Lost Ground : 24 days

Tsoleil was not convinced she would be enjoying her new residence.

"I'll call you when I get all settled in, Darlene. The place is…" She furrowed a black brow at the majestic expanse that was Black Court Manor. Too much country for a city-girl. "Bushy. Yeah, attendants are coming now anyways. Love you." Quickly she clicked an end to their conversation, stuffing the phone in the tightness of her back jeans pocket before smiling towards her greeters. The casually dressed one not in a leather uniform was the only not to take any of her suitcases, offering his large, marble hand instead. His fanged smile gave her the fallacy of affability.

"Welcome to Black Court!", he greeted, shake gentle in the presumption of her dainty, feminine nature. "You must be the lovely Tsoleil Strabane I hear so much about. I'm Caedas, your advisor here. Well Jeezus, you're prettier than your Yankee profile lets on."

The young woman grinned sheepishly, adjusting the oversized purse at her side as their handshake subsided. It took her a moment to realize why their handshake had felt strange: he was practically missing a thumb.

To cover her pity, Tsoleil offered a larger smile. "Hullo, Caedas. I'm guessing you don't have cute Americans over too often?"

The vampire laughed, shaking his head as he ushered her forward. "Not nearly enough. Come on inside, they've got your things. I'm sure you'll want to freshen up before dinner: the entire coven's just dying to see who the hell you are."

Oh dear, she mused.

Her observation of the manor failed to appeal to her metropolitan taste, but she could easily appreciate the traditional Gothic décor. There were overlapping parapets and elegantly crafted ramparts towering over the ground level, smooth stone exterior that were paled to a nondescript color in the night. The few looming lampposts that aligned themselves along the mile and a half of driveway were of no immediate surprise: vampires didn't necessarily need the additional lighting, and its particular white glow must have caused minimal disturbance to their utterly sensitive retinas so in order to compliment the Manor's non-vampiric guests.

Tsoleil could only be so lucky.

Ascending the elevating steps of white stone, her advisor had begun speaking with a familiar tone of guidance. It was the perfect sort of voice to match that of a tour guide.

"As you can see, Tsoleil, security is of prime concern here at Black Court." A hand gestured high above towards the fortifications extending along the roof of the castle. It was then Tsoleil noticed the occasional glinting of iridescent irises in the black dark of the night sky, and as they continued the trek it was the lampposts light reflecting from buffed firearms that hinted the presence of many armed vampires. The gesture was intended to be reassuring, she knew, and yet her stomach continued to threaten flip-flops in the pit of her torso.

"Your safety is everything here," Caedas assured. "Alright? You're in perfectly safe hands, so no need to worry. We've got you covered." He offered another fanged smile, one Tsoleil accepted with an uneasy grin.

If she ever came to the conclusion she wouldn't like it here, they certainly made a point that there was no escape: no escape that didn't leave one's flesh embroidered with bullets.

The service men that had been busy hauling her luggage were ushering their way inside before she and Caedas. As she continued staring up at the magnificence of the three-sided surrounding the castle had created around her, the many, many panes of windows were beginning to be filled with the silhouettes of observing persons. She was being watched, Tsoleil understood without difficulty; watched with what could have been intrigue or fear or disgust. Not all pagans were accepted amongst the vampire kind, and those that came in such few blessings such as herself were understood even less so. Therefore, it could only be sensible for the American girl to think herself as the unofficial talk of the coven.

That aggravatingly familiar tour guide's tone interrupted the oddity of her observation. She snapped her attention to the ground level again, saying, "Yeah, no. I'm coming, I'm coming."

When her advisor proceeded to portray a countenance of momentary confusion, his mouth not yet curved to speak words, Tsoleil immediately splurged apologies.

"Gosh, I'm so sorry!" Her thick, shapely brows personified themselves in the expression of unintended disruption. "I do that sometimes, my bad. It just pops up randomly, like, I can't necessarily control it as tightly as I'd like to. I'm so sorry, Caedas!"

