The bloodcows moved forward, quiet and warm. laney moved with them, unable to know if she were herding them or one of them. she saw them ripe and submissive, their veins pulsing with life for the Mistresses to drink. their eyes were empty of any desire but to be drunk deeply from. laney longed to see one pulled aside to fall into a vampire gaze, then sigh and drip between loose thighs as the Mistress fed. But the bloodcows and laney just walked on . . .
As she woke and became aware she was bound, laney felt good, and wanted to settle back into helplessness. Dream again.
But waking brought fire and screaming, and she remembered the vampire who owned her now.
laney was a slave and she had Someone to protect. she'd been drugged into sleep by Mistress' enemies and they, not She, had bound her. The joy of being controlled warped into horror. she convulsed, her whole body straining to pull her from the straps, but they were tight on her limbs and waist. she was secured as though she'd suffered a spinal injury.
The thought that she might really be injured passed instantly. If she was paralyzed she was useless to Mistress, and she might as well die.
her eyes opened and she realized she was upright, bound to something leaning against a vehicle just outside the wrecked barn door, looking into the smoke. The fear and the need to return to her Owner was driving the drug out of her.
Mistress was--on Her knees, twisted at an angle and glaring up at two Guard who stayed out of Her reach. laney flailed helplessly in her bonds, trying mindlessly to tear out of them and go to Her. her vision clarified, and she saw why Mistress knelt.
She writhed on a lance that pinned Her to the floor. It wasn't killing Her but it had weakened Her.
When the humans turned around to look at her, laney realized she was screaming.
One of the humans nodded. laney recognized Kepler, and like a good slave she effortlessly remembered the human as an enemy. It made her glad to see the deep cut in Kepler's cheek, the damaged way she walked. laney hoped it was Mistress' hands that had wounded her.
Kepler looked at her, then lifted her hand.
She aimed her gun at Mistress and shot Her, head and chest.
laney's world went white and then very black.
Something touched her. Someone. A voice said something urgent about "Losing her!" and she felt pricking, like another dart. For a moment she wished it had been two endearingly small fangs piercing her instead, with a cool tongue behind them.
It bewildered her to feel, suddenly, how--awful that would be.
Sleep cushioned bewilderment and ushered it away.
Laney woke, and she was inside. It was quiet and dark, though there was light near her. Her thoughts were muddled but she was perfectly calm. She lay there, trying to remember and only vaguely bothered that it was taking so long.
A nurse came by, and examined her, gently impersonal. She injected something into the IV Laney could see when she looked up. Laney grew calmer.
Where was Meg? It wasn't enough to shake the calm, but it stayed in her mind. Soon she slept again.
A light woke her, directly over her head. She couldn't look away from it. She remembered it from the Academy but then she forgot the memory. She knew there was something about the light that stopped memory, stopped thought. They'd made her stare into it until she knew, until they knew she would remember when she saw it again.
Laney stared into the light, and when it began to pulse she realized she needed to count the pulses, backward. Now and then a voice spoke, flooding her with certainty that she could believe whatever it told her. That she must believe it.
Laney promised to believe the voice. It let her watch the light again, and keep counting. Laney felt her belief deepen with each soft flash.
She was told to remember, and she did. She had been hypnotized by a vampire and became its thrall, and her will had been its to command for several hours. That was bad, but it was over now. The voice told her that. It was over, and she was all right.
The light pulsed, hypnotizing Laney again. The voice told her again that it was over, and that she was not a slave, and would not obey a vampire's voice.
Laney went deeper. She knew they were using hypnosis to try leaching the trauma out of her before they let her wake fully.
Even in trance she shrank from it. She remembered worshipping the undead, reveling in its control. She'd yearned for its command.
She'd captured another slave for it, and it had made the slave take a fuel can and . . . and . . .
The light pulsed. The voice beat softly against her mind. It told her she wanted to let it in and alter her, and she was powerless to deny it. She must believe it.
"We stopped her," someone said. "She didn't hurt herself. She's free now."
The voice told her this was true.
Someone else spoke. "I'm the one you took. I felt what you felt, I wanted to obey her. They got it away from me before I could hurt myself. Don't worry."
Laney cowered under the light, silently begging it to pulse her deeper. She didn't recognize the voice, and even as the hypnosis and her memory made it mercilessly clear, she couldn't recall the woman speaking that way--she'd panted, begged, whimpered, whispered.
Laney begged aloud, now. She kept seeing someone burn and she wanted to believe it wasn't true.
The light pulsed and she counted fervently.
Where is Meg?
Laney needed to hear her. The voice told her she didn't need to.
Laney stared into the light, and realized she had to obey the voice and believe that Meg was fine. As her counting faded to a whisper, Laney forgot why that bothered her.
She was told she could sleep. Her eyes closed instantly.
When she woke again, a Guard therapist was next to the bed. Daylight was coming through the window. "How do you feel?" she asked.
Laney blinked slowly. "I feel very relaxed," she said. It was very, very easy to look the woman in the eye. "I feel fine."
"I see. That's good. Do you feel ready to get up?"
Laney blinked again. "I'll wait until I'm cleared to." She really was relaxed.
The therapist nodded. "Three, two, one," she said.
. . . Laney nodded to her. "I'm still relaxed, just not . . ."
"Limp?" The therapist smiled thinly. "We did have you pretty deep. The prep work they did on you before they let you out of the Academy really did work, but the fascination you faced was very intense."
She looked out the window. Sunlight, and she could go out in it. She hadn't been turned. If they let her leave this bed, she'd go bask. Or just walk.
"There was an elder," she said. "She--it--read both of us."
"Yes. You said that in trance." The therapist's tone gave up nothing, but its very blandness told Laney she'd said more to them, as their hypnosis had followed the vampires' spell, down into her core. Despite the pulsing light, Laney could still remember how ecstatic she'd been when the vampire elder had swept that darkness through her and wrung her knowledge from her.
"It's more than many Guard have to face, in all their time in the fight."
Laney looked at her. "Where is Meg?"
The therapist looked back at her. If she says 'how does wondering make you feel?' I'll kill her, hypnosis or not. But the woman said nothing.
"Is she dead? I saw her fall, but if she was tranquilized--" Laney stopped wondering if Meg were dead. In the Guard, dying was often the least complicated thing that could go wrong. No one would have hesitated to tell her if Meg was properly dead, and forever beyond the nosferatu's reach.
If the vampires had gotten away, if that elder had led them to hold off the raid and pull out, they might have taken Meg along, even drugged. With their other livestock. Laney remembered the bloodcows, mostly nude, bare-necked, obediently waiting to be drunk from and taken to submissive climax.
