She paced the edge of it, ruddy-red waves lapping gently over her ankles, painting the soil in full, dark wine: a crater-lake of blood, its heady scent filling her core with the gnawing hunger of centuries. Above her spun the stars of a sky of always night, the Moon, perhaps, crowning them high overhead.
Or perhaps it hung somewhere off the coast of Brazil. She couldn’t tell: there was no light from it, after all, not without the Sun to illuminate it. But it was one or it was the other, because it was high tide on the lake, which meant the greatest extent of freedom allowed to her by the terms of her sealing, if only by a few feet of damp backshore.
She paced it nonetheless.
[ ] Savouring it, for all that it was worth. [ ] Hating every moment of it.
She hated the feeling of cold, wet feet. She hated the fact that ‘freedom’ measured all of six steps out. She hated the fact that those six steps would be stolen away again in six hours’ time. Still, twice a day, if ‘day’ had any meaning left, she went through the ritual, and twice a day it served nothing more than to hone the boundaries of her prison bitterly sharp in her mind.
She decided not to go, once, and spent her holiday terrified that the lake might continue receding forever, until it left her as Kurumi, Guardian of the Puddle of Blood, sitting with her knees drawn up to her chest and with no place left to dry her shoes.
She hated herself for that most of all.
A crow flew out over the lake.
[ ] She eyed the creature with envy. [ ] She snatched the creature out of the sky.
She traced the oily-dark creature across the sky as it glided and soared and circled, free-as-you-please, till her eyes brimmed over with unrestrained malice. Her own wings creaked stiffly behind her with every arching wingbeat of the crow’s, feeling as nothing but so much ungainly skin-on-bones draped across her shoulders by comparison.
But the old machine still worked. All at once she moved: kicked off from a stone and smashed her wings against air, and when she landed a second later she had it by its ruffled neck—the feathered rat.
It flailed madly in her grasp, croaking and crying and clawing at air, throwing off a flurry of inky feathers all about itself in a display of raw animal terror. The sum of its efforts was it was kept out at arm’s length in tiredly practised fashion, and the press of fingers laid on its throat until either it or its cardiopulmonary apparatus learned to sit and be still.
Kurumi stared down at the table scrap in her hand.
[ ] She had her pride. [ ] She had her hunger, too.
She raised up its wing and put a finger to its breast, searching under its quills and through its softer down, until she found felt a faint warmth; a faint pulsation. Her tongue ran over her teeth, flicking over the tips in a bald exhibit of anticipation as she raised it to her mouth, and she drew in breath as she reared to bite.
Then she tasted the scent of its musk, and stopped herself.
A table scrap. What was she thinking?
The sick, the elderly, the indigent were table scraps. Or else for what was it that she fought?
This was nothing more than a rat on wings.
[ ] She pierced its heart through and was done with it. [ ] She wrenched its head round and was done with it.
She stood, trembling, boiling indignant at her own traitorous machine urges, and took the crow’s neck in both hands. A stiff wrenching pull gave it its final farewell, off to—to wherever was its right deserts. No concern of hers where that was, so long as it wasn’t here: and to that end she flung out its carcass straightaway, watching as it sailed far past the shore and into the shrouded parts of the forest.
The rest of the hour she longed for nothing more than to chase after it.
A crow called out over the lake.
Kurumi called back, wordless apoplexy carried into air through a throat of dust and ash. No hanged and no slain were to be found beneath these stars; wherefore then these carrion-pickers? She searched the foliage for the culprit, only to find it perched in a treetop overlooking its very predeceasor.
The fool creature called out again, and was silenced with a streaking blue witchbullet that smashed its keel and filled its chest with the pieces. No matter, she thought; let them come. She’d shoot them all.
No such a black heap arrived to pull at her skirt and steal away her shirt-buttons as she’d imagined. Instead the alarm-caller landed by its fellow, at the feet of what Kurumi saw to be an odd and terribly misplaced soul.
A magician, and with a peculiar scent about her.
[ ] Wicksmoke and aged calfskins. [ ] Loam and carnation pinks. [ ] Curl and dust of shaven wood.
