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Long one this time, and it would have been even longer if I hadn't gotten sick of writing it and phoned in the last bit.
Also, since this is /sdm/ and I feel the need to brag:
Not exactly a stellar playthrough, and slowdown of over 1% isn't optimal, but I BEAT EOSD EXTRA FUCK YEAR.
It's from a doujin called "Battle Cry", provided courtesy of Taisa on IRC when I asked for "badass Patchouli".
[X] I went with Henri. He had no idea that the forest might still have been dangerous, and I doubted he could protect himself if it was.
"Henri!" I turned back to the roof, letting the door close behind me as I called out to the other magician. Someone had to warn him of where he was going, and if Patchouli's tantrum was enough to stop her from doing it, the job fell to me. "Wait a moment!"
"You've put Patchouli's in one of her moods, I take it?" Henri casually drawled, standing from his work and turning to face me. His familiar tone, coupled with his slouching posture and plain workman's clothes, reminded me of just how different he was from his comrades. Had my mood been better, I might have found his manner charming, or at least interesting; instead, I just got more irritated at his uncomfortably accurate view of the situation. Where did he get off, talking to me like that?
"You're just going to follow her orders, even though she hardly told you anything about what to expect?" I asked, scowling back at him.
"Ah, she told me enough to make me feel like following orders," Henri replied with a easy grin, crouching back down to poke at the magic circle again. "I'm a man of few and simple pleasures, Miss Remilia, and explosions are real high on my list."
...Explosions? "So you have some way of defending yourself?"
"Against the thralls? Probably not," he said with a thoughtful expression. "I figure I'll run for it if things get dicey."
Unbelievable. How did a person this lackadaisical fit into a group with someone like Patchouli? For that matter, how did he manage to live long enough to become a magician?
"I'm coming with you," I snapped, stomping back across the roof to stand near the magic circle. If he wasn't going to protect himself, I'd have to try, my own well-being notwithstanding.
"Yeah? 'Kay," he replied, apparently unconcerned, as he placed his hands on the edge of the magic circle. Before I could say anything else, the magic surrounded us again, cutting off my senses as it transported us.
And then we were back in the forest, the same scene of carnage that I had just left. I regained my balance as soon as I could, taking stock of my surroundings and searching all my senses for signs of additional enemies. The only change I could sense was some of the wildlife having returned to the area around the clearing; a good sign that nobody had been here since I had left.
"It's clear," I said... to nobody, as Henri had already left my side, standing over the unexploded thrall corpse with a faraway look on his face, like he was lost in thought.
That was the last straw. "Do you have any concern for your life whatsoever?" I snapped, hands bunching into fists as I nearly shouted at him. He turned back to me, the look on his face saying that he had no idea what I was upset about.
"Eh, a bit," he said with a noncommital shrug and a light gaze. "Y'know, you're a lot like her, aren't you?"
"Do tell," I said icily. "I suppose you have some brilliant spark of insight to share regarding keeping control of your emotions?"
He stared blankly back at me for a long moment. "That too, I guess." Another shrug, and then he turned back to the thrall, crouching to examine it. "I was more thinking that both of you have weird-colored hair."
"...Ah." This was truly pathetic. I closed my eyes, willing myself a small measure of control over my emotions. Perhaps the lack of food really was getting to me.
"She's not always that easy to set off, y'know," Henri said abruptly, his calm tone contrasting with the frenzied movement of his hands as he drew a complex magic circle onto the body with ink and a brush. "She's more stable with her sister around to reel her in. Say, did these guys explode all at once, or one at a time?"
Was he talking about Patchouli? "One at a time. Patchouli has a sister?"
"Mm-hmm. Adèle... uh, Adèle something. Not her real sister, so they don't have the same last name. Total opposites, but they balance each other out pretty well."
Not her real sister? How curious. "And she's a magician, as well?" I asked.
"You saw the four chairs in the hide-out, right?" A slight smile as he continued to draw. "It's not like we have lots of guests down there. Was it just instantaneous, or did they give any warning before they blew up?"
A fourth person... Perhaps this Adèle was the mystery woman in the portrait reduction I had found in Patchouli's diary? "They glowed from within for a few seconds beforehand. So she--" I paused; frowned. "What exactly are you doing, anyway?"
