Jesstyn didn't remember much about the trip back to Karl's Haven. She sat in the car's back seat, holding the cradled against herself.
Her own face looked back at her, golden hair darkened with water and slicked down flat against her head. A little bit longer than mine, now, she thought. At her Embrace over 400 years ago, her blonde hair had fallen to her waist. Jeri--she wore her hair to her shoulders. The woman's skin had a warm, pink flush, a richness of color Jesstyn herself lacked unless she put considerable effort into her appearance. The sound of her breathing seemed very loud in the back of the car. But then, she was the only one who had to breathe. Her lips were slightly parted, and she could see the faint gleam of white teeth.
Jesstyn shifted very cautiously, trying not to jolt the sleeping woman. She stirred, a slight frown washing across her features, to be smoothed out as she sank back into dreams. What is she thinking? Jesstyn wondered. Did the images Jesstyn had seen in the pool of the Heart reflect images that had passed through Jeri--her mind?
What went wrong? she wondered. Taliesin had told her that what would rise up out of that pool would be her physical twin, using her own vampiric blood to trigger the transformation. But she's mortal. And by the way Taliesin's twitching, that just wasn't in the script. Not for the first time, she silently cursed her ignorance of the occult. It had tripped her up more than once, and if she didn't do something about it, it would kill her. Jesstyn stared out the window, watching the city of Copenhagen pass by. Maybe, if she had a broader knowledge base, she might have anticipated tonight's events.
Or maybe not. Demon-hunting I can handle. Ghosts, magic pools, and prophecy are a bit beyond my scope.
Taliesin said, low-voiced, "We had best explain this to our host. Will you please explain? There may be ramifications to this, I need to look into. You needn't worry, she should sleep for several more hours at least."
"I'll give it a shot." It'd be easier to explain if I understood it myself.
Those were the last words spoken for the duration of the drive. In time, they made the turning onto the private road. Up ahead, she saw the dark, looming shape of Karl Stolpe's Haven. Old, imposing, and probably worth more than the entire city block I live on back home. Why not just put up a screaming yellow neon sign: Ventrue live here!
Taliesin cut the engine, then climbed out of the car, coming around to open the rear passenger door. After a few moments of awkward manuvering, they moved the mortal's unconcious body out of the car. Jesstyn started for the basement entrance of the house, the sleeping woman easily cradled in her arms. A slight young woman like herself should not be able to carry such a burden with no sign of strain, but Jesstyn didn't give a damn who saw them just then.
They were met by one of Karl's expressionless servants. Taliesin sidled past her, saying something full of soft vowels and rounded consanants. Danish, she thought, but wasn't sure. The manservant nodded, stepped out into the hall. A moment later, he returned with a pair of female servants.
"They'll take her someplace where she can sleep," Taliesin assured her.
Jesstyn gave him a restrained version of the smile she reserved for the Sheriff's lackeys. "They can show me where to take her," she corrected.
All kinds of crazy occult shit might be brewing away here, but she had come here because a Clanmate had asked her for help. Damned if she was going to walk away from the job before it was finished. Taliesin thinned his lips in frustration. Jesstyn let her own smile chill a degree or two. With her hands full of unconcious blonde, she'd have some difficulty if things came to a fight--but she was a goodly-aged Brujah honed by war--and he was one unarmed Kindred with three humans.
"This way, please." The manservant made a sweeping gesture.
An underling who knew how to follow orders. Always a good sign.
Jesstyn followed after the servant, hearing the light footsteps of the maids behind her. No-one spoke. Looking neither right nor left, the manservant led them up a narrow staircase that opened up on the second floor. He led them down a wide hallway, then into a small room.
The room had been decorated in soft colors, with comfortable furniture. Though spotlessly clean, it had the feel of a room left unused for too long. Jesstyn set the drowsing mortal woman down on the bed. A glance over her shoulder confirmed the manservant had stepped out into the hall. The maids stood by the door, waiting for permission to enter. She nodded at them and went back out into the hall, where Taliesin and the manservant waited.
"We'd best see to our host," Taliesin sighed.
Jess nodded. "Lead on, then."
In the living room, Karl awaited them.
He looked up as they entered, his expression troubled. "Ah.
Jess, while this is certainly none of my business..." he
hesitated, and then went on, "Could I help? Is this some
unforeseen event where my resources might be useful for you?"
