“So, Kitty turned you, and then what happened?” Faith asked, alarmed by Seth’s agitation and his glowing green eyes that had slowly revealed over the course of his story.
“She kept me in the basement, for the most part,” he answered, his voice frantic. “They kept me down there for decades.”
“Why?” Faith asked, trying to keep up. “How did you get out? What happened?”
“She wanted me to devote myself to her,” he hissed. “But I couldn’t. Not while Angeline was — Angeline! Oh my devil! I’ve wasted so much time! I need to find Angeline! I need to apologise to Angeline! There was a farm, a dairy farm. Her father owned a dairy farm. We should start there!”
“Seth, you last saw her over three centuries ago – she’ll be long dead.”
“But that bottle! It was a damn stork! What if… what if she was carrying my child?”
“They would also be long dead,” Faith explained, as patiently as she could manage when all she wanted to do was scream in his face.
Seth ignored her. “I could have a family!” he yelled and ran towards the pathway; stopping a few metres away and looking around, disorientated and confused like he’d forgotten what he was doing.
Faith wandered over and took Seth’s shaking hand in her own as he muttered incoherently to himself.
“Are you OK?” she asked.
He shook his head, ran his hand down his face, fighting to stay upright. “What was I doing?”
Faith chewed her lip, watching him swaying before her. “Let’s get you a drink, OK?” she said in the steady voice that she usually used to reason with Joy. “Will that help? A drink?”
“A drink?” Seth repeated as if he didn’t understand the word.
“Yes, a drink,” Faith said through gritted teeth. This was so not what she’d signed up for. If she’d wanted to babysit a clueless, ancient vampire, she’d have run off with Caleb.
Seth looked at her for a while through crossed eyes before he got a sudden jolt of life and yanked his hand from her grip. “Of course!” he exclaimed.
“Oh, great,” Faith said, relieved. “The city is not far, right? We can go hunt there—”
“The cat! The cat that follows me!” Seth announced triumphantly. “What if the cat is Kitty? What if the cat is Angeline?! I need to find that cat!”
“You need to find a cat,” Faith groaned. “Right.”
“You can help me, Faith. You and your mirror!”
“Yes!” He continued ranting nonsensically about cats, mirrors, babies and long-dead, unattractive women named Angeline while Faith silently regretted everything.
Would he ever shut up?
Was this her life now? Stuck with this raving lunatic?
Could she snap him out of it?
Seth rubbed his face and was silent for a while before he spoke again, his voice quiet and unsure, “I… I needed that.” He cleared his throat. “I need a drink.”
Faith nodded, relieved that he was finally making sense but still distinctly turned off by the whole thing. Seth extended his shaking hand towards her; his voice was devoid of its smooth growl and he lacked any of his usual suaveness.
“Come. I’ll mist us to the village.”
Faith looked at Seth’s twitching face and those creepy cat-like eyes that were darting about like an antelope checking for lions. If he misted with her now, she’d definitely lose some limbs in the process. She took a step back and said something she never thought she’d say.
“I’d rather walk.”
It had been a long time since Lilith had last spoken to Sage, but even with her increased facial slackening and general air of senility, the old witch hadn’t changed a bit. She was still every inch the sugar-dusted, shrewd, unholy pain-in-the-arse that Lilith had always loved and hated in equal measures.
Lilith could not read Sage’s thoughts – witches had a certain resilience against mind-reading and Lilith was not in fine form – but she could still tell what was running through Sage’s extravagantly-coiffed head.
A thousand overworked theories, no doubt. Constant analysis and interpretation of every word Lilith said, every muscle that twitched in her face and every seemingly insignificant eye movement. She would be drinking it all in, examining the facts and skewing them until they fit her assumptions.
Lilith smiled, more to confuse Sage than because she felt any great joy. Sage had a huge well of magical power to harness; she could summon forth her elements and use them to manipulate and control the world around her. But her magical ability stopped at the physical, at the external.
Sage could read Lilith’s body language, interpret every hitch in her voice and draw conclusions from that. But she could not read Lilith’s mind. So, unlike her father, Sage never really knew if she was correct in her assumptions about what Lilith was thinking.
It was pointless trying to tell her that.
“How did Caleb lose his skills and memory?” she asked for the tenth time, studying Lilith’s face.
Sage hadn’t bought the excuses of aging vampire brains and surviving on bland blood, not that Lilith expected her to, so she tried a new line. “Maybe he gave them to April,” Lilith said flippantly, throwing back her fifth gin and tonic. It didn’t have the olfactory delight of a cosmopolitan, but it contained much more alcohol, so it didn’t matter. “He is besotted with her.”
“Oh, he is, very much so.” Sage grinned. “As evidenced by his complete lack of fidelity last night.”
“I’m not sure April will mind,” Lilith smiled back. “But regardless; he’ll make it up to her. He’s going to buy her a gold house, don’t you know?”
