Chapter 2.54 – The Demonic Bitch

Welcome to the end of book two. If you survive this, I swear – it gets better.

Warning: Non-consent, suicidal sim, violence, child abuse, blood, ritual humiliation.

A little while after sunset, I sat under the tree on the hill where we’d first met, and gazed up at the colour-changing clouds as the light began to fade.

Angeline was usually here before me, but no matter. John had perhaps made it difficult for her that night and she would’ve had to sneak out after dark.

Or, more likely, she was simply annoyed with me and wanted me to sweat.

I had picked some flowers for her from various window boxes around town. She wasn’t the kind who would’ve swooned at this gift or even really appreciated the beauty of the delicate blooms, but she would’ve very much enjoyed hitting me with them as she turned the air blue with her reprimands.

I’d have enjoyed grovelling.

I tried to relax by thinking through the forthcoming night in my head. We would lie back, like most nights, and she’d likely ask me questions about my past. It fascinated her, rather than repulsed her, so I’d answer honestly whenever she asked about my childhood, about my father.

About how he’d send me out to ‘earn my keep’.

How he’d ‘settle the balance’ because no amount was ever enough.

Until it was enough.

The townsfolk had been unable to decide whether I was a victim or an uncaged lunatic, but ultimately it was my tender age that spared me the gallows. They gave me the lighter punishment; fourteen years of isolation and ‘therapy’ in the Tower, and a lifetime tarred as insane.

Angeline could never stay down for long and she didn’t allow me to. So, after she’d asked any burning questions, we’d likely chat nonsense. We’d joke about turning the dairy farm into a funfair and how many apples I needed to sell to buy a carousel. Or I’d simply listen to her talk about plants and nature some more. I always learned something new.

Maybe tonight she’d revisit that unusual conversation from the previous night about how she could shoot stars from her hands, but she wasn’t allowed to show me.

That was weird even by her kooky standards.

Then, I’d ask her the question that was making my mouth dry.

I watched the pin pricks of light puncture through the velvet black above me, wishing I’d brought that onion along. I was starving. Not enough to take up Noah’s offer though.

Angeline wouldn’t eat anything with a face so, for her, neither did I, however tempting a lamb dinner may have been right then. I used the foraging skills she had taught me to find some blackberries to tide me over.

She had been foraging the day I met her, three weeks after my release. I could never forget the day I finally walked free; how bright the sun was. How overwhelming the hope was and how quickly that died as those I had grown up alongside either avoided me or threatened me, lest my illness be contagious.

I didn’t know much about Angeline when I’d bumped into her near this very tree, and she seemed to know nothing about me.

The kinder villagers described Angeline as being ‘away with the fairies’, but most simply called her strange.

Granted, when she opened the conversation by talking about beetles, then proceeded to argue with me about who would win a fictional fight between a cat and a goose, I did agree with their assessments. But by the time we got on to the topic of social conventions, how she told me that it was fine that I didn’t go to church – the priest once tried to feel her bottom and so she didn’t go either – she started to make perfect sense to me.

The hope started to return.

Until she asked me what the rope I was carrying was for.

She didn’t ask me why or try to talk me out of my plan. In fact, she offered to retie the noose for me as I had made a pig’s ear of it, apparently.

She promised that she would come back at sunset to cut me down and bury me, because someone would have to.

I spent the day willing myself to do it, until night fell, until Angeline returned. With a shovel, as she’d promised.

It was the kindest thing anyone had ever done for me.

I lay back on the grass, watching the twinkling sky. I threw the blackberries, one by one into the air, catching every one of them in my mouth, listening to my stomach rolling and the wind gently fluttering the leaves of the tree above me.

The night as heavy upon me as Noah’s words and the fear of what I was about to do, I rehearsed what I would say to Angeline as I threw another berry skywards and caught it right between my teeth.

Angeline, will you marry me?

No. Too overdone. Too generic.

Angeline, will you entangle with my soul and rot for eternity with me in hell?

Hmm. Maybe I’d have been better to stick with the first one.

Would she laugh in my face? Likely. She’d never given me any indication that she wished to marry me. What if she didn’t? Would she even take me seriously when I asked?

I looked over at the sad bouquet. I should have stolen her something better. No, not stolen; stop defaulting to that. I should have saved up and bought her a fine engagement gift to prove my intentions. A fancy gown that she could’ve worn to ruin while foraging. Perhaps not. A fur cape. No, not fur; minks have faces. Jewels? As if I could’ve ever afforded jewels.

Maybe I should have spent less time tangled around Angeline and more time trying to win John’s favour. Bollocks. Noah was right; I had set myself up for failure.

I threw the last berry up and waited, mouth open.

For the first time ever, it landed on the ground beside me, missing its target completely.



I must have dozed off because the next thing I knew it was the dead of night and there was still no sign of Angeline. Resignedly, I grabbed up the flowers and headed towards the farm. If she wanted me to go to her, I would.

If I had to face John’s shotgun, so be it. 

I pushed open the gate to the farm and boldly walked in, past the milking shed, briefly imagining Angeline, with her pink cheeks and messy braid, coaxing milk with those incredibly skilled hands of hers…

I wouldn’t usually approach the house; I was inviting the muzzle of a gun between my eyes if I tried. As I approached the door, I noticed that it was ajar.

I pushed it open and peered inside. The room beyond seemed undisturbed and the house was quiet.

I tiptoed through, opened the door to Angeline’s room. Her bed was unmade, her window open. I must have just missed her; she must be on her way to the tree.

I paused to look at her soft, hand-knitted bedcovers, the collection of bizarre items on her desk. A white candle, a flower and that bottle I’d seen her pocket earlier. It was full of a pink liquid with some sort of wading bird on the label; a heron perhaps, or a crane.

What on earth could that be for?

As I made to leave, I noticed that the door to John’s bedroom was also ajar. Someone clearly needed the skills of the carpenter; those doors must have all been hung incorrectly. I took a step closer to the door, curiosity getting the better of me; I’d never been in there.

Since the death of Angeline’s mother, John had slept alone. I had never known the woman, but I imagined that if she had been anything at all like her daughter, she was enchanting, impossible to forget.

Risking attack with a round of bullets, I peeped through the gap to the room inside.

Illuminated by a tiny oil lamp, the scene that met my eyes took all the air from me. There was blood pooled on the floor, splattered on the wall, soaked into the weave of the bedcovers and in the middle of all this carnage, was John.

There was no movement, no breath, but I had to know for sure if he was still alive. I felt my stomach flip as I crossed the room to the bed and forced myself to examine him. As I gently rolled him over, my hands slipped on his skin and I retched at the unnatural way his head lolled as he moved.

Clearly dead and almost decapitated.

I clasped my hand to my mouth in an attempt to hold in the vomit that filled it, willed my feet to the courtyard where I emptied my insides into a gulley. I stayed on all fours with my forehead on the floor until every blackberry had evacuated in a burning cocktail of purple acid.

Why had Angeline done this? How had she done this? Had she done this? If she hadn’t, who had?

John was well-liked, well-respected and most amenable to everyone who wasn’t trying to dishonour his darling daughter. I couldn’t think of a single person who would wish him harm—

“There is no way on Watcher’s green earth that John will give you her hand.”

“I’ll find a way.”

Bollocks.

If they’d found me with John, the writing would’ve been on the wall. There wouldn’t have even been a trial; my past would’ve been enough evidence to convict me.

