Daaaaaang. 3400 words today. I love it when that happens. 🙂 I kinda fell off the main story, but I also kinda needed to. There’s been a subplot brewing in my NaNo since JJ and Al entered the scene, and I really needed to know more about it before I could proceed.
Enter Ash. She’s not got a damned thing to do with my NaNo, but she’s pretty well entrenched in the subplot. This is the first time I’ve gotten more about *LBB’s organization than the quiet hints that it exists. It’s a big, disorganized mess with nothing resembling flow, but I got two very important things done today. One, I learned more about how LBB’s set up works, including the fact that those in it call it The House, or the House of Blood, whichever (I think they’re two separate things, but I’m not sure yet), and that there are things in it called Shadows, and newly-mades (vampires), as well as shapeshifters and talented humans.
Two, I found Kestrel. She’s a character of Cait’s that cropped up last night and was sort of adrift in the nothingness, and the character I had in answer was absolutely no help (remember the “No scrubs” girls? He’s from that neighborhood). Apparently Ash knows Kestrel, so maybe now Cait and I can work at her story from that end, since bird boy from last night was no help.
*Lord Baddy Butt. Yup, that’s my villain’s working name. It was either that, or have the work come to a grinding halt all over a name. I chose to just run with an embarrassing nick name and hope that would spur LBB to give me more info. So far, no bites.
“This is bullshit.”
Ash pushed off the wall, so ready to walk away. Whatever tall, dark and mysterious wanted with her, he could shove it. She’d waited 20 minutes already- this guy clearly wasn’t gonna show.
She sighed and leaned back, like she’d done every other time she’d made to leave. The bait was just too tempting. It was bullshit, but he could tell her more about what was happening to her…
“I why know you don’t sleep at night, and I know you didn’t start that fire.”
She hadn’t seen anyone else in holding with her, and had almost bashed his face in out of gut reaction when the creep had spoken to her that night.
“Nine o’clock, tomorrow. Ally outside of [bad bar], warehouse side.”
And then they came to let her out, her foster father giving her that look and she’d clammed up and kept her head down the whole ride home. He’d lectured her about getting picked up by the cops again and what had she been doing in that part of town and did she want to be allowed out or not? It seemed like every time she’d finished one sentence of grounding, she turned right around and did something to merit another. Blah blah blah. Ash tuned him out and stared out the window.
And for some stupid reason, she’d snuck out tonight to meet him here. Whoever he was. She’d never seen his face clearly, he’d never moved out of the shadows, but she’d climbed out her window and stood waiting in the rain anyways. She’d thought about doing more than flicking her lighter to stay warm, but she knew better than to let anyone see her mojo at work. Not since he stupid foster-brother had turned her in to the shrinks for being a “firebug”. God, what bullshit. It wasn’t any of his damned business anyways. Or anyone’s.
But still she waited, cause she knew he knew. He’d never said anything directly, but somehow she’d just known. He was talking about her firestarting, whatever it was. He knew.
And he made it sound like he knew how to help.
Ash never went home after that night. Grey had come to talk her, had shown her the flash of his own amber eyes, and had told her of a home that would miss her, would notice when she was gone. And would help her tame her fire.
She wasn’t the only one Grey had collected. As one of [LBB]’s lieutenants, he kept an eye out for other misfit kids who’s unique talents weren’t being appreciated. Ash rolled her eyes – Grey always sounded like something out of a Marvel comic when he talked like that.
But The House was more than just some stupid school for preppy kids with bad fashion sense and weird genes. And [LBB] was no Professor X. She stood on the front porch, steeling her nerves. She had no idea what’d posessed her to let herself become a bleeder, and it still scared the shit out of her all these weeks later. The hairs on the back of her neck stood up and she fought down the urge to run, then knocked on the door.
Crow opened the door almost as soon as she’d knocked on it, ushering her inside. The shapeshifters she’d gotten used to. The vamps… not so much. But Grey was right, that’s where the power was, and if she was willing to overcome the pounding of her heart and the flipflop of her stomach, it was worth it to try and catch a patron.
