and then it's a nonstop nightmare for the whole fucking week. And even the planned operations don't tend to happen on a specific day. The higher-ups simply choose the most convenient date." The most convenient date, of course, referred to their targets being where they needed to be. Those times tended to be completely random, because duh, vampiric schedules were as unpredictable as those of humans.

Worse still, you usually didn't even know about an operation you were not part of, unless your buddy was going and shared it. 'The need-to-know basis,' it was called.

In other words, they were shit out of luck here. Or were they?

Lilian took a deep breath. "I... guess I could probably ask," she said, in the end. "Don't look at me like that, I haven't lost my fucking mind. I also have friends who are not Maria, and if I play my cards right, I could make it look like I'm planning to meet them." That came with its own risks, of course. They had been blowing her phone up, though that didn't necessarily mean they were doing it out of concern. The Maria incident had pretty much cured her out of any naivety in that regard, but... Deana hadn't betrayed her, had she?

(Not yet, anyway.)

"I'll be careful," she promised. "If it looks even slightly like a trap, then we won't go, but I feel like I have to try. Otherwise, it will be a pure shot in the dark." And then, because Cassidy really deserved to know all the facts here: "Listen, there's a... a woman. She's the closest thing I have to a mother and really helped me out when I was, uh," out of commission, "dealing with stuff poorly. I've told her a lot of things, which has never once bitten me in the ass. I could try with her? If it doesn't work out, we'll see what else we can do."

And because there truly weren't many other options there, Lilian found herself standing in the sunlit street the next day, already regretting this decision with every fiber of her being. Yes, she'd listened to the messages by now; yes, they'd broken her fucking heart.

(Deana shouldn't have to be going through all that. What she deserved was to find a different pseudo-daughter, one who was a little less fucked up and a lot more prone to following the rules. Then again, Lilian also kind of thought that may have been the entire point? Deana's fucking savior complex.)

What should I even say? Such were her thoughts when she dialed the all-too-familiar number in one of those ancient phone booths, feeling like a shitty secret agent on a doomed mission. Naturally, Deana picked up far too quickly for her to really gather her thoughts.

"...Hi, Deana," Lilian said, weakly. "I'm alive." No names would be dropped until she knew the other woman could talk, but it wasn't like that was even strictly necessary. Deana would recognize her voice anywhere.

~***~

Yay, victory! Although, to be quite honest, Inga also thought Antonia was biting off more than she could reasonably chew, here. "Oh?" she arched her eyebrow. "Sváss mínn, I have tried wearing dresses in the past. None of those attempts ended in what I'd call success." And, really, she had lived with her body type for quite a while now, meaning she had had a lot more experience with it than Antonia had. What was next, her trying to explain to her how to braid her hair properly? Oh, please.

"I don't think you can do it," Inga challenged, fully aware that it was, in fact, a challenge. That also meant she 100% wasn't getting the suit she'd wanted, but maybe it would be worth it? If only to see Antonia fussing about a) none of the dresses looking even remotely good on her, b) her being right.

(Inga happened to be right more often than most people would have liked, and that continued to be a source of endless frustration for them. Indeed, she was looking forward to Antonia having to deal with that bitter truth.)

"I'm willing to bet almost anything on that," she continued, further digging her own grave. But, hey! Wasn't that why she had her collection of fancy shovels? "If you actually manage to find one that won't make me look like an ogre, I will..." ...Kiss you? No, it had to be appealing to her. That was kind of how bets worked. "...Uh, do one thing you want? No questions asked."

The rest of the night passed quickly, as well as the rest of the following day. Mostly, Inga was tinkering around with the remaining samples, though her mind did wander to the plans that she had with Antonia occasionally.

Damn. How long had it been since she'd had plans with someone? And with someone like Antonia, for that matter?

It was pathetic, the butterflies in her stomach, but Inga also sort of liked it. Small pleasures, right? Once the big pleasures had gone, those were pretty much all that remained.

Ever punctual, Antonia showed up on time. "Antonia, sváss mínn!" Inga grinned, sitting next to her casually. (This really would have had that date vibe to it, if not for the whole blackmail thing. That, and the inevitable murder. Oh well!) "I hope you are ready to lose tonight," she gave her a devilish smirk. "Really, I won't laugh at you at all if you warm up to the idea of a suit again. Even the best of us are wrong sometimes."

Unless you happened to be Inga, of course. Inga was always right.
 
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Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
Supporter
Cassidy did think Lilian had lost her mind, a bit, to even think of calling another hunter to try and get information about something or make plans to meet them anywhere. Even if it was a ruse, Cassidy didn’t like it. Still, she listened as Lilian talked about this maternal figure, and sighed. “All right,” it wasn’t like they had many options. “Just be careful, and make sure they can’t track you.”

Which meant nothing too near Cassidy’s house, and nothing that would hint at where she was living…possibly even how she was living. The fact Lilian planned to do it in day helped. Still, Cassidy fretted when she left, and tried not to pace the apartment.

Did that work?

No, and she ended up pacing the apartment.

Waiting.

‘Please be okay.’ Not only physically, she knew, she didn’t want this to be so hard that Lilian broke down, all alone, on the phone or off the phone.

‘Please stay sensible.’
The hunters could lure her back. Lilian could now try to trap her, but that wasn’t her worry – her worry didn’t turn to herself, half as much as it turned to Lilian becoming another pawn, to be mutated.

‘Please come back.’

~***~

Deana’s calls to Lilian had tapered off, but they hadn’t quite ended. There was too much chaos for them to continue on at that rate, and so much more to do. She had become aware of the operation against Matteo, information dropped apparently by a so-called repentant vampire. Gabrielle was stressed, not over the operation, but keeping it from Michael.

It was going to explode as soon as it was out, but Deana did her best to shelter Michael from the information, and try to equip those foolish hunters as best she could. There was no reasoning with them. They were drunk on a high of taking down several millennia old vampires. ‘It’s a trap, can’t they see that?’ No, of course not, because there was a VAMPIRE that GABRIELLE gave the god’s blessing to!

What was even going on?

Deana wasn’t entirely unaware that sometimes shady shit had to happen. She had been a part of some of it, but this threw her off-kilter, and so it was in this stress haze that she saw an unknown number call come through. She nearly dropped the phone, but managed to fumble it to her ear, “Hello?” the voice was immediately recognizable. “Lilian?” the sigh escaped her, relief and worry in one, “Where are you? I can pick you up, we can get something to eat…,” she hoped that was what this call was, a desperate outreach, but she knew it very possibly wasn’t. Despite how Lilian sounded (and that worried her – she sounded so uncertain), she could very much not be looking to come back.

~***~

‘You can delete all evidence you have against me.’ Antonia knew that wasn’t the kind of favor that she could ask of Inga for a mere dress, but her insistence that nothing could be done for her was ridiculous. Clearly, she’d never tried very hard if she thought any dress would make her look like an ogre, or her idea of dresses were also stuck back in the Middle Ages, which admittedly didn’t offer as much.

Modesty rules and all.

Still, Antonia had been thinking about it during all of her errands, and when Inga showed up in the car still insisting it couldn’t be gone, Antonia once again met it with deafness – and deftness of hand as she had to move the vial to stop it from being crushed by Inga, who didn’t look. She dropped it into Inga’s lap, though. “For you,” so she could experiment some more. “Perhaps try it on a human and see what happens. I’m sure you have access to plenty of those who won’t be missed in this area.”

Antonia wasn’t exactly someone who cared a great deal about such things as that. Morals of that nature went out the window a long time ago. Somethings required sacrifice. Non-voluntary sacrifice, although Antonia found many could be swayed to it with promises of wealth for them, or their family.

Inga probably wasn’t the promising wealth sort.

Antonia had already decided she was going to have to buy the damn dress since Inga would protest just to get out of wearing it, no doubt.

The mall, so known as the West Willow Mall, because for some reason they all had to be named after nature even if they were anathema to all things natural, was a bit of a drive from Inga’s home, but they came upon it soon enough, humans still milling about, parking lot still full.

Antonia could already feel the headache coming on as she parked. “We’re going to try Celestine’s first,” Antonia told Inga, “A quick look at their website made it seem they would have styles that would suit your body type, but I won’t have a true idea which is best until I start seeing how they fall on you,” although her gaze would rove over Inga again, trying to see through what layers she did wear, analytical, more than anything else, though she’d been told before that gaze could make people wonder.

There was a hunger behind any ambition, even if it was as simple as getting Inga into a dress.

There were probably other people who find that a strange ambition when it could have been to get Inga out of a dress.
 

Syntra

Baba Yaga
"Yes," Lilian confirmed, "that's right. It's, um, me. Great to hear you again, Deana. Sorry for not picking up your calls. I was..." half-dead at first and then too guilty "...busy." It was fucking weird to speak to her at all, let alone this casually, but it kind of had to be done that way. How else was she supposed to start this conversation, after all?