The pulsing light had helped her put aside the memory of wanting to be one of them.
It came to her while her mind was entirely elsewhere.
"We were both tranquilized." She looked down, and then out again, not wanting to look at the therapist. "You had dart guns along. You were ready for us. It wasn't just a scramble after us with weapons on hand.
"You knew we'd be taken." She thought about everything. She remembered why the elder had been so angry with the newer vampire, the thing that had brainwashed Laney into calling it Mistress.
We were bait, she thought but could not say aloud.
"I'm afraid that's an operational matter," the therapist said. "Outside my competence." Laney heard her rise from the chair. Her breathing was even, and Laney was glad she wasn't looking at her. The therapist didn't sound upset: she just wanted to avoid the inconvenience of Laney's reaction.
Laney wasn't sure what that would be. But . . .
"Is Meg all right?" To ask that, she made herself turn.
"She's being treated. She won't die, and she wasn't turned."
Laney was suddenly desperate to figure out what she was being denied, before this woman left.
"Is she still Meg?" Or--meg? Killing the controlling vampire usually freed a human slave's mind, but had the creature done something deeper to Meg? Something to bind her to it beyond its death, or destroy her will, that it hadn't had a chance to do to Laney?
She'd driven to the vampires' lair, while Meg gave herself to the one who'd bewitched them. She'd listened to Meg's cries, and breathed her arousal, as the other girl had ecstatically died a little in the car beside her. Maybe as she'd bled into their captrix she'd lost more of herself.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I'm just really tired." It was true. "May I sleep for real, now?"
The therapist nodded, standing. "Yes. No more hypnosis is indicated. If you'd like to be put under later, one of us can tend to you. You accepted some triggers earlier for that."
Laney nodded and settled back, and the therapist left.
She's alive. She's still human. Laney clung to those. It was harder, realizing that if they'd been on opposite sides of Mis--of the vampire, she would have been first onto the car, and Meg would have driven. Laney would have been the one bitten, taken farther, used more deeply. The one who gave not just her obedience but part of her life to the undead.
Meg would be lying here, wondering, worrying about her.
She thought about Meg worrying, and wished Meg were well enough to worry about someone else.
"She won't die, and she wasn't turned." It should be true.
As Laney curled under the sheet, she thought about the darts that had brought them down. The knowledge that they'd be taken by the vampire they watched.
The Guard lied. They might be lying about Meg.
It frightened Laney too much to cry for fear about her. She fell asleep.
They cleared her later the next day. They took her passivity to reflect the drugs they'd been dripping into her, but in fact Laney was feeling hopeless. Waking to what she'd learned reminded her of the first morning after her mother had died. Laney had lain still, letting herself realize it was no dream.
But it felt worse to think about the Guard she'd joined, the people swarming around her, and what they'd done to her and Meg. It felt as though she'd woken after her mother's death to sound of her father coming into her room, saying nothing as he undid his belt. But her father was decent, and that hadn't happened to her.
Briefly, to put off dealing with it, she thought about asking for pain pills. But they might prefer to hypnotize her instead, and suddenly she dreaded letting them into her mind again. So she kept still. She wondered how much time she had before they'd expect her to do something. Eventually the question was too large to hide from.
If the Guard gave its own people to nosferatu, what else would it do?
She was afraid she'd be nervous when they came for her, shying from their touch, but she surprised herself and played the cooperative patient. Even with the dread there was a numbness that took the edge off. It didn't feel like drugs. They might have programmed her to stay relaxed and matter of fact. By now, Laney assumed that wasn't to make her feel better but to keep her from being too much of a pain in the ass.
When she'd asked for the second time if she could see Meg, there was a look in the doctor's eye that said he was thinking of calling the hypnotherapist back to make Laney behave. She stopped asking.
Later there was a tactical debrief but it was perfunctory. She'd already told them whatever they wanted to know while she'd stared into the pulsing light. She actually learned more from them.
The barn had just been a temporary nest, not the main hold. Even so, it had gotten very, very dangerous there as she'd hung drugged in her bonds. Three other undead had been killed just trying to retrieve the one that had taken Laney and Meg. They'd almost killed Kepler before she could execute it, and many Guard hadn't made it out. There was no sign of the dark-haired elder.
Laney felt increasingly embarrassed. It was a joke, anyway--she'd spent most of the "mission" under mind control, so there was nothing to file under lessons learned.
Well, almost nothing.
No one had any use for her for a while, and she wandered around Sector by herself. For a moment she'd hoped someone would come over to her, a sponsor or just someone who cared for newbies until they got their bearings. It wouldn't be like having Meg around, but it would be nice just to talk to someone who wasn't trying to peer inside her head. Or rearrange what was in there.
But she wondered how someone would be able to do that, knowing why she' d been brought here. Laney walked around in the midst of the Guard--what had the vamp called it, "your citadel of goodness and niceness"?--and she was happy that everyone was avoiding her.
A lot of Sector people had to have been in on the plan, to make it work. A lot of them would have seen the two wide-eyed newcomers being led in to Kepler. Others would have played actively--the ones who'd stage-managed the "shootout" at the motor pool, whoever kept track of them as they followed their Mistress obediently out, the ones who'd blocked others from getting in the way.
There was the one they hadn't blocked, the woman in the corridor.
Laney had taken that woman for the vampire. Even now she walked to a wall and leaned her head against it. She could feel the woman's desperate thrashing in her arms but she'd been softer, a staff worker, helpless against even a fledgling Hunter. She could taste, faintly, the thrill of forcing the woman to submit to the thing that controlled her, the deeper heat that her own submission brought as she made a fellow Guard, a fellow human being, into another slave.
Had they told that woman what was waiting for her when they'd sent her down the hall? For a second, something of the Laney that had arrived here yesterday fought through. That Laney saw the woman as a mamber of the real Life Guard, the one Laney had joined. She'd volunteered, to help and share the risk. When the Guard planners realized their nosferatu and their cleverly-chosen bait were equally clueless about how to get out, she'd swallowed and stepped up and put herself on the line.
But that didn't add up. When the vampire opened her mind to claim it, the whole plan would be there as if on a briefing slide.
No. Whoever had come up with the plan, they'd known it required innocents as fuel.
Maybe the woman hadn't been sacrificed. Maybe she'd been genuinely forgotten when they cleared that area--moled away in an equipment room, not hearing the quiet warnings since they hadn't used the alarms by then. It was just her unlucky day to meet an escaping vampire and the vampire's free-gift sentries.
