Dark Fantasies

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Chapter 3: Memories and Treasures

(Notes; There should be more to the story of the party than simply a string of sex scenes, though I am not exactly sure which direction the story will take.

But she will be able to rest in her lovers’ arms before, during and after the orgies. And at the same time, this chapter will also deal with some of the other guests and what they are doing and thinking.)

Meanwhile, as the party had wound down three nights before Joanna’s birthday, and those who were already guests at Lathom Manor were beginning to relax toward being able to sleep for the night, all seemed quiet in the sprawling mansion. But in one of the suites on the second floor, one of the two young women who were sleeping there shot awake from the reaching claws of the same nightmare that had disturbed her rest each night for slightly more than the past year.

That the nightmare was connected to one that was worse about the attack that had nearly killed her lover a few days more than a month before she had been kidnapped by Reginald wasn’t anything that Alyx wanted to think about as she lay back down beside Petrova, watching her as she slept, though Alyx could tell from the movements of her eyes that Pet was dreaming still, and it was likely to be the same nightmare that Alyx had shaken free of, only seconds before. And in that instant, Alyx knew that she was going to have to wake Pet to help her break free of the nightmare too.

Petrova felt cold, dread filling her hearts, as she realized that she was once more alone. Then it occurred to her that she had no idea what time it was, or even what day it was. Slowly, putting together the pieces of her fragmented memories, she worked out that it seemed to be Wednesday. “Wednesday?” she mumbled, abruptly aghast.

Alyx knew even then that she would need to wake Pet soon, or risk undoing all the good that had been done by not being in Seven Havens any longer. But she knew too the dangers inherent in waking her lover too roughly as Pet continued to dream. And Alyx knew that she didn’t want to have to wake her too roughly, but she was realistic enough to know that it might end up being too rough, no matter how gentle she tried to be about it.

She tried to stand, sinking back down onto the bed as her knees abruptly refused to hold her weight, then the room seemed to whirling rapidly around her, until she let her head drop and her eyes slide shut for a long minute. A few seconds later, the vertigo slowly began to pass, and she could raise her head once more. But where was Alyx, she wondered as she stood carefully, blinking away a sea of sparkles and walked unsteadily across the unfamiliar room she had wakened in, wondering idly what was wrong with her balance today.

There was a medium sized mirror on the wall across the room from the bed where she had wakened, and as she crossed the room, she glanced up at herself, momentarily taken aback by what she saw in the reflection. My Gods, vhat has heppened to me? she thought, bewildered as she raised her hands to cover the sunken hollows in her cheeks, the reflection echoing her every gesture. I look like... a valking skeleton! she thought, feeling tears welling in her eyes at the thought of how she looked. And in her hearts, she wondered why Alyx stayed with her if she looked so bad, as she shuddered as some of her memory chose then to selectively return.

“◊Alyxandyra!!!◊ Petrova wailed mentally and aloud in the eerie silence that seemed to cocoon the room and fill the dream as well as the echoing stillness of her own mind, not expecting any sort of answer.

In the bed next to her, Alyx lay, watching Petrova sleep, frowning worriedly when Pet moaned her name, but didn’t wake.

Great silent wracking sobs shook Petrova’s shoulders, and she wanted nothing more than to run away, but to where? Straight into Alyx’s arms, of course, but she didn’t even know if Alyx was home. For that matter, she wasn’t too sure she even knew where she was, or what was going on, though she knew that she had to know if what she thought she remembered happening was true.

In the other room in Petrova’s dream, Alyx abruptly snapped awake with a gasp, hand rising to cover her mouth, shaken from her rest by a ringing scream that had only been partly audible, even to her hyperacute hearing. And as she decided that she was awake, she stiffened slightly, realizing that there was a subtle difference in the atmosphere of the house, and she whispered behind her hand, “Oh Gods, Pet’s conscious again. Oh please, please let her trust me again!” she prayed fervently as she pulled on a bathrobe to rush into her lover’s room.

And she hoped again that Pet hadn’t seen what Alyx had had to do to Danny to rescue her from him. Alyx reached over to brush a tendril of Petrova’s hair from her face, and stopped dead as Pet moaned softly at her touch. She knew that Pet had seen it, every gory detail of Danny’s True Death; Alyx hoped it wouldn’t hurt their relationship to keep reliving the terror, but she knew too that she couldn’t help worrying for Pet during these awful dreams, even though there was nothing Alyx could do to stop them either.

It was then that Alyx stopped dead; realizing abruptly that she was seeing this as the memory of a dream, though she knew that she was awake. They shared a room at home, as well as a generously appointed suite at the home they were visiting; the home of Alyxandyra’s Father’s new wife, the woman who was Alyxandyra’s vampyric Mother as Vlad was her Father; Joanna Lathom. But at the same time, she knew that if she was going to have any hope of breaking the cycle of nightmares, she would have to wake Pet as soon as she could.

And in darkness of the suite they shared that night, Alyx forced her eyes open again—unpleasantly surprised to find that they had been closed again-- knowing that the only way to wake her young lover without fear was for her to be as gentle as she could. As Alyx rolled toward the side of the bed Petrova sprawled limply across, she knew that might be harder than it sounded; Pet was a hard sleeper, and that made waking her equally hard sometimes.

But shaking her out of the dream she was in was the only way to save her from another day like the past one had been, Alyx knew. And she wouldn’t wish another day like that on Pet even if they hadn’t been lovers!

And at the same time, Alyx knew what she must be seeing at this point in the dream. The worst part was the fact that last night, Alyx hadn’t wakened in time, and Pet had suffered through the entire dream, all the way to the bitter end, when she had screamed as she woke up, then huddled in on herself for hours, crying uncontrollably.

Then it hit Alyx; this was the same position she had found Pet in, sprawled bonelessly-- as though already dead-- on that squalid, bare mattress only moments after Reginald had violently had his way with her, and it was the same position that Danny had left her in when he had tried to steal her from Alyx more than a year before they had arrived here.

At the same time, she knew that this was the same nightmare that Pet had every night. Alyx only hoped she would be able to wake Pet soon enough to keep her from seeing the most painful bits again.

When Alyx opened Petrova’s door, she wasn’t too surprised to find her lover huddled on the floor curled into a near fetal ball, shaking like a leaf and clearly temporarily terrified beyond reason or words. “Pet... Pet, come on Petrova, talk to me.” Alyx murmured gently, tenderly stroking Petrova’s golden brown hair, now carelessly scattered around her like a fall of dusty sunbeams. “It’ s only me, honey. I won’t hurt you. I love you, remember?”

Petrova’s thoughts echoed wildly in her mind, as she thought, Yeah, I remember, that’s part of the problem!, though she didn’t say anything beyond mumbling, “Only a little bit... here and there.” as she burst into tears.

Oh, Alyx! How can you love me? I... am so... so ugly now!!” Petrova sobbed in the dream, and other words, far more hurtful rolled through her thoughts, but she couldn’t find the energy to cry and speak at the same time, so the tears won out, spilling over her cheeks in torrents.

Hush now, my love. You are not ugly. Not now or ever, my darling. I will always love you, no matter what happens to us.” Alyx said calmingly as Pet tried to burrow into her arms as though she couldn’t be close enough to feel protected.

Alyx sighed deeply as she closed her arms around Petrova once more, hoping to reassure her before she was able to continue what had to be said. “Your problem... your pain is only temporary, my love. You... you lost a lot of blood the night before last, and I thought-- more than once—that you had died and left me behind forever.”

At those words, Petrova silently tightened her embrace, and Alyx knew she was pleading for the comfort she knew only Alyx could give. And at that, Alyx broke off, tightening her arms around Petrova in a tender embrace before finding her voice again.

But Petrova cut her off with the question, “Then this is a... a hospital?” and she seemed confused as the scene around them shifted slightly to a room that more closely resembled a private room in a small hospital.

And Alyx sighed, “My love, you are in Shadow Valley, at the hospital here. Dr. Kirkpatrick has said you are almost ready to go home, and that was why I had come to collect you. I know you are confused, my sweet, but when you are stronger, I will explain as much as I can.” Alyx said briskly, keeping her worries to herself for now, wishing there was some easier way to tell her that she had survived a second vampire attack, but she had been raped by at least two of her attackers in the process.

However, I can assure you that what... happened will not happen again, at least not from that source.” Alyx added, grim satisfaction coloring her tone now as she cuddled Pet protectively close. And she knew that she couldn’t tell her delicate lover what had happened as yet when Pet shuddered at the thought of what had happened to her at Danny’s hands, or Boris’, for that matter. At least there was no chance of Pet becoming a vampire, Alyx thought. That was one less worry for her to deal with.

Dr. Kirkpatrick had assured her that there was no possibility that Petrova had shared blood with either of her attackers, so the chances of Petrova becoming a vampire were slim at best.

And at that point in the dream, Alyx reached over and brushed some of Petrova’s hair back from where it lay draped across her face and said firmly, “Pet, you have to wake up.” She had paused for a couple beats of her hearts to gauge the effect her words had had, then sighed and said loudly, “PETROVA SVETLANIA KARTSOVA, YOU NEED TO WAKE UP, RIGHT NOW!” And she wasn’t surprised to see Pet wake abruptly, though she almost instantly slid into tears again, reaching for Alyx.

“Ssh, ssh, it was only the nightmare again, my love. You’re safe. You’re safe and with me.” Alyx murmured as she held her lover close again, knowing that Pet would need reassurance after having to be wakened so harshly. But it had needed to be done that way; Pet hadn’t responded when Alyx had tried to be gentle, and that had worried Alyx, though none of that showed in her voice or in her manner as she held her sobbing lover close. And eventually, she knew, Petrova’s tears would wind down into hiccoughs and then into sniffles, and finally silence once again as Petrova accepted the fact that she was awake once more.

If only she would be able to accept her safety as easily, Alyx thought. But she knew that was something that would only come with the passage of time, and time was something they might not have enough of together.

At the same time that Alyx was calming Petrova from the nightmare that was destroying her rest and slowing her recovery, Joanna was dreaming that she was down in the playroom with several of the others; they had been enjoying each other and the party, and all was well. But soon the dream would turn dark again.

In the dream, Joanna, Amelia and some of the others were resting in the ‘afterglow’ of their most recent encounter, and Amelia said to the air—she happened to be on top at the time—she said, “I don’t know about anybody else here, but I’m hungry suddenly. Who wants something to eat?”

Several people replied with, “Me.”; one of them being Joanna, and Amelia wondered which hunger she had been referring to, but she knew that it didn’t matter; both would be satisfied as they were heading to the dining room to see if there was anything left of the buffet trays that had still been out when they had headed downstairs in the first place. And if they weren’t there, then they both knew they would be headed into the kitchen to see what was available.

Most of the rest of the group was headed to the nearest of the lower level pantries, knowing that where there was a pantry, there would be a kitchen nearby on this level, so that they didn’t all have to climb all those stairs until they were ready to head to their suites for the night if they didn’t want to.

However, Raven said that he would be going with the girls, “if for no other reason than to make sure they are able to find their way back down here with the food...” he laughed as the larger group had turned in search of a pantry on this level as several of the others had laughed in agreement with him.

And, as the three of them had headed up the stairs, Joanna had made sure to find a sheltered corner and feed from first Amelia, then Raven before they got too far up the stairs, just in case the party was still going up there.

She kinda figured that it wasn’t-- it sure seemed awfully quiet up there for a place that was having a party—but she knew too that precautions only made sense, and she knew too that she hadn’t gotten this far by being stupid. And regardless of what Vlad had promised her, she knew the Brotherhood was still well able to make plenty of trouble for them, even with the limited numbers of personnel they had left after the eruption.

She trusted him when he said that he would eventually be able to get rid of them, but she was sure that he hadn’t completely managed the feat as yet—she knew he would have told her about it if he had been able to manage it-- and she was sure too that they were planning something big for at least one night of the party; it was inevitable, to her way of thinking. But she knew too that she didn’t want it to have been tonight, though she was beginning to wonder if something like it hadn’t happened.

