A room in the Gormless Inn
By some unspoken rule, nearly all taverns, roadhouses and inns that provide overnight accommodations in Sylvania have identical rooms. The bed is long and narrow, as is the smoked-glass window, and the primary mode of decoration is carved fretwork that often draws the idea to unwelcome visages. It just isn't a proper Sylvanian bed if there isn't a devil or gargoyle leering from the foot or headboard.
There is a party of sorts going on in the main tavern, although it seems to consist primarily of drinking and waxing nostalgic to better times; back before dragons and Gallisians and necromancers interfered with the already difficult task of bringing in a harvest. Alptraum has excused himself from this, primarily because of exhaustion and at least partly because his right hand has gone numb where he plunged it into the sarcophagus holding the Shadow of Amena.
"Guugh," Alptraum mutters and holds the bridge of his muzzle in his left hand. He still doesn't feel quite right in the stomach after all that; close to bordering on how he felt when he's actually eaten solid food, either. More concerning is his right hand, though, which sort of hands numbly at his side. He didn't tell anyone, though, for fear about worrying them. He settles down hard onto the bed, then lifts his right hand into his lap using his left. "You've probably seriously screwed yourself up this time, you know," he tells himself. "You take risks for people you barely know. Why? Because you can't help but care, eh? Looks like it's catching up to you."
As if in reply, the fur of the Eeee's right hand begins to lighten and turn gray, starting from the fingers and progressing towards the wrist.
The Eeee blinks a few times, hoping he's just seeing things now. Worried, he reaches over and starts prodding at the immobile fingers, trying to see if it's growing cold or who knows what else. "Not good," he says worriedly.
The fingers do seem cooler than they should be, and whitening fur falls away when prodded. But as cold as the hand seems, Alptraum's forearm is heating up in response, as if trying to push back the chill.
When the hair starts to fall out, his whole body tenses up. "This is not good," Alptraum reiterates and actually starts brushing at the graying fur, worried at what may be going on underneath now. "And this would be a time Kaira isn't reachable too. Great. Said she could control it … " And in a near panic, he tries to move those fingers with all the will he can muster.
The fingers still respond to Alptraum's will, but they make a nasty crackling sound. Where the gray fur has fallen away, the skin looks sunken and leathery, so that bones and tendons stand out in sharp relief.
Alptraum's jaw clenches up for a moment. He holds that hand outward and starts to flex and roll his fingers. He then draws it close to his face to closely inspect the apparently leathery skin. "What the heck am I becoming?" he whispers, voice betraying quite a bit of worry and fear now.
Not all of the hand is withering a large lump is growing in the middle of the palm. Flexing the hand seems to make a difference though: the 'hot' region of the arm gains some ground, pushing all the way to the wrist now. The few inches of flesh that were numb suddenly erupt into painful pins and needles, as if the flesh had fallen asleep for hours and hours.
"Geeeh," Alptraum growls when the nerves fire back to life. He holds it so he can look at his palm, which he prods and pokes at with his normal hand. He keeps wiggling his fingers, hoping it will stop whatever this is. Given he had his hand and most of his forearm in that sarcophagus … who knows how bad this could get.
The bulge pulsates as if filled with jelly from the prods, and then begins to throb all on its own, beating like a grotesque heart.
"What the?" Alptraum says as he firmly holds his withered hand in his good one. His thumb rubs at the growing lump in it. Then he closes his withered fingers over the lump, testing what range of motion his hand retains.
The fingers are becoming stiffer, but they still move. Once the lump starts to throb, though, the forearm flares up in pain again as the apparently undead flesh begins exerting itself more. With the fur gone, it's easy to see the battle line, where flesh seems to wither and then expand depending on which part of Alptraum is giving ground at the moment.
"Gods," Alptraum says as he realizes he's watching his hand wither into a nearly zombie state. Hoping he won't feel this and his own heard throbbing wildly, Alptraum tries to press a claw into the jelly-like lump in his palm.
The skin is thin at the lump, and splits open from the pressure of the claw. Black goo oozes out, and something about the size and shape of a walnut follows. It drops to the floor at Alptraum's feet, still beating like some disgusting black heart and then starts reaching for the bat's leg with a branching group of hair like tendrils.
Alptraum lifts his legs up quickly from the oozing lump. "What in the hells are you?" he hisses as the blob. He also keeps wiggling and moving his decayed hand, hoping it will return to normal … or at least stop decaying any further.
