Chapter 3.08 – Guard Down

Broof had guided Melinda down a corridor to a small, but comfortable sitting room, full of flowers and family photos, and settled her on a plush sofa.

She tried to take in her surroundings while simultaneously trying to piece together what had happened to bring her to this house. She must have passed out at the cottage, somehow – probably from thirst, she reasoned. That must have been it. She passed out, hit her head and Sage had carried her to this house. That was a logical explanation.

She laughed as she considered that passing out from not drinking any blood was actually a logical explanation in her life now. She laughed again thinking how her life was no longer a life, but this second laugh bubbled hot with anger as she lamented who she had sold her soul for.

Beside her, oblivious to the chaos inside her head, Broof joined in with his own polite laugh.

“Transportalate always makes me a little delirious, too.” He smiled at her and added in a whisper. “And I’m not just saying that because I’m notoriously terrible at it. Give it a few minutes and everything will start making sense.”

“Transportalate, right,” Melinda sighed, surprised by the gravelly sound of her own voice. “If things ever start making sense again, I’ll let you know.”

“I apologise, Melinda,” he said, curtly. “I should have paid more attention, been more diligent, taken April out of the house… I had so many chances.”

Melinda gulped, hearing her innermost thoughts sounded out like this. She had often wondered why, as an adult, Broof hadn’t done more to intervene when Sandy started on April. Sure, he would calm Sandy down, distract her with… himself, pick up the pieces when she smashed April to bits which was more than Travis ever did. But he would never stop her, never challenge her, never risk outing her or damaging her reputation. Was it purely out of his duty, or did Broof, like everyone else in the world, genuinely just care more about Sandy than her daughter?

Maybe his guilt masked her own. Why hadn’t she done more to intervene? She could have told her parents about the bruises that appeared on April’s porcelain skin, about the way she’d suddenly cower if anyone raised their voice, or how she muttered derogatory things to herself, things she truly believed about herself even though they were downright wrong. Ugly. Stupid.

She hoped Caleb would take over her role and continue to challenge these beliefs April held, but she severely doubted it.

Broof settled on the sofa beside her and Melinda, fighting against instinct to attack him, shuffled away, ever so slightly.

“We will fix this,” he said assuredly, but before Melinda could ask how, he’d snapped back from this slightly-more-relaxed version of himself, to the professional default that she was so familiar with. “What can I get for you, Melinda? I admit that I haven’t got a great deal of experience catering for vampiric teenagers, only monstrous humans and the odd witch.” He smiled. “I doubt Sage has a good stock of your favourite animal crackers, but perhaps we can conjure some up.” He paused, as if hearing his own words for the first time. “No, ignore me; you can’t have those now, can you?”

Melinda shook her head as the mention of food somehow made the beat of his pulse louder. Truth be told, she didn’t really like animal crackers, but she’d always request them when he offered, purely because they required no preparation.

“The odd witch?” she asked politely, trying to focus on his words and not the thudding from his chest. “Do you mean Sandy?”

“No, she was the monstrous human,” Broof laughed causing the veins in his neck to twitch. “I should preface by saying that most witches are a little odd; it’s not a slight on the ones I served,” he explained casually, before he understood what she was really asking. His face fell. “Shoot. Sage hasn’t explained, has she?”

At Melinda’s blank look, Broof looked incredulously towards the closed door then back. “She teleported you without explaining… damn. No wonder you look so shocked. Melinda, Sage is a witch, as is her son, Wyatt – that scrawny man you saw back in the kitchen. And,” he took a deep breath. “And me, too. I’m a witch, too. Hello,” he said and waved awkwardly.

Melinda blinked; it was the only response her body had in it. “You’re a witch,” she said in a deadpan fashion.

“I am. Um, surprise?” he offered. “You know, I’ve never actually revealed myself to a non-witch before, would you believe? Although I did come close that night you were – well that night, in the bathroom. There was a spell I could have used, a suture of sorts, but could I ever remember it? I swear it, that tea gets me every time.” He cleared his throat.

“There are no such things as witches,” Melinda asserted, her brain refusing to accept any more strangeness today.

