The innkeep scrabbles, spluttering, to his feet. Feranya tosses the empty bucket aside, advancing on the drenched man with a predatory grin on her lips. “Hello there, buddy,” she leers, grabbing him by the collar of his tunic as he turns to run and slamming him up against the bar. “Remember me?”
“P-p-please don’t s-suck me blood!” the innkeep wails. “I can’t be a vampire, I got me a wife and kids at home—”
Feranya rolls her eyes and glances at Seri. “Listen to these provincials. I bet this man wouldn’t know a vampire if…” She turns back and shows the innkeep her fangs with a sneer. “…if she ripped his throat out.” She steps closer, baleful red eyes fixed on the innkeep’s. “Do you know what we do to backstabbing snakes like you in the old country, my dear?”
“I’m… I’m so sorry, please, I didn’t— I didn’t mean anything by it, I—”
Seri steps forward, yanking her tunic off, baring her chest. “You see this?” she blurts out, voice trembling, pointing at her scars with a shaking finger. “You know who did this to me?”
The innkeep looks back and forth from Seri to Feranya, face a picture of terror and confusion. “I don’t— I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I don’t know, I—”
“The fucking Inquisition.” Seri turns to show the innkeep the full extent of the damage. “They burned me and they cut on me and they beat me and they…” Bile burns her throat and she swallows hard, narrowly keeping herself from throwing up. “I— I, I screamed and screamed my throat raw and they wouldn’t fucking stop. Just asking me the same questions over and over again.” She clenches her fists. “Did I fucking deserve that?”
“I— I— I don’t know, I’m sorry, I didn’t— I don’t— they— they told us you was d-d-dangerous— you—”
“All I fucking wanted was to be left alone!” Seri practically screams, driving a fist into the innkeep’s stomach. She’s not very strong but the blow still makes him cry out in pain. “Because of you I would have been tortured to death. Because that’s what the Inquisition does to people like me!” She pulls her tunic back down, clinging to the hem, holding it in place like it’s about to try and pull itself free. “Why did you have to try and hurt me? When is it going to be enough?”
“He wanted a bounty, isn’t that right, buddy?” Feranya glares at the innkeep. Her voice is drenched in something dark and terrifying. “But you didn’t even get that, did you?”
“I’m s-s— I’m sorry,” the innkeep cries, falling to his knees. “Please, please, I’m sorry, just don’t hurt me—”
Feranya leans down. “I want you to remember this moment. What it feels like to be afraid and helpless, not knowing whether you’re going to live or die. Because that’s what you nearly to did to her. To us.” She slaps him in the face. “So when the next refugee comes running from that ghoul Kelaune and her pack of pet psychopaths, what are you gonna do? Hm? Speak, dog!”
“I’ll— I’ll— I— I’ll g-give them a f-f-free room and all the ale they want and I w-won’t tell anyone and I’m sorry, I promise, I promise—”
“Good boy!” Feranya stands, yanking him to his feet. “Now where’s your safe?”
The wretched innkeep huddles in the corner, too stunned by the vampire’s lingering aura of terror to even think to run and call for the Watch, as Seri and Feranya fill their bags with the contents of the safe. Hundreds in bronze and nearly a dozen in silver. More than enough to make it to the Moravin Union. “So do we… split it fifty-fifty?” Seri asks uncertainly, glancing at the vampire.
Feranya hesitates. She looks into Seri's darting eyes, gazes at her scars, her trembling hands, her ratty clothing ill suited to the harsh winds of an eastern winter. So wounded, so afraid, so… alone.
I can't leave the poor thing on her own.
So Feranya reaches over and ruffles Seri’s hair. “We’re not splitting anything, love," she replies gently. “We’re in this together now.”
Seri looks up, eyes suddenly alight with hope. “Really? You mean it?”
Feranya smiles. “Until the end. Someone’s got to look after you, doesn’t she?”
Seri hugs her impulsively. “Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you; you have no idea what this means to me—”
“I think I have some idea.” Feranya holds her lightly for a moment, then draws back. “Come on. We need to get out of here before he comes to his senses.”
Seri nods, looking suddenly exhausted. “The next town westward’s not for another four leagues. It’s gonna be a long walk.”
“Walk?” Feranya gives her a bemused look. “You walked all this way?”
Seri shrugs. “Most of it. Bummed a ride off a carriage now and then when I could. What, do you have a horse or something?”
Feranya laughs. “No, dear, I rode the train. There’s a depot not a league up the road.”
Seri stares. “The train? How did you get on the train? There’s so many guards and they’re so strict about paperwork—” She stops as Feranya pulls a small leatherbound booklet out of her bag and hands it to her with a smirk.
