Chapter 3.51 – Super Magic

Disclaimer: violence, blood

Thanks to Mercuryfoam for creating the fist fight animations that I couldn’t bring myself to make.
Sorry that ‘yellow sim’ and ‘blue sim’ weren’t the pairing you had in mind! 😬

What is the worst way in the world to be woken up?

Wyatt had experienced quite a few of them, surely. Bucket of cold water, check. Upturned mattress, check. Hell, Sage had even jolted him awake with a swift lightning bolt once, after a particularly heavy session. That one hurt. But none of those rude wake-up calls even came close to the latest one; April, frantic, crying and screaming his name.

The drug-induced stupor he’d been dozing in was immediately shattered by her screeching, which simultaneously shredded both his eardrums and his heartstrings. Why was she so loud? What had happened?

Where was he?

His head, which felt at least three times bigger than usual, rolled over his shoulder, past the wailing vampire, until he spied the empty tea jug on the table.

Ah, right. Shit.

Wyatt had experienced this a few times; the fuzzy, phased memory recall as his previous night’s antics came flooding back. He and April were alone in the room, there was no sign of Caleb. And April was freaking out. Wyatt reckoned he must’ve seriously screwed up his datura dosages and rendered them all zombies. Vampire zombies? Whatever. He could fix it.

He struggled upright, wondering what time it was and hoping he had enough time to haul ass, whip up the antidote and get everyone seeing straight before his mum—

“—Is bleeding!” He caught in the midst of April’s ramblings.

“Bleeding?” he repeated stumbling over the coffee table and letting out an involuntary shower of sparks. His head spun a full circle before coming to an uncertain stop. Shit. He’d once accidentally doubled the measurement and hadn’t been this wasted. And there’d definitely never been any, ugh, blood before. Apart from the time that Broof was so loaded that he walked into a door. Or that time Becky fell down the steps. Or… OK, there was sometimes blood. He sighed.

Groaning against the brightness of the light and the high-pitched noise that April kept emitting, he allowed her to take his hand and to start dragging him from the room. Woah, her hands were so cold.

“Apes,” he moaned as he jerked his arm from her frozen grip and tried to slow her down. “Not so fast—”

“We need to hurry!”

“Why? Whatever he’s injured, it’s OK – he’s a dead dude, he won’t get any deader from a few flowers or a cut.” I think. “Lemme go to my room for a bit,” Wyatt said as calmly as he could, given the fact that his ears felt like they were going to explode. “I’ll fix up an antidote in no time—”

“There is no time!” April cried. “He’s going to kill her!”

“Wha—?”

“He attacked Mel,” she sobbed. “They’re on the roof! There’s blood everywhere! Weren’t you listening to me?!”

“Blood… everywhere?” Woah, no. Obviously he hadn’t been. “Sorry, I guess I missed that. Shi—oot,” he hissed. “They’re on the roof? Why did he attack her?”

“Because of me!” she wailed, creepy black tears streaming down her face as she attempted to resume dragging him along. “Because he saw me kissing her!”

“You kissed her?”

April nodded. Her body folded into sobs; her were words broken. “Please. You have to do something before he really hurts her.”

Yeah, he really did, but he had no idea what. The effort of waking up and dragging his feet this far had him knackered – how was he supposed to restrain a bloody ancient vampire? With renewed vigour – or high on trepidation, he wasn’t sure – he sped up his jelly-legged canter towards the roof ladder.

From above he could hear sounds of some sort of struggle punctuated with snarling and shouts of, ‘you missed again, fopdoodle!’

“Oh, she’s alive!” April gushed in relief. “In that case, there’s something else you should know…”

“Oh goddess,” Wyatt groaned, wondering how this situation could be worse. “Let me guess; he’s naked and covered in whipped cream?”

April sniffed back a sob in surprise. “Yes. Well, not the whipped cream part. And more than that, I… um, how did you know that he was naked?”

“I-I didn’t, it was a joke… I… fudge. He’s naked? Really?” Wyatt breathed sharply, looking back up the ladder.

“Now is not the time for jokes,” April said, sounding very much like her mother for a moment. “Yes, he’s naked. Wyatt, tonight Caleb and I… we, um,” she paused, twiddled the fabric on her shorts and looked like she was psyching herself up to say something. “Well, we did… you know.”

He did know. “Do I need to get the chart?” he half-joked.

April’s eyes shot wide. “N-no! I wanted to do it! It was fine,” she whispered, somewhat unconvincingly. “But I think… I think somehow, during it, I broke the binding.”

Wyatt was beginning to feel like he was the one being repeatedly punched in the face. “Woah, really?” was all he could manage.

April nodded. “Really. See, I drank his blood—”

Ick. “Uh, OK.”

“I know, it’s revolting.” April grimaced. “After I drank I felt really weird. And he told me not to stop drinking, but I did stop. And previously, he’d told me not to kiss anyone and then I went and kissed Melinda straight afterwards.”

“Wait – hold up. You kissed Melinda right after bonking Caleb?”

“Oh my goodness! When you put it like that…” April squirmed and covered her face. “That makes it sound so… so slutty!”

The corner of Wyatt’s lips jerked into a small smile. Like father like daughter, he thought, before realising the weight of the words. His face fell as the struggling and snarling above temporarily paused with a sickening thud before resuming.

“Wait down here,” he instructed in a whisper.

“Why?” she whispered back.

