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Realistic or Modern Moonlit Retreats [Closed]

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  1. Supernatural

Lucyfer

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Cassidy was burning with anger and embarrassment at the two elder vampires roasting Catholicism. It was true, there had been some…growing pains for the religion. Which included burning some innocent people at the stake, but that didn’t mean the core messages were wrong! Those were just…human mistakes!

“Right, no offense,” Cassidy grumbled out, feeling all the offense.

At least Inga thought she could help with…more healing? “Are you sure this won’t be an ‘every medicine is a poison’ in excess?” Not that Cassidy knew herself, her physiology was very confusing, though she caught the bottle and frowned at it, as if it would explain itself in her hands. ‘Well, down the hatch.’ At least it wasn’t going to mutate her like Lilian…right? She opened the bottle, sniffed it, swallowed air – and then swallowed whatever Inga’s magical potion was.

“I suppose you might want to make more of these if it works. Could be useful if Michael spreads his secret around,” Cassidy noted, once it was down the hatch, and there was just the shuffling of paper as Antonia went through other things grabbed from Michael, and the werewolf talking to Lilian.

Well, at least she was talking. Still conscious. Recovering.

“It’s not Jesus.” Cassidy couldn’t help but sound a bit indignant.

“It’s never Jesus,” Antonia added, having gone through pages with maps, before finally coming across the story of finding the God in some catacombs, and the exploration of the God’s Blessing, a few names that Antonia didn’t care about, and the brief details of their eventual understanding of the God’s Will. “Doesn’t really say what it is. I guess we should go find out.”

“You—you want to go find out?”

“Mm. I need to know how to get rid of Michael and his hunters eventually. It’s usually best to start with the head of the snake.” Not in all situations, she’d found some to be hydras, but she had dealt with it, and learned to take their measure.

She knew how this group would split. Gabriella was another leader, and it wouldn’t be hard to deal with her. She was past her prime. “We should plan when this is done. Not tomorrow. The Council’s meeting then. Not sure how things are looking after, but I should think I’d be able to leave my post for a bit….”

“Yeah—we could probably use the help, we don’t really know what we’re getting into,” obviously. “I—oh,” Cassidy suddenly winced. Something was happening after drinking that down, and it didn’t feel pleasant. She keeled over, wrapping her arms back around her midsection as a terrible warmth spread through her, waking up nerves and bringing so much screaming back to life.





No, no surprise that the hunter didn’t know much. Werewolf hunters also didn’t tend to know much, which was fun. They knew about silver, though, and that’s all they really cared about most of the time. Antonia had intervened in…more than one incident with werewolf hunters. Not that most were willing to listen to a vampire, but very few of them realized that someone could be born a werewolf, and they rarely had any interest in turning people.

So, he grunted understanding. “I can’t say I’ve ever been in your shoes. Been around vamps since I was a pup – including Antonia.” The ‘her’ implicit in the question, “She’s been protecting my family for generations. Sets us up with safehouses to go under the full moon, deals with our hunters, and we deal with hers.” A fun trade, really. “Vampires against werewolves isn’t a real thing. No reason for it. We don’t actively hunt humans. Cow works fine for us. Most of us just lose our minds on the full moon. Not much of a problem with a safe room, and drugged meat, which she provides. We don’t want to cause any harm, we don’t want to turn people, most of the time.”

Sometimes, in romantic relationships with outsiders, yeah, they wanted to turn someone. It didn’t lengthen their life as it did vampires, but it changed it in a way that was generally considered worth it, minus that full moon thing.

Underworld movies are pretty entertaining, though,” Felix allowed a bit of a chuckle, “not my favorite bad werewolf movie though. That’s Arizona Werewolf.” Which was so terrible it was hilarious, in the way he also thought What We Do In The Shadows was hilarious – except that was also good? Not, of course, in Antonia’s opinion, although he had forced her to watch a bit of it.

She regretted every second.

“Vamps aren’t too bad. Most of them. Cassidy seems like a good egg…even if she is Catholic. No offense if you are, just can’t get over the kid-fucking thing.”
 

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"You can never be 100% sure about these things," Inga said, being her usual charming self. What? It was true! And if people didn't want to hear the truth, then they should stop asking her questions. "Only like, reasonably convinced? Based on your past experiences, which may not apply here. That's what science is about! But, really, I don't think it should do anything bad."

Thinking something and knowing it were two very different things, though, and admittedly, Inga had also given it to her because she wanted to see what it would do. Yeah, she had tested it out! But not on vampires who had been hurt by... whatever weird weapons this Michael guy used. No ethical issues there, she was sure. Not like the girl had many other options, and to this day, people with terminal illnesses volunteered to try out new medicaments!

And Cassidy did know that that was what it was, judging by that little if.

Immediately, Inga's respect for her increased.

Well, somewhat. She was still Catholic.

"Yeah, yeah. I will!" Inga waved her hand. "I think it could be Jesus, though. He's the only one that would let himself get caught. The poor guy doesn't have a great track record, does he?" Indeed, Inga's commitment to making people squirm was legendary. Well, at least until she remembered there was stuff to research: "But this, this is interesting. So they take the blood from... something? Is it vampire-adjacent?" No, she wasn't letting that theory go, mostly because it was a good, well-reasoned theory. It may not have fit with what was going on entirely, but that was rarely the case! Most good theories were just... patchworks of ideas, transposed over one another. When a hole appeared in your logic, it was easier to repair it rather than to throw the whole thing away. Sometimes, that did reveal a critical mistake - and only then did you have to start anew.

"That would explain a lot. I mean, I did think that they can't possibly be good enough for that level of genetic engineering. But, yes!" Inga smiled. "I can go whenever, sváss mínn. Any suggestions?" Not only because she didn't really have any plans - and she didn't - but also because Antonia's plans kind of overrode things by default, on account of her being Antonia.

It was pathetic, wasn't it? But it did feel right, in a way nothing had for a long, long while. Maybe even never. Inga just... really wanted to see that triumphant spark in her eyes again, and maybe actually cause it.

For that, she had to stay by her side.

Easy to grasp, eh?

Just as it was easy to grasp the healing would hurt. It usually did, given the way tissue had to reconnect and the like.

~***~

"Sounds like you have a good thing going on," Lilian observed. Hunters, or at least the ones she had worked with, didn't focus on werewolves, and so she knew even less about those... creatures? People? She wasn't sure what the politically correct term was, here. "Must be nice to have someone like that." Antonia didn't seem like the type to protect literally anyone, but the difference between semblances and reality could be quite fucking stark. Yet another lesson the recent hunter revelations had taught her!

"Just lose your minds," Lilian repeated, with a frown. "That's a big just, to me." Cassidy had also lost her mind, a little bit, and it was her greatest fear that the so-called blessing would make her lose hers. "Probably not so dramatic if you know how to deal with it, though." Which was just the thing, wasn't it? Cassidy would learn, Felix had his safe house, and she... would be gone. Erased, like a fucking program. Well, golly fucking gee! Good thing she'd had no real career prospects in the first place.

"Okay," Lilian smirked, shoving that thought aside, "but the real question is - have you watched Twilight? And if so, which team are you?" The movies had been mighty controversial among hunters, given their, uh, subject matter; the more old-fashioned of their teachers had believed they would absolutely brainwash the recruits into thinking they could have their whirlwind romance with a vampire, and they obviously couldn't have that. So, seeking them out had been discouraged.

Of course, literally everyone had watched them for that very reason. Lilian, who had had a mild crush on Alice, didn't think they'd warped her too much.

Unless--?

"Yeah," the huntress said, mindlessly, "I like her." A beat, "I-- I mean," What she really meant was to remain a mystery, though, because that was the moment Cassidy screamed.

It might not have been the best idea, but it was also stronger than her. Already feeling strong enough, Lilian tore the tubes out - fucking ouch - and headed to the other room, righteous fury in her eyes. "What the fuck are you doing to her?!"

"Gods," Inga rolled her eyes. "I fucking swear, this is some soap opera shit. Calm down, will you? She is fine. Right, Cassidy?"
 
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Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
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Antonia was tempted to smirk in subtle amusement at Inga’s jab at Jesus, but refrained. There was a new tension in her that didn’t want to offer Inga much at all, now. Even if she hummed agreeably to the thought of blood, she still pointed out, “It doesn’t say blood.” It never actually specified what the Blessing was, only that it came from the God, and apparently wasn’t something the God could do from far away.

That nickname that sprung so easily to Inga’s lips reminded Antonia of why she needed to create a distance, just before Cassidy screamed. “If you did not hear me, Inga, I indicated it would be after the Council, when I have a better idea of what we’re looking at. You can also stop calling me that. I’m not your sweet.” She hoped being called out would stop it, but she quite doubted it. Some testiness came into her tone as Lilian came rushing into the room, followed by a Felix who hadn’t stopped her. He just shrugged when Antonia gave him a look.

Cassidy wasn’t sure if she was fine, of course, when Lilian showed back up. Still, she looked up and tried to smile, before wincing and curling back up around her midsection. “If this kind of…pain is normal. Then yeah. Sure. Totally fine.” Cassidy shut her eyes against it and tried to breathe.

Wait no, breathing was bad.

At least she wasn’t feeling new blood pouring out of her wound anymore, and the pain was starting to subside, causing her to loosen a little, and then manage, “Yeah, I think I’ll be okay. Just brought everything to life again,” she exhaled, unable to not breathe through that pain, but she also wasn’t desperately craving blood, so breathing was too bad, in the end.

“Antonia, I forgot to ask earlier,” Felix brought up, drawing her attention. He had to look away from Lilian and Cassidy or his soft smile would give all of his thoughts away about how precious they seemed in that moment of Lilian's immediate concern. Despite being bit. Besides which, he figured Lilian could use a little de-stress, and nothing worked like annoying Antonia when she was already in a Mood, “Were you Team Edward or Team Jacob?”

There was a moment’s pause as Antonia’s mind had to cycle through what the fuck that kind of question even meant without asking who Edward was. She wasn’t on the same page of the same book at all, but it didn’t take long when she saw a grin starting to spread on Felix’s lips, “I can fire you at any time.”

“Team I Can Fire You, Felix.” She hated Twilight. Felix had forced her to watch the sparkling scene and she was out. It hadn’t happened yet, but she knew there were going to be newbloods who eventually started wearing glitter to fuck with everyone. She was half-surprised Tristan wasn’t doing that yet.

Felix still chuckled, because Antonia's threat was fairly empty. It was true, but it wouldn't be done for petty things like this. She'd have to answer to all the other werewolves. “I was Team Jacob,” he canted his head towards Lilian, “Until the baby thing. Then I was on Team Everyone's Terrible. That series was a mess.” Marking an infant was all kinds of fucked up, and Felix didn’t care what the justification was. Yet, he watched it all, because that was his guilty pleasure – watching terrible movies about the supernatural.

‘Why are you talking about Twilight?’ Antonia wouldn’t ask. She’d just…get all the way back to the point. “Anyways, Cassidy?”

Cassidy looked up to Antonia.

“I’ll need your information so I can contact you tomorrow after the Council to give you an idea of what we’re looking at.”

“Ah—right.” As Antonia shuffled paperwork for her phone, Cassidy explained, “They want to come with us to find the God. I figured that couldn’t hurt, right?” In theory, at least. In reality, well, they’d find out.

“Ready.”

Cassidy quickly called out the numbers to let Antonia save them in her phone.
 

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"You can also stop calling me that. I'm not your sweet."

Antonia hadn't slapped her, though she might as well have. Inga flinched, suddenly looking a lot like a kid that had been caught stealing cookies; much like that kid, she didn't know what to do with her hands, and it was also impossible to figure out where to look. Antonia's face? Antonia's... anything? (If only she'd been stealing fucking cookies. She'd know what to say then, instead of just... kind of standing there.) "A-ah. Yeah. Sorry," was her mumbled answer. Her mind was racing with questions - questions like why? or when? - but, ultimately, they weren't really worth asking. They never were.

Why bother, when nothing would change anyway?

Except that everything would change, and that was the problem. The game was up. Over, in an instance.

Now, don't get her wrong; Inga had known where the path she had chosen was leading. She'd read the map, understood the signs, and still put on her shoes, with a big, dumb smile. Maybe she'd hoped it would be a little longer, though? With a few more memories to make? Idiot. The only surprise was just how unsurprising all of this was, in the end. This had unfolded almost exactly the way she'd expected it to, down to the disgust in Antonia's eyes.

Well, theories had always been Inga's strong suit! Yet another, uh, win. Yeah, framing it like that would be super helpful and not at all just rubbing salt in her wounds, which, by the way, she didn't even have. That was why you couldn't rub anything in them. Basic logic, bitches! Couldn't really argue with that, or with her. 'Cause she was too cool.

There was a heated debate - something about Twilight, for some motherfucking reason? - but it all felt very distant, as if surrounded by mist. "I assume you didn't actually care to turn the machine off?" she asked Lilian, who had the decency to look a little guilty before shaking her head. "Great, now there will be blood all over my floor. This is the one room I'm trying to keep clean, Lilian. One room! Is that so much to ask for?"

As if that mattered.

Inga sort of had trouble remembering what did, but it sure as fuck wasn't that.

"Well," she shrugged, "it did work, as expected from my genius self. You're welcome. Cassidy, you can just take... whatever from the fridge, if you don't want to snack on the hunter girl again. Svá... Antonia, if you'll excuse me? Got some exciting plans for the rest of the night. With a mop!"

"I can, um, help out?" Lilian piped up. "Considering it was my fault and everything, and--"

"No, no, I fucking love solo cleaning. It's my number one hobby." It really should have been, because at least she wouldn't fuck that up. Probably. "See you around! And, oh - I'll send you the file with my research later. It's... too much to explain at once. Really, I don't want to bore you."

"That... was awkward," Lilian observed, once the door closed after Inga. She would have asked 'what the fuck is her problem?' but she'd also learned not to ask when you didn't want to hear the answers, and something told her this would fall squarely into that category. "But I gotta agree with you, Felix. Team Everyone Sucks is the only responsible choice, here. Unless you wanna bring Alice into it? She really was too good to be stuck in that series." And, by that, she meant the actress was quite hot.

What?

It was important to be honest with yourself.

That was part of the reason Lilian was also able to acknowledge just how relieved she felt, knowing Cassidy wouldn't bleed to death on Inga's new carpet. What a pathetic death that would have been! Not that she wanted any death at all for her, but... yeah. "I suppose that's fine," Lilian glanced at Antonia, "Safety in numbers and all that. Time to scram, then? Unless you really wanna spend the day here, Cassidy."

And, no, Lilian couldn't imagine a lot of worse places for that than Inga's Freakshow Wonderland. Well, maybe aside from the HQ? But that was basically cheating.

The night air was still pleasantly chill, with the stars shining above, when Lilian decided it was time to address the elephant in the room. Better to do it before it turned into a dinosaur, or something else with teeth, and destroyed... uh, whatever it was that they had?

(She still had no idea what it was, but it was too nice to treat this carelessly. Of that, Lilian was certain.)

"Don't think for a second I'm not mad," she huffed, "Because I am. You can't just do shit like that, Cassidy." Not without her permission, anyway. It had felt better than expected, and maybe Lilian... wouldn't have minded so much, under different circumstances, but fuck, that sense of losing control against her will was not fun. She did want to stay away, for now.

"Why the hell didn't you tell me, though? Had I known you were struggling, I would have... dunno, stayed away. Made things easier for you. You've been there for me, and I also wanna be there for you, and I can't be when you keep me in the dark. Dummy." Probably not the most scathing of insults, but that also wasn't the point. "What is this, some kinda self-deprecating shit? 'I'm an evil, evil vampire and I need to shield her from my wicked ways?' Cassidy, I'm a hunter. Or I was. And I can deal with the less fun sides of this, I promise, I just... wanna know what's going on. Otherwise you risk subjecting me to Inga's ramblings on shitting down people's throats," because if she had had to hear that, then Cassidy had to, too, "and I could have done without that. Like, seriously. Not the mental picture I needed."
 
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Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
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Inga definitely didn’t react positively to being told to tone it down by Antonia. Which, well, with everything else just revealed, made sense. Antonia must have just gained the upperhand in this blackmail situation given the dinner incident was last night. That was obviously where Inga bloodied her hands.

Still, Cassidy felt bad for Inga?

It was hard to feel much for Antonia, though that could just be because of how often Cassidy knew she’d stuck her foot in her own mouth talking to Antonia, and Antonia’s general…lack of humor, as evidenced by her reaction to Felix, too. Well, at least Cassidy thought it wasn’t too humorous, unaware that Felix did.

She also felt bad with how quick Inga was to dismiss them to go clean, and Antonia blowing it off with a shrug at Lilian’s deduction of awkwardness.

“Most of the Cullens except Edward weren’t complete pieces of trash,” Felix noted, seeming to agree with this Alice thing, as Antonia turned towards the exit, her answer apparent to this continued Twilight talk, “We’ll have to talk about more movies next time,” he said, already fairly certain he’d be involved in…whatever this thing was they were making plans for, “Try and add a few more werewolf ones to your repertoire.”

He smiled, before he left, and Lilian and Cassidy weren’t long after them. Cassidy just took long enough to grab a blood bag and drink it down before they exited what passed for Inga’s home, leaving Inga to clean all on her own. Cassidy didn’t want to spend more time than necessary there, even if she did want to try and help console Inga. She didn’t know how but she still wanted to. Inga had been nice to them. Helped them out when she didn’t need to.

She got repaid with a bloody floor.

And Cassidy now had to have an awkward Talk with Lilian about what she already knew she shouldn’t have done. Consent was very important in these situations, and she didn’t have it when she bit Lilian. Still, given the early conversation about Twilight, some humor was injected into the comment about ‘evil vampire’ (or maybe just in her mind it was), and that helped to lessen that sensation of guilt.

“You have every right to be angry with me, I know what I did was wrong.” Cassidy agreed, “I am sorry for losing control, and I am sorry for not…keeping you aware it was a possibility.” She knew she should have, even if it seemed obvious to her, and felt like it should be obvious to a hunter. Of course it wasn’t.

Lilian had already explained how fucked the knowledge hunters had, was. She couldn’t expect them to know about the reality of bloodlust.

“Honestly it…wasn’t the evil and protection thing. I know you’re a hunter, I know you can handle the messy stuff. It’s just…embarrassing not to have control, and it had been a while since I lost it. I thought I could hold it together. Thought I grew out of losing control and could hold on long enough not to snap, but you’re right. I should have told you that I felt like I was going to be a risk to your health. There’s no good excuse for not telling you.”

Embarrassment was not a good excuse compared to the fallout of this, as they continued to walk.

“Also, as much as I hate to ask…I’m going to need context for how Inga got on the subject of that kind of thing.” Was it a fetish? No, no, it had to be somehow related to her losing control since it was probably a rambling about how she lost control and…well, Cassidy didn’t understand it at all.

“Even though the mental picture is horrible,” she agreed wholeheartedly there.

~***~

“What did you do to Inga?” Felix asked once they were safely tucked in the car, causing Antonia to frown in question at him, “She seemed much less chipper when I got back there after Lilian’s escape.”