Giving Amelia and Raven a few more seconds to regain their feet, she stood listening to the quality of the silence abovestairs, and she wondered why it was so quiet. How long have we been down here, she wondered, suddenly aware that the only hearts she could hear right now were the ones she knew were belowstairs with her; Amelia and Raven, as well as the rest of the group they had been sharing with in the playroom only a few minutes before.

◊Stay put here for a minute, guys, will you?...I wanna see something before we all go up there.Joanna whispered in the thoughts of her two nearest lovers, and Amelia looked at her sharply, whispering, “Why? What’s wrong, Joanna?” from her position on the step just below Joanna as she paused near the door into the foyer.

I’m not too sure. Something just doesn’t feel right to me. I... can’t hear anything going on up there, not even heartbeats, and you both know that normally I can hear everything that goes on in nearly every part of the house, even from as far underground as the playroom is. But I don’t want you to get hurt if there is something bad happening, and more importantly, if people are just sleeping, I don’t want to be embarrassed by being wrong.

Or worse, waking someone up by the three of us charging around up there.” Joanna said quietly, hoping that they would simply agree to stay here for the few seconds it would take her to go check for herself. And she was relieved when both of them nodded in agreement.

She knew that she would have been able to hear the heartbeats even if the people were simply sleeping, but she didn’t want to alarm her fledglings any more than she already had, if she could avoid it.

But you need to be aware that if you take too long finding out what you need to know, both of us will be right behind you.” Raven added sternly, knowing that Joanna tended to rush in where angels feared to tread, usually getting herself in over her head. And he wanted to be sure that she was going to be careful this time.

She nodded solemnly, and he realized that she was deadly serious about it not feeling right to her. Then he glanced at her hands, and he realized too that she wasn’t going into this situation as unarmed as he had thought she was going to do as he saw her claws growing visibly sharper and longer the farther up the stairs she went.

Just then he realized that he could smell something that smelled like carrion, rot and corruption and under it all, fresh woodsmoke on the air currents that were trickling down the stairs from the manse above them, and he knew what she feared had happened.

He looked over at Amelia, and she met his gaze steadily, and he knew that she knew too, but didn’t want to admit the truth to herself.

And then he realized that he could see the fear lurking in the back of her eyes, and he wondered if she had reached to her Mother’s thoughts as yet, or her little sister’s. And he knew, now, that it wouldn’t do any good; they were already gone.

And soon, Joanna was standing on the landing that led to the main foyer, and the ominous silence she was hearing above her head had grown thicker with every step. But now, another sense was standing up to be counted amongst those adding to the disquiet she was feeling; her sense of smell was picking up on a very strong odor coming from the other side of the door that was the last barrier to what was going on in the main house and she wasn’t sure she wanted to open the door to the knowledge that lay beyond it.

Because it was the scent of blood that was growing stronger with every second that she stood there dithering. Blood, cordite, pain, fear and the stink of ruptured entrails filled the foyer beyond the door, and abruptly, Joanna knew what had happened.

The stench of death from the room on the other side of the door filled her nostrils as she reached for the knob with her hands shaking so badly that she had to pause to take tighter grip on the knob before she could make her fingers work to turn it, and turned the smaller knob of the lock that was above the crystal door knob, unlocking the door as she braced herself for the awful image she was now expecting to see as the door opened.

Reaching to the knob from the lock seemed to take an eon, and required an effort of raw will to make her hand close around it and turn the knob.

Her hand fell away from the knob as she felt and heard it click open, and once more she was paralyzed with horror—like she had been when she was six, and she had heard the bad man beating her Mother to death; she had smelled this same smell then too, she realized with a jolt-- as the door swung open. As it did, she experienced an atavistic stab of terror, and she knew that she really didn’t want to go into the foyer from where she was now.

But at the same time, she knew that she had to; she had to know how badly they had been hurt. But she was almost... afraid to reach out in her thoughts, in case the one she reached for was... gone, irrevocably. And she knew then that her own personal losses were likely to be terrible, but she still had hope that they weren’t going to be fatal for her. After all, she still had Raven and Amelia... and to that thought she clung like a life preserver for her sanity.

The scene that greeted her eyes as the door swung slowly open was one that she had half expected from the stench that had preceded it into the stairwell into the UnderManse, but Joanna knew the tears she felt welling in her eyes were mostly for herself and for the few of her lovers that remained. She was almost afraid to reach for the Bond that had protected her before this; in case it had been shattered by his passing; but subconsciously, she must have known that it was intact, after all, she was still conscious.

And even more, she knew that she had to know the whole number of those who had been killed. Joanna held her breath as a stronger wave of the stench filled the entrance to the stairway behind her as she stepped slowly into the ruins of her-- once beautiful, now gore drenched and burned-- foyer.

And she could hear Amelia and Raven gagging behind her as the stench rolled over them as well, the stench that was being caused by the bloated bodies littering the floor of the foyer. And she knew that these weren’t the only ones that would be found; but she knew too that she didn’t have the strength to go looking for all of them, to identify all of them.

She stepped out into the foyer, knowing that it was her responsibility now to take note of who was dead and who had survived as well as the damage that was done. There was plenty enough of that; It looked like a bomb had taken out the front door, allowing whoever had done the killing access to the rest of the house. And what was left was covered in the shattered body parts of at least two people, she noted clinically, knowing that Amelia was watching through her eyes, seeing what Joanna was seeing as she saw it.

And Joanna wondered in that instant how she and the group that had been in the playroom had escaped the attention of those who had massacred the rest of her guests as she cataloged the deaths in the foyer, knowing that it would grow worse the further into the ruins of her home that she went.

Two of the first bodies she found were her Cousin Laurel and her new husband, Arthur. Another step and she found what could only have been Cousins Kendall and Annabeth, whose only crime so far as she knew, had been attending the wrong party at the wrong time.

But at the same time, that had been the only crime the rest of their guests had committed, Joanna knew, and she hoped this was only a nightmare. But she had no way of knowing how real or unreal this situation actually was.

There was so much destruction all around her that she was having trouble distinguishing between destroyed structural elements and shattered bodies, along with shattered possessions, and the occasional body of one of the attackers where some of the party-goers had been able to defend themselves for a few seconds before the end had come for them.

There were many other bodies; the shattered carapaces of Giant Insects and scraps of fur that suggested one of the Bastela-- as well as one or two of the welupos-- had been in a couple places in another section of the foyer, Joanna saw as she passed under the swaying and shredded remains of the giant jeweled chandelier that had glowed so brightly as she was heading downstairs with her lovers before all this... destruction had happened.

She turned toward the door she had left behind her and realized how close their attackers had come to being able to end her this time; the carved and padded prayer bench that had been by the door, where Amelia had set her broken arm when they had been eight years old was shattered. And in its place was an ugly black stain marring the paneling that had been part of the wall that looked like it had been put there by an explosion of some kind.

But somehow, the single old-fashioned lock had held, and the group that was with Joanna downstairs had been saved by that tenuous link to her past.

Then, she realized she could smell something else, under the stink of death and destruction; something that smelled reminiscent of a pizza that had been left in the oven too long, and at the same time, like woodsmoke drifting on the breeze. And Joanna shuddered, hoping once more that this was only a dream.

And she frowned, realizing that she could see something that looked a lot like smoke coming from the upper floors. She wondered even then what was going on, though she had a sinking feeling that she knew; the upper floors were likely to be on fire.

And she knew that she would have to find how this could have happened to them as she turned first one way, and then the other, trying to figure out who had died and who was still alive in the destruction that surrounded her. And which direction she should turn first for the information that she needed so desperately.

Then, less than three steps away—crouched against the strongbark wood paneling at the base of the Grand Staircase, as though they could run no further-- was only the first of many that she knew would break her hearts; the twisted body of her daughter, Chione, wrapped around the smoking remains of what could only have been her lover Brekona in a tender protective gesture.

Chione’s head had been separated from her body, and Joanna felt a deep stab of torment in knowing that Chione would never recover from the injuries that she had suffered.

In that instant, she knew that she was worried about the rest of her children; reaching for the thoughts of any who might have survived, and she knew that something truly awful had happened when she couldn’t touch any of them, save a fading flicker from Michael, who was calling in a panic for his twin.

And Joanna wept bitterly, knowing that Chione would never be able to answer him again. However, at the same time, she was almost unaware of the tears sliding down her face, though she knew that Amelia was weeping bitterly behind her and Joanna wondered how she was going to comfort her for her own losses when all the world was filled with destruction and pain.

Figuring out who all had been killed would take looking at the guest lists that Amelia had composed, and it looked like the clipboard had been destroyed as well, Joanna thought as she wandered almost mindlessly into and through many rooms between the foyer and the ballroom.

And as she wandered, Joanna discovered that almost everyone who had been in the main part of the house had been murdered, including the staff, and Joanna knew that this had been intended as a crushing blow. But it would have been so much worse for her if Vlad had been amongst the dead as well.

She knew that if that had been the case—and she had somehow survived the abrupt severing of their Bond-- she might still have killed herself, except for the fact that she thought she would have possibly been the last remaining member of both the Council and the Quorum, and as such, it was her duty to remain, no matter how painful life had become.

But he had survived; in fact, he was the only one so far that she had found of her family that was still alive when she picked her way across the bloody ballroom to where he waited for her, slipping a little in the gore that coated the parquet of the dancefloor in sticky rivers that were already partially dried.

It was obvious that most of the killing had been done in here, Joanna thought as she looked around. And she wept forlornly in his arms for all those they had lost that day.

He held her close as she confessed that she couldn’t recall whether or not most of the Council had left the party before she had headed downstairs, murmuring that most of his children who had attended the party had gotten out; except for Alyxandyra and her young lover Petrova. And he knew what she couldn’t say, that she was eternally grateful that he was still with her. Brushing her thoughts, he whispered, ◊Oh, my gentle, eternal love... My beloved, I beg you to believe that I will never leave you behind. If I had died, you would have felt our Bond shatter.

I don’t know if you would have survived the experience, but I know that if you died and I felt our Bond shatter, it would likely send me straight to Lilitia’s embrace forevermore. I don’t want to have to try to live without you again, my love.◊ But he knew she still didn’t know the worst of what had happened to them as yet.

And his arms tightened around her as she gasped, “Vlad! What about Mason?? What about Wally? Or James? I can’t reach any of them...!”

He couldn’t answer Joanna’s question just then; his mind had been on what had happened to Alyx and Petrova. They had been caught in the blast at the door, and they both had been killed instantly.

And he knew that Joanna was obscurely ashamed of how relieved she felt knowing that she wouldn’t have to take over the Council made her feel, though she couldn’t articulate it yet, and she knew that far worse was to come as she looked up at him where he held her close.

And she wondered where Jerrica was, though she almost didn’t dare reach to her thoughts to find out.

But at the same time, she saw that Vlad looked like he was in shock—his face was streaked with bloody tears-- and she knew that he had worse news for her that he was holding back as he held her. In the instant before she spoke again, she wondered if he had been through the rest of the house—there had been so many guests tucked away into nearly forgotten corners that she knew she wouldn’t be able to find them all for years to come if she had had to look for the bodies—and she knew his report would be very bad indeed.

What happened?” she whispered, knowing almost instinctively that he had heard her. “Tell me, please, Vlad.” she added with a sigh, though she knew that he would understand that she wasn’t asking how badly they had been hurt, or who had done it—yet.

All she wanted to know was what he had seen that had so disturbed him as fresh tears slid down his cheeks and filled her hearts with his pain as he held her in the ruins of the ballroom.

The others... are all dead, my love. And we must escape soon; the upper floors are fully involved by now...!” he murmured into her hair, sounding as though each word was being ripped from his hearts, and she wondered if he was speaking of their guests or someone else; perhaps the attackers... But, no, she knew that couldn’t be right. That wouldn’t cause him to weep like this, Joanna thought muzzily as he held her close.