"Hi Deanna, can you pretty please tell me when the HQ will be empty so that me and my new vampire friend can go raid Michael's office? Oh, it's nothing shady! Just gotta see if the fucker really is somehow involved in the hunter-to-zombie pipeline. Also, sorry for turning out to be the biggest disappointment of your life? But, to be fair, that's sorta on you for putting trust in ME in the first place. I bet you must be feeling real stupid about that now."

Yeah, something told her that would not go over well.

(Even if all of that was technically true. Or maybe because of it? Since some of it hit way, way closer to home than it had any right to. It really wasn't her fault that Deana had found herself attracted to the biggest disaster in the fifty kilometers perimeter, but Lilian still felt obliged to... she didn't know what, exactly. Prove that she hadn't been wrong about her? That there was something worth saving? The more she thought about it, the more her heart hurt, and in the end, the thought was too heavy for her to hold.)

Of course, Deana just had to ask about that. Lilian didn't blame her, though she still winced, before she wrapped the phone cord around her wrist and pulled. (Part of her wished it could have been her fucking throat.) "You know it's not that simple," the huntress finally said, after a long moment of silence. "I trust you, but the others? Not really. I don't want to meet any of them by accident."

Which, conveniently enough, could be solved by making sure it wouldn't happen. What a fun, fun coincidence!

Did she feel bad about using Deana like that? Oh, absolutely. There was one thing Lilian felt even worse about, though, and that was the idea of getting murdered while she and Cassidy looked for evidence.

I'm sorry it has to be like that, Deana. I really am.

~***~

"Thanks!" Inga beamed. "And I mean, that probably won't be that worthwhile. There are many such samples already; we just call them hunters. If I get my hands on one of those," as she hoped she would, "then infecting another human would have been a waste. I'm thinking I'm gonna do some comparative analysis instead? It's more theoretical than seeing what it does, exactly, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Remember, sváss mínn! Without crackpot theories, there are no brilliant conclusions. Something a wise person once said."

That the wise person was Inga herself wasn't something Antonia needed to know. Really, that would only cause her to doubt everything, and--

Ah. Where was she going with that, again? Hard to tell, with the way Antonia was staring at her. Not that her staring had any tangible effect on anything, but sometimes, the intangible ones were worse! Because then you had to wonder, and wondering... could be pretty detrimental to, uh, common sense.

Amazingly enough, Inga mostly stayed quiet after that. The inside of the car felt small for both of them all of a sudden, and while that wasn't something she hated, it definitely was something that she didn't know how to deal with. Fantasies were one thing - but that look?

That felt real. And when it was real, rather than something she'd made up, it was sort of difficult to react to. But maybe she was just being delusional? 'Delusional' could be her second name!

When they got out, Inga welcomed both the cold night air and the chance to regain her balance.

Well... for a second or two.

Celestine's was everything she'd expected, with a cherry on top. It was the kind of shop she'd otherwise avoid like the plague, and the employees looked like they would have preferred that. Most of them watched her with the quiet alarm of those who were convinced they were getting robbed in about five seconds-- which, fair. After all, Inga hadn't bothered to change from her usual attire.

"Any, uh, wish, Miss?" an all-too-eager teenager approached her, most likely because he'd drawn the shortest straw. It was all too easy to tell his colleagues were watching, too.

"Yeah," Inga gave him a bright smile. "A set of screwdrivers. A drill would come in handy as well, though I will have you know I am rather picky about those."

The boy blinked in confusion. "Excuse me?"

"A dress," she said, "duh. But I'm going to take advice from the lady over here, so you can scram."

And that was how Inga ended up in the changing booth, carrying more dresses than was reasonable to own in a lifetime. Ridiculous, she thought. None of that is going to look remotely good.

Was it all some kind of elaborate joke?

Still, a bet was a bet. The first dress Antonia had picked, a blue one with a funky top, was at least easy to put on-- even if not all that easy to actually zip up. Who the fuck was the target audience here, people with three arms? Not even vampires had those! "Antonia," she shouted from the booth, holding the dress in place, "help me out a little?"

Because that was obviously a great idea.
 

Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
Supporter
‘I know it isn’t.’ Deana wouldn’t say that aloud and agree with Lilian outright, of course. She didn’t feel there was much that could be done until she saw her, and could speak with her. She had to make sure that Lilian wasn’t a vampire. She had to figure out what was in her head. Going out in daylight to somewhere – anywhere – would have put to rest one fear, at least.

Now she still had that one to bother her.

“What, you think we’d see other hunters in a car parked outside a fast-food restaurant?” Deana asked, a bit of a joke, a bit of exasperation. There was a sigh, as she let her back hit the nearby wall, letting it take some of her weight. She hadn’t suggested what kind of place, but it could have been anywhere. It could have been an hour out of town. She didn’t say that; Lilian could have guessed these things. If she wanted to reconsider, the comment should be enough.

“Why are you calling me, Lilian? How can I help you?” There was no stopping the pleading in her voice as she asked. She wanted to help, and Lilian must have needed help to be calling her, but what could she do if she couldn’t see her? She wanted to know how to go about helping, too, though of course, she had her limits. She wasn’t about to throw the entire organization under the metaphorical bus.

She believed in them, even if she loved Lilian. There were other hunters she felt close to, as well, and cared about. Lilian was closer than most, but that didn’t mean she was going to break every rule. Just a few of them.

~***~

Naturally, Antonia had full run of the store in short order after that boy opted to approach Inga. Given, she was the one who looked like she needed help; Antonia did not, and she was sending off employees for dresses all too easily, despising the sizing system they had. It would be so much better with pure numbers and actual measurements, rather than the system that humans used for their mass-marketed good, with estimates that never really fit well enough.

But, humans had gone far for convenience, and Antonia had recognized it years ago. So much of her investments were in conveniences and she was always looking for the next one to get in ahead of others, to retain her profits so she could continue to live her unlife without worrying about going homeless someday.

Sure, it was technically all gambling – but she was very good at it.

And good enough at gambling on what sizes would fit Inga, when she was sent back with an armload to try on.

Naturally, Antonia waited near. She was going to need to see how these things ended up looking, after all. It didn’t surprise her much when Inga called for her. Really, she should have anticipated that. Even she needed help with a few of her dresses, and she always had people on-hand for that. It had been that way through every century.

Dresses just weren’t often made for a single person to get on! Though, that did seem to be slowly changing, for better or worse. The majority of nice dresses still required help. And so she stepped into the room, noted Inga holding the dress up, saw the zipper, and quickly zipped it up with no hassle. “There.” She let her hands brush down Inga’s sides, smoothing the dress out before she stepped back to observe how this one worked on her.

The blue wasn’t bad.

Blue was always going to be a safe option, given Inga’s eyes and general coloring. The top managed to flatter the shoulders and arms, which was always the problem with dresses on muscular women, however the rest…, “No,” Antonia said, not bothering to wait for what Inga might say. “I thought the tighter ones might be a problem, but it was worth seeing.”

And she reached for others that were similarly designed to take them out of Inga’s inventory.

Sure, a muscular woman had great assets that deserved to be known, but there was something said to something a bit looser, a bit more flowy, that added that touch of mystery and femininity that would be desired for something formal like Matteo’s party. Sheath and other form-fitting styles weren’t going to cut it.
 

Syntra

Baba Yaga
“Kind of? You can’t say to me that popping out of unexpected places isn’t our entire shtick.” Our, not your. The pronoun slipped past her lips automatically, even if Lilian wasn’t at all sure how true it was anymore. Still, that was probably for the best; this was Deana she was talking to, and she didn’t really have to know all the messy details. Not yet. Shit was already confusing enough from her own perspective, despite her having been there for most of it. How could she ask Deana to understand? ‘Some vampires are good, actually,’ and ‘maybe we were the bad guys all along’ were the kind of conversations she sure as fuck wasn’t prepared to have.

Neither was Lilian, for that matter. Fuck, even thinking that felt like crossing a very, very obvious line in the sand.

That she’d already done that was another matter entirely.

Regardless, it became more and more obvious that she had to share something with the hunter. Whatever it was that they had, it didn’t exactly prevent Deana from not taking her shitty bait, and Lilian felt fucking stupid for even considering it in the first place. Yeah, but what should I say? What she could say would have been the better question, here; the entire call felt like a minefield, and being too twitchy with those was never a good idea.

Not that not being twitchy helped too much, because it was still a fucking minefield. Full of, you know, mines.

Let’s start with the truth. Truth was good, as long as it didn’t snap your neck. “Because I do need your help,” Lilian bit her lip. “Listen, Deana, this will sound really bad,” and it was, most likely, “but something shady is going on in the organization. Probably has for a while. I don’t want to say anything before I know more,” before she had actual evidence, more like, “and to know more, I have to do some digging around. Ideally without others there. Not like I want for anyone to get hurt, you feel me?” Nor did she want Cassidy to have to deal with a house full of hunters, but that was the one thing that she 100% couldn’t mention. If there ever were any hard no’s between them, ‘my new vampire bestie’ was definitely among those.

