Disclaimer: Drugs mention, tiny bit of blood.
Broof had never before been into the forests of Forgotten Hollow, but he had, of course, heard all about them. As he and Lilith made their way along overgrown paths and through ever-thickening trees, Broof’s shoes became muddied and his field of vision became smaller. As the darkness began to swamp them, robbing him of his sight, he clung to Lilith’s arm as she navigated through. He could feel his own pulse racing, amplified against the cool stillness of her arm, and he began to wonder what on earth he was doing there.
What had been a kind decision, to escort Lilith to her house and help her to carry her things, now seemed to be a stupid one. How was he going to find his way back, laden with her belongings, when he couldn’t see two feet in front of himself? As for what lurked in the woods… Broof was very much relieved that Caleb was back at the flower shop, sated and mostly harmless. He only hoped that Caleb was the only murderous creature in these parts.
On the car ride over, Broof had fed back to Lilith the information he had learned from Moon. She had listened thoughtfully, but true to her form she hadn’t said much. It seemed that the high from Wyatt’s donation had left her system. Either that, or she was dwelling on the confrontation with Sage, that he pretended he hadn’t overheard.
He wasn’t sure who exactly the man was that they were discussing. According to Ma, Sage’s father had been a crook who had faced the guillotine before Sage was even born. Sage knew that, surely. He really did have to wonder if senility was taking hold on the aged witch. But, regardless, the knowledge that Sage had been using Lilith to further her status in the coven made his blood boil.
The fact she’d singed his wallpaper and hadn’t remedied it put her firmly lower on his list of preferred acquaintances.
Lilith reached back and took a firm grip of his hand to navigate him through a particularly thorny patch. His heart skipped a beat as he squeezed back against her cold skin. She’d survived centuries trapped with this curse, purging the world of her own kind and trying to keep her brother from destroying everything in his path, living out her days in hiding and isolation on the promise of a cure, of salvation, only to be thwarted at every turn by the witches. She was amazing.
If he hadn’t been motivated to find a cure before, he certainly was now.
He realised that, absentmindedly, he’d been caressing Lilith’s knuckles with his thumb. She yanked her hand away with a hiss, and grabbed him at his wrist instead.
“It’s a long way,” he commented senselessly, to ease the embarrassment he felt.
Lilith only grunted.
“How does the mailperson find you?” he asked.
“They don’t,” Lilith replied, yanking him through some draped vines that Broof couldn’t identify. “We’re here.”
Broof looked skywards and noticed that the canopy of trees had thinned and, as his eyes adjusted to the hazy black, he could make out a house that was nothing like he’d expected. Although he wasn’t sure what he expected – a castle? A forest-y cottage? Something more den-like, for certain. This house looked almost normal, barring some gothic architecture. And the crypt in the front yard.
“You have a crypt,” he stated moronically, peering closer to read the engraving on the stone slab. “Vatore’. Is that where you’re buried?”
He could just about make out Lilith rolling her eyes. “I really need to clean that thing out.”
“Clean what out?”
Lilith snorted sarcastically. “What do you think I keep in a crypt?”
“Oh, heck,” Broof gasped. “The remains of… of prey?”
“So you do have a brain.”
“Hold on, can’t we—?”
“Take one of their heads?” Lilith guessed. “No, they’ve all been dead thirty-plus years. Well, except for one.” Lilith looked thoughtful for a while.
Broof wanted to ask about this one prey, uh, person, but he also didn’t want to know the detail. He’d seen a lot of horrible things in his time, cleaned up – and covered up – a lot of disturbing and disgusting details, but never before, to his knowledge, had he been standing on site with countless murdered people beneath his feet. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up. The trees around him danced in his peripheral vision; their leaves whispering messages from beyond. The knots in their bark were playing tricks on his mind, conjuring up faces. He could have sworn he saw someone, or something, peering through the void…
“Broof!” Lilith snapped, jolting him from his dream. He glanced over to her where she stood on the porch, beckoning him in impatiently. He glanced back to where the creature had been but it was, predictably, empty.
April was having a super good time.
Grandma Sage had had to leave for the night to pretend to be looking for vampires, while the real vampires were curled up on her sofa watching really bad movies. Sage had made Wyatt drink a potion that originally smelled like apples but, once inside his tummy, it had made him smell really gross instead. April couldn’t describe how bad the smell was; it was like sweaty socks and poop and dead things all rolled together. He smelled so bad that even though he was sitting on the other side of the room, it still made April feel a bit queasy and had driven Caleb into another room entirely.
Melinda seemed mostly unaffected by Wyatt’s smell. She also seemed happier than April had seen her for a while, doing that thing she always used to do where she tickled the soft part of April’s arm. April liked that.
The movie they had been watching, about a gigantic, hungry chicken with flames for eyes, had ended and the credits had just finished rolling. Wyatt had it set up so that the next movie would play automatically and, after a brief pause, the screen lit up with the next title.