“Because there’s not enough room for all of us on the roof thanks to all the props required to cover up Caleb’s non-existent penis.”

“What?”

“Never mind,” Wyatt muttered. “Seriously though, stay down here. This could go so badly and if it does, I’ll need you to get help.”

“How can it go badly? You’re Wyatt! You’ve got super magic!”

“Yeah, that’s the problem—“

“You can do anything! I believe in you! Wipe the floor with him!”

“Geez,” he sighed. “OK, first, I’m not gonna ‘wipe the floor with him’, I’m gonna restrain him. Second, look at me. I’m wasted as balls, Apes. Look, I’m gonna go up there and do… something. But if this all goes tits up – and it really might – I’ll need you to get help, OK?”

“How do I do that? Call Broof?”

“No, that’d be pointless, unless Lilith is with him…” Wyatt thought for a second. “Better option, faster option, would be to summon Mum. You can try and leave, via the store – it’ll probably hurt to try and traverse the barrier, I would think, I dunno how she rigged it, but she’ll know you’re trying, she’ll come ‘porting. Or if you want the slower, more unreliable method use my phone to call her and hope she can remember which button to use to answer it – it’s in my room.”

April pouted, no doubt disappointed that Wyatt wasn’t going to go in, guns blazing and turn the naked vampire into a pile of ash. She seemed to be mulling something over as Wyatt struggled up the ladder, missing rungs and almost falling back down at one point as his limbs and brain refused to communicate.

With way more effort than should have been required, Wyatt finally managed to reach the hatch and, with a final pull, hauled himself, face-first, on to the roof terrace.

It took him a while to steady himself and the sudden whack of fresh air didn’t help with reminding him how trashed he was. Why was he up here again?

Oh, right, yeah. He’d come to break up the dogfight.

Through the hazy blur of both his actual vision and the swiftly-moving objects before him, he could just make out a pair of grey, humanoid shapes that appeared to be Caleb and Melinda. He had hoped from April’s description, that they would be upright in some easily-distinguishable and totally separatable position that involved minimal magical intervention. 

They weren’t, of course.

Heaving a sigh that went completely unnoticed by the duelling duo, Wyatt managed to find his feet and tried to make a plan. Caleb was on top so maybe he could cast some sort of elevation? That wouldn’t hold him for long, but maybe long enough for Melinda to wriggle out from under him.

Heck knows what would happen afterwards. Maybe Caleb would turn on him. Or turn him on.

Wyatt’s thoughts had rapidly descended into filth as they seemed prone to do around Caleb, so it was no surprise to him that his first attempt at casting backfired.

By some miracle, he managed to avoid falling down the ladder and regained enough composure to notice that the pair before him had fallen suspiciously still and quiet.

Shit.

As Melinda stopped moving it all got very real, very fast.

Wyatt had defended Caleb when his Mum had insisted that he was dangerous, that everyone was capable of redemption, that his infliction didn’t immediately make him a monster. But maybe she’d been right. Maybe there was no hope for him.

Wyatt’s heart sank. He wondered if the better option here was to just get his Mum and let her do whatever she needed to do.

But as he peered down the ladder, April was looking up at him. She had remained dutifully mute throughout but she didn’t need to speak for him to hear her, clear as day.

She was terrified and, like it or not, she was relying on him to pull himself together and step up. He knew that attempting to cast was risky, especially when blitzed, but he couldn’t rely on his mum forever. He’d made this whole damn mess, he needed to sort it. And maybe it could still be done amicably.

Unfazed by the unconscious girl at his feet, Caleb rose with an eerie level of calm.

“Where is she?”

Wyatt kept his eyes scrunched firmly shut as he drew up his energy. Hindered by distraction, he whipped his thoughts to imagine his mum in her bathing suit – the slightly-too-small one with the thong. It usually always worked to rein in the horniness, but even that image struggled to block the mental image of Caleb’s phenomenal physique which still pervaded his thoughts.

He needed to focus.

I’ve got this. Holy crap, his ass is so damn peachy… No! Focus!

Wyatt watched as Caleb slowly drifted skywards, supported by the strings that he had woven, until he hit something none of them could see only a few feet above the ground. Wyatt pouted, feeling the resistance trembling through his suspended guest and himself via their invisible bond as he repeatedly nudged Caleb’s face against Sage’s defences and wondered what the heck to do next.

Caleb smirked. “What are you trying to do? Bang my head against this thing until I fall unconscious? It would take more than that,” he laughed, gesturing to the ground beneath him.

“Not cool, dude,” Wyatt hissed through his teeth, like a kettle releasing its steam. His insides bubbled as they boiled, threatening to spill over. “Apes,” he called, without breaking his hold. “You severed the bind, right?”

“No!” Caleb called out, twisting in the air, fighting the hold and forcing Wyatt to channel even more energy into keeping him put. “She didn’t! April, come here!”

“Yes!” April called back. “I did!”

Wyatt’s arms shook as Caleb writhed and attempted to rip his way free. “So, if I blow this jerk to bits, you’ll be OK, right?”

“Oh my goodness.”

“Is that a yes?”

April fell silent. By this point, Wyatt’s extremities were numb. Everything told him this was a terrible idea, that he needed to stop before nature forced him to. But one look at the girl on the floor and back at the snarling, smug face in the sky and nothing else mattered. There was no amicable here. This guy needed to go, one way or another.