“Oh,” Antonia disregarded it as important, but answered, “I told her to stop calling me ‘my sweet’. Seems it upset her a bit, no surprise, given she’s done the stupid thing and developed feelings for me.”

“Oh, you finally noticed?”

“I’m not an idiot, Felix – and finally? I haven’t known her that long.” She didn’t feel like she’d been out of the loop long, “You could have told me if you had noticed, though.” Not that she expected he ever would. Such a thing wasn’t important, and no doubt, it served as some mild entertainment for him.

“I didn’t want to ruin it. Wasn’t sure if you felt anything.”

Antonia could only sigh at that. That was another matter entirely, marred by blackmail and violence. Inga had started to grow from just tolerable. It was clear she was smart, and it wasn’t as if Antonia could forget that Inga had saved her life, and wasn’t…blackmailing her to really get one up on her. She just wanted to help. It was a stupid way to go about asking for help, of course. Many of Inga’s decisions weren’t the best.

It didn’t excuse the massacre.

It didn’t excuse the blackmail.

Freed from the blackmail, she could admit to herself she would have continued working with Inga willingly, were it not for that damnable massacre hanging low in her mind. It was her Reason For Living – how could it not stain everything? And she had been stupid enough to lie to herself about it. Stupid enough to consider Inga hadn’t been there, and start to think she wasn’t terrible, even if she was annoying.

Her silence was fatal. “You do feel something.”

“Oh don’t be dramatic, Felix,” Antonia rolled her eyes, “Of course I feel something, that doesn’t automatically make it a romantic feeling. But I can admit she was growing on me, and I still have things to think about vis a vis her future.”

“Hers? Or yours together.”

Hers.” Antonia snapped down on it, even if Felix was technically correct. “Is this because of Twilight? Are you thinking stupid things like this because of Twilight? I need to get you better movies.”

“Do you even know any good vampire movies?”

“No, they’re all atrocious piles of garbage.”

At least it got them off the complicated matter of Inga, which Antonia knew she needed to allow herself to nurse a bit longer. No, Felix was likely quite wrong. She hadn’t even humored a fling in ages. Oh, a few one-night stands, of course – but nothing with feeling. Her attachment issues went a bit too deep for all of that nonsense. She only attached herself to the ephemeral – werewolves and humans – and those few who survived.

Humans and wolves were going to die and that was fine.

She couldn’t face the pain of another immortal dying.

The night passed with her reading through the notes, and doing her best to read through the bloodstains. ‘Fucking Michael.’ It was a thought that occurred more than once, even with some grudging respect for his clear intent to blackmail her at some point, and for his details. She burnt all the pages relating to her, of course.

The next night brought the Council, and Antonia was sans Felix – but not sans Amon, who she rode with rather than drive herself, even if she wanted to. Amon was insistent that they arrive together, if only to drive a point home to poor little Matteo, who Amon was now calling ‘poor little Meow Meow’ for some fucking reason.

Yet another meme that Antonia wasn’t privy to.

The Council maintained a steady meeting grounds in the basement of a hotel – one of those ritzy ones, considering the entire chain was owned by the Valencia family, which was technically a clan all its own, but it all came from one bloodline, and they traced themselves back to a single sire.

That sire wouldn’t be there, of course, but two of her childes would be, along with their staff who greeted and made sure everyone found their way to the meeting hall. The basement felt quite like an ancient tomb in a way, or an ancient shrine at the very least, even though it was made of more updated styles. Marble shimmered in the electric lights, but the high ceilings and archways still screamed of times long gone.

Weapons weren’t taken; there was too much risks with hunters around, though the two Optimates arrived empty-handed. Amon did just to continue that illusion he didn’t need them (and he didn’t). Antonia had an image of her own to maintain.

Just as Tristan had an image as…Tristan.

Now with platinum hair, and sparkling skin, the memelord was quick to light up when he saw Amon, “There you are! I was wondering if you’d be as reclusive as Isolde’s being.” Tristan said, catching the sidelong glare of the youngest Valencia childe (but one who could claim to be a Second Generation, given Valencia herself sired her) of utter disgust before she turned and walked away to continue seeing to it that everything was moving smoothly and people were preparing to move into the actual Council Hall to get things going.

“Why would you ever doubt me, Tristan?” Amon chuckled, “I have yet to lose my mind, it is a shame about Isolde, I did think she might turn up to defend Matteo considering she is his elder, but c’est la vie, I suppose. Also, how ever did you get those sparkles, and do they come in gold?”

‘Nope.’ Antonia immediately turned to leave the conversation, only to have Amon’s arm wrap around her shoulders and pull her right back.

“Probably? I didn’t have that much time to look at the make-up store before this, so I just found this kind of silver, but it works, right?”

“No.”

“I didn’t ask you, Antonia.”

“Excuse her, she never quite got into the fashion of eccentrics,” he let her go, but it wasn’t permission, “where are the dear Veturia? I feel the need to extend my regards for such a tragedy. I know it very well. I can empathize with their situation.”

“You just want to see Joseph.”

“Is this a crime?”

“It should be.”

“I didn’t ask you, Antonia.” Amon echoed Tristan.
 

Syntra

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Embarrassing. It was simply embarrassing to her, much like tripping over her own legs would have been to Lilian, and she couldn’t help but giggle a little bit, despite the seriousness of it all. Fucking vampires! They were not the worst, she had to agree with Felix there. Some of them were even pretty okay. Cultural clashes were probably to be expected, though? Even if she would have preferred for them to not revolve around the matter of her possibly being bled dry.

And, yes, the fact that Lilian was able to think of it so calmly probably did point to some… uh, troubling mental patterns. What was she to do, though? Pretend to be scared to death? Kind of hard to pull that off when that was exactly the sort of thing she’d been lowkey preparing for.

No, hunters didn’t tend to die of old age. They also didn’t tend to die in their beds, surrounded by loved ones. What most of them got was a broken neck, and then a shallow grave.

Her parents hadn’t even gotten that.

“Okay, I wish I could explain the Inga thing but I don’t think even she can.” Lilian still didn’t know what to think of that one, considering that she had been both a) nothing but helpful, b) also nothing but intensely, aggressively weird. “Something about her wanting to make it relatable to me? Apparently she thought I needed a metaphor,” not true, by the way, metaphors sucked, “and shitting was the only human urge she could come up with. And then she tried to connect it to hurting people.” The end result was something Lilian wished she wouldn't remember, but also something she knew would haunt her in her nightmares for the rest of her life. Thanks for that, you blonde freak.

“But okay,” Lilian nodded, “I… I’m not gonna say I get it fully but I kind of understand?” It really didn’t sound pleasant. Yeah, personal experience would have helped, but she didn’t need it, the same way she didn’t need to know what killing a dragon was like to sympathize with a fantasy protagonist. Feelings were ultimately the same, even if the circumstances weren’t. “It’s just kind of hard because… I don’t know. I was taught to think the worst of you, and then you come along, and I find out it’s not true, except some of it is?” Yeah, okay, not the best way to phrase it. Especially with the guilt already being there! “I don’t think worse of you,” she rushed to add, “it’s just… a process, figuring out what is true and what isn’t, and how to not trigger things. But,” Lilian grabbed her hand, “It’ll be worth it. All the things that are worth it are a pain in the ass in the beginning. Like, effort is, not you. And sometimes, even effort can be nice?” Lilian had no idea how she had managed to get so worked up when she was supposed to be chewing her out, but… fuck, maybe that was just one of those Cassidy things.

A misstep was, well, just that. A misstep. Not to be too sappy, but nobody deserved to be judged according to their worst moment.

Why do that to Cassidy?

She hadn’t done that to her.

“Long story short, I’m only a little mad,” Lilian said, as if Cassidy needed to be informed of the exact scope of her anger. Ugh, you gonna show her a fucking graph next time? Lilian’s agitation levels rising to 80%, deliver chocolate or jump the ship? Great social skills, right fucking there! “And bored. You could win me over with something fun.” What? They did both deserve to de-stress!

~***~

The blood was everywhere.

If Lilian knew literally anything about lab culture, it had not translated into the way she’d treated Inga’s precious equipment, and so she had to spend a good portion of the night cleaning… well, most surfaces. Some of the machines, too.

Still, she couldn’t find it in herself to be angry at anyone who wasn’t her. Why do that? It wasn’t like the blood apocalypse was even a bad thing, per se; it could hardly distract her from her thoughts, but she could pretend it did, and that was better than nothing in the end.

Certainly better than replaying the last conversation with Antonia in her head, and imagining all the things she had not said. Not like that request didn’t imply things, you know? And Inga could hear the words in the background noise, even if she would have preferred not to. After all, that was the difference between ‘dumbass’ and ‘nutjob.’

A nutjob could still understand things.

Sometimes, she would have liked to be a dumbass. The straightforwardness would have been so refreshing!

I could run. Find some other pet project. And some other obsession as well, because, really, that was what she’d been doing for most of her life. Getting involved, at first, then finding out she was too involved, and finally cutting ties when that had gotten uncomfortable, for one reason or another. Wasn’t it tempting, to return to that old pattern? It was, and Inga couldn’t really see any downsides either. A clean cut was better than a festering wound, and there was no way this wouldn’t turn into that. It was just what… kind of happened, when you muddied the waters.

Besides, her running would immediately make her look suspicious in the Council’s eyes. She doubted they could actually find her, since it was still pretty easy for someone like her to disappear, but it would take the heat off Antonia, and retroactively make some of it worth it. A good farewell gift, eh?

Maybe later. As nice as fantasizing about that was, she also knew that her testimony would likely be more valuable. Who knew what kind of shit Matteo intended to pull? And Inga also didn’t like leaving in the middle of things, as convenient as it would have been. Might get some laughs out of that shitshow, if nothing else.

Oh, yeah! What had happened at the feat still was pretty funny. Inga couldn’t deny that, despite the new, painful dimension that was added by the knowledge it was likely her last venture with Antonia.

Or, well – her last venture when things had still been normal.

Close to normal, anyway.

Since the Council would be a battle of sorts as well, she braided her hair again. It wasn’t a bad ritual; braiding required focus, and it was also a mechanical enough thing for her mind to be able to… slip into this weird trance? Maybe that was the original idea behind it, moreso than just getting the hair out of one’s way.

Maybe she was also thinking about it too much, though.

When Inga entered the Valencia premises, she did attract looks. They weren’t kind, and so she gave them her brightest smile out of pure spite, and even managed to hug one of the Valencia childes along the way. “Drusilla, my friend!”

“…My name is Penelope,” the vampiress hissed.

“Are you sure? I could have sworn it was Drusilla,” Inga rubbed her chin, trying her damnedest to look confused. “But I suppose you’d know better than me, Penny. Don’t let it get to you.”

“…”

Ha! 1:0 for Inga vs. literally everyone else.

Something told her that the score was about to change soon, though, because she could see the Antonia-Amon-Tristan trio, who somehow managed to stand out even in the crowd. And since avoiding them would have been even weirder… “Hello, hello!” Inga waved at the three. “Looking great, Tristan. Wow, those are some nice sparkles. Really though, I’m thinking you should get longer hair one of these days. Isn’t it boring, to always have to work with… just that? And Amon! And Antonia!”

Yeah, Antonia. Ha, ha, ha.

“Such lovely company, I could almost cry.”

But the gods were merciful for once, because they didn’t really have a lot of time for chitchat. Before they could delve deeper into a conversation, and rub more salt in Inga’s wounds, they had to move closer to the stage.

“Any of you seen Matteo?” Inga whispered. “Heard that Isolde ate him for breakfast. With her, I’m not too sure how much of a metaphor it was.”

You could never be sure of anything with Isolde, and privately, Inga was glad she’d never met her.

But – was that…?

“Amon,” she turned to the Sun God, “look to your right.” And yeah, Joseph was standing there, looking about as pissed off as usual. Once again, he was wearing a tux that didn’t really fit, and both of his hands had been shoved deep into his pockets. It didn’t take long for him to notice them, either.

“Inga, you traitorous little--!”

“Glad to see you as well, Joseph! But whatever do you mean?” she batted her eyelashes, the very picture of innocence. “I don’t think most people would call me little.” The traitor part, of course, was rather accurate. Then again, they’d betrayed her first.

“Where’s Matteo? Too busy burying his friends, or maybe his career?”

“Ehm, ehm,” Penelope coughed, in order to get everyone’s attention. She was standing on the stage, right next to Matteo – who was missing his left arm. Oooh, spicy! Doesn’t seem like Isolde took it all that well. Matteo apparently hadn’t, either, because he was even paler than usual and his expression could only be described as ‘kill me.’

“Fellow kindred of the night,” she said, “we have gathered here to investigate the incident that occurred two nights ago. Hopefully I don’t have to stress how grave the matter is,” for some reason, she looked mostly at Tristan, Inga and Joseph, “so I believe you will all follow the protocol to the best of your ability. It is important for us to discover the truth, so that the appropriate conclusions can be drawn. We were this close to tipping the humans off to our existence,” this time, Antonia was on the receiving end of her glare, “and we must collectively learn from this fiasco. Lord Ariotti, shall you present your version of the events?”

Matteo looked like nothing would have pleased him more than saying no, but he also knew that wasn’t really an option. “There… isn’t much to say. What happened was a series of tragic coincidences. The hunters must have learned of the feast somehow,” no, no direct mention of Antonia, “and did what hunters do. I wish I could say more to shed some light on this, but that is all I know. Before they appeared, everything was going according to the plan.”

Wow, that… was a surprisingly poor performance. Inga supposed it wasn’t that weird, though; he really looked like he hadn’t been able to catch a break since the feast. Good, you pathetic joke of a leader. Enjoy!

“Very well,” Penelope nodded, clearly not very convinced. “Does anyone have any questions?”

According to the custom, everyone had the right to speak at the Council – even if it was clear Penelope would also like for at least some of them to stay silent. You know, like the Inga-Tristan-Joseph trio, whom she was giving a very obvious death glare.
 

Lucyfer

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Inga’s explanation sounded quite odd as Lilian attempted to elaborate on it. Human urges and causing pain to another, somehow getting Inga to shitting down throats. Cassidy couldn’t help the baffled expression on her face as Lilian continued to elaborate. ‘What kind of life did she lead as a human to come up with that?’ Definitely not a normal one, even if Cassidy had been reminded there was no normal human life.

And considering how old Inga was, all of Cassidy’s ideas about normal went out the window. But how did humans think of that? ‘Maybe she’s just that detached from her humanity?’ Which naturally made Cassidy begin to think that maybe Inga’s age was more on par with the supposed Sun God.

Those thoughts evaporated when Lilian grabbed her hand, speaking of forgiveness and understanding – and only being a little upset. Well, Cassidy was okay with that, her expression softening into relief and warming with a smile, even if she didn’t feel fully forgiven. That was herself being mad at herself for getting them into this situation, nothing at all with Lilian. Lilian explained it well – they both had work to do on the understanding thing, and putting the effort in to make this work.

‘Make what work?’ That sounded like relationship talk.

Was now the time to ask what were they? Probably not, because relationships could just be friends, too. That required effort, and Cassidy liked the rule of ‘don’t ask if you don’t want to know’. She wasn’t even fully certain where she saw this going, even if jokes of roommates had filled her head, and her mind was still a bit hazed with the taste of Lilian’s blood. She wasn’t in the right state of mind.

But fun! That was distracting!

“Not really sure what you like doing – we’ll need to change no matter, there’s, ah, blood on my shirt,” not much, but still, “I know Tristan’s raved about this late night arcade downtown,” she offered, “and there’s a bowling alley that does cyber bowling some nights.” Cassidy’s idea of fun was always doing something, rarely just going around strolling an art gallery or watching a movie.

She liked those things, too, but they didn’t pop right into her head.

Well the movie thing did, because of Twilight, “Or there’s Netflix and Chill with shitty vampire movies?” Wait no! Abort! She didn’t mean Netflix and Chill like that. Oh god, Jesus, Mary, she was going to murder Tristan for getting that phrase stuck in her head. ‘Pretend you don’t understand what it means, you’re a vampire.’ As if Tristan didn’t make Netflix and Chill memes all the time.

Maybe Lilian didn’t know Netflix and Chill.

~***~

Inga! Amon smiled, delighted, and Tristan also did, but the most she got from Antonia was that sidelong look, and making room for her presence. “I’ve gotten hair extensions in the past,” Tristan agreed, “but they are so annoying to take care of.” Not like he could grow his hair out. It always returned to how it was when he was “reborn”, whenever he slept, or overindulged in blood. Something about the healing factor. He’d figured what was enough to make sure the more petty changes didn’t happen when he drank – keeping the hair color was necessary, for at least 24 hours.

Of course, maintenance of unlife wasn’t a topic allowed to continue before they were all ushered into the Council Room, and lo and behold, there was Joseph. “Iupitor, why,” Antonia muttered, and was the one to grab Amon’s wrist before he could go hug Joseph, subtle as the grab was.

It was enough time for Joseph to greet first, and with venom. Which, of course, changed Amon’s greeting, “Joe! Is that the same tuxedo from your sire’s funeral? I told you it didn’t fit – if you’re that poor, really, I am able to help you with a good suit. I don’t mind who you call family.” He did, but that wasn’t how you won someone over.

Joseph was pushed along into their group with the move of the crowd, and Tristan made sure to input himself between Joseph and Amon – as did Antonia, even if it pained her to be by Tristan. Physically, pained her to imagine glitter getting on her skin.

When they entered the Council Chambers, Amon moved over to his side, and the others just continued to follow, even if Tristan, Inga, and Joseph didn’t quite belong. Amon had his throne, as the other family heads did. Sometimes Antonia occupied it, though rarely. A couple of other Optimates came near, as well, either taking other seats, or remaining standing, as all eyes turned to Penelope and then, Matteo.

Amon hissed in a breath that was his own way of covering an outright laugh, and Antonia forced herself to look aside, hair falling to help cover the grin. ‘Isolde has shit tastes.’ Not really, she wouldn’t have minded drinking Matteo dry. Never really got into the flesh side of things – as far as she knew, that was bullshit, but…one could never be certain. She had questions about Amon’s diet sometimes.

The older, the stranger. The more likely they had to learn a lot by trial and error, without even a word for vampire in existence to tell them what they were. Antonia had met Isolde and she knew to be very concerned. Much like Amon, few knew what Isolde could really do.

Matteo spoke up when it was his turn, and as predicted, he toed the party line.

Antonia was certain that Amon was resisting the urge to yawn. His hopes and dreams of open warfare were being shattered all around him as Matteo didn’t lay the blame right at her feet with anything more than a “somehow”. He had no proof, of course. At that point he’d just be another Veturia yelling about phantoms.

“One question, if I may,” Amon idly lifted his hand, and Penelope looked like she wanted to deny him.

“Go on, Lord Amon.”