“Not with what I’m paying him,” Sage winked. “Didn’t even ask me how I’d be paying him. Never been cut out for the real world, has he?”
Lilith offered no counter. There was no arguing that. The more she had peeled back the layers to show Caleb glimpses of the world, the less he had understood it. For now, Lilith was just relieved that he had not disclosed anything. All those sharp whacks of her spoon appeared to have drilled in the message: keep your mouth shut.
Then again, maybe he wouldn’t have had a choice here. Who knew what sort of potions the witches had at their disposal these days?
Perhaps a truth elixir that could work on a vampire?
“I simply love your top, Sage.”
No, clearly no truth elixir around here.
Sage continued to examine Lilith’s face for a while before she clicked her tongue in frustration and grabbed her drink from the table. “So, how have things been with you, Lilith dear?”
“Fine,” Lilith lied, wondering what to say next.
She took a moment to really look at the woman sitting beside her. As someone immune to the effects of time herself, it fascinated and terrified Lilith to see such drastic changes. The last time Lilith had set eyes on her meticulous, green friend was the day the treaty was agreed. Sage’s hair still fell to her waist in thick, black waves back then and her face was unlined, thanks entirely to magical intervention.
Lilith wondered what had changed in those years for Sage to allow time to unravel across her features.
She glanced around the room, full of photos and mementos of love and a, mostly, happy life. Her eyes flitted over the photo of Sage’s first son, Tarragon – a subject best avoided.
She already knew that Warren had passed away, so that was a conversational dead end, no pun intended. Her focus travelled to the wall to a more recent photo of someone who was clearly her other son who looked to be in his early twenties. How time flew; he’d been a baby when she’d last seen him. Maybe he had been the factor that drove Sage to greyness.
“How old is Wyatt now?”
“Seventy-six,” Sage replied.
Lilith nodded but witch aging always confused her. It was something to do with generational bloodlines; the more ancient the bloodline, the slower they appeared to age. Throw in the spells they could cast to change their appearance and it was often impossible to tell the age of any of them.
“Is he gifted?” Lilith asked.
“Similar to Tarragon,” Sage replied smoothly. Lilith took this cue and looked around for a change of subject, her gaze landing on a photo of Ma Hogwash.
Ma was, in Lilith’s opinion, the finest High Priestess the Windenburg Witch coven had ever seen and not purely because she was the only witch, besides Sage, who had ever shown an ounce of compassion for the vampires. In fact, Lilith would go so far as to say that Ma actually quite liked her.
“What’s Ma doing these days?” Lilith asked. “Didn’t this used to be her store?”
“It did,” Sage sang in that trill tone she used to quash emotion. “Alas, at the grand old age of 409, Ma finally departed this plane.”
“Oh?” Lilith asked, wondering if this was the catalyst for ‘letting go’. “So, did you finally make High Priestess?”
Sage set her mouth into a firm little line; all the answer Lilith needed. She took another swig of her drink, to drown out her laugh at the obvious fact; Sage’s ability to rub people the wrong way had prevented her being elected as Ma’s replacement but Lilith wondered which excuse the overly-green old crone would use.
“No, I did not,” Sage replied brightly after a moment’s contemplation. “They elected a young woman, barely in her hundreds. A former voodoo priestess from the swamps. Not that I can blame them; who wouldn’t elect someone so exotic over a wisened, local witch who had been in the coven her whole life?” She coughed politely; her irritation getting the better of her. “Especially when she was bleating on in her election campaign about gently easing us into the mainstream, bringing us out into the open, safely. She sold a dream.”
Lilith choked on her drink. “She wants to bring us out in the open?! She knows about me?!”
“Oh goodness, no! I’d burn for that!” Sage sang. “’Us’ being the witches only, dear. To say that the High Priestess is anti-vampire is quite the understatement,” Sage said quietly, peering into her glass. “And by proxy… well, she is the choice of the coven I have pledged my life to serve, so serve I must.”
This was bad. This was very bad. “How much time do you have?” Lilith managed to ask.
Sage grinned, a glint in her eyes. “As much as I want, dear. Vampire hunting is an art you know, it takes time. Maybe I can drag out my wild goose chase as long as you have.”
“If they’re looking for us—”
“I’ll hide you well.”
Lilith faltered. “You would? I mean, you don’t need to hide us. We have Forgotten Hollow—”
“Which has been all over the news and linked to that missing girl case. Hardly ‘forgotten’.” Sage hummed a little tune, a sure sign that she was approaching her limit, patience-wise. She smoothed out her skirt. “No, those days are gone, Lilith. Besides, I have reason to believe that April may be…” she paused, tossed her curls. “…related to me.”
“Related to you how?”
Sage ignored Lilith completely. “…and so the three girls – and Caleb, I suppose – will be moving in here, for everyone’s protection, until we can find a cure. First thing tomorrow we will go and get them. I’m far too old to be gallivanting around in the wilderness at this time of night.”