But he was chuckling, shaking his hand so as to usher her in continued walking. They were quite near to the grand entrance of the front doors. "No need to apologize for Gray magic, Tsoleil. Really. People would kill to make occasional mishaps like yours." The humor that was intended to string along his comment froze the twilight air as a despondent truth.

Fast approaching the great oak double doors etched in stone, Tsoleil failed to ignore the erect gargoyle statues of corroding marble that guarded the entrance. Their likeness to demons astounded her, the naturally enchantment resistance power flickering within her soul. Caedas set a hand upon her shoulder in assurance. "That's the Spire guardian: a gargoyle," he informed her. The smile in his tone somehow lacked friendliness as it had not done before. "You'll be seeing plenty."

*************

"Viviane already hates her," Lucy quietly admitted to her lover later that early morning. The formalities that had begun upon the guest's arrival ended a short while ago, the coven taking its routine by habit to sleep. Though many felt safe in the confines of a dusty, roach-eaten cushion of a coffin, three vampires in particular preferred the allotted space offered with a California King's mattress. There was hardly any space to straddle anyone in a casket, anyhow.

The vampire chuckled darkly, the patterns of his echoing breath reverberating against Lucy's dark brown flesh of granite. He nipped her shoulder with his fangs, grinning at her high-pitched giggle.

"Is that so?" he asked, lacking interest while his hands guided her mouth towards his. "And here I was thinking Viviane hated everyone." The neon red micro-braids that had been neatly pinned upon Lucy's head fell between the smoothed edges of chocolaty shoulder blades as his hands released their pristine hold. The vampiress was still smiling, anticipating his strong hands.

From the bathroom suite, the other vampiress was lacking the airiness in her sharpened tone. "She's just so goddamn friendly! A bright-white smile and a cute little size and a voice that alters its pitch depending on what she's saying. And, oh, that laugh—that bloody laugh. I'll stab myself the next time I hear it, I will."

"She was positively sweet, though" the redheaded breathed. The kiss she and the vampire shared held heated brevity that grew hotter with each lock, encouraging one to fuel the other's urgency. Lucy arched her back against his front slightly, the hands leading his as they slid down the plane of her hollow belly. Upon relocating the soft tress of her nether curls, both smiled. Lucy whispered, "Sweet as a doll."

"Oh, she's a doll alright." Viviane flecked her frozen dark flesh with a hint of Chanel No.5 before setting it back amongst her collection of other perfumes. Without so much as glancing at the fogged, useless mirror she adjusted the straps of the bra, monitoring the starchy straightness of the tiny bow that held the center of her breasts within the cups. She gave a rough yank at the back straps once her voice seethed into a dry strain of quiet: "Stupid little bitch. Thinking she can so simply take his bed from me… cow."

The top left drawer below the granite countertop sink was propped open when she reached for the handle. It was Viviane's choice of a plaything this morning, and given her raunchy temperament there was an unspoken certainty she would be entirely unforgiving in her performance. Lucy, being the innately docile one, was always the one to suffer: and there was nothing more sexually satisfying to the sharp-hearted vampires than to watch the crimson-haired lady's smooth face contort into a countenance of unbearable pleasure.

Viviane scrutinized this morning's featured plaything of choice with a fastidious brown eye. Elongated (at least ten inches, she roughly estimated), thick from base to tip with a daunting cobalt color: the ideal strapon, in her opinion.

She wondered briefly how long it had been since the threesome had utilized double penetration against poor Lucy. Viviane figured the last time must have been before Endur was conceived those five years ago: the attention she diverted to her lover's son had removed most of her sexual appetite, and there was no doubt in her mind the man had grown tired of simply having the dim-witted vampiress all to himself. Tonight, he had told them several hours ago, would be a treat.

Her hands were working with the straps of the toy, hoisting it about her lace-covered pelvis. Already she heard the aggravatingly feminine whimpers of her female counterpart being taken, and without much effort. Lucy was not difficult to please.

"Joining us, are you?" The vampire who had hoisted Lucy atop him was grinning wickedly at the decadent sight dangling from between the oncoming woman's leather strappings.

