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“I am glad that the candidate you are considering is a man. Quite tactful of you, dear,” I tell Torran.

“Hmm,” Torran replies, apparently lost in thought.

I tsk and roll into the bedsheets so that my butt is covered. Torran blinks owlishly.

“Hmm? You were saying?”

Torran expertly dodges the pillow I throw at his head and chuckles as he sits on the bed. His tone switches from playful to half-serious.

“Yes, I am considering a man, though I cannot claim credit in this instance. Dvor ranks are overwhelmingly composed of men. Perhaps three-quarters of us serve Mars and not Venus, though I feel the need to point out that it is not a question of competence, but of culture.

“You see, we come and recruit from traditional societies in which the roles of the sexes are clearly delineated. The ownership and defense of the land that qualifies us is usually under the purview of men, though there are exceptions. Adapting to Western European and now American society has been… a challenging experience.”

“Oh,” I reply crestfallen, “I knew I was being too forward.”

“Nothing of the sort,” Torran chuckles as he moves next to me and tucks an errant strand of hair behind my ear, ”if anything, inviting a man to one’s chambers is a common occurrence back home. I was referring to you charging into danger then unloading musket after musket into the ranks of screaming invaders while clad in a custom-made armor that would intimidate a Tatar raider. That sort of thing.”

“I see,” I reply somewhat relieved, “your women do not fight?”

“Not really, no,” he replies with increasing amusement.

“How do they hunt then?” I ask.

“Many demand offerings, the satisfaction of having one’s prey brought to you by underlings can be a pleasure in itself. For others, the thrill comes from outmanoeuvring rivals and foes. Social confrontations often end with the loser insensate on a couch. They will later wake up with a severe case of anaemia. The spirit of the Hunt is respected and the satisfaction it brings, genuine.“

“I understand,” I say with a nod, “I still prefer my method, however.”

“I can tell.”

I narrow my eyes at my lover who shrugs helplessly. Well, he is not wrong.

“I enjoy our conversation, my star, though I fear we must continue at the party. I cannot afford to be late.”

“Yes, especially as one of the honored guests.”

 

A man entering the ballroom would think themselves transported to a fairy tale or a nightmare. Protestantism has seeped deeply into the cracks of American society and with it, a certain sobriety and disdain of ostentation. Successful people should have no need of splendor, for they ought to find happiness in God and hard work. Extravagance is discouraged.

Vampires have no such qualms.

The manor’s right-wing is packed with groups of men and women dressed in exquisite dresses as stylish as they are precious. Cadiz in martial jackets mingle with Rolands in warm tones while on the side, a band of Ekon clad in garish colors joke and carouse to their heart’s content. There is enough wealth on display to fund a small expedition.

The crowd has been here long enough for an interesting phenomenon of social decantation to split it into three distinctive and immiscible layers.

At the forefront, Courtiers socialize with each other, their entourage and loyal mortal families, the susurrus of their conversation providing a pleasant background to a talented string quartet. In this environment, politeness is an absolute rule. Rivals greet each other with veiled threats and smiles that do not reach their eyes. They exchange barbs and clever repartees with casual grace in an endless contest of wit, yet if anyone feels angered, they do not show it. Even the auras are hermetic and subdued as those who cannot control themselves were left behind.

A second layer consists of Vassals, Servants and Masters in small clusters bound by interest. While the younglings joust, these men and women plot. A word or a few gestures exchanged behind a fan seal the deal on some obscure transactions, the nature of which I can only guess at.

Beyond them, the third and last layer is also the thinnest, being host to a handful of lords and ladies, as well as their closest advisors. At these rarefied heights, the conversations turn to the mundane, or gossips. Indeed, deals worth the illustrious guests’ time could only be conducted behind closed doors. Behind them, an elevated platform on which the musicians play takes the furthest part of the room from the entrance.

