On the bus ride home, Jessica had tried to think of a valid excuse for not honouring her invitation to the so-called GliTS HQ, aka, Pixie’s dad’s house. She understood, and was appreciative of, the offer of company and friendship – for someone so generally cheerful and chatty, Jessica couldn’t say that she had many friends – but were three conspiracy theorists really the kind of associates she needed right now?
She changed into regular clothes and flopped on to her bed.
Jessica heavily suspected that both Chase and Ralf had stumbled upon something, learned something they shouldn’t have ever known and that silencing them was the only way to keep it unknown.
She wondered, not for the first time, what on earth it could be. What sort of secret was worth killing two good men over?
Once again, like she’d done so many times over the last few days, Jessica replayed her last ever conversation with Ralf.
He had driven her home from Joe’s and she’d told him about the GliTS’s theories of vampires and witches. Oh and ghosts, don’t forget the ghosts.
He had been very kind, but had ultimately scoffed at her theories and then, suddenly, she was locked up and Ralf was… was…
“Wilbur just had to visit him that morning, the blithering idiot.“
Wait. Had Ralf… had Ralf told Wilbur Jessica’s theories? Did that mean that there was some truth in them? And if so, why had Ralf met his fate and Jessica met a different one? Why had Ralf been silenced and Jessica been set, relatively, free?
Perhaps because she wasn’t free. Anyone who did any research on Jessica would know that her mother was a recovering alcoholic with a list of medical issues as long as her arm, that they had very little in the way of family, that she had no one to turn to except a handful of stray cats and a few loopy women who had been campaigning for her sanity in tinfoil hats.
Jessica heaved a sigh and rolled over again. No position was comfortable with the knot in her stomach. Perhaps she’d change into pyjamas and stay home after all. She needed to wash and iron her work uniform and get ready to return to the station tomorrow. She could use that as an excuse. Right?
Yes, she decided with a wave of guilt. They had helped her and wanted to continue to do so, but she couldn’t be associated with the GliTS. Morag had even said it herself; they campaigned all the time and it never usually worked. Jessica didn’t have the heart to tell them that it was because they were simply not a credible association—
Wait a second. They’re not a credible association.
Jessica’s insides fluttered as the answer she’d been looking for stood up from the crowd of ideas in her head, turned around and slapped her straight across the face.
Of course the Wangshafts would let her go. Of course they’d spare her and not Ralf.
“We can’t be seen to be getting soft on your kind, there’s certainly capacity to reduce the situation to something less… media intensive shall we say.”
Her kind. They thought she was one of them. They thought she was part of the Truth Society and thus, they thought she wasn’t credible.
She ran to her closet and starting throwing on random things. That top she’d been gifted by a hostel owner on her travels. That skirt that she’d found in a dumpster. Those yellow welly boots that still smelled a bit like the mink farm she’d infiltrated.
This was a such a risk. It was crazy.
But if she investigated any of her theories in any way that was deemed serious, she could kiss her life or her freedom goodbye, she was sure of it. If she wanted to solve this mystery and get out alive, perhaps she had to be entirely the opposite of credible.
Perhaps she had to ensure that nobody would believe a word she said.
Seth had left Faith sulking in the penthouse as he’d set out to seize the day. He never told her where he was going when he left her, never even gave her a clue, allowing her to fill in the blanks with her own inadequacies. In these uncertain times, having her question herself was far preferable to having her question him.
The Devil only knew he was questioning himself enough. He had been swinging like a pendulum between extremes of mental acuity since the floodgates had opened. And yet for everything he’d learned, for the damage it was causing to his finely balanced psyche and the apprehension of what else lay beneath the surface, he couldn’t stop digging. He could not simply give up. He had to know everything.
He had started his day by retracing his steps, the last he remembered of his life before capture, by heading over to the farm he remembered as Angeline’s home.
It had changed an awful lot from his recollections.
It was a hamlet of tiny independent stores selling overpriced handicrafts and unidentifiable foodstuffs. Angeline would’ve probably been delighted with the modern reimagining, however, Seth felt nothing but frustration.
There was nothing here to go on, no clues to collect, no hint as to what might have happened three centuries prior. Just bright colours, strange people and some sort of eardrum-bashing racket bleeding from a set-up in the centre of the courtyard.