Viviane sauntered towards the great bed, arms folded across her sprightly breasts as she observed Lucy straddling what delicious monstrosity was buried within her. It would be every last drop of energy that she would exert.

************

Jet-lag on top of a severe time change naturally impacted a traveler. Despite her uncanny gifts, Tsoleil was no exception. Seeing that her flight had departed from Baltimore in the early afternoon, it was no surprise she slept ungodly hours.

It was barely evening when she had awoken, the sun not having reached its zenith. A relatively hungry Tsoleil opened her black eyes, glaring at the high, stone ceiling that refused to provide any hint of change. For the hours before she had slept it had remained the same. Even now, after a restless twelve hours of rest, the same oddly shaped stone peered at her from fifteen feet above her head.

She growled, stretching her limbs underneath the unbelievably cozy comforter, before sliding out of the oversized bed and going about her usual morning routine. After her teeth were brushed; face was washed; shower reluctantly taken, she was prepared to see about her suitcases full of belongings to dress herself. By then, certainly, she would be ready to head to the kitchen and find herself something to chew on.

"Anything you see in that refrigerator is yours," Caedas had assured her the night before. He had been incredibly patient with her lack of understanding for the dynamics of the coven thus far, something Tsoleil knew she would, at some point, truly have to express gratitude for. "Bossman's already started up with the construction of your own kitchen, but it'll take a couple months to finish. There's quite a bit to have added in there. You're going to need it at some point, though, aren't you?" He had a knowing smile, one she didn't necessarily understand but accepted gleefully.

Even now, drying herself with the soft Egyptian cotton towel, a sleepy smile of excitement curled about her full lips. Her own kitchen to run as she pleased, quite possibly stocked with the highest and most up-to-date appliances in culinary technology! Goodness knows she did not have half such an kitchen of her own back in Baltimore.

Gripping the towel to her chest, Tsoleil went in search for a pair of sweatpants to go with that peach-colored tank top she bought just a few days before coming. But the three suitcases she had stuffed full of belongings were nowhere near the front of the bed where she put them last. Nor did she find any of her things laying around out in the open of this elaborately decorated bedroom.

Skimming the room with her eyes, she went for the walk-in closet at her left. She blinked several times before stammering, "Dear God."

The entire 20x20 closet had dark wood racks chock-full of hangers, all of them dripping with the new clothing, and wall-posted mini armoires parallel to one another atop planks of solid cedar platforms on which to sit accessories of her fashionable choice. Only these weren't the clothes Tsoleil herself had packed: no, from the mere glance of things these garments were crisp, clean, fresh to the touch. The bewildered young woman dared to gingerly reach for a particular pair of gray skinny jeans, the price tag flapping into her fingers.

"$125?!" She hadn't meant to squeal so loudly. Fingers scrambled to peel back the front waistline and reveal a BeBe brand tag sewn into the denim. It couldn't have been all that coincidental that the imprinted size read the ideal 7.

In disbelief, she turned to the opposite end of the closet and admired the row of variously styled shirts. Muttering the Dulce & Gabana brand under her breath she found the M for medium: perfect.

Too perfect. Another few jeans, some shawls, the slew of cocktail dresses by Louis Vutton, and even the glorious display of countless pairs of shoes-- everything from Converse All-Star high-tops to stilettos by Jimmy Chu-- in the far back, all of which were an ideal size 7.

Everything was a perfect fit, according to the size tag. And yet her own clothes were nowhere in sight.

"I'll be damned," she murmured, jaw not quite picked up from the hardwood flooring. "I think I'm staying longer than I planned."

It had taken her a moment to decide exactly what she wanted to wear with a closet full of designer ensembles, but hunger spurred her actions. Eventually she decided upon the original gray skinny jeans she had initially come across, donning one of the oversized Ravens jersey. While combing the mass of her dark hair she incidentally discovered the massive oak jewelry box that sheltered a pretty penny's worth of accessories. This time, however, Tsoleil refrained from inquiring about the designers. She didn't bother with shoes at first, either, not anticipating a need to go anywhere quite yet.

