A mild alteration on the security of blood bag distribution was one of the many changes that meant nothing to the average citizen of Brypso 3 37 and meant absolutely everything to Dust. She clutched in her hands a bag- the *last* bag, her brain intrusively reminded her- of type O+ blood. Her usual phlebotomist had given her a pitying look as they explained they couldn't help her anymore. Policy changes, structural changes, blah blah blah more of the affini coming in and making things more efficient and benevolent and whatever. Dust didn't care about the broad strokes of a shifting world until it decided to come in and barrel her over.
Dust huddled up behind the debris of the dark alley, bag held tight against her chest. Still warm, close to body temperature which felt damn hot on the skin. Just one pint. Enough to last the week. Probably. Enough to make her feel her heartbeat again and almost feel like a person. Just a small glimmer of satiety against the gaping fear of deprivation.
Dust did not wait much longer. Consequences be damned if someone turned and found her like this. She poked a hole near the top of the bag with one of her fangs and stuck one of her many disposable straws in there, greedily drinking down the warm blood like some kind of grotesque sports drink. A perfect example of indulgence in nutrition as an escape from anxiety. Something perfectly healthy and sustainable. She’d just top off, and find another source of warm blood before she starved herself feral. This was fine.
Everything was extremely not fine. Three weeks without fresh blood and Dust was no closer to finding an ethical replacement for her needs. There was, of course, the less than ethical option of chasing someone down a dark hallway and tackling them to take *their* blood the old fashioned way, but Dust had been doing her best to ignore that increasingly louder part of her brain.
Another part suggested that maybe she should run to a medical professional and spill her… unique medical needs all over the floor in the hopes for help but THAT didn’t work out last time and she wasn’t about to try that again when the planet was Under New Management. Worst case scenario she’d end up strapped to bed with needles and drills and- she wasn’t going to try it. Simply not happening.
Dust gripped her hands in tight fists, sharpened claws of her nails digging into her palms while her teeth chewed on her lower lip. She left dry wounds in both locations, bare skin and split veins that flowed empty. She couldn’t hear her own heartbeat anymore. Her skin had gone past ashen to downright deathly. Even with her hood drawn up and jacket drawn in tight she knew she looked like a fucking zombie walking the earth. Which, well, not entirely wrong? Maybe?
“Are you okay?” Someone had leaned over to look under her hood and up at her. Some lady in a flowing sundress with a black choker. Some lady full of warm rich blood that was so close and- and she- she could just- Dust bit down on her lip again. She should run. Turn tail and split and never stop but her feet were stuck in place while the hunger kept getting louder. It was like a fire that simply refused to be contained, and her flickering will could no longer rush to put it out as it spread left and right over her senses. “Ma’am?” The woman’s face was so innocent. Genuinely helpful, even. She looked past Dust and waved towards someone behind her, and in that moment her head was tilted to the side just right.
Something in Dust’s brian simply flicked off at the sight of this woman’s jugulars so close. Tension turned into an explosion of motion as her jaw practically unhinged and clamped around the woman’s neck, body instinctively clamping around the helpless human’s form to pin her close. Razor teeth sliced through cloth and flesh in equal measure before Dust’s mouth latched on, revelling in the taste of warm blood spilling over her tongue.
Stars, it tasted *awful* and she hated that she loved it. The bite of a fresh hunt was better than any orgasm she’d ever experienced, more satisfying than any other accomplishment in her life, her soul practically screamed for joy loud enough that she nearly felt truly alive again. Even her heart beat loud enough for her to hear thanks to the stolen vigor. She needed more. So much more!!
Dust’s revels were interrupted by something piercing her side, jarring her feral brain out of it’s stupor entirely to stare down in confusion at the vine pumping… something into her. Warm blood stained her face, having spilled down from her lips over her chin, sprayed over her chest, smeared across her cheeks. One glance up was enough to see that more vines had already wrapped themselves around the woman’s neck, and the woman herself was staring far past the real world in a drugged sort of haze.
The broken tatters of Dust’s consciousness finally clicked that someone was interrupting her meal, and absolutely refused to let that happen. Hands unclenched and swiped at the vines which darted away from her while more danced in from the side to grab her. But Dust leapt off the body to dart aside and collapse into a primitive sort of defensive posture. The plant *things* were faster, though. As soon as the animal in Dust’s flesh touched ground the vines were already there to chase her down. Something grabbed her wrist, and she slashed at it ineffectively. Coiled legs pushed off to run to the side, and a second affini collided into her to push her down into the ground. She screamed, voice wet from the blood coating her throat, her body’s pulse a discordant storm of noise inside her own ears. No, no, no, nO NO!!!!!!
The beast clawed, bit, flailed, even as more thorns and more needles pierced into her flesh. More vines wrapped around her arms and forced them to the side. Twice that gripped her legs to pin them as well. A weight greater than her own body pressed down against her chest while a voice whispered into her ear. “Please stay down, it’ll be okay. You’ll be safe, just stay down.” She howled back and bit, eliciting a pained gasp and a slight shift in tension that was enough for her adrenaline-fuelled muscles to slip free and chase after the thing with her claws. Raw desperation was the only thing that continued her actions though, and her clumsy movements got her a vine around the throat that wrapped tight around her throat and veins and squeezed-
The animal in Dust’s skin blinked awake, finding herself stuck to the floor once more with a terrible headache on top of everything else. The chokehold had apparently been enough to stem the endless flow of adrenaline as she now clearly felt the crawl of a drugged stupor trying to steal away her flesh. No good. She tried to bite but felt vines clamped tightly through her mouth. She tried to claw but found her hands forced open and held to the ground. “Amaranth,” The alien above her spoke. “Can you give her more sedatives?”
“She’s already at the maximum amount of everything I *could* give her, Cedrus.”
A curse in a foreign tongue, then she felt a wooden hand gripping her face. “Okay, just, just stay down, please?” The voice above her was pleading now? Without the initial burst of energy she’d gotten from feeding Dust found it surprisingly easy to listen this time. Just… stay down. Well, her body didn’t seem to be too keen to listen to her anymore even if she did want to get up. Which she did. Like a cornered animal desperate for some momentary lapse to allow her to escape. The more rational parts of her brain had at least started to stir again. Coaxed by fresh blood and the hum of her broken heartbeat to finally come back together and- oh stars what had she done?
Dust blinked to alertness, *actual* alertness this time. The horrific taste of copper and iron over her mouth and tongue told her enough of what had just happened for her to fill in the blank gap in her mind. Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck, she’d fucked up again fUCK!!! She pleaded an apology through the gag, desperate for some emotional salvation against her own actions as a drugged sleep crawled up her throat.
“It’ll be okay, dear.” The voice above her spoke again, and this time she as much wanted to believe it as she wanted to run away. “Just sleep for now. Everything will be okay, I promise.” Dust couldn’t tell if she closed her own eyes or they were closed by unseen vines, but the result was the same. Darkness overtook her vision, followed by an eclipse in her consciousness as the drugs finally overcame her flesh.
In the darkness of her half-sleep Dust felt her body be released from it’s prison and moved into a carry position. Voices she couldn’t understand anymore flitted by without comprehension, followed by the rush of air across her skin. Something was poking and prodding about her form, and something icy cold was pressed in against her chest, but despite the motion she couldn’t stir from the darkness that had claimed her. Then something pressed into her temples and elicited a sigh of relief from her flesh, akin to a release of tension around her shoulders and neck that let loose the fog in her spine and finally allowed her to drop completely into oblivion.
Hunger was the first sensation Dust became aware of. Before warmth and touch and the scent of antiseptic and the feeling of light on her skin she was aware of the void in her silent heart having once more grown into a pained gap of pure *want*. Her eyes snapped open to see the familiar sight of a tiled roof she’d seen in every damned hospital across terran space.
...Doctors? Dust looked to the side to see someone in scrubs pass by her open door, spot her, and run off.
...Fuck. Dust was not well versed enough in psychology to properly understand the concept of PTSD but she was familiar in the concept of being absolutely terrified of doctors wanting to poke and prod and silence and cut and inject and drain and she was VERY familiar with the mental motion of being trapped in a memory of herself strapped to a cold medical bed in a silent laboratory by a series of complex straps while tubes pumped through both sides of her neck and that was all she could see even as her eyes tried to tell her that she wasn’t *there* she was *here* and stars she was even thinking in run on sentences now.
Dust’s brain, stuck between the echoes of her own medical trauma and her gnawing hunger, immediately shut back into it’s worst feral self all over again. Her voice was, for a brief moment, a pained whine of realization before becoming a guttural howl. She had to escape, the animal inside of her body decided. Escape immediately and disappear and figure things out from there. One of those- what was the word- affini? Came into the room speaking in a calm, even voice that immediately turned into a shocked gasp once they realized she had clawed through the straps on her wrists and was halfway through the ones on her ankles when they walked in.
For one awkward second the two stared at each other silently. Then another explosion of movement marked the actual moment of realization between them as Dust attempted to turn and leap through the window, while the affini unfurled to grab her from mid-air and forcibly pin her back down to the bed. This time they didn’t give her a chance to struggle, simply opting to use the full force of their form to enact maximum pressure across her body.
“Are we going to do this the easy way or the hard way, little terran?” The affini said, voice suddenly flat and sharp against her ears. Dust howled in response, which got another vine wrapping around her face to silence her. The affini sighed, “Alright, the hard way, then.” They produced a wide blue syringe and uncapped it in front of Dust’s eyes. “I had to get this compiled just for you, dear. So, take some pride in that, I guess.” They said as they swerved the injector over into her thigh, plunging the dosage through layers of thinned skin and fat into her muscles. A warm rush of wind bloomed out from her thigh, quickly reaching through leg up into her chest to grip her stilled heart.
Whatever they’d just given her gave Dust no chance for resistance. Once the chill reached her chest it rapidly spread out around her and snatched away the sensation from her body, until she felt less like a person and more like a wild dog’s brain strapped to a cloud of half-present sensations and electric static. “Nnoooo…” her voice finally managed to slither out of her dry throat as the fog reached up through her skull. She still felt all there, but she knew the gears in her brain were slipping apart under the influence of… whatever they just gave her.
“Ready to use your words?” The affini on top of her asked.
“No doctors,” She whimpered. “Not again, please, not- don’t-” The words sputtered apart as the fog continued to gain ground over her consciousness, quickly reducing her to a numb silence locked inside of her own body. Her mind still spun futilely within its shell but the motions couldn’t slither through the numbed nerves of her flesh, leaving her trapped in a yawning chasm of growing blood hunger until the fog finally dragged her back down into sleep.
“Dirt,” the affini above her muttered. “I think I overshot the dose.”
The animal inside Dust awoke clawing and screaming at the air, legs instinctively kicking off sheets as her fangs ripped at attackers that weren’t there. Her instinctive flailing quickly resulted in her falling flat on her ass off the side of the bed, then scrambling backwards to collide against a wall in a blind stupor before running along it and tripping over a large plush model of a bear and landing in an even larger pile of the things.
Confusion seemed to be an effective mediator for panic, as the feral consciousness had dropped the blind fear in favor of complete bewilderment as she poked her head out of the stack of plush models. She was in… some kind of weird circular room? No corners to get stuck in, at least. The walls were painted in pastel tones in brilliant murals that depicted a sky full of stars over a veritable forest of delicately illustrated plant life. Riddling the room itself was a variety of plush models, a bed, a concerning amount of stim toys, boxes of… things? Clothes? Windows were present as well, though an experimental left hook was enough to determine that she wasn’t about to be able to break through and climb out that way. Looking through the glass all she could see was the endless sprawl of a city beneath her, suggesting she was in some kind of tower?
Dust would probably find this location a touch infantilizing were she not too hungry to actually think at the moment.
A shift along the walls at the far side of the room had her suddenly leaping back into the safety of hiding underneath all the plush models once more. Two of the affini entered through the suddenly-appearing-then-disappearing door, already wrapped in conversation as they strolled in. “It’s just a theory, but please, entertain me on this?” The taller of the two said in hushed tones as they carried a small bundle of tubes under their arm.
“Amaranth, this subject is dangerous. We’ve been over this several times now. If something went wrong-” The second paused as their eyes swept over the room, glancing at the now empty bed with all the sheets tossed about blindly. “She’s missing.” Their voice fell flat.
“She’s *hiding*.” The first said. “It’s different. I told you about this, if her symptoms are all consistent with the rudena virus outbreak that was recorded then her forebrain functions have been short circuited while the limbic has taken over. She’s basically operating on animalistic instinct.”
“That’s assuming you’re right,” The second replied.
The first excitedly shuffled through the random assortment of goods they had bundled up into their arms before producing something that looked akin to an oversized feeding syringe full of a very familiar warm red liquid. “Just, trust me Cedrus? Please? I promise I’ll be safe.” The affini asked.
“...Fine.” The second acceded, taking steps back to lean up against the section of the wall where the door was.
The first affini gave a small cheer of excitement and slithered into the center of the room, happily moving most of the goods they carried off to a second set of arms while the first two fiddled with the syringe they had chosen to focus on. “Dust, dear,” They said aloud to the room. “Are you hungry?” With that they moved one of their false hands forward towards the open air, pushing a single drop of blood onto their wrist.
Dust bit her lip. The mere scent of the blood was enough to draw her consciousness out of it’s nervous stupor. The full weight of her hunger rose up right after, impulsively luring her to stumble forward out towards the scent and- aw fuck now she was exposed. One step was all it had taken to have the plush bears tumble about around her, and then she looked up to see the affini had locked eyes and was silently staring and, and, Dust stumbled back towards the wall, pressing her spine against it as desperately as she could. No corners to hide in.
The affini didn’t move. Neither to run nor chase. The two remained in a long moment of still silence as the anxiety slowly worked its way through Dust’s system until, with a dry sigh, she relaxed from the wall just enough to lean forward. She instinctively chewed on her lip some more, eyes still focused on the vial of blood held before her. “It’s yours if you want it, no strings attached.” The affini said with a gentle smile. She relaxed down into a seated position, wrist still held out towards Dust as she did. Only once the affini stretched her false neck and looked away did she dare to step forward though.
One step. No movement. Not even a nervous twitch. Two steps. She was sure this was some kind of trick. But the affini wasn’t even looking at her and the blood was *right there* and she was so fucking hungry. The third step turned into an open run that ended in her leaping at the vial, and only once she was close did the affini move. Dust’s teeth locked around the dense vines of their forearm, body following it’s instincts to cling to them tightly as she attempted to tear apart the green flesh in the mistaken belief that it’d spill more of that red elixir into her mouth. The sap that did meet her tongue was wholly unexpected, a deliriously sweet mixture that sent electric sparks coursing through her jaw and throat as it spilled into her.