Last names were for suckers. “Thank you, Lady Penelope,” one of those weird incestual quirks of House Valenica. They were all Lord and Lady Valencia, so the surname was rarely used formally, unless THE Lady Valencia was there, of course. “Matteo, please accept my pities for your gruesome wound. The hunters must have gotten to you, but we are all glad to see you came out of that, with only the lost arm to show for it,” of course Amon knew who did the arm thing. Of course he was making things worse, and pretending to forget the word sympathies to move into his next question, “and please help me a little – this could just be a flaw of understanding so many languages, you understand – but you phrased the feast as going according to plan, which seems an odd way to speak of a feast to reconcile with Antonia,” there would obviously not be another, “Praytell, what was the plan of the evening?”

Antonia was the one to shoot Amon a look, though she knew he was doing it mostly to make Matteo’s night worse by forcing him to dance around what he wanted to say, once again. The answer would come easily to Matteo, but he still had to say it, and give Amon that satisfaction.

Tristan was already back to typing away into his phone, updating the shitposting group with what was happening, and not laughing at any of the memes, questions, or statements brought up by others.
 

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An arcade, a bowling alley, or... Netflix and Chill? Oh, Lilian knew what that was, judging by the way her eyebrow shot up somewhere into the stratosphere. Several questions popped into her mind, including 'aren't you married?' (dumb; he was long dead, thank god) and 'fucking really?' but, in the end, she voiced none of them. What left her mouth was something akin to an astonished chuckle, except it also... sounded almost flattered? Lilian herself didn't quite know how to interpret it, and she didn't envy Cassidy for having to try. "I don't do that cheap shit," she said, after finding her words. "This is how romance dies, Cassidy. When I court my lady, I treat her right."

Not that she had really done that for a while, for... reasons. Very valid reasons, like being super aware of her own - and her potential partner's - mortality. Hunters mostly knew other hunters; it was natural, because you didn't have that much to talk about with, say, an accountant. Not without having to censor the fuck out of yourself, anyway. The weird sleep schedule also didn't help. So, hunters also tended to date other hunters, and... yeah, no. Not ever fucking going there!

Well, aside from Julie. That wasn't what she'd necessarily call dating, though. Just, um, maintenance stuff! From time to time.

There hadn't been any feelings, and definitely not any dates. You know, dates such as: "The arcade sounds good," Lilian blurted out.

Was it a date? She hadn't confirmed it, but she also hadn't re-directed their trajectory to a more platonic course, and, to be completely honest with herself, Lilian had no idea what she wanted.

It was a stupid idea, of course. They still didn't know each other that well, and what she had learned today basically amounted to... uh, finding out that Cassidy was more dangerous than she perhaps would have liked. That, under the right circumstances, she would take her blood.

And that it felt good. An important detail.

"I-I mean, I'm not sure if it sounds good, I've never been to one. And that Tristan is recommending it is a fucking red flag," yeah, yeah, only a joke. Lilian didn't hate him, mostly because it was hard to hate what amounted to an overgrown kid with really sharp fangs. "But I guess we could try." Weren't you oh-so-proud of yourself for being a functioning fucking adult? The answer to that was complicated, and Lilian supposed some of it may have been sour grapes. As a hunter, you either functioned or... died.

Not much of a room for those, quote unquote, immature things.

Changing to something not-bloodstained didn't take that long, and soon enough, they were on their merry way again. The arcade itself looked like something straight out of a fever dream, with its bright pink facade and a blue neon 'Beta Fun' written on the signboard, and Lilian was almost regretting her choice.

Almost, but not quite.

"That... does look like something Tristan would recommend," she chuckled. "No fucking idea what I expected. Okay, so!" Lilian turned to Cassidy, "Which of these do you like?" 'These,' of course, referred to the many video games she didn't recognize, and... what seemed to be a dance machine? "You'll have to lead the way because I'm a total noob."

~***~

"No," Joseph fumed, barely suppressing his desire to strangle Amon, "it's not the same one. I just like the style, okay?! It's trendy nowadays."

Inga, for the most part, was trying not to laugh at the whole Matteo thing. It truly was an honest attempt, and anyone who knew her could tell. The only problem with that was that self-restraint was not something she practiced often, or even really attempted. Unlike the two politicians in the room, she was not good at this. But, to her credit, Inga was giggling quietly! However, what kind of discredited her was that her definition of the word 'quiet' differed from that of the rest of the world's by about eighty decibels.

Joseph, who still hadn't gotten over Amon's tuxedo comment, glared. Most of the people in the room kind of glared, if only because she stood out like a sore thumb. It was hard for her not to, given her height and... everything. Her choice of clothes, which was once again a leather jacket with some torn jeans instead of something more classy, also contributed to the effect.

Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. Definitely DON'T imagine Isolde chewing his arm off. The effects of that were somewhat contrary to what she'd been trying to do, and, in the end, Inga had to reach for her phone to... hmm, find a productive outlet for that kind of creativity.

Yes, she was making OC content for Tristan's shitposting group. Another mistake, by the way! Because when Inga hit 'send,' sharing her 'When you ask Isolde where Matteo's arm went' meme with the world, it very much did send her over the edge.

"Anything you'd like to share with the class, Inga?" Penelope finally asked, beyond annoyed.

"No, no! Sorry. Just... remembered something funny," Inga gave her a charming smile. "Do go on, I'm totally listening."

Matteo, meanwhile, looked like he was considering ending her right there and then.

Inga kind of wished he tried, because then she would have had a legit excuse to finish her job.

This wasn't the kind of battlefield where you fought with weapons, though, and so Matteo just let Amon talk, like the coward he was. Hmm. Is it just me, or did more color drain from his face? Amon was good, Inga had to admit. Not that there had been any doubt of that, but it was still a joy to behold!

"Thank you," Matteo said dryly. "It... truly was an unfortunate incident. Regarding your question, Lord Amon - of course, the only plan was for us to reconciliate. Lady Lenart even gave a very memorable speech, which I'm sure would have led to more understanding between our respective clans, if not for those pesky hunters." 'For those pesky hunters YOU sent,' his eyes said, though he didn't allow himself the pleasure of saying it with his lips as well.

"Lady Lenart can confirm as much. Am I correct?" No, Matteo had no plans of trying to frame her, and was obviously aiming to end this as fast as he could. No fucking wonder!

"Alright, so if nobody has any questions left--"

Inga raised her arm in a big, sweeping, dramatic gesture.

"--if nobody has any questions left," Penelope repeated, almost letting the 'important' modifier slip in, "we can ask Lady Lenart for her testimony?"
 
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Lucyfer

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‘When I court my – wait are we dating now?’ Cassidy could feel the ‘404’ error blinking her head when Lilian said that, not to mention that chuckle. She was pretty sure it blinked all the way until Lilian mentioned the arcade, to which Cassidy nodded, because sure! Arcade! Why not? Anything to get them moving, and uh – wait they probably needed to talk about this? Later? Yeah.

It wasn’t brought up while changing, though, and getting on their way to the arcade, which was somehow still holding a really good crowd that late? ‘Smells like energy drinks and….’ Yup, other vampires, Cassidy noticed, but wouldn’t call attention to it. This was…a safe area. It had to be, or Tristan wouldn’t be a fan.

The carpet was a dark blue, with neon hues.

The light was black light, making everything bright stand out. Cassidy glanced around at all the games, wondering where to even begin. She noticed there seemed to be a ticket and prize system going on, by the bored teenager at a counter playing on his phone. “Well,” the dance games did look fun, but she wasn’t sure she was ready for that kind of embarrassment, even if the odds were great it’d be mutual embarrassment.

She spotted a few shooting games and gestured towards them, “Why not start there? I know I can at least aim and fire!” And she started that way, adding, “I did play some old fighting games back in the day, but I kind of moved away from arcade sorts in the 90s,” that was alongside the rise of consoles, and then PCs. She still didn’t play many games, but at least now she could play them peacefully in her own home, rather than risk coming to an arcade.

The guns were plastic junk, blue and orange, and Cassidy couldn’t help the somewhat flashy gesturing, “You can pick first,” not that it likely mattered all that much. The story of the shooting game was fairly flimsy, something about a haunted house that was so much more than a haunted house!

At least it didn’t look like it was going to be about zombies, given the title ‘Hell House’. Seemed it was all about demons and getting through a portal to hell to go shoot the devil himself, because that was going to work out perfectly.

Still, it could be fun. And involve some playful screaming at each other to actually hit targets, and cover for each other.

~***~

Amon was disappointed that he didn’t get to start a war right then and there, but he hadn’t really expected to. Isolde gave Matteo enough of a…chewing up, to convince him against that sort of path without her express permission, and people knew one didn’t lightly go into battle with the likes of either Isolde or Amon. There were a few others high on that list, of course.

So he gave a sympathetic ‘tsk’ and a nod, acknowledging what Matteo had to say about the wonderful speech Antonia gave – and gave her a look, miming ‘Hounds of War?’ in Latin, to which Antonia just rolled her eyes and pretended not to understand the words at all, as Penelope called for her to give her own testimony, disregarding Inga entirely.

Tristan, of course, just gave Inga a sly smile and a thumbs up for the meme because it was as delicious as Matteo's arm, apparently.

“It is as Matteo says,” Antonia agreed, “I was given an invitation due to previous antagonisms regarding the hunters after I was attacked not long ago, to make amends and start fresh once more. Sadly, the hunters decided to strike out at all of us there,” she shook her head, “and I have also come to say that I believe the hunters in this town need to be condemned.”

That seemed to startle the speaker for Clan Aqidah, which was no surprise to Antonia. They had vocalized misgivings earlier both about her, and about the hunters here. “I spoke with Michael Serafis, the hunter ambassador here. He cannot reign them in, nor, have I realized is he trying. They are a very religiously driven group, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Inquisition.” A bit before the witch hunting days, but those were also on the list.

The zealots were some of the worst. “I had hoped he was not a zealot and I blinded myself to it. For that I apologize; I became overconfident in my abilities from other hunting groups that I did not heed the warning signs. I intend to ask the werewolves for aid, and I will return with their price, as well as the price of other hunter organizations in the vicinity, but at this time, I would move to petition this council towards war with the hunters of Michael’s group, and that they are to be killed on sight, when possible.”

“I trust you have a list of them?”

“Some,” Antonia acknowledged, “Which I am willing to forward to the heads of the clans, and to Tristan to disseminate amongst the clanless. I will work to get more,” Lilian might be a decent source. “I do have many of their locations, which I will also forward to be destroyed.”

It was a move she had not discussed with Amon, nor the others, but it was an easy way to make it clear she was not involved. Someone didn’t just casually throw away all of their weapons like that. They begged and pleaded for more time. Antonia made sure she wasn’t even asked – although, of course, she knew she would be asked about the hunter situation.

“Very well,” Penelope looked to the others, “Then we shall vote, as this is not lightly considered. Would the speakers for each clan please present a show of hands for war against the hunters within this vicinity that fall under the group Michael Serafis heads?”

Naturally, Amon didn’t even consider second-guessing or questioning Antonia in public. He just raised his hand in that typical bored fashion.

“Do I get a vote for the clanless?” Tristan asked. “This seems pretty fucking important.”

“Are you willing to be responsible for every clanless, Tristan?” Penelope asked, testy as ever.

“Nope.”

“Then no.”
 

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“Hey!” Lilian protested. “How is this fair? That’s basically cheating, with that… whole cowgirl shtick.” Almost anything would have been cheating-tier with her lack of experience, but this really was pushing it. After all, Cassidy had been around for the Wild West era! And Lilian had never so much as held a firearm, with the reasoning being that bullets didn’t work on vampires anyway. Not that she thought that games were all that similar to handling actual guns, but it was the matter of principle. “That desperate for a win?” The question may have been harsh, but her tone wasn’t; more than anything else, it was light and teasing, like banter between friends… or lovers. Ehm.

They probably had to address what they were at some point, right? Definitely not now, though. This felt too public, for one. Too public for even a normal couple, let alone a weird vampire/hunter duo with weird, vampire/hunter issues.

A couple. The word sounded funny in her ears, probably because she hadn’t associated it with herself for a while. It also… wasn’t necessarily unpleasant, though?

Oh god, Twilight did fucking corrupt you.

“Games were a no-no for us,” she said, shoving that thought aside. “Something about them being too involved, and causing addictions, and blah blah blah. You know, leading us away from the Truly Important Things.” The rhetoric wasn’t actually all that dissimilar to a much older moral panic, in which videogames were somehow the root of all murderous urges. Presumably, the murderers who had come before videogames had… murdered because of prophetic dreams? The geniuses had never explained, so she could only guess what the rationale was. “We were allowed to have virtuous hobbies, though. Maria sang in a choir.” Lilian, who had only ever sung in self-defense, had been kicked out of one before. “And I was a pretty good ice hockey player. Nobody ever wanted to go anywhere near me,” mostly because Lilian did know how to hit with her hockey stick pretty hard, “so really, I could have been a fucking star.”

Well, probably not. The rules did specify something about the players ‘not being allowed to maim their opponents,’ to her endless dismay.

There was also the matter of her being a hunter, of course. Hunters weren’t supposed to get famous, for fairly obvious reasons, and that had engulfed any ambitions Lilian might have had. But, to be honest? She had never bothered dreaming in the first place. There had been no point to it.

With a smile, she grabbed one of the guns, “Ready to take on the forces of hell, Cass?”

Cass. That also sounded right, and probably wasn’t all that inappropriate, given that she had called her Lils before. And also given the fact that this might have been a fucking date? To summarize: AAAAA!

Focus, she told herself. This is a big deal. And it was a good thing that this was, in fact, the opposite of a big deal, because Lilian’s aim turned out to be pretty fucking tragic.

“How the fuck are you supposed to do this?” she exploded when one of the demons – a strange half-goat, half-bat creature – laughed her in the face again. “I swear, this thing’s rigged. Cannot handle my greatness!”

~***~

Internally, Inga was beginning to accept that literally every party Antonia was invited to was going to turn either into a conspiracy meeting, or a bloodbath.

It wasn’t a hard thing to accept, mostly because it was just so impressive. Two birds, one stone. You really do know how to play this game, huh? Inga had known that about her from the very beginning, and had been wary because of that, but it was still… different to watch it all unfold, as if all those people were just chess pieces waiting for her instructions.

Maybe she’d become one too, somewhere along the way. Maybe not. Inga had thought about this before, and come to the conclusion that the answer to that was probably ‘no’; after all, nutjobs were famously difficult to control. Not nutjobs with feelings. Then again, it didn’t seem like Antonia wanted to take advantage of them? Judging by the, ehm, sharp reaction to the whole sváss mínn thing. What she was getting from this was that her value was far too low for Antonia to even bother with manipulation, which, fair enough.

There was nothing she could get from Inga, aside from Inga herself.

That she wasn’t interested was as sad as it was expected.

“I vote for war,” Inga smiled sweetly. “They’ve had it coming for a long, long time now. Death to the fanatics!”

You cannot vote for anything,” Penelope snapped. “And if you say one more thing without being expressly asked, I am officially kicking you out of this meeting.” The ‘try me’ in her eyes was real, and Inga supposed this was the end of her trolling activities for tonight.

A damn shame, because that also meant she had to… well, think about different things instead. Things she didn’t really want to think about. Maybe it would be worth it to get herself kicked out? Running experiments in her lab right now did sound more pleasant than having to figure out what to say to Antonia, or – even worse – finding out that she didn’t want to talk to her at all.

(Yes, she had known all along. Didn’t mean that having it confirmed like that wasn’t painful, though.)

There was a low murmur among the other vampires as they considered the pros and cons, and, one after another, they began raising their hands. Some of them abstained from voting, but it was obvious what the majority position was. The few fence-sitters would change nothing.

“Very well,” Penelope sighed. “The Council has spoken. It seems that we have some pests to take care of, and that we will. Lady Lenart, I will ask you to forward me all the lists that you have, as well as any other suggestions. You are the one who is… the most well-versed in these matters. The rest of you, wait for your instructions. It is critical that we act as a united force, so please, restrain yourselves until then.” The exhaustion in her voice said that, yes, this truly was important, and no, no way a stupid motherfucker wasn’t going to blow it. “Do you understand me, Inga?”

“Who, me?” Inga put a hand over her heart, feigning shock. “This truly wounds me, you know. I would never!”

The investigation effectively ended after that, with everyone being far too preoccupied by the thought of, well, war. If any of them were like Amon – and Inga was willing to bet a lot of them were – then they’d been itching for good ol’ bloodshed for a long time, and finally they were going to get it. How fun! Besides, wasn’t hunter killing such a nice bonding activity? For once, you could forget about the clan loyalty nonsense and fight as one, with your fellow kindred by your side.

Well, theoretically. Knowing what she did, Inga expected some shenanigans.

And speaking of shenanigans…

“Well-played,” Matteo said, quietly. Somehow, he had gotten close without her ever realizing it. “I will give my respects where they are due, Lady Lenart. I presume your offer still holds?”

Even if it wasn’t addressed to her, Inga couldn’t help but roll her eyes. “What kinda offer, Matteo? Did Isolde eat your brain as well?”

“Oh,” he smiled, “the one about forgiveness. About working with me. I would assume Lady Lenart does know a thing or two about that, considering it was you who killed dear Giannis.”

That… didn’t ring a bell. Back in her day, Inga had killed a lot of people, and she definitely hadn’t asked them to introduce themselves before the act. That would have been morbid. “First of all,” she began, “I have no idea who that is.” Or had been? “And if you think I don’t know you’ll say anything to make me look bad,” well, worse, “then you’re sorely mistaken.”

At that, Matteo’s eyes were triumphant. “But you really did kill him, Inga. I saw it. An old man, with kind eyes? He was the one trying to make us go for a peaceful solution.

Oh. That did stand out, even in the haze her memories had become. She had killed him.

“I…” Could lie. Yes, yes she could, and would likely be believed over Matteo, who, at this point, was about as trustworthy as your average divorce lawyer. Inga also felt that she really shouldn’t, though. You didn’t lie about your kills. “…I suppose I did, yeah. I do remember that.”
 
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Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
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Cassidy was not surprised that videogames were banned. They usually seemed to be banned in cults. Just like Harry Potter was often banned in cults. The rationale was one that Cassidy heard bantered about on the news whenever there was a mass shooting by a kid or teenager – video games were obviously to blame.

Tristan had Opinions on that.

Cassidy just raised her brows at what passed as virtuous, “I never would have guessed ice hockey would count with how violent it is, though…I guess that was…kind of their whole thing anyways, so I guess I get it. Should make you just fine at this game,” she chuckled, taking up her own gun.

Not that, it turned out, Lilian was any good at it. Cassidy was a bit better, but she was pretty sure the aiming mechanism was also shit, because she knew she was doing way better than the game told her she was doing. She barely even noticed the nickname – it had felt as right as ‘Lils’ did, in its way.

“It is rigged,” Cassidy grumbled, “The aiming system is shit – well, not like these are great systems,” she huffed, “I’ve seen better console camera tracking than this!” Sure, she was doing better, but she could still tell! And besides, she and Lilian were on the same team in this game, it wasn’t a competition – gloating wouldn’t do much, though he shot the demon that had been laughing at Lilian.

