Chapter Four: Budding Spring

Morgan has no idea how long she's been asleep -- passing through the realm of dreams and nightmares in what feels like an endless haze. Every time she nears the edge of those mists, she's dragged back down again... She dreams of blood, she dreams of death. She dreams of jagged yellow teeth and purple-black gums... but the closer she gets to finally waking, the more often the bright blue eyes and rose-colored hair of the girl from the woods feature.

Eventually she does come to the surface again -- coming back to something that resembles reality... or at least, she thinks it is. Morgan hardly even needs to put effort into warming her body again, the blood flows through her veins with an ease she's never known. Her heart beats almost like she's alive again.

When she opens her eyes at last, Morgan finds herself surrounded by gauzy pink curtains and wrapped in the softest bedding she's ever felt in her life or unlife. The golden light of twilight filters through the curtains, resting upon her skin.

She shoots up, wincing and trying to escape from the light, expecting the white-hot agony of burning flesh but it never comes. Instead, there is only the gentle warmth of sunlight resting upon her face and arms. Slowly, she begins to remember how she had come to this moment. If the sunlight didn't burn her, she must have still been in that strange place beyond the mists.

Morgan pulls the covers down, finding that she's been dressed in a peach-colored silken gown -- not quite opaque but not quite sheer. The fabric is so fine and so very delicately woven that she can hardly believe it's real...  She runs her fingers over it, marveling at the texture. In all her time as a dressmaker, she had never felt anything this luxurious, this marvelously made. She finds her focus narrowing to the sheer pleasure of the moment, lost in the rapture of pure beauty -- the feeling of the silk on her skin, the gentle sunlight on her face and the sweet scent of spring flowers carried upon the breeze.

Just how much time passes while she's mesmerized, Morgan can't be sure...but after at least half an hour, she shakes her head and shakes off the mesmer. She needs to figure out where she is -- she needs to figure out what's going on.

First, she checks her arms and legs for any signs of that horrifying encounter with the hag -- the only evidence still left are faintly purple scars left where the jagged teeth had pierced her flesh. Morgan shudders, remembering the agony, remember that terror and she's absolutely certain that those sensations will join her  other nightmares... Anyway, now that she's assessed her physical situation, it's time to asses her surroundings. She glances around, taking everything in.

The bed she finds herself laying in is possibly the largest bed she's ever laid in; a veritable ocean of sheets, blankets and pillows, all beckoning her to stay and lounge among them. Languidly, she pulls herself from their embrace and moves the curtains aside.

The bed is set in the center of a large but cozy looking room. Raw timber frames white plaster and flowering vines climb the walls, hanging from the ceiling and filling the air with their perfume. Morgan glances around for any sign of life but for the moment, she sees and hears nothing. The sunlight is pouring in both through a window above the bed, set with leaded glass and a skylight set in the ceiling overhead.

All in all, it's a warm and welcoming space but... she doesn't trust it. After all, the hag's house had seemed warm and welcoming and that had ll been an illusion -- a trap to force her to let her guard down. She wouldn't make that same mistake again. A wardrobe sits against the wall across from the bed and a foldint screen covers the wall opposite. She walks over to it and examines the scene painted on it. It's a tableau of early spring, bright green shoots and pale flowers fighting back the cold of winter. Shining gold paint makes up the rays of sunlight that wake the world from its slumber. On the other side of the screen is a large wash tub, made from a gold-veined white stone. She turns away from the tub and the shelves full of colored bottles and jars back towards the rest of the room.

Next to a vanity carved from a deep, rose-colored wood is a door, open the slightest crack. She takes another quick look around to reassure herself that there's no one else in the room with her and then silently pads towards the door. The wood feels warm beneath her bare feet, worn from years of use -- soft and smooth. The room is so comforting and downright beautiful that Morgan almost loses herself in the moment again. She bites down hard on her lower lip to break the spell.  Damn her Bloodline's weakness to pleasant sensations and surroundings!

Once she gets to the door, she pauses again and simply listens, straining her ears for any sounds of life... faintly, she can hear the breeze blowing through the trees accented by the soft trilling song of birds outside... the faint crackle of burning wood comes from the space on the other side of the door but she hears no movement, no heartbeats. No sign that she isn't alone in the building. Morgan sighs in relief before she opens the door.

