Jacquelyn pulled anxiously at the frills of her dress. It gave her feelings of being over dressed, being a sign of the excessive opulence. The carriage rocked as the horses trotted across the cobblestone towards the manor house. The Lady Il’ldais was hosting a ball and banquet this evening and Jacquelyn was posing as a minor noble lady. Her elegant mask sat by her side on the seat, the moon beams casting pale light across it, giving it an almost ethereal appearance. She wondered how well she might fit with the others at this ball. Her green and gold mask certainly contrasted against her raven hair, but it dulled the blue of her eyes. There was a knock and her footman announced that they would be arriving at the manor soon. Tonight was going to test all of her skills. The prospects both frightened and excited her. This would be her opportunity to prove herself as a slayer and fulfil the destiny laid out before her. The thoughts and possibilities of what she might encounter tonight raced through her mind. She pulled a little to adjust her dress, so it would not reveal quite so much of her bust. Her fingers brushed over her Blessed Cross necklace, a small source of comfort should things go awry tonight.
Idly, Jacquelyn wondered how her mentor had acquired such wealth and resources for such a disguise. Her mentor was a slayer and in the order, he was almost legendary for his skills and feats. Most likely he had claimed the fortunes of the vampires he had slain over his many years. He had adopted her from a young age and she looked up to him like a father. He was stern and disciplined but a kind man, who treated her well. It had been his purpose for her to become his successor. She often was in awe of his abilities and keen awareness. He instinctively knew when danger was coming, could read people and see through the masks they wore. He had taught her many skills and even allowed her to accompany him for a number of slayings. Despite all her preparation she felt daunted by the current task at hand. A sudden jolt of the carriage shook her from her memories. She focused her thoughts again, the uncomfortable weight of the dress and constricting corset made her long for her soft leather tunic. Jacquelyn signed a little at the thoughts of longing. This was to be her first solo slaying since the passing of her mentor.
The thoughts sent a few pangs of sorrow through her and she felt her eyes tear up a little. She reined in her thoughts; she wanted to do her mentor proud with this potential slaying. Yvonne, the handmaiden of the noble lady had come to her seeking help.
She was a long time contact of her mentor and he would often quip when teaching Jacquelyn, ‘Those hidden in plain sight are the best sources of information. They are invisible to most, but they never fail to miss any details of gossip and interest.’
Shortly after the passing of her mentor, Yvonne had contacted Jacquelyn and relayed information about the odd changes in her Mistress’ behaviour. Her Mistress, the Lady Il’ldais, had recently rearranged her manor to be staffed well into the evenings, leaving the servants to rest for the most part during the days. Extensive works were underway to shutter out windows. The works were cutting down much of the light, which Lady Il’ldais had once prided herself in having throughout her home. To Jacquelyn, the signs were obvious, a dark influence had found its way into Il’ldais Manor and she had to investigate it.
The footman rasped at the door, pulling Jacquelyn’s thoughts back to the task at hand.
“Wer’e here yer ladyship” he announced, trying his best to be formal.
She sighed a little, making a mental note to hire someone more formally coached the next time she infiltrated a ball. Closing her eyes, she retrained her thoughts, focused on her cover. Placing herself into the persona for this evening she drew herself up as the door opened. Jacquelyn opened her eyes and gracefully stepped out from the carriage into the cool air of the night. The Lady Il’ldais had obviously spared no expense for this ball. Ornate lanterns illuminated the pathway to the manor doors, where servants were greeting guests as they proceeded inside. Jacquelyn made her way up the steps, stopping only briefly to be greeted by the servants before entering the main entrance hall.
The entrance doors opened into a grand main hall, decorated and ornately prepared for the many guests. At the end of the hall was a staircase, leading to the rooms on the upper levels. The balconies of the upper levels provided a view of the mosaic image of the sun and moon, which covered the floor before her. Jacquelyn slowly stepped along the tiled floor, curious by the image. She noted the way the colour tiles represented the radiant light from the sun changing and blended into the colours of the moon light. Her attention quickly shifted to the guests, who gathered into small groups, chattering away in their own little social circles. Jacquelyn slowly meandered past the groups, listening briefly to the conversations. Her ears caught precious few slivers of information. She had gleaned that the Lady Il’ldais was looking rather pale of late and she was taken by an odd affliction that caused her to seem rather distant and less focused. Guests were reassured by her servants that she was being treated by her physician and would be well again soon. Jacquelyn also ascertained that Lady Il’ldais was in attendance at the ball and seeing guests. It would be of paramount importance for Jacquelyn to see for herself if the Lady Il’ldais was indeed under the dark influence of a vampire. Making her way through the crowds to the adjoining ball room, she wanted time in assessing the situation. Her dress corset was rather tighter than Jacquelyn was entirely comfortable wearing, which made her wish to be done before it managed to cut off all the feeling to her lower extremities.
