The moment consciousness returned to Ranma, she, having returned to her female form the previous evening after Chachamaru had committed the incredibly unusual error of tripping while carrying away a tray of cold drinks, was alert and on guard. It wasn't any one thing that had triggered her finely honed danger sense, but a collection of smaller things. The first thing she noticed was the complete and all encompassing silence, something that Ranma was sure did not exist when she had gone to sleep the previous night.
The second thing she noticed, upon opening her eyes, was that the room she was in was not the one she had fallen asleep in. In fact, as she looked around herself, she wasn't even in the same bed, having gone to sleep on Evangeline's couch, where she was planning on sleeping until Chachamaru could clear out a room for her to stay in long term, and instead she was in a large western style bed with black and crimson pillows and blankets. Ranma found the colour pattern to be quite nice, but until she could figure out how she gotten where she was, and the why, such things could wait until later.
Throwing off the covers, Ranma froze as she noticed her current state of dress, the sheer black lace nightie and the black lace panties she had on were so far out of her usual style that they may as well have been the works of some Parisian fashion designer's experiment. Unfortunately, and to her mounting frustration and annoyance, the room she had awoken in was devoid of any furniture or clothing, aside from the bed which she had awoke upon.
Ranma also noted a distinct lack of openings in the featureless black stone walls. Eyes narrowed in suspicion, Ranma approached one of the walls and carefully ran her hands along it, searching for any seams or cracks that might indicate a hidden opening. To her great surprise, every wall seemed to be completely perfect, without even a hint of a gap at the joins where the wall met the ceiling or the floor either.
Frowning in thought, Ranma backed up and looked at the walls from a bit of a distance, and though she did not have the training to withstand its use, she searched the walls for any possible points at which she could use the Bakusei Tenketsu. She grit her teeth as she found the walls to be utterly devoid of any possible imperfections, which meant that magic was most likely behind her current predicament.
Ranma closed her eyes and began to take in deep breaths in an attempt to calm her growing anger. If she didn't know that Evangeline would have left some kind of calling card for her to find, or some form of taunt, she would have immediately ascribed her predicament to the young looking vampire. But her current situation held none of Evangeline's hallmarks, which were obvious to Ranma even after having spent only a few hours in her presence.
Her surroundings possessed none of Evangeline's affection towards the darker themes, aside from the black stone that comprised the walls and the structure of the bed, nor any sign of her usual boisterous and sometimes quite egotistical and arrogant personality. As Ranma took in the room, she heard the sound of a quiet hissing come from behind her, barely loud enough for her to have heard anywhere else, save for within the deathly quiet room.
Ranma whirled around and dropped into a quick stance, her eyes tracking the source of the sound. The hissing appeared to be coming from the wall, where the outline of a door was slowly being etched out of the stone from the ground up. She slowly began to gather her ki as the lines began to become thicker, and approached each other near what Ranma assumed to be the top of the door.
The hiss suddenly turned into an ear-piercing whistle as the two lines connected. Ranma winced and covered her ears as she instinctively turned her head away from the source of the noise. The instant she was no longer looking at the forming door Ranma knew she had made a critical error, but the expected attack failed to materialize.
Ranma slowly turned her head back towards the wall, unsurprised to find a large opening where there had been featureless stone only moments before. Thrusting out her senses, she was surprised by the distinct lack of energy from beyond the opening, with a lack of any magic traces or ambient ki. Ranma slowly approached the opening, as her eyes flicked around the room and the darkness beyond the opening, in the search for any movement.
Even when Ranma stood directly in front of the opening, she could see nothing beyond except darkness. As Ranma stood undecided of whether to move onwards, the matter was rendered moot as a tremendous blast of air slammed into her from behind, propelling her forwards and into the darkness with a quick curse.
For the second time that hour Ranma opened her eyes to an unfamiliar room. To be more exact, she found herself on the floor staring up at a ceiling decorated in ornate tiling, the crimson patterns along the black stone making little sense to Ranma's eyes. Shooting upwards into a sitting position, Ranma had to put a hand to the floor to steady herself as her vision swam and darkened at the edges.
