When Ciestess arrives in our new world, her first thought is something completely pointless.
< Cold… I’m cold again…
< … I HATE the cold. >
Tess knew she’d be cold. She starts off cold almost every time she arrives in a new world.
And yet she always acts surprised by it each time.
She’s lying down. I can feel grass and dirt underneath our new body.
So she’s outside, then.
There’s something poking her side, maybe a twig or rock. It hurts, but not enough to make her move yet, apparently. Always so careless about her health, I swear…
She opens her eyes. There’s a tree trunk in front of her. A forest, then?
Ah, there we go — she sits up.
Not just a forest. She’s on a mountain.
She gives a long-suffering sigh. < Why can’t my body ever form with clothes on? No matter how many times it happens, it never gets any less annoying.
< Noctu isn’t bugging me yet, at least. > Oh yeah? Looks like it’s time for Xihrae’s present!
I send the information our newest companion’s gathered into her brain, and her head throbs all the way to the eye sockets. < Jeez! C’mon, man, really?! I get making sure I’m prepared, but this is too much information! Now I’m cold AND I have a headache! It’s like I studied for over a hundred tests in five minutes!!! >
One hand goes up to her head, the other to the ground to help keep her steady. She’s swaying, the world spins… < Ooooh, my head! I’m gonna be sick! I need a distraction — anything but the pounding in my skull! >
She looks outward for a distraction, while inside her new brain synthesizes the rush of information and experiences about this world.
She starts at her toes. This new body seems to be humanoid, as Tess prefers. Similar, in its basic form, to her original body, and the kind of form she’s been in for the past few worlds.
Working to stand, she gets her feet under her, wobbling in the unfamiliar gravity, nervous system, and bodily proportions.
< I’m… maybe average size for its age? Still smaller than I’d like. >
< What were you expecting, > I interrupt her thoughts, < when starting out at prepubescence? >
As her gaze moves up, I notice several differences about this body.
It has fangs, I can feel a strength like iron in every muscle, and, although it’s night, she can see for miles in every direction.
< Greeeaaat. And just when my head finally stops pounding, I’m interrupted by yet another annoyance; as usual, I’ve arrived hungry. Be-a-utiful. >
< Well, yeah. A new body doesn’t come with a full stomach any more than it does with clothes. >
< Although… Wait, I’m hungry for-? >
< -Yep! And on that note, Xihrae knew you’d be interested in this the moment he heard about it. > I point out a specific set of information in her head. < The world’s last vampire. Until you showed up, anyway. >
She’s started grinning without even realizing it. < Aww, you two! Always spoiling me~! You really know how to brighten a girl’s mood! >
Now used to her newest flesh prison, she stretches her new prizmal body a bit. It seems that, while Prizmal itself is far from connected to the material aspects of this world, her own prizmal body can interact with any matter it touches.
< Well. Having to drink blood isn’t exactly ideal, but, hey!- > The ground underneath her turns to shadow, then spreads up and envelopes her. < -at least I can make my own clothes, for once! >
She just makes a simple black dress. No need for anything fancy.
And no time, either.
She hears something approaching — a LOT of somethings.
She stretches her eyesight. < In the bushes. Is that…? -No way! >
< Oh, no. >
She lets out a little scream of delight, “Ah! Wolfies!”
She doesn’t love wolves NEARLY as much as vespers, but they are definitely up there on her “favorite animals” list. …Which means I’m gonna be stuck listening to her blather on about them the whole time we’re in this world.
Tess thanks her new body for its instincts as she transforms into a flock of bats, each only about two inches long, to get a closer look. She dodges through tree limbs and around foliage, and if I had a face, I’d cringe at the handful of times she crashes. We find a surprise when she reaches the nearest one.
< JEEZ, it’s huge! I’d almost forgotten how big wolves are! >
< Actually… > I do a quick calculation, relating the size of the wolf to the nearby elements, < It’s bigger than average by approximately- >
< -Yeah, whatever -Don’t care -CUTE! >
But karma must exist here, because the wolf notices her, snapping at the air with enormous, drooling, teeth-filled jaws-
< -Bigwolf,lotsofdrool,bigjaws,MANYTEETH! > She had also, apparently, forgotten how freaking high they can jump, because she only barely dodges in time. < Hey! That’s no way to treat a new guest! >
< … Was that meant to be out lou-? >
< I know, I know. I’m currently still ba- >
< -Because bats can’t talk, y’kno-! >
< -Shut up! I’m doing well for only, like… 5 minutes in! >
< Haha! ~Whatever makes you feel better, sweetie~! >
She finds a nice-sized branch above the creature and transforms back to her humanoid fleshiness- and pauses to listen. < … Rustling? -Oh. It’s packmates! 1, 2, 3… > They stalk out of the trees slowly. There’s maybe ten of them, all growling and barking at her, their eyes reflecting the moonlight.
She purses her lips. < … No. No, this just won’t do. They are all far too cute to have angry at me.
< I want to pet them, dammit!
< Alright… Deep breath. > Oh! She’s about to start a hypnotizing song. I always love watching this part! I tune in more deeply to the senses of her body, trying to feel what she feels. The wind gusts, filling our nose with the scent of autumn-
-When one of them starts howling.
The others all join in — it’s SO LOUD!
We cover our ears, cringing in pain and realizing, belatedly, that of course Tess’s hearing is more sensitive than Xihrae’s! All of her senses are more sensitive than his!