Grey’s master, Villain wasn’t so bad. A little pretensions, but most of the newly-mades were. They were still adjusting to immortal power and leaving their old selves behind. The ones that really freaked her out were the ones that had never been human to begin with. Ones like Rhion.
Of course she had caught the eye of a Shadow, why wouldn’t she? Still, power was power and if Rhion wanted to claim her, Ash wasn’t stupid enough to refuse. At least the Shadows only fed through touching. She’d had to let Villain taste her blood to vouch for her, and that had just been plain awful.
Awful cause it’d felt so good. Awful cause she didn’t want him to stop. The creep factor of a thirty-something ex-factory worker gone vampire sucking on the neck of teenagers just.. ick.
But Rhion merely required her presence, and her open mind. The first time she’d brushed her, she’d shut down, she wasn’t able to help it. The fact that it had been enough to keep him out had Rhion intrigued. So he’d taken her to one of the side rooms, and fed. She hadn’t even known he’d been feeding til he’d sat back and declared her to be delicious. Her hand had flown to her neck, and Rhion had laughed, a sound like broken glass and rainfall. She shivered, but forced herself to relax again. Whatever had happened that night, Rhion had been pleased, and left his mark on her arm.
She bared that arm now, though Crow didn’t even bother looking at this point. “They’re in a meeting right now. Feel free to wait in the common area or your usual room.” Ash nodded and went straight back to Rhion’s bedroom. She didn’t know if he slept here or not, or if Shadows even slept, but it was a room and there was a bed in it and bedroom was good enough. She sure as hell wasn’t going to linger with all of the other junkies.
The bloodwhores all freaked her out. She could understand chasing after power and security, like her and Grey, but some of the junkies actually seemed to enjoy being fed on. Sick. Ash had jumped at Rhion’s invitation, if only to get away from everyone else waiting to be picked. She shook her head, trying to physically dispel the memories, and collapsed on the bed. She’d use this time to still herself and try to find some balance before Rhion came in and did best to deliberately through her off to see what made her tick.
Rhion was bored. Why had he allowed himself to be pulled tethered to flesh if it only meant hours and hours of pointless meetings? He leaned back in his chair, resisting the urge to put his feet on the table, and began to flick small flames back and forth between his palms.
Ash had been a good acquisition. She was wary enough, of everything really, to keep her sense of self, but insecure enough to make desperate choices. She needed to feel safe, wanted more than anything else in the world to feel like she could keep herself safe, and was willing to fight hard for the power to do so. Rhion still hadn’t untangled what made her pyromancy tick, but he was learning how to trigger it, and they were both learning a good deal about what made Ash herself tick. Rhion had eagerly sucked in pieces of her personality that made him stronger, like her anger and her magic, but was careful to leave enough behind to serve as seeds. He wouldn’t suck this one dry. She was proving to be useful still.
Villain coughed his annoyance at Rhion’s antics, but didn’t have the balls to tell him to stop. Even the arrogance of newly made vampires wasn’t enough to get him to challenge a Shadow. The House food chain was clear, and Rhion was near the top. He bowed only to Xaphrael, the demon who’d bound him. Of course, he played nice with [LBB], but even the Master of the House wasn’t foolish enough to actually challenge any of the Shades. Rhion wondered, not for the first time, what the end game was. It was clear to him that Xaph was playing with [LBB], but as always, a demon’s motive were a mystery. Rhion wondered if the demons themselves ever knew.
Rhion closed his eyes and slipped into the collective mind of the Shades. They’d worked with demon-kin for ages, being pulled from the original darkness to form countless minions and Shadows, whatever was needed. Rhion drifted in the collective consciousness, floating in nothing, letting ideas come and go as they pleased. There wasn’t much in there about Xaphrael, but demon-kin in general were always chaotic. They craved nothing more than their own desires, and were was capricious and malicious as children. Whatever Xaph was up to, it would likely be small scale and petty.
