Caleb very rarely slept, so waking up was an unusual activity in the first instance.
When he did sleep, it was for short bursts, in a dark, almost empty room. Not this colourful crowded one, full of paintings, knickknacks and plants. His bedsheets were crisp and immaculate from years of serving only as mattress decoration, whereas the sheets beneath him now were impossibly soft and scented with a light, fresh, herbaceous fragrance that reminded him of sunrise in the forest.
They reminded him of something else, also. But he couldn’t identify exactly what…
Caleb hadn’t heard the door open behind him, but was aware that Sage had entered the room.
“Oh good! You’re awake! I need a word with you, sweetheart,” she chirped.
Wait a minute. Waking up… strange bed… holy hell. He hadn’t. Not with Sage, surely.
But why else would he be in her bed? Bloody hell. Slipping back into his bad habits was a lot easier than he’d thought. He hoped he hadn’t bitten her. Sleeping with the boss was one thing, but tapping her veins was probably grounds for dismissal.
Caleb watched Sage walk over, set a mug on the bedside table and perch herself on the bed beside him. He noted that her gait was normal, he couldn’t see any bite marks on her throat or bruising on her wrists, so if she remembered as much of the night’s events as he did, it was likely going to be fine.
“Let’s not pussyfoot around here,” she said brightly. “I know that you’re a vampire, my darling. So, let me explain how this is going to go. Right now you are in my bedroom, in my apartment—”
Damn. She thought he was a vampire, so perhaps he had bitten her. He wracked his brain, trying to remember how Lilith had coached him to respond in these situations.
First, apologise to her, because your bites hurt. Tell her ‘there are no such things as vampires’ and you’re simply a regular man who gets a little mouthy in the heat of the moment. And for hell’s sake, Caleb; don’t bite her again if she says she ‘could get into that’ – just leave.
Caleb cleared his throat and turned to Sage. “I’m so—”
Sage held up her hand to silence him. “Darling; when I want your input, I’ll request it.”
“As I was saying,” she continued, unruffled. “You are in my bedroom, in my apartment, which is precisely where you shall be staying until I decide you may leave. Do not try to escape, do not try to attack nor intimidate me; none of those options will wash. Are you following me so far, sweetheart?”
Caleb smiled. Even if this little old lady did know that he was a vampire, what was she going to do if he got up and strolled to the door? Or if he pounced on her, pinned her down and drained her dry?
“Sage,” he purred. “Vampires? There’s no such thing.” He rose to leave, shaking his head.
“Oh no you don’t.” Sage pointed to the bed and ordered, “Sit.”
Like a magnet to a fridge, Caleb’s buttocks snapped firmly back down at her command.
“How did you—?”
“Witchcraft, my dear,” Sage answered calmly and looked over him with interest. “My, my. I barely had to put any energy into that,” she mused. “I can tell that you clearly have very little in the way of mind control skill or defence. Most unusual; a vampire of your age should be quite proficient in that. Unless you gave it to your bind, but that would be a first.”
Caleb shook his head, trying to shake the loose marbles inside his head into their holes.
This was so much information. A vampire of his age? Did she know he was older than seventeen? What else did she know? Witchcraft? Witches had been hunted to extinction with the vampires. But, then again, he and Lilith had slipped the vampire hunters, so maybe Sage’s family had, too. And if she wasn’t a witch or a vampire herself, how did she know about binds? How did she know that he had a bind?
Did she know? If she thought a vampire’s age was proportionate to his skill, she was clearly mistaken. Maybe this was a test.
“There’s no such thing as vampires, Sage,” he said again, gently. “I think you may be confused. Shall I get Wyatt?”
She smiled. “Thor, if that is your name, which I doubt, allow me to elaborate. I know that you are a vampire. I know that you have a bind – to a certain recently-deceased actress’s daughter. I know that you cannot lift your bottom from that eiderdown and I know that you have wandered into the lion’s den with no inkling of the danger.”
Damn. Caleb tried to stand again, but couldn’t, so that all sounded rather accurate. “I didn’t. I haven’t. I mean, April, she was—“
“An accident? Wasn’t she just!” Sage beamed. “Darling, I don’t overlook the fact that your hand has been heavily forced. You came here genuinely seeking work, so I highly doubt that you are part of a wealthy, ancient society, and I understand that you do at least try to restrain yourself and live as human as you can. However, none of that changes the fact that you are a vampire and therefore you present a significant threat to my family, my kind and humankind and I simply cannot let you leave.”
Caleb scoffed. “You can’t keep me here forever.”
Sage raised an eyebrow, as if this was a challenge, then chuckled at Caleb’s horrified face. “No, you’re right, I can’t keep you here forever. And luckily for you, darling, my dear son disagrees with my suggestion as to what I, esteemed vampire hunter of three century’s experience, should to do with you. So instead, we offer you this once-in-a-lifetime chance: if you cooperate with us, we will help you find a cure for your curse.”
Caleb stared her for a while, looking for the catch. “You can do that?” he finally asked, hopefully.