“That’s it, good girl,” The affini purred over her. Dust had practically wrapped herself around the affini’s side to get her meal, so all the affini had to do was wrap one of their extra arms around her waist while another simulated hand slid up to ruffle through her hair. Dust would have panicked at that were she not wholly hyperfocused on her meal by then. They were just… other sensations. Filling her hunger was more important. Even if the taste was jarringly sweet and sent an unusual electric warmth blooming out from her stomach.
The affini adjusted the vines of her forearm that were in Dust’s mouth, allowing her to maneuver the syringe between them and begin injecting the blood directly over Dust’s tongue. THAT got a guttural reaction from the feral human, a deeply satisfied groan and shiver at the familiar wretched taste finally chasing away the pangs of hunger in her chest. She drank deep, and with each gulp her heartbeat began to stir once more. But each pulse brought the drugged sap following out after it, creating a bloom of warmth echoing out from her chest that all too soon had her grip weakening, then falling limp entirely. By the time the syringe was empty Dust had gone from locked firmly in place to being cradled against the affini’s chest, body limp and voice simmering into a purr in satisfaction.
“There you go, little cutie. All safe and fed. Isn’t that nice?” The affini above her purred back, their voice a melodious tune that poured over Dust’s mind. If the weak sound of her own heartbeat was the small comfort of a familiar instrument, then the sound she heard from the affini’s chest was an entire orchestra that brushed over her worries through sheer power alone.
The second affini had quietly slithered over to join the first, perched on their false hands and knees to look down upon Dust with the same sort of fascination as the first. “...the drugs worked?”
“It didn’t work before because her blood flow was dysfunctional.” The first answered, and gingerly plucked one of her hands out of her lap to hold them up. “See? Her fingers were all dark and cold, and now they’re warm. We’ll need to feed her in sync with any dosages.” The first affini gave her another comforting pat on the head as they looked over to the second. “So, about that approval stamp?”
The second affini groaned. “...fine, fine, I’ll let you take charge with this one.”
“Wonderful!” The first affini beamed. “I’ll stay with this cutie for now. I think she’ll have lots of questions when she’s sapient again and I imagine she’ll want anything that can pass as a familiar face around here.”
Dust didn’t have any clocks to measure time within her xenodrug induced haze. The passage of time only marked itself by the slow crawl of light creeping out through the windows to glimmer along the carpets, sliding leisurely across the distance before climbing up the walls to mark the setting star. During that time the mystery affini had kept themself busy with a number of basic tests over Dust’s body. Oral swabs, pulse measures, blood samples, more poking and prodding than she was ever willing to bear but couldn’t bring herself to be nervous over thanks to the drugged blood happily stirring her otherwise still heart.
Once all of the affini’s many tubes and sheets of paper and samples and other medical thingamajigs were all taken care of they then laid her body back down upon her bed, pumped another shot of blood into her mouth, and then tucked her in for comfort. There she lay, never quite truly asleep yet not really awake or aware until the sun slipped under the edge of the horizon and brought the cold blanket of night unto the world. There she twitched, then flinched, then spasmed as her body jerked into an upright position once more, eyes wide and PAINFULLY aware of everything that had happened in the meantime.
“Ah, welcome back little one-” The affini started, but Dust yelped before stumbling off the side of the bed and landing flat on her ass once more.
“I’m sorry!” Dust shouted, peeking over the edge of the bed towards the now very confused affini. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to do it, I- there’s this medical problem, it, I know it’s not a proper excuse but-”
The affini raised one of their hands in a gentle request for silence, and Dust complied. “One step at a time.” They said as they strolled forward to take a seat on the far edge of the bed. “My name is Amaranth Verna, Seventh Bloom. It/it’s pronouns. How about you?” Their- no, it’s. It’s? Dust mentally recounted its pronouns to herself several times over. Its, its, its. Cement that in place.
“Dust, she/her.” She answered quietly, nervously gripping the edge of the bed. “And, I’m sorry, whatever I did.”
“I’ll pass along your apology to the proper party, little one.” The affini was a picture of absolute calm. It’s body didn’t even ruffle a feather as Dust quietly stepped from the side of the bed back towards the wall, moving consistently away until she pressed up against it and dropped down to a seated position with her knees over her chest. “How much do you remember?”
Dust ran a finger over her lower lips, feeling the familiar scars from her own chewing habits run like ridgid lines across her chin. “Not much,” She confessed. She never did remember much when the hunger took over. “I was starved, and trying to focus, and this woman appeared in front of me?” Nothing else came across clearly after that. Just an itch along her jaw and the sensation of pain in her gut.
“Thought so,” Amaranth hummed quietly to itself as it noted that down. “Have you ever been exposed to the rudena virus?” Dust tensed up. “Perhaps on Hydra minor?” She curled up inward, unbidden memories simmering under the surface again. Amaranth looked down at her quietly, eyes shimmering with unknown thoughts as it seemed to mull over the truths revealed in her body language. “I don’t know what happened to you back then, but if you ever feel ready to share I will be willing to listen.”
Dust didn’t know how to handle those words. A stranger asking her to… talk about her feelings? “Are you… a doctor?” She asked tersely, familiar edges of discomfort rippling through the corners of her mind.
“A microbiologist, actually.” Amaranth answered with no small amount of pride. It even struck a silly pose with the back of its hand under its chin and it’s head tilted to the side with a smile. That, apparently, was enough to dissuade Dust’s anxiety for now. “It’s what led me to catch interest in your case in the first place. I’d noted the similarities between your symptoms and the records of a rudena virus outbreak that was, how shall I say…” Her voice trailed off, vines of her hands curling around.
"Catastrophic?" Dust offered.
"And questionably recorded." Amaranth followed.
"The reports were probably full of missing details." Dust continued.
"And poorly hidden lies." Amaranth added. "Like their claim that the virus had a 60% mortality rate, a 38% recovery rate, and then just casually never mentioned what happened to the other 2%."
Dust was about halfway through breathing the word 'vivisection' when she realized what she was doing and clammed up instead.
Amaranth must have noted her shift in tension, as it decided to shift the subject without missing a beat. "What matters for now is that we must learn the finer details of your unique needs so that we may better accommodate you, little Dust. That, and, I hate to have to say this part but you're also basically under arrest? Sort of?"
Dust winced. Of course. Nothing good ever happened when she lost to her hunger. "...what did I do?"
"Bit out a floret's throat, drank her blood, fought against two affini with surprising resilience." Amaranth answered quickly, it’s body language momentarily flat before movement ruffled back out from it’s center. "She's fine, by the way. Shaken and confused but we managed to save her. Apparently between the xenodrugs and whatever is in your saliva she doesn't even remember any of the details of the event."
"...I'm sorry." Stars damn it all. At least the victim of her inadequacy lived.
The flow of movement in the affini shifted to mirror a burst of emotional energy, equal parts assurance and excitement tempered by unmasked concern. "You were a victim in this, too! Well, I mean, in the broader sense. From how you were treated under the accord and our failure to identify your unique needs and assist you before it got so bad. But still! Once we understand your situation properly I'm sure we can figure out a solution that will work out for everyone involved and-"
"Amaranth." Dust interjected.
The affini stopped in a heartbeat, freezing mid-gesture. "Yes, dear?"
"What's really going to happen to me?" Dust asked. Amaranth had spoken like she had a plan, as many others had spoken to Dust before. Ideas of how things would be in the future and how they’d plan out and all she had to do was quietly lay down and let it happen. A plan implied other machines of governance were already spinning wheels around her, which, what else should she expect? She’d assaulted a stranger. Again.
She didn’t want to wait and hope for understanding and assistance just to end up under the knife once more.
"...you're currently under review pending judgment, but odds are you're going to be enrolled into the domestication program." The affini’s words struck Dust with the weight of a guillotine. With a single blow the energy of life that still glitzed through her body drained out, replaced with the familiar deathly chill that had marked her life since the day she first became sick.
"But it'll be okay!” Amaranth burst back to it’s vividity in motion. Lights in hell how could someone be so energetic right now? “Now that you're here we can make sure you never go hungry and there won't be any further risk and-"
"Can I be alone for a while?" Dust interjected once more. She couldn’t bear to deal with the affini’s excited motions any more. Not when the pit in her gut was yawning open rapidly around her.
Amaranth deflated slowly in place, eyes darting from Dust around the room as it’s mind spun with an apparent need to find some sort of comfort for her. But after a long moment of silence it instead folded back up into itself and said, "Of course, dear. Call if you need me? I'll be just next door."
Dust only nodded in response, and Amaranth gave a small bow before turning and leaving the room. A touch along the wall was all it took for the door to appear again, then disappear as soon as Amaranth was through it. Alone, Dust collapsed to her side and partook in one of the few acts she could in her state. She wept with eyes that shed no tears.
Dust’s claw trailed a line around the circumference of what was, at heart, a highly decorated prison cell. The only door she could find in her mild travails across the space was one to the bathroom, which was a very fancy bathroom! But with windows as indestructible as the ones in her main room that practically taunted her with a view of the city beyond.
She supposed it was only fair they kept her here, though. Given she was evidently a readily apparent danger or whatever other fucking term the legal nuts wove together to describe a feral animal occasionally wrapped under a veneer of human consciousness. The same animal she could feel writhing underneath herself as she paced aimlessly. It wasn’t… impossible to control. Usually. But in the ennui of her state she simply didn’t care enough to really try, nor pay any meaningful attention even as the growing void inside of her stretched through her dry veins. Within the hour, her aimless steps turned into a stumbling shamble. Her eyes had gone milky white and lifeless, her heartbeat slipped into deathly silence, and Dust had simply stopped thinking entirely once more.
That was how Amaranth found her later in the day. A hungry shell shuffling across the room without purpose. The affini’s movements, at first the usual wave of excitable exuberance that echoed the lively tune in it’s metaphorical heart, immediately flattened as it’s eyes met hers.
“Ah,” It said. “I suppose I did underestimate how much you’d need after all. No problem! We needed to tame your limbic system anyway.”
Dust, of course, had no reply as she didn’t actually process any of the words. She simply stared silently until Amaranth produced another vial of blood for her, which captured the poor girl’s attention with a sudden laser focus.
“As I thought, food motivated like every other animal.” Amaranth mused as it waved the vial side to side, watching Dust’s eyes trail after it. “At least you’re more behaved today. Did our interaction get through to you?” Amaranth ruffled up her leaves, then put one of its spare hands on the side of its face in a mock gesture or self-chiding. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to tease. It’s a bad habit.” With an act akin to a gentle sigh the affini stepped forward, closing the distance between the two with casual airs while the human remained locked in place. It knelt down before her, bringing the vial down to eye level before tapping it’s wooden knee as it spoke, “Come here, dear.”
Dust’s broken consciousness roiled over in momentary turmoil as she glanced between the affini and the blood. Experience was enough of a teacher for her to know that the empty need inside of her chest could easily be sated by that plant, but a primal fear worked in equal measure to tell her to just run as far away as possible and find another source. Both lost the instant Amaranth plunged a single drop of warm blood out to drip onto it’s knee and fffuUcking hell the acrid scent was enough to send Dust’s senses into overdrive.
Dust nervously stepped towards her again, this time getting close enough to be in arms reach before exploding into motion and leaping at the vial to steal it away. Once more Amaranth was faster, vines lashing out around her neck, shoulders, and arms to push her back down onto her knees and pin her helplessly into place. “Now, now, dear.” Amaranth said with a stern tone. “I know you still have enough power in that brain to understand some words. So show me you’re not a complete hopeless beast and *sit*.”
Dust gnashed at air as she fought against the restraints, struggling in vain until exhaustion caught up to her while Amaranth barely even had to flinch.
“You’re free to struggle as much as your heart desires, but you’re not going to overpower me. Flight isn’t going to work either, as we both know there isn’t anywhere for you to hide here that I can’t follow. So, please, dear,” Amaranth brought the crimson tincture down before her nose, letting the scent become an intoxicating aura that overpowered her. “Sit. Down.”
Dust’s legs gave way under her, and Amaranth allowed her movement only to settle down from her knees to a seated position beside it.
“Very good,” Amarant said with an air of relief. “See? There’s hope for you yet.” A set of vines rose up from the side, wrapping around a branch of hardened matter to make another arm that it raised up towards her face. Dust flinched back at first, but as the affini turned it’s wrist towards her she instead froze, transfixed by a pair of vines that ran thick with ichor.
Her psyche flitted over the memory of tearing apart the affini’s arm previously. The deep satisfaction of feeling her fangs saw through the matter and be rewarded with warm liquid spilling over her tongue. One moment was enough to leave her drooling, the next her mouth twitched in anticipation, the third she forgot her restraints entirely and attempted to lunge forward just to shunt against her bonds. “Ah, ah, not yet.” Amaranth remained calm despite her animalistic attack. “Wait.” It ordered, and the weight of the word managed to drift through the mental fog enough to get her to sit still for at least a moment.
But a moment was about all the affini would get out of her that day, and Amaranth didn’t bother to test the terran’s patience much further. “Good girl,” Amaranth said as it shoved the wrist forward into her limited reach, allowing her to tear open the green flesh. Primal satisfaction once more rolled over Dust’s mind into a stormy haze that matched the influx of drugged sap. Soon after the taste mixed with blood as Amaranth took to feeding the human with the same technique as before.
Dust, by then, was quite happily lost inside the haze of nursing on the affini’s open wound, so she didn’t pay much mind as the affini began to rub her back and give calming words to help her relax, nor noticed in so much when she followed the relaxation into flopping up against the affini’s side limply. Then she was only feeding by virtue of the affini having held her jaw open for her, dripping more drugged sap in as it emptied the blood vial.
Approximately an hour later, after the color had slowly returned to Dust’s cheeks and her heart had returned to it’s quiet rhythm, Dust clawed back up to consciousness to find herself still in that position. Draped against Amaranth’s side, ear held against its chest, and body floating on weakening clouds of chemical bliss laced through donated blood. She then spent about ten more minutes in mixed surprise and comfort as she idly indulged in the feeling of such comfort and the gentle rhythm of Amaranth’s body against her before any sense of proprietary swam back up to lash at her for the *indignancy* of enjoying casual intimacy.
Dust recoiled from her position. "I’m sor-" She paused, hand on her face. Had she been apologizing too much already? It was about the only thing she knew how to do right anymore but- uhg, this was embarrassing. She tried to hide her face behind her hands, but only found that sap, drool, and blood was smeared all over her chin and now her hands.
...okay, THAT was embarrassing.
Dust muttered something that could, ostensibly, be phrased as an excuse as she rose up on shaky legs, walked awkwardly towards the bathroom, and failed spectacularly at any meaningful co-ordination as she soon face-planted against the wall next to the door instead. While the drug mixture was a *touch* less overwhelming this time compared to before, it was still some kind of sedative that had her limbs trailing a minute behind her brain and the world in her eyes awkwardly wobbling about.