“Apes! Yes or no!” Wyatt shouted, hearing her only whimper in response. “April! Yes or nooooo!” he roared over the deafening crash of waves in his ears as he lost all control of his magic, sending Caleb powering through the barrier and shooting through the night sky like a monkey strapped to a rocket.

The roaring in his head turned to ringing and Wyatt felt deflated.

He didn’t hear April approach from behind him, barely registered her as she slipped past and ran straight to Melinda.

“Is… is she OK?” he asked.

April ran her fingertips over Melinda’s lips and gently cradled her face. Wyatt wondered what she was looking for. What signs of life did a vampire have?

“Mel,” April whispered, nudging her friend. “Wake up Mel, he’s gone. You can wake up now.”

The weak, squeaky voice that responded was music to Wyatt’s shattered eardrums.

“Did I win?” Melinda asked.

April laughed and kissed Melinda’s forehead. “Yes, you won. You were so brave and awesome. Then Wyatt sent Caleb flying over the rooftops like it was nothing!”

“Walk in the park,” Wyatt said brightly. He wiped his blood-covered hand on his sweatpants as he blindly felt around for the ladder. “I’m just gonna go lie down because that was… so easy.”

“Can you help me get Mel downstairs?” April asked. “The sun will be up soon.”

The pulsing in Wyatt’s veins grew hotter, boiling him from the inside. The tile beneath his hand bubbled and crackled at his touch. If he tried to help them now, he’d turn them to ash for sure.

“No,” he said in a hoarse whisper. “I mean, Mum’ll be here in literally a minute – there’s no way in hell that she wouldn’t notice that. She’ll help you.”

“Are you OK?”

“Me? Yeah, awesome,” he croaked. “I just drew a little too much magic, that’s all. I’ll be fine.”

Just fine.

I’ll be…

…fine.

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Chapter 3.44 – Strawberry

Note: drug use/influence

April was full of bubbles and rainbows. She had to admit that she couldn’t really taste the strawberry flavour of her magic tea, but it was a pretty colour and smelled super yummy. And it was definitely magical!

After one sip, everything went a little fuzzy and soft around the edges. After two, the world started glowing and shivering before her eyes; the lamp had started to dance! Now, a bit more later, and the world had become a technicolour kaleidoscope of moving patterns and shapes. As April swayed, the world around her swam and morphed and everything had been so funny!

She had yet to see an elk, but at one point she could have sworn she’d seen the inside of her own brain. It looked like spaghetti.

Ooh, spaghetti! It had been such a long time since April had eaten spaghetti. Or rather, such a long time since she’d been served up a plate of spaghetti and politely eaten a nibble and then claimed to be full. But she wasn’t full! She’d never ever been full!

Stupid spaghetti.

She tried to remember what strawberries tasted like and took another good swig of her tea. Her taste buds played along; the fruity flavour burst forth, juicy and sweet and… meaty? That wasn’t right.

Oops! No, that was just her biting her own tongue. Her tongue was so squishy and wriggly. She chomped her jaw a few times, trying to catch the slippery eel between her teeth. She succeeded and gave it a gentle little chew. Yum yum!

“April? What are doing?”

Melinda’s voice. Squeaky, like the air being slowly let out of a balloon.

“Um eedin ma dung.”

“What?”

April laughed and released her tongue from her teeth. “I was eating my tongue,” she answered. “It tastes like a meaty, snakey strawberry.”

“Ooooo…K,” Melinda answered slowly. She was smiling. She was so pretty when she smiled. It lit up her face, making her resemble a lamp with eyes. Big, blinking, brown eyes. Big and blinking. Blinky, blinky. And her hair was so thick and bushy. And she was so slim, with her slender bones and little boobies. She was so pretty. Pretty, pretty, pretty.

“Why are you staring at me?”

“You’re so pretty,” April murmured, wetting her lips with her meaty-strawberry tongue. She heard the sound of a throat being cleared and pivoted her head to see Caleb. Oh, he was still here. Well. He was sitting by himself because Wyatt had had some of his pongy apple potion, the one that made Caleb wrinkle his nose and shrink away.

He had a nice nose. Even when it was wrinkly.

He was also pretty. So pretty.

But not as pretty as Melinda. With her little boobies and her lamp eyes.

Caleb frowned and leaned forward in the red chair. The strawberry chair. He was like a black seed amongst red watermelon flesh. Except he looked angry. An angry seed.

He was drinking Wyatt’s tea as Wyatt had only made enough strawberry tea for April. It was her own special drink made just for her. No one ever made things just for her. Wyatt was so nice! His tea was rhubarb flavoured, because that was Broof’s favourite flavour, Wyatt said, and Broof needed to escape reality every once in a while. April didn’t know what rhubarb tasted like, she had never had it, but it also smelled super yummy. And strong, so strong!

Caleb looked so intense, like his tea wasn’t working. Or maybe he was hallucinating when he looked at April. He was gripping his glass tight. April remembered back in the motel room, when Seth had been super nasty to Caleb and Caleb had broken his drinking glass in his fist. She hoped that wasn’t about to happen again. He was so scary when he was in dark form!

“Am I an elk?” she laughed. “Is that what you’re seeing? Do I have antlers!”

His lip twitched and then he frowned. April didn’t know what wrong with him. He was so moody sometimes. She turned back to Wyatt, who was never moody, and he smiled back at her lazily. He smelled bad, very, very bad, but April didn’t really mind. She liked him right beside her. He made her feel so safe, and so smart, and so welcome!