(Even if she did think, privately, that Deana and Cassidy would get along. It was hard to imagine Cassidy not getting along with, well, pretty much anyone.)

‘’Do you know about an opening?” And, because Deana did deserve more than just being asked for a favor: “I promise I can meet you wherever afterwards. We can talk, and I’ll explain my side of the story. You don’t think I’ve gone off my rocker, do you?”

The other issue, of course, was the possibility of Deana already being in on it. Already supporting it, somehow. Lilian didn’t really believe that, though she still listened for… uh, whatever signs of weirdness that might emerge in her voice? Yeah.

~***~

Inga was half-convinced she was in her personal hell. It also may have been her personal heaven, but that kind of went without saying. Hard to know the difference between the two sometimes, wasn’t it?

“This is stupid,” she complained, in part to distract herself from Antonia being this close, and in part because that was just the kind of person she was. When Inga suffered, the whole world simply had to know.

(Well… about the small things, anyway. Sometimes about the big things as well, if she could get away with pretending they were actually small. It was a lot like a game of poker, except you played with your own dignity. Depending on who you were, this could be dangerous or not.)

“Why should I need an entire army to dress myself? Believe it or not, putting on armor is easier. Well, maybe not when you are a medieval knight, but those guys had their priorities all out of whack. Can you believe anyone ever took them seriously? Cowards, the lot of them.”

She wasn’t really expecting to have that kind of conversation in the changing booth, but perhaps trying to predict anything was pointless when you happened to be Inga.

“I don’t even—”

“No,” Antonia’s voice cracked like a whip, and she winced.

“Oh gods, does that mean I have to put something else on now?” That was the logical conclusion here, though that didn’t mean Inga had to like it. Logic, in fact, could be the worst; especially when it dared to claim that you were wrong. (She also felt some kind of way about undressing herself in front of Antonia, yet, through the sheer power of denial, she managed to focus on something else.) “But, see, this means I was right!” Inga showed Antonia the victory sign and grinned.

“No way this is going to end in anything but your time being wasted. You really should stop being so competitive, sváss mínn. For your own good.”

The next dress that she went with was a lavender piece that honestly struck her as a weirdly-colored, overly expensive potato sack. Was that supposed to be flattering on anyone?

“I thought dresses were meant to have some kind of shape,” Inga whined. Regardless, she did put it on—or at least tried to. “Help, Antonia?”
 
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Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
Supporter
Deana listened as Lilian indicated something shady was going on. ‘You have no idea.’ Which, of course, was Lilian’s entire problem. This matter with the vampire and the god’s blessing had gotten plenty riled up, sadly in the worst of ways as they were now marching into what had to be a trap. Deana still had her questions about the situation – but for Michael, and she couldn’t ask him until it was all over.

What more was there in hiding?

All Lilian wanted to do, was get answers. ‘Then perhaps I can talk her into coming back.’ She was willing to meet, and Deana did know a night that would work, where it was unlikely they’d even be found in the nearest 24/7 diner because of where so much action would be…not to mention the fallout of that action.

“Not entirely,” Deana said, “You have to understand, whatever is being hidden…it may be for our own good. That’s how it is sometimes,” she bit her own bottom lip, “but I know your own good now depends on answers.” And maybe her own good also depended on that, or maybe she just wanted to know more, too.

Or maybe she just wanted to see Lilian and was willing to agree to a small thing.

Maybe she hoped Lilian would find nothing.

“There’s an event in three days that’s clearing house…but not Michael,” she added, tentatively, “not that he’s usually…here when it’s night, but…just, please, be careful,” it was probably shady enough an event wasn’t clearing Michael. He was never one to shirk duty. He was always on the front lines.

Perhaps that was enough to suggest some of the ‘shady’ had slipped out, if they were hiding things from Michael. “I can meet you at the Pancake House afterwards. You have to explain what’s going on, Lilian. It may be you don’t…fully understand it. Well, that’s obvious if you want answers…but…there may be some views that aren’t right.”

No, she didn’t know what advice Lilian was listening to.

But she knew this all involved her talking to a vampire, and that never meant anything good. It was leading a few hunters into a trap, even if they refused to listen to sense. Even Gabrielle seemed to think the advice was good!

~***~

‘Why are you like this?’ Antonia had multiple theories as to why Inga was so terribly annoying about all of this, and she’d pin a few on insecurities the woman was unwilling to cough up and hide behind that stupid confident façade. Or cocky might be a better word, confidence implied it was real.

It was easy enough to just ignore her ramblings about armor.

Antonia’s stare was dull and deadened as she said, “You’ll try on every dress if needed, to find one that proves you wrong.” No, Antonia was not playing around with this, and she fully intended to see to it that she won this stupid little bet, since she had gone along and had to suffer amongst humanity to deal with Inga’s inability to know what would look good on her.

Of course, she did step out for modesty’s sake as Inga figured out which dress to wear next, and was expectedly called in again not too long afterwards. This dress was not one of Antonia’s favorites, but it was there anyways because it had technically fit her mental criteria. If either shape, or color, worked, then there would be something to play with.

And she knew just because she didn’t like a shape on herself, didn’t mean it wouldn’t surprise her on someone else.

It didn’t really surprise her on Inga, once she’d stepped in to help adjust it properly. The color had potential, but the shade was off. Antonia felt a colder version would work out a lot better on Inga, rather than this warmer tone. “No,” as for the shape, well, it was too flat. This was certainly the sort that would cause Inga to look too boxy, and too ogre-ish to ever be flattering. She should have known that at a glance, but it offered a bit for the shoulders, so Antonia favored some hope.

“Try the next, and stop complaining. You sound pathetic. It’s just fabric, Inga.” The way she talked on and on, you’d think this was the height of torture. “It’s not getting you out of this any sooner, either.” Antonia wouldn’t be beaten down by the complaints.

‘Maybe third’s the charm?’ She wasn’t that lucky and she knew it.
 

Syntra

Baba Yaga
"For our own good?" Lilian repeated, disbelief clear in her voice. "What, so that we don't have to feel too bad about how fucked we are?" Because, newsflash! Not knowing that you were fucked did not mean that you were not, in fact, fucked. This wasn't a goddamn Looney Tunes cartoon where gravity only started working once you learned of it, dammit! Fuck, this was the exact attitude that allowed for shit like that to happen. The... blind obedience. Still, she knew with certainty that Deana didn't mean anything bad by it. The woman was just set in her ways, much like any hunter who had stayed alive for long enough was. At least she was willing to talk? And provide information.

Lilian whistled. "Sounds like an interesting event, if Michael Control Freak Serafis isn't involved." No, Lilian wasn't much of a fan. She wasn't much of a fan of most big name hunters, if only because a lot of them suffered from the 'holier-than-thou' syndrome. Perhaps it was something you picked up with age? Or with knowing shit that we commoners don't. "Thanks, Deana. Really, I... won't forget that." There was no way to tell whether this was or wasn't a trap, of course; no way aside from the worry in her voice, and Lilian believed that entirely. Call her sentimental, but Deana hadn't failed her yet.

"And alright, see you there." It wasn't a conversation she was looking forward to having, but what if Deana could see reason? If she understood Cassidy's point, then, then-- "Look," she sighed, "I will try my best. It's honestly a lot. I just... wanna be honest with you," within reason, "and I also need to collect my thoughts. These past few days have been wild."

Part of her wanted to mention Cassidy, and even Tristan with his not-entirely-unappealing weirdness, and how she honestly didn't feel too out of place with either of them, but another, much bigger part also knew this was a boundary that couldn't be crossed. Mom or not, vampires had to die. You didn't survive for as long as Deana had with hesitation in your heart.

"Bye for now, then. Thanks... and I love you."

It was easy enough to return back to Cassidy's apartment, and so that was what she did. "Whoa! You're not asleep?" Lilian asked, once she opened the door and found her roommate in a very awake state. And then: "Do you even sleep? I've always kind of wondered. Anyway, I did reach Deana and it seems we're in luck. In three days, the HQ should be mostly empty due to... I don't know what it is, some kind of operation." Blood would flow, if she read the room right. It usually did. "She wants to see me afterwards, and you probably shouldn't be there for that, but that's it. You can just head home earlier."

All in all... it had gone well. Right?

~***~

"You know," Inga smiled, "if it's only one dress out of all of these that will make me look not completely hideous, I'd say it's a statistical error. So, technically, I will still be right." Indeed, this was one of the many, many hills she was willing to die on, not because it was important but because it wasn't. Arguing about things that didn't matter was a time-tested tradition; it helped you avoid bickering about things that did, among other things.

(Want an example? If Inga could pretend that Antonia was exasperated with her due to a dress, then she could conveniently forget about everything else. Such as, you know, the blackmail! An ingenious system, really.)

But damn, though. Inga had to admit to herself that being spoken to like that, with that edge of superiority in Antonia's voice, wasn't bad. She could also imagine it working in other contexts.

Contexts that she probably shouldn't be thinking about now.