“Amaranth,” Dust spoke up, forehead still against the wall. “What did you give me?”
It, of course, hadn’t even moved from its seated position. “Just a minor sedative to help you stay calm and well behaved.”
Mmnnhh. Of course. Can’t trust her to stay calm on her own, all things considered. Dust felt she should be wounded by such a fact, but the sad truth was that she wasn’t willing to extend such trust to herself either. “...I want to shower.” She said flatly, unmoving from her spot for fear that she’d flop over entirely at the slightest breeze. All her muscles felt pleasantly warm once more, both from the renewed life reaching into them and the absolute fuckery of the affini’s sap in her system.
“Would you like me to lend a hand?” Amaranth asked.
“Please,” Dust answered, and the affini rose up to walk over to her and put a hand on her shoulder. With the affini’s stabilizing assistance Dust more correctly stepped through the bathroom door, flicked on the lights, and while Amaranth took to work turning on the shower for her Dust instead found herself caught by her own reflection. Her eyes had gone scarlet red, her fangs still jutted out prominently in her mouth, and the red stain surrounding the lower half of her face looked like a smeared mask of paint that she’d only seen in particularly gorey wildlife photography. “I look like a fucking vampire.” She whined, her whimper of dissatisfaction spiking when a drop of blood landed on her own shirt.
“Are you not one?” Amaranth asked casually.
Dust snorted with barely contained contempt. “I wish. I don’t turn into bats or fog or have magic hypno powers, or… any of that shit.”
Amaranth made a show of humming and thinking as it pondered that, and once finished with preparing the shower it slid back to sit upon the counter and lift a vine underneath Dust’s chin. With such a small gesture it tilted her face side to side, then up to look at it in the eyes. “And yet, you’re the appearance of a corpse that walks the earth, you feast on blood by necessity, and have fangs fit for acquiring such sustenance. If there was to be a vampire walking the vastness of this space, I dare say you’re the closest approximation a mortal body could become to such a thing.”
Dust forced herself off of the affini’s vine, taking one step before stumbling just to be caught on another vine across her chest. “If I’m secretly some sexy immortal vampire then you’re free to gloat in 200 years.” She said, trying to play off her own stumble entirely. Hands, mercifully no longer blackened and hypersensitive from hunger, gripped the edge of her shirt and began to take it off before she properly realized the weight of the vine against her chest and the presence beside her. “Can I uh… have some privacy?” She mumbled, glancing to the side up to the affini.
“I”m afraid not, dear. You’re liable to fall over as you are, though I can limit myself to merely keeping a vine at your side in case you stumble, and give you the cover of the curtain while you clean.”
...fair enough, she supposed. She wasn’t exactly in a position to argue while draped across the affini’s vine like laundry left to dry. Amaranth gave her the privacy provided by putting one of its many wooden hands over its eyes as she undressed, another vine already at the side to catch her discarded laundry while the first brought stability for her to stumble forward against until she was under the stream.
Heat, water, steam, the rush of air falling around her heavy with the artificial rain, the smell of a body becoming overpowered by the scent of soaps. All of these were old faithfuls to help her relax, even forget that there was a vine resting gently between her shoulder blades as she tried to lose herself for at least one moment. It didn’t work, of course. But the attempt was nice. So even as the heat laced through the frozen gaps in her body the blood didn’t warm on it’s own she still remained painfully aware of her situation and all it meant.
Fuck it. If Amaranth was being painfully honest with her before she should probably return the favor. Even if it only reinforced the affini’s belief in needing to, Dust winced to think of the word, domesticate her after this the truth still mattered. Or at least she thought so.
“Amaranth,” She started. Her head was tilted down under the stream, arms before her and braced against the tile wall. Full of life they almost looked human again, like the grip of the deathly pallor and blackened rot on her hands had never existed. That’d only last a few hours unless Amaranth fed her again.
“Yes, dear?” The affini answered calmly.
“You were right before. I was on Hydra minor when the Rudena virus broke out.” She said, the words stung like they were laced with barbs inside of her throat, but there was a relief inside of her chest to get them out. Amaranth didn’t answer, letting the silence prompt her to continue as her comfort fit. “The lockdown came out quickly, but they just boxed the whole district in and waited for it to bleed us out. Most of the people who caught it, they,” She couldn’t quite weave the memories right as they happened. Not the smoke or the scent, or the sounds of riots breaking out just to leave a bloody mess blocks wide from all the exsanguinated flesh. “They’d developed acute anemia as the first symptoms. Not necessarily bad on it’s own but when they got injured they’d just bleed and bleed and bleed until it all poured out. Next was the psychological effects, supposedly it’d scramble our brains and trap us in fight or flight mode and-”
Dust drew in a sharp breath. Fight or flight was a kind way to put it. It was like her brain was suddenly on fire. Every edged corner suddenly became a weapon in her mind, all pointed towards her. The faces of strangers were jeering facades plotting her death. She was convinced that the very stars in the night sky would fall down upon her and pierce her body through a thousand thousand points to reduce her to shreds. It was absurd, downright unreal, but trapped inside of her skull it was the only reality she could conceive of. “A lot happened. None of them good. I think I only survived because, well, there was this woman.” Dust pushed herself to continue. “She’d been injured, on her stomach, and was lying on the street. There was so much blood, and I’d been out all night just- just chasing rats for some stars forsaken reason until I ran into her. She looked me in the eyes and she was so weak and-”
Dust slid down to a crouched position, one hand over her mouth. In the stream of water she could almost feel like she could cry again, but she knew it was only the freshwater streams pouring down from above. “I just, everything went red, next thing I knew I was tearing apart her neck and bathing in the arterial spray and it was the *happiest* I’d ever felt. LIke every synapse lit up on dopamine at the same time. I laughed, and laughed, and laughed and I- I” Dust clamped her hand tightly over her mouth, feeling the memory overpower the now for only a moment. Enough to recall the disgusting flavor of the woman’s blood coated across her person. She wanted to vomit it all up, but she knew that it wasn’t there just as much as she knew she didn’t manage to release herself from it before. She’d coasted off that high for the rest of the fucking week until she crashed, both literally and figuratively, collapsing in a dark corner stuck between fits of weeping and hyperventilating until she was found.
“I’m so sorry,” She wanted to say to that woman. “I’m so fucking sorry, I wish I didn’t.” But the words wouldn’t reach her anymore. They stayed with her, drowned in the shower as she wished she could be. She stayed there another while, long enough for the pain to return to it’s dulled state in memories and for her body to approach something akin to calm.
When Dust stepped out back into the cold air of the bathroom the affini already had a towel out for her. “Thank you for sharing this with me,” Amaranth spoke softly. It’s eyes were still covered for her modesty.
Dust wanted to kick it for being so accommodating for a monster. “Aren’t you going to go tell everyone now?” She hissed, cruelty directed inward seeping out through her words. “Let your affini know I’m a danger to everyone around me and that this might happen again if I’m ever released.”
Amaranth moved it’s hands to look at her, and it’s gaze was a neutral ray of light that positively pierced through her. In the instant she was caught under it’s path of sight she felt as if her very soul had been wrenched out from the raw intensity of that placid look. Silence reigned longer than she could find comfortable, followed by a moment of disruption as the affini’s wooden lips slid apart. “You need not do such acts to survive again, little one. Of that I promise you.” It said. A deflection as much as it was reassurance, she could tell. It placed a hand upon her head as it continued.
“And why not?” She spat. “I’m a vampire. You said as much yourself. The only reason I’m here is because she died and I can’t even beg for her forgiveness, and if it weren’t for you affini I would have done it again to somebody else. This is what I *AM* now!”
“Dust,” The affini’s words were still neutral, just as their gaze remained. A hand gripped her chin suddenly, forcibly wrenching her out of her ramble to force her to look up at the affini. “You will never be in such a position to succumb to yourself again, and you will never harm another. That period of your life is over. Do you understand?” Only then did she properly understand the affini’s tone. It was confidence, plain and simple. The same sort of energy it’d bring to remark upon the color of the sky was announcing the fate that was already woven for her. She would never harm another. That was it. No room for debate or questioning. No chance of alteration or reconsideration.
Dust wailed as she collapsed, clinging desperately to the affini’s side as all the year’s woes finally began to burn apart. It hurt more than she could bear, so she succumbed to it. She wept, she screamed, she flailed, all while Amaranth held her still until every last drop was naught but ash inside her broken heart. Then, exhausted and drained, she fell, mind dropping into near-sleep once more.
When Dust next awoke her chest hurt like hell itself had burned through it, and Amaranth’s hand coursed through her hair to gently console her path to the waking world. “Good morn- well, afternoon, actually. How are you feeling, dear?” Amaranth asked.
“Like there’s a hole in my chest and everything just keeps falling out of it.” Dust answered honestly. A hand on her chest revealed that the silence had returned, so she must’ve been out for a while.
Amaranth nodded after her words. “I’ve been told a moment of catharsis can be quite intense for your kind. Do you feel up for much today?”
Dust pondered the feeling in her chest against the weight of her limbs. “...honestly? No.”
“That’s quite alright.” The affini seemed oddly chipper to hear that. “We can settle for just feeding you and letting you rest for now.”
Dust released a low chuckle before opening her mouth with an ‘aaaaaa’, then snapped her eyes open when Amaranth actually popped another blood bottle in there for her. Pure shock beat out the feeling of indignancy, followed soon by confusion as the affini took to pouring the warm blood into her mouth while petting her head. The acrid taste rushed in to overpower any meaningful act against such a moment, and all too soon her conscious mind was once more adrift over the stream of indulgence such that she barely even noticed when the vial tapped out empty and Amaranth replaced it with a vine that dripped xenodrugs over her tongue.
“Now aren’t you well behaved?”
“MMnn not starved,” Dust grumbled around the vine in her mouth.
“Yes, I suppose that would help, wouldn’t it?” Amaranth practically cooed back. It’s adoring touch felt markedly more intimate all of a sudden. More overpowering to her body’s senses, yet all the more comforting because of it. The touch pulled at her consciousness in a way she was entirely unused to. Where the hunger dulled this instead coaxed with warmth into a state of tranquility that felt like it could stretch on and on infinitely around her.
Then it was gone. As soon as Amaranth’s hand moved off of Dust’s head the usual chill of silence came back over the stuttering staccato’s of her own heartbeat. “Wait,” She suddenly begged, grabbing the affini’s hand as she did. “Can you… stay? Please?” Dust decided that she hated the silence. The one from her heart always preceded disaster, and the one beyond her head may as well have been a horrific scream for how easily it let her memories fill in.
Amaranth stared at her ponderously for a long moment before placing it’s hand upon her chest. One of it’s fingers tapped in time to the rhythm in her chest, disjointed as it was, and after a moment whatever meaning it gleaned from her body seemed sufficient as it answered. “Very well.” Amaranth then sat beside her once more, idly petting the vampire as she drifted back into comfort. “There is a matter that I wanted to discuss while I was here today, dear.”
“Hmnn?” Dust groaned through an increasingly effective sleepy haze.
“We’d like to study your unique physiology in finer detail-” Dust froze, eyes wide open and mouth clenched tight. Study. Tests. More doctors and needles all over again and… and… stars it was so much harder to hold onto the panic in this state. Especially as Amaranth continued running it’s fingers through her hair and sending ever more sparks of quiet comfort into her brain. “...would you like to talk about it?” Amaranth asked.
“No.” Dust clipped. A final word, not open for debate.
Fortunately the affini only nodded in response. “I understand. I promise we’ll do our best to accommodate your traumas if you’ll let us.”
“No scalpels?” Dust whispered.
She remained silent for a long time, letting the touch of the affini’s hand combat against the weight of trauma until she could finally speak once more. “...okay.” She muttered. “I’ll trust you.”
“I’ll do my best to be worthy of that trust, thank you.” Amaranth said with a smile, happily petting the vampire some more until she fully drifted back into sleep.
Two days and four more feedings passed in rapid succession. Between the drugs from each session dulling Dust’s awareness and the lengthy cuddle sessions she found herself caring less and less about the lost time she experienced. The moments where she slipped back under the rot of hunger were quickly controlled as well, with Amaranth demonstrating a ready ability to bring the animal to heel, even if it also meant having to catch her mid-leap and force her down in the process.
On the third day Amaranth broke the monotony by sweeping in, getting the primal brained Dust to sit still and be fed with a gesture, then carried her drugged form to a side room she’d never been in before. It placed the sedated vampire upon a seat of intricately woven branches which adjusted themselves to her body, providing her a place to sit reclined with her arms open to her sides.
In a dazed state Dust remained seated right there, admiring the architecture around her. It was a touch like a greenhouse with how the walls arched with glass sheets between metal struts. Even the wall facing the room she had just left was a wall of glass, through which she could see the full expanse of the night sky beyond.
She was so used to Brypso’s usual blur of light showering the world at night that she hadn’t truly stopped to consider the stars, but under new management the dark of the sky was finally allowed to pierce through to touch the world once more. It was as beautiful as it was overwhelming, an endless splay of dots and streaks of light, while the belt of the milky way struck across as a painterly brush stroke. She could lay there and count the lights all night without a care in the world, drugs or no. Yet, some time later when the fog finally lifted enough for her mind to return to her, her attention was once more drawn to Amaranth by a gentle touch on the side of her head.
The affini was kneeling down beside her, a bundle of planttech wrapped up in it’s spare hands as the first two held her gently. Standing beside her were several more affini, all fiddling with more tech that she could tell at a glance was even more… she winced to think the world, *medical* equipment. “Dear, if you’re willing, I'd like to try something today.” Amaranth said before holding up the bundle of plant tech. “I’d like to use these to let you relax in virtual reality for a while, and meanwhile we can use the rest of this gear to examine you and get a better understanding of your situation. You won’t have to be an active participant in the study, and between the VR and the drugs still in your system I think you should be able to get through this without feeling much of anything at all.”
Dust tensed just slightly, barely a movement at all but enough to catch Amaranth’s eye. “Are they-” She started.
“No, no scalpels or anything like that. You won’t be hurt at all, I promise.” It insisted, and Dust acquiesced with a silent nod. The affini’s relief was plain to see on it’s wooden face as it’s body relaxed and unfurled before bringing the bundle in her hands up and over Dust’s face. The material shifted and bent around her on touch, moving practically all on it’s own until it formed a mask that rested comfortably over her eyes to cast them in complete shadow. Meanwhile another set of vines and branches worked themselves into position covering her ears completely, shutting off the outside world’s noise.
In perfect darkness she drifted, dimly aware of the pressure from her body weight upon the seat and the vague scent of the affini moving around her in the room, but little else. After a moment a gentle hum of noise rose up in her ears, mirroring the gentle lift of light across her vision. A word flitted into the center of her vision.