And he was so amazing! He could make potions from plants! He could open doors without touching them! He made her feel so strong and so special. He could do anything! And he thought she could do anything.

Maybe she could…?

April wafted her hand around and was amazed to see a shower of sparks fly from her outstretched fingers.

“I’m doing it!” she squealed. “I’m casting magic!”

Wyatt chuckled and sipped his tea. “What are you casting, Apes?”

“Um, I’m casting, um…” April continued to wave her hand, watching the stars dance across her palm and then fade into the air. “An invisibility spell!”

“Yep,” Wyatt agreed. “That’s invisible, alright!”

She didn’t know what he meant, but the combination of his words and his goofy grin? April found that hilarious. She collapsed into giggles and took another big swig of tea as the conversation swilled around her, stirring itself into the room soup.

“…Above a bar. If I work a few shifts for him, the rent is totally manageable,” Wyatt said.

Melinda nodded; the motion of her pretty head sending colourful waves through the room. “Your own place! That’s exciting.”

“Heh, yeah about time, too. I mean, I love my mum, but she’s always there, y’know?”

“I know that feeling,” April chimed in, thumbing at Caleb, who scowled back.

“And now I’ve got my hat it feels like I should have my independence, too.”

“You’re moving out?!” April gasped, finally grasping what the conversation was about. “Can I come with you?”

Wyatt made a noise that was somewhere between a choke and squeak and took a big, big gulp of his tea. “Uh… maybe. Hey, what spell are you trying next?”

If April hadn’t been so giggly, she might have read into this rejection, but instead she perked up and waved her hand again.

“I’m going to start a fire!” she laughed, waving at the table. “Enflamio! Zap, zap, zap!”

Melinda was laughing. That sound was not like a squeaky balloon, more like a fizzy drink. April tried to copy it, which only made Melinda laugh harder.

She sighed as April continued to drink. “I wish I’d had some tea now; it looks like fun.”

“It is fun!” April agreed, thrusting her glass at her friend. “Try some.”

“I can’t,” Melinda replied.

“You can!”

“No I literally can’t April; your glass is empty.”

“Oh.” April blinked and looked at her glass. It was empty. Except for the goldfish. How did he get in there? Was it a he? Did girl goldfish – goldfishes? –  wear bows?

“Sorry, Mel, I only made a small portion of that. But hey, you could have a bit of mine?”

Caleb opened his mouth, then closed it again, then opened it again. Clearly he could also see the goldfish in her glass. Bonky, she was going to name him Bonky. The goldfish, not Caleb, although he also was quite bonky. She mirrored Caleb’s actions, his face, until he looked at her and licked his fangs.

By now, Wyatt had passed his drink to Melinda who was chewing her lip and looking at it like it was alive.

MAYBE IT WAS?

April watched in amazement as Melinda rolled her brown, lamp, big, lamp, big, um, eyes up to April’s face and smiled. She took a little sip of the wibbly creature in Wyatt’s glass and grimaced.

“Tastes like ash— woah!”

“Yeah,” Wyatt breathed. “Think I steeped it a bit too long. Just a sip or two, yeah? That stuff is potent as fu— fudge.”

“Fuck,” April announced. “Just say it! I’m not a little girl; you can swear around me.”

“Nah, it feels… wrong,” Wyatt admitted.

“It does,” Melinda concurred. “I never really understood why people swear when words like ‘fudge’ and ‘ship’ convey the same message.”

“But they don’t!” April insisted. “Sometimes you just need a ‘fuck’!”

Caleb jolted, almost spilling his drink as Wyatt choked on a laugh.

“Apes,” he wheezed, trying to compose himself. “I mean, I agree, but – oh my god.”

“That stuff is as potent as fuck, fuck, fuck,” April sang, oblivious. “Fuckity fucky fuck.”

“That word sounds so wrong coming from that sweet, little mouth,” Wyatt laughed. “I feel like I should, I dunno, scold you or wash your mouth with soap or something.”

April pouted. “Oh.”

“I won’t,” Wyatt added quickly. “But… should I? Fuck, I don’t know.”

“You said it! Hooray! Your turn, Mel!”

Melinda didn’t respond. She was holding her stomach and looking in Caleb’s direction, but April couldn’t see her expression through the unicorn clouds.

All she could see was Caleb’s, staring back.

“Fuck,” he said quietly and lifted his still full glass to his lips.

Jessica slowly walked the perimeter of the building, wondering for the umpteenth time if this was such a good idea. She finally became aware that her shiny-headed clan was no longer following her lead and took pause.

In the dead of the night, it wasn’t difficult to hear the hushed whispers that echoed from the stilled trees.

“Your foot is in my face!”

“Maybe your face is on my foot?!”

“Ladies, can we please focus?”

Jessica rounded the corner of Ralf’s house – former house – and looked up at the brightly-coloured tower of bodies before her. She was struck completely dumb for a moment, taking in this marvel of balanced posing.

“Ouch! That was my finger!”

“Yibbo, can you reach yet?”

“Why oh why did I wear heels?!”

“Um, what are you doing?” she asked, finally.

“Well, we’re not cheerleading, Jess!” Pixie snapped. “We’re trying to climb in through this tiny, slightly ajar window!”

“Trying… to… reach… the window!” Yibbo added breathlessly. “Almost there!”

“My face!” Pixie moaned as Yibbo clawed into it to maintain her balance.

