Chapter #13 – Power in the Blood

Even four nights later, Jerron was still so furious with the Brysden that he periodically threw something across his office while he worked whenever the conversation infiltrated his thoughts again, reminding him of the ruling vampire's lack of empathy. The weird thing was, whenever he finished throwing the object across the room, he nearly rose from his chair to hunt down Lydia just for a hug. But he would always stop, telling himself that such a thing would not be proper. It did not keep the urge from continuing to come back, though.

Granted, on that fourth night after the call, Jerron sat in his desk's chair and realized he should probably go see if the witch had found anything out. Sefirchul had dealt with personal matters and her duties as House manischaw for most of the past few days, leaving Lydia with plenty of time to sort through the papers for more information. He knew she still had not found anything of enough significance to help solve this whole mess because he knew she would have hunted him down wherever he was to tell him if she had, but every piece of news helped.

Setting aside his work for now, he headed to her room and knocked. She called him in after he announced himself. The moment he walked in, however, he realized he should have fed when Shawn had reminded him at evening meal. His hunger for blood was suddenly terribly strong…

The left side of Lydia's hair was done in probably half a dozen little braids. She smiled at him, her fingers still working on another one…not seeming to realize that her neck was exposed and was a tantalizing sight to him. He swallowed hard, shocked by his desire to go to her and Kiss her.

Though, he was not sure why his desire for blood was this strong. It had not been nearly long enough since his last feeding to cause it.

You've never tasted a witch, whispered his mind.

Ignoring it, he inclined his head in a polite nod. "Forgive me. I interrupted something."

"Oh, no, I was just thinking. I do this sometimes when I'm fighting to connect everything and find the big picture."

That brought him back to why he was there, allowing him to force thoughts of tasting her from his mind. "Have you figured anything out?"

She shook her head, the little braids swaying. "I'm still at the place I have been for weeks – trying to figure out what their ultimate plan is. Are they going to start a war? With whom? The witches? The vampires? The were? All of us? If I could figure that out, I feel like it might help me put the puzzle together." She frowned as she searched through the papers and pulled one out, holding it out for him. "On top of Dresbarg now being considered lost, so too has Edolvien."

He came forward and took the paper from her and started to read the article.

"It's like a war of attrition with our cities and regions being taken."

Jerron frowned at her phrasing but kept his attention mostly on the article from the region just inland from Edolvien, a city on the eastern coast of the continent. It was front page news – something that still was not that common despite everything they had been discovering. Fear was obvious in the article. They worried the sorcerers were going to come for them.

"And yet the Brysden still does nothing." He slapped the paper down onto the bed, scowling. "I almost want to go to the palace and slap sense into him."

The witch sucked in an audible breath at his "audacious statement", as Sefirchul had termed it when he said the same thing to her a few nights previous, but Lydia said nothing about it. "The troubles are still sporadic and seemingly disjointed. While earlier they were easily dismissed as inconsequential because trouble always arises here and there every now and then, people are starting to take more note now that refugees are leaving the worst hit cities…and also, I think, because you and I have been making inquiries." She handed him another paper.

This was also front page news, but one of the smaller sections of it. It was from Fendelmein – near the site of the worrisome high-thinking possession incident. Apparently the High Lords' House he had contacted there had opened a major investigation of the strange goings-on in their region and in others around them and it had garnered the attention of the regular humans, too.

"Good. That means people might actually start doing something." He had tried to get Haemrid and Difreid to act but they said that by the time they sent help to any of the badly affected regions that it would be too late, but that they would ensure if trouble started in their own region that they would coordinate with the High Lords' House to quell it.

"I'm worried, though, that the sorcerers who are involved – because it can't be all the Sects everywhere – will start making things more difficult," she touched her pile of newspapers, "especially for those normal humans who can do nothing to stop them."

He scowled. "And it's supposed to be the Brysden's job to protect them. He supposedly swore to the gods to drive back the sorcerers, to allow all the races to live together. The gods apparently wanted him to spread what he was creating here on Hagole across the world, but it proved difficult enough to simply hold Hagole. Now he's letting it fall to the sorcerers again."

"I would think, if the gods themselves had a vested interest in the Brysden's control of the continent, that they wouldn't want it to fall, that they'd do something to try to keep hold of it." Lydia smoothed out a paper beside her that did not really need it. "And the sorcerers will start getting bolder, I fear. With no actions from the Brysden, they'll see it almost like an invitation to do whatever they want."

Jerron frowned. "Are you any closer to solving any of this?"

She shook her head and sighed, her fingers finding the braid she had been working on when he walked in and starting to undo it. "I still can't even figure out why they aren't just concentrating all this effort on the eastern side of the continent. It would make the most sense if they were chipping away at the Brysden's lands."

