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"Hmmm..." Shina pondered.

The burglar knelt at the end of a dimly-lit stone hallway, ear pressed against a stout wooden door, absorbed in process of probing its lock. Once she was through, there was nothing standing between her and the job of a lifetime. There was of course one detail that had made the venture the job of a lot of other people's lifetimes, and not long ones at that, but she had an ace up her sleeve for that eventuality. Probably.

"Aha!" The mechanism clicked and she stood up straight, placing her tools in one of many pouches in her belt and sweeping messy strands of hair from her face. She took a quick swig from a flask on her hip and then drew her sword, eased the door open on oiled hinges, and stepped into a space that was part study, part master bedroom, and part crypt. The room stretched out long and high before her, lit with a dim, even light by magic-imbued spheres set in ornate sconces. A balcony ran around the edges of the room, a door or two to either side of her. And straight ahead, in the depths of the chamber, past rows of twisted, spiked furniture, her target: a shaded alcove sheltering a thick-set rectangular block of greyish stone that jutted from the floor like the bones of the earth itself.

She made for the alcove, heart racing, moving with footfalls hushed by the rags tied around the soles of her boots. In short order she was standing over the stone edifice, marveling at its smoothness and strength, at the silvery glyph etched into the top surface. She didn't need to read whatever forgotten language it represented to know what it meant. The diurnal rest of the clan matriarch herself. Camille.

Shina pulled out her flask once more and drank again, more deeply. This was it. She gripped the edge of the coffin lid somewhat awkwardly, refusing to drop her sword, and pried at it with her fingers. It moved slowly, groaning and shifting, opening just a crack. She coiled herself, reset her grip, and heaved. The lid fell back and she gripped her sword with both hands, striking downward.

"Ha-haa!" she cried, plunging the silver-plated blade into—


"Looking for me?"

The words rang out through the chamber like a masterwork violin played slightly off-tune. Shina jumped to her feet, spinning and raising her sword and scanning the entrances for her foe. She paused for a moment before lifting her gaze upward and then giving an involuntary little gasp. A tall, slender woman stood on the balcony on a near wall, skin deathly pale and hair flowing silver, clad in a frilled blouse and sleek trousers and standing with all the dreadful elegance of high society half a millennium in its grave.

"I, uh..."

Camille stepped casually over the railing and plunged fifteen feet to the hard stone floor, landing without breaking her stride. Shina gulped visibly, dropping her swordpoint in a low guard, then raising it back threateningly, and finally sinking into a tail guard as the vampire strode wordlessly toward her.

"Oh, hey, uh, you know..." Shina said as her mark approached, looking past her to the door she'd left ajar at the far end of the chamber, "My, er, esteemed employer just wants your little necklace thingy as proof I killed you, so if you don't wanna do that I guess you could, you know, just give it to me instead?"

Camille stopped and fished beneath the neckline of her blouse and held up a small golden amulet twisted into the same symbol that marked the coffin lid. "Interesting." She shrugged and dropped it back out of view. "And exactly is your proposal if I do not?"

"Ah," Shina said, holding up one finger to punctuate her thoughts. "In that case, uh, I think I might have to trick you." She backed up the pronouncement with an attempt at a winning smile. "Anyways," she edged to the side, giving herself a clear shot at the door. "You know, I was just going to..."

She swerved without warning and darted forward, sword screaming directly at the vampire's breast. It didn't even make it halfway. Faster than her eyes could follow the vampire unsheathed her own blade and stepped forward, flowing through a counter that sent Shina's murderstoke clattering to the floor twenty feet away.

Camille smiled broadly. Brilliantly. And sharply. The rogue stood rooted on shaking legs.

"Oh, was that your trick, then?" the vampire said, and slipped her sword back into its sheath. "I was hoping for something a bit... better?"

Shina's eyes darted between Camille and the doorway behind her. "Ah. Uh, well, if you knew what the trick was, it wouldn't be a very good one, right? So if you watch very closely..."

"What's that!" she cried, pointing to her left. She darted to the right, on path toward the exit, and almost in the same instant, so did Camille. A fist to the gut sent Shina careening backward, her vision flashing black as she impacted the stone wall and then deathly pale as the vampire loomed inches from her face.