“My feet!” Morag groaned, her legs trembling beneath the weight.

Jessica coughed politely into her fist to hide her laugh. She gestured across the garden.

“We could do that, or we could go in through the unlocked back door…”

“Why do we never try the doors?”

Caleb swirled the liquid in his glass. He hadn’t taken a single sip the whole time he’d been sitting here. Only Melinda appeared to have noticed and she hadn’t been able to comprehend it for long. She had taken some of Wyatt’s tainted drink and it had quickly pulled the slight little vampire under.

Caleb couldn’t quite believe that he’d gotten away with this, that his plan was working. His plan was working! And working even better than he’d anticipated. Melinda was gone, asleep after only a few sips – at least he hoped she was asleep – on the couch, and Wyatt was not far behind, judging by his posture.

The witch was slurring and shaking, fighting to keep himself upright against the effects of the two cups he’d drunk, as April wittered on at him about colours and fruits in her cute little way. His skin was clammy, pale. Caleb could hear his pulse racing, see the sweat on his brow, smell the fear emanating from him; the unease, the regret.

He thinks he’s done this, he realised, the idea tickling a little something within Caleb that he had been brutally trained, over centuries, not to acknowledge.

But something that had never quite died.

April was singing, oblivious to the events around her. Waving her arms and dancing in her seat to a tune only she could hear. Every movement she made in those flimsy pyjamas made her pert breasts and soft thighs jiggle in a way that hypnotised Caleb. He longed to sink his teeth into her soft flesh, to rip the fabric from her perfect skin; to own her, possess her, fill her.

Damn to the rules, to hell with being ‘nice’ and obeying the chart. Everything was fine before they came here, before the witches ruined everything with their ridiculous rules. What did they know about anything? If he could just get April alone for one night, he was sure he could fix this. He could show her that he could love her properly, could make her feel good, really good, that she didn’t need to be afraid of him.

As Wyatt dipped like a broken beacon, Caleb broke from his trance and salivated like a dog presented with a bone. Wyatt could barely hold his head up, let alone cast a decent spell, Caleb was sure of it. No one could stop him. Not this time.

He was so close.

Wyatt’s head rose, as if trying to fight the effects of the tea that he brewed. His face was… confused? Yes, that face was definitely confused.

“I deferettly omly used wun da-daturuuh,” he slurred, aghast, grasping for April’s hand. “Apesss,” he hissed, “Apes. Lissen t’me. Call mu… call Bruff.”

“What?” April asked, reaching out to stroke Wyatt’s face. “You silly sausage! Those aren’t words!”

“Apesss,” Wyatt tried again. He paused, shook his head, the sentence lost. “Fug, I um so dead.”

April linked her fingers through his and continued to sing as she enjoyed her waking dreams. She scanned the room and only then did she notice Melinda.

“Oh!” she gasped. “Mel is asleep!”

Caleb nodded, hoping – for April’s sake – that she was.

But then, he didn’t give the tea to Melinda. It wasn’t his fault if she never woke up.

“Can you please put her to bed, Caleb?” April asked, her big, blue eyes locked onto his. “She’ll get a super sore neck slumped like that.”

“Sure,” Caleb answered, swiftly rising to his feet and sweeping Melinda into his arms. He’d take her into the girls’ room – if he physically could. If not, he was sure the plush rug on hallway floor would suffice.

And then he’d be back, and April would be his.

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Chapter 3.42 – A Brew or Two

After a long, cold night in the dank forest of Forgotten Hollow, Sage had finally arrived home. She stretched her aching legs and cracked her stiff back as her old bones groaned and protested back to position. Oh, how she longed for her bed, the soft eiderdown and the plump, duck feather pillows.

She sighed. It would have to wait. Maintaining her one ruse at night did not mean she was free from maintaining her other during the day.

Thankfully, she thought, as she crossed the threshold into her small kitchen, she had a brew or two in the refrigerator that would pep her right up!

“Oh dear sweet Mother Moon!” Sage hissed under her breath, clutching at her chest as she saw what lay in wait for her upon her kitchen counter.

She took a moment to catch her breath, staring into the glazed eyed before her, rocked with revulsion and, simultaneously, huge relief. Finally able to breathe evenly, she reached into the pocket of her skirt, withdrawing the small phone that Wyatt had insisted she take along, in case of emergencies. She stared blankly at the screen, willing it on.

Nothing.

She pressed a few buttons and, she wasn’t sure which did it, but the screen finally came to life. To avoid confusing her further, and ensure she didn’t accidentally call someone she shouldn’t, Wyatt had only programmed in two phone numbers; his own and Broof’s. She called the latter.

The phone rang precisely three times, before Broof’s smooth voice responded. “Broof Hogwash.”

“Hello darling,” Sage trilled, remembering their last encounter and adding an extra layer of sugar to her words. “How are you?”

“Sage? Is everything all right?”

Sage glanced over at the body-less head on her countertop and lied through a smile, “Wonderful. Say, would Lilith happen to be with you?”

A moment’s hesitation then a curt reply. “She is.”

“Can I speak with her?”

Another delay. Muffled voices. Sage wasn’t sure if it was him, or something to do with this new-fangled thing she was holding to her ear. Finally, Lilith’s cool call resounded in her ear. “Sage.”

“I suppose you think this is funny?”

Lilith had an unusual laugh, rather more a snort. And that was all the answer she gave.

