Science can be a cruel and merciless master. Many grad students have been lost in the sea of unpublishable papers, and many full time researchers have been devoured by the ever-consuming beast that is writing grant applications. For all the many horrors and hardships which await any who are foolish enough to dedicate their lives to such a unrelenting master though, so to are there the sweet moments which pay off the struggle and strife with delightful new discoveries.
“This is incredible,” Balegritz said a full minute after the experiment began.
“It’s not possible,” Hermeziz said. “You can’t have made this. But it’s here. Or maybe I’ve finally snapped and this is a delusion I’ve conjured as sanity departs.”
“It’s not a delusion,” Illuthiz said. “Or no. It’s definitely a delusion. Give me your slice and I’ll save you from it.”
“Absolutely not,” Hermeziz said, holding the half finished slice of pie away from the others. “I love you more than my own soul but I will fight you for this.”
“And that would be why we brought two pies rather than just the slices,” Lost Alice said.
“You know it would be this good?” Balegritz asked, exercising all of his willpower to savor the delicacy on his plate a single bite at a time.
“Nope,” Lost Alice said, looking to the two [Cooks] for confirmation. “I mean, I know Hammy Burglar and Vinyard are amazing [Cooks] but none of us were sure if that would translate properly for your people.”
“Our physiologies are surprisingly different,” Illuthiz said. “From what we’ve talked about with Lady Midnight and a few others, none of you seem to have a Pralac system, or a anything like a Enzodrine gland. By [Gothmorn] standards, your blood pressures seem to be dangerously low and you subsist on so few calories a [Gothmorn] would require hospitalization after a week of living like you do.”
“But we can eat the same things that they can,” Hermeziz said. “It’s fascinating in terms of mapping out a section of the map of life’s landscape no one had pursued before.”
Balegritz was tempted to step in. Hermeziz had found one of his favorite topics. It was one of the few things that drew him out of his shell around strangers. The problem was putting him back in there before he drove his audience away entirely.
Except in this case he seemed to have found a ready listener.
Three of them in fact.
“I want to compare notes with you on the physiology of your people,” Lost Alice said. “And I want to get some of the [Half-Giants] in on that conversation too.”
“Oh, I haven’t spoken with them yet either,” Hermeziz said. “Do you know if their metabolisms are closer to ours or yours?”
“My metabolism is explicitly magical,” Lost Alice said. “[Vampires], at least ones of my [Bloodline], can’t exist without ambient magic in the environment. Not for long at any rate. I’m guessing you mean the species I was before I became a [Vampire] though, in which case, I don’t know. Up until recently, I didn’t have both access to [Half-Giants] and the expertise required to understand what the variations in their physiology might mean.”
Balegritz felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to find Illuthiz beside him with a second piece of pie.
“Let him have his fun,” she said. “More pie for us.”
“I’m so glad you like it,” Hammy Burglar the [Cook] said. “We were afraid that because you need different nutrients than we do, your taste buds might be too far removed from ours for us to make sense of what spices would agree with you.”
“We didn’t have anything to model the flavor on, so it was a lot of guesswork,” Vinyard the [Cook] said. “But we were able to deconstruct some of your food bars to make sure it was at least safe and vaguely palatable.”
“This is more than vaguely palatable,” Balegritz said, through a mouth stuffed full of pie.
“You’ve precisely recreated the Korzon Berry Pie recipe from Gardels,” Illuthiz said.
“That’s one of the best restaurants on our world,” Balegritz explained to cut through the confusion that was creeping across Hammy and Vinyard’s faces. “The waiting list for it got so long that people were booking reservations a decade out.”
“How do you know what its food tastes like then?” Vinyard asked.
“They were having riots outside the front door every night when they opened and they got tired of that so they bought out the entire block they were on and turned it into one large venue. I think it seats something like fifty thousand people or something ridiculous like that.”
“And their food still’s good?” Hammy asked.
“There are claims that its better now,” Illuthiz said. “Their food science division has made some revolutionary discoveries, and since they import in such incredible quantities now, they’re able to create mixtures that achieve consistent flavors that do precisely what they want them too.”
“People say it’s ridiculous what they’ve done and that food preparation doesn’t work how they claim it does,” Balegritz said. “They say everything Gardels does has prove that magic exists.”
“Maybe you’ve proven otherwise though?” Illuthiz asked. “Or did the creation of this require mystical abilities?”
“There weren’t any spells used in making the pies,” Hammy said. “I’m not sure that magic wasn’t involved though.”
“In what sense or manner?” Illuthiz asked between bites of pie.
“Being able to cook like this?” Vinyard said. “None of us could make anything like this a couple of days ago.”
“Some of that can be chalked up to the leveling system here,” Hammy said. “Wizards learn new spells by leveling and I’ve heard them saw it’s like the new incantation just pops into their heads the moment they level or spend their bonus points.”
“The same is true for warrior-types,” Vinyard said. “Except there it’s not necessarily spells, but abilities. Things they just know to do. Even things that must draw on magic to work.”
“For example?” Balegritz asked.
“An [Assassin] isn’t a spellcasting class,” Hammy said. “They’re a [Melee DPS] but they have abilities like [Strike from the Shadows] which lets them step into one shadow and out another one. It’s clearly a magical ability. It even has the same visual effect as the spell [Shadow Step], and yet it just pops up in the head the moment they level.”
“I see,” Illuthiz said, her professional curiosity overcoming her apparent need for more pie. “So you are surmising something similar may be true for your culinary skills?”
