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Blood Ties

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Choerteris hurled another dagger at Petropa which clipped her arm. The vampire yelped and hissed as Choerteris closed in on her again.

“Why! WHY could you not do as I say?!” shrieked Petropa.

Choerteris didn’t oblige her a reply as she jumped into the air. Petropa could not flap her wings fast enough and was forced to land to avoid her. You took a shot at her as she launched backwards past you. Once she was safely out of reach of Choerteris’s estoc, she gained altitude again.

“I wanted you to be successful! I wanted you to be able to rule this city! You were my legacy!” said Petropa.

“But I wasn’t ever GOOD enough for you, was I?” said Choerteris throwing a chunk of tile at her.

“You’re a dhampir! All I wanted was for you to leave your humanity behind and embrace your better half!” said Petropa. She warded another one of your blasts and swatted aside the chunk of tile. “I love you, Choerteris, but you won’t let me help you!”

“I won’t ever treat humans like you do.”

“Come to your senses! Look at this thing!” said Petropa. She started to pull at you with her magic, but Choerteris grabbed your arms. You gripped her wrists tightly as the two of you were slowly drawn in.

“He’s useless! He can’t fight, think, cook, read… Useless without a strong monster to guide him.” Said Petropa. She abruptly swung you to the side. Choerteris tumbled away. You tried to fire a bolt of magic, the bolt flying into the ceiling.

“Perhaps you just need to see humans for what they truly are…”

Taking one of her pristine nails, Petropa made a small cut on one of your wrists.

“Let him go!” shouted Choerteris.

She pulled a knife out of her boot but froze when she saw the trickle of blood running down your arm.

“Mmm… I thought so.” Said Petropa. “All these years and you still haven’t found a man. Even though you pretend to be a human, you still feel that thirst for mana, don’t you?”

Choerteris was transfixed on the crimson dribble slowly dripping onto the floor.

“You can smell it, can’t you? I know it must be potent. Emballandae may not have been a good match for him, but you look like you would enjoy sinking your fangs into him.”

Petropa pressed into the skin around your cut to make more blood well up. You grunted in pain as she wet her fingers. Flicking them towards Choerteris, she sent a small spray towards her daughter.

“I’d be fine with letting you have him. Better my own daughter than one of the plebians. Wouldn’t you like that? It would be best for everyone after all. You could be just like a vampire, and we could finally stop fighting. With you as his mistress, Anon would be safe. We could be a family again.”

“Choerteris!” you shouted. Petropa clamped your mouth shut and levitated you closer to Choerteris.

“Here, just a taste…”

Choerteris’ eyes grew wide as you got closer. She took a few uneasy steps towards you. Her mouth was agape, and you could see a glistening drop of saliva under her fangs.

“Choerteris…” you grunted.

Petropa raised your arm out to her. The cut had stopped bleeding, but your wrist was smeared with blood. Choerteris reached out with trembling hands to gingerly hold your arm. Her tremulous fingers dug into your skin. You tried to cast a spell to free yourself.

Petropa quickly tightened her grip on you. “Ah ah ah!~ You just focus on looking appetizing.”

“Choerteris-!” you rasped.

The dhampir’s eyes flitted up to yours. You could see the fight raging in her mind, the battle being raged between monster instinct and human mercy. Her jaw opened and closed as she tried to keep it shut, only to reopen it and inch closer to your wrist.

“Just a taste…” whispered Petropa.

“Choerteris!” you choked.

Choerteris looked at you one last time. This time, her face was full of only pity and shame.

“No!” you shouted.

Choerteris dove in, dragging her tongue across the smear of red on your arm. You tried to draw your arm back, but Petropa held you firmly in place. Choerteris’s eyes went wide. Her pupils dilated to pinpricks. She stopped midlick, stupefied by the taste of your blood.

“Ahh… The prodigal daughter returns!” laughed Petropa “You know, it’s funny. Usually the adage is: ‘I haven’t lost a daughter; I’ve gained a son.’ In this case, I’ve gained both~”

“Choerteris!” you shouted, trying to snap her out of it.

Choerteris jolted. She looked up at you, mouth agape. Her eyes slowly focused in on you. It looked like she didn’t know where she was.

“Choerteris, snap out of it!” you pleaded.

Choerteris leapt back. Raising her sword, she pointed it at her mother.

“Oh? Still opposing me? Why not forget about this foolish ‘human saving’ nonsense and have another drink?~” cooed Petropa.

Choerteris flourished her sword. It was hard to tell, given that the dhampir was already freakishly agile, but it seemed that her swings were faster than before.

“You were a fool to let me do that.” Sneered Choerteris.

“Oh?” said Petropa. She let you go. You flopped to the floor and scrambled away.

“All that lick did was give me the essence I needed to kick your ass.” Said Choerteris.

“I’d say it did more than that.” Chuckled Petropa “Wouldn’t you agree, Anon?”

Petropa looked at you. Choerteris followed suit. You looked at Choerteris, trying to figure out what Petropa was talking about. As you tried to figure out what the vampire was talking about, you noticed Choerteris was preoccupied with something else: your wrist. The dhampir’s breaths were heavy and slow. Her raised sword slowly lowered. She seemed oblivious to her mother. You clenched your arm, twisting to hide it from her view. Choerteris flinched. Panic set into her face. She shook her head, her tiny fangs glinting in the moonlight as she gritted her teeth and steeled her resolve.

“No! It’s not like that, Anon! I can beat her, just hold on!” said Choerteris.

“Beat me? You act as if I haven’t already won.” Said Petropa.

Choerteris lunged at her mother. Petropa parried the first few strikes just as she had during their previous engagement. This time, something was different. Choerteris was faster, that was for sure; there was more too in than that. Each of her blows was more forceful. Petropa’s brow furrowed with concentration. Her arms lurched sharply as she deflected her daughters incoming swipes. Petropa beat her wings, launching herself back. Reaching out a hand, she began casting a spell. Choerteris ran at her, undaunted by the magic. Petropa flicked her wrist. Choerteris staggered. She froze, staring down at her body. Petropa sneered.

Choerteris snarled. Petropa allowed her to approach. What the hell was that? Why could she touch Choerteris all of a sudden? And why was Petropa so sloppy all of a sudden? Her ripostes were slow and awkward. Had Choerteris worn her out? Your answer came when Petropa botched a parry and sent Choerteris’s estoc through her shoulder. The vampire shouted in pain. Before Choerteris could finish her, Petropa launched herself into the air.

“Insolent brat! I’ll finish you later. I have all eternity to take that human back!” shouted Petropa. She flew towards the stage, vanishing through the hole she made in the ceiling. Just before she slipped out of sight, you swear you saw her smirk.

“Anon!” Choerteris ran over to you “Are you hurt? Can you walk?”

She tried to help you to your feet. You groaned. None of the wounds you had were lethal, but it felt like you had been hit by a truck.

“I’m fine…” you muttered.

“Come on! We have to move!” said Choerteris. She grabbed your arm, hauling you to your feet. Her head swiveled back and forth, watching the exits for guards.

“Which way?” you asked.

Choerteris didn’t seem to hear you. She was absentmindedly suckling on her fingers. It was the hand that had grabbed your wounded arm.

“Hey!” you shouted.

Choerteris jumped. “Huh?”

“How do we get out of here?!” you said.

“Get out… Um…” Choerteris scrunched her face and shook her head.

“Are you concussed?” you said, a bit of exasperation slipping into your tone.

“No! Shut up! Just let me think!” snapped Choerteris.

She rubbed her face. The hand covered with your residual blood lingered over her nose. She took a deep inhale.

“Choerteris!” you said.

“What?” she said coldly.

You shivered. Her tone was flat, devoid of the usual beatitude. It was more of a statement than a question.

“Nothing…” you said quietly.

Choerteris went back to thinking. You squirmed. This was bad. Choerteris was obviously thinking more about your blood than the task at hand. You placed a hand over the gash in your arm. It would be fine. Choerteris was strong. She would shake it off once the initial rush wore off, and then you would both have a good laugh at her expense. A few drops of blood wouldn’t be enough to break her. Choerteris sighed and opened her eyes.

“We can’t leave the castle.” She said.

“What?!” you shouted.

“Quiet! I said we can’t leave the castle; mother would catch us in an instant.” Said Choerteris.

“And your plan is to stay IN the castle of the person hunting us down? The castle filled with HER guards?!” you hissed.

“We’ll rest up and figure another way out. Fighting out in the open is a death sentence. I need things to work with; supplies, tools, terrain… This castle plays to my strengths more than hers.” Said Choerteris.

“Can she really track us down that quickly?” you asked.

“She can. After she drains my father, she’ll be ready to hunt again. We need to be ready when she comes back. Come one, I know a place where we can hide.”

Choerteris grabbed your hand and began dragging you away.

“Hey!” you protested.

Choerteris released your hand. “Sorry.” She grunted.

You rubbed your wrist. Looking back at the destroyed ballroom floor, you followed your savior back into the castle.

~~~~~~~~~~

“Choerteris, slow down!” you whispered.

“We’re almost there, we can’t slow down. All the guards are gone, we have to move while they regroup.” Said Choerteris.

She disappeared behind another corner. You hurried after her. Your legs felt like lead. Did she have to make you run so fast when you were so obviously injured?

“In here.” Choerteris opened a door and shoved you inside.

The room was pitch black. Choerteris closed the door behind her. You timidly waited in the darkness for her to do something. She bumped and bustled around the room, tending to unseen things in the darkness. A match was struck, and Choerteris’s face reappeared from the gloom.

“Can you climb?” asked Choerteris.

“I think so.” You replied.

“Good.”

Choerteris pushed a bookshelf out of the way. The ceiling above was hollow, shaped in such a way that the cavity was imperceptible when the bookcase was in place.
“Hold this.” Choerteris handed you the candle. She latched onto the top of the bookcase with her hands and vaulted up into the hole.

“Use your magic to float that candle up.” She said.

You did as you were told. “Where’s the ladder?”

“Ladder?”

“To climb up there.”

“I thought you said you could climb.” scowled Choerteris.

“I can’t fucking Assassin’s Creed my way up there! I’m not a monster!” you hissed.

“Assassin’s what?” asked Choerteris.

“Never mind. Just find a way to get me up there.” You said.

Choerteris glared at you for a moment. She disappeared into the darkness above. You waited patiently in the inky blackness for her to return. Why did Petropa have to make this place so creepy? The light returned a moment later, and with it, a length of rope.

“Grab on.” Said Choerteris.

“I know how to climb a rope.” You said.

You latched onto the cordage and began to climb. After a few pulls your weary arms began to burn.

“For the love of Ares…” growled Choerteris. She hauled the rope up, with you still attached.

“I could have done that…” you said.

“Momma would have died of old age before you got halfway up. Come on.”

Choerteris used a pair of handles on the top of the bookshelf to move it back into place behind you. You inspected your surroundings. The two of you were in some sort of wall cavity. A strange, liminal space that stretched God knows how far off in either direction. A strong musty sent accosted your nose. It wouldn’t surprise you if you were the first people up here in decades. You watched a trickle of dust fall from the low ceiling.

“This way.” Choerteris began wandering through the darkness.

You shuffled along behind her. Choerteris, unimpeded by the lack of light, pressed on ahead. Before long, she was out of sight. You tried to pick up the pace, but the cramped passage prevented you from moving any faster than a modest sidle. Your worst fears were realized when you arrived at a fork. One passage went right, another went left. You listened. No sound came from either passage. Only the faint murmur of drafts blowing through the ancient corridor.

“Anon.”

You screamed, flinging the candle into the wall in the process. Where the hell did Choerteris come from?!

“Calm down! What the fuck was that all about?!” demanded Choerteris, now a formless specter now that the candle was extinguished.

“Where the fuck were you?!” you demanded, trying to get ahold of your nerves. You flailed around in the dark trying to find her.

“I was just down the way, why were you so far behind me?” she said.

“You left me behind!” you shouted.

Choerteris didn’t say anything for a few seconds. “I wasn’t that far ahead.”

“You were! Your mind has been a mess ever since the fight! One drop of blood and your already losing your grip! Get ahold of yourself for fuck’s sake!” you shouted into the murk.

Choerteris grabbed you by the shoulders and pinned you to the wall. You gasped. It was impossible to see her, but you could feel her breath inches from your face. “Don’t you EVER imply that I’m anything CLOSE to those bloodsucking vermin. Got it?! I’M in control. YOU are the problem right now.” Choerteris shook you.

You were too scared to say anything. All you could do was stare into the darkness in front of you. As you gazed you thought you could see a glint of red. Choerteris snorted and let you go. She grabbed your wrist, yanking you along after her. You stumbled after her, bouncing off the walls as you tried to match her pace.

~~~~~~~~

“We’re here.” Said Choerteris.

She let go of your hand. You rubbed your wrist. Wherever you were, you prayed it had a bed. After a moment of fiddling with something in the dark, Choerteris opened a hole into a room. A fresh candle was lit, the first light you had seen in what felt like hours. Free at last…

You flopped out of the hole behind Choerteris. A heavy cloud of dust rose up around your feet. Cobwebs covered the masses of furniture and trunks scattered throughout the room. The most striking feature of the room was that it lacked any point of entrance or egress besides the hole you had just crawled out of. A stone box with a wood floor, sitting idly in the castle somewhere. You turned around to look at the passage you had crawled out of. A portrait of some unknown aristocrat hung from a hinge, concealing the only way in and out.

“What kind of nutcase built this funhouse…” you muttered.

“We’ll sleep here.” Said Choerteris.

She pushed aside a few boxes. Pulling away a sheet, she revealed a mattress stashed in a corner. You had never been so happy to see a bed in your life. Staggering through the maze of forgotten furniture, you flopped down onto the mattress. It creaked and groaned under your weight. You grimaced at the musty smell.

“So, do we sleep in shifts?” you asked, stifling a yawn.

“No. I don’t think anyone will find us here. Guards don’t bother with the tunnels, and ghosts have better things to do than float through walls trying to find this place.” Said Choerteris.

“Hmm.” You said. If she said so.

Your eyes opened when she flopped down onto the mattress next to you.

“What?” she said.

“Nothing. I just… never mind.” You said. You rolled over, turning your back on her.

“Are you afraid I’ll do something to you?” demanded Choerteris.

“What? No! You just startled me, that’s all.” You said quickly.