Broof smiled. “Until a month ago, didn’t we both think the same thing about vampires? I know that April’s new oral configuration shocked you as much as it did me. Perhaps you more so, familiar as you were with the previous setup,” he finished softly, raising a knowing eyebrow.

Melinda stared at him, wide-eyed. Broof was claiming to be a witch and yet she’d never seen him act so normal, so human. He had rarely let his guard down in the mansion, none of them had. They couldn’t afford to.

“I understand this is all quite a shock. It was for me, too. Witches traditionally aren’t friends with vampires; it’s a long and sour history and I was led to believe that vampires were extinct, at least in this country,” he fiddled with his fringe, looking away. “Sage is content to accommodate you here while we look into a possible cure, or alternative food source for you, but perhaps we’ll get into the finer details of that when you can see straight,” he finished with a small smile.

She realised that actually, she wasn’t shocked by any of this, she was only shocked at how little this information shocked her. A month ago, when her biggest worry in life was how she and Faith would sneak into April’s party, no, she wouldn’t have believed him. But the world she knew a month ago wasn’t real; it was a carefully crafted illusion; a paper-thin layer of ice over a bottomless lake that most people never fell through.

Month-Ago-Melinda wouldn’t have believed Broof but that girl was a distant memory now, as a certain rhythm was helpfully reminding her.

Ba-bum, ba-bum.

Broof fell silent. Melinda didn’t need to see his gently startled face to know that she had slipped form. His heart began racing, threatening to pound through his chest wall, but his voice was calm and even as he repeated his earlier question; “What can I get for you, Melinda?”

She’d heard those words many, many times at the mansion but never had they felt so alien as they did right at that moment. Sandy would bark orders at Broof but April was always polite when she ordered him to do things for her and he seemed happy to comply. Melinda, however, only saw the negative side of this kind of arrangement.

She could still remember the time April’s shoelace came untied when Broof wasn’t around. How April had coyly held her foot out to Melinda because, even at fourteen, she had no idea how to retie it by herself.

Faith, however, had never had any reservations about making Broof earn his pay, gleefully commanding him to do ridiculous things, like only singing his answers to her questions, walking backwards to exit rooms, calling her ‘Queen Faith’ or driving across town at midnight to get a specific brand of popcorn.

At his words and his waiting stance, Melinda’s empty stomach tied itself into a knot. “No,” she groaned, holding her head. “I can’t ask you for… that.”

“Very well, then I shall have to insist.” He turned down his collar, revealing two neat, semi-healed puncture holes. He registered her surprise with a smile that didn’t meet his eyes. “Lilith has a very small appetite so I’m confident I can accommodate you, just don’t ask me to drive afterwards.”

“Lilith?” Melinda whispered, picking up the faintest trace of Lilith’s vanilla and formaldehyde scent on Broof’s shirt. “Lilith drank from you?”

“Yes,” Broof replied, slightly taken aback by Melinda’s wariness. He faltered, his body jerking awkwardly like he was trying to figure out where to put himself next. “Of course, I understand; you don’t want to use her straw, so to speak. I should offer you the fresh side.” He turned his body until the untapped side of his neck came into view.

It seemed to take so little to tip her from reasoning since she had learned the satisfaction that could be gained from a warm meal. The urge to pin and devour swelled up inside her like a balloon at his sudden offering, pushing out all restraint.

Melinda choked and protested, even as her body betrayed her inching closer to Broof. Drawn like a magnet to the heat of this willing feast.



Jessica had barely anything to pack, so she was ready to leave not half an hour after her visitors. She had hesitated before walking past the staff on the reception desk, wondering if this was some sort of test and she’d be wrestled to the ground for attempting to escape, but they had clearly been informed of the situation, releasing the locks on the doors and wishing her a good day.

It was surreal, but not quite as much as the sensation of sunlight on her face for the first time in days, the feeling of freedom and the vast possibilities of the day.

Nor was it as surreal as seeing a tinfoil-hatted woman cleaning graffiti from a giant poster of her face.

Justice for Jess!” she read aloud. “You know, when I saw this on the news I thought you were out to get me, but this kooky plan of yours actually worked, Morag.”

“Jessica?”

