Feeding presented a specific sort of problem for Castalia. Ever since she’d downed that damnable potion (Honestly! She’d used it before, and the thing only lasted a few days. She was now going on a month of being a vampire and had no idea when it would wear off. Of if it would wear off at all), her usual patterns of life had been turned on their collective heads. She could no longer drink alcohol – well, not and have it actually do anything – she could no longer really enjoy a lavish meal. For crying out loud, she’d scoured the Island for a Michelin-starred chef and hand procured one at great expense, only to be eating pretty much nothing but raw butcher’s cuts and licking the remainder of the animal’s blood from the plate.
The sun wasn’t really a problem: thankfully, the breed of vampire she’d copied for this potion could heal very rapidly and walk in daylight with nothing but an ongoing headache (and who could tell with Casta whether she was cranky because of the headaches, or whether she was just naturally like that all of the time?) and a need to be covered in some thick fabric, like the motorcycle leathers she habitually wore. So she avoided being Casta flambe every time she wanted to leave her home.
However, there remained the hunger. The blood of animals would keep this from getting out of control, but it lurked in her mind and in the back of her throat. She had to feed from sentient humanoids; it was imperative. The thing she hadn’t known, hadn’t counted on at all, was that the feeding needed spice. When she drew straight from the arteries of such people, she drew memories and feelings along with the blood. She was an emotional vampire, as well as a literal one. Amusingly enough, since so many people in her old life had called her one.
The one person whose feelings and blood she craved most was Valentin.
She considered this a cruel twist of fate. Val was the one person who, most of all, she wished never to harm. Most people didn’t even register in this way to her; she cared nothing for their feelings or their well-being. But she’d made the worst mistake of all, from an assassin’s point of view: she’d fallen in love with the fun, towering, surprisingly romantic, non-binary sphinxmorph, whose prison ink coiled up from their collar and out the sleeves of their red and black tailored suit. The hunger called for Val’s blood. More like a war-cry than a call.
The mix of hot, fresh blood and Val’s complex mixture of the same sort of amoralism Castalia normally practiced and the genuine love and affection they felt for each other made Val’s blood go beyond a simple craving and straight on to damned near necessary.
The upside of all of this pissing and moaning about worrying for Val’s safety under her fangs was that, when she allowed herself to actually feed from Val, she went past simply regaining strength or muting the hunger. She vaulted up to the realms of nearly too much energy. She could use it to heal complex injuries, massively increase her speed and manual dexterity to a level far beyond human, or even use her demonic eyes to temporarily mesmerize the unwary.
In this case, feeding from Val had given her body the ability to bounce back from the breaking and pounding it had suffered when she’d run her fingers over the glyph formed by Xanthippe’s tentacles.
Now, rested, refreshed, and refitted, she struck out for her next target: the Battle Arena.
Not only had the time spent with Val been restorative, they had worked together well as partners to track down a few leads on where the Starfallen might have run off to. A light threat and a small application of feminine wiles had produced documentation of a referral for Xanthippe to apply to be a bouncer at the Arena.
She loved the Arena. Sometimes, she was in the crowd, screaming for her chosen fighter to win (and give her a nice, big payoff from the betting). But most of the time she was the one in the pit. She told herself that it took the edge off, helped hone her fighting, and helped build her reputation. And, while all of those might have been true, what it really did was feed her bloodlust. She’d been a vampire in that regard for all of her life, participating in bloodsport since the tender age of fifteen.
Of course, the Arena owners frowned on her participation. She’d recently had it written into her contract that she was entitled to feed off her opponent should she win. At the time, the management had been all in favor of more blood. But that ended as soon as she fed the first time. With no connection to the fallen, other than the desire to break them into small pieces, her feedings were as brutal as her matches. Except, this time, the opponent had no way to fight back. The crowd had actually booed her. Since that time, she’d found it harder to get on the evening’s fight card.
That evening’s manager was George, a scarred veteran who’d settled into management after a match left his right kneecap shattered and the ligaments completely ruptured. Even after medical attention, such as it was, he was never able to put enough weight on it to fight again. His popularity ensured that he was kept on, first as the ringside announcer, then into the ranks of the managers. He saw her coming and immediately his face darkened.
“No way, Casta. Not tonight.”
She put on a disarming look: slightly taken aback, confused as to why she was being denied. Totally harmless. “George. I’m hurt. What is tonight’s excuse for denying me entry?”
The man snorted, spitting to the side. “You know perfectly well what the problem is.” He pointed at her face. “Those damned fangs of yours.”
She turned and gestured to the suddenly-quiet crowd around them. “I’m sure these fine individuals only want to see the best matches they can be shown.” She turned to them, waving. “Isn’t that right, my friends?”
There was an undeniable roar and someone in the crowd began a chant: “Cas-ta! Cas-ta!”
Her fangs gleamed as she turned back to George. “You see?”
George glowered at her, but waved a loose hand at the sign-in. “Fine. You’re in. Don’t make me regret it.”
She grinned, specifically to show off her fangs even more. “When have I ever…?” She didn’t even get a chance to finish the question before he was in her face, growling.