But Laney could see how easy it was, and how reasonable, to assume the worst first.
She eased away from the wall, looking around, seeing her fellow Guard with new eyes. It was easier to think they'd told everyone about what was on and about the two sheep they were bringing in, just to avoid screwups. Bets had been laid.
How many hadn't expected her and Meg to live through it? She found herself hoping she'd cost some of them money.
She knew how it could have gone. The vampire might have decided it needed only one slave, or none. Might just have panicked and killed them in a quick red dance, or been more coldly nervous and drained them carefully to travel lighter.
They all knew. Some of them, inevitably, must have hoped.
Laney had never been so desolate in her life.
She decided to find Meg. She found a plan of the place, and saw there was another medical section, equipped for confinement and quarantine, and her gut cooled as she wondered why Meg was there. She needed to believe what they'd said, that Meg wasn't dead or undead, but it was taking some effort.
Laney went there.
There were no guards here, and the layout seemed more designed to keep things in than repel intruders. She walked to the desk where a duty medic looked up. He seemed to recognize her and said, "No visitors."
Laney had thought about saying I need to see the friend I almost died with but she'd left that behind on the steps a floor below. She just smiled, feeling hate fuel it and keep it smooth. "That's sweet. I'll just shitcan the candy and balloons, then."
She glanced at the suite of cubicles behind him. "She was supposed to be out of Medical by now, and we haven't been able to figure out what happened back there." She didn't marvel at her own invention, focused on inventing more of it. She envisioned a phantom brainstorming session with Kepler. "Kepler said since I'd been half as fucked-up as she is, I might be able to talk to her and get something out of her."
Laney was surprised how little it took to sound brutal. She imagined this man waiting to find out whether she and Meg had left Sector alive. Asking if the cameras, working after all, had caught them having sex with the nosferatu. If that had been what he'd had money on.
Sounding brutal seemed to work. The man was having a problem with facing Kepler's sort of ice from this petite Recently A Victim. Laney was waiting for him to call and find out she was lying, and she was too furious to care.
But someone coming to exploit Meg seemed to make more sense to him that someone coming to cheer her up. He actually relaxed.
"Kepler's too much of a cowboy." He sounded more envious than disapproving. "Except she's not a boy." He made no move to call, and Laney realized her improvisation had worked too well. This was how Kepler did business. No paperwork. Maybe she wasn't such a desk jockey after all.
Maybe, therefore, Kepler wasn't someone Laney should piss off this way, either. Laney suddenly wondered, with a momentary chill, what the paper trail really was on how she and Meg had come here. Whether, if they just disappeared, it would even look peculiar. Maybe they'd be listed as AWOL and presumed to have run off, or gotten their inadequately-trained selves killed or added to some elder's herd of bloodcows.
That could work equally well if they'd been lost, or if Kepler decided they posed a problem now.
But Laney wasn't going to stop now, with Meg only a few meters away.
"Go ahead," he said, keeping his seat and gesturing back. He actually seemed to prefer not to know what was going on. Maybe he wasn't sure, now, who'd really been duped. He might think she and Kepler were in this together at some level he didn't know about.
It felt good to be feared like that, and it was getting her in to see Meg. But she was seeing the Life Guard, now. It was more like the Mob than the army she'd thought she'd joined, and it was easier to think about that than to dwell on what it had just done.
She steeled herself and went to see what it had done, after all, to Meg.
Inside were empty cubicles like some paler, weaker duplicate of the detention area down below. Here, too, there was only one occupant, keeping still.
Meg was lying in bed, turned away, tangled in the sheet. The first thing Laney looked for was restraints, but they'd left Meg unbound. A good sign, Laney told herself: they didn't think Meg was suicidal.
Meg's gown had ridden up under her and a movement or two would leave her naked to view below the waist. Laney thought of the medic outside coming to check on Meg and just staring. She stepped forward, gently rearranged the gown, and tried to pull the sheet up without waking Meg.
Meg was awake. She didn't turn.
Meg lay there, and for a moment Laney wondered of that were it, if Meg had just withdrawn and would not be back in her body for a while, or ever.
She took Meg's hand and it was cool and clammy. Meg looked so pale, and the marks on her neck stood out.
Meg blinked. She turned with an effort and looked up at Laney, and it took Laney a moment to realize how tense she was. Her fear that Meg might hurt herself returned.
"Laney--?" It was as lost as she'd sounded outside the cage as the vampire took them, and she might have seen the memory blink in Laney's eyes. Suddenly Meg was crying hard but quietly, and she didn't curl toward Laney, but away.
Laney leaned down and held her. Meg tried to pull away but without much force. Her long, strong body was limp. There was a hopeless note in her low sobbing, as though she knew crying wasn't cleansing her but just the only thing she could do.
Laney rolled her gently onto her back and leaned over her. Feeling Meg soft and warm against her did something to Laney, and this close to her friend Laney decided it was something good. If there were some lesbian hangover from having been an female vampire's slavegirl, it was neither good nor evil on its own. Maybe Meg had the same feeling, and Laney holding her would actually help her.
But Laney was starting to realize what was wrong.
Meg let herself be held. "Laney," she whispered.
"I wanted . . ." She stopped, almost choking. "I wanted . . ."
For a while she just lay back, looking at the ceiling and breathing. "Ohhh, wanted--" Meg shut her eyes and balled her fists and her body stiffened. Laney held her closer.
"Wanted it. To turn me." It cost her even to form words. Speaking meant someone was hearing her, knowing what she'd lost to. "Wanted to serve it--be it. I let it make me want what it wanted. I liked--" Meg's mouth stayed open and "it" was a breath hissed out. She looked like she needed to scream, but . . .
Laney put her face on Meg's shoulder, shaking her head. Meg's shame and horror were all through her. Had they even bothered to try hypnotizing her, the way they had Laney?
"Meg, it's not your fault. It was a vampire. It tricked us both and it had more power.
"It controlled us. No one could fight that kind of power, Meg. No one can lay blame."
She felt Meg's head shaking, slowly. She shivered at the place Meg's mind must be in, if she couldn't believe that.
"No. Oh god. Wanted it."
It wasn't the same. Every Guard trained under deep hypnosis, and everyone learned the taste of being under someone else's control--the vampire had said so, even if it had just been seducing their thoughts with it.
But it hadn't been the same. Laney could still feel the faint traces of the chains the vampire's stare had wrapped round her mind, and part of her still wanted them. Meg had gone--been taken--further.