“April can’t leave the cottage—”
“I know. That’s easily overcome.”
“But I… I can look after them—”
“You have something else to be looking for,” Sage winked. “The girls are now my responsibility and we’ll go and get them first thing tomorrow. You’ll need to stop here tonight anyway, Lilith. I’ve sealed the apartment until dawn.”
“I hope there’s a fire,” Lilith replied drolly.
“There’s a little snack in the fridge, should you or Caleb need it.”
“Where is Caleb?”
“And I know you’re unlikely to sleep, but you two can use the guest room tonight. Oh, that’s a thought; the guest room only sleeps two,” Sage wittered on, ignoring Lilith again, “but I’m sure we’ll manage, perhaps get bunk beds. For the girls,” she reiterated. “All three of them.”
Lilith groaned and rubbed her temples. She knew. “Two girls,” she clarified. “There are only two; April and her friend Melinda. The other friend, Faith, she… they parted ways.”
“How unfortunate. Still, no vampire can freely abandon their sire forever. She’ll come back,” Sage asserted. “Unless, of course, she had a better offer, but that would require quite some persuasion. You’d have to be, I don’t know, some kind of master manipulator to achieve that.”
“Sage?” a new voice echoed from across the room.
Lilith had heard the knock that had preceded this visitor, but evidently Sage’s hearing was failing, as she startled. The man teased open the door and slipped in smoothly, like he was used to being invisible. Lilith had expected to see the tousled, grinning, green-eyed fellow from the photographs on the mantlepiece, not this softly-spoken, bearded man.
“The front door appears to be stuck— Oh. You have company.”
The subtle note of surprise in his voice was all it took for Lilith to realise that Sage having company was a novelty.
“Oh, darling, I thought you’d already left!” Sage said, her voice reverting to chirpy sing-song. “I’ve locked up; you’ll need to teleport out. But while you’re here; Lilith, this is Ma’s grandson, Broof.”
“Hi Broof.” Lilith smirked. Some of these witches had such ridiculous names.
“Broof, this is a very, very old friend of mine. I suppose knowing what you now do, you may as well have the truth. She’s Caleb’s sister, Lilith Vatore.”
“His sister?” Broof repeated. “Are you also a vampire?”
“Well I’m not a three-hundred-year-old human, am I?” she scoffed.
Broof smiled and extended his hand towards her, unruffled when it was ignored. “Are you the one and same Lilith Vatore, cosmetic surgeon from Del Sol Valley?” he asked politely.
“Are you?” Sage asked. “A surgeon in Del Sol Valley?”
Lilith pouted. Trust this to come up when she wasn’t actually practicing anymore. “Yes. It’s as close as I can get to consensual blood-taking. Caleb and I have been surviving this way for, ooh, thirty years. I’ve got a great reputation, too,” she finished proudly.
“You haven’t taken any lives in thirty years,” Sage clarified. Lilith shook her head warily, feeling like she’d made a mistake.
“Yet there are still so many people going missing in Forgotten Hollow,” Sage sang, her arms flying up in excitement at Lilith’s low growl of frustration. “It’s him, isn’t it?” Sage exclaimed. “I knew it! He’s taken the third girl hasn’t he? Sweet Mother Earth, Lilith, for her sake if nothing else; where is he? How do I find him?”
“I don’t bloody know where he is!” Lilith screamed and she picked the easier target of the flowery tosser lingering in the doorway who had just blown her cover. “How did you know I was a surgeon? Are you stalking me, Broom Pigwash?” she snarled.
“Broom Pigwash,” he repeated. “You always said it, Ma,” he said quietly to the photo on the wall, “but it appears that you were right; my name could actually be worse.” He laughed politely, but Lilith returned him only a stony stare. “I can see I’m not welcome here. Forgive my intrusion, Ms. Vatore. Sage, I will see you tomorrow.”
“Good bye, darling. Apologies about Lilith; she’s always been rather prickly,” Sage said, walking over to the fireplace as the door closed behind Broof, leaving Lilith to wallow behind her.
“Can we trust him?” Lilith asked, still glaring at the door.
“We have to. He used to be Sandy’s butler and, by the sounds of it, the only one who gives a hoot about April.”
“He was Sandy’s butler?” Lilith asked. “Is there anywhere you witches haven’t penetrated?”
“You always were an interesting drunk, Lilith,” Sage mused, ignoring her. Lilith started to wonder whether she actually was deaf. “And how good to know that truth elixir does work on you – if I ply you with enough of it.”
“You didn’t. You wouldn’t risk knowing how wrong you are about everything.”
Sage winked and carried her glass towards the door, pausing only to say goodnight.
Lilith chewed her lip. How she hated the green cow and her underhanded techniques. Still, if she wanted the truth, she could have the truth.
“Your hair looks like a petrified octopus, Sage,” she said to the empty room.
Petty. But better.