She could get used to this.
Lilith had taken a long, hot shower – a blessing, as Caleb had often used up all the hot water before Lilith got her turn – and she’d settled down on the neat little sofa, in the pristine room in the quiet and minimalist house to leaf through another of the Windenburg Witches’ leather-bound book of hexes.
Ah, if only she were a witch… she’d definitely cast a ‘strangeify’ or two on her too-pretty-for-his-own-good brother. And oh, the fun she could have with ‘morphiate’.
She zoned out for a moment, imagining what she’d turn her least favourite people into, when one of them materialised before her.
“Don’t you know how to knock?” she asked.
Sage didn’t answer, choosing instead to glare at Lilith in silence.
Lilith glared back. “What?”
“You know ‘what’,” Sage insisted, a little foam bubbling at the corner of her lips. “You told me he was dead.”
“Bloody hell, not this again,” Lilith muttered. She sighed and set down the book she was reading. She was feeling rather spritely today – feeding from the witches was really putting a pep in her step – and she was very tempted to wave her hand around and pretend to transform Sage into a literal old bat. But something about the old witch’s demeanour made Lilith’s cold, dead heart plummet into her withered gut.
Lilith took a deep, but pointless, breath and replied, as she always did, “He is.”
“Codswallop,” Sage scoffed. “He’s not. Not entirely, anyway. I know he’s got the girl; the whole world knows – it’s on the news!”
Lilith pressed her fang into the lining of her cheek as she fought to keep her face straight. She had, of course, practiced what she’d say should this situation arise. “On the news?” She paused, as if thinking.
“Oh! You’re on about that strange feature, the one about the man supposedly with Faith?” She laughed heartily. “Wait, you think that’s Seth? Your Seth? Oh, Sage! You kill me!”
The whole house began trembling beneath Lilith’s feet as Sage’s patience wore thin.
“I just might. Where is he?” she demanded, her palms glowing; her eyes brightening to that eerie green.
“I…I don’t know,” Lilith admitted, alarmed by the intensity of the shaking. “Sage, calm down—“
She was interrupted by a beam of light, that emitted from Sage’s palm and hurtled towards Lilith’s head. Lilith hadn’t dodged so fast in her unlife. The light collided with the wall behind her, scorching a perfectly-round hole into the wallpaper.
“You have been lying to me for centuries!”
Lilith had barely registered how close she was to having a fireball in the face, before Sage shrieked again; her palm alight once more. Lilith stood firm. This wasn’t the first time Sage had thrown a tantrum to try and get information from Lilith, although it was the first time she’d tried it as a fully-grown adult.
“Sage, listen to me, it’s not the same man—”
“Bullshit!” Sage hollered, sending another searing ball in Lilith’s direction. Lilith was prepared this time; she dodged much more smoothly, allowing this crackling orb to sear an identical hole next to the first.
“What are you doing to Broof’s wallpaper?” Lilith gasped. “He’ll have a fit.”
Sage wailed again, but this time was much more ‘dying animal’ than ‘war cry. She sent a smaller, far less threatening spell in Lilith’s general direction.
Lilith didn’t even attempt to dodge this one. She let the prickly heat radiate through her and frowned at her wrinkled companion, who was panting and shivering from her effort.
“Are you done?”
Sage didn’t reply, falling to all-fours, her panting becoming wheezing. “Where… are… they? You can’t pretend he doesn’t exist, Lilith! I’ve seen his face! He has the scar!”
“Sage, honestly, it’s not him and I don’t know where Faith is.”
“You must know!” Sage shouted, choking on her own breath. “You must know. I’ll bet you’ve known all along. Oh, sweet Mother Earth, oh… oh my…”
Lilith reached a hand down to Sage, who batted it away. “Why haven’t you caught him, or found her?” Sage panted. “You’re a bloody vampire hunter!”
“I’ll find her, give me half a chance,” Lilith snarled. “Are you alright?”
“No, I’m not ‘all right’,” Sage hissed through her teeth, fighting her way to her feet. “My so-called friend has been lying to me for my whole life about my father and I want to know why.”
“Don’t play that card. He’d have been no father to you, Sage. You know what he did to your mother.”
“Spare me the lecture,” Sage spat. “I have twice the power mother did and I have the whole coven behind me.”
“Exactly,” Lilith muttered.
“Oh? And what does that mean?” Sage looked at Lilith’s impassive face quizzically before snarling. “For the Sun’s sake! Tell me how to find him. I know you know! How did he get to Faith if not through you?” At Lilith’s stoic silence, Sage growled. “You have kept a man from his daughter—”
Sage’s breathless pants became a cry of frustration at Lilith’s continued silence. “Lilith! Please! Look at me! I’m ancient, I’m becoming frail. If he’s still out there, we can find him, confront him… it might very well be my last chance.”
