The moon was still high up in the air and the sky was blanketed by stars. Crickets chirped as they came out the front door of the manor house.
Carmen finally saw the trees that she had seen out the windows earlier. The whole manor was surrounded by trees, sitting in a clearing. A stone path paved the way through the forest, winding through the trees and disappearing around a bend.
“This place is kind of small, isn’t it? I expected the place you live in to be more grand,” Carmen said.
Victoria nodded. “A lot of visitors say that, but I’m not interested in moving anywhere else when I don’t need it. Plus, I like the quiet. Come on, let’s go to the city.”
Her wings fluttered and Victoria lifted up into the air, leaving Carmen behind.
“Wait, I can’t fly!” Carmen shouted, running after her.
“But I saw you fly when you landed in the seat,” Victoria pointed out, turning to look down at her from the sky. “You really can’t?”
“No. It was an accident…”
“You’re so helpless. Just put mana into your wings. Our wings are natural constructions for flight spells,” Victoria said, spinning through the air and flying in loops. “It might be confusing at first.”
Doing as she was told, Carmen first tried to put undead mana into her wings, but all it did was do the same thing as it did for the rest of her body—make it tougher to hurt. It looks like only blood mana will work.
With the addition of blood mana, her body suddenly felt light. The extra limbs on her back felt a little strange to be using actively, but she got used to the controls quite quickly. She gave her wings an experimental flap and yelped as her body suddenly lifted into the air, flipping and tumbling, only slowing down when Victoria flew over and steadied her.
“This is…difficult,” she admitted. “It feels so strange.”
“Almost everyone except a few devils have trouble with it at first but you’ll learn quite quickly. It’s in your blood after all. Come on, let’s not waste anymore moonlight.” Victoria let go of her but kept a grip on her hand. “For now, just try to keep aloft. I’ll pull you until you’re ready to try it on your own.”
Carmen nodded, desperately flapping her wings. Surprisingly, the movements of her wings didn’t matter so much as her intentions of what to do. As long as she thought about maintaining her position in the air, she was fine, but the moment she tried to change direction, she’d veer off wildly off course, taking Victoria with her until Victoria managed to stop the both of them.
The forest in front of the manor wasn’t very wide. It would have only taken half an hour or so of walking to get through, so it was a simple privacy barrier for Victoria. As such, with the speed of their flight, they easily passed over the trees and reached the city situated a little beyond the forest.
The irony of the first real city she sees after becoming a vampire being a city of demons did not escape her. It even made sense, in a twisted kind of way. Despite it being in the middle of the night, the city was still bustling. The figures of the people still out and about after dark was illuminated by street lanterns and lights spilling out of windows.
Had Carmen been in any city in human territory, the city would be locked down after curfew and almost like a ghost city.
“Why is everyone still awake?” she asked Victoria, who was flying beside her.
By now, she could fly by herself even if Victoria didn’t hold her hand. However, she could only fly in a straight line and even the slightest chance in direction requires a lengthy deliberation to avoid sending herself spinning away again.
“Why not? Unlike humans, every race can see just fine in the dark. Being princesses of the night, is it strange that our cities will still be awake after the sun has set?” Victoria asked. “Humans are the odd ones out.”
They descended down onto one of the busier streets—a market street, instantly attracting the attention of many of the pedestrians.
“Oh! Lady Victoria, it’s rare for you to be out here so late!” one of the demons called. It was a fluffy fox-like demon with a long snout and squinty eyes, dressed in colorful, thick clothes.
At the same time, another demon, a pretty long-eared woman with blonde hair leaned out from behind her large stall, holding a bottle of sloshing liquid. “The moon sure is pretty isn’t it? Do you want some wine on the house, Lady?”
“How could you offer something so low quality to her? Lady Victoria, my wine is imported directly from the Auraefir vineyards!” a second elf shouted, raising her own bottle. “Please accept it!”
Carmen shrank as the originally busy streets burst into activity and all sorts of demons began trying to offer their wares to Victoria for free.
It was quite scary how popular Victoria was. Even though she herself was quite popular and received a lot of attention when she attended Church parades and event processions in Moltrost, the attention she received was always muted and filled with a hint of worship.
It was different from the intimate popularity that Victoria enjoyed.
Just who was Victoria?
She had originally planned to lie low, but Victoria attracted way too much attention. As her companion, Carmen was naturally picked out from the crowd as well.
“Oh? Lady Victoria, is she another guest of yours?” A short bearded man around the same height as Carmen peered at them.
“A guest? Who is she? Who is she? Introduce her to us!”
“Look, her hair!”
The moment someone pointed out how Carmen’s hair was not entirely silver, a ripple of silence spread through the crowd as they began to discuss among themselves before resuming their shouting.
A golden-eyed woman with thick, wild hair and a pair of ears sticking up from the top of her head was one of the loudest, easily being heard over the rest of the crowd. “Leave it to our lady to be able to capture someone like that.”