Too far. Meg had been taught to crave it, with her mistress' tongue and lips sucking her out of herself. No routine hypnotherapy would ever reach into her as deeply as the vampire had. Meg knew it, and she knew it was wrong, and there was nothing she could do but want it, and loathe herself.
She looked down at Meg and saw her eyes again. She didn't want to know, but she did. Meg was shattered. It might have been the bite and whatever the vampire had passed to her when it drank. Or it could just be something brittle in Meg, that couldn't take in stride the way it felt to be mindraped.
Laney wondered about what it said about her, that she was handling it so evenly.
Meg had been better than she in nearly everything at the Academy, and nice enough that Laney hadn't minded trailing her. But there was nothing left in Meg now of the Guard she might have become. It would probably be a while before she'd even be able to go out and function in public.
Laney looked away from her. She couldn't bear the thought that Meg might not even know the worst of it. That their own people had given her to this.
Meg saw her turn, and slowly looked down as though she'd been struck.
"No," Laney said, cupping her cheek and turning her to look. "It' s--not--you." It wouldn't cure her, but she had to know Laney didn't despise her. "You are a good woman and you're my friend.
"I love you." She stared it into Meg's eyes.
Meg breathed softly and stared back, and Laney leaned down, closing her eyes to feel the other girl's skin and heat. She kissed Meg's cheek but thought of her mouth. She felt Meg turn.
Softer skin brushed Laney's lips, with a rapid beat under it. She opened her eyes.
Meg was offering her throat.
Laney heard her panting as she submitted. Suddenly it hurt, and she pressed in against Meg's pulse, moaning through her tightly-closed lips. Her tears were trapped warmth against Meg's cooler skin. She held Meg close, and felt her relax a little.
After a while she slid up and found Meg's eyes a little saner. Meg's lips pursed, and Laney knew she'd made herself calm down, was going to make herself apologize. There was enough left of Meg to hate being this pathetic before a friend, before anyone. She would hurt herself with more words.
She spared Meg by kissing her, firmly. Meg tasted sour but her mouth was moist and softly surprised.
"I'll come back for you." She held Meg's gaze and almost shouted when Meg nodded slightly and lay back again, with that to hold onto.
Laney walked out and was still wiping her tears away when the medic rose. She looked back at him and knew she could kill him. If he said anything, if he smiled wrong, if the air conditioning came on too abruptly.
He didn't speak or smile. He sat down without taking his eyes off her, and she gave him her back as she headed out.
Kepler looked up from the flatpanel, and Laney came back down to earth from the frigid heights her anger had lifted her to as she'd stalked to the office. Kepler was dangerous, and she knew, or was learning, how Laney was reacting.
She waited. Laney stood before her desk, too angry to sit and too sensible to lunge at her.
"Heard you talked your way in to see her." Kepler smiled. "Not too hard to do, but it was original. It's the kind of devious gall we look for."
It sounded genuine, but Kepler might just want her off-balance. Remembering why helped.
"You gave us to it." It came out sounding astonished, and Laney realized it was. She was still hoping Kepler would explain, somehow.
Kepler looked back at her, so directly it scared her. "Yes. I thought it would get excited and careless if it thought it was turning our own people into its weapons, and it did. Letting it see pretty women after three shifts of beefcake didn't hurt, either." She looked ready for Laney's next question, so Laney didn't ask it.
"Did it work?" she wondered instead.
"Work?" Kepler didn't react to the shift.
"Did giving us to the vampire get you what you wanted?"
Kepler just looked at her. "If that were even your problem to solve, it would still be beside the point. I used two Hunters to engage a vampire. Not the usual way, but that was the idea. We trailed it and found that nest. Operations always involve uncertainty."
Laney waited for a body count, feeling leaden as she heard nothing. "Then it didn't even work. You lost as many Guard as you got nosferatu. Maybe more." She stabbed in the dark, realizing she'd dealt with the vampire the same way. "That elder got away, too, didn't she?"
"She?" Kepler's smile was more openly scornful. "It's 'she' to you now?"
Laney shook her head. She'd thought she was ready for this but she wasn't. "But you just used us. If you'd asked, we--"
She looked away from Kepler, hearing herself. Volunteers wouldn't work in their roles, either. She focused on what she couldn't stop thinking about. "Meg is gone. She's broken. This has destroyed her."
"Better we find that out now, instead of putting her on a team and losing even more people when some vamp tranced her." Kepler leaned forward a little.
"Look. I know the Academy teaches naivete and idealism from Twig Week to commissioning. I just don't have time for it. You survived being taken and controlled, and you're already sane and strong enough to break rules to see your friend and then come here to give me shit about it. That's good.
"But a Hunter-Fifth doesn't give me shit, she takes it. So sit there, shut up, and take it."
"Let's consider the tirade spewed. I used you, you were set up, how could we, all Hunters together, blah blah blah. OK? Covered everything? Oh--your best friend is now traumatized because facing one of them one-on-one was not the heroic duel she imagined. Or else it was sexier than her wetdreams.
"OK. Now: this is a war. There have been and still are humans who need to be treated that mercilessly, and these things aren't human. We' re fighting a predatory species that feeds on ours and reproduces by turning us into it. It has no pity, no common interest. It only likes to negotiate when it thinks a prolonged discussion can turn into hypnotic control. It uses mind control the way we use office supplies."
Kepler hadn't raised her voice.
"We have to fight them. If we don't they'll get around to taking over the world and it'll be one huge ranch for bloodcows. They can enslave some of us into accepting that, but not if we kill them all first.
"You know that much. You signed up for the Guard and you qualified for Hunter training. In simulations, in and out of hypnosis, you cheerfully killed a lot of pretend-vamps yourself.
"You agreed we could send you and put you and equip you as we saw fit. If you never saw that to include being the spring on a bat-trap, then you need more imagination before you can rise from doing the heavy lifting and lead others. But you can survive, and that's a start."
Lead others? Fuck them over in their turn? Laney wondered if this was meant to inspire her.
Kepler read her face. "Save the outrage. I said this is a war, and you know this is a war. We do what works, or what should work. We learn, when it doesn't. Life sucks but vampires suck more."
She saw Kepler waiting, and this time threw her off by saying nothing. Kepler paused a moment before going on.
"It's so true it's trite: the only rule is win. You can't fight this any other way. So don't whine about methods, and don't try to take back what you've already sworn to sacrifice. We give ourselves to the Guard when we sign the line and raise the hand--we have no right to be surprised when the Guard uses us."
She looked at Laney and seemed to soften. She let the silence go on a while.
"Yes. It's too bad about her. She was brave and smart. And not everyone has what it takes, even just to come through that with their mind and spirit intact. It's no discredit to her to have surrendered, especially with"--her gaze flicked to the display screen--"being bitten.