Lilith couldn’t restrain her sarcastic laugh. She gestured to herself, to the wall behind her. “You wouldn’t stand a chance against a wild vampire, Sage.”
Lilith knew the next track Sage would try. She’d tried attacking, hacking, wheedling and even pity to get to the truth. She only had one left. Threat.
“Tell me how to find him or I will… I will…”
“You’ll what?” Lilith asked. “Withhold finding me a cure for my affliction for, ooh, another three hundred years? I think young Wyatt and co. might have something to say about that, don’t you?”
“When they hear my reasoning—“
“They’ll know just how spiteful you are. How you led me on with promises of ‘tomorrow’, built your reputation on my dirty work, banished me to the shadows for ‘my protection’,” she scoffed, “And then refused to look for a cure because you just can’t accept that daddy-bloody-dearest is dead.”
“I saw him on the news.”
“You saw a photofit of a man who has only ever been seen by a drug-addicted rock star. OK, granted, it’s a weird coincidence, but Seth is a common name – every SimLit seems to have one. Think rationally, Sage. They interview the GliTS on that news channel, it’s all bullshit. All of the Rogues were taken out by me and Ma – you heard the story enough; we completely obliterated them. He’s dead, Sage; they all are.”
Lilith knew she’d won when Sage pouted like a stroppy teenager. She lifted her arm, no doubt to hurl more magic at Lilith’s face or to leave in a puff of smoke, the magical equivalent of slamming a door in someone’s face, but abruptly stopped. “Broof! Oh, hello dear!”
“Sage? I wasn’t expecting you.” He looked over to Lilith. “Uh, Lilith…? You look…” he blew out a deep breath that almost sounded like a whistle and Lilith realised she’d shifted form at some point. “What is going on here?”
“She was just popping by to ask about the head I owe her,” Lilith said, glancing at Sage. “I’ll drop it by tomorrow.”
Sage stared back at Lilith with so much venom that if Broof didn’t pick up on it, it would’ve been a miracle. Thankfully, the bearded man was nothing if not polite and remained mute.
“See that you do,” Sage muttered and vanished as she’d appeared.
“So! How was your visit with Moon?” Lilith asked brightly as Sage left. She positioned herself so that Broof hopefully wouldn’t notice the two new scorch marks on his wall, but she needn’t have worried; his eyes followed her every move, like a cornered mouse.
That increasing beat of fear. She hated that she liked it.
“Lilith, do you know that you’re… ashy?” he whispered. “And your eyes are…” he peered closer.
“No! Don’t get too close! Otherwise I might… I-I- ARGH!”
“Sorry, couldn’t help myself.” Lilith smiled and forced herself to think happy thoughts until she felt her skin loosen and soften. “Better?”
Broof’s heart was pounding but he remained outwardly calm. He probably had been a great butler, Lilith thought. Or a good poker player.
“That’s your dark form?” He paused as if about to ask another question, but Lilith shook her head.
“Don’t ask. It’s rare that I’ll change, but when you’ve known someone as long as I’ve known Sage, well, you know exactly how to get under the others’ skin.”
“It’s really quite distinct,” Broof started, he cleared this throat. “But that wasn’t what I was going to ask. I was more wondering how you’re going to get a head.”
“Get ahead of what?”
“A vampire head.”
“Oh. I know a guy who knows a guy who owns a graveyard and looks the other way when I turn up with my shovel. Don’t look at me like that,” she huffed in response to Broof’s sceptical squint. “No one will miss it. A little tooth filing and bingo; one fresh vampire head.”
“That sounds messy.”
Lilith rolled her eyes. “Never dug up a grave, Broompig?”
“Your life really was dull before all this, wasn’t it?” She clutched her towel higher in response to a slight dip in his gaze. “After my spot of grave-robbing I think I’ll be heading back home.” Via a bar or three.
His eyes immediately darted up to hers. “There’s no need to rush off. April texted earlier so I stopped by the flower shop on my way back. The potion, the arrhythmia elixir… no, that’s not it… um, Eunomia? No. What is that word? Does it have an ‘m’ in it?”
“The erythrocyte elixir. Just say red blood cell potion, or something.”
“Yes, the red blood cell potion – you know, that isn’t as catchy – is finished, and I have a supply, so you can stay here as long as you like and help me to research. Unless, huh, do you need different blood groups to survive? Can you survive off one person indefinitely?”
“I don’t know. Every other human I’ve kept imprisoned dies after a few weeks.” Lilith laughed at Broof’s horrified face. “I’m kidding. I had some of Wyatt’s donation today and it’s done funny things to my head.”
“Oh. Wyatt’s, I see. Is it, um, good?” Broof asked.
“Hm. It tastes better than yours,” she teased, enjoying the slump in his shoulders that he tried to hide. “But, I don’t think ‘high-as-a-kite clown’ is really me.”