>Wicksmoke and aged calfskins. Candles? Leather? Patchouli, maybe, if the books are leather-bound, and the light is for reading. - >Loam and carnation pinks. Only foresty dirty ""magician"" that comes to mind is Marisa. Can't say what carnations are doing about her though, if that's the case. There's also the fact she isn't a magician.
Oh wait there's also Yuuka if you could count that as a magician, somehow. Though given that Yuuka might be the one who sealed the unfortunate vampire in the first place, I highhhly doubt it. - >Curl and dust of shaven wood. Wood dolls I'd have to guess. Alice. -
[x] Curl and dust of shaven wood Just because I prefer Alice.
Round her shoulders a hooded cape, a light pinafore beneath it, and boots were laced up about her calves: it was such a sight as made Kurumi to wonder just where a wolf should be, if not here. But no picnic hamper hung from her arm; instead the magician carried with her a monolith of a tome, and the unmistakable air of woodwork.
She stopped in her track before the fallen crows, gathered up her dress, and knelt down, lightly touching the spine of her grimoire. It occurred to Kurumi then that magicians tolerated the things as pets, and employed them as informants. Perhaps, then, the ones she’d killed had belonged to this one here.
Good, she thought, wings bristling.
But the magician said simply: “Unlucky fellows,” and rose again. Kurumi clicked her tongue, watching the magician step neatly around them.
Then her eyes widened, as the reason for this became clear: from behind the magician emerged a pair of little pixies, dressed in little dresses, tied with little bows, royal blue– and princely orange–clad respective.
[ ] She sent a line of bursting shot. [ ] She filled the air with mitraille.
[X] She filled the air with mitraille. For a starving windbag this vampire sure has a lot of fight!
I'm flexing my google muscle hard on a lot of these words, haha. Also had to hand draw the runes into google translate. That done, I have no idea what 'before' and 'after' is meant to imply perhaps besides the order of their death.
I like the addition of simple/minimalist art. Really made this story stand out to me.
Bullets fell as searing hail, snatching leaves and barking branches as they raked the across the woods. The magician reacted—just, outpacing the shots by the hair of a second as she took to air, the fae controllers keeping close abreast their caitiff during the ascent.
Kurumi smirked. They were prideful, to leave ground cover for open sky. She matched them for altitude, great loping wingbeats carrying her up, and she flung another stream of witchpins across the median to fill for pressure. When came the reply it was scattershot, and she navigated it with ease, a misfit dusting of orbfires the marker of battle truly joined.
Still, she pressed her lips, as the pixies swung out to either flank, forcing her to divide her fire: the bounds of the lake kept her from maneuvering to enfilade. And she clenched her teeth, as fire was returned in earnest, making full advantage of both number and angle. In short order she was to lose either the tempo, or else ground.
Fine. The lake was hers. She’d draw them into it: advance by retreating.
Kurumi flung herself abaft, screening herself with broad, rolling lines of glowing carronade ball. She peeked out between the gaps now and then, to goad the fairies into pursuit; but they kept squarely in measure, and in formation about the magician, bringing Kurumi into doubt as to who precisely was the controller; who the poppets.
As if in answer, the two pixie things gathered afore and summoned up a shimmering film between them, bullets splashing away hurtless as the magician made ready behind it.
So her first guess was wrong. No matter; no matter. Kurumi tucked in her wings, threading through a criss-cross fan of orbflame, and threw out a pell-mell fusillade to disguise the body of the salvo: a quartet of lancing shots, aimed not at her opponents but whistling neatly past them. Reaching their marks, they burst in air behind and aflank the formation, bracketing them in on three sides.
The magician was made to abort her attack in a hurry, diving in the only direction left to her, crossing her arms over her head as she burst through her own shield. Her hood was flung back by the maneuver, revealing strawcrown hair, and the soft, light lips of a maiden.
As for her fey retinue: the prince escaped—the king less fortunate, hair-thin streams of ichor trailing out as it spiralled toward the lake.
“Orléans!” cried the magician, and dove to its rescue, but was rebuffed by another line of carronade.
Kurumi remembered how it felt to smile, and to laugh.
[ ] She sent Orléans its final misericord. [ ] She took Orléans as caitiff of her own.