I tried to get to my feet but I seemed to have lost the use of my legs; my knees crashing back to the stone with a crunch. The world grew hazy as a shadow approached from behind me.

I felt the air being pushed out of me as if I was being squeezed by a giant, invisible fist. Panic gripped me and the world around me started to fade.

I felt something soft brush against my neck, followed by something sharp and was blinded by a sudden flash of light.



I always woke at that point and I always woke here.

In the heavy black of the basement, my senses slowly started coming back to me, piecemeal. As my vision adjusted to the darkness I could see the cot. So that meant I was on the chair. I was sure that I was last on the cot, but then I’m fairly sure I was also dressed and now—

Familiar paralysis. Those all-too-familiar glowing, green eyes, almost blindingly bright in the void.

Damn. That all too familiar sensation, amplified ten-fold in the abyss.

I was sure that she’d only visited me yesterday and I was still light-headed. Was it yesterday? I had no real concept of time in there.

I tried to think of something else, put myself somewhere else, but with her barbs in my head there was nothing else. I couldn’t distract myself from her and what she was doing to me.

Kitty purred into my ear. Her hold tightened and her pace quickened as she realised I was awake.

Damn.

The coldness of her skin, her iron grip. The way she nibbled on my earlobe with those needle-sharp teeth. Watcher, help me. The derogatory things she was calling me…

I shuddered. I was still drained from her last visit; I could feel the chilled air of the basement on the still-raw wound on my neck. But despite this, despite everything…

She purred, running her tongue from my collar bone to my ear before finally releasing her grip. This was no reprieve. Instead, she hiked up her skirt and climbed on to my lap; the broken chair groaned beneath the weight of us.

She nibbled me; a threat.

Drowning in the swamp between thrill and fear, pleasure and pain, desperately trying not to give her the satisfaction of my losing control, I was only vaguely aware of the lantern approaching, the figure that had appeared in the shadows. His eyes shining yellow in the low light of the basement.

“Layne wants you,” Patrick said to Kitty, his face and voice both impassive.

She growled in frustration; the vibrations painful against the exposed inners of my neck. She grabbed me by the hair, yanking my head from her bite, never vice versa. I felt the sharp tips of her ragged teeth tear my flesh as we broke apart.

“I’m busy, Patsy.”

“Eat some other time,” Patrick waved his hand, knocking Kitty from my lap. She stumbled, but swiftly regained composure.

Patrick glanced over at me and swore. “Seriously? Is that why you’re always down here? You’re one messed-up broad, Kathryn.”

Her voice was a sinister purr. “There’s envy if I ever did see it. Kindly advise Layne that I’m busy and get lost.”

The room fell silent except for the sounds of my breathing but some sort of discussion was taking place between the undead duo; I could tell by the heavy, prickly feeling in the air.

Kitty suddenly laughed. “Why would I bother with that when he’s so happy to oblige?”

“Happy?” Patrick repeated. “Your brain really is buggered if you think he’s happy with this.”

She sauntered over, wedging her knee firmly between my thighs as she grabbed me by the hair. She pulled back, cradled my face, forced me to look directly into those cat-like green eyes of hers. Her voice condescending, like she was talking to a small child.

“You would do anything to please me, wouldn’t you, boy? And I know you like our playtime, don’t you? I’m sure Patrick can see how much you enjoy it,” she ground her knee into my groin, “but as he’s clearly as blind as he is impotent, perhaps you should tell him.”

I bit my lip to try and prevent myself replying. But Kitty always got her honest answer when she had her mental manacles on me. Her instruction like a cleaver to the cranium, forcing out all reason.

Tell him you enjoy it, boy.

I justified that her visits were preferable to the abject loneliness. That this mistreatment was at least something in the endless nothing. But as time had passed, I had begun to long for her touch, to ache for her attention.

And the pain from her pressing her knee was making my head spin.

“I enjoy it,” I admitted; my cheeks burning with the shame.

“Fuck’s sake,” Patrick hissed.

Kitty cooed, stroking my cheek gently and uttering sweet nothings. She gave me a swift lip nibble and stood up, triumphantly tossing her silver curls back over her shoulder.

“I’ll be right back,” she informed me; half promise, half threat. She blew Patrick a raspberry and slinked off up the stairs.

Kitty’s hold on me broke as she ascended, leaving me alone with Patrick. Wordlessly, he threw my clothes at me and I pulled the garments on while he remained behind me, watching. Silently.

There were three male vampires and none of them had ever taken a drink from me, never even tried and yet they terrified me just as much as Kitty did. Patrick’s gaze lingered hungrily on my throat and I instinctively wiped the wound with my hand; it came away slick and red.

I clamped my hand over my neck and pressed down. It would stop, eventually. Always did.

“She won’t keep you down here forever,” he murmured, licking his fangs absently. He tore his gaze from the blood that was seeping slowly through my fingers and turned towards the stairs.

“What will she do with me?” I dared to ask. His heavy boots stopped in their tracks.

Did I really want to know? I’d heard the screams of others they’d captured. They were always silenced within hours. I had no idea how long I’d been down here. Months? Was being Kitty’s plaything the only thing keeping me alive?

Was that better than the alternative?

I clung to a thread of hope that it meant that, one day, I would have freedom. I tried not to think of what Angeline must be doing, whether she’d moved on, how she’d coped as an unmarried woman without a father, but she was always in my dreams and on my mind as I desperately tried not to lose it.

I wondered if I’d ever see her again.

Patrick lingered at the base of the stairs, no doubt listening to my thoughts. He was the quietest of the vampire group, reserved and measured in his responses. His visits were brief and he didn’t usually respond to my conversation attempts, my questions or my pleas for freedom.

That day, he surprised me.

“She’s going to make you one of us,” he muttered, clearly disapproving of the idea.

I wanted to ask how but I couldn’t get past the ludicrous thought of me, as a vampire. I wondered what Angeline would think when I eventually escaped from these monsters. I laughed, imagining what she would say when I told her about my new diet.

“People have faces, Seth. You can’t eat them!”

Patrick snarled showing his teeth. Two, long sharp fangs, very different to Kitty’s snare and tear gnashers, but just as menacing.

“It’s not a joke, Seth.” I almost looked up as he used my name. They never, ever used my name. “Everything has a price and freedom doesn’t come cheaply. If you think her controlling your human urges is bad, wait until she controls your fucking thirst. Although you’ll probably enjoy that too, you sick wimp. Oh, if your fate was up to me—“

He wrenched my hand from my neck, watching the trickle of blood I felt soaking into my shirt.

In a movement so swift that I didn’t even see it, he brought his lips to my broken skin, pressed his fangs into the wound. His draw deeper and far stronger than Kitty’s; the rapidity of the blood loss causing me to panic.

As suddenly as he began his attack, he stopped, pulled back, looked at the puddle that was appearing on the floor at my feet.

“Pathetic,” he uttered, shoving me. “To think that you will be immortal. It cheapens everything. It sickens me.”

I leant against the wall, as far as I could get from him, trying to catch my breath and calm my racing heart; every beat making his eyes glow brighter.

Patrick snuffed the lantern, leaving me the in the pitch dark once more. I waited to hear him ascending the stairs and the latch on the heavy door being lifted but instead I heard his voice echoing inside my head and a fluttering sensation like the pages of a book in the wind.

You want freedom? Step one: forget her.

