The girl languidly stretched, then wriggled free and pulled me toward her. I was beginning to feel the vampiric hunger stirring, and I forced myself to focus on that and not on the full-body skin-to-skin contact with this girl. She was glued to me now, and it was definitely stirring other feelings in my own body.
The other choice was to starve for mortal mana until I terrorized some mortal, and, unlike that unknown person, this girl was never going to feel any terror as I fed on her. I had no better excuse than that, but with her in front of me, doing her best to tempt me, I couldn’t fight it any more.
I accepted my weak excuse and began doing what I needed to do, letting my nose travel around her neck and hair, letting my hands roam her body… a little bit of Robert’s desires surged to the foreground, leading me to go ahead and do what Tiana had been resisting. I moved down past her shoulders to play in her hills without holding back.
I became fully able to feed while I nuzzled there, so I decided to allow my Robert-side impulse this time. Rather than moving back to her neck, I sank my fangs into her bosom. She gave out a small cry, then cradled my head and began stroking my hair, crooning to herself faintly, almost like she was singing me a lullaby.
Once I had fed enough, I let her go and moved up so I could watch her while she rested, but Grandmother said, “Take another drink, Innanmi.”
“Grandmother, I have enough. It would be dangerous to her…”
“I will protect her for you. She’s my precious plaything, after all. I won’t let you harm her or take her from me. But you must build up a reserve. Feed until I tell you to stop. I want you to get as much as you can.”
I was holding her in my arms, and she was cuddling with a tired smile against my shoulder, but of course, I was no longer ready to feed.
“My fangs are already receding, Grandmother. I can’t.”
She looked annoyed at me, then thoughtful. “That’s right. You don’t know how to condense the blood you take in.”
“Come here, child,” she told the girl, who slipped out of my arms and sat up to face her. Grandmother put her hand on the girl’s cheek and she slipped off to sleep.
As Grandmother lowered her back down to the grass, she said, “We’ll let her snooze so I can help you with this. Sit up.”
Mystified, I got up and she took my hands. She told me, “I’ve lived for nine thousand years, Innanmi. To someone whose life is only a fleeting moment in comparison to mine, this may seem ridiculous, but I even know how your innate vampire skills work.”
“You know how to use vampire skills?” I asked. What a strange thing for a fairy to know…
“I can’t actually use them, of course. But I can teach you things about them.”
“There’s a reason why the best blood magicians are either your kind or demons. Vampires can directly manipulate the blood they take in, and demons can steal vampire skills using mimicry and do the same. Once a demon has maximized the level of blood magic they can do using sacrificial victims and such, they master the vampiric skill to harvest the blood of mortals, because the next level requires the ability to condense that blood.”
I shook my head. “But I don’t do anything special. I just drink and my body takes in the mana. That’s not a skill.”
She nodded. “You think it’s just your body doing it because you use it immediately. You’re always on the verge of running out, because you use it as soon as you take it in.”
“That’s just what my body does, though.”
“Like most vampires, that’s all you need to do, so you don’t even really pay attention to what you are doing. It doesn’t have to be that way. You can harvest the blood and hold it. And in order to learn that, you need only become aware of what you are doing with the blood in the first place.”
“How do I do that?” I asked, completely perplexed. It was like saying I should become aware of how my body digests food or absorbs oxygen.
“When I was very young– I may not have been a hundred years old yet– my little sister was a vampire who was trying desperately to master blood magic.”
I shook my head, confused. “Your little sister? If she’s a vampire…”
“Aren’t you my granddaughter?”
I smiled and nodded. “That’s true.”
After a light laugh, she admitted, “She was a child who lived on the banks of my father’s river, and actually the daughter of his acquaintance, but she was raised by my father and his people, so to me, she was my sister.”
It was a very familiar situation. I felt immediately kindred with this unknown girl of the past.
“She wanted to master the blood condensing technique, because the only other way to use blood magic is to bleed victims while performing the magic. That’s why demons who can’t mimic vampires use human sacrifices in some of their rituals, which was not something a civilized vampire like my sister should be doing.”
I swallowed. She had just evoked images of dark evil priests in video games or fantasies sacrificing people on black altars. Were things like that actually real?