More goo spatters out from the wound in the palm, and then with a very sharp bolt of pain life surges down to the fingertips. Normal red blood flows from the wound now, and the withered extremities seem to be slowly inflating towards normal. The fur that died and fell out is not magically growing back yet, however.
Alptraum is thankful for some mercy. His attention focuses on the strange beating black blob on the floor, wondering what this could possibly be. His hurting hand flexes a bit more and then he reaches for his dagger, in case he has to kill this thing.
The blob has started to drag itself towards Alptraum now using its cilia. With each beat it seems to grow a little bit, although puffs of black steam are beginning to puff out from its sides.
Knowing this is probably a bad idea, Alptraum reaches down to the black blob with his bare hand, intent on picking it up and tossing it across the room. He can't bring himself to stab it with the spirit dagger right now for fear of what worse may happen given this thing may have been born from the knife.
The tendrils immediately reach out to meet Alptraum's hand, only to be rebuffed by tiny bursts of blue flame when they come into contact with the now-restored limb.
Alptraum's hand closes around the blob of pulsating tissue. And that's when he gets an idea, he tries to 'shift' into the Barsunala illusion so he can get a better look at this strange thing from a different perspective.
The glimpse Alptraum gets of the blob is brief. It feels like a lump of ice in his hand, but the slimy black skin burns a bright blue. In Barsunala-vision, the lump looks a bit like a fruit with some kind of worm at its core, but once the body is burned away the worm-thing dissolves into black mist.
Relaxing from the Barsunala form and back to normal, Alptraum lets out a sigh of relief. "What the heck was that?" he asks his now bald hand … given he has little else to talk to at the moment. He grabs the edge of a sheet in his mouth and tears off a strip to wrap around the wound. He can't help but watch his hand, though, for fear of something else happening.
Unless bleeding counts, the limb remains docile for now. It throbs in a dull ache, but then most of Alptraum feels like it's throbbing right now until his pulse begins to drop back to normal. He's also suddenly quite hungry.
Alptraum wraps the cloth around his palm to staunch the flow of blood. He marvels a bit at what his hand looks like without the normally black fur covering … up until his stomach starts to tell him it's time to eat. "Hmm, still night. I could go hunting for a bit," he realizes.
Alptraum stands and checks the window. Finding he can't get through it with his hand bandaged, he turns and heads towards the door of his room. "Guess I'll just go out the front. If anyone asks, it's not like I can't just be honest and say I'm going for food," he mutters as he opens the door.
Opening the door finds Alptraum face-to-face with Lilith, who already had her fist raised up to knock. She squeaks, then tries to look around Alptraum. "I heard you talking to someone, so thought I'd come check… " she says.
Alptraum practically jumps backwards when Lilith appears. "Lilith!" he says, startled, then runs his bandaged hand through his hair. "Oh, sorry. A little jump I guess. I was just talking to myself," he explains. "Thanks for worrying, though."
Lilith's eyes follow the bandaged hand. "Alptraum, you didn't have that when you came back from the castle," the Eeee woman points out. "And why did you shave half of your arm bare?"
"Well … it's nothing for you to worry about. Just a minor reaction from having my hand in the sarcophagus for so long. It left a little surprise in my palm I had to cut out," Alptraum explains, trying to sound like this is an everyday occurrence. "It's gone now. I destroyed it. I'm perfectly normal now. Well, as normal as what qualifies for me."
Lilith looks skeptical. "What did you cut out of your hand?" she finally asks, spreading her stance a bit to signal that she's not about to let Alptraum pass until she's satisfied.
"Some sort of worm blob thing," Alptraum explains and walks back in, then sits on his bed. "You can examine my hand if you like," he offers his Eeee friend and holds out said hand. "All things considered, it could have been worse. I didn't grow horns or anything and my right hand isn't covered in dragon scales. I did stick it into the shadow remains of a dragon after all."
Lilith follows, but leans back when the bandaged hand is offered. "Err, that sounds… familiar, actually," she notes, and chooses to sit at the foot of the bed. "What did it do?"
"Well, it tried to turn me into a zombie," Alptraum admits, "All withered and everything. But my body fought hard back against it and it couldn't get too far. I cut it out using my claws and it fell out. Looked like a big black lump, really. It tried to get back to me, but by then the Barsunala was fully alert and when it came into full contact with me, it burned away into nothing." He then unwraps his injured hand and shows it to her again. "See? It's not that bad."