It flickered in place, then dimmed into nothing as the white void grew around the corners of her vision completely. She couldn't even see her nose between her eyes anymore. The gentle hum of noise rose to a soft musical line that backlit her audio awareness and complemented the menu that appeared before her. The visor prompted her to choose a control method, and a twitch on her finger was enough for the branches supporting to wrap around her index and thumb. Confirm? A tap of her thumb for yes. Another screen for calibrating pressure and control sensitivity, then a third to select entertainment form.
Dust paused, suddenly aware that she hadn't actually stopped to indulge in media in a while. Idle clicking flitted through to a random movie, followed by selecting a theaterscape which had her floating in the void of outer space with the silver screen before her. It was… nice. Surreal, wholly unexpected, but nice.
The movie itself didn't really matter much in and of itself compared to the experience of just being able to sit back and do nothing and passively partake in it. Occasionally some feeling slipped through her body into awareness. Small ones, fingers against her arm or cold pads pressed into her chest. But nothing pierced the veil of her illusion of simply not being there. She was adrift in space, afterall. Enjoying some film about shapeshifting weredinosaurs having a cooking competition. Not stuck between a whole team of affini that busied themselves with her body.
Alone in the dark.
After what felt like an hour and a half-ish the visor gently raised Dust out from her comfortable trance before disentangling itself from her head, releasing her vision back to see the night sky far, far away from her. Or at least, that was what she expected. But when her eyes truly opened the sky had been painted gentle oranges and blues to mark the rising star’s approach across the sky once more.
“We’re all done with the machines, dear.” Amarant spoke softly as it knelt beside her. “Just one last thing. We’d like you to wear this,” it held up a thin circlet. “For a while so we can observe how your brain acts under the effects of hunger.”
“Starving me on purpose now?” Dust grumbled.
Amaranth gave an apologetic shrug. “The time lapse between clarity and animalistic episodes has been shorter since you entered into our care, and we’d like to understand how it works more to address this properly.” It tilted the circlet down and leaned it’s head onto the back of it’s hands. “Between you and me, I placed my bet on the difference being adrenaline and cortisol levels. The artificial blood doesn’t have the same levels you’d find in the wild, and it’d address why you’ve reported a more… visceral sort of effect when getting it from people directly.”
“...fine.” Dust huffed and grabbed the circlet out of it’s hand, placing it upon her own head right after. It gave a slight click before slipping itself through her hair and tightening to be form fitting against her head. “Now what?”
“Now we wait!” Amaranth gave her a little pat on the head before scooping her up. It took her back to the main room in short order, depositing her on top of one of the larger teddy bears right after. It then handed her a stack of things to entertain herself with. A handheld game, a book, some stim toys, another teddy bear, she stopped counting after that.
Dust settled for the game. Something simple was good enough, one of those puzzle whatevers with the falling blocks while she waited for her brain to rot. Amaranth moved to take a seat in a different spot in the room, but the vampire quickly grabbed a vine and tugged ‘till the affini instead settled down next to her. Much better.
Amaranth, for it’s part, seemed to keep itself occupied with a notable stack of papers that it kept busy excitedly reviewing beside her.
“That of me?” Dust asked with a small gesture to all the paperwork.
“Yeap!” Amaranth’s body happily rustled as they flitted through the collected data. “We’ve found clear signs of how the rudena virus altered your body, but right now this is just raw data. Now I have to sit here and read it all and hope to understand something out of it.”
Dust peeked over it’s side to take a look at the paper, then regretted that immediately as it was all bewildering charts and graphs and excel sheets in such a fine font that it frankly hurt to look at. “Have fun with that.” She muttered as she slunk back down to her game in defeat.
Amaranth was already nose deep into the stacks of paper when she replied. “I will! I must admit, you are a fascinating study. I hope that’s not too weird to say, by the way.” It proceeded to hum happily, even tapping it’s vines against itself in joy as it read. “Don’t worry, little one. I’m sure we can get to the bottom of all of this and have everything sorted out just fine.”
Dust glanced aside towards the affini to the stack of papers, then to the rest of the colorful room that was her effective prison. Sort out? Dust grit her teeth. There it was again. Thoughts of the future with ideas and schemes in the hands of other people and she didn’t know a lick of it. Just left to sit tight in a closed room and wait like a polite patient.
“Amaranth,” Dust whispered.
The affini suddenly shifted off the papers to look towards her. “Yes, dear?”
“What is the plan for me?” She asked. “Be honest, please. Even if it’s bad to hear.”
“It’s simple, really. Well, simple in broad terms, complicated in direct terms. First, we figure out what makes you tick the way you are right now. Then, we figure out how to accommodate you such that you’ll never need to be in a situation in which you risk harming another again. Then… you’d be free to go, I guess. Safe from the worries that so plagued your life before.”
“...do I really deserve that?” Dust grumbled. Already she could feel the fangs of discontent breaking apart over the void inside of her. The puzzle game, a moment ago easy enough to handle even while conversing, was starting to become increasingly frustrating despite the difficulty remaining the same. She almost wanted to chuckle at the thought of a reverse sliding difficulty scale, where nothing changed but her cognition. Shame she had to live it whether she liked it or not.
“Dust,” Amaranth cut off her line of thought by grabbing her chin again, confidence bared against her once more. “Do not forget that you too are a victim. You did not ask to be made into this, nor did you ask to be so neglected that you would succumb to your primal self. To punish you for such deeds would do little more than cement that harm into place.”
Dust felt as if she could be ground into literal dust under the weight of such a stare. The affini gave her no chance to run though, as the grip was as ironclad as it’s words. “Why do you even believe in me?”
“One of us must, how else would you be able to become your best self otherwise?” It smiled warmly as it spoke, and it’s words resonated with that warmth such that Dust dared to actually believe it. She felt her own heart stutter, for only a moment like a true heartbeat that gripped her chest with the horrid pain of life that sung in rhythm to the music she’d heard within Amaranth’s body. Then it weakened into a dark silence once more.
Dust, flustered for reasons she wasn’t fully capable of comprehending in that state, buried herself into her game instead of stopping and contemplating everything right then and there. Contemplating was difficult anyway. That would require self-reflection and personal honesty and- and- and she didn’t have much of THAT available right then especially as she was now stuck on this puzzle for like ten minutes and she knew it SHOULD be easy but it just wasn’t and- stars it was probably the hunger kicking in again.
She didn’t like being like this. She especially didn’t like feeling as if her cognition were a fine grain sand that was slipping more and more between her fingers while the need to just bite into something and gnaw it apart grew and grew around her. The game console slipped between her numb fingers and Dust was barely aware of it anymore. “Amaranth,” She muttered with a dry voice. Find something else to focus on than the fact that her vision was clouding up again. “Are you still there?”
“I’m right here, dear.” The affini’s voice was a balm to her dimming consciousness at least. A small comfort, but anything would do. She reached over to grip one of it’s vines tightly.
“No doctors?” She knew if she could look in a mirror her eyes would already be overcome with a white pallor once more. Like a corpse half rotten. Disgusting.
Amaranth’s vines coiled back around her hand, gripping her just as tight in turn. “No doctors here, dear. Just me.” It spoke softly. With the same warmth that had reached her heart before but this time nothing but dust stirred. “Would you be comfortable telling me why you’re scared of them so?”
Dust hummed for a long moment. She had to… organize her memories. Probably. Felt like rolling stones over sand to get it together. “Quarantine ended, people in hazmat suits came in. Scooped up survivors and moved them to a hospital.” She muttered, pausing as the feeling of her own teeth brushing against her lower lip distracted her. It’d be nice to bite in, probably. Similar enough to live skin to distract the want for at least a moment. But didn’t she already have deep scars from that? She tried to roll the next word off of her tongue, but it felt like it was made entirely of wet glue. “Ssssssscalpels,” it slipped off the end of her lips, and the rest of the sentence fell apart with it.
She blinked rapidly. Why was everything so bright? She bit her lip hard enough to hurt. Had to. Was the only way to cling onto. Onto… something important. What was she just talking about? Dust glanced up and saw the plant looking down at her with an expression she couldn’t quite parse. It said something, but her consciousness struggled to hear it as anything but raw noise. Instead she heard the sound of a pulse, fresh and raw and overpowering to her hearing coming from within the plant. She needed… something. Something to fill the void of raw hunger.
Dust leaned over towards Amaranth, blackened hands clutching at the sides of it’s chest. With an empty groan she rose up to her knees and collapsed over onto it in the same motion. Her mouth was right next to its neck then, and it’s scent played over her tongue. It’d be so easy to just bite in. Get the primal satisfaction her withering brain scREAMED for. Just bite and tear and gnaw and thrash and… and… and she could feel the drool pooling over her lip as the thought took over, but with her heat on it’s shoulder her attention was split between the need and the most beautiful music that reverberated within the affini’s flesh.
Conflicting orders clashed inside of her. The need to bite against the call to stay and succumb to the music that flitted against her skin. Thrash against calm. The draining will to act against the increasing volume of audio tidal waves. Dust’s mouth and tongue twitched awkwardly in one last grasp towards the affini’s neck, then she collapsed entirely against its chest, lost dreaming in the grasp of the gentle music.
Dust awoke with a pained yell, muscles tensing to the extreme against their restraints as she felt an acute pain inside of her heart. With great pressure it squeezed once more, and she felt the sudden shift in awareness as raw life pulsed within her with a long forgotten vigor. A paradoxical sort of pain reverberated out from her chest, as if a fist had tightened itself around the muscle while the rest threatened to explode out from her. At once she felt the familiar hands of Amaranth forcibly prying the visor off of her, followed by it sweeping off the roots and vines and pinned her against the seat.
Once freed she curled up into the fetal position and rolled upon her side, hands gripped tight against her sternum and body shaking from the shock of agony. “Dear, you’ll be okay,” Amaranth’s voice spoke into her ears, but it didn’t cut through the red fog. There was sweat? On her skin? And her breath felt wet inside of her throat without the familiar twinge of blood for the first time in ages. With another great pulse another wave of agony hit her chest, sending her into a convulsive fit before she could settle back into a tightened ball of nerves.
“Listen to me, Dust.” Amaranth said as it curled up behind her, multiple arms wrapping around her tightly. She felt the din of Amaranth’s accompaniment play out against her skin, reaching through her body to grip her heart amidst the storm of chaos within. Another hand gripped the top half of her face, wrenching her head back to rest under the affini’s chin while a sixth slipped it’s fingers between her clenched fingers and forcibly spread them out. “Just listen.”
The fourth heartbeat stuttered out of position, then fell between notes amidst Amaranth’s body. Pain still coursed out from Dust’s chest but this time it crashed under a growing wave of enforced contentment. When the fifth beat hit it landed squarely within the affini’s musical guidance, bringing the pulse down to a gentle diminuendo across her body. The sixth followed Amaranth’s guidance, and by the seventh her heart had wholly submitted to it’s conductor and played to a normalized rhythm.
“Now breathe,” Amaranth instructed, and Dust’s body obeyed. A strong and deep inhalation played out through her lungs, filling her chest as it calmed her muscles. “And out, dear.” A small shift in pressure marked the affini gently guiding her ribs to squeeze in. In and out. Steady, deep breaths above a steady heartbeat. All in time to Amaranth’s enchanting music. “Very good, you’re doing good for me little one.” Amaranth’s voice whispered into her ear. “Just focus on breathing for me for now. You don’t need to do anything else.”
Dust nodded slightly and forced herself to inhale again. Deep breaths, steady rhythm, easy to do as long as Amaranth’s body was held against hers. Meanwhile the other affini around the room gently guided her body back towards it’s resting position on her back. Her eyes fluttered open properly after that, revealing her to be in the room of glass she’d been studied in before. “What happened?” She whined.
Amaranth ran a seventh hand through her hair to calm her as it spoke. “I dare say we’ve solved your dietary needs to the dot, dear. Perhaps a bit too well this time, sorry about that.” As Amaranth spoke it’s body unfurled such that she was still wrapped up in now unleashed vines while the rest formed together back into a humanoid shape beside her. The familiar energy of it’s eager scientific self bristled into existence as it proceeded to gesture excitedly beside her as it continued. “I was mostly right before. Adrenaline and cortisol is an important ingredient to a proper feeding that your body needs, but the method of acquisition is just as if not even more important for you. As a matter of fact your brain only stabilizes back- it, okay it’s all complicated but the long and simple is that you need to be able to simulate a proper hunt before you can actually stabilize.”
Amaranth held up a torn up doll of a rabbit that was stained with dried blood. “You need a chew toy to pounce on.” It said as if that elucidated everything sufficiently. It then produced a video recording showing her chasing the doll around the other room for about half an hour before Amaranth allowed her to catch it, then proceeding to absolutely tear it apart to get at the blood bag. “Additionally, look!” It proceeded to take one of her hands by the wrist and hold it up before her eyes.
It was shockingly lively looking. Rich in living color that she hadn’t seen painted upon her body since before the infection and- Dust gripped her chest with her free hand. A steady heartbeat, powerful and strong as it hadn’t been in ages.
“I consider this wonderful news!” Amaranth was practically twirling around her excitedly, all the while the other affini were busy awkwardly moving out of it’s way. “Ideally this should lengthen the amount of time it takes before you slip under again, as well as let us keep you at the peak of your health! We’ll need to do more fine-tuning of course, figure out the best schedule to keep and amounts and all that glass. But!” Amaranth stopped it’s fevered motions to strike a dramatic pose over her. “It’s progress!”
Despite all the energy coming in form above Dust simply remained in a stunned sort of silence underneath the affini. Her hand still gripped her chest, shocked to feel a pulse so vividly within her again. It was like before. Before… all of this ever happened and she- she was- Dust’s breath hitched. She felt something warm and wet spill out from her eyes and slide down her cheeks.
Amaranth’s surge of excitement deflated to a worried quiet in that moment, while all around it the other affini were hurried unplugging the various machines and shuffling out to give the two some privacy. “Dust, dear.” Amaranth leaned over the human, face close. “Are you alright?”
Dust was, in all honesty, more than a little overwhelmed at the moment and thus didn’t answer with words so much as she just made a sound akin to ‘aaaAAaaaAAaaaa’, put her hands to her own cheeks, then made even more sounds when she pulled them back to see that the tears she felt were in fact made of blood that had already spilled over her cheeks and chin and shirt and probably onto her seat and the floor and stars what a mess crying was why did she miss it so much!?
“...I’ll clean that off for you.” Amaranth chirped, plucking a box of tissues out of it’s chest.
