|Characters:||Muse and Nikola|
|Summary:||Sometimes our personal demons need to be put to rest with the help of a friend.|
It had been a long night aboard the Regas, both work and entertainment -- Nikola, with new hires to cope with and test, is happier than a clam. But busy. Around four in the morning, as the evening finally wound to a close and he retreated to his Captain's Quarters, he sent a text message to Muse: "sleeping on Regas today. come by for a daycap? window steel is down :wine emoji: :sleepyhead emoji: :sunrise emoji:." Kicking off his dress shoes and unbuttoning his gray vest, Nikola loosens his the knot of his crimson tie and sighs as he runs a hand through his black hair. He pulls out his cell phone, pressing a few app icons, and the steel grating that secures the bay windows descends with barely a grind. He walks to the small mini-fridge in the kitchen area, pulling out a bottle of chilled blood and pouring himself a tumbler.
After a few moments of thought, he pulls out his phone again and connects to the room's Bluetooth, piping in an accordion-driven series of sea shanties. He reaches inside his shirt as he walks back to the couch, sitting with a slow exhalation, drawing out a heavy silver cross from where it lies hidden beneath his black dress shirt. Settling onto the couch and laying back, head pillowed on one arm as he stretches out, he sets the drink down on his coffee table and lifts the cross to stare at it. Here in the privacy of his room, the Ventrue doesn't bother pretending. There is no flush of life whatsoever, no pretense at breathing, no pretense at blinking.
But the mood in the room is almost melancholy as he turns the cross over and over in his hand, running his fingers along the gleaming metal. It has been lovingly polished, but a few nicks and dents can be seen in the precious object. Small studs of onyx have been inset at the each of the points of the cross but there is a depression in the center where, presumably, another stone once nested. Nikola traces that depression with his fingertip, his expression thoughtful. After awhile, he drops the cross down onto his chest, reaches for his phone, and dims the lights. He doesn't extinguish them entirely, bringing them down to a mellow candlelit pitch. Perhaps his Coterie-mate will arrive after all. He doesn't wish to blind her.
It's often surprising, the way things work out. As it happens, Muse has been aboard the Regas all night, following a hunt in the area.. though not for the purpose of mingling and schmoozing. No, the Mekhet has passed several hours on the upper deck, wrapped in the comfort of shadows, laying flat on her back on the 'roof' of the vessel and regarding the stars as the world completes a slow, inevitable revolution. The music and activity from below is audible enough, though not overpoweringly so. It's the illusion of company with the preference of solitude. Sated and content, the brunette herself nevertheless remains in a similarly melancholy mood tonight.. or perhaps she's merely feeling contemplative. The patterns of those twinkling lights high above are, to her, a mystery. She knows nothing of their names, nor the divine meanings lent to them by this version or that of humanity's fantastical notions. Nikola probably does, she supposes. At the very least he can likely navigate by them. It's just one of the many fleeting thoughts that stray through the Shadow's mind, as disjointed and swiftly dismissed as all the others.
The arrival of the simple txt message prompts Muse to withdraw one pillowing hand from behind her head, reaching to her pocket to retrieve her cellphone and, shrouding it in the friendly confines of darkness with all the ease of an artist, thumb through the screens. They're all kept as dim as the settings allow, of course. She's not wearing her sunglasses. Twisting her lips in consideration, the brunette reads and rereads the words and emojis. On the one hand, she ordinarily prefers the comfort of the familiar surroundings out in the bayou. On the other.. it sounds as though her coterie-mate is in need of company, tonight. Real company. Not the glittering whirl of entertainees and employees he's spent the last number of hours corralling into some semblance of useful. Very well.
Descending into the ship proper, Muse goes unnoticed by all, wandering the halls until she approaches the door of the Captain's Quarters. It doesn't take long, thanks to that otherworldly speed and the lack of impediment. Then she's simply letting herself in with her typical sense of entitlement. Is it noble or blase? Impossible to tell, truly. As is often the case with the less formidable of the Savages.
Her clothing is.. different. Not in her usual 'I killed a hobo who'd just been thrifting after a metal concert' sort of way. There's a certain elegance to it that was lacking before. Yes.. the combat boot remain. That's a given. But they're paired, on this occasion, with a simple t-shirt dress of black sequins and a clearly expensive jacket of soft, supple kidskin leather. Maybe she was hidden within the faceless mass of university-age clubgoers in order to find the evening's meal. If so.. she'd have passed with extraordinary ease. With her dark tresses left in loose waves about her shoulders, the Mekhet peers through a few wayward locks that have tumbled forward as she half-turns to close the door quietly behind herself, surveiling the interior of the quarters; a hint of approval touching her elfin features for the lack of bright illumination. Niko is Ventrue, he doesn't have to concern himself with her comfort. So that he does so is.. endearing.
If he had been asked, Nikola would claim that he could sense Muse. Sense her at any distance, really, and certainly aboard his own ship. He would claim that he had known she was nearby all evening, that this prompted his invitation. But that would, in truth, be nothing more than his Ventrue arrogance -- and a bit of wishful thinking. The pirate-lord is lonesome. Dealing with the Coterie's newest hire, the mysterious Seven -- while entertaining -- had certainly been draining as well. It is Nikola's duty to be the dangerous one, the one always watching, the one wooing loyalties while still sliding a threat stiletto-sharp into his underlings. Not the sort of thing that allows a man to lower his guard.
And like the constellations that Muse is studying from her 'bed' atop the highest deck of the Regas, Nikola is constantly forced to re-form himself, to shape himself in different ways to fit the whimsical nature of the Coterie's existence. It is exhausting. In centuries long past, when the stars were known by different names, Nikola would have stood in the salt-heavy air at the bow of his galley and gazed up at them, confiding his fears to no man alive, burdening no other with the certain knowledge of his doom. The doom of his home. In those last days of Senj, each man stood alone, chin lifted in defiance with their pain swallowed deep in their bellies. Nikola is no stranger to loneliness.