You could feel Choerteris’s eyes boring into you. After a few seconds of uncomfortable silence, she snorted and laid back down on the bed. Laying there with your rescuer, you felt more endangered than ever before in this strange world. Doing your best to ignore your screaming nerves, you grabbed an old dress to use as a pillow and quickly fell asleep.

~~~~~~~~

Choerteris’s head throbbed. She growled and rolled over, clenching fistfuls of old clothing over her ears. He was too damned loud! Sitting up, she glared at the human lying next to her. Her keen eyes could make him out perfectly through the darkness. The slow rise and fall of his chest, his soft coos and grunts in his fitful sleep, the texture of his milky skin… And the deafening sound of his heart. Choerteris clenched her fists. She wanted to strangle him. That noise was driving her insane. A maddening, incessant bass that kept her from sleep. With every beat of his heart, she could hear the aqueous murmur of blood through his veins. Didn’t he know what he was doing to her?! Couldn’t he tell that he was driving her mad?!

Her hand hovered over him. Choerteris quickly pulled it back, clenching her wrist. No, what was she thinking? She couldn’t hurt him. She had to protect this human. He had to escape, live his own life free from her mother’s tyranny. Choerteris watched Anon’s face twitch in his sleep. She hadn’t had a chance to get a good look at him until now. Such a strange and alien face. And yet, strangely charming. So precious, so fragile… Seeing him like this aroused something within her. It reminded her how weak humans really were. She had to save him. No matter the cost. His happiness was too important to lose.

~~~~~~~~~

Something was wrong. A wave of unease washed over you as you awoke. Perhaps “awoke” wasn’t the right word. There was no difference between opening or closing your eyes. You began to panic.

“Choerteris?” you whispered.

“What is it?”

You almost rolled off the bed when you realized Choerteris was right next to you.

“Fuck! Can’t you make some noise? A little rustle or something?!” you said.

Choerteris lit a candle. “Not if I can help it.”

You sighed and sat down on a crate. “Did you sleep at all?”

“A little.”

That sounded like a lie. Choerteris looked like she hadn’t slept a wink. Dark circles hung under her eyes. She was pale to begin with, but she looked less lively than she had before. Maybe it was just the light.

“What’s the plan?” you asked.

“We’ll need to subdue mamma to get you out. Naturally, that involves fighting. I’m hoping you’re feeling a little more juiced now that you’ve had some rest.” Said Choerteris.

“I’m ready.” You said confidently.

“Good. Good…” Choerteris stared at the floor.

“Are you okay?” you asked.

Choerteris sighed. “I’m not sure I’m strong enough to defeat her.”

“You have me, don’t you?” you offered.

“That might not be enough. Mamma will be stronger than before, now that she’s had time to drain dad.”

“But now we’ve had time to recover too. We can do this.” You insisted.

“Yeah…”

Choerteris sat hunched over, hands clasped in front of her. Maybe this was just what she was like after all. You had only known her for about a day; your initial impression of a gallant hero who could overcome all odds must have been wrong.

“Are you sure you’re alright?” you asked.

“I said I’m fine!” snapped Choerteris.

You flinched. Choerteris sighed and shook her head.

“Sorry.”

Without another word, she began to plunder the crates around her for supplies.

~~~~~~~~~

“Where are we going?” you asked.

“Escape route.” grunted Choerteris.

“I thought you said we had to fight your mom!”

“We will. She’s sure to have the exits covered; we’ll draw her out by trying to escape.”

“Got it. Just let me know what you need me to do.”

You saw Choerteris stiffen.

“Anon… You understand what’s at stake here, right?” said Choerteris.

“You mean being the footstool of a bratty vampire?”

“We’re talking about eternal servitude. That isn’t something to be taken lightly.” Scolded Choerteris.

“I know.” You said.

“Then you know not to hold back, right? You know we have to do anything it takes to escape?”

Something about how she said that rubbed you the wrong way. “What do you mean ‘anything?’”

“Just answer the question: are you willing to do whatever needs to be done in order to escape my mother?” said Choerteris.

You thought for a moment “I’m willing to do anything within reason.”

“That might not cut it.” Said Choerteris coldly.

“What are you getting at, Choerteris? Why all the questions?” you snapped back.

“Because if we need to do something unseemly to win, I need to know that you have the wherewithal to back me up.” hissed Choerteris.

“You don’t think I’m committed?!” you said.

“I never said you weren’t. It’s your courage that’s being impugned.” Said Choerteris.

“You saw me fight. I didn’t back down.” You said.

“But now your getting cold feet at the prospect of doing something you don’t like.” Said Choerteris.

“You haven’t even told me what’s going on!” you shouted.

Choerteris hushed you. The two of you glared at each other in the gloom of the passageway. Choerteris’s red eyes twinkled in the candlelight.

“You want to know? Fine. Back when I was fighting mother, I had that sip of your blood.” She said.

“I was wondering if you were ever going to bring that up again. What the hell happened?” you demanded.

“Shut up! I’m not some fucking leech! I could smell the essence in your blood, that’s all. I knew that if I could get just a taste of that power, that I could defeat mother.”

“Yes, I’m sure your motives were completely altruistic.” You said sarcastically.

“You don’t understand, Anon. I’ve been fighting with mamma for decades. A human like you couldn’t hope to comprehend the scale of this conflict.” Said Choerteris.

Your eye twitched. “Of course. I’m just a dumb human, right? So far beneath you noble vamp-“

The look Choerteris gave you cut you off. Probably best not to antagonize your only means of escape too much.

“What are you getting at, Choerteris?” You said softly.

“Your blood is the key, Anon. With just a few drops, you saw what I was able to do! I was stronger than her! I could have won if she didn’t escape. For the first time in my life, I was more powerful than she was.”

You shivered. Choerteris’s gaze had turned progressively more predatory while she explained her point.

“You want more of my blood?” you asked.

“Just a sip!” insisted Choerteris.

You took a step back. Choerteris glared at you. She took a step towards you, slamming her hand into the wall beside your head.

“I knew it. You’re weak. Spineless. Do you not understand how easy this is? Just one sip, and I’ll be able to subdue mother. Can you not understand the scale of this investment? A quick nip to save you from an eternity of drainings.” Said Choerteris, staring into your eyes. You gulped. Choerteris’s gaze slowly dropped down to your throat.

“You’re scaring me, Choerteris.” You said quietly.

She snapped her eyes back to your face. Her expression slowly softened as she realized how you were looking at her. Pursing her lips, she quickly turned away.
“I’m sorry. I- I didn’t mean that. It’s just that… To be so close after all these years…”

“I’m worried about you, Choerteris. Are you… addicted?” you said.

“It is NOT an addiction. I just- I just didn’t sleep well.” Said Choerteris.

“Can you control your urges?” you asked.

“There are no URGES, Anon. I’m FINE. There’s nothing wrong with me. Now let’s go.” She started off down the passage “And keep what I said in mind. Your freedom is worth more than a few drops of blood.” Said Choerteris.

You walked in silence behind her. This ‘rescue’ was getting more strings attached to it by the second…

~~~~~~~~~~

You popped out from underneath a rug. Choerteris was already clambering out as you inspected the scene from the trapdoor. Coast looked clear.

“See anything?” you asked.

“No. Come on.” Said Choerteris.

You slipped out into the hallway and looked around. Typical Chiropta mansion: portraits, fancy vases, expensive rugs, and some suits of armor. Nothing out of the ordinary here. Judging by the view from the windows, you were close to the ground floor.

“This way.” Said Choerteris.

After only a few seconds of walking, you began to feel a vague sense of dread. A shadow swooped past the windows, running across the wall beside you.

“She’s coming!” said Choerteris.

The dhampir drew her estoc. You looked around for any sign of Petropa.

“Get down!” cried Choerteris.

The windows exploded inward. You twisted away, shielding yourself just in time to keep yourself from being shredded by the flying glass.

“My dear daughter! Trying to leave without saying goodbye?~” chuckled Petropa.
“Get behind me, Anon!” shouted Choerteris. You didn’t need to be told twice. Scrambling through the debris, you situated yourself behind the dhampir.

Petropa ignored her daughter, instead looking you over intently. “Hello again, Anon. Tell me, has my daughter been treating you well since we last met?”

“Better than a vampire could ever treat me.” You said.

“Hmm. Then I suppose I couldn’t trouble you to hand yourself over to me, could I?” asked Petropa, inspecting her nails.

“I’d say over my dead body, but you parasites would probably take that literally.” You said.

“Quite. Well, I can’t say I wasn’t hoping you’d say that~”

Petropa launched forward. You blasted her with magic. Choerteris moved in to flank her while Petropa warded your attack. Twisting sharply, she was able to parry Choerteris’s opening thrust. And now, you were once again trapped on the sidelines. Any sort of attack would be ill-fated when they were this close together. With her wings, Petropa had a better chance of avoiding a blast than Choerteris. Unless you didn’t blast… Conjuring a flow of magic, you tried to grab Petropa. The vampire’s wrist jolted briefly. With some fancy footwork, she was able to deftly avoid Choerteris’s next swing. She looked over at you. Uh oh.

Petropa beat her wings. Dashing past Choerteris, she made a beeline for you. You tried to fire off a shot. Petropa effortlessly swatted it aside. She was stronger than before, that was for sure. In seconds, she had you by the throat.

“I’m afraid this is a family affair, human. Wait until we’re finished, hmm?” Petropa grinned.

She whipped your body down the hall. You tumbled across the floor, rolling through the broken glass. Your clothing and a hasty warding protected you from most of the damage. Careful to place your hands where there wasn’t any glass, you quickly stood up and inspected yourself. A few small cuts, nothing major. Choerteris ran at Petropa. You noticed that although her daughter was hurtling towards her with intent to run her through, she was more preoccupied with you. Her brow furrowed in annoyance. What was she so angry about? She had gotten you out of the way, hadn’t she? You looked around, trying to figure out what had irked her so much. As you looked over the broken glass, it dawned on you.

“Choerteris! We have to get out of here!” you said.

“That’s what we’re trying to do, fool!” shouted Choerteris.

“I mean now!” you pleaded.

Choerteris ignored you, too intent on fighting to do anything else. Petropa maintained her cool demeanor.

“You’ve only had that human a day, and he’s already trying to boss you around! How quaint.” Laughed Petropa.

“Shut up!”

“Tell me, does he pay you for all the work you’ve done for him? Or has he been plodding along behind you, wallowing in his entitlement?” said Petropa.

“Choerteris, it’s a trap!”

“Anon, SHUT UP!”

Petropa capitalized on Choerteris’s lapse in concentration. She delivered a powerful kick into the dhampir’s gut. Choerteris flew backwards toward you.

“Choerteris!” you snapped her up with your magic, dragging her over to you “Let’s go!”

“Let go of me!” shouted Choerteris, thrashing around in your magic.

You bolted down the hallway, fumbling to set her down on her feet. She quickly caught up to you.

“Coward! I was so close!” snarled Choerteris.

“It’s a trick! She was trying to cut me!” you said.

“It’s a fight, you cretin! Of course she was trying to hurt you.” Said Choerteris.

You could hear Petropa flapping behind you.

“No! She’s trying to get you to drink more of my blood! She’s trying to corrupt you!” you panted.

“What?! This again?! I’m not a fucking vampire!”

Petropa interrupted the conversation. Choerteris had to duck and roll to avoid a swing from above.

“Fuck! Anon, shoot her down!” demanded Choerteris.

You complied with the order. Again, Petropa effortlessly swatted aside your feeble attempt at offence. Chances are you weren’t going to out-magic someone who had a few centuries more practice than you.

“How pathetic. Is that all you can muster? Perhaps Lussazan overestimated your capabilities.” Said Petropa.

“Now, Anon!” shouted Choerteris.

“I’m trying!” you said.

You launched a few more bolts at Petropa. Choerteris awkwardly dipped in and out of your firing line, trying to find a way to attack her mother while you rattled off your shots. Petropa laughed.

“Goodness! What happened to that coordination of yours, hmm? I thought you two were getting along so well!”

Choerteris engaged with her again. Unlike their previous dule, Petropa seemed to have overcome her innate fear of her daughter. Unhindered by doubt, her strikes were more confident and precise.

“You’re going to have to do better than that to defeat your Mother, dear.” chuckled Petropa.

“Fuck!” shouted Choerteris. In a fit of rage, she made an ostentatious thrust with her rapier at Petropa.

Petropa showed no mercy. She sidestepped the clumsy blow. Capitalizing on the opening, she sliced through Choerteris’s arm. The dhampir recoiled, holding her numb limb. Color flowed into Choerteris’s face as the aftereffects of realm silver began to take hold.

“You’re outclassed, darling~” sneered Petropa.

Choerteris turned and ran. You quickly followed her. Petropa was toying with you now. All that was keeping you from being obliterated was her bloated ego.

“Anon, we have to do it!” said Choerteris, clutching her arm.

“Do what?! You said.”

“I have to drink!” said Choerteris.

“No! You have to fight the urge! We’ll find another way!” you said.

“There’s no other way!”

Choerteris horse-collared you as you rounded a corner. You gagged, your shirt digging into your neck while your feet flew into the air. She dragged you into a nearby room and kicked a wardrobe in front of it.

“Choerteris, no!” you said, trying to pull yourself away from her.

“Shut up! If you want to get free, I need your blood!” Choerteris lifted you up by the collar.

“You could fight her without it before!” you insisted.

“And I couldn’t win!” she snarled.

Choerteris was tired of arguing with you. She walked over to the bed, slamming you onto the mattress. Try as you may to fight her off, she used one arm to pin you by the throat, and the other to seize one of your flailing arms.

“This is for your own good.” spat Choerteris.

She sank her teeth into your wrist. You screamed. Trying to pull your wrist away only made her bite more painful. All you could do was stare up at her in terror while your blood started to seep out of the wound. Choerteris’s eyes went wide. Her pupils dilated. You could feel her tongue swirl over your skin. She nosily suckled at your wrist, seemingly ignorant to your plight. Through the sting of the bite, you began to feel heat flow into your arm. Your hand began to tingle. Choerteris relaxed her grip on you, but you didn’t dare move. She seemed to be in some sort of trance.

“Choerteris…” you whimpered.

Your whimper seemed to snap her out of her stupor. She quickly detached herself from your wrist. Blood began to pour out of the puncture wounds. Choerteris quickly lapped up the excess liquid. Ripping strips out of the bedsheets you were resting on, she quickly tied a makeshift bandage.