Two boxes of tissues, one inconsolable fit of open weeping, and a thoroughly hugged teddy bear later two were strewn out side by side over the bed with bodies wrapped up tightly around each other. “I should have been prepared for the return of your vital functions to be an overwhelming experience, and I apologize for that.” Amaranth said a veneer of professionalism that was completely betrayed by an even thicker veneer of empathetic worry.
“I feel like I might have overreacted there, and I’d like to say sorry for that too.” Dust murmured. She held a hand at the side of her own neck, still revelling in the shocking strength with which a normal heartbeat could have. “Thank you for this. I mean it.”
“...before you last slipped under, you were going to tell me about what happened to you.”
Ah, right. Dust sucked in an awkward gasp of air.
“You don’t have to continue if you don’t want to.”
“No, I’ll talk I just- it’s not pleasant.” Dust didn’t like to revisit these memories, not by choice nor by haunted dreams chasing her through the night. “I got scooped up with the rest of the survivors and dragged off to a hospital site. There they just… kept us. For a while. Didn’t know if we were still contagious or not, so they wouldn’t let us out of the quarantine cells. When they figured out that we…” She gestured to her mouth, and Amaranth silently gave an understanding brush to continue. “Most of us had already gone past feral to catatonic by then. Those of us who could still speak were moved and given enough to stop biting at the nurses, the rest were…”
Amaranth’s grip tightened around her torso, and Dust paused to find some vestige of comfort. She could still feel the restraints if she focused on it. Awful metal bands around her wrists. She could even hear the sound of the others trying desperately to have anything that could be a normal conversation in such a fucked up situation.
“The doctors thought they were corpses and treated them like such. They autopsied the lot to try and find out what happened.” Sometimes in her nightmares she was the one in their place. A body frozen in place from starvation watching the bone saw slip through her ribs. “The rest of us were kept around as lab rats. A… a ‘fun medical mystery’ according to one of the doctors.” Dust grunted and pulled herself out of Amaranth’s arms enough to sit up, anger bubbling up over the surface. “It wasn’t even in a black site! Or, or a government facility, or, or anything of that sort. The journalists could walk right in and take our picture, but they always kicked their feet around muttering about how there’s no profit in trying to run articles about this fucking plague. Like some kind of damned public secret, here’s the modern lepers getting cut apart and stitched back together in the name of science.”
The longer she whined the harder it became to stay detached from the memories. Phantom sensations of pins and needles over her chest were a sign she could ignore, for a while. Metal and leather over her limbs could be excused behind the myriad vines that encased her. But the phantom scent of bleach cut through her mental walls, and the illusory memories of the flickering yellow lights were all too happy to barge in after them. At some point in her rant Dust’s voice had broken up from anger into barely contained whimpers. She’d have curled into herself again had Amaranth not already ensnared her limbs and pulled her back down into its embrace once more.
“You are not there, dear.” Amaranth spoke, and the melody of their voice was pure medicine in Dust’s ears. “Nor will you ever be again. You are safe now.” Dust moved to speak, but a thin vine crossed over her lips. “Shh, listen and come back to the here and now.” It tightened itself around her, bathing her in the intensity of it’s melody. It was easy for Dust to let herself be dragged along with it when her heart and lungs already submitted at a glance. As easy as relaxing a muscle, and then within minutes she was floating above it all again. After several minutes more Amaranth gave her a small pat on the head. “You do not need to continue if you do not wish to.”
Dust stirred by only a small degree, voice whining at the thought of even trying to approach this subject again today. “No, I, I’d rather not.” She spoke quietly. “Can we… stay here, actually? I think I need this right now.”
“Of course, I’ll stay as long as you need.”
A week and a day passed in the blink of an eye to Dust. Just as the affini’s adjustments to her blood intake had brought life back to her heart, so too did the rest of her body follow in recovering to a state of vividity thought lost to her. She practically leapt out of bed excitedly in the morning, and Amaranth could barely even keep up with her constant need for some kind of exertion to get the energy out of her body.
“I dare say at the rate you’re going you might just run right through the walls on your own.” Amaranth said after Dust finally worked herself to exhaustion chasing it around the room. Amaranth tossed a chew toy to the side, which she leapt after to grab mid-air and greedily tear apart as soon as she hit the floor. As weird as it was to eat like a rabid dog, she couldn’t deny that it felt *amazing* to do. A chemical bath of pure dopamine washed over her mind as the chase turned into the feeling of edible cloth and foam splitting apart between her teeth, followed by a rush of oxytocin once the taste of fresh blood ran thick onto her tongue.
As was becoming increasingly normal between the two, Amaranth happily scooped up the feeding Dust to bundle into it’s vines to cuddle positively senseless. An easy thing for Dust to do, given that her brain was so deliriously high off of it’s own innate gratification that she wasn’t capable of much more than snuggling while chewing on anything placed right in front of her.
She had, at one point, suggested that that meant in the wild her mutations expected her to hunt someone down, bite out their throat, and then cuddle them as they die. But Amaranth just gave her a very concerned look and said it’d like to not think about that, so the two dropped that line of thought entirely.
Once the doll was drained dry, Amaranth gave her a small tap on the chin to replace it with a xenodrug loaded vine. “Must I?” Dust huffed in a sleepy tone, eyes unfocused as she nuzzled her cheek against the plant’s vines instead.
“It’s even more important to keep you topped off right now, dear.” Amaranth answered calmly. “It’d look particularly bad if you were to have another fighting episode and need several of us to pin you down, wouldn’t it?”
“Scared of the big bad vampire?” Dust teased.
“I recall how much effort it took to sedate you the first time, and I’d rather not go through that again when we just want to help you.”
Dust groaned out a “fiiiiiiIIiiine” then bit down on the vine, allowing more the sedative to chase after the acrid taste of blood. At least this stuff was sweet, she thought. A tasty little desert that also happened to make her all calm and docile the rest of the day. “When I’m done here I want to visit a park.” She mumbled around the vine.
“There are quite a number of lovely parks around here nowadays. I dare say you could visit all of them without a worry after this.”
“Will you go with me?”
“If you’d let me. I would like to remain friends, if that’s not too weird to say given our situation.”
“I would like that too.” Dust mumbled, and a satisfied rumble rolled through Amaranth’s body.
“You won’t need to worry about keeping up with blood either, as you can get plenty of it and dolls to hunt compiled on demand.”
“This is all assuming I’m released.”
“I don’t see why you wouldn’t be.” Amaranth gave a confident sort of roll to it’s voice as it continued. “I’ve handily demonstrated that the difficulties you faced were the result of a resource insufficiency and not a flaw of your personal character. Additionally, you’ve demonstrated more than sufficient remorse and will for repentance for the harm your body has inflicted. Just between you and me, you’re the very model of a well behaved little terran once your hunger is sated. What else could they possibly find fault with?”
On the day of her hearing Dust was quietly picked up by Amaranth and led from her room down a bewildering series of halls until she found herself within what might have once been a grand hall. At that time it was more of a bureaucratic nightmare made manifest into physical form. Stacks of paper were piled upon each other into teetering goliaths above her, while tables and desks littered the space into a dense labyrinth that plateaued above her own eye level.
Amaranth curled vines underneath her feet and around her waist to lift her up above the sprawl, easily clearing the whole mess. In the center she found a clearing in the chaos where the desks had been pushed around into an improvised circle. Affini were perched at all the desks, some with florets at their side to happily distract them from the more serious matters at hand, and soon Dust was joined in with the lot besides Amaranth.
“So this is the vampire?” Said an affini that was practically draped across their desk to lean over and look towards her. “Cuter in person.”
At the desk besides that one the familiar face of the floret she had previously attacked peeked out from behind another affini’s vines. She seemed to gasp and wave in excitement, but Dust’s heart withered at the sight of the ghastly scar along the side of her neck. A meek wave in return was all she could manage back. Other humans all peered towards her curiously. Affini too, actually.
Oh, *everyone* was staring at her.
Dust chewed on her lower lip nervously. “It’ll be okay, dear,” Amaranth whispered to her. “Just let me take care of this.” She nodded in assent. This was fine. Nothing to worry about. Just a meeting where all of these affini would decide whether or not she should be dragged off in collar and chain and… domesticated. Whatever that entailed, exactly. She glanced nervously at the florets in the room, all obediently silent in their fawning adoration towards their owners or looking her way with that dull look in their eyes. Harmless. If she was domesticated she’d be made harmless, then?
Dust tensed. She didn’t want to figure out how that’d be managed, given her condition. A small nudge from Amaranth jolted her out of her thoughts and made her realize she had completely missed whatever speeches and introductions had already been handed out. Stand. Bow politely. Small introduction before Amaranth trailed off into how it’d been handling her care for the past while. Dust slid down to a seated position as her affini quite happily monopolized the stage for itself.
She could handle this. She didn’t even have to do anything, just… look nice. This was fine. Easy and do-able.
Dust chewed on her lip nervously.
Easy and doable.
An hour of seemingly productive conversation and about two hours worth of time spent adoring their florets along the way made for a three hour shift of silence that left Dust more exhausted than actual exercise did. While Amaranth had occasionally given her a vine to hold or a hand upon the back to help assuage her moods, the act seemed to draw some concerning looks from the other affini. Dust found herself shying away from the touch after that, convinced that that might somehow help her case. Maybe? She didn’t know what standards these plants ran by.
Even that the conversation at hand had been about her wasn’t enough to stave off the great weight of boredom from creeping into her mind and drawing her into an unfocused state, and in that state she had discovered a faint smell permeating the air. It was an awful scent, something that clung fiercely to her skin and surrounded her in the sensation of mud. Slim as it was, the sensation slipped through the myriad others that coursed into Dust and demanded she notice it.
Dust attempted to ignore it. Focus on something else, like the soft vibrations of a pulse that slipped through Amaranth’s vines as she slid her fingers along its side- there were those looks again. Like she was some kind of puppy. Even Amaranth seemed surprised this time, having stopped in the middle of talking about some kind of hormone reaction to glance down at her and ask “Do you need anything, dear?”
“Um, no, sorry.” She whispered back. After a moment she added, “Actually, does it smell funny in here?”
Various leaves danced through the air across Amaranth’s form. “Nothing unusual to me.”
“I’m probably just imagining it, then. Nevermind.”
“Are you su-”
“Yes, nevermind.” The glances her way had grown more intense from that small interaction. Cute smiles now decorated the myriad of affini. She wished she understood their culture enough to figure out exactly *why* they seemed so intent as looking down at her like some kind of adorable little thing whenever she interacted with Amaranth like that and WHERE was that fucking smell coming from!?
An hour more and some lengthy discussion about the state of her cardiovascular system, which was as fucked up as the rest of her body, and the smell had gone from a mild but persistent distraction to a full blown obsession to her senses. It felt as if her skin was wrapped in oil, like her tongue had run dry in a desert. Furtive glancing revealed nothing, just her, the papers, the affini, the florets- *the florets!* Dust glanced towards the woman she had attacked previously, now blissfully dozed off in her owner’s vines. As she drew in breath the scent dimmed weakly, then peaked as her exhale blended with a gentle stretch for comfort. The woman tilted her head to the side and Dust’s whole world tilted sharply towards her neck.
This shouldn’t be happening. She was already full of blood, she had hunted those dolls just like Amaranth said she should. She should be safe and fine and not daydreaming about digging her claws into that woman’s rib cage. She shouldn’t be wanting for blood, she had plenty.
The easiest way to stay topped up on blood was to not pass up on a fresh meal though, her brain unhelpfully suggested.
Dust frowned. Maybe the adrenaline dosage was off?
There’s plenty of fresh adrenaline to drain from all those humans, her brain interjected again.
Shut up, she thought to herself. This isn’t helping. She’s trying to be calm and harmless and not succumb to the fact that the scent of fresh prey was enough to drown her mind out from the real world around her. What were they all talking about? She glanced up to see a chart relating something about brain waves and hear an affini talking about hunting instincts or whatever she didn’t care she just kept glancing at the adorable, helpless, tasty humans all piled up into their affini’s laps and getting adored positively senseless.
Staring too long revealed a deeper problem to her. She could hear their heartbeats. Calm. Steady. Slow. As she stared blankly towards the scarred woman her own heartbeat began to slip in to match her rhythm. To have a noticeable heartbeat was still strange to Dust, but feeling it copy another was a wholly surreal experience. There was a brief cramp along her sternum, a discomfort across the width of her chest, then a sigh of relief as her body slipped into match step.
Her pulse was deafening. Overwhelming. She’d love to feel it quicken in her own chest as she chased the human down, then falter into perfect silence. It’d be easy to do, and the reward would drown her brain in pleasure richer than a shot of cocaine injected right between her eyes. She’d enjoy it. This was wrong. She needed to leap into action. She tightened her grip on Amaranth’s vine and silently begged the affini to stop her.
Dust knew she was trapped in a stalemate and rapidly losing ground. Anything would tip her then, even something as simple as the affini leaning down to question her.
“Dust, dear, are you okay?” Amaranth whispered to her. The affini’s hand rested on the back of her head. Like a coiled spring she burst into motion at the first touch. With unreal speed she twisted out of Amaranth’s grasp and leapt across to the prone woman. More affini burst into motion to catch her, but the predatory instinct that had seized control of her all too awake brain ducked to the side and kicked off before being captured. Within the span of mere seconds she had cleared the distance and tackled the woman, wrapping herself around the human in a tight embrace as the two fell down to the floor to land upon the vampire’s back. She rolled to the side, paying no mind to the pain that blossomed along her spine as she held the human down and-
The floret was staring at her in the eyes, completely unphased by the sudden motion. Stars, if anything she looked amused, like this was some kind of harmless game. Everything froze in that moment as the two stared at each other, silent until the floret’s mouth bent into a small if confused smile. “What’s wrong?” She whispered.
Dust only then noticed the crimson drops that were falling from her own eyes to stain the woman’s cheeks. She was seconds away from trying to kill her, again. Even after everything she was just a hair trigger from harm and she couldn’t even stop herself. “I’m a monster.” Dust whispered back. She slowly unclenched her hands and brought them over face, burying herself against the woman’s chest as sobs slipped through her.
The woman ran her hands over Dust’s back. She didn’t deserve this. Not mercy. Not from her of all people. “I’ll be okay,” the floret whispered back to her, and her smile was so earnest that Dust would have begged to believe her. “Nothing bad can happen while they’re here.” Whatever spell had bought the two time finally broke after that, and Dust was met with the force of great vines tackling her to the side and pinning her down against the floor.
Amaranth was upon Dust in an instant, plucking her out from the other affini and restraining her in the same measure as it bundled her up against it’s chest. “I’m sorry,” Amaranth spoke loudly as it pulled itself up to it’s full stature, body wrapped around her protectively. “It seems I made a mistake, I’ll return shortly.”