"I mean," Inga shrugged, "complaining can be very therapeutic. It doesn't really help, but you can trick your brain into thinking it does. Ever screamed into the void, sváss mínn? You may want to try it out."

And, for the record, Antonia was right with her doubts. Third time very much wasn't the charm; not even the fourth one or the fifth one. Soon enough, it seemed that most of the employees were pre-occupied with bringing her new dresses, and Inga could swear the pile only grew the more of them she'd tried. Would Antonia never be satisfied? What would it take for her to end the torture?

Maybe this really was just about ruining her night. If so, Inga really had to admire the dedication, and--

"Ooh!" the teenager, who somehow managed to stay by Antonia's side, exclaimed. "Your girlfriend looks really good in that one. I'd take it, if I were you."

And, shockingly enough, Inga wasn't even sure he was wrong. The dress was pale pink, which had almost disqualified it in her eyes, but she had put it on because you did not argue with Antonia Lenart. Or like, you did, but in a symbolic way? Either way, Inga had to admit the Grecian top did emphasize her shoulders in a nice way, and the skirt she'd thought a little too wide didn't... actually make her look overly wide.

Still, this wasn't something she could decide.

"Well, what do you think?" she tilted her head aside. "Got our statistical error?" And, stop the presses! Maybe Inga Singedottir sounded a little shy, of all things.

(Good thing she hadn't heard the girlfriend comment. That would have been a fun one for her mind to hijack.)
 
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Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
Supporter
Cassidy had been so lost in her thoughts and concerns she hadn’t heard Lilian’s approach until the door was already opened. She jolted, then relaxed, sighing in some relief at Lilian’s own reaction to her being awake which – valid question, really. Sleep was a complicated situation for vampires. Even Cassidy didn’t feel she really had a hang of it.

She could cycle back to that, though, smiled a little at Lilian’s genuine question about sleep.

Deana was brought up – Lilian had been able to reach her, and it apparently was not all for naught. Assuming Deana could be trusted. ‘Trust Lilian.’ With their lives. Both of their lives. What choice did she have, though? And the thing was – it wasn’t that hard to trust Lilian, either. She believed they really did want the same thing – answers. Truth.

To save lives.

Cassidy didn’t like the idea that there was going to be an operation, though – and Lilian didn’t know where. “I guess I can mention something to Tristan about that? At least keep him out of anything dangerous,” she doubted there’d be a single operation to murder him. He could warn who he wanted, perhaps it would reach the right people turn the tide so they survived.

She did purse her lips at the situation of Lilian meeting with Deana. “Are you sure I shouldn’t be there?” what if it was another trap for Lilian? “I can wait in the parking lot, or nearby, if you want. Somewhere I could see if anything…happens.” That she didn’t trust this completely was obvious. Deana may not have betrayed Lilian, but Maria had – and there remained the possibility that others would.

That a hunter with information on an operation, who gave it to Lilian, would still betray them or use that as a lie.

“I probably won’t need to sleep,” she chuckled, a way to kind of add that in, “Sleep’s…complicated. I don’t think I’ve really figured it out completely.” Blood and how much she needed, she had figured out. Sleep seemed strange to her still. “Sometimes it seems I can go a week without it, and then the next I’m sleeping every night. I’ve tried forcing myself to sleep every other night, but it doesn’t always seem to do much? I’m not really sure.”

Of course, she’d yet to figure out it had to do with moon phases.

She didn’t think vampires were tied to the moon in any way, so she’d never even considered it. Cassidy just associated it with aging, so far. There were

~***~

Statistics was never a part of the deal, but Antonia wouldn’t waste her breath reminding Inga she’d promised to do one favor if even one was found. That she was joking about it in the first place wouldn’t be a surprise in the least. Several dresses went by, but not one discouraged Antonia. It rather helped her get a sense of what was, and what wasn’t, working.

They finally hit on The One, and though Antonia was tempted to force Inga into others and give her an entire collection to show her it wasn’t an error, she didn’t have the kind of patience for that right then. Or rather, she did, but there were several more important things to worry about. That, and the teenager annoyed her by referring to Inga as her girlfriend.

“She is not my girlfriend,” Antonia said, deadpan, moving a hand up to run her fingers back through her hair and push the strands back behind an ear. “But you’re correct, that dress works on her, so we’ll buy it.” Inga responded barely a second later, seeming to agree the dress looked good and they found their error.

She heard the shift in tone. She even understood it, but wasn’t surprised. She’d already pegged Inga’s complaints and comments to be hiding a certain insecurity she joked about. She’d at least spare her the mercy of not mentioning that shyness. She still walked forward to get a better look up close, easily reaching out to adjust it where needed and brushing a hand down to smooth it out.

It did work. Even Antonia could admit if she’d met Inga like this, she might have actually taken what the teenager said as something of a suggestion if it weren’t true. Sadly, she knew Inga better now. A pretty dress on a pretty woman didn’t change who they were, and Inga was an aspiring nutcase with blackmail on her.

Not exactly girlfriend material.

“Just remember you only said I needed to find one. I can find more,” it was under-laced with threat, rather than promise, although she was no less serious on this. She’d seen plenty of colors and styles now, what worked, and what didn’t. Some dresses had only failed on color, others on style. There were quite a few she could mix and match that way to get Inga a wardrobe of fancy dresses she’d never wear again.

Antonia could be petty in the most ridiculous ways and she was at least aware of that. “Now change back,” she gave her a dismissive wave before following the hapless teenager to the register to pay for that pink dress, and wait for Inga to be back to normal.

With it paid for, she’d take Inga back to her home and insist that she keep the dress in a safe place, which she wasn’t sure Inga had, but if it got ruined before the dinner, Inga was on her own for finding something to wear and disappointing the family that had chosen her, once upon a time. ‘Shame they don’t understand adoption.’ But that was their grand loss.



The time passed quickly after that, not that there was much time to pass. Felix was briefed on the situation. Antonia let few know what it was she did, including staff, but Felix was the bodyguard. He had to be aware of what kind of situation she was getting into, since he was going to have to keep her car near enough for her to get to when it all went to hell.

And it would all go to hell. She knew the hunters might not spare her despite the tip. There were likely to be several there who hadn’t been at the bar, if everything went off according to plan. Wouldn’t Matteo be surprised that she pulled off something like this? Well…he was an idiot if he was, honestly.

Then again, inviting her to a feast in the first place was the height of idiocy.

And so, Antonia Lenart arrived not in the burgundy car, but the silver one with Felix driving, sans Inga, and exited in front of the Veturia Manor, looking as if gold had been poured over her. The dress fell to her knees, though only on one side, as the cut was asymmetrical and other side rose up to nearly her hip. Highlights of red in jewelry, and even faintly upon the dress, sparking off in some lights, suggested the decadent vampiress any hunter would loathe.

Was it a bit out of place? Absolutely. It was why Antonia chose it, after all – Matteo’s things were not so risqué for such a dress to be appropriate, but it also oozed luxe and old money despite the cuts and plunges of fabric.

And Antonia was in a very ‘fuck you’ mood, but there were ways her kind had to say it. This was one of those ways and so she greeted the first face with an easy smile, not at all fake. Why would it be? She was happy.

They were all going to die.

It made following in to the home that much easier, heels clicking with each step.
 
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Syntra

Baba Yaga
"Feel free to," Lilian shrugged. "Not that I think that he is being targeted. Whatever is happening is clearing the house, and I can't imagine a single vampire ever warranting that level of attention." Tristan was probably safe, unless he had a side gig as some kinda supervillain and was planning to blow up half the planet. While that wouldn't exactly shock Lilian, she still preferred to hang onto the tiny hope that reality hadn't gone completely off the fucking rails. Too crazy? Also not too likely, in her book.

I just want you to be safe. Is that so hard to understand? Yeah, yeah, something of a priority shift, though not an unexpected one. Cassidy just... did have that quality to her? That sort-of-innocent vibe that made you want to protect her, regardless of how stupid it was.

(Maybe that was what her instincts had picked up on during that fateful night? Lilian still didn't understand her own reaction fully, but she did, at least, approve now. Fuck weird secrets, and fuck people who wanted to hurt Cassidy.)

"I'm not gonna order you around," the huntress sighed, in the end. "If you feel like you ought to be there, then fine, be my guest. I just... fuck, I don't want you to meet Deana. I trust her with my life, but not with yours." Deana hadn't even been that on-board with her investigation, and Lilian suspected she'd only provided the info she had because she knew there was no other way to get her to agree to a meeting. What would she say, then, if Lilian turned up with a vampire? With the very reason why she found herself in this mess in the first place? Something told her that 'but she's nice, I swear' wouldn't fucking cut it.

"As long as she doesn't know you're there, it should be fine. I haven't told her about... well, much of anything, so she has no idea you're even in the picture." Not that Deana probably hadn't figured that one out. Lilian's situation required friends, and there really was only one friend she could reasonably turn to now. It wasn't rocket science. Does she even believe I'm still human? Fortunately, there were ways to prove that even without sunlight.