Carmen looked over at Victoria who didn’t seem fazed at all being in the center of so much attention. Instead, she took it in stride, rejecting the offers one by one and replying to some of the especially loud ones.
Victoria turned to the lion woman. “No, you misunderstand. Camilla here isn’t a guest. She’s my daughter.”
Wincing as the number of eyes on her instantly multiplied, Carmen pulled on Victoria’s sleeves. Luckily, Victoria knew what she was trying to say and quickly excused herself before taking into the sky, leaving the people on the streets behind.
Although Carmen saw many people with wings in the crowd, none of them were rude enough to chase after them.
Carmen’s heart pounded from the excitement earlier. Everything was so loud and happened in such close quarters that it overloaded her mind. It’s not like she’s never been at the center of attention before, but during those moments, she always wore her armor and hid her face behind her helmet.
The helmet helped distance her from the crowd, not to mention that as a templar, she had been an inviolable existence to the citizens.
What had happened just then was a first for her.
“How do you feel?” Victoria asked.
“A bit overwhelmed,” Carmen admitted. “There’s just so many people. Do you visit the city often?”
“It’s not usually that bad, since I tend to visit during the day. As a result, the citizens are more or less used to me. It’s only when I visit at night that things like that happen.”
Victoria really was popular. It wasn’t a popularity derived from reputation, like hers as a templar had been, but one that was born of charisma and personal connections. Carmen had thought that Victoria was merely a noble like the ones she saw in human society, aloof and arrogant, but while Victoria acted arrogant, she was also quite down to earth. The more she got to know Victoria, the more impressed she was.
“Tell me more about this city,” she said.
They were currently flying toward a less busy place.
“Of course. This city is called Irinoth. I established it myself and watched it grow bit by bit, which is why everyone’s so familiar with me,” Victoria said. “Is there anything you want to know in particular?”
“Last time I checked, there were only around twenty thousand or so,” Victoria replied.
Oh. It could have just been the proximity, but it seemed like the place was way too busy to only have twenty thousand people, but perhaps the excitement inflated the numbers a bit. A hundred loud people always seemed more numerous than a hundred silent ones after all.
Still, there were so many different demon races…although ‘demon’ may not be the best thing to call them anymore. In that short moment in the crowd, Carmen spotted multiple different kinds of shifters—animal races, a lot of elves, a few dwarves, some gnomes, five devils, a bit of lesser vampires, and a few giants…but no humans.
Irinoth itself seemed like a blend of cultures with inconsistent architecture styles, but that itself showcased the diversity that made up its population. Victoria and Carmen landed in a relatively quiet district that had a large amount of trees of wood and stone.
She saw a few elves wandering the streets, coming and going from the shops. After a bit of thinking, Victoria led them toward a building with the beetle drawing carved on a board hanging over the door.
It looked to be a restaurant.
“There’s so many races here. Is Irinoth the exception or the norm?” Carmen asked.
“I’d say both. Newer places like mine tend to have a lot of mixing, but larger, more traditional cities tend to mostly consist of a single race. Also, the race itself matters. Because of how we vampire nobles reproduce, our cities tend to be the most diverse of all the races while the elemental races still tend to be relatively monolithic.”
Victoria patiently began to explain the intricacies of population and culture of the races to Carmen while Carmen listened attentively.
Thanks to her previous human-centric mentality, she had lumped all the other races together and called them demons. In reality, demonkind consisted of dozens if not hundreds of individual races that broke up into their own individual internal cultures and factions.
Perhaps it was ignorance that bred her initial hatred of all things non-human.
“Welcome to the Beetle Song,” came a clear song-like voice from inside the restaurant as Victoria pushed into the building, ringing a bell installed on the door.
The inside of the restaurant was beautifully lit with soft green lines, and wooden furniture that seemed to grow out of the floor itself.
A tall elf with her long hair braided and hanging over her shoulder on one side came out from the back. Hidden behind her apron, clad in a muted forest brown dress was a curvy figure and a large chest.
She was holding a board in her hands. “Oh, it’s just you, Vi.”
“I’m still a customer, you know. Besides, it’s not just me today. I brought someone with me.”
The elf turned to Carmen curtsied before holding out the board she held to Carmen. “My, a rare vampire guest. Nice to meet you; I’m the proprietress of the humble Beetle Song, Yirene.”
Carmen had a bad feeling about this elf. She reminded her of someone.
Victoria took the board from Carmen’s hands. “Yirene, this is Camilla, my daughter.”
“Ah, so that’s why you spent so long hiding away at home,” Yirene said. “No wonder Ismelda wouldn’t let me through. Welcome to the family, Camilla. What were you?”
“Human…wait, family?” Carmen asked. She looked again at Yirene’s hair and eyes, but she couldn’t see any silver or red. The elf’s…oh.
Seeing realization dawn on Carmen when her eyes widened, Victoria laughed. “Correct. Yirene is my sister.”
Suddenly, the bad feeling Carmen felt from Yirene began to make sense. Yirene was going to be rather difficult to handle, just like Victoria. She shivered.