It's different, now. Ironically, it's better -- Seth Lancaster and Muse, boon companions. But there are habits of command that are hard to shift, even when one is no longer the leader of men, and Nikola is unused to the ease with which he can reach out and touch his Coterie-mates, coil around them in Beast and body both. Even as a Kindred, with the failure of the Rotgrafen sea empire, he had been a loner among his kind, a one-Ventrue wave of rebellion wherever he washed ashore. He lies there on the couch, reflecting -- without truly meaning to -- on the shift. When his iPhone buzzes and he tugs it out, a smile creases his bearded features, scarred lips twitching in a slightly lopsided expression.
He senses her before he sees her, of course. He knows the feel of her Beast intimately by now, and even through his drowsy navel-gazing, his own rises up to greet hers. There is a sensation of warmth, as though a creature has approached, offered a friendly headbutt of greeting. Nikola turns his head without lifting it, gazes for a long moment at the woman in the doorway. His smile widens. For once, there is no mockery in his expression, no hint of his usual sardonic detachment. "...Muse." His accent is thicker than usual, a sure sign that he is fatigued. He lifts an arm, beckoning the woman closer. "You're a vision in black."
Venturing further into the main area of the room, for once keeping her movement politely visible, Muse regards the comfortably sprawled figure on the couch with a hint of amusement playing across her expression; written in the subtle arch of a brow, the wry quirk of those naturally sulky lips. Her own Beast is, it seems, secure enough in present company that it barely raises it's head from a comfortable, satisfied bask.. perhaps a sleepy purr the best descriptor of response to that warm greeting before it's lounging once more.
Does she get lonely? Perhaps, to some extent. On rare occasion. But then, who knows how long the slender Mekhet actually spent entombed beneath the plantation where they found her. Either she became used to the oppressive nothingness.. or she wrapped herself in some other intangible comfort. Certainly, as Niko and Seth are both aware, she's as fearful of claustrophobia as she is of sleepwalking in the sunlight. It makes trust all the more important; she relies upon each of them to keep her safe, when her own ability to do so is beyond reach. It also explains why she's loathe to spend her days anywhere but swamp house.. though somehow it would seem the Ventrue warrants faith enough to be placed in him, just for tonight.
"Aren't I always..?" she counters, in that deceptively honeyed tone of hers, as she drifts toward the far end of the couch at Niko's behest, the short skirt of her dress swishing lightly, high on her thighs, with each graceful stride. "..you're unsettled." It's not a question. Easing herself down to a seat without ceremony, crossing her long legs at the knee and dangling one weighty boot, the Shadow turns unblinking gold-flecked eyes upon her coterie-mate, practically daring him to contradict her. "Why."
She probably doesn't want to help. She just wants to know. There's a quiet calm to her presence tonight. A side-effect of being well-fed that, alas, never lasts long. He's caught her at a good time.. she might actually focus on the topic at hand. At least, until the time comes for rest. And she wouldn't be here at all if it weren't with the intent of staying.
It's a touch that Nikola genuinely appreciates, the way Muse doesn't blend immediately into the shadows he's given her. Just as the way he dimmed the light was a subtle gift, her failure to take full advantage -- to force him into the disconcerting position of having to sense her by smell, or echolocation, or some other trick -- is noted. He lifts his head faintly to watch her, his Beast curling up in near proximity to her own, sharing warmth without actually forcing hers into contact with it. Another sign of the Ventrue's fondness for his Coterie-mate, the way he fails to press his presence upon her.
And the fact that she has come here at all -- that is appreciated. Nikola himself often sleeps aboard the Regas, taking comfort in the feel of water beneath his body, but he knows Muse's discomforts. Trying to split his time between the bayou and his ship is a difficult thing for the Ventrue, though he makes a genuine effort to allow Muse as many nights in proximity to his dreams as he can. As she once said to him, it...makes the coterie closer. And he likes that. His gaze tracks her as she drifts toward the couch, head lifting a bit, watching her lithe movements. He doesn't hide the appreciation in his expression, the hint of something masculine and ancient.
As Muse sits, he shifts his feet slightly, giving her room but not quite withdrawing. If she shifts, she'll contact his bare soles, but once again he doesn't force the touch. Let her initiate, if she wills it. A gift, from a creature whose truest self is a constantly leashed desire to press others to his own will. "You are always a vision," he concurs easily. "You know that. Smoke and flame on water. But that dress... if I were mortal, I imagine you'd feel my pulse through the couch." He flashes a smile, but it's not quite as sincere as he might like to think. As eloquent as the man is, she has put her finger exactly on the point of pain. He is unsettled.
Nikola lifts the cross, holding it up for Muse to see. "I got to know Seven tonight. Now that she works for us, I felt it important. It... made me thoughtful. I have been reflecting on my past." A beat of silence, an uncomfortable pause. Nikola says, rather gently, "She asked questions of me that I did not wish to answer. I don't want some mortal to know me, not in any way that matters." Another hesitation. "I want to share myself with you, Muse. And I am uncertain of my charts. It feels as though there is a lee shore beneath me, and if I am not careful, I shall break myself upon it."
Well, of course she's willing to be here. He's as much her coterie-mate as Seth. And, despite his greater age and savagery, in many ways they have as much in common, too. There's an ever-present hint of the deviant within Muse, beneath that seraphic facade and the layers of calculated etiquette. One has to wonder what she really was, before. Pre-staking, when her memory was, presumably still intact rather than shattered into gruesome, bewildering fragments. Was she always such an advocate for change, or was she a traditionalist, like her new and ancient Talon? Did she serve as adviser to a Prince or as an Inquisitor for the Second Estate? None of these, truly, would be beyond the realm of possibility. But she is none of those things tonight.
Seth says she enjoys the memories of others because she doesn't have her own to draw about herself for comfort and solace.. and there's considerable truth in that. Is that why she wanders through their dreams? To further some intangible bond, becoming somehow intrinsically a part of Mekhet and Ventrue alike? A sense of family where none should exist. It makes sense.. in a terrible, gutwrenching way, but still.
"Oh you are too kind, sir.." The admonishment is teasing, uttered in that Southern way that actually means, 'yes, I know.. I look great'. A palm sweeps the 'lengths' of her skirt absentmindedly before she settles, folding her hands in her lap and becoming unnaturally still. "..but save the charm for the tourists." The ghost of humor lingers, despite the words, as she calmly deflects that masculine bravado. And, while she's not deliberately keeping distance, nor does she offer any touch, in greeting or otherwise. The Mekhet is trusting enough to sleep, now, in the presence of either of her coterie-mates - they did, after all, unstake her rather than throw her in the Mississippi. But physical contact is a gesture she offers rarely, even to them.