He made another brush stroke with a flick of his wrist, then looked back up at me with a smile. "If they went off one at a time, my guess is there was someone pulling the trigger remotely. Even if this one didn't blow itself up, it should still have the spell attached, and I can match it to one of the triggered explosions, then link that back to where the culprit is."
"You can do that?"
He nodded. "Unfortunately, that's about all I've got for this one. The actual bang looks like amateur-hour stuff." A slight frown. "Stuff the vessel full of power, spark it, and watch the entrails fly. What was the blast radius, like twenty five, thirty feet?"
"Roughly, yes." How was he telling all this? As far as I could tell, he hadn't actually cast a single spell yet.
"Figures." He turned his head to the side and spit, his frown growing deeper. "Bastard's got no idea how to do things. Give me a five second fuse and this much tissue and I'll level a city block." He stared off into the distance for another moment looking displeased, and then, with a shake of his head, he was back to normal, looking up at me.
"I'm running it now, 'kay?" he asked, turning back to the body of the thrall and placing his hands around the edge of the circle. Almost immediately, the magic spread through the clearing; still an unusual feeling, but less oppressive than the transportation spell. Perhaps because it wasn't acting on me? I watched in silence as the power grew, beads of sweat forming on Henri's forehead as he concentrated his power into the circle. The spell was a long one, requiring over a minute of continuous power, and I was slightly startled when it suddenly broke, Henri falling backwards onto the ground with a sigh.
"Didn't work," he muttered, wiping his brow.
"So we've gained nothing?" I asked sharply, another flare of temper reaching the surface.
"Not nothing. Just couldn't get good enough resolution to catch the guy himself. He's definitely in Versailles, but we already knew that."
"I see." So Patchouli's speculation about the vampire being on the run was false all along? But if the vampire was in Versailles, why didn't he go after Michel when Patchouli and I left him alone? Did this mean that the thralls had really been acting under his instructions the entire time? And--
"Well, nothing left to do now but cover our tracks now," Henri said cheerfully, breaking my train of thought and-- was that a knife? What was he going to do with that?
"Ah, it's part of the spell, okay?" he said, noticing my expression. "No worries." Then, before I could say anything, he raised his other hand and, pressing the metal against his palm--
"What do you think you're doing?" I shrieked, covering my mouth with my hand and steeling my nerves as the smell of blood assaulted my nose.
"I know it's strange, but the spell needs a material component, and blood is -- oh." His eyes widened as he made the connection, but his surprise was quickly washed away, replaced by a smirk and a chuckle. "Want some?" he said glibly, proffering his bleeding hand to me.
..He didn't realize how hungry I was. It wasn't his fault. "Don't make offers you aren't prepared to honor, human," I snapped angrily, trying to curb my impulse teach him a lesson about making jokes in poor taste.
"You think I'm not serious?" My anger didn't seem to reach him, though, and he spoke as calmly as ever, reaching up to his neck with his uninjured hand, unbuttoning the top button of his shirt, and pulling his collar down. "You don't even have to hypnotize me, or whatever it is you normally do."
My nails were digging into my palms now, and I hissed my next words through clenched teeth. "You... you think you want me to..."
"You said you could do it without killing or turning, right?" His lazy smile returned, and he gave an exaggerated shrug. "Books and laboratories are fine, if you like that sort of thing, but if I have a choice, I'd rather learn by doing." He took a step forward as he spoke the last word, his smile going a little off-kilter and the look in his eyes growing a bit sharper. "Bitten by a vampire and lived? How many humans in the history of creation can say that?"
"I... see." I said, swallowing. Patchouli certainly wouldn't approve, and there was no guarantee that Henri didn't have some ulterior motive. Even if that weren't true, there was a small chance that I would end up injuring him, or...
...Why was I searching for reasons not to do this?
He was a human. I was a vampire. Like it or not, this was simply an aspect of my nature. A meal was a meal, regardless whether I took it from a hapless passerby or had it offered to me consciously. Had my brief interaction with these human magicians already made me forget that so completely?
Besides, I was so hungry.
"Kneel, would you? You're too tall to do it properly." I felt the tension drain from my body as I made the decision, and the smile that crept to my face must have matched Henri's as he followed my order, dropping to one knee before me. A short step forward, and I was close enough to touch him, running my fingers along his collarbone, cupping his cheek with one hand as I gently pushed his head to one side. I could hear his heart as clearly as my own as I leaned over him, listening carefully for the sound of blood rushing through his jugular vein. I opened my mouth wide, resisting the urge to bite as I dragged my fangs across the skin of his neck, searching for the right spot...