"What a fragile little creature," Camille said, pinning the thief up against the wall and staring into her eyes. She reached one hand up to caress Shina's cheek, reveling in the way the girl twitched beneath her touch. "You really have no idea what you're doing, do you?" Ravenous hunger gnawed at her despite her dismissive tone. It was a truly glorious catch. Such young, tender flesh. A beautiful, slender tribute with such an inviting little neck. She pressed herself into her victim, savoring the scent of fear that rose as the little rogue squirmed against her, trying to retreat where there was no room to move. Delighting in the heart that hammered away, thumping against the stillness of her own breast. Pumping fresh, hot blood with such maddened fervor. She licked her lips and leaned in, baring her pearl-white fangs.

Shina reached behind herself and untied a pouch on her belt with a smooth, practiced motion. A wooden stake dropped from the hidden compartment into her palm. And icy fingers clamped around her wrist.

"And there it is," Camille said with a half-smile that didn't reach her eyes. "Such a pity for your mortal coup de grace. Your whole life... for this."

She raised Shina's fist up between them and tightened her fingers like a vice. Shina cried out and relinquished her grip, letting the wooden spike drop to the floor with a dull clatter.

"Now, if you are done attempting these... tricks," Camille said, the breath from her words flowing over Shina's cheek, "There is one question left to answer. You present me with quite a generous offer. So, how much should I take? Or," she said, pausing to show off her long, white fangs, "How much shall I leave?"

Shina whimpered, squirming feebly back against the wall, trying in vain to shrink away from the vampire's bite. Razor-sharp pain lanced suddenly through her throat and she gasped as the vampire began to feed.

Camille groaned softly and indulged herself on blood that sprayed over her tongue with an intense burst of flavor. It was rich, spicy, burning almost like strong drink. And in that moment, she couldn't get enough of it. She gulped it down greedily, the rogue's blood like fresh mountain stream to a woman dying of thirst. It roiled in the pit of her stomach, spread glorious warmth into her chest, seared through her own veins like fire. The girl wasn't lying—she did have a trick up her sleeve. And she played her part theatrically, swaying and bowing her knees and throwing her arms around her assailant in a move Camille knew wasn't for support. The transparent gambit awakened something deep inside Camille, inflaming the ravenous, passionate hunger of her baser nature. She dug her fangs more deeply into her victim and gorged freely, spilling muffled pants and clipped sighs of satisfaction, warmth spreading into her cheeks.

Shina surely was smiling as spots ate the corners of her vision and the strength vanished from her legs. And Camille would give her exactly what she wanted. She hadn't spent so long in undeath without employing a certain caution, but the girl was so delicious, so foolishly prideful, that she drank to satiation and kept on going, filling herself with the girl's vibrant lifeblood until the front of her blouse pulled tight against her stomach. At last she pulled her head away and stepped back, breaking Shina's desperate grip almost without noticing and sighing deeply as her victim collapsed in a heap at the base of the wall, blood trickling over her collar.

"I may have—hic—indulged myself a bit," Camille said, smiling. There was a loud gurgle. She stroked her stomach softly, fingers sweeping over its visible curve. Shina's face brightened at the gesture, a glint of triumph in her eye. A frail little spark that Camille would stamp out without mercy.

"You know, I was beginning to wonder if you had any real plan at all," Camille said conversationally, gazing down at the burglar with an expression that turned suddenly dark. "Do not think I cannot taste it, little mage. That trick was old when I was young. You think to fill my veins with your magic until I sear from the inside out. As if you had a tenth of the power! Ooh, what intoxicating insolence! I shall send you back to your old masters as my thrall and you can show them what victory your pathetic spark has won tonight!"

"Or perhaps..." she continued, slipping seamlessly back into her high-society composure, drawing a knife from her belt and playing with the point in the palm of her hand, "You may be worth keeping around. My own special little treat." She smiled again, sharply. "So tell me, mage, what is your school of proficiency? You shall make an excellent pet if you are a fraction as useful as you are delicious."

The rogue shrugged. "Sorry, don't know any magic. Just a regular girl. With a bit of a drinking problem." She pulled out her hip flask and raised it toward her mouth. Halfway there it slipped from her trembling fingers and toppled over on the floor, spilling out a small puddle of clear liquid.

"What's this?" Camille said. She sniffed the air and then narrowed her eyes. Despite the human's apparent dependence on liquid courage, there was no pungent scent to be found on the flask's contents. Or, come to think of it, on the girl's breath.