“…a Temple passbook? ‘Tiervi Suaravis, Envoy of the Elect?’ Is this you? How did you get this?”
“Oh, so you’re lettered, then?” The vampire grins. “Good to know. I forged it, of course.”
“You’re a forger? It looks so real…”
Feranya stops briefly by the bar to search the bodies of the dead Vigilants. “You know how to use a sword?” she asks, proffering one. Seri shakes her head.
“Me neither.” Feranya tosses it away and wrestles a revolver free of its holster. “Ever fired one of these?”
“Nobody but Temple fucks are allowed to have those. Do I look like a na'era nga Meraya to you?”
“Not at all, darling. You’re not pompous enough.” Feranya grins. “Put on another ten stone, spend twice your weight in silver on fancy clothes, and learn to talk like a fop, then you might be able to blend in.” She hands Seri the gun. “Keep this in your bag. I’ll show you how to handle it later.”
Seri gives her a fragile smile. “Okay. Thank you. Um. Feranya?”
“What do you do to backstabbing snakes in Moravin? You never said.”
“Well, usually, you call them a lot of names until the Mórakirá drags the both of you off to see a mediator.” Feranya grins at her. “What? Were you expecting something else?”
“…kind of, yeah.”
Feranya finishes searching the corpses, collecting a few spare rounds and the other Vigilant’s gun, which she stows away in her bag along with their passbooks. “Can… can I ask you something, Seri?” she asks, as she fastens her bag shut and hoists it over her shoulder.
Feranya reaches out and takes her hand. “Last night… was that the first time you ever killed someone?”
Seri purses her lips and looks down, shaking her head.
Feranya exhales. “Okay. I’m… I’m sorry. I just… wanted to make sure you were okay. Killing… changes you. As you know, I guess.”
Seri looks up at her hesitantly. “Have you ever killed someone? By— by feeding on them, I mean.”
Feranya shakes her head violently. “Not that way. Never that way. Feeding on someone is so… it’s so intimate. I couldn’t imagine doing it to someone I was willing to kill. That would be horrible. And, I mean.” She smiles thinly. “It's not like we need that much blood. There wouldn't be nearly so many fanciful tales about vampires if we were in the habit of drinking people dry.”
Seri nods distantly. She reaches out to open the door, then pauses. “Sun’s up,” she murmurs, glancing at her companion. “Is the light going to—”
“Daylight is fine, love.” Feranya slips a pair of sun-spectacles over her eyes, hiding her telltale red iris behind dark glass lenses. “It just hurts my eyes a little, that’s all.”
“Oh. Okay. I just thought—”
“Yes, yes, I know. ‘Vampires turn to ash in the light of day.’” She rolls her eyes, pushing the door open. “Don’t believe everything you hear, darling. People like to improvise when the truth isn't sufficiently dramatic.”
“Well then.” Seri blinks a few times, letting her eyes adjust to the early morning light, shivering in the chilly air of a crisp Nahiro autumn. “I guess it’s time for us to get out of town?”
Feranya frowns. “You haven’t eaten since last night, dear. Shouldn’t we stop to find you food?”
Seri shrugs, shifting the weight of her bag slightly as she walks. “I’ll be fine. We need to get out of here before the whole village is swarming with Vigilants. That’s more important. I can always eat tomorrow.”
“…aren’t you starving by now?”
“I’ve gone longer without food. Really, it’s fine.”
“You…” Feranya quickens her pace to catch up. “You’re just… used to starving?”
“Isn’t that normal?”
“…Seri, you poor girl.”
Seri just shrugs. “Well. Anyway. What’s your plan for getting us onto the train?”
Feranya brandishes a passbook. “I pulled this off that dead Inquisitor. We’re going to make you out to be a spy for the Temple or something.”
“…how does that work? Doesn’t it have her name and shit in it?”
“For now. Do you know what jisháte is?”
Seri shakes her head.
“It’s an elixir the Onámaši make. Paper’s real scarce down there so their alchemists figured out a way to wash out the ink and keep using the same sheet over and over again. And I happen to have a whole bottle of the stuff.”
Seri's expression is skeptical. “So you can just… change the passbook to say anything you want?”
“More or less. The hard part is faking the watermarks and the other security features.” Feranya buries her hands in her pockets, shivering slightly. “Fortunately for you, darling, I spent my rebellious youth back home forging sector passes to get into places I wasn’t supposed to be. And let me tell you, Union sector passes put Temple passbooks to shame.” She steps daintily over a puddle in the street. “The good thing about looking like you're Inquisition is people know better than to ask questions. There is a lot you can get away with.”