A woman was hollering over the top of this din in a strained rasp, “Tickets! Get your tickets here! Hey you! Pirate!” she choked out, pushing her clearly collapsing lungs to their limit as Seth strolled past, “You look like you’re into Kaz Traitors! Want to buy a ticket?”
Seth had absolutely no idea what she was offering, but if it had anything to do with that godawful noise, he wasn’t interested. He walked past without acknowledging her, causing her to tut loudly.
“Yeah, you keep walking, Long John Silver. Go listen to your sea shanties.”
It was so petty, so uncalled for. He rounded on her, intending to save the health service a chunk of change by performing the laryngectomy that she clearly needed, but as he did, he noticed something.
That logo, that tattoo. He’d seen that somewhere before. He’d seen it that morning in the bedroom, in fact… and later that morning, in the hot tub.
Faith had a matching one, he was certain of it.
“Your branding,” he stated, pointing at the woman’s arm. “What is that?”
The woman glanced at her tattoo, then back at him. She rolled her eyes like he was the stupidest man on the planet asking a completely ridiculous question. “That’s the logo for Kaz Traitors.”
Seth looked at the poster and listened carefully to the woman’s thoughts. “Ah, we’re talking about a band.”
“What the fuck. A ‘band’,” she repeated, insulted. “They’re more than just a band. They are a way of life. Listen,” she whispered, fading out on a hoarse breath, allowing the ‘music’ to violate his ears for a few moments, uninterrupted. Some woman, with a lung capacity far exceeding that of the miserable ticket vendor before him, assaulted his aural faculty from the speakers with words he could barely distinguish.
“Aggressive poetry,” raspy woman sighed adoringly as the song ended. “God, I’d fucking marry Blu if I could. A band. Seriously. This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance, too – they usually play stadiums, arenas. They don’t ever play such intimate, secret little gigs. But our tour bus broke down and we’re stranded here tonight. Might as well thrash it out, yeah?”
“Once-in-a-lifetime,” Seth mused.
“For one night only. You interested, Blackbeard?”
Seth couldn’t think of anything he’d like less than spending an evening listening to this clangour… except perhaps for spending yet another few hours toiling between Faith’s insatiable thighs. Perhaps he could ditch Faith in the crowd and collect her afterwards, buy himself a few blissful hours of solitude after dark and simultaneously have her eating from the palm of his hand.
He straightened his hat. “I am interested. I’ll take two tickets.”
“Ace,” the woman said and erupted into a coughing fit, muffled by her fist. She opened her hand to examine the output, still convulsing. “Ugh, fuck.”
Seth raised a single eyebrow. “You should see a doctor.”
“You should mind your own business.” Without a care, she wiped her palm on her trousers and fished two tickets from her pocket. “Three hundred simoleons,” she managed, with her shredded vocal cords.
Seth had this much money. He had plenty more than this but he was hardly going to fork over cold, hard cash for such trivial things. He gently pried open the receptive mind of his target and purred at her, “I’ve already paid, Mandeep.”
This moment never got old. He watched Mandeep accept this altered reality without question, adjusting herself to accommodate his meddling. “Yeah, you have. Duh.” She handed over the tickets and Seth swiftly pocketed them, before anyone around could notice anything amiss.
Seth had had no real prior intention of sapping her, but trapped in her swaying daze as he freely perused her mind, Mandeep became something other than an aggressive ticket machine with a hacking cough. She knew some interesting facts about this band, about the metal subculture in general, things that perhaps could help Seth win further easy favour with his fickle fledgling.
“Quit staring at me – I ain’t interested.”
He was positive that Mandeep would taste absolutely disgusting, but he’d likely had worse.
He didn’t even bother to offer her any of his unrivalled charm or a reason. He simply ordered her to follow him, and she did.
After being bombarded with information about their new housemates and with the weight of the day heavy upon them, April and Melinda needed to rest. Sage had offered them the guest room announcing, in no uncertain terms, that it was a ‘girls only’ zone, their private space.
Caleb gave April a brief kiss on the cheek and watched her follow Melinda to this forbidden realm.
He itched to go after her. Now he’d seen how it affected April, being away from him, he never wanted to let her out of his sight again.