Naturally, their lives didn’t get them too much further in that game, “Let’s try something else,” Cassidy said, “I guess my cowgirl skills aren’t good enough,” so that made things fair-er, right? So Cassidy would lead them on to other kinds of games to try, including a few to earn tickets, like those weird not-quite bowling games, and of course, a few that involved hitting a creature that popped out of holes with a fake mallet. There were also a few racing games, which Cassidy was shit at.

Perhaps she shouldn’t get a truck anytime soon.

She even tried the dancing game even if she was pretty sure she made an absolute fool of herself, before wrapping up the night by spending her tickets to purchase stupid prizes – some fake tattoos, and a purple bat plush which seemed fairly appropriate, all things considered with her plans for the bat. As soon as she’d laid eyes on it, she created an elaborate plan to talk about things with Lilian.

She’d give Lilian time to spend her tickets, too, before they would head out for the night. “You know, I always thought about getting a tattoo,” Cassidy noted when they finally left, “I even tried, once. It doesn’t…stay. That’s one thing that’s not permanent if you’re a vampire, but at least stick-on tattoos are fun.”

Even if they didn’t come in fun customized designs. Still, she could rock a skull-dagger on her arm for a bit! Or roses wrapped around a dagger! Why did fake tattoos always seem to involve skulls, daggers, or roses?

She shoved them into a pocket. “I know you said you don’t do that cheap shit, but, I put effort into this, so I insist you accept this ridiculous bat as my poor attempt to court you,” Cassidy offered out the purple bat, “because I am not great with courting someone with expensive things but I am good at effort. I think. And…I guess it seems like a great way to say I want to, ah…court you,” that felt formal, “date you,” that was less formal. Somehow felt a bit more right given the mess of it all – what they were, how long they’d known each other, the reason they knew each other – even if she was also serious about this.

“But I—if we were just joking earlier—I get it. I won’t be offended if you don’t…really have an interest.” A little hurt, but not offended. Play-flirting and friend-flirting were not things she had ever fully grasped. “But I do. I have. I want to get to know you better regardless, but I’d be a terrible person if I didn’t state my full hopes outright.”

~***~

It was no surprise to Antonia that the vote went the way she wanted, and there was a hint of that satisfied glint in her eyes, even though she did not allow it to curve her lips. Some things really were too easy, and she didn’t even have to use her powers for this one to go her way. As a rule, vampires avoided war. As a rule, vampires were bloodthirsty. Literally, of course, but in other ways. Humanity wasn’t known for peace.

Individuals, yes, and most individuals would claim to be peaceful – but put them in a group and give them an enemy? Oh, humanity was terrible, and vampires were worse. Antonia knew it all too well.

She was one of them.

Antonia inclined her head towards Penelope, “I will gather it all and forward it soon,” saying ‘tonight’ would guarantee something would happen to prevent it. That was always the problem with exacts and these situations, she’d noticed. Especially given, well, the whole Matteo fiasco. That wasn’t done and over with, he knew it, she knew it – but they had to play the game, so she made sure not to exit immediately as she recognized his approach.

She did let Amon flit over to Joseph, of course. There was no stopping that.

Matteo’s praise was sincere, for the reality of it. He understood precisely what she’d done, and played his own part excellently. They’d return to stabbing each other in the back in private, soon enough, but for now she accepted his small concession that she’d out-maneuvered him with a nod.

She also knew what he was asking, and was going to answer, when Inga interjected. The loathsome look she offered to the back of Inga’s head spoke of her utter exasperation with the other woman, before Matteo elaborated…and pulled the rug from beneath her feet. There was no masking the visible shock, and the immediate need to deny it as a dirty fucking lie, because that was exactly what he’d do in this kind of situation. Even if she and Inga were a bit on the outs because she was getting over her own self-deception, thumbing Inga as the one who killed Giannis? Completely ridiculous.

‘How would anyone even know in that bloodbath?’

Except, Antonia knew what Matteo knew, the heartbreaking truth of what Giannis had tried to do, the story told to her by the Optimates they’d managed to ransom back – the story Matteo reminded Inga of.

A story Inga confirmed.

The floor may as well have opened up into a hole, Antonia felt her heart sink so fast, only to be flooded by such hot anger. She didn’t even realize she’d stepped forward until she felt arms drape over her shoulders and cross over her chest, as a chin pressed itself down on her head.



Amon had noticed.

“If you need any weapons, Josey, do let me know and I’ll see to it that you’re equipped. I’d hate for something to happen to you because you keep getting pawned off with second-hand items.” He heard the name Giannis, and let his attention focus back a bit – before he felt it.

Antonia rarely lost control of her power, but it was impossible not to notice when it happened, though most couldn’t identify what it was. Antonia didn’t exactly spread that she could manipulate perception. That would instill far too much mistrust, but Amon knew the second every red flag rose in his head and told him to run. That chill feeling, like lightning was about to strike, was impossible to ignore.

Intuition was a bitch, but Amon knew the source, “Ah, sorry, I forgot something,” he turned away with grace, only to drape himself over Antonia, arms crossing over her shoulders from behind, head dropping to hers, as he smiled at Matteo, and dug nails into Antonia’s shoulders, drawing blood where others wouldn’t see to bring her back to the moment.

He heard Tristan making an excuse to leave – laughing about hunters finding and crashing this party -- but there was a nervous edge to the laugh, a belief that it could happen, or was about to happen. Many, in fact, got that sudden spike of fear and felt that need to leave, because that’s what Antonia did when she was furious. That awe she inspired had that other side to it – the awe of absolute terror.

“Of course the offer still stands, Matteo,” Amon said cheerfully, “We all must stand together in these times, after all. Isn’t that right, Antony?”

Antonia barely heard him. She felt the pain, that was all that really registered and started to draw her out of that red haze. “Right. Yes. Of course.” She was completely off her game. Matteo’s blow hit perfectly. She could more easily forgive Matteo than Inga in that moment. At least he told her who had killed her sire, that one she’d long thought, and hoped had already fallen.

No.

No of course not.

She reigned herself in with a shaking breath, “But I need to work on that list for Lady Penelope right now, so I am afraid I will have to save working with you for later. This will…help us all.” Of course.

“And I’m her ride, so,” Amon chuckled, “I’m afraid I’ll have to say farewell for now, but we’ll see each other again very soon,” he winked, as he removed his arms from holding Antonia back, but kept one on her back to guide her out, and make sure she didn’t do anything stupid.

Not a graceful exit.

And definitely a loss to that battle in particular, not quite on par with an outburst from Joseph, but…still bad.
 

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It was fun.

Lilian could have tried to deny it, much like she could have tried to convince herself that she totally hadn’t been missing out for all these years. Just those little pride things, y’know? But pride was lonely, and she very much didn’t feel that way when she… well, watched Cassidy laugh. Stumble her way through the dancing game, too, and crash way more virtual cars than should have. “Move over, Michael Schumacher,” the huntress giggled. “Remind me to never let you drive, Cass. You’re a public menace.” And no, she didn’t really mean that, but yes, it was fun to tease her, and maybe Lilian also had to wonder a little bit just what kinds of reactions she could coax out of her, in the right context.

Alright, so maybe she wondered a lot. And maybe the context wasn’t entirely virtuous, but, hey! It wasn’t her fucking fault that Cassidy was this ridiculously cute. Pretty much anyone would have given it at least a passing thought, even if her thoughts were all but passing.

Also no, Lilian didn’t do much better herself. The driving thing she didn’t suck at so much, but she also had a creeping suspicion that that was the gods of gambling smiling upon her, rather than it stemming from any actual skill. The rest of it, though? Yeeeah, you could have gotten a decent cringe compilation from filming all of her fuck-ups and… uploading them to YouTube… Is Tristan here? I fucking swear, if he blows my cover for some cheap laughs--! But Tristan was nowhere to be seen, and so her secret was safe. Probably? Yeah, sure! Hunters didn't frequent such places too often, even if it wasn’t like they could expect Michael’s creepy ass to emerge from behind the corner at any given moment. Old habits ran deep.

“Ever tried henna?” Lilian asked casually, as they were exiting the arcade. The night… wasn’t exactly young anymore, because duh, though there were no signs of the sun. “I mean, that’s not permanent, either, but you could get some fun custom designs. It would last longer, too.” She would offer to help her with that, but as tempting as that was, Lilian also knew that she wouldn’t want to wear her drawings on her skin. Even her own delusions had their limits. No way she could do that to Cassidy!

Cassidy, who… um. Was trying to, what, have The Talk?

Okay. Okayokayokay--

Her heart skipped a beat, and she couldn’t help the smile that tugged at her lips, nor the happy flutter in her belly.

‘Didn’t know what she wanted?’

Fuck, no. Decidedly not true, even if she’d needed that little push.

“You know,” Lilian took the plush, “you’re putting me in a really difficult position here. How am I supposed to top this, hm?” And she didn’t even have anything for her! Mainly because she hadn’t cared for any of the prizes, thinking them to be an unsalvageable pile of garbage. (Not the bat, though. The bat, for the record, was the greatest fucking thing she’d ever seen.) “I…” she giggled, feeling way too much like a teenager for it to be anything close to reasonable, “…I would also like to get to know you, Cass. A lot.” Impulsively, she grabbed her hand and… yeah, did the dorky thing of pressing her lips against her knuckles, briefly but also very, very intentionally. No, you couldn’t get sappier than this; no, it also didn’t bother her. Context, ladies and gentlemen! “In as many ways as I can. So, yeah, I am interested. In that whole dating thing!” Yeah, because she hadn’t made that explicit enough yet.

“Fuck,” Lilian chuckled, before hiding her face in the plush, “you regretting this already?”

~***~

That… didn’t go over too well.

An understatement, of course; it didn’t go over too well about as much as Hiroshima hadn’t gone over too well, and Inga could sense, rather than see, the damage her words caused.

Well, no. She could also see the damage, mainly because she knew Antonia and Antonia didn’t fucking act like that, unless—

—unless what?

Inga didn’t know. Something told her that not knowing was better, but that still couldn’t stop her from asking the one question that she dreaded knowing the answer to.

Who was Giannis?

“Antonia, wait. Can we—?”

But they couldn’t, because she had some paperwork to do and Amon was hellbent on escorting her outside. That probably was for the best, since letting her go alone didn’t seem like the greatest idea. Inga had never seen her this… this shaken? Was she shaken? Not a word she would associate with Antonia, of all people, but it also fit, which scared her more than anything in recent memory.

“You really should have lied, you know,” Matteo laughed. In his own way, the man had always appreciated how he could be honest with her; in a world of backstabbers, Inga had been delightfully direct. Things changed, of course! But as much as they did, they also didn’t. “I knew you wouldn’t, though. You’ve never known how to pick your battles, Inga. Too bad you also don’t know how to pick a side.”

“Who was he?” she asked, ignoring all of that nonsense for now.

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Yeah, he was enjoying this, the way he was able to hold that info over her head, but Inga was also pretty sure he would tell her. After all, it would hurt. That analysis was spot on: “Lady Lenart’s sire. Oh, how she loved him! Shed many, many, many bitter tears when it was time to bury him. I suppose she can still be grateful, though? At least you left behind an intact enough corpse! The funeral was very moving.”

Inga could have said something then, and it probably wouldn’t have been that hard, but she was also too busy choking. Antonia’s… sire?

She could have said to herself it wasn’t a big deal. She, herself, had never known her sire, and it didn’t bother her. So fucking what? The asshole who had dragged her back to life was gone, which… had kind of sucked then, admittedly, but it also was the thing that had prepared her for all the future abandonments. Her training wheels! And Antonia was obviously doing fine, with her fancy mansions and everything, and—

But Antonia wasn’t doing fine.

She was unhappy.

Really, connecting the dots was far simpler than it should have been. Why wouldn’t it be, though? It was always easy to recognize when she’d fucked up, due to the sheer familiarity of it all.

Inga didn’t know how she had gotten home. The bike must have been involved, because she did see it on her front porch, but she honestly couldn’t remember driving it, nor how she had managed to avoid any collisions. That was fine, though! Not like it mattered.

Nothing did anymore.

Automatically, without fully realizing what it was that she was doing, Inga pulled out her backpack. It was pitifully small for something that was supposed to fit her entire life into it, but wasn’t that also apt? Not like there was much to her, anyway.

The sun would rise soon, so leaving immediately was out of question, but she could at least pack her things now.

She couldn’t risk ever meeting Antonia again. Couldn’t risk making her deal with her, when there was so much pain attached to her name now.

So, what do I need? Nothing, technically speaking. Clothes could be replaced, as well as most of her equipment, even if losing it would suck for a while. Her sword, though! Definitely, yeah, and also—

Thud!

At first, Inga couldn’t recognize the thing that fell on the floor. Then, when she did, she had to laugh; it was a small, tattered book, its pages yellow with age. Hávamál. Not the original text, of course, because her people had never believed in the written word too much, and anything authentic would also have been stupidly expensive besides. No, she had bought it on a whim during one of her book-hunting trips, to… amuse herself? Maybe. Admittedly, it also may have been because she hadn’t heard her mother tongue for a while, and seeing the words did make her feel some type of way.

Yes, even if they weren’t runes. Yes, even with the dreadful English translations on the side.

I… bookmarked something? She must have, because the page which the book had opened on had been bent.

“Eldr er beztr með ýta sonum,” she read, “ok sólar sýn, heilyndi sitt, ef maðr hafa náir, án við löst at lifa.”

Oh, yeah. That was why Inga had bookmarked it. To make fun of it! This was the most ironic verse of them all, considering that…

“Fire is the greatest gift to men, the sun their dearest friend. If you can have it, health is good; and so is life without shame.”

Shame.

Was that what she was…?

Stunned, Inga dropped the backpack.

The tears in her eyes stung, but more than that, it just… surprised her that she still could cry, after all those years.

I never wanted that for you, Antonia. Never, not once. Do you believe me?

And, as she was coming to realize, Inga also didn’t want her last memory of the woman to be… well, what she had now. Anything would have done, but not that shock, not that pain, not that humiliation, after Matteo of all people had—

No, not Matteo. Her.

I can’t leave like this.

Obviously! But what was she going to do?

Inga didn’t know yet. She had to do something, though! Deeds, not words. Something tangible. Something for Antonia, because she wasn’t fucking Catholic and didn’t believe in just saying sorry.

She… would give herself time to figure it out. And cry. Mainly cry for now, because, fuck.
 
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Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
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Witnessing the smile inspired some hope in Cassidy. It wasn’t that awkward, ‘oh, no, you’re sweet but I don’t like you that way’ smile. She’d seen those before, and this looked more like the nervous flutters of someone who shared in her interest. ‘Or you’re deluding yourself.’ A thought that was obliterated when Lilian began to speak about she was ever going to top the bat, as if that wouldn’t be one of the easiest things to do.

Maybe not from the sentimental standpoint, which was honestly where so many things got their real value.

The giggle also broadened her smile, and she was very delighted to hear the rest of Lilian’s thought when she was able to get it out – and came to a halt when Lilian took her hand and kissed it. Sweet. Cheesy as fuck, but sweet. Cassidy only drew her hand back when Lilian let it go to bury her face in the plush, laughing a bit at the reaction.

‘I will never wash this hand.’ The stupid, childish reaction, and she knew she would…but Cassidy reveled in that new-relationship feeling all the same, with that stupid cheesy thought not at all making her regret a single second of these moments.

“Nope. Not at all.” Stupid broad grin remained in place.

She was just so pleased Lilian was interested, despite this hunter-vampire thing, and the awkwardness all around it. “I’m only a little sad I don’t get to walk you home and wonder about whether it’s appropriate to kiss you or not on the doormat.” Because they were living together, she couldn’t just abandon her there. “Well I guess I could go for a walk afterwards but it’s not the same.”

Even if somehow the thought of playing that out, and being stupidly cheesy about it, had its own kind of appeal. Tristan definitely corrupted her a bit for her to think that doing that could be fun, and humorous, to both parties.

She might do it another time, though. Just to mess with Lilian a little.

For now, however, she reached out a hand to take Lilian’s, since…well, why not? They were dating, they should absolutely get to hold hands now, right? It wasn’t like too many people were out to harass them over it (and even then, Lilian knew women got less harassment for it because girls were just Like That, apparently). “I guess I really did make today up to you, then – but is there anything else you want to do before we head back home?”

We.

Home.

It had been easy enough to think that way before, but now the words had an extra meaning. Perhaps far too deep of one, and far too fast…but no less true. It was home, and they were living together.

~***~

Amon drove, blessed silence between them as Antonia stared out the window. No tears. Not anger, not sorrow – but they would come. First, she had things to do. Plenty of people to kill. Dropping a bomb on the town wouldn’t have been far enough, really. She even had strings she could have pulled, but when she got out of the car, it wasn’t the route she went.

Amon followed her in, “My offer still stands, Antony. You didn’t know.”

That was painfully obvious. “I have my ways, Amon. I’ll handle it. If you want to help, you can start copying addresses down and hand them off to someone else to copy and pass on, for a while.”

“For your hunter, this Michael?”

Well, Amon was clever. Antonia hummed. “I need to let him know what I’ve done and repay him in addresses. I have plenty.” Every Veturia address she knew, in fact. Inga’s address, as well, would find itself on that list, as would a warning that she had given up information to the Council. On that, she would be non-specific.

The Council would need some visible victories. “I can’t have it in my handwriting, and I can’t be seen handing it off to him. He was already collecting blackmail against me,” although he could still find a way to use this, it would be significantly more difficult since it wasn’t in her hand, and the trail would wind around and around.

Amon did his task, as Antonia compiled hunter names, pictures, and addresses, and forwarded it all to Penelope. Amon left before morning, not able to wring much from Antonia as she continued to focus on the work, and the next steps, which was arranging an investigation with Lilian and Cassidy. Naturally, she didn’t include Inga in that message, and had no plans of it as messages continued to pass.

Inga wasn’t brought up, either.

No doubt, Tristan’s fucking meme group had already spread everything. Antonia wouldn’t know, but it was the vibe she got from Cassidy’s messages back.

There had to be more to do, but daylight shone through windows near enough that Antonia could have easily stepped into a beam of it and burnt away, abandoned all of this agony. Were it not for the fact she still had names on her list, she would have done so, and that was what Felix found her doing – tying names of Optimates to names of dead Veturia. In her mind, Giannis had always been tied to Isolde.

The greatest loss to the highest Veturia – how fitting!

Only now she reconsidered it. “I…had a message from Amon.” Felix said awkwardly.

“Fuck Amon.” Antonia added the last name. Now that she had the confirmed Veturia dead from that feast, that task could be put away. What else? There had to be more to do. She rose, and shot a glare when Felix stepped forward. He stepped right back.

“I didn’t—”

Antonia heaved a sigh, “Just please shut up. I don’t need it. Inga is damnatio memoriae, and we have more important things to discuss, such as the fee to galvanize the werewolves against the vampire hunters. Let’s talk about that so I can get something formal written up to present to the Council. Then you’ll want to go present this to your clan.”

No doubt, Felix wished to say more, to say something, but all he could do was go along with Antonia as they discussed finances, risks, and all those other petty things so he could get paid even better than he was currently paid to help the entirety of the vampires in the city. He went away with their agreement to take them to the others, as if full moon fatigue didn’t exist. He would pick up a smoothie.