“Instead, vampires use their ability to store blood for later by condensing it. You possess that ability in order to save up blood until you need it, but vampires can also use it for blood magic. In order to learn the magic, first my little sister had to master blood condensation. Without a mother around to teach her, she came to her big sister for help.”
“But how could you help?”
“I have a fairy magic that could help her. I could watch inside her as she worked within herself, so I could help her figure out how to do it.”
“Watch inside her as she worked within herself…?”
“Close your eyes, Innanmi. It’s time for your first lesson in blood magic. It’s the only lesson I know how to teach you, so you must find another teacher for lesson two. But the point is, this lesson will help you with your current issues.”
I was still mystified, but I followed her directions. She continued holding my hands.
Can you still feel the warmth of the blood that you have taken, Innanmi?
I jerked away in shock, opening my eyes. Her voice had appeared in my head, like Durandal’s.
Her eyes remained closed as her lips curled slightly. She took my hands again.
Close your eyes, Innanmi.
Her lips really hadn’t moved. It is one creepy thing to hear someone’s voice while they are right in front of you with their mouth firmly closed. Creepier than hearing it from an inanimate object like Durandal.
I closed my eyes.
Do not let go of my hands. The magic I am using to see within requires contact. As I said, look inside and feel the warmth of the blood you have taken. It is still a separate thing, is it not?
Although I don’t think about it much, the blood that I take doesn’t seem to go into the stomach. It flows down my throat, but it feels like my esophagus absorbs it directly into my being. I can feel it for a while as a separate thing, just like you can feel your stomach filling with food. It seems to fill a spot near my heart instead. And yes…
“I can feel it.”
I can see it. It has begun to spread, and will merge with your own blood soon. Try to gather it, Innanmi. Just like when you gather mana for a casting.
“I… can I do that with the blood?”
Watch me, Innanmi. This is what I did for my sister, once I figured out what she needed to do. When I did this, she was able to see it.
I felt the blood I had taken from the girl suddenly begin gathering together. It really was just like gathering mana the way I do for small spells that don’t require circulating to build up power. I can just gather a bit in my hand and make [Fairy Light] or whatever.
Now I will let it go and you will do it.
It began spreading again. I tried to gather it, but it was like trying to keep water in my hands. I couldn’t seem to contain it.
Stop. I will do it again. Watch how I hold it.
Again it came together. I realized she wasn’t simply holding it, she was surrounding it. It was as if she was shrink-wrapping it.
When she let go, I used that mental image for guidance. I wrapped it in a tight plastic bubble.
Well done, Innanmi! It took my sister and I days to manage it that well! Now the next step. You must squeeze it tightly. Right now it is like a foam full of air. Squeeze the air out.
“Grandmother, blood isn’t foam”
Ignore your common sense, Innanmi. You are condensing it. You must squeeze the parts that are unneeded out, to convert it into a much smaller form.
I tried to make the shrink-wrap shrink harder. Contrary to my common sense, the bubble of blood got even smaller. Happy with my progress, I did it again, this time without letting it up, and it kept going, until it was just a tiny ball.
Well done, even more so, Innanmi! It took my sister a week to do that much! Let go now.
I did. It stayed the small ball, and didn’t spread like before. But it was a ball of condensed stable mana and something more.
“Grandmother, there seems to be more than just the mana here…”
You see that already? As expected of my granddaughter. Huhu.
Yeah, I actually heard ‘huhu’, Japanese style. Or, as some people spell it, ‘fufu’. Was it being influenced by my otaku past when she was speaking into my mind?
“What is it, Grandmother?”
In addition to her mana, you have taken a draught of this child’s pneuma. Stabilized mana and pneuma are bound together within mortal blood. Blood touches the whole of the mortal creature, so it carries both the mana and pneuma that supports her life. Condensed blood is this dual essence with the base materials removed”
“I’m taking her pneuma?” I answered with a little alarm.
If you take a sip, she will recover in a sleep. If you drink more than you ought, she may take weeks or months to recover it, which is why you have been cautious in your feeding. If you took too deep a draught, she would wither and die. This is something you must become cautious about, now that you can condense blood.
“But why am I taking her pneuma?” I demanded. I mean, she basically just said I was stealing the girl’s life.