“How do you know all this shit?”
“Spent a couple of years living in denial about the new regime.” She laughs ruefully. “Oh, I was young and foolish and everything smelled like opportunity, especially the huge, bumbling bureaucracy the Haleakans brought to town. I made a killing forging paperwork for locals. But the Inquisition caught up to me eventually.” She sighs. “They always seem to.”
Seri kicks a rock, sending it skittering along the cobblestones. “Yeah. Sure do.”
“…I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bring that up—”
There are tears trickling down Seri’s face. “It’s not you. I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s like it’s always just sitting on the side somewhere, crawling into my thoughts whenever I let my guard down.” She squeezes her upper arm tightly, digging her fingernails in. “Back in that fucking dungeon where they had me chained up naked and I couldn’t move— it was so cold—” She closes her eyes. “Please make it stop.”
Feranya hesitates. “I… don’t know how I could.”
“What you did last night. Please. Do it again. Make it go away again.”
“Seri, I… I don’t want to violate you like that— I’ve already—”
“…okay.” Feranya reaches out, pulls the girl close, gazes into her eyes. “Just tell me if you want me to stop.”
She watches as the pain and fear slowly drain out of Seri’s face. The girl’s muscles slacken and she sways unsteadily on her feet. Feranya puts her arms around Seri to steady her. Her breathing is starting to sound normal again, her heartbeat slowing.
“I’ve… never really used a glamor to do this before,” Feranya murmurs, gazing at Seri with interest. Normally there’s a sense of resistance, of the victim’s willpower vying against her own. You can’t just smash your way past a mind’s barriers; you have to find the weak points in its armor, worm your way in before they even realize they’re being taken over. It takes time and caution and subtlety. But Seri is just drinking in the sensation, submitting to it completely, pulling her barricades away and welcoming the charm as it blots out her thoughts. She leans forward, resting her chin on Feranya’s shoulder, eyes shut, wrapping her arms tight around the vampire.
It takes a minute or two for the effect to wear off. Seri rubs her eyes blearily, taking a few deep, cautious breaths. Feranya releases her, putting a gentle hand on her shoulder.
“Much. I still feel all… warm and safe inside.”
“I’m… I’m glad I could do that for you.”
“It’s funny.” Seri gazes up at the sky. “She taught me so many ways to heal a body. But never how to heal a mind. Not like you can.”
“Seri…” Feranya hesitates. “It’s… look, vampires are hunters. It’s why we are the way we are, why we can do the things we do. This power we have, it's for… seducing prey. Not for helping people. Not for healing.”
Seri shakes her head. “You can use a knife to cut someone’s throat, right? But you can also use it to cut bandages, or to make incisions for surgery. The knife doesn’t care what you use it for. It’s just a tool.”
“Knives aren’t magic.”
“Nothing is magic!” Seri scoffs. “‘Magic’ is just a word people use when they don’t understand something. Kerith…” She falters. “Kerith used to tell me that all the time…”
“Is Kerith the healer who trained you?” Feranya asks gently.
Seri gazes at her for a moment, then nods. “She taught me how to stitch cuts and fix up bodies and clean up wounds. She was such a kind old woman. Cared so much about everyone. All she ever wanted to do was help people. And they… they…” She trails off, tears dripping down her cheeks. “They took everything I had. Even her. She’s probably dead now.”
Feranya takes Seri’s hand in hers and squeezes gently. “I’m sorry, love.”
“Please don’t let them take you away too.”
They walk on for a while in silence. The little town passes them by, soon disappearing into the distance. Trees and bushes and flowers surround them now. Seri gives a sigh of relief, tension flooding out of her body, though she keeps checking behind her every third pace.
Feranya sits down in the shade of an old pine tree, pulling out a passbook and inks and vials of chemicals. She busies herself doctoring it to fit Seri, who’s vigilantly watching the road.
“Here you go.” Feranya sets the passbook down in the sun to dry. “You are now Keara Atuhi Kahatia Kehalena, by grace of the Goddess a covert investigator of the most holy Inquisition of the Temple of Meraya and the Protectorate of Seprena,” she recites mockingly. “Hair color black, eye color gold, height five foot five or so, race Taikari.”
Seri makes a face. “I knew a girl named Keara once.”
“She was a bitch.”
Feranya snaps the passbook shut and hands it to Seri, who slips it into her bag. “Then when in doubt, just ask yourself, ‘what would Keara do?’”
Seri gives her a thin smile. “I’ll keep that in mind.”