elydesia: " casshern sins " (casshern ; standard)
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Quietly, Arden snuck down the grand foyer staircase and put her ear to the west parlour doors. She heard talking within. The roaring fire behind her was the only witness as she slowly opened the doors a crack and spied through the sliver of light.

Delphi and an unfamiliar woman huddled together on the carpet floor before the parlour fireplace, their backs against the front of the antique sofa. The woman giggled. Delphi slowly pushed her down on the floor and kissed her lips. Arden heard the woman moan as the master of the estate trailed kisses down her jaw, down her neck, and finally rested his red lips on the warm hollow of her pale neck.

"Delphi," the woman said and wove her fingers through his colorless hair. He opened his mouth wide, exposing his sharp fangs, and bit into the woman's neck. The woman cried out in pleasure.

Arden gasped. Delphi looked up from his meal. Blood dripped down his chin, staining his white cravat and the woman's paisley patterned dress.

"What's wrong?" the woman asked.

"Curiosity killed the cat," he said and wiped his mouth with a handkerchief. He walked to the parlour doors and looked into the grand foyer. Empty. Delphi frowned and said, "Julian."

A dark shadowy mass formed in front of the foyer's fireplace and the pale haired butler stepped out. His face was expressionless. "What would you ask of me, Sir?"

"Is Samuel awake?"

"He is awake."

"Have him drive Bronwen home. Then bring Arden here."

"As you wish, Sir," Julian said and then disappeared.

Delphi closed the parlour doors and sat on the couch. Bronwen stood, cleaned her body, and changed her clothes. She was upset. "I'm sorry," he said.

"Don't be. I've been aware of your true priorities for a long time now," she said. He frowned.

Samuel took her home and a few minutes later Julian returned. "I brought Arden, Sir," he said.

"Good," Delphi replied and opened the parlour doors. Accompanying Arden was the valet, Stellan Cipriano, one of two humans newly employed at Cromwell estate. Delphi scowled. "Leave," he said and Stellan smiled sadly. Arden held tightly onto Stellan's hand.

"The little miss wants me beside her," he said. Arden nodded.

Delphi bent down to Arden's eyelevel. "Arden," he said, and she met his red eyes. "I need to talk with you alone. Please let go of his hand." She shook her head. "Stellan will be right outside. If, after you have listened to me speak, you wish to return with him, I will let you. I promise."

The young human girl looked up at Stellan and then at Julian, both of them smiling gently down at her. "I'll stay here until you come out. I promise," Stellan said.

Arden pouted and let go of the valet's fingers and he patted her head before she went with Delphi into the parlour.

"Please, take a seat," he said. Arden sat in one of the large floral-upholstered armchairs next to the fireplace. Delphi stoked the fire and then took a seat on the antique sofa with a rigid back and stiff face.

It was just the two of them, a young human girl and a vampire man who was centuries old.

The first thing he said was, "I'm sorry you saw me partake in such behavior," and then relaxed. His back curved into the sofa and his face softened. He looked up at the decorated ceiling and slowly pulled his eyebrows together. "You're scared of me, aren't you?" The prospect terrified him and a metallic nauseous feeling dropped into his gut when she replied yes. "I'm sorry," he quickly said again and this time looked at her as he apologized. She gazed at the fire. "You know what we are, right? Julian and I?"

Arden didn't say anything for a long time. Delphi was about to repeat his question when she finally answered, "You're vampires, but I thought that you--" He cut her off.

"You're right. We are vampires; we drink blood. Would you like me to apologize for that? For simply being who I am?"

"No," she said. "I just thought--" He interrupted her again.

"You thought what?" He resisted the urge to stand up and pace between her and the fire. Instead, he waved his hands violently. "Did you think we went out of the estate and hunted animals? Drank their beastly blood like the savage ferals?" He scoffed. "Don't be ridiculous."

Arden thought about it: she had seen Julian drink blood before, from a tall glass, from a silver bottle, a porcelain dish. She snuck into the servant quarters once before, only to interrupt their lunch--all of it normal food like what she ate. She knew the servants weren't vampires. But she never once saw Delphi have a meal of any sort.

"But Julian has his blood chilled and poured. Like a glass of instant food."