"'Unforseen'...yeah, that sums it up," she said with a sigh. "Umm actually...I should probably explain first. Okay, Reader's Digest Condensed version: recently, I've been playing host for the wraith of a former Clanmate. An Elder told us about the Heart of Copenhagen--which by the by, I thought was some kind of talisman the Tremere kept in a drawer...something like the Star of India. Turns out there's a woman whose soul is in jeopardy, and h--ah, my former Clanmate, is the one with the best chance of succeeding in helping this woman. Whoever she is."
Karl nodded, following her so far.
"So like a complete fool, I waltz over here to drop off this ghost, without even the slightest idea what's going on. Mind you, if I'd heard of a Neonate who walked blind into a situation like this, I'd tear her hide off in strips for being so stupid."
Karl raised an eyebrow. "Please. I cannot imagine you doing that to poor Yvette..." he said with faint smile.
Jess snorted. "Not with that Fortitude. I'm allergic to hard work."
Karl's smile grew slightly wider. "She is rather resilient, isn't she? I'm very proud of her... though what I hear of her lately shows that you might be so, too, she seemingly treasures you just as much as if you were her Sire..." His smile faded.
Oops. Poaching childer was a sure route to blood-feud, especially among the more stringently Traditional Clans. And you don't get much more Trad-wrapped than the Ventrue. She scrambled to reassure him.
"Karl, there is the not-inconsiderable fact that, if not for you, none of us who care for her would have her in our lives. Not just because you Embraced her, but because you gave her a home, a life, and a name. On her own, she would have died on those streets, in a year, maybe two. You're the only one who tried to help her then, when everyone else wanted to punish her." She paused to draw in a breath and marshal her thoughts. "And I've said I would have made the same exact choice you did if I'd been faced with the choice of either Embracing her or losing her forever."
Karl sighed, and relaxed. "And no doubt that made her happy and proud." He gave Jess with an odd smile. After a pause, he added, "Jess, it would be a great pleasure and honour of me if you would permit me to name you a friend."
She controlled a start. It wasn't often a Ventrue offered friendship to a Brujah--at least, not to a Brujah who wasn't a devout Idealist. Jess clasped the Ventrue's proffered hand with a grin. "The feeling's mutual, Karl."
The moment pressed down on them, then broke apart like a smoke ring. Jess drew in a deep breath, and took up her tale again.
"Obviously, I got to the Heart and...something either went very wrong or very right, I'm not sure which. But I have a twin, now. A mortal twin."
Karl looked stunned.
She held up a hand to forestall any questions. "Don't ask me how it happened, I can't even figure out how David Copperfield does his stage act.
Karl grimaced. "Truth to tell, I'd really rather not know."
Heh. Wish I had that option. "But now..." Jess drew in a deep breath. "As for help...well, for starters, I need to get her some clothes...she can wear mine for now, but she'll need her own.
Karl waved this problem off. "No problem. She can get whatever she wants, from cheap jeans to hand-sewn originals. I am not presently in any danger of banktruptcy..."
"A full toilette kit....and--" She paused, frowning. "Um, do you have a woman on your staff who can do this part? She's...er, well, she's...young. Her cycles could start up again and...hell, I don't know what modern women do for it."
The enormity of that last statement hit Jess like a fist. Mortal, alive, young...that's my body. She can have children, and it would be like I had them...she can...
Karl looked bemused, but responded, "I shall see what I can do."
She shook her head violently to clear out the thoughts, vaguely sickened by them. It sounded like something Cade, her pig-hearted Sire, would propose. There was something else...something important...
"Medicene!" she said out of the blue. She looked from Karl to Taliesin, her expression anxious. "She might need some...I mean, the special kind that they give babies when they're still very little, so they don't get sick later."
She dug through her memory, seeking the word she wanted. She'd read up on medicene in her "catch-up" decade, not wanting to risk becoming a carrier again.
"Not anti-biotics...immunities? No...immunizations? If that body is patterned after mine...I died in the last decade of the 17th century. I don't have any defenses against modern sickness, I haven't needed them."
Karl's eyes widened. "Good heavens, yes. Fortunately, I have no lack of skilled medical professionals who will work for me, no questions asked. I shall summon one as soon as possible."
"No hurry," Taliesin commented, speaking for the first time since they'd entered the room. "The life magic of the Heart is still active in her. It'll be at least a week before she even can fall ill."
