Vixali felt the world moving, and as always, it was moving against her.
“The [Faceless Watchers] have returned,” Qiki said, gliding silently to the edge of the precipice Vixali was dangling her legs over.
“That was quick. I take it the daylighters didn’t put up much of a fight? Did the invaders lose any of their forces?” Vixali asked.
She wasn’t tempted to jump. The bottomless darkness below her was a mystery, and mysteries were delightful things, but she wasn’t tempted to jump. The impact at the bottom would be disastrous. Shattered bones, jellified organs, and, worst of all, precious blood splattered everywhere. It was far too great a cost for an uncertain return. So she wasn’t tempted to jump. Even if it would take her away from the headache of herding the swarm of chaotic evil drama lamas that was her coterie.
“Ok, maybe I’m a little tempted,” she mumbled, probably too low for Qiki to hear.
“I could give you a shove if that would help?” Qiki offered – because of course her vampiric senses were just as good as Vixali’s.
Vixali suppressed a grumble. Self sabotage seemed like such a waste when there were plenty of others willing to do that work for her.
“Before I overthrow you and claim all your power and glory for my own, mwahaha, you’ll want to hear this though,” Qiki said. ”The invaders didn’t lose some of their forces. They lost them all!”
“What!” Vixali was on her feet and peering into Qiki blood red eyes in an instant. It was usually easy to tell when a vampire was lying. All you had to listen for was when their mouths made noise, but Qiki, Vixali had to admit, wasn’t exactly like the others. Vixali couldn’t trust her completely, but that was because Vixali couldn’t trust anyone completely. With Qiki, she could rest comfortable in the knowledge that if Qiki tried to kill her, Qiki would do the job right. It would be quick, it would be final, and Vixali would never see it coming. For a [Vampire Queen] that wasn’t a bad end to look forward too.
“They’re gone,” Qiki said. “According to the [Faceless Watchers] none of them survived.”
“I can’t believe the daylighter’s defended their town,” Vixali said. “How many of theirs were lost? And who pulled their defense together? It had to be someone we missed right?”
“Well, see, that’s the thing,” Qiki said, shrugging, “They didn’t. [Sky’s Edge] is gone. Like ashes and dust, burned to the ground if it’s not still on fire, levels of gone.”
“They killed themselves?” Vixali asked, knowing that didn’t sound right at all. Daylighters were sensitive about the whole ‘death’ thing, even the ones who could pop back from it easier than a vampire could.
“Nope. A [Servant of Fire] showed up,” Qiki said.
Vixali fixed her with an incredulous glare. “Explain.”
Qiki, seeing that she’d pushed her queen about as far as she could in terms of dribbling out information, broke into a longer tale, explaining the fighting that had occurred in [Sky’s Edge], the reasonably valiant but obviously doomed effort that had been made to defend the town, and the unforeseen arrival of a creature that was far beyond any monster which roamed the overlands near [Sky’s Edge].
“It seems like the daylighters were working with the [Servant of Fire]. Thanks to its arrival the last defenders in the town were able to escape and join the rest of the inhabitants.”
“And where did they go?” Vixali asked, willing to wager the last drop of her immortal blood that she could guess the answer.
“Here,” Qiki said. “They’re here. All of them.”
“In the old [Star Spawn] camp?” The [Star Spawn] had been an ad hoc gathering of quasi-octopodal creatures from beyond the stars who had come in search of fresh victims to sacrifice to their strange appetites. They’d enjoyed a brief period of dominance over a minor portion of the [Ruins of Heaven’s Grave] but then Vixali’s coterie had needed a place to settle.
Vixali missed the [Star Spawns]. They’d been delicious. Almost like sea food and with none of the vague guilt that came from eating someone who looked like a person.
“And the others know about this?”
“Officially no. The [Faceless Watchers] reported to me directly, and I came straight to you.”
“But they all overheard.” Vixali didn’t need to guess. It was what happened every time the [Faceless Watchers] returned from the field because the [Faceless Watchers] always returned with interesting news and if there was one thing a pack of vampires isolated in a dungeon craved more than blood, it was information. “How many of them have violated the boundaries to ‘get a peek’ at our new neighbors?”
“At this point?”
“Right. All of them. Of course.”
Vixali had tried stabbing her subjects when they upset her. Vampires had a different relationship with mortal wounds that most other creatures did, but a sword through the face was unpleasant no matter how well you could regenerate from it. She’d eventually given up the practice once it became clear that she was spending more time cleaning her clothes than her subjects were spending regretting the choices they’d made which lead to their impalement.
Tossing them off the precipice was tempting too, except that creatures who could shapeshift into bats tended to suffer fatal falls only rarely.
Descending as a bat was an option for Vixali as well of course, except she knew her own luck. If there was anywhere a magic-canceling portal was going to be hiding, somewhere down in the stygian depths below her was a prime candidate. Her predecessor had been lost when he forgot that the world hated him and was determined to see him properly dead not matter how unlikely or absurd the tools it was forced to use to bring that about.
“Is there any chance they’ll limit themselves to ‘just peeking’?” Vixali asked.
“Probably. For a little while at least. There’s a lot of daylighters there, and they did survive a fight with the invaders, and they do, apparently, know a [Servant of Fire]. So all of that should give your subjects at least a little pause,” Qiki said. “Say five minutes or so?”
“When you put it like that, I’m tempted to wait another six minutes before we join them.”
“In six minutes, there’s the outside chance that you won’t have any subjects left,” Qiki said. “Well aside from me.”
“I know. Delightful isn’t it?”
“I feel compelled to point out that without subjects, you will have a derth of expendable meat shields to place between your self and those looking to drive a stake through your everything.”