When Cassidy described her sleep situation, she couldn't help but raise her eyebrow. "Really, though? And that doesn't fuck with you at all? I've read somewhere that the brain does a lot of processing shit while you're asleep." Then again, vampires not processing would explain a whole lot about the likes of Tristan, Ms. Frankenstein, and the alleged sun god. With sleep deprivation, everything suddenly made sense.

Could the world be fixed with sleeping pills for vampires? No, probably not.

Three days weren't that much time, but it was enough time to get things sorted out. That was one of the advantages of pretty much not having an actual plan; the preparations, too, were somewhat simplistic. That'll look great on my tombstone, Lilian smirked to herself. 'Lilian Perry, 1995 to 2022. Fucked up everything she could, but at least didn't have to make an effort.' Optimism above all, right? But really, on her end, there wasn't much else to do aside from obtaining the uniforms. Which wasn't too difficult.

"Shit gets lost all the time at the cleaner's, right?" Lilian asked Cassidy, somewhat triumphantly, as she presented her loot the night before. (Call her the master multitasker, because she had also just returned from her first shift. Regular jobs weren't that bad, the huntress had decided; at least not when you got paid for commanding people to stop being such lazy slobs. That they paid in cash was helpful, too. Nothing like having your own income! So, Lilian did the healthy, well-adjusted thing, and bought herself a bottle of gin. They didn't call it the liquid courage for nothing, and she would need a lot of it for... uh, continuing to exist in general? Yeah. Don't judge.)

The sun would be coming down soon, though it wasn't safe outside for a vampire just yet. A great time for doing some last minute check-in! "Anything you'd like to know before we head out?" Lilian asked, and poured herself a glass. Just... to calm her nerves. Not like a gulp or two would even register on her radar, anyway. And then: "Do you guys get drunk when you drink the blood of someone who is buzzed?"

Eugene had once speculated it did work that way, and that they could bait vampires into essentially poisoning themselves. That plan had never been tested out, though; it couldn't be, given that the idea of using actual people in their operations was far from great.

I wonder what he's doing now?

Lilian just hoped he wasn't involved in whatever clusterfuck that was going to unfold.

~***~

The house was even more quiet than it tended to be at nights, though Eugene didn't necessarily hate it. It gave him time to think, time to plan, time to... stumble into Maria? Maria who, it seemed, still hadn't given up on going through Lilian's things.

"Come on," he sighed. "What do you think you're going to find at this point? A diary with all of her plans? This isn't a videogame side-quest, Maria. Let go."

"...I know," Maria sighed. "I just... I just thought I may have overlooked something."

Yeah, like your own contributions to this situation. Eugene had kept that opinion to himself, mostly because it wouldn't help anything. Lilian was gone, and playing the blame game wouldn't bring her back. Maria had made a mistake, but who didn't, from time to time? This was no time for infighting. Not with actual enemies just behind the corner. "Hard to imagine you did."

Maria deflated at that, and for a moment, he thought he saw something dangerously close to tears. "Eugene, I... do you think she's even alive? What if--"

"Of course she is alive," he put a reassuring hand on her shoulder. "Why else would there be a bounty? Lils can take care of herself." To an unhealthy extent. The girl had always been something of a lone wolf, and while it had been shocking to hear she'd run off with a fucking vampire, Eugene also had to admit to himself that, if anyone was going to do something this out-there, it would definitely be Lilian. She had always thought she knew better than everyone else, for the most part. And if the vampire tempted her with some kind of insight on the things she'd been investigating? Oh, he could easily see her going for it. He could also see her digging her heels in when Maria had tried to be intervene. Lilian Perry, you goddamn idiot. Do you know how worried we all are?

"...You're right," Maria conceded, and finally rose from the floor. "You know, it's all that vampire chick's fault. I bet she used some kind of... some kind of hypnotic superpower on her." Somehow, I don't think so. Pointing out this fiasco had Lilian's messy handwriting all over it would accomplish exactly nothing, though, and it was true that Cassidy was the main problem here.

"Maybe so, yeah. Listen, perhaps we could try to find her?" Eugene thought aloud. "I bet she could tell us more about where Lils is. We could, I don't know, ask around. How many vampires are called Cassidy around here, anyway? Someone's gotta know something."

If nothing else, the flicker of hope in Maria's eyes was satisfying. "That we could. But fuck, Eugene, I'm gonna kill her on sight. I swear I will. I can't believe that Lilian would--"

"Hey, hey!" Eugene frowned. "You do realize she actually needs to talk first?"

"Yeah, yeah."

"Good. So, wanna watch a movie tonight?"

There was a big operation going on tonight, but for the most part, Eugene wanted to have nothing to do with it. It screamed trouble, even more than regular missions did. Why else would Michael not know? He'd contemplated notifying the man, but... no, better to stand on the sidelines. For pawns like him, not getting involved at all was the only way to win.

~***~

This is stupid. And it really was, though it had to be said that that kind of thing had never once stopped Inga. So, to reiterate: it was stupid, but in a new, exciting way. What was it that she was doing, then? Standing in front of the mirror and... trying new things with her hair. Special occasions required special looks, right? So many braids did make her face look kind of harsh, and while that was what she was usually going for, Inga felt something a little softer would work better in this context.

Not that this was about what would and wouldn't work. Or rather, it shouldn't be. However, the fact remained that the way Antonia had looked at her, with something not too far from approval, was seared into her mind, and maybe Inga wanted more of that.

(Inga wanted way more than that, but also knew the difference between wanting something and being able to get it. Quite intimately, too.)

In the end, she'd gone with some braids, but let most of it flow free, in long blonde cascades. She'd almost forgotten she had that much hair.

Good thing that she hadn't forgotten about the more important aspects of this, such as that Matteo was going down. Really, what was the fucker thinking? Going for the Darwin award, here? Inga would have felt sorry for him had he been anything but irredeemable asshole, though that ship had sailed.

Despite not having attended many Veturia feasts, Inga did know they were lavish, and judging by the reception, this one also wasn't going to disappoint. The mansion was buzzing with life, with vampires and blood dolls mingling together; all future corpses, if Antonia's plan were to work out.

Inga didn't doubt it would. Antonia wasn't the kind of person to put effort into something and then fail. In that, they were mirror opposites.

She looked around, scoffing over the ostentatious luxury. A blood fountain? Really? Those things were so last century, and--

"...Inga? Is that you?"

"The last time I checked, I was Inga, yes," she turned around to face Joseph of all people. The smile that was playing on her lips was unpleasant, and deeply so. "I did try being someone else for a while, but it didn't quite work out. So, it's back to the basics for me."

Joseph, who had squeezed himself into a suit that seemed a size too small for him, still sort of gawked. "What the fuck do you mean?"

Odin's beard, you could have a more interesting conversation with a washing machine. Inga had had them, back when she'd been lonely enough to pretend they could answer. Now, Joseph's mere presence felt like a distinct fucking downgrade. "I don't know. Do I ever mean anything, Joseph? You tell me."

"Yeah, it's you, alright. Still as fucked in the head."

"Come on now, is that any way to be treating the prodigal daughter?" Inga raised her eyebrow. "I thought you all missed me. Maybe you also missed the way I used to kick your ass?"

"Inga!" And there he was, the king of assholes himself; Matteo, dressed in white, because of fucking course. Could he look more like a cheap James Bond villain? "It is so wonderful to see you again. The centuries have treated you well, I have to say." He tried to put an arm around her waist, and since that was several steps too far, Inga turned it into an awkward handshake instead.

"Yeah, man. It's been a long, long time. Shame I can't say the same about you! Did you get some grey hair? Wow, I thought that couldn't actually happen."

Matteo's left eye twitched, and Inga at least could derive some enjoyment from knowing he was likely blowing gasket right now. Of course, he couldn't ruin his perfect party with something as lowly as honesty.

"As sincere as ever, I see," he smiled. "That always was your most charming quality." No, not a compliment. The opposite of it, 100%. "But truly, Inga, I am overjoyed that you've accepted my invitation. I wasn't sure whether you'd appear, given your... continued absence. It will be most delightful to work with you again, I'm sure."

It will be most delightful to see your head on a spike.

Perhaps Matteo would have added more, but Antonia chose that moment to enter. And, alright, Inga would be lying if she said she wasn't staring - it was kind of impossible not to. Was it even legal to wear something like that? Not that she was complaining about the view, but damn.

"Lady Lenart!" he exclaimed, ever the attentive host. (If Antonia's looks offended him, he certainly hid it well.) "This night is full of happy reunions. It's generous of you to come, given we were so unkind with our accusations. It truly was a most unfortunate situation! Sometimes, you just... see enemies where there aren't any. I suppose we should thank those hunters for clearing that up?"

"Hey, Antonia," Inga gave her a bright smile, about a thousand times more sincere than anything else she'd shown tonight. Not that that was hard. "How have you been?"