“Yay! It’s starting! Ooh… Vampire Whores from Outer Space,” April read, then immediately realised what she’d said. “Oh my goodness! Is this…?” she dropped her voice to a tiny whisper. “Pornography?”
Wyatt laughed from his corner. “Nah. Have you never seen this one? Zero budget, terrible acting, the crew are in shot half the time. Literally, it sucks.”
“Sounds great!” April clapped her hands.
“It really isn’t,” Wyatt said. “It’s marginally better when you’re loaded, though.” He paused and jumped up. “I’ll be back in a mo.”
“I guess he really needed the bathroom,” April shrugged and settled back against Melinda, who huffed.
“I think he’s gone to get high, April.”
April frowned. “What do you mean?”
“Oh, come on. He’s always high.”
“Is he?” April thought for a moment about how happy and goofy Wyatt always seemed to be. She pictured the lazy look he often wore and replayed how soft his syllables were. Maybe Melinda was right; she often was. She sighed. “Oh. Oh dear.”
“Yeah. Didn’t you know?”
“Oh. Are you OK?”
April nodded. “I suppose it’s not so much worse than Mother always being inebriated, is it? In fact, it’s better because Wyatt is happy when he’s high but Mother just got more cross.”
“Hm,” Melinda mused, drawing a small circle on April’s wrist.
“Have you ever taken any drugs, Mel?”
Melinda looked at her friend and laughed. “Me? Come on.”
“Have you ever wanted to?”
“Not really. Why, have you?”
It was April’s turn to shrug. “I haven’t really thought about it before. I do like the fuzzy, giggly feeling I get when I drink alcohol. Do you think drugs are the same?”
Melinda squirmed. “Um, I don’t know, April.”
“Oh! Do you think if we asked Wyatt nicely that he’d let us try some?”
“Sorry, I thought it’d just be a leak, but all these fibrous potions Mum is giving me… TMI,” Wyatt said, entering the room again. He threw himself back into his chair. “What do you want Wyatt to let you try?”
“Nothing,” Melinda said at the same time April blurted out, “Drugs!”
Wyatt made a face. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Oh,” April said turning to Melinda, “But you said he’s always high!”
“Heh, I’m screwing with you,” Wyatt laughed. He glanced around conspiratorially. “But like, don’t say that in front of everyone, yeah? So, what d’you wanna try?”
April tapped her chin thoughtfully before declaring, “Heroin.”
Beside her, Melinda choked around a laugh and before her Wyatt grinned wryly.
“Yeah, that ain’t happening.”
“Oh,” April shrugged, wondering what she’d said that was so wrong and feeling very silly. “How about, um, oh I don’t know. I don’t know any others.”
“Really?” Wyatt grinned. “Thought you’d have been surrounded by ‘em at all those fancy-schmancy celeb parties.”
“Oh!” April gasped, a memory or three coming back. “Of course! What about that white powdery one that sticks to your nose? Is that one?”
Wyatt whistled. “Proper lil’ junkie, ain’t you? I ain’t getting you that either.”
“Well, I don’t know!” April huffed. “Stop laughing, Mel. I just wanted to try something new.”
“Apes, you are freaking adorable. Tell you what. If you’re that curious, I can whip up a lil’ batch of tea for tomorrow night, just for you two.”
“Tea?” April asked, frowning. “What flavour?”
“That’s her first question?” Wyatt chuckled to himself. “Adorable. What’s your favourite flavour?”
“Strawberry!” April blurted. “Although, I suppose it’d just taste like ash now.”
“Strawberry ash it is.”
“What does the tea do?” Melinda asked, although she didn’t sound very excited.
“Turns the world into a kaleidoscope. Caleb tried it, first day he worked here; he was tripping his balls off, seeing elks and all the bright! but for you two I’d tone it down, uh, a lot.”
“OK!” April said, snuggling back against her friend. “A kaleidoscope! And I’ve never seen an elk! That sounds like so much fun, doesn’t it, Mel?”
“Um… I’m not sure if I want to…”
“Cool. No pressure, you can just chill,” Wyatt said casually. “You’ll have more fun watching Apes off her face than watching this crap, anyway.”
“What? I have to take my face off?”
The first thing that Broof had noticed about the house interior was the scent of decay.
The second thing he noticed was that the place was immaculate. He knew from having Lilith as a houseguest that she wasn’t a messy person – when she was sober – but he didn’t have her down as a fellow neat freak.
Lilith hadn’t bothered to give him a tour, instead taking him straight up to her room and ignoring him almost entirely while she packed her belongings into her suitcases. Broof, who had spent a good portion of his life being ignored by those he served, didn’t feel bothered by this; he was occupying himself by browsing the books on her shelves. Many of them were medical journals, some even looked handwritten, he wondered how old they were. Surprisingly, there were a few botany books in the mix.
“Strange and Forbidden Plant Genetics,” he read aloud from the spine of a book. “Huh. I didn’t have you down as a botanist.”
“I’m not,” Lilith said, gesturing to a potting station that was covered in plants in various stages of dying. “There was only one plant I was interested in.”