The only route that is left to us that is still safe is the secure tunnel from the UnderManse,” she said thoughtfully through her tears, knowing that if they were going to get out at all, and not use the ruins of the front door, because that would mean stepping into the hands of the Brotherhood; she knew that couldn’t be something that Vlad wanted to have happen. So, she presumed that he was suggesting using the secure tunnel.

And that would mean heading back down into the UnderManse to get to the entrance. That pair of tunnels led—on one side to Devon’s Mother’s house in downtown Shadow Valley, and on the other side, it led to the deepest section of the woods not far from the Shrines, and she knew it met a trail there that eventually led to the town house in Barney’s Mountain.

But, Devon... oh no, what about DEVON? she wondered at the thought of taking the secret tunnel to his Mother’s house. No... she thought, Dev was downstairs with me... he should be fine, especially if his Mom got out in time...

But at the same time, Joanna still didn’t quite understand what he had meant; from his tone, it had to be something far worse. But she couldn’t work out what it might be either, and she realized that once more she felt as though her mind had been wrapped in something thick, soft and fluffy, that nevertheless, refused to allow her thoughts out of her head, and refused equally to allow any thoughts in.

In that instant, she knew that Raven and Amelia had joined them in the embrace; Amelia was trembling-- in shock at the carnage and the sudden knowledge that she was utterly alone in the world, save for Joanna, Raven and Vlad-- and Raven was vibrating in fury at their combined losses, burning to find the ones responsible and destroy them as their families had been destroyed.

And in that instant, she felt a flash of burning jealousy; Raven’s family was still intact. His Grandparents; Strongelk and Kicking Moth hadn’t been able to attend the party today, nor had Raven’s two remaining sisters. And that meant that there was a chance that their children were still alive; several of them hadn’t been able to get to the party that day, she knew...

But what she didn’t know was that Vlad, her Father, Strongelk, Jayne and Zeke had been meeting that day to discuss the security for the party. And Vlad and Zeke had been the only ones to walk away from that meeting.

However, as they had searched for Joanna and the others amongst the dead, Vlad had somehow gotten separated from the dragon, and neither knew if the other had made it out of the holocaust. And he wouldn’t find out until he had seen the whole horrible vision through to its inevitable conclusion.

I know our guests are dead, Vlad.” Joanna said, sounding like she didn’t quite understand what he had said, and he knew he had to be more clear, though he knew he didn’t want to have to; it would make the horror too real, even for him. But there was no help for it; she had to know, all of it.

Dilectus, I... don’t think you understand. The others that I spoke of are your children. All your children... all our children are dead, my love. As well as the ones you and your lovers share. I thank Lilitia that you are not as well...” he whispered, his tone sympathetic as she gasped, “Blessed Zeno, no...not my babies too!” before she felt her awareness sliding away into merciful unconsciousness in his arms at last.

She didn’t feel either Amelia or Raven’s response to his words, but she was sure that it couldn’t be good...!

And Joanna shot awake with a shout, “No!!!” where she lay on the edge of the clump of lovers who were sharing the empress sized bed in the playroom where they had fallen into exhausted but happy slumber the night before. Then she lay still—unaware that she was crying-- for several seconds as the others began to stir around her, roused by her cry of protest, and she had to beg them to be still, even for a moment as she listened, knowing that she had to know if the dream she hadn’t intended to have had been true that morning.

She was trying to simply listen to what was going on above her, knowing that if she heard even one thing out of place, then she was going to head upstairs and hope that she got there in time to die with the others, even though those she was with now would try to prevent it, if they could. She couldn’t bear the thought of losing all her children like this, without even trying to fight for them.

But, to her relief, nothing seemed to be going wrong that she could hear, and the party seemed to be still going. And she began to relax, though she knew she was going to have to be certain that security was much tighter tonight and from now on, so that what she saw in that nightmare didn’t actually happen.

Vlad...◊ she thought urgently, reaching to his thoughts as she gently squirmed free of the tangle of limbs she had been under on the bed in the playroom as the others attempted to restrain her, knowing that she didn’t want to hurt anyone that was there, but she could inadvertently if they didn’t let her up at least enough for her to be able to wipe her tears away again.

Meum dilectus...◊ he began in Ladten, then he added in Elandi in her thoughts, ◊I know what you saw, my love. I saw it too, and was as devastated as you are now, my angel. But bear in mind, it was only a dream. It was only the dream that has been troubling your sleep for days now, my love, and many are laboring to prevent it becoming true.

You, our guests and your children are all perfectly safe. Our families and the children we share are all as safe as we can make them for the moment, though greater security measures are being implemented as we speak.

Listen for yourself; all is well here, and will be better yet when you are able to return to your party, my darling.◊ he added in her thoughts, and she knew he was trying to reassure her, but she knew too that she was right to insist on the additional security.

But, Vlad... it isn’t the same dream... not quite. I wasn’t downstairs in the dream the last time I had this one. I was on the dancefloor when they burst in and began shooting, remember?◊

Yes, my love, I remember, indeed. But this dream is about the same thing, and none of it is true. Be at peace, my darling. You are safe from them, and so are all who are under my protection at this party.◊ Vlad said soothingly in her thoughts as she felt his arms wrapping around her once more, and she knew that he was hoping that she would believe him and return to her enjoyments. But she knew she couldn’t, not until she was sure that everyone at the party was safe.

However, listening was reassuring as well; there was the steady thunder of several hundred beating hearts overhead to let her know that all was well at the party; as well as the sounds of the party itself. And she knew that she would have to keep a closer eye on security for the rest of the year, though that meant extra work for her.

And she wondered where Jerrica was in that instant, but she knew that finding her could wait until after she was ready to come back upstairs.

But at the same time, she knew that she would have to remain vigilant, and likely so would Vlad; any threat to his children usually roused his protective instincts, she had noted, and this vision definitely constituted a threat of the highest order, if it even began to come true.

And she wondered what the attackers had been after, other than the collective deaths of all who were present that night, and the destruction of her property. There didn’t really seem to be any hint of what they had wanted, except the destruction of everything she cared about in this world. In that instant, she wondered if there was anything that Vlad could do about this by way of the magick he was beginning to teach her to use, and she found that she hoped that there was.

However, at the same time, she knew that it wasn’t worth losing everything she had worked for her whole life to find out what they had thought they had to destroy her for. Then it occurred to her that it was possible that she already knew. Some of the rumors they had been hearing from contacts within the Brotherhood itself were saying that the current belief was that she had consorted with demons to achieve her success in business.

And that was more than enough for many of them to want to go to almost any length to remove her from the area, to protect their families from someone so lost to ‘human decency’, she knew. But Joanna wasn’t sure how to fix the situation; she knew that Vlad’s solution could be the only one that would work.

There certainly didn’t seem to be any means of finding a solution that allowed both parties to comfortably coexist in the same town, much less the same county, she thought sadly. All she really wanted was to be allowed to live her life and be ignored by the rest of the world. But that didn’t seem to be something these people were willing to do.

And even though it made her sad to know that it would come down to the entire organization being destroyed—to the last man, woman and child—if Vlad had his way about it, Joanna wanted to live more than she wanted to find a peaceful solution to the situation with the Brotherhood.

But the evening was not over for Alyx and Petrova even after the nightmare Petrova had had finally faded; after Petrova was able to accept that she was awake, she and Alyx talked, for hours into the night.

“Alyx, I... do I really want to know what happened to me when Danny... did what he did?” Petrova asked when Alyx had slowly unwound herself from around Petrova where they were on the bed. “I vaguely remember something about...a vampire, and... and it seems like he was trying to hurt you by...hurting me.” Petrova said, sounding confused, as though she truly wasn’t sure what had actually happened in the dream Alyx had just shaken her out of.

She didn’t want to talk about what had happened when Danny had...! But Alyx seemed to need to, so Petrova steeled herself to discuss the awful topic.

Even though she knew that she was going to have to eventually, to get the rest of the poison out of her system. She had discussed the situation with the counselor that had been assigned to her case when the attack had happened, but talking to her had only been a little bit of help. And Pet had known that what had helped more, was that she knew what Alyx had done to rescue her from him.

But she couldn’t very well tell the counselor that watching her lover rip apart the one who had raped her was the only thing that had really helped in that situation, Petrova knew.

And Alyx watched sympathetically as Petrova shook her head as though to shake off the memories; she knew that Pet didn’t want to think about the rapes right now, though she didn’t deny that they happened...and Alyx didn’t like to think about what the rage that had filled her had done to her ability to think like a rational being. “Danny deserved what he got.” Alyx said, quietly, knowing that they were both thinking about the same things as Pet nodded.

As she watched her young lover, Alyx shook her head with a soft sigh. Petrova was clearly still trying to wrap her brain around the idea of what Danny had been trying to do when he had kidnapped her more than a year before—not to mention what had happened with Reggie less than a month later-- and Alyx knew that the time had finally come for her to provide the answers that Pet needed to her many questions.

But at the same time, Alyx knew that the task needed to be accomplished with great delicacy; she wasn’t sure how much of the details Petrova would be able to handle; she didn’t know how much to tell her that didn’t have to do with the rapes.

Pet had told her enough of the details of the rapes to know that Alyx had simply been acting in the place of the Just when she had eliminated Danny, both for what he had done, and what he had tried to do to Pet.

“Pet...” Alyx began, and she paused as her voice broke. She swallowed hard to try to clear her throat of the sob abruptly lodged there, and she began again. “I don’t know if you are really ready to know all of what happened the night that I rescued you from Danny, my sweet... but I’ll try to fill in a few of the gaps for you. Hopefully, it won’t make the nightmares worse, this time.” she said as Pet simply nodded again.

After a moment’s thought—and another deep breath—she continued, “Yes. There was a vampire, and yes, he was trying to hurt me by hurting you. But I can promise you that you won’t become what he was simply because he drank some of your blood, my love.” Alyx said quietly, wishing that Pet would allow her to taste of her, but knowing-- without fear of contradiction-- that it was something that Pet wouldn’t allow.

There had been worse happen later, but she was pretty sure that Pet wasn’t ready to hear that she had been raped by Reggie when he had stolen her from their apartment in Seven Havens. But even more than that, Alyx knew Petrova wasn’t ready to know that Alyx had been captured too; tortured for days for information on what the Council was planning to do next in their war against the Brotherhood of Light, and both physically and mentally raped over and over by one of Reggie’s cronies while Reggie had been... busy with Pet. But Alyx had sublimated her own pain to help deal with Petrova’s.

She wasn’t sure how much information he had gotten, if any at all, but at the time, Alyx hadn’t wanted to take any chances. The fact that the building had been razed by Vlad when he had come to rescue them should have ended the problem; for both of them. And Alyx knew too that Reggie had been... punished before he had died, but she knew she didn’t want to know exactly what “Little Father” had done or said in that mind link that had caused such torment as Reginald had... expired.

But Alyx knew she wasn’t about to let on to Petrova that something like that had happened while Reggie was... otherwise occupied with Pet as Alyx continued to struggle to bury the rage that thought caused her. She knew that knowing the worst would destroy Pet, and Alyx knew too that she didn’t want that to happen.

Petrova nodded once, sharply as she turned away momentarily, clearly struggling to still the tremors that had wracked her at Alyx’s grim words. But at the same time, she knew that what Alyx had told her now had to be true; Alyx had never been able to lie convincingly to her before this. And Pet was pretty sure that she hadn’t developed the ability all of a sudden.

“But, no, my love, I haven’t told you all of it. If I were to tell you everything that happened during your... captivity; even just the stuff I’m reasonably certain happened, you would likely bypass hysteria and slip straight into either catatonia or... or madness.

And I’m not sure I would be able to bring you back from either condition quickly enough to be able to save your sanity, my darling.” Alyx added gently, moving to caress the edge of Petrova’s cheek with the back of one hand—a gesture she had made literally thousands of times over the course of their relationship—and Petrova flinched involuntarily at the gentle contact, and Alyx ruefully sighed as she moved her hand away again, saying softly, “See what I mean?”