Wings snapping to, Kurumi bombed lakeward, a gleesome show of fangs crossing her face. Yet soon it melted into a confused loop of teeth, as her hand fell upon the fairy Orléans, but closed around a simple manikin. Ichor became dollstring; canary eyes stared into ones of painted glass, until very nearly she ran into the lake itself, pulling up only when she saw the wall of blood rearing to engulf her.
Kurumi rose again, coming into fencing measure of the magician girl, naught but the knobbles of woodwork joints filling her grasp.
The girl, too, seemed as delicate woodwork, but in her eyes was the undeniable glister of life, not shared by the puppet prince her guard. She raised a hand, wisps of orbflame gathering; saw no provocation, and lowered it again—every part the ingénue.
Kurumi looked over the white-brass bands adorning each finger, and the strings flying free in air, and the expectant glare from those lively golden eyes. She obliged them, and spoke first.
“A little big to be playing with dolls, aren’t you?” she remarked, holding Orléans up by its ankles.
“That is no business of yours!” said the girl, snatching for the doll; crying out in indignation, as Kurumi pulled it out of reach. “Ah! Give her back!”
Kurumi passed the doll between her hands and held it behind her back. “I don’t think I will.”
“Thief!” the girl exclaimed. “What in the world do you want with her?”
Kurumi shrugged. “Call it a toll.”
“For what?” She looked all around below her. “What road; what bridge; what border have I crossed?”
“For crossing through my lake,” said Kurumi.
“I’m not crossing through your lake,” she protested.
“That’s right.” Kurumi nodded. “I won’t let you.”
She boggled. “Then how can you demand a toll?”
Kurumi touched her chin, humming. “For passing by my lake,” she answered.
“That is absurd!” fumed the girl, and might have stamped her feet were she alighted.
“Yet I have Aure-li-ana,” said Kurumi, “and you have not.” She tucked the doll by her waist and puffed out her chest triumphantly.
“Her name is Orléans!” the girl fussed.
Names, pondered Kurumi.
[ ] She proposed a trade: a name for a name. [ ] She proposed a different trade. The devil to names; she was hungry. [ ] The devil to trades, too!
“Orléans,” repeated Kurumi. No, no; that wouldn’t do. She much preferred the way Aureliana sat on the tongue, and kept out of her parchdry throat. “And the little orange one?”
“She is Gravenhage,” was the answer.
Kurumi didn’t even try this time. Gravenhage! What kind of a naming sense was that? she muttered to herself.
“And just who are you?” asked the girl, blushing by the tips of her ears.
Kurumi cocked her head, swishing her wings and grinning an especially toothy grin. Finding that the girl still failed to understand, she went as far as to raise her arm up and shroud her face behind a pantomimed cape, hissing till her own eyes lighted with scarlet pinpricks in embarrassment.
“A vampire,” finally said the vampire.
“But what is your name?” the girl persisted.
It gave Kurumi pause. She’d not been posed that question in an age, and very nearly answered it, before she caught her wits back about her. The girl was a magician, whether or not she kept any semblance of being one; the grimoire by her side was testimony to that.
“If you’ll give me yours,” Kurumi proposed. By the answer she’d know the character of this magician, she thought.
“Alice,” said Alice, as if it were only good manners.
Kurumi barked a laugh, all her expectations exceeded at once.
“And yours?” said Alice, and then the vampire was upon her. Pallored fingers laced with the doll-master’s own, a swift pull ungloving her of Gravenhage and sending the orange doll falling free. Came a shriek; it was silenced by the other hand taking round her jaw.
The rush of blood in her veins was as crashing waves in Kurumi’s ears.
“You’ll hear my name,” whispered the vampire, and Alice felt the slip of cemetery winds beneath her collar—“in the gurgling of your neck!”
Here now rode the flash of a naked blade.
[ ] Needlepoint; silver. [ ] A beaming crescent of steel. [ ] Cross-hilted iron.Yumeko understood that independence meant, sometimes, not knowing.
>[ ] Needlepoint; silver. Probably Reimu, if not a very brave inchling. >[ ] A beaming crescent of steel. Youmu - or Sakuya with her th14 sword. Ive no idea if either are made of steel or just pure unobtanium. The timeframe of this story is also still up in the air.
[x] A beaming crescent of steel. The more interesting one for me. . . Though this is much a case of pick your poison. Can I choose fairy with a wooden stick instead? Kurumi has it hard enough. All she has is pride, bitchiness, and a superior naming sense.