"And no discredit to you to be mad as hell. But don't ever forget who the enemy is. Or that it's because they're evil that we have to fight this dirty. They can pervert anything--love, loyalty, strength, cleverness.
"You know that. I saw you at the barn, when it still had you under its power. You were trying to fight like a Guard, before it overwhelmed you. And it was using your friendship, back in the cage, to confuse and weaken you both.
"They have no values. No limits. So we can't limit ourselves."
Laney looked at her. "If we do what they do, we're monsters, too. And they're better at it."
Kepler moved her head a bit, as though trying to see what was wrong with Laney's. "Talk about trite. They're not 'better' at it. They're just more willing to do it. We can do it--and when we do, it surprises them. They can't stop seeing us as prey.
"There's really no point in debating it, anyway." She moved some papers aside. "The Guard's a strike force, not a debating society." Behind the papers was a white plastic box with a brighter-wide dome in the near side. Laney looked at it, trying to recall where she'd seen it before.
Kepler touched it and the dome began to pulse with light, on and off, on and off.
"You will look at the light now, Laney."
Hearing her name in that voice was a dull shiver, but Laney was already submitting to the pulse even as she dreamily tried to resist it.
It was too late, anyway. She couldn't resist it, not earlier this morning, not back in Academy indoctrination. The pulses swabbed from her mind each layer of regret.
"I will look at the light now," she murmured, and was reinforced by an approving sound from Kepler. She still tried to fight the trance as it took her--she felt unsafe going to sleep with this woman here--but it was suddenly too important to remember that Kepler was her superior and had to be obeyed.
Just as she must obey the voice when she looked into the pulsing light that put her to sleep.
Laney remembered she must count down and started before she could help herself. It was even easier this time, and she barely felt the voice thrum against her mind again.
"What are you thinking, Laney?"
"I'm not thinking now. It's too hard to think."
"Yes, you're stressed. It makes perfect sense."
"I'm stressed," Laney said. It made perfect sense.
"I'll tell you what to think now, all right? It makes perfect sense."
Laney smiled gratefully, too relaxed even to repeat it, though her lips moved.
Kepler's voice, in perfect synch with the blinking light, went on to explain what Laney needed to focus on and what she would think about it. Laney was sleepily astonished at how obvious it was, but she just let the light stroke her eyes and the voice smooth her brain. She felt a little stupid that Kepler had to explain it to her, but she knew it was all right. This way she'd know she needed to listen to and obey Kepler even later, after Kepler woke her.
It made perfect sense.
Then there was only the light, but by now Laney was able just to accept it and sit blankly, letting it blank her more with each soft flash. She was no one to demand anything, even words.
Laney snapped awake and stared into Kepler's eyes. "I'm sorry?"
Kepler smiled, and Laney wondered why she felt happy and sick at the same time.
"You need to ease off a little," Kepler told her. "You'll have a clearer idea of how to put it all together, soon. You just needed a little attitude adjustment, and you'll understand that, too. Soon.
"I'll see to your training, myself." Kepler's smile deepened. "You look a little disoriented."
"I, uh, yes." Laney tried to recall why she'd come here. She knew, it just wasn't clear. "I'm sorry to . . . bother you."
"It's all right. Part of my job is to teach you and to help you learn--not quite the same thing.
"I think you have what it takes to make tough calls, and you just need some time to see why they're necessary. You make take my job one day, and I need to get you ready. Take some time now and cool down, and I'll assign you to a team. You can kill some vampires and even things out a little."
Laney nodded and rose. She thought about Meg but all she could focus on was Kepler's pleasure at how she'd bluffed the medic. She lost interest and left.
Away from Kepler, hearing other voices that started displacing the one still whispering in her head, she started to think again. Soon enough she knew Kepler had hypnotized her, and she felt a little resentful but not much more. She knew it was easier to reason with someone, including an angry subordinate, if you could just command them to sit quietly and listen.
She walked in the general direction of the billet they'd been assigned, but as she recognized her steps were taking her there it hit her again that she wouldn't have Meg for company. She'd face strangers--or stares and whispers--alone.
Meg. She stopped walking and made an island in the flow of the hallway, making herself remember. It was like pushing against cloth to reach the memory, for all that it had happened within the hour. Or maybe not--she had no idea how long Kepler had left her stupefied in front of the light.
Meg's throat was cool and vibrating against her lips once more. She'd felt something then, but most of her thoughts were anesthetized. She felt sorry for Meg, and was recognizing a thread of actual desire for her, too--the vampire hadn't left Laney's sexuality untouched.
But Meg was lying there with nothing but her trauma. Laney thought again about the lack of restraints. Meg really could hurt herself.
Because Laney wasn't looking for it, the knowledge was waiting for her to trip over it.
They wanted Meg to curl up and die. They wouldn't kill her outright, but they didn't have to. If they waited, Meg would find a way to die, to get away from what she'd remember becoming. No paperwork. Meg was defective equipment, unable to bounce back from a hypnotic interlude, to be used again.
Not like Laney, whom Kepler had already started to wind back up again. Show her the light and she was ready and willing--just a little sleepy.
She stood rigid. Bastards. Bastards! Not even the fucking vampires would--
Not even the vampires.
Laney felt for the gun again and looked across the parking lot at the bar. Guard kept their weapons always--there were a lot of jokes about accidents during sex and showers--because no place was ever really safe and no Guard was ever really off-duty.
In this part of town she might need to shoot humans, first, and they died well enough from silver-fill rounds. It was the kind of social wetland where vampires and humans from each side's fringes interacted and preyed on each other, a bit one-sidedly but not always. She'd checked out the maps in Sector and gotten an idea where to go. Going had not been a problem. When she'd left, vaguely telling the duty officer she needed air, she'd gotten the message that Kepler wanted her to have some room, for now.
She wondered if Kepler knew she'd snapped out of the indoctrination so soon. Kepler seemed nearly as canny as a vampire, but she had blind spots. She thinks I want to be like her.
Laney recalled a similar idea from that first time in her office, but it made her remember Meg and she let go of it.
The door of the bar opened, and a couple came out. The last time it had been a party of eight or so, male and female, and Laney hadn't been able to tell warm from undead. They'd all looked fairly happy about it, and no stray waves of domination had throbbed across the parking lot to her shadows. She'd stopped feeling ashamed that part of her was sensitive to that control now and even pined for it. If it grew to a craving, she'd run, and hope she got clear before she saw a vamp and helplessly went to it.