“See? That’s all I needed. That wasn’t so bad, right?” said Choerteris.

You groaned. It felt like you had given blood on an empty stomach. Your head throbbed. How much had she taken out of you? And how the hell were you supposed to fight now? You couldn’t even stand!

“You’re fine. Get up, she’s coming.” Choerteris turned to the door and picked up her sword. “Anon…?”

You heaved back up the bread and cheese she had given you in her hideout. Your limbs trembled and shook. Chills ran up and down your spine. In the moonlight, you could see an inky blackness flowing through your veins at the site of Choerteris’s non-consensual exsanguination. As if a regular blood-drawing wasn’t bad enough, now you had mana poisoning to boot.

“Anon, come on. Shake it off.” Choerteris’s voice was now less confident and commanding. Her tone was tinged with worry.

You threw up again. The black stain of mana beside you grew larger. Choerteris hurried over to you. She briefly tried to sling one of your arms over her shoulder, and quickly realized that moving you was not an option.

“Lussazan…” you croaked. At this rate, you were going to need her help to save your life. Or restart it.

“No! We can’t, she’s working for Mother! I- Just- Just wait here! I’ll deal with mamma, and then I’ll come back for you!” said Choerteris.

Petropa burst through the barricade. Choerteris held you close, shielding you from the shower of splinters.

“Did I hear someone talking about me? Oh my!” Petropa put a hand over her mouth in faux surprise “I hope I’m not interrupting something.”

Choerteris set you back down on the bed and brandished her sword. “You’re done for, demon.”

Petropa sneered. “Wipe your mouth before you speak, dear. I can’t take you seriously when you have your meal smeared all over your lips.”

Choerteris quickly wiped her mouth. She hesitated, looking down at the smear of blood on her wrist.

“Well, well, well. The savior becomes the slaver.” chuckled Petropa.

“I’m nothing like you! This is all for his sake! He agreed to it!” said Choerteris.

“Did he now? That’s quite a change of heart, Anon. What inspired such a drastic conversion of thought?” said Petropa.

You stifled a wretch.

“I see. He doesn’t look well, Choerteris. By your logic, wouldn’t that make YOU a monster? Oppressing that poor human like that; I might just have to save him from you~” said Petropa.

“You won’t lay a hand on him, you bitch.”

Choerteris’s voice carried more contempt than you had ever heard from her before. Even Petropa seemed startled by her conviction.

“You want to keep him? Let us see if you can EARN him.” Said Petropa.

Choerteris was upon her in an instant. She drove her foot into Petropa’s chest in one blinding movement. Petropa flew back, cratering against the wall. The vampire dodged Choerteris’s incoming thrust by centimeters. She laughed.

“You feel it, don’t you? That power. It’s exhilarating, isn’t it? To have that hunger finally sated. Now do you see what you’ve been missing? Do you realize why I so desperately tried to bring you back to the truth?” said Petropa.

Choerteris uttered a guttural scream. She hammered away at Petropa’s defenses. Petropa blocked only a few strikes before she started to take hits. The vampire staggered back as Choerteris began to stab and strike her with her estoc. Through the flurry, Petropa flicked her wrist. Choerteris flew back into a wall.

“You insolent little cur! Don’t think that you are beyond reproach just because you’ve taken the first steps!” seethed Petropa.

You could see the mana leaking from the vampire’s wounds. Choerteris peeled herself out of the wall and charged again. Petropa sent her hurtling into the ceiling. You shuddered. Choerteris’s feeding must have weakened her dhampiric resistance to Petropa’s magic. She wasn’t stronger after her feeding; she was weaker than ever. With every impact, Choerteris took a bit longer to recover. But Petropa’s strength was quickly waning too. The combination of magic use and her wounds had rendered the vampire short of breath and weak in the knees.

“Give up, Choerteris. That human is coming with me.” Said Petropa.

“Go to hell, you bloodsucking freak!” said Choerteris.

“You don’t have a right to say that to me anymore.” Said Petropa.

Choerteris reached her breaking point. Dipping below one of Petropa’s spells, she hurled a dagger from her belt at her mother. Petropa deflected the blade but didn’t have time to stop the second one Choerteris threw in succession. The dagger caught Petropa in the shoulder. Petropa shouted, wrenching it free. Choerteris had already closed the distance. Thrusting with her estoc, she skewered Petropa. The vampire moaned. Her eyes rolled back into her head. She collapsed onto the floor face first and was silent.

“I… I did it…” said Choerteris softly.

It was little consolation to you. Sure, Petropa was dealt with, but you were the sickest you had been in months. Choerteris stood over her mother’s unconscious form, gazing down at her. You coughed. Choerteris jolted.

“Anon!” she cried.

Choerteris ran over to you. “Anon, it’s okay, I’m here!”

She picked up your torso, cradling you in her arms. “Shh. Shh. It’s okay, I’m here. You’re safe now! I did it, Anon! I won!”

Her hands worked to wipe away some of the mana on your cheeks. You moaned in pain.

“Shh! You’re alright, you’re safe! Just- just breath! We did it. I told you, just a little blood, and I could win.”

It was obvious that Choerteris was starting to panic. With each passing moment, her expression became more and more dismayed. She looked over at Petropa’s crumpled form.

“Can you walk? We have to go. Mamma won’t stay down forever. Can you move?” said Choerteris.

You couldn’t even muster the energy to say anything, much less flee a castle. Staying conscious was already a dubious prospect.

“Anon?” whispered Choerteris.

You shut your eyes. The pain was too much to bear.

“Anon!”

You felt yourself lifted off the bed. Choerteris began to say something too you. Her words became a muddled stream of sounds, incomprehensible to your fading mind. Desperate to escape the pain, you let yourself slip into unconsciousness.

~~~~~~~~~

A damp cloth dragged across your forehead. You shuddered. Too cold… Clutching your sheets, you tried in vain to get warm.

“Anon! Can you hear me? Are you awake?”

You cracked your eyes open. Choerteris was hovering over you. It looked like she had been crying. She stifled a gasp.

“Thank Ares you’re alright! I thought you might be dying. How do you feel?” asked Choerteris.

“Cold…” you whimpered.

Choerteris leapt to her feet. She returned a moment later with another sheet. Throwing it over you, she did her best to tuck you in.

“I’m so sorry, Anon. This is all my fault. I- I got too caught up with beating momma.” Said Choerteris.

“I told you.” You muttered.

Choerteris flinched. “Anon…”

“You goddamn leech…”

“Don’t say that!” pleaded Choerteris “I’m sorry! I didn’t know how much blood to take! I don’t drink blood, that’s why I took too much! Please don’t be mad, Anon! It was the only way to beat her! And it worked! I’m so sorry, please don’t hate me…”

Choerteris began to cry. You had a hard time feeling sorry for her. After all, you had warned her time and time again not to drink from you. And now look what had happened.

“I swear, I’ll never do it again! It was a moment of weakness! All I want is for you to be safe; I won’t let myself be blinded by revenge anymore!”

You watched Choerteris break down into tears again. She pulled her knees to her chin, sobbing into her lap. Somehow you knew that this was a rare sight; Choerteris wasn’t the kind of person to break down like this often.

“Please don’t hate me.” she sniffed “I know I can be callous sometimes. But you’re the first human I’ve ever really got to know. And you’re the only one who has ever helped me fight mamma. I know you’re mad, and I’m sorry; just don’t leave me. You’re all I have…”

You sighed. It was easy to forget that Choerteris hadn’t had an easy life. You sympathized with her; just like you, she was alone in this world. No excuse for biting you, of course, but you could see how she would get tunnel vision when fighting Petropa. Choerteris was probably used to adventuring partners, not bumbling humans. You absentmindedly ran a hand over the puncture wounds on your wrist, contemplating how to proceed. After all, you would still need her help getting out of here. Without a guide. Lussazan would probably have to resurrect your corpse after you starved in a random bathroom.

“Choerteris, I need you to be honest with me: do you feel any craving for blood?” you asked.

Choerteris stopped crying. “No! Of course not! I don’t need your blood, Anon. It was a means to an end, that’s all!”

What were you supposed to say to those twinkling eyes and that wobbling lip? Choerteris may be roguish, but she was the noble kind. The “I risked life and limb to return the ancient artifact to its rightful owner” kind of rogue; not the “hey buddy, do you want to walk with me down this dark alley to look at a watch?” kind. Given her lack of social skills, it was highly unlikely that she was this good at lying. Still, the way she gnashed on you didn’t sit right. You needed some hard answers before you could trust her fully.

“I need to speak to Lussazan.” You croaked.

“What?” Choerteris balked at the demand.

“Choerteris, I might be dying. Unless you want to be my pallbearer, you have to find Lussazan. Tell her to be discreet.”

“We can’t trust her! She’s working for Mamma!” said Choerteris.

“She cares more about her experiments than your Mother’s demands. Tell her what happened; she’ll be desperate for samples.”

Choerteris fidgeted. You sighed.

“What is it now?” you said.

“I don’t want to leave you like this… Can I get her later?” said Choerteris softly.

You weren’t worried about dying; that was just a convenient means to get Lussazan to inspect you. What you were really after was a confirmation about your sneaking suspicions. That being said, you did FEEL like death.

“Fine.” You said, rolling over in your makeshift bed.

“Anon?” said Choerteris.

“What is it?” you said, your annoyance seeping into your tone.

“…Can I do something for you?”

“Do something? You mean get me something?” you said.

“Um, I was thinking… That maybe I could… That you might like…Um…”

“What?” you said exasperatedly.

Choerteris flinched. “That maybe you would be more comfortable with your head in my lap?”

You rolled over to look at her. Choerteris turned bright red and quickly looked away. That was a surprisingly timid move from someone so obstreperous. You opened your mouth to reject her offer, but your traitorous eyes roamed down to her exposed, creamy thighs. Suddenly, the cold lump of mildewy cloth you had been using for a pillow didn’t seem that appealing any more. Would she be any warmer? She was only half vampire after all. Maybe you could find out. You know, for science.

“Alright. But just for a little bit.” You said, trying to maintain your grumpy demeanor.

Choerteris quickly hurried over to you. Kicking her legs across the top of your “mattress,” she patted her thighs. You flopped your aching head down onto her lap, making sure to face towards her feet. Oh sweet mother of mercy, she was perfect. Choerteris’s skin was a perfect temperature; warm, but not offensively so. The toned flesh was smoother than butter. It felt almost sinful to rub your own rough face against it. Beneath the pristine, porcelain exterior, her quadriceps held your head firmly in place. Her lap was strangely plush in spite of this impressive musculature.

“Woah…” you muttered.

“Huh?” said Choerteris.

“Nothing.” You said quickly.

This was just temporary. You had had your fun, now it was time to sleep off the rest of this mana sickness and be on your way. Your head felt heavy. You had to move; now. Choerteris tentatively rested a hand on your head. Her adroit fingers began combing through your hair, gently following the waves and curls. Your eyelids shut. So much for leaving…

~~~~~~~~~

Something shocked you. Squealing and thrashing, you tried to make sense of the blanket labyrinth you found yourself in.

“Lussazan!” cried Choerteris.

“I had to wake him up.” Said Lussazan.

“With lightning?” asked Choerteris, helping you out of the sheets.

“He has caused me a considerable amount of consternation these past few days.” Said the lich.

“Hello to you too.” You grumbled.

“I have not greeted you yet.”

Good ol’ Lussazan…

“I take it you’re not going to rat me out to Petropa?” you said.

“I fail to see how rodents affect your query, but if you are inquiring whether or not I will betray you, your secret is safe with me. I’ve always valued you more as a specimen than a member of the court.” Said Lussazan.

“Uh… Thanks…” you said. Really giving out the warm and fuzzies there, Lussazan.

“Why have you asked me here? You would not risk me informing Petropa of your location unless you were under considerable duress.” Said Lussazan.

“Choerteris, could you give us some privacy?” you asked.

Choerteris blinked. “What?”

“I need to speak to Lussazan alone. It’s a sensitive matter.” You explained.

Choerteris eyed you. She looked at Lussazan. Her brow furrowed ever so slightly.

“Yeah… sure. I’ll go make sure there aren’t any guards following Lussazan.” Petropa picked up her estoc and slipped out of the trapdoor to the attic you were in. You and Lussazan watched her go.

“I suspect that your desire for confidentiality has something to do with Choerteris.” Said Lussazan.

“You always were a smart one.” You said dryly.

“Yes.”

“… Anyways, how much have you heard over the past few days? About Choerteris and I?”

“Petropa has insisted on ceasing all patrols. She says that she will deal with Choerteris personally. Members of the castle staff are not to engage with you or Choerteris, per Petropa’s orders.” Said Lussazan.

Odd. You figured that she would be doubling down on patrols, not cutting them off. Why on earth would she give up like that?

“Did she tell you anything? Any reason as to why Choerteris and I weren’t being hunted down like animals to be thrown into an oubliette?” you asked.

“I do not know.” Said Choerteris.

You frowned. Something was amiss.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t call you here to gossip. I need you to give me a checkup.” You said.

“I should think so. I can sense a great deal of mana radiating off of you.” Said Lussazan, her hand already glowing with diagnostic magic.

“How bad is it?” you asked.

“Considerable.” Said Lussazan.

“What do you mean, ‘considerable?’” you said.

Lussazan’s face betrayed the slightest hint of surprise, a rare sight from the lich.

“Choerteris?” she asked.

“Yeah. She got a taste of my blood during our initial fight with Petropa. Apparently, it gave her a boost. The next time we fought Petropa, she actually drank from me.” You said, rubbing the puncture wounds on your wrist.

Lussazan touched down on her knees beside the bed and took your arms into her frigid hands. “How much blood did she take?”

“How the hell should I know? It felt like a lot.” You said.

Lussazan continued her tests in silence. After a few minutes of prodding, she let go of your arm.

“You were suffering from mana poisoning.”

“Oh, wow. Thanks for the diagnosis.” You said dryly.

“You are welcome.” nodded Lussazan.

“What about complications? Do I need to have the mana purged?” you asked.

“In time, the mana within your system will work its way out. You will feel a sense of malaise until it falls below your tolerance threshold. That is, however, predicated on the assumption that no more mana is introduced to your system.” Said Lussazan.

Your blood chilled for a second. “That’s an awfully specific assumption…”

Lussazan merely stared at you. “Has Choerteris made any romantic advances on you?”

“No.” you said.

“You said she tasted your blood during your first encounter with Petropa. How much blood did she ingest?”