I wondered what this meant as I let my thoughts linger on those green eyes, those flushed cheeks, breathing in the soap and soil scent of Angeline. I could never forget her. I would never forget her. Let them torture me, turn me, whatever the hell they wanted.

I was going to escape this nightmare. I was going to find her if it killed me.

“Did you miss me baby?”

So lost was I in my thoughts that I didn’t hear Kitty behind me, until she was right behind me. The compression in my temples made me see stars.

“You’re thinking of that witch again.”

“I’m not!” I insisted, spinning around.

Those words; I immediately regretted them. I should have admitted it. ‘Cheating’ would earn me a day without food, but I’d done the other thing. The thing she couldn’t stand.

And the demonic bitch knew. Of course she knew. She always knew.

Kitty pinned me against the wall with nothing but the power of her mind and I hung, limp, like a ragdoll, defenceless, yet again, to the will of this diminutive woman.

Her screaming amplified in my head as she approached, my throat tightening in her invisible hold as she lifted me from the floor. Those glowing green orbs the last thing I always saw before I felt the tearing of my flesh, the loss of my breath and the heavy fall into the temporary embrace of unconsciousness.

Lies.



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Chapter 2.53 – The Devil Himself

Note: NSFW-ish, briefly.

At the sound of her father’s voice across the courtyard, we both jumped like we’d been burned, but as I made to pull back, Angeline clamped her thighs tighter around me, locked her ankles behind my back. Her fingers tangled in my hair, she held me firmly in place.

“I didn’t say you could stop, Seth,” she whispered headily. “Don’t you dare stop.”

I could hear John calling again for his dog. His heavy footfall, against the stone pavement outside the building, was getting closer and closer to us.

“He’ll catch us,” I murmured.

She groaned, impassioned. “Let him.”

“He’ll beat me,” I tried to reason with her, with myself, even as I held her tighter, moved into her deeper, catching her breathless sighs in my mouth.

She suddenly whispered, frantically, against my lips, “Remember that I love you, yes?”

Angeline shoved me off her and I rolled on to my side, stunned for a second and wondering what I’d done, before I realised that her father had appeared blessedly, without his gun. He did not look amused to be greeted by the sight of me, on the floor, trousers down, with his pink-cheeked daughter beside me, but then his face was usually unamused.

“Hi Daddy,” Angeline chirped in that sweet voice she never used on me. “You’re awake early.”

“It’s four-thirty, Angeline,” John said and then he turned to look at me as one might survey the contents of an outhouse. “What in Watcher’s name do you think you’re doing, delinquent?!”

I really did try not to be so insouciant where her father was concerned, tried to let the insults slide and portray myself as a suitable partner for his precious princess, but what kind of question was that? “I’m trying to screw your daughter, John. Give us a minute?”

Angeline turned her laugh into an almost convincing gasp of horror and covered her smile with her hand, gazing up at her father with those puppy-dog eyes she’d perfected. She yanked me to my feet.

“Get dressed, Seth,” she snapped. “I’ve told you; the rash’ll go away on its own.”

John did not see the funny side, he never did, but he melted as he looked at her; she could do no wrong.

“Get out of here, Angel. I don’t want you to see this.”

“Please don’t hurt him, Daddy,” she said in her most innocent voice, her lip quivering and her eyes glassy with crocodile tears. “I invited him in. I just feel so very sorry for the lonely wretch. Look at his pitiful face! Even the whores don’t want him!”

“We should’ve let the lunatic hang,” he muttered. “Angeline, leave. Now.”

She ducked out of view, rolling her eyes and mocking her father as soon as she was out of his sight.

John, oblivious to this show behind him, cursed under his breath eyeing me with disgust as I fastened my belt and wondered if I could fit through the tiny window behind me.

“She is too kind for her own good, allowing scum like you a chance. Give me one good reason not to riddle you with bullets,” he snarled.

“You’d have to fetch your gun and that would give me time to run away,” I suggested, helpfully.

John growled at me, foaming at the mouth like a rabid dog. “Have you no shame, Seth?! She’s a good girl! A sweet girl! She does not enjoy your attentions; she pities you! She deserves an honourable man! An honest man!”

“She has one,” I insisted, trying not to laugh at John’s terribly inaccurate description of his own daughter.

“Nothing about you is honourable! Pray, if you make her with child, I will—“

“Allow us to marry?”

I don’t know who those words surprised more. Probably John, who was turning purple in his rage; his hands balled into tight fists at his sides and his head high, looking every inch of his 6 foot 5 frame.

“She will marry the devil himself before I permit her to marry you, you good-for-nothing cur!” he hissed through gritted teeth, showering me with spit. “Get off my land before I beat the living daylights out of you!”

I doubted he’d follow through on this threat, if only for Angeline’s sake. Regardless, I held up my hands in surrender and backed off. I could still hear John’s heavy boots stomping around on the flagstone floor of the workshop and kicking things even when I was outside.

As I passed the milking shed, I smiled at Angeline, gave her a short nod to let her know that I could meet her tonight. She tutted as if irritated by the idea, but I caught the smile that lifted the very corner of her mouth.

I knew she’d be waiting for me at our tree, at sunset.



The sun had not quite risen and Windenburg town centre was deserted. I climbed the rickety steps to the room in the ramshackle house that I called home. I spent so little time indoors these days that I may as well have not had an abode at all, but appearances mattered when you were trying to rebuild your life.

The landlord charged me twice the going rate for this dump.

I barely had any furniture, there was no fuel for the fire. Some might’ve called it poverty, but compared to what I’d had a year ago – a bucket and a mattress on the floor of my cell – it was a palace.

My stomach growled, prompting me to the pantry. Scanning the shelves for sustenance, I selected the apple that had seen better days over the raw onion and took my breakfast outside to watch the sun breaking over the horizon.

After spending more than half of my life incarcerated, I enjoyed the morning breeze through my hair, even on the days where the rain lashed against my skin and soaked my shirt.

Out among the leaves and the trees; that was where I belonged and where, this time, I intended to stay.

Since I had moved back here, a white cat had joined me daily for breakfast and today was no exception. He would usually circle around my ankles, sometimes hop on to my lap for a fuss. Today he eyed me almost suspiciously before climbing up.

I petted his soft head and he flinched, sniffed at my hand, my face. Perhaps he could pick up traces of Angeline’s scent on me.

I didn’t usually visit her in the mornings but last night I couldn’t stop thinking about her, I couldn’t sleep. I had wandered around the town walls, restlessly, finding myself heading down the path towards her farm. I had thought she would be sleeping, but I saw her outside, barefoot, studying her saplings.

She had rolled her eyes when she’d spotted me, leaning on the wall, watching her. She sighed, “Do you not have anything better to do?”

Was there anything better to do?

The sound of the squeaky cart barely even registered to me anymore, but it always startled my furry companion who scarpered into the bushes.

“A bad apple?” Noah asked, seating himself beside me. “Don’t tell me that’s all you’ve eaten.”

I grinned at him. “All right, I won’t tell you.”

Noah shook his head. “You need a decent meal, Seth. You cannot survive on fruit alone—“

Ah, this familiar play. I usually ignored him, but my morning activity had me fired up. “You’re right, I cannot survive on fruit alone,” I replied.

“You’ll get triple threat and gout and… what?” Noah stopped; stunned as I stepped off-script. “You’re agreeing with me? You never agree with me. About anything. Am I finally getting through to you?” he rejoiced.