She finds now that she's on the second floor -- an ornately carved railing separates her from the high ceiling of the room beyond. More vines curl around the wood, little white flowers that smell much like honeysuckle dot the deep green leaves. She steps to the edge...

Looking down, she sees a beautiful fireplace, plush looking furniture in various spring colors and a large woven rug that takes up most of the floor. Curtains cover the windows but still let the faintest light through. All of the wood is that same warm rose-color. A door that she assumes leads outside stands on the first floor directly across from her.

She makes her way down the stairs quickly and quietly. A doorway leads under the balcony and stairs and a quick peak inside reveals a small, cozy looking kitchen with a rough hewn table and chairs set in front of a ceramic wood burning stove...

Now that she thinks about it, Morgan realizes that she hasn't seen even a sliver of metal -- the doors are a solid piece of wood, the handles made of a strange,  prismatic crystal. How...odd...

She almost jumps out of her skin when she hears the front door opening. Morgan whirls around, for a moment her coppery curls obscure her vision -- her claws and fangs instantly extending as her muscles tense, ready to pounce and defend herself.

The girl who was entering lets out a squeal of fear and winces. "I don't mean you any harm!" She cries... and Morgan realizes with a start that it's the sunset haired girl from the woods.

"Oh-oh! I'm so sorry!" Morgan cries, her hands flying up to cover her mouth as she remembers the deep and binding magic of the girl's promise not to hurt her.

She forces her inner predator to back down, still shaking slightly even as her muscles relax and her fangs retract. "I didn't...I didn't realize it was you."

Embarrassment washes over Morgan all over again. Twice now this beautiful young woman had seen her more bestial nature -- seen her with fangs bared and claws out... how humiliating. Her she was, a Nightingale, a civilized vampire, acting like a god damned sewer-dwelling Revenant!

"You must think me such a monster..." she says softly, slowly lowering her hands to her side and averting her gaze.

"Oh. Oh no, not at all!" The girl says with a laugh. She's closed the door behind her now, setting the wicker basket she had been holding down on the table nearest the door. "You've been through so much lately, I can't blame you for being a bit jumpy." She fixes Morgan with a bright smile and Morgan feels her cheeks grow warm and her heart flutter in her chest.

"Anyway, what may I call you? Surely you'd prefer something other than 'you'." The girl continues, placing the shawl she had been wearing upon a hook on the inside of the door.

Morgan twists the fabric of her nightgown in her hands. "Ah...y-you can call me Nightingale." It wouldn't hurt to use the same name twice, right? She knew she shouldn't just give the strange, beautiful girl her True Name...things were slowly beginning to come together in Morgan's mind as she stood there, surrounded by flowers in the strange metal-less cottage.

No iron, mist, a strange ever-lasting twilight and the girl's pointed ears put the pieces together rather clearly. Obviously,  the girl must be Fae and Morgan...Morgan must be Under the Hill.

"Nightingale?" The girl asks. "What a beautiful name! I'd be glad to call you by it." Her smile is soft, her gaze understanding. "You may call me Flower, if you wish, Nightingale."

Flower. Morgan is certain it's not the girl's true name but it does suit her well -- she certainly brings to mind freshly blossomed flowers. Morgan smiles at her, finding that her worry is rapidly melting away, replaced with...

Well, she knows that she's desperate to taste Flower's blood again-- to feel that warmth filling her... But there's something more than that. Morgan has always found herself attracted to the fire of mortals, knowing their flame burned bright and brief. The flame that lit Flower, however was like a raging inferno that showed no sign of stopping. She was a pure, brilliant beacon of life. She didn't think she could truly resist it.  She wasn't sure she would even try.

"I'm glad to see you're finally awake." Flower says, making her way past Morgan with the wicker basket on her arm. "'Scuse me!" She flitters past into the kitchen. "I was worried...you don't breathe or have a heartbeat while you sleep -- I thought you were dead at first until the dreams started..."

She watches Flower bustle around the kitchen -- setting a tea kettle over the stove, pulling pastries and herbs from the basket and laying them out on the table. Before long, the scent of tea fills the room.

"Dreams?" Morgan asks softly.

"Oh yes, you have...some truly dreadful nightmares." Flower looks at her with sympathy and concern in her eyes. "You would wake up suddenly, screaming and flailing... even after I cleared the fever from your veins, you kept having them..."