He would wish he could do more.

Antonia’s staff did their best to avoid her, until she called them in to alert them to a move. They couldn’t quite explain why they avoided her, but many felt some relief to hear of the move. It explained things, even though it explained nothing – only that they were to be a target of hunters. Antonia would make sure they were housed in the interim, but they needed to pack.

She called movers to schedule that.

She called hunter friends from other towns to fill them in on the situation and let them know there was good money in coming to help – and she’d be happy to meet with them to figure things out.

It wasn’t even noon when everything felt done, and Antonia’s mind kept stalling on ‘what’s next’, because what was next, was, in fact, rest. Digesting everything. The very last thing she wanted to do, but what else was there?

A shower.

Packing.

Oh, packing.

Antonia didn’t even realize the trap that was until her hands settled on the tallit that Giannis had always worn. ‘Is it still the same?’ She had seen it repaired over the years. At what point was it no longer Giannis’s? ‘At what point is the Ship of Theseus….’ They could have talked about that for hours. They likely had talked about it for hours, but she couldn’t remember, because it was another day to them.

All those long, wonderfully philosophical conversations, taken for granted.

She brought the tallit to her face as tears began to fall, wishing she could hide it. Wishing she could stop crying. She had cried enough – and yet, she knew, she had never moved forward. Not truly. She had intentionally stayed back, with her names, and her revenge, the reason for every day, and now….

She had let the one who killed Giannis into her home.

The one who had cut him down when he begged for peace.


A speech was a part of every funeral, it seemed. The loss of a childe so young deserved such a speech, and Antonia had given it. It was her childe – her first childe, Melia, who had fallen to hunters. Through it all, Giannis had been at her side, but so often silent, simply existing in her space, and letting her speak.

So now he walked with her back home in that silence, and did not say a word when she crossed the threshold and looked back at him. “What do you want?” she finally snapped at him, “to tell me how I could have done better?”

He shook his head, “Only to be here and bear your burden alongside you.” He said, “What do you want?”

“Melia.”

Giannis nodded solemnly. It was not something he could grant, of course. “She was sweet,” he agreed, “I love her,” never past tense – love endured forever, so Giannis had said so often, believed so much, he never put it into the past tense. “I cannot bring her back, Antoni, He has given His decree – but He’s not taken it all from us,” and there was that playfulness sparkling in his hazel eyes, “We can talk about her, for a while, you know. Not all this death, but her. If you want.”

It was all Antonia had been doing, but nothing at all that she had been doing. It was never personal even if every bit of it was so deeply personal. It was not the permission to just…talk, that she heard in his offer. So, she let him in.

She talked – every inside joke she had with Melia, almost all of them about bees and flowers because Melia was an aspiring botanist long before it became such an art, already beginning to figure out breeding and mixing plants in ways that wouldn’t truly be figured out for hundreds of years later. Yes! Melia had been the Best of the Best, an Optimate through and through – even as a vampire who couldn’t eat the foods anymore she had been so damned interested! Had wanted so much to make lives better.

Time fluxed. Lucidity flickered.

Antonia started to recognize she was dreaming, as she spoke.

This wasn’t the home she had when she lost Melia.

“Job,” she said then, all of a sudden.

“Hm? What of Job?”

“I remember when I got annoyed with you and your consoling, you reminded me of Job and his friends that sat with him in silence for days on end, just to be there.”

"Ah, I’ve told you that? Well, it is true. It is our job to our fellow man, to be there, to create space for him. Or her. And who suffered more than Job?”

“I did.” How stupid a thing to say, “God took you from me.”

“Did he? I seem all here.”

‘You’re not real.’
But she wanted him to be, and when she looked at him, he was wearing his tallit, and very era-inappropriate attire. When had he ever worn tennis shoes and a sweater vest? Oh, but wouldn’t he?

She’d never know.

She wasn’t even sure that was his face, or just…the closest thing she could remember. “Antoni, why are you crying? I will go one day, yes, so will you. Nothing is forever except God, and I am ready whenever. I’ve had a long life already, I can’t ask for more,” he paused, chuckled, “Well, I could. I will. I wish Melia had longer.”

“I wish you did.”

Lucidity could influence the dream. Even the understanding of the figures in the dream, as it bled into the world, bringing forward more and more modern conveniences, architecture. “I miss you. I miss Melia. I miss everyone.” She shut her eyes as she felt reality trying to bleed in, as if that would stop it. “Please don’t go.”

“Antoni….”

It was hardly dignified to wake up on the floor, but Antonia preferred it to having been moved to a bed. The door to her study remained shut, and she hoped no one had even noticed, though she doubted it. The tallit was still in her hands, a pillow against her face. She lifted it up with herself, and set it back in place.

Later.

She would take that with her to whatever temporary residence she took up rather than pack it up in a box to be taken to storage.

But tonight, she had things to do once again, as the other vampires would be moving to begin to apply pressure to the hunters, and their locations.

No rest for the wicked.

Or for the truly dead inside.
 

Syntra

Baba Yaga
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“Dork,” Lilian accused her, as if she herself hadn’t revealed the full extent of her own dorkiness a while ago. A. fucking. hand. kiss! What, had she just stepped out of black-and-white film? Although, to be fair, that probably wasn’t a bad way to court someone who had been around for those. Cassidy seemed… adjusted to the modern world, for what it was worth, but Lilian also didn’t believe for a second that none of the old ways had stuck. The way she styled herself was a proof enough of that, even if that may have been somewhat ironic. “But, for the record, it usually is appropriate to kiss me,” she gave a sheepish smile, and then glanced down at their connected hands.

That… was something they’d been doing from the beginning, sort of, but the context was different now, and yeah, it was nice. Nicer. Also gave her way too many feels, and Lilian didn’t feel remotely ready for that, but she also acknowledged in the privacy of her mind that you could never be really prepared for these things. Not like FateTM gave you a warning! Or god, or serendipity, or whatever there was, if there was anything at all in the first place. She wasn’t at all sure anymore, but one thing struck her as certain:

The world really was much bigger than she’d thought.

Maybe the first thing Cassidy had told her, and one that felt weirdly prophetic in hindsight.

Then again, it also wasn’t like, insurmountably vast?

Because if the distance between the two of them could be crossed so easily, despite them being what they were, then things weren’t hopeless. They didn’t feel that way.

Ah shit, I really am becoming a soft fuck.

But, you know, it was a nice kind of soft, like the warm center of a brownie straight out of the oven. That didn’t mean she hadn’t been avoiding it; didn’t mean that it also wasn’t kind of scary. Softness wasn’t an invitation for others to hurt you, but many did treat it that way. Far too many for her to be entirely comfortable with it. Still, she did feel safe enough for it with Cassidy, and perhaps that was all that mattered.

“If you’re being nice about it, and if you happen to be a dashing cowgirl,” Lilian added. “Sorry, I don’t make the rules. Not my fault you fit all the criteria!” No, no it wasn’t. It wasn’t anyone’s fault that they’d met, and given each other the benefit of doubt, and that things had… spiraled out of control, in the most wonderful way.

And, honestly?

She was glad they did. She was also tired of questioning things that made her feel good, just because a bunch of assholes had said they were wrong. If anything, that was a shining recommendation.

"That you did," Lilian grinned. No, she didn't particularly want to do anything else; the exhaustion of the day was beginning to set in, and nothing looked more tempting than her bed at the moment. A lot had happened, to put it mildly. But, hmm... "Let me think. I believe there was a kissing dilemma to solve?"

Uh oh. Was that too much?

Probably.

Fuck!

~***~

Inga didn’t go to sleep that day.

It was a new revelation, the one about shame, and she worked it in her mind like a puzzle box, studying it from all the angles. Now, more than ever before, Inga needed to… well, know what she wanted. Really know it, instead of just running on autopilot and hoping things would sort themselves out on their own.

Oh, they often did. She was but one woman, but one drop in the sea, and the world just didn’t care that much, in the end. Things would happen, even without her trying. They would happen despite her trying, as well. At what cost, though? Did she want to be the kind of person to simply… observe? Go with the flow?

The last time it had happened, the flow had turned into a flood. Everything that Antonia held dear had perished in it, and her own hopes had as well. Inga supposed that was only fair.

Alright, so what do I have to be ashamed of? What she shouldn’t be ashamed of would have been the better question, because the answer would have been much shorter. She would give it, too, in time, but first… first, she needed to face this. Face everything. Face some of the things that she had hoped to leave behind her, as if they weren’t her ball and chain.

That I haven’t been a warrior. No, no that she hadn’t. She had been able to claim that title once, before the Veturia had welcomed her to the clan, but afterwards? Inga had to admit to herself that ‘butcher’ would have been the better term. There was little glory in slaughtering the defenseless, and it really wasn’t a coincidence she’d cut ties shortly afterwards. She had wanted to think it was, because then she wouldn’t have had to see the problem at all, and that had worked out just fine until it hadn’t.

Until it had cost her everything.

(But had it, really? It wasn’t like she’d had anything in the first place. No, the idea of Antonia didn’t count.)

Okay, next!

That I have done nothing with my life. She’d been fucking around, and finding out as well, but the shards of knowledge she’d collected were… just that, in the end. Shards. They were lovely to look at, of course! And sometimes, she could even wring something useful out of them, the same way you could find an occasional gold nugget in a sewer. Still didn’t mean it was a good idea to search in a fucking sewer, though. Even a nutjob knew as much.

Okay, next?

That I have hurt Antonia. Self-explanatory, but it still had to be said. She hadn’t meant to do it, of course; back then, Antonia had been nothing but a name, mentioned occasionally by Matteo and his friends, in those whispered conversations Inga had paid very little attention to. To her, she’d been just an Optimate. I might have killed her, had she been there. And wasn’t that a thought? A sobering fucking thought, which ultimately led to: That I have been thoughtless. Not a nutjob but a puppet.

That was kind of the core of it, Inga felt. A buried piece of truth. It wasn’t a nice thought, but she embraced it for that very reason, allowing the edges to rend her flesh apart. Truth hurt; truth scarred. How very convenient, considering that she did deserve to suffer.

And now, the one thing Inga wasn’t ashamed of:

That I love her. No, there was… nothing wrong with that. Antonia likely thought otherwise, and Inga wouldn’t blame her, but this really wasn’t about Antonia as much as it was about herself. She could keep the feeling. Feelings didn’t have to be acted on. As long as there weren’t any expectations, she could feel whatever she wanted, in her head, in her mind, in her heart.

And it wasn’t like she could just discard it, regardless. It was the one real thing she had.

Well, aside from herself. She was also real, not a fever dream, and she did have herself, for better or worse. What remained, now, was to figure out what to do if she wanted to be remotely fucking okay with that.

I could buy Antonia some roses, as an apology. Ha, ha, ha. Antonia could have all the roses in the world, which was kind of the problem. She could have anything in the world, disgustingly rich as she was, and—

Not anything. Not the sire I killed.

Yeah, well, not helpful! Corpses were corpses, and for all her tinkering, Inga didn’t know how to return the spark of life to them. She hadn’t even attempted that, mainly because it felt like too crazy of an ambition to begin with. There were nutjob things, and then there were utter wastes of time.

I could always make more corpses for her, though. Nobody can deny that I am good at that.

Didn’t Antonia have a lot of people to kill? An entire list, covered from top to bottom with the names of Inga’s beloved, beloved family.

Veturia were a clan, though. An entire goddamn clan, and she was just one woman. What could one woman possibly do?

Maybe a whole fucking lot.

That was just the thing, wasn’t it?

You never knew until you tried, and Inga was very, very willing to do just that, given that there was nothing else. No other paths to follow, no dilemmas. And wasn't that just so delightfully uncomplicated?

///

It wasn’t hard to figure out who to target first, for obvious reasons. After all, she did owe Antonia a head; a head that was, regretfully, still attached to Matteo’s neck. Starting there probably wasn’t the best plan, and Inga knew that. The death of the second-in-command would make a lot of waves, whereas she could probably get away with murdering the small fries on the side before anyone noticed much. But, a stupid idea? Sign her the fuck up! Maybe Inga wanted to be stupid, because she’d been nothing but stupid and had had a lot of practice by now. Suddenly doing the smart thing, she felt, would have been handicapping herself.

Fortunately, Matteo was a dumbass as well. She knew him to be a creature of habit, and also knew where to find him, because she still was a Veturia and had… certain communication channels open to her. Dear little Matteo loved talking to petitioners, you know? Had to get his confidence from somewhere, considering he really was just Isolde’s little bitch in the end. A lapdog.

Not what I’m going to be anymore. I’ll be a legend.

A cautionary story, more like, but that was all the same to her.

The night air tasted cold, and, perhaps for the first time in many, many centuries, Inga felt satisfied with herself. Yes, she had ruined everything; that kind of went hand in hand with, well, being Inga. So, no surprises there! The one thing that was different, though? She did have a purpose, now. She could also be honest with herself, more or less, and that felt nice.

Inga also thought that she deserved to be a little dramatic about this, which… translated into her putting on the ruined dress from the feast, bloodstains and all. It did look great, still! You really had to give it to Antonia; she did know what was good.

///

As expected, Matteo really was in his fucking office. The man was working on something terribly important, no doubt; always writing those pretty letters, always hatching new schemes. The security was good, Inga supposed, but not when you could literally turn into a shadow.

“Matteo, my friend!” she smiled sweetly, suddenly standing behind him.

“Wha—”

“Sadly for you,” Inga said, after driving her sword through his heart, “I haven’t come here to see who the better swordsman is. We both know, anyway.” Yes, yes they did, or had known, in his case. She felt nothing as she watched his body go limp, aside from maybe some mild annoyance. In the end, wasn’t it Matteo who had struggled with picking the right side? Okay, now the head!

The head, plus also a few other things. The hunter war was… convenient, and it wasn’t like Inga hadn’t learned from the best in those past few weeks. Wouldn’t it be fun, to make them think that the bastards had somehow snuck all the way here? To feed their paranoia? And so she dipped her fingers in Matteo’s blood, and wrote on the wall, in big, unsteady letters:

“WE ARE COMING FOR YOU, BLOODSUCKERS”

and

“DEUS VULT,” because that seemed batshit enough. Heh! Inga had always loved the Crusades, ridiculous as they’d been.

(She also couldn’t stop herself from painting a little heart underneath it all, but, hey! Small pleasures.)

///

It was both terribly surprising and also somehow not when she returned home, intending to pick a few things up, only to find the place thoroughly thrashed. Smells like hunters! Quite literally, because the scent clung to everything like flies clung to shit. Oh Antonia, my beloved. So you thought of me? Death would have been a generous gift, but it was also not what Inga wanted. Not now, when she still had so many things to take care of!

Time to tell her, I suppose.

Yeah, not a conversation that Inga was looking forward to, though also one that she felt she owed her. A single thing, among many. So, it was easy to hop on her bike, and... what, call Antonia? She's not going to pick it up.

The truth of that was undeniable, so Inga texted her instead, hoping she'd read the words on the screen without truly intending to. Eyes kind of did that, you know? Whenever they were confronted with letters.

"Antonia, I have a head for you. Come take a look?"

And then:

"Please. One last time, I won't bother you afterwards."
 
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Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
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Fit all the criteria? Cassidy could only laugh at ‘dashing cowgirl’ being a part of anyone’s criteria. Or that a cowgirl could be dashing, for that matter, though most people nowadays didn’t know how much of dealing with cows was shoveling shit. Or a lot of the less satisfying things that had nothing to do with herding cows around and through long stretches of territory, worrying about cow-jackers and other things.

Not that she had that much of that experience, either. But she still heard all about it and did some of it herself. She’d still been a woman of her time, though.

So they walked, hand-in-hand, and Cassidy wondered about the kissing, still not convinced it was an entirely ‘any time you want’ sort of thing. Then again, she’d just had an issue with consent, so being a bit lip-shy was to be expected after all of that. Lilian, however, seemed fairly gung-ho about this kissing thing, though!

‘Maybe not right on the street.’

No that could still invite unwanted and unnecessary harassment, even if Cassidy didn’t see anyone to do that. Or, somehow, Tristan finding out, and sending her roommate memes. And reminding her about the Hunter-Vampire taboo that was so exciting. “I think I’ve solved it, you’ll just have to hang on a little longer,” Cassidy chuckled, “I did say I wanted to walk you home first.”

Before all the butterflies of ‘should I’ that would normally come up in that situation, if television hadn’t lied to her. Which, why would it lie to her about this ritual of modern day courtship? So, Cassidy did, of course, drag it out until they were back at the shared apartment, outside the door, and there she at last brought it back up, stepping and turning so she was facing Lilian.

She was a bit shorter, but not enough for it to be a deterrent as she reached up to Lilian’s face and cupped her cheek, dark eyes seeking out permission or denial in Lilian’s own gaze. Finding no denial that she could read, she would lean forward, her other hand moving automatically to clasp against Lilian’s side as she pressed her lips against Lilian’s.

Soft, hesitant – testing and unsure, but she could feel the laugh threatening to bubble forward at how she’d drawn this out to this moment, making a thing of this being a typical date, as if she was just going to walk away after this.

The image that ran through her head was almost enough to ruin it all in a fit of laughter, but it only translated into a smile that blossomed against the kiss, and her fingers closing a bit more tightly, briefly, along Lilian’s side as she let that energy translate itself elsewhere outside of a laugh, and into the pleasure of the kiss itself.

~***~

Movement was all that kept Antonia sane.

That, and the occasional murder on either side – updates buzzed her phone constantly, Michael and Penelope, among others, keeping tabs on the situations. Penelope ended up having to drag her far more militant older brother into things as they began to plan their hits, and Antonia was an active participant. Of course, she wanted blood to flow, and it was time people remembered she could fight.

However, that day the text message would come in from Inga, she was busy directing movers and packing to get things to storage. Sadly, that meant she was also enduring whatever passed for music in this generation, since Felix got control over that as the majority of helpers were werewolves.

Her severe dislike of the music was at least a distraction from her sheer hatred of…just about everything else, lately. She was able to work fairly efficiently through it, at least, and shoot out messages as needed to others. ‘Meeting in a bit with Jasmine.’ One of her favorite hunters, though getting a bit on in age. She hoped that Jasmine was just mentoring people now. ‘And Max.’ Not that day, of course. Just in the near future.

Another message chimed through, and she looked. She hadn’t deleted Inga’s number, only so she could screen it. She frowned at the message, opened it, and shot back a simple:

Yours?

Before she silenced her phone.

Fuck Inga.

If anything, it was probably heads of hunters, because it couldn’t be that easy, could it? Of course, another part of her hoped it wasn’t. Hoped it was Matteo’s, or indeed, would be Inga’s per the promise to stop bothering her. Antonia was terribly petty, and very vindictive, after all. These things worked quite well in politics, and guilting people into doing things you wanted done. It did not work for getting werewolves to change the music, nor did all the pizza and booze flowing, but Antonia wouldn’t complain.

She was busy again soon enough carrying boxes and loading things up, and she got lost in the work once again, no longer hearing any pings on her phone from anyone. No, it wasn’t until Felix found her, and tapped her on the shoulder, that she was disturbed by much. “We, ah, have a situation.”

