Pinned down, and with little time to react, Leah did the only thing she could.
“Usually, I’d expect dinner first.”
That did the trick. The bandaged figure tilted its head, clearly confused, and spoke again. The rasping voice grated at Leah’s mind, but she held firm - it was a simple trick after all, one that would only work on the weak.
“You have me in quite the compromised position. I hope you aren’t expecting to have your way with me?”
The figure leaned back, and Leah could see another blur in the corner of her vision. Perhaps Cassandra? Liam? It didn’t matter. The groundwork was laid, and she had physical contact. She launched her attack, suddenly and swiftly. Without waiting for her command, her submind kicked into action as well, its own attack discordant with her own. A wave of conflicting sensory information rammed into their foe from one side, and from the other, a spear of complex formulae, broken and confusing, designed to trick the mind into resolving them. Neither worked. Their foe’s mind seemed to be a sphere of rock, perfectly smooth and impossible to attack. That was new. They clearly had experience. Leah, or Hael, one of the two kicked into gear and neither knew which. Leah’s physical body sat up, and slammed its forehead into the nose of the assailant on top of her. Bright red cracks spread from either side of the sphere, as the spear faded away, leaving the wave to crash through the weakened barrier.
The fight was taken into the mind of their opponent, and then- The link was broken. Leah’s mind was scattered, the shock of broken contact shaking her, but she rallied, just in time to feel the impact against a tree. She heard a shriek of agony, from herself, she knew, bones splintering from the concussive force. Then another, as she hit the ground. Damage control routines flashed through her mind unbidden - potential concussion, major injuries, do not attempt to move - words that were meaningless in the face of danger. She was going to die. Whatever it was, it was strong enough to break out of a mental link, or at least to throw her away and let the lack of contact do it for them. And now she was broken, likely unable to move. She tried nevertheless. Pain splintered her mind once more, and Leah collapsed, tears springing from her eyes without care. She could feel, it, whatever it was, approaching. The air shifting. A sense of dread above her. It was here, and it was going to claim her.
She wasn’t on the ground any longer. Leah was suspended in the air, pain blessedly lessening from the contact, before rising again in her neck. It didn’t need to grab her so hard, dammit. The contact gave her another chance to attack, but their attacks were repelled easily. The perfect sphere was back, and neither her nor her submind had the mental fortitude to piece it again, not without an edge. Whatever would happen to her, was going to happen. Leah opened her eyes, to at least glare at her foe before she died, but all she saw was Cassandra, rushing towards her, and Liam, arm outstretched to stop her. Ah. It was at her neck. It was biting her. God dammit. Why did Hael have to mention vampires? The pain in her neck told her all she needed to know. It had bitten her. She was losing blood too. Though, minor amounts. The now familiar sensation of her mana being drained was back, and this time, it was pulling at the condensed source of her magalyte mana pool. That was interesting in and of itself. That had never happened before. There wasn’t long to ponder that fact, however.
Leah hit the ground, air bursting from her chest. Her lungs wracked, trying desperately to fill themselves despite the temporary paralysis of her diaphragm. Winded, she looked up, desperate to see if she was being attacked again, and stopped in confusion. The bandaged figure had Cassandra’s swords, one in each hand, pinned in place, and was laughing. Cackling, in fact. Leah saw Cassandra desperately trying to hold on to her blades in spite of the shaking from the figure holding on to them. Then it spoke once again.
“Yes. YES! That is it, what I have been searching for! You have it!”
Suddenly, the blades were wrenched from Cassandra’s grip, and thrown to the side. The figure was once more in front of Leah, holding her chin up and forcing eye contact between the two of them.
“Where did you get it, hmm? I will let you live if you tell me, child.”
Her lungs becoming more under her control, Leah managed to force out some words.
“The… mana? The mana you were taking from me?”
“Yes, child, that mana. Where did it come from?”
“How do I know… you won’t kill me if I tell you?”
Cackling again, the figure threw back its head, the other hand catching Liam’s knife and twisting it from his grasp. Without looking, it threw it away.