“And I do so enjoy being unpunctured. Very well, I accept your wise council my dear [Castellan].”
“So shall we go ‘peek’ too then?” Qiki asked.
“Most certainly not,” Vixali said. “A [Queen] must arrive in style.”
Tessa felt Pillowcase’s hand reach her weapon, but fought the urge back, despite the small army of apex predators which stood before her. It wasn’t an easy urge to quash though. When faced with several dozen long fanged, and red eyed people all dressed as though competing for the title of “More Goth Than Thou”, it would have been only natural to be on edge. What pushed on Tessa’s buttons with particular force though were the sounds the vampires were making.
They were hungry. And angry.
That didn’t get better when they saw Pillowcase and Lost Alice appear.
“These must be the leaders they spoke of,” a small but particularly deadly looking one said.
Tessa turned to glance at the vampire who spoke and felt a vice lock around her gaze. The [Vampire Queen] didn’t look much different than the rest of her subjects. It was only in her posture and her eyes.
Where her subjects had crimson eyes of liquid hate, the [Queen’s] were the doorway to immortality. Pillowcase was shield against enchantments, but the force of the [Vampire Queen’s] gaze acted on a deeper level than any simple spell. In her, some older and less tamed power lay.
Power such as Tessa had always needed.
Power, intimacy, and connection to a greater whole. What Tessa had always craved.
Power she could have with just a sip, just a taste, just a kiss.
“Ok, enough of that,” Lisa said, stepping slightly forward.
Her words fractured the fascination that had gripped Tessa. It was a strangely sad experience. The promise in the [Vampire Queen’s] eyes had been so compelling, that it’s loss was like waking from a wonderful dream into a dismal reality.
“How curious,” Vixali said. “Another [Queen]? Or, no. You’re something else?”
“You could say that,” Lost Alice, and it was definitely Lost Alice rather than Lisa, said.
“How disappointing,” Vixali said peering at Alice with a sort of puzzled fascination. “I can’t make you one of mine.”
“And I won’t have you as mine,” Lost Alice said, her smile a promise of mayhem under restraint.
Vixali’s eyes narrowed as she evaluated the rogue vampire standing before her.
“No, you won’t. That bond is already taken, isn’t it?”
“I take it we’re not fighting?” Rip asked, indelicately disrupting the oblique dance of smug knowingness the two seemed to be enjoying.
“Fighting?” Vixali asked and several of her coterie tensed. To Tessa’s eyes they were a bit too eager to hear the answer. “That was certainly not our intention in greeting you. We merely seek to welcome you and learn if the invaders will be pursuing you to this fastness?”
And to eat them if Tessa and the others were too weak to prevent it. It didn’t need to be said. It also seemed clear that that the inverse was true though and that so long as the refuges from [Sky’s Edge] had sufficient protection, the vampires would leave them in peace. That didn’t fit with vampire legends, but it did make sense for a predator species. For all their toughness, vampires weren’t not completely immortal and a determined group of humans could end them permanently. Predators do not persist when faced with opposition like that. They need weakness in their prey or the odds will catch up with them sooner rather than later.
“I’m sure our leader will be delighted to discuss things with you,” Alice said. Except her voice had shifted back and as she glanced over to Tessa, Tessa knew Lisa had been quite serious as to her threat.
“Is this not one of the invaders?” Vixali asked.
“No,” Tessa said. “I’m rather definitely not with them.”
“Fascinating. No blood in you at all, and yet there is life there, and something else as well,” Vixali said. “You are quite an enigma.”
“Thank you,” Tessa said. She knew she couldn’t play the mystery game as well as Lost Alice could, but taking care with the information she volunteered seemed wise.
“Perhaps you can clear up another enigma for me then?” Vixali asked. “We couldn’t help but notice that the town near here seems to be…missing? Or burning. It’s hard to tell.”
“Oh, it’s pretty much gone,” Tessa said. “For now. We’re still deciding if and where we’ll rebuild.”
Tessa had no idea if the future of [Sky’s Edge] had been discussed at all but it seemed a safe claim to make.
“And what destroyed it?” Vixali asked. “Was it the invaders?”
“No, that was our friend Darren,” Tessa said. “He was targeting the Consortium’s forces but he’s a bit indiscriminate when he’s drowning things in lava.”
That drowning in lava would probably be enough to permanently kill a vampire was something that occurred to Tessa before she included that detail.
“You have powerful friends,” Vixali said.
“This is a good place to have allies,” Tessa said. “Especially with the [Consortium of Pain] looking to conquer or enslave anyone with interesting abilities.”
“Or valuable body parts,” Lost Alice said.
Pillowcase knew that [Vampire Blood] was a potent [Alchemy] material, while [Vampire Fangs] were essential in several [Bonecrafting] creations, and [Vampire Hearts] were part of several very useful [Enchantments].
When view as threats, the vampires in front of her were a significant problem. Far more than she or her team could manage on their own. Except, they weren’t alone, and when viewed as a collection of salable components, the vampires began to look very lucrative to find indeed.
Vixali seemed to come to the same understanding as a look of concern passed over her face.
“Perhaps we should ally together then,” she said.
“I imagine that will be agreeable,” Tessa said. “We seem to be collecting allies at the moment.”
“In that case there is another you may want to collect as well,” Vixali said. “Have your heard of the [Lord of Storms] whose [Cloud Castle] is near here?”
Pillowcase hadn’t but Tessa had.
The [Lord of Storms] wasn’t a [King] or a [Raid Boss], they were one of the [Gods] whose death had caused the [Fallen Kingdoms] to fall.