Its escape was swift, and within the blink of an eye Dust found herself placed upon a small seat outside the busy room. Amaranth knelt down across from her, hands over the arm rests and large eyes at her eye level. “I’m sorry-” Dust tried to blurt out, but a vine curled up to press over her lips.
“Shh, one step at a time dear.” It said in an infuriatingly calm tone. “Deep breaths for me?” Dust nodded, and struggled to gasp for air against her own muscles trying to squeeze in her lungs. The noise she made sounded more like a pained gasp than anything else, followed by another one that trailed into something akin to a struggling balloon. But Amaranth held her gaze steady, it’s voice pulling her forward. Breathe. Just breathe. Her faltering breaths slowly followed Amaranth’s guiding motions, each one growing calmer until she was swept up into it’s rhythm entirely.
Dust couldn’t resist feeling the glow of calm burn into her this way. Every breath brought her down to Amaranth’s level of unnatural calm, every beat of her heart trapped her mind on the path of releasing tension, every little twitch and blink just reinforcement to its whim. Breathe. Just breathe.
“Good girl,” Amaranth said, and finally released her to express the concern readily apparent in its mind. “What happened?”
Dust’s mouth twitched as all the feelings squirmed under the blanket of enforced tranquility. She’d… she almost… “I’m a monster.” Dust’s words were hollow, but they broke the seal that Amaranth had bundled her heart into and gave room for her to collapse forward into open tears. Strained wails poured endlessly from her throat as crimson tears smeared across her face into a wretched pool at her feet. Amaranth held her close all over again, vines forcibly stilling her arms to her sides and holding her steadfast even as she flailed blindly in her emotional fits. “I’m a monster!” She shouted loud enough for the world to hear. “I would have killed her and my wretched fucking brain would have drowned me in pleasure while I did it.”
Amaranth was struck by her words, body freezing even as it pinned her down. “That shouldn’t have happened,” It said, but the confidence was gone from its voice.
“I’m healthier than I’ve ever been and all it did was make me want to drink her even more.” Dust wailed. “I’m a killer! A beast! A vile leech just waiting for the rest of my mind to rot away and- and-” A sharp gasp preceded a terrifying click inside of her skull. “I didn’t want to hurt anyone, Amaranth.”
“I will if I’m released.”
When Dust next spoke, it was with an unnatural chill that left the sensation of ice spilling across her lips. “I will. Someday. Even if I’m good now, one day I’ll slip, I’ll kill someone and bathe in their viscera, and I won’t be able to resist the pleasure I feel when I do it.”
“Someday I’ll rot if I’m left alone, Amaranth.” She was staring a million miles past the affini then. “I’ll become an addict to the rush, I’ll seek excuses to do it again and again, and then some day I won’t even bother trying to have an excuse. I’ll just be killing for the fun of it.”
Amaranth froze, staring at her with wide eyes painted a frozen blue. Fear? Something inside Dust wanted to laugh. To think even an affini could feel fear. It glanced around uncertainly, thoughts broiling underneath the hidden curtains in it’s mind as it’s body coiled ever inward. Discontent, struggle, confusion. Then a quiet movement mimicking a sigh as all the tension bled out at once. Acceptance painted it’s eyes a deep green.
Amaranth moved it’s forearm to rest in front of her face. “Drink.” It ordered.
“Your wants don’t matter here anymore, little one.” Amaranth’s words bristled with a harsh undertone. It pressed forward, forcing a bundle of vines between her teeth. “Now drink.”
Dust wasn’t given the choice to disobey. Amaranth’s forceful gesture tore its own flesh against her still teeth for her and spilled fresh xenodrugs over her tongue. As she’d done many times before, Dust felt the familiar chill and sparks of a drugged high begin to blossom over her mouth as the taste filled it, then down its throat as she swallowed the chemicals. Amaranth didn’t let her budge a single inch until all the tension ran limp in her body and the pained look in her eyes was replaced with the familiar if empty haze induced by the copious dosage. Even then it released her bonds just to move her unmoving body up against it, holding her so close that her consciousness drowned within the gentle tones of the affini’s biorhythm.
Amaranth rose to its full height and spun around to throw open the doors to the grand room. “I’m sorry but I need to cut this meeting short.” It said, “My floret needs my help.” One of the affini gave a great huff and tossed aside a stack of papers they’d no longer need. Another gave it a small round of applause as it stepped away.
Awareness was a slow companion when it came to piercing through the veil in Dust’s mind. In Amaranth’s arms she didn’t truly see anything beyond it’s bloom of leaves and flowers, nor did she hear anything other than the thundering drums of its body playing directly into her ears. Looking past the affini’s flesh she saw the familiar form of the greenhouse room around her, with ever more machinery than she had seen before crowding the floor.
As she was lowered into the chair the myriad vines and branches once more shifted to hold her, all while Amaranth placed more wires and pads across her body. Small blips and beeps from the nearby machines stirred dark memories, and her attempt to squirm was immediately quashed by the chair’s vines coiling upon her limbs to bind her down.
“W-what’s happening?” Dust stammered. Everything felt all out of place inside of her head, like her brain was coated in oil and all the feelings were sliding right off. She knew, objectively, she should be having a more powerful emotional reaction given what she’d just done and the… implication of being cuffed to a medical station once more, but all that actually made it through the fog was numbed silence.
Maybe her dumb vampire brain decided she didn’t need emotions anymore. That’d suck.
It was probably just shock, she hoped. Or disassociation? Dust tried to glance down towards her hands and found that she wasn’t given enough room to even manage that. Regardless, her body felt as if it were composed of strung-together fog that was floating further and further away from her by the moment.
“What’s happening?” She murmured, her voice a haphazard jumble of poorly directed muscles.
Amaranth slid over from one of the various consoles it had been tapping on, bringing itself directly above her with a hand on each side of her head. It’s bright eyes drew in her vision, blocking out everything else from her focus. “You will be domesticated.” The affini answered with an unnerving calm. “You told me that you don’t wish to hurt others, and I will see to it that you don’t.” The veneer of confidence faltered for only a moment at the tail end of it’s words, betrayed by a sudden twist along it’s myriad leaves.
That got the stopper in Dust’s head to finally slip free enough for the emotions to return. A confusing tide of *something* welled up around the edges of her mind, soft enough to not seize full control yet but insisted enough that she couldn’t avoid it’s effects. Her eyelids twitched, the edges of her mouth curled awkwardly against her wishes to remain still, her fingers curled in tightly until the myriad branches forcibly spread them out and pressed them flat against the arm rests.
The visor and earpiece from before slid up to cradle the back of her head before gradually moving forward. “Feel free to struggle if you wish, I think we could both use the catharsis." Amaranth said before they locked into place, shutting her senses off from the outside world entirely. In darkness her breaths picked up to a nervous hitch, accelerating rapidly until Amaranth’s hand suddenly pressed down against her chest. The touch brought with it a familiar haze of calm to combat against the stunned silence inside of her, and small pricks of pain announced another dose of xenodrugs before her sternum was claimed by a numbed haze.
Panic immediately returned as the pinpricks against her skin became an intrusive force burrowing into her. The sensation vanished all too shallowly into her flesh, but understanding blossomed when a moment later her heartbeat thundered within her own ears. She felt roots grazing the surface of her chest. Leaves brushing against skin. The smell of a garden near at hand. A flower?
The view inside the visor brightened into life to mirror the slowly rising hum around her. Just like last time, a word flickered into existence before her.
She felt a pinch behind her ears and against the back of her neck. A jolt danced through her nerves. The flower in her chest enforced Amaranth’s rhythm into her pulse.
She was being calibrated.
Dust struggled. Her limbs were given no room to bend, her chest no strength to even breathe outside the enforced step of the affini’s song, but inside her skull she still tried to bring herself to break out of it. All that she accomplished though was to reveal the shape of her own resistance, and a rush of electricity arcing up her neck captured the neural pattern and forced it to burn brightly into life. In that instant Dust felt the act of defiance become yet another act her body could not cease performing, just as her heart beat to Amaranth’s song so too did her mind automatically try to stop. And yet, the word still flickered before her eyes. Calibrating.
Trapped in between enforced submission and mandated resistance Dust was left to feel the edges of her consciousness squirm and fray apart. Instinctive twitches, spasms, attempts to hold her breath, her flesh tried all of it without her prompting and failed to overcome the rolling thunder that echoed out from her chest. Each attempt left her body feeling even more tired just for trying. Dust tried to beg herself to stop and bend to the song instead, but that too was captured and subverted by the electric pulse inside of her skull.
She tried to wail but all that came out was a gentle groan that slid perfectly into the beats of Amaranth’s touch. The pressure wouldn’t stop rising. The song wouldn’t stop ascending in volume. Over and over the two ends danced outside her control until everything became too much and POP!
There was a new fracture in Dust’s psyche then. A fault line where the affini’s lovely music bled deeper into her than she ever thought possible, where the boundary between her own self and Amaranth seemed to fade apart. By the same fault her strength slipped out, leaving her feeling weaker than before. An unbidden whimper of defeat slipped from her lips as the tension finally left her body, and with it the fog subsumed her completely. Her vision in the VR blended apart into a gentle prism of lights to capture her attention and softly bring her down, adrift and unfocused amongst the most beautiful melody she’d ever heard.
Dust didn’t realize the digital fugue had abated until she was already back in Amaranth’s arms and being carried out of the greenhouse room. All the pretty colors that had drowned her out had simply kept on swirling around until they slowly settled together to coalesce the shape of the affini, and this time as the vampire looked up at it she couldn’t help but feel that the plant was positively glowing. Awe and want bristled out of the seam inside her mind in equal measure, tempered only by the sensation that her eyes positively hurt to keep looking even in the dim lighting of the room.
“Please close your eyes, little one. They’re still dilated.” Amaranth spoke, and this time all the intricate flicks of it’s anatomy to simulate such a pattern of speech resonated through the vampire’s flesh with shocking clarity. It was like discovering an old song had a whole chorus accompanying it, and only now did she have a speaker able to bring it to life. Except this song was overwhelming as it plugged directly into her heart and forced her to sing along, even as exhaustion trailed through her skin and- “Shhh,” Amaranth whispered as a vine slipped over her eyes. “You just went through a difficult ordeal, dear. Rest now, you’ll need your strength tomorrow.”
Dust whimpered at it’s words. A want to obey burned through the fracture inside of her, even as the rest struggled just to understand. She shouldn’t, she should, she… didn’t understand. It was too much. Too much noise, too many gentle taps vibrating through her skin, too much static bristled around the animal inside of her. Overwhelming. Difficult. She couldn’t manage much of anything in this state.
Dust remained limp in Amaranth’s arms. Even as the affini stripped her body, bathed her, dressed her, and brought her to bed, it wasn’t until she was laid down and the affini coiled tighter around her that she even twitched. But when she did, it was to squirm futilely, to kick her legs weakly against the vines and claw at the cage of plant matter closing in around her. “It’s too much,” She mumbled. Too much noise. Too much light. Overwhelming beyond compare. She couldn’t hear herself beneath the melody closing in around her and fear was brimming over to fight that.
But Amaranth wrapped a hand around the side of her head and brought her close to it’s chest. “It’ll be okay, dear.” It purred. “Just listen. Just breathe.” Her body obeyed faster than her mind, finding a beat in Amaranth’s song to catch and drawing breath to it’s steady pace. The flow of air blended against the pulse of her heart, *Amaranth’s* pulse in her heart, to become a veritable tidal wave that crashed apart her anxieties. Bereft of such an instinctive fear, Dust’s mind collapsed back into the gentle fog and slipped into sleep, breathing to it’s tune through the whole night.
When Dust awoke she was back in the greenhouse. The vines and branches of the seat were once more wrapped around her limbs. She opened her eyes to see the glass and metal walls, looked across to Amaranth busy fiddling with ever more machinery at her side, and before she could even draw in the breath to speak the vines wrapped around her head and brought the visor down over her vision.
Dust tensed. Please don- an electric rush burnt through her body. Her strength was still drained from the last session, so even as her ability to bend was stripped from her she could barely bring her will to bear before it cracked under pressure. Less than a minute later and her psyche fractured a second time, now with spiderwebs arcing out from the first wound and across her consciousness. The song greedily rushed into the new wounds to mend her with itself, golden light of the affini’s will replacing her own.
Another whimper emanated from Dust’s mouth. It hurt. She was being split open and carved apart and it hurt deep inside of her skull and she couldn’t hear anything over Amaranth, she couldn’t even hear herself think through it. “Please,” She said, unable to hear her own voice. “Please make it st-” Amaranth’s hand against her jaw made her voice break into an open moan as the light of it’s touch smothered her mind.
When Dust next had enough strength to bring the weight of consciousness back to bear, she was still trapped inside the VR. She could tell by the distant touch of cloth that she was wearing different clothes. How long had it been? A day? A week? She ran her tongue against her lips and felt the arid touch of her own skin. Long enough to begin running dry. Hunger would follow soon. “Amaranth?” She wheezed, and a touch of vines against the palm of her hand answered. ffFfffFfuCK! Electric light blossomed up her body from the small contact, showering her in a fireworks of ecstasy that scattered any whims or worries to the winds.
She felt as if she was afloat on that cloud for some time, unable to even string together the will to think for some other vague stretch of time. This time she tried to play her cards a touch more carefully. Pause. Breathe. Try to ignore that she automatically moved to inhale to the rhythm of a song that burned subtle through her veins. Feel. She was still trapped in the chair. She still had the visor and earpieces on. The clothes on her body felt different again, and there was a layer of sweat resting across her skin. Hunger was blossoming through her chest, even as the flower forced her heart to move instead of succumbing to silence.
Then the lights flicked on inside the visor. “W-wait,” She said instinctively, but the machine didn’t listen to her. Another electric rush pulsed through her body, this time more thoroughly tracing every little neuron hidden through her flesh than it ever had before. She felt as if it formed a net through her skull so fine she couldn’t possibly begin to track it, and practically howled as the machine used that net to capture her psyche again. It was like a dozen metal rods slammed through her mind and forced her to stretch out to exposure. A sample on the vivisection platter, something dark inside of her suggested.
Dust felt another buzz behind her ears and became horrifically aware of the state of her psyche. She’d been broken so many times she couldn’t hope to count the cracks. The first fracture was lost in an endless web of splinters and pieces all held together only by the affini’s song that had filled the gaps. Stars, her mind was more gold joinery provided by Amaranth than herself at this point. She couldn’t take it any more than this. “Please,” She breathed instinctively. “Wait.”