Petrova nodded, seeming almost despondent as she sighed, “I know, and I’m sorry. But at the same time there doesn’t seem to be anything I can really do about it either, and I thought that... maybe if I knew all of it, that reaction would stop.” she said wistfully in Risi.

“Look,” she added in Elandi, “I know you know how to bring out hidden memories for people who are trying to find lost information. Why don’t we try that for me? I think... if I knew all of it, maybe I’d stop dreaming about it every night.”

Alyx stared at her in shock, whispering, “You... you made me promise... years ago, that I would never influence you, my love. Are you sure you want to know, badly enough for me to do this?” Alyx asked, her tone very worried now.

Petrova simply looked at her, and let Alyx think about what had been asked of her for a few seconds more. After a long moment, Alyx broke the growing silence between them with a sigh, “Pet, my love, my darling, you must be patient with me right now.

I will tell you, I don’t want to have to influence you if I don’t have to. But at the same time, I don’t want to frighten you more than you already are, my love, and I know that what I know about that night is frightening, even for me.

But, I hope you realize, being under influence means giving control, however briefly, over to me. And for many, that is more frightening than they want to face.” Alyx explained, trying to soothe Petrova’s fears, but not sure how much good she was doing with her explanation.

“Then tell me what you can, and we’ll see if there is anything that I can remember from it.” Petrova interrupted, hoping that Alyx would simply nod and go on. She was relieved when Alyx did just that.

“It will likely be more so for you, and I have to be sure that you will be okay if I tell you even a portion of what I know about that night.” she murmured, turning to nuzzle Petrova’s hair for a few seconds as she continued softly, “I know, you’re still frightened by what you have endured, by what Danny has done to you, my love, or what Boris did, or even what Reginald has done to you. But if you truly want to know, I will try to explain as much of it as I can to you.

You must be strong... for me, while I tell you, Pet. And after I have finished telling you as well, because much of this is difficult for me to say, and will only get harder to say as we go along.” Alyxandyra took and released another deep breath before she was able to continue with what she had been going to say.

“You know that you were... attacked, three nights before I was able to rescue you from Danny and Boris, and more than a month before what happened with Reggie. And you know that all of this happened more than a year ago. But you may not know much about Danny or Boris’ history before the attack.

It may not seem important, but knowing more about them could be integral to working out why you were attacked, as well as how to prevent it happening again with another vampire.

At the time, Danny was simply one of the local vampires-- as was Boris-- and as far as I know, there was no connection between the two of you, save for the fact that you look something like the woman who is our hostess, and according to Vlad, the vampires who attacked you were stalking her as well.

I think you look more like a young version of her sister, personally, but that is neither here nor there, really for the purposes of this discussion. And that is one of the encounters that spawned those dreams.” Alyx said, choosing her words carefully, and hoping that Pet wouldn’t freak out from the information. “But Reginald is... or rather was worse yet.” Alyx added.

“I’m just as glad you don’t see Boris in your dreams, my sweet. Him, I wouldn’t wish on the Deformed as a subject for dreams.” Alyx mumbled under her breath as she shuddered in reaction to the flash of memory that had passed through her mind as she had said that.

Alyx watched her carefully as Pet seemingly digested the information that she had received, uncertain if Pet’s continued silence was good or bad, and hoping that Pet would understand what wasn’t being said, as much as what was being said.

She hadn’t seen Pet shiver at Alyx’s mention of the Deformed; if she had, Alyx would have needed instant explanations herself, and their discussion would have taken a very different course. In fact, if Alyx had seen it, Pet’s questions might never have gotten asked or answered.

But, as usual, Petrova didn’t respond in the way Alyx had expected her to.

“A pair of vampires, hunh? Well, that makes about as much sense as anything I had thought they might have thought they were, Alyx. But what I need to know is, what is the difference between the ones who attacked me and what you are, Alyx? Or even between what you are and the creature that was hunting my Grandmother Tanya, Alyx? What is the Deformed anyway? That is something that has always confused me, Alyx.

Hunh, come to that, how many different kinds of your people are there? For that matter, why didn’t you tell me about yourself from the beginning?” Petrova asked, knowing only that she needed answers to these and many other questions about what had happened the night that had caused the dreams that continued to plague them both, and only Alyx had them. And Alyx didn’t know that Pet thought she had all the answers that they would ever need to keep them happy.

But what Alyx would soon find out was that if she answered the questions successfully, she would win the ultimate prize—being allowed the privilege of tasting of Petrova’s blood at last. And it would calm them both for the combat that loomed ahead. However, Alyx wasn’t aware of the building problems, and so, she didn’t realize there was a greater reason to answer honestly than there had ever been before this for her.

Petrova knew that the chance existed that Alyx might not be able to speak of some of it as yet, but she hoped that Alyx would be able to at least tell her why she hadn’t spoken of her family before this. After all, she thought, everyone has family somewhere in the world; it would be incredibly unlikely that Alyx is completely alone in the world; the only one of her kind.

For several seconds, Alyx simply gaped at her, as Pet snapped her fingers beside Alyx’s ears to try to snap her out of her shock. She didn’t think she had asked such a shocking question, but apparently she had, Pet decided as she watched Alyx trying to shake off the shock her question had triggered. And it seemed to help, at least a little bit.

A few seconds later, Alyx blinked hard, as though she was trying hard to shake herself out of a mental fog, and she said quietly, “Pet... I didn’t realize I hadn’t told you about me. You are completely right to feel that it is past time I told you... everything about me.

No more secrets between us, darling, and all I can do about the one that had been between us is to ask your forgiveness for not speaking of this with you sooner, and explain as much as I can. My only explanation is that I thought you already knew. You are so observant; I thought you knew, and thus I didn’t mention it, because you hadn’t seemed to want to talk about it.

But you should know at the start, the answers to your questions are both simple and complicated at the same time. There are several different ways to explain, but the easiest—not to mention the most coherent—is to explain it the way it was explained to me when I was younger and asking the same sorts of questions myself.

I’m sure you already know that there are several different Tribes of Humanity, right?” Alyx asked, and Petrova nodded; this part she already knew, but kept quiet, lest she interrupt the long awaited information she sought.

“Well, two of the tribes are known as the Children of Lilitia and the Children of Cayne. I am a Child of Lilitia, and the differences between the two peoples are slight, but visible. We live very different lives, as you will see.

To answer your question about how many different kinds of ‘my people’ there are, I know personally of two, but there have long been rumors of four or more different tribes, but the two that I am certain of are the ones I will be most able to explain about to you until I have more information for you.” Alyx said, hooking her fingers into air quotes around the words, ‘my people’ to indicate mild sarcasm as she had said it.

Among the Children of Lilitia, we call the vampires the Children of Cayne, though other people likely have other names for them that I don’t know. And of course, some believe that the Children of Lilitia don’t exist anymore, but that is foolishness. But that is only part of the story; the part you asked about is the differences between the kinds.

The best way to tell the difference is that a vampire will usually kill their victim, and a vampyre—which is what I am—will not. In fact, a vampyre won’t even have victims. We have lovers, and donors; never victims.” Alyx said firmly as she watched Petrova closely as they sat on the bed they had been sharing.

“Semantics.” Petrova said scoffingly as she waved one hand off the coverlet in a dismissing gesture. Then she added, “What about the irresistible hunger that I’ve heard about that forces vampires—of whatever stripe—to kill?” She smirked at Alyx, thinking she had made a telling point, but wondering how her lover was going to explain the hunger away.

“Petrova, have I ever hurt you deliberately? No, right? Therein lies the key, Pet, my love.” Alyx said gently. “Vampires, not vampyres. The hunger you speak of is another hallmark of vampires, my love, not my people. Semantics, you say? Fair enough. I’ll grant that in millennia past—long past, mind you, on the order of hundreds of millennia ago—that it would have been true that there was no distinction between the two peoples, save for our reverence for the one we credit with our creation; the goddess Lilitia.

But, long ago-- almost eighty millennia ago, from what I have been told-- several of the oldest of us took binding oaths in her presence to never take the lives of those who sustained us by their compassion. And in so doing, they changed our people forever, making those of us who came after physically, physiologically and psychologically distinct from vampires for the rest of eternity, by our compassion for those who keep us alive.

And that is the literal truth, Pet. Vampire’s victims who have completed the Embrace—which is what we call the process of becoming either a vampire or a vampyre-- die and are recreated in an Undead form, meaning they walk, talk and feed but that’s about the limit of what they can do to resemble the living.

Vampyres, their lovers and their donors on the other hand, are still very much alive, no matter how much blood we drink. A vampire-- particularly a young one-- will have trouble walking in daylight, whereas a young vampyre of a similar age will have no difficulty whatsoever. In fact, I have even heard of young vampyres enjoying going swimming. But I’m sure that is almost beside the point of this discussion.

But anyway, another point in my argument is that vampires cannot touch solid food, whereas vampyres can eat solid food and derive nutrition from the food. You yourself have commented on how much I can eat when I put my mind to winning an eating competition. But that is also beside the point at the minute.” Alyx smiled as she looked at Pet reminiscently for a few seconds before continuing with what she had been saying.

“Now, so far as I know, the only one left who remembers the days of the Oathtaking as a personal memory is King Vladimir Nikolai de Dracoriescue, the head of our ruling body, the Council of Most Ancient Vampyric Elders. But even they have someone who they look to for guidance; a smaller body known as the Quorum, and the King is the head of that body as well.

Of course, that is only fitting, considering the fact that he is the oldest of us remaining on this world, except of course for Queen Lilitia. But she frequently isn’t in the world, so that was why she made him head of the Council and the Quorum.” Alyx said, and Petrova could tell-- simply by looking at her-- that she meant every word.

It crossed Petrova’s mind that this King and Alyx probably had some history between them, then the name caught her attention again. It sounded familiar, though she couldn’t really recall why. But she was sure that it would come back to her as Alyx was continuing what she had been saying.

“But to get back to the answers to your questions, vampires are what is known as ‘made children’, meaning that they have been...” and here she gestured to her throat to imply a bite, hooking two fingers to suggest fangs and Pet nodded again, rather pale as she swallowed hard at the graphic display.

“And those who they would make into their children, have to die to make the change, as I suggested earlier.” Alyx added before she was able to censor the words that slipped out of her mouth. And she looked shocked as Pet had gasped at the uncompromising tone Alyx had used.

But at the same time, Pet abruptly realized that it was the truth too.

“The term for becoming either a vampire or a vampyre is essentially the same thing; however, there are differences in the way it is accomplished, and... and in the intent, I guess you’d call it. It is called the Embrace, or sometimes referred to as the ‘Mating Bond’ or more familiarly as ‘the Bond’.” Alyx said as she continued her explanation for Pet.

And the feelings involved are also integral to how the process works, I think.” Alyx said thoughtfully as she debated how best to convey the details without terrifying Petrova into disappearing from her life forever. That was something Alyx knew that she didn’t ever want to have happen, so she chose her next words with more care than she had thus far in the conversation.

“I know this all sounds harsh and graphic, but you see, all I have to go on is the memories of the night I was Embraced, and the fact that the one I now know as my Father told me that he would never exist on stolen blood.

We spent years together as friends and lovers before he Embraced me while he searched for the one who would be his eternal mate. All I really know about her from that time frame is that she had been born not far from where I had grown up in Nilnea, and she was born with a condition that slowly was rendering her deaf.

But I never knew her name, I don’t think. And I know that he lost her in that lifetime, to Lady Lilitia’s younger brother, Iollio, who had recently become Pharynyri. It nearly broke his hearts at the time, but I never saw him kill over the situation.

The King—like any other vampyre--only takes lovers; donors, never victims. Oh, and by the way, vampyres can procreate in the same way most mortals can, producing what is known as “born children”. And I myself have never taken a victim; I have spent many millennia knowing that that kind of blood theft is no better than rape.

And that is one thing I would never inflict on someone, no matter how hungry I got. And I have been very hungry before, but never with the driving need to kill that it is my understanding that vampires get when they are filled with bloodhunger.” Alyx said, her voice trailing away as her memories crowded close in her thoughts for a few seconds. Then she seemed to shake them off again, almost visibly refocusing her attention on the explanation that her current lover had requested that was years overdue in Petrova’s estimations.