Sage didn’t wish to admit that she found any of this amusing, and tutted impatiently.

“Do grow up, Lilith, for goodness sake. So, who have I caught here?” Sage asked with a note of impatience and waited until Lilith finished laughing. “Well?”

“His name was Fallacy Fangstock,” Lilith replied.

“Fallacy Fangstock?” Sage repeated, playing along. “Any relation to Sophistry Fangstock?”

“Offspring, I believe,” Lilith purred. “Since his father’s demise, Fallacy has been in hiding. It’s not clear why he returned to Forgotten Hollow after all this time, but there we go.”

Sage looked towards the ashen face on her counter. “Just as I think I’ve caught them all, another one crawls out of the woodwork. I’ll let the high priestess know immediately that the threat has been removed—”

“Do you think that’s enough time to be compelling?” Lilith interrupted.

Sage clicked her tongue. “I was still talking, Lilith. And yes, I always used to catch them within a day or so—”

“—back when you were a sprightly hundred-something. Don’t forget that you are now geriatric. If you want this to be convincing, you’d be better to wait a few days.”

Sage wanted to defend herself, but the creak in her limbs held no argument.

“Good point,” she conceded. “Darn it. More nights in the forest it is then.”

“Boohoo,” Lilith teased.

Sage looked carefully at her new trophy, taking in every detail. “You’ve done a good job here. He’s rather well finished.”

“If you’re after free surgery, Sage, you’re not getting it.”

Sage bristled. “He’s so young, the poor man. Who was he actually?”

“A vagrant,” Lilith said softly. “A nobody.”

“From the morgue?”

A pause, just a second too long. “Yes.”

“I see. Well thank y—” Sage began.

“I didn’t do it for you.”

Sage’s handset beeped and flashed back to the home screen. Call terminated. How very rude. But then, Lilith had always been rather frosty.

She looked again at the head on the counter. The pale skin, the chiselled cheeks, the neatly filed fangs. The hollowed eyes and haunted expression. ‘Fallacy Fangstock’ looked every bit the former society vampire gone rogue. This poor man.

And poor her! As if having a fridge full of blood vials wasn’t bad enough, now she had to store a severed head for a few days.

The clock in the hallway chimed to denote the hour and Sage groaned. She had no time for a perk-up potion, she had a hair appointment to attend. She didn’t need to have her hair manipulated by a human to keep it so buoyant and fresh, but she did need to keep up appearances.

She swept down her dress and ran her fingers through her hair, causing it to coarsen and texture in her grasp until it resembled that of a regular person. Then she placed the head gingerly into a carrier bag and popped it in to the fridge, leaving a note on the door so as not to alarm her guests when they discovered it.

She’d pick up some groceries while she was out and perhaps pay Moon a visit, as she had departed so rudely on their last outing.

And then she’d be coming back for a long, long nap.

The box that been delivered was bordering on enormous, but its weight was no problem for Caleb.

He settled it into the corner of the flower shop and gently pried it open to inspect the contents. Even though he had very little interest in plants, he had to admit that the stock deliveries were amusing. He had no idea that there were so many plants in this world, so many different potion ingredients. So many combinations. He ran down the inventory list with his fingertip, speedily checking off everything present and mentally cataloguing it, also.

Caleb couldn’t really explain it, but he did have a knack for anything like this; stockpiling and organising words and trivial information. He only wished that skill extended to more complex data; to instructions that didn’t make sense and to the intangible.

His thoughts wandered, as they often did, to his little vampire wife. He’d been following her most of the last few days, blocked at every chance by Wyatt or his mother. He pictured April as he’d last seen her, from afar, as he’d headed up towards the store for his shift. She’d been bent over the cauldron, carefully stirring the oversized pot with a humongous spoon.

He wondered how exactly she and Wyatt would turn these seemingly random items into potions and whether one of those potions would actually be able to cure them. Lilith had tried lots of things over the years, experimented with all sorts of plants and unusual pursuits. And then, one day, she’d simply given up, and therefore so had he.

But now? Perhaps there was a chance. He rifled through the box, studying each item. Was bloodstone the missing ingredient? Maybe Lilith had only been a daffodil from her cure? Perhaps datura was the answer?

Caleb would never admit this to his sister, but he wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to be mortal. Unlike Lilith, he didn’t remember ever being mortal. Would he instantly know how to breathe? What if he didn’t? Could he learn fast enough? Or would he be cured and then instantly suffocate?

Worse were the other human inconveniences – would he need to be potty trained?

He was snapped from his morose thoughts by the sound of someone trying the shop door handle. That was unusual; the door barely latched, even the wind could blow it open. Caleb would have been long gone by now, if it wasn’t for that invisible barrier Sage had cast, the same barrier that also meant that he couldn’t simply open the door for this lady.

He peered through the glass, gesturing for the customer to enter.

She had been focused on her efforts to lift the handle but, as he approached, she jumped back, startled and skittish, her eyes snapped up to his own.

Caleb’s heart metaphorically stopped. At least, he imagined that’s what this room-spinning, stomach-plummeting feeling he was suddenly experiencing was. This pale, elegant, cat-eyed woman, who was somehow incapable of opening a door, was the single most beautiful creature he had ever laid eyes on.

He took a few rapid steps towards the door, mind blank, hand outstretched. He could feel the vibration in his fingertips, in his limbs as he tried to push through Sage’s invisible cage. Cat Eyes watched him eagerly, whispering something under her breath.