Jess sent him a look that spoke volumes. "Not to speak ill of another's sacred places...but we are talking about the same magic that was supposed to restore her to her full vampiric strength, with knowledge and Disciplines intact, right?"
Taliesin opened his mouth to speak...
and shut it again. "Ah. Yes.
Right. I was thinking of ordinary mortals, and how the Heart acted on them... but you are right, we can't be sure. As for her
knowledge... we'll see."
A faraway expression crept over his face, and his eyes went glassy and unfocused. Jess gritted her teeth. More wizard shit. Another moment crept past, and Taliesin snapped back into the present.
"Damnation," he muttered, "She
is already awake. I had forgotten how very strong-willed she w--
is. Miss Calliope, you should probably seek her out immediately."
"Right," she sighed. "Don't worry, Karl, I promise we won't wreck the place, or at least not past anything I can afford."
Karl smiled softly. "Barring the unforeseen arrival of Frenzying
elephants, I can easily afford a little property damage..."
She waved a hand in acknowledgment, already heading back to the stairs. She had the feeling the men at her back were silently laughing. Well, at least somebody found something about this amusing. So why do I get the feeling the joke's on me? she wondered, retracing her steps back to the suite. Why do I always land jobs like this? What the hell am I supposed to say to her, anyway? 'Hi, remember me?' 'Welcome back to the land of the living'? 'You'll look great in teal, but avoid fuschia'? She paused outside the suite door, and listened.
Well, as it wasn't hysterical screaming and crying, Jess chose to interpret this as a good sign. Maybe she went back to sleep, she thought hopefully, easing the door open.
Jess stood stock still in the doorway, one hand braced on the doorframe. She'd known they were identical...but that knowledge took on a whole new meaning of level when she saw her double awake and aware. And naked. A warm flush Jesstyn barely remembered tinted the other's skin, turning even the most delicate places a pale seashell pink. Lots of soft, warm skin and blonde hair...
Jess moved farther into the room, closing the door behind her. Unbidden, her stride altered, becoming more languid, letting the other woman look her fill. Her double fumbled with the wholly-inadequate shirt she'd been given, trying to cover herself. She glanced up, catching Jesstyn's gaze--and stilled.
The other's eyes were perhaps a shade darker than her own, her blonde hair touseled. She looked so confused, so...frightened. And so damn beautiful. Jess hadn't lain with a woman since her poor Alexa had died over a century ago.
Jesstyn had become used to the odd twists
and turns of her on-again, off-again libido. Most of the time,
it slept, ignoring the finest beauties of the century, the most
brilliant minds, the bravst of hearts. But them something
would attract it attention. A quiet reserve, but with a palpable
heat. An intensity, an element of risk...and then it would wake,
and prove ravenous. Her fleeting time with Cristian had awakened
it...she could still feel it, restless prowling in the back of
her mind, hungry and unhappy about it.
The mortal woman flushed a fiercer pink. The pulse in her throat picked up, beating fast. More tellingly, her nipples were tightening, coming erect. She fumbled with the inadequate covering of her nightgown, covering her breasts--but exposing everything else.
Jess licked her lips and tore her eyes away from her double. "I...think
you'd feel more comfortable dressed," she said. Her voice
had gained a warm huskiness. Spotting a pair discarded panties
on the floor, she scooped them up, half-turning to hand them to
the other woman--and found there was less than a pace between
them. The mortal woman swallowed.
"Ah... I do not..." she stopped in confusion, as if surprised by the sound of her own voice.
So that's what I sound like to other people.
"You don't what?" Jess asked, when it became obvious the woman wasn't going to continue.
An almost-familiar scent warmed the air around her, the growing spark of a woman's desire. It almost hurt to keep her hands at her sides. She knew just what to do to appease that desire, turn those blue eyes dark and dreamy. It had been too long since she'd had a lover's welcoming body under her hands, too long since someone had reached for her like she was all that mattered in the world.
"I... I don't know what to say," she whispered. "I..." She gulped again, and moved a bit closer to Jess.
You will not take advantage, Jess told herself sternly, even as her eyes moved over familiar curves.
Reaching out, she placed the fragile garment
in the other woman's hand, closing her fingers over it. Willed
herself not to linger over the touch.
"Jeremias" accepted it with the hand not holding the shift.
"I seem programmed for blondes and brunettes," Jess said aloud, pleased that her voice wasn't shaking. "I guess you are, too."