In another instant Kurumi found it about her own neck: steel, page-thin, curving round from toe to heel till it reached tang, and haft, and holder.
“Peace,” said the scythe, “and a modicum of patience, if I were you.”
It was withdrawn, then, and Kurumi looked aside to the interloper. What met her eyes was the most scarlet she had ever seen a person inflict upon herself, from her hat-band right down to the hem of her dress, as if she had arose from out the lake itself.
That was all Kurumi had the time to notice before Alice cracked her in the teeth.
The vampire reeled backward, and only half from shock.
“Brigand!” shouted Alice, fist still clenched to trembling. “Onion-biter! Lying—scanderous—pervert!”
Face flushed, shoulders heaving, having thrown her lot for words, the magician then took up her grimoire. She got as far as to place her thumb on the smoothcut fore-edge, before the scythe came tip to her nose.
“My advice goes for all parties present,” said the lady-wearing-scarlet, planting the haft squarely by her feet as she stood in air between the quarrelling two. She looked to each of them, the rolls in her flaxen hair bobbing to and fro as she did so. “Understand?”
“Kyrieleis to you,” spat Kurumi, because she had no mercy to give, scythe or no, scarlet or no, big floppy sun hat or—
“Kurumi~n,” the lady crowed, leaning into her scythe, “won’t you please listen to your dear Aunt Elly?”
The gathering witchbullets sputtered out to nothing.
“Kurumin,” repeated Alice. “Kurumin.”
“It is Kurumi,” said Kurumi, and by dint of great effort kept from grinding her teeth.
[ ] She had no, had never any Aunt Elly. [ ] Yet Elly rang familiar all the same.
“Is it?” said Alice, wearing not-quite a smile as she nursed her bruised knuckles.
“Yes,” said the vampire.
“And Miss Elly is your aunt?”
Kurumi caught herself before the word slipped her tongue. “I think,” she said instead, turning to the Elly in question, “I’d remember if I knew someone like—”
“You don’t,” said Elly.
Kurumi blinked, and voiced—
“It was a joke,” said Elly, firmly.
Kurumi glanced to the magician—
“It was not her time,” said Elly.
“Don’t play at the cowl of Death with that ridiculous hat of yours,” Kurumi muttered. She was struck with an unjustifiable feeling, then: that the words had already been spoken, and she had only just acknowledged the fact.
“It’s not as if I wear it for your sake,” Elly murmured back, a hand coming faintly to her mouth as if to prevent the words from spilling out. She coughed then, quite deliberately, and pretended to compose herself, before sweeping her scythe round her back and sitting up on it. “I suppose I shall be brief about it.”
Vampire and magician each kept her silence.
“A wind of change blows our way,” said Elly, “and while I cannot help you brave it, I can provide you this piece of forearming.” She produced two envelopes, then, and distributed them. “These will tell you all that which you need to know.”
They were of aged flax paper, and signed with a flourish Kurumi couldn’t quite read, but left unsealed.
“Rest assured all this is or is to become public knowledge in short order. I do you only the courtesy of informing you.”
“You are a courier?” said Alice all of the sudden, a note of disappointment colouring her voice. She was taken offhand, then, when a spool of fine, silvery wire was thrown her way, and barely caught it in both hands.
“I,” said Elly, “am your dearest Aunt Elly.”
She turned to Kurumi next, and presented her with—
—a living wrist, attached to a living arm, and anything further disappeared behind Elly’s back through impossible angles. She held it out as if leading it in a dance, though its withered form seemed in no condition for such indulgences: living said the whole extent of it.
Withered old arm that barely qualifies above the 'flying rat' in terms of dignity; or Elly. I'm usually not one to jump on the obvious trap 'what the fuck are you doing' choice, but on the other hand I really want to see what happens.
That, and Elly owes Kurumi after depriving her of premium maiden blood.
She watched the arm; watched the pulsing ropes of its vein-apparatus plainly visible through the surface of its milkblue skin; watched its fifth finger twitch, and saw that it was shortened a knuckle. It carried the reek of tincture about it, and a hint of cloying poppyjuice that made her nose curl, and its blood—
Kurumi wrenched the awful thing aside, and wet her teeth in Elly’s wrist instead.