“Just a lick. She didn’t bite; just lapped it up.” You explained.

“Did you notice a change in her temperament after she ingested your blood?” asked Lussazan.

You frowned. “She got surly. Mean, even. Everything annoyed her.”

“She seemed amicable when the three of us spoke. Would you say that she was in a normal mood?”

“It’s hard to say. I don’t think I’ve known her long enough to make that judgement.” You said.

“Let me rephrase that question: at what time did her choleric disposition cease?” asked Lussazan.

“It stopped…” you thought for a moment. You were out like a light after she had finished sucking you dry. That being said, she did seem rather concerned with you while you were going under. And she was throwing herself at your mercy when you woke up. “It was after she drank my blood.” You said.

Lussazan gave you a look. Your own expression changed to terror as the words rolled off your tongue.

“Lussazan, you don’t think she’s… addicted, do you?” you said.

“Vampires keep extensive records of dhampir feeding habits. Many believe that their “tainted” daughters can be reformed in their own image by introducing them to hematophagy. In all records, a dhampir begins with a taste of blood. The dhampir then develops a craving for blood from that male. Over time, these cravings become more pronounced. Failure to obtain blood produces symptoms that resemble withdrawal.” Said Lussazan.

“Then she’s…?” you couldn’t finish the question.

“Based on all previous data on the subject, I would postulate that Choerteris will become dependent on your blood. In turn, you will become bound to her and incubize.” Said Lussazan.

“Lussazan, you have to do something! She’ll kill me if she drinks from me again!” you pleaded.

“Her hematophagy does indeed constitute a threat to your health. I must study the effects of her mana on your body. The only reason you and I are still conversing is because her mana had a relatively minor impact on your being compared to other mamono. I hypothesize that this is thanks to her half-human heritage.” Said Lussazan.

“That’s it?! I might get exsanguinated and you’re just going to study?!” you said.

“Make no mistake, Anon. Though you fascinate me, I am still beholden to Petropa’s orders. My very presence here is already a violation of the terms she set forth. Taking you into my laboratory would result in your immediate capture and my castigation.” Said Lussazan.

“We’re talking about my LIFE here!” you said.

“Your life would be endangered whether or not you were in my company. Tell me, what do you think Petropa would do when she gets her hands on you?” asked Lussazan.

You deflated. She was right. It was out of the frying pan and into the fire with that vampire. The way it stood, you would be drained by Emballandae or drained by Choerteris. Or worse, thrown to the guards as a holiday bonus.

“I require samples of your blood and semen for analysis.” Said Lussazan.

“There really isn’t anything you can do?” you asked softly.

“I’ll do everything in my power to keep you alive.” Said Lussazan.

Looks like that would have to do. Rolling up your sleeve, you offered her an arm to draw from.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Choerteris practically blew the hinges off the trapdoor when she returned.

“No guards.” She said quickly, falling to her knees at your bedside.

“I must depart. I have samples to analyze, and Petropa will begin to question my absence.” Lussazan said. With a flash of light, she was gone.

Choerteris began to ask you something but stopped herself. Her nose twitched. You squirmed. Considering what Lussazan had told you, now wasn’t a good time to be smelling like semen…

“So, what did you talk about?” asked Choerteris, licking her chops.

“My health. Just wanted to make sure I wasn’t on the way to an early grave.” You said.

“Don’t worry, Anon. I won’t let you die. You’re safe as long as I’m around.” She took your hand into hers.

“Yeah…” you tried to pull away from her. She remained staunchly attached.

“Say, I was thinking, we’ve been on the run together for days, but we still don’t know anything about each other.” Said Choerteris.

“I guess you’re right.” You said.

“You’re from another world, right? Tell me about it!” said Choerteris.

Seemed innocent enough, in spite of the wild look in her eyes. “Alright, what do you want to know?”

~~~~~~~~~

You and Choerteris conversed for hours about your respective worlds. To your dhampir friend’s immense disappointment, you had no “adventures” to speak of. When you informed her that there was no magic, monsters, or dungeons to speak of on Earth, she was baffled. You informed her that there were plenty of nice place to go and things to do that didn’t involve mortal danger or plundering treasures; a claim she was skeptical of. She was, however, thoroughly impressed with your explanation of all the technological wonders of Earth. The conversation quickly devolved into a series of tangents as you futilely tried to explain something, only to have to explain two more things for proper context. Choerteris had no trouble coming up with stories to tell you. A seasoned adventurer with hundreds of expeditions under her belt, Choerteris always had a tale filled with danger and excitement to tell. Temples, ruins, uncharted lands, bounties, feral monsters, she had done it all.

“Yep, I’ve done quite a bit in my life. I may not be as rich as mamma, but I still have quite the fortune stashed away. Now I just need something to spend it on.” Choerteris laughed.

It was a forced laugh. She glanced over at you as she said it to gauge your reaction. You gave her a grin and a small chuckle out of courtesy. Was she hinting at you?

“Yeah, I’ll bet.” You said.

“When we get out of here, I can take us anywhere. Zipangu, the Mist Continent, north into the ice kingdoms, the Capsalisma desert, anywhere you want! Hell, we could even go to the human continent! No one in Argen will know I’m half monster.” Said Choerteris.

You gulped. “I’m sure I’ll need some money for travel…”

“And you won’t need to worry about a thing with me at your side. With your magic and my sword, there’s nothing we can’t handle.” Said Choerteris.

That confirmed your worst fears. “Choerteris, how long are you planning on accompanying me?” you asked slowly.

“As long as you need! I can spare the time; I’ve got the money! I can even teach you how to adventure if we run out of funds! You’d be great, I just know it.” beamed Choerteris.

Oh no. She wasn’t going to take a hint. You had to shake her notion that she was going to be at your side forever. “I’m sure that I’ll find someone who can take me in. I made a lot of friends in Admaz, I’m sure they could find somewhere for me to stay.” You said.

Choerteris’s smile shrank but did not abate. Her eyes got colder. You quickly averted your gaze.

“I really don’t mind, Anon. It’s nice to have some company. I’ve made a lot of friends over the years, but I’ve never found anyone who would stick by me like you do. So don’t worry about it; I’ll be here for as long as you need me. No one else can protect you like I can.” Said Choerteris.

“I don’t need your protection!” you blurted.

You regretted it in an instant. Choerteris slowly let go of your hand. She neatly folded her own hands in her lap. All the while, her carmine eyes remained firmly fixed on your own. You fought the urge to swallow the lump in your throat; to show weakness now would only reaffirm her beliefs. Choerteris had a knife pressed against the bottom of your jaw in an instant. You didn’t have time to react before the warm tickle of realm-silver was nipping at your skin. A stifled gasp escaped your lips. Choerteris pressed harder, forcing your head back. She was impossibly fast. Your brain hadn’t even registered her reaching for the knife.

“That kind of attitude will get you killed, Anon.” said Choerteris smoothly. She slowly pulled the knife away, tucking it back into its scabbard. You gulped. “The most important rule of adventuring is to know your limits. Even the best need someone to watch their back. You’re strong; I’ll concede that. But don’t think for a second that there isn’t someone stronger just around the corner. And they would LOVE to make a meal out of a cute man like yourself.”

“I’ll get stronger.” You said softly. A pathetic retort, given what had just transpired.

She stroked your hair. You grimaced; the gesture was too intimate for supposed “friends.”

“I know you will. I’ll make sure you reach your full potential.” Said Choerteris.

You didn’t dare protest. Pissing Choerteris off was the last thing you wanted to do. You forced yourself to yawn.

“I’m getting sleepy. Think I’m done for the night.” You said.

“Okay! I was getting a bit tired myself. Scooch over.” Said Choerteris.

“What?”

“Come on, it’s cold out here!” said Choerteris.

“Lussazan said I shouldn’t be near any source of mamono mana.” You said.

“She did?” Choerteris cocked an eyebrow. You quickly recalled her claim that she could always tell when someone was lying. Too late now.

“Yeah. She said I had to isolate myself from as much mana as possible. Even you give off a little. Maybe you can steal some sheets from another room if you’re cold? Lussazan mentioned that they had eased up on the patrols.” You said.

Choerteris pursed her lips and made a few languorous nods, never looking away from you. “Sure. More blankets. I suppose I can scrounge something.” She said.

“Sorry, I just want to get better, you know?” you gave an apologetic laugh.

“I understand.” Choerteris picked up her estoc and wandered over to the trapdoor.

You flinched as the contraption slammed closed. There could be no doubt about it; you had to get away from Choerteris. To think that the person who had tasked herself with saving you would now be the most credible threat to your life.

~~~~~~~~~

Choerteris tossed and turned in her own makeshift bed. Anon snored softly beside her. He was cute even when he was asleep. But she couldn’t take her mind off what had transpired. Why had he lied to her about what Lussazan had said? What HAD she said? It was strange that he would summon her at all, given her connection to Petropa. Was he being threatened? Had Lussazan delivered some ultimatum? She had to be ready for anything. Choerteris swore softly. What a fool she had been. She should have stayed with Anon for the visit. He needed her. If he wasn’t careful, this lovable oaf was going to get himself killed.

Choerteris watched Anon’s chest rise and fall. She had to find a way out of here. Then they would be safe. She could take Anon somewhere nice; somewhere where he could prosper. So many avenues of adventure were open to her now that he was by her side. A magical juggernaut to compliment her own dexterous style of fighting and exploration. Choerteris giggled. It was like he was made for her. And who knows? Maybe one night, while they were huddled together beside a fire, Anon would finally repay her for all the-

Choerteris shook her head. What was she thinking? Anon was her friend. He had entrusted his life to her. She couldn’t take advantage of him like that. Her relationship was strictly professional; she was his guardian, and he was her charge. That’s all. Though, she wouldn’t be opposed if he was willing to reciprocate…

She glanced over at Anon again. Seeing his face in the moonlight stirred something uncomfortable within her. Rolling over, she tried to make sense of the dissonance in her head. Choerteris sighed and clamped a pillow against her ear. Anon’s heartbeat was getting louder again.

~~~~~~~~~~

You awoke feeling refreshed. It felt like most of the mana had exited your system. Rolling out of bed, you stood and stretched. Yep, ready to face the day. Figuratively, of course. It was always night in Tomb Haven. Time to get dressed. You turned around. Choerteris was right behind you. You screamed. She clamped a hand over your mouth.

“What are you doing?! Someone might hear us!” she hissed.

“What the hell are YOU doing?! You scared the shit out of me!” you said.

“I WAS about to ask what you wanted for breakfast.” Huffed Choerteris.

“Whatever I can eat. Nothing too demonic.” You said.

“Right.” Choerteris made for the exit.

“Choerteris.” You said.

“Yes?” she replied, a little too quickly.

“When you get back, let’s work out a plan, okay?” you said.

“Sure. I’ll be back soon.” She said.

You watched her slip out of the trapdoor. While she was gone, you should do some planning of your own. Contingencies. Just in case things didn’t go well. Just in case Lussazan’s predictions were as accurate as she had made them out to be…

“I should have asked for extra toast…” you sighed.

~~~~~~~~~~

“I’m back.” Choerteris awkwardly shoved the hatch out of the way while carrying a tray of food.

You helped her up. Fuck yeah, toast! Snagging a handful of crispy bread off a plate, you began wolfing it down. Mana sickness had a way of making you ravenous. Choerteris watched you intently while you ate.

“Do you want anything?” you asked, remembering your manners.

“Hmm? Oh, no. I got some food for myself while I was in the kitchen.” Said Choerteris.

More for you.

“You wanted to talk about a plan?” asked Choerteris, easing into an aged wooden chair.

“Yeah.” You swallowed a mouthful of food. “We need to force our way out.”

Choerteris’s brow furrowed. “Force?”

“We’re in a stalemate. The way things are going, I’m going to die of old age before we escape. What we need is to force Petropa’s hand.”

Choerteris gave you a condescending glare. “THAT is your plan? Go all in on a fight and pray we win?”

“Of course not. I think you’re overestimating your Mother’s ability to find us. After all, we’ve been up here for days, and she hadn’t found us yet. For all she knows, we left the castle days ago.” You said.

Choerteris pinched the bridge of her nose and clenched her eyes shut. “If it were that easy, we would be out of here.”

“I think it IS that easy. Unless you have a better plan.” you said.

Choerteris gave a disgusted sigh. “I don’t know. I’m still working on something. I think we should stay here a bit longer.”

“We can’t stay here forever. If Petropa is looking for us, she’ll run out of places to look eventually. And who knows how much Lussazan told her?” you said.

“You shouldn’t have trusted her.” growled Choerteris.

“Yeah? I wouldn’t have HAD to trust her if YOU didn’t put me at death’s door!” you snapped.

Choerteris stood up. She closed the distance in seconds, pushing her face into yours. “I saved your LIFE.” She hissed.

“And you almost ended it.” You said. Keeping your cool was next to impossible. Your instincts begged you to turn away or flinch.

“You’ve got some nerve, you know that?” said Choerteris.

“That’s what got me into this mess, remember?”