She didn't like that enslavable part of her, but she knew it was a minor problem compared to what Meg shared her head with now.
The couple leaving were women but they were human, and as she saw them Laney was glad she had the gun. They looked less like lovers than casual business partners. Maybe this was not the place.
Then, after they were gone, the door opened again, and she knew it was.
Even from here, the lone figure's grace and shape seized Laney's awareness and held it. She could feel the vampire's vibrance. It had fed. Laney had no intention of going into the bar and hadn't been able to risk asking too many questions, so she could only guess at the vampire's meal.
For a moment she just watched it, its thighs perfect in jeans, the leather jacket dangerous and loose around its shoulders. Under the streetlights, she couldn't see blood; even its lovely pale face was spotless under the obsidian eyes. They swept over her shadows then as though her gaze had touched them, and she didn't move.
The bar might have rooms or alcoves where the living let the undead hold them or straddle them, and drink. Sometimes it was voluntary, done for money. Some vampires even gave their meals drugs--it didn't spoil the flavor. Other times it was only voluntary after the human was staring obediently into a vampire's gaze and intoning "yes" to earn a chuckle they were no longer awake enough to hear.
But this one didn't look like it had to pay for a bite. Laney pictured it trolling the bar and drawing drowsily willing victims after it. Or holding court like a lithe spider in a booth.
Trying at last to ignore what she was taking on, Laney looked around once to be sure they were the only two around and left her shadows, moving across the lot, toward her right. She didn't head toward the vampire. She didn't have to.
It was beside her quickly and silently. She'd felt it inside her as it came near on her left, not the vampire's reaching command but the hopeful twinge of the little slave-place in her own mind, sensing the chance to be enthralled again.
She wasn't as afraid as she'd thought. The second vampire she'd ever faced, and this time alone, with no cage. The hopeful little thrall inside her was dangerous, but it helped dilute the fear.
The vampire was in no hurry. It had drunk its fill inside, but no vamp could just walk away from a solitary target at night, if only to play with her or put her under a spell to obey a later summons.
Laney swallowed. If she miscalculated--if this whole thing had been a mistake--she'd leave here as this creature's property, or she wouldn't even remember meeting it at all. Then tomorrow or soon afterward, she'd feel a need she couldn't explain, a compulsion that it felt more and more erotic to obey. She'd fall into a dream she wouldn't wake from, and sleepwalk away to answer the call, forgetting everything but the eyes that transfixed and the voice that commanded. She'd deliver herself to it.
"You're out late for such a pretty girl." The vampire's voice sang up her nerves. Laney tried to hold off the sheer pleasure of listening by forcing herself to compare it to the other voice that had bewitched her. This one was deeper--she would have called it more soulful, if it had . . . had one.
"I'm wondering why.
"I'll enjoy making you tell me." The voice was like a tongue in her ear, licking all the way in to the folds of her brain. Making her tell would be delicious torture that had nothing to do with pain, and Laney shivered. Suddenly, insanely, it seemed like a good idea to let that happen.
She fought the shiver as she knew this was only partly the vampire's spell bending her will. Some of it was her own. She had to be prey in its eyes, succulent instead of threatening, but it was perilously easy to fall into the role. Perilously tempting to forget it was a role.
"You'll beg to tell me." It brushed her arm and the jolt nearly paralyzed her. Her pussy took heat as though the nosferatu had blown an ember alight. She felt it laugh in her mind, the way the thing had in its cell as it started to hypnotize her. It could taste how close she was to surrendering to it.
She hoped that was all it could taste.
Laney kept walking, seeing the car she'd brought from Sector. Still no one around, and now she trusted the vampire about that. If it sensed others might interfere with it taking her, it would do something--hopefully not just stun her and carry her off--and it seemed happy enough to focus on her. They were alone.
She just breathed faster, no act, and the vampire was content to laugh again, quietly.
Now she stopped. The gun was in one hand, the knife in the other, both in the pockets of her loose coat. She grasped the blade until it cut her.
She and the vamp quivered, together. She could feel its sudden interest as it sensed the fresh blood, even unseen and unsmelled yet. She let the sting water her eyes.
When she turned, panting now, the vampire saw a flushed and trembling human girl, blinking through tears. It smelled her fear and her need. It heard her triphammer heart and the song of her blood as it rushed through her, hot and laced now with desire.
As she lifted her bleeding hand from her pocket like an offering, Laney 's tears broke the vampire into something sleek and abstract. Laney saw only a lovely woman-shape as though through a crazed window. She could feel its eyes, but she couldn't see them to be seduced.
Its head moved to look at her hand before deciding to take it to sip. She sighed raggedly and leaned toward it, against it, closing her eyes. Its supple solidity against her made her head spin.
She moved the gun in her pocket until it pushed unyielding flesh.
The vampire went perfectly still. This close, it sensed the silver aimed into its chest, even as it finally found it in her mind, belatedly surfacing from the lust.
"I can shoot," she whispered, "before you can make me not want to."
It didn't move. She remembered feeling undead chagrin, when the other vampire had realized she'd been bait for it; she couldn't feel it now, since this one wasn't using her mind as a playroom.
Oh. She made herself stay aware of the gun and where it was and how little trigger pressure was left to discharge it, up into the heart. She had to. Remembering slavery, pressed up against another vampire, made her want to submit. Her growing desire made her want someone this beautiful.
It would feel so good to surrender. Relax, give it the gun, try to beg it to make her obey before the eyes took her soul again.
Part of it was the vampire, testing her. It drew back fom her thoughts, and the sheer need to belong to it and obey it faded. That let her resist the rest.
She heard steps and voices, back near the door. Soft voices that carried, vampire voices, greeting the one she stood with.
"Enjoy her," said one, and there was a chorus of deadly-sweet laughing that Laney barely resisted. It was fine. They thought her companion was deeply engaged in draining her of willpower or blood, and left it to its pleasure. Her eyes had cleared but she stared at the vampire's shoulder, away from its eyes, and she didn't look over at the others. They took her stillness to be trance.
She still didn't sense movement in the vampire against her. "Don't call to them," she whispered without thinking. "I'll kill you, and I'll kill some of them before they can get me." She had no doubt they'd try. She felt almost stupid to threaten a vampire through hostages, but it stayed still. She felt it weigh things, wondering how it thought, what it made of the risk to its friends. If they were friends.
"Speak aloud." She didn't add the threat, and didn't let herself wish to feel the voice in her mind again.
It waited. "I will." It stood some more. "I'm still curious."
"Good," Laney told it. "Look up at the moon and hold still. If you don't, I'll kill you. If you do anything else or start making comments to dominate the situation, I'll kill you."