“Jess! It is you! It really did work?! You’ve been released?” she gushed as Jessica smiled and nodded. “O-M-G! Wait until I tell the others. You know, we have a campaign like this every so often, but this is the first time it’s ever actually worked! Statistically, it’s only possible to lose so many times in a row, I guess. But you know, I saw that Wangshaft lady and her daughter-in-law come out of here not long ago and I knew that something had happened. Anyway, I’m blabbering. How are you? How do you feel?”

It was so nice to have someone so excited to see her, someone who asked how she was like they actually cared that for a moment Jessica was speechless.

And then the tears started. They poured from her eyes almost as fast as the words poured from her mouth. “I’ve been better,” she sobbed. “Something is going on, Morag and I don’t know what, but I don’t like it. I’m going back to work tomorrow, but I’ll be working for Beth and only on restricted duties. They’ve only released me because apparently the attention was too much; they’ll still be watching me. And I wonder, if this is how it started for Ralf, maybe even for Chase, that they felt indebted and controlled, and then they tried to get out and ended up… they ended up….”

Morag held up her hand. “We can’t talk here, Jessica,” she whispered. “Do you have plans for the day?”

Jessica looked at her shoes; tacky, plastic pink sandals that she had opted to wear without the supplied socks. “I was going to go home. Change… into pyjamas,” she added hastily. “Spend the afternoon wallowing and reading pregnancy books.”

Morag grinned. “As fun as that sounds, maybe you’d like to come with me to the HQ and talk freely amongst friends? You can head back to yours and change your outfit first, though if you like. Don’t tell her said this, but I always thought Pixie’s style was a bit out-there.”

Wallowing in pyjamas with a huge tub of ice cream was what Jessica wanted, but after days in isolation she was not going to pass up a social invitation, especially as she had a lot to thank the GliTS for. She could spare them a few hours of her time, she supposed, a brief foray into the wild before she fell back to normality tomorrow.

“Okay,” she said. “Yes, let me just swing by my place and then sure, we’ll head over to HQ.”

“Great!” Morag enthused, leading the way down the path. “Oh, one small thing; I’ll need to frisk you for bugs and wires before letting you in. Are you ticklish?”



Lilith managed to resist the temptation of drowning herself at either the river or the pub to arrive back at the flower shop. She opened the door, locked by neither key or charm, and descended the stairs to the basement room that lead to the tiny, underground apartment Sage shared with her son.

Before she’d even opened the door that led into the kitchen, she could hear the sound of Sage complaining, followed by a loud bang and Wyatt’s laugh.

The sound of gushing water echoed behind her as Lilith left the kitchen. The water seeped beneath the door as it closed behind her then promptly evaporated before Lilith’s eyes as Sage’s screeching intensified. It was clear that April was feeling better and that Sage had her hands full with some other drama, which brought Lilith a little time to tie up some loose ends.

All she had to do was find Melinda and convince the attentive little vampire to keep schtum about a certain behatted twat, and everything would be as close to fine as it was going to get.

She pushed the door of the spare bedroom open, expecting to see Melinda in there, but the room was empty. Deciding that she must be in the sitting room, Lilith headed over, her eyes landing on the bar as she passed it. How anyone got through the chaos of normal life without veins full of alcohol was beyond her, let alone with what the poor girl had been through today.

Lilith poured a small gin, for Melinda’s nerves. Or her own, she hadn’t decided. She abandoned her glass as a scream rang from the sitting room.

Was this some hidden camera show? Was someone having a huge joke at her expense?

“Lilith,” Melinda sobbed. If the girl hadn’t turned her head, Lilith would have no idea if she was looking at her; her face was an eyeless mess of black tears and snot. “I can’t!” she wailed. “After what I did to Dad, I just can’t!”

Lilith yanked Broof back from the jaws of death that were steadily losing their fight to spare him. She dragged him from the room by the collar, ignoring his strangled cries and flailing limbs.

“Lilith!” he managed, when she had righted him in the hallway. “What on earth—“

“What are you doing?! Don’t offer your throat to a fledgling. We have no idea what she’s capable of!”