"Mm, yes, Seth told me he'd hired her. Security." The brunette tilts her head a little. "She seems a good choice." Well, on first encounter, the woman displayed no real fear.. but an abundance of common sense, in finding herself surrounded by the coterie. Muse can appreciate those sort of street smarts. "And, in fairness to her, Niko, darlin'.. what kind of personal questions do you ever want to answer..?" Oh yes, she sees him, his ability - not so different from her own - to sidestep such things with a well-timed flirtation or charismatic flair. So, when the Ventrue admits an apparent desire to offer some manner of revelations to her, before any others, Muse is momentarily taken-aback. Those heavy-lidded eyes study the Pirate Lord, searching his features for any hint of that trademark mockery. Hmm. "..I'm not goin' to pretend I can come up with any suitable seafarin' metaphor." she begins, softly, "..but if you've need to rid yourself of a burden, Niko.. you can do so without fear of judgement."
See? She can be considerate. When she feels like it.
It would be a lie to say that Niko has never wondered, has never craved a deeper understanding of the woman beside him on the couch. The ancient Ventrue delights in the secret pains of others, tugging at them like balls of yarn until a loose thread presents itself. A thread that he can tug at until he dismantles them, reassembles them into willing puppets on his own string. Yet Muse has not explored her own past, has not tried to reach into the fragments of her own past, and -- in a gesture of respect that she may not ever fully appreciate -- Nikola does not tug at her. At least, not yet.
The idea that Muse could walk into his own dreams, could tug at the cables that steer Nikola through the long centuries, might be a disconcerting one. Yet somehow the Ventrue lives with it, accepts her right to share in his strange fantasies -- sometimes truly horrific, if she ventures into the wrong dream. Perhaps that is why he confides in her while waking, even if he doesn't quite realize it. The bond is forming. He, too, is without family. Any family but this.
"Believe me, my dear, I am not a flatterer." And there again, that trace of wistfulness. Something lingering as Muse gently redirects him, unspoken and unacknowledged by the Ventrue himself. The lack of contact is accepted, certainly expected, and he rests his head on the arm-rest to stare down the length of himself at Muse. Just as she does not touch him, he does not try to touch her. Respect.
"Yes, Seth hired her." A trace of irony in the voice. "I wonder if we mightn't regret it in the end. She wants to know about us." Well, fair enough -- what mortal wouldn't want to know all they could glean? But as Muse points out, the Ventrue is a secretive sort, despite his outward appearance. When she poses her question, Nikola raises his eyebrows slowly. "Muse.." The tone is gentle again, almost a purr. "You never ask me any." He meets her gaze without any humor, and for once, without any life whatsoever within his dark eyes. She can see it, then. The centuries that he remembers, the cold ocean depths that constantly seek to press him in on himself, settle him into torpor. The fight within himself merely to survive the ennui, as savage as any battle or play he indulges in.
"My dear," he says as his eyelids droop to half-mast, still watching her, "I am restless. Seth had to reprimand me in front of a guest the other night, and I deserved it." And that stings, the mistake as much as the reprimand, the need to abase himself. "I don't fully understand my restlessness. By day, lately, I dream of the days just before I was Embraced. And by night, I cannot..." He reaches to touch the heavy cross again, tracing that indent where a gem once sat. "I cannot stop remembering how it ended for us, the great Heroes of Senj, holy warriors. We were a joke then, too."
Let's face it - an insight, for a rational mind, into the world Muse inhabits would be a short drop and a sudden stop in the realm of madness. But you can't blame a man for wondering. Does she have any threads? If so, she herself remains as unaware of them as her companion. For now. But perhaps it's also worth remembering.. she hasn't sought to unravel him, in kind. Thus far, while he may have felt her presence within the hazy periphery of shallow dreaming, she has never sought to truly infringe upon his recollections and imaginings. Perhaps he best be careful what he wishes for. That out-loud admission of wishing to share his past with her can easily be interpreted as invitation, if she desires it.
What horrors she has observed, as an ethereal spectator to the slumbering musings of the Ventrue, have come as little surprise to her. It's not as though Niko has ever tried to hide his nature, or his past, from his coterie-mates. Less easily dismissed, in all honesty, is the discernible trace of anxiety and ire within his usually stoic and unflappable countenance. "No.. I don't." Her reply is simple, in regard to the lack of questions. "I will never pry where it might be unwelcome, not with those I care for." The implication being that she would not trespass against her coterie-mates, of course. Anyone else? Fair game. The reassurance, though, is well-intentioned. There's a big difference between Muse sieving through one's mind and a few innocuous questions from a mortal.. and she knows it, judging by the predatory, unperturbed curve of her lips in a fleeting, wolfish smile.
"It's in their nature to be drawn to our kind, as much as it's in ours to lure them in. But their loyalty is easily enough bound, needs be.." She tilts her chin downward a touch at this, offering Niko a pointed look, holding his gaze unwaveringly. Just for a moment, nothing more. "As for your restlessness.. I imagine you feel constrained. Regardless of intent, workin' with others always demands certain sacrifices of freedom. When was the last time you ever had to accept a reprimand, hm?"
At the subtle motion of his large hand, those eyes are drawn downward to the cross at his chest, a question begging to be asked about that missing stone.. but she refrains. If it's at the forefront of his waking mind.. odds are it'll be easily enough uncovered when the oblivion of slumber takes him. There's a faint stirring of motion, a light caress of a breeze, as Muse vanishes from the couch. She blinks briefly into existence, should he concern himself enough to seek her, by the door, ensuring it's securely locked. Then she's beside him, stooping from the waist to lean over the Ventrue. The fingertips of one hand ever-so-lightly sweep across his brow, righting an errant lock of his dark hair as she speaks; a gentle, soothing suggestion. "..go to sleep, Niko.." She won't force it upon him.. but in the next few minutes the sun will begin to creep upward toward the distant horizon. Such things simply cannot be prevented. And at that point, he'll succumb.