The white-furred Eeee suddenly looks very interested, and checks the cut for anything unusual. "It looks like you just popped a bit blister," she finally concludes. "So, the Shadow is the source of the black hearts then?"
"The black hearts?" Alptraum has to ask, "I've never heard of that before. What are they?"
"They are spirit implants that turn people into zombie slaves," Lilith notes. "They were rampant during the first half of the Necromancer war, then just vanished from use. They've shown a few times since then, but not in Sylvania."
"It wouldn't surprise me if it was, then. The shadow was a power source for the Necromancer King," Alptraum answers as he continues to move and wiggle his hand; just to be sure it's okay. "Has anyone ever survived an infection before, or am I the first?"
"I've never heard of anyone surviving," Lilith notes. "How do you feel?"
"Hungry and my hand hurts," Alptraum answers, "Other than that, fine. And well … needing to wear a glove for awhile."
"I wonder of Phlagaea could heal my hand, but I worry if I mention it … she'll get upset or worried," Alptraum admits.
"Well, I suppose I'd be a bit concerned if the guy I was sleeping with had been infected by zombie juice," Lilith notes, with a wry grin.
Alptraum can't help but smirk. "So, I guess you won't sleep with me," he teases, then pokes Lilith's side. "Really, I'm fine. Is there anything I can do to convince you of that?"
The Draco agent stands up, and offers Alptraum a hand. "Well, can't have you weakening from lack of nourishment. I bet you were going to go hunting, right?"
Alptraum takes the offered hand and gets up. "Yes, I was going to go hunting," he says as he proceeds to wrap up his injury again.
"You're in a Sylvanian tavern," Lilith points out. "They do serve vampires here you know. It's not necessary to go out and hunt something down."
"True … but, I'm not used to going into taverns like that," Alptraum admits with a small shrug. He pauses for a moment, then tilts his head. "And I have to ask this … but how exactly did you hear me talking? I thought I was the only person in the inn tonight. Were you already coming over to talk to me about something?"
"I'm a spy," Lilith notes by way of explanation. "And yes, I wanted to come over and debrief you while you weren't busy."
"Okay. So, what do you want to know from me, then? Other than what just happened?" Alptraum asks, "And do you want to talk while we go get me something from the tavern? I imagine the Yodhblakat are having a 'time' in there."
"Barba manage to lure them outside before they could trash the place again," Lilith notes, and starts leading Alptraum towards the stairs down to the tavern room. Most of the tables and chairs have been put back into place, although the big diorama of the castle is still in the center. Someone has turned a black sock into a passable dragon neck-and-head, and propped it up in the middle of the now-ruined castle model. A few people are still around, either passed out at in their seats or simple unable to control their legs enough to get anywhere. Even Lucy has her chin on the bar, next to a now empty beer barrel.
Alptraum can't help but chuckle at the description of what Barba did. "I have to give them credit, they really pulled through and helped us," he says, "I wasn't sure how much help they would be. Gives me hope for them yet." He starts to look around behind the bar that looks as if it has markings like 'for vampires only' or some such. "You're probably wondering what I'm going to do next," he comments idly, "If not, then ask me whatever you want."
Since the bar is unattended, Lilith goes behind it and sticks her head through the door to the kitchen. "I can see some blood-sausage-soup left, I'll warm it up," the woman says, and vanishes into the kitchen. "Okay, what are you going to do next?" she asks from behind the wall.
"Well, either disappear into the wilderness or deal with the Shadow," Alptraum calls back, then decides to just go into the kitchen. "I … well, I must admit I'm a little worried about dealing with the Shadow. I'm also worried about failing the Countess," he admits and looks at the floor. "I don't know if I could stand seeing her hopes crushed. I somewhat feel like going and hiding."
Lilith is stirring a big clay pot with a wooden spoon, set atop an oven. "Hiding? You shouldn't worry about disappointing people, Alptraum. Deal with the Shadow however you think best."
"Your legacy is the affect you leave behind on others. So, it matters to me; it matters a lot to me what happens to her," Alptraum admits with a shrug. He raises up his damaged hand and looks at it. "I knew it would be a risk to stick my hand in that thing. Even now I don't know what other effects that may linger. But … I just really didn't have a choice. For the safety of Sylvania it needed to be contained; even if it cost my life. And now maybe it could perhaps be a force to help save a dying family. That's worth risking things for, right? I just … well, feel overwhelmed by it all."