He watched the pair cross the hallway, drinking in the divine vision that was his beautiful little vampire wife. She threw him a shy little glance over her shoulder before disappearing behind the painted, wooden door.
How the hell was he going to cope with Sage’s rule of ‘no hanky-panky under my roof’ when he was trapped under her roof with such a temptress? How was he supposed to function now that April’s hair was once again as soft as silk, just waiting for him to glide his fingers through it? Those little socks she was wearing; he’d rip those off with his teeth.
And that skirt. Holy hell. That thing was begging to be bunched up around her tiny waist…
He sighed and went back into the sitting room to join the others, trying desperately to ignore the throbbing in his… head.
“Can binding be undone?” Wyatt asked, piquing Caleb’s interest. Sage’s watery, green eyes scanned Caleb, like they could see through him before she replied.
“Not amicably, I don’t think. The death of one party will undo it, but all the energy that remains, both good and bad, must go somewhere. And with April being naturally attuned, the remaining party would likely overcharge.”
That certainly did the trick to deflate his ego. “Great,” Caleb muttered. “So either way, we’re doomed.”
Sage clicked her tongue, an annoying habit she had. “Hopefully it won’t have to come to that; we can help you manage your commands and your power balance. We will make the best of everything until we can synthesise the cure, however long that may take.”
“Have you already started it?” Lilith asked. “I saw something in the cauldron.”
“That’s the eythrocyte elixir,” Broof explained. “Erythocytes are red blood cells—”
“I know what they are, Broompig,” Lilith spat. “I’m a doctor.”
Even Caleb clocked this hostility; he flinched as Broof opened and closed his mouth a few times, like a goldfish. “I apologise,” he said eventually.
Lilith ignored him and turned to Sage. “Do you still need to add a bucketful of blood at the end?” she smiled cruelly, no doubt watching the spellcaster men squirm out of the corner of her eye.
“Woah! What?! The recipe states ‘an offering’,” Wyatt gasped, turning white. “A bucketful?!”
“The bigger the serving, the better the result,” Sage smiled sweetly, as if she were discussing a cake simple recipe. “Yes, that’s the one. We should have a viable batch by July—”
“We’ll have one by Friday at the latest,” Wyatt corrected, still ashen.
Sage clicked her tongue again and turned slowly towards her son. “How did you get the twice esbat-cleansed spring water already?”
“The what now?” Lilith asked.
“Freshwater that has been blessed at two full moons.”
“Internet,” Wyatt said.
“The internet!?” Sage repeated in horror. “It’ll probably be sheep’s urine or something!”
Wyatt huffed, the colour finally returning to his cheeks. “Nah, it’s totally legit. The store’s run by a coven in Sulani. I buy all sorts from there and only rarely grow extra limbs,” he joked.
Sage tutted and tossed her curls back. She seemed irritated by this knowledge, but Caleb must have been interpreting her face incorrectly. “I see,” she said smoothly. “In that case, we should have enough elixir by Friday to last for a few months—”
“So then we can start on the vampire cure,” Wyatt interrupted. “I’ve checked all the books and there’s no recipe for it—”
“No, there isn’t,” Sage agreed. “It will be difficult to—”
“—but I’ve done some thinking and Hoggy’s done some research and we think we can modify the plant feed potion,” Wyatt carried on as if his mother hadn’t spoken.
“The plant feed potion,” Sage repeated quietly, scrunching her skirt in her fist.
“Yeah, y’know, the one that revives dead plants? With modifications, obvs. Probably need to throw in an offering to appease death or something.”
“And an ingredient to satisfy the curse,” Broof jumped in. “So, more blood, I guess.”
“No,” Wyatt said, thinking aloud. “You can’t use bodily fluids in a spirit-based potion; it’ll corrupt it. Remember when Ma sneezed into her affirmation brew and turned herself inside-out? Plants and minerals only, dude.”
“Maybe there’s a rock that might work then. Bloodstone maybe?”
“It’s worth a try,” Wyatt agreed. “I just hope by that point that we have enough brain power to figure it out. Even with the elixir, there’s still four vampires and only three of us. Maybe we should get another donor.”
Sage sighed. “And who under the moon do we know who we can trust with the knowledge of who we all are, what we’re doing and who would be willing to donate daily?”
Lilith smiled. “I might know someone.”