This circular chamber is near the center of the castle, with no apparent openings to the outside. The curved wall is ringed with standing mirrors, each one separated from the other by a foot-wide gap. The gaps themselves are filled with alcoves holding lit candles. A heavy chandelier hangs from the high, smoke-obscured ceiling as well, adding another hundred candles worth of illumination to the room. The light is uniform enough to wash out any shadows, and the back of the single door is also a mirror, so that the ring remains unbroken when it's closed.
At the center of the room, the Countess Rosalind Draco stands, dressed all in black as usual. In the light from all of the candles it's easier to see that her long gown covers her from the shoulders on down and is probably made of zolk from the way the highlights play on it. "Close the door behind you, Alptraum," she says, using her 'normal' voice.
Alptraum has been dreading this more than he had his training with Melusine. It's one thing to be interrogated by a gigantic 'monster' and something completely different when it's a woman that makes you feel funny just being in her presence. Still, he somehow manages to not stumble when he enters and even manages to shut the door behind him without too much noise. After a deep breath he walks over and kneels down briefly before the Countess, head bowed, as he says, "Milady." He draws back up and while he curls his wings slightly around himself he takes a few steps back. "It is good to see you again," he says with a genuine smile.
Rosalind blinks at the formal bow, and seems momentarily at a loss for words. "Well… yes. I suppose your trip to visit the gypsies was fruitful?" she asks to cover her own awkwardness.
"It was … interesting and fruitful, yes," Alptraum admits as he shifts weight from one foot to the next. "They want to meet you. Well, they want to meet a woman named Rose who caught my attentions, not the Countess. I didn't tell them everything because I wanted them to judge you as you, not by your title. If that makes sense? They don't usually trust people in positions like yours. I hope you don't mind." He even pauses to rub the back of his neck, adding, "I'm never quite sure how to act around you, I must admit. On one level I feel I should be very formal to show that I respect you greatly. On the other … I want to slink up behind you and whisper in your ear."
Color comes to the countess' ears, as she asks, "Whisper what?"
"Well, sometimes things that would make even a Yodhinala pause," Alptraum explains as he starts to look a little embarrassed. He draws in a breath then actually does walk over to her and slides around behind her, making sure to ever-so-lightly trace a finger along the upper edge of where her hips are. He leans in until the tip of his muzzle lightly touches the side of her ear and then whispers, "And other times to simply tell the most noble lady of the night and shadow that there is at least one in this world that would do anything for her just to get a moment longer with her. To show her warmth in the shadows by giving it to her freely. You mean the world to me, Rose. If for nothing else than that you also showed that I too have a future. And for that, I want to do anything I can to share that feeling with you."
Rosalind's muzzle dips down shyly at the whisper, and she actually has to step away from Alptraum to regain her composure. "Ahem," she says, clearing her throat. "That… I'm supposed to be teaching you to use your shadow shroud… "
Alptraum also steps away and straightens up a bit. "I know; hence why I feel I should also try to be formal at times. But … you did ask," he can't help but point out. "So, the shroud. All I can really ask for now is that you go easy on me. My ability to control the shadow that is part of me is … a bit questionable still."
"Control is what we are going to practice," Draco says, and holds out her left hand. "Give me your dragon-hand," she asks.
Alptraum reaches out with his armored (and scaled on the underside) right hand. He lightly places it in hers and the fingers close gently.
The woman runs the fingers of her right hand over the back of the chitinous plates, pausing at the embedded orb. "Is your friend watching us through this?" she asks.
"Only if I have the dagger inserted. Otherwise she can't," Alptraum explains after his head tilts for a moment. Since he can feel her touching the shell as if it were just skin … it's actually as odd as when it felt numb. "Do you want her to?"
"Not right now," Rosalind says, and admits, "I'm nervous enough as it is, never having had to teach someone this before. Tell me what you've tried to control about your shadow… or what it has done beyond your control so far."
"Well, I've been able to alter things about myself. The scaled skin on the underside, for example. And I was able to alter a lock of my hair to a different color. I haven't tried anything more complex, though. If you have any suggestions on things to try there, let me know. It's only really risky to myself," Alptraum answers. "As for not controlled: well, Tulani let me use her for dinner one night and I … kenned her. It just happened. I've learned that biting someone like that … it's very easy to accidentally ken someone."