Ironic they should buy her so many shoes when security was as high as it was. It wasn't as if she were likely to go anywhere.

And just as she was ready to step from out of the room, it occurred to Tsoleil she had done nothing in preparing the room for a blessing. It surprised her now that she had so easily gone to sleep without invoking one: it should have been a habit for her by now, her aunt had said. "Or you'll end up in a room with more evil than you have breasts," the woman warned. Before, Tsoleil had dismissed the woman's words as the advice of a graying old witch who had the best of intentions in her rusty speech. Now, however, Tsoleil could not help but wonder exactly how much of an evil presence that truly was in comparison to her breasts.

That was a hell of a lot of negative energy.

So she stood in the center of this expansive bedroom, opening her arms wide so as to be parallel with the floor. She faced one wall, then another, and yet another and the last, palms held up to the high ceiling.

"Powers of the South," she began, eyes closed. "Powers of Air. I greet you, I honor you, I welcome you here! Watch over, bless and protect this place."

And so she continued with each earthly direction-- water, fire, earth, and air-- having circled all four walls of the room in repetition. In doing so Tsoleil's forcibly emotionless being allowed the absorption all ripples of the incoming aura, her soul opening its tantric pores as a sponge so as to embrace each droplet of positive energy.

She opened her eyes, the light of the newfound vigor rustling within her soul. Tsoleil sighed at the familiar glitter of her body before heading out the door.

It took her twenty minutes to find it, but the kitchen was just where Caedas had showed her last: on the ground level of the castle, directly across from the "buttery". Tsoleil had expected to be the only being in the castle's kitchen at such an hour-- which, she had discovered, was about 4:57 in the evening-- but she was met with a surprise. She wasn't nearly as alone as she thought she would be, however, after blindly reaching to flick the kitchen lights on.

There was an aggravated hiss that caused Tsoleil to jump in her socks, and just as quickly as she had let the lights on they snapped themselves off. She hadn't had much but a chance to catch a glimpse of a black figure in front of the island.

Her heart began to pound, nothing above a bloody thrum in her ears, as the cackle of a heated stove top sounded from several feet away. Her sensitive nose knew the aromatically homemade essence of grilled cheese...

"Keep the lights off," came the simple directive.

A dim recess light clicked on as if on cue. The gray witch didn't have to concern herself with adjusting to the new rays: there weren't enough but to barely see her feet step quite cautiously towards the counter section of the island. She could barely make out the face of the silhouette figure in front of the stove before he reached to the side and took a shaker of spice. An arrayed gleaming in his ear-- what seemed to be a trio of square-cut diamonds in numerical sizes-- was a reflection of the recess lighting, as was the shadowed goatee upon a seemingly stout chin. Tsoleil cleared her throat as she apologized kindly, "Oh, my bad. I thought... um, I thought I'd be the only one in here at this hour. The sun's still up, ya know?"

He-- as the tone of the figure's voice emanated doubtless masculinity-- chuckled somewhat. "Not all vampires sleep soundly through the day."

"I see that." Tsoleil tried a smile. No conversation was immediately returned. By her own invitation and by the mental reminder from Caedas, she took a seat upon the barstool. The cushion of the seat appeased her once anxious heartbeat. For a few moments, there was no sound but for the occasional crackle of what smelled like butter lubricating a hot pan.

Then she asked in regard to the sterile silence, "Grilled cheese?"

A pause. "Yes."

She nodded, understanding his curt reply as a desire for continued silence. Too bad she hated awkward soundlessness. "You should try it with a thick slice of ham. Real ham, I mean. Not lunchmeat. Like, the kind you slice off the... the, um... the thing. Whatever's on the dinner table at Christmas." As if to make a point, she added, "It's pretty good."

The vampire, as she presumed him to be judging by his distaste for the light, chuckled, "Sounds delicious." His hand returned the shaker and picked up a thick slice of what was undoubtedly honey ham, tossing it onto the unseen pan. A virulent sizzle marked its arrival between the bread and the cheese.