The grand and expansive ball room was filled with all the local nobility, each carrying an air of importance and entitlement. The sides of the ball room were mirrored, giving the illusion of the room being many times its size and filled with hundreds of guests. Jacquelyn let her eyes wander across the room, silently observing the faces. She was drawn to a very regal and stately Lady near the entrance to the parlour. Her mask was adorned with peacock feathers, making her eyes shimmer in the radiant room light. Jacquelyn judged from those near to the lady and dressed almost as regally, that she must be the Lady Il’ldais. Jacquelyn watched her intently for a few moments, observing the slow, gentle gestures and movements of the woman, as she entertained her guests.
Jacquelyn had experienced with vampiric thralls before, during her journeys with her mentor. Vampires often seduced or forcefully dominated their minds, willing them into a waking-sleep. They appeared slow, not completely aware of their surroundings or the happenings around them. The Lady certainly appeared this way; however it may be that she was suffering from a sleeping illness, which was not at all uncommon and presented similarly. Jacquelyn would need to listen to her speech to confirm her growing suspicions.
Jacquelyn focused her attention on the Lady as she slowly traversing her way through the various social circles and politely greeting the other guests. Smoothly placing herself in a circle of guests, mere feet from the Lady Il’ldais, Jacquelyn listened.
The Lady’s voice was soft, almost as though in awe and wonder as she spoke slowly to the guests around her. Her expression was very relaxed, almost serene and there were few doubts in Jacquelyn’s mind about her condition. A couple of the guests around the Lady parted from the group and a lone, towering figure was revealed.
Jacquelyn felt a small shiver run through her body, goosebumps appearing on her skin. Unlike the other guests, he was neither in a costume nor masked. His skin was pale and contrasted sharply with his black and red trimmed cloak. He moved closer to Lady Il’ldais and whispered in her ear for a few moments. Jacquelyn watched cautiously, trying to disguise her intense interest in the unfolding scene. The Lady Il’ldais then quickly excused herself from the guests, announcing she was in need of some rest. The man slipped one arm around her shoulders and began to guide her away. At that moment he looked across to where Jacquelyn stood and his gaze fixed upon her. His eyes were red and deeply piercing, commanding, cold. Jacquelyn was almost frozen in place from his intense stare; she drew up her will and mental defences. Just as sudden as his attention focused on Jacquelyn, he turned away and took the Lady Il’ldais into a parlour adjoining the hall.
Jacquelyn turned her thoughts to the problem of how to approach the situation when she felt her hand being taken gently and a low, alluring and commanding voice spoke to her. Jacquelyn spun quickly, tensing up for a fraction of a second before her eyes caught his.
He was tall, gazing down directly into her eyes. He smiled at her gently and she felt drawn to him.
“I do not believe I have had the pleasure of meeting you before Milady. Might you do I a great pleasure and introduce yourself?” His voice was gentle, yet compelling.
His gaze softened, but remained locked with hers. His eyes were all Jacquelyn could focus upon. The world around her started fading away as she stared almost hopelessly into his gaze. She could feel herself relaxing and letting go. Jacquelyn felt her sluggish mind trying to rise from her stupor, but her lips moved before her mind had fully recovered.
“My name is Ja…” she started slowly, before catching herself.
Pausing for only half a second, she recovered herself and remembered her guise. “Josephine. I am Lady Josephine d’tella Noveri.”
And with that, she gave a small curtsy. She smiled pleasantly at him, and then with considerable effort she broke his gaze to let her eyes examine him.