“We were close before so it’s highly likely,” Sage sang. “One way or another.”
Caleb felt like he was dreaming. He could find a long-awaited cure for Lilith, the girls and himself. He could unbind himself from April. He could lose April.
He chewed over this selfish, final thought but it was gradually overshadowed by another. The look on Lilith’s face when she had the cure she’d always wanted, the life she’d always wanted. When he did something right, for once. When he saved them all.
Maybe then April would genuinely love him.
“Cooperate how, exactly?” he asked.
“You must stay within these walls; if you leave, I cannot help you. There will be numerous tests and trials as we develop a product; you must comply. You need to tell me where April is and if there are any others,” Sage said smoothly. “I will go and get April and bring her here, to you.”
Her words bore their usual sweetness and it was a simple enough request, yet it hit him like a bucket of icy water. He felt his shoulders tense and his fangs bare as Sage’s words stirred his protective instinct.
“No,” he snarled. “Do you think I’m a fool? I’m not letting you, esteemed vampire hunter, fetch her. Not without me.”
Sage blinked but she was, as she had claimed, not intimidated. “I see. Then our only option is to wait for your kin to come to you,” Sage said with assurance. “She will. She’ll have to.”
“Why will she have to?” Caleb asked, startled.
Sage tilted her head to her shoulder in an inquisitive way. “Oh, my sweet boy. You don’t realise how dependent she is, do you? Why, without you, she barely exists. Trust me when I say, she will already be looking for you.”
“But… she can’t look for me! I commanded her to stay in the house,” Caleb choked. “Look, I need to go to her. I swear it, I’ll come back; I’ll bring them with me.”
“You cannot leave, sweetheart,” Sage smiled as if this was neither here nor there. “Forgive my prejudice. I learned a long a time ago that one cannot trust vampires. No. You cannot leave the apartment, sweetheart and I have made sure of it. She will come to you.”
“But… she can’t… unless, maybe Mel—” he stopped, clamping his hand to his mouth.
“It’ll all work itself out,” Sage assured him. “In the meantime, feel free to make yourself at home. When Wyatt is finished with his base potion, you boys can go and do whatever it is boys do these days. Taking mind-altering substances and fornicating in wardrobes, by the sounds of it!” She laughed. “Now, I shall go and prepare for the imminent arrival of our additional guests. You be a good boy and drink your mug of blood before it’s stone cold!”
Lilith had hiked all the way to the village, up a hill, with the sun in her eyes and had wandered the shiny, unfamiliar layout of the new Windenburg Village for an hour before she’d found the blasted flower shop. It was the only one in the area, according to two strangers she had begrudgingly asked for directions, so this had to be where Caleb worked.
There was no sign denoting its name or purpose, but a swift peek though the window confirmed it was a flower shop, of some description. It looked harmless enough. Caleb had probably charmed the little old lady owner into giving him a few hours work, cash-in-hand. He’d probably taken the money next door, into the Windenburg Inn, sank a few drinks and pulled some unlucky wench.
If he wasn’t waking up in a stranger’s bed and trying to find his way home right now, Lilith would be very surprised. She’d have liked to confirm at least part of her theory, but of course the shop was closed.
A small sign in the window sang in a flowery cursive: ‘be back soon’. It was past lunchtime; what kind of half-arsed operation was it that they had to close to run errands or take bathroom breaks? Maybe Caleb was supposed to be on shift today and hadn’t turned up due to aforementioned theory. The more Lilith thought about that, the more it made sense.
This was a waste of time.
Lilith turned to leave, but halted as she caught the faint, yeasty scent of beer on the breeze.
She’d come all this way. She might as well ask if anyone at the pub had seen her wayward brother last night. Maybe she’d have a swift drink and then check back in with the flower shop owner, who would no doubt confirm that Caleb was slipping back to his ways of being a skirt-chasing waste of space.
She hoped this pub served cosmopolitans.
Wyatt sprinkled exactly two thumbfuls of ground pumpkin seeds and a notch of chicory root into the cauldron and rescanned the recipe book on the wall. By this stage the erythrocyte elixir should be colourless and bubbling with a light, metallic fragrance.
So far, so good.
He could see how this potion would be difficult; not least because all the measurements were in oldie-worldie units like thumbfuls and notches, but because it had so many steps and long resting times throughout, that everyone who created it probably died of boredom or blood loss before it was done.
His mother was not wrong; this potion was supposed to take a full lunar cycle, but that was back in the 1500s or whenever this recipe was written, when witches didn’t have the internet to order ingredients like ‘twice esbat-cleansed spring water’ with no effort. Wyatt had a litre of this fancy moon water arriving on Monday; with any luck he’d have a viable potion by Friday.
Sage had entered the room, making that little clicking noise she did with her tongue when she was trying to structure a rollocking to sound kinder.
“Is Hoggy OK?” Wyatt asked, after a minute of this sort-of-silence.