A hiss of pain as I broke the skin, but I was already gone, my mind wrapped in bliss as the first drops trickled into my mouth. I bit again, and then once more, instinct taking over as I forced the small punctures open wide, and before long, blood flowed freely, small rivers tracing a path around my lips and down my chin. I let up for an instant, taking a small breath, before leaning forward and covering the wound with my mouth, lapping hungrily at it with my tongue.
The true taste of blood... is indescribable to anyone other than a vampire. The rich, metallic splash of flavor came first, but behind it was a mix of ingredients, in quantities so small as to be nearly unnoticeable; some common to every human, like the bittersweet taste of adrenaline, some much rarer and unknown, perhaps linked to a previous meal, a passing sickness, or some other undefined element.
They say that hunger is the best spice, though, and as I fed, I felt my strength return, the pain of the sun's light against me gradually fading as magic energy rushed into my body. I slowed my pace, but continued to feed for another few minutes as my conscious mind gained traction again, warning me not to go too far. Before long, I felt him shiver, his pulse quickening under my hand, and I pulled away, licking a few leftover drops away with the tip of my tongue and letting out a long, satisfied sigh.
"Huh." Henri touched a hand to his neck as I stepped away. "Different from getting bitten by an animal," he said, smiling dumbly at me. Not an uncommon reaction among my victims; I hadn't hypnotized him, so he might remember the pain later, but being bitten induces some sort of chemical euphoria independent from my magic. "So are you full now?" he asked with a chuckle.
"I am," I said, smiling sweetly and dropping into a small curtsy. "You have my thanks."
"Anytime," he said with a roguish grin, crouching over his magic circle again. "My hand doesn't even hurt anymore," he noted idly.
I chuckled lightly, letting my suddenly improved mood dictate my actions; the sleepy, good-natured sensation that a full stomach brings had swept over me quite rapidly. The sun was still in the sky, but low enough that my new-found energy canceled it out, and I felt a sudden urge to lay on my back and relax. A little too unrefined to act on, but I compromised with myself by taking a seat on the ground next to the magic circle, idly watching Henri work.
The amount of blood needed for the magic seemed to be relatively small; a few drips on the dirt, and then he was back to drawing with the brush and ink. This spell must have been fairly simple, based on the complexity of the circle; no more than twenty or thirty shapes before he set the brush aside.
"Here we go!" he said, placing his hands on the magic circle. I couldn't feel the magic surround me this time as he cast the spell, but it was definitely there; almost immediately, I saw grass spring up around his hands, popping through the bare soil as though the world was moving in fast motion. The magic spread through the earth like a shockwave, and I felt a brief tingling sensation as it passed under me, spreading life throughout the clearing. That wasn't all it was doing, either; the corpse were slowly vanishing from sight, decaying at hundreds of times their normal rate until there was nothing but bones remaining. The urge to lay in the grass and relax returned in full force as I turned to look at the field behind me, restored in a matter of seconds to its original splendor.
Ah, what was I holding back for? I let myself fall backwards, throwing my arms open and savoring the sensation of the grass against my bare skin, waiting for the magic to finish.
"Your mood seems to have improved a little, m'lady," Henri said after another minute or so, extending a hand to help me up. I took it with a small giggle, letting him pull me to my feet. As he let go of my hand, though, my leg muscles trembled under me, and I tumbled forward, catching myself heavily against Henri's chest.
"I tripped," I said, grinning dumbly as I looked up at him.
...This really wasn't like me, was it? Something in the back of my mind shouted at me, telling me something was wrong, but it was too far away to hear, and the thought fell out of my mind as I tried in vain to stand on my own.
"Improved a lot, it seems," he said with a curious look, taking me by the shoulders and holding me at arm's length. "Are you all right, Miss Remilia?"
"Better than all right," I replied, laying my hands over his. "Must be something I ate," I managed before collapsing into another fit of giggles. My joke didn't seem to sit well with him, though, as he let out a small gasp, his expression more stricken than I had ever seen it before.
"...Aw, shit." He slid a hand out from under mine and brought it to his face, shaking his head and groaning into his palm. "Patchouli's going to rip me a new one."