I tried to stifle my laugh. “Yes, sir. I’ll have vegetables tonight, for a change,” I joked, amused as Noah’s confusion turned to outrage.

“You cad! You got me! But this is not funny; you’re wasting away!” he insisted. “Please, come by the house this evening; Betty is preparing a fine lamb.”

Now I ignored him. Noah offered this daily; only the meat ever changed. I took a final bite of my apple and threw the core into the nearby bushes.

Noah sighed and handed me another apple from his cart. “Fine. But if you must insist on doing this, going along with her strangeness, at least eat fresh crops.”



The market was quiet today, but Noah’s stall always had customers. His fresh produce was certainly attractive, but the main draw for one young woman was definitely not the exotic new fruits he’d grown.

“Back again?” I teased. “We’re out of potatoes, as you know.”

Harriet’s cheeks flushed pink. “I forgot a different ingredient for my pie! The… um…” she scanned the table. “The strawberries!” she gushed. “I forgot the strawberries! Can’t make the recipe without strawberries. Silly me!”

“Strawberries and potatoes? That’s an interesting pie.”

“It’s, um, a foreign recipe,” she murmured. “From, um, Sulani.”

“Exotic,” I said and placed the fruits inside her basket on top of the twenty-eight potatoes she’d already purchased in four different transactions that morning. “Anything else?”

“No, I—” She glanced over at her friends, who were watching with interest. Her gaze fluttered down to her full basket and empty coin purse, then back to me. “Actually… actually… yes.” She smiled at me with what she likely thought was coquettishness, but was more a shyness that was almost painful to observe. “I can think of one other thing I would like, yes.”

“A cabbage?”

Harriet looked at me for a second before she laughed in a brainless, frothy way that probably should have made me warm to her, but only served to annoy me.

“You’re so funny! There’s no cabbage in this recipe! Oh, you! You do make me laugh!” she laughed again, to demonstrate. “Perhaps… perhaps if you’re not so busy this afternoon, you’d like to keep me company, Seth?” She glanced back over at her friends again, her cheeks burning red. “Only because I need someone to help me eat this pie. I will not possibly be able to eat a whole pie by myself.”

“Then perhaps don’t make one,” I suggested.

Harriet wilted and blinked back tears, her voice small, “Of course… yes that would make sense, wouldn’t it?” She looked back over to her friends who were still giving their encouragement.

“I can do this,” she said quietly, shifting the weight of her basket on her arm and looking like she wanted the ground to swallow her. “Forget the pie. Father has a wedding to officiate today so I will be lonely. Oh! Not that I’m offering anything untoward – I’m certainly not – oh my goodness! Unless you want to, then I might permit you to hold my hand.”

She rambled on, looking like she might pass out. I could feel the heat from her face from where I was standing. “Not that I want you to hold my hand! Well, I do, of course I do, you’re handsome and you’re charming, but – oh my goodness! I am making such a mess of this! Do you want to come over?” she blurted.

“No,” I replied. I didn’t offer a reason and she didn’t ask for one. She nodded and as her eyes overflowed with tears I almost felt a twinge of guilt. She hurried away to her girlfriends without another word.

“You are cruel sometimes, Seth. You could do far worse than Harriet,” Noah uttered. “Her cooking skills and those hips? Watcher. She would be a fine wife and would bear you children.”

“I’m taken,” I replied as a familiar face with green eyes and a messy braid wandered into the square and headed straight for Ma’s curio store, as always.

Noah followed my gaze and sighed. “You are a law unto yourself. What do you see in Angeline?”

“She accepts me.”

“I’m sure she does,” Noah scoffed. “Which is precisely why you should forget her and find a wife who will keep you in line.”

I had to fight to keep the smirk from my face. “She keeps me in line.”

“In a line of two, on the fringe of society,” Noah muttered. “Besides, even if she was a viable option, there is no way on Watcher’s green earth that John would give you her hand, Seth.”

“I disagree.”

“Of course you do.”

I turned to my friend, determined. “I’ll find a way. Perhaps you can write me a reference; tell John what a hard worker and all-round wonderful human being I am.”

Noah scoffed. “A monkey could pick fruit faster than you. Would probably eat less of it as well,” his stance was firm but there was warmth in his voice. “I’ve already put my neck on the line for you. Make a good decision for once; court Harriet. She’s too young to remember your misdeed and too sweet for prejudice. She might be your only chance.”

I glanced at Harriet, who perked up at my unexpected attention.

“I simply need more time,” I said. “If I can just convince John I’m a changed man—“

Noah rolled his eyes at this. “You freed all of his chickens last Tuesday.”

That had been Angeline but of course I’d been blamed for it. I laughed. “I’m not going to be slipping back into a life of crime because of a few chickens. Although it was hilarious watching John chasing them around the meadow. A perfect distraction while I fornicated with Angeline in the barn.”

Noah apologised to an elderly lady who had overheard that snippet of conversation and hissed at me, “Freeing chickens. Fornicating in a barn. Do you hear yourself when you talk? You need to grow up, Seth. You won’t live forever, you know. You are already twenty-seven, not that you act like it! If you truly wish to reintegrate into the community, you need to stop chasing fantasy. Forget about Angeline and go and talk to Harriet.”

I cast my eye over the young lady Noah was referring to, who was pretending to browse the book stand, no doubt so she could eavesdrop.

Granted, she was pleasant to look at and she was mild-mannered, innocent, uncomplicated. Very keen to find a husband; her friends all recently married. She could be mine in a heartbeat.

I would have instant good-standing in the community, marrying the priest’s daughter, and the satisfaction of seeing whether her father truly had forgiven me as he’d claimed. I could have a brood of beautiful children, a wife who would dote on me, bake me strange pies and call me sweet names.

The whole idea bored me to tears.

Angeline had left the store, slipping a small bottle into her pocket as she crossed the square towards me. She smiled as she approached, giddy with something to say… until she clocked the proximity of myself and Harriet.

I pretended I hadn’t seen her and my attention lingered on the blonde a lot longer than my interest held, until Harriet blushed crimson under my sultry gaze and Angeline’s green eyes glowed with envy.

She stormed out of the square, elbowing Harriet as she did so and giving me a look that told me I’d surely be in for quite a scolding from her later.

The charge that went through me was like nothing else.

“No,” I said firmly. “I don’t want Harriet. It must be Angeline.”

Noah shook his head. “Why? She is on the shelf for good reason; besides her evident promiscuity and her aberrant opinions, she has a bad temper and she is unremarkable, if you ask me.”

“I didn’t ask you,” I replied. “Perhaps I enjoy my women rebellious, bad-tempered and unremarkable.”

“Then marry Harriet,” Noah looked around, cursed as if he couldn’t believe what he was about to say and lowered his voice, “but utilise other services.”

I gasped and said very, very loudly, “Noah Bucket! Are you implying that I would, nay, should cheat on my wife with prostitutes?!”

Noah’s cheeks were almost as red as his hair as he stammered at this accusation, which had once again startled that poor old lady, causing her to abandon her shopping.

“N- no! I… I would never—“

“To think I’d settle for a quick bonk with a dirty stranger – who I had to pay for the privilege – over a woman who’s all mine! Scandalous! Besides, I prefer to take my time,” I flashed Harriet a grin as I purred, “to satisfy. To savour.”

The silly girl actually swooned; falling into the book stand, her friends rushed to her aid.