But still… Listening past the pain, it’s a rather beautiful noise… Almost a shame to interrupt.
But, in the shadows of the trees on the other side of the small clearing — a new audience member is watching. So it’s time to put on a show.
We take another breath.
The wind slows.
And Tess sings.
It takes a couple minutes to have an effect. But slowly, the howling stops.
Once every wolf is silently staring at her, she jumps down — a fall that would have broken both of Xihrae’s legs, yet she barely feels it.
< Well well. You finally get a body that isn’t as fragile as PAPER for once! > I jab at her. It’s an exaggeration… But, more to my own annoyance than her’s, only barely.
The wolves approach her, blocking any escape. They’re large enough, and Tess small enough, that they can look her in the eyes. They sniff her — then start licking her and pounding the ground with their paws.
Tess grins widely, uncontrollably. < Aaaww! A group of giant predators, acting like I’m their leader?!
< So cute! >
She scratches behind the nearest wolf’s ears. “Who’s a dangerous predator! Who’s a good giant puppy!?”
“…” As she’s having the time of her short-lived life, her mysterious audience member decides to show himself. He steps out from beneath a nearby pine, the shadows clinging to him — then dispersing as he pulls away from them, evidently having only been held in place by his presence.
An old man, almost twice Tess’s height. Wrinkled face, white hair reaching past his shoulders. Matching long white mustache and goatee. Dressed in a clearly expensive suit. Eyes the color of blood.
… And fangs poking out of his smile.
He’s clapping with skeleton-like hands — and chuckling.
The last vampire.
The name Xihrae had saved for her surfaces in her mind. < This must be “Dracula.” >
Along with the name comes one of Xihrae’s master plans, solidifying itself step-by-step inside her head. Having watched him form it, I vouch for it; in this case, it (probably) isn’t a setup for some kind of chaos.
Still, it’s not impossible for him to hide information from me. And yet, despite my doubts, despite the number of times he’s tricked us, Ciestess insists upon trusting him! I just don’t understand…
But. Even if I don’t agree, I… Well. Tess has decided to trust him.
So, I’ll let it slide. For now.
Having reviewed her course of action, Tess braces herself to play the long-game.
< Well, then. Time to put on my best innocent act. > Aaah! A show I love even more than her singing: Watching the effects of her aura on brand new souls!
Fumbling, she extracts herself from the mountain of paws, tongues, and wagging tails. < Time to make a good impression. >
She twists and fidgets her hands in front of her, makes her eyes go wide, eyebrows tilted up and in, the corners of her mouth tilted down — and many other microexpressions, adding up to an overall fearful and guilty appearance.
She squeaks out, “I’m s- I’m so sorry for trespassing! -”
-But he interrupts her apologies, “I’ve never seen my wolves take so well to an outsider.”
His voice is deep, but not as deep as I had expected.
He stops clapping, folding his hands behind him as he walks towards her. The wolves move out of his way quickly, sitting at attention on either side of his path like soldiers. Even the ones near her stop playing to stand and watch him, their ears and eyes trained on him, tails low and unmoving.
Dracula only stops once he’s within arms reach of Tess, staring down with a calm, intrigued expression.
And that’s all he does, for a few moments. His eyes bore into hers.
“How did you learn such an ability?”
Still feigning nervous energy — hands fidgeting, feet shifting — she replies, holding eye contact, “I was… born with it. I think?”
“You think?” Nothing has changed, yet the tension coming from him is palpable.
Pursing her lips, Tess breaks the eye contact and rubs her arm.
“What is your name?”
She looks back up at him. His expression still hasn’t changed.
She breaks eye contact yet again, looking to the right of him.
< Innocence. Ignorance. > Trying to appear as though she’s struggling to remember — eyebrows furrowed, mouth tense — Tess replies slowly, “Ci… Cies…?” Then, as she looks back at him, she says her name with confidence.
His eyes narrow slightly — but his head tilts just a little. < Good, good… Come on… >
“Your accent. You are from… far from here, yes?”
She regains her uncertain, “thinking” pose and doesn’t answer.
He waits patiently for a bit, then asks, “Where are you from, miss Ciestess?”
She transitions to feigning slight anxiety — eyes wide, eyebrows tilted back up. Looking back at him, she replies, “I… I don’t…”
He doesn’t miss a beat.
“How did you get here?”
< Yes! He’s falling for it. Time to seal the deal! >
She looks down at the ground, wraps her arms around herself and starts shaking — which isn’t hard, since she’s still cold. “I don’t know. I- … How did I…? Wh-” Tess looks back up at him, eyes even wider. “Where… am I?”
He considers Tess for a few moments, eyes narrowed even further. Yet, he almost seems to be grinning, slightly. < If he thinks he’s playing me — EVEN BETTER! >
“Do you have anywhere to stay? Anyone you’re travelling with?”
She looks back at the ground, shoulders hunching slightly, and, after a couple of beats, shakes her head.
It only takes a couple more moments before it happens:
“Why not come inside? You can stay with me. Until we find where you belong.”
His hand enters her line-of-sight — he’s holding it out for Tess to take.
She looks back up at him.
With power in his voice, he says, “I insist.”
Outwardly, Tess hesitantly takes his hand — still shaking and wide-eyed.
Inwardly — she’s struggling not to grin.
< Hook, line, and sinker! >