Broof bristled, clearly alarmed and embarrassed by this turn of events. “Lilith; she’s a sweet, terrified, eighteen-year-old girl—”

“Driven by the uncaring urges of a bloodthirsty millennium-old curse.”

Broof swallowed, looking towards the room where Melinda’s whimpering could still be heard. “I just thought, with April previously only taking a little, you only taking a little that maybe female vampires—”

“Bloody typical,” Lilith growled low in her throat. “So, it’s only the big, scary vampire men that can drain you dry, huh? Is that a theory you want to test, Broompig?”

“I didn’t think—”

“Well you’d better start,” Lilith hissed. “Do you think this is easy for her? She has no idea who she is, where she is or what’s happening and you think she can just tap into you like a juice carton like it’s nothing? You witches are all the same. You can clean shit from a toilet with a wave of your hand and suddenly you think you know everything; think you have the answers to everything.”

“Lilith, you barely know me,” Broof gasped. “Watcher. I’m a decent bloke. I’m donating my blood—.”

“Aww,” Lilith cooed sarcastically. “Does that make you feel better about yourself?”

“Excuse me?!” Broof choked. “I’m only trying to help!”

You had her whole lifetime to help and you did nothing.

Broof barely startled as Lilith’s voice reverberated through his head. Her angry little brain needles penetrated his skull without permission but before she could stop them, for the first time since she’d met him, she began to hear – and see – the briefest whispers of his thoughts.

“Daddy, why don’t fish drown?”

He shuddered. He was wanting to challenge her, to explain, but instead he only dropped his shoulders, defeated.

“I clearly still have a lot to learn. I apologise,” he said calmly.

“…Good.”

“I’ll go and draw Melinda a drink, shall I?” he offered, without a hint of derision.

“You do that,” Lilith agreed, returning to the sitting room and, for no good reason, she slammed the door in his face.

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Chapter 3.01 – Wild Goose Chase

“So, Kitty turned you, and then what happened?” Faith asked, alarmed by Seth’s agitation and his glowing green eyes that had slowly revealed over the course of his story.

“She kept me in the basement, for the most part,” he answered, his voice frantic. “They kept me down there for decades.”

“Why?” Faith asked, trying to keep up. “How did you get out? What happened?”

“She wanted me to devote myself to her,” he hissed. “But I couldn’t. Not while Angeline was — Angeline! Oh my devil! I’ve wasted so much time! I need to find Angeline! I need to apologise to Angeline! There was a farm, a dairy farm. Her father owned a dairy farm. We should start there!”

“Seth, you last saw her over three centuries ago – she’ll be long dead.”

“But that bottle! It was a damn stork! What if… what if she was carrying my child?”

“They would also be long dead,” Faith explained, as patiently as she could manage when all she wanted to do was scream in his face.

Seth ignored her. “I could have a family!” he yelled and ran towards the pathway; stopping a few metres away and looking around, disorientated and confused like he’d forgotten what he was doing.

Faith wandered over and took Seth’s shaking hand in her own as he muttered incoherently to himself.

“Are you OK?” she asked.

He shook his head, ran his hand down his face, fighting to stay upright. “What was I doing?”

Faith chewed her lip, watching him swaying before her. “Let’s get you a drink, OK?” she said in the steady voice that she usually used to reason with Joy. “Will that help? A drink?”

“A drink?” Seth repeated as if he didn’t understand the word.

“Yes, a drink,” Faith said through gritted teeth. This was so not what she’d signed up for. If she’d wanted to babysit a clueless, ancient vampire, she’d have run off with Caleb.

Seth looked at her for a while through crossed eyes before he got a sudden jolt of life and yanked his hand from her grip. “Of course!” he exclaimed.

“Oh, great,” Faith said, relieved. “The city is not far, right? We can go hunt there—”

“The cat! The cat that follows me!” Seth announced triumphantly. “What if the cat is Kitty? What if the cat is Angeline?! I need to find that cat!”

“You need to find a cat,” Faith groaned. “Right.”

“You can help me, Faith. You and your mirror!”

“My mirror…”

“Yes!” He continued ranting nonsensically about cats, mirrors, babies and long-dead, unattractive women named Angeline while Faith silently regretted everything.

Would he ever shut up?