Broof perked up. What was wrong with this man?
Lilith tried to sound serious. “Look, if I stay, would you really be happy having a slightly rotting head in your fridge for the night? Having me dine from you every single day? Having Sage popping by every now and then for target practice?” She gestured at the wall. At his grimace, she smiled. “I know you’re worried about me drinking myself to oblivion as I mourn my career, my freedom and my youth, but don’t be. I am ninety-nine percent sure that I can’t die by alcohol poisoning.” More’s the pity.
“Maybe ninety-five percent. Definitely more than eighty.”
“I’m not worried about you,” he insisted. “I like having the company and we both have a lot of information to share. It feels like we could really be close to a breakthrough… with the cure, I mean. Besides, there is even more media attention in Forgotten Hollow since Caleb’s, um, controversial, um, murder – it’d be more peaceful for you here.”
Lilith laughed and hiked her towel up again. The thing now seemed unable to stay put. She half-wondered if Broof was somehow doing it. “I need to go home. I need to go and get fresh clothes, if nothing else—”
“Then at least allow me to drive you,” he volunteered. “We can talk on the way.”
Bloody hell; the man was a limpet. Although, this information he had gleaned did sound interesting and, selfishly, keeping Broof sweet would only further serve to ensure she had an ally if Sage did decide to once again sabotage the cure efforts, or worse.
Wait, how much had he heard?
She smiled in a way that she hoped looked pleasant.
“Thank you, I’d like that.”
They’d been in this smoke-screened hole for long enough. It was time to leave this soulless city.
Seth rested on one of the many the balconies, looking out over the concrete wasteland. Endless towers of steel, of cement. Pane upon pane of glass. Billboards. Automobiles. People. The sights of the city really were nothing he enjoyed to behold.
The only benefit it held, besides the plentiful prey, was the anonymity. But even that was about to run its course. A human as well-connected as the previous occupant of this gaudy penthouse would not be missed for long.
Seth knew that Faith was unlikely to approve of his suggestion to move to the Grotto. Thankfully, he had a back-up plan that would be more suitable for his stubborn student.
Ah, it was tiresome, having another to consider in everything he did. The most tedious tasks required perfect planning and she was continuously finding ways to trip him up, set him back and throw him for a loop.
Every time he thought he had her stripped bare, she revealed another tantalising layer to peel, a challenge to solve, a clue to decipher.
The day had been, as many others recently, lost to a blur of bare skin, banter and breakdowns. With every tear she’d shed he knew she was getting closer. Each time she began trusting him a little deeper, she became easier to read. Her control on her own mind was becoming so fragmented and he could feel it, that tantalising talent of hers, beating beneath the surface. Pulsing, ripe and waiting.
He wanted that power, but, most inconveniently…
…he also wanted her.
He had spent many an hour mulling over the impact of his decision. She often lamented how much of a ‘shit vampire’ she was; would she even notice if he took from her? Would she still want him if she knew what he did?
Would I still want her if she was worthless?
“Probably,” he muttered aloud to the question nobody had asked. He rubbed his temples, willing his thoughts back to their main endeavour, but distraction had taken his hand and led him down the path he denied existed. A dark and intangible path made of – ugh – feelings that, as of late he couldn’t seem to avoid.
She’s not worthless.
“You do, don’t you? You love me?”
What the devil am I doing?! Have I learned nothing?!
Seth drummed his dirty, worn fingernails against the wall, idly watching a crowd of people a hundred feet below, gathering around a car. Someone who only pea-brained humans cared about was posing for photographs.
He hated this place. It was toxic. It was draining. It was addling his brain, that’s what was happening.
Or was it her addling his brain? Could her ability actually project her feelings into him?
Seth knew that the best way to siphon the skill from his fellow undead creatures of the night, was to coax it out it gently, softly, so they didn’t realise it was happening until it was too late. Had Faith maybe realised what he was doing and was actively trying to thwart him? Or had he fallen under her spell while she didn’t even realise she was working it?
Did she know exactly what she was doing?
He thought that, against all odds, he was developing genuine feelings for her sharp wit, her teasing, her soft lips, her smooth skin… but, was he? Is that why it had all been so fast, so intense? Was it that he didn’t love Faith, but that she had bewitched him, turned her mis-placed affection to him and convinced him that it was his own?
Yes. That must be it.
Seth groaned with need. This power she had, it was far more dangerous than he’d anticipated. Mirroring minds and amplifying actions were enticing enough, but having the ability the change true desire, the very heart of another? Oh, the chaos he could craft. He licked his lips. He needed to take this, to make a clean break and he needed it soon, before he lost himself again to another treacherous tart and their trickery.
A plan began to form in his crowded brain. A way to take what he wanted and to show her, and all others, that he was not to be messed with.
“It’s almost Joy’s birthday… I know I can’t go and see her…”