Antonia stared at him until he elaborated. “Inga.”

“Is the situation her blood staining my driveway, Felix?”

“No, uh—”

“Then why are you bothering me?”

“I think you should go see her.”

“I think you’re not getting paid for tonight if you can’t do your one job.”

Felix didn’t take offense. The fact Antonia was still so heated, and hadn’t froze it all out, told him there was reason enough for her to still see Inga. There was still something that made this anger different from most of her other, very cold, angers.

“If you want me to kill her afterwards, fine,” Felix threw his hands up in exasperation, and followed Antonia as she stormed out to the front of her villa to find that Inga was, indeed, there, near the motorcycle that had brought her here.

Antonia smelt blood. Vampire blood. And Inga was in the dress from the feast, but Antonia showed absolutely no sign of being impressed, or anything beyond annoyed that Inga was even in her presence. Still, she closed the distance between them, not even caring enough that Inga was seeing her in a less-than great state – although by her standards that wasn’t saying much. A ponytail and not-quite professional black slacks and a matching black halter top. Things she could afford to get torn up or dirtied during the process of cleaning up and packing.

Antonia gestured one hand out broadly, “Well?” and it slapped back down against her hip as her weight shifted to that same leg, “What is it?” She had a head. Antonia knew this. She could even guess who the head belonged to, but that wasn’t going to make her nice. Even knowing Inga didn’t know who Giannis was, wasn’t going to make her nice.

That it had all just been orders. Nothing personal. Just a soldier doing her duty. No, that didn’t make her nice, even if she had gone through it a thousand times already and ignored the thought every single time.

Inga had responsibility and one head wasn’t making up for it.

But unbeknownst to even her own rational train of thought, she had started to think of the negotiations and how many heads.
 

Syntra

Baba Yaga
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Lilian was a little embarrassed, but she also felt that sort of came with the territory of... um, new relationships. You know, when everything was still so fresh? If there was a way to keep your cool then, scientists sure as fuck hadn't discovered it yet! "Okay," she laughed. "Excited for your conclusions. I'm sure they will be, ah, memorable."

Probably more excited than she should have been, because really, a kiss was just that. A... kiss. Not much to write home about, unless you were thirteen and somehow managed to score a date with the school idol. Well-adjusted, functioning adults just didn't do the whole 'first kiss drama' thing.

Well, as long as they weren't named Lilian Perry.

The closer they got to their apartment, the more Lilian understood that she very much was making it out to be a big deal. Like, a big fucking deal, judging by the way her heart did somersaults in her chest.

They really were doing this, weren't they?

It wasn't that she didn't want to, but it also had been a while, and, admittedly, there was some nervousness surrounding it all. What if she'd forgotten how to do it? What if Cassidy wouldn't like it? What if--?

And then they were kissing. Just like that, all her thoughts were obliterated. Automatically, Lilian put her hand around Cassidy's waist and pulled her closer, both to indicate that this was fine and because she wanted to, and just... got lost in the sensation.

It was warm. It was also over far, far too soon.

"That... yeah, that was good," she chuckled, dazed, when they separated. "I'd give you a good review, if there were sites with such ratings and if that was a normal thing to do," which it decidedly wasn't. Fuck! "Please don't leave me," Lilian laughed, only half-serious. "I swear I can also be less weird about this. I'm generally a pretty collected person, you know."

She really was, but admittedly maybe not now, when this whole thing still felt like something straight out of a fantasy she hadn't even known she'd had. Just... give her a break, okay? So much had happened in a day that it might as well have been a fucking week.

Speaking of, Lilian did still feel tired.

That was why, when they got inside, she didn't really think of anything to say, aside from:

"Goodnight, Cass."

The events of the previous day really had taken their toll, so it was almost an evening already when Lilian finally woke up. Some things couldn't be put off any longer, now that she didn't have the excuse of actively dying; things like, you know, finally catching up with Deana. Telling her what she'd found out, and... uh, asking her some questions as well.

Questions like: "Did you also lie to me?"

Or, more horrifically: "Did you see my parents die?"

Lilian could come up with questions that were even worse than those, but fuck, did she not want to. They would be asked, though. They would, if Deana gave her literally any reason for it.

"Hey," she smiled at Cassidy, before placing a small kiss on her cheek. That... was an appropriate way to greet your girlfriend, right? Fuck, her girlfriend! Getting used to that would take a while, but Lilian would be lying if she said she wasn't looking forward to it. To everything, pretty much. "What, do I say good morning now? It's not morning, but it also kinda is, for you."

And then, once she got over all that: "I still have to schedule the... meeting with Deana. After what we've learned, I am very interested in asking her a few questions as well. You still wanna go with me?"

~***~

There she is. But, she's leaving?

A part of her wanted to run as well, as far as she could and as fast as she could, but if Inga had learned anything at all from this entire fiasco, it was that running didn't fix things. Couldn't fix things! And it wasn't like she thought this could be fixed, necessarily, but she did hope. Hoped against hope, with a passion so feverish that it surprised Inga herself.

How long had it been, since she had wanted something so much? Had she ever, before Antonia?

Dividing her life into 'before Antonia' and 'after Antonia' was beyond desperate, considering how little she meant to the other woman, but it was also something Inga sort of had to do. There just... weren't many other milestones. Not those she'd cared to remember, anyway.

Wordlessly, Inga took Matteo's head out of the sack she was carrying it in, and let Antonia take a good look at his empty, dead eyes. At his dead everything. Afterwards, she dropped the thing to her feet, right where it belonged. "My debt," Inga said, quietly. She sounded much more subdued than usual, and yeah, that was mainly because she hadn't figured out where to go from there. Fuck, she totally should have prepared a speech! Should have, but hadn't. The pessimist within her had believed Antonia wouldn't actually come, and there had been this weird paralysis that had blocked all thought.

I could just... be honest?

"Thanks, by the way," Inga finally found her words. "For the hunters. It meant a lot to me. You can send more whenever." Not even sarcasm, though she wasn't sure whether Antonia would parse it that way. Just how much they understood, or didn't understand, each other was still a mystery to her. "But, Antonia? I came here to promise you that I will survive every attempt, no matter how many you throw at me. And that I will be the last Veturia to fall. Because..." Her throat felt embarrassingly tight, but that, too, was good. In this, they were on the same page. Antonia knew, and Inga knew that she knew, and that allowed her to stop hiding, for once in her miserable life.

Yes, she did love her. So fucking what? Let everyone see! Felix, the staff that thought they were being sneaky, the werewolves, literally whoever, because she was past caring about that bullshit. Really, giving up on the reputation you'd never had in the first place wasn't a great sacrifice. Just nutjob things!

"...I vow, before my gods, before Odin and Freya and Baldr, and my very own Yngvi," Yngvi, after whom she'd been named. Inga was for sunshine, protection, and good harvest; all the things that she really hadn't been. She did remember her human mother saying, an eternity ago, that her hair was wheat, but it wasn't, because you couldn't fucking eat hair. At least Inga thought so? But maybe, just maybe she could still protect something, in the end.

Or murder some more. Murder was as good of a solution as anything.

"...That I will kill them all first. With my own hands. You will have so many heads, you won't know what to do with them! And I know this won't undo what I did, and that I took much from you in the past, but... well, that's why I want to make your future better. 'Cause that's the only thing I can do here."

Hopefully, at least.

"I also am sorry, but yeah, that isn't worth much. So, I won't even consider asking for forgiveness until I come back with Isolde's head."

Uh huh, not at all unhinged! Just murder the fuck out of the Queen of Nightmares herself, because that apparently was how the cool kids solved their relationship issues nowadays.

Still, Inga meant it. That much was obvious from the way she smiled; not her usual 'fuck you' smile, but something much, much softer. Something sincere.
 
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Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
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Cassidy was fairly certain what blood she had expended itself in her blush when Lilian rated her kiss. Or said she would rate her kiss, if that was a normal and sane thing, which it was neither. How did one respond to that? Finger guns was not appropriate, but it was the first thing that came to mind. Thankfully, it was not how Cassidy reacted.

“Th-thank you?” okay, too much of a question there, and she laughed as she opened the door, “I know who you are…a bit,” she allowed. “Enough to know this is another, ah…adjustment.” Like living here had been, and that had started off a bit awkward, too. “So don’t worry. I’m not leaving you. Besides, the kiss was definitely rate-able. Maybe there’s a website for this, or a reddit….”

Now she was teasing – but also she might just go look for one to embarrass Lilian a little bit. In fact, when Lilian went to sleep, she did go looking. She did not find any websites like ‘Rate My Professor’ to add someone to it as a good kisser, but she found plenty of kissing stories, and things that supposedly made people a good kisser.

So, she opened up one of the fairly new threads on that, and made a note to embarrass Lilian with the suggestion she tell the internet what made a good kiss, good, so others could have such fantastic experiences.

She also made sure to drink more blood, and hit Tristan up to get another shipment sooner than later, given how many she went through. He got back to her with prices and shipping times almost immediately, so she got that worked out with him, before trying to figure out the rest of the day, that wouldn’t involve waking up Lilian.

A lot of it was spent googling relationships.

When Lilian woke up, however, she brought back up that reddit thread, and smiled up at her and the kiss she received.

She could get used to this.

She also didn’t want to, enjoying the thrill of flutters, “Good evening,” she said it a bit playfully, since it wasn’t morning, “That’s just fine to say, too,” Lilian would get used to it. Cassidy had gotten used to it.

Not that it could remain on something light. There was a meeting to arrange. ‘Oh, right.’ Cassidy nodded, “I still want to come. I can stay near, I’m sure it’s still…a bit much.” No matter the change in their perceptions, those changes did not spill over to others, especially those they weren’t actively interacting with.

But that was all the more reason why Cassidy wanted to stay near. “I’ll be ready whenever it is,” five minutes or 5 days, “I’m pretty sure we won’t have anything else to do tonight. Tristan’s already blowing up my phone with Council chatter,” she rolled her eyes. Not that he had much to say, just details about arrivals, nothing had started yet.

“Oh – but you also have to do this, later,” she held up her phone to show Lilian the thread about what makes a good kisser, a bit of an impish smile, “You know. To help other people out. And me. I’m not sure what I’m doing right.” But she wanted to continue it.

Plus it was… a little fun to tease Lilian.

A lot fun.

~***~

The head was brought out, truly dead, and something that would fade easily enough in sunlight when it was time to dispose of evidence. She stared upon Matteo’s countenance, not marred at all by a strike. Inga must have killed him quickly, not a surprise. Inga’s ability could lend itself to battle, Antonia was not oblivious of that. Her gaze followed the head as it was set down, and did not lift immediately as Inga thanked her for the hunters.

‘My pleasure.’

It was a win-win. Hunters died or Inga died, and she wanted both dead. That was the odd positive about this war, really. Plenty of Veturia were going to die because of the leaked information – and continually leaked information. Hunters were also going to die, and in the end, the hunters would all die.

“Because….”

Antonia lifted her gaze in the pause, almost daring Inga to complete that thought.

She did, and she didn’t.

She vowed to her gods. Gods she took seriously, to bring Antonia the heads of every Veturia, until she was the last one standing. ‘Amon won’t like that.’ What did Antonia care? Joseph was a fleeting interest. Amon always had a few of those. He enjoyed ephemeral things as much as the next vampire…actually, probably a lot more than the next vampire. He’d learned to lean into that more than most. More than Antonia, even with all her human and werewolf friendships.

The gods meant nothing to Antonia, but that wasn’t important. They meant everything to Inga, and Inga would have to answer to her gods (or really, to herself) for breaking any sort of vow made. Besides which, Inga wasn’t a good actress. Her subdued disposition spoke of how seriously she took all of this.

Antonia bent down and picked up the head, offered it back, “See to it this meets the sun tomorrow morning. I don’t need the evidence hanging around,” not that she had ordered it, but that wasn’t the point.

Felix took the head cautiously, and walked off with it. This was not the first time he had been given a body – or a head – to dispose of. He should probably be worried about how normal this was, but well…it was so normal he didn’t question it at this point. When one worked with someone like Antonia, some head-carrying was just another monthly activity.

“You’re not forgiven,” it didn’t need to be said. Inga knew that. Yet, it had to be said, to reach the next part, “I can’t say you’ll be forgiven even with Isolde’s head,” why make false promises? No, she didn’t know how many heads it took to fill the hole in her heart, if it could be filled with heads at all, but she was willing to find out. “However, should you choose to move, I won’t inform the hunters so you may do your repentance in peace.”

Nor would she narc on the rest of Inga’s activities.

Did repentance and forgiveness mean the same things? No. Forgiveness was personal from the side of the offended. Repentance was self-forgiveness, and Antonia could see some need for Inga to try and do that, in the hopes of forgiveness. A forgiveness Antonia couldn’t promise, but she could cruelly tease it.

Could.

“You have given your vow in blood and in words. I will choose to believe you are bound by blood, and bound to your gods, because my own vows were similar.” Always bound in blood, as a human, that of animals, and as a vampire – well, that varied significantly. “I do not think our times or locations were so disparate that our vows were drastically different.” India had enough blood vows for her to presume it was a fairly normal thing across the globe.

The power of blood was known across the world – was it vampires they had to thank for it? Or something else? A mystery, to be certain, one Antonia wasn’t keen on solving. She only accepted there was power in blood, and people believed in it.

Inga would believe in it.

“I lost everything that night, Inga. My sire, and every childe.” Her sire had been the most devastating blow. Sure, a sire ought to pass before a childe, the way a parent ought to pass first, and yet that was the thing she had been least prepared to lose. Vampires didn’t work the way humans did. “I don’t for a second believe you understand, but I believe you want to understand,” she wanted to improve Antonia’s future. “So if you break this vow to me, Inga, I promise I will make you understand in the worst of ways. I will cut your gods from you. I will let you live to see your history erased as I buy and destroy it, as I use every ounce of influence I have to have it all wrongly interpreted, forever. That you will be alone with your memories and no one to understand – and everyone thinking they know it better than you because of reinterpretations of history. Then you will understand what you have done.”

It was a curse she did not take lightly. One she would lay formally even if she did not believe it, because Inga would, and Antonia’s actions would finalize it, “My Gods may be dead and gone, I may not even believe in them, but they are still digging out Roman curse tablets from wells that have poisoned generations.” She stepped closer to Inga, “My gods were always contractual, and if there is even a gasp of Ultio left, it will haunt you.”

She stopped, far too close to Inga to be comfortable, but comfort wasn’t at stake here. Not for either of them. They were both going to revel in discomfort so painful it would make them scream. They were bound by blood now – Matteo’s. “But,” and there was Antony shining through, as she smiled, and lifted a hand to cup Inga’s cheek, “I’m willing to trust you, Inga. I’m willing to trust you won’t force my hand to turn your vow to a curse,” she patted her cheek as her hand dropped away, “So go grab a box. Help me pack before the hunters come after me.”
 

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"A bit, yeah," Lilian laughed. And technically, that was true! As long as you were also going for the 'understatement of the fucking century' award. It wasn't that Deana wasn't open-minded, because she definitely was. Open-minded for a hunter, though. That meant she didn't care so much when Lilian circumvented certain rules, as long as they were related to, say, discipline, and following some of the traditions that were traditions just because some guy had said so and nobody had thought to challenge him. So, the unimportant stuff. When it came to killing vampires, though? Oh, Deana had opinions on that.

She probably also had opinions on dating vampires. Lilian could imagine what they were, and she would do everything in her power to ensure that the issue would never, ever be brought up. Not like Cassidy needed an even bigger target on her back!

Although maybe she did kind deserve one, just for that reddit thing.

"Cass!" Lilian covered her face in her palms, her ears burning in embarrassment. Yeah, yeah, it had been naive to expect that the incident wouldn't come back to bite her in the ass, but maybe she'd expected some mercy? You know, given how fresh everything was? She's fucking ruthless. Well, alright - two could play that game. You didn't just challenge Lilian Perry, the queen of way too far, and score an easy win!

"Just you wait," she chuckled. "Once I return, I'll write an entire goddamn dissertation on how much I liked it. Including all the details you don't wanna hear about! You'll regret ever asking me."

Already, Lilian was outlining something ridiculous about the ideal composition of saliva in her head, when she whipped out her phone and typed a quick message to Deana: "Meet me tonight, as soon as you can? In my favorite Starbucks." And no, that choice wasn't really random. It was always a good idea to choose popular locations for these things, and you could count on coffee addicts to be... well, coffee addicts. The place would be packed, no matter the hour. Packed enough, perhaps, for Cassidy to be able to stay relatively close?

Let's hope Mike isn't distributing her photos around, if he has any.

Yeeaah, that would be... bad. Lilian already knew it was dangerous to be Lilian, at least when it came to frequenting certain spots. How dangerous was it to be Cassidy, though? That remained to be seen.

Once Deana's reply lit up her phone, there really was no excuse to dally. "Don't get too close, okay?" Lilian reminded her, as they approached the café. "I really don't want this to... turn into a whole thing." Not an unreasonable request, when it wouldn't be that weird for the 'whole thing' to translate into 'attempted murder.' Sure, Deana probably wouldn't do anything in public... but really, how much did anyone want to bet on that? "She probably already thinks you've... corrupted me, or whatever. No need to pour oil into fire." The rumors circulating througnout the HQ must have been wild, and the only thing that was even wilder was that at least some of them were true, now.

Wasn't forbidden romance with a beloved trope?

Don't even think about that. Not shortly before meeting Deana, god dammit!

And so Lilian sat at the nearest empty table, ordering a frappe, and waited for... uh, for Deana to show up.

~***~

Of course she wasn't forgiven. Why expect that? Just because she was sorry? Feeling sorry only meant that your judgment had been exceptionally poor, and Inga didn't really see how that was meant to excuse... well, most things. Objectively speaking, it probably made everything worse. Who would want to work with a confirmed idiot, after all? 'Boo hoo, I've sinned' worked for Catholics, not reasonable people. Those who were used to paying their debts in blood had different standards.

But the head - Antonia liked the head. She didn't have to say it outright for Inga to understand as much, because she could read the writing on the wall. There were no insults, for one; no snarky commentary, no nothing. That she hadn't commanded Felix to kill her was also a good sign. Alright, so I just have to keep doing this? More casual murder? Not the worst way into a lady's heart! Although even Inga, being as much of a nutjob as she was, had to admit to herself that this little campaign would be anything but casual.

It will kill me, won't it?

No! It couldn't, because Inga had promised. Adding 'oathbreaker' to the long, long list of insults you could use for her didn't sound all that appealing, moreso because it was a vow to Antonia.

Antonia, who seemed to be taking this very seriously.

Alone with my memories and no-one to understand? Oh, how sweet of you to think there's anything left to take. How sweet of her to think she wasn't all of that already, too! The closest thing Inga had gotten in the recent years had been Marvel's interpretation of Thor, and yes, that had almost been enough to make her go on a murderous rampage. Tolerance had its limits; hers apparently began with latex costumes.

Well, latex costumes and LARPers.