Nikola is dressed in brigandine, leather sewn over iron strips, a curved sword at his hip. In the dream, in the memory, the silver cross hangs heavy on his chest. The centerpiece is set with jade, polished almost translucent by age and by long exposure to the oils of close contact with skin. He crouches here, above a series of waterfalls. This place is... well, beautiful. The water pours down into a basin, though without the height or the force that would turn an idyll into a cauldron of chaotic turbulence. The foliage here is rich, scented with loam from a recent rainstorm, lush in a way that only comes with budding spring. Life is returning to the land, if only it can keep hold of it, grasp it by the ankle, prevent it from slipping once more into icy depths. Around him are the heroes of Senj, what is left of them. Far from their galleys, far from the salt-scented air of their home. He knows -- in his core, he knows -- that they are merely a day from the tiny village of Senj, but it feels as though the leagues stretch further than he can walk in a lifetime of lifetimes. He will not return, will not see his lover again, will not see the scarred face of his father. None of them will. And he knows it, in the dream. They all do, the heroes of Senj here on this shallow cliff.
Perhaps forty men, all told, his crew. His men -- bound to him by the arrogance and courage that he has had from childhood, the blind fury at disobedience, the blind loyalty given in return for their trust. A hard man, Nikola Senjan, all his life. A man born to a lost war, in memory of a lost city. Forty men have followed him here.
And beneath them, twice that number. The tightness in Nikola's chest, the savage fury, is easy to recognize. The expression on his bearded, blood-flushed features, is one that Muse knows well -- cold calculation, channeling his rage and frustration into a concentration of chilly acid. The men below wear crosses, wear the hallmarks of Christendom. The Senjan, abandoned defenders of the Holy Roman Empire, have been betrayed. First left to starve, then ordered to die in futile guerrilla wars, and finally this -- finally, when the tiny village aroused the ire of mighty Venice, besieged. Nikola Senjan will not die fighting the Ottomans who sacked the City of Cities. Nikola Senjan will die because the nobility of Europe is bored of him. It is a lesson he will never, ever, forget.
His men, concealed in the night-time shadows, bear mismatched armor and weapons stolen from the dead. Their foes are uniform, well-equipped with crossbows and slim swords. Apart from one, their leader, a slender man who does not bother with armor. Does not bother with weapons. He walks, Nikola notes, with the rolling gait of a sailor. The others defer to him. What is a seaman doing so far from the ocean? Then again, Nikola might ask the same question of himself. No matter. It is time now. He will kill these men, will dip his bread in their blood as he has done at sea, will spike their heads as a warning for the army that follows. Do not fuck with me.
Nikola draws his heavy saber, looks along the ranks of his men. He smiles. Let this never end, he thinks. Let this moment sing through all time. We shall live forever.
In the 'real' world - for so most consider it to be - Muse drifts just upon the brink of sleep. Curled behind Niko's legs, nestled between him and the rear cushions of the couch, the brunette rests peacefully enough. There's no steady rise and fall of breath. No comforting warmth. Not even a subtle motion of her lashes to indicate she's alive at all. But there's a sense of security in the proximity of either one of her coterie-mates that promises a lessening of the inherent danger of her sinking beneath that enveloping darkness.
Unseen and unbidden, the delicate Mekhet's contrastingly quite unabashedly powerful Beast stretches and unfurls, wandering to the edge of the makeshift cage of self-control, testing the strength of those tentative restraints and finding that they give; a little at first, then with more ease. It ebbs and flows through the bars, reaching out to offer the lightest caress of warning and greeting to Niko's subconscious, gently announcing a new presence without the intent of disturbing whatever recollections currently occupy. The sensation is, initially, barely perceptible; a faint impression of something seeping in through the tiny fractures and flaws brought with the passage of centuries. Then, in an exhilarating rush for the Shadow, she plunges beneath the surface of her own oblivion, down, down, down, until she re-emerges within a place of Niko's own maing.
It's night, thankfully. Even here, in her domain of dreams and nightmares, Muse is not particularly fond of even imagined sunlight. As her form begins to coalesce into 'existence', or the artist's depiction of such within the boundaries set by her worldly guardian's memory, the brunette's silhouette remains blurred at the edges, somewhere between the literal mists of time and the shadows of the clifftop and encroaching night. Such things suit her well, by her very nature, of course. She draws the interplay of light and shade about herself, weaving her presence here from the very ether. The soldiers, what few of them are gathered here, seem to remain unaware of the dark beauty strolling through their ranks, barefoot and with an aura of regal, predatory calm that she lacks in the 'real world'. This, to her, is far closer to the truth. An unveiling of what lies beneath her nightly mask.
As for Nikola Senjan? Those idle thoughts and realisations are as clear to her as if he had spoken them aloud, whispered them intimately across her ear, written them in blood. In an instant she grasps the magnitude of his situation, tasting the resigned desperation and stubborn malevolence all at once and savoring it as one would a sweet, vitae-laced wine.
Her feet barely touch the ground, the shadowy 'skirts' of her gown flowing like smoke about her legs as she moves silently. At length, Muse draws to a halt by his broad shoulder, silently surveying the scene laid out below with all the detached intrigue of a cat toying with a mouse. "Perhaps not forever.. but a long time yet." she advises, before slowly turning her gaze up and aside to meet that of the warrior, regarding him contemplatively. Her presence here, bizarrely, seems perfectly natural to his dreaming mind.. and yet she's so plainly out of place, disjointed from the landscape in which she now stands. Taking in that icy fury with a blithe lack of concern, the Shadow tilts her head a touch. "..where are we, Niko..?"
It always seems a sensible way to begin these exchanges.. assuming she has permitted the dreamer to become aware of her presence. And as he does so, as her ethereal voice reaches out across the remembered ages toward him? The world becomes.. tangible. He can feel the lush vegetation beneath his feet, the solid hilt of the sabre in his hand.. even the stirring of the night air across his skin, the thud of his mortal heartbeat against his oh-so-vulnerable ribs. She anchors him, sharpening his dreamscape into focus with the details he begins to conjure, the further his senses heighten.
Waking or sleeping, there is comfort in the sense of another's proximity. Mortals feel the pulse of their mate, the shared warmth, the slumbering safety of feeling another at their back. But Vampires are given something far more important than mere physical sensation. Nikola can sense, even as he dreams, Muse's Beast. The lonely Ventrue, so often isolated from even his Coterie, is unused to the sensation of a sated warmth occupying space in his mind. But his Beast curls up around that warmth, that sensation of pack-safety. Lends its strength to the Other that shares with him.