Ladling some of the warmed soup into a bowl, Lilith asks, "Well, what do you normally do when you feel overwhelmed?"
"Depends. Sometimes it's just spending time with friends and talking or just holding them if we're close. Others I like to be alone with my music and just think," Alptraum answers as he idly rubs his right hand with his left, trying to ease the throbbing. "And I also can't raise Kaira now. I'm worried something bad has happened in the dagger," he adds … though rather quietly.
"Wasn't there a problem with it after you killed Hekatt and Smashengrab?" Lilith asks, setting the bowl on a counter for Alptraum and digging up a spoon. The soup is clearly blood with some bits of 'seasoning' added, including some fat from the oily sheen on the surface.
"Yes. Quite a bit of chaos. It took Kaira time to get it back under control. Maybe that's all it is," Alptraum says, though not entirely convinced, as he accepts the spoon. "What would you like me to do?" he asks Lilith rather pointedly before he starts eating. His eyes don't move off the white Eeee.
Lilith leans back against the counter, and says, "Well, I'm hoping you'd come back to Draco, no matter what happens with the Shadow."
"In general, that is my current plan while I work out the other mess," Alptraum notes, pausing eating for a moment to speak. "I did offer the Countess to 'work on her behalf' if she would have me. Did you have any particular reasons you wanted me to return to Draco county for?"
"Well, for one, your adoptive family is probably there," Lilith points out. Then adds with a grin, "And you also need to learn how to live like a civilized vampire. You've been isolated from your own kind for too long."
"And here I thought it was because you considered me a friend," Alptraum prods in jest a bit before eating a bit more. "I'm not sure what I'll say to my adoptive family if I see them again. I'm not sure what they'll think of me now."
"Well, the second part was because I consider you a friend," Lilith admits. "And you shouldn't worry about what they'll think of you. They're your family."
"Who were paid to raise me," Alptraum comments, then shakes his head slightly. "May I ask you a personal question?"
"Paid at first, maybe," Lilith says, then nods. "Sure, ask away."
"You're not related to Prime Minister Thath, are you? You share the same coloration as he has," Alptraum asks, brow arched slightly.
"Well, I highly doubt it," Lilith says, looking a bit surprised by the question. "I mean, not closely related. But he is of Sylvanian blood, isn't he?"
"I believe so. I have it on good authority he's a vampire," Alptraum answers a bit non-commitally, then resumes eating.
"Glowing eyes and all?" Lilith asks. "I guess if I remind you of him, that could be why you haven't tried to get into my pants yet?" she jokes.
"No, his eyes don't glow," Alptraum answers, "I know that because I met with him a few times." At the joke, his brow raises a bit and he comments, "As to why I haven't on the other, well … you don't seem interested in me in that way."
"Well, the circumstances were a little less than ideal," Lilith notes. "Between tiptoeing around a dragon and being thrown naked into a cell together by insane priestesses… but helping give you a bath was… interesting."
"Interesting? How so?" Alptraum can't help but ask. His jaw rolls a bit.
"Let's just say my thoughts on it were a bit less than 'sisterly' at the time," Lilith admits, turning her ears away to hide the blush (even though with her white fur, her cheeks still pinken a bit).
"Really?" Alptraum asks as he sets down his bowl. He walks over to the other Eeee, then reaches under her chin (with his right hand out of habit), and lifts her head up so he can look in her eyes. "Then I am flattered, Lilith. I mean that. You are an attractive woman," he tells her. "There's also a complicating factor to bear in mind, though. Pregnancy."
"I'm sure Mave has something for… uh, that is, of course!" Lilith says, pulling back from Alptraum's hand a little. "It's not something to be casual about for us."
Alptraum looks at Lilith, long and hard. "Well, as long as we're careful … " he says slowly, trying to think of how to phrase this. "Lilith, I would be honored to spend an evening with you," he finally says, "You even have a choice of which form." He grins a bit playfully.
Now the bat really blushes, and takes a hold of Alptraum's hand with both of her own. "Really now… not even dinner and dancing? Poetry? Pretty shoes? Phlagaea and Mave have spoiled you, Mr. Reisender," she says, maybe half seriously.
Alptraum laughs. "Hey, you were the one who suggested it. I was jus telling you it wasn't out of the question," he teases as he taps his bare fingers on her white-furred ones. "I didn't even say tonight, just an evening. So, I have an offer to make. How about when we make it back to Draco county you show me a bit more of the town. That night I'll arrange a special bath for you and pamper you. If that leads somewhere, then it does. If it doesn't, it'll still be a pleasant evening for both of us."