“Every damned time you enter that ring! That’s when!” Some of the closer spectators made hissing noises at him, which he ignored.
Casta let her face fall to a sober neutrality. “I will do my best, George. But you do know that it is in my contract.”
“Of course I know! I helped write the management side of that stupid piece of paper. That was before we knew what you feeding looked like.” He leaned in close and said in a low voice, “You’re a damned psychotic freak, Castalia! If I could go back and tell you to go to hell, I would. Now, I just have to live with the consequences.” He stormed off before she could answer.
“Asshat,” she muttered, making her way through the crowd, accepting slaps on the back and good wishes – along with cries of “make me some money!”
There was a lockable cabinet in the blue corner. She usually took this time to focus and center herself for the upcoming bouts, but it seemed harder to focus today than usual. Figures. I’m worried about finding Xanthippe, I’m worried about how my feedings are affecting Val, and I’m worried about the fights themselves. She unzipped her leather vest and placed it gently in the cabinet, being specifically careful not to damage any of the rows of inch-long glass vials she kept there: her life’s work. Her potions. She preferred not to fight with augmentations of any kind. Early on in her career, it was the wetware she’d had installed in her head and the battle computer it contained. Now she was a supernatural creature and that couldn’t be helped, but she could avoid taking any of her potions to boost herself or to use as weaponry. She also preferred to fight empty-handed.
It was a single-elimination bout tonight. Her opponent: Unit #708145, a (supposedly) male robot. Like gender mattered with machinery? As Casta entered the ring and closed the door in the wall, she studied her opponent as it went through a routine of lightning-quick martial arts movements. She had to admit that it was an impressive sight; the robot moved with a fluid grace and seemed like it would strike with power and precision. What else would you expect from a robot, dumbass? The trick now was for Casta not to show any concern, to be as blank of expression as her opponent was. It was likely to be a close match, even with her vampiric abilities. In the corners of her periphery, she noted a few latecomers making their way to their seats in the stands.
When the bell sounded, Casta’s focus narrowed to the robot, which was dancing forward in movements reminiscent of a fencer. She didn’t drop into any kind of stance, merely striding forward slowly into the center of the ring. If it surprised the robot, the thing gave no indication. It executed a jumping, spinning kick at her head. Casta dodged, but threw no counters. The robot landed with an eerie grace. Instead, Casta cut left, spinning low.
The robot blocked with a shin kick, but there was nothing to block since Casta merely spun, not throwing any attack. The result was to bring the robot forward and off-balance. Now Casta attacked, kicking from the hip and landing a solid boot in the robot’s midsection. It staggered backwards, hunching over its damaged middle, the sound of crunching plastic and warping metal in its wake.
She immediately followed up with a flying knee-kick that connected with the robot’s lowered head, flipping it into the air and onto its back. As soon as she landed, she struck out with a wide inside-out kick, landing a heel into the damaged midsection. A sharp report echoed from the robot’s chest as bits of plastic flew and the carapace splintered. The thing coughed up some kind of oil, which ran into the sawdust that lined the ring’s floor.
The crowd howled its approval and Casta took a moment to allow her attention to scan them. Thus distracted, she had no defense when the robots arms came up in a vicious boxing of her ears. She reeled backward as the robot’s arms collide with her head. Despite its torso being crunched pretty severely, it flipped itself back onto its feet and into a series of short bursts of action, each one in a different martial arts style, performed at blinding speed.
Castalia, stunned, was barely able to dodge and block. Some of the robot’s strikes landed, sending Casta sprawling to the sawdust, blood gushing from her nose and lips. As her ears rang and her head filled with cotton, she could clearly hear someone screaming advice: “Nooo! Get up! Target its logic circuits!” Lovely advice, she mused, dripping blood and snot from her loosened jaw. I might do that, if I knew where the damned thing kept them. She looked up in time to see a wicked circle kick on a collision course with her teeth. Quickly up on one knee, she managed to score a punch to what would be the robot’s genitals, if it had them.
Her strike arrested the robot’s motion, and she took the opportunity to follow up with an elbow strike to the crushed midsection. Gears ground noisily as its legs ceased to funciton properly: now they acted like they had gravel in them. From over her shoulder, she could hear the crowd screaming, “Get ’em, Casta! Rip its head off!” The sentiment didn’t penetrate her concentration, she put it in a box in her head to be dealt with later.
Grinning ferally, revealing her fangs and hissing like an alley cat, she got back on her feet, feinting a left-footed front kick. As the robot shifted to block it, Casta swapped feet in midair, her foot connecting with its chin, grounding it again. She followed quickly with a flying elbow to its head. Once that landed, and the robot is thoroughly scrambled, she layed a series of pummeling fists into the machine, pounding the shit out of its head, blood and spittle flying from her own mouth.
The crowd started chanting, “Rip it off! Rip it off!” More things to get shuffled into the box in her brain; she was busy. Casta hadn’t stopped the pummelling, despite the bell sounding to end the fight. Screaming in rage, she dropped a knee into the robot’s neck, followed by one last savage punch that crushed its face with the splintering of more plastic. The lights in its eyes flickered and dimmed.