Unaware though he may be, Nikola can feel it against him, can feel it rubbing against his fractured mind -- and his own Beast does not resist. Welcomes her. Feels that caress, that hint of a warning, and opens itself permissively. The greatest show of trust that Nikola Senjan could ever express, and he is unaware of it entirely. Does it improve the sensation for Muse, this eager invitation? Would it alarm Nikola to know how entirely he exposes himself, risks both of them, by drawing her in so deeply? The Beast knows all of this. And it does not growl, but purrs, as she slips deep within.
As Muse takes shape in the darkness above the waterfall, she can see the torches of men below. Hear horses lapping at the pool, hear conversation in archaic Italian. She can understand those conversations, the profanities of the soldiers as they discuss the God-cursed raiders of Senj, their demonic will to live. These men fear Nikola Senjan and those like him. She can taste that fear on the air. From all but one. Muse's Beast senses it as the dream-reality of the place takes hold. Below her, among those soldiers come to kill her Coterie-mate, is a rival. Cold and slithering, its Beast is unaware of hers, serpentine, a creature of depths. As she draws the shadows about her, as she becomes the Queen of this night, the true danger becomes more and more obvious to her. Nikola Senjan, the mortal man who believes he is about to spring his ambush, is truly doomed to die here. This is the end of it all. And the beginning.
When she finally announces herself to him, Nikola looks to Muse in a mixture of wonder and pleasure. He is both mortal and immortal in this moment, ancient and still young. The delight is impossible to mask, the unfeigned pleasure he takes in seeing her so totally within her element. There is no fear from the warrior. When he speaks, it is to her alone -- his beloved comrades hear nothing of what he says. This is a dream so real that he knows, knows deep in his bones, that if she touches him here he will wake tingling. "The falls at Plitvice," he says softly. There is no accent -- if she thinks, she will realize he is speaking Croatian, not English. "A day's march from my home. They have come to punish us for our raids at sea, though they forced our hands. Starved us. This is my last battle as a mortal." His gaze is almost tender as he looks down at the men below, his adversaries.
"My friends and I have been ambushing them for days, setting traps and retreating. We are out of gunpowder for our mines." He rolls his saber in his hand, looks down at the heavy weapon, then back at Muse. "They will force our women and old men to kneel to them, in the end. Oh, love. We are mighty, but we are so few." A look is cast at the frozen face of the man next to him. He reaches down, touching the damp earth, rubbing it between his fingers, feeling its coolness against his own callused warmth. Warmth -- the Ventrue relishes this moment, this memory of life, closing his eyes to savor the feel of blood moving through his veins of its own accord. He opens them.
"I am taken here. Join us." Rising out of his crouch, Nikola raises his sword. The Venetians can see him -- there is chaos below as men scramble to form ranks, to arm himself. He does not shout, he has no need to shout. His men are close. He speaks matter-of-factly to his men, but his eyes are on Muse as he begins the steps of his last waltz. "Show them," he says in that calm voice, "Who we were." And even through the ages, through the centuries, Muse can hear the grief and rage and, yes, lust. His men are streaming down amongst the Venetians, and in reality Nikola went with them, but for now he stares at Muse as the killing begins.
"Come and meet my maker." And he strides toward the carnage.
Would it soothe his concern, in some small way, to know that she is not so much drawn in as she's the very force blurring the lines between dream and reality? While certainly it's pleasant to be welcomed, this remains the domain of the Alucinor.. and once she is of a mind to wander within his previously private, guarded reminiscence, there's little he could do, truly, to keep her out. Regardless.. carried upon the back of her feline Beast and all the power and instinct it embodies, she is as real to him now, within his mind, as in the waking hours of night. Can she actually.. bring him harm? Certainly the formidable aura that ebbs and flows about this darkling creature is far beyond the adrift persona of the Muse he knows in the cold light of reality. Perhaps places such as these make more sense to her? The Queen of this night, indeed. And she makes no bones about it, shedding the earthly mien of angelic innocence and.. frankly relishing in the seductive threat and sadistic cruelty revealed beneath the perpetually tenuous disguise.
Likewise, she seems to find pleasure in the palpable fear and hatred directed toward her coterie-mate, a slow smile playing across her lips as they look down upon his enemy. Ah yes.. except that one. Her dark-lashed gaze focuses in swiftly upon the one who becomes the obvious focal point, the faces and figures surrounding him less distinct beyond their identifying armor and weaponry. So this is the one.. Her voice, this time, is audible within Niko's mind rather than spoken aloud. While his doomed men cannot, of course, perceive her - this is his reconnected collection, after all - it simplifies things for her to communicate by thought alone... and he will find, perhaps to his amusement, that he can reciprocate without effort.
There's a flicker of melancholy somehow evident.. perhaps it simply emanates from the Mekhet in a fleeting wave of sympathy, even as she meets Niko's wondering gaze. He's so.. vibrant, even as a mortal. There's no faulting his sire's taste, really. Appreciation flares within the depths of her feline eyes, before she, too, returns her gaze to the men below. She absorbs that palpable grief and rage, the eddying swirl of emotion somehow seeming to bolster her own fearsome aura.. and yet, when the Pirate Lord strides forward, away from her, the Shadow follows after him as a wraith; unobtrusive, observing.. but not intervening.
This is his dream. She lends it form, anchors his lucidity should he wish to alter course.. but she won't do so herself unless he asks it of her.
Aboard the Regas, on the couch that they share, Nikola does not so much as twitch. He is, after all, a corpse -- his consciousness is gone. There are no synapses lighting his brain, no neurons flooding down to receptors to bring his musculature alive. Not even a flutter of his eyelids. Aboard the Regas, his Beast purrs contentedly at the contact of Muse's mind, at the way the Alucinor guides its more conscious will, helping him shape the dream. The question of whether this creature -- this Muse-as-Queen figure -- can actually harm Nikola is not one that occurs to him. After all, this dream is all about the harm that befalls him. At least, if she takes him this time, his perpetually-relived death comes at the hand of a friend. It is obvious, from the way he has been gazing at her, that Nikola is fascinated by the seductive beauty that has replaced the waifish, somewhat bemused, figure of the waking world. If this place is more real to her, then this is the true Muse, the reality of the creature he has bonded with.