“You don’t. But it is the only chance any of you have of leaving here alive.”
Leah thought over it, throwing questions back and forth with her now sentient sub mind, but no solutions came up. The fact was, she, and the others too, were in dire straits. The only solution was to trust this strange, bandaged figure.
“Well… I don’t exactly know. Its just part of this body, something I found.”
The figure tilted its head.
“This body… you don’t mean…”
Suddenly, a pressure was on her mind, but Leah had prepared for that. She pushed back, leaving her submind to the defense of her own mind. The figure grimaced, and the pressure lessened.
“So we are at a stalemate, it would seem. But I can still make assumptions. You are in one of the ancients bodies, yes?”
Leah simply glared at the bandaged figure. She had her answer already, Leah wasn’t about to give her the satisfaction. It grinned behind its bandages.
“Perfect. Yes, perfect indeed. Oh, how long I’ve waited for this day.”
It let go of Leah, and twisted Cassandra’s arm behind her, forcing the retrieved sword out of her hand.
“Let us make an agreement. A pact, if you will. I will let you, and your friends live, if you supply me with your mana when I choose.”
Cassandra gasped in pain, her shoulder being twisted to its breaking point, and Leah grimaced in sympathy. Her own wounds were still close at hand.
“Ok, ok, let her go. You already have the upper hand, we can talk without you needing to put pressure on me.”
A moment passed, the figure seeming to evaluate Leah, then it let Cassandra go. It put a knee on her back, however, not totally willing to let go of its trump card.
“There is no negotiations here, child. You choose, or you die. It is simple.”
“Au contraire, vampire. I may have told a bit of a fabrication when I said you had the upper hand.”
The bandaged figure, the vampire Leah was certain, narrowed its eyes, but did not move.
“And how do you figure?”
“You see, you took into you my blood, alongside my mana. And, well, I don’t know how much experience you have with mental magic, but… you must have noticed there were two minds in here.”
She tapped her head, and grinned. The eyes of the bandaged figure widened, and it leapt towards Leah, but fell short, writhing on the ground. A signal of confirmation fed back to Leah through the sympathetic link, her submind confirming that partial control had been established. Enough at least, to give her an opening. Leah stood, disabling her sense of touch for a moment to mask the pain, and drew her rapier for the first time in battle. She pressed it into the back of the bandaged figure, still writhing, and pushed, hard. A brief sensation of resistance melted away, as the hardened metal fell through the magically enhanced bandages and into the dead flesh of her foe. And with that, her connection was strengthened. With two strong points of entry, the vampire had no hope at all.
“I was a fool. Too foolish, too confident…”
“Hubris was the death of many. Maybe not you, though.”
“You have me at your mercy, psychomancer. I have lived long, I am not afraid of death. Do what you will.”
“You had me at your mercy. And you let me live. I’m curious as to your reasoning for that. Perhaps I’ll even grant you the same courtesy.”
In the mental landscape, the bandaged figure was chained up, a swarm of insects eating away at her constantly regenerating flesh. It did not seem to bother the vampire, however.
“It was nothing more than simple greed. If I killed you, then the source of your mana would be gone. And I could not assume I would ever find another.”
“Self satisfaction, then.”
A mental copy of Leah’s rapier pressed against the vampires throat, drawing a trickle of blood. The pain, and sensation in general, was fabricated, Leah knew, but she was still impressed at how little it seemed to bother the other mind.
“Do it. Kill me. I shall not go back to that life, not having tasted of the sweet font of true mana once more.”
“You seem to know an awful lot about me, what I am. And you also seem to have a vested interest in keeping me alive.”
The blade remained in place, but the atmosphere changed. Despite not moving her head, the rasping figure seemed to look sidelong at Leah.
“Perchance you suppose an arrangement?”
“Perchance I do. What would you suggest?”
“You clearly have little knowledge as to what you are, or where you come from. I cannot say I have a full understanding myself, but I can aid in filling the blanks in your information.”
“And in return?”
“You supply me with a little of your essence. Enough to sustain me, truly, like I haven’t had in centuries.”