A voice brushed against her skin, but she couldn’t hear it through the headgear. She whined, squirmed in her seat, then screamed as she felt the familiar song that was Amaranth slam into her frail defenses. With a mix of desperation and blooming hunger Dust wailed against the crashing beats of it’s music. Her psyche did not splinter from impact this time. It damn near disintegrated. After the third hit her desperation peaked, and her body surged against it’s restraints. Vines strained and branches snapped as Dust struggled to pull herself up. Her legs pushed heel against the wood until her knees were against her chest, and her hands recoiled with desperate need until her fingertips brushed against her own cheek.
Then she felt one of her ear caps be moved, and the voice of Amaranth sung through her mind with incomparable beauty. “Break.” It ordered, and her mind obeyed. Her psyche flew apart into the finest grains of sand that fell to the waiting palms of the affini, gold filigree of it’s song left behind surrounding the snarling beast that was left inside of her. The grains that were Dust had only a moment to revel in the beauty of her own loss as she felt herself disintegrate, and all her emotions spilled from her mouth as a wanting moan that trailed off into blackness.
The animal in Dust’s skin stirred to find itself strewn across the floor. Starvation ran rampant through her chest, but even in the hollowed cavity there was an undercurrent of music that bled through her perceptions. She lay still there until the scent of fresh blood met her nose, and at once was upon her feet blindly rushing towards the scent-
Amaranth’s voice crashed into Dust’s body with the force of a tidal wave, knocking her legs out from under her and sending her back down to the floor immediately. The beast whined in shock, voice little more than strained whimpers as it attempted to move against the heavy restraints of the affini’s voice.
“Oh good, you’ll actually listen to me properly now.” Amaranth mused as it stepped around the prone vampire. It knelt down next to her, brandishing another bottle of blood before the animal’s eyes as it went. Dust’s body gnashed at the air instinctively, eyes wide and focused in on it to a razor point. “Can’t reach it now, can you?” Amaranth continued, it’s own eyes a steady blue tint as it stared down at the thing. “I almost wish you were more than her animalistic instinct, little vampire, just so I could make you understand how badly you’ve hurt her.”
It shifted the bottle slightly, allowing a single drop to splash against the ground just out of Dust’s reach. Despite that, in an act of desperate want she still tried to strain towards it, mouth open and tongue shamelessly out reaching towards the barest taste of sustenance.
“I’m wasting air, I know. Your language centers aren’t working properly right now.” Amaranth’s body rustled in an approximation of a sigh. Something inside of its body shifted to create a melodious click, and then it shoved the side of the bottle into Dust’s mouth. At once Dust’s form broke out of her illusory shackles to collapse around Amaranth’s hand, greedily tearing blood from the container in a messy display of fervent desire.
When she finished she flopped over back onto the floor, red staining half her clothes and mind happily slipping into a fed sleep.
Amaranth huffed over her prone form, “How do you still manage to be cute like this?”
The two repeated the exercise more times than Dust would have counted even if she had the cognition to spare. Over and over she awoke starved at Amaranth’s heel, begging for even a taste of blood, and each time the affini denied her before allowing her to drink with that beautiful click. Again and again and again until the pattern burned itself so deeply into Dust’s hindbrain that when Amaranth set down the bottle before her she moved to feed her storming hunger and… didn’t.
The animal inside of Dust’s brain squirmed as it tried to actually take the blood left defenseless before it, but it couldn’t act. Something was wrong. Something was *missing*. She looked up towards the affini in confusion, and Amaranth’s neutral expression broke into a wide grin. “What’s wrong, dear? Not hungry?” Gold lights flecked green eyes as it knelt down before her. “Your food is right there.”
Dust hissed, bared her fangs, *tried* to latch onto the bottle and tear it apart but only managed to frustrate herself further against the mental bonds that held her.
Amaranth took the bottle and crushed it in it’s hand, spilling a wide pool of blood between the two before baring it’s palm towards her. “What’s wrong? Drink.” It ordered, but she still couldn’t bring herself to bite down into it. She couldn’t even lick the blood off the floor, it was all there clouding her senses into wild insensate want but she COULDN’T-
Amaranth smeared it’s hand over her face, smothering her in the scent before it stood up and left to wash it’s hand. “Stay,” It ordered, and once more Dust felt the intense weight of it’s voice bear down on her.
When Amaranth returned an hour later she was still in that position, unable to even lick the blood that had dripped over her lips. Until that soft click finally broke the dam, and she exploded into motion to lap the dried blood that had coated the floor. Amaranth’s hand grabbed her by the back of her ruined shirt and yanked her off the mess to catch her attention with a doll instead. At once her fractured mind focused in on it, and Amaranth tossed it aside with a lackadaisical “Fetch.”
Dust, of course, obeyed. She sprang right off of her feet to run after the doll and tackle it out of the air. She didn’t even properly hear the click this time, but it’s permission echoed through her psyche as her nails tore into the doll and her teeth sunk into its side. From the affini’s perspective she had leapt to bite into the toy, then landed with a roll as she bundled up to enjoy her well-earned meal.
Dust gave no resistance as Amaranth strolled over to pluck her off the floor and hold her close, merely slipping into a familiar comforted haze that blended into sleep under it’s song.
The vampire’s return to actual conscious awareness was a slow ascent through a red haze, light slipping through her eyelids as the gentle crescendos of a subtle tune swept her up in their tides and pulled her up. It permeated through her flesh, drew her heartbeat into it’s tune and led her along to breathe deep of the cold air around her. A sudden chill along the back of her neck then sliced through the fog entirely.
Dust jolted up to find herself bound face-down on a medical table, with something cold trailing along the length of her neck. She immediately tensed, voice spiking to call out for her affini when Amaranth pre-empted her with a hand upon her head. It knelt down before her, leaning over awkwardly just to be able to look her in the face. “I’m sorry, dear. Your body is still resistant to our anesthetics for now, so it seems an error on my part let you wake up.”
“W-what’s happening?” Dust stuttered, and even the break in her voice landed between steps to a tune that permeated her mind.
“You are about to be given a haustoric implant, dear.” Amaranth answered calmly as it reached over to pluck a vial out from beyond her vision and brought it down to her. Suspended in the glass tube was something that appeared like a bundle of nervous fibers wrapped tightly around a small seed, with small talons trailing along the bottom side. “This will be grafted to your spinal column so that it may merge with your body, and with it I will be able to better monitor your health as well as control your dosages. With this that pesky resistance you have to our drugs will be quite nicely solved.”
Dust tensed futilely against her restraints. “But- I, you,” Anxiety tried to seethe up from within, but it couldn’t muster more than a few stray emotions before crashing futilely against the rhythms that controlled her.
A strange emotion passed over Amaranth’s face. Uncertainty? Regret? Dust couldn’t parse it quite as fast as she needed before it vanished behind another wall of enforced calm on the affini’s end. “Shh,” It whispered, and Dust’s mouth slipped shut. “I’m sorry, dear. But this is not a matter that is up for debate anymore. Now please calm down for me.”
At it’s words all the tension simply vanished from her body, leaving her relaxed and limp on the medical bed. She couldn’t even spin up confusion into anxious energy when surprise hit her, nor could she voice her question against the remaining weight of Amaranth’s previous orders.
“Give me all of your fears, little one.” Amaranth’s voice was a smooth whisper as it continued. “All those negative feelings and pains that litter your heart. All those negative thoughts, too. Let them slip out to fall into the palm of my hand, knowing that I’ll keep them safe for you. That I’ll return them if and when you’re ready to face them again.”
It’s voice slipped through her ears and poured over her soul with an unearthly beauty, stripping her of all the fear in her soul. Like a wave of light it crashed down across her body and left her in a state of light euphoria instead, all that negativity just drip drip dripping out of her face into Amaranth’s waiting hands. Then the affini closed her hands and moved them away, and with them went even the awareness of having felt such fears in the first place.
Dust felt a sensation akin to a nail sliding along the back of her neck, and even then she could only smile softly knowing her affini was close at hand. “Now sleep,” Amaranth spoke, and the wave of calm turned into a heavy blanket that crashed her consciousness into darkness.
“Wake up, dear.”
The words slipped through the curtains of darkness that wreathed Dust’s mind and pulled her back to the waking world. In the span of a single blink she went from sleeping exhaustion to full alertness, rising up from the blankets to find herself already being swept into Amaranth’s arms. Adoration overflowed from her soul as she looked up at the affini, absolutely enraptured with the glowing beauty of the thing. Numb shock followed blinding love as the affini’s touch bathed her body in further light, crashing apart her thoughts into a blind moan of overwhelmed pleasure.
“Sorry,” Amaranth spoke softly, vines coiling tighter around her despite the apology. “You’re still rather sensitive. That should calm down in a few more days, I think.” Any confusion that could have arisen from the abundance of unknowns in her state simply didn’t, just as all the fear she could have felt had been entirely disallowed. Bereft of such negativity, she instead was left awash in overwhelming pleasure as the affini moved her body. It puppeted her through the motions of feeding her and dressing her, with an abundance of adoring pets on the head along the way, and only after did it deposit her into an overly large and comfortable seat to give her space.
Dust needed about another hour before the pleasure high died down enough to let her even think again. When she opened her eyes to truly look around she saw herself in an unfamiliar home, where golden filigree spliced between darkened glass plates to create a dizzying array which revealed the outside world as effectively as they walled it off. They trailed their vision across to the abundance of cushions and seats and bookshelves and- was this a lounge? She tried to sit up but only really managed to limp to the side and rest her head against the arm of the overly large seat she had been draped in.
Amaranth quietly slipped past her to pull up one of the couches and drape itself across it, laying it’s head upon one hand such that it was now resting beside her. Her eyes caught upon its own, and she was quickly lost in the shimmer specks of light that swirled within the faceted gems. She hadn’t truly noticed how deep the colors blended together before, nor how sparks of light would flicker across the surface before scattering into soft fireworks. The colors shifted from gentle blues into soft greens as she lost herself in the sight of Amaranth’s gaze and-
“Dear,” It said, and Dust sat upright at attention. “I need you to rest your eyes for a moment, please.” Her eyes slid shut even as she wanted to melt into the deep notes of Amaranth’s voice. “I’d like to return those feelings that I’ve been holding for you now. Do you recall them? That bit of stress and worry and fear?”
“Yes.” She answered, voice a soft whisper as she felt the affini’s words wash over her.
“Good. I want you to take those emotions out of my hand now, one at a time. Take your time feeling each one piece by piece, knowing that you’re safe here with me and that nothing will hurt you anymore.”
In her mind’s eye Dust reached out to Amaranth’s closed hand, slipping between it’s fingers to pluck a light out. At once it flashed and laced into her nerves. By the same stroke, Dust became acutely aware that she had no actual understanding of her current situation. Where was she? Why does she feel so… unfocused? What happened!? She plucked another light, which gave voice to her uncertainty with a fresh current of anxiety through her mind, then the third to let fear return with dark questions of what the future would hold.
Dust jerked back to alertness, this time with the alertness to not just immediately be lost upon the tidal waves of Amaranth’s song. Though she still felt it’s music laced through every cell, it was like a background noise that could… well, she could at least ignore enough to function for now.
“What happened?” She blurted out, hands now gripped tightly on the arms of the oversized chair.
Amaranth didn’t even flinch at the burst of motion. Resting at her side it simply lifted a finger to press the tip against her wrist. “I’ve destroyed the possibility of you harming another, and by the same hand have taken you as my floret.”
Dust chewed her lower lip, fangs grazing old scars without the pressure to pierce them anew. “Explain.”
“I’ve broken your will and tethered it to my own biorhythms, then trained your body to obey me before even itself on the most subconscious levels.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You’ve been stripped of the ability to act outside of my permissions, Dust. You will never be able to lose control and harm another, and even if you were to be reduced to your most feral self you’d starve without spilling a single drop of blood unless I tell you to act.” Amaranth’s veneer of stoicism faltered at the end, uncertainty slipping through in a glimmer of grey lights. “I’m… sorry, for having to take so extreme a measure. But I cannot release you after having done that, so I’ve taken you as my floret as well.”
Dust sunk back into her seat. She was aware, on some level, that a normal reaction to realizing she’s been altered in such a fashion would be to feel something akin to blind panic. Or perhaps to lash out and blame another for these circumstances. But she just felt warm. Comfortable, even. She brought a hand to the back of her neck and felt a surgical scar mar her skin.
So she’s a floret, then.
She moved her hand to press a finger next to Amaranth’s, and felt the steady tune of her own pulse running rich under her skin. She moved next to feel the affini’s, and felt it’s pulse mirror her own- no, she mirrored it’s. The total symphony of its body was the undercurrent of her own actions on a level so complete she couldn’t even bring herself to breathe out of rhythm when she tried.
“You’re serious.” She muttered.
“Would a demonstration help?” Amaranth asked, and Dust nodded. “Very well.” It slipped out of it’s spot to step out of the room, returning shortly with a second affini and their floret in tow. “Dust, this is Cedrus Vera and his floret, Mercy.”
“Hello!” The floret happily chirped with a casual wave to the seated vampire. Dust did not mirror her excitement. She instead saw the familiar scar on the woman’s neck and immediately felt a familiar chasm break open under her heart and try to swallow her whole.
“Don’t mind her too much, dear.” Amaranth ruffled the floret’s hair as it stepped past her to return to Dust’s side, this time slithering behind her in the same seat to drape an arm over the vampire’s shoulder. “She’s a touch overwhelmed at the moment.”
The other affini, Cedrus apparently, also ruffled the floret’s hair before taking a seat across from the lot. His eyes were locked onto Dust, untrusting in their focus which she couldn’t argue against, really.
Dust leaned back into Amaranth’s body, nervous tension crashing against the instinctual comfort she now found overpowering from the simple contact. Her hands gripped at the vines along her sides, and her voice rose up to beg, “I don’t-”
“Want to hurt her, I know. You won’t.” Amaranth spoke with a firm certainty. “But do you still feel that hunger?”
She did. The cloying scent had already returned, and as Mercy lived and breathed it only intensified by the moment. But her heartbeat clashed against the tone of Dust’s own, and where she once synchronized to her prey’s step the vampire instead found herself trapped wholly in place. Despite that the want to spill blood still grew like a burning flame that claimed more and more of her nerves and… and…
The impulse to strike never turned into action. Even under the increasing pressure she remained rooted in Amaranth’s lap wholly incapable of escaping.
“Is she okay?” Mercy asked, cocking her head to the side and further exposing the side of her neck.
Amaranth trailed a hand down the back of Dust’s head in a comforting gesture before gripping it tightly. “She is afflicted with a great many things in her condition, but the most troubling one for her at this time is a strongly overdeveloped need to hunt. Take a look at her eyes, for example. See how her pupils have dilated?” As Amaranth spoke, Mercy casually stepped closer and leaned over to peer into Dust’s eyes directly, inadvertently smothering her mind in the scent of fresh meat in the process. “Being around her food supply has caused her mind to kick in some… less than helpful instincts in an attempt to acquire such sustenance.”