But, to get back to telling you about the differences between the species, a vampire will kill their victims, sometimes indiscriminately, taking multiple victims in one night sometimes. And they always feel the insatiable hunger you spoke of; there is no respite from it, though some seem somehow able to ignore it in favor of serving... other hungers. However,” and now Alyx’s tone seemed to offer hope as she watched Petrova to see how this story was affecting her.

“However, many times, a vampyre will spend years with the same lover, or group of lovers, and never kill any of them, and the vampyre in question will never feel that driving need to kill.” Alyx said. “Or at least I never have, nor has any I have ever met.” she added calmly, hoping that Pet would believe her, for what she told her now was the absolute truth.

And somehow, Petrova knew that she believed her. Though, at the same time, Pet knew that she still had questions that only Alyx could answer; she had only touched the surface of the vast ocean of information that was needed to be passed on.

She thought about what she had heard for several minutes before she could bring herself to ask another one, though she knew that she needed to know it all, no matter how frightening Alyx said the information could be for her.

“You mentioned something you referred to as ‘made children’. What does that...? Oh. Okay. But Alyx, ...if you are a vampyre, as you say, then how do you reproduce as a race?” Petrova asked, confused. “You mentioned once, years ago, that you had a son, and you have also said that the Embrace was similar between vampires and vampyres, but that implies that it isn’t fully the same thing.” Petrova added, stumbling a bit over the differences in pronunciation between the two words, but gamely continuing with her question, knowing that she needed the information Alyx held.

Then she added, “How is it similar? Or is it simply different in the intent, like you said? And why haven’t I ever met your son?” she added curiously, though she knew that she might not get an answer to the last question. Alyx’s son had been a touchy subject around her for as long as Petrova had known her.

“Are you sure that you want to know? It can get pretty graphic, my love.” Alyx said, hesitant to explain the rest if Pet wasn’t ready to hear it... and believe what she was hearing. That was the crucial part; the belief that would keep her from ending her relationship with Alyx entirely. And then she realized that she would have to tell Pet about Gavin.

Alyx didn’t really want to talk about Gavin right now, but since Pet had asked, and Alyx had said there were to be no more secrets between them, she knew she had to make as nearly a completely clean breast of things as she could without driving Pet to the asylum herself.

“ The process of beginning the Embrace is the same for vampire and vampyre; but I will explain it from the perspective of the vampyre for you, so you understand it from my point of view. Then I will explain it from a vampire’s perspective, so you can see the differences.

A vampyre will, as i have said, have one or many lovers for years before they will even consider offering the Embrace, and their lovers will usually know about the feedings that have happened over the course of their relationship with the vampyre.

Usually, it is begun in passion, with the vampyre feeding first, then opening a vein for the new fledgling and offering the flowing blood to their lover, while speaking the ritual words that bind the lovers together soul-to-soul for the rest of eternity. It is deeper than love, though there is always an element of that in the Bond as well...” Alyx shook her head and blew a soft sigh through her nose before she was able to continue.

“There are ritual words?” Petrova asked, and Alyx nodded.

“They vary slightly from family to family. For someone like the King, someone who was seeking their eternal mate, he would say, “Drink, beloved, and join me in eternal life... be my loving wife, my Bonded Mate, body and blood, mind, hearts and soul, together forever, in love, in joy and sorrow both...”

And whomever he was joining with would reply, “Body and blood, mind, hearts and soul, together, forever with all the love we can make between us. I will be blood of your blood, belonging with you, always.,” within a few seconds of swallowing as much of the blood as they could before the wound closed.”

And Petrova could see that it was part of a ceremony that was very like a wedding ceremony; in that instant, she could almost hear Vlad and Joanna speaking those words to each other, and she knew that their Bond was true; both parties almost glowed with the happiness of their union.

“In fact, those are almost the exact words they used at the wedding, if I remember correctly, “ Alyx said musingly a few seconds later, and Petrova knew that Alyx had been lost in thought again as Pet had been contemplating what she had been told.

Then Alyx added, “But that wasn’t exactly what he said when we closed the Bond that is between us... it was something like, ‘Join me, my daughter, in eternity’s embrace, body and blood, mind, hearts and soul together forever, in joy and in sorrow both...’”

She was silent for a few seconds, then she sighed again, and added, “But there are no ritual words per se with a vampire who is making a fledgling, and almost unlimited ways they can complete the Embrace. I have even heard of one who simply shoots his victims with a bullet made of his own frozen blood, and when they regain consciousness, they are of his blood, without even the slightest clue of how they got that way.”

Pet gasped at the uncompromising tone of Alyx’s words, but she knew that her lover was right; she too had heard that rumor, though she had hoped that the reports were wrong.

Alyx knew that was the risk she ran in telling Petrova what she wanted to know; that Pet would reject her after all these years together, and Alyx would lose the best thing that had happened to her in more than a millennia. But at the same time, she knew that she had to explain what had been silent between them all these years, and Alyx hoped that it wouldn’t drive Pet away as nothing else had. She is the only woman I could even consider loving right now; especially since Danae chose to remain human when I offered her the choice all those years ago. Gods, I miss her still.

And then of course, there was what happened with Gavin. Alyx thought with a stab of bitterness through her hearts for an instant, debating how best to continue answering Petrova’s questions.

But she knew that right now it was still too painful to speak of Danae—and almost as much so for her to speak of Gavin, considering the fact that Danae had left Alyx for her son, and then accepted the Embrace from him after denying Alyx the joys of the Mating Bond-- so Alyx left the thoughts of her in her memories of the past until after Pet had asked about her, which Alyx hoped would not be for a long time, but she knew it was a possible side effect of this conversation.

“To answer that question is something that will have to wait until we have a few more hours to spare, my love. The questions you have already posed to me are more immediately pressing than explaining that my son left home because of a woman; a woman we both loved.” Alyx said, her tone grim and uncompromising, and Petrova knew she had stepped over a line that she shouldn’t have crossed in mentioning him in the first place.

“I’m sorry, Alyx. I should have remembered that he was still a sore topic. Forgive my foolishness in mentioning him before you were ready to speak of him?” Pet asked hopefully.

Alyx gave a brief twitch of her lips that might have been a tiny smile that had ghosted across her face, but she still looked like she was hurting inside, and Pet knew from experience that when Alyx used that tone, it usually meant that she should drop the subject now. But perversely, that made her want to know all the more. Ad she knew that she would eventually have to find out what had happened to him as well as where he was now.

However, she knew that this was not the time to push the issue, so she set the topic of Alyx’s son aside for later consideration.

“Alyx... granted that you said that the encounter that I dream about each night won’t result in me becoming a vampire, that doesn’t mean that another one won’t happen that will. I might need that information, especially if the vampire in the next one bites me and completes the Embrace.” Petrova said a few minutes later, her expression grave and her tone serious as she looked down at her hands, then back up at Alyx earnestly.

Alyx shook her head and said reassuringly, “Do you recall in the dream that I mentioned Dr. Kirkpatrick, my love?”

Petrova nodded, confused, as she said, “But that dream is about something that really happened, Alyx. When you mentioned her, we were in the hospital here in Shadow Valley, and she had said that there was no chance that I would become a vampire from that encounter. But that does nothing for the future, does it?” Pet asked.

“No. It doesn’t. But, she also said that the only way you could become a vampire was if you had tasted the vampire’s blood that night. And she promised me that there was no indication that you had done that, even though he had indeed bitten you and attempted to initiate the Mating Bond. So, you see?” Alyx said reassuringly. “There is no chance you will ever become a vampire from that encounter with him, my love. In fact, there is no chance that he will ever make anyone a vampire, ever again.” Alyx said firmly.

And from that, Petrova drew a conclusion she had hoped for, but she hadn’t been sure that she remembered clearly from that long ago night; that the vampire that had attacked her was dead. But she knew she had to be sure at the same time. Good. she thought. At least he can’t rape anyone again, or make them what he was... wait, does that mean that even though he could rape me, he couldn’t have gotten me pregnant?

Then, something occurred to Pet, something that sounded like an inconsistency in the story, but she knew that it was simply something that hadn’t been explained yet, and she would have to find the answer to it eventually. But, at the same time, the question had waited for more than a year, and nothing had come of it, so maybe it didn’t matter?

She wasn’t sure that she wanted to know yet, but at the same time, she knew she needed to know, but Alyx likely didn’t know any more than Pet did, so she kept quiet about this question, knowing that a better time to ask it would come along.

I’m still confused. Alyx said he was dead, that should mean that he couldn’t have raped me... but he did... so what did he use? Did they ever find it? I... don’t really think I want to know, right now. Maybe later I will want to know about it, but not right now.

“So, he is dead, then? I mean, truly dead?” Pet asked. She wasn’t sure how she felt about that; glad on one hand that the threat to her was over, she supposed; glad too that the vampire wasn’t going to be able to hurt anyone else the way she had been, but also, in a way, concerned for his family, if he had had any left.

And Pet thought about that for a few more minutes, knowing that she also was worried about what would happen with the next one. And there had to be a ‘next one’; it was a mathematical certainty that there would be others who wanted to take her away from Alyx, simply to hurt Alyx.

“Alyx... confirm something for me?” Petrova asked a few minutes later, after thinking some more about what she wanted to know.

“If I can, my sweet.” Alyx replied absently, hoping that it would be something that she knew about, but she knew that it likely had something to do with what they had been discussing for most of the night.

“I... have heard... things about vampyres before this discussion, sweetheart.” Pet confessed. “But I wasn’t sure how what I had heard could be; such wildly conflicting stories,” she said softly.

“I don’t understand any of it, but I have trusted you for years, my love. You haven’t led me astray yet, so I am willing to go on a little faith here.” Pet added, looking up at Alyx trustingly. And some of the fear that had held Alyx’s hearts prisoner began to melt in the warmth of that regard.

Then, she took and released a deep breath, as she continued with her question. “What I need to know is about the ‘other way’ vampyres reproduce. You said vampyres can be made, like vampires, but those who were vampires had to die to get that way. Is it the same with vampyres?

For example, if I said that I wanted to become like you, would I have to die?” Pet asked, her face twisting in fear once again. And Alyx wanted nothing more than to hold her and kiss her fears away, but she knew that wouldn’t help right now. What Pet needed right now was honesty, not physical distraction.

Alyx looked at her tenderly, and hastened to reassure her, “Pet, no. Do you think that I am dead?”

Petrova looked confused, and said, “No...” hesitantly. Then she swallowed, and said more firmly, “No. I know you’re not. I’ve heard your hearts beating more times than I can count, and no one who is dead has a heartbeat. So, you can’t be dead. That was one reason why I thought it was so impossible for you to be what you claim you are.

But what I need to know even more right now, is not only how you got to be like you are now—or even how I could become like you-- but more importantly to me, is if someone could be born like this. Is it really true that some people have been born vampyric and survived to adulthood?”

And Alyx knew that the moment had come for total honesty between them, knowing how much hinged on her answer to this one question. “Yes.” she said simply, and Pet nodded, knowing there was more explanation coming as she settled down to listen.

“In fact, at least two of my shadow-sisters are born vampyres; Jerrica Lathom and Ixchellina de Teño-Dracoriescue.” Alyx said. Alyx fell silent for a few seconds, then she looked at Petrova seriously, asking, “Do you remember my having to be gone for a few days one summer about six years ago now; I went to a big party in Shadow Valley that I said at the time was family only?”

Petrova frowned as Alyx had mentioned Jerrica Lathom, knowing that the name had sounded familiar, then she asked, “Is she related to Joanna?”, hoping that was where she had heard the name most recently.

“Which one?” Alyx asked. “I mentioned two different women, my dear.”

“Jerrica.” Petrova replied promptly.