This is him. Immanuel il Squalo. The Shark. Of course, such an obviously-arrogant creature would give himself a title. That begs the question of whether Nikola himself had ever assumed a piratical nom de guerre -- it seems likely, something that he would certainly do if given the opportunity. Arrogance, after all, is his bloodright. Muse can hear the pleasure, the thrill of power, as Nikola realizes that he too can press his thoughts into her mind. She gives him so much here. A chance to rewrite his own history, with her ghostly presence at his shoulder. Nikola reaches his first Venetian, a man struggling to reload a crossbow, and kills him with a simple downward hack into the man's neck. He wades on through the shallow waters without a backward glance, but Muse can feel the surge of pleasure, the remembered rage beginning to reap its harvest. Men are dying to his blade. Nikola Senjan is not an avenging angel come from Heaven, as he has so often prayed for as a mortal, but he is a man in a fury. A man with other men at his mercy. A man, unknowingly, advancing toward his apotheosis.
Crimson fills the once-peaceful pool as the Senjan make their assault. It would have worked. It really would have. They are slaughtering the surprised Venetians. Nikola, consumed momentarily in memory, punches the guard of his sword into a man's face. He grabs the Venetian by the jerkin, smashing the guard again and again. They fall down together into the water at the edge of the pool, and Nikola continues to hammer the heavy iron down until there is no face left to hit. One of the other Senjan pulls him upright, points. And Nikola sees. It is at this moment that the young warrior, bright flame of a prideful people, knows that he has led his warriors to slaughter.
The slender figure is wading through three of the Senjan Heroes as though they were straw men. He is unarmed against their blades, but their attacks seem hardly to slow him. His hands rip across one man's guts, spilling pale intestines. He grabs the second by the throat and comes away with the man's vertebra clutched in his fist. And the third? The Vampire stares at him as he draws his blade back for a final desperate blow, and says "Drop your sword." The Senjan dies unarmed, his sword splashing into the water as the Ventrue's claws rake him from stem to sternum.
This was my moment, Nikola sends to Muse, his thought laced with...fatigue, more than grief. Weariness. How often has he played this moment over in his mind? This was when I showed my men how to die. He drops his sword. What good a sword, against a demon? Instead, his scarred lips bared in a snarl, Nikola clutches his cross and advances on the Vampire making mincemeat of his men. He screams wordlessly, flailing at the creature with the heavy silver. It did nothing, of course, he thinks. Nothing but this. The cross impacts the vampire's head so hard that the jade comes loose, disappears into the water. Never to be seen again.
And The Shark turns his attention on Nikola Senjan as, around them both, the Venetians begin to turn the tide. The wave of Senjan warriors begins to recede, leaving death behind. Death, and Nikola Senjan, standing tall as he awaits his fate. I remember feeling proud that Satan sent a demon for me. A demon for a demon.
<OOC> Muse says, "Rolling for the Spooks..." <spend> Muse spends 1 (-1 points) of her Vitae pool. +roll 3 + 5 + 2 Muse rolls 10 Dice Roll: 3 + 5 + 2 Result: Exceptional Success! (6) -- (2 9 8 7 10 8 3 5 5 9 8)
It's true.. this new, glorious depiction of Muse is far removed. And yet she seems so utterly at home here; the alluring frisson of savagery perfectly apparent in those gleaming green-gold eyes, no longer leashed by the demands of propriety and self-imposed restraint in their 'real world'. She's momentarily out of focus; aware of the Ventrue's fascination and that of his prideful, stalking Beast, but allowing the clarity to settle, in these moments, upon the dream itself rather than her visible presence within it. These are the fine details, against the backdrop of broad strokes.. why not add a little further color to the foreground? A feral smile in the dizzying, unsettling shimmer of incorporeal shadow beside and around and within Niko reveals elongated fangs; his rising fury and bloodlust kindling the same reflexive responses in his sleeping companion. She shares in the pleasure of bloody violence, the sadistic delight of caving in a man's skull until there's naught left but mushy flesh and bone fragments, bobbing momentarily in the ensanguine waters before descending into the murky depths.
There's a distinct impression, rather than an realised sound, of a triumphant howl; a thrum of sensation that ripples across the battlefield of his dreamscape. Exultant. Hungry. Is this the true nature of his sweet-voiced coterie-mate? It should come as no real surprise.. there has to be a reason they find such a kindred spirit in one another, despite outward appearances. A flicker of motion on the periphery of his senses renders the image of her whirling, dancing like a dervish between the clamouring of bodies and swords, even as they fall, some with a scream others without a sound, in the wake of her graceful steps; the delighted relish of a wolfcub for the kill emanating from her in waves, matching his own.
And then comes the advance of the Venetian. That inevitable, much overplayed intent to snuff the flame of the feared warlord from existence.. at least on the mortal coil. Muse listens, accepting the projected narrative from her companion, returned now to the silent presence of a voyeur. She watches the vampire advance. Idly contemplates the way he shreds those in his path. Notes his sights settling upon the Ventrue.. her Ventrue.. as he will become long hereafter.
And there.. there's a sudden jarring of the dreamscape, a nauseating sensation of discord. It's a splitsecond, no more. But Niko, of all people, should notice the difference, having so often replayed this in his mind. Where is she, though? He can sense her.. but all around him rather than beside. Impossible to pinpoint.
The edges of the world begin to draw inward, dark and ominous; far moreso than the mere night of his recollection. And the sounds are.. muffled. PResent, but audible as if only from a great distance. The focus shrinks, slowly at first, then with greater momentum, to the Ventrue and the advancing horror that has plagued his nightmares for centuries.. and yet.. somewhere in the back of his mind, he begins to wonder if the greatest danger is, in fact, Immanuel any longer. It's the sensation at one's nape, when counting between thunderclaps. An ominous gathering of atmospheric pressure that promises something to follow. Something awful.
...where is Muse. Has she abandoned him to relive this memory alone?