“Oh?” Broof asked.
Lilith set down a blouse she was holding and crossed the room. She plucked an ancient book from a shelf, propping it on a stand and allowing it to fall open to a page that had been viewed so much it had been broken into the spine.
Dr. Blorgfart has synthesised ‘a plasma fruit’ – a pome fruit, with a mealy and succulent flesh and no obvious core. The fruit, which has a mild, metallic flavour and high iron content, induces nausea when consumed and has no known medicinal or culinary applications. The fruit is the latest unusual endeavour devised by Dr. Blorgfart’s team, who claim it can be used as an alternative food source for the likes of mosquitoes, fleas, bed bugs and other such bloodthirsty creatures. Although, why one would wish to feed hematophages, rather than eradicate them, remains a mystery.
“A plasma fruit? I’ve never heard of it, but it sounds revolting. Is that what you were trying to grow here? Who was this scientist, Dr. Blorgfart?”
“I don’t know,” Lilith shrugged. “The only other mention I can find of him afterwards is a small newspaper clipping that simply said the Dr. had closed his laboratory and where to direct queries. It appears he vanished. Although I have an inkling that it had something to do with rogue vampires or…” she hesitated.
“Or..?” Broof coaxed.
Broof swallowed hard. “Or something to do with the witches, yes?”
Lilith chewed her lip and turned away.
“Lilith, I overheard you talking to Sage—”
“Spying on me. Typical. So you don’t trust me, either.”
“You were in my house. And no, that’s not what I meant, I meant that—”
“You goddamn witches are all the same; so bloody righteous.” Lilith stared at her half-packed suitcase. “Maybe staying with you isn’t such a good idea. In fact, it definitely isn’t. Get out.”
“No. Bloody hell, Lilith let me speak!”
Lilith blinked at him in surprise, muted, and he couldn’t say he blamed her.
That was not in the butler code.
“I get it,” he said, trying to soften his edge. “I get why you despise witches. I would too in fact… I do too.”
Lilith snorted. “Right, of course you do. I’ve heard this bullshit before ‘I’m on your side, Lilith!’”
“Please, don’t ‘you lot’ me, I’m not like the others.”
“Heard that before too. You’re like a book of clichés, Broompig. You’re all a bunch of self-serving bastards, on the side of preserving pure magic, ensuring that no creature can ever usurp you as the pinnacle of Sim.”
“I’m not on the side of ‘pure magic’,” Broof whispered his throat dry as he prepared to unburden himself of his secret. “Not anymore.”
Lilith folded her arms. “Is this something to do with why you can’t cast any spells? Yeah, I’ve noticed. What did you do to piss off ‘Mother Earth’? Cast your circle widdershins instead of sunwise?” she asked sarcastically. “Burn the wrong colour candle? Ooh, cardinal sin, that one.”
“No,” he whispered, feeling his heart pause. “I tried to resurrect my daughter.”
“…What?” Lilith managed eventually after what felt like an hour of staring. “But you can’t do that with pure magic… to do that you’d need to use… and that goes against… and she would have been… oh, holy fucking shit.”
“Yeah,” Broof exhaled the breath he was holding and wilted like a flower. “But to know that my child was gone and that there might be a way I could bring her back? Who wouldn’t?”
“It didn’t even work, obviously, probably because I had no idea what I was doing; it’s not like you learn this stuff during your mentoring. The complete lack of understanding from the coven when Cabbage died; the total unwillingness to try… it changed my whole outlook. What am I worshipping? What’s the damn point?” he growled. “Tell me; how can wanting to give life back to a child possibly be construed as wrong, or punishable, or as… as…”
“Evil?” Lilith asked.
“I was going to say ‘fair’,” Broof sighed. Lilith was so close he could smell her unusual perfume. Vanilla and something he couldn’t identify. “But I suppose that too.”
Lilith nodded. The two sat in silence for a few minutes before she patted his knee and climbed back to her feet. “Come on. Now’s not the time for moping. In the room next door is some of April’s stuff that she dumped here before they all ran off and left me for dead. I was going to sell it, but seeing what Sage is dressing her in… ugh, poor girl. Go grab what you think she’d want. I’ll finish up here and meet you at the bottom of the stairs.”
Broof scrambled up as panic gripped him. “Look, you don’t have to stay with me, but, well, no one knows about… about what I did, or about the lack of magic. Well, Wyatt knows about that but not why… and I—”
“Your secret is safe with me. Hey, who knows, one day I might give you one of mine in exchange,” she teased. “I’m going to stay with you, if that’s still all right, which I presume it is. If you smiled any wider you’d split your philtrum.”
“My what?” he asked, glancing down.
“Oh my word.” She walked back over to her bed. “And don’t flatter yourself; I’ve had enough of this house, this forest, is all. Besides,” She snapped her case open. “Us ‘tainted beings’ have to work together, don’t we?”
A collective of those who misuse magic, practice dark magic…
…Necromancers and beasts.