The Countess' eyebrows rise up. "I thought you didn't feed on people, Alptraum," she notes. "Was it… pleasant?"
"I don't normally! But I was desperate and couldn't get away from the tribe," Alptraum tries to explain. "And, er, well, yes, it was. And after that, I don't think I'm trying it again, either."
"She did not react well?" Rosalind guesses.
"Would you? She … nearly freaked out. I can't blame her," Alptraum says.
"Well, she is part dragon now," the dark woman says. "And while I am no expert on draconic behavior, I have noticed that they value their own privacy if not that of others and can be very possessive or vindictive as well. You should think about how to make it up to her, if you haven't already."
"I've been making it up to her," Alptraum says, trying to sound reassuring about it.
Draco just nods to that. "Good. Have you tried to control the appearance of the shadow yet, or only its effects?"
"Only its effects so far," Alptraum answers honestly.
"Ah, you should have started with appearance," Draco notes, raising a finger. "That way you will learn to control one aspect of it safely, and build upon that for the more complex things. For instance, I am naked right now all that I wear is my shadow shroud."
That causes Alptraum to blink. "Uh, you're naked?" is all he can ask for the next minute or so. "Do you usually only wear the shadow… ?"
"Well, no, not usually," Draco admits. "It only comes in the one color, you see, and I certainly wouldn't risk getting drunk without wearing something that will still be there if I pass out," she adds with a smirk. "But it is comfortable and can do things that normal clothing cannot."
"Well, I could see how it could be useful as clothing," Alptraum has to agree as he tries to not think about the fact he's in the room with a woman who makes him feel funny normally … and she's naked. "I assume you have to keep it in that shape through at least a little concentration?"
"Ah, only to change it, actually," Rosalind says. And then her gown collapses inward around her legs and spreads up over her shoulders and down her arms to form a sort of body-suit. "It is, in itself, a spirit creature much like a familiar. This lets it react to things on its own, which is very helpful. For instance, it can numb minor aches or injuries, dull the hearing to protect the ears from loud noises, and likewise eyesight to preserve night vision."
"Ah, okay," Alptraum says as some of that makes some sense. "That's … really impressive. I know about the soothing of injuries and pain already. My shadow tends to try and do that whenever something happens or hurts and I have to actively stop it."
"Why do you try to stop it?" Rosalind asks.
"Because Melusine told me to make sure it only acts if I want it to, to prevent it from changing something or repairing it too quickly and poorly. I don't have the mind of another Shadow Dragon behind mine … so it is far more likely to mess something up," Alptraum explains, "Or so she said."
"I see," Draco says, and nods again. "All the more reason to learn how to communicate with it. Yours is perhaps more 'independent' than mine, since it draws from a source of magic that is integral to it," she notes, and reaches out to tap a finger against the orb in the back of Alptraum's armored right hand. "Your lessons with Mave have taught you how to draw up power of your own, have they not?"
"I think Melusine explained it as mine is much more deeply integrated with me," Alptraum answers, "And hence my right hand being how it is now. As for Mave, yes, she did."
"So, in my case, healing happens as a reflex. Think of it as pulling your hand away from a flame because it hurt and smacking it on a wall, which also would hurt. I need to control the reflex so I don't hurt myself more," Alptraum adds as an afterthought.
"I think you should try to draw up magic on your own then, and use that to call out your shroud," Draco suggests. "At least until you have fully mastered things to where you can control the reflexive use of the stored energy from the glove."
"Okay. I can try that. What do you suggest I try to define its initial shape as? I do have to warn you … I look terrible in a dress," Alptraum says. He even manages a playful grin and teases, "But if you want … I could try for that."
"Wearing it as a second skin is easiest and most natural," Draco says, and spreads her arms to show that, yes, her shadow shroud really is skin-tight. "Can you call yours out, or does it only respond as a reflex still?"
"I can call it. That I did before when practicing with Melusine," Alptraum answers. He pauses for a moment, then asks, "I suppose I should undress for this, shouldn't I?"
"Unless you want me to do it for you?" Rosalind asks, with another playful smirk. "It would certainly be a good way to test your concentration."