After that, the illusion begins. Since the mirrors at the end of the ballroom only show half of the revellers, the reflection does not match reality and space seems to go on forever. It is as if the manor outstripped even the palaces of Rome or London, becoming a castle of mythic proportions.

We first make our way layer by layer, coming across Cadiz and Roland who salute me rather coldly, Ekon who salutes me too warmly and even new Lancasters who I assumed would salute me not at all. Their polite greetings surprise me until I remember that with Moor an outcast and their territory in shambles, they have a vested interest in starting anew.

After what seems like forever, we end up next to Sephare and Jarek. If I had been alone, etiquette would have demanded that I stayed with my peers. As Torran’s companion, however, I am expected to remain by his side. I do not mind it this time, as I expect my peers would have subjected me to a proper interrogation. Masters already know what will be announced of course, yet none would waste an opportunity to extract a few useful tidbits from the mouth of one of the lovers of tonight’s main actors.

Lost to contemplation, I allow Torran to guide me through the crowd until a lull gives me the opportunity to assuage my curiosity.

“Are there any vampire musicians around?” I whisper in Torran’s ear. Despite the guests’ delicate hearing, it is customary to act human. Besides, picking a voice among so many can be taxing.

“There are, but they do not perform in such functions. No self-respecting Courtiers would agree to be just background entertainment.”

“I see,” I answer while I watch Jarek and Suarez apparently agreeing to a spar.

“The mood among the Lords and Ladies is lighter than anywhere else.”

“Naturally. At this age most enmities ended with one or both opponents dead. You will find that after a while, even bitter foes can become friends. Especially when few of either survived. It is, as they say, lonely at the top.

“Here, look at the partygoers. Do you see those clear lines between Courtiers and Masters, then Master and Lords? This celebration is a microcosm of our society, with the proportions respected. Observe how few of us are left who call no man their Master. Many who volunteer to join our ranks swallow the bait of eternal life but there are no guarantees. The average spawn has as much chance of seeing his fiftieth birthday as if they had stayed human. It takes quite a bit of skill and just a little luck to be counted amongst the long-lived.”

“Worthy allies, too.”

“Quite right. Ah, it appears that the time has come.”

And indeed, the musicians pack up and leave the floor to Constantine himself. The Progenitor, flanked by Melitone who saved me from the torturer, climbs the two steps to the platform and faces the crowd with dignity. Torran gives me a last nod before joining Sephare and Jarek at his side. Silence is quick to come.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, my lords and ladies, thank you for joining in tonight,” our host begins calmly and in English, “tonight, I am pleased to announce that three new clans shall join our honored community. Please give a warm welcome to the representatives of clan Natalis, Hastings, and Dvor.”

We applaud politely. In formal occasions, vampires are announced by order of seniority, gender has no impact. I was surprised to learn that this cute slip of a girl is older than Torran. She looks and acts so human that I let my guard down.

“In the years to come,” Constantine continues, “Lord Jarek will head South West to join the Texians in Mexico. The Dvor territory will depend on the leanings of Lord Torran’s candidate and its location will remain confidential for safety reasons. As for the Hastings, their domain shall cover the District of Columbia.”

I almost gasp in surprise and behind me, more than a few low whispers erupt across the room.

Washington?

Constantine is giving the Hastings free reign of the capital? The Congress? Is he insane?

No wonder the negotiations took so long. He must have demanded quite a few guarantees. The Lancasters may control humans better than most but Hastings act human. They can eat. They can even stand the light of the sun! To give them access to this place…

I barely listen as Constantine speaks of the Accords, our great community yada yada. The Hastings are taking over the government of the nation, continuing centuries of Mask traditions. Checks and balances mean nothing when one has a finger in every pie. This is a momentous development.

The worst thing is that there is little I can do to change anything.

I need to secure my own den.

I need Illinois. I must negotiate with Constantine with this in mind. I should have asked for it after the trial together with the Progenitor’s blood. Oh well.