Lilith grins, and says, "Ah, there's the gypsy charm. You have a date, Barsunala, assuming you're able to manage it. Who knows what shape the Countess or Mave will leave you in by then. And speaking of the Yodhinala, you were with her, weren't you, in the presence of the Light of Nala?"
"Mave has shown no interest in me since the training," Alptraum points out, then taps Lilith's nose with his free hand. "As for with her in the Light … well, uh. Several times. Four, if I'm remembering, with a fifth time in well, my other form. Why?"
"Well, how do you know she's not pregnant?" Lilith asks. "Didn't she say she wasn't too old yet to found a new temple? Although… vampiric Yodhinala would definitely break tradition."
"I don't. But she hasn't shown any signs of being pregnant," Alptraum points out, trying to not sound too worried about it. "And there's only a twenty-five percent chance the offspring would be a vampire, I think. Since I'm born of mixed blood myself, that is. Realistically, I doubt she'd want to bear any child from me."
"The Yodhinala aren't like normal women," Lilith reminds Alptraum. "Children are commodities to them. Be careful around her."
Alptraum nods. "I'm aware she probably has some sort of plan," Alptraum agrees, "But as long as she's around me, I can at least keep an eye on her."
"Do you want me to keep an eye on her for you as well?" Lilith asks.
"And I'm sure I could always suggest her teaching me 'alternate' forms of praising Inala that can avoid pregnancy," Alptraum jokes with a grin. The question sobers him up a bit and he nods, "Honestly, yes, you should. I promised I'd look after her, but it doesn't mean I'll let her take over."
"Well, I don't trust her farther than I could throw her," Lilith says. "Although she is likeable and has been very helpful, admittedly."
"She does what she believes will further her goals, whatever those may be," Alptraum says with a small shrug, "Which makes her predicable. She has been very helpful, though, so I certainly can't turn my back on her. Just like I can't turn my back on Phlagaea, Barba and Roogi."
"What are you going to do with the Yodhblakat, if anything?" Lilith asks next. "Take them to the Countess?"
"I will see if the Countess can make use of them as a strike force of some sort, perhaps," Alptraum says with a nod. "If not, then well. I'm not sure. I'll figure something out. Roogi is, in some small way, actually a friend. We were joking around the other night a bit."
Alptraum absently starts looking at the wound under his bandage now, just in case. Yes, he's still a bit paranoid.
"She's insane though," Lilac states. "Maybe you can be friends with anybody, but she scares the blood out of me."
"I can manage her. As long as she believes she owns me, it allows me a certain degree of control of her," Alptraum comments. He then starts looking around for some water to wash his hand in.
There's plenty of pots full of water, but only one of them appears to have been boiled earlier, since it's still on an oven top.
Alptraum goes to the pot on the stove and waves his hand over it to check to see if it's still hot or if it's cool enough to use. "Sorry, I'm still a bit worried about side effects," he admits.
The water has had time to cool, so is only lukewarm at the moment. "Why not have Phlagaea look at it?" Lilith suggests. "You can tell her… uhm… something to explain the wound, right?"
"Could just say it was a delayed reaction to having my hand in the sarcophagus and leave out the zombie bit," he admits as he unwraps his hand and dips it into the water. "It was really strange to see my hand all mummified and with some sort of growth in my palm."
"Mummified?" Lilith asks, looking slightly put off by the image. "Did you check to make sure no other parts were affected?"
"Well, nothing else has felt numb, so I assume nothing else was affected," Alptraum admits as he washes off his hand and starts to carefully inspect the wound.
It seems to be healing normally, with no signs of infection.
Satisfied, he pulls his hand out and wraps it back up. "I'll check the rest of my body before bed, just in case," he tells Lilith. "Speaking of which, I should get some sleep. The day is catching up with me fast."
"Well, don't do anything foolish while you're asleep," Lilith says, even wagging a finger. Then she takes Alptraum's soup bowl over to the wash bin.
"How would I do anything foolish while I'm asleep?" Alptraum asks as he heads to the kitchen door. He pauses there and looks back to the white Eeee.
"I'm sure you'd find a way," Lilith says, grinning back at Alptraum.
"If you're so worried, you could keep me from sleeping," Alptraum offers with a huge grin … and he then very quickly ducks out of the kitchen before she has the chance to throw anything.