There is nothing quite like sharing one's consciousness on a battlefield. Certain mortal endeavors -- or even Kindred endeavors -- are so personal that they can be hard to quantify, to rationalize, to explain. Violence, particularly at the lethal all-in close quarters of a melee, is a heady admixture of terror and rage, triumph and grief. The emotions are all there for Muse to feel, imprinted on Nikola's psyche for centuries. The death of decade-long friends all around him, the savage joy of knowing that a battle can be won against all odds. That the ocean can be stemmed and turned back, if only one wills it hard enough. Muse feels it all just as Nikola does. Those dead men were beloved comrades, warriors with whom Nikola had shared hardship and laughter. As close to him, those centuries gone, as Muse is now. He knows she is riding his memories now, can feel her presence in and around him, more intimate than a lover. He doesn't care. The two feed off one another, her bloodlust kindling in answer to his. His reaches a new peak in answer to hers, a feedback loop of savagery.
And then she's gone through the battlefield, just as he invited her to do, killing and delighting in the kill. For a moment, Nikola pauses to watch her, wordless pleasure pressing through their mental link. He doesn't need words to show her the sensation she arouses in him. Mortal and dead, Nikola is a devotee of the monstrous. That much was inherent in his nature long before the slender Ventrue sank his fangs into him. He returns to his own work, trusting her, knowing that she has lent her weight to the balance of history. This time, with her, it will end differently.
And then the moment arrives. His crucifix bounces, uselessly, off the creature before him and Nikola lashes out with a gauntleted fist, smashing into the thing's face. And leaves no mark. He can no longer feel Muse, but the fear isn't there. Not yet. So she is elsewhere. So what? The bond he felt with her moments before couldn't be feigned. She would not abandon him. As Nikola rears back for another blow, the Rotgrafen reaches out and grips him casually by the throat.
He cannot breathe. He knows this moment. The last moment he yearned for breath. He slaps down with both fists at the creature's elbow, attempting to break its grip. Nothing. Not even a bend in that iron rod of an arm. Black spots are beginning to form in his vision. The Shark draws him close as a lover. Nikola digs his heels into the mud of the pool, but it would be easier for a sand castle to resist the waves. He is crumbling. Where is she? Where are you? He feels that sense of dizzying nausea, that momentary realization that something is wrong, something is so wrong.
Has he been a fool yet one more time? Why not? Despair begins to creep into the back of his mind, despair that he never felt as a Mortal, even at the last. Has she abandoned him? Worse, has she turned on him? Trusting fool. The Shark gazes down into his reddened face as he gasps for air, claws at the creatures face with his fingers, gouges at its eyes with hands made clumsy. In wordless salute, in a sort of compliment, the Venetian Ventrue bends its head toward his throat and bites.
No. Not again. May Christ forgive me, not again. This is the mortal, threatening to overwhelm the Ancient, who prays now. How many days has he relived this moment? It is not the death that haunts Nikola. It is the sense of powerlessness, the cast-out knowledge that all that he was, the best of himself, was nothing in comparison to this. Would never be anything.
And even deeper, the Ancient being asleep on the Regas begins to fear. Fear that once again, he has been cast out.
<OOC> Muse says, "rolling for Further spooks..." Muse rolls 16 Dice Roll: 9 + 4 + 1 + 2 Result: Exceptional Success! (5) -- (1 6 4 4 9 5 3 3 5 3 2 4 2 5 10 10 10 9 1)
The oppressive dark and silence continues to weigh ever more heavily in upon Niko's awareness.. but not as a result of a fight long past, the increasingly violent and uncoordinated struggles to free himself from the vise-like grip of his immortal assailant. No, this is something.. else. Something otherworldly. Something that encroaches, seeking to rip apart the back-cloth of this little macabre theatre of perpetual doom and stitch it back together in a new image. The breath before the plunge.
Muse - or whatever remains of her in this new guise - senses that clawing despair within her coterie-mate, the wretched feeling of helplessness, the dwindling belief in his own worth. And she rages against it. The pressure around the pair becomes crushing, impossible even for Death Himself to ignore. Someone is changing the script.. and the confusion is writ across the vampire's face as he raises his head, fangs withdrawn from Niko's throat, eyes wide and searching as he realises the depth of that abyssal darkness. The unshakeable, instinctive response to the monstrous presence he knows is approaching gives him pause, hesitation in the grip upon his prey.
A demon for a demon...
Muse's voice echoes all around them, reverberating down to one's very bones, until it can only be considered sickening; overlaid with a multitude of personas and timbres and intonations it screeches, growls, snarls, roars across the desolate expanse of ages. It's the seductive throb in the wake of a lover's whisper, the teeth tingling shiver of nails down a chalkboard, the siren song of imminent demise. It is everything and it is nothing. A precursor only to what's about to be unleashed. For Niko himself? As his assailant releases him, the very shadows somehow take form, keeping him aloft, wreathing him within an armor of their protective embrace, rippling darkness across his skin, around his hands, rendering him in the image she desires.. his fangs elongate to truly terrifying measure, the whites of his eyes darken to oily pitch. He becomes the nightmare. She wraps him within it, empowers and imbues him with the horrors she manipulates, here and now, with such tremendous ease. He doesn't fall, doesn't succumb to the burning pain and emptiness, another forgotten body in the frigid waters littered and stained with the blood of his fellows.. he remains standing. And a moment later, as Immanuel stumbles back a step, abject terror fixing his jaw agape, fangs yet dripping with her coterie-mate's precious vitae? Muse herself materialises from that darkness, her slender arms wrapped protectively around the Pirate Lord. She keeps him steady. The surge of awareness reminds him of what he is now, that he has no need to surrender to a mere memory.
And, across his shoulder, her own canines elongated almost to the tip of her chin, the Shadow glares at Immanuel, jaw distending in a scream that's as mind-splintering as it is.. silent. Every iota of the power she draws around herself in this nightmarish oblivion, she hurls now at Niko's sire, even as one of her hands drifts upward from the chest of the ebony creature she holds safe in her embrace. Dragging the vulnerable skin of her inner wrist with deliberate precision across his right fang, she maintains eye contact with the Venetian even as a spotted, deep scratch begins to well in droplets of dark blood. Not this time.. That deafening, wordless voice fills the darkness around the trio once more, prompting the sire to cower, pressing his hands, futile as it is, over his ears as he squats in the mud.