She heard it shift; it stood too still to feel it. She hoped it wasn't looking over at her instead--but in her womb she felt how sweet it would be if it were, and she looked into its eyes as it put her to sleep. Losing would be so . . .
Laney made herself look up over. It was looking up, doing as it was told.
"I'm tracking on your heart. I'm moving the gun but I can shoot anytime." She eased the gun up, as slowly as though she were dismantling a bomb. She focused on the moment, where the gun pointed now and not where it should point then because there was no way she could win if this became a contest of reaction time.
She reached into her pocket and found the car's remote. "Walk to that car and get in the passenger side." She keyed it as they approached. She'd disabled the horn link, and only the locks clicked.
The vampire opened the door and she kept the gun in its ribs. She made it climb over the center console feetfirst, and settled in the passenger seat.
The keys were in the ignition.
"Drive," she said. It didn't look at her as it took them out of the lot.
"Where are we going?"
Laney stirred. She'd been halfway between watching the road and keeping the gun in the vampire's side.
"We're driving. Where do you mean to go?" The vampire drove smoothly. "I can't really read you. I have no idea where to go, and if you get the idea I'm trying to take you to a lair or someplace to attack you, you might shoot."
Laney did her improvisational stab again. "Maybe I'm taking you to one of our lairs and I want you disoriented."
The vampire was quiet. If it wanted to be sure she knew they were just driving around, it was.
Laney hadn't imagined she'd get this far. In part she didn't want to jinx her chances by planning for success. Now, she had her vampire, and no one had died so far.
"You're talking to them, aren't you?"
The vampire didn't bother to reply. The question wasn't whether it was communing with other undead but what it was saying--help I think this human's lost her mind or let me enjoy this one. A trap might be forming itself ahead.
Laney tried to puzzle out the way to do it right. She looked up and saw the vampire in profile. Her--its--hair was short and shag-cut, and its features, even paler in the dashboard glow, were almost elfin. Its mouth was full-lipped, and Laney giddily wanted to hear it laugh. She was fairly sure she could listen without wanting to hand over the gun.
She watched it, wondering if it would turn just that little bit and smile and take her gaze. She was aware of her danger, now. She'd been under the spell, and it made her that much more susceptible. She wondered if this vampire could somehow smell the other's hold on her, like the scent of an old collar on her neck.
Her captive nosferatu did nothing. Waiting for the trap to spring, or simply not wanting its eternity of nights sipping pretty girls to end around a silver bullet.
She wondered how long it had been undead. Who it had been before.
As she watched it drive, it occurred to her to wonder about Kepler, too--another alien species that had preyed on her, and had already chewed into Meg. Had something happened to her? Her first Guard engagement a fiasco that had seen a revered leader killed, a close comrade turned, a trauma of defeat that had melted and reshaped young Hunter-Fifth Kepler into something that would never lose again no matter what--or whom--it cost?
Or was she just a psychopath who'd found a legal way to ravage the world around her?
"Pay attention, please." The vampire didn't sound nervous, but the fact that it had spoken did.
Laney bit down on Oh--sorry and considered that she was actually getting used to holding a vampire at gunpoint.
Wait. Attention? Was it about to try mesmerizing her? No soothing suggestions followed.
"Pull over here." They were by the curb outside a service road that fronted a strip mall, brightly lit but closed at this hour. The vampire parked before being told, leaving it running and its hands on the wheel.
"I need to see an elder," Laney said.
The vampire started to turn but reconsidered. "Oh. Any particular one? There are several in this city." It spoke so evenly she couldn't tell if it was being sarcastic. If vampires used sarcasm.
"The one who got away from a Life Guard raid last night."
"You're the one," the vampire said. "I can't tell and they didn't convey your . . . flavor, but you look like her. One of the two."
"I want to speak to that elder. I don't know the protocol."
The vampire stayed still against her gun. "There's no 'protocol.' There are customs between us, but not with you."
"You just suck us dry," Laney said. "Or fascinate us."
"Or turn you," the vampire agreed. "Or just kill you and let the blood spray out, because sometimes it isn't about feeding.
"Why do you want to meet an elder?"
"I prefer to tell the elder." Laney wondered if the vampire would try reading her, or even taking her. It might think it could freeze her thoughts and her body, keep her gun hand paralyzed. Most vampires weren 't that reckless, but she could still remember the dark-haired nosferatu hiss aloud about newborns.
"I see." The vampire was unreadable, itself. "You understand we need to protect Her."
"From me?" Laney was too puzzled to be flattered.
"You're not the one who didn't notice the pigeon had a gun in her pocket." The vampire didn't sound upset, but Laney realized that, without hypnotizing her, it was lulling her into responding to it as the reasonable, beautiful woman it seemed. Inside it might well be seething, planning to make her pay in screams for besting it.
"But you have been bait for us, before . . .
"Kindly don't panic," the vampire said. "But She's here, now. She remembered you and She's been on Her way to meet you since I told them I 'd been--ambushed. She's curious, too."
Laney leaned into the gun and took a quick look around. There was no one visible, living or undead. "Where is she?"
"Over in that building." The vampire moved one slim finger slightly toward the half-renovated firehouse.
Laney popped her lock and stepped out, leaning in to keep the gun centered. The vampire reversed its contortions to back over the console and shift, and they were together on the sidewalk like lovers warming each other.
It would be easy. She could put up the gun and lean closer and the vampire might actually hold her before it tipped her head up to drink her mind. She'd drop into trance with that lean body all along hers.
"She's still curious." It felt odd to have the soothing voice drawing her out of distraction. "Enough that She'd prefer to talk to you, as well. Awake, and no one's pet." Laney waited for "yet," but a vampire would have little use for melodrama.
"Do I have her word that I can walk in freely?"
"And release me?" The vampire smiled. "Do you remember what I said about protocol?"
Laney took a breath and stepped back from it, safing the pistol and slipping it into her pocket.
She looked at the vampire, and now in the quiet glare of the shopping center lights it looked back at her. It made no move. They turned and walked together to the firehouse, whose door stood ajar.
Laney's shoulders stiffened as they went into the darkened opening. The vampire she'd abducted, the others who'd come to help it, all around her. She felt oddly safe for now: the elder wouldn't want her interfered with. Would want her for itself.
Nothing jumped her. As she went in, the cavernous space reminded her at once of the barn. The vehicle bays were empty, but near the back she saw something, a throne. Lights were on, dim, and she was the only one who'd need them. She wasn't sure whether it was courtesy, or just to lure her in before the vampires shut them off, to hunt her for play in the darkness they owned.
