Prologue: The Damned, Scene I (Lauren)

   
"Cool, huh?" Lydia said, and then the doors of the estate opened, entirely of their own accord. "Cher's a ghoul."

The door opened now, revealing a long-faced butler with impeccably frozen features, who ushered the two young women into the room. He was dressed in dark, Edwardian attire, and he was alive, for Lauren could feel his beating heart. "Would Miladies care to state their business?"

Lauren looked at the butler who seemed to walked right out of a period piece. "We're here to deliver an invitation to the Lady of London." Perhaps he was a ghoul as well. At least that would be more normal than a pigeon...

"Follow me please."

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This was not the first time that Lauren had met the Lady of London. The first time had come a week or two after Lauren's embrace, when Vincent Moon had dragged the dazed and confused fledgling to the Lady's Court at St. Bartholomew's Hospital, where Lauren was formally presented to the Lady of London. It had been a small occasion (Moon's age enough to ensure a private hearing), and one of which Lauren understood only bits and pieces, in no small part because the Lady of London and Moon had opted to converse in Latin for the extent of the conversation.

Nevertheless, Lauren knew something of the Lady of London, Elizabeth Sheridan. She was, by the standards of vampire governance, quite young, having been embraced during the Regency era. Though this still made her two hundred years old, there were half a dozen vampires older than her in London alone (not least of them Vincent Moon), and several others only a few decades younger. She was certainly a capable, skilled vampiress, but her personal power was not nearly enough to secure the governance of London. Instead, Sheridan relied on shrewd politicking, and the fact that while she may not have been the oldest vampire in London, she was the most powerful one willing and able to devote her time to politics. One needed to look only at Lauren's own Sire to see that age did not necessarily grant governing prowess.

The other slightly unnerving thing about Elizabeth Sheridan, at least so far as Lauren was concerned, was that they looked very much alike. Sheridan had been embraced young, by the standards of hte age, and so her body was only eighteen years old, give or take a year. She was a red-head, with dark, auburn hair cascading down in great locks down just past the small of her back, and her face dusted with a multitude of not-at-all-upper-class freckles. She had green eyes, sharp and precise, and she was perhaps an inch over five feet in height.

"Lauren Darrow and Lydia Morreluck, Mistress." The butler announced them, as they were lead into a parlour room. Sheridan was already there, dressed in a loose, simple gown of blue muslin cloth. She had been reading a book of some sort, which she put aside when the two younger vampires arrived, and turned her attention to them.

"Lauren, Lydia, come in, have a seat, shall Edward get you anything?" She smiled, and a dimple formed in her cheek. "To what do I owe the pleasure of your acquaintance?"

Lauren sat down and tried not to imagine an alternate universe in which the Lady of London was her prettier, more successful younger sister. It was just entirely too plausible.

"Thank you, your grace, but we're fine." She was sitting up straight with her hands clasped in her lap. "We're here to invite you to a party Vincent Moon is holding, on the 24th."

"...why do I find those words mysteriously alarming?" Sheridan said with a wry smile, tapping her fingers on the side of the stuffed couch. She glanced at Lauren, then at Lydia (who's seeing-eye-pigeon had fluttered over to a bookshelf and was no reading the titles), and then back at Lauren.

"I would of course be honored to attend the gathering of one of London's most noted Elders." The Lady of London said, much mor formal now.

Lauren smiled, managing to keep her expression from turning into a knowing grimace. Vincent Moon having a party was about as alarming as a pyromaniac having a bonfire. At least it promised to be exciting.

"I'm sure he'll be happy to hear that." She informed the Lady of the time and place. "Is there anything you'd like me to relay back?" It seemed natural to offer, since she was already playing carrier pigeon. As this occurred to her, Lauren glanced surreptitiously at Cher. Had Sophie done this on purpose?

"I expect Moon's enthusiasm to be overwhelming." Sheridan said dryly. She paid no attention to the pigeon, but then, Sheridan was used to dealing with Moon-level weirdness from her Elders (admittedly, few as bad as Moon, but many who made a noble attempt at it). A vampire with a pet pigeon hardly blipped on her radar.

"I regret that we haven't had a chance to speak since your Embrace." Sheridan steepled her fingers, regarding Lauren with a charming smile. "Especially given that we look close-enough to be sisters. How are you finding unlife in London?"

Lauren refrained from mentioning that they hadn't really spoken then, either, since one of them had chattered on in perfect Latin and the other had tried to make herself as small and unnoticeable as possible.

"Yes, it's strange, isn't it? I definitely hadn't been expecting that..." Their similar appearance had been a cherry of "WTF" on top of the strange sundae her unlife had become since meeting Moon. "It's been fine. I mean, there's been a lot to get used to..." Lauren trailed off, thinking it was rather odd that she'd been asked twice in the same night about what she thought of London. "Moon keeps me busy, of course. I've gotten a lot of really wonderful photographs. There's such variety here."

"You're a photographer?" Sheridan said, pouncing on this little piece of information like a cat upon a mouse. Despite that, Sheridan's interest was more than just polite. "Professional or amateur?"

"Are you a landscape photographer or a portraitist?" Sheridan said, suddenly looking at Lauren with her undivided attention. She was also smiling, which was perhaps an ominous sign.

Lauren blinked. "Yes. I'm a professional, or I'm trying to be. I mostly do freelance work. Primarily landscapes, but there's more work in portraits, so I've been getting experience with them." She was incredibly flattered by the Lady's interest in her skills. "Do you need a photographer for something?"





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