Choerteris snorted. “Fine. We’ll do it your way. But don’t come crying to me when mamma’s syphoning your blood into casks.”

~~~~~~~~~

So far, so good. No sign of patrols or Petropa. You were making great time towards the alleged exit. In fact, the only thing holding you back was-

Choerteris stumbled over a furrow in the carpet. She hissed out a swear. Unsheathing her estoc, she smashed through an innocent vase on a nearby display table.

“What the hell are you doing?!” you said.

“Shut up! Keep moving.” Said Choerteris.

It was like she was drunk. Her coordination and temperament were getting worse by the second. You could swear she looked paler too. This could be the worst possible scenario: getting out of Petropa and Lussazan’s reach just as Choerteris went feral. She was becoming a liability, a threat, even. But she was the only one who knew how to get you out of here. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t…

“Come on, we’re almost there. We can relax once we’re out.” You said, trying to mollify the ornery dhampir.

“I know.” Said Choerteris tersely.

“How much farther?” you asked.

“We’ll get there when we get there!” said Choerteris.

You shut up. No need to antagonize her. You twisted one of your limiter rings. If it came down to it, you might have to blast Choerteris. Only as a last resort. It was all you could do if she threatened your life. Pressing yourself against a wall, you peaked around a corner.

“It’s clear, come on.” You said.

“Wait!” Choerteris slammed her hand into your chest. You wheezed as the wind shot out of your lungs.

“Ow! What is it?” you asked.

“Shut up.” Whispered Choerteris. Her face was deathly pale. Sweat was starting to form a mist on her forehead. Her breaths were quick and deep. Choerteris looked around wildly, twisting and flinching at sounds that weren’t there.

“Choerteris?” you whispered.

“Something isn’t right…” murmured Choerteris.

“We can make it! We’re so close! The exit is right around the corner!” you pleaded. Not now, please God. What the hell was this, some sort of blood-induced delirium tremens?

Choerteris’s carmine eyes went wide. She froze, staring straight ahead into space. Her pupils shrank to pinpricks.

“She’s coming.” Whispered Choerteris.

A chill ran down your spine. “Petropa?”

Choerteris drew her estoc and frenziedly looked around. “She’s coming!” said Choerteris a bit louder.

“From where?!” you readied your magic, trying to follow Choerteris’s eyes.

“She’s coming!” Choerteris was practically screaming now.

“Where?!” you bellowed.

Choerteris lurched. It was a sickeningly stiff transition from hysteric to perfectly still. She twisted her head to you. The way she looked at you was enough to curdle your blood in your veins.

“Anon, she’s coming. I can’t beat her. I need your blood.” Said Choerteris calmly.

“What?” You clenched your wrist where she had bitten you before.

“There’s no time, Anon. We’re both doomed if she finds us. I need your blood.” Repeated Choerteris.

“No!” you said.

“Give it to me!”

Choerteris took a step towards you. You cowered. The woman who was half human suddenly seemed more monstrous than any beast you had met so far. Choerteris must have realized the trepidation she was causing you. Her face softened.

“Anon, please. This is for your sake.” She pleaded.

“Get away from me!” you readied your magic.

Choerteris stared at you, her face awash with confusion. Slowly, her features went stone cold. “She got to you, didn’t she?”

“No one ‘got to me,’ Choerteris! You’ve lost it! If you want to stay here and go insane in that attic, fine! But I’m leaving.”

“It’s too dangerous, Anon. Petropa is coming. You have to stay with me.” said Choerteris.

“Fuck you! There are no patrols! We haven’t seen anyone in more than an hour! You’re delusional!”

Choerteris glared at you. “You WILL stay with me.”

“Go to hell, you bloodsucker!”

Choerteris lunged at you. Oh fuck, she was fast! In the heat of the moment, you’d forgotten that she could go toe-to-toe with a full-fledged vampire. Flailing with your arms, you launched a haphazard barrage of random magic at her.

“You’re ruining everything!” snarled Choerteris.

You managed to concentrate enough to launch a shockwave towards her. Even the nimblest fighter couldn’t dodge the wall of energy. Choerteris was slammed against a wall. Turning heel, you sprinted for the exit. One more hallway down, on the right, third door. You could make it. Choerteris tackled you from behind. Guess that serves you right for underestimating how tough she was. The two of you tumbled across the floor.

“Calm down!” roared Choerteris. You held her at bay with your magic. She gnashed her teeth at you.

“Fuck off you rabid brat!” Throwing Choerteris into the ceiling was an easy feat now that she was within blasting distance. This time, you didn’t hold back.
Without waiting to see if she would get back up, you scrambled for the exit. Petropa may have cut the patrols, but that didn’t mean that there weren’t potential opportunists lurking in these corridors. Best to get out before the commotion attracted any unwanted attention. Skidding around the corner, you dipped into the door and slammed it shut behind you. Choerteris had mentioned something about an armoire. You used one hand to drag a desk in front of the door and the other to rip open the doors of every wardrobe-shaped piece of furniture in the room. No secret passages revealed themselves to you. Where the hell was it? You started blasting away the wardrobes in desperation. As you reduced one to a pile of splinters, a gaping hole in the wall behind it was revealed. Finally, after all this time! You scrambled into the hole. Channeling some magic into a fingertip, you illuminated the darkness around you. Choerteris burst through the door. It took everything you had not to panic. Praying that the exit was close, you began to run.

“ANON!” Choerteris’s voice echoed down the tunnel through the darkness. You sprinted into the abyss, only able to see a few meters in front of you. Choerteris’s nimble footsteps were closing in.

By the time you saw the stairs, it was too late. The shallow, wet steps appeared out of nowhere. Your foot dropped down a few steps with your body tumbling over it. A searing pain shot through your back as you flopped down onto the stone. The sensation quickly spread to the rest of your body as you cartwheeled down the steps into the dark. With one final crunch, you impacted against an unseen wall. Pinpricks of light exploded into your vision. Though it was impossible to orient yourself in the dark, the whole world felt like it was moving under your feet. Groping the cold stone, you sat yourself up. You lifted a damaged hand and relit your finger to see where the hell you had wound up.

Choerteris was crouching in front of you. Her ruby eyes twinkled in the gloom, within arm’s length of your own face. You screamed. This time, you were slow on the draw. An errant shot fizzled against the ceiling behind her as she pinned your arm to the wall. You tried to swat her away with your other hand. Choerteris caught your wrist in her mouth, fangs sinking past your skin. The sickening sensation of blood flowing out of your body began again. You shouted incoherently, trying to twist away from her. Choerteris used her free hand to seize you by the throat. Your cries were reduced to stunted mewls as Choerteris continued to drink. This time, there wasn’t even a hint of regard for your discomfort. She sucked the blood from your arm in long, deep, drafts. Without the light from your magic to illuminate the scene, you had to use your imagination to conceive of what kind of horror was transpiring. You were going unconscious; that much was certain. Between the pain and the inordinate amount of blood leaving your body, there was no way that you were walking away from this. Accepting your fate, you listened to the pounding in your ears drown out all other sound.

~~~~~~~~~

You shivered. The warmth next to you squeezed you tighter. You nestled against it, trying to bury yourself in the heat. A hand ran through your hair. You nuzzled it appreciatively. It felt good to be cared for when you were sick like this. Someone’s breath tickled your neck. Who was it? You racked your muddled mind for some notion of who could be resting with you. Ah, right Choerteris. Weren’t you doing something important with her? You cracked your eyes open. Moonlight poured into the room from a small window. Your head throbbed. A low moan of pain slipped past your lips.

“Anon?”

Choerteris propped herself up on the bed next to you. She softly brushed your cheek with the back of her hand.

“Choerteris?” you mumbled.

“How are you feeling?” she asked. She looked worried.

You stared at her for a few seconds. “Foggy.”

Choerteris nodded. “Just rest. You’ll feel better.”

You closed your eyes again. The nagging feeling that you were forgetting something was getting worse. You gasped. Choerteris had to hold you down to keep you from sitting up.

“Choerteris! The escape! Did we- did we make it?” you asked, panting from the exertion.

Choerteris bit her lip. She looked away. “We uh… we didn’t make it.”

“Oh…” you collapsed back onto your pillow.

That was disappointing. But should it be? How close had you come to escaping? The last thing you remembered was-

The image of Choerteris hunched over in front of you, ready to strike, resurfaced in your brain. You gasped. Choerteris tightened around you. You tried to push her away.

“Anon…” whispered Choerteris.

“You bit me…” you whispered.

“I’m sorry!” she pleaded.

“I had to run from you.” You said.

“Anon, please! I’m sorry! I thought mamma was coming!” said Choerteris.

“She never showed up?” you asked.

“No.” whispered Choerteris.

You gave up your squirming. Choerteris held you like her life depended on it. Tears ran down your skin where her face rubbed against you.

“I did my best.” sniffled Choerteris.

“I trusted you.” You whispered.

Choerteris sobbed. “Anon, stop. I was keeping you safe.”

“You pinned me to a wall and drained me.”

“I had to! You were panicking! I had to get you to calm down. I didn’t want to stab you, so I took some blood. You would settle down and I could fight mamma. I never would have done it if you had kept your cool!” said Choerteris.

“You were the one tweaking!” you said.

“That’s not true! She was coming! I could feel it!” pleaded Choerteris.

“Your feeling was bullshit! You were hungry! And why the hell didn’t you escape?! We were there!”

“I had to hide you away! The guards were closing in; they would have seen us escape if we had left!” said Choerteris.

She adjusted her body so that her arms were on either side of your head. Her eyes filled with tears as her golden hair cascaded down around her face.
“Anon, please forgive me! I know what I did was wrong. It got out of hand. But my intentions were pure!”

Her lip trembled. A tear spilled onto your face. You turned away.

“Go get Lussazan.” You said.

Choerteris flinched. Crying quietly to herself, she slowly got off of you and went to find Lussazan.

~~~~~~~

“How is he?” asked Choerteris.

“Be quiet.” Said Lussazan.

You stared at the ceiling while the lich inspected you. Choerteris had insisted that she be at your side this time. She said it was to make sure that Lussazan didn’t try anything, but all she had done was fidget and ask questions.

“I didn’t take that much; just enough to sedate him!” said Choerteris.

“As you’ve said before.” grumbled Lussazan. She concluded her checkup and scribbled out a few notes. “You aren’t going to die, but I suspect you’ll be feeling ill for several days.”

Choerteris sighed in relief. “Thank Ares.”

“You should keep yourself separate from him until he has recuperated.” added Lussazan.

“What?!” said Choerteris.

“Your mana is poisoning him. Further exposure could have detrimental effects on his health.” Said Lussazan.

“But- but he NEEDS me!” said Choerteris.

“I’m sure he’ll be able to manage if you bring him food and water. I’ll have the cooks leave some suitable ingredients lying out for you.”

“Thank you, Lussazan.” You said.

“Try not to perish, Anon. It could ruin my research.”

Lussazan blinked out of existence.

“I know Lussazan means well, but she’s wrong about this. You need me here. Who knows if guards are going to find this place some day? And what if you need something? It’s better if I’m here with you.” Said Choerteris.

“Stay away from me.” You said sternly.

Choerteris winced. “I know you’re saying that now, and with good reason, but please think about this! You’d be dead without me! I’ve kept you alive this long, can’t you trust me a bit longer?”

“No. Get out.” You said. You weren’t backing down from this.

Choerteris’s face darkened. “I can see you’re upset. How about I come back after you’ve had some time to cool off, and we can have a chat about what happened?”
“There’s nothing to talk about. You drained me because you were fiending for my blood.”

“I’ve told you a dozen times, Anon. That was to protect you from Mother. You’re just confused after your fall; you got pretty banged up on those stairs.”
“I remember damn well what happened! Don’t try to fool me with your bullshit!” you snapped.

“Bullshit?! Do you have any idea how arrogant you are?! To say that I’m trying to lie to you after everything I’ve sacrificed on your behalf? I’ve saved your skin how many times, and you can’t overlook one mistake predicated on a misunderstanding?!” said Choerteris.

“Misunderstanding? MISUNDERSTANDING?! You bit me in a fit of blood-fueled psychosis; you didn’t fall down the stairs and accidentally land fang-first into my wrist! You knew EXACTLY what you were doing!” you shouted.

“SO WHAT?! SO WHAT IF I DID?! Huh?! You owe me EVERYTHING. You want me gone?! Fine, I’ll leave! Since I’m such a monster, I suppose you’ll be better off on your own!” shouted Choerteris.

“I’ll have better odds of keeping my bodily fluids inside me!” you snapped.

“I should have left you to Mother.” Spat Choerteris.

Picking up her things, she hopped out of the trapdoor and disappeared. Serves her right, biting you like that. Crazy bitch could have killed you. You rubbed the wounds on your wrist, watching the trapdoor. Your stomach growled. Guess you would be feeding yourself from now on…

~~~~~~~~

It took the better part of a day before your hunger got the better of you. Peering out of the trapdoor, you carefully exited out into the hallway. Now where? Looking around the hall was a painful reminder that you had absolutely no idea where the hell you were supposed to be going. And even if you did find the kitchen, getting back would be an even greater challenge. You sniffed the air. Nothing. So much for that. Looks like it would be trial and error. Time to pick a direction and walk.

~~~~~~~~

Where the hell was a kitchen?! There must be at least a dozen in a castle this size! You slumped against a wall. Your stomach growled angrily. Hours of wandering through the castle and not a crumb to show for it. And you could forget about finding your way back to the attic. All the daydreams you had had in your hunger induced delirium had distracted you from keeping track of where you were. There had to be SOMETHING to eat around here. You staggered around a corner, bouncing off a wall of metal.

“Oh!”

You stared up at the woman you had run into. Or, you tried to. Her head was cradled under one of her arms.

“You! You’re that human!” she exclaimed, placing her head back where it belonged.

You floundered, scrambling back. The dullahan looked more confused than lecherous.

“Where have you been? We looked everywhere for you. You should not have run from Lady Petropa. The gift she offers you is one most humans will never experience.” She chided.

You readied your magic as she approached you. Her eyes went wide. With quaking limbs, you tried to pull yourself up.

“My Lord! Are you unwell? You’re shaking! If fear is making you convulse, rest assured that I have no intentions of harming you.” Said the dullahan holding her hands up defensively.

Your stomach roared. “Where is the kitchen?” you demanded.

“My Lord, are you hungry? You look so gaunt; when was it that last you ate?” asked the dullahan.

“Where!?” you repeated.

“If you are in need of sustenance, I can fetch you some. Please, rest yourself if you are feeling ill.” Said the dullahan.

“Bullshit! You’re going to get more guards!” you snarled.

“You have my word: I will return here with food and nothing else.” Said the dullahan.

She stared at you solemnly. It wasn’t as if you could turn this offer down. You couldn’t put out much magic in your sorry state, and odds are that the next monster to find you wouldn’t be so courteous. Dullahans were knightly, right? If ever there was a species you could trust, it was them.

“Fine.” You relented.

“Very well, Lord. Please, rest yourself in a bedroom. I shall return momentarily with a meal.”

The dullahan led you to a bedroom. You stumbled inside and collapsed onto the bed. At least you didn’t have to worry about falling asleep; hunger would keep you awake.

~~~~~~

“My Lord? I’ve returned.” Said a soft voice on the other side of the door.

You cracked the door. The dullahan stood with a small plate of food. You threw open the door the rest of the way, nearly spilling the contents of the plate as you wrenched it out of her hands. She gave a small gasp of surprise. Setting the tray down on a small table, you forewent the chair and began to scarf down the food. The dullahan shut the door behind you.

“To think you would be in this state… I feel terrible. If I had known that you were starving, I would have searched every crevice in the castle.” Said the dullahan.

“Fuck off with that.” You grumbled.