Delphi shook his head. "Julian is my butler. He is also valet and steward. I am the master of this estate, Arden. Despite my close companionship with him, you shouldn't even be comparing the two of us." He looked very serious and Arden's mouth went dry.

"Aren't you two good friends?"

"This is what I'm trying to tell you. There are classes, there are stations. Julian, Stellan, Gian--they are all below you and I. The friendship between us cannot last beyond estate grounds. You've never even left the garden so you don't know-Julian should have taught you these things. Maybe I'll teach you personally from now on."

He paused and looked at her. He had been gazing between the fire and his gloved hands and hadn't noticed her worried expression. "Anyway, I invited you here to explain to you about what it was that you saw."

"You and that woman," Arden mumbled.

"Yes. You must be wondering who she is?" he asked and the girl nodded her head. "Have you heard of blood donors?"

"Julian said they are people who give you their blood when you get into a bad accident and all your blood is gone."

Delphi laughed. "That's quite the definition."

"That's what Julian told me."

"I'm sure that's what he told you, and it's true for humans. When someone has gotten badly hurt, and they've lost a lot of blood, a donor comes and gives them some of their blood."

Arden tilted her head. "Is it different for vampires?" she asked.

"It is," he said with a nod. "We are fundamentally different creatures. Humans are unable to digest blood--blood is the only thing vampires are able to digest. When a human gets badly hurt, it can take days, weeks, or even months to get better. A vampire takes about half that time, as long as we are fully fed. To heal we require blood, to simply live, we require blood. It is like we are constantly in a 'bad accident', isn't it?" A sad smile grew on his lips.

"Is it painful?"

"Not if we are fed, but the longer it has been since we last had blood, the more painful it becomes. Like an itch in your throat, and then it is like your entire body is on fire--vampires have a natural fear of fire." They both looked at the fire.

"Why?" she asked.

"It is our natural enemy, I suppose. We are just born like that." They gazed at the fire for a short while before Delphi continued. "This is why blood donors for humans and vampires are different. When it comes to species they are both human, but one gives blood to those who are ailing whereas the other becomes living cattle. You know of the cows from past history?"

"Julian showed me. They're in the encyclopedias in the library, too."

"Cattle is what a vampire's blood donor is equal to. That woman, Bronwen, is my personal blood donor. In high vampire society, she is a token of my authority. She is rare, she is admired by my colleagues. She is proof that I have power. To drink commercially bought-and-sold blood like Julian would be an insult to my lineage and my peers."

"Do you like her?"

"Are you asking because I kissed her?"

"Well, you kissed her on the mouth."

"I did," he said and paused. "I've known her for a long time. She's taken great care to keep her body clean and mannerisms polite. I appreciate her efforts, and want to make her time here pleasurable."

"What does that mean? Do you want her to be your lover? Do you want to get married?"

Delphi sighed, shook his head, and combed his fingers through his hair. "I don't want any of that. Ever. I would rather my family die out than I mate with a human woman." He sounded disgusted.

"Mate?" she asked. "What does that mean?"

"Maybe we've overstepped the boundaries a bit," he said and stood. She followed his example and they walked together to the parlour doors. Arden was delighted to see that, as he had promised, Stellan was waiting for her on the other side of the doors.

"You waited!" she said. She jumped up into his arms and he spun her around, holding her at the waist. He set her down and tousled her hair.

"Of course I did, kiddo," he replied and looked up at Delphi and Julian. "What are the results?"

"Arden," Julian said and he got her full attention.

"Yes?"

"You have talked with Master Delphi. Do you understand the situation? Are you afraid of vampires?"

Arden gripped Stellan's clothes briefly and then let go and frowned. "I am, but I know you and Delphi won't hurt me, and that you'll protect me from the bad ones." She grasped Delphi's hands and went with him back to her bedroom on the third floor. He laid her in bed and held her hand until she fell asleep.

When he was positive she wouldn't wake up, Delphi left Arden's room. Julian stood by her door. "Sir?"

"Julian," he greeted and coughed.

"About Bronwen... will you be all right this week? You hardly ate," Julian said. He was genuinely concerned.

"I'll be fine."

"If you want, I can call her back before she--"

"Julian."

"Yes?"

"I'll be fine. Don't do anything."