"And can you go back to your dress?" Alptraum has to ask sheepishly, "It's … really distracting when it's tight on you." The Eeee then has to grin as he starts undoing his sash and shirt, noting, "Oh, you can do that, then? Well, I'll have to remember that for later. I'll hold you to that offer sometime."
The Countess' shroud billows back out to its evening-gown state. "You'll learn to use that numbing effect to avoid embarrassing physical reactions as well, I'm sure. We'll work on that another time."
The slow rate at which Alptraum undresses … well, it's a bit obvious he's at least trying to tease Rosalind a little. It takes a good ten minutes for the Eeee to remove all his clothing and fold them neatly in a pile to the side. So, there Alptraum stands, solid black, save for his head hair and the star burst scar on his chest. "So … shall I try to summon it?" he asks in an almost purring voice.
Ears coloring again, Draco says, "I thought you were going to while you were undressing… but I suppose you can do so now. The mirrors in here are very good."
"Where is the fun in that?" Alptraum replies with a grin. He closes his eyes now though and starts his breathing exercises. He tries to find the natural flow around him and draw that in, and use it to boost the latent power stored in his right hand while he also gently tries to ease the shadow out from beneath the surface of his skin and flow over his body in a skin-tight bodysuit similar to what the Countess was wearing.
It takes some concentration, until Alptraum finds he can lead the shadow by where he channels the magic. Eventually he's covered from the neck down, and partway along his wings. The amount of energy also seems to control the 'thickness' of the shroud.
Alptraum's eyes open slowly so he can look down at himself and his now liquid-black looking body. Well, save for his still-armored right hand. He can't help but actually touch the surface of the shadow on his chest with his left hand, testing how much he feels through it by default.
There's a surface there, but it feels… strange. As if pressing against a layer of thicker air. Draco steps closer now, and asks, "Would you mind if I tried something? I've always wondered what it was like for Shadow Dragons to touch one another."
Alptraum dips his head and lowers his left hand from his chest. "I'm here to serve," he tells Rosalind playfully. "Or in other words, you're welcome to try anything with me. I'm curious as well."
The woman places her own shadow-shrouded left hand against Alptraum's chest. Where the two shrouds intersect, bright white light escapes, and things feel warm and tingly.
Alptraum's eyes widen. He can't help but now reach out with his right hand and place it gently on her right side as he says, "That feels … really good. Warm and prickly … like hot breath blowing through fur."
More light bursts out, and Draco sucks in her breath… but doesn't try to break contact. "This could have definite… possibilities," she says. "But there are no cushions in here… "
"Avralie," Alptraum nearly purrs, "It does offer some very interesting possibilities." He isn't breaking contact either, but he also seems to feel duty-bound to say, "But perhaps after the lesson is complete … we can retire to a place that does… "
"The lesson?" Draco asks. "Oh, yes… well… do you think you can make the shroud flow where you want now?"
"I think so," Alptraum answers distractedly, "It follows where I flow the energy to. The amount lets me control how thick I want it… "
"And you have pretty good control of that flow?" she asks next.
"Yes. I've had practice with controlling flow quite a bit. It's not unlike directing the flow when using the Light to heal someone, really," Alptraum answers.
Draco nods. "So… have you learned something?" she asks next.
Alptraum actually tries something … he tries to extend his shroud from his right hand to that it touches and dances along the Countess' side with thin tendrils by flowing some of the energy outward, away from his body to create a channel for the shadow.
Draco gasps, and steps forward to embrace Alptraum which brings a lot of shroud into contact. "I think you're ready to move on to some practical application then! In my room… "
Alptraum's eyes get as big as saucers when he's embraced. There's quite a bit of time before he can actually manage to say anything more. "Yes, I think we need to move to a more comfortable location for a bit," he finally manages out in a breathy whisper in her ear, "And of course it will require that you use the skin tight form as well, I'm afraid. I know it's a terrible inconvenience, but I promise to make it up to you."
"I'll be lucky if can maintain it at all," Draco admits, then says, "And we need to hurry before the magic wears off; it would be awkward to have to recharge things in the middle… "
Grinning rather impishly, he leads the Countess towards the exit, all the while keeping very close. "Lesson two, inspired by lesson one," he says playfully and teasingly, "Also called, 'how to be my proper consort… '"