Moon swirled her teapot in silence until she was satisfied that her tea was adequately steeped.
She had been unable to sleep that night, for a few reasons. Not least because one of her cats hadn’t yet returned home after his evening bathroom trip. Restless, Moon had abandoned her attempts at sleep to go and look for him.
She hadn’t found her wayward cat, but she had found someone else.
Sage looked deathly tired and highly put-upon. Moon had been concerned about Sage since she’d vanished at the coffee shop. Seeing her wandering around in the dark, alone and fed up, did nothing to ease Moon’s worry. The selection of foraged ingredients she hastily stashed into her pockets as Moon approached did nothing to assuage Moon, either.
She realised the hypocrisy of assuming something was wrong with one who wandered alone in the middle of the night, but Moon had always been intuitive. She invited Sage back to her cottage in the hope that she could get to the bottom of whatever was bothering her friend, or at least provide some reassurance that whatever Sage was going through, she needn’t be doing so by herself.
Sage had been a little reluctant to accompany Moon back to the cottage but eventually conceded. She apologised for abandoning Moon at coffee and claimed that everything was under control. That she was, as she put it, ‘dealing with the infestation’.
Sage had always been very fast, almost suspiciously fast, in tracking down offending vampires. She was an incredible vampire hunter, that much was for certain. That it had taken this long for Sage to do so this time was another cause for suspicion.
Moon had an inkling, based on the news stories which weren’t a sure method of research, granted. She theorised that the vampire who took the life of the High Priestess’s husband, and the market trader who’d left Angeline and her unborn child may be one and the same. She wondered if Sage had reached the same conclusion. Was that why she was struggling to hunt this one down?
If Sage was, as she claimed, dealing with the infestation, why was she wandering the riverside of Windenburg – miles from the scene of the incident in Forgotten Hollow – just before dawn? Surely there would be no vampires here? Moon’s questions only kept building up as Sage dodged questions and skimmed over detail, reaching a crescendo when one of the red dahlias that Sage had gathered fell from the pocket of her skirt.
Red dahlias. How interesting. They were often given as gifts, but the crumpled nature of it told Moon that wasn’t what this one was intended as. The only potion Moon knew that used those was the erythrocyte elixir, designed to accelerate the production of red blood cells. What would Sage want with that? Unless… unless she needed it.
Moon’s mouth went dry. This went deeper than Sage was letting on, she was certain. What if Sage had found her father and instead of handing his head over on a pike, had decided to… keep him?
Would she blame her?
Sage was staring off into space with a faraway look in her eye. She jolted, as if waking from a nightmare and pushed her chair back from the table.
“Thank you for the tea,” she said with a smile, even though she hadn’t once brought her cup to her lips. “I’ll be off now.”
“Sage, you’ve just got here. You haven’t even touched your tea. Is everything all right?”
For a moment Sage looked like she was about to show her hand. She shook her perfect curls and rose from the table. “Everything is just fine,” she lied. “I’m just very tired, is all.”
Moon knew that she wasn’t going to get anywhere with pressure. She shrugged.
“Very well. Good night, Sage.”
Moon watched as Sage threw up her arm and transportalated herself from the area without so much as a backwards glance. Sage had always been a very polite woman – as a grown woman, anyway, so this abruptness was amiss. Moon definitely didn’t need any more evidence that something was very wrong, but she received it anyway.
Sage had vanished but left her portal open in her wake.
Moon waited a moment to see if Sage had noticed, but wherever she’d gone must have led to distraction, or worse. Leaving your portal open was the witch equivalent of leaving your front door unlocked. It enabled anyone to enter. It allowed you to be followed.
It was not something a seasoned witch would ever do.
Unless they wanted you to follow.
Moon stared at that floating purple cloud, thinking that any minute, Sage would realise and seal it shut. But she didn’t.
She swilled her tea as she weighed up the morals of following Sage to wherever she’d gone. Should she leave her be and trust that she’d disclose her issues in her own time? Was leaving the portal open an accident, or deliberate? What could have happened to make her so distracted as to leave it open by accident? What was happening that was so awful she’d leave it open on purpose, hoping Moon would follow?