The world expands a little, in increments. The formerly fallen silhouettes of Niko's comrades in arms stand, incorporeal and shifting shadows of smoke, with hollow, glowing light where their eyes once were. They wait, silent and foreboding, to witness the victory their leader was robbed of so long ago.. the one that should always have been his.. and now shall be.
She could have ended it herself. Ripped his head apart at the jaws, crushed his skull in one graceful, long-fingered hand. Instead, she wields her power as a terrible and benevolent avatar of dreams, extending to her coterie-mate the opportunity to end this perpetual loop once and for all. To prove his worth.
Nikola is slow to understand that this... this is different. It feels the same, at first, that growing darkness around the edges of his vision, that weight of impending doom. For a long few moments as he feels Immanuel's fangs in his neck, he cannot move. He is utterly awash in the mortality of it all, in the inability to act, the pleasurable paralysis that comes from the Kiss. But slowly -- like curtains drawing back on a stage -- awareness begins to return. Something is happening. Something odd. Something off-script. He feels the air suck in around him.
And then the creature of will and fury that Muse has become is upon him, all around him, beating back his despair and his ennui, beating back his wounded pride at the idea of being betrayed once more. Refusing to let him falter, crushing in around him like the pressures in the deepest trench of the ocean. And he sees the fear in his hated Sire's eyes, sees the confusion as Immanuel withdraws his fangs. Nikola's heart sings. Aboard the Regas, all at once, his muscles pulse in instinctive symmetry with the rising joy in his dream, as though even his sleeping self wills this to be true, wills himself to answer the call Muse is keening into his mind. She is with him. Had it been a mere presence, a touch on his shoulder, still Nikola would have found the courage to fight on, die well. But this? Something primordial begins to stir in answer to Muse's summons.
That echoing cry can be felt like a rogue wave, sweeping across his consciousness broadside-on, shattering all the bulwarks and the cross-trees and the rigging that make up Nikola's restraint. In this moment, as she drives Immanuel into fear, Nikola is hers. It may not last, it may subside to some other affection entirely, but in this moment -- as the darkness surrounds him and fills him and holds him upright -- she holds a lien upon his soul. Gratitude is a hollow word in comparison to this. And on its heels comes something else, as his fangs emerge and his eyes become pools of black. Muse can feel it thrumming through him as she materializes, holds him upright. The Monster is here. The mortal is gone. He leans into her as she wraps her arms around him, gathering still more of himself, drawing strength from her touch.
Her arm is smooth against his fang, and he drinks. Drinks until he can take no more of her into himself, illusory though it is. When she speaks once again, driving Immanuel to his knees, Nikola finally steps free of her touch. He turns to look at Muse, her blood running black down his chin. Raising the fingers of his right hand, he touches them lightly to his own lips and extends them, delicate as a feather-touch, to her cheek. His gaze drifts as he lowers his hands, as claws begin to grow from the tips of his fingers. He stares at his men, his former family, watching them circle around to witness this final end.
Nikola doesn't rage as he advances on the figment of his Sire. He crouches down, touching the slender Ventrue under the chin with one long claw. It's almost loving. "Come. Stand. Die as we did." Guiding the elder Ventrue upright, the Senjan warrior -- the Pirate Lord -- smiles. And then he begins to cut. Muse has joked before now that a flaying will upset just about anyone, and Nikola demonstrates why. With the grace, with the power, with the speed, that she has given him... he takes away Immanuel's face. Holding the flayed mask aloft for his ghostly men to see, for Muse to see, Nikola pivots and sweeps his arm in one fluid motion -- and takes Immanuel's fleshless head clean from his shoulders.
There are no words in the thought-link between Muse and Nikola, but the resurgent triumph, the vitality, the savage //glee//... She feels that. Immanuel crumples, begins to dissolve, and Nikola looks down at his erstwhile fate and smiles a beatific, almost saintly, smile.
He turns to face Muse at last, still cradling the flesh-mask he has stolen. It did not end this way the first time, he tells her. And then, with as much emotion as he can press into one single coherent thought, Thank you.
Even in dreams, some things remain... oddly tangible. As with the tales of those who lose a limb, only to be plagued with an itch, the sensation of the Ventrue's fangs sinking into her bared forearm elicits a bodily shudder of nurturing pleasure in Muse, coursing through her even where she remains curled peacefully on the couch in the waking world; a momentary stirring that gradually ebbs and fades as he drinks deep.. and she reminds herself that it is a ghostly impression only. There is nothing for her to fear, here. No cause for another lapse in control, as the one she suffered a few nights ago. This is merely for the purpose of reconciling her coterie-mate with his own demons, aiding him in recalling just who and what he is. All of them were, in some way, defeated.. otherwise they wouldn't be kindred. And they wouldn't have one another. That pervasive sense of belonging she allows to meander freely through the pair of them within the Ventrue's subconscious, bolstering him for the nights ahead, setting aside all thought of faltering, of questioning his purpose. He is Nikola Senjan and the world and it's sire should tremble and cower before him.
Calmly observing, the ethereal quality of shadow and dream beginning already, so soon, to blur the edges of her otherworldly form, the Mekhet returns the ghost of a smile toward her companion, a fractional nod of approval and encouragement in the instant before he relieves his former sire of his face. Her own, mercifully, has returned to the recognisable fae features he associates with her.. not whatever monstrosity threatened Immanuel, unseen over her coterie-mate's shoulder. That satisfaction ripples through the gathered ghosts of his past as they, too, serve as a willing audience to this grisly culmination. As the 'mask' is held aloft, as the tyrant's head is slashed viciously from his shoulders, they, too begin to drift away, lapsing to whorls of mist and smoke in the darkness.. but with a residual feeling of things having at last been set right. Laid to rest.
Drifting forward, even as she's similarly fading within the gentle, unfelt breeze, Muse raises a blurring, phantom hand to rest at Niko's cheek, ignoring the rivulets of black vitae that streak downward along her forearm with the motion; reflecting the serene curve of his lips. Every trace of hostility and imminent sense of impeding carnage has simply fallen away, in the wake of this resolution.. and while she affords a moment to enjoy the radiating warmth and gratitude from the Ventrue, her voice within his mind is softer now, from a greater distance. ..go to sleep..By the time he wakes the next evening, she's already gone.