“Of course you do,” Noah muttered, even his ears were red now. “You live in your own time zone while the rest of us simply get on with it.” He placed the abandoned items back into their bowls while hissing at me through gritted teeth, “You’re one word from unemployment, Seth.”

“Is that so? Perhaps for my next career I will offer myself to the ladies of this village,” I joked, albeit this time at a volume that the whole market wouldn’t hear. “I feel your Betty might be a good customer of mine if you do, as you say, simply get on with it.”

Noah let out a droll laugh. “Go ahead and mock me. I have my business, my sons and Betty – who has never complained, I hasten to add. What do you have?”

“Freedom.”

“Do you?” Noah asked. “Because from where I’m standing, you seem rather trapped. You may not be locked up now, but you’re still isolated, disconnected and pushing everyone away. I think there’s a reason why you pursue the likes of Angeline and why you antagonise her father; you’re afraid to commit and, with her, you don’t have to.”

“I’m not afraid. And one doesn’t have to be married to be committed.”

“They do if they wish to be a part of this community, Seth. Or are you afraid of committing to us, too?” Noah continued softly, “You have a great opportunity here, with a lovely, young woman. If you don’t take a wife soon, you risk ending up a very lonely man. Come,” he said, laying a cloth over his produce. “You can think about your terrible life choices over an ale. My treat. You surely deserve it for flogging our surplus of potatoes.”

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Chapter 2.52 – Backdraught

Backdraught: a phenomenon in which a fire that has consumed all available oxygen suddenly explodes when more oxygen is made available, typically because a door or window has been opened.


Warning: disturbing image, lots of skin/NSFW/ may make your brain explode

Seth had hesitated when Faith had begged him to help her to forget. He had already had to tamper with her recall of the previous night’s events, thanks to her spotting her younger sister on the way to the bloody arcade. He was considering simply clearing the whole twenty-four hours since they’d left the cottage from her memory and starting again.

He had to reassure her, but doing so within the boundaries of truth was impossible. He had designed this scenario to hurt. He needed to know how far she would allow him to push her.

He had his answer and he rued himself for it. He had been too damn impatient to sample this tantalising new offering she presented. He had become obsessed, again. Now he risked losing everything.

Again.

Kindness was not his forte and his slick words could not reach her. Swift mental meddling was surely an easier option to regain her peace of mind than hours of concerted physical effort, but restraint was required when Faith was this trapped in herself.

Although, in frankness, he wasn’t sure that he could have reworked her memories, had he tried. Seth would not admit it, but these last few days had been draining from all aspects.

He was on the brink of a breakthrough – he could feel it in his nerves – but Faith was hard work. The rapid escalation of their relationship, the sudden return to socialising after a century of near solitude and the steep learning curve of what in the hell young, modern women expected had been nothing short of exhausting for the master vampire.

The platitudinous pursuit she’d insisted on, a practice he was well-versed in and one that time had never really changed the dynamics of, had actually been as much as a reset button for him as it was for her. Seth rarely ever stopped analysing, he was constantly strategising, always thinking, but he had, briefly, switched off.

Now he was pondering why that was.

Sex was mundane; perhaps it was nothing more complicated than that. He reasoned that he must have had quite his fill, in the wild youth that he couldn’t remember, to be so skilled with his manipulations of the female body and yet so surfeited with the act itself.

He rarely found himself in scenarios that required undress, and seldom desired them, something else he’d had in common with a certain vicious vixen, but when he did, his own physical pleasure was never the goal. His body was merely a tool to garner willingness; a viewpoint most of his previous lovers were more than happy about, and something that, tonight, Faith had finally been content to simply allow.

With her mind and mouth mute and her exhausted body clinging to his own, he idly trailed his fingertip over her healed skin.

She sighed. Mindless, as she’d desired. Mission accomplished.

Now, on to the next chore: disposing of the human girl. He couldn’t say he was looking forward to that.

He didn’t expect Faith to actually want to talk about what she’d done, of course, but he did at least expect that she’d wait until she wasn’t within spitting distance of a corpse before disrobing. Now he faced dredging a cold human who’d been dead for a few hours; it was not one of his favourite tasks.

He would have to subdue Faith first; the last thing he needed was for her to go ballistic when he hacked her leftovers apart. Seth did not have the energy for any more drama.

“Look at me,” he ordered, waiting until her light grey eyes rolled up to lock onto his.

He had anticipated that this ocular connection would allow him to better read her and it did, loud and clear.

What he hadn’t anticipated was the jolt to his heart that accompanied her abashed expression and unfiltered thoughts. In this most unromantic of scenarios, while he was focusing on the next job and planning his night’s hunt, she was truly basking in the afterglow. The wealth of her misplaced affection was so great that, for a moment, he could feel it within himself.

He paused in stunned silence, as he tried to figure out how she was manipulating his emotions. She parted her lips to whisper a sentiment that she likely only meant in the heat of the moment.

Good lord. That broke the spell.

He wasn’t sure what would expend more energy; lying and facing a cognitive caning, or having to talk Faith down from the ceiling if he gave her the truth, so he simply pressed his lips to hers. An answer and a convenient way to compel her subtly into slumber.

Disaster averted, and once more devoid of any kind of forced sentiment towards her, Seth untangled himself from Faith’s fallen form and rose to dress. His gaze wandered back to her periodically as he mused.

She was already becoming so pliable, so trusting; he’d have what he wanted within no time. Soon he’d be nothing but a memory reel of regrets to her; a harsh lesson learned.

The others would take her back. She would survive.

He wouldn’t miss her. Her constant need to shed her skin, her contrary nature and her teenaged attention span were pushing him to insanity.

He did like her spit, her wit. Their aggressive to-and-fro that kept him on alert.

Her casual little threats of violence. They were cute.

And he’d certainly miss how damn attractive and alive she’d made this detestable old reprobate feel.

Hmm. Perhaps, if he played it right, he could keep her.

After all, she didn’t understand this retaliation ability of hers. He could build that up, siphon it off, leave her with her allure – he still didn’t want that – and have her company. In time perhaps, if he got used to her, she got used to him, it’d be a shame to snuff that.

“Do you seriously think you’re worthy of love, Seth? That anyone could possibly ever love you?!”

No.

No he did not.



Sage had shut up shop and was putting the finishing touches to her arrangement after what had been a long and tiring day.  

Wyatt had made good progress with his potion and, much to her chagrin, would likely create something viable. He was delighted in his naivety, but Sage knew better. The erythrocyte elixir he was making would certainly help to ensure that neither he nor Broof ran out of blood to feed their new guest, but no amount of elixir would speed up blood production fast enough to feed a horde of vampires. 

And as for a cure? There was always that one ingredient she could never find. Or, rather, after what had happened to her mother, she was unmotivated to find.

Perhaps she could be persuaded. If April was her granddaughter, that is.

Time would tell.

The shop bell sounded behind her. Sage’s first reaction was alarm; she was sure that she’d locked that door. Perhaps she really was losing her faculties.

“I must have forgotten to lock that, but we’re closed!” she sang, turning on her heel.

“As if you’d ever forget something, Sage,” Lilith said, her voice still that glacial, emotionless cool after all this time. “Wasn’t that the whole problem?” She scanned the florist and the corner of her unlined mouth lifted into a smile. “You look… old.”

“I am old,” Sage returned Lilith’s soft expression, gathering herself. “Here to collect Caleb, I presume? Forgot his boundaries, did he?”

