Seth shifted and felt the too-tight fabric strain across his thighs as he moved. His folding pocket knife, the only one that he could fit in the dainty, largely decorative pockets of his jeans, had wedged itself under his hip bone and no amount of subtle repositioning would fix it.
No, he wasn’t comfortable, but he didn’t want to open his eyes, didn’t want to move. He wasn’t ready to wake yet.
He slept so little these days; his overstimulated husk needing to rest so infrequently that this deep slumber, this heavenly nothing he was on the cusp of stirring from was divine.
So often, he would close his eyes and welcome oblivion, only to find himself watching the insides of his eyelids until he quickly bored.
But not this time. He was even dreaming, this time.
Granted, it was a retelling of his night’s events, but the smooth way it played through his consciousness without his interference was rather placating.
He could see the stage, hear the wailing of that woman who, despite her colourful lyrics, was full of thoughts drier than a vampire in the desert.
A small crowd had arrived at the venue but not nearly large enough to lose Faith in. Still, he could take five minutes to rest his ears without her noticing.
Seth paused in the doorway and slowly turned back. Something suddenly didn’t feel right.
Or look right.
He did love it when prey selected itself.
Bloody hell; even in his dreams he could feel the mass of beard between his teeth and the rancid taste of sweat and desperation. But, despite this rather unpleasant replay, Seth clung to his dream, covering his face to the rising sun that threatened to rouse him.
He couldn’t have been missing from the room for more than half an hour but it was long enough to bother Her Majesty.
Faith – undeterred by being in a public place and naturally ungrateful that he had sorted Handsy Jack – was oblivious that he’d decided he would enjoy the way she looked tonight and continue his venture tomorrow. She proceeded to give Seth even more of an earful than he was already experiencing.
He couldn’t really make out her exact words over the dreadful din but keep vanishing and don’t give a shit about me were definitely mentioned in-between all the fucks and bastards.
She really knew how to keep a man.
Fortunately for the raging rookie, Seth had seen enough below her surface to be mostly unbothered by her outburst, to know that her bark was exponentially worse than her bite and that, like most teenagers, she had the attention span of an amnesiac fish.
Are you doing this? she asked him, her jaw on the floor as her idol stopped mid-song and left the stage to compliment Faith on her hair.
Of course I bloody am.
Once Blu was on board, the others followed her lead; metallic moths to their luminescent lyricist. They barely questioned as Blu closed the show, as the fans scattered, as two complete strangers were invited into their circle to have a beer and share stories about the best and worst gigs they’d been to.
Which was just as well, as not all the band members were as receptive to Seth’s attempts to manipulate them as Bluebell was.
Nani was an open book. But neither Floppy or ‘Caustic’ were particularly readable; their thoughts arriving to Seth through a chaotic cloud of white noise.
He’d encountered it before, typically in individuals who were mentally disturbed or who were otherwise lacking a fundamental sense of reality. If they couldn’t structure their own thought processes, Seth found it a most arduous task to follow them.
He’d presumed that the pair’s thoughts were no more interesting than Blu’s and Nani’s and continued pretending to enjoy his beer while he racked up brownie points with his delighted debutante.
The conversation turned more personal when Faith – or Violet, as she was calling herself – asked if the rumours, about Nani and Caustic dating, were true. Seth wasn’t listening – he had suddenly noticed that Nani had Lilith’s hair – so he didn’t hear the next question coming.
“How serious are you two? Is Violet marriage material?” Caustic asked with a wink, like it was any of his business.
“No,” Seth replied bluntly, unable to answer the direct question with anything other than a direct answer. “She’s a nightmare,” he added, hoping the jovial tone he adopted would save him.
Caustic laughed, but no one else did. How strong was this beer? Perhaps he had trace intoxication from feeding off that bearded bastard earlier and this was simply amplifying it.
“I’m a nightmare?”
“Ah… uh…” Bollocks. He started to formulate a response, a distraction, wondering how he’d win her round before she kicked off, yet again. Maybe he couldn’t. Maybe he’d have to grovel. He was getting jaw ache just thinking about it.
“You really are an asshole, Seth.” Faith turned to Blu, her voice shaking, “Is there a bathroom in this place?”
“Oh, babe,” Blu sighed, stumbling from her barstool but keeping her beer upright, like a pro, as she beckoned Faith towards her. “C’mon, leave him.”