Was this her life now? Stuck with this raving lunatic?

Could she snap him out of it?

Seth rubbed his face and was silent for a while before he spoke again, his voice quiet and unsure, “I… I needed that.” He cleared his throat. “I need a drink.”

Faith nodded, relieved that he was finally making sense but still distinctly turned off by the whole thing. Seth extended his shaking hand towards her; his voice was devoid of its smooth growl and he lacked any of his usual suaveness.

“Come. I’ll mist us to the village.”

Faith looked at Seth’s twitching face and those creepy cat-like eyes that were darting about like an antelope checking for lions. If he misted with her now, she’d definitely lose some limbs in the process. She took a step back and said something she never thought she’d say.

“I’d rather walk.”



It had been a long time since Lilith had last spoken to Sage, but even with her increased facial slackening and general air of senility, the old witch hadn’t changed a bit. She was still every inch the sugar-dusted, shrewd, unholy pain-in-the-arse that Lilith had always loved and hated in equal measures.

Lilith could not read Sage’s thoughts – witches had a certain resilience against mind-reading and Lilith was not in fine form – but she could still tell what was running through Sage’s extravagantly-coiffed head.

Everything.

A thousand overworked theories, no doubt. Constant analysis and interpretation of every word Lilith said, every muscle that twitched in her face and every seemingly insignificant eye movement. She would be drinking it all in, examining the facts and skewing them until they fit her assumptions.

Lilith smiled, more to confuse Sage than because she felt any great joy. Sage had a huge well of magical power to harness; she could summon forth her elements and use them to manipulate and control the world around her. But her magical ability stopped at the physical, at the external.

Sage could read Lilith’s body language, interpret every hitch in her voice and draw conclusions from that. But she could not read Lilith’s mind. So, unlike her father, Sage never really knew if she was correct in her assumptions about what Lilith was thinking.

It was pointless trying to tell her that.

“How did Caleb lose his skills and memory?” she asked for the tenth time, studying Lilith’s face.

Sage hadn’t bought the excuses of aging vampire brains and surviving on bland blood, not that Lilith expected her to, so she tried a new line. “Maybe he gave them to April,” Lilith said flippantly, throwing back her fifth gin and tonic. It didn’t have the olfactory delight of a cosmopolitan, but it contained much more alcohol, so it didn’t matter. “He is besotted with her.”

“Oh, he is, very much so.” Sage grinned. “As evidenced by his complete lack of fidelity last night.”

“I’m not sure April will mind,” Lilith smiled back. “But regardless; he’ll make it up to her. He’s going to buy her a gold house, don’t you know?”

“Not with what I’m paying him,” Sage winked. “Didn’t even ask me how I’d be paying him. Never been cut out for the real world, has he?”

Lilith offered no counter. There was no arguing that. The more she had peeled back the layers to show Caleb glimpses of the world, the less he had understood it. For now, Lilith was just relieved that he had not disclosed anything. All those sharp whacks of her spoon appeared to have drilled in the message: keep your mouth shut.

Then again, maybe he wouldn’t have had a choice here. Who knew what sort of potions the witches had at their disposal these days?

Perhaps a truth elixir that could work on a vampire?

“I simply love your top, Sage.”

No, clearly no truth elixir around here.

Sage continued to examine Lilith’s face for a while before she clicked her tongue in frustration and grabbed her drink from the table. “So, how have things been with you, Lilith dear?”

“Fine,” Lilith lied, wondering what to say next.

She took a moment to really look at the woman sitting beside her. As someone immune to the effects of time herself, it fascinated and terrified Lilith to see such drastic changes. The last time Lilith had set eyes on her meticulous, green friend was the day the treaty was agreed. Sage’s hair still fell to her waist in thick, black waves back then and her face was unlined, thanks entirely to magical intervention.

Lilith wondered what had changed in those years for Sage to allow time to unravel across her features.

She glanced around the room, full of photos and mementos of love and a, mostly, happy life. Her eyes flitted over the photo of Sage’s first son, Tarragon – a subject best avoided.