Once the waves of vertigo had passed, Ranma took in her once more strange and unfamiliar surroundings. Once again, the walls and floor were made of a black stone, though unlike the walls in the room she had awoken in, which seemed to be more matte black and quite featureless, the stone that made up these walls seemed to have smalls specks of light within, almost as if someone had frozen the night sky.
As she stared into the stone beneath her feet, she could have sworn she saw a streak of blue light flicker past her sight, like a comet or shooting star. So engrossed with the concept of what the stone consisted of, she failed to complete her scan of her surroundings. She gave a surprised start when a feminine voice spoke up from behind her.
"Excuse me, my dear, but is the floor truly so interesting that you ignore your host?"
Ranma bit her lip to keep from snapping back an unwise response as she slowly stood up. As she turned, she slowly lowered herself into a guarded stance and began to draw on her ki, as she had not detected anyone else present within the room and she was more than a little unsure of how powerful her possible opponent might be.
When she received her first full look at her host, her first impression was that she was staring into a fun-house mirror, the kind that cast distorted reflections of your self from their own little worlds. Long crimson tresses, of a length far greater than Ranma would ever allow her own to reach, styled in ringlets fell gently across her shoulders and behind her back.
She was clothed in a beautiful black dress highlighted with crimson. Atop her head rested a crown of black metal, decorated with small rubies. In her hand she held cane topped with a small skull made of silver. She was seated upon an immense throne of gold and red velvet, and Ranma couldn't help but feel a strange sense of disassociation as she saw the far too familiar smirk that rested on the other woman's face.
"Now that you've decided to actually look at me, maybe we can have a good conversation. Please," she waved towards Ranma with her hand, "have a seat." Ranma looked behind herself and froze as a small seat slowly rose out of the stone floor. She turned back to find her host staring at her with an amused expression on her face. Cautiously sitting down, Ranma was surprised to find what she had expected to be hard, unyielding stone was soft and comfortably molded to her form.
Evidently her pleasant surprise showed on her face, as her host couldn't help but chuckle quietly to herself. "I see you find my arrangement to be to your liking. Why don't we get down to business then." In a blink the almost companionable look on her face had been replaced with an ice-cold and dead serious look. Ranma straightened imperceptibly in her seat as the ambient temperature in the room seemed to chill, condensation slowly beginning to form on the arms and edges of the large throne.
Ranma narrowed her eyes at the none-too-subtle display of power, as if the chair and Ranma's presence hadn't been enough to show that Ranma was out of her league. Ranma smirked as she dropped into the Soul of Ice, sending the already cooler temperature plummeting, her smirk grew stronger as she noticed that the water that had begun to form on the throne had become flash-frozen.
The other redhead gave a slight incline of head towards Ranma, a sign of grudging respect and, to Ranma's confusion, pride. Ranma's host leaned back and tapped on her throne with her cane, her eyes remaining steadily fixed on Ranma as the ice shattered and fell to the ground. "While I must say I'm impressed, both by your will as well as the skill necessary to affect such an external change with your own internal energies, I would appreciate it if you did not damage my possessions. So tell me, why do you think you are here?"
Ranma gave a surprised blink at the abrupt change in subject. "Well," she started off unsurely, "I was actually hoping you could explain that, cus I'm kinda outta the loop here." The other redhead frowned at Ranma's rougher than usual speech - something that Ranma fell back into when her mind was distracted- but nevertheless found the answer acceptable.
"You are here, in order to receive a little gift of mine." The corner's of her mouth quirked upwards. "Although, I suppose that I can't really give you something that is yours to begin with, now can I." She chuckled at Ranma's confused expression, before she muttered something to herself under her breath that Ranma was unable to make out.
Ranma was getting quite fed up with the cryptic response and lack of a valid answer as to the why and how of her arrival, and she began to stand up, only to be pushed back down as she found the tip of the other redhead's cane in front of her face. Ranma froze and stared past the offending object to where its wielder sat with an amused look on her face.
"Who the hell are you?" If anything, Ranma's angry question only seemed to amuse the other redhead even more, as she began to giggle quietly to herself. She opened her mouth to repeat her question when the cane withdrew a few inches from her face. Once again, Ranma was struck with a strange and twisted sense of familiarity, the smirk that graced the other redhead's face sending strange disjointed shivers down her spine.