"...Keep a secret?"
"Maaaybe," I said teasingly, bringing my other hand up to rest against his arm.
He sighed. "Well, then, I may have been coming down from an excellent opium high when I got Patchouli's call, and you may have gotten some bizarre contact high just now when you bit me."
"...Opium?" So that's what this feeling was? How interesting. Drugs didn't usually have as much effect on me as they did on humans, but this was clearly an exception, considering how coherent Henri seemed.
Although... "What were you doing in the middle of the afternoon, getting--"
"Oh, Christ, not you too, okay?" he interrupted, clearly annoyed. "Listen, can I just take you back to your house to sleep it off? I don't think either of us wants anyone finding out what happened here."
"That's... true, isn't it?" Somehow, I just couldn't find the will to get too worried about Patchouli finding out that I had bitten Henri, but even in my present state, it seemed like something that should be avoided. "Well, then, take me away!" I said happily, releasing his arm and jumping off the ground and into his arms.
The journey back was a euphoric blur as I gave up on interacting with the world around me, letting my senses be dampened by the drug; to this day, I'm still not sure how Henri managed to get me back to my mansion without being seen. The last thing I remember was being laid gently on my bed, and the sound of the door of my bedroom closing softly as I drifted lazily into unconsciousness.
My dreams... I won't recount them here. Suffice it to say that opium's reputation as a promoter of vivid, surreal dreams is entirely justified.
I awoke to a sharp knock on my bedroom door and rolled over, glancing up at the clock. Six 'o clock... in the evening? No, I felt too well rested for that. Had I just slept for over twelve hours? Why--
Ah. The memories of the previous day returned in a rush. I... had made somewhat of a fool of myself, hadn't I? I blushed to myself as vague memories of being carried through my mansion returned to my mind.
"Remilia! Are you in there?" My recollection was cut short by Patchouli's terse shout from the other side of the door, accompanied by another sharp knock. "I don't intend to wait forever!"
"What are you doing here?" I called through the door sleepily, getting out of bed. At least Henri hadn't seen fit to undress me for bed, I noted thankfully, removing my ruined dress and making my way to the bathroom.
"We need to plan our next move. I thought you might appreciate being included in the discussion."
"At six in the morning? This isn't a decent hour for vampires or humans," I called back, quickly washing the dried blood off my skin and taking a set of clothes from my wardrobe.
"The sun hasn't risen yet," she replied. "It may yet, however, if you insist on prolonging this conversation with a door between us."
"I thought I might make myself presentable this morning, if it pleases you, Miss Knowledge," I said curtly, struggling to button up my dress. She didn't reply, and I continued dressing in silence, meeting her at the door a few minutes later. She looked as disagreeable as ever, taking a moment to frown at me before turning on her heel and walking back down the hall and towards the exit.
"No instantaneous transportation this time?" I called after her, struggling to keep up with her pace.
"Casting magic to facilitate travel to your mansion would imply that I have some desire to be here," she said plainly, without turning to look at me. Even with her acerbic comments, she seemed less emotional than she had yesterday, treating me with the same casual distrust as she had after we met at the mausoleum. At least I could be sure that she hadn't discovered that I had bitten Henri, though I still wasn't sure I understood what had set off her temper after the fight with the thralls yesterday.
That still left the question of how to pass the time as we walked from my mansion to the Scarlet Veil building, though; even if she was behaving more neutrally now, it was clear that Patchouli wasn't going to start a conversation.
[ ] I talked to Patchouli about...
- [ ] ...her 'sister'.
- [ ] ...what Henri found out about the vampire.
- [ ] ...biting Henri.
- [ ] ...our bet. I still hadn't had a chance to make my first guess as to her ailment yet, had I?
- [ ] ...something else. (Write-in)
[ ] I let the trip pass in silence.
[ ] Write-in.
Another example of how I tend to distract myself when writing: if Remilia bites holes with a total surface area of ~1 centimeter in the jugular vein (cross-sectional area ~200 square millimeters), given the simplifying assumption of a constant blood pressure of 100 millimeters mercury (~13.3 kilopascals), how long will it take to drain 1 unit of whole blood (~450 milliliters)? I got as far as the Wikipedia page for 'Reynolds number' before it occurred to me that I might be taking verisimilitude a bit too far. If any of you are engineers with time on your hands, do post the answer; I'm curious now.