“I did tell you that keeping the boy shackled was the better option,” Lilith rolled her eyes. “Just go and get him and we’ll be out of your crispy hair.”

“Oh, Lilith. What’s the rush?” Sage clicked her tongue. “Stay! Tell me all about your new sister-in-law! April, is it? Was it a beautiful ceremony?”

Lilith’s face was a picture but, as always when presented with any kind of challenge, she defaulted to defence. “I don’t know what he’s told you—“

“Very little,” Sage sang, “but enough. I know that your numbers have multiplied, at least. But that is by-the-by. What I find more intriguing is that young Caleb is missing a great deal of his previous talents. He doesn’t even know he ever had them. He doesn’t know a lot really, does he?”

Lilith chewed her lip, but remained stubbornly silent.

Sage advanced on the vampire, scoping her energy. “Interesting. I thought that you had something to do with it,” she tapped her temple, “but… my oh my. You’ve been sapped as much as he has. Gracious. Tell me, Lilith, can you even hear what I’m thinking?”

Lilith hesitated, licked her fangs. “No, I can’t. It’s because we no longer hunt; that has had a catastrophic effect on our powers—”

“And on your ability to weave a tall tale!” Sage chirped. “So, what has happened? Or should that be… who has happened?”

Sage could see it in the way Lilith’s eyelid twitched, the tight line of her lips. Her old friend was terrible at deceiving her. She always had been.

“Stop protecting him or I cannot keep protecting you,” Sage said gravely. “The others know that there is a vampire on the loose; I’ll have to give them something.”

Finally, Lilith sighed. “I don’t know where he is, Sage. I can only presume that he’s—”

“Dead, yes. So you always maintain,” Sage murmured.

Lilith looked at the floor, stubborn as always. “Caleb needs to get back to April, so if you need to present a befanged head—“

“Take yours?” Sage tapped her chin, thinking. “I may just have to. But apparently, I have been bought a little time. So, shall we catch up over a lovely cup of tea before we discuss the finer details? Or,” she sniffed the air, “is a gin and tonic more to your temptation, dear?”



Night had fallen and Faith had joined Seth at the campfire he had lit. She had stubbornly refused to wear the dead girl’s outfit, choosing instead the ‘Lilith’ method of looking a gift horse in the mouth.

“Hankering for marshmallows?” she asked as she settled on the bench beside him.

“Not quite,” he replied, somewhat relieved when she didn’t push him for a more detailed answer. He subtly nudged the smouldering remains of Megan’s personal artefacts deeper into the embers with his boot and watched as the flames engulfed them.

Faith was also staring at the fire but, since she had awoken, she had been completely unreadable. Seth had no idea what was formulating in that pretty head, although, judging by her face, it looked like a question.

“Seth,” she began uneasily. “Can I ask you something?”

Well, technically she just had. Damn her. She would pick this moment, when he was lacking the mental capacity to endure a lie, to ask him something arduous. She had, so far, studiously avoided any mention of her kill, so maybe it was that.

He braced himself. “Go on,” he said through gritted teeth, hoping that evasiveness would see him right and that devil bitch wouldn’t have to make an appearance.

“Do vampire children grow up?” Faith asked.

Seth blinked at her. What an inane question. “Yes,” he replied. “However, know that growing and maturing are very different things. If you wish to turn your sister, you would do well to wait, lest she end up like the Vatores.”

“How do you know that I—? Wait, you mean… holy shit,” she shook her head, “Yep, definitely not gonna turn Joy yet. Don’t want her being a backwards idiot her whole life, like Fringey or a control freak, like Fun Vacuum.”

“Good to hear it,” he muttered.

Faith opened and closed her mouth a few times. Seth rolled his eyes; this small action almost tipping from his seat. His head was thumping. The second the flames died down he would walk, because misting was way beyond him, to the village for sustenance. Devil help him; he’d probably need three just regain his base functions.

Faith was still hesitating, dancing around her next question. She really was going to be his downfall. He groaned, hoping this was another vapid enquiry.

“Spit it out, Fledgling.”

She pouted. “I know you told Blondie that you don’t remember, and you got pissy about it, but,” she said, “do you remember who turned you?”

He wondered why she wanted to know that, right now, what she was hoping to get out of his answer, so he could best phrase it.

“No, I don’t remember. Although, I can assure you I was not a child when it happened. And, interestingly, I gather from recent events that my sire may have been a woman.”

“A woman,” Faith repeated in that overly cool tone she used when she was trying not to show her jealousy. “So why did she turn you? Was she your girlfriend?”

He should have known that allowing her to ask questions would open the damn floodgates. Now she thought she had permission to ask him a hundred.

He rubbed his aching temples. Willing the fire to burn faster, he barely noticed his answer.

“No,” he replied. “Kitty was nobody’s girlfriend. She didn’t belong to anyone; that was her whole purpose, her whole style.”

“Kitty?” Faith scoffed. “So you do remember.”

“I… wait, what?” Seth sputtered, wondering where his answer had come from and what had prompted it. “I… apparently I do?”

“You fucking bastard,” Faith hissed. “You’re still hung up on her, aren’t you? Wait, is she still around? Is that where you keep disappearing to; home to Kitty? Next you’ll be telling me you have a mansion and a load of kids. I’d better not be your bit on the side, Seth.”

He laughed. “Faith; putting up with you is more than enough for me. I assure you, she is long gone—” he started, but Kitty interrupted.

Lies!

The word splintered his brain into a hundred pieces.

He shook and gripped the bench, fighting for control. As the fog began to lift and his quivering mind calmed, he saw Faith staring at him.

“What the fuck— who was she?” she gasped.

“You… you saw her?” he managed, still reeling.

“Yeah, I saw her,” Faith whispered. “Is that Kitty?”

Seth reached out to Faith. “It must be. Stop. Stop talking. Her name, all this; it’s new information. I need to think.”

Something was swimming back through the tar inside his head. Where there had been only black, there was now illumination by two glowing, green orbs. There was the creak of a chair beneath him, the sensation of needles at his throat, of cold, damp air on his skin.

Within the depths of him erupted a seductive purr that had taunted him in his waking hours of solitude, that had haunted his sleep, that had owned him, controlled him and ultimately dragged him under.

Faith lips were moving, but all Seth could hear was the roar of a hundred fires igniting at once; the backdraught as door after door exploded open. Thousands of fresh pieces littered his fragmented memory, falling into the cracks, filling in the blanks.

It had been a single act. One snap that had dubbed him an outcast for three hundred damn years.

Faces swam back with associated names, with backstories and with intermingled lives. Each snippet he recalled reminded him of ten others, crossing and tangling until they had woven together in his mind into a tapestry that he knew but yet felt completely alien.

In this crowd, everyone he once knew was jostling for space to be acknowledged first, but one voice rang out above the others. Her melodic timbre teased him, soothed him and gave him life. She laced her fingers with his. She felt like coming home.

With all sense of reality lost, Seth had to kiss her.

He ignored the sirens, the warnings that he was pushing himself too far, too fast. He was so close; her name was on the tip of his tongue as it danced with hers in a long-forgotten rhythm.

A hard slap to the face broke his reverie, sending him spiralling into the abyss. He pressed his hand to his stinging cheek, the hazy summer’s night dissolving before him, depositing him back in the overgrown garden of the dilapidated cabin.

“Her name is Angeline,” Faith snarled, swatting his hand away as he reached towards her in his confusion. “Start talking.”