He stood a half a head taller than her and was slim, built nimble and agile. Like many of the guests, he was dressed regally, in deep blue with silver trimmed formal attire. The exposed skin of his face was pale and his eyes were dark. At first she thought them black, but as she looked into them she saw them to be a deep brown. His eyes blended into the dark colours of his mask, as though a part of it. Jacquelyn’s body tensed up instantly as her mind began to process her observations. His gaze, the way it made her feel, his pale skin. Her thoughts immediately conjured up memories of her past enthrallment. However, this felt different; it was warmer, felt inviting and safe rather than cold, overwhelming dominance. After that slaying, her mentor trained her extensively in means of resisting and fighting domination. Jacquelyn quickly threw her glance to the mirrored wall while her hand slid into one of the many folds in her dress, grasping a small vial of holy water. She saw her reflection and could clearly see the count’s reflection, which instantly sent waves of relief through her body. She silently cursed herself for not keeping her guard up.
She eyed the handsome man before her, making some quick assessments. He was well dressed, obviously of importance. He oozed charm and sophistication; most likely he used this to charm and woo the ladies into his bed. She knew the recent weeks had taken their toll on her mental fortitude. She was only now starting to come to terms with the loss of her mentor, and occasionally the waves of emotion would overwhelm her and show in her distracted manner. She knew that it would be impossible for her to block out all her emotions as she had been trained, nevertheless, she would steady herself, focus on the task at hand and make her mentor proud.
If her assessments about him were true, it could prove to be helpful for Jacquelyn to seek out the interior of the manor. Posing as a young and naïve lady of the court may work well. Jacquelyn would need to present herself as alluring to him, provide him with a challenge, a temptation too good to pass up. She quickly conjured up a persona in her mind, a young and impulsive lady of the court. She was somewhat naïve, enough that she would be willing to fall to his advances, yet present enough of a challenge that she would hold his full attention. Jacquelyn wanted him to make extra efforts to ensnare her.
The technique she used to adopt a persona was rather unique. She did not merely act a part; rather it became almost an entity itself. She could watch on as the persona physically acted, shielding her if it came to that. Her eyes fluttered for half a moment as she embraced the persona and allowed it to manifest. Although a telling sign of this, to an observer, it appeared as though she may merely have caught an eyelash. She opened her eyes and gazed back at her target, the persona in place and her mind planning out her next move.
He smiled and laughed softly as she let her eyes return to his face.
His eyes gave away a look of amusement and he followed up quickly, “I was beginning to fear you had forgotten your own name milady.”
She felt a hot flush colour her face; she had not expected such banter from someone in his position. Her persona felt the embarrassment of being caught off balance by such a charming figure. Jacquelyn thought to herself that perhaps she may have to reappraise him in her plans. She was amused to feel almost a sense of gladness from the persona as the silly mask had finally found a use, hiding the colour coming to her face.
Recomposing herself and delaying a reply for a moment, she turned her head slightly, giving him a slightly angled glance.
“Perhaps I was merely finding a name I wished for you to know,” and with that she whipped out a small folding fan.
She gracefully fanned her face, before using it to hide her face, leaving her eyes to gaze upon him with an air of mystique. There was something strangely appealing about this man. Jacquelyn felt herself drawn to him, wanting to be close and not let her eyes leave him, despite the persona. His mouth turned up, forming an all knowing, cocky grin. She could feel his eyes upon her, skirting the edges of her fan before locking onto her eyes.
His gaze was so disarming, his eyes so deep and captivating. She could feel herself relaxing again, her thoughts becoming muddled. Jacquelyn’s grasp on her fan loosened a little, the fan started to lower.
He mockingly put on a wounded expression, “Why would such a fine lady, need to consider a name to provide me? Am I truly so repulsive that you would wish to be rid of me, even before we have been properly introduced?”
Jacquelyn furrowed her brow for a moment, focusing her thoughts, forcing her mind to function. Adopting this almost instantly smitten persona may have been a miscalculation. Although it provided a challenge, it also as equally craved one.
“I have a great many who wish to become suitors and a great many with which I wish little association,” she replied, matching his wit as best as her sluggish mind would allow. “And might I know your name milord? I do not recognise you and I am familiar with many of the court here tonight.”
Jacquelyn felt a little off balance, which should have worried her, but oddly it did not. Separating her more emotive side and engaging this persona was rather more taxing than it should have been. She hoped questioning him would afford her time to recompose and maintain her guise.