“Lord?” asked the dullahan.

“If you hadn’t hunted me like dogs, I wouldn’t be in this mess!” you said.

“We had to retrieve you, Lord. Lady Petropa-“

“Lady Petropa was about to get me killed. Did she mention that? Did she tell you that she was going to risk my life so that her brat of a daughter could have an exotic husband?” you snapped.

The dullahan frowned. “Unlife is not what you have been led to believe, human. Many of our kind were once-“

“Not unlife, idiot. Death. Soul death. Emballandae’s mana had a chance of rotting me from the inside out.”

She squirmed. “That was… not mentioned. We were told to keep Choerteris away from you at any cost. Beyond that, Lussazan was to oversee the marriage.”

“And you didn’t see anything wrong with that? Feeding a human to a vampire so that she could have a fancy snack?” you said.

The dullahan grew indignant. “I’ll have you know that Lady Emballandae is a VERY gracious and proper young woman. She’s had suitors the world over. Her manners and decorum are impeccable.”

“She’s a brat.”

“You dare?! If you would swallow your pride, you would see what a kind person she is. You’re very fortunate to be engaged to such a woman. Any human woman would pale in comparison to her.” Said the dullahan.

“I don’t care. I don’t want to marry her.” You said.

The dullahan sighed. “Lord, I urge you to reconsider.”

“I’ve had ample time to reconsider while I was risking my life to escape her.” You said.

“Perhaps Petropa will grant you clemency, and you can get to know her a bit better. I understand that you two did not meet on the best of terms…”

“You mean when she tried to waltz in and buy me like a common whore? Or are you talking about the time she showed up with an army to intimidate my friends and kidnap me?” you said.

“It was all a misunderstanding! Lady Emballandae was merely eager to meet you; she was ignorant of your social customs. She meant no offence with her offering.” Insisted the dullahan.

“Threatening to siege a town is a hell of a faux pas.” You said.

“You see an army, but you neglect to see that Petropa and Emballandae deemed you worthy of dispatching an army. You still do not recognize how valuable you truly are.” Said the dullahan.

“And I don’t intend to.” You said, swallowing the last of the food. “Where’s the nearest exit?”

“Lord?”

“I’m leaving. You can show me the exit, or I’ll find one myself. Or make one.” You said.

The dullahan shot you a condescending look. “A bold threat from a man who got lost on his way to the cupboard.”

“Shut up! Are you going to help me or not?” you said.

“I will. I’m taking you back to Lady Petropa.” Said the dullahan.

A chill ran down your spine. “You what?”

“It’s time to end this petty display of insolence, Lord Anon. Your obstinate refusal of our Lady’s help is unbecoming of a man who will one day have an estate of his own. Petropa only wants what is best for you; even if you are too blind to see it.” Said the dullahan.

“You’d be a fool to try.” You said, readying your magic. She didn’t look impressed.

“Truly your arrogance knows no bounds. Do you really think yourself the only magician in the castle?”

With a flick of her wrist, she swept your legs out from under you. Before you had even hit the ground, she had lunged on top of you. The magic in your hands fizzled out as she slapped a pair of enchanted irons onto your wrists.

“I don’t enjoy using force on a human, but you leave me no choice.” Lamented the dullahan.

You thrashed around underneath her. “Let me go! I’d rather die than go back to that leech!”

“Lord, please try to attain some semblance of decorum by the time we reach Lady Petropa. If you recant your actions, she may show mercy.” Said the dullahan.
She hauled you to your feet. Your struggling made no difference against her. She pushed you towards the door.

“Settle down. You’re in good hands.” Said the dullahan.

Liar. You should have known that a free lunch was too good to be true. All you had done was forestall the inevitable. Looks like your overestimation of your own skills had finally done you in. Choerteris was right: you DID need her to survive. She had to be around, right? It wasn’t as if she would leave you. She couldn’t leave you. It was only a matter of time before she got the cravings again. Choerteris wouldn’t let her supply be tainted by another monster. But if she took care of whoever was threatening you, who would protect you from Choerteris? Could other monsters claim you anymore? You had no idea if you were still a viable husband for anyone other than Choerteris. For all you knew, her mana had already tainted you. The thought elicited a shudder from you. Were you already married? The dullahan marched you through the halls, indifferent to your mounting fear and existential dread. You blenched as a patrol of guards stepped out of a room.

“So that’s when I grabbed him and- Woah, no way!”

The guards took notice of you immediately. The cackling mob moved in around you, laughing and jeering.

“You found him!”

“I knew he couldn’t hide forever. The little rat looks half starved.”

“Hey, mage! Let’s see you magic your way out of this one!”

“Let us have him, Harpeden! We’ve earned it for all the trouble he’s caused us!”

A ghoul tried to grab you. The dullahan swatted her hand away. “Anonymous is not to be touched. He is the guest of Lady Petropa.”

“Ha! Guest! That’s a funny way of saying hors d’oeuvre!”

“Come on, Harpeden. Emballandae doesn’t want this guy. Give him to someone who can appreciate him.”

“He’s coming with me, and that’s final. Get back to your duties.” Said the dullahan.

She tried to shove you forward. The guards remained where they stood. You flopped face-first into a wisp’s cleavage.

“Oh my, how forward~ How would you like to see what the inside of my cage looks like, cutie?~” said the ghost.

“Step aside.” Growled the dullahan.

“Hmm… No, I think I like it here.” The wisp grabbed your torso. You yelped. The flames from her cage licked at your body. That same dreadful feeling of having your soul singed.

“If you won’t step aside-“ the dullahan drew her sword “I’ll drag you out of the way.”

“We’d like to see you try~” said the wisp, putting an emphasis on the ‘we.’

A brawl erupted in the hallway. The fight seemed to be a three-way fight between monsters attacking the dullahan, monsters fighting with the dullahan, and a group of guards who wanted nothing to do with the fight. They were probably already married. Or lazy. You were jostled to the floor in the commotion. You rolled over to a wall and worked your way up. No matter who won the fight, you lost. The only hope you had now was to find Choerteris. Hands still bound behind your back, you took off down the hallway. Where you were going, you couldn’t say. A few monsters took notice of your absconding and took off after you.

It took only a moment to realize that your odds may have been better as a prize for the victors. The monsters behind you made it abundantly clear that they were from the team of guards waylaying the dullahan. You listened to every lurid detail of your impending rape while you ran. They were gaining on you. Spying a staircase, you hurtled yourself down the steps three at a time. Your foot slipped on the lip of a stair near the bottom. You momentarily mused on the strange coincidence that this was the second time in a week that you would be caught by a monster after falling down a staircase before the impact rattled your already bruised body. At least these stairs were carpeted. With a final thud and a grunt of pain, you came to a rest at the foot of the stairs.

“Hah! Mind the last step, morsel. It’s a doozy.”

The pursuing guards took their sweet time descending the stairs. They had you dead to rights after all. Where the hell was Choerteris. You closed your eyes and prayed for her timely intervention.

“I hope you like the taste of cunt, mage. Because that’s the only thing you’re going to be eating for-“

The guard stopped mid gloat. Choerteris? You opened your eyes. The guards were frozen on the stairs, staring at something behind you. You rolled over.

“Hello, Anonymous. I must admit, you’re a hard man to find.” Said Petropa.

“L-Lady Petropa! We found him in the halls. He tried to make a break for it and-“

“Spare me. You have an hour to leave the castle before I sic the rest of my guards on you. The ones who are loyal to me and capable of following orders.” Said Petropa.

“Lady Petropa, that isn’t nearly enough time to-“

“Fifty-nine minutes left. If we catch you in the castle, everything you have is forfeit.” Said Petropa.

The guards turned tail and fled back up the stairs.

“Imbeciles. Good help is so hard to find.” sighed Petropa.

The vampire hauled you to your feet. She tutted as she looked you over. “Poor thing. Look at what my little girl has done to you. Covered in bruises, filthy, wasting away… I hate to say I told you so, Anon, but…”

“Go to hell.” You said.

Petropa smiled. “Ah, there’s that firebrand attitude I missed. Good to hear you’re feeling well enough to make those impudent quips we’ve all come to know and love.”
“What the hell do you want with me, you overgrown mosquito?” you said.

“What do I want with you? Hmm…” Petropa looked up thoughtfully “Nothing.”

You glared at her. “Nothing?”

“I’ve already attained more than I could have ever hoped from you, Anonymous.” Smiled Petropa.

You didn’t like this one bit. What happened to the old Petropa? The one who was constantly perturbed by your very presence? The one who told you time after time that you were nothing but fodder for her daughter? What did she know that you didn’t?

“Yes, nothing. Let’s let bygones be bygones; put this whole silly business behind us, shall we?” said Petropa.

“I’ll forgive you when you let me out of his hell-hole.” you said.

“Come now, Anon. Let’s try to stay on good terms. I think of you almost as family, you know.” sneered Petropa.

That shut you up. Suddenly it became very clear as to why Petropa was so amicable all of a sudden. She had already won. Seeing the truth dawn on your face only made her more beatific.

“How about some tea before you leave, hmm? We can sit down together and have a nice laugh about everything.” Said Petropa.