"Who am I?" Her startlingly crystalline blue eyes twinkled merrily in the dim light of the room as she reworded Ranma's question. "I know exactly who I am, but I think the better question would be, who, are you?" Before Ranma could utter a response, the cane darted forward and slammed into the space between Ranma's eyes. As Ranma drifted off into the sea of unconsciousness, her last thoughts were on the other redhead's cryptic words.
Ranma's eyes snapped open as she shot upwards, her body relaxing only slightly as she found herself returned once again to Evangeline's cottage. She tiredly rubbed at her face as she focused her mind on the previous night's dream. Cryptic didn't even begin to cover it. She gave a tired sigh as she rolled off the couch and to her feet, her neck and back making loud cracks as she twisted and stretched.
She gave a surprised start as Chachamaru materialized by her side with a steaming cup of tea. Ranma eyed the tea with a fair share of suspicion, suspicion which Chachamaru seemed to be completely unaware of as she set the cup down on the table in front of the couch. Ranma continued to stare quietly at Chachamaru until she cocked her head to the side.
"Mistress directed me to provide you with refreshment upon your awakening. I suggest you drink the tea while it is still hot, I am told that it decreases in enjoyability as it cools."
Ranma continued to stare for another moment, but when Chachamaru failed to provide any further information, she gave a sigh and reached for the tea. Raising the cup to her lips, she blew a short breath over the top before she took a sip. Ranma was pleasantly surprised by the intriguing flavour of the tea, something that she couldn't quite put her finger on.
"Thanks Cha-chan, this is really good." Chachamaru cocked her head to the side in curiosity at the shortened name, but refrained from commenting on it as she quietly refilled Ranma's cup of tea.
"Yes, Mistress figured you would appreciate it. It is an old favorite of her own devise. She calls it 'bloodline tea', after its principal ingredient." Ranma froze, her mind making the accurate connection as to the ingredient within the tea, considering the fact Evangeline had explained her existence the previous evening after they had calmed down a bit. The fact that Ranma found the tea to be delicious poured far too many doubts about herself into her mind, especially after all the other changes she had observed in herself since Jusendo.
While Ranma engaged in some serious introspection, Chachamaru silently removed herself from the room and returned upstairs, only to find her mistress quietly waiting for her at the doorway to her room. The pair stood there for a moment in silence, before Evangeline cocked her head towards the stairs.
"How is she?" On the surface, the question seemed quite benign, a question anyone might ask another about yet another person, perhaps even a stranger. Evangeline, however, never asked a question without serious thought behind it. In this case, she was referring to the test she had arranged for Ranma to go through.
"She seems to possess quite the appreciation towards Mistress' tea. Just as you predicted, the condition seems to have transferred to a new host quite easily, though it is most likely not fully integrated yet within her, as it seems only a small portion of the traits have so far carried over to her original form. I calculate, based on the apparent length of time she has held the curse already, and with the rate of changes seeming to have increased in the past few months according the Ranma-san's comments, I would say that full integration is only a few weeks away."
Evangeline worried her lip with her teeth as she mulled over Chachamaru's report. If her calculations were indeed accurate, then she could potentially use some of her earlier plans she had deemed unusable. At the very least, her current plans could only be made easier with the aid of another Nosferatu like herself. She gave Chachamaru a toothy grin as her eyes grew distant. It would truly be wonderful, not only would she be free, but the Scourge of Europe would finally be reunited. It was such a shame that that group of low-class vampires took their hard earned reputation and name and dragged it into the mud.
Chachamaru stood silently as she observed her Mistress' perplexing behaviour. She raised a finely sculpted brow in curiosity as she detected certain hormone and pheromone levels within her Mistress slowly rise to a quite unusual high, though from her programmed understanding of human physiology, to which Mistress still shared most biological traits with, could still reach much higher levels.