Caleb continued to push, his fingertips inches from the door, his skin on fire and just as he thought he would make contact—

The ‘explosion’ that tore through the store was immense, dispersing and resetting every fibre of Caleb’s body. The heavy boom had given way to a tight ringing in his ears that echoed around the town square setting of a series of alarms in waves.

He quickly scoped his surroundings, expecting to see carnage and yet the store was unscathed, not a single flower had moved.

Caleb jerked his head towards the door, seeking the mystery woman. She had gone.

Caleb tried to think although his head was a foggy, rainbow mess. Surely this would not go unnoticed by the witches. Would they think he’d tried to escape? Would there be reprisal? As the temporary tinnitus waned, he slowly became aware of a familiar candy-floss voice emitting a wail.

April.

All thoughts of the green-eyed woman left his brain as Caleb sensed that he might have put his beautiful bind in harm’s way. In a flash he had descended the staircase to the basement, to the cauldron room…

Well, what was left of it.

He swallowed hard. Should he apologise? Play dumb?

“Woah,” Wyatt laughed, rubbing the ash from his eyes. “That was the second biggest explosion I’ve ever seen. And now we know – there’s no bloodstone in this potion.”

“Oh my goodness!” April cried. “That was so scary! We could have died!”

Wyatt only laughed and immediately Caleb knew how to react. He grabbed April’s waist pulling her to him. In her dismay at having been in the path of a volatile potion, she didn’t seem to have noticed that he was standing behind her and she squirmed in his grasp; that cute little ‘eek’ setting all his remaining nerves alight.

“What did you do to her?!” he snarled at Wyatt.

“Nothing,” Wyatt replied. “Are you OK, Apes?”

April writhed in Caleb’s grasp, gently removing his hands from herself. “Yes, I’m OK,” she said in a small voice. She glanced at Wyatt and stood a little taller, lifted her chin. “Caleb – no.”

“No?”

“Let me go.”

Caleb could sense something in Wyatt and could tell from April’s face that something was wrong. He didn’t understand why he suddenly felt like he was being accused of something when, for once, he’d done nothing wrong.

He glared at Wyatt, but backed off with a mumbled apology.

Was it his imagination, or did April shuffle a little closer to Wyatt? He’d just caused a massive explosion and she’d still rather stand near him. What in hell what that about?

“Look at this mess, Wy,” she whispered. “Oh my goodness, Grandma Sage will disown us!”

“Nah,” Wyatt said dismissively. “She’s got errands all day and then she’s out vampire hunting again all night. We’ve got loads of time to fix this. She’ll never know.”

“We can fix this?” April asked, with awe.

“Sure. At least the walls are intact this time, mostly. Totally fixable. Unless…” he tapped his chin and raised an eyebrow at Caleb. “Was there anyone in the store? ‘Cause if there was, I’d better go find them and spin them a tale or my butt will be on literal fire.”

Caleb’s mind wandered back to the mysterious green-eyed woman, and he almost replied with a ‘yes’. But then, technically, she hadn’t actually been in the store…

“No,” he replied. “We had a delivery, but the driver had left.”

“Oh! That’s a relief! Ooh a delivery?” April replied giddily. “Is it more ingredients?”

“Not afraid of another explosion then?” Wyatt teased.

April looked up through her lashes. “It was quite fun.”

“That’s my girl,” Wyatt laughed for a second before his face fell and he looked away. He cleared this throat. “I ordered loads of new plants for us to play with – I mean, experiment very seriously with – in this stock.”

“Ooh yay! That sounds fun!” April clapped. “What did you get?”

Caleb interrupted, to reel off the inventory he’d read a few moments earlier. April’s eyes grew wider with every item. Now who had her awe? Caleb thought, smugly. She must be so impressed.

“Aren’t some of those plants poisonous?” she asked, looking back towards Wyatt. “I’m sure I’ve read about datura.”

“Yeah, that’s poisonous.”

“Oh… but we can eat them? Vampires?”

Wyatt shrugged. “No idea. A wise man once told me; ‘you can eat everything, son, but some things might kill you’.”

 “That doesn’t sound very wise.”

“Datura is poisonous, but don’t worry,” he soothed. “In tiny doses, it’s fine – I use it in the tea. Too much and you’ll probably pass out. But, like everything else it’s totally safe when handled properly. I won’t let you handle it though, ha!”

April huffed. “I didn’t know that a ‘thumbful’ meant ‘a big pinch’ rather than, well, the equivalent volume of my thumb! You could have told me that adding too much would make it explode!”

“Total honesty; I had no idea.”

“But you know everything!”

Wyatt visibly faltered. He glanced up at April almost shyly. “I don’t know everything or we’d have a cure by now,” he laughed, but there was definite tenseness in it. “Uh… hey, Caleb, can you stick the box of goodies in my room? There are a few things in there I wanna take out before Mum sees. Oh, and make sure you close the door behind you, yeah? I’ve got the tea brewer set up in there. Last thing I need is her asking questions.”

“Tea brewer?” April and Caleb said together. April let out a squeal, “Ooh! For the strawberry tea?”

“Yeah, strawberry for you and Mel. I’m blending it with some vein juice; hopefully that’ll make it less ashy.”

“Yummy!” April giggled. “Oh, wait, won’t you be joining in then?”