“Jerrica? Yes. She is Joanna’s Great- Great-Great Grandaunt.” Alyx said, thinking that Petrova was so beautiful in this light. “And she was at the wedding too. You’ve danced with her, in fact, sweetheart. It was a couple nights ago. Do you remember?” Alyx added a few seconds later. Petrova smiled at the memory of the dance she had shared with the young seeming head of household security, and Alyx smiled gently in reply, glad that Petrova had found a pleasant memory at last.

“So, how is she your sister?” Pet asked, still frowning slightly as she tried to understand the relationships between the various members of Alyx’s far flung family that she was only just learning were related to Alyx.

“Well, we share a shadow parent. In this case, her birth father is my shadow father.” Alyx said, off handedly, gesturing airily with one hand, hoping that Pet would understand what she was implying with the gesture that had been a gestural version of an ankh symbol; the wide gesture that implied not just eternal life, but also eternal fertility and wished it for the viewer. That it was also a gestural representation of the family’s rune was also the case, but Alyx knew that trying to explain that to Pet right now would only complicate matters.
“That sounds really complicated, but probably isn’t any more complex than most genealogies get,” Pet said with a sigh, thinking that if she were to try to explain her family tree in the old country, it probably would end up confusing Alyx beyond all untangling.

“It really isn’t that complicated, though I will admit that it seems that way on the surface.” Alyx conceded. Then she asked, “Do you remember the question I asked a few seconds ago?”

“Yeah. But what does that have to do with what we’re talking about right now, Alyx?” Petrova asked, picking restlessly at the bedding that was all around her.

“I’m getting to that, Pet. You need to be a little more patient, dear.” Alyx said, reaching out and gently tugging one of Pet’s tendrils of hair playfully. “The ‘party’ was actually the coronation of the new Shadow Queen of the Council that I mentioned earlier. Do you remember the wedding we went to here, about four years before the party we’ve been talking about?” Alyx asked, eyeing Pet hopefully.

Petrova nodded again, saying, “The wedding was your Father’s, right?” But that was... that was... Pet thought, unable to articulate her sudden certainty, though she knew it was going to be very important to Alyx to know what Pet had just realized.

“Yes, sweetheart. He had waited so long for her to return to him, waited longer still for her to be able to accept him for what he is, and now that she is his for eternity, she is as my Mother, as well as being one of my shadow-sisters, and my Queen.” Alyx said, falling silent as she realized abruptly that they had encountered another verbal landmine from her past; she and Joanna had been lovers for more than a year, about five years before Alyx had met Petrova in Muskovia.

That trip had been on a whim, and had proven to be more needful than Alyx had dared to hope, rescuing Pet from the henchmen of the being Vlad had always referred to as the Deformed. And now Petrova was Alyx’s lover. They should have been safe in this remote corner of Agorica, but the attack had proven otherwise to Alyx, who wished it had worked out differently.

But, at the same time, Alyx knew that she was going to have to explain about Joanna to her current lover soon, and she wasn’t sure how Pet would take finding out that they had run to two of Alyx’s other lovers for aid when they had been in trouble.

Also, at the same time, it hadn’t come up in conversation before this, and Alyx knew that Pet had been in shock for weeks after the attack that had landed them here at Lathom Manor with Alyx’ shadow parents for most of the past year.

“But... but, babushka... he is the one who was trying to protect my Grandma Tanya and Oppa Jesse from the Deformed!” Petrova said in a tiny, amazed voice. “I have known him my whole life.” she added softly, and Alyx was grateful that Pet was finally beginning to recover emotionally from the brutal attack that had nearly killed her. And she knew too that she would have to remember to thank both Dr. Kirkpatrick and Amelia for all the help they had been during Pet’s recovery.

And it crossed her mind to be grateful to Vlad too; it had been at his suggestion that she had gone to Muskovia in the first place. Then, what Pet had said finally found its way through her ruminations.

“Waitaminute, that means that you are a Princess too!” Pet gasped. “No wonder they were trying to get to you through me. I was wondering why total strangers would think I was interesting enough to kidnap... now I know.” she murmured wonderingly.

“Oh, wow!” Alyx sighed. “Are you sure, Pet?” she asked a few seconds later, then she realized that Pet had just figured out that she was Vlad’s daughter. She had wondered if the Tanya Pet had spoken of was the same woman that Alyx had loved so desperately in Mergoin three and a half centuries ago, but Alyx knew that now was hardly the time to ask Pet about it.

She also didn’t know that her Mergoin lover had been reincarnated, in the person of Amelia Kirkpatrick, but she would find out soon and spend many happy hours in her arms again before the last day of the party.

“But, as for me being a princess too, no, not exactly. Well, it’s more like yes and no, actually. Yes, he is my shadow father, but that doesn’t mean I am on the Council, darling. And to be a Princess in that respect, I would have to be on the Council, but in the respect of simply being his child, yes.” Alyx added, though she wasn’t sure that Petrova had heard her.

But what Alyx didn’t remember, or perhaps didn’t even know was that with the passing of his mortal Father, Vlad had become King in truth, and any child of his was indeed entitled to claim the throne of Dacyanya, provided they could prove their heritage. That was one of the reasons that he returned so often to Aurypa; to deal with business in the land of his primary rule.

Neither young woman realized that Fate had brought them all together again for a purpose, but they would find out later.

“Ja, moya lyubov’, I am certain of it, Alyxandyra, moya babushka.” Petrova said firmly in Risi. “How could I not be certain when it was he who helped my parents, Grandma Tanya and my Oppa Jesse get all my siblings and me out of the Eastern Alliance during the Death Plague? When I saw his face every day of my childhood? I know he only returns to us in times of greatest crisis, but I always thought he looked sad. And now I know why.

At the wedding, he was radiant with such joy... I couldn’t help being happy for him, and for her because of his great joy. And it’s good to know that he had someone who makes him as happy as our hostess so obviously does. The way you make me happy, babushka,” Pet added as she leaned into Alyx’s embrace once more, and Alyx knew that now Pet would be able to relax and enjoy the party for its own sake.

Then Pet frowned slightly and Alyx knew that another question had occurred to her.

“If she is his wife, and your Mother, she would be a... a ‘made vampyre’, right?” Pet asked a few seconds later, still sounding a little confused, though it sounded like the confusion was clearing quickly for her, and that made Alyx happy.

“Yes. She is like me, in that respect. I am also a ‘made child’.” Alyx said with a little laugh. She knew that Pet wasn’t quite ready to let the topic of vampyric reproduction go yet, but then, at the same time, Alyx knew that there were only one or two things left to ask about.

“If that is the case,” Pet sighed, and Alyx could see that she was still confused about whatever was going through her mind right now. “If that is the case, then why aren’t all of her children vampyres too?” Pet asked reasonably.

“I would think that would be a question only she and Vlad would be able to answer, but I’m sure that some of the children were likely born before they closed the Mating Bond between them. But some of them are certainly vampyres, I’ll grant you.

For example, do you remember the young man you were dancing with, not long after you had danced with Jerrica when we had first arrived in the ballroom in Janus? You remember, the one you thought was so handsome?” Alyx asked, her tone playful now.

“Yeah. He’s cute, isn’t he? He said his name was Mason. And he’s a doctor. “Pet replied impishly. Then her jaw dropped again with what Alyx was implying. “He’s Joanna’s son??” Pet gasped. “How?! She doesn’t look old enough to have a son that’s nearly a century old himself!” she protested with a laugh.

“Yet, her son he is, Pet.” Alyx said gently. “He is her eldest son, to be specific. And he is not a vampyre or a vampire, but a full mortal.” Alyx added as Petrova’s jaw dropped once more.

The next night, all was quiet and peaceful for all who slept in the manse.

But, on the night before Joanna’s birthday, Amelia had been sleeping in the suite she and Raven shared when she shot awake with a muffled scream of “JOANNA!!!”

At the same time, Raven shot awake too, with a shout, “NO!” And in the next few seconds, both realized they had shared the same dream, and soon they were comparing memories of their nightmares to try to figure out what had happened, and when.

But the primary thing they got worked out between them was that Amelia had been dreaming that she was Joanna, until the scene changed, at which point she had become herself and Joanna at the same time.

She was camped in a small, rocky valley that was forested with small stands of scrubby strongbark trees with trunks about as big around as her wrist and oilfruit that were only about three times as big around as the strongbark trees, as well as many different kinds of brambles that were covered in berries this time of year, and she knew that she was supposed to be here in this peaceful place, to try to come to some kind of lasting peace with herself for what had happened on the Temple steps.

When she had physically recovered from the damage incurred in the attack that had nearly killed her, it had been made known to her that she had been given a message from the Goddess herself; seek the purification and solitude of the wilderness. And accordingly she had, moving her camp every few days in an effort to find the most remote places that still resonated with the power of the Goddess.

But the peace she had sought still hadn’t come.

She prepared a simple meal that night that was no different than many another and ate in silence, knowing that the instructions had been explicit; contact with other mortals was not to be sought. She knew she had been defiled, and this was to be her punishment for having tempted her ravisher, but she wondered if it was truly peace she sought, or if it was simply a means to be in a situation where Death would find her more easily.

And as the time passed, she knew that it was more and more likely that Death was still seeking for her; it was only a matter of time before he caught up with her and finished the job he had begun on the steps.

Some days, she knew that she would welcome an end to her suffering, but others, she knew that for the fallacy that it was, and knew that she would fight Death with all her strength, unless it was on her own terms... the terms she vaguely recalled the one she had come to know as the Stranger asking of her before he had vanished from her life once again later that night. But at the same time, she knew too that her death would also atone for the death of her sister, whom she still mourned for with all her strength.

That night, she was mostly at peace with herself and her existence, simply enjoying the sunset for the beauty of the clouds against the darkening skies overhead, and the play of light from the half seen globes overhead and the sparkling stars beyond them. She recalled falling asleep, thinking that the sky had been beautiful the night before and she had been alone. Therefore, when she woke, she was surprised to find someone in her encampment.

As she had slept, oblivious to her danger, he had built up her fire as the sun had risen, entering her shelter as though he owned it, the land it sat upon, and all within it, including herself. She saw his face briefly outlined in the flickering light of the torch he carried, and she knew that he had been the one who had defiled her on the temple steps.

It was then that Amelia realized that she was seeing something from Joanna’s past, not something that was actually happening to her, and she realized that it was a nightmare. But she couldn’t stop the gasp of recognition that escaped her lips at seeing his face finally; it had been the being who had killed Joanna in that awful dream while they had been on the Ledge!

And she knew that he planned to do the same thing to her that he had done to Joanna when she had been in this position.

Then the scene she saw shifted to the interior of the house where it had happened, and she knew it was happening all over again. But she was the one who was going to feel it this time.

The wine scented breeze made her head ache still more than before, and the light was far too bright, so she shut her eyes on her tears of pain. Even with her eyes shut, she could still hear the breeze tugging fitfully at the filmy coverings over the window which she knew was across the room, and the voices she could hear from a farther distance seemed to be speaking a vaguely familiar language which she could not place at first.

Then, after a few more seconds, Amelia abruptly realized it was the version of Ladten she’d been taught first in grade school, then expanded on her knowledge of while they had been at Shadow Valley Prep. It was the variant that her professors had been sure was most likely spoken in the small towns not far from the outskirts of Fyedor itself, and now she had the proof they had been seeking.

However, the voices themselves were not familiar to her at all, and within seconds she was trying to forget that she’d heard them in the first place without quite knowing why. It wasn’t that they had been saying anything wrong, she thought. It was more that she didn’t want to think about what she knew was coming, save to try to work out how to get away before it did.

Where am I? Amelia wondered muzzily as she struggled back to a sitting position on the divan she’d lain curled upon like a young fiale. Then the breeze filled her awareness once more, and she knew for certain where she was. Fear galvanized her thoughts as she began trying to figure out how to get out of this trap, but she knew that the only way was for someone who was outside to wake her up.

And that wasn’t too likely to happen; even if she could shake herself awake enough to tell Raven where she was, he wouldn’t be able to get her out; he would think she was awake and try to calm her down, Amelia knew. And that wouldn’t be any good. Though she knew too that it was about as good as she was likely to get.