"Possibly... I am," she whispered. "Jesstyn, I would like to... thank you. I..." words failed her.
She fumbled withthe shift, which slid down her body and to the floor with only the faintest of whispers. For a moment, she stood frozen in shock, clutching the panties that covered almost nothing... and then flushed an even deeper red than before.
Jesstyn shivered, eyes fixed on the woman before her. The blood rising under her translucent skin had only deepened and enriched her scent. She wanted to draw her close, breathe her in, savor the feel of her against her own body. Let her own hands move along those delicate-seeming limbs, until this sweet creature trembled, arched up tight against her, and cried her name like it was the most secret name of God.
Give me strength. Somebody. Anybody. She looked away. "Let's get you back into bed, hm? And then I'll see how many of your questions I can answer."
Her new 'twin' struggled for a moment with her clothing. In addition to being women's clothing, it was modern women's clothing. Jesstyn held back a faint smile, remembering how puzzled she'd been when she'd risen from Torpor, to find the world changed from top to bottom. It was a humilating experience, not knowing how to even dress one's self. She must be horribly self-concious, Jess thought. New body, new world, new gender. Not something that happens every day.
"Very well," she whispered. "I am ready." She preceded Jesstyn into the bedroom, but was unable to keep herself from briefly touching her cheek and smiling softly at her as she went past her. "Thank you," she murmured. "For... everything."
Her twin almost didn't make it into the bedroom. Making a tremendous effort, she forced the impulse down...though surely this carpet was soft enough...it shouldn't harm that delicate skin... Jess had to close her eyes. Desire formed a hard, aching knot in her belly. Only one way to untie that knot: to lose herself in another's flesh, in soft, rich sounds that rose from a lover's throat. Oh, sweet Christ...
The Brujah followed after, and closed the bedroom door behind her. She leaned against it for a moment needing its support. She turned her head to look at the Brujah. "Maybe you had better lock it," she said, her voice huskier still.
Without taking her eyes off the woman
before her, Jesstyn reached down, found the bolt beneath the doorknob,
and twisted it. The bolt shot home with a muted click.
She went to the bedside and sat down in the bed, gazing at Jesstyn
again. Her face was still flushed, but the gleam in her eyes had nothing to do with fear but owed considerably to desire.
She spread her legs slightly, and adjusted the shift with a movement of her shoulders so it no longer hid anything at all. Her voice unsteady, she said, "My first question is: What do I call myself? I can't really use my old name anymore..."
Jess drew in a ragged breath. "That's right." Keeping her eyes on the blonde woman before her, she settled on the edge of the bed. "You need a new name."
Reaching out, she brushed back a lock of the other's champagne gold hair, letting it run through her fingers. "There's Adara, for 'beauty'..."
Jess trailed her fingers down along the woman's throat, then slid her hand into the silken mass of her hair. "Or Anemone, for 'wind flower,'" she whispered, leaning in so she almost brushed the woman's skin with her lips. "Asalie, for one who is 'starting life at dawn.'"
She shuddered. "Please..." she whispered, not even knowing what it was she was asking for.
Jesstyn smiled. "Yes."
Satisfaction and hunger vibrated through the word. With great care, she rested her free hand on the other's thigh.
She felt the contact almost as if an electrical
current had been
applied to her. She shivered, and moved closer to the vampire.
"Sachiel," Jess continued, still in that low-voiced murmur, ever so slowly gliding her fingers up until they came to rest between her parted thighs. "for the angel who comes from the water."
As Jess's fingers approached her sex,
she almost begged Jesstyn to
stop this sweet torment and take her. Instead, she spread her legs
even more, feeling hideously vulnerable and hotly aroused at the same time. Her heart was beating still faster now...
Jess drew slow, swirling patterns with her fingertips, moving towards the tangle of blonde curls between her legs. Shifting, Jess settled herself between the other's open legs. Soon...
She shuddered with desire. As Jesstyn's fingers approached her cleft, she closed her eyes. Her mouth half-open, she began to breathe heavily with tension and pleasure.
"But I've always liked 'Callista', for 'most beautiful.'" This last, with her lips not even an inch away from that soft mouth.
"Callista," she whispered, realising that Jesstyn had named her.
Then Jess drew her close, kissed her once, almost chastely, twice, with growing hunger. The third, she touched the tip of her tongue to the younger woman's trembling lip, seeking entrance.
[end part one]