“I am the Viscount De’Lu Carla and I am a member of another Court to the East. The Lady Il’ldais has kindly provided me with accommodation for my stay, for which I am most pleased. I am enjoying myself immensely here, visiting the courts of different lands and becoming acquainted with the lovely ladies each presents.” He took her hand gently and leaned forth to blow upon it.
He looked up at her and smiled before standing tall again. “That is an exquisite cross you wear milady. Might you allow me the courtesy of examining it?”
She thought for a moment, feeling very apprehensive and yet also wanting to let him. It was a beautiful cross and but not only ornate, it was her protection and a gift from her mentor. She reached back and unclasped the chain, letting it softly slip down her neck as he held the cross on his gloved fingers. His eyes examined it intently, as if he was appraising it, rather than merely looking. She watched him, curious as to his fascination with it. He held it aloft, just above her eyes, looking up for a moment to catch the encrusted jewels in the light. Although Jacquelyn had been possession of the cross for a number of years, in this light, it seemed even more beautiful. It shone with almost divine glory, captivating her. It caught the light and the colours sparkled like stars in the brightly lit room, she lost herself in its beauty for a moment, trying to see where the rainbow of colours began in each jewel. Jacquelyn eventually snapped out of her transfixed state as she thought she heard his voice. She realised The Viscount had whispered to her and she had missed it.
Jacquelyn chided herself silently for not staying focused. Her senses should be alive, keenly aware of every little hint of something amiss, yet she found herself feeling safe enough to let her guard down. Perhaps it was all the recent emotional stresses of losing her mentor, which caused her focus to be scattered tonight. Her ability to separate herself from the persona was more challenging, but she needed to continue.
Letting the thoughts go, she turned her gaze back to the Viscount, “Mmm, I’m sorry, I must be enjoying the fine wines here a little excessively, what did you say milord?”
It was only now that Jacquelyn noticed that he held her hand gently and was smiling, eyes gleaning with playfulness. The hall was filled with music and many couples were starting to form up for a dance.
“I wondered if you would bestow upon me the pleasure of having this dance with you,” he replied.
His expression turned into a little grin once more as he quipped, “Not that you could resist the request of a handsome gentleman.”
Jacquelyn thought to just decline as she had a slaying to perform, but focusing around him in this persona was difficult. He was however a guest of Lady Il’ldais and he might have access to the rooms where she had been whisked away. Pondering her other options for a moment she settled for using the Viscount. He may prove to be helpful in gaining access. If nothing else, she could take the opportunity to out wit him, something she had failed to achieve as of yet and it was starting to vex her sense of pride.
“How could I refuse the chance to provide charity?” She quipped and smiled coyly.
Her little come back felt good, in her mind it somewhat restored the balance of their little game. He merely smiled back and took her hand, his other hand gently wrapped around her waist.
The pair readied, adopting the pose for a waltz as the music began. The Viscount gazed into her eyes and she sensed what he wanted. She titled her head just a fraction and smiled sweetly as she focused just between his eyes. She did not let herself fall into his gaze. The dance began and he lead, stepping to the left, yet as did Jacquelyn. She had caught him completely by surprise and smirked to herself. He looked at her, some minor annoyance flashed in his eyes. She had obviously pushed the right spot there.
He quickly recomposed and smoothed that annoyance, that smug and charming grin spread across his face once more. “My Lady d’tella Noveri, I do believe it is customary for the gentleman to lead.”
Jacquelyn smiled pleasantly, feeling very satisfied with herself, showing she had some self control after the lapses before.
She shifted her footing and reposed herself to dance properly, “I do believe you are right, my good Viscount, do lead on.”
They waited a few moments to catch the right beat and began to dance.
As they danced, Jacquelyn let her eyes scan the other guests and surroundings, looking for other leads to follow. She had to keep open to other opportunities to gain access to the parlour rooms in the manor.
“My good Viscount,” she began as she leant in towards his ear, “who was the gentleman who ushered the Lady Il’ldais away this evening?”
He paused for half a moment and stepped back, guiding her into a twirl.
He drew her in close again and replied softly, “Ah, that striking gentleman is her physician. He has recently returned from another prominent patient, a rather fortunate occurrence because the Lady fell ill shortly before this arrival. He is an odd gentleman, but there is little surprise he caught your attention, milady.”