“Of course,” muttered Elly. “Good enough for her, but not enough for you.”
Then a hand fell on the vampire’s head, gently stroking through her canary hair and teasing it out of its flight-tossed state.
“I suppose it’s only natural. If I gave you a basket of fresh apples, you’d put a bite in each before you finished a single one.”
Kurumi scowled, and spat away the wrist, batting away the burgundy handkerchief that came to her mouth. Absent was the sate of seizing and taking; she was left only with the sense of having been fed out of palm, and the lingering bitterness of gallowsman’s blood.
In front of her stood Elly, folding away the handkerchief, none the worse for wear.
“That’ll be the last time for that,” she chided, and spun her scythe.
“Go away,” hissed Kurumi, scarlet pinpricks surfacing again as paper crumpled in her hand. “Away, away!”
“By the by, dear maid, if you would carry this message to your mistress,” said Elly, and produced a silver pocketwatch in her hand: “She is not the only one with an ear to the fates.”
Elly threw the timepiece into the air, where it disappeared without trace, and caught in return a stick of carved bone. She held it out between thumb and forefinger, as if it might bite at her, and pressed the switch on its side, whereupon a needlepoint blade snicked abruptly out the front.
“Tactless as always,” murmured Elly, though she nonetheless breathed a sigh of relief. She turned the knife about in her hands. “Now how does it close?”
Kurumi stared at the dead space where Elly had been a minute prior. The madwoman, she had to be a madwoman, figured Kurumi, had left an absence as audible as her presence, and the vampire in turn was left almost adrift in its wake. She exhaled a sigh, and set to picking at her teeth with her nails.
“Hum,” said Alice, and Kurumi narrowly avoided biting her own finger.
“Why,” she began; then reined in the hissing, and said again: “Why are you still here?”
“For Orléans,” said the magician, “and Gravenhage.”
“Aureliana’s mine,” Kurumi said at once, though her cast showed sulkiness more than any conviction. She turned away to hide it. “Leave us be.”
“By what right!”
Right? muttered Kurumi. What right?—“You left her to drown,” she said, “and I but picked her up.”
“That is not what happened!”
Kurumi rounded on the magician. “Yet Gravenhage lies aground—”
Kurumi reined in her immediate urges: she was fed, for the moment; sober, for the moment. Instead she took another angle to the proposition, leaning toward Alice and closing an eye. True, the magician might be made useful, if fallen into the vampire’s hand—she had only to win.
There was just one thing Kurumi had to know first.
“What do you say?” she asked Aureliana, holding the doll to her ear. “Shall I?”
Aureliana nodded her assent, with a little help from her champion’s finger.
No further question to it, then. Kurumi lowered Aureliana, and called out: “Accept!”
“Very well!” called back the magician. “Choice of weapon?”
She cocked her head lakeward. “Fish up your doll.”
Alice made no such motion; simply twined her fingers with string, a smirk growing on her lips at the thought of assured satisfaction. Then she raised her hands, and six fresh dolls, orange-draped and red-haired all, fanned out in squadron around her: “Antwerp, Brussels, Flanders, Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht!”
Kurumi returned the smirk, and raised her hand in like, calling up a triplet of blooded crowquills from the surface of the lake. No objection came, and it was decided: the duel would be two of three.
[ ] She declared first. [ ] She ceded the privilege.
With a scatter of penstrokes, the first round was given name, and meaning. Kurumi tore away the scribed section, and held it out, declaring—
—and they were duel-bound, the spell of the contract seizing its hold. At once they were surrounded by the walls of a priory cloister, lancet arches standing in rows all round them; and a warm wind blew in, shrouding the stars behind roiling plumes of black smoke.
So: the contract had some power to it, the vampire conceded. She had given it a recollection of her past, and the spell card had effected it here, in broadest strokes. Yet—one crucial detail had been left missing.
No matter. She’d rectify that in short order. Kurumi called up a gout of fire and flung it against the priory steeple, crowning it with a comb of flames that spread rapidly over the cloister till it licked up all round them like a flock of so many squabbling cockerels.