Tsoleil bit her lip. "Oh," she whispered. Well, she'd certainly never suggest that ever again.

Another session of silence ensued until the stove clicked off, the crackling coming to a halt. Tsoleil listened to the sound of a knife slice evenly through the toasted bread, ham and cheese before she heard him ask, "So you were the guest of honor at the banquet last night? Tsoleil Strabane from Boston."

"Baltimore, actually," she correctly casually.

He chuckled. "Alright. Tsoleil Strabane from Baltimore. Is this your first time in England?"

She nodded with a smile. "It is. I haven't really seen much of the scenery or anything since I fell asleep on the jet, and the drive here from the airport was at night. But I'm aware it's lovely this time of year, the warmest. It's a beautiful setting to have built a coven from where I'm standing.

She heard him chuckle again.

The crunch of the sandwich prompted Tsoleil to inquire, "I feel like I met nearly everyone but the Dark Lord of the Black Court himself."

"That's because he wasn't there," the vampire replied, still eating as he spoke. "No one saw him. I certainly wasn't keeping tabs."

"Well how rude is that? This guy hires me to sit on his Cabinet as the Mistress of Domestic Affairs and he doesn't even introduce himself? Like, really though. Isn't that just a bit on the asshole side? It wasn't even as though he sent a message saying he apologized for not making it to the banquet or anything. He just... didn't show." She growled, getting up to head to the refrigerator that was illuminate the moment. She set her padded feet on the stone cold ground. "Now I forgot what I wanted to eat."

The vampire seemed to be rather forgiving. "No, it's quite understandable. It seems you've been... stood up?"

"Yeah. I've been stood up."

"That's unfortunate. Perhaps he'll think about that next time, if he's as decent of a Dark Lord as some say he is." A silence ensued as Tsoleil searched the rather full refrigerator for something to eat, for seemingly everything on the pristinely organized shelves appealed, in one way or another, to the broad horizon that was her customary palette. In mere moments she had found an unopened tub of original rice pudding, and it was an immediate decision to enjoy the contents for herself.

"Did you meet the other members of his Cabinet?"

She nodded, pleased to find the reflective glint of a spoon miraculously appear upon a newly set table placemat, complete with little glass bowl. She did not notice the napkin in the dark until her hand moved for the spoon. "Yeah, all of 'em, actually. I only remember a couple, though: the two chicks other than myself."

"The only women in the the Dark Lord's Cabinet, too, I think."

"Are we really?" Tsoleil licked the dip of the spoon, relishing the creamy lumps of the pudding against her tongue. "Hot damn. I mean, that definitely explains the testosterone everywhere. Though it didn't seem that either of the two minded." She wondered if she would be able to maintain the same neutrality, as she had never been in the minority in her field of work.

Not as far as sex ratios went, anyway.

Before she could continue to rant, the sound of padded feet made their way to the sink, where water began to pour from an unseen faucet. Tsoleil licked the spoon again, wondering aloud, "Leaving?"

A moment's hesitation before the clattering of dishes in the sink. "I am," he replied simply. "We'll meet one another again soon, however. Don't worry too much."

Tsoleil smirked. "You're a nice guy for listening to me rant all this time. Oh, I never did get your name."

Silence.

She cocked her head to the side, her mortal irises attempting to cut through the darkness not two feet before her. "Hello?"

Absolute quiet.

Tsoleil frowned somewhat, licking up the last of the rice pudding her appetite found hunger for. It occurred to her as she stashed the carton back in the illuminated refrigerator that she hadn't ever caught his name, nor had he inquired to share it. Not rude, but perhaps rather unconcerned? He had been nice enough to make conversation, however brief.

She didn't even hear him eating.

Tossing her spoon in the sink she could barely see, the gray witch headed back to the entry of the kitchen. She took one brief look back after letting open the door, the midday sunlight from the three-story hall windows seeping inside. Tsoleil clicked her tongue: nothing strange and unusual so far.

Nothing so far.