"As you wish."

"I will be retiring to my room early. Goodnight."

Julian bowed. "Goodnight, Sir."

Over the next couple of days, Delphi distanced himself from Arden and the Cipriano brothers, and allowed his work and the company of vampires to swallow him up. On the evening of the sixth day Arden decided to investigate him. She visited his hall on the third floor only to find no one there when usually there was at least Julian.

As she neared Julian's desk a loud crash came from Delphi's office study. The door swung violently open and Delphi ran out and right into a two-seater sofa. He crawled over it to get through and then writhed in a huddled position on the floor. His hands held his throat in a vice-grip.

Julian ran out after his master but froze when he saw Arden. Desperate, he went to her, bent down and held her by the shoulders. "Lady Arden, go with Stellan and Gian to get Bronwen. The master needs Bronwen very painfully." His pleading eyes met with her wide ones and she nodded. She ran as fast as her dress allowed her to the servant hall and to Stellan's door. She hit her fists against the old wooden door as hard and fast as she could.

"...like an itch in your throat..." Arden remembered Delphi grasping his neck.

"...like your entire body is on fire..." She imagined Delphi shuddering in pain as his body's nerves went into a frenzy with pain.

"Stellan!" she yelled. There was no reply from inside the room and she was about to cry but then she heard the front door. "Stellan?"

Gian dropped the gardening tools he'd been carrying and sprinted around the corner into the servant hall. Arden's head crashed into his gut and winded him. "Lady Arden?" he exhaled.

She held her nose as she cried up at him. "Gian! Gian! It's Delphi! He needs Bronwen, he needs blood. Julian said to get her. Where's Stellan? Gian, I need to help Delphi! He--!" Tears rolled down her face and fell from her jaw. Her eyes were wide and snot bubbled out her nose.

"Aww, Arden," Gian said and knelt down in front of her. He gripped his long sleeve and attempted to wipe her face.

"Don't do that!" she said and waved him away. "We have to hurry!" She stomped her foot. "Where's Stellan?"

"Calm down, Arden. Delphi isn't going to die: it's only been a week."

"I don't care!" she whined. "He is in pain and I want to help!"

"Understood, Lady Arden," he said and sighed. "Get into the black Mercedes in the garage. I'll get my brother and meet you there." Arden nodded and left. Gian gathered the scattered garden tools, shoved them in his room and then fetched his brother from the back garden.

"Gi, you got the hose extension? Hey, why the long face?"

"You know how the master sent Bronwen home early last week?"

Stellan blanched. "Oh no, is he...?"

"Arden's having a fit that the master is having a fit. Julian told her to get Bronwen, and we're supposed to help her."

"Got'cha. You drive us to the station and I go with her to Gefran. Let's get outta here." The brothers joined Arden in the vehicle and they drove to the station. What began as a clear day grew overcast as the day grew longer.

"It looks like it's going to rain," Gian said. "Did either of you bring an umbrella? ... Arden, you're not even wearing a coat! And you're in your nice dress!"

"Chill out, Gi. We can buy a disposable umbrella at the station office. And I'll lend her my coat."

"You should be more worried, Stellan. If anything happens, it's on your head."

"Yeah, yeah. Remind me when I'm in my grave, will you?"

"Don't joke! They'll be grateful when we return with Bronwen, but if Arden gets sick, Delphi might suspend you without pay."

"You worry too much! Let your big brother handle it."

"You're too irresponsible to be my older brother."

"Ouch."

The trio arrived with Bronwen early the next morning. Arden brought the woman up to Delphi's hall and Julian brought her in without any word. He shut the door on Arden and a few minutes later she could hear Delphi's cries.

Later that morning, Arden was appointed Bronwen's host. They were served brunch by Gian and then ate in silence. When they were finished they relaxed in the east parlour.

"Thank you for coming," Arden said and bowed in front of Bronwen, who stifled a laugh.

"You needn't lower your head to me. I came because Delphi needed me, not because you asked me to. I understand my situation quite well. This estate, his pride--it is his world but within it you exist as his most important person." She crossed her legs and frowned. "But I doubt you know anything about the world around you. Completely oblivious to your own past, and that of this world. One day that naivete will come back and make you regret living this life."

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