If the burning scene held any trepidation for Alice, she hid it well—from her face, at least. It yet bled through in the placement of her dolls, which rallied close around her in close defensive formation, and in the quickening of her pulse.
Kurumi next pursed her lips, and filled her hands with the symbol of her grudge.
[ ] The insurgent’s pike. [ ] The iron bell-clapper.
I still wish we went pride because this is an interesting way to shape the character. I know fuckall of history, but I'll try my best to piece this out.
>insurgent's pike In this instance wouldn't Kurumi be the insurgent, if she's burning down a steeple? Church had massive sway on government back then, I thought.
>iron bell-clapper An alarm of some kind. Possibly the church bell.
>>31452 >Vlad feeling 'The stories about Vlad's plundering raids in Transylvania were clearly based on an eyewitness account, because they contain accurate details (including the lists of the churches destroyed by Vlad and the dates of the raids)' Could be related but I doubt it. Apparently he fought under the blessing of some churches too? Try your best, Wikipedia-kun.
I'll go with: [X] The iron bell-clapper. Since it's the more mysterious.
Apologies for being late - I was busy yesterday. Why is my vote as long as the update.
She had pried it from the calloused hands of a dead peasant: a sixteenfoot length of solid ash wood, tipped with a curt steel spike. Both ends of it ran slick with blood—this would be the second time it had changed masters the night.
The vampire spun the pike round, menacing her quarry with its bodkin-point. Fires filled her sight; she remembered well the scene. It was here in the cloister that she’d cornered him: here, in the midst of the town as it burned, and it was here that she’d see him at long last dead.
“Trier,” she hissed.
It was a title, and one he had long since cast away; but the man’s true name was forgotten to her, ground away by the onward press of years. She cared not to remember it.
So—“Trier!” she cursed. “Trier!”
And Trier stood there before her: he, alone, absent all his electoral fineries, absent all his damned cannon. He had now only his forgery of a robe, and the bulk of a cuirass underneath it serving as tantamount admission of his own faithlessness; and though he had the practised voice of a cantor, tonight he was only stony-faced and silent.
The vampire, likewise, had not a word further to spare for him.
She levelled the pike, fingers pressing round it ever tighter. In her hands it was as a lance, and the vampire braced it as one—bursting forth at her old enemy, carried on galloping wingbeats that would match any dextrarius for speed and fury.
Her first charge missed its mark, the elector loosing a scatter of curse-bullets as he scrambled to bring himself out of line. The vampire disengaged only just in time to keep from breaking her pike against a pillar, and she swung it round in a blind arc as she reoriented herself.
Finding her target keeping out of measure, she snarled and charged him again. Another, more focused stream of curses forced her to pull aside; but she was ready this time, her pike held at half-length, and she twisted round the shots to bring herself flying true again. Thrusting the pike out as she closed in, she gave point over and again, breaking the elector’s focus and driving him toward a corner.
Finding that he was running out of ground to give, her quarry instead slipped through a set of arches, thinking to seek cover in the arcade itself, even as it smouldered above him.
The vampire hissed in annoyance. She’d make him understand: there was no place left to him for to hide. Drawing back her pike, she flung out a tumbling salvo of culverin shot that punched into the pillars and showered the elector with spall. The next salvo smashed the pillars apart entire and collapsed the entire section, threatening to bury him beneath a heap of burning masonry.
Seemingly convinced by the vampire’s argument, Trier emerged from out the flaming wreckage. New resolve welled up in his eyes, and he armed himself likewise anew, three slender parrying blades held between the fingers of each hand.
>>31456 >three slender parrying blades held between the fingers of each hand This absolutely cannot be a coincidence.
On a less silly note, according to the all-seeing oracle Google, Trier is either a German/ancient European town, or a description of someone who does not give up. I can't conclude anything solid from this.
She set upon him immediately, delivering a series of thrusts at the elector’s neck. He in turn kept forward in his defense, striking out with the daggers in hopes of binding the pike or knocking it aside. Realising this, the vampire pulled away and attempted to cut at joints and limbs with the spearhead; but again Trier covered himself well, displaying a coordination she had never before recognised in the man.
The task of keeping him outside the point soon grew to occupy the whole of her concentration, and it taxed the vampire’s endurance to a degree that would prove unsustainable if she allowed it to continue. She was forced to pull back, and they faced off catercorner in the burning square.