However amusing the sight of her Mistress' flushed cheeks and partially glazed eyes were, Chachamaru still had things to do and she deliberately cleared her throat. Evangeline snapped back to reality in a blink, her eyes clearing as the flush on her cheeks was replaced with a rather cute looking blush. She noticed Chachamaru still stood at the top of the stairs awaiting further instruction and hastily schooled her face back into it's usual haughty expression, though the blush remained on her cheeks.
Without a word she moved past Chachamaru and began to descend the stairs, only to pause and look towards her servant, a thoughtful look in her eyes. "Chachamaru, be a dear and go into the basement, I need you to retrieve the box marked with the Norse runes." Without bothering to see if the order was acknowledged or not, Evangeline continued down the stairs and into the living room, an ironic name considering the fact that neither she nor Chachamaru was technically alive.
Ranma gave her a wave from where she sat near the fireplace, Evangeline allowing herself a small smile as she walked over and took a seat of her own. With a wave of the hand she summoned a small cup of her tea from the kitchen, her smile widening at the sight of steam rising from over the brim. She slowly took a sip, so as not to let her lips burn, and let out an appreciative sigh.
"I must admit, Chachamaru makes an absolutely wonderful bloodline tea, even better than myself, wouldn't you agree?" Ranma looked a bit startled by the sudden question, and cocked her head to the side in thought.
"I dunno, I mean I haven't tried yours yet, so for all I know it could be much better. " Ranma leaned forwards and rested her head on her hands, her elbows placed atop her knees. "By the way, why are we not going to class today?"
Evangeline gave Ranma a toothy grin. "One, because I wanted to. Two, because while you were still asleep, Chachamaru caught the boy wonder mixing a universal love potion, and I thought it would be best to avoid getting caught up in the disaster that is most likely going to ensue. And three, I have a little gift for you."
As if summoned by her words, which in a way of thinking, she was, Chachamaru entered the room, a large black box in her hands. As she carefully set it down on the table, Ranma couldn't help but stare at the myriad chains and locks that wreathed the small container, a container which appeared to be carved from a single chunk of obsidian, as well as engraved with numerous symbols of strange design.
Evangeline let out a small sigh as she gently tapped one of the locks daintily with her finger. "It seems such a shame to let him out again, but I suppose he is the best teacher for you." She gave a dark chuckle as the chains fell limply to the table, the runes that decorated the sides of the container beginning to glow with an eerie greenish light.
"Maybe he'll serve to keep the brat on his toes. If anything, he'll be a good source of entertainment." The runes' glow brightened until it reached a blinding intensity that forced Ranma and Evangeline to turn away, and when they turned back, the stone container had vanished. In it's place was a small white cat plushy, with long, thick black stitches that ran across it's surface. Ranma flinched backwards for a moment in reflex, only for her to curiously find her general terror of feline-kind to be absent.
Evangeline turned and gave Ranma a look that was borderline maniacal. Ranma began to feel a chill run up her spine as something massive began to impose itself on her senses. Her eyes quickly scanned the room, finding nothing before they settled on the small stuffed cat, it's eyes seeming to glow dimly as it jerkily brought itself to its feet. From her seat, Evangeline began to once again chuckle darkly.
"Allow me to introduce Helena's mentor, the sometimes insufferable, always treacherous, occasionally lecherous, Loki."
Sorry for the shorter than usual chapter, but my muse wasn't really cooperating with me very well. Couple things to cover below.
Okay, the cover image, as given to me by a friend of mine from wherever he found it, is called Nights Embrace. Unfortunately, my friend didn't write down the artist, so you'll have to find that on your own. Anyway's, I know she doesn't look too much like Ranma-chan, but please, just go with me on this one. Sides, the pic was the inspiration for the entire first scene.
Second, the bloodline tea is a shout out to Traingham's Fang Vice Addiction, which this fic is majorly inspired by.
Ranma's shortening of Chachamaru's name, well, I figure that would be canonically accurate for him/her to do.
Heh, yes, the Scourge of Europe thing is a shot at Spike, Drusilla, Angel(us), and Darla of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame.
And yes, it is that version of Loki. For those of you not in the know, look up Sparkling Generation Valkyrie Yuuki and you'll see why I found this fitting.
Anyway, hope you enjoyed it. Until forever fades away... fades away...