Picking you up by the scruff of your neck, she wandered towards the parlor.

~~~~~~~~~

“Tea?” asked Petropa.

“No thanks.” You said sternly.

“Suite yourself.”

Petropa hummed to herself idly while she poured herself a cup of tea. You eyed the plate of cookies next to your saucer. As much as you didn’t want to show weakness by snacking on something your mortal enemy had provided for you, the lunch the dullahan had brought was already fading.

“Go ahead, dear. You’ll need the sugar in your blood.” Said Petropa.

Well, now you definitely weren’t taking one.

“Fuck you.” You said.

“Ah! Language~ Is that any way to speak to your mother-in-law?” chided Petropa.

“Not yet you’re not.” You growled.

“Hmm. And I suppose you think you’re going to keep it that way, don’t you? That you still have some chance of escaping?” Petropa sipped her tea.

“I’ll manage.” You said.

“That bravado was so much more enthralling when you had the chance to back it up. Courage is endearing, Anonymous; inability to accept reality is not.” Sighed Petropa.

“Choerteris is stronger than her urges.” You said.

Petropa bit into a cookie. “And that’s why you ran from her? Twice?”

“You were watching us, weren’t you?” you grumbled.

“Hardly. I knew that once my daughter had a taste of blood that her true form would have no trouble taking the reins. And now she’s become the scion of night she was always meant to be. Truth be told, I haven’t done a thing since our squabble in the hallway. Just a few ghosts checking in on you every now and then to see how much progress had been made. I would have had Lussazan bump into you on accident, but it seems you saved me the trouble. Your vitals are strong, in case you were wondering.” Said Petropa.

“Then you never looked for us? Not once?” you said.

“Certainly not. Once I was sure that she was dependent on your blood, I left you two alone. Why exert myself when I’ve already won?” asked Petropa.

You anxiously twisted the limiter rings on your fingers. Petropa had taken off your restraints, claiming that there was no need for them with her to watch you. She was right; every drop of magic on your body wasn’t enough to stop a vampire with centuries of practice under her belt. Her confidence made you nervous. She had been angry when you had fought her the first time; vulnerable and insecure. Now she was comfortable enough to have you sitting here unrestrained in spite of everything you had done. She hated you. You were a disgusting human. Petropa could hardly stomach sitting at the same table with you, and now she was offering you cookies. Worst of all, you knew she was right. Given Choerteris’s behavior, you saw no reason to doubt Petropa’s assertion that her daughter was addicted to your blood.

“I take it that this meeting isn’t just so you can brag about how expensive that tea is, is it?” you said.

“Correct.” Said Petropa.

“Then why are we here?” you asked.

“We’re waiting.”

“Waiting?”

“For the last guest to arrive.”

You looked out the window at the moonlit garden. “So, I’m the bait?”

“Bait is a harsh term, but yes, I am using you to lure my traitorous daughter here.” chuckled Petropa.

“Why all the pleasantries, huh? Why are you so amicable now? You hate humans.” You said, lashing out at her condescending attitude.

“Anon, as much as I despise humans, my distain comes from what they represent. Beings too arrogant to recognize their superiors. You brought my daughter back into my fold, and for that, I am forever indebted to you. I only wanted you to realize your standing in this world. And to give you a loving bride to protect and guide you through this confusing new land. Yet you chose to obstinately refuse my help. Is having someone to cherish and look after you such an intolerable fate?” said Petropa. Strangely enough, it was the most genuine thing you had heard from her this conversation.

“I don’t need some bloodsucking leech to drag me around. I can handle myself just fine.” You said.

“There it is! That stubborn pride of yours! Anon, I want you to answer a few questions truthfully. From the bottom of your heart. Can you do that for me?” said Petropa.

“Depends on the question.” You said.

“The nerve of- Questions about how you view the world. Will you answer them?” demanded Petropa.

“Fine.” You said.

“Good. First question: do you think that a human, over the course of their natural lifespan, can compete with a vampire physically, mentally, or magically?” asked Petropa.

“Heroes ca-“

“Heroes can hardly be considered humans, Anon. And your presumption that a hero could trounce any vampire demonstrates your ignorance of our kind. Rest assured, Anonymous: I am by no means the strongest of my race. Now, answer the question please. Without getting coy.” Said Petropa.

You tried to think of any sort of exception to the rule. But there was no way in hell that a human could hold a candle to a vampire. Not unless they were in the sun. Of course, Petropa would surely point out all the instances where a human would be at a similar disadvantage while a vampire flourished.

“No…” you said bitterly.

“And can a typical human being hope to match something such as a succubus or demon mentally, physically, or magically?” asked Petropa.

“That’s not too outlandish of a claim.” You said.

Petropa pursed her lips.

“I didn’t say that a human would wipe the floor with them. But the odds in that fight wouldn’t be awful.” You said.

“You really haven’t interacted with many humans in this world, have you?” said Petropa.

“There were tons of them in Admaz.” You said.

“Ah yes, the mages. Tell me, how often did you see humans triumphing over monsters during magical practice?” asked Petropa.

You tried to recall a time that a man had beaten a monster. Only a couple flukes came to mind.

“My point exactly.” Petropa broke the silence “And all the magical prowess or martial might in the world is useless if the warrior is too aroused to fight. You’ve been spared from succubi’s charms, but I assure you that they are not to be trifled with. The most zealous warriors the Order has to offer can be undone with a simple blown kiss.”

“What does that have to do with anything?” you asked.

“What I’m trying to explain to you, dear son-in-law, is that you need someone to watch over you. This world is rife with monsters who would claim you as their own without regard for your wellbeing. Even the most common among species has the potential to subdue you. We vampires may be a stern and seemingly callous keepers, but I assure you that no other monster cares more for their spouse than a vampire. Recognition of the dangers of the world drives us to ensure the safety of our beloved.” Said Petropa.

“Don’t think I’m going to fall for that noble bullshit. You people are tyrannical slave-drivers!” you said.

Petropa sighed. “I understand your apprehension, Anon. But you must understand: the world you left was very different than this one.”

“You mean the world you dragged me to? The one you forcefully separated me from? The one without the monsters that you claim I need protection from?” you said.
“Do not insult my intelligence, Anonymous. You and I both know that the worst fates of this world pale in comparison to the horrors in yours. A day will come when the denizens of our worlds will need each other for survival; while I admit it was unethical to drag you into this world against your will, yours was a necessary sacrifice to ensure the survival of both our people.” Said Petropa.

Thermonuclear Armageddon did tend to be a little worse than getting a loving wife from one of your second-choice species…

“I was ready to welcome you into my family with open arms. And I still am, for that matter. I just needed you to understand your place. Loved, but secure in our protective embrace.” Said Petropa.

“Choerteris seems to have other ideas.” You said.

“Indeed. Something I plan on rectifying.”

“All the blood in the world won’t make her hate you any less.”

“Blood alone would indeed be insufficient. In time, however, Choerteris will see things my way.” Said Petropa.

The vampire’s ears twitched. She set down her teacup and listened.

“There she is now.” mused Petropa.

You strained your own ears. Should you warn Choerteris it was a trap? Would that even matter? You were already captured; if Choerteris was going to save you, she would have to confront Petropa at some point. At least here she wouldn’t have to contend with guards AND her mother.

“Oh my, she sounds hungry~” giggled Petropa.

You gulped. It was probably a lie. Petropa was just trying to unsettle you, shake your faith in her daughter. Not that you had much faith left… Petropa watched the door intently. She smirked.

“You can come in, dear. It’s unlocked.” Said the vampire.

Choerteris kicked through the door. Sweat-slicked locks of hair hung across her face. She was winded, almost shaking as she leveled her estoc with Petropa. That same ghostly palette had crept back onto her face. Whether an act of intimidation or rabid need for your blood, her teeth softly gnashed the air in front of her.

“My my, you look worse for wear. Did you fight a few guards on the way over?” chortled Petropa.

“Shut up! Give him to me!” shouted Choerteris.

“How crass! What happened to all those charming witticisms, hmm? Your retorts used to be so eloquent.” Said Petropa.

“Give him to me!” roared Choerteris.

“Fine. Take him.”

Petropa swiftly stood up, snatching you out of the chair. You yelped in protest. The vampire held you aloft by your underarms.

Choerteris blinked. “What?”

“Come here and take him. No tricks, no fighting. He’s all yours.” Said Petropa.

“Choerteris, please! You have to resist the urge!” you pleaded.

“Be quiet, Anon! This is all your fault!” said Choerteris.

“It’s a trick! She’s trying to get you to drin-“

Petropa gave an annoyed tut and clamped your mouth shut with magic.

“Not now, dear. This is a family matter, and you aren’t family quite yet. Choerteris, darling, are you going to claim your prize?” said Petropa.

“Put him down.” Said Choerteris.

“I can’t do that. If you don’t want him, I’m sure I could find some guards who would LOVE to sink their teeth into him~” said Petropa.

Choerteris sidled forward. Clearly, she didn’t trust her mother. Nor should she. If the circumstances had been any different, you were certain that she would have impaled Petropa by now and had you halfway to Admaz. Now, Choerteris was a shell of herself. Inching forward, eyes flitting between you and her mother, looking like some strung out addict in need of her fix. A brief moment of clarity hit you as you watched her wretched advance. You shared some of the blame. If you had been more cautious, if you had been able to convince her that she had a problem, if you had done a bit more to help yourself rather than depending on Choerteris, maybe the two of you wouldn’t be in this situation.

Choerteris lunged. She tried to skewer Petropa with her estoc, but the vampire deftly avoided the thrust and slapped the sword away. It clattered to the floor. Choerteris stood there trembling, unsure of what to do now.

“It’s a powerful urge, isn’t it?” said Petropa. Her voice wasn’t so condescending now. She sounded less like a powerful countess and more like a mother talking to her daughter. “Can you hear his blood yet? I’m sure you can; you’re my daughter after all. You miss it, don’t you? The quenching sensation, the acrid taste of his blood on your lips, the feeling of his essence flowing through you…”

“Shut up!” Choerteris doubled over and clasped her hands over her ears.

“Why fight it, Choerteris? Why do you resist your true nature?” asked Petropa.

“I’m nothing like you! I don’t treat humans like cattle!” said Choerteris.

“Of course not, humans are precious. But they have their place, and we have ours. Think about all that has transpired since your arrival: has this human ever been able to care for himself, even once?”

“That doesn’t matter!”

“It DOES matter, Choerteris. The only reason that this human is unwed is because a superior creature deemed him worthy of pity. YOU are the only reason he got this far.”

“So what?!” cried Choerteris. She was looking worse by the second.

“You are above him, dear daughter. Has this experience taught you nothing? Humans NEED the likes of us to shelter them from their own inadequacies; and the magnitude of their inadequacies is overwhelming. We love and cherish them with all our hearts, but we place ourselves above them out of duty to that love.” Said Petropa.

“No…” Choerteris mewled. She looked up at you with tears in her eyes. More than anything, you wanted to apologize. You wanted to tell her how sorry you were that she was wrapped up in this mess because you were so weak. Seeing your friend cower and shake with need was enough to break a man.

“You know it to be true. The arrogance of humans is always their undoing. Tell me, after all this time, has he thanked you for saving him?” asked Petropa.

“Of course he has! He-“ Choerteris looked down at the floor with a pensive look. You stiffened. You had to have said it. At some point. There must have been an instant where you professed your gratitude for saving your life. You wouldn’t leave her hanging. You couldn’t have.

Petropa chuckled. “The look on this one’s face tells me all I need to know. How very human of you, Anonymous.”

Choerteris looked up at you. The fire in her eyes had been doused. Though smoldering embers of contempt still burned, the hurt and betrayal on her face outshone all other feeling. You turned away in shame.

“Is it really that bad to take him? To drink your fill? It’s safe, you know. Lussazan confirmed it this morning. Why shouldn’t you keep him secure? He NEEDS you, Choerteris. Anon could be yours to protect and cherish.” Said Petropa.

Choerteris stood up. She took the final step towards you. You could see her jaw trembling.

“Drink, dear daughter. Accept your thanks, for a job well done~” cooed Petropa.

Choerteris’s hands cupped your cheeks. Twisting your head to the side, she pressed her body against you, sinking her fangs into your neck. Petropa released your mouth just in time for the choked squeal to slip past your lips. Searing heat shot through your body. You weakly pawed at Choerteris, trying to pry her off. The dhampir’s grip tightened. You swore you could feel her growl around your neck. Blood was pouring out of your throat around her fangs. Choerteris’s tongue lashed across your punctured skin, never letting so much as a drop go to waste.

“Thaaats it. Good girl.” Purred Petropa.

The vampire slowly pulled you in closer. Choerteris stayed firmly latched onto you, suckling like her life depended on it. Your head came to rest in Petropa’s cleavage. Slowly, Petropa let Choerteris support more and more of your weight. The dhampir didn’t seem to notice, lost in the ecstasy of blood. Your arms were quickly failing you. The blood loss and exhaustion were settling in, and there was no hope of removing Choerteris from your neck. Your arm snaked around her torso, coming to rest on the opposite shoulder. Wrapping the other behind her neck across both shoulders, you used Choerteris to support your weight. She didn’t seem to notice. The only noise she made was a series of delighted coos and guttural slurps as she continued to drain you. Petropa wrapped her arms around you and Choerteris.

“Take all you want, dear. He’s yours now. Doesn’t this feel good?” said Petropa.

You were losing consciousness fast. Curiously, the anemic feeling that had occured the last two times Choerteris fed upon you was absent. A strange feeling of euphoria was spreading through you. Your head lolled to the side, coming to rest on Choerteris’s cheek. Her breath came in short bursts over the nape of your neck. She was so warm. It was dangerous to fall asleep, but you weren’t worried. Choerteris would sort this out. She always did.

~~~~~~~~~

Choerteris gasped as she pulled away from Anon’s neck. The craving had finally been sated, the haze that had been clouding her mind was finally lifted, and the incessant beating of Anon’s heart had been quieted once more. She sucked up the last few dribbles of blood running down his skin. He tasted so good. Anon’s head hung at an awkward angle without her to support it. Seeing his pallid face reminded her of where she was. Choerteris’s breath hitched. Suddenly, the blood coating her lips took on the sour, acrid taste it should have had the moment she started drinking. She looked at her hands. Dark blood caked her trembling palms.

“Something the matter, dear?”

Choerteris looked up at her mother. Petropa smirked.

“You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“What have you done?” said Choerteris softly.

“I saved my daughter.” Said Petropa. She released Anon, letting him flop to the floor. Choerteris scrambled to prop him up in her lap.

“You poisoned me!” shouted Choerteris.

“I showed you the way. This was a harsh lesson, Choerteris, but one you needed to learn.” Said Petropa.

Choerteris tried to shake Anon awake. He was hardly breathing.

“I told you time after time: humans cannot protect themselves. They need our help. Look at that poor man in your arms. He never stood a chance against me. Against our kind. You’re strong, Choerteris. Stronger than ever now that you’ve embraced your true nature. Live with me in the castle. I can give you and your husband all the food and shelter you need while you adjust to your new life. I can teach you how to balance your love with your austerity.” Said Petropa.

“Husband?” said Choerteris.

“Yes, husband. Anon has been on your mind for some time now, hasn’t he? You probably spent more than one sleepless night thinking about him. And though you can’t quite figure out what it is about him that makes you think of him, you can’t stop your mind from drifting back to his face. Can you deny you have feelings for him?” asked Petropa.

“That’s not- That doesn’t-“ Choerteris squeezed Anon tighter.

“He was yours the moment you drank from him.”

“He isn’t ‘mine!’ Anon isn’t property!” screamed Choerteris.

“Anon is a human, dear daughter. You, as a higher being, claimed him. There are worse fates than being taken by a being infinitely your greater. Now come, this riotous lifestyle of yours has gone on long enough. It’s time you began acting like a Chiropta.” Said Petropa.

“I’m nothing like you!” shouted Choerteris.

“You don’t have a right to say that anymore.” Said Petropa.

Choerteris became acutely aware of the blood caking her face and hands again. She desperately tried to wipe it off on her sleeve, smearing the half-hardened mess across her clothing.

“No, that isn’t true! I didn’t claim him! He- he…”

“Then when he wakes up, will you let him go? Could you tolerate another monster taking him?” asked Petropa.

Choerteris reflexively clutched Anon harder.

Petropa snorted. “I thought not.”

“This isn’t- I- I can’t just-“ Choerteris began to hyperventilate.

Petropa huffed. “Enough of this. Do I need to lock you in the dungeon, or are you going to finally live up to your destiny and-“