As her fingers explored the texture of the cloth and wood beneath them, it occurred to her that this felt more like a distant memory than a dream; more like a very old memory, one of Joanna’s oldest, Amelia knew. But as she recovered, she was unaware of having spoken aloud, whispering “Where am I?” in archaic Ladten.

She lay still, thinking about it, and briefly debated the relative merits of opening her eyes for a few seconds again. Deciding against the idea for the moment, she put her head in her hands; trying to push away enough of the migraine throbbing behind her eyes to be able to concentrate.

Ohhhhhh…,” she moaned softly as she tried to force herself to her feet a few minutes later, intent on breaking the pattern of the nightmare, by heading for the window and trying to scream for help. But before she got even halfway to her feet, her knees buckled, spilling her dramatically back to the giving surface of the divan beneath her once more.

The shock of her landing had forced her eyes open briefly, and instantly, the pain she felt filling her head had first doubled, then tripled, driving spikes of torment into her eyes and forcing her toward the edge of unconsciousness again. “Where in Zeno’s sacred names am I?,”she whispered weakly again as her eyes fluttered shut against the growing savage agony in her head.

As she drifted between awareness and unconsciousness for several agonizing heartbeats, Amelia was unaware that she still had spoken in archaic Ladten. She wasn’t certain how long she drifted this time, but she knew when the torment began to fade that she’d fainted again at last, even though Amelia knew she hadn’t expected to.

Then a voice spoke which she’d hoped was only a horrible figment of her worst pain induced nightmares; saying in Græcian, “You are in Kulanes, of course. You are a guest in my home, in the Street of the Winemakers.

More importantly to me—and to you, I’m sure-- Domita Ariettae Electra Ahenobarbus, you have the inestimable privilege of being the second woman I have taken to my bed in this house. Long and long have I awaited this auspicious day!” And she knew she had heard it, even though she was unconscious, though she wasn’t sure how she had heard it.

And she knew something else that sent a bolt of shock through her hearts—he knew her full name in one of the oldest lifetimes she could recall! It wasn’t being related to one of the Fyedorian rulers that had shocked her, it was that the monster that had killed her sister knew who she was, and planned to do to her as he had done to her sister. And she knew there was no hope of rescue for her without external help.

As he spoke, the tone of his whisper was triumphant, as though he knew that she had no hope of escape, and at the sound of it, Amelia cringed—as she knew that Joanna had upon hearing the same thing the first time she had had this nightmare-- feeling as though Death itself had entered the room and marked her as his next victim. For in a way, it had.

His voice was the merest silken whisper of sound against her skin and she suddenly felt as though she was naked to his touch. The sound of his voice cut into her soul like the sharpest steel, drawing blood from wells she’d long thought safely hidden from his touch, and she shuddered in defilement; though at the same time, she knew that far worse was yet to come.

His was the voice she had always heard in the depths of her sister’s worst nightmares, and even though he currently spoke in ancient Græcian, it was instantly recognizable to her; regardless of her pain induced swoon, regardless of how deeply into herself she retreated, hoping against all logic to escape his notice and survive this nightmare.

And she wondered briefly how she knew what he was saying in ancient Græcian, then she remembered learning the language when she had been very young.

Those dreams were worse even than the ones she knew she couldn’t remember; and worse, these evil dreamsshe knew she would remember, if she survived, she thought as she tried again and again to get Raven’s attention and explain her plight to him.

But, even as she reached with the strength born of desperate need, she still touched absolute nothingness where Raven had always been before this, and that discovery spurred her to levels of terror she’d never been aware existed before this day. And in her terror, she hoped for several tortured seconds that her hearts would burst from fear and loneliness, and relieve the mortal agony that’d lockedits crippling talons into her soul.

And the truth was, she knew how to accomplish that, even if Joanna hadn’t the first time she had had this awful nightmare

And she knew that this was exactly how Joanna had felt when she had had this same nightmare that first night of their long hike; the first night on the ledge over Falconridge. But, at the same time, she also knew that there was very little she could do to stop herself seeing all that was to come of it.

In that timeless instant, though she was still physically unconscious and utterly inert on the divan, she knew that all the other nightmares had been leading up to this; if he killed her here, without any hope of help for her to escape, she was solid dead. There would be no coming back, except as a lesser vampyre under his control. Or as a vampire, for that matter, Amelia knew, with no will of her own. And Amelia knew that was no life at all.

She wanted Joanna to be the one that held her Bond, not Iollio. In that second, she realized that she knew something else too; even eternal death was better than allowing him to control her eternal life. She would eagerly embrace True Death before allowing Iollio to take Raven and Joanna away from her, Amelia decided again in the instant before he touched her.

With the strength she had always derived from loving Joanna and Raven, she dug down and reached out farther than she’d ever done, farther than she’d ever tried to reach, to try to find her lovers, and she still found nothing but echoes of emptiness where they had always been before.

And Amelia knew that if she was going to escape, she didn’t have the time to freak out over the fact that she couldn’t reach Raven; there were others that she might be able to reach that would stand a better chance of being able to get her free, she thought as she reached to Vlad’s thoughts herself, knowing that he had helped Joanna break this nightmare before. He should be able to help me now, she thought as Iollio approached where she lay.

And abruptly, Vlad found himself drawn into something that he had forgotten had happened, drawn by a mental scream for help from one of his lovers; Amelia was trapped in a nightmare that she couldn’t wake herself from, even though Raven thought she was awake, and she was sure that Vlad was the only one who could help her.

Both Vlad and Amelia knew that if he was able to get her free, she would simply seem to slide back into sleep in Raven’s arms, and that was the best they could hope for in this instance. But, at the same time, Amelia knew that if he couldn’t help her, or worse, if he couldn’t reach her, the result could be catastrophic this time; because this time, it felt different—to both of them. And she knew that Iollio was already in motion.

In less time than it would have taken her to describe it, the monster facing her was across the room, one hand buried in her waist length hair, the other forcing her to bare her throat to him. “Yes, Ariettae. It is I. I have come to you at last to claim my own upon you, for you belong to me. You always have, and you always will.” he whispered gloatingly in the instant before he buried his curved fangs in her delicate flesh.

And this time, Vladimir, there is nothing you can do to prevent it!◊ Iollio gloated as he fed from Amelia’s veins, as Vlad froze in shock ten paces away.

Iollio knew he would enjoy this sight for many, many millennia to come; her thickly tousled,long blonde curls in disarray on his black silk and sable fur bedding, her lush throat taut and bared luxuriantly to his touch, and the erotic touch of her terror beating frantically at the exact point from which he would feed, as well as Vlad, paralyzed by indecision, far out of reach, powerless to save her from her Fate.

And Vlad knew that this time, even though he was seeing what had happened to his Joanna all those years ago all over again; he was finally able to do something about it.

◊You cannot escape me, Ariettae, not this time, child. Accept your fate…◊ Iollio’s thoughts brushed her mind as he bent to his unwilling feast struggling where she was pinned with deadly efficiency, like a pallid butterfly to crushed velvet. Exactly as Callista had been, and Iollio knew that this was how it had been meant to be.

Both sisters under his control, bearing his children; his wives for eternity, servicing only him, whenever he wished it. And the thought gave his erection strength; he knew that he was only seconds away from consummating the Bond with both of them, and his physical union with them both would inevitably follow.

And even though she struggled, Amelia knew he planned to kill her; she knew also that she had to try to escape. If she didn’t, there would be no defense for Joanna; Vlad may not be able to get here to end this in time, Amelia knew. Then she sighed in relief; she had seen Vlad arrive, and she knew that she had a chance now.

She didn’t realize—then—that killing her wasn’t his plan. Iollio, for that was indeed who had captured her in the dream of a memory she was reliving, wanted more than simply another victim; he wanted a mate. He was planning to make her his, and the first step of that plan was to initiate a Mating Bond. Vlad realized that, and was moving to stop him as Iollio bent to his feast.

Instantly awake beside her as she had screamed, Raven reached to draw her into his embrace in an attempt to comfort her and help her wake up; knowing that Amelia had just shaken free of another in the same series of nightmares that had begun on the Ledge over Falconridge, years before.

And as he held her, he knew which kind this one had been; she was on the Street of the Winemakers.

Dealing with Joanna’s dreams about the Dreams of Grandeur were bad enough, Raven thought as he held Amelia close, hoping that his touch was helping her to wake up enough to be able to escape the nightmare that had held her prisoner in her mind. He didn’t know—yet-- that it wasn’t working, but he soon would.

She could hear blows landing, and she struggled to push herself upright once more, holding a hand to her throat as she closed the wounds, quickly replacing the blood that had been stolen, knowing that she needed to try to wake herself up while her attacker was distracted, and get to a place where she was safe once more.

But she wasn’t sure that waking up would be enough to keep her safe from him anymore. And more than that, she knew too that Vlad would need to have an avenue to escape by, himself.

Then she felt arms wrapping around her once more, and breath upon the side of her throat once more. And she freaked out, not able to stop herself as she began struggling once more in his grip, knowing that her dreams of escape had been only that; dreams.

Then Raven realized that Amelia was crying in his arms, and somehow it hadn’t disturbed Joanna who was sleeping on the other side of them, and he whispered, “It’s okay, ’Lia. She’s fine... she’s just sleeping” as he tried to calm Amelia’s tears, feeling helpless as he always did when one of them was weeping and there was nothing causing it that he could see, let alone anything that could be done to stop it.

No… don’t. Don’t!!” Amelia had whimpered, as his fangs first grazed, then broke her skin with a tiny, but sickeningly loud pop. She struggled in his iron grip, but even she knew it was in vain; she could feel herself growing weaker as he drained her of life. Already, it was growing harder to breathe; soon, she knew she would be gone. But at the same time, she knew she must fight if she wanted to survive.

And at the same time, she knew that before she could escape him into Death, she would suffer terribly, and she would long for the mercy of Death to end her suffering, though it would be a long time in coming.

Meanwhile, in the dream, Amelia was hearing, ◊Let yourself go, Ariettae. Give yourself to me. I’ve won. Why should I not claim my prize? There are none here to save you now, not even the many false gods you worship; you willingly walked into my realm, and you shall never leave again.

I am the only God you will ever have need of, and the only lover, from now until the stars you worship burn out and become cold cinders in the emptiness of space, and are eternally reborn.

Plead your mortal life away as your precious blood flows into me if you will, but I will be satisfied on your blood, if only for this one time. And, so that you remember our little… pact, remember this: If your mortal body dies in my embrace… your soul is mine forever, to do with as I please.

Let that be your last thought as you pass from awareness into eternal oblivion, my delectable sex slave. How does it feel to bear the offspring of a God, Ariettae? Because that is what your delicious fear names me.◊,his thoughtswhispered as her awareness flickered and his lips worked roughly against the tender skin of her throat in a grotesque parody of a lingering kiss. And his other hand was slowly forcing her legs apart as she faded out at last.

Yet, perversely, the knowledge of her impending transformation --and subsequent eternal separation from Raven and her sister, as well as her other lovers-- made her fight all the harder to free herself.

Amelia knew if she allowed herself to lose consciousness now, it would be the end of her as she felt his thoughts brushing the edges of her mind once more and she felt someone pulling her attacker away from the wounds he had caused.

“No! No, she’s dead!” Amelia sobbed through closed eyes, and he wondered if she was still asleep herself. “I watched her die! There was nothing I... nothing I could do! Nothing... he killed her, ... he killed her, and all I could do was watch as he did... and now she’s dead!! And I can’t get out of here!! Vlad, help me!!” Amelia wailed softly in his arms as Raven tried to comfort her, hoping that somehow, her tears wouldn’t wake Joanna.

She forced her eyes open in the dream that she felt trapped in, and she realized that the blows she had been hearing had stopped; Vlad stood over the prone form of her attacker, his fists bloody to the elbows as he straightened once more, breathing hard as he did.