"Oh, that's right-- I was surprised to learn you two knew each other," Matteo piped up. "How did that happen, my Lady?"
 

Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
Supporter
Cassidy noted, already typing a text to Tristan to let him know about the hunter situation and the date as Lilian noted it wasn’t something a single vampire would cause. She couldn’t help but think there were probably a few special cases, but Tristan probably wasn’t one. Still, he could stay out of trouble by staying in, at the very least.

The vampire did agree to stay out of Deana’s sight, and try her best not to cause any disturbances, once that text was sent out and her phone put away again. After that, it was just a matter of waiting – and learning what the situation was.

Convenient choice. Guess Antonia really fucked up with the hunters. There’s some sort of feast for her by the Veturia. Kinda surprised she agreed to it, but that’s centuries of history you don’t need to know about. Best reason to be an unaffiliated vamp is this kind of shit though.


Apparently, Tristan assumed the target was the Hunter Ambassador. It made sense to Cassidy, considering the fuck-up to save her and Lilian. She felt a bit guilty for that, and she told Tristan to send her a warning text – if he did, she never found out about it. The days passed, and Lilian returned with the clothing…and alcohol.

“I think?” Cassidy walked over to pick up the outfit she assumed was for herself, looking it over. It definitely wasn’t flattering, but that wasn’t the idea, was it? Sure, things got lost just about anywhere. She didn’t know much about cleaners, though. She had yet to have clothing that required that sort of attention.

She frowned as Lilian poured herself a bit of gin. As the bottle was set down, Cassidy opted to grab it, to ‘put it away’, but really it was to make sure Lilian didn’t have more than that glass. She wouldn’t make it an issue unless Lilian opted to make an issue because she took the bottle away. “Yeah, we do get drunk, or drugged, if the human is. There’s some…places where the blood dolls – that is, humans who willingly donate blood – I didn’t pick the name,” she was getting off track, but saying that out loud to a hunter, sounded bad. “anyway, where they take drugs or alcohol so the vampire can get a particular high from drinking from them.”

Cassidy had dabbled, mostly in her earlier years. It was the kind of business her sire really ran in Vegas, along with some hotel businesses. As far as she knew, the blood dolls were well compensated and taken care of. Some of them wanted the drugs, of course. Some of them probably died from it.

She generally didn’t like to think too hard about it. The humans were choosing it…in theory. Addiction was a serious problem. Very manipulative.

She pushed it out of her head. That was not where her mind needed to be dwelling. “Of course, some vampires try to create candies we can eat, I’ve heard, and other kinds of things…blood’s good and all but it…it can get boring.” In the way sex in the same position got boring. Oh sure, it was great.

But different flavors of greatness were also wanted.

‘Why are you thinking about SEX?’ Her mind screamed at her, and she bundled up her clothing, along with the bottle. “I’m gonna go get changed,” and off she went to change, taking the bottle with her into her room, and leaving it there once she was changed.

Then it was onto the bus as cleaners, her hair pulled back into a ponytail and cap lowered, as they went to the HQ that was…downtown.

‘What.’

It made sense. Of course the hunters would have their main HQ in downtown, no vampire in their right mind was going to attack a downtown building! Not to mention it was on the fifth through seventh floor of a bunch of office spaces, because of course it was. The mundanity of the space threw her off, as did the name of the so-called business.

Department of Sanguineous Research was written as the official name, and Cassidy wasn’t sure how to feel about it sounding so official. So governmental.

At least the cards that came with the cleaning group’s outfits buzzed them right into the brick structure, and they were able to take the elevator, “Do you know what floor we need?” Cassidy asked in a hushed voice.

Another perk of the office building – and the Department of Sanguineous Research being busy – was that it was practically empty.

~***~

'Calm, Antoni, calm.’

Gia’s voice (no, a faded memory that did not sound like him) still rang in her head in moments like this, when she could feel the power brimming at her fingertips. It had not been Gia’s power, but a mutation of his empathy. He couldn’t force feelings upon others, he only knew what others felt – and could often use that to his advantage. He had been too kind-hearted to use it maliciously…well, most of the time. Oh, YHWH forgive those who got on his bad side – and forgive Gia, too.

But as Antonia walked in to a room full of people she detested, she felt the pull to let that aura explode out. Shock and awe. Force them to realize who she was, and wait on her every command, come to every snap of her finger. Of course, she knew, that really only worked with strangers. A group like this, awe would be more like terror, and would breed worse resentment…but it might also get some extra perks while they skuttled in fear.

Still, she held it on her fingertips as her eyes went over the crowd, easily alighting on Matteo. White stood out in these crowds; she’d even considered it for the appealing bloodstains later. It would have been pretty to look at. Near him was Joseph, the one Amon had enjoyed as a punching bag, and Inga, who was almost unrecognizable with her hair down and in that pink dress she hadn’t destroyed. ‘Pretty.’ Antonia dismissed the thought shortly after it occurred.

It was a very pretty lie.

Like every single word out of Matteo’s mouth, though of course, Antonia greeted it with a smile, and a laugh at his comment of having something to thank the hunters for, “I admit I was not so grateful when I met with their ambassador, but I am glad it has brought us together again. Our history has been terribly fraught with accusations and youthful violence, but we’ve all grown beyond that now. Still, I understand why you would accuse me. I never held it against you or the Veturia, truly, Lord Ariotti.” ‘You rotted, jumped-up Italian hayseed.’

“I have always felt such guilt for not being able to stop the pain these hunter mishaps have inflicted upon you,” ‘By not having you killed so you couldn’t feel any of it.’ “and your family.”

Of course, the conversation turned to Inga and her, and she looked to Inga, “Ah, Inga,” the lack of formality, or any titling, was intentional. Everything was intentional in these interactions, though. “We met not that long ago through a mutual interest in the Followers of Apep. She’s actually quite crafty,” easy grin, easy hint that it might not all be that friendly, even if the elaboration suggested an alternative meaning. Even with the brief touch she placed on Inga’s back, “Good in the lab and at analyzing what we’ve found in relation to them. As we share a suspicion that it may be coming from the hunter population, I have been running it through my channels as well. It may be the answer to all these terrible things that continue to happen, as it did to Lord Tyr,” she looked to Joseph.

Poor, punching bag, Joseph, “I am truly sorry for what happened to Lord Tyr, Lord Hartmann,” Antonia noted, “Although I was glad to hear from Amon that your sire looked as if he never saw it coming,” easy insult – the fool was too complacent, “at least we can hope he passed without feeling any pain.”

‘I wish he died screaming.’
 
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Syntra

Baba Yaga
Blood dolls. The term gave Lilian goosebumps, and not in a good way. The idea of what those vampires did to them, as if they really were just bottles of booze wearing human skin, automatically had her reaching for the old injury, but-- well, she had asked. She had asked, so Cassidy had answered. Honestly. Wasn't that what she had wanted, all along? "Remind not to ask if I don't actually want to hear the answer," Lilian huffed. "Fucking blood dolls. Sounds like someone's weird fetish." No, it probably wasn't so bad if they did it willingly, though that didn't mean she wanted anywhere near it. There were also people who enjoyed having shit beaten out of them, right? More power to them, but leave her the fuck out of it. "I've also wondered about that, though. About blood maybe getting stale." Come to think of it, a lot about the vampiric experience struck her as terribly tedious. At twenty-seven, Lilian already felt somewhat tired of life; of the grind, of bowing her head, of never really knowing where she was going, if anywhere at all. What did that feel like for a century-old Cassidy?

Eh, too personal. Also possibly painful. No need to dig into those not-quite-closed wounds, especially before a mission.

And so Lilian, too, changed herself into the uniform. It was grey and not too flattering, with layers in all the wrong places, though she did appreciate the way it sort of made her blend with her surroundings. Not literally, of course, because there wasn't even too much grey in Cassidy's apartment, but like... on the conceptual level? There was something in the human brain that made you go 'oh' whenever you saw someone who looked like they were supposed to be there, and that little 'oh' basically amounted to memory erasure. If Lilian ever wanted to commit mass murder, she would absolutely dress like a janitor.

(Yes, mass murder was still an option. A grim one, and also one she didn't necessarily want to think about, but you didn't even have to do that to know just where this was going. And, no, 'reconciliation over a bottle of wine' wasn't the right answer.)

"Welcome," Lilian shot Cassidy a small, sarcastic smile. "Never thought I'd say that to someone like you, but here we fucking go." She also hadn't thought she'd ever return, and no, there was no sweet nostalgia accompanying it. (Well, unless the looming sense of dread counted. That one did feel like an old friend? The kind of friend that would stab you in the back, though.) "And yeah," she nodded, "the top floor. The one that is closest to the god." Because of fucking course that Michael Serafis would choose a reason this pretentious. Lilian wasn't sure just how serious he was about it, but the mere existence of the justification was more than enough to make her roll her eyes.