“Huh?” Sage replied, shaking her perfect curls, “Oh, yes. Well, as much to be expected after his little donation. Although he insisted on resting in your room, so perhaps he’s a little delirious.”
Wyatt smiled. He could see his buddy now; folding clothes and alphabetising Wyatt’s long-forgotten naughty magazine stash. Broof didn’t know the meaning of rest. “Did Thor enjoy the um… drink?” he asked, morbid curiosity getting the better of him.
Sage shrugged. “He didn’t sample it while I was there, but he will. I could see him being compelled towards it.”
“So gross,” Wyatt grimaced. “I can’t imagine having to drink blood to survive. It’s so weird.”
“We’ll all be doing it one day,” Sage said gravely.
Her frothy laugh poured forth as she laid eyes on Wyatt’s horrified face. “This potion calls for blood, my love, in the later stages. Hopefully we three have a little left when we get to that point.”
Wyatt was keen to change the subject. He was such a wimp when it came to this stuff. He was so relieved when Broof volunteered to be first donor, although Wyatt would have to be second; he didn’t want his fragile, old mum giving anything, if he could help it.
“Did he tell you where April was?” he asked, scanning the shelf for the next ingredient; half a dahlia. Why half? Who wrote this rubbish?
“No,” Sage sighed. “Although I didn’t expect him to. Sires are notoriously protective of their binds, possessive to the point of destructive.”
“So, what now? Do we just hold him captive until he tells us? That’s kind of cruel.”
Sage shook her head; the idea that a witch could be cruel to a vampire clearly challenging every belief she held. “Trust me, my sweetheart, it won’t be long before this is resolved.”
That wasn’t an answer but the edge in that tone told him not to argue. He added his pointless half a dahlia, facing north as directed in the book, and waited. Sage clicked her tongue more rapidly as she approached the formation of her sugar-coated sentence, like a Geiger counter encroaching on a Brazil nut.
“Wyatt,” she began. “You could have told me about April before this all got out of hand. We would have managed. You know you can tell me anything.”
There it was. A question that wasn’t a question and a fact that wasn’t a fact. He didn’t respond.
“It’s looking good so far, darling,” Sage offered, the softly, softly approach. “Have you added the pumpkin seeds?”
“Yep,” Wyatt replied.
“Do you know how to convert thumbfuls into modern units? I think we have a book on it, somewhere that you can refer to.”
“Yeah, the Modern Witch’s Guide to Conversions. I already read that. Driest thing ever.”
“Oh. Yes, I suppose it is.” She peered into the pot as she walked around it, scrutinising. “It looks a bit agitated. Which direction are you stirring?”
“Twice sunwise and then once widdershins,” Wyatt answered patiently. “Mum. I know how to make a potion.”
“So you do,” Sage agreed, but continued to hover around him like a fly. “Oh, Wyatt, before I forget. I was meeting with the senior members of the coven yesterday to discuss your practicing risk.”
“Oh?” Wyatt asked, feigning interest. It would probably be another revision to the rules, increasing his maturity age to a hundred and fifty on the back of another hastily-prepared risk assessment. “And we are agreed,” Sage continued, “that you may start learning to cast. Small spells, of course, nothing that requires you to build charge.”
Wyatt was so shocked that he almost sent a torrent into the bubbling pot, which could have been devastating to such a delicate elixir, but definitely a fun experiment for the future. “Really?”
“Really,” Sage beamed, looking proud. “So, you’ll be wanting to choose a mentor.”
“Hoggy. Duh,” Wyatt answered, without hesitation.
Sage’s smile flickered. “Oh. Yes, of course, Broof. Good choice; he is very controlled, very calm. I shall let the High Priestess know.”
Wyatt didn’t miss the sadness in her voice, the way she stared into the lightly simmering potion and he felt pretty bad about that. But really, he couldn’t be mentored by his mum; he’d never live that down.
“Do you need me to harvest at the spring for the esbat water?” she asked.
“I’ve sorted it,” Wyatt assured her. “Mum, please. I know I’ve messed up, I know you’re trying to help and I know you think I’m nothing but a huge, naïve idiot, but trust me; I know what I’m doing when it comes to potions.”
Sage fixed him with a longing gaze before shrugging her shoulders and lifting her chin. “I don’t doubt it, my sweet boy. Well, I’d best go and open the store, then.”
“Wha—? You’re going to open today? With an ancient vampire in the house?”
“Why ever not?” Sage sang happily. “He doesn’t have any mind-control or mind-reading ability and his physical strength is therefore easy to overcome with a little flick of the wrist. Other than his boundless charm, which two out of three of us can resist,” she chuckled, giving Wyatt a knowing look, “he’s quite pathetic, really. Besides, I’d rather throw myself into a pit of hungry vampires than endure the wrath of Mrs. Mudslot should she miss out on her end-of-week reductions. If you need me, I’ll be on the shop floor.”
“I’ll manage without you,” Wyatt said in his off-hand way.
“Let’s hope that’s true,” he heard Sage whisper.