“Knowledge for sustenance, then. Is that all you can offer?”
The figure grinned.
“You do have an understanding of our positions, it seems. As you say, I have a vested interest in keeping you alive. I can extend that to your… allies. And there is more that I know. All that I have, I offer to you.”
Leah tilted her head in curiosity, but did not move her blade.
“Does it truly mean that much to you, what I hold?”
“You have no idea. Imagine living life, unable to die from hunger, yet unable to eat. The sensation never fades, only grows stronger. You search, and you struggle, to find even the slightest morsel you can stomach. Then, you find something, a tiny sliver. And it fills you like nothing else ever has.”
Leah laughed, and withdrew her sword.
“I think I have some glimmering of that. And if its anything like what I’ve experienced, well. I can hardly turn down your offer. You do know, however, that you will always have a portion of me inside of you. That we can return to this place should you ever disappoint me with our agreement.”
“I doubt that very much, child-”
“Leah. And you are?”
“The black mistress of the thousand-”
“Yeah, uh huh, and the name you didn’t choose to inspire fear into the hearts of mortals everywhere?”
“…Would you believe me if I said I’ve forgotten. It’s been quite a while since I’ve experience something resembling a relationship with an equal.”
“I’m just going to go ahead and believe you there. And I’m not referring to you as my mistress of anything. I already have one of those. Give me a proper name.”
“Will Robin suffice?”
“Did you pull that- No, I’d rather not know. Yeah, that’ll do. Interesting choice for the black mistress, though.”
The figure shrugged in its restraints.
“The birds are quite vicious, as I understand them. Or at least, if the ones in this world are the same as yours.”
“So you did peek into my mind.”
“The link cuts both ways, as I believe you’d say.”
“And yet you let me win.”
“I did not let you anything. Your… other mind was quite the obstacle. Though even still, you are of no use to me brain dead. But that, we can discuss more when we have formed a pact.”
“So, is there actually anything special to this, or do we just take each others word for it.”
“Words and pacts have meaning here, child. We are rather… intimately connected. Whatever agreement we make, here and now, will have lasting consequences. That is not to say you should trust me entirely, or I you, but the consequences for breaking a mana bonded pact can be… dire.”
“I assume we’ll discuss that after I’ve made such a pact.”
“Indeed. Though I can assure you now, and you can delve into my mind if you require, that you can only make such a pact with honest intentions. There is no trickery between magically linked minds. When the time comes, we will both see the truth of each others intentions.”
“Well, I don’t see any reason to put this off them. Hael just confirmed that you are telling the truth.”
“We’ll discuss that when the time comes.”
The figure, Robin, laughed.
“Very well, very well. I shall go first. Simply speak your intentions after mine, and you shall know what to do when the moment comes.”
In spite of her restraints, Robin stood tall, and Hael’s cloud in insects fell away, coalescing around Leah. Her bandages dissolved into nothing, revealing the face of the being stood before Leah for the first time. Or at least, how the figure saw her self.
“I, Robin, the Mistress of a thousand souls lost to time immemorial, carver of life and stealer of breath, the-”
She noticed Leah’s look, and coughed.
“Henceforth known as Robin, do bind my life to thee, and act in thine defence where required, and that of those of your life. My knowledge and body is thine, to protect you through thick and thin.”
Though Leah had planned to make a snide comment after such a pretentious line, she felt compelled to speak… well, if not formally, at least truthfully in response.
“Yeah, well, I, Leah, henceforth known as Leah, do swear to let you drink my blood, and mana as well I guess, so long as it doesn’t kill me, as long as you keep up your end of the bargain. And if you don’t, you’ll let Cassandra kill you. You don’t need to agree to that part, she’ll do it anyway, but I’m just putting it out there.”
Robin glared at Leah, who shrugged, and then the two of them felt a pull. There was no light, no fancy colour show to facilitate such a bond. Just a mental tug, and an understanding that if they both agreed to this, it was sealed, at least until they mutually agreed to separate from the pact. Leah, with no reason not to, fell towards the bond, and felt from the other side of it, Robin coming towards her. Just before the two of them met, the connection severed, and Leah was left, in the mental space between them, blinking.
