Chapter 3.37 – Decipher

Chapter 3.37 – Decipher

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?”

“Not quite…”

“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.

“Ninety-nine percent?”

“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?!

Never again.

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…”

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20 responses to “Chapter 3.37 – Decipher”

  1. Ha! Such a collection of revelations. Ugh… you were right. I see now exactly how close I was to realizing how things worked, but it never quite clicked. So Sage was “unmotivated” to make the cure because she knew Lilith was lying to her. Hiding the truth from her. Hmmmm. I’m still not sure why Lils does that and something tells me its not because she thinks Seth would hurt Sage… and I wonder if either of them realized that, while they were both being stubborn, they were sabotaging the important thing which would be curing Caleb and making him less of a menace. Shame. Shame on them both.

    Now, the topic of vampire hunting. Hmm… So Sage had been taking credit for… hm. Whatever it was that Lilith did. I can totally see Ma being a proper hunter. Lilith… maybe. I can’t quite tell. She was pretty much ready to off Caleb. Maybe she could actually be a hunter and only said that about grave robbing to not freak out Broof too much. But maybe she /could/ hunt an actual vampire but wouldn’t, just because it’s Sage asking her to.

    *snort* Speaking of Broof. Wyatt was totally right, wasn’t he? About the “needs help” thing. Oh, well. If he can help keep Sage from sabotaging the cure, that would be a good thing for sure.

    *shakes head* And I think Seth is totally overestimating Faith’s power. …his new speculation doesn’t even match the way he described it originally. It was supposed to return a person’s powers to them, right? Much more likely, he doesn’t wanna admit to himself that he’s developing a weakness. Not that it’s any wonder, after the Lilith debacle.
    …also, I noticed the “their trickery.” Wonder if there’s a story there.

    • All the revelations and yet none at all. Yes indeed, Lilith hunted the vampires and Sage took the credit. Now, Sage is hardly going to give up her prize assassin until she’s sure the threat has been eliminated and Lilith, for the reason she’s insisting on, won’t turn Seth in so here we are. Stuck. And yes, shame on them both.

      Not freaking out Broof may be a motivation, yes. Don’t bite the hand that feeds! Only the neck? I had a point, I just have no idea what it was. 😆 Yeahhh, Broof likes his so-called damsels, even when they come in complicated, ashy-skinned, empty-eyed packages.

      Very keen observation about Seth there. He originally described her power as ‘like a mirror’ so if anything, it’s only reflecting his own feelings, no? “Much more likely, he doesn’t wanna admit to himself that he’s developing a weakness.” Bingo. Like you said a few chapters ago ‘I hate that I love you’ is totally a thing. I’m sure the trickery has a story; it’s possibly even in this story. It’s possibly even in your comment… 😉

      • Heh, except I don’t think either of their motivations are as you are trying to claim… especially Lilith’s. Look, Sage, I can kinda understand. Wanting to meet family… especially if she thinks she could un-vampire him? Yeah. Still though. Couldn’t she have made at least one dose of the thing for Caleb? Lilith though? Just shame on her. Maybe I’ll change my tune when I figure out what the heck her real reason is for keeping quiet about Seth, but maybe not. We’ll see.

        Pffft. XD

        *squints* Oh, I know the trickery means Lilith first and foremost, but if it was only her that would be a “treacherous tart and HER trickery.” Maybe you didn’t even mean anything by that pronoun, but I feel there might be another tricky player we don’t know about yet. Or one whose full extent of trickery we do not yet know about. 😉

        • I wouldn’t lie to you. I may mislead you, but only ever within the confines of truth. Woah, I’m turning into Seth, or maybe I always was Seth? scary thought.
          So astute, picking apart my pronouns. See point above. 😉🤐

          • No, I would not accuse you of lying. I only mean that you speak Elvish and I’m sure I don’t see some of the meanings yet. Possibly even the larger part of it.

            *reads her own comment again* … *facepalms* Oh, silly me. What a useless question! We already know that Seth never does anything by halves, especially when others are concerned. We also know Seth had been helping, or trying to help, Caleb for some reason and it obviously did not work out very well. The “treacherous” is the word that threw me for a moment, but I shouldn’t have been so surprised that’s the way Seth sees it… yeah. Now that I think of it that way, that definitely is another failed student for him, isn’t it…

            Thinking of which I can’t help but wonder if he thinks of Lilith as such a traitor… there is also a chance he stole some of her powers, too. Which makes me think, if a vampire can become weak by regaining a human-ish way of thinking, can they also regain humanity by being stripped of their powers by other means?

            Tee-hee. All the speculation and lore stuff and none of it likely to get any answers. But that’s okay! I’ll just wait and see. 😀

            • Ooh, you’re pretty close on a lot a things, despite all the smoke and mirrors. Exciting! 😁
              “…can they also regain humanity by being stripped of their powers by other means?” Possibly, either that or being powerless would automatically cause them to seek solace with fellow useless beings. Might explain a certain U-turn a certain yellow-shirted someone might have made.

              You may not get answers now, but you will get answers. If you don’t solve everything first. Which at this rate, you just might. 😆

              • *giggles* Eeep, you flatter me. And yes, I guess being powerless can promote compassion on default. Power does corrupt after all. 🙂

  2. *Hellfire theme-song plays*

    Seth, you bozo.