The crowd roared its approval…at first. But when Casta didn’t stop laying into the thing, fully overtaken by bloodlust (and how could it be called ‘bloodlust’ when the robot didn’t have blood in the first place?), taking more and more savage pleasure in the crushing of its carapace, the crowd began to quiet. By the time a large, purple tentacle snaked out of the ceiling to pull Casta off of the deactivated ‘bot, the crowd was making a mewling sound of shock and disapproval. She didn’t care: the tentacle was just the next thing to kill.
The bloodlust built to rage. Castalia’s attention had shifted fully to the tentacle wrapped around her left hand. She spread her feet for maximum leverage and pulled. The large, amorphous purple thing that was Xanthippe – the Starfallen Casta had ostensibly come here to find and apologize to – fell from the rafters in a mass of flailing tentacles and flopped down into the sawdust. Casta grinned a death’s-head grin, spitting blood into the sawdust at her feet.
Her mission of friendship blotted out by her need to feed and fight, she crowed, “All right! Now this is a fight worth having!” She reached into the pocket of her leather jeans and withdrew an ancient straight razor, its carved mahogany handle settling into her palm like it was another digit. She flicked it open with a practiced twist of the wrist and coiled a finger in a ‘come here’ gesture. “Bring it, bitch!” she hollered to the purple being.
The crowd, not expecting another match, started to wind up, hoots and hollering coming from them. Others, more money-minded, complained that the ‘giant purple thing’ wasn’t on the evening’s scorecard, so they were being cheated of betting on what looked to be an entertaining fight.
Unfortunately, Castalia had now come completely off the rails. She actually came here to draw out Xanthippe and apologize to her. But the bloodlust is up, her hunger roars through her, and she can’t remember that. Now, may all the gods have mercy on her blackened heart, she was ready for another fight with the Starfallen. Craving it, even.
So she was caught completely off-guard when Xanthippe’s four other tentacles captured her completely, using a concerted, lightning-fast strike. One tentacle each for her limbs, the final one wrapping around her middle, drawing her into close contact with the rubbery purple body.
She howled in frustrated fury, attempting to swing the razor, perhaps bite or kick. But nothing would land, and in seconds, Casta was reduced to a bound and helpless mass of spitting, swearing, and screaming.
Into this, Xanthippe extended a thin tentacle – no more than a couple of fingers in width – to Casta’s forehead. The vampire’s vain struggles slowed, then ceased, her body relaxing oddly.
The Starfallen’s voice echoed directly into Casta’s mind, projected along with waves of soothing, warm energy: You are under the sway of the bloodlust. The fight is over. You are safe.
Her body may have ceased to struggle, but her brain was full of mush now, and she had to struggle to reply. ‘thippe? What’s happening? I came here to find you. The mush was congealing in her skull, guilt rising up again, amplified by what she’d just done: attacked her friend yet again. I’m so sorry, ‘thippe. I’ve hurt you again, haven’t I?
Xanthippe’s reply conveyed a sense of true sadness. I made a mistake before. I let my emotions get in the way of my better judgment.
The connection was still overriding Castalia’s control over her own body. Her face had gone slack, her mouth hanging open dumbly. Spittle, snot, and blood dripped down her chin and onto her chest, completely unnoticed. Where before bloodlust overrode her thoughts, now the guilt was doing the same. She was stuck in a verbal rut, repeating endlessly, I’m so sorry, ‘thippe. I hurt you. I’m so sorry.
Xanthippe’s tendril stroked Casta’s face gently, wiping up the mess. The vampire’s body twitched, ever so slightly as feeling returned slowly. The purple creature lowered Casta to the floor, her words a soothing susurus: Shhhh. It’s okay. It’s all okay. More life returned to Casta’s limbs, her face was capable of expression again. Immediately, it bore one of guilt. But the words kept flowing into her mind: I hear you, Casta. It’s okay. I know you’re not going to hurt anyone.
With a groan, Casta’s eyes flickered open. Xanthippe’s tendril withdrew back inside the amorphous body and Casta put a hand to her head as she sat up, shaking it loosely. She turned her head and spat into the sawdust. “Feh. That tendril thing is not pleasant, ‘thippe. Please don’t do that again.” The Starfallen merely chuckled and released Castalia completely. It was the only way I could think of to get through to you.”
“Doesn’t mean it was pleasant, now, does it?”
Another chuckle and Xanthippe left the arena. Her motions were surprisingly graceful for all that she was a blob with tentacles. Apology accepted, Castalia. You will see me again. And thank you for coming to look for me. It pleases me that you value my friendship.
Casta shook her head like a wet dog. “No need to go around advertising it, okay, ‘thippe? I do have a reputation to maintain.” She stood up and began brushing sawdust and bodily fluids off of her, only then realizing that there was a gallery full of spectators who had just witnessed the whole thing.
There were only a couple of laughs, small giggles, and other assorted signs that she’d damaged her reputation as an ass-kicker. She glared at the offenders, pulling a flask out of her hip pocket. In a single motion, she unscrewed the lid and drank down the whole thing in one go. With an evil grin at the sources of laughter, she let some of the blood she’d just consumed run out over her teeth.
That shut them up. Reputation preserved.
Time to go home.