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Chapter 2.50 – Grounds for Dismissal

Caleb very rarely slept, so waking up was an unusual activity in the first instance.

When he did sleep, it was for short bursts, in a dark, almost empty room. Not this colourful crowded one, full of paintings, knickknacks and plants. His bedsheets were crisp and immaculate from years of serving only as mattress decoration, whereas the sheets beneath him now were impossibly soft and scented with a light, fresh, herbaceous fragrance that reminded him of sunrise in the forest.

They reminded him of something else, also. But he couldn’t identify exactly what…

Caleb hadn’t heard the door open behind him, but was aware that Sage had entered the room.

“Oh good! You’re awake! I need a word with you, sweetheart,” she chirped.

Wait a minute. Waking up… strange bed… holy hell. He hadn’t. Not with Sage, surely.

But why else would he be in her bed? Bloody hell. Slipping back into his bad habits was a lot easier than he’d thought. He hoped he hadn’t bitten her. Sleeping with the boss was one thing, but tapping her veins was probably grounds for dismissal.

Caleb watched Sage walk over, set a mug on the bedside table and perch herself on the bed beside him. He noted that her gait was normal, he couldn’t see any bite marks on her throat or bruising on her wrists, so if she remembered as much of the night’s events as he did, it was likely going to be fine.

“Let’s not pussyfoot around here,” she said brightly. “I know that you’re a vampire, my darling. So, let me explain how this is going to go. Right now you are in my bedroom, in my apartment—”

Damn. She thought he was a vampire, so perhaps he had bitten her. He wracked his brain, trying to remember how Lilith had coached him to respond in these situations.

First, apologise to her, because your bites hurt. Tell her ‘there are no such things as vampires’ and you’re simply a regular man who gets a little mouthy in the heat of the moment. And for hell’s sake, Caleb; don’t bite her again if she says she ‘could get into that’ – just leave.

Caleb cleared his throat and turned to Sage. “I’m so—”

Sage held up her hand to silence him. “Darling; when I want your input, I’ll request it.”

“As I was saying,” she continued, unruffled. “You are in my bedroom, in my apartment, which is precisely where you shall be staying until I decide you may leave. Do not try to escape, do not try to attack nor intimidate me; none of those options will wash. Are you following me so far, sweetheart?”

Caleb smiled. Even if this little old lady did know that he was a vampire, what was she going to do if he got up and strolled to the door? Or if he pounced on her, pinned her down and drained her dry?

Nothing.

“Sage,” he purred. “Vampires? There’s no such thing.” He rose to leave, shaking his head.

“Oh no you don’t.” Sage pointed to the bed and ordered, “Sit.”

Like a magnet to a fridge, Caleb’s buttocks snapped firmly back down at her command.

“How did you—?”

“Witchcraft, my dear,” Sage answered calmly and looked over him with interest. “My, my. I barely had to put any energy into that,” she mused. “I can tell that you clearly have very little in the way of mind control skill or defence. Most unusual; a vampire of your age should be quite proficient in that. Unless you gave it to your bind, but that would be a first.”

Caleb shook his head, trying to shake the loose marbles inside his head into their holes.

This was so much information. A vampire of his age? Did she know he was older than seventeen? What else did she know? Witchcraft? Witches had been hunted to extinction with the vampires. But, then again, he and Lilith had slipped the vampire hunters, so maybe Sage’s family had, too. And if she wasn’t a witch or a vampire herself, how did she know about binds? How did she know that he had a bind?

Did she know? If she thought a vampire’s age was proportionate to his skill, she was clearly mistaken. Maybe this was a test.

“There’s no such thing as vampires, Sage,” he said again, gently. “I think you may be confused. Shall I get Wyatt?”

She smiled. “Thor, if that is your name, which I doubt, allow me to elaborate. I know that you are a vampire. I know that you have a bind – to a certain recently-deceased actress’s daughter. I know that you cannot lift your bottom from that eiderdown and I know that you have wandered into the lion’s den with no inkling of the danger.”

Damn. Caleb tried to stand again, but couldn’t, so that all sounded rather accurate. “I didn’t. I haven’t. I mean, April, she was—“

“An accident? Wasn’t she just!” Sage beamed. “Darling, I don’t overlook the fact that your hand has been heavily forced. You came here genuinely seeking work, so I highly doubt that you are part of a wealthy, ancient society, and I understand that you do at least try to restrain yourself and live as human as you can. However, none of that changes the fact that you are a vampire and therefore you present a significant threat to my family, my kind and humankind and I simply cannot let you leave.”

Caleb scoffed. “You can’t keep me here forever.”

Sage raised an eyebrow, as if this was a challenge, then chuckled at Caleb’s horrified face. “No, you’re right, I can’t keep you here forever. And luckily for you, darling, my dear son disagrees with my suggestion as to what I, esteemed vampire hunter of three century’s experience, should to do with you. So instead, we offer you this once-in-a-lifetime chance: if you cooperate with us, we will help you find a cure for your curse.”

Caleb stared her for a while, looking for the catch. “You can do that?” he finally asked, hopefully.

“We were close before so it’s highly likely,” Sage sang. “One way or another.”

Caleb felt like he was dreaming. He could find a long-awaited cure for Lilith, the girls and himself. He could unbind himself from April. He could lose April.

He chewed over this selfish, final thought but it was gradually overshadowed by another. The look on Lilith’s face when she had the cure she’d always wanted, the life she’d always wanted. When he did something right, for once. When he saved them all.

Maybe then April would genuinely love him.

“Cooperate how, exactly?” he asked.

“You must stay within these walls; if you leave, I cannot help you. There will be numerous tests and trials as we develop a product; you must comply. You need to tell me where April is and if there are any others,” Sage said smoothly. “I will go and get April and bring her here, to you.”

Her words bore their usual sweetness and it was a simple enough request, yet it hit him like a bucket of icy water. He felt his shoulders tense and his fangs bare as Sage’s words stirred his protective instinct.

“No,” he snarled. “Do you think I’m a fool? I’m not letting you, esteemed vampire hunter, fetch her. Not without me.”

Sage blinked but she was, as she had claimed, not intimidated. “I see. Then our only option is to wait for your kin to come to you,” Sage said with assurance. “She will. She’ll have to.”

“Why will she have to?” Caleb asked, startled.

Sage tilted her head to her shoulder in an inquisitive way. “Oh, my sweet boy. You don’t realise how dependent she is, do you? Why, without you, she barely exists. Trust me when I say, she will already be looking for you.”

“But… she can’t look for me! I commanded her to stay in the house,” Caleb choked. “Look, I need to go to her. I swear it, I’ll come back; I’ll bring them with me.”

“You cannot leave, sweetheart,” Sage smiled as if this was neither here nor there. “Forgive my prejudice. I learned a long a time ago that one cannot trust vampires. No. You cannot leave the apartment, sweetheart and I have made sure of it. She will come to you.”

“But… she can’t… unless, maybe Mel—” he stopped, clamping his hand to his mouth.

“It’ll all work itself out,” Sage assured him. “In the meantime, feel free to make yourself at home. When Wyatt is finished with his base potion, you boys can go and do whatever it is boys do these days. Taking mind-altering substances and fornicating in wardrobes, by the sounds of it!” She laughed. “Now, I shall go and prepare for the imminent arrival of our additional guests. You be a good boy and drink your mug of blood before it’s stone cold!”