Constantine promptly concludes his speech. Afterward, Jarek, ever laconic, talks about a haven for his kind and of strengthening the bonds that bring us together. Sephare’s speech centers on development and independence while Torran’s is based on the values and cultural roots we must develop. I notice that all three stress independence and the creation of a society separate from the old one, even Torran who will eventually return to his homeland. It could be Constantine’s influence, or it could be that they all see the need of preparing against Mask and Eneru’s inevitable power grab, Jarek and Sephare for their own interest and Torran for that of his spawn.

At the end of the speeches, the three of them walk down and mix with everyone to answer their many questions. I have no interest in joining their territories, nor to be so close to so many people. I, therefore, decided to head outside through the French doors and on the promenade surrounding the manor’s inner garden. The fountain gurgles happily and the humdrum of conversations is replaced by the sounds of the night.

I breathe in relief, though my respite is short-lived.

As soon as I exit, I detect a familiar aura to my right.

“Tired out by so many big words? The lords can be condescending. By the way, condescending means they look down on you.”

“Melusine, I’m surprised that you are not in there kissing bottoms with that silver tongue of yours. Are you not tired of being homeless?” I reply to the Lancaster by my side.

Melusine wears a conservative emerald dress that covers her body but leaves the neck free. Her red hair is pulled up in an elaborate hairdo, and a single teardrop ruby sits at the edge of her cleavage.

“That’s rich coming from someone who lives in a brothel.”

“Above a brothel. Every time I opened the door and took a deep breath it reminded me of you.”

“Strange appetites you have. Speaking of which, when will you take my blood? I grow tired of this sword of Damocles on my neck.”

I planned on taking it at the moment I called upon her for a task. However, I can tell that the idea of owing me such an intimate favor irritates her. If I were vindictive, I would leave her now, yet something stops me. Melusine was my first rival. I used to call her a trollop every day in my head just for the strength to keep going. It feels like ages ago. In a way, it was.

I have changed much since then and so did she. The loss of her Vassal has made her less petulant, sharper. I no longer feel like taking revenge and I do not wish to make one more enemy.

“Right now, if you wish.”

Melusine inhales and blinks. She clearly did not expect me to agree so readily. However, she does not let the opportunity go to waste.

“Over here,” she says, and I follow her to an alcove in the promenade. She sits first with dignity and I join her promptly. At first, she will not meet my gaze, then all of a sudden she frowns and glares at me.

“Don’t kill me.”

“I won’t,” I reply, offended. I do know why she is like this though. It takes efforts to surrender oneself so completely and to do so to a rival is a terrifying prospect.

“Let’s get this over with,” she declares, and bares her neck to me, eyes closed. I lean against her. She has a pleasant scent and her hair tickles my nose. Her skin is very pale, and no pulse moves her blood.

I lick once to numb the pain, making her sigh in the process then bite down.

She is powerful with a little bit of that color that I associate with mages. To my surprise, memories start to surge.

Surrounded. I need to hold on just a bit longer so that the others can escape. The Lancaster vampires caught us off guard but if the children can reach the main base, not all is lost. I just need to hold the shield. Just need to hold. One more minute. Ten more seconds. Just… hold it together Melusine, you can do it. You can d…

Master is dead. She was found guilty of supporting the Jacobites against clan lines and got executed as a result. They put all her spawn in cages and made us watch. It hurt so much. Now we are being shipped to the New World. Only Lambert is truly by my side. The rest are either broken like Caitlynn or just plain useless like that Francoise sow.

I planned to kill Arthur on our third night together. Then we talked for a while, then we made love. He knows what I am because I naively revealed it to him. He said he did not care and now I have a Vassal. I think I like it. He makes me feel things I had long forgotten and for the first time in what has been forever, I did not wait for dawn hating myself.

The world has turned upside down. That Devourer twit proved herself cunning and merciful. She spared me so that I can take revenge on my kin. Nothing makes sense anymore, not since he died.

