It’s not been long since Jonathan visited Dracula’s castle, and we’ve followed the unsuspecting Englishman to his town.
To prepare both the townsfolk, and the house Drac bought, for the expansion of our “family.”
Having arrived only last night, however, I insisted Tess enjoy one of the few advantages of being a dhampir: walking around in the sunlight. More specifically, we’re exploring the town, the wolf cub walking beside her. We’re counting on the humans assuming the large pup is either a wolfish-looking dog, or merely part wolf. Tess sincerely doubts any of them will guess the truth, insisting (in retaliation to being in the sunlight) that it’s an “excellent opportunity to train the little one!”
“Oh, what a cute puppy!”
< Oh, look! Here comes one such opportunity now. Guess you were right about karma existing here, huh? >
A young woman runs — or, rather, walks quickly, since running in that dress would be “unladylike,” I assume — up to Tess.
Tess smiles kindly. “Of course,” she says.
She tells the pup to sit, leaving her hand on his back to keep him calm. The puppy’s head comes up to about Tess’s knee, so both women are forced to bend down. The woman eagerly reaches her hand out and starts petting.
< Someone unfamiliar with dogs, then, clearly. Didn’t even pause to let the poor thing sniff her. >
< Eh, no matter. In fact, all the better for training. >
“What kind of dog is he?”
Her voice is pretty and soft. Gentle. Weak, even.
“The kind that will grow very large, if his paws are any indication!” Tess jokes. “In fact, I think I might even be able to ride him in a few months, if he keeps growing like this, heheh!”
The woman laughs as well. It reminds me of a windchime.
“Why, if that’s the case, I may ask to borrow him from you!”
She pets him quietly for a few moments.
“… With a dog that big, I might be able to…”
It’s so soft that I wouldn’t have heard it in the light wind if not for Tess’s sensitive hearing.
< … Hopefully, she won’t realize that. >
I take over Tess’s body for a moment. “Is something wrong?”
“Hm? Oh, um…” She seems embarrassed. “Well, the truth is, I… I’m sick. A weak heart, they say. I can barely find the energy to take my daily walk, these days. And, in a few months… I’ll probably die.”
< Huh… She’s upset, clearly, but she doesn’t seem afraid. >
< Perhaps she’s come to terms with death? >
< … No. That’s not it… It’s more like… >
Tess’s aura flares, as she feigns sympathy, eyebrows scrunched and raised, mouth agape. “That’s awful!” She says, trying to keep the woman talking.
It works. She gives a small, sad smile, “It’s not that bad, really. I only wish people wouldn’t fuss so much over me.” She pauses, “And… and that I could spend more time with my Arthur.”
< She’s a kind woman. >
< Yeah. In fact, her aura almost reminds me of- >
< Oh! It’s her. The woman Xihrae said would make the perfect bait. >
Tess switches gears from innocent information-gathering — to all-out manipulation.
“You know…” < Carefully, now. Not too eager. I can do this! >
The bait looks up at Tess. Innocent. Ignorant.
“… I might know a way… to cure you.” Tess speaks softly, ever-so-subtly including a few almost-sung notes.
The bait’s eyebrows come together and down in a silent question. Before she can ask, though, Tess continues, “It would be risky, but there was a terrible sickness in the village where I used to live. This treatment saved many lives.”
The bait’s eyes light up, and her posture straightens.
< ~So gullible! >
“Truly?!” she declares in amazement, “If that is the case- What is this treatment?”
Tess lets her face go serious — hesitant.
“The thing is… It’s a secret. I’m not supposed to let word of it spread.” Tess looks away slightly, like she’s actually breaking a promise. “There are some who… wouldn’t approve of it.”
The bait’s face turns wary, tensing just a bit, then releasing. No doubt she’s imagining how bad it might be, or how badly people might react to it. “Really?”
She stands up straight, her head hanging, for a few moments. Then, hesitantly, she meets Tess’s eyes once again. “… May I ask why, or would that-?”
“- Of course you can ask,” Tess smiles reassuringly, standing with her. “Well-ah. Perhaps- would you like to sit down?”
She gestures toward a bench overlooking the sea, and they both have a seat. The wolf pup lies at Tess’s feet, facing up the path. Watching for intruders.
Tess pats his head. < See? ~This training was just what he needed.~ He’s already such a good boy! >
“Some people don’t approve of what the treatment does to the body,” Tess starts, as though she isn’t mocking me inside her head.
Then she stops, feeling the lady’s aura. And, as usual, Xihrae was right on the mark. With only the slightest bit of prodding, she’s already…
< I can tell her without risk. She’s far too kind to endanger anyone, human or not. >
Tess looks up from the pup, and she grabs and holds the lady’s gaze.
“I think you’re a trustworthy person. And you’re a perfect fit for the treatment, so I’m just going to tell you…”
Tess pauses then, partially for dramatic effect, but mostly-
-to adjust the atmosphere. The goal is to make her as receptive as possible. Even with one of Xihrae’s plans, it never hurts to stack the odds in our favor.
“The treatment… is vampirism. I myself am a dhampir, or partial-vampire.”
< Yikes. Her face is the epitome of shock! >
< Hey, at least she seems to believe me! (And isn’t reaching for a stake.) >
“Half of the people back in my village are vampires. They all would have died if…”
Tess looks away toward the sea, takes a deep, shaky breath — then continues with a somewhat choked voice.
“As you can see, we’re not mindless monsters. Although, there are many disadvantages: needing to drink blood, being unable to enter the sunlight… but you’d live far longer than any human. And-“ She looks back to meet the lady’s eyes again — and gives a warm, small smile. “-you could turn your loved ones as well, someday. You’d be able to spend more time with them!”
And just to really sell it, Tess adds, in a bitter tone, “We still feel love, no matter what people may believe!”
Tess stops, then, to give the bait time to think. I watch her face, but Tess is more focused on her aura.
< … She’s conflicted. >
< Yeah. But she’s more hopeful than suspicious… I’d dare say she’s desperate. >
After about a minute of silence, Tess says reluctantly, “You would have to deal with the prejudice, of course, if word ever got out. And I’m certain it will, eventually, no matter how careful-“
“I’ll do it.”
Her voice is so certain, it takes Tess aback. I wasn’t expecting such a quick answer, either!
“Are you sure?”
< Xihrae, I trust you and all, but… >
“… You’d have to pretend to be dead for a while. Perhaps a few months, even. Until the area has been made safe for our kind.”
She smiles, her expression warm and happy.
“Such a short separation is a small price to pay,” she says, all sunlight and flowers.
“…” Tess smirks. She can’t help it.
She tries to make it as unsuspicious-looking as possible, though.
“Alright. If you’re so certain, then… I’ll make the arrangements.”
< Xihrae… Sometimes you’re so accurate — I can’t tell whether I’d rather kiss you or punch you. >
Feeling like revenge, I relay her comment to the mastermind.
< He says “I’ll take either.” >
< Noctu, you little-! >
< Now now, aren’t you forgetting something? >
Quickly, Tess shakes the odd expression off her face.
The woman is practically glowing with happiness. There are even tears in her eyes. “I don’t know how, but I will repay you for this!”
Tess holds her hands up, “Oh, there’s no need! The only payment I want is for you to live a long, happy life.”
The woman holds out her hand for Tess to shake. “At least let me introduce myself. My name is Lucy Westenra.”
Tess takes it.
“I’m Ciestess. Ciestess Dracula.”