The cordial din of the pub almost lets Seri forget for a little while. No Inquisitors, no Vigilants, no anger and fear, just simple drunken reverie as far as the ear can hear.
She yawns, blinking her bleary eyes and trying to focus on the clock behind the bar, the clicking and clacking of its gears and levers too quiet to be heard above the noise. Almost an hour past midnight. No wonder I’m feeling so tired.
She gestures to the innkeep, bronze coins between her fingers. He glides over to her. “Room for the night?” she asks.
He nods briskly. “Naturally, m’dear!” he says, deftly catching the coins as she flicks them in his direction. He fumbles under the bar for a moment, producing a fat ledger and a pen. “Name and papers, if you wouldn’t mind.”
“Kheðari. Kheðari kai Secheth,” Seri recites carefully. “And... oh dear, but I seem to have forgotten my papers.”
The innkeep frowns. “Well now, I am sorry, miss, but that’s a bit of a problem, you see—”
“Oh, don’t worry,” Seri interjects, slipping a silver coin out of her purse. “I’m happy to pay the premium.”
“The... premium?” The innkeep looks at her in confusion. “Beg pardon miss, I’m not sure—”
“Oh, you know. Just the usual tax.” Seri drops the coin on the bar and slides it toward him, smiling innocently. “For, you know. Not having my papers.”
“...oh!” The innkeep beams at her. “Yes, yes, of course! So sorry, miss; must be something amiss with me hearing. Not as young as I once was, you know.” He winks and the coin disappears into a back pocket. He scribbles something quickly into the ledger and then passes her a key engraved with Sepreni numerals. “Room number seven, straight up to the end of the hall on your left. Small but cozy, I think you’ll find!”
Seri plucks the key from his fingers and inclines her head. “Much obliged. Good custom to you, sir.”
“And a fine sleep to you, dear girl!” The innkeep bows with a flourish and returns to pouring mugs.
“Now, now!” A voice comes from just behind Seri. “Don’t tell me you’re going to bed all alone!”
Instantly flush with adrenaline and ready to bolt, Seri swivels on her stool, coming face to face with a girl in a slim black longcoat and delicate red tunic. Moravin, by the looks of her. Her face — Seri blushes at the mere sight. Her features are almost ethereal, elegant, sharp, full of light and life. The woman steps toward her, hands buried casually in her pockets, body moving with inhuman grace as she alights on the stool beside Seri.
“I — I —” Seri can’t help but stare into the strange young woman’s eyes. “Wh— I, um—” She shakes her head violently, pinching herself under the counter. “Sorry! I’m sorry, you s-surprised me, is all.”
The stranger clicks her tongue. “Oh, a thousand pardons, love! Do forgive my discourtesy.” She extends a hand. “Feranya Adivani, at your service.”
“N-no, no, it’s all fine!” Seri babbles, suddenly acutely aware of the sweat trickling down her forehead. With a quivering hand she reaches out to shake Feranya’s. “S-Seri. I mean. I’m — I’m Seri Imaela. It’s, um. It’s a pleasure to meet you!”
Gods above and below, why am I so flustered?
Then a spear of ice suddenly pierces her pounding heart. I just told her my real name.
Why did I just tell her my real name!?
Feranya takes Seri’s hand gently and kisses her palm. “The pleasure is all mine, my dear, I assure you.” Her beautiful eyes bore into Seri’s. “Tell me, what in all the world brings a daughter of most holy Taihe to a such a disreputable place, so far from civilization?”
Seri’s heart is racing. She can feel the words trying to slip out but this time she catches them. “O-oh it’s— n-nothing really, a long story, heh; I wouldn’t want to bore you.”
“My dear,” Feranya says, leaning forward, “if you were to recite a haberdasher’s bankbooks to me in that beautiful voice I should never tire of it.”
It’s as though the young woman’s words are coated with honey, charisma, warmth, and a soft, enveloping confidence wrapping themselves tight around Seri, consuming her attention. The rest of the world is draining away, becoming nothing more than a gentle blur of light and heat and distant sound. Seri blushes deeply.
“You’re— you’re so sweet, um— Mistress Adivani—”
“Please, Seri. Call me Feranya.”
“Miss Feranya, then. I. Um.” It’s getting harder and harder to think, to do anything but gaze rapt into the woman’s ruby-red eyes, faceted like a gemstone.
“You’d like to take me up to your room, wouldn’t you, darling?” Feranya purrs, drawing closer. Seri nods distantly.
“Good girl.” Feranya pats her on the shoulder. “Shall we?”
The lock clicks as Seri turns the key. She pushes the door aside. The light flickers and beckons, candles set into the wall glowing vibrantly, painting the dark wood around them a warm, pleasing brown. She sets her bag down gently against the floor. Her movements feel fluid, thoughtless, automatic, as though someone else entirely has taken the reins, leaving her with nothing to do but relax and enjoy the ride.
Feranya touches her on the shoulder. “Sit,” she instructs, a tone of sadness entering her voice. Seri sits down on the bed, gazing up at the young woman in silent awe.
A thought brushes against the edges of her mind. Why are her eyes red?
Feranya casts off her cloak, revealing a lithe body beneath, carefully flattered and embellished by her perfectly tailored sleeveless tunic. She sits down next to Seri, squeezing her shoulder gently.
“For what it’s worth, I’m sorry I have to do this,” she murmurs, the layers of enchantment sloughing off her voice. “I really am.” She puts one hand over Seri’s mouth and the other on her shoulder. “Try not to resist,” she murmurs quietly. “It— it’ll hurt less that way.”
Even through the haze of bliss and warmth, the pain is hot and deep and sharp. Seri tries to cry out, to scream in pain, but Feranya’s hand holds her mouth tightly shut. She feels the fangs in her neck, then the soft tongue lapping up the freely flowing blood. Her vision goes dim, fuzzy; her body convulsing at the sheer intensity of the violation.