Rhion flicked to the other Shadows bound to this part of the world, wondering if any of them had learned anything interesting since the last time Rhion had communed. Not a whole lot was going on. Minor darknesses were being bound to various children as they scurried about the city with their small time theft. Other Shadows were working with shifters and vampires to secure energy sources for Xaphrael’s split consciousness, but really that was about it. No efforts were being made toward conquest, no territory being carved out, nothing. Xaph was content to operate in secret, it seemed, and that suited Rhion well enough. Under the blanket of the demon’s operation, countless Shadows were gathering followers, sucking belief from the minds of children to make themselves stronger, more real. Rhion himself was almost so securely bound as to have trouble slipping back into the Mother Darkness. It was disconcerting, but he was pleased. Though he would never be a full demon, he could very easily become his own entity, with enough effort.
And with children like Ash, he could gather a fair amount of abilities as well. He no particular goals in mind, no plans for what he would do with his personhood when he attained it, but once he had it, plans could be made later. Irons were hot now, so he’d strike.
Holes began to appear in the darkness as various Shadows got up and left the meeting room. Rhion wasted no time in leaving, ignoring Villain’s attempts to talk to him. None of the newly mades held any interest to him. They were so wrapped up in themselves, there was hardly any spill over energy to feed on. Rhion went straight to his room and the angry little girl waiting for him.
Ash was exhausted by the time they’d finished. Rhion had pushed her hard this time, getting her to completely incinerate three separate times. The first time she’d gone phoenix, she’d been so scared she hadn’t been able to find her way back to her own body, let alone will it to reform around her. Rhion had no such fear of selflessness, and had found her and talked her down and walked her through the excruciating process of putting herself back together.
Her mortal body hadn’t been too keen on it. The pieces of darkness Rhion had used to hold her together made her skin crawl and left her with a cold feeling she couldn’t shake. Eventually, her inner fires rekindled, growing from embers to flickers to flames, and then it was like her body “set” in a kiln. She could feel the seems and the cracks sealing back up, her body becoming whole. Next, they’d worked on keeping her aura intact when he body was destroyed, and today, Ash had even managed to make that body move. It had carried her all the way to the other side of the room before snapping back to the blackened pile of ashes that was her body. Rhion had smiled and praised her, and Ash even sort of believed it. It was hard to accept praise from a being that could vanish and reappear at will, let alone all the mental whammies he was packing. But it had felt like real progress, and Ash allowed herself to smile in spite of the sweat stinging her eyes.
“Why do you try so hard,” she asked, breath ragged. She’d collapsed into a sitting position, doing her best to deliberately seal the cracks in her body instead of waiting for her magic to do it on its own.
“To make you the best tool you can be.”
She hadn’t expected a different answer- every session, she always asked him, though she was less angry about it now. She believed him when he gave her the same answer, knowing that she was nothing but a power play on his part. She was perfectly fine with the mutualism they enjoyed. It was a hell of a lot better than some of the delusional romance some top dogs cultivated with their pets. She’d ribbed Gray about it recently, and had been dismayed at the far off look in his eyes when he’d answered.
“Villain can’t help but love me – I am literally the reason his heart beats.”
He’d given her his usual sarcastic smile- but not before going all soft and distant. Grey was starting to believe the lies, though he would never admit it to himself. Ash wasn’t surprised – everyone became bloodwhores in the end- but she’d been sad to see him go. Grey had been her first friend, and now he was dying. Sure, his body would live on, but the thing that made him Grey was slowly being eaten away.
Rhion wanted no such bond with her. He’d been matter of fact about the whole thing, never hiding when she asked him a direct question. “I need you to stay you, or your mind is no good to me. I can’t feed off an extension of myself.” It had made sense, and it had creeped her out, so she’d never asked again.
But she wasn’t shy about coming to Rhion with questions, and he was always forthright in his answers. Sometimes, they didn’t make a lot of sense to Ash, but she could understand why they didn’t make any sense. Her entire time with the House had been one big lesson in “the more you learn, the more you see you don’t know”.
Ash didn’t need to know everything, she just needed to know what was coming up behind her, and how to defend herself from it. And Rhion helped with that immensely. She rolled her shoulders, trying to work out the kinks, then stood and stretched her spine.
“Do you have somewhere else to be?”
Ash jumped a bit when he spoke, more than a little lost inside herself. She shook her head, taking a moment to find her words.
“No, I’ve been released from all other duties for the week, until you stop pushing me so hard. Leon said I nearly got him killed, being such a space case. He’s so overdramatic.”