“You mean my blood?” Mercy asked, an innocent smile still on her lips.
“Yes, exactly. Cedrus, may you please take off her collar for a moment?”
The other affini rumbled quietly in response, but reached over a vine to slide across the back of Mercy’s collar and strip off the piece of cloth. Now exposed the symphony of the floret’s neck played out to a heightened intensity across Dust’s mind, crashing through her mental walls completely and smothering her conscious thought as fresh energy flooded through her body to move and pounce and atTACK yet, all that came of it was a pathetic whimper before Dust turned back to her affini and fawned desperately for release.
Amaranth’s mouth bent into a satisfied smile. “Good girl,” It purred. “See? Even in the depths of desperation all you can manage is to beg me. But for now, I’d rather like to have you coherent again, so,” She tipped the vampire’s face down to look forward again and place an empty hand before it’s vision. “Give me your hunger. It controls you when we both know that only I should be the one to do that. So surrender it to me, knowing that I will protect it should you ever need it again, and that in its place I will guide you better than it ever could.”
A simple command was all it took for Amaranth to exert it’s will over her, and with that command all of the unconstrained destructive craving poured out from Dust’s brain. In her mind’s eye she saw it spill out of her eyes and mouth as a black fog that coalesced into its palm, and when it closed that hand into a fist the sensation became cut off from her entirely.
Dust blinked back to alertness. She was calm, unusually so. The scents and sounds of human prey still existed around her but held no more sway than the gentle hum of ventilation or the sensation of warmth from the star cascading over her skin. Dust blinked several more times in pure confusion. The overarching need to strike was gone. Vanished so completely it was like she had never suffered from it in the first place.
“Do you understand now?” Amaranth’s spoke, and Dust shivered as a completely different sort of want resonated markedly lower than her chest.
“You control me.” Dust rasped.
“Completely.” Amaranth finished her thought for her.
“Fuck, that’s hot.” Mercy, having no personal sense of shame over the idea of erotic indulgement of control, quite happily added in the middle of the two’s otherwise private moment.
“I am *so* sorry,” Dust said as she bowed down to Mercy. She was prepared to make any number of apologies, and all of that preparation was immediately shot out the window as the floret gave a melodious giggle in return before putting a hand atop Dust’s head.
“Apology accepted! But also don’t worry about it too much, ya silly goose. Nothing *bad* can actually happen when the affini are around, so like, it’s not like I was actually gonna get seriously hurt anyway.” The floret responded as if she didn’t have a garish scar along the side of her neck.
Dust tensed nervously. “But, your neck,”
“It’s cool, right? Like I’ve got some kind of sick battle scar.” Mercy struck a dramatic pose as she said that, then wheeled down to lean in conspiratorially towards Dust. “Buuuuuut, if you want to make it up to me,”
“Yes!” Dust chirped automatically.
“Well then when you get that hunger problem under control hit me up and we can do a hot neck bitey thing that’s like, horny instead of dangerous.” Mercy’s smile as she suggested the idea was about as wide as Dust’s shock.
Cedrus coughed, “Mercy.”
“What? Vampires are hot!” Mercy wheeled around to look her owner at that, while Dust succumbed to the kind of confused gay haze that came from not being able to interpret an obvious flirt at all.
“This vampire is also still coming to terms with a lot of changes in her life and now is probably not the best time to be flirting with her.” Cedrus replied.
Dust flapped her mouth futilely a few times before falling down onto her rear all over again. “I think she is a little overwhelmed right now, dears.” Amaranth spoke as it rested a hand upon her back, vines coiling around her chest for comfort as it stepped before her. “Perhaps we could have this conversation another time?” A vine slipped up to cup Dust’s cheek, and she lost herself in the light of the affini’s touch all over again.
The next moments could have been a minute or a month for all she cared. The world beyond her owner’s touch lost focus entirely, and even as the two guests blurred past her all her mind could drift on is the wondrous feeling of joy that bathed over her from even such simple contact. Until that touch abruptly vanished, and everything snapped back into focus around her owner as it leaned against the door.
With the undercurrent of Amaranth’s rhythm a constant companion in Dust’s consciousness, she could feel the affini’s metaphorical heart at all times. Dimly, but enough to look at it and realize that it was exhausted beyond compare. She looked past it to the glass walls and gilded filigree, the decorated furnishings across a carpeted floor, and beyond that to the kitchens and study and… this was Amaranth’s home?
“So what happens now?” She asked as she looked around with idle curiosity.
“As my floret I will need you to live here with me. Additionally, you will need to remain within my presence from here on out.”
Dust withered internally. “Because I’m-”
“No,” Amaranth cut her off. “You are no longer a danger, nor will you ever be. However, because of my alterations to you, if I were to leave you alone you’d soon feel depressed, aimless, and lethargic to a degree that is entirely unethical. I-” It paused, tension returning in the form of vines tightening into knots in it’s chest. “I am sorry.”
Amaranth seemed to pace aimlessly for a moment, stepping towards Dust before pausing in thought before stepping in a different direction. Each time another stutter resonated through it’s melody that Dust’s body happily mimicked, and each skip in it’s song made Dust’s heart twist in uncertainty inside of her.
Amaranth’s mouth was slow to move across it’s next words, as if afraid each one would shatter at the slightest misstep. “I… do not wish to be overly controlling towards you beyond what is necessary, though. Nor do I intend to force you into any romantic connotations usually associated with such ownership. You are caged, I know, but,” This time Amaranth bit on it’s lip, and Dust unconsciously mirrored the gesture. “You still deserve as much independence as can be afforded you, I think.”
Dust spent a long moment mulling over Amaranth’s words. Worry of wasting it’s time didn’t mean much of anything when she could quite literally feel it’s patience humming along behind her own eyes, and she couldn’t deny the truth behind it’s words as felt it’s guilt pulse through her own heart. But that guilt carried a weight of its own, and that weight dredged through her altered mind.
“Do you not want me?” She whispered, fearful of the answer even as she felt it bloom like a light in her mind.
Amaranth rushed to her side and fell to its knees before her, gripping her two hands in six of it’s own as it stared into her eyes. “Dust, I have unraveled every piece of your mind and held each string in the palm of my hand. I’ve broken every individual nerve in your body just to slave them to a pattern of my own making. I’ve altered you in a way that can never be undone and forced you to rest at my heel.” A shiver bloomed from within it’s core, and slipped across it’s form to chase along Dust’s skin. “I want you, but I have bent you so out of shape that if I were to ask, your brain would fold over itself to find an excuse to want me back, and I don’t wish to force more from you than I already have.”
Dust slipped her hands from it’s own and grabbed it by the shoulders, pulling it in tight before wrapping her arms through its chest to hold it. She buried her own face through the leaves and branches of its body as she brought it against her, bathed her own mind into the deepest touches of the affini’s rhythm and felt her own consciousness scatter upon the wind of it’s pulse. “Want me.” She said firmly, even as that want became her own and seized control from her. “Want me so much that you can’t let go, you dumb plant.”
Amaranth hugged Dust back in turn. It didn’t need to reply with words at that point, as the song of their hearts intertwined was enough for the both of them to know that it already did.
Vitus rather enjoyed the mundanity of living on Brypso 3 37 at this point. While it had all been rather exciting to see the world change under their steps when the affini first arrived, they had quickly grown tired of waking up each day to find some new oddity had cropped up and complicated matters every sodding day. No, they much preferred the mundanity of having a wonderfully unproductive time adoring their floret in the archeobureaucracy office, then getting dinner with their floret at a nice restaurant on the way home, and then cuddling all through the night with their floret and their floret’s 3 dozen stuffed animals.
So comfortable in that routine were they that they had grown to assume nothing strange or unusual would happen anymore, even as they saw a floret chase after a doll on a string, leap ten feet into the air to grab it with her mouth, and then land in a rolling tackle across a grassy hill wherein she promptly curled around the doll and seemed to be petting it quite intensely. Their floret, blazed off her ass entirely, similarly saw nothing particularly strange about that beyond an excited sort of glee over the display of athletic prowess.
That illusion was then immediately shattered when Vitus saw that same floret peek up from the doll with a smear of blood and foam viscera coated over her jaw, eyes glittering like wide saucers in the sunset light while her nails cut through the cloth with the same ease as a knife.
Vitus decided to borrow a terran term and promptly thought ‘what the FUCK!?’.
But Vitus’ floret was simply too baked to even notice nor care about the stutter in her owner’s step, and soon pulled on their vine to bring them back to the topic at hand. Vitus huffed to themself. Whatever was going on with that floret, they decided they wouldn’t let it bother them any more and promptly continued walking on their merry way.
Mercy’s pulse thundered in her chest as she ran through the woods. She had already run herself past the point of exhaustion, yet for her efforts all she had accomplished was to delay the inevitable. Clawed hands wrapped around her throat from behind as the vampire tackled her, sending them both sprawling to the ground and rolling across vines. The thing attacking her used that time to wrap itself around her body, pinning her arms down to her sides between it’s strong thighs as it’s hands tore through her shirt.
Only a second after the night air graced her neck did the vampire’s breath run against her skin, followed soon after by the chill of its nose brushing against her jugular. It moved with an energetic fury, unnatural strength holding her head down and to the side as it sniffed against her skin, trailed a line down the length of her neck.
Mercy snapped out of her shock to scream, and was summarily silenced by the vampire grabbing her face and SNARLING into her ear. A fresh wave of shock smashed into her brain then, which was soon complimented by an unnatural sense of calm pouring out from her skull.
Serotonin for a dying breath, her mind rudely suggested.
Regardless of its validity the calm left Mercy in a limp state of acceptance as the vampire clung tightly to her form. In fact, she could nearly describe it as cuddling her if it weren’t for the part where it was clawing about her shoulder and licking its lips. Once satisfied with whatever search it had been involved in, the vampire suddenly froze up and, with a precision wholly unlike it’s chaotic movements before, locked it’s lips over her shoulder and scraped her fangs along Mercy’s skin.
As soon as the first drops of blood slipped free from her fresh wounds the vampire snapped back into an energetic spree, lapping at her flesh greedily to find it’s fill. The initial pain of it’s cutting soon dulled into a warmth that seeped out from her wound to drag her body down into a dulled haze. Nothing nearly as strong as her owner’s touch, unfortunately. But enough to leave her unable to struggle out of it’s grasp as it provided a sleepy haze to her consciousness. Her struggles had died down to nothing by then anyway.
Once the initial buzz wore off Mercy became aware of some… other facets involved in the vampire feeding off of her. It’s arms were wrapped around her chest in a tight hug, it’s legs around her waist, and it writhed as if it were getting fucked silly as it’s tongue dug into her wounds. Warmth had bloomed in it’s chest, which mirrored the warmth that was bleeding out of hers. When she looked down to it, she saw the vampire’s eyes were dilated wide open while a rapturous smile painted it’s mouth.
‘Stars, it’s going to eat me and I’m too stoned to stop thinking about how pretty it is.’ Mercy thought. At least she was stoned. This would have probably been much scarier if she still had the awareness to properly appreciate it. The vampire’s claws sudden dug into her back as it tightened it’s hold on her, lifting her body off the ground and burying its face into her shoulder, hips resting upon her thigh and *squeezing* and oh my god it was cumming off of eating her already oh dirt.
A burst of tension across its body preceded a sudden shout of joy, followed by a decaying whimper of satisfaction as the two dropped back down into a limp mess on the floor. All the energy in the vampire’s body simply vanished in that moment, leaving the once iron clad bounds now more like a particularly warm blanket of flesh atop her body. Well, a limp blanket that was also still licking at her skin and snor-
Mercy blinked out of her play mentality to look down at Dust, immediately gasping with the sort of glee she usually reserved for kittens for bunnies that were especially cute.
That vampire had fallen asleep right on top of her!
Mercy proceeded to grip her chest and cry from how adorable Dust was being, even if she did still have some of the floret’s blood smeared around her face. Oh stars between this and the light high Dust’s spit gave her, Mercy already wanted to book another playdate like this. The myriad vines draped around the two writhed about, and soon after Amaranth suddenly slithered in beside them with a medical kit in hand.
“I dare say Dust seemed to enjoy herself tonight. How about you, dear?” It asked with a smile as it tried to clean her wound. A more difficult task than it should have been, considering Dust’s sleeping body was quite insistent about sticking close to Mercy.
Mercy paused to reflect upon herself. The chase was fun, of course. Having a hot feral vampire chasing after her fang and claw out with glowing red eyes *was* the sort of thing she’d have read a number of doujins about before. Getting caught? Oh she enjoyed that too, especially once the bite started to hit her like the fastest shot of weed she’d had yet. But…
Mercy once more glanced over to the sleeping vampire that absolutely refused to be pulled off of her body, even as it’s mouth was handily distracted by one of Amaranth’s vines. Definitely better after cuddles than she used to get before she became a floret.
Mercy smiled softly and, as soon as Amaranth was done wrapping a bandage over her shoulder, reciprocated the hug to this adorable little undead. “I loved it, thank you.”
Amaranth had a sneaking suspicion that Dust’s aging process was, perhaps, a touch different from normal terrans. Perhaps it was the fact that over the many years in it’s care she had not shown a sign of withering or wrinkling, and had in fact only seemed to flush with even more vibrant life with each passing year. Perhaps it was that even after her 100th birthday her body was still as unnaturally athletic and flexible as if it were her 20th again. Perhaps it was that she was putting candles onto Dust’s birthday cake and had run out of room because, apparently, it was not meant to hold more than 243 candles across its surface and Amaranth still had a few dozen more left to place on it.
A spare set of vines curled out to grab a tablet and confirm that the average human lifespan, even with all the relevant treatments available at the time, still did not put a person’s expected prime to last near 300 years or more.
“Dust, dear.” Amaranth leaned over backwards to poke it’s head into the dining room and look past the myriad of guests to the girl wearing a frankly silly amount of birthday hats. “Have you considered you might be slightly more long lived than the average human?”
“What, like I’m some kind of sexy immortal vampire?” She asked back.
“Well, this is your 287th birthday.”
Dust simply looked confused at that. “Is it? I haven’t been counting.”
“And you haven’t shown any sign of aging since the day I first took you.”
Dust glanced down at her own body, still hale and healthy as ever.
“And, well, you are sexy and a vampire already.”
Dust stared blankly forward for a moment as she considered this, then gasped excitedly as she shouted “I’m a sexy immortal vampire!?!?”
On her 1000th birthday, Amaranth decided that the more reasonable course of action for candle placement on Dust’s cake was to simply get candles in the shape of numbers. It didn’t even mind all the teasing it got from Dust over not having thought of that sooner. To Amaranth, those hundreds of years of loving affection were more than well worth the occasional bit of being rightfully teased silly.