Lilith had hiked all the way to the village, up a hill, with the sun in her eyes and had wandered the shiny, unfamiliar layout of the new Windenburg Village for an hour before she’d found the blasted flower shop. It was the only one in the area, according to two strangers she had begrudgingly asked for directions, so this had to be where Caleb worked.

There was no sign denoting its name or purpose, but a swift peek though the window confirmed it was a flower shop, of some description. It looked harmless enough. Caleb had probably charmed the little old lady owner into giving him a few hours work, cash-in-hand. He’d probably taken the money next door, into the Windenburg Inn, sank a few drinks and pulled some unlucky wench.

If he wasn’t waking up in a stranger’s bed and trying to find his way home right now, Lilith would be very surprised. She’d have liked to confirm at least part of her theory, but of course the shop was closed.

Bloody typical.

A small sign in the window sang in a flowery cursive: ‘be back soon’. It was past lunchtime; what kind of half-arsed operation was it that they had to close to run errands or take bathroom breaks? Maybe Caleb was supposed to be on shift today and hadn’t turned up due to aforementioned theory. The more Lilith thought about that, the more it made sense.

This was a waste of time.

Lilith turned to leave, but halted as she caught the faint, yeasty scent of beer on the breeze.

She’d come all this way. She might as well ask if anyone at the pub had seen her wayward brother last night. Maybe she’d have a swift drink and then check back in with the flower shop owner, who would no doubt confirm that Caleb was slipping back to his ways of being a skirt-chasing waste of space.

She hoped this pub served cosmopolitans.



Wyatt sprinkled exactly two thumbfuls of ground pumpkin seeds and a notch of chicory root into the cauldron and rescanned the recipe book on the wall. By this stage the erythrocyte elixir should be colourless and bubbling with a light, metallic fragrance.

So far, so good.

He could see how this potion would be difficult; not least because all the measurements were in oldie-worldie units like thumbfuls and notches, but because it had so many steps and long resting times throughout, that everyone who created it probably died of boredom or blood loss before it was done.

His mother was not wrong; this potion was supposed to take a full lunar cycle, but that was back in the 1500s or whenever this recipe was written, when witches didn’t have the internet to order ingredients like ‘twice esbat-cleansed spring water’ with no effort. Wyatt had a litre of this fancy moon water arriving on Monday; with any luck he’d have a viable potion by Friday.

Sage had entered the room, making that little clicking noise she did with her tongue when she was trying to structure a rollocking to sound kinder.

“Is Hoggy OK?” Wyatt asked, after a minute of this sort-of-silence.

“Huh?” Sage replied, shaking her perfect curls, “Oh, yes. Well, as much to be expected after his little donation. Although he insisted on resting in your room, so perhaps he’s a little delirious.”

Wyatt smiled. He could see his buddy now; folding clothes and alphabetising Wyatt’s long-forgotten naughty magazine stash. Broof didn’t know the meaning of rest. “Did Thor enjoy the um… drink?” he asked, morbid curiosity getting the better of him.

Sage shrugged. “He didn’t sample it while I was there, but he will. I could see him being compelled towards it.”

“So gross,” Wyatt grimaced. “I can’t imagine having to drink blood to survive. It’s so weird.”

“We’ll all be doing it one day,” Sage said gravely.

Her frothy laugh poured forth as she laid eyes on Wyatt’s horrified face. “This potion calls for blood, my love, in the later stages. Hopefully we three have a little left when we get to that point.”

Wyatt was keen to change the subject. He was such a wimp when it came to this stuff. He was so relieved when Broof volunteered to be first donor, although Wyatt would have to be second; he didn’t want his fragile, old mum giving anything, if he could help it.

“Did he tell you where April was?” he asked, scanning the shelf for the next ingredient; half a dahlia. Why half? Who wrote this rubbish?

“No,” Sage sighed. “Although I didn’t expect him to. Sires are notoriously protective of their binds, possessive to the point of destructive.”

“So, what now? Do we just hold him captive until he tells us? That’s kind of cruel.”

Sage shook her head; the idea that a witch could be cruel to a vampire clearly challenging every belief she held. “Trust me, my sweetheart, it won’t be long before this is resolved.”

That wasn’t an answer but the edge in that tone told him not to argue. He added his pointless half a dahlia, facing north as directed in the book, and waited. Sage clicked her tongue more rapidly as she approached the formation of her sugar-coated sentence, like a Geiger counter encroaching on a Brazil nut.

“Wyatt,” she began. “You could have told me about April before this all got out of hand. We would have managed. You know you can tell me anything.”

There it was. A question that wasn’t a question and a fact that wasn’t a fact. He didn’t respond.

“It’s looking good so far, darling,” Sage offered, the softly, softly approach. “Have you added the pumpkin seeds?”

“Yep,” Wyatt replied.

“Do you know how to convert thumbfuls into modern units? I think we have a book on it, somewhere that you can refer to.”

“Yeah, the Modern Witch’s Guide to Conversions. I already read that. Driest thing ever.”

“Oh. Yes, I suppose it is.” She peered into the pot as she walked around it, scrutinising. “It looks a bit agitated. Which direction are you stirring?”

“Twice sunwise and then once widdershins,” Wyatt answered patiently. “Mum. I know how to make a potion.”

“So you do,” Sage agreed, but continued to hover around him like a fly. “Oh, Wyatt, before I forget. I was meeting with the senior members of the coven yesterday to discuss your practicing risk.”

“Oh?” Wyatt asked, feigning interest. It would probably be another revision to the rules, increasing his maturity age to a hundred and fifty on the back of another hastily-prepared risk assessment. “And we are agreed,” Sage continued, “that you may start learning to cast. Small spells, of course, nothing that requires you to build charge.”

Wyatt was so shocked that he almost sent a torrent into the bubbling pot, which could have been devastating to such a delicate elixir, but definitely a fun experiment for the future. “Really?”

“Really,” Sage beamed, looking proud. “So, you’ll be wanting to choose a mentor.”

“Hoggy. Duh,” Wyatt answered, without hesitation.

Sage’s smile flickered. “Oh. Yes, of course, Broof. Good choice; he is very controlled, very calm. I shall let the High Priestess know.”

Wyatt didn’t miss the sadness in her voice, the way she stared into the lightly simmering potion and he felt pretty bad about that. But really, he couldn’t be mentored by his mum; he’d never live that down.

“Do you need me to harvest at the spring for the esbat water?” she asked.

“I’ve sorted it,” Wyatt assured her. “Mum, please. I know I’ve messed up, I know you’re trying to help and I know you think I’m nothing but a huge, naïve idiot, but trust me; I know what I’m doing when it comes to potions.”

Sage fixed him with a longing gaze before shrugging her shoulders and lifting her chin. “I don’t doubt it, my sweet boy. Well, I’d best go and open the store, then.”

“Wha—? You’re going to open today? With an ancient vampire in the house?”

“Why ever not?” Sage sang happily. “He doesn’t have any mind-control or mind-reading ability and his physical strength is therefore easy to overcome with a little flick of the wrist. Other than his boundless charm, which two out of three of us can resist,” she chuckled, giving Wyatt a knowing look, “he’s quite pathetic, really. Besides, I’d rather throw myself into a pit of hungry vampires than endure the wrath of Mrs. Mudslot should she miss out on her end-of-week reductions. If you need me, I’ll be on the shop floor.”

“I’ll manage without you,” Wyatt said in his off-hand way.

“Let’s hope that’s true,” he heard Sage whisper.

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