Was this a test of trust? A cry for help? A genuine oversight? Moon could only guess. But what if her guess was incorrect?
What if Sage had found Seth and he was keeping her and her family prisoner? Preying on them? Controlling their minds?
“What do you think?” she asked of her bronze butler. “Should I follow her, or not?”
Faith had instructed Claire the taxi driver to drop her at the pub near the old Vatore cottage. Claire, true to her word, had not asked questions, but she had left Faith with five simoleons and a business card ‘just in case’.
Faith had slipped the money into her bra, but had thrown the card into the river as she’d hobbled to the house.
She didn’t need pity.
She followed the path from the pub to the cottage that she vaguely remembered from her previous date with Seth. She had never had a great sense of direction, but she did recognise certain landmarks as she passed. The lake, that was a big one. The ruins on the hill. That fence looked sort of familiar.
But it couldn’t have been. She must’ve been mistaken. There was no house here.
Faith had never been more confused – or frustrated – in her life. She looked around the empty lot, wondering if she was totally losing the plot. She was absolutely certain that the house had been here. She remembered the view out over the lake. She even remembered this ugly little fairy statue.
How could a house just disappear?
Maybe Seth misted it away, she thought with a snort, before wondering if that was actually possible.
She kicked her shoe into the dirt. Either she was in the wrong place or the house was inexplicably gone. She didn’t know for certain. What she did know for certain was that her friends were not here. Perhaps they went back to Lilith’s; that would be a likely explanation. Yes, maybe that was it. Her friends were staying with Lilith. And the house? Maybe it didn’t have the right planning permission or something and had been torn down. Yeah, that made perfect sense.
Faith groaned, remembering how long it had taken to get from the Vatore house to this place the first time they’d done it. And that was with someone who knew where they were going. Even if she managed to get back to Forgotten Hollow, back to that gross bar that Will hung out in, she still had to navigate the woods to find Lilith’s house.
It would take forever.
The first rays of sunlight were beginning to creep over the horizon and, with no building there to shelter in, Faith knew she couldn’t hang around. Fortunately, what she lacked in navigation skills, she made up in survival ones. She’d seen a bus stop on the main road so she could probably get to the city with her five bucks. Once in the city there were no end of abandoned buildings she could squat in. She could bed hop for food until she figured out what to do.
She could survive.
She limped back up the path towards the main road, casting a glance at the surrounding bushes and shrubs where she could’ve sworn she’d seen movement.
Her first thought was that it was Seth, following her. Would she go back with him if he had? If he crawled out before her, on his knees and begging, would she reconsider? As she pondered whether she’d rather be cruising the night with him or draining random fuckers in the city, a fat ass rat scuttled out of the bushes and ran across the path.
Of course it wasn’t Seth.
I will allow you to walk away but, know that, I’m not going to give up on you. I will pursue you. I will fight for you.
He was so full of shit. How had she not seen it?
She’d never meant anything to him at all.
She felt a little queasy, which probably served her right. Moon had never followed a fellow witch through their portal before. It was most strange, being transported on the cultivated magic of another. Disorientating. It took her a few moments to realise where she was. And even when she’d figured out that she was on a roof balcony of some kind, she still didn’t really understand.
Sage was in front of her, gawping at the sky at something Moon couldn’t see.
“How on Earth—?” Sage began. “What happened here?”
Moon finally stabilised enough to notice that before Sage there were two young women on the floor; a blonde one cradling a brunette who appeared to be sleeping.
“It was Wyatt!” the blonde one gasped. “He blasted Caleb right through it!”
Sage opened and closed her mouth like a fish, still staring at the sky. “How could he… that would take a phenomenal amount of…” she clutched her chest. “Oh no. Oh no, no, no. April, where is he?”
“He went downstairs, he said he needed a sleep. He was glowing with all these pretty lights! Lit up like a Winterfest tree!” the blonde girl, April, explained. She pressed her lips to the head of her limp friend and whispered. “Look, Mel – Grandma is here. It’ll all be OK now.”
Moon had finally figured out, thanks to recognising the inn across the rooftops, that she must be on Sage’s roof terrace. In all this new information, Moon only caught a few words flying around her, but one of them was a big surprise.