She already knew that Warren had passed away, so that was a conversational dead end, no pun intended. Her focus travelled to the wall to a more recent photo of someone who was clearly her other son who looked to be in his early twenties. How time flew; he’d been a baby when she’d last seen him. Maybe he had been the factor that drove Sage to greyness.

“How old is Wyatt now?”

“Seventy-six,” Sage replied.

Lilith nodded but witch aging always confused her. It was something to do with generational bloodlines; the more ancient the bloodline, the slower they appeared to age. Throw in the spells they could cast to change their appearance and it was often impossible to tell the age of any of them.

“Is he gifted?” Lilith asked.

“Similar to Tarragon,” Sage replied smoothly. Lilith took this cue and looked around for a change of subject, her gaze landing on a photo of Ma Hogwash.

Ma was, in Lilith’s opinion, the finest High Priestess the Windenburg Witch coven had ever seen and not purely because she was the only witch, besides Sage, who had ever shown an ounce of compassion for the vampires. In fact, Lilith would go so far as to say that Ma actually quite liked her.

“What’s Ma doing these days?” Lilith asked. “Didn’t this used to be her store?”

“It did,” Sage sang in that trill tone she used to quash emotion. “Alas, at the grand old age of 409, Ma finally departed this plane.”

“Oh?” Lilith asked, wondering if this was the catalyst for ‘letting go’. “So, did you finally make High Priestess?”

Sage set her mouth into a firm little line; all the answer Lilith needed. She took another swig of her drink, to drown out her laugh at the obvious fact; Sage’s ability to rub people the wrong way had prevented her being elected as Ma’s replacement but Lilith wondered which excuse the overly-green old crone would use.

“No, I did not,” Sage replied brightly after a moment’s contemplation. “They elected a young woman, barely in her hundreds. A former voodoo priestess from the swamps. Not that I can blame them; who wouldn’t elect someone so exotic over a wisened, local witch who had been in the coven her whole life?” She coughed politely; her irritation getting the better of her. “Especially when she was bleating on in her election campaign about gently easing us into the mainstream, bringing us out into the open, safely. She sold a dream.”

Lilith choked on her drink. “She wants to bring us out in the open?! She knows about me?!”

“Oh goodness, no! I’d burn for that!” Sage sang. “’Us’ being the witches only, dear. To say that the High Priestess is anti-vampire is quite the understatement,” Sage said quietly, peering into her glass. “And by proxy… well, she is the choice of the coven I have pledged my life to serve, so serve I must.”

This was bad. This was very bad. “How much time do you have?” Lilith managed to ask.

Sage grinned, a glint in her eyes. “As much as I want, dear. Vampire hunting is an art you know, it takes time. Maybe I can drag out my wild goose chase as long as you have.”

“If they’re looking for us—”

“I’ll hide you well.”

Lilith faltered. “You would? I mean, you don’t need to hide us. We have Forgotten Hollow—”

“Which has been all over the news and linked to that missing girl case. Hardly ‘forgotten’.” Sage hummed a little tune, a sure sign that she was approaching her limit, patience-wise. She smoothed out her skirt. “No, those days are gone, Lilith. Besides, I have reason to believe that April may be…” she paused, tossed her curls. “…related to me.”

“Related to you how?”

Sage ignored Lilith completely. “…and so the three girls – and Caleb, I suppose – will be moving in here, for everyone’s protection, until we can find a cure. First thing tomorrow we will go and get them. I’m far too old to be gallivanting around in the wilderness at this time of night.”

“April can’t leave the cottage—”

“I know. That’s easily overcome.”

“But I… I can look after them—”

“You have something else to be looking for,” Sage winked. “The girls are now my responsibility and we’ll go and get them first thing tomorrow. You’ll need to stop here tonight anyway, Lilith. I’ve sealed the apartment until dawn.”

“I hope there’s a fire,” Lilith replied drolly.

“There’s a little snack in the fridge, should you or Caleb need it.”

“Where is Caleb?”

“And I know you’re unlikely to sleep, but you two can use the guest room tonight. Oh, that’s a thought; the guest room only sleeps two,” Sage wittered on, ignoring Lilith again, “but I’m sure we’ll manage, perhaps get bunk beds. For the girls,” she reiterated. “All three of them.”