“Hell and sulphur to you,” she cursed him; “the gates of Hell to you!”
She raised her pike one final time. In another moment she’d send him there; spit him straight through and fly his corpse as a flag—let him decide now whether it would be front-to-back or bottom-through-top.
Trier said nothing; only dared her with steely eyes. He kept his ground, fanning out the blades in his hands and conjuring up a gossamer-thin barrier before him.
The vampire charged—
—and her vision filled up with the seven colours of light.
She was above the lake again; in the present again. No fires blazed round her; no knocking of guns and no acrid stench of burning dead.
The magician hovered in place, eyes pressed shut and palms thrust out in front of her. as if frozen in the moment of triumph—save for the coursing of her breath. Then, at length, she lowered her arms, her dolls following in suit and releasing their conjured weapons into thin air.
Kurumi hissed lowly to herself, trying to shake some measure of feeling back into her arm. The laser had struck her full on like a refulgent lance, leaving half her body numb and an irritating buzzing in her teeth. A couple of scintillating floaters remained in her eyes; she blinked them away as she glared sullenly in defeat.
Alice was sober in her victory, an uncharacteristic—so the vampire thought—apprehension taking the place of her usual excitability. She played absently with her fingers, sending her dolls adrift down meandering garden paths. The magician was at odds with herself over—something.
Kurumi had felt just about ready to snap at the magician, when finally the question came out of her:
Trier, Trier, Trier. She was sick of him. Alice was no Trier: the simple fact had cost Kurumi the round. Even in death the elector had found a way to spite her one more time. Still, a loss was a loss, and she supposed the magician girl had earned herself some sort of reply.
But what was she to say?
Certainly not the truth of it—damn his memory. Then, Kurumi thought, maybe she would lie; satisfy the magician’s nosiness with some gory fable; of a simple prior, perhaps, beaten to death with the clapper of his own churchbell for having disturbed the sleep of a terrible, terrible vampire . . .
Kurumi bit back another groan at the puerility of it. Lucky her face was already buried in her hand.
“The memory dies with me,” she said finally, resignation weighing her voice down to a rasp.
Alice gave the vampire her blankest look yet. “You’d let it die?”
“That’s what I said.”
“But,” she half-said and half-asked, “it sounds like it’s something important to you?”
“It sounds to me like you’re a second hit short of getting to ask me questions like that,” said Kurumi, rolling her shoulders. “Call your card.”
Alice frowned, but acquiesced. The second crowquill was to the magician, and she hovered it searchingly over the palimpsest.
Finally she committed a name, and announced it, the page flashing in her hand.
And Kurumi found herself now in the midst of far-flung plains, the roaring of rivers reaching her as echoes from a distant mountainside: not the rim of sloping hills that circled her caldera, but mountains, real, that reached toward the sky with misted peaks, and were cloaked with forests of glittering crystal lattice.
Well; as real as the magician’s imagination could provide, the vampire sighed.
Still—“Crusade,” she murmured, a smile crossing her face. She liked the sound of that. It elevated her to a faith unto herself; albeit a Saracen one. Perhaps she’d make the magician her first disciple?
Yet when Alice raised her hands again, the dolls took up no crusader’s arms. Instead they formed a miniature block of pike and shot: a Dutch formation of all of six strong, plus their pet magician for guns. It was no mobilisation for crusade, but for earthly war alone.
It was no matter, thought Kurumi; no matter. She’d accept the title of Nation just as well as of Faith. And for a Dolls’ War?
The vampire turned to Aureliana, frowning imperiously, and declared: “You’re to be my Chief of Staff!”
Aureliana received the appointment with a click of wooden heels; then seemed to ask her something in turn.
“As for myself?” Kurumi repeated the question. “Well.”
>>31475 Also Alice's card seems pretty bs compared to Kurumi's. Seems like Alice is just making stuff up/imagining it - when Kurumi went ahead and just manifested one of the shittiest moments of her life.
Kurumi nodded sagaciously, crossing her arms. Someone had to win the bloody war, after all. Yes; a Parzival of verse, a John of Austria, a stone Roland clad with cloak and sword.
Albeit she did not quite relish the thought of life as a statue. Not after the last time. But the sword was a good idea.
