While they waited for him to return, Alexia turned to the new arrivals. “Good evening, Madame Lefoux. Miss Dair.”
“Lady Maccon, how do you do?” replied the actress. Hands were clasped to her trembling bosom, and the bulk of her attention was still centered on the dying girl.
Madame Lefoux merely tipped her head in Alexia’s direction and gave her a small, tight smile. Then she returned her attention to the actress, placing a solicitous arm about the woman’s waist.
Dr. Caedes returned, bearing a small silver goblet with some kind of lid attached to the top. It looked like those cup attachments designed for gentlemen with mustaches. He passed it to the queen, who took it in one hand.
“Prepare the girl.”
Dr. Caedes grabbed the comatose woman by the shoulders and shifted her into his mistress’s lap. His supernatural strength made the task an easy one, even had the girl not been relatively slight. He turned her head so that she rested with the side of her neck exposed.
The queen took a drink from the goblet, swished the contents around in her mouth, and paused, an intense look of contemplation on her face. Then Countess Nadasdy bared her teeth, both the longer regular fangs, the feeders, and the smaller fangs to either side, the makers. Alexia wasn’t quite certain on the logistics of vampire metamorphosis. They were secretive about the details, and rarely were scientists, save their own, permitted to observe. But she knew the current theory held that feeders sucked the blood out while makers pumped blood in, so metamorphosis occurred by process of the queen literally giving her own blood over to the new vampire.
The countess opened her mouth wide. The makers were dripping perfect drops of dark blood, almost black. Alexia wondered if the contents of the sippy goblet acted as a catalyst.
Dr. Caedes bent and looked into his queen’s mouth. “I believe we may proceed, My Queen.”
Lady Maccon could only hope that the vampire metamorphosis process was less brutal than the werewolves. Her husband had practically eaten Lady Kingair whole in order to change her. It was most indelicate. The last thing Alexia wanted was to witness the vampire version of a three-course meal.
“Should we be watching this? Isn’t unbirth a matter for family intimates only?” Alexia asked Major Channing on a hiss.
“I think we are remaining as witnesses apurpose, my lady. She wants to prove her strength.” The major seemed not at all perturbed by the prospect.
“Does she? Why? Did I look as though I doubted it?”
“No. But our Alpha has managed two successful metamorphoses in the past three years. That has got to smart something awful for the vampires.”
“You mean, I have stumbled into some kind of eternal tiddlywinks match? Who can make the most immortals? What are you people, schoolroom children?”
Major Channing tilted his hands, palms up, in supplication.
“Oh, for goodness’ sake,” said Alexia, and then hushed, for the countess was biting down at last.
It was a good deal more elegant than with the werewolves at first. Countess Nadasdy sank her feeder fangs deep into the flesh of the girl’s neck and then kept going until she was far enough in for the maker fangs to sink in as well. She cradled both arms about the woman and leaned back so that she was held up to her mouth like a tea sandwich. The girl’s slack white face tilted toward the small audience. Countess Nadasdy closed her eyes, assuming an expression of ecstatic bliss. She moved not one muscle, except that Alexia could see a strange up and down fluttering in her neck, like a cow regurgitating its cud, only faster, smaller, and in both directions.
Asphodel remained limp in her mistress’s arms for a long while, until her whole body jerked—once. Alexia jumped in reaction, as did Major Channing. Madame Lefoux gave them both a quelling look.
Asphodel’s eyes popped open, wide, startled, looking directly at the observers. Then she began to scream. It was a deep, drawn-out cry of agony. Her pupils dilated, darkening and changing color, extending outward until her entire eyeball was a solid deep red.
The girl’s eyes began to bleed. Drops of blood leaked out, running down the sides of her face and dripping off her nose. Her screams became gargles as blood began to pour out of her mouth, muffling the cries.
Dr. Caedes said, “Enough, My Queen. It isn’t taking. There will be no making this one over.”
The hive queen only continued to suck, her expression beatific. Her arms were beginning to lose their hold, however, and she was sagging over the girl.
Dr. Caedes stepped forward and ripped Asphodel off of his queen’s fangs. Under normal circumstances, Alexia suspected he would not have been able to do so. All vampires were strong, but queens were reputed to be the strongest of them all. However, the countess’s beautiful eyes, when they finally opened, were sunken with exhaustion.
Dr. Caedes yanked the maid from the countess’s grasp and threw her to the floor like a used dishrag. The girl convulsed one final time and stilled.
Alexia went to bend over her solicitously, careful not to touch her in case, somehow, this was all as it was meant to be, and preternatural contact might interfere with the process of metamorphosis. The girl, however, was motionless. Lady Maccon looked up from her crouch at Major Channing. The werewolf shook his blond head.
Dr. Caedes spoke into the shocked quiet of the Blue Room. “My Queen, it did not take. You need to feed and restore your strength. Please, put the makers away. I will call in the drones.”
Countess Nadasdy turned an unfocused gaze onto her vampire companion. “Didn’t it work? Another one gone. How unfortunate. I shall have to buy a new dress, then.” She looked around, catching sight of the fallen girl and Lady Maccon bent over her. She laughed. “There’s nothing you can do, soul-sucker.”