    With enough fingers crossed, Sage won’t trust Lilith’s word completely and conduct her own search. 😀

    • Not trusting Lilith’s word is sort of Sage’s thing. Ooh, you want Sage to find Seth? That would be fun. How do you envision it? A tear-filled, heartfelt reunion where they run into each other’s arms and cry about lost years and missed chances? Or a blazing battle of magic to the death? A mixture? Alternating between hugs and punches? Maybe one day we’ll know. 🤐

  3. Like Lilith, I too imagine what thing/creature I would turn people who I dislike into, if I had the ability…cockroaches. The answer is cockroaches.
    I like the dialogue between Lilith and Broof, and how she wanted to protect him (at first) from viewing the singed wallpaper. It’s funny how she scares him when he gets too close to her in her Dark Form.
    I like Seth’s contemplation, shown in photos and through description/his thoughts. I could conjure up personal memories where I know I looked like him, staring blankly in thought, or hanging my head in defeat, all because of some love interest lol.
    Great story!

    • I don’t know whether you’ve silently read up to this point, or just dived right in (and if it’s the latter – woah, well done making sense of any of this!) but welcome!
      I’d be tempted turn people I disliked into things I did like. Miserable colleague of mine ruining the office atmosphere? *Zap* now they’re a potted plant to brighten up the corner they once darkened. Unless that’s what you meant and you really like cockroaches. 😆

      • This is the first story I’ve read (I am *almost* done with a second though). Thank you 😀
        I like your idea. It’s pleasant and redemptive. I don’t like cockroaches, but if the coworker I turned into a cockroach was still bothersome, I could squish it. I do like that idea.

  4. Oh no. You just made me feel a kind of sympathy for Seth.
    Now he scares me out of my wits 😱
    I assume his plan is to annihilate Faith to become even more powerful and dangerous.
    Her luck is that she repeatedly put stumbling blocks in his path. But for how long?

    The fight between Sage and Lilith becomes increasingly interesting and intense. Does Sage really hide the recipe for a cure? Who dares to guess a real answer in the exchange of bluff numbers.

    PS. Lilith and Broof are just my favorite couple right now. Give me hope for a brighter future 💖

    • Sympathy for Seth on the back of him wanting to destroy Faith? 😉 No, I understand, it comes from a place of hurt, after all. It can be hard not to feel bad for someone like that. Ah, there we go, fear, all is right with the world. Will Faith thwart him again?

      Real answers are in the mix, I promise. It’s definitely a game of ‘who is an unreliable narrator?’, which is one of my favourite games. A few are truthful, a few are definitely not. 🔎

      I did promise you a hopeful beep or a few. You’ll start hearing the melody in its orchestral glory soon enough. Will it be based on Broof and Lilith though? That’s the question.

  5. NB: Do you use a new filter in your game? Your photos look changed in an indefinable way.
    Maybe I just need new glasses 🤔

    • I don’t use any filters unless it’s a memory or the like as crappy screenshots are sort of my thing. 😆. The difference is due to my default photo-editing options changing when I upgraded to Windows 11. Now, minor tweaks to the lighting or contrast settings seem to have bigger impacts. I’m still trying to figure out settings that I like. I’m sorry if it hurts your eyes. 😦

  6. He is definitely dead. Hiding the truth in conveniently chosen words is something that a lot of people in this story have nasty habit of doing.

    Whoa. Sage without her usual saccharine composure is… well, she greatly reminds me of a tantrum-throwing teenager. So that’s why Sage has a reputation as a vampire hunter – it wasn’t her, but Lilith and Ma that did all the actual hunting. I wonder why that turned into Sage being the one to do it instead. Did she do that on purpose to build a reputation for herself, like Lilith is suggesting?
    Despite the gravity of the situation, Lilith’s high-on-Wyatt moments do make me laugh. Scaring Broof and casually knowing a guy with a graveyard that you can dig up heads from. She’s nothing if not resourceful. 😆 seems like drinking from Wyatt really does make her a lot more chipper.

    You’re trying too hard, Broof. Even if you don’t realise it yourself. Oh gods, that smile at the end is scarier than her dark form 😂

    Hard agree on the grey soulless city hatred, Seth. I’ll take a small village or cabin in the woods over that any day. Man, I’d want to hang out with him so bad if not for the psychopathic murder aspect. He likes all the fun things. Nature, animal spotting, running around digging stuff up on the beach… too bad he’s also a 99% likely to kill me. Shed that minor issue and I’ll gladly give you my number, m’kay?

    Oof. He’s so adamant about there not being feelings towards Faith that he’s trying to come up with any alternative, even if it goes directly against his own previous observations about Faith’s powers. Maybe it’s because he’s grappling with himself and parts of her personality don’t seem to fit. But weirdly, Seth looks weak. He looks weak and about to lash out because of it.

    The end of the chapter fills me with all kinds of dread. I think I’ve said before that “hate that I love you” is really dangerous and it seems to be on the road to a point where it all explodes. I don’t like that his “I’ll show them I won’t be messed with” is paired with both anger towards Faith and a memory of her little sister… 😨

    • If you say something enough, does it make it true?

      Ooh, so if he ditches the murder, he’s guaranteed a date? I’ll pass that on, might make him re-evaluate his life choices!
      Weak and about to lash out? Sounds about right.

  7. My head is spinning with revelations! Seth is about to do something so awful, I’m not sure he’ll be able to take it back! Everything is fine.

    ::crazed laughter::

    It’s all fine!

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