“Uh… was that meant to happen?”
“It was been many a century since I have made a pact, but… yes, it is. It is quite… underwhelming, I agree.”
“So, we’re bonded now, to our word?”
“Indeed. You understand it as well as I do.”
Leah didn’t feel much different, in her opinion. She didn’t trust this person any more than she did before, yet, she had an inkling that what they had agreed to would be held up.
“So, you won’t hurt me, or my friends.”
“More than that. You are my blood, as far as I’m concerned, and I’ll be keeping you alive. You especially, for obvious reasons, but I agreed to keep those… lessers around.”
“Lets keep the talk of lessers between us, hmm? I can’t promise they’ll take to kindly to it.”
“Perhaps you should have thought of including that in our pact, child.”
Leah sighed, and released the mental bonds on Robin with a wave of her hand.
“Even when the agreement is fair, you managed to make it difficult.”
“My word, it is almost as if you know me!”
“I know your type too well, unfortunately. Well, at any rate, if we’re done here, maybe we should return to normal space, and explain the situation to the ones who are likely trying to kill you.”
“You raise a good point. It would seem that the elf woman is poised to end my life. At least as far as she thinks, at any rate.”
“You won’t hold it against her if she succeeds?”
“She will not. But I shall not, if she does.”
“Yes, I know, it would be null and void, our pact. If we are done, would you perhaps sever the connection?”
“Oh, right, yeah.”
With a wave, the two were separated, and time sped back up to its normal rate.
Cassandra’s sword, being driven down into the back of Robin, was pinched between thumb and forefinger, and turned aside. The vampire twisted and tossed the blade aside, before laying back on the ground, arms and legs splayed. She looked over to Leah, eyes barely visible through the bandages wrapping her body.
“If you would kindly remove the moonstone blade, child. It is quite irritating.”
Leah, noticing that her rapier was still impaled in the womans breast, hastily withdrew it. She noticed that no blood, or ichor, or anything at all in fact, remained on the blade, in spite of it being buried deep in the womans body.
Liam, catching on quicker that Cassandra, held her arm, and shook his head at her reproachful look. Her trust in him exemplified by her restraint, she looked between the two with him, the both of them wearing looks that begged to be put out of their misery. Robin seeming unwilling to do so, Leah took the bullet.
“So, long story short, we came to an agreement.”
“Really. In the space of, what, two seconds, where neither of you spoke.”
“Cass. Come on. You know I’m a, you know, psychomancer…”
Leah said the word uncomfortably, knowing that Cassandra had a problem with the concept. Which infuriated her, if she was being honest. It was just what Leah was, a part of her. How could she not accept that? How dare she? It wasn’t right, she should put a stop to this-
She felt a hand on her ankle. It was Robin, who merely touched her, not looking at the Magalyte Doll.
“Careful now, child. I see now what a fool I was to take you up on your pact, if you are so careless as to let magic overtake you.”
Leah realised, then, what was happening, and her mouth opened and closed, words unable to be formed. She spat out a few, in spite of her struggle.
“I- I didn’t mean- I-”
“Hush child. She will understand. And my tutoring will aid you. Fear not the power. Fear it not any longer.”
Cassandra looked down at the bandaged figure, still looking up at the sky, and back to Leah. She tilted her head, suspicion in her gaze, but her voice empathetic.
“It try to take you over again?”
“Don’t apologise. I’d be shocked if you didn’t struggle with it. Though…”
She kicked the ribs of Robin, who didn’t budge, to Cassandra’s annoyance.
“If this one wants to help, I’m assuming it was part of this… agreement you made? I’m guessing after you did the whole, mind mojo on it?”
“Her, thank you. I am a person, more so than you.”
Robin responded, her tone not changing despite her harsh words. Cassandra bristled, and Leah felt this was the moment to spill the whole story. Liam didn’t look like he would be able to hold back a truly rampaging Cassandra, and in fact, had enough curiosity on his face that he might not even notice. She sighed, and began to explain.