“It’s possible,” Hammy said. “I think at this point, we don’t know how any of this really works, and our belief that some classes use magic and the rest don’t doesn’t quite line up with what we’ve been seeing.”
“Which means more of you might have access to magic than you know,” Balegritz said. “And you might be able to do a lot more with it than you have been.”
“More of us might have access to magic,” Hammy said.
“That’s the other part of the experiment we had in mind,” Vinyard said. “Our hypothesis is that you have magic too, and we think we know how to prove it.”
Seeing the same excitement, the exact same excitement, on the face of two entirely different people was disconcerting. Except, Claire reminded herself, they were not entirely different people. Tessa and Glimmerglass were as much two different facets of the same person as she and Lady Midnight were. Perhaps even moreso, since Tessa and Glimmerglass had shared a single body for a while according to the story Rip had relayed of their adventurers in the [Ruins of Heaven’s Grave].
“This is amazing! There are other people who are divided like us! I wasn’t even sure that was possible,” Tessa said.
“I was afraid that might be one of the origin points for the [Disjoined],” Glimmerglass said.
“We don’t know for sure yet that it is possible,” Pete said. “All we know at the moment is that there’s someone who’s claiming to be Wrath Raven. Not that they’re the real deal.”
“That should be easy enough to work out,” Glimmerglass said. “The message didn’t give you anywhere to meet her, or any other contact information besides her mail address, right?”
“Yeah. It’s weird. I’m still not seeing her when I look at my friend’s list or in any of the channels I know she should be,” Claire said.
“Which doesn’t seem like a great sign,” Pete said.
“Eh, there’s a bunch of possible explanations for that,” Tessa said. “Like Glimmerglass said though, you’ve got her mail address, so write back to her. Ask where she is and where she’d want to meet.”
“I understand being reluctant about reaching out,” Glimmerglass said. “If Tessa and Pillowcase hadn’t turned out to be real, I think the loneliness of missing them might have been overwhelming.”
“I haven’t felt that yet though,” Claire said. “If anything I feel a bit guilty about not looking for Wrath sooner.”
“And for being content as we were,” Lady Midnight said. “It was comfortable to not have the weight of the world on our shoulders like I’m sure Wrath Raven has.”
“She was part of the fighting against the Consortium I take it?” Tessa asked.
“I don’t know,” Lady Midnight paused and when she resumed it was Claire who spoke. “With how I always played her, I can’t imagine she’d hold back from something like that but…I don’t know, what if she’s not like that?”
“Then you’ll learn more about yourself than you imagined you would,” Glimmerglass said, placing a hand on Lady Midnight’s forearm.
It was irksome when one’s lieutenant was correct. Vixali felt marvelously restored, the fresh blood coursing through her veins a gift potent enough to allow her to face the mad beasts that awaited her above.
Pausing at the door, she cast a glance back to Qiki who was sprawled on the sleeping furs, lost in a contented sleep with the most infuriating smirk on her pale lips.
Vixali didn’t have it in herself to even pretend that she might order Qiki to rise and atten her. Sleep was the minimum reward her second in command was due.
Locking the door when she left, Vixali ascended the winding stair to from the [Great Hall’s Crypt] to the [Hall of Remembrance] which was directly above it.
Under normal circumstances, the [Hall of Remembrance] was a quiet refuge for those seeking to pray for the souls of ancestors or others who had passed before them. The room Vixali entered bore no resemblance to such a space though.
“The Queen has returned!” an [Adventurer] declaimed the moment Vixali stepped through the door to the crypts.
“We await Her Dread Majesty’s Dark Wishes,” another [Adventurer] announced. There was an undercurrent of amusement and insincerity in the words that rankled Vixali’s nerves.
The [Vampires] in the room were split into three main groups. The first, and perhaps least welcome, were Vixali’s coterie. Her people were her responsibility. She knew them and was charged with their care and preservation.
Or in other words, she was eminently familiar with just how terrible they were and yet was still compelled by her position to treat them like their weren’t colossally selfish and self destructive menaces to her sanity.
The second group were the [Adventurers] who, for whatever hellish reasons, had come to their profession after dying and rising as one of the [Undead]. Not Vixali’s [Blood Line] of [Vampire] but one of the similar [Types].
The [Vampiric] [Adventurers] had decided that she was a “real [Vampire]” and they therefor owed her their loyalty. No. That is incorrect. Not their loyalty. Their fealty. As if she was a [King] handing out peerages and knighthoods.
She knew many of them treated their situation as some sort of elaborate game. To them, she was no more than an element of make believe, someone to join them in their play and delusions.
While that was mildly insulting, Vixali nonetheless felt she understood them. With the world being upended, refusing to take their situation completely seriously was a reasonable response in her eyes.
The last group however was quite mad.
[Adventurers] who were in no sense [Vampires] but who wanted to “cosplay” as one of the [Undead] in Vixali’s court?
Pretend [Vampires]? Blood bags with delusions of grandeur?
Or agents of the [Hungry Shadow]?
Vixali had been convinced that there had to be some kind of sinister plot behind their mortals who wished to pretend to be [Vampires] and had assumed that the creature which destroyed her home was the most likely mastermind behind such a scheme.
The more she interacted with the [Vampire] wannabes though, the more cause she had to doubt the assessment that there was anything like a mastermind behind their actions.
Or perhaps even a mind at all.
“Hey, if I jump from the ceiling, I bet I can splatter all over everyone,” one of the wannabes said. “Then you can all lick each other clean. It’ll be so hot!”
Nope. No minds there at all.