Prologue: The Damned, Scene I (Lauren)

"No, we're renting a function room at the convention center for the night. Officially, it's a marketing demonstration for a new pharmaceutical, followed by drinks and recreation. A hint of truth in every deception." Sophie said, smiling that icy smile, and removing the snow-white jacket and passing it to one of the bodyguards. She was wearing a crisp white blouse beneath it, which she proceeded to fold the sleeves back of. "Let me think, yes, I'll send Lydia."

"The first invitation will be to the Lady of London, Elizabeth Sheridan. Precedent forbids any other from being invited before her." Sophie continued, even as one of the other bodyguards brought forward a large, wooden box, opening it to reveal rows upon rows of neat surgical knives and scalpels, all pristine and sterile. Sophie nodded absently, approving them. "Her lair is located in Kensington, #154, Knightsbridge Rd., overlooking Kensington Gardens and the Serpentine."

Lauren nodded slowly, eyes on the knives. She wanted to leave now. While she wasn't particularly worried that she would be harmed, watching Sophie carve something (or someone) up wasn't her idea of a good time.

"Alright. I guess I'll meet Lydia there? And don't I need to tell the guests the time and place?" Lauren tried to get the other important questions out of the way so she could leave. She glanced at the exit.

"Queen Elizabeth II Conference Center, February 24th, at eleven PM." Sophie said, as one of the men in grey proferred a pair of surgical gloves for her. Sophie began to don them. "I'll tell Lydia to meet you at Kensington Garden, she's travels quickly. If there's anything else, feel free to call me."

"If that's everything." Sophie said, smiling that razor-silk smile, picking up a little scalpel. "You may go."

For a moment, Lauren thought she spotted spectral blood droplets appear on the shiny, polished scalpel.

Lauren nodded and turned to leave, forcing herself to walk at a normal pace. What the hell was Sophie doing, operating on ghosts? If she'd brought Lauren up there to intimidate her (which was the only conclusion that Lauren could draw at this point) it had certainly worked.

She did allow herself to speed up once she was away from Sophie. Lauren excused it in her mind as wanting to hurry to Kensington Garden. Whoever Lydia was, she was going to try to make a good first impression. Lauren might need the help.


Kensington was one of London's more expensive areas, an affluent and densely-populated part of town. In earlier days, people had lived here in grand terraced houses, wealthy aristocrats dwelling in townhouses of four to six stories in height, with elegant Victorian facades overlooking the beautiful gardens. Nowadays, the great terraced houses were broken up into individual flats, but it was still one of the most expensive regions of London. An apartment here in Kensington would've been far out of Lauren's pocketbook. Yet the Lady of London kept an entire building for herself. This was the privilege of wealth.

First though, Lauren had to find Lydia, who would be around... somewhere. Though finding her would perhaps not prove as difficult as one might expect. There was only one person in the street, a figure sitting on a dark bench, quite motionless, waiting for someone to arrive.

Lydia, if that was her, had been embraced sometime in her early twenties. She had pale skin, quite nearly translucent, but her hair was dyed a vivid, eye-splitting pink color, and allowed to fall limply in front of her face. Lauren couldn't see her eyes beneath those shocking-pink bangs. She was dressed appropriately to her hair color, in a short, leather skirt with a wide belt, a somewhat ragged black blouse with a skull emblazoned on it, thigh-high boots, and fingerless black gloves. As an accent, there was a spiked collar worn around her neck.

Lydia was not pretty. Between that fishbelly-pale skin and the fact that Lauren couldn't see her eyes, she looked downright unearthly. But no one could deny that Lydia was distinctive.

The area was gorgeous, and Lauren was grateful for an excuse to be there. As she walked, she gazed up at the apartments, imagining her life if she lived here. It was a fantasy that was likely to never happen. Only the lucky few made it that big in photography. She sighed longingly and decided she ought to look for Lydia.

Which was not exactly difficult, apparently. The only person there was a pale girl with hot pink hair so bright, it was a wonder it didn't light up the street. That had to be Lydia. Lauren couldn't think of any other reason for a person dressed like that to be in a place like this.

She purposefully strode over to the supposed Lydia and stopped a few feet from the bench. "Excuse me, Lydia? I'm Lauren." Normally, she might extend a hand, but Lauren had met plenty of girls dressed like this when she was human. They generally didn't do handshakes. And she couldn't even make eye contact.

"I've been expecting you." Lydia said. She had a soft, gentle voice, like a cooing dove. She turned her head towards Lauren, smiling a secret little smile as she did so. There was something off about Lydia, just a bit. "It's nice to meet you."

It occurred to Lauren that there were an awful lot of pigeons around the park for this time of night. It particularly occurred to Lauren because at least one of the pigeons had hopped onto the bench near Lydia and was watching her with beady, orange-red eyes. Generally speaking, Pigeons didn't show this much interest in vampires, especially in Lauren.

"Where are you from?" Lydia said quietly, tilting her head to one side a little. "You don't sound like a local."

"Nice to meet you, too. I'm from the U.S.," Lauren said. "Nebraska."

Lydia was a little funny, but well within acceptable ranges for someone who dyed their hair pink and wore it in their face. The pigeons were definitely weird, though. They weren't nocturnal, and when they were awake, they didn't get close to people unless they had food. Lauren frowned at the pigeons. Perhaps Lydia had been feeding them before Lauren arrived?

"Sorry if I kept you waiting long."

"Nebraska? I visited Las Vegas once when I was still... you know." Lydia made an airy sort of gesture, not quite wanting to say alive in public, even if they were the only two people on the street. "That's kind of awesome. How'd you end up all the way over here?"

"Don't worry about me." Lydia said, grinning suddenly. Lauren observed that her teeth were a bit sharper than one might expect, not just the canines, but all of them, as though Lydia had filed them down. "There's plenty of worse things I could be doing than hanging around the park."

"Las Vegas is a lot more exciting than Nebraska," Lauren smiled. "I took a year off from school to travel Europe, came here, and then... stuff happened." She made her own vague gesture. "So, I just stayed."

Lauren had heard the term "shark-like smile" before, but she'd never met someone it applied to more than Lydia. She was having trouble understanding why a vampire like her would want to look less human on purpose, but whatever Lydia's reasons, she was undeniably successful.

"It is a nice park. Were you feeding the pigeons? I usually don't see so many around at night," Lauren asked, looking around at their bird audience.


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