I don’t know what to do. I only know that I can’t return to England. There is nothing left there for me. An exile from the land of exiles would just be a laughingstock, a living cautionary tale just good enough to be bent over for the amusement of mortals seeking a thrill. Never. I will stay here and rebuild myself a life. Then, I’m going after Moor, that rancid, treacherous cu…

I pull back.

I did not take much strength and still her memories almost overwhelmed me. Both Melusine and I shudder and we move away from each other. We stay there for a while, me processing what I saw and her possibly recovering from the ordeal.

After a while, I wordlessly offer her a tissue and she wipes the little dark blood there is. I look around awkwardly.

The garden is now home to a few groups of guests seeking privacy. Now that the main event is done, the celebration has spilled over into the surroundings and no doubt into the bed-chambers as well. What marks me the most is the absence of guards. They would be everywhere back in the Dream, always visible to remind both employees and customers that security is enforced, with or despite them.

“Doesn’t look secure…” I comment idly.

“It is,” Melusine replies without emotion, “This is one of the most secured locales in the entire continent.”

“How so?” I ask with curiosity.

Melusine narrows her eyes once more, so I just wait to see if she is inclined to answer. After a while, she shrugs, her green dress slightly shifting on her white shoulders.

“I do not need to explain how this place is secured at night. During the day, the different guests’ security forces will secure both the valley and the manor. There is only one, very narrow way up. Anyone trying to infiltrate our base would have to slip by two hundred well-trained soldiers, four hundred now if we count every clan’s entourage. Those trying to force their way through would have to assault this chokepoint against well-equipped, well-trained and entrenched enemies.

“It is also common knowledge that Constantine has left many unpleasant surprises in the surrounding forests and the manor cliffs. Should someone succeed anyway, they would need to pass the vault doors leading to vampires’ slumbering places. Constantine wakes up quite early so they would have to contend through this as well. Finally, vampires living in the manor proper are to be evacuated to a secondary shelter at the first sign of trouble. Anyone still here at nightfall would be dead meat.

“That is not the manor’s main defense, of course. Our first and most important tool is intelligence. There are always signs of a great force gathering: moving people, stored powder or bought weapons. That is why the assault on the fortress thirty years ago took us off guard. It required a great deal of preparation and an insider’s help. Still, it failed spectacularly.”

“You know a lot,” I exclaim with genuine surprise. Melusine gives me a dismissive glare.

“This is always the first thing you should check when moving to a new den.”

“I was… otherwise engaged,” I retort with a scowl.

Melusine closes her eyes and shivers, acknowledging my point. It appears that she too experienced the tender care of hostile hospitality.

“Fair enough. And now I will take my leave of you, Devourer. I hope your peasant palate enjoyed the refined taste of me, for you shall never enjoy its match again.”

“True, it had a unique blend of strawberry and entitlement,” I fire back.

Melusine hisses but it lacks bite. Our truce holds.


There it is, Master’s gift. It was delivered earlier today by an uneasy Salim who held it at arm’s length as if it were a snake waiting to bite. I can tell from the packaging that this is a book, which makes it the second precious tome I have received in a few days, which absolutely means that I am a cultural and sophisticated vampire and absolutely not the brute Melusine implies I am.

Nope.

I place the heavy bundle on my desk next to its companion.

Sinead gifted me with this, a sublimely designed, leather-bound affair dyed deep blue with its title printed boldly in golden letter, as a reward for our short escapade on the seas. I find some of his methods wasteful, but there is no denying the expertise with which he sealed the fate of so many in so short a time.

Likaean, a Primer.

Despite the laconic title, this really is a one-of-a-kind tome of untold value. Its monetary worth itself is likely more than the entire Dream, not that I ever intend to sell it. If knowledge of the book’s existence were to spread, it would cause no end of trouble for me.