“Violet—” Seth growled at Faith, a warning and a plea, as she slinked off in the shadow of the superstar, ignoring him.
The thought of leaping from his chair and grabbing her flashed through his mind. He couldn’t decide if he’d grab her by the hand or the throat, whether he’d kiss her or rip her apart and in those seconds of inaction, he lost all desire to act. Let her go and rant about it to her new best friend.
She’d be back.
She hadn’t come back.
Snapped from any semblance of sleep, Seth jolted upright, the thoughts he’d been unable to structure the previous night finally taking shape. He’d left her alone. A fledgling vampire, a wanted woman, a star struck, slighted teenager in a room full of fleshy mortals.
There were so many ways that could have gone wrong.
What in hell’s name was he thinking?!
He hadn’t been thinking.
Why hadn’t he been thinking?
“Y’know, Seth, you ain’t looking so good. Why don’t you go get some air? I’ll look after ‘Violet’.”
Seth fought his way to his feet with no plan other than find her, fix this.
He could do neither.
April hadn’t gone straight to the cauldron room, as she was instructed, but that’s only because she gotten a little bit lost. The house was not really big, but it did have a lot of doors that all looked the same and she was certain that she’d opened the same door twice and it had led to different places.
Eventually, she found her way to a door which definitely led to the cauldron room, as evidenced by the humongous iron pot in it.
April was still a little confused, and wary, about what Sage might talk to her about later in the day. Maybe she was overthinking and it was simply going to be reiteration of house rules and designation of chores or something.
She really hoped so. April had never had chores before. She wondered which ones she’d be tasked with.
What if she was useless? She was pretty much useless at everything.
But whatever she had to do, she’d try super hard. She wasn’t sure she’d forgive herself if she and Melinda got kicked out. Where would they go?
Wyatt was hunched over the cauldron, mumbling something to himself. He hadn’t noticed April bounce in and she didn’t want to startle him. She looked around for something to subtly announce her presence with, but let out an involuntary gasp when she noticed a human skull in the cabinet to her side.
“Oh my goodness! Is that real?”
Wyatt jumped and as he did so, a very naughty word escaped his lips and a small jolt of blue lightning erupted from his fingertips and blasted the nearby wall.
“Ugh…” he groaned, stumbling back from the cauldron, his body glowing and shaking as if each limb had a life of its own.
“Apes, please don’t do that,” he said after all the pretty lights had vanished. He was telling her off, but he said it in a way that didn’t make April feel like she’d been told off. Maybe because he called her ‘Apes’. She liked that a lot better than her other nicknames of Blondie and Stupid.
Wyatt carefully examined the cauldron and breathed a sigh of relief. “It’s good, we’re all good. I missed.” He turned his attention to the cabinet April was looking into. “Yeah, that’s real.”
“Who is it?” she asked, with morbid fascination.
“I dunno. With some of the ancient witch stuff, it’s better to not ask,” he mumbled. Mother hated mumblers and the use of what she called ‘commoner talk’ – that is – not pronouncing each word crisply and fully, but April quite liked the way Wyatt spoke. It felt like a long, lazy Sunday. It was so very much in contrast to the all the crazy sparks that had been shooting out him a moment prior!
“What was all that light, Wy? Was that magic?”
“Uh,” he looked towards the door to the kitchen and replied hesitantly. “Yeah. That’s what magic looks like.”
“Magic,” April repeated, her eyes glittering. “It’s so pretty! Can you do it again?”
“No,” he eyed her warily. “Apes, if anyone asks, you didn’t see that, OK?”
“OK,” April agreed happily. A secret! She liked that they already had a secret, something only they knew. “Is that what all magic looks like? Would mine?” She waved her finger around but predictably, nothing happened. “Guess not.”
Did she imagine it or did he flinch when she talked about ‘her magic’? “Uh, I mean, if you’re actually a witch then it’ll be similar. Maybe.”
“Might I not be a witch even though you’re my father?”
She didn’t imagine it. He squirmed like a worm on a hook. “Gah. Ugh. I dunno. Sometimes it skips generations, so even if your parents are witches, you might not be, like Hoggy’s folks.”
“Broof’s parents weren’t magical?”
“No. Nor was his, um, daughter.” Wyatt looked into the slowly bubbling cauldron, then back at April. “Did… did you want something in here?”
“Not really, although this room is so fun! Grandmother told me to come and talk to you.”