In slow motion, Sage turned to look at her. But far from angry or relieved or whatever other emotion Moon had anticipated from her considerations of trespass, Sage resembled a small child, caught with her hand in the cookie jar.
“Moon!” She stammered, stepping back as if to shield the two girls on the floor from view. “W-what are you doing here? How did you get here?”
Moon fidgeted with her necklace before deciding that honesty really was the best policy. “Forgive my inappropriateness, Sage. I am genuinely very worried about you. You’ve been acting so strangely and when you left my house, you left your portal open and…” she paused as April perked up behind her, turning her tear-stained face towards the two older women. Something about her looked so familiar. “Wait a moment – is that April as in April Moss?”
“Grandma?” April enquired quietly. “Who is this lady?”
Moon took a step back, in shock. “Oh heavens, she is April.” Her gaze fluttered to the girl on the floor. “So that must be her friend, oh, what was her name now, Melinda Bucket.”
“Moon, I can explain,” Sage choked out. “But I need to find Wyatt—“
“Sage, everyone in the country is looking for these girls. Why are they here?”
As Melinda pulled herself upwards to see what the commotion was, Moon glimpsed her milky-white irises and ashen skin. Looking back to April, who was sitting sweetly dumb with her lips slightly parted, she saw the glint of the fading moonlight as it caught on the cusp of a fang.
Moon felt around behind her for anything to steady herself with as the wind was knocked from her sails. Goosebumps rose on her skin and magic tingled in her extremities as her body prepared itself to react. “They’re vampires,” she exhaled. “You know that, right?”
“Yes,” Sage said sheepishly. “Of course I do. But they’re more than that. April is my granddaughter, Moon.”
April cuddled her friend closer as she silently sobbed. Moon had heard a lot of stories about vampires, not all of them believed, and had seen a fair few severed vampire heads in her years, but never had she imagined that she would be this close to two live ones, that the coven’s own vampire hunter would actually be nurturing vampires. In her house! On the roof!
It was utterly bananas.
“Excuse me, I think I’m having some sort of episode,” Moon said calmly. “April Moss is your vampiric granddaughter? So, she’s not Sandy Moss’s daughter? Or is Sandy Moss your daughter? Is Sandy a vampire too? Are you? Oh heavens, I’m so confused, I think I need to sit down.”
“April is Wyatt’s daughter. With Sandy. We found out very recently. Although, actually he might have known for a while but… that’s not important right now,” Sage drew a big breath. “Please Moon, I know how bad this looks and I know what I should do with them… but honestly, you have no reason to be afraid. Not of these two. They’re not malicious. They’re simply two teenagers who were led astray.”
Oh, she understood that. Moon recalled a sunny day long ago, when she was a slip of a girl in her teens.
He hadn’t been much older…
“Layne says he knows a way to help me gain my rightful magic. He’s going to teach me. For free!”
“It sounds too good to be true. What’s the catch?”
Cole had laughed, bopping Moon playfully on the nose. “Aw, little sis! Are you put out that you’re not the only altruistic person in the village?” he teased. “Don’t worry, you’re still my favourite do-gooder.”
“How can I help?” Moon asked.
“I believe you,” Moon said firmly. “So before fear gets the better of me, please – how can I help?”
Sage fidgeted on the spot. “Moon, you cannot tell the High Priestess—”
“I won’t say a word to her. I trust your judgment.”
Sage nodded brusquely. “I need to find Wyatt. But I also need to get these two downstairs before the sun comes up and I’m—”
“Exhausted. Indeed. Go find your son, I’ll help these two.”
“…Are you sure?”
Not in the slightest. “Sage, I will explain later but let’s just say I’ve been in this situation. Well, I’ve been close enough to understand it. You know what I mean. Go and find your son.”
“They’re fledglings,” Sage whispered. “They don’t have great control yet—”
“Do you know how many mosquito bites I got when I accidentally ended up in Selvadorada that time? None. My blood tastes awful. Go.”
Sage glanced back at the girls then up at her dear friend. She nodded and mouthed ‘thank you’ before moving much more swiftly than Moon ever could have.
Moon broke into a sweat the second Sage vanished. She tried to relax and not appear too appetising.
She hoped she really did taste awful.