The body of the one who had attacked both her and Joanna was limp on the floor of the room, blood pouring from many wounds, and Amelia knew that he had at least been beaten badly, but it wouldn’t be enough to keep her and Joanna safe from Iollio’s wrath. She knew Vlad wanted more, though she knew too that he might not be able to get it for now.

Then, from a pocket of the interior of his jacket, as she watched, Vlad produced a stake more than two feet in length, and placed the tip against his helpless opponent’s chest. Iollio’s eyes were open, though he couldn’t move to evade what he knew now was coming, and he knew that Vlad had won this round. And Iollio knew that he would have to try harder to find a way to get to the women that were destined to be his.

Shoving hard and leaning his whole weight on the stake, Vlad thrust the stake slowly through Iollio’s body—pausing as it reached his hearts and she could see that the stake had split into several smaller stakes that pierced and destroyed Iollio’s hearts and spinal column—then it continued on through his back and into the floor of the room as Iollio released a single, long scream, then his body began to glow green-y red before it burst into sparkles of the same colors that simply faded away in the next beat of Amelia and Vlad’s hearts.

What she had said at the last didn’t really register until a few seconds later, and he wasn’t sure that she had actually said anything about being trapped there, so he didn’t respond.

“Where were you this time, my love?” Raven asked, though he suspected that he knew the answer already; the street of the winemakers in Adelphalaneum, on the bay of Neapolis.

Raven knew that there had been many times that Joanna had died in Amelia’s nightmares over the years, but there was only one where Amelia spoke of a man who had killed Joanna while she had been held helpless to prevent it.

That had been the nightmare that Joanna had had on the Ledge and somehow Amelia had gotten dragged into the last moments of it. But what he didn’t realize was that Amelia was trapped there now with no means of getting out unless he woke up soon enough and caught on to the fact that she needed his help.

That experience had morphed into seeing the whole thing for herself in later years, along with many others, far worse for her, and for Joanna. And he knew that sometimes, all he could do was hold whichever one of them was having this nightmare this time close and try to be comforting with his presence until they had recovered enough to know that they were awake and safe once more.

Holding Amelia close as she sobbed her heartbreak once again, he was relieved to note that Joanna was shifting to a somewhat more comfortable position beside him, and he sighed softly, knowing that even though it was dark outside currently, it was going to be a long night for him.

In that second, Amelia hitched in a deep breath, then she murmured something through her tears that sounded like, “Outside Fyedor... across the bay from Neapolis... down the coast from Pombaǽ... little town... Street of the Winemakers... he killed her... my poor Callista... how shall I go on without you, my sister?” she mumbled, her words slipping from Elandi to Ladten to Græcian in her distress, and he realized that she had been dreaming about what he had suspected as Amelia’s tears wound down into silence once more.

“Amelia, my sweet...” Vlad whispered, his voice rough with unspent rage, and she knew that he didn’t trust what his eyes had shown them regarding Iollio’s death. “You must wake up, my dear. Raven is starting to worry about you.” And Amelia nodded wearily, as she whispered, “Thank you, Vlad.” as she leaned against him for a few seconds as he leaned down and kissed her tenderly.

“Go on back to Raven now, sweetheart. For now, you, he and Joanna are as safe as I can make the three of you, my love. If the danger comes back again, I will let you know, but if not, I will be right behind you.” Vlad said gently as their lips parted, met lingeringly and then slowly parted once more as they both sighed.

With a soft snore where she lay in Raven’s arms, Amelia abruptly relaxed into deeper sleep once more, and he realized that she had had another episode of talking in her sleep again. Raven sighed in mild exasperation, knowing that he wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep any time soon after this, but he laid her back gently in the bedclothes again, watching as she snuggled under the comforter he had drawn up over her shoulders once again, once more sleeping soundly as her tears dried on the pillowcase under her head.

But what he didn’t know was that she was still dreaming. And so was Joanna. But Joanna’s dream was far more benign than Amelia’s had been, and she would be able to describe what she had seen far more clearly when she woke. And soon Amelia had joined her in seeing the same dream. (Note: remember to bring Vlad into this dream as well; after all, he was present on the Ledge, so why shouldn’t he be involved in the gratification?)

Joanna had paused for a second and quickly stripped out of the tee-shirt and panties she had been sleeping in, then dug in her bag where it had been casually dropped by the door of the inner tent for a few seconds, locating them by feel in the dark. Turning back to her sister in triumph, she held up what she had been digging for in her bag and a small flashlight; a wide tipped, obviously hand-made ceramic dildo, which she knew would please Amelia no end.

Amelia’s eyes lit up as she looked up and saw what her sister had in her hands. And as soon as she could breathe again, she said, “You did bring them! I wasn’t sure, so I brought a couple of my own They’re... they’re in- in my bag....” she gasped, breathing more quickly as Raven had pressed her breasts together and was licking both nipples at the same time.

And as he sucked them into his mouth in the next heartbeat, Amelia moaned, “Oh Gods, Raven! That feels so good...oh, oh yes...” as she felt herself getting wetter and wetter as his hand crept toward the top of her underwear.

And, as his fingers slid lower, she was gradually laying back to allow him greater access, her eyes rolled shut in pleasure as Amelia and Joanna were kissing open mouthed while Joanna was slipping the blankets off Amelia so they could both touch her in ways the two of them hadn’t for entirely too long.

Seemingly only seconds later, Amelia felt her own panties being slid off down her legs, and something solid and cold sliding against her labia as Raven’s fingers brushed the patch of fluffy black curls between her thighs for what felt to Amelia like the first time in years, though it wasn’t really.

Her muscles tensed involuntarily for an instant, then she relaxed and her legs opened as the dildo slid slowly into her passage as Raven’s fingertips explored her clit for a few seconds. Then he moved his hand away, and she moaned in disappointment, thinking she had done something to discourage him.

Then she felt a weight settle between her open thighs, and a gentle tongue begin exploring as Joanna’s lips left hers, though she knew she could still feel her sister’s fingers in her hair as the dildo kept sliding in and out of her opening. Soon, she was moaning softly and murmured, “Oh yes, my love, that’s so nice, Joanna...”

But her eyes flew open with a gasp when Joanna said softly, “That’s not me, sis...” as the tongue slowly invaded where the dildo had been, as the ceramic shaft was being removed, only to be slowly slid deep into her ass, then equally slowly, mostly removed before being slid back in even more slowly to her whimpers of growing pleasure, in time with the strokes of the tongue in her vagina.

And as the friction increased, Amelia exploded into orgasm as Raven slowly removed his tongue from where it had been and replaced it with two fingers sliding deep for a couple strokes, then sliding out again.

Amelia...” he whispered, his voice strained, “I...” Then his voice trailed away as she pulled him close and kissed him firmly as he peeled out of his tee shirt and his shorts too, and they were suitably impressed by the increase in the size of his erection as Amelia smiled and whispered in his thoughts, ◊Raven... Daniel, my brother, my lover... make love to me again, please.... I ache for your touch, my love.

I always have, and so has Joanna. And I am so sorry for that stupid fight. It has cost us so long when we could have been sharing joy like this again.◊ she added, watching him as he stared at her in amazement.

He stared at her in shock, half afraid that he had been dreaming, dreaming that she had said what he had just heard, hoping that he wasn’t wrong. “You... you sure?” he whispered, and she nodded as he slowly slid his member into her inviting opening, to be fully, moistly embraced by her tight vaginal muscles as he slowly stroked in and out.

And both Raven and Amelia cried out in passion and triumph as he finally entered her fully; she had ached for him to touch her for so long that she could hardly believe that he was finally between her thighs, slowly making love to her again, and she couldn’t hold back the climax that swamped her thoughts almost as soon as he had come too.

Joanna sighed as she finished showing Amelia what she had seen while she had been dreaming, and she was relieved when Amelia smiled. But then Joanna frowned slightly when Amelia shook her head, saying, “I’m glad you had a good one, sweetheart. But I guess this time it was my turn to have a bad dream again.

I was back in that house from the Ledge again, sweetheart.” Amelia said, shaking her head sadly, and Joanna rushed to embrace her.

“Oh, no. Oh, my love... it’s okay. You know, you don’t have to tell about it if you don’t want to...” Joanna murmured, caressing Amelia’s hair and down her back as she tried to console her lover for the nightmare she had experienced. It crossed Joanna’s mind to soothe Amelia with a small feeding, but Joanna knew that might cause more problems than it could solve for them at the same time.

“No. If I don’t tell, it will just fester in there until I have to speak of what I was in this one. I love you babe, but you have to know that I was in the same place where I found you that day on... on the Ledge.” Amelia said, her voice breaking a little as she got to mentioning the first time Joanna had had the dream that Amelia had had just a large portion of. Then, Amelia swallowed hard, and forced herself to continue.

“I saw a room in a house; the room had plastered walls with very realistic looking painted clusterberry vines stretched over a trellis-like structure that was painted on the walls, and a mosaic of a growling canni set into the floor, inside a red square of smaller stones that looked almost like gemstones that had been cut and inlaid into the floor when the building was being built.” Amelia said, knowing that she had to get it out. And Joanna simply stared at her in horrified shock and sympathy.

“In the west corner, there was a chest with the lid open and what looked like papers in it, rolled like scrolls, an a large vase standing beside it, full of what looked like silvertailbark branches in bloom along with a few branches of infant paintree leaves.

And against the wall with the window, there was a black draped divan on one end of the room, and the battered, bloody body of a young woman who looked very much like you, lover, was draped over it, head hanging down and her throat bitten from here to here.” Amelia said quietly, gesturing on her own throat to illustrate her point. Then she added, “Except that she was me, and you at the same time” Amelia added with a shiver.

“The curtains were white and filmy, almost sheer—like they were woven of the tiniest threads of extra superfine spun Nilnean summer snows-- and the man who was also in the room was—and wasn’t at the same time—the same man I saw in your memories from the incident at the Library.” Amelia added seriously, after Joanna had finished describing the dream she had experienced.

“But then, Vlad found me this time, and brought a special stake with him; This time, he staked the bastard who hurt you, lover, destroying his hearts and a big section of his spine.” Amelia said, watching Joanna seriously. “At the same time, that was why you weren’t really able to wake me, Rave.” she said as she turned to Raven as he leaned in for a gentle kiss.

“Because once I was there, I wasn’t able to fully wake up, not until after Vlad had killed that particular version of Iollio.” she continued after their lips had finally parted for a few seconds.

“Well,” Joanna drawled, “I would rather have my dream than yours, I think, this time, lover. But perhaps we could do something to erase the scary dream and strengthen the pleasure of the happy one if we put our minds to it?

After all, Vlad said we were as safe as he could make us for now, didn’t he?” she said, as she peeled out of her sleep shirt, and pressed up against Raven’s back as she reached to caress Amelia’s breasts, and they both smiled as they took her up on the suggestion that more sex between the three of them was what was wanted to ease the fear that Amelia was feeling.

And for the next couple hours, they were pleasantly involved in bringing each other to deep joy.

Then the vision that they had held at bay with hours of sex finally found a way into their thoughts once more; filling all three of their minds in the form of a very detailed dream that was both the same and different from the vision that had woken Joanna earlier when they had been sharing passion with some of the others.

The main difference that stuck with Joanna was that when the killers had finally managed to get into the house, she hadn’t been downstairs with some of her lovers, they had all been upstairs, in the ballroom when the shooting had begun, and she had seen both Amelia and Raven gunned down for daring to defend her, before the bullets that had ended her pain had finally finished the job.

There had been four, two breaking her back, one blowing open the top of her skull, and the final one drilling through both hearts; it had come in from the side. The last thing she had seen was Vlad rushing the men who had killed her, though her vision had faded before she had seen him die too.

And when they could finally shake free of it once again, they all knew that it was drawing near to coming true, and Joanna instinctively reached out to Vlad-- both for the continued security of contact with him-- and in the hopes that he would be able to stop what they were afraid was coming.

Though, at the same time, she was almost sure that nothing they did would stop it in time. And she was desperately afraid that she was going to lose everyone she had ever cared about in the coming conflagration.

(Be sure to remember to link these two chapters and blend the two time frames.)

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