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The next evening when I rose, Antonius was at his accustomed place at the foot of my bed. His eyes were downcast but he quivered with unexpressed power.
I rose from the bed, Neo’s blood surging through my veins. Antonius fetched a tunic from the guardaroba, the usual dark one with an even darker tie. I put it on while he brought me my sandals. I could see the light of unasked questions in his eyes.
Antonius had returned from Noto a mere quarter candlemark after myself. I was uncertain if that were usual for a servanti, perhaps I would question the old maggiordomo. It seemed a promising start, nonetheless.
I fixed Antonius with a stare until he met my eyes. “What is it you wish to ask me?” His eyes flickered as though he were nervous, but I was doubtful. Anxious, perhaps.
“Dio,” he began, clasping and unclasping his hands in front of him, “You spoke as though there was more to this…gift. What is it?” His eyes bulged as he stared into my face. What had he almost said? I decided to use his intensity against him. Let us see how strong he was where it counted most. Since his focus was on me, I had to do little; I simply stared into his mind and found the topmost thought. Power. I grinned; it was hardly surprising.
“You wish to increase your newly gained power, servanti?” Antonius furrowed his brow at the unfamiliar word, but nodded eagerly. “And what do you want?”
“More!” Antonius cried. “I felt the strength in me last night. I ran without tiring. I ran faster than anyone. I was strong. I want more!” He reached for my arm in eagerness. I drew from my surging blood and knocked aside his arm with such ferocity that he was flung across the room and against the door. I could see a small dent in the wood where his head had hit, but Antonius only rebounded, wild eyed.
“Stop,” I commanded him. He froze where he stood, a step from the door. “Never will you touch me again. I know what you want.” I moved towards him. “And you will have it. But if you truly wish your power to grow, you must control your passions.”
Antonius’ chest rose and fell with his efforts at self-control. His hands clenched and unclenched, his jaw worked. He stared, hard, at the floor, as if it had done him a great wrong. Finally, he looked up at me, his face smooth. “Good,” I said. “You may have your reward.” Once again I slashed my forearm the long fingernail. Antonius leaned towards me as I raised my arm to his lips. It was good my strength surpassed his own, or I would never have broken his hold; so eager was he to ingest what he believed to be power. I pried open his mouth and pushed him back, holding him until he calmed. His eyes gleamed, and he licked every bit of blood his tongue could reach from his face.
“Dio,” Antonius said, attempting humility, “What is next?”
I smiled. Apparently he could be taught. He had listened in the midst of his passion. “Next, Antonius, you focus. Feel the blood in your veins. Use it to draw strength, but only when you need it. It is not a toy, and you cannot be renewed each night.” I stared at him to be certain he understood; my blood was my own, and he received it at my discretion. Antonius bowed his head in respect. “Now, fetch me Cloelie. And take that laundry with you. It is stained.” I pointed to the tunic I had worn the previous night. Flecks of Neo’s blood stood out red on its dark surface, and I could smell Neo in them.
Antonius had grimaced at the mention of Cloelie’s name, but I ignored it. Servants fight, as well I knew. He would do his job; he was bound to it. And even if not, I could force him, though it was not worth the effort. “Yes, Dio,” was all Antonius replied before gathering the laundry and trudging from the room. I heard his steps change as he reached the hall in search of Cloelie; no longer trudging but stomping.
I waited until I could no longer hear Antonius’ steps, then relaxed into shadow. Yesterday had been a hard day, and training Antonius was not going to be as easy as I had hoped. He would do well in the physical manifestations of his abilities, but I did not believe he would comprehend their subtleties.
I was relaxed in my shadow, when the door opened and a woman I did not know entered. She was tall, with long black hair, and eyes highlighted by powder. Several bracelets clattered on both her arms, such that I was surprised I had not heard her in the hallway. Her sandals were laced up to knees with beads braided onto the lashes. Her tunic, which came just below her knees, was red. Of course. But why was there a prostitute in my room? Why was there one in the villa at all?
Just as I was to preparing to emerge from my shadows, there was a knock at the door. “Dio?” I heard Cloelie’s tentative voice from the hallway. “You called for me?” The woman froze, then melted into shadow herself and slid under the door. I would have blinked, but shadows have no eyelids, instead I gathered myself and emerged to answer Cloelie’s knock.
The door swung smoothly open to reveal Cloelie’s astonished face. She blinked, then turned to look down the hallway. “Dio,” she began, “did you see…something on the floor? A…shadow?” Her green eyes shone with moisture.
“Do not worry yourself,” I replied, taking her arm and leading her into my room. “The shadow shall not bother you tonight.” Cloelie followed unhesitantly. I had been fortunate the Signore allowed me to remain in the villa during this time of transition. Cloelie stopped at the foot of my bed, closed her eyes, and tilted her head for me to feed.