She called one up, a slim cross-hilted estoc, and tested its stiffness over a raised knee before performing a slow triplet of test cuts. The result was—utterly ungainly, to be sure; but the vampire expected little of her own swordsmanship, and preferred nothing more than a good thruster. It would serve.
A fit of pique struck Kurumi, then, as she weighed the sharpened metal bar in her hand against the magician’s full panoply. She held the sword out pommel-first to Aureliana, who took it ponderously but obligingly, and held out her hand as if to grasp a second of its kind.
Her fingers closed around a black leathered hilt.
Kurumi smiled, tapping the flat of this second sword against her nose, and drew up a third, as if from her waist.
“Durendal, and Alteclere,” she whispered, glancing over to Aureliana; “and Schoiose.”
But why stop there?
She planted the swords firm aside herself and reached for another pair, and then another, the contract of the duel filling her hands with tapering fourfoots of steel each time: “Gramerzis, and Betschelier, and Schahtelakunt, and,” the vampire paused, searching; “Kikuchiyo.”
Now satisfied, she rested Durendal by her shoulder, and gazed stone-faced cross the field.
Her opponent recognised the unspoken challenge, and dictated her reply in the form of searing orb-shot, writing furrows into the field and splashing up gouts of earth as she bracketed Kurumi in. With steady hands she marched the lines together, as if goading the vampire into another head-on charge between them.
Alice had expected that, and her dolls fired at prepared angles, loosing a saddle-fan of witchpins onto the vampire and narrowly trapping her in an airborne corridor rapidly closing. What she had not expected was for Kurumi to reach downward, twisting in air, and clench the fingers of her hand—and for the swords she had christened to jump, literally, to her defense. They twirled themselves round the vampire like bars of a golden bird-cage, dispelling mitraille and ball alike at their perimeter.
Kurumi hefted Durendal lazily in her hand, contemptuous, even, of the bullets scattering just handspans from her nose, and reared her arm to do the second thing the magician had not expected.
A name departed her lips.
[ ] “Antwerp.” [ ] “Flanders.” [ ] “Utrecht.” [ ] The doll-master her own.
While the prospect of thinning their ranks had occurred to her, Kurumi thought it better to address her response to the head of the army directly. So she spoke her intent, and Durendal sailed out from her hand, true as a sword could sail, tearing its way through air with a mad hiss as if launched from the dying hand of Roland himself.
And Alice could only reach out her own hand, entranced, it seemed, in the manner of a Carolean in battle, who dreams in his last living moment to catch a six-pound iron ball in his palm. But her dolls, ever loyal, staked their pikes into the ground, and locked them together with mechanical precision in the terminal path of the sword, as if they had drilled for it a thousand times before. Durendal struck them at their intersection, and was deflected, whispering hurtlessly past the magician’s ear and tousling her hair with its wake.
Kurumi let out a click of annoyance, and reached for Alteclere.
A prayer was carried to her then, through the channel Durendal had left: a prayer, and a name.
“Stand aside,” Alice spoke, quietly, “Yumeko.”
The vampire paused, and likewise her swords stilled, though they remained a full iron gate before her.
“Stand aside, please,” Alice spoke again, repeating the name, “Yumeko.”
[ ] Chivalry demanded a reply. [ ] Chivalry demanded only blood.
>>31584 I don't want to bitch about my life here but you should have an answer so I'll just say I'm working on it when I can but I can't promise any, like, regularity or volume like I tried to last year.
Since I'm in a sharing mood and not much of a productive one:
>>31457 Richard von Greiffenklau zu Vollrads, Archbishop and Prince-elector of Trier from 1511 to 1531. Went to war against Franz von Sickingen in the Knights' Revolt, which went on to inspire the much bloodier German Peasants' War. Owned a pretty substantial gun collection, including the nine-ton Kanone Greif, the largest siege gun of its time.
I've been persuaded to upload the doodles for this story to an external repository, in the event that someone comes across this thread in years to come and finds that it's been pushed off the active pages of the board. Here it is: https://archive.org/details/thp_exile Also replying to the OP (>>31363) in case backlinks ever get added to the archives here. This is not a statement either way on whether I plan to continue the story, but right now my priorities remain elsewhere.