Her stomach gurgled again, more loudly, and a hot flash ran through her. She sheathed her knife and knelt down to skim the liquid with her finger. Searing pain latched on and she recoiled, shaking it off.

"Holy water?" she said, straightening up and stepping back. The heat in her veins kindled like a fire spilled from its hearth. "And you've been... drinking?"

"All week," Shina said, picking up the flask and breaking into a grin. "Pretty good trick, huh?"

Camille stepped back, eyes going wide and belly even wider.

"You... ugh!" the vampire cried as her stomach gave a great heave and swelled out visibly. A button shot off from the front of her blouse, skittering across the floor with a tinkle drowned out by a sudden rushing in her ears. Another wave of pressure rolled through her, and she looked down at herself with gathering horror. Her stomach shone taut and pale through the gap where her blouse had torn open, her bulging breasts threatening to make a breakthrough of their own. Even as she watched she could see herself growing, feel the pressure building beneath her skin. The stolen blood began to sizzle in her veins, laced with holy fire that reacted violently with her undead flesh.

Another button popped, and then another. Camille began to swell more and more rapidly as the tainted blood flowed to every extremity, her arms and legs plumping up and her stomach stretching like an overfull wineskin. Her sword-belt cinched at her hips as she expanded around it, cutting painfully into her growing figure. She rolled her head back and gritted her teeth, pain skyrocketing until a loud snap sounded over her strained growls and the belt ripped apart, dropping away onto the floor. Her body swiftly ballooned out to fill the space, tearing open the front of her trousers and undoing the last button on her blouse. And the little rogue was watching it all with gleeful expression, slumped feebly against the wall in her victory. Smiling. Laughing. Camille looked back down at herself, ran her fingers down the front of her ruined body and curled them into fists, howling with fury. The little trickster wasn't going to get away with this. She could rip the insolent girl apart with her bare hands.

"You little—Mmmph!"

She looked up just in time to see Shina tottering forward on unsteady feet to plunge the flask right into her gasping mouth. The remaining contents ran, undiluted, like magma down her throat and flashed to steam in the pit of her stomach. The vampire's furious roars diminished to helpless whimpers as a colossal pressure hurled out inside her, outdoing her previous growth in the space of a moment. Her finely-tailored clothes strained briefly before tearing into shreds, her boots splitting down the sides. She continued expanding at a breakneck pace, filling up as if the little flask had funneled an entire river into her mouth. Everywhere her body was tight and smooth and round, pulling taut against the force pushing her out as wide as she was tall. She took another half-step toward the rogue and slipped on the remnants of her boots, toppling forward onto her bulging stomach. She didn't have far to fall.

Camille wiggled impotently, furiously, as the mass of her body began to absorb her limbs. She was totally immobile as she lay on the cold floor of the chamber, totally exposed, her once-dignified form stripped naked and distended beyond all recognition. As much as she expanded, the pressure inside was always outpacing her, filling all the space she gave and pressing for more. Her body throbbed, pulsing out magnificently and shrinking back slightly before surging out again, pushing out a little further and shrinking back a little less each time. She swelled in steps with the inevitability of the rising tide as the burglar watched in awe until with one last pulse she lay, rumbling instead of shrinking, eyes round with shock and fury, and—

Shina made a dash for the alcove and dove behind the coffin as the vampire finally exploded with a booming, wet pop that rolled like a cannon blast through the chamber. Silence followed in its wake, and then a quiet hiss that steadily rose in volume. After a few seconds, the rogue ventured to poke her head out and surveyed the new landscape of the room. Dark red liquid pooled on the floor, splashed the walls, splattered the ceiling, bubbling and sizzling as she watched. She smiled and crawled, lightheaded, from cover, watching smoke begin to curl up from the evaporating puddles.

Ugh, she thought, vampire smoke. Don't breathe that, and tore a bit of cloth from the hem of her shirt to cover her mouth and nose. It was a little more than she intended, but that didn't matter. She could buy a new shirt later. A thousand new ones. A... whatever came after thousand. The vampire's weapons alone were worth a small fortune, she thought, stepping over sodden shreds of cloth and gingerly picking up the ruined sword-belt. And the amulet, the treasure she'd come for—she looked around, found its chain tangled around a sconce on the wall and curled her fingers gently around it—suffice to say she knew a few people who were going to be so jealous when they found out it had worked.

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