He gave her a little wink and grinned. She was about to reply to his remark but was partly distracted however, by the feeling of the Viscount’s gaze, dancing over her. Turning her head, she levelled a cool gaze at him, raising an eyebrow slightly. She inwardly grinned at the expression her persona had adopted. With few doubts, it would be enough to press the Viscount into taking notice of her and no one else. His lips curled into a grin again as his eyes lit up with mischief. Jacquelyn had found just what she had desired. He took a step back a little unexpectedly, forcing her to come forward more than she expected, falling into him a little. He whispered to her, but this time his voice was not filled with wit or playfulness but it was gentler.
“Lady d’tella Noveri you do remind me of my very first love,” he paused for a moment before continuing. “She was much like you in spirit and beauty. If I may, might you indulge me and listen to my tale?” He asked softly.
Jacquelyn paused for a moment and her gaze softened a little, “Of course, milord.”
He smiled softly and drew her up, continuing their dance as he whispered into her ear.
“I first met her, many summers ago. I had escaped my duties for the morning to relax in the woods near my estate. It was a clear and sweet day, the blue above, soft murmuring of water in the stream and the morning birds calling. A slight cooling breeze wisped through the trees, movement catching my eyes and then I saw her…”
Jacquelyn’s thoughts began to form the images to his words. She envisaged the scenes in her mind, vivid and clear. His voice giving the words life and she quickly found she was slipping into his recollections. The memories came in flashes through her mind. She could hear birds calling on the breeze, the slight chill of the breeze, giving her arms goosebumps. Casting her eyes up the stream, she could see him, gazing at her. His eyes were so captivating, beckoning her to come to him. Everything about him appealed to her, every fibre of her being wanted to throw her against him, but she remained still. This seemed to amuse him and he rose and started toward her, slowly closing the distance between them. Each step he took towards her caused her body to relax, yearning for his touch. Feelings and emotions were given such a power through his voice, ones that Jacquelyn had never experienced before. His memories of the courtship flashed in her mind. She wanted to grin, to laugh, and beam with happiness in his presence. She unexpectedly felt her body press closer to his. It was no longer just merely a persona that was experiencing these memories, but Jacquelyn herself. Before her thoughts started to question the feelings and her slight movements, a new wave of memories swept through her.
Jacquelyn has a memory of being caught in a spring shower with him. They had retreated to his manor house and he offered her a room with a fireplace to change out of her soaked clothes. She hesitated for a moment in the room. It was only when she was sure he was not going to come in immediately did she slipped out of her wet clothes. She shivered a little while just in her undergarments, the warmth of the fireplace had not quite penetrated her skin. Her mind wandered as she tried to soak up some warmth before wearing one of the shirts left for her to wear. She tried to imagine how he looked while changing. She pictured him without a shirt and his well defined torso. She let the image form more in her head moving to his waist, legs and arms. She blushed at the thoughts and let a mischievous smile slip across her face. She took one of his shirts and examined it. She thought it would be large enough to almost be a dress for her.
She heard the door creak and spun around, holding the shit close to her body, trying to hide herself. She blushed madly and felt warmth spread from her face down through her body. She watched as he emerged into the room, scarcely dressed himself. Her breath quickened as she let her gaze run over his chest, his features were so well defined and the dancing of the flames made little curves seem more divine. He didn’t show much embarrassment seeing her trying to hide behind his shirt. He smirked a little and pointed to his other shirt, forgetting that he needed it to dress. She tried to delicately position herself to toss him his shirt without exposing herself too much. She had just managed to lean down a little and grab his shirt when she was confront with his presence, standing next to her as she looked up.
She froze, looking up at him as he gently drew up her chin with his hand. Her heart was racing, she could feel it pounding against her ribs and her breath was shallow and quick. She stood up, moving both her hands to hold onto the shirt tightly, covering her. She looked into his eyes, realising how deep and hazel they were. She knew she shouldn’t be in this position, even thought she wanted it. She tried to shift away, her mind racing about all the possibilities of what he might do. She took a step back, watching as he took a step towards her. She could feel his presence, surrounding her.