Those somehow managed to be even worse, most of the time. How did you ask Odin for guidance because you'd bombed your math test? C'mon, fuck off with that shit!

Still, Inga said nothing. She smiled, because it was nice; both the sentiment, as well as knowing just how far Antonia would go for her. There was something delightfully personal about the threat, and that... made her feel appreciated, really. "I wouldn't dream of breaking it," Inga whispered. "Promises to gods are sacred, Antonia. Blood bonds are, too."

And, well, this particular promise really was sacred. Not just because of the gods or blood, but simply because she'd meant it that way, from the bottom of her heart. Because she didn't want Antonia to hate her, as naive as that desire was. Though, really, had she been doing anything but chasing phantoms? It wasn't new, this idea of going on a doomed quest. At least the prize would be worth it, this time around.

Even if she could only reach it in her head.

She wanted to... do something, probably, but then there was that touch and that smile, and the request for her to stay, and Inga could have sworn that her heart straight up exploded.

It didn't, of course. Her heart could take so much more than this. Still, she couldn't help feeling that way, much like she couldn't help clasping Antonia's hand briefly.

"Thank you," Inga returned the smile. "For the chance. For believing in me."

(They would always have this, wouldn't they? The blood spilled between them, and the blood that yet had to be spilled, to try and make up for it all. The desperation. The anger. The pain, and hopefully also something that wasn't pain? In the future.)

But, yes. The boxes!

She did grab a box, and not just one; quickly, the move devolved into a de facto competition between her and some of the werewolves, called "who can carry more." The answer? Not her, sadly. Not without risking breaking some of Antonia's stuff, which was just about the last thing Inga wanted to do.

Also, hey, was she having fun? Maybe! The music was good, and it had been a while since she'd been able to work together with someone, on a task as simple as this. Sometimes, it really was the small things.

(Although, not gonna lie, the sense of relief was a very, very big thing.)

"You were right, you know," Inga chuckled, when her and Antonia's paths crossed again. "I don't really understand it. See, I have no idea what it's like to have a sire. When I woke up for the first time, I was alone. Must have been some kind of record, for them to get annoyed with me so fast." Figuring out just what she was hadn't been fun, and had ruined a lot of people's days. A lot of her days, as well. "But I would like to understand better. So, if you want, you can... talk about that, whenever."

Was that a good idea? Probably not. Definitely not, but Inga also couldn't deny that she was interested, both in Antonia's life and this man that had meant so much to her.
 
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Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
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Lilian’s immediate embarrassment was a treat. Cassidy couldn’t stop the grin from widening on her face based on the way Lilian’s ears burned, before she recomposed herself and threatened to write a long, in-depth analysis of what made a good kiss. “I am dying to read this, you have no idea,” Cassidy might be bothered by it later, but right now she was going to encourage this challenge and see what Lilian came up with.

And try to match it, of course.

Obviously.

Sadly, she wouldn’t get to read it anytime soon as Lilian reached out to Deana – and Deana responded quickly. That meant heading out and going to Starbucks, which was naturally full of people. Cassidy nodded, “I’ll get my drink and go find a corner to play phone games,” or contribute to the shitposting about the Council, either way, she would find a way to be distracted and look like a normal person at Starbucks.

Well, outside Starbucks. She’d get a seat outside to help mitigate things, since Lilian would be inside.

She let Lilian order first, and placed her own order separately, noting where Lilian sat, and taking her warm drink when it arrived to sit outside, pulling her hat (of course she wore one of her cowboy hats that day – pink, because she liked it) a bit over her face to help mask what she was.

Not that Deana didn’t recognize it almost immediately.

There were pictures. HQ had plenty of cameras. However, Deana bit the inside of her cheek as she walked by the Obvious Vampire and into the café, ordering a simple latte before going to take a seat where Lilian was, sliding easily into it.

She didn’t let Lilian speak first, “Do you want to tell me why your friend is out there before we begin?” Deana didn’t think she was being set up to be attacked. Everything about Lilian’s demeanor in their brief exchanges suggested she was still acting of her own mind, and didn’t mean harm…but this still set Deana on edge.

Would she be killed if things didn’t go the way Lilian wanted? Or hoped?

Was she going to be viciously interrogated? Tortured for answers she may or may not have? Again, Deana didn’t know. What she did know, was that she had come alone, and that had been difficult enough to do because Michael was in a bit of a rage after everything that had happened with the invasion of his office, and apparently something that was going on with the vampires, which he was fairly evasive about.

Oh, and of course, the fuckery of what several hunters went and did, which had conveniently coincided with Lilian’s HQ break-in. Deana had to plead ignorance, but she knew, she was responsible for this. She felt sick to her stomach over it. “Or maybe explaining why you used me? That’s a good starting point as well.”

Of course, she knew it involved getting answers, but damnit! She could have asked her!

Maybe.

"Do you have any idea how difficult this has been?"

~***~

Antonia did not pull her hand from Inga when she grasped it. Somehow, it was necessary, like a lifeline. Not for her, perhaps, but for Inga – who did, in fact, go about helping with the boxes. There was an air about her joining that was natural, the competition with the werewolves entirely expected, and Antonia held her disquiet and discomfort to herself so as not to disturb the others with it. It was unnecessary.

Inga knew where she stood.

There would be more heads, but not that night. That night was for work.

And, apparently, some questions. Or attempts at questions, to understand. ‘How do I even explain?’ Inga hadn’t suffered such a loss. Asking her to imagine it might be stretching things a bit. Inga’s gods weren’t enough. Sure, she believed in them, but Antonia doubted Inga felt their presence in the same way she had felt Giannis’s. In a way she could understand, because Inga never lost her gods.

Not in her own mind.

The sire story wasn’t too surprising, though. Not because Inga was annoying (she was), but because there were still enough feral vampires who made childes without meaning to, or without thinking about it, and abandoning them because they didn’t know better. There were also some who intentionally made vampires of their enemies, in an attempt to decimate their ranks by the childe going feral without guidance.

Inga had come up from that.

With a box on one shoulder, Antonia asked, “Did you have any close relationships in your entire life, Inga? Anyone you would live for?” It was easy to die for someone, for something. People died for things all the time. Living was harder.

Antonia had lived in her marriage for her brothers, beloved assholes that they were. She had never quite tried to die as a vampire, no matter the lows…but she had still lived, sometimes consciously, for Giannis. She persisted in living for Giannis, for all the Optimates, but mostly, for Giannis.

“It is that relationship, more than the fact Gia was my sire. That bond, of being willing to live through the end of the world, just for them, that we had. That he was my sire was…pure luck, pure chance. He was my friend long before he was my sire.” A relationship known to human Antonia, and then to vampire Antonia, one that had surpassed religion, race, creed – everything that should have made them dislike each other.

Giannis had that way, of course. His power had helped, making him soft, because he felt the extremes of others – but he didn’t use it for evil. He didn’t use it to inflict pain. He tried to uplift. Always.

He had needed others like her to protect him from those who would abuse it. Even if he disagreed.
 

Syntra

Baba Yaga
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Off to a great fucking start. No, it did not surprise Lilian that much that Deana knew who – or rather, what – Cassidy was, but that didn’t mean she had to be happy about it. Well, at least she’s not trying to stake her? Yet. Standards, ladies and gentlemen! Admittedly, Lilian’s were somewhat low when it came to hunters’ stances on vampires. “I…” she rubbed the bridge of her nose, already sensing the impeding headache, “…I’m sorry, Deana. Cass was just worried. I promise, we’re not,” we, not I, “being shady. I mean, I guess we kind of are but not because we’re planning anything weird?” An awesome way to phrase it, and also one that totally made her seem more trustworthy. Great fucking job! It truly was a mystery that, with all her talents, Lilian hadn’t become a motivational speaker. How come?

Oh, right!

Due to not having any real options. That was kind of the leitmotif, here.

“I can call her over, if you want?” she raised her eyebrow. “She knows everything anyway, and since you’re aware she’s here…” Well, it was kind of awkward. More than just ‘kind of,’ if Lilian were to be honest with herself, but she was holding her composure with gum and paperclips at this point, and was not ready to wrestle with all the layers of discomfort inherent to... uh, whatever clusterfuck this was.

Introducing your vampire girlfriend to your not-mom was bad enough; here, the task was made even worse by the mom being a hunter, and her having a good reason to think said girlfriend had ruined your life.

Of course, that wasn’t what that was about. Not at all! But Lilian could see how it would look that way, from the point of view of literally everyone who wasn’t her.

It seemed that Deana was not in a good mood, though. Understandable, in many ways, and Lilian was also ready to hear some opinions, but a lot of what Deana said now honestly struck her as unfair. “Used you how?” she asked, her tone a little sharper than it had to be. “You mean the way I asked you when the HQ would be empty, and said I was going to look for answers? And then followed your advice? You know, the one that you gave me.” There had been some hiccups in the beginning, which she wasn’t too proud of. At the same time, Lilian had managed to be straightforward about her intentions in the end, and that did not fit her definition of ‘using’ someone.

“Look, I’m… grateful,” she sighed. “I really am. And I know it couldn’t have been easy, but it also hasn’t been easy for me.” Do you know how many times I’d be fucking dead, if not for a bunch of vampires? Unfortunately, that wasn’t something Deana was ready to hear. It also wasn’t necessary to say, in the grand scheme of things, so Lilian restrained herself. “I did get some good info, though.”

She grabbed her phone, reached the photos, and found the ones with the… statistics, and descriptions of various mutations. Then, it was just a matter of showing it all to Deana.

“What do you think about this?”

Because of course Lilian Perry wasn’t going to beat around the bush. Not now, not ever. Which, speaking of: “Oh, yeah. And did you know that the organization killed my parents? That was a fun thing to find out about.”

~***~

“Did you have any close relationships in your entire life, Inga? Anyone you would live for?”

Well, well, well. Wasn’t that a fun question to ask? It was, to the point Inga almost dropped the box she was carrying. There was also that weird feeling of being caught red-handed, of doing something embarrassing and being Perceived, and she did her best to ignore it.

“S-sure, totally!” But that was a lie so obvious that she didn’t care to keep it alive, nor had she even meant to say it in the first place. It had been an automatic thing, really. When a mosquito buzzed around your ear, you swatted at it, and when people asked you about something that was supposed to be this normal, you just… lied. Duh! Because then there would be the questions and the pitiful looks, which wasn’t something Inga was all that interested in.

Not like Antonia would do that, though! That was one of the many great things about her. The… utter mercilessness. How she took everything in stride.

“Okay, not really,” Inga admitted. “Never been cut out for these things. Living for others sounds hard. You just don’t know where you stand with… people who aren’t you. I think I’ve mostly lived out of spite? I mean, if someone’s going to try and kill me and not even ask nicely about it, then I have to survive. That’s just common sense. Oh, and I guess I also wanted to see if there was more to everything?” More to life, in general. Her conclusion was that there could be, as long as you were willing to see it that way. As long as you wanted to see it that way, which she sometimes did and sometimes did not.

It did get tiring. The, what, constant trying? Inga didn’t know. You didn’t really want to think about these things, otherwise you risked digging out something that ought to stay buried. And that would be a biohazard! And she was too responsible for that! No rotting corpses on her porch, thank you very much.

Of course, that wasn’t meant to distract from just how this had hurt Antonia.

Taking away someone’s reason for living was a big deal. Not just a sire, but a friend as well.

“That’s… yeah.” If there was something she could say, then Inga had no idea what it was. Certainly, there wasn’t anything to make it better. Words didn't improve things; murders did.

(Well, as long as you murdered the right person. A lesson Inga kind of wished she had learned earlier, now.)

“How did you even meet? Who was he?” It probably wasn’t too sensitive to interrogate her about a man that she had personally killed, but maybe talking about him wouldn’t be so bad. Something about remembering your dead.
 
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Lucyfer

My Power Will Grow Like Grapes On The Vine~
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Deana shook her head at the idea of Cassidy being drawn over. She wasn’t…prepared for that. Obviously, to endure this conversation, she was going to have to accept Cassidy’s nearness, but she didn’t yet have to accept that she was a true part of all of this, and someone that Lilian actually trusted enough. More than she trusted Deana. Or at least, more than she trusted the organization, which meant she hadn’t found anything that she liked.

“Yes, I meant that,” Deana sighed, realizing Lilian had a point as she laid it out. “I didn’t expect you—oh, but you probably didn’t expect Michael, either,” or she wouldn’t have gone at all, because that was just stupid. “Sorry, sorry,” Deana pushed the heel of her palm against her forehead, curling her fingers inward, “I’m dealing with all of that on top of being here, and my position isn’t uncomplicated in this.” As Lilian had outlined by the data she gave.

Her expectations shouldn’t have been so high.

She moved her hand to grab the phone and take a look at the selected images, starting with the statistics of…mutations. There was plenty outlined that she didn’t know, though she knew what she had been told. Was it true? Well, that, she didn’t know. Some things you took on faith, after all.

Lilian’s query as she lifted her latte to her lips made her glad she hadn’t yet taken a sip of it. She set it back down rather than take a sip, and lowered the phone so she could hold Lilian’s gaze. Everyone knew a liar couldn’t meet a gaze (well, they could – but only the skilled), and Deana didn’t intend to lie no matter how uncomfortable that question made her. “Not immediately, I didn’t, no.”

She set the phone down, “By the time I learned of it, you were already older than a toddler. Almost a tween,” a wane smile, “and I…I held it to myself. I admit that. I didn’t think it would do you any good to know when they could be…well, heroic.” Died to vampires, died and saved Lilian, of course. Heroic. “I don’t think most knew, Lilian, I was…I wasn’t high up at all back then.”

She wasn’t high up now, exactly. Not one of the Seven, but still plenty high.

“The…list you’ve shown me. I understand why it’s difficult for you to see it like that. It looks like we’re recklessly playing with lives, doesn’t it?” And Deana couldn’t believe that, wouldn’t believe that, when, “The God’s Blessing is a Blessing though, Lilian. Which means its also a contract, and when we break that, we must pay with a curse.”

She was quite serious on saying this, too. It was what she had been told, when she learned more. When she could be entrusted not to act so rashly and think the same as Lilian, because she understood. “You know of God’s contract with Lot and his family. So long as they did not look back, they would survive when they fled the town that God had to destroy. Yet, Lot’s wife looked back – and so she lost her protection. It is the same thing, God has never really changed. We have entered into a contract with the God, but if we betray it, by actions, thoughts, or deeds…we become cursed, turned to a form the God can still use.”

Deana pushed the phone back towards Lilian, so she could either bring up more, or consider what was on that page. Consider this truth, among her thoughts and her doubts.

~***~

Inga’s answer drew a dull look from Antonia as she proclaimed she had totally had friends of that caliber. The obvious lie was just that, so poorly said that Inga backtracked and admitted that, no, she had never had friends she would live for. Which meant, sadly, everything was going to be in hypotheticals for her, which always made understanding things significantly more difficult than they needed to be.

At least she knew it was difficult.

At least she could begin to see the damage done, as the boxes being carried made their way outside and to the moving truck, that was going to be making so many trips, because Antonia owned so much she didn’t actually need. Every guest room was fully prepared for guests, after all.

“You can always talk to other people and find out where you stand,” true, some people would lie about it. She would have lied to Matteo about where they stood. “Not everyone is a liar.” Though they were harder to find in this day and age. Tristan came to mind immediately. Oh, he did lie. He could lie. Despite that, Antonia knew where she stood with him. He wasn’t a difficult person, really. Difficult to tolerate, sure. Difficult to understand, not at all.

The topic was still on Gia, though.

Thankfully, that was a topic Antonia didn’t really tire of. There weren’t too many people she got to speak about him with anymore. Sure, the occasional meet and greet, “Hi, who was your sire, what’s your lineage?” sort of thing, which some vampires took too seriously. To be fair, if she could claim her sire was someone like fucking AMON she might take it more seriously, too. Giannis was no Amon, though. Never had been, even if he would have been older than her.

She understood it from Roman ways. Family mattered. Heritage mattered.

“He was a friend of my husband back when I was human,” strange she’d only had the one, really, husband or wife. Then again, vampires so rarely entered into such a thing, too aware of how long life was to be willing to settle with just one person. Some did, of course. Most regretted it. “Not that my husband ever knew he was entertaining a vampire, Giannis was one of the wheat traders, so he was important by default,” Rome ran on wheat more than gold. “He was also one of the only people who gave a damn what I thought, and went out of his way to hear my opinion on things that a woman shouldn’t have an opinion about.”

Ah yes, blessed Rome. Home of the word Patriarchy.

Also home of the word Matriarchy, but that was besides the point. “He supported me through my pregnancy, almost more than Rufus. I had twins,” a fond smile. She hadn’t been able to be a real mother to them, but she had watched from the background, and Gia made sure they were taken care of when he visited Rufus. “It killed me, of course,” something did, “but Gia gave me life, and took me to a place that was…a little better. I improved it substantially where it came to women’s ability to speak and be heard.” Where they began to take her seriously. “Did you truly have no one?” obviously, “Why did you ever join the Veturia in the first place?”
 

Syntra

Baba Yaga
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So you did lie to me. Still, there was a surge of something all too similar to relief when Deana pretty much confirmed she hadn't actually been involved in the… well, murder. The execution, as the higher-ups would claim. Not that the difference wasn’t ideological, and not that Lilian cared. Dead was still dead. “Fair,” she said, before finally taking a sip. “I… do get that.” Of course, her child self wouldn’t have benefited from knowing. Not even her adult self did, aside from maybe getting to tie up some loose ends, but you could still argue about how valuable that kind of thing was. After all, what did that change?

Everything and nothing. Certainly not the past, no. The future, though… the future was still an open book, and Lilian knew better than to trust an organization built on dirty fucking lies.

Dirty fucking lies and, apparently, also unethical experiments. Experiments that Deana had known about.

Oh god, no. Don’t tell me that you… actually mean this? But she did, and it was easy to tell, both from the earnest look and the careful, measured way she spoke. Deana sounded convinced. She had likely been convinced years ago, much like most of the older hunters. You didn’t stay in the organization for this long without the organization also… staying with you, in many ways. In you. And hadn’t Lilian always known, in her heart of hearts? There had been a reason why she hadn’t contacted Deana when that deal with Cassidy had been struck, as logical as it would have been.

Yes, she would have helped!

Far more efficiently than Maria, too.

Except that her idea of ‘help’ would have been disposing of Cassidy much more elegantly, without Lilian ever noticing. There wouldn’t have been anything to question. After all, would it have been that weird for the vampire to bail? Vampires were vampires, and did vampire things, for reasons nobody but them understood. Sometimes not even them, if the official doctrine was to be believed.

And, really, why would you believe anything else? Were you some kind of filthy fucking heretic?

It was scary, the way everything could have been so different. A single moment; a single decision, like tossing the coin. One wrong fucking choice, and she never would have known what she did now.