Sivaya wrote this specifically for me. It is a complete guide to their language including pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary and even idioms. I do not plan on visiting their land ever, especially if Sinead is the norm, and yet beyond the purely cultural value, there is also another one that relates directly to spellcasting.

As Loth explained to me long ago, there are three elements to a spell: the symbols, the will and the fuel. In most cases, all three elements are required to bend reality to one’s will, though I am sure that the most powerful casters out there can do without the symbol part.

The caster’s essence provides the energy needed for the working, visible as aura. Essence stems from the soul and though its energies can temporarily be depleted, they always return, unless one is robbed of their own will. I have heard of external energy sources and Loth even experimented with an electrum-based receptacle at some point, however they are extremely inefficient and one needs essence to start the process anyway.

The will of the caster is the beginning and the end of any magical process. It guides the energies and transforms them to suit the purpose of their master. It is that will that alters the world and momentarily breaks the laws of physics, chemistry, and God. The more experienced the will, the more potent the spells cast and the more the mage can achieve before exhaustion inevitably takes hold. Unfortunately for us, our sad reality can only be pushed and bullied so far before she rolls back, smothering the offender beneath her ponderous yoke.

To move her thick molasses, symbols are a vital component of the spellcaster’s arsenal. It is also by far the most versatile. Spells themselves are mostly incomprehensible. We know fire. We also know through the work of Lavoisier and others of oxidation and a more scientific approach to it. Spellcasters still cannot quite tell how their magic transforms this fire from a natural phenomenon into an almost living entity that chases after its prey like a bloodhound. The causes and effects are more or less understood, but the why remains beyond a veil of strangeness that no experiment can pierce.

As such, symbols can bridge the gap between that alien phenomenon and our primitive minds. They act as a translator between the will and the form, or a bridge perhaps. In any case, symbols are incredible and many systems were developed over the years by the countless cabals, covens and cults gracing our history to assist casters in their projects.

Another element of symbols is one’s relationship to it. For a man who has spent his life amongst the arid dunes of the Sahara, Finnish runes of reindeers and Aurora Borealis would be of little use. His mind cannot link symbols and his own ideas, and so that alphabet would be a hindrance. No, one’s code needs to match one’s mindset to be of optimal use, therefore the choice of which system to use is determined by affinity. Of this system, the most basic element is the language.

In this regard, my sire favors his mother’s system and uses Akkad when he throws his terrible curses. I planned on doing the same since Akkad is our sacred tongue. Now, however, I have a whole new option.

I am not a Likaean by any means and yet I feel a deep connection to Sinead, their prince. Deception, ruthlessness and the lust for freedom are values that he defends and that I sympathize with. Likaean is a secret language and although its usage may spark some unfortunate bouts of curiosity, using it to cast spells is far from the smoking gun that the book would be. I am willing to take the risks, for secrecy and for one other reason.

Likaean is a magical tongue.

I mean it quite literally. I whispered “sharrar”, their word for darkness, and I felt shadows creeping at the edges of the room. The whispered consonants slithered in the corners like smoky imps and drank the light greedily, leaving the room dimmer. If this is how life works in the land of the Likaean, I almost wish I could travel to the court of Blue and feast my eyes on the incredible things I could see there. A talented gardener could simply sing flowers to life, or a warrior could scream his enemies into bloody pieces. Incredible.

I am giddy at the possibilities, especially now that I have more time to spend on personal projects.

My smile falters when I return my attention to the unopened package.

Nirari’s gift.

After a moment of hesitation, I tear off the paper and realize my mistake. I do not hold a book, but a book container. The metallic rectangle is engraved with runes of protection and containment. A circular lock was placed where a title would be, the key already engaged.

The key itself is no standard work. It is a circle of silver and onyx without embellishments.

Ominous, to say the least.

I rotate the mechanism and hear a click. The lock opens and a powerful aura submerges me.

Blood.

Power.

Death.