The corridors were empty, save for the occasional lonely figure. It was tempting to look downward and hasten her step, but instead, Lilian did her best to maintain her usual pace. A normal pace. Come on, you belong here. If you believe it, they will, too. And ultimately they did, because it was a Saturday night and nobody gave two fucks about some cleaning ladies.

To nobody's surprise, Michael's office was branded with a big, golden 'Michael Serafis' inscription on the door. Really, if the man even slightly could, he'd probably bathe in gold. Lilian had always thought him to be kind of corny, and was now happy to have that stance retroactively justified. Well, probably? It wasn't like they had any hard evidence against him... yet.

From there, it was just a matter of swiping the card. Not like Serafis' office didn't need to be cleaned, right? Inhaling deeply, Lilian grabbed the handle, and--

--entered what looked like a normal office. Duh. A little anticlimactic, with the rows and rows of books lining the shelves and the (locked) computer sitting at the desk, but that wasn't too unexpected. All kinds of people visited Michael there. Why would it be anything but mundane?

"So this is where our glorious leader works," Lilian said, more to herself than to Cassidy. "Not sure if I can get into his computer," probably not, unless his password was something like 'InLoveWithGod666' "but these people do love their printed records. Probably so they have something to wipe their asses with. So, let's look around?"

~***~

Matteo, who probably tried to be as charming as Antonia and failed, on account of not being Antonia, gave a short, pleasant laugh. "Oh, you don't know how happy I am to hear that, Lady Lenart. The past should never be allowed to define us. I, too, deeply regret the bad blood between our families," oh, Inga could hear the sarcasm, "but it is important to look forward. The dominoes have fallen, so I say we should let them lie. In the grand scheme of things, haven't we all benefited?" Alright, that was a side of Matteo Inga hadn't seen much. A brazen side. It was obvious what he was referring to, really; even she, who didn't care much about politics, knew that for Antonia to rise this high, a lot of the Optimates had had to die. Another thing she knew was that Antonia's fuse could be surprisingly short.

Not yet, sváss mínn. Was it strange, to suddenly find herself in a position of possibly being the reasonable one? Yes, and Inga couldn't say she liked it. It didn't fit, much like trying to wear your left shoe on your right foot wouldn't. "Oh, please. Do we really have to talk about the things that were?" Inga tried to change the subject. "This is exactly why all your events turn into pity parties, Matteo. Everyone ends up crying about how the world was just that much better when they happened to be young. A fun coincidence, if you ask me."

Antonia's hand on her back was interesting, however, and Inga couldn't help the way she felt weak in her knees, or how she kind of leaned into it. The gesture didn't escape Matteo's eyes, either, though it was hard to tell what he thought of it. "Inga is?" he shot a surprised glance at her, and-- Oh, right. The fucker doesn't even know. Haven't kept up with me, have you? Though, to be fair, Inga's tour-de-Old-World, where she'd gathered most of her knowledge, had mostly taken place in times when keeping up with people had been vastly more difficult than it was now. Not that she was at all interested in being fair with him, of course.

"Murder gets old," she said laconically. "I'm an intellectual now, thank you very much. Well, an intellectual who still enjoys the occasional murder. Who doesn't?" And I will for sure enjoy yours, you pathetic joke.

Matteo was at least used to Inga being Inga, and so he just laughed. "Oh, it is good to see you haven't changed."

Joseph, meanwhile, seemed to go through several shades of red before settling on what Inga liked to call 'explosion imminent.' (Was it really wise to invite him? Sure, she wasn't an expert on parties, but one would have assumed people even more impulsive than her weren't great for political bullshit. Maybe Matteo really was losing his touch.) "Yes, we can only hope so," Inga could hear the 'bitch', even if he hadn't said it, "but what warms my heart is knowing that the bastard who is responsible will pay. Right, Matteo?"

"That they will," his companion nodded. "Everything is in motion already. Besides that, I would also like you to know I am not holding you responsible, Lady Lenart. It can be difficult to control a pack of mad dogs when you are but a lone woman." A low dig, but that was kind of what he'd always been. Low. "You were placed into an impossible position. Perhaps, with old ties being re-established, you'd appreciate some help?" Oh, and now he was insinuating Antonia was incompetent. What was the terminology? 'Total trainwreck?' Inga sure as hell believed so.
 

Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
Supporter
Cassidy would have assumed this Michael would be at the top floor anyways. It was always either the top, or the bottom. No one ever picked the middle. “If I ever become a villain, I’m making my floor in the middle,” Cassidy muttered, not realizing she said it aloud as she thought of her sire, and his shiny penthouse in Las Vegas. Tristan, and his top floor room here. ‘Tristan isn’t a villain.’ Maybe. He had potential to be a villain, no one would deny that. He was scary in his own way.

Cassidy managed to stay a step behind Lilian as they exited the elevator and went along the floor to Michael’s room. They seemed to draw no attention, and it clicked in Cassidy’s head when she saw the name. ‘Serafis. Like Seraphim.’ That wasn’t subtle. There was no way that could have been his birth name. He changed it to be a cult leader. Had to.

The fancy gold only revealed a rather…ordinary office. Sure, the desk was obviously made of good wood, and everything looked of higher quality than what was probably normal. Yet, it was all fairly bland. Browns, blacks, splatterings of gold – he could have been a financial advisor with this kind of office. There wasn’t even a weapon in sight to suggest his real job.

‘Does he actually hunt?’ Maybe he just managed it.

Cassidy nodded as she was instructed to look around. The computer was probably a no-go. “If we don’t care if they know we were here, we could always just take the computer.” Although that could be problematic. “I might be able to text Tristan and see if there’s a way to download all files to a USB without unlocking….”

Even as she said it, she was going to drawers of the desk and…finding them locked.

She frowned.

She could break them open, of course. She had that kind of strength, but instead, she decided to first try and locate a key. Maybe there was something in one of his books? The first one Cassidy grabbed was the bible, and as soon as she opened it, the key dropped right out and to the floor. She sighed, “Why is it always the Bible?” hollowed out bibles for guns, hollowed out bibles for whiskey, “I mean, I know why, it’s boring, but it deserves more respect than this,” she shut it before kneeling to pick up the key and going back to the desk to unlock it.

The drawers were…varied.

And quite a bit of paperwork.

Cassidy began to put some on top of the desk without looking at it, so Lilian could take a look. There was an entire file of Antonia and her betrayals (no doubt, Michael’s own building blackmail if it was ever needed), a general list of vampires in the area (whether or not they were dead, if they had killed any hunters, what patterns were known – Tristan, Amon, Matteo were in it, Inga curiously was not, nor Cassidy), supply information (there was the God’s Blessing information, how it was distributed, what stock looked like), and hunter information (those killed in action, those mutated), financial information (running of this office, of the orphanages) – all of these, she put on top of the desk.

She didn't pay much attention to the sounds of footsteps in the hallway.

~***~

‘Let the die fly high.’

Caesar’s words, but Caesar had been a genius of his time, and it was a far better phrase than dominoes falling. That suggested a certain defeat, and it suggested the game was over, as well. Antonia knew better, as did Matteo, but he had to feign ignorant of the remaining bad blood, as she had to appear forgiving of how he and his family tried to ruin her. And appear grateful of rising high, without acknowledging the real implications of that.

“So we have. We both stand on the backs of giants,” a shame they had to fall. She could name the ones that had to fall for Matteo to rise. She knew the ones she’d taken down over the years, after all. Every name, tied to a name of one of her own fallen, a gradual linking of amends she made for each loss, by seeing to it that a Venturia was their own personal target. Eventually, she’d run out of Optimate names, and then it’d just be killing to be killing.

That was fine.

Inga interjected, and Antonia let her, hand drawing away as she explained what she’d been up to, no longer quite the murderess. ‘Were you…?’ A question she couldn’t ask then. One she might have to ask later. Inga acted in a way to suggest she had no recollection of it, but then again, who would dare act as if they had recollection of it around her, when they understood who her targets were?

It was always possible Inga was away, just like Antonia was.

Joseph at least heard every implication of her words. ‘No wonder Amon has fun with you.’ Making someone snap wasn’t exactly smiled upon, but the blame never fell on the antagonist. It was always on the one who snapped. It would be fun to make Joseph snap and be forced away, but then, he wouldn’t get a stake through his heart, so Antonia opted not to continue toying with him despite how beautifully red he’d become.

And she didn’t even flinch at Matteo’s insinuations about her, either.

“I appreciate your offer, Lord Ariotti, truly, but I am afraid no one within your family has the experience needed to assist, and I hate to say it, but most hunters don’t quite trust your family, either.” To say that was her fault would be correct. Hers, and the rest of the Optimates, of course, who made sure the Veturia were known as treasonous snakes through whispers. Of course, they no doubt tried to cast the same doubt on the Optimates. “That goes a long way with them. You understand, I try to let them know things have changed, but even humans hold onto stupid stereotypes for quite a while. I mean, we both know how long that stupid mindset of Italians being nothing more than jumped up hayseeds lasted,” she chuckled, “but look how far you’ve jumped, and how much you’ve done! A little Cicero!”