Then she feels something cold and adhesive pressed firmly to her neck, and Feranya backs quickly away, wiping the blood from her lips and chin with a red handkerchief. “I’m sorry,” she whispers, her hands shaking. “Gods, I’m so sorry about all of this.”
Seri curls up on the bed, clutching her knees to her chest, staring blankly into the distance.
Feranya kneels down, looking her in the eye. “You’ll be okay,” she says. “I didn’t— I didn’t take a drop more than I absolutely had to, you’ll be okay, your body just— just needs some time, okay? I’m so, so sorry.”
She stands, grabbing for her coat and stepping towards the door.
Feranya stops and turns. The girl is looking up at her, eyes pleading. “Please don’t go.”
The vampire blinks.
“Please don’t l-leave me alone.”
Feranya stares for a moment. Then, slowly, she sets her coat back down. “A-alright,” she murmurs uncertainly, sitting down on the edge of the bed. “If— if that’s really what you want.”
Seri reaches out a shaking hand, and hesitantly, Feranya takes it in hers.
“Aren’t you going to go and call the Vigilants on me?” the vampire asks quietly.
“You’re... you’re running from them too, aren’t you?” Seri mumbles.
“From... the Vigilants?” Feranya shakes her head in confusion. “The Temple’s after you?”
Seri nods, slowly and shakily sitting up, resting against Feranya’s side. “I’ve— I’ve been so alone... just please don’t go.”
“Look. I—” Feranya hesitates. “The guiling can last a while sometimes, make you think you want things you don’t, I—”
“No! No, it’s not— I— listen, please, I just...” Seri shakes her head wildly. “You’re like me. You understand. I can’t even tell anyone my real name, but you... I finally have someone I can tell the truth. I don’t have to— to pretend—” She trails off, sobbing uncontrollably. “P-p-please d-don’t g-g-go,” she manages to choke out. “P-please.”
Feranya strokes her back, squeezing the crying girl’s wrist tightly. “It’s okay. I’m not going anywhere.”
Seri collapses against her, her sobs growing quieter. She takes a deep, ragged breath, trying to muster what remains of her self-control. “I don’t... I don’t want to be alone again,” she says, voice hoarse from crying.
“...how long have you been on your own?” asks the vampire quietly.
“Half a moon now. Ever since they... ever since they...”
“Seri, love, what happened to you?”
“They— they had me,” Seri mumbles. “They had me and hurt me and I got away. I’ve been running ever since. People say... they say things are better on the other side of the Forest. That there’s no Vigilants in Moravin. That they’re taking people in.”
It’s then that Feranya realizes the dark marks on the girl’s skin are scar tissue.
A lot of scar tissue.
“You poor thing,” she breathes. “You were trying to make it all the way to Moravin on your own?”
“I’m...” Feranya digs her nails into her own thigh. “Gods, fuck me, you’ve been through enough already. I should have... I should have taken literally anybody else. I am so, so sorry, I—”
Seri shakes her head violently. “No! No, I’m... I’m glad I met you; there’s nobody else here I could ever trust.”
Feranya raises an eyebrow. “I violate your mind, assault you, leave you covered in blood with fresh puncture wounds, and that makes you trust me?”
“You’re the one person I’ve met who would never betray me to the Inquisition.”
The vampire gives her a sad smile. “Most wouldn’t call my kind ‘people.’” She looks down. “Would you... like me to stay for the night? Would that help make up for what I’ve done to you?”
Seri gazes at her. “Are... are you going to Moravin too?”
Feranya nods. “The Temple has no power there.”
“...would you take me with you?” Seri asks meekly.
Feranya stares. “You... you want to travel together?”
“Please.” Seri clasps her hands. “You... you can feed on me as much as you want, I promise. You won’t have to hunt for meals every night. We’ll be safer together. We can look out for each other.”
Feranya takes a sharp breath. “Why would you offer me something like that!?”
“Because we’re on the same side! Think about it, it’s perfect.” She stares up at Feranya pleadingly. “We can watch each other’s backs, keep each other safe if the Vigilants come for us. And you won’t have to hunt for any more meals. It’s perfect.”
“I...” Feranya shakes her head violently. “Gods above and below, I don’t want to do that to you! You’ve already been through so much—”
“No, no, it’s okay, it really is!” Seri exclaims. “I want you to be okay. I don’t want you to starve. I don’t mind being fed on, really, I don’t. When— when you— when you bit me, I—” She shakes her head, blushing. “Look. The point is... I’ve been hurt before, okay? Like, really hurt. By people who... well. A bite is nothing compared to that; I don’t mind at all. So it’s better to do it to me than to someone else, isn’t it? You won’t have to hurt anyone, not really.”
Feranya gazes at her for a moment. “I... suppose so,” she says hesitantly. "I just... you’re really sure?
Seri nods. “Yes. Really. And— and that thing you did to me down in the bar, when you made the world go away, and all there was was us... I don’t remember the last time I felt that kind of peace. I felt okay again. If you can make me feel that way, then I don’t ever want to let go of you.”
Feranya gazes at the girl for a moment, and then squeezes her hands gently. “Come here,” she says, lying back on the bed. “Lie next to me.”
Seri slips her feet under the covers and curls up on her side. Feranya touches her cheek. “Look into my eyes. And listen to my voice.”
As Seri’s gaze catches on Feranya’s delicate red irises, the feeling of calm and warmth begins to flood through her again, blotting out worry, fear, anxiety, everything but the beautiful girl holding her tenderly and caressing her cheek.
Her breathing slows, her eyelids flutter, and she drifts away into a deep sleep.