They were there. In the dark around the edges of the room, on the verge of the mezzanine that had been an upper floor. Some she could even make out; other she just knew were there, watching.
"Stop there." It was the voice that had snarled at her first vampire, but sedate now, comforting over the throb that made every vampire's voice the beginning of a siren song. "I can see you, but if you're closer you'll see Me, and then I'm afraid the conversation would be a little one-sided."
"I remember," Laney said, hearing how small her voice sounded in the great room.
"Yes," the elder said, and it did laugh, and Laney was glad she'd put the gun away. She'd have been on her knees holding it out.
"Why are you doing this?" the elder asked.
"Why are you?" Laney said, feeling safe.
"It's what I do. I deal with things that might threaten us. Human stratagems, most of the time. Other things it would take time to explain. I risk so the others don't need to."
"You think this is a trap?" Laney asked.
"Perhaps. It was, the last time. We swept you when you came in the door, and we've checked the car you made Denise drive, and there's nothing." Laney turned, her strange companion given a name at last. Denise looked back at her. Laney wondered if she could have sat next to someone she knew was Denise and threatened her so casually.
"No one followed you here but us--I was guiding Denise by that point." The vampire looked at the elder and seemed . . . peeved, but then it passed. Maybe the elder had been controlling the junior vamp without its knowledge. It interested Laney a great deal. She turned back to the elder.
"I know why you might have come. Life Guard have come to us and pretended to want to turn, but they were always lying. Among us to spread plague or try shooting their way out or stealing something or other.
"Brave. Or full enough of hating us they could do the same things. And many of them let themselves be conditioned to forget. Sometimes it did get past our read.
"Is that what you are, Laney?" Like Kepler, this creature now called her by name, and it shook her. "Which way do you fall--brave or brainwashed?"
"No," Laney said. "I don't think I'm brainwashed, anyway.
"I want to be turned. I want you to make me a vampire." She stared at the dim figure, feeling she could find the eyes even this far, and opened herself. She felt nothing scan her thoughts, but the elder might have learned her mind well enough the last time, ransacking it, to tiptoe through it now. "I want it for me."
The elder didn't test her further, just sat there.
Laney found the silence unbearable. "I can't believe it either. I wanted to be in the Life Guard since . . . forever. I wanted to keep people safe and I wanted to kill you for all the lives and souls and pain."
"The Guard is--bent. I don't know. They eat their young and I'm their young and they gave me and my friend to you just to see what you'd do. My friend . . ." Anything she said about Meg now would just make her sound like raw meat to the vampires. But none of them moved. The elder looked back, its gaze just blurred enough for her to look away from.
"Something's wrong." Laney's chest was tight. Too much was coming out. "Ever since I got to Sector I've heard about the fanatical vampires, all the losses on both sides. The one you yelled at, who took me--I don't know how many of you died trying to get her back. Both times. And you called her a fucking newborn. You did that for her.
"I--Denise?--I told Denise I'd kill its--I'd kill her friends if she tried anything. She didn't. She didn't risk them. She let me take her off and I could have killed her.
"It may just be some pack thing. I don't know. But you take care of your own, and you're the only ones I see who are doing that. What I was taught to do. What I tried--"
Laney was crying. "My own people treated me like livestock and my best friend is so fucked up she can't even kill herself but they want her to--"
The power rolled out from the elder and wrapped Laney before receding like a wave. It wasn't consolation, just its version of Kepler's blinking light, but it worked.
The elder ignored that. "Are you really asking for this?"
Laney thought about the people around her at Sector, who'd watched her and Meg walk down to be enslaved. She saw Meg, ready to be anyone's bloodcow.
Her heart only beat once before she said Yes.
She felt the elder in her mind and opened herself to the probing. It felt good, like a hand light on her pussy as she lay loose and docile, spread for it. Her thoughts rose to the vampire's touch like juice from her peach.
"I can read things here," the elder said. "More than you could have said--some things humans can never say aloud. Only we can read them. It's part of how we take you, sometimes.
"But I see why." The elder smiled. "Revenge alone is a wonderful reason to become one of us. And love.
"Come to Me."
Laney shivered and stepped forward. The elder sat at her ease on a cloak draped over something, refined and barbaric at once, and her face was softer, fuller than Denise's. She looked--wholesome, like someone that could blend in with a bevy of pretty, busy soccer moms and seduce them by ones and twos.
Laney kept herself open and felt the unspoken command to stop. She held still as vampires detached themselves from either side and surrounded her. They started to take her clothing, carefully, and she moved cooperatively. It was arousing her to be stripped, and their stares were making her feel hot and cherished. It was a new feeling to envy them; she couldn't recall wanting to be what they were, before this, but now it sucked at her.
They stopped being careful at her underwear and she moaned as she felt her bra and panties dissolve, the cool fingertips not needing to linger against her breasts and loins.
Her cry was the only sound.
None of them had tried to drink from her hand and she realized the cut had closed. She thought of offering it to Denise. She was suddenly full of feeling for the vampire she'd captured.
But the elder was before her. The elder would decide who drank, and when, and from whom.
The joy of submitting so clearly to the elder's will swept through Laney and left her tingling. She gasped as she realized she was this far under Her spell and she hadn't even looked into Her eyes yet.
Then She willed Laney to look. Laney saw the depths in them and let herself fall. She stood nude, warm and spellbound in a room full of undead, and she let the arousal drip down her thighs. It felt good to be held like this, will-drained and waiting.
Laney began to walk forward, heart pounding, knowing every vampire was hearing it and feeling it as this little morsel of obedience padded to their leader to be made into a new sister. Then they grew harder to think of, as she sank deeper under the control of the vampire elder.
It grew harder to think "vampire elder." Or to think of anything else but Mistress.
Laney whispered it without knowing she did. When She smiled Laney knew nothing but joy to have earned it.
Now she was at Mistress' feet. It was harder to think at all, now. She could only look and obey.
Gently she bowed to Mistress and slid onto Her thighs, feeling the leather tight on them, loving it against her own nudity but loving Her hard flesh beneath even more. Laney's mouth sagged open, but she was too submissive now to pursue a kiss.
Mistress smiled and leaned back and let Laney pour herself across Her, sliding exquisitely against Her and over Her as though Laney were the predator. Laney put her head against Her chest and rubbed there, and then looked up.
She was too lost in the moment to know it was a moment. She could feel the blood in her throat, and started to turn, to give it to Her Who must have it, to have Laney and begin.
As she straddled Mistress, she looked up into Her eyes.