"Because, as you said, it can't be all the sorcerers in all the Sects causing this trouble. The Maqild Sect – if you ignore Dorjan – is among the Sects that are fine with the status quo. Probably half the Sects across the continent wouldn't try to overthrow the Brysden. I'm not sure if they would fight the Sects that do want that, but those who are causing all the trouble probably aren't willing to risk that chance."

"Jerron…is there a point in me keeping up this search?"

His eyes widened at her quiet question.

Lydia was not looking at him, though. "I don't think the Brysden is going to help, no matter what. The incidents are too widespread even if he did finally start to do anything. There is no militia, only small, local policing forces." She inhaled a shaky breath, then he saw a tear roll down her cheek. "There's nothing we can do about the stuff happening on the other side of the continent. And what if there isn't a focal point for all the energy they're collecting? What if they're just using the blood rites to help in their own region? All this –" she gestured to her notes and the scattered newspapers, "– will have been for nothing. I'm starting to feel like I'm wasting my time. I'm worried no one is going to do anything to help us…to help save the continent."

The Lord grabbed her arm and pulled her up from the bed, wrapping his arms around her. She started to sob into his shoulder and he held her a little tighter. "We can't give up."

"I want to." She shook with sobs for a moment. "I'm so frustrated with all this. The more I learn…" But she did not finish, fully breaking down this time, clutching to him as he continued to hold her.

And he held her for a long time before her tears finally trailed off into soft sobs and trembling breaths. He pressed his lips to her hair. "The continent won't be lost, Lydia. This I swear to you."

His words made her sigh and she pressed against him more. She looked up at him and he brushed the tiny braids away from her face…then his fingers ran down behind her ear, his thumb brushing over her neck…tracing the gentle pulse he felt under her skin there. Realizing what he was doing, he pulled back, turning away.

"Lydia, would you take down your hair please?"

He hazarded a look at her when she did not respond immediately. She looked puzzled, but then her hand rose to her neck where his thumb had rubbed. Blush brightened her cheeks and he heard her heart speed up. He watched her throat move in a swallow.

"I apologize…" And her hands rose to start undoing the braids.

"There's no need for you to apologize." He watched her hands moving as they finished undoing the first and moving to another. "Shawn reminded me earlier that I needed blood but I was occupied with House matters and told him I'd worry with it later. Obviously my need is far greater than I realized."

The sweetness of her smile froze him. "It's alright." She finished the second braid and, as she started the next, blush rose on her cheeks again right when it had been fading. "Though…I would offer you my blood if you had not already told me you had no interest."

The fact she was, in essence, offering her blood to him again when he actually felt the hunger was almost too much for him. That little voice telling him he had never tasted a witch when he had first come into her room whispered in his head again. He fought to gain control of himself.

"I did not say I had no interest, Lydia, just that I did not plan to Kiss you in exchange for having saved your life."

Her hand stilled on her hair. Very, very slowly she looked up at him, her eyes wide.

"However…it's not appropriate for me to have your blood."

The witch looked down, her fingers unweaving her hair a little slower now. "I suppose you should go then, before you're tempted further."

There was a great deal of hurt in her voice and it sent a jolt through him. "Lydia…"

She stopped unbraiding her hair again but she did not look up.

"I would like to." He watched her eyes lift to his again. "But I don't know how either of us would react to a Kiss. Some people are more aroused than others by the Kiss…and I've never tasted a witch's blood." He watched a slight blush crept across her cheeks again. "You're a Maiden. I'm not willing to risk you losing that when you may not be ready."

Lydia nodded slightly, like she understood. "If not you, though, Jerron, I don't know if I'd ever be able to trust another vampire enough. So…I suppose I should expect it to never happen."

Unable to stop himself, he slid both his hands over her cheeks and making her tilt her face up. "I would be willing to Kiss you whenever you like, Lydia – today…or a decade from now – but not until you're ready for what it could lead to."

"I've been wanting you to Kiss me since the night you saved me," she said quietly, wrapping a hand around one of his wrists, leaning her cheek into his hand.

His other hand slid from her cheek to her neck, his thumb brushing across her racing pulse. He felt her shudder. "As badly as you seem to want this, I'm surprised you didn't accept Strengal's offer of a Kiss." The young vampire had, after all, been the first to ask…

"He wasn't you," she whispered, her eyes closed, her body languid from his touch.

Trust… She had so much trust in him.

She had also tilted her head to the side, exposing her neck to him. While non-vampires seemed to think that was where vampires drank from all the time – since the pulse in the jugular was often what attracted a hungry vampire's attention – it was actually considered a highly intimate act. The majority of vampires actually drank from the wrist – mostly because the amount of blood they needed was not as much as most suspected and it helped prevent overfeeding. Plus, if she was sensitive to his bite, the effect would spread faster if he took her neck.