She felt his warm hands against the cool skin of her waist. She let out a little bit of a gasp and flushed. A tingle ran through her body, she could feel his warm breath over her neck and it made her feel so warm. The feeling spread down her body, making her feel so nice, just wanting more. She could feel the texture of his hands, slightly rough and warming, as they travelled up her sides. She tried to wrap the shirt around herself, but he ignored her merger attempts to hide herself. She closed her eyes for a long moment, savouring the feelings of his hands caressing her sides. She tried to compose herself as best she could, despite the feelings of desire running through her body. Taking a small step back, she tried to resist his advances a little, not entirely wanting him to stop. He slipped his hands around her back and moved closer, leaning into her. She leant back, trying to keep a small distance between them until she felt her back on the cool wall. She shifted a little and started to pant ever so slightly as she felt him put more weight against her, taking her down and laying her in front of the fire.
She clung tightly to the shirt as her mind was filled with the sensations of his warm hands, the cool floor and the closeness his body. She watched as he smiled down at her before kissing her slowly and gently at first. His lips felt warm, feeling so soft and delicious. Her skin tingled as his hands moved up her back and to her hands, tugging at the shirt. She tried to hold onto it a little, but it slipped away from her fingers, teasing her skin as it slid down her front and along her legs. She started panting more heavily as his chest rub against hers, the feeling was almost overwhelming. She took in a sharp breath as he slipped his lips away from her, moving lower and kissing at the base of her neck. She lifted her head back a little, exposing her neck to him.
Suddenly the image changed in her mind, she felt a warm flush pulse through her entire body; it brought a blush to her cheeks. Images raced through her mind, her world bathed in crimson. Her body become aware with the sensation of being naked, being pressed against him, pinned against some warm stones now, his cool skin touching hers. Her heart raced, his touch stroking and dancing across her body, exciting her, thrilling her senses. Passion and desire burned deeply inside Jacquelyn, feelings she had always repressed were now unbounded and wild. Her head was swimming, dizzy with overwhelmed senses. Rolling her head, slowly exposing her neck, she felt a sharp pain and then a wave of bliss hit her. White hot pleasure, washing away all awareness, she watched in her mind the crimson memories, a naked figure, her, back arched, eyes squeezed shut, fingers splayed in tension, a long low moan escaping her lips. Shuddering, a red wet trickle down her neck, she felt it slithering slowly down her chest. Then a deep yearning filling her, an overwhelming need, consuming all other desires, the compulsion to relax and be open, to let go completely.
A gong sounded and the images shattered, all her senses and surroundings came flooding back into her mind. She blushed, her body hot, definitely aroused. Jacquelyn fought the feelings, trying to suppress the sensations quickly. The Viscount stared at her, smiling with a look of a hunter, hunger in his eyes. He pulled back slightly, but his gaze remained fixed upon her as he bowed. Jacquelyn’s mind was buzzing and she curtsied, returning the formality. The Viscount looked different now, more imposing, commanding and vaguely taller. People around them were moving off to an adjoining room, carrying on their conversations and chattering away.
“The others are moving now to the dining room, somewhat like herded cattle, don’t you think?” The Viscount noted with a tone of amusement.
Jacquelyn lazily let her eyes follow the crowd’s movements to the dining room. She had not yet fully cleared her head and her thoughts were still sluggish and jumbled.
She vaguely noted his arms gently taking her shoulders as he leaned in a whispered. “I am sure you would agree my lady, that we share a hunger better…satisfied in another room.”
Jacquelyn looked at him; her eyes focused now and sparkling with life. His words were appealing, they possessed more force now but her response was delayed.
She smiled pleasantly, “I do believe you are right my lord. I do hope we can find something to sate my hunger. Perhaps we may find some grapes and wine.”
She glanced at him and coyly bit her lower lip. Although he had offered, her reply seemed to take him somewhat by surprise. Jacquelyn was a little disturbed by how the Viscount could affect her and she decided this would be the final time. She set herself one clear goal, deciding to keep focused on it, regardless of what unfolded. She would follow him to the backrooms and then find a way to slip away. If she needed to bed him and exhaust him, then she would have to consider it. It was becoming clear that she needed as few distractions as possible and he most definitely was a substantial one. Perhaps this course of action was rather brutish, but time was of the essence. In addition, Jacquelyn did wish to remove him of his rather smug attitude, which would have increased ten fold after that dance. She outwardly gave a little wicked grin, her eyes betraying mischievous thoughts. She fully intended for him to read these signs and think that tonight would be a success for him, because it most definitely would be memorable.