The aura is intoxicating and heady. TREASURE. Precious and poisoned.

Then, the moment passes and the aura diminishes until it is merely a trace, something that stays in the background.

From the unorthodox box, I retrieve a tome. The piece is unadorned and old beyond measure. The edge of the cover is slightly cracked and mysterious dark stains mar the otherwise yellow surface. I caress it. Smooth, like skin. Some sort of vellum?

Unbidden, memories surface of the vision I had back at the vampire fortress an eternity ago, when I drew Nirari’s essence and stabilized my existence. It was the first time I saw Semiramis and she was inscribing runes on human skin.

Ah.

I am now the proud owner of an entire manuscript written on the literal back of mortals. Tacky. At least it looks well preserved.

I open the first page to see only “Spellbook” written in Akkad by an elegant hand, and ignore the ominous feeling I have to leaf through its contents. The first part is tightly packed text while the rest is page after page of blood magic spells described in excruciating details. I am not familiar with the rune system he uses but I can tell at a glance that they are complex. Once more I am reminded of the past, specifically the spell my sire cast against the army that opposed his return and the pale imitation I used against Lambert while drunk with power.

This is an incredible gift, though I have little use for it right now. I can tell at a glance that the level of difficulty of the average spell is high. This is not a beginner’s book, and it will take me a while to reach the level where I can use any of the spells contained within.

I have so much to do.

Every night, I practice with Aisha’s card deck, with the only notable effect being that sometimes when I fight, I can tell what my sparring partner will do next. Every night, I also train and educate a grateful Urchin. Mock battles and fights with lords and masters are also common and allow me to experience a variety of styles and techniques, something that I have a great need for. Finally, I spend time with my friends, with Torran, shopping, at the opera, etc. The distractions are many and I am happy to indulge after being in hiding for so long. I simply haven’t had the time to invest into learning magic. The irony of an immortal out of time does not escape me.

That is fine. I have much to do, including drinking Constantine’s blood and securing a territory. After this is done, I will dedicate myself to magic. The mystical arts cannot be pursued lightly, after all.

I spend half an hour studying Likaean and writing observations in a brand-new notebook when a knock at the door distracts me.

“Yes, Solveig?”

“One of Lady Sephare’s maids is here, milady. Her mistress would like to invite you for tea.”

“Tea?”

“That is what she said.”

I wonder what she wants.

“We shall visit her momentarily.”

Solveig departs and I stand up. I am wearing one of my latest acquisitions, a comfortable yet elegant interior dress in light blue. It will suffice. I walk out and follow the maid to Sephare’s suite, which happens to be in the opposite wing. We enter a richly decorated reception room even more grand than mine in tones of white and pink. Lady Sephare herself sits at a table with a pair of plates, a teapot and cutlery. Pastries are piled on a strange contraption consisting of several plates set against a metal frame.

“Ariane! I am so delighted that you could make it on such a short notice. Come in, come in!”

Sephare is also blonde with blue eyes, yet we could hardly be any more different. Her colors are paler, for starters, so that meeting her gaze is like staring at the surface of a frozen lake. She is also a dainty, delicate thing while I am more, well, solid. She looks like a precious slip of a girl that belongs at court or in some seaside house dying of pneumonia, and her cheerful and seemingly awkward personality makes her appear more human. It is, of course, a ploy, and yet I find myself unconsciously lowering my guard. I have to remind myself not to give in too easily.

“Thank you for your invitation, Lady Sephare,” I reply as I sit. I notice that she placed a teacup in front of me.

“Would you care for a cup of my own special blend? It would make me so glad even if you only wet your lips.”

“I would be delighted.”

“Lovely! All those conferences are so boorish. Why can’t we all discuss around a good cup, I ask? Here, shall I be mother?”

Hm, what?

“I beg your pardon?” I ask, alarmed.

“Oh, silly me, you are not familiar with this idiom, haha. I meant to ask you if I should serve the tea.”