Trembling slightly, because he did not think he could fight his desire to taste her any longer, he ran his hand from her neck down her arm and gently lifted her hand toward him. He watched her open her eyes, curiosity burning in them. He pressed his lips to her wrist and she shuddered.

"This isn't as intimate, or dangerous." He ran the thumb still against her cheek over her skin. "If you ever let another vampire have your blood, unless you trust them as much as you do me, never let them near your neck."

Shock filled her expression for a moment then she nodded silently.

"Are you sure, Lydia?"

"Very sure."

Her quiet words made him inhale deeply. He realized it did not matter that he was not going for her neck; with her this was intimate regardless of where he took her blood. He brushed his lips over her skin again, finding the right spot…the best spot. Then his sharp canines pierced her skin.

-.-.-

Her hand jerked at the slight pain. She inhaled shakily, her other hand finally leaving the one he still had resting against her cheek, reaching down to curl over the back of his neck. It was not the Kiss she had always imagined, but that really did not matter. This was still a Kiss. She felt his drawing in not just her blood, but the living power of her that was what she knew vampires truly took from those they drank from. She also felt the tingle that started spreading from the bite that she knew had to be her body's reaction to his saliva.

Thankfully, though, before it could become more than just a tingle spreading up her arm and slowly into her chest, he pulled away. She felt a tiny press of magic that healed her wrist, then his tongue swept out and licked away the rest of the blood on her skin. She gave a little whimper, the action making the tingle increase in intensity.

Jerron pressed his lips to her healed skin, letting them linger there for a moment. "Lydia…your blood holds amazing power. I cannot imagine why it doesn't manifest outwardly."

She stared at him for a long time, surprised by this. "Really?"

"I tasted your power. I still feel it. It courses through me. It is not mediocre by any measure."

She had no idea why he would lie about such a thing, but it still made no sense to her. "Then why is my magic so weak?"

He shook his head. "I have no more answer for you than you do. I'd tell you to seek answers from Kenjern, but you said he was petitioned at the outset of your oaths as Maiden. All I can think is that you need to discover some other way to transform yourself."

One corner of her mouth lifted up. "Are you saying I should petition the Brysden to be Changed?"

His hand tightened around her wrist slightly and he finally looked up at her with a scowl. "I'd never let you anywhere near the Brysden, Lydia."

Her eyes widened in shock.

"The only thing that likely keeps him from being interested in you is your Maidenhood. If you lost that…" Jerron shook his head. "Even that may not be enough, though. The Change requires him to feed from you before he gives you his own blood. If he tasted your blood…"

Lydia's face heated. "You're saying my blood is arousing."

"Not particularly, but it is potent and it definitely…invigorated me. I could likely stay awake through the day with just that sip I took. Trust me, an invigorated Brysden is not something you'd care to experience."

She still could not believe what he was telling her. Her blood held great power. Her blood was potent. She wondered if, maybe, it was just her witch's blood – a blood he had never tasted before – that made it seem that way to him.

"The Brysden…he's truly licentious, isn't he?"

He nodded. "Far more carnal than other vampires. I'm just glad his court is not a mirror of that aspect of his."

It was still a shock that he had grown up at the palace. But the few times he had mentioned it he spoke of it with disgust. "You hate everything about the court, don't you?"

"It has its good points, but they are few. If not for my sister going missing, though, I don't think I'd have ever plucked up the courage to leave." He pulled her to his chest and wrapped his arms around her. "I should have left, though, long ago."

Being in his arms seemed to amplify the lingering tingle that was still spreading throughout her body, but it was weak, easy to ignore. She wrapped her arms around him, pressing her cheek to his chest. "You didn't have friends to make court more pleasant? What of your half siblings?"

"Most of my half siblings are more worried about their positions at court than anything else. They're always trying to one-up each other and all the other lesser officials, trying to get better positions or gain favorable attention from the Brysden. I had no desire to try to impress anyone. That actually garnered me lots of enemies and lots of false friends. I have rare few people that I'd actually consider a friend or ally and most aren't even in the capital."

"It sounds like a horrible life."

"It was. Now that I'm free of it, I can see that clearly. I never want to go back." And he hugged her a little tighter.

She sank against him, utterly content in his embrace. "I know that you don't like Vennholm, but it would be nice if you stayed here."

"I plan to…for as long as possible." And he pressed his lips to her hair.

There was something in his voice, in his words that worried her but she let it slide. She did not want to talk any more, for this quiet, intimate moment with him was going to have to end soon anyway. She did not want it to end, though. She wanted to stay in his arms for the rest of the night, not having to think about anything else in the world but being held by him.