Never would have known Cassidy, either. Not in any way that mattered.
“So, what you are telling me,” Lilian took a deep breath, “is that those people were asking for it?” Quick and to the point, as always. Cutting through bullshit was something she’d always been good at, to a lot of people’s vast dismay. She had… learned to stay silent when needed, to avoid unnecessary conflicts with those much higher up the food chain than she was, but there was no need to do that now. Not when the bridges were already burning. “And that God smites us for… disobeying? How does that compute? Since I’m still here.” She very much was, despite Michael’s valiant efforts to make the opposite happen. “But, you know,” Lilian gave her a small, sarcastic smile, “I almost did get to be part of those statistics. During my run-in with Michael, he did… something to me. No idea what it was, but it accelerated whatever process that’s happening thanks to those blessings, and that wasn’t fun.”

Mildly speaking. It had been about as ‘unfun’ as being set on fucking fire was ‘unfun,’ and Deana likely didn’t need to be told.

“It was fixed with a transfusion.” A transfusion, not a fucking prayer, or something ridiculous like that. “I don’t know, it seems kind of easy to circumvent?” Lilian tilted her head aside, all too transparent in her skepticism. “For a curse. Maybe that’s what Lot should have done for his wife, too!”

~***~

Yes, but then I’d have to know. And that, of course, was the entire problem! Inga had mostly known with other people already, but there was always room for doubt; room for something else than the obvious conclusion, as unlikely as it was. When you asked, you… removed that. Dashed the hopes. It wasn’t the liars she had issues with, but rather those who were far too honest for her own good.

(Maybe her heart couldn’t take that much, after all. It was an old, used thing.)

“Perhaps I’ll ask one day,” Inga said, “if I feel like it.” Not you, though. But she didn’t have to ask Antonia, mostly because both knew very well what they were to one another. It was… freeing, to go into this without expectations, though it was also something of a special case. Everything involving her seemed to be, in one way or another.

Antonia spoke some more and Inga listened, with obvious interest. Many vampires her age tended to be somewhat tight-lipped about their past; blah blah blah, ‘too personal,’ blah blah blah, ‘you don’t need to know.’ She’d half-expected for Antonia to be the same, because why wouldn’t she? And why would she share these things with someone like her, of all people?

Well, maybe she really did want for her to understand. It was a convenient way to make it hurt more.

“I see,” Inga nodded. “I… yeah, having someone like that must have made things easier.” Giannis really did sound like a nice guy, she had to admit. Nice wasn’t something she’d thought Antonia fucking Lenart would favor, but there was a queer balance to it all, the way she’d gravitate to someone much softer than she herself was.

And everyone liked support. That sort of thing was universal.

“I…” Inga began, considering carefully what she was going to say, “…I suppose I did have some people, but it was never that deep. A lot of things happened.” She, herself, also preferred not to dissect her past too much, but Antonia had been both open and honest in her own account. Therefore: “I died far from home, Antonia. In battle. It was… better for us than it was for you, I guess,” better than most eras, sans modernity, “in that we had more choices. So, I was a warrior even then,” Probably not that surprising, because Inga still sort of fought like a human would have. Unlike most vampires, she was unwilling to take a lot of damage, automatically resorting to dodges and parries and deflects, even while knowing it wasn’t that big of a deal anymore. Old habits died hard.

“Some of the people I fancied I tried to return to, because I didn’t know where else to go. But they saw me die, apparently, and weren’t big fans of unlife. Things… escalated. Long story short,” a wince, “I killed them. So, I stayed away from my human family because I liked them.” She’d been too young and too volatile, and hadn’t trusted them or herself, after that experience. It had been one of her few good decisions. Hopefully they’d lived a good life?

Hopefully, yeah!

“The Veturia… I don’t know, they were willing to have me? Not many were. Matteo spoke my language and… offered a lot of things, and I still had nothing better to do or any other connections. But!” Inga gave her the most insincere smile imaginable, “Of course he lied. And once I was able to see that,” and gotten better, re: the murderous urges, “I was suddenly annoying and inconvenient and asked too many questions.”
 
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Lucyfer

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This was not at all something that Deana had forgotten about Lilian, and her way of putting this did not come as a surprise. There was no point in trying to soften it again, or a point in arguing it. Deana knew that was the truth; the people who became mutants had asked for it by losing their faith, by doubting the God, and they could have become much worse threats. She knew there was some sort of grace period – there had to be! – but she didn’t question it much.

She assumed Lilian was also in that grace period, but hearing what she said about Michael, and the transfusion, did cause her to knit her brows together.

The transfusion was more surprising than Michael, honestly. Everyone knew Michael was…more special than the others, honestly. “There is grace to return to the God, Lilian,” Deana noted, “one doesn’t change all at once, they can always turn back,” that much, she could clarify, “it is no surprise Michael has some…influence. He is one of our more direct links,” and as far as Deana knew, the most linked, so to speak, to the God.

Even if he worked with vampires, as they were all learning. As they learned Gabriella did. The possibility of the Seven being corrupt was still hard to fathom when the God didn’t smite them for this. Clearly, it was the God’s will!

But Deana just sighed and shook her head at Lilian’s insistence the curse was circumvented. “I won’t pretend to understand the God’s blessing or the God’s will. I don’t. But I don’t think it’s as easy as you say. I think all you’ve done is taken cough syrup to cover a cough, but it’ll wear off, and when it does, the curse will reassert itself if you haven’t turned back to the God by then. I somewhat hope I’m wrong. I don’t…want anything to happen to you, no matter what choice you’re making.”

Even if it pained her to consider that Lilian was making a terrible choice. Even if it really might set them at odds to the point she’d have to consider Lilian an enemy of hers, right now, she didn’t want Lilian to die. She’d rather Lilian leave it all behind, rather than go against them, if she wasn’t coming back, of course.

Time would tell for both of them.

“Did you even look at the statistics for the successes? Have you considered how many, like I, have not fallen in your considerations?” Deana didn’t really know the numbers, but she knew people. “Maria and Eugene are still here, still well, you know. Many are.” She thought the majority either saw limited effects, or great ones.

What she wasn’t aware of, was the differences in dosages, and how that played a role. How Lilian had more because of certain drinking habits.

~***~

Cassidy, while she did maintain an eye on the conversation she couldn’t hear, soon found herself quite engrossed in the drama of memes unfolding in the Shitposting Group, notably all about some Isolde, and apparently a Matteo missing an arm? Cassidy didn’t really understand the memes.

Asking questions just got her more memes.

‘Okay, so Isolde is a cannibal? Or something?’ And Matteo was a—oh shit, that’s right Antonia! She meant to ask Tristan more about this Veturia-Optimates thing.

She hopped over into a private message with Tristan and sent him one.

Okay so, this keeps coming up now, what actually IS the deal with Antonia and Matteo?

She didn’t have to wait long for Tristan to clarify.

Long or short?

Cassidy opted for short.

So I wasn’t there. Old enough but yeah fuck no – word that spread to the rest of us was basically that the Veturia fucked over the Optimates with a false celebration for someone’s 1000th birthday. A&A lived. Matts was a part of it. 2 clans don’t really get along they just pretend to. Don’t blame them.

That was fair. Close enough to what Antonia said, Antonia was just…far more precise.

Veturia weren’t punished?

She could hear the laugh in Tristan’s response

lol no come on this was like the dark ages, Cass. The shit we—uh others—got away with was ridick. Issy could almost get away with devouring a person in public. Shit was crazy.

Cassidy rolled her eyes. Yeah, Tristan apparently did some shady ass shit back then, but then he did shady ass shit right now.

She was going to ask for more clarity, but the Shitposting group blew up and she flipped over to it to see the memes were now about Antonia – a few Marc Antony ones speckled in there, but the sum of it was obvious to catch. Antonia had nearly lost her temper, and the reason was Inga. ‘Oh, that’s not good.’ What was that going to mean for their research? Their plans? Cassidy bit her bottom lip, debating if she ought to reach out to either, and deciding that was definitely not something to do that night.

~***~

No, Antonia didn’t find it surprising in the least that Inga was a warrior, even then, although she had sometimes wondered how true accounts of female warriors were. The Amazons were a myth, she was fairly certain of that, despite Minerva’s role as a goddess of war, and Victoria as a goddess of victory. Strange things to associate with war, given the role of actual women in Rome. Then again, Rome rarely made sense in regards to those things. Many aspects that were female, were far stronger than the male aspects of the world.

Perhaps that was why women were kept down.

Not that Antonia herself would have gone the route of warrior. Dying far from home seemed a terrible fate. In some ways, it still was to Antonia; she’d still rather die in Rome, or at least be returned to Rome at the end. It was likely for the best, for Inga. Those she loved – well, some of them – got to persist in living whatever human life was left to them.

As for the Veturia – it seemed it was only because they offered. Why they offered was obvious – they wanted additional muscle. They had never been quite so picky as the Optimates, and Antonia imagined their history was likely flecked with people like Inga they eventually dealt with. Inga was likely lucky she left and became a non-issue, of sorts. Until now, when she was a Big Issue.

All because she fell for the wrong Optimate – the most vengeful one.

All Antonia offered was a hum, acknowledging she heard, but had little to say. She wasn’t as invested in Inga’s sad tale, although it did help her to understand what was wrong with Inga. She attached to things quickly when shown a hint of interest, and Antonia couldn’t deny her role in that. She didn’t just spar with anyone who had a slight interest (although the blackmail had always been a point against any willing action). The dress situation, as well, was another tick in her mind, as she tallied up the points for why Inga bothered to get attached, while they continued to move boxes.

Small bits of dialogue between herself and Inga, and of course, the rest of those there, would help to make the night go on smoothly. It wouldn’t all get done that night. That was an impossible task, and Antonia kept her attention on the clock. She couldn’t manage in the day like the wolves could, after all.

But, when it was close to sunrise, she did call a bit of a halt to it all, and noted to Inga, “I won’t be here much longer, but I’m not leaving town,” obviously, the moving was a major indicator she wasn’t staying. She wouldn’t, however, indicate where she was going. That wasn’t important right now. “I don’t expect or want you to come help on the rest of the nights, but I do need to know your schedule for the upcoming week or two.”

She was debating if she ought to invite Inga to what Cassidy and Lilian were planning. Of course, she knew she should. Inga was the intellectual with regards to the chemistry of all this, if anyone ought to see the God and figure things out, it was Inga. Loathed as Antonia was to consider more close proximity so soon, she was still a pragmatist.
 

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And this, this nonsense right there was why Lilian hated discussing such things. ‘I don’t understand shit, but I also somehow know better than you!’ was a… prevalent attitude, really. Prevalent enough for her to recognize the narrative, even before all the key elements were introduced. Many hunters liked it, for some reason? It probably had to do both with avoiding actual responsibility and this fun brand of cognitive dissonance a lot of people had, where you had to convince yourself that things were fine even if they fucking weren’t. Well, not what Lilian Perry was doing! Not anymore. “Maybe,” she agreed. “So I’m just gonna take it again, and again, and again, until I figure out something better.” Because that was what they were going to do, god fucking dammit, instead of burying their heads in the sand. Instead of… waiting for the solution to fall into their lap. Enough with that bullshit already!

Good thing I haven’t actually shown her everything. It did hurt, the fact that she couldn’t trust Deana as much as she would have liked to, but Lilian was thankful for her own paranoia now. Clearly, there were… lengths to which she’d go for her, and lengths to which she’d go for God, and those lengths weren’t at all the same. If anything, she probably got the shorter end of the stick, between the two. So, what would Deana have done, had she found out just what kind of info they’d collected? That they already knew where to find the creature?

No, Lilian really didn’t want to think about that.

“And how do you even know the successes are successes?” she asked flatly. “What if they are just failures in disguise? I mean, I’m no Inga,” as if that name would ring a bell, “but everyone knows that different people react differently, to… things.” Yes, yes, not very descriptive, but fuck off! She was under duress, here. Besides, it worked, and thus was infinitely better than Inga’s ham-fisted metaphors by default. “They look fine now, but they may not be. Hell, I look fine. There may be a timer for all of us, and we can’t even check because it’s fucking invisible. Nobody ever told us, either! You think that’s anything remotely close to okay?”

That she was likely going to say ‘yes’ was the saddest thing about this by far. The biggest disappointment. This was Deana, for fuck’s sake! Deana, who had been there for her when nobody else had been. Deana, who had understood, and who had never once flinched, no matter how hard things had gotten.

But she was also Deana, a hunter. Deana, whose mental gymnastics were Olympics-tier and who could probably justify anything and everything to herself, judging by what she’d seen so far. It wasn’t like Lilian hadn’t tried, you know? Even she, for all her bluntness, could have presented things more gently. Could have, but hadn’t. The verbal sledgehammer should have broken through Deana’s defenses, and would have done so, in the ideal world.

They weren’t living in the ideal world, though. Far from it.

“So where do we stand now?” Lilian raised her gaze, a little uncertain. “I don’t want… any conflicts between us, Deana. And I won’t ask for help anymore, because yeah, probably not a good idea. But what, should I expect to be attacked next time I see you?”

~***~

The supply of boxes was never-ending, the task downright Sisyphean, and Inga was sort of having fun with it all, until Antonia… well, pointed out the reality of their situation. Morning would come, as it always did. With morning, there would be the sun, and with the sun, their paths would separate again. Possibly forever? After all, her little killing spree didn’t necessarily require them to see one another in person, as the head thing could easily be metaphorical. Not like Antonia wanted to mount them on her wall, anyway!

Yeah, it did hurt. It was an expected hurt, but a hurt nonetheless, and so Inga did what she’d always done: put on her biggest, brightest smile. Camouflage, ladies and gentlemen! The greatest invention since sliced bread. (This likely wasn’t fooling Antonia, to whom she seemed to be an open book, but it was also more about saving her face in front of herself than it was about literally anyone else.)

“Okay, okay! And I didn’t really think you’d be leaving town,“ she pointed out. “Doesn’t seem like you, to run away before your job is done.” No, that seemed like Inga. Maybe not anymore, or at least not to such an extent, but the impulse was still there, and she could recognize it.

How had she never noticed before? It was a pattern, and patterns were her entire thing! Though maybe not when it was in her own thoughts, because those could be… somewhat unpleasant to wade through. Too insightful.

My schedule? The first thing that came to her mind was a variation on ‘ha, ha, is this a date?’ though not even Inga was a big enough nutjob to ever say that outloud. “Hmm,” she rubbed her chin instead, “Not sure. I will be moving tomorrow night,” somewhere, “and I guess I need to get myself a new lab? Which will be a pain in the ass, but it probably also isn’t super urgent.” No, no it wasn’t. For now, she only needed some very basic equipment, and the hunters hadn’t even broken everything. Not beyond repair, anyway. “So, I will be busy for two to three nights? Perhaps more. Depends on what Isolde will do, because honestly,” a small, mischievous chuckle, “I’m waiting for her to announce who Matteo’s successor will be. After starting out on such a high note, I just cannot bear the thought of a downgrade. This could be a lovely tradition, don’t you think?”

Plus, Inga still lowkey believed it would kill her soon-ish. And before that happened? She was going to make herself useful to Antonia, in all the ways that truly mattered. Offing one bigshot was always, always better than massacring ten nobodies! Any half-competent hunter could ambush a rando in a dark alley, though none of them could have gotten Matteo fucking Ariotti. They’d tried, bless their little hearts, but the results of that trying spoke for themselves.

Admittedly, the plan also struck her as funny. That alone made her about 80% more likely to follow it, because Inga was a simple woman, with simple needs. There was a reason why she was such a prominent member of Tristan’s shitposting group.

“I can always make time, though,” she tilted her head aside. “You thinking of anything in particular?”
 
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Lucyfer

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Deana wouldn’t advise Lilian against her plans. No, what was the point in that, when it bought her time? Still, she wished Lilian would come back to the faith, and believe. That was the only thing that was really going to save her, but she couldn’t see that yet. So, she needed all the time she could get.

Deana did look visibly confused at the name Inga. That wasn’t a name she knew, but it had to be a vampire. She made a mental note to look into their files. That wasn’t a common name, after all. If they knew of an Inga, it would likely be just this one. Or a few others in far away places that didn’t matter.

Still, Deana didn’t believe she was a ticking time bomb.

She didn’t believe Michael was a ticking time bomb. “What would you like me to say, Lilian? You know for me it is faith. I believe. That is how it always must be. You have to believe, even when you don’t have all the evidence, because if you have evidence…you don’t need faith. But I see how I am. I see how Michael is, Gabriella, and others. I can see that faith is rewarded, but even if not? That is the God’s will, and I trust in the God to know what is best. Even now, I trust there is a reason beyond the transfusion you haven’t…lost yourself to that will.”

What other way was there to say it?

And how to answer that question?

She sighed, and dropped her head so it hung over her coffee. She thought, and she shut her eyes to try and think better without the environment to distract her, but in the end she could only laugh and look back up at Lilian, eyes watering because she knew where this went. “You tell me, Lilian.” There was a certain helplessness to her tone.

She didn’t know what Lilian would do. She knew she would just keep hunting vampires, but Lilian could change all of that. “Are you going to destroy everything and everyone I love, including yourself? Maria? Eugene? Is that where you’re heading? Because I wouldn’t hunt you, Lilian. I wouldn’t hurt you if you left it all alone, but…you tell me.”

~***~

Antonia wasn’t going to apologize for forcing Inga to move. Truth was, she wasn’t sorry about that at all. At least Inga was going to move, though. She wasn’t going to just bait the hunters into trying again and again at the same location. If they hadn’t already decided it was a dead end. Inga’s home didn’t look too habitable.

Antonia didn’t bother to stop the smile that spread across her lips when Inga mentioned her plans to off whoever Isolde dubbed as the next leader. ‘It could be a nice little tradition.’ A death sentence instead of a reward, until Isolde had to come forward herself. It was strange, really, how close she was to Isolde, and how very little she ever saw of Isolde. Older vampires ran the gambit from reclusive hermits to eccentrics, though, when they were that old. She wasn’t sure if Amon or Isolde was weirder for it.

Reclusive hermit had its perks.

“Yes, I think it could be a nice tradition,” Antonia decided to verbalize as much, to encourage it. She did like the idea too much, after all. And Inga knew the price of her forgiveness, if it was ever to come. Antonia hadn’t teased her with any guarantees, at least.

Antonia shook her head, “No, your schedule should work,” Antonia answered, “Cassidy and the hunter, you’ll recall, found some interesting information about the God’s location. It’s not far. I was planning to arrange with them a time to go. I’ll likely make it four days out. There’s enough I have to do and moving is a thing,” she waved back at her home and all it’s things.

It was, indeed, A Thing.

Always an event. Antonia didn’t run. Her collection suggested as much. She was quite used to stability. “I will have to advise against killing Joseph,” Antonia noted with a bit of a sigh, “I’m not in favor of sparing him, but I’m not keen on dealing with Amon’s dramatic reaction to it, either.” Sure, it would fade, but she decided to give Inga this much, at least. Amon would still come after her head. This would give him a so-called personal reason that he wouldn’t need to explain to Antonia as to why he got in the way of her kill. “Later, I’ll deal with Amon.”

Right now she had enough on her plate, and Amon being a Dramatic Bitch because he could be was not one of those things. He was already going too far with the Cleopatra bullshit. “As for the others, do as you will, and I will let you know when we’re leaving to commit deicide.” Or at the very least, attempt deicide.
 

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