“Oh! Yes, please, if you wouldn’t mind.”

I was really worried here for a second, and how does serving tea have anything to do with a mom?! I am suffering from culture shock ten meters away from my own bed-chamber. What in the world?

Unaware of my inner turmoil, Sephare serves us both with painting-worthy elegance, each gesture as graceful as the next. Soon, the cup in front of me is piping hot with amber liquid and exudes a delicate fragrance.

I pick it up and pretend to sip it, letting a few droplets spread on my tongue. My sense of taste is completely muted for anything other than blood yet my nose still manages to pick up hints of black tea though slightly more gentle than what I am used to, rose, as well as something else I do not recognize.

It is pretty nice, I suppose. It smells more fragrant than what I have ever experienced, at least.

Sephare lets me appreciate her tea in silence while she helps herself to a slice of chocolate tart. Her tiny fork bites into the tender filling with surgical precision.

“Oh, look, it’s raining. I suppose we were lucky to have a clear sky for so long. Not that I mind it when it gets a bit dreary. Best time to stay home with a good book.”

We do a bit of small talk mostly focused on the weather. I let her take her time as I assume that she will eventually get to the point and I am soon proven correct.

“You must have guessed, by now, that I requested the pleasure of your company with an agenda. It has not escaped my notice that we are barely acquainted and yet I find myself compelled to call upon you in my hour of need.

“You see, I left England with too limited an entourage for the task I shall soon endeavour to complete. I, therefore, request your assistance in taking over Washington,” she announces calmly.

I hesitate, then decide that I have little to use in explaining my reservation.

“I am honored by your trust, and yet I find myself already bound to another task.”

“The safety of Lord Torran hmmm?” she asks with a knowing look and a sly smile. If I could, I would be blushing now.

“It so happens that Torran will travel to Carolina to assist with the making of a soul weapon quite soon. During that time, he will be protected by the Cadiz, an honored guest of Lord Suarez himself. I am sure I can borrow you for a couple of weeks. Oh, and I was led to understand that you have an ongoing deal with Constantine? Helping me would count towards completing the second task.”

I grit my teeth not to react to that. This would mean that as soon as the first task, Torran’s protection, is completed, I can taste the blood of a progenitor.

“There is something I would like to ask,” I say before I hesitate. Sephare lifts a delicate brow which I take as an invitation to go on.

“I would like your support when I claim a territory.”

Her delicate mouth forms a perfect ‘o’.

“Our land grab has whet your appetite, I see. I would be willing to support your claim under one condition.”

“Name it.”

“An alliance. I am an old hand at tasks that require a light touch, yet sometimes I find that a more… direct approach can bear fruits faster.”

“You want an attack dog.”

“Goodness me, no, nothing so crass! What I want is a friend, and what I need is someone with the disposition to act decisively when the occasion calls for it, and to exercise restraint otherwise. You are that person. Sit me on my throne and I shall get you yours. Do we have a deal?” she asks, and I feel myself weighted and judged by her penetrating gaze.

Caution, Ariane, caution.

“I agree in principle, though I must remind you that a clan already placed me under their dominion once and you know how this ended. I will be a valuable partner. I will not be a servant.”

“Quite so, my dear, quite so. I am sure we will accomplish great things together…”

I leave shortly after this with the uncomfortable feeling that I committed myself perhaps a bit too quickly. As they say, one door opens and ten others close, and yet I feel like by standing without making allies, I would not go anywhere. Someone as savvy as Lady Sephare is a good place to start.

On my way back to my room, I come across one of Lord Ceron’s retainers. He bows as I pass and whispers:

“Have a care not to be too hasty milady, perhaps consider why she left in the first place.”

I look back only to see him walking without pause. So, it has begun. Politics. And this time I will not be able to Charm my way to success.

 

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A note from Mecanimus

Aaaah politics.

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Mecanimus

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