Lilith groaned and rubbed her temples. She knew. “Two girls,” she clarified. “There are only two; April and her friend Melinda. The other friend, Faith, she… they parted ways.”

“How unfortunate. Still, no vampire can freely abandon their sire forever. She’ll come back,” Sage asserted. “Unless, of course, she had a better offer, but that would require quite some persuasion. You’d have to be, I don’t know, some kind of master manipulator to achieve that.”

“Sage—”

“Sage?” a new voice echoed from across the room.

Lilith had heard the knock that had preceded this visitor, but evidently Sage’s hearing was failing, as she startled. The man teased open the door and slipped in smoothly, like he was used to being invisible. Lilith had expected to see the tousled, grinning, green-eyed fellow from the photographs on the mantlepiece, not this softly-spoken, bearded man.

“The front door appears to be stuck— Oh. You have company.”

The subtle note of surprise in his voice was all it took for Lilith to realise that Sage having company was a novelty.

“Oh, darling, I thought you’d already left!” Sage said, her voice reverting to chirpy sing-song. “I’ve locked up; you’ll need to teleport out. But while you’re here; Lilith, this is Ma’s grandson, Broof.”

“Hi Broof.” Lilith smirked. Some of these witches had such ridiculous names.

“Broof, this is a very, very old friend of mine. I suppose knowing what you now do, you may as well have the truth. She’s Caleb’s sister, Lilith Vatore.”

“His sister?” Broof repeated. “Are you also a vampire?”

“Well I’m not a three-hundred-year-old human, am I?” she scoffed.

Broof smiled and extended his hand towards her, unruffled when it was ignored. “Are you the one and same Lilith Vatore, cosmetic surgeon from Del Sol Valley?” he asked politely.

“Are you?” Sage asked. “A surgeon in Del Sol Valley?”

Lilith pouted. Trust this to come up when she wasn’t actually practicing anymore. “Yes. It’s as close as I can get to consensual blood-taking. Caleb and I have been surviving this way for, ooh, thirty years. I’ve got a great reputation, too,” she finished proudly.

“You haven’t taken any lives in thirty years,” Sage clarified. Lilith shook her head warily, feeling like she’d made a mistake.

“Yet there are still so many people going missing in Forgotten Hollow,” Sage sang, her arms flying up in excitement at Lilith’s low growl of frustration. “It’s him, isn’t it?” Sage exclaimed. “I knew it! He’s taken the third girl hasn’t he? Sweet Mother Earth, Lilith, for her sake if nothing else; where is he? How do I find him?”

“I don’t bloody know where he is!” Lilith screamed and she picked the easier target of the flowery tosser lingering in the doorway who had just blown her cover. “How did you know I was a surgeon? Are you stalking me, Broom Pigwash?” she snarled.

“Broom Pigwash,” he repeated. “You always said it, Ma,” he said quietly to the photo on the wall, “but it appears that you were right; my name could actually be worse.” He laughed politely, but Lilith returned him only a stony stare. “I can see I’m not welcome here. Forgive my intrusion, Ms. Vatore. Sage, I will see you tomorrow.”

“Good bye, darling. Apologies about Lilith; she’s always been rather prickly,” Sage said, walking over to the fireplace as the door closed behind Broof, leaving Lilith to wallow behind her.

“Can we trust him?” Lilith asked, still glaring at the door.

“We have to. He used to be Sandy’s butler and, by the sounds of it, the only one who gives a hoot about April.”

“He was Sandy’s butler?” Lilith asked. “Is there anywhere you witches haven’t penetrated?”

“You always were an interesting drunk, Lilith,” Sage mused, ignoring her. Lilith started to wonder whether she actually was deaf. “And how good to know that truth elixir does work on you  – if I ply you with enough of it.”

“You didn’t. You wouldn’t risk knowing how wrong you are about everything.”

Sage winked and carried her glass towards the door, pausing only to say goodnight.

Lilith chewed her lip. How she hated the green cow and her underhanded techniques. Still, if she wanted the truth, she could have the truth.

“Your hair looks like a petrified octopus, Sage,” she said to the empty room.

Petty. But better.