Choerteris unsheathed a dagger and whipped it at her mother in one swift motion. Petropa didn’t have time to flinch before the hilt was protruding from her chest. She shuddered once and collapsed. Choerteris sat there panting, holding onto Anon as she looked at her mother’s unconscious body. Slipping an arm under Anon’s legs, she hefted him off the ground and ran out of the parlor.

~~~~~~~~

A cool cloth scraped across your neck. You shivered. It was freezing. You tried to swat the offending rag away. A hand gently grasped your own, clenching it to prevent you from struggling.

“Please stop moving…”

You opened your eyes. Choerteris was looming over you. The events of last night came rushing back into your mind. But as you weakly tried to pull your wrist away from her hand, you realized that something was wrong. Choerteris looked awful. The only time you had seen her “well” had been the times she was still cruising off the high from your blood. When she started to get her cravings, she got a wild look in her eye. She had the classic tweaker twitch, the slightly disheveled appearance, and irritableness that foretold an imminent withdrawal. Now, she just looked tired. Dark bags hung under the dhampirs haggard eyes. Choerteris stared down at you morosely as she wiped at your face with a cloth. Only after you had recovered from the shock of seeing her in such a forlorn state did you realize that your surroundings had changed. The stone walls that had confined you for so long were replaced with humble wood. Tools and equipment hung from the walls alongside pelts of all manner of exotic beasts. Herbs hung from the joists, drying in the light of the modest fire quietly crackling behind a fieldstone hearth. It looked like someone’s cabin.

“Choerteris… where are we? Did… did we…?” you couldn’t finish the sentence.

“We’re in my cabin.” Said Choerteris.

You stared up at the ceiling. Free at last. Though, free wasn’t the right word. Out of the frying pan and into the fire…

“Anon, we have to talk.” Said Choerteris.

“I know.” You said.

“How do you feel?” asked Choerteris.

You stretched. “A little stiff. Maybe a little under the weather. Nothing major.”

“Can you walk?”

“I think so.”

You sat up. Choerteris held one of your hands for support. She helped you over to a well-worn loveseat in front of the fire. Choerteris sat next to you.

“I hate to ask this of you, but do you have anything I can eat?” you said sheepishly.

Choerteris got up and put a pot on over the fire. Grabbing a bucket, she filled it with water and began collecting ingredients.

“Do you know what this is about?” asked Choerteris, her back still turned to you.

“I have a pretty good idea.” You replied.

Choerteris sat back down on the seat while she waited for the water to boil. She wrung her hands, still avoiding your gaze.

“How much do you know?”

“About what happened?”

“Yeah.”

“I know that we’re…” you trailed off. Oh man, were you? Was that it? Were you married now? Saying it out loud made the realization hit you like a ton of bricks.

Choerteris swallowed. “Yeah.”

The two of you sat in silence, listening to the flames crackle. What could you say? Where could you even begin?

“I uh- Are you… okay with it?” you finally asked.

“No! No I’m not ‘okay’ with it! I risked everything to save you, and now I’m a blood-addled freak!” said Choerteris.

The dhampir began to sob. A hell of a way to start your marriage.

“Choerteris, I’m so sorry. I never meant for it to turn out like this.” You said.

Mustering your courage, you pulled the dhampir in for a hug. She flopped against you, clutching your body while she sobbed into your chest. You stroked her hair, gently hushing her. Consoling people had never been your strong suit, but now that you were married you felt obligated to try.

Choerteris hiccupped and gasped. “I know it isn’t your fault. I was the one that tried to break you out. But- but-“

“You don’t need to justify it. Neither of us expected to get into this mess.” You assured her.

“I- I just wanted to keep you safe. I didn’t want mamma to use you like a piece of meat.” Said Choerteris.

“And I wouldn’t be here without your help.” You said.

“But now your trapped with me!” wailed Choerteris.

“That’s alright.” You said, stroking her back.

“No, it isn’t! Now I’m addicted to blood, and you’re in the exact same position you would have been in if you were still stuck with mamma!” said Choerteris.

“I’m not ‘stuck’ with you. If I had the choice between you or anyone else in the castle, I would choose you every time.” You said.

“You’re just being nice because you’re afraid of me.” mewled Choerteris.

“I’m not afraid of you.” You said.

“You ran from me! You were terrified when I came after you!” said Choerteris.

“I didn’t know what was going on. I wasn’t sure what you were going to do to me or how much control you had. If you were trying to feed on me while I was already mana sick, I may have died.” You said.

“You called me a leech…”

“I- Yes, I did technically say that. But in my defense, you did pin me to a bed and bite my arm.” You said.

Choerteris sniffled. “I tried to fight it. It was so hard, Anon. You can’t imagine the pain. I thought that if I could just wait long enough, then maybe the cravings would go away. But it hurt so bad. Bad enough that I started to come up with excuses to justify drinking from you. And then-“ Choerteris shuddered “I always felt horrible after I drank. Once the euphoria subsided and I was left with you lying in my arms, the guilt was unbearable. I never meant to hurt you; I couldn’t control myself!”

You let her cry. As much as you wanted to say something to comfort her, you had no idea what to say.

“I know you hate me. I know that you want to get away from me and never see me again. But I can’t let you leave. I need your blood, Anon. I’d give anything to break this curse, but I don’t think I can live without it anymore. And…” Choerteris gulped “… I really do care about you. I’ve met other men before, but I never felt like I connected with any of them. It never felt like any of them cared about me beyond my professional work. So you can hate me, you can yell and scream, and punch me, but please don’t leave me.” Said Choerteris.

“I don’t hate you.” You said.

“Yes, you do. You probably wanted some other monster, didn’t you?” said Choerteris.

“I wanted someone to fall in love with. That was my biggest problem with your mother trying to foist Emballandae on me.”

“You don’t love me.” Said Choerteris.

“Would I be holding you like this if I didn’t?” you said.

“Hmph.”

Choerteris’s eloquent rebuttal was muffled by your chest. She didn’t seem to have any evidence to the contrary. You let her stay mashed up against your body, content with the warmth of the fire and the feeling of her body pressing against you. Your stomach, on the other hand, was less moved by the emotional display. It growled loudly into Choerteris’s ear.

“Oh, right. I guess you need to eat.” Choerteris said quietly. She peeled herself off of you and began adding ingredients to the pot. When she returned to the couch, she purposely sat out of your reach.

“Choerteris, please don’t hate yourself for this. Sometimes life doesn’t go as planned. You can’t think of yourself as a mistake just because something went wrong.” You said.

“I spent my whole life fighting against mamma. And in the end, I played right into her hand…” mumbled Choerteris.

“So what? You have me now, don’t you?” you said.

Choerteris stole a glance at you. She blushed and looked away to avoid your eyes.

“I guess…”

Oof. “’You guess?’ That’s some way to talk about your new husband.” You said.

“I didn’t mean it like that!” said Choerteris.

“I know you didn’t.”

“Hmph.”

Choerteris got up to give the pot a stir.

“I really am happy it was you, Anon.” said Choerteris softly.

You smiled in spite of everything that had transpired. After all, isn’t this what you wanted? Someone to care for you, and someone to care for? Though you tried to come up with a witty phrase to reciprocate your affection, nothing suitable came to mind. Choerteris ladled you a bowl of stew and brought it over to you.

“Are you going to eat?” you asked.

“No, I’m not hungry.” Said Choerteris.

She flopped onto the loveseat and stared at the ceiling.

“I guess you’ll have to sleep in my bed tonight. It’s the only thing in the cabin that won’t kink your spine.” Said Choerteris.

“I’m fine with that.” You said.

“Sorry about the state of the place. I wasn’t expecting company.” She said.

“I like it. It reminds me of a little place my family used to visit.” You said, admiring the exotic decor.

“Really?” asked Choerteris.

“Why wouldn’t I?” you said.

“I don’t know. I thought it would be too rustic for you.” Said Choerteris.

“Rustic is fine. Hell, I had to live in the woods for a week or two when I got here.” You said.

Choerteris frowned. “You told me you almost died of dehydration, starvation, AND exposure.”

“Well, yeah… But that still counts.”

“You weren’t surviving, you were dying over a slightly longer than average timeframe.” Said Choerteris.

“Semantics.” You said, taking a spoonful of soup. Delicious.

Choerteris snorted. “Anyways, a lot of people like hearing about adventures; not many like going on them. I’ve escorted a dozen wealthy monsters or couples who want to travel deep into some gods forsaken jungle or mountain range for the thrill of it. Every one of them turns tail the second they realize that their lives are in danger or that there’s no hot water this far from civilization. When I mentioned teaching you how to adventure, you got this weird look on your face. I thought that you just liked hearing about my exploits, not accompanying me on them.”

“I think my concern was more about the notion that you were in a state of mild psychosis when you made that proposal. I could do with a little adventure.” You said.

“You don’t have to make promises you can’t keep just because we’re married. Like I said, I’ve got plenty of money saved away. If you want to live a domestic life, I can make it happen.” Said Choerteris.

“I can handle it. Granted, I will need some training…” you said.

Choerteris rubbed her chin. “I think I might have a solution for that. There’s a school that trains adventurers. They owe me a favor for all the business I’ve sent their way.”

“Go to school? Alone?” you said.

“No, dummy. I would go with you. We’d get an apartment in the city. Or, we could move into the dorms if you like the sound of your neighbors violently fornicating all night.”

“An apartment sounds quaint.”

“Hmph. That’s what I thought. I’ll send a letter in the morning and see if they have room for you. I’m sure they would love to have such a rare human attending.” Said Choerteris.

“Are you going to help me cheat on my exams?” you ribbed.

“Gods no. Valisias takes corporal punishment to a whole new level.” Shuddered Choerteris. What the hell was she signing you up for, bootcamp?!

You finished the last of your bowl. Choerteris gave you a mildly interested look.

“Did you like it?”

“It was wonderful. What spices did you throw in there?” you asked.

“Mostly herbs from the surrounding forest. Nature has plenty to offer if you know what to look for.” Said Choerteris. You wondered if that last bit was a jab about your near-death experience in the woods.

“Are you sure you aren’t hungry?” you said.

“I’m fine…” said Choerteris dismissively.

Before you could grill her about how she really felt, a loud growl from her stomach cut the air. You pursed your lips and stared at her.

“Shut the hell up! I said I wasn’t hungry!” said Choerteris, blushing and covering her stomach.

“Choerteris…” you began.

“I’m fine!” she snapped.

“Do you need blood?” you asked.

Choerteris’s eyes widened. “NO! Why?!”

“If you need to drink, you can ask. I mean, we’ll be doing this for the rest of our lives, won’t we?” you said.

“I- I- don’t want to.” Said Choerteris.

“Why not?” you asked.

“Because I don’t want to hurt you!”

Choerteris looked away in shame. Poor thing. Her concern was warranted too. Every time she drank from you, you wound up getting hurt.

“You won’t hurt me if you take it slow.” You said.

“Shut up! Please, I don’t want to drink!” said Choerteris.

“Choerteris, stop. We both know you want to drink. And I would much prefer to be drained by a Choerteris that can still control herself than be ambushed in the night because you couldn’t take it anymore and needed a midnight snack.” You said firmly.

“But-“

“No buts. Right now, you are calm and in control. You are capable of drinking a reasonable amount of my blood at a safe pace. I’m your husband now; odds are, I won’t ever pass out again unless you go feral.” You said.

Choerteris squirmed. “…Okay…”

You were a tad nervous yourself, but if you were going to live with Choerteris, the two of you would have to get over this anxiety. Shimmying over to you, Choerteris awkwardly sat next to you. She looked you up and down. When you caught her eye, she turned her gaze to the floor and blushed.

“Um… Where do you want me to… you know…” Choerteris said quietly.

“The neck is fine.” You said.

“A-are you sure?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“I mean, I can. But it seems so brutal when I do that. Is it comfortable for you?”

“You were a little rough with my head the last time, but it wasn’t that bad. I don’t think it hurts now that I’ve incubized.” You said.

“Oh. Alright. Just… promise me you’ll let me know if it hurts, alright?” said Choerteris.

“I will.” You assured her.

Choerteris nodded solemnly. “So uh, are you going to lean forward or…”

You squirmed. Even though this was supposed to be a wholesome moment between you and your dhampir wife, lecherous thoughts were slipping into your head. Though your mind had been primarily focused on escape while you were trapped within the Chiropta manor, Choerteris’s beauty hadn’t been lost on you. That svelte, wiry form of hers constantly distracted you when you had dogged her through the halls. Choerteris may not have had much in the way of “assets,” but her thin frame fit her in a way that words couldn’t describe. You were one hundred percent certain that she had caught you staring at her toned midriff and perky butt more than once. And of course, she was inhumanly beautiful. It wasn’t the auspicious beauty of her mother; hers was a gentler grace that could only be appreciated if you looked long enough.

“What?” asked Choerteris indignantly, shirking away from you.

“Huh? Oh, sorry. Do you want to sit in my lap?” you offered. Was this taking advantage of her? No, it was a mutual exchange. This was for her. Choerteris’s pert butt in your lap was just a bonus.

Choerteris gulped. “Okay.”

Crawling over to you, she straddled your lap with her own. Her hands came to rest on your shoulders. You allowed yourself to be pushed back into the seat by her weight. She paused there, hanging over you and unsure of how to proceed.

“You can sit down, if you want. It won’t break me.” You said.

“Shut up, I’m getting there.” Huffed Choerteris.

She sank down, easing herself onto your legs. You stifled a pleasured sigh when she ground herself into your legs. You just might be getting the better end of this deal. Choerteris looked into your eyes. She looked deeply concerned and a little ashamed of being in this position. Her furrowed brow coupled with her pursed lips made it look like she was about to get up and leave. You stared into her shimmering ruby eyes.

“Are you sure?” she whispered.

“I’m sure.” You said.

“Then… what’s most comfortable for you?” she asked.

“I could ask you the same thing. Do you need me to bend my neck?” you asked.

“No! I mean, not unless you want to. I think I can bite you at any angle.” She said, flinching at the word bite.

“Alright. Put your head here.” You said, tapping one of your shoulders.

Choerteris complied. You could feel her breath quicken against the skin of your neck.

“And press yourself against me. You’re going to throw out your back contorting yourself like that.” You said, dragging her flush with your body. Choerteris yelped.

“Okay! Fine! Now what?” said Choerteris, squirming out of your grasp.

“I guess you just drink. This is comfortable for me.” You said.

“Okay. Then I’m going to do it.” She said.

“Alright.”

“… Do you want me to give you a countdown or something?” she asked.

“No, I can handle it.” You said.

“Okay.”

You could feel Choerteris’s breath against your neck as she opened her mouth. You tensed.

“You just froze up! If you don’t want to do this, then just say so!” said Choerteris.

“You’re about to bite me! It’s a natural reaction!” you said.

“Do you want me to surprise you?” she asked.

“Surprise me?! That would make it even worse!”

“Alright, fine! Stop yelling!” said Choerteris. She continued to hover next to your neck for a few moments. “I’m really going to do it this time.”

“Just drink already!”

Choerteris sank her fangs into your throat. You hissed at the sensation of fangs slipping through your skin. Be it her mana or some other magic, it didn’t hurt. But the feeling of having two lumps impaled in your neck was going to take some getting used to.

“Ahh guut?” asked Choerteris, her fangs still in your neck.

“I’m fine. Keep going.” You insisted.

Choerteris began to suckle at your neck. You wrapped your arms around her body for support. Feeling affectionate, you began rubbing her back. Choerteris responded with a quiet coo. One of her own hands gingerly kneaded the back of your head while she drank. The heat from the wound began to spread through your body again. It was an effervescent feeling akin to being buzzed on alcohol. Everything about the whole situation felt so inexplicably right. You rested your head against Choerteris, nuzzling your cheek against her hair. Her tongue made rhythmic strokes up your skin, collecting any precious drops that threatened to sneak past her lips. Something about the whole affair felt inexplicably intimate. You got the feeling that you wouldn’t be feeding Choerteris in public if you could help it. After a few minutes, Choerteris slowly pulled her fangs out of your neck. She quickly moved back in, lapping at the punctures in your skin. You stifled a giggle.

“What? Does that hurt?” asked Choerteris.

“No, it tickles.”

“Do you want me to stop?” she asked.

“Nah. It feels good.” You said.

You watched the fire burn while Choerteris continued to lick your neck. When she was finished, she rested her head on your shoulder and sighed.

“Thank you.” She said softly.

The phrase brought you back to the confrontation with Petropa. You thought about what had happened. The shame that both you and Choerteris had had to face in that parlor.

“You know, I never did thank you for saving me.” You said.

Choerteris winced. “I didn’t save you…”

You kissed the side of her head. “Yes you did. I’m safe now, aren’t I?”

“You’re trapped with a bloodsucking monster. I betrayed you.” Said Choerteris. Her hands bunched your clothes.

“I’m ‘trapped’ with a beautiful woman I love.” You said.

Choerteris sat back so that she could look you in the eye. “Do you really mean it?”

“I mean it.”

She smiled. Your blood was still smeared all over her face, but that only made her cuter. Spending the rest of your life with this woman didn’t seem like such a bad prospect at all.

“And you’ll really come with me on my adventures?” asked Choerteris.

“I will.” You said.

She beamed. “Great! There’s a temple in the eastern mountains that I’ve been DYING to check out. It was built by a civilization more than ten-thousand years ago…”
Choerteris snuggled into your arms as she began to regale you with the history of her next target. Sounds like there was a lot to see in this world, but you had one hell of a guide.