Another few months, another few eternities, and another stage that needs setting for the next phase in Xihrae’s plan.
Tess has arrived to pick up the Englishman, “Jonathan,” just before midnight. He’s waiting with the villagers who’d volunteered to bring him through the valley and to the foot of the mountain. They seem to be trying to tell him about those of us in the castle without revealing our little secret, but… well, they just don’t know enough English, nor he enough of their language.
The carriage comes close enough for the humans to hear, and the villagers cease their chatter to wave at and greet Tess.
< Their genuine enthusiasm actually makes me smile! >
Right as Tess stops next to them, her wolves begin howling, reminding me what night it is.
Tonight is a special night for vampire-kind. They’re stronger tonight, and the wolves can sense that difference. The creatures are both celebrating it and giving out a warning — and a challenge — to any who might oppose their masters.
The villagers didn’t forget, it seems. They’re closing their eyes and enjoying the music.
Jonathan, on the other hand, is looking left and right, shaking and shivering and gripping the edge of his seat. He’s a bundle of nerves, and his companions soon notice. They’re jeering at him, poking his sides and laughing.
< Now THAT makes me smile! >
< No kidding. A few years ago and they would have been even more terrified of that sound than Jonathan. But now… >
< Now they trust me. They trust that I control the wolves, and that I will keep them from attacking! >
< Those innocent fools. >
A couple snaps of Tess’s fingers get the group’s attention, and Jonathan hops into the back of the carriage.
The howling continues as she drives the horses back up the path to the castle. Jonathan, while calmer (likely reassured by the villagers’ reaction to the wolves) still jumps when the sound comes closer or gets louder.
Occasionally, Tess spots a little, mysterious blue flame in the forest and stops to investigate it as we pass.
< … I’d say I appreciate the gesture, but you’re just doing this- >
< -to confuse Jonathan. Yep! I won’t be able to play with him much, if I want the plan to work, so I need to have what little fun I can! >
As we near the gates, the wolves come onto the path to greet Tess — and block any intruders.
< … One last little prank couldn’t hurt, right? >
Tess gets out of the carriage to pet her wolf-soldiers — much, she notices with great pleasure, to Jonathan’s shock.
< … EHEM! >
< UGH! Alright! Time to get to business. >
The wolves run next to the carriage the rest of the way to the castle gate. Once inside, Tess takes Jonathan’s luggage, leads him to the door, and knocks. When a maid allows us in, Tess hands her the luggage and tells Jonathan to follow her to the guest room he’ll be staying in.
“You’ve had a long journey. Take this time to refresh yourself. And, if you wish, you can join the Count and I for a meal?”
Hesitantly he replies, “If it’s not a bother, that does sound lovely.”
“No bother at all, though I’m certain you would prefer to sleep, with how exhausted you must be. However… and this is a bit awkward, but…” Tess puts on her best ‘please forgive me’ act. “The Count… he has a few peculiarities. One of them being his schedule. He prefers to work at night, you see, so-“
“Quite alright. I understand that those of higher station often find themselves with a few… quirks.” He strengthens his stance, shoulders back and feet square. A show of reliability and respect. “It is my job to work around my client’s needs.”
“… Very well. I’ll have them prepare a plate for you then.” Tess nods to another servant, and they scamper away. “I hope you won’t be offended, but I must see to a few things before joining you.”
He nods, “Quite alright.”
She hands him off to the maid, then, and goes back outside to care for the horses and carriage. By the time we make it to the dining area, Jonathan is already finishing his meal.
“Ah, you’ve already met my dear Ciestess?” Drac introduces her. He’s sitting in one of the comfier chairs in front of the fire.
“Indeed…” Jon replies, an unspoken question in his tone.
“She is something between a sister and an advisor to me. A good friend, let’s say.”
His suspicions dispelled, Jonathan smiles, stands, and holds out his hand. Tess takes it, and he gives a courteous “A pleasure to meet you, Miss Ciestess.”
Drac offers him a seat by the fire, and Jonathan joins him in front of it. “I would offer you a cigar, but I’m afraid the smoke does not agree with dear ‘Tess.”
“I see,” he nods a few times, “Quite alright, quite alright.”
< Is that his favorite phrase or something? >
There is silence — the kind one only encounters in the dead of night, and Tess’s wolves choose that moment to begin to howl again. She gives a contented hum, and Drac closes his eyes and rests his head against the chair in appreciation.
Tess’s eyes stay open, however, and she watches Jonathan, who is clearly still uncomfortable with the sound — shifting in his seat, crossing, uncrossing, and recrossing his legs.
< So amusing! >
“Listen to them, the children of the night. What music they make!” Drac exclaims. He opens his eyes. Then, glancing at Jonathan’s discomfort, says, “Ah, sir, you dwellers in the city cannot enter into the feelings of the hunter.”
< Heh. Playing the part a little strong there, Drac. You’re not just smiling, you’re grinning. Why, ~if I didn’t know better~, I’d think you were enjoying this! >
< Enjoying it a little too much. If he’s any more flamboyant, he’ll blow his cover! >
< Worrywart. >
Drac rises from the chair, Jonathan following his example.
“Well, I do believe we have kept you from your rest long enough. Your bedroom is all ready, and tomorrow you shall sleep as late as you will. I have to be away for a time, but Ciestess will see to you. Sleep well and dream well!”
Drac leaves with a soft snap and rustle of his cloak, and Tess leads Jonathan back to the guest room. Once he’s safely inside, she checks that the servants — at least one of them — is staying in view of his door.
< Good. We really can’t have him wandering. >
Tess spends the majority of the day after that sleeping.
Come evening, we’re curled up in her reading-writing nook, engrossed in a fantasy novel, when one of the servants alerts her that Jonathan is awake.
We find him eating the breakfast that was prepared for him and Tess invites him to the library, “The Count will join us in a couple of hours, but you might find something to entertain yourself until then.”
He does indeed, looking through all of the information laid out on the table for him; everything Tess, Xihrae, and I had gathered about the house and the area around it. He seems impressed.
Finally, Drac joins us and they discuss the details of the sale. Tess and I don’t bother paying attention. Our goal is to keep Drac on the track Xihrae has planned for him, not assist him in buying a house. That is a detail unworthy of our attention.
So we read.
And they come to some conclusion.
Jonathan returns to his room to rest a bit more.
And he leaves in the morning.
Unharmed. And unsuspecting.