Ash grinned, and Rhion smiled back. He liked that they were making enough progress that her power levels were changing, and Ash liked being left alone. This was what she’d been hoping for when she first stepped into the House of Blood. She was willing to risk being pet to some vampire, just to keep from being a pawn. Red shirts were expendable. In here, she had a name. That name was Rhion’s, but it was proving to be enough to keep her alive, and that was good enough for her.
Rhion laid back on the bed, patting the covers beside him. Ash nodded and curled up next to him, not flinching when he placed a gentle kiss on her temple.
“Do you need to feed?” he whispered, and Ash shook her head. “I had dinner before I came. I’m completely free for the night.” She could feel his smile against the side of her face, and it warmed something inside her. It felt good knowing her place in the world. She would never been so enthralled as to live to serve her master, but she liked being able to anticipate his needs. He hadn’t drifted at all this week, and she knew he would need to soon. So she’d made sure to take care of her own physical needs, bunking over with Grey so she could get an uninterrupted night’s sleep and good solid meal. Fuck what anyone thought if they saw her staying over. She knew she wasn’t fucking him and that was good enough for her. She knew her limits and knew to take care of herself so she could be the best tool she could be.
So she was ready to just crash out after their session and let Rhion use her body as an extra tether to the mortal world. He’d explained to her, when they’d first started working together, that he was going to mingle their essences, and that it would make her even less purely human than she already was. He hadn’t been able to tell her exactly what else she was, but explained exactly what aligning herself with the Mother Darkness would mean. It would make her less mortal, harder to kill – which had sounded like a perk, until he’d explained that mortal power was what let her feel, let her dream. She’d grown less angry, because she’d given that anger to Rhion. Her flame hadn’t burned as hot for days, until she’d learned to ground herself in her own memories, actively reliving her life when her mind refused to dream. It wasn’t quite as mentally nourishing, but it was better than languishing and letting Rhion’s personality complete eclipse her.
She’d really lucked out, attracting a sponsor that deliberately cultivated her sense of self. So many sponsors just sucked their tools dry, tossing them aside for new ones when they’d been used up. Rhion was more interested in strengthening them both – it was harder, and slower, but Ash had shown interest in improving, and an ability to do so, and Rhion had been well pleased with his choice.
All of this they felt together, as the lines that kept the separate blurred and vanished. Rhion could use their connection to be more human, and less human all at once. That part of him that belonged to Mother Darkness could return completely, recharging and reclaiming the ethereal qualities he lost in becoming mortal. He could detach from his mortal binding, because he knew Ash would call him back. The part of her that knew him, worked with him and needed him would draw him back out of the darkness when she woke, and while they slept, she could dream. He drew the darkness out of her, took it with him into the ether, and while they slept, she was mortal. It left them both incredibly vulnerable, but the power they gained from it was worth the rest.
Rhion approved of the relationship she was cultivating with Grey- he would do much to guard them while they slept. It galled Villain, undoubtedly what he had wanted to talk about after the meeting, but anyone that gave themselves such a pretentious name deserved to be ignored. He wouldn’t raise a hand to Grey at the risk of weakening himself, and he wouldn’t forbid Grey from seeing Ash and risk sowing seeds of dissension in his pet’s soul. So Rhion used the newly made’s pet as his own guardian, and enjoyed the joke immensely.
Ash willed her mind to turn inward, searching for memories of her earlier life to lull her brain into sleep. Once there, she would dream, but they had to sleep first.
Kestral was pissed. Kestral was always pissed, but she was particularly pissed tonight. Leon had been giving her shit, again, but this time he’d said something that had put her particularly on edge. Ash’s skin warmed in response, and she popped Kestral in the arm in warning. She knew the other girl would feel how hot Ash was burning, and hitting her would distract her from her fuming as well. Sure enough, Kestral started to snarl at Ash for hitting her, but stopped as she rubbed away the red spot on her arm.
“Keep it together?” Ash asked, implying that they both needed to chill out, or they wouldn’t get shit down tonight.
Kestral nodded, mellowing her anger back down to its usually bitchy simmer.
“So what’s the game plan?” Ash asked, trying to distract them both.