“She said we might both learn a lot. I’m not really very sure what she thought I might teach you, unless you want to learn how to walk with a book on your head? I guess she thought you could teach me about plants? Maybe she’s hoping I’ll take over the family business one day. I do know a little bit about flowers. I read a lot in the mansion and found a few botany books in the dustbin over the years.”
“Really?” Wyatt asked, stifling a laugh. “OK, I can teach you some stuff, if you’re interested. How much do you know? Where shall we start?”
“Hmm,” April pondered tapping her chin and looking at the strings of flowers. “Why don’t you test me?”
“Sure. Pass me a… Christmas rose.”
April studied the blooms on the wall for a few minutes before delicately extracting a single flower.
Wyatt blinked, looking at her hand then back at her face. “Wow, yeah. Lucky guess?”
April shrugged, rolling the stem of the flower between her fingertips. “A little. I’ve never seen one before, but I recognised some of the others, so could rule those out and then saw this one and it felt right. Oh my goodness, that sounds so silly.”
“Not to me it doesn’t,” Wyatt said taking the flower from her and extracting a petal. “You’re a way better assistant than Hoggy, for sure.”
“I am?” April asked, beaming with pride.
“Yeah.” He scanned the recipe on the wall. “Next we need some cloves. They’re in that cabinet next to Skully.”
“Skully,” April giggled as she wandered back to the cabinet and ran her finger over the dusty bottles. “Cloves… cloves… ooh! What do you use frogspawn in?” she asked examining the colourful glass jars.
Wyatt shrugged following April’s gaze. “I don’t. Another relic. Witches of the past used loads of weird stuff we don’t use anymore. Really questionable ingredients.”
“Children. I saw it in a movie once. The witches made bread from the bones of children and eating it made them younger. It was a good bad movie. I watched it when I was nine and it kept me awake for almost a week! I still can’t look at bread the same way.”
“Modern witches aren’t really like the ones in movies, Apes. Some are, some still practice ill-natured magic, but they get the effects back, three-fold and… wait a sec. Bread from kids?” He scratched his head. “I know that movie! I’m surprised you’ve seen it, though. I think the whole production had a budget of ten simoleons and a pizza. Hardly a Del Sol Valley blockbuster.”
“Maybe that’s why I liked it. Those movies were so different to everything else around me. I really like scary movies, Wy. My friends and I would watch them all the time, before.”
“Awesome, same. Hey maybe we should—”
“Sometimes it was nice to know that I wasn’t the only frightened one,” April added quietly, with a faraway, glazed expression.
Wyatt drummed his fingers against the cauldron, looking anywhere but at April. Her heart sank. She thought they were getting along but maybe she was annoying him, too.
“D-do you want me to go away?” she asked quietly, trying not to cry.
“If you do, I’ll understand. Mother never wanted me around unless there were cameras nearby and Father – Travis – he spent most of his time in his office—”
Wyatt looked like he had a knot in his tummy. His knuckles were white where he gripped the cauldron and it seemed to be bubbling a lot more than before. Maybe he’d been taken poorly; this potion did smell quite funny.
April looked down at the floor, fiddling with the button on her skirt. “I’m not doing very well, am I? I very rarely stayed overnight away from the mansion and it appears that I’m not a very good guest. I upset Grandmother this morning, too.”
“Oh? With the crowing thing? Nah. Try waking her up with an errant spell at three A.M. if you really want to see her upset—”
“Not that. She caught me and Caleb… um,” she blushed and whispered, “Touching.”
“Oh,” Wyatt sucked a breath through his teeth and looked away. “Ah.”
“She said we needed to have a little talk about it,” April continued, panicking slightly at Wyatt’s reaction. “Oh, Wyatt! I think she might throw me out!”
Wyatt laughed. “You’ll be absolutely fine. Trust me, if she was gonna throw someone out for having a quick fumble, I’d have been out on my butt decades ago.”
“Really. That talk is gonna suck, though. Prepare to be totally mortified.” Somewhere above them came a call that echoed around the small room: delivery! “That’ll be the esbat water,” Wyatt said. “Time to find out if I did actually spend four hundred simoleons on a litre of sheep’s urine.”
“What will happen if it is, um, not right?”
“The potion will blow up.” Wyatt shrugged.
“Oh! Well, good luck!”
“You’re the one who needs luck, Apes,” he called on a laugh as he ran up the stairs. “I’d rather peel the pieces of my face from the ceiling than listen to Mum talk about love tunnels again.”