Morgan purses her lips. "Oh. Those...those nightmares..."

"I was worried you'd never wake up, to be honest. You wouldn't be the first soul to get lost in Dreams here..." Flower says, a shudder wracking her form. "You can sit down, you know."

Morgan shifts her weight awkwardly. "Did you dress me?" She asks suddenly -- realizing the implication of her change of clothes. The Fae must have changed her at some point while she was asleep. Morgan feels heat flare through her, a thrill running up her spine...The image of Flower peeling her ruined dress off and dressing her sleeping form in this beautiful gown filled Morgan's consciousness suddenly and she found that it was incredibly appealing. Maybe that was why Flower's face and scent had eventually permeated her dreamscape.

"I couldn't very well leave you in that blood-covered pile of rags, could I?" Flower laughs softly. "We're both women, and I'm not exactly an innocent maiden. It's nothing I've not seen before." There's something mischievous in the smile that spreads across Flower's face, her bright blue eyes glittering. "Gave you a wash, too -- had to in order to get the poison out of the wounds, anyway."

Morgan feels her face go red all over again... "Oh! Of course! Th-thank you!" she laughs nervously but feels unsure as to why she's so embarrassed.

Morgan is no stranger to nudity  or the pleasures of the flesh, she had been a married woman after all... and while she hadn't allowed herself to give her heart to anyone, it wasn't as if she hadn't taken lovers in the past thirty years.

But there's something about Flower's smile, something about the thought of those hands washing the dirt and grime and blood from her wet and naked body while she lay unconscious?

Well, it was quite a lot to take in and she rather wished she had been awake for it. Maybe it was the knowledge that she had been so utterly helpless, so at the mercy of another person. She hadn't been vulnerable like that in quite some time. Part of it must have also been the intense bloodlust Morgan felt for her...

Even now, with the scent of freshly steeping tea filling the room, Morgan can smell the flowery scent of the Fae's blood and even though she doesn't truly feel any thirst... her body is screaming for it. Her fangs feel heavy and sharp beneath her gums.

"Come, sit down..." Flower's bright blue eyes are fixed on Morgan, her hands are folded on the table, her head tilted ever so slightly to the side. "It can't be comfortable just standing there."

With a heavy sigh, Morgan relents,  walking into the kitchen and sitting in one of the roughly hewn chairs. "Can I...ask you something?" She reaches for one of the pastries, hoping that forcing something into her empty belly will distract her mind from the thirst that fills her.

"Where are we and why did you save me? I-- I nearly killed you earlier, I might still..."

Flower raises an eyebrow. "You could try, but I doubt you'd manage." Her laugh is like a bell
"As for your first question,  we're in the Kingdom of the Spring Fae-- specifically, the Twilit Wood... I have a cottage here that I come to when I need to get away from Court." She shrugs her shoulders. "And I couldn't leave such a beautiful woman alone to die in the woods of poisoning, even if she did try to drain me of my life's blood.." Flower's brow furrows."Now, I have a question of my own...what...what are you? You're clearly not human -- a mortal would've succumbed to that poison long before I found you and...well, the Fae who feed on blood are nowhere near as fair to look at as you are..."

Morgan fixes her gaze upon the table, tracing the grain of the wood as she searches for words.  "Cursed, I suppose. Dead but still living. I am vampire-- a blood-sucking monster doomed to a cold and empty existence of endless night..." the bitterness flows out, turning her voice to potent venom as she speaks. "My heart only beats because I've stolen blood to make it do so..."

"I see." Flower murmurs. Her eyes are wide, full not of fear but wonder and curiosity. "You don't seem like a monster to me..."

Morgan wraps her arms around herself. "I am." She feels tears pricking at the corners of her eyes, tinting her vision pink.

"Even if you are, you're welcome to stay here until I can figure out a way to get you back home." Flower reaches out, gently placing her soft, warm hand over one of Morgan's. "I'm not afraid of monsters."

No, Morgan thinks I don't believe that you are...  The look in Flower's eyes most certainly hadn't been fear and her voice held a note of curiosity that made Morgan want to blush again...

"Now, tell me how you got here while I finish up breakfast and then we'll figure out how to get you fed."


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