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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 2.43 – And Blow

Note: drug use, description of medical procedures

In his pink, plastic, shell-shaped seat at the gurgling bubble machine in the technicolour basement, Caleb awaited further instruction. Wyatt – who was starting to smell a little less offensive – had decided to join him and Roxie, but Caleb had no idea who the bearded man sitting beside him was. He looked to be in deep thought, eyes cast down, possibly contemplating the pattern of the carpet.

Caleb could understand that; the carpet tiles were placed around seemingly randomly and didn’t match anything else. Why? Did it have a hidden meaning? As he, too, gazed down, allowed his vision to grow hazy and the colours to blur, an image materialised before his eyes.

What the hell?

Roxie’s sugar cane voice broke through his confusing… hallucination?

“OK, so you take the nozzle,” she said, demonstrating expertly. “Inhale gently and then blow.” She drew up through the mouthpiece and pouted, pushing a stream of bubbles from those glossy lips of hers.

“Like so.” She smiled, watching the bubbles as they floated and popped in the air. She blinked lazily and rolled her head towards Caleb. “Everyone reacts to this a little differently. For me, it makes me a little light-headed, but also makes everything amplified at the same time. I get all my best ideas on this stuff.”

She reached up to replace the hose and settled back into her squeaky chair. “It makes Saul here fascinated with flooring,” she explained, giggling and gesturing at the mute, bearded fellow, who didn’t respond. “It makes Wyatt think he’s a magician, but most things do, hey Wy?”

Wyatt only blew a cloud of bubbles in response.

“And, well, you can see what it does to Billy ‘Libre’ behind me,” Roxie whispered. “He definitely had clothes on when he arrived. So, fancy giving it a go? It’s OK if you don’t.”

Caleb nodded, shrugged off his intrusive thoughts of April – who in his mind was now sitting on the floor, screaming – and lifted the hose nearest to him.

He was very much hoping that he’d be the kind to get good ideas or to feel magical, but had a feeling that he, too, would end up stripping to his underwear at some point. However, the way no one batted an eyelid at the strange, almost nude guy dancing around in the wrestler mask told him that, whatever the outcome, he was in good company.

Inhale gently and blow.

His body had no need to breathe so it didn’t happen naturally, but Caleb could move air through himself if he tried. It would look a little peculiar and laboured if anyone paid a great deal of attention, but nobody was. Roxie was tainted by allure, Wyatt was staring at the ceiling, the mouth tip pinned between his gritted teeth and an almost constant stream of bubbles emitting from around it and Saul was still fixated on random things.

Caleb took a forceful breath, a practice one, feeling his withered lungs burn with the effort of trying to expand. He held his breath for a count of three and then pushed it back out, his torso convulsing with the effort.

Holy hell. It had been a long time since he’d moved more than the air required to talk; a full chest was such a strange sensation. The cavity behind his ribs felt warm, damp and tingly. Is that how it felt to be alive? He wondered, if he started breathing often enough, would it stop feeling so strange? Would it become habit?

He psyched himself up to go again.

“Gently,” Roxie instructed although Wyatt was blatantly ignoring this advice.

Here goes nothing.

“It worked!” he gushed, his voice unusually breathy-sounding. The bubbles danced before him, drifting skywards.

“It worked,” he repeated quietly, watching the orbs vanish and the multi-coloured lights play across the ceiling.

Roxie cheered. “Yeah! Well done you for not choking on the stuff, like most newbies do. Oh no, Thor. No,” she said softly, as Caleb went to take another draw. “Let that one kick in properly, yeah? See how you find it.”

Caleb pointed to Wyatt and Roxie shook her head, clicking her fingers in time to the music. “Don’t follow his bad example. One way ticket to a bad trip.”

“Yeah, I’ll only lead you astray,” Wyatt grinned. “But I never have bad trips.”

“That’s totally tempting fate,” Roxie tutted, her head now moving in time to the music, too. “I’m gonna go dance. Do you like dancing, Thor?”

Caleb usually hated dancing, but right now he seemed to like everything. He nodded frantically. Roxie smiled at his enthusiasm and held out her soft hand. He took it without any hesitation; right at that moment, he’d have followed her to the belly of hell.