Her chuckle softened, smile eased. “Do not worry, though. I am looking into outside help, and once that is more official, I will formalize it within the council some night soon, and you will have opportunity to review their qualifications for yourself.”
 

Syntra

Baba Yaga
"Oh, you as a villain? What are you going to do, steal highschoolers' diaries?" Or, you know, fucking kill people, though it was still hard to imagine Cassidy doing anything close to that. She most likely did have some blood on her hands, even besides the hunters that had gone after her, but... well, maybe Lilian shouldn't be the one to talk. Not after the maybe-innocent vampires she had killed. Funny, wasn't it?

(No. Not in the slightest. It was fucked, the way they'd both killed despite that possibly being the last thing they wanted to do. Lilian didn't want to kill people, anyway. And if vampires weren't so different from humans, then--)

This wasn't the time to be having an existential crisis, though, and so the huntress shoved that thought far, far into the mental box she called 'causes for future mental breakdowns.' (She hadn't opened it for quite a while, but that only made them all the more spicy. Thoughts aging like wine? Oh, absolutely. At least if you happened to hate wine.)

"How will we carry it without attracting attention, though?" Lilian raised her eyebrow. "The house isn't totally empty. I mean, if you think we can get away with it, then I am not opposed, but..." But it seemed like too much. Like getting too greedy too fast, and bringing some kinda karmic punishment on their heads. Then again, the bastard will probably know anyway. It was hard to imagine Michael not knowing something, even if Lilian acknowledged a lot of it probably came from his own propaganda. Michael the All-Knowing was better than Michael the Sucker, right? Even if the latter was possibly closer to the truth.

"Bingo, Cassidy!" she exclaimed, somehow keeping her voice hushed. "And it's because they don't have a single original thought in their heads. Corny-ass motherfuckers." Once again, Lilian had to remind herself that they were not to waste time here. Bitching about your higher-ups was nice, though maybe not when they a) could kill you, b) would kill you, and c) you found yourself in a location where this wouldn't even be hard to hide. Later. Gotta focus now.

Lilian hadn't been the best student back in her orphanage days, always preferring action to textbooks, but she had, at least, developed a talent for locating useful information quickly there. Some documents she outright set away, judging them to be useless for what they needed, and others she skimmed with speed that was almost startling. Not surprisingly, what interested her the most was the file with the information about the 'blessings.'

Blah blah blah, nonsense, blah blah blah, statistics. Wait, statistics? "So they do know about the mutated hunters," Lilian breathed out. "Fuck, there are even fancy graphs for that. The ratios of non-mutated hunters versus those who... have changed. Irreversibly." Seeing it like that, in cold, impersonal numbers, fucking made her blood boil. Was that what they were for them? Just meat for the grinder? But then her attention jumped to something even more interesting. "Oh," she bit her lip. "Seems like they are getting the blessings from some church in the city? There's a map, look."

No, Lilian also didn't hear the footsteps.

~***~

The more Inga listened to the conversation, the more she had the feeling that she didn't, in fact, have the slightest idea of what the fuck was going on. While the sensation of being an outsider wasn't a new one, it feeling almost pleasant certainly was. It just... struck her as something she didn't really want to be part of? One of the reasons she'd cut ties with the Veturia, an eternity ago.

(At least she did grasp that they were insulting each other. Not openly, no, but Inga could tell when Matteo was being a little shit, and Antonia delivered her verbal punches with the precision of a karate master. You're wasting your talents on him, sváss mínn, she thought. Why can't you spend that energy on me? After all, Matteo deserved little more than to be told to go fuck himself. Not like he could even appreciate an honest effort.)

But, okay, one thing she couldn't really let go.

"Is Italians versus Romans like, when you both choose a different soccer team to root for?" It had to be something akin to that, Inga was convinced. No way that Antonia didn't understand that she was actually Italian... right? She refused to believe that.

The glare that Matteo gave her in response looked like it could kill, and from that, Inga could safely postulate that her theory was wrong. Oh well, they couldn't all be winners. "No, it's... nevermind. Nonsense, just like Lady Lenart said. A thing of the past." Somehow, Inga wasn't getting the impression it was. You didn't get so uncomfortable when shit didn't matter anymore, that was for sure.

(She knew because Matteo had taught her. Right now, she felt nothing for him. Not a trace of the old affection, not a hint of the old friendship. He might as well have been a mosquito, buzzing uncomfortably close to her ear.)

"I suppose I will have to leave it in your capable hands, then," he chuckled, once again putting on his perfect mask. (Well, no. The cracks did show. That he had allowed it to fall for a second was a mistake he could never undo.) "Reputation can be a terrible thing, I will agree with that. Hard to gain, harder to get rid of. Speaking of which, Lady Lenart-- could you do me a favor? I realize this is sudden, and that I should have mentioned this in my letter, but if you could find a few words to tell to our guests, that would be splendid. To mark our reconciliation."

Joseph just huffed in the background.
 

Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
Supporter
Cassidy paused in pulling out information when she heard Lilian speak about the mutated hunters. She looked up to see what Lilian was looking at herself, and then looked up to her face. ‘Oh.’ There was anger there, that much was clear, and so much more. Of course there was more, though. There were layers to this betrayal. This had been Lilian’s whole live, and now she was seeing what it meant.

She wanted to reach out.

She wanted to make it better.

Cassidy knew, of course, that she couldn’t.

So she looked at the map with the church’s location, nodding, “Let me get a picture of that,” she wasn’t sure what they’d be taking as proof, but she took her phone out of a pocket and snapped the picture, the click covering the sound of the door unlocking, and the man himself stepping in, only to pause in the doorway as he recognized his room wasn’t empty.

The outfits didn’t fool him in the least, given Cassidy had her phone out and there were piles of paperwork on his desk that was highly confidential. To his credit, he only looked surprised for a moment, is crystalline blue eyes moving over Cassidy, to Lilian.

“Perry,” he greeted, calm, cold. “And you must be Cassidy.”

Cassidy decided not to answer that, slipping her phone back into her pocket. “You’ve been mutating and killing your own hunters,” Cassidy said, voice shaking a bit, “You’ve been harming civilians with this.” Michael pulled the door shut behind him as he stepped fully into his office.

“At least you acknowledge you aren’t a civilian,” he said, still calm, still cold. Almost bored? Cassidy found she expected something more, but then again, she wasn’t clued in to how much energy Michael had already spent on being exhaustively pissed off when he finally found out about what was going on that night, and realizing he couldn’t stop it, but he had to start preparing for the fallout.

Michael was already so very done.

“Perry, I will give you a choice. You can redeem yourself here and kill this vampire, and we’ll talk about what is going on…or you can die with your friend.” Simple, really. Although Michael still had every intention of killing her, she didn’t need to know. He also expected her answer was going to be refusal, and that was fine.

It gave him a moment to reach into his blazer and pull his knife, as Cassidy shot Lilian a look.

It gave him a time to feel the pulse of her heart and sense the blood that had not been purged from her veins yet.

What way Lilian would fall, no one had been certain. A mutated monster? Or an angel on earth? It was always hard to tell, but that’s why they kept those statistics, looking for what allowed some to be blessed above others.

~***~

Oh, that was a good blow. Apparently, the stigma never really left, not that Antonia thought it ever did. The Italian Hayseeds always aspired to be more, and never received it. They craved that recognition, though. Chased it, hounded it – that was why Matteo tried to set her up, too. Take down the Roman, and receive recognition from his higher ups.

He should have remembered what happened to Marius, in the end. Oh sure…he lived and died on his own time. But he never killed Sulla, and Sulla undid almost everything. Every statue, toppled.

Stupid hayseeds.

“I’ll explain it to you another time, Inga,” Antonia promised in a whisper, one she made sure Matteo could at least see being said, if not heard, smile still pleasant as ever, before she let her head be turned again by Matteo on his spiel about reputations and what he hoped to take from her – a speech.

Reputations indeed.

‘You fool.’

Enemy territory did not mean she couldn’t make this go against him.

“I see my reputation for grand speeches on a whim has preceded me,” how could it not? She was before the Council often enough, and put on the spot, enough to have that kind of reputation. So was Amon, although Amon’s speeches were…in a significantly different vein, which they’d talked about before, the differences of their upbringing, human and vampire, of course. Amon was taught to stand above, Antonia taught she was One Among Equals.

No wonder Amon ruled, of course. He was the one most capable.

“How could I refuse you, Lord Ariotti? I will speak to our reunification, of course, if you’ll organize everyone for it when it is time. However, I believe I am being a rude guest,” she smiled, “I should go and meet everyone once again, check-in. You can alert me when it is time that I speak to them more formally, and I shall deliver.” She promised, and would shortly leave his presence to go and mingle with the rest of her enemies.

Catch up on how they all had been living such wonderful lives full of such luxuries.

Lives Gia had been denied.

Lives all her childes had been denied.

It fed the hatred all too easily.
 

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