“I will,” Wyatt confirmed, poking his finger into the remains of the potion in the cauldron. “I’m making a slightly different batch for me though, obvs.”

“I’m so excited!”

Almost as if to punctuate the trill of her glee, the shop bell rang. Wyatt made to move and then glanced down at himself and over at Caleb.

“Wait, nope, Caleb’s in the shirt today – off you go, Vatore.”

Caleb went back upstairs slower than he’d come down. He could hear the pair behind him, whispering, but he was too far from April to hear what she was thinking. Although, if he had to guess, he’d wager it was probably more of the same thing she’d been thinking the whole time he’d been standing next to her.

Wyatt is so smart.

Pfft. Wyatt couldn’t memorise a whole inventory list in a minute, like Caleb could.

Caleb arrived in the store to see the door rocking itself ajar in a strong gust.

Wyatt looks after me.

Caleb could look after her – if he could get anywhere nearby. But he couldn’t, thanks to Wyatt. Always there, always watching.

Fixing everything.

Making tea.

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Chapter 3.38 – The Butler Code

Disclaimer: Drugs mention, tiny bit of blood.

Broof had never before been into the forests of Forgotten Hollow, but he had, of course, heard all about them. As he and Lilith made their way along overgrown paths and through ever-thickening trees, Broof’s shoes became muddied and his field of vision became smaller. As the darkness began to swamp them, robbing him of his sight, he clung to Lilith’s arm as she navigated through. He could feel his own pulse racing, amplified against the cool stillness of her arm, and he began to wonder what on earth he was doing there.

What had been a kind decision, to escort Lilith to her house and help her to carry her things, now seemed to be a stupid one. How was he going to find his way back, laden with her belongings, when he couldn’t see two feet in front of himself? As for what lurked in the woods… Broof was very much relieved that Caleb was back at the flower shop, sated and mostly harmless. He only hoped that Caleb was the only murderous creature in these parts.

On the car ride over, Broof had fed back to Lilith the information he had learned from Moon. She had listened thoughtfully, but true to her form she hadn’t said much. It seemed that the high from Wyatt’s donation had left her system. Either that, or she was dwelling on the confrontation with Sage, that he pretended he hadn’t overheard.

He wasn’t sure who exactly the man was that they were discussing. According to Ma, Sage’s father had been a crook who had faced the guillotine before Sage was even born. Sage knew that, surely. He really did have to wonder if senility was taking hold on the aged witch. But, regardless, the knowledge that Sage had been using Lilith to further her status in the coven made his blood boil.

The fact she’d singed his wallpaper and hadn’t remedied it put her firmly lower on his list of preferred acquaintances.

Lilith reached back and took a firm grip of his hand to navigate him through a particularly thorny patch. His heart skipped a beat as he squeezed back against her cold skin. She’d survived centuries trapped with this curse, purging the world of her own kind and trying to keep her brother from destroying everything in his path, living out her days in hiding and isolation on the promise of a cure, of salvation, only to be thwarted at every turn by the witches. She was amazing.

If he hadn’t been motivated to find a cure before, he certainly was now.

He realised that, absentmindedly, he’d been caressing Lilith’s knuckles with his thumb. She yanked her hand away with a hiss, and grabbed him at his wrist instead.

“It’s a long way,” he commented senselessly, to ease the embarrassment he felt.

Lilith only grunted.

“How does the mailperson find you?” he asked.

“They don’t,” Lilith replied, yanking him through some draped vines that Broof couldn’t identify. “We’re here.”

Broof looked skywards and noticed that the canopy of trees had thinned and, as his eyes adjusted to the hazy black, he could make out a house that was nothing like he’d expected. Although he wasn’t sure what he expected – a castle? A forest-y cottage? Something more den-like, for certain. This house looked almost normal, barring some gothic architecture. And the crypt in the front yard.

“You have a crypt,” he stated moronically, peering closer to read the engraving on the stone slab. “Vatore’. Is that where you’re buried?”

He could just about make out Lilith rolling her eyes. “I really need to clean that thing out.”

“Clean what out?”

Lilith snorted sarcastically. “What do you think I keep in a crypt?”

“Oh, heck,” Broof gasped. “The remains of… of prey?”

“So you do have a brain.”

“Hold on, can’t we—?”

“Take one of their heads?” Lilith guessed. “No, they’ve all been dead thirty-plus years. Well, except for one.” Lilith looked thoughtful for a while.

Broof wanted to ask about this one prey, uh, person, but he also didn’t want to know the detail. He’d seen a lot of horrible things in his time, cleaned up – and covered up – a lot of disturbing and disgusting details, but never before, to his knowledge, had he been standing on site with countless murdered people beneath his feet. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up. The trees around him danced in his peripheral vision; their leaves whispering messages from beyond. The knots in their bark were playing tricks on his mind, conjuring up faces. He could have sworn he saw someone, or something, peering through the void…

“Broof!” Lilith snapped, jolting him from his dream. He glanced over to her where she stood on the porch, beckoning him in impatiently. He glanced back to where the creature had been but it was, predictably, empty.

April was having a super good time.

Grandma Sage had had to leave for the night to pretend to be looking for vampires, while the real vampires were curled up on her sofa watching really bad movies. Sage had made Wyatt drink a potion that originally smelled like apples but, once inside his tummy, it had made him smell really gross instead. April couldn’t describe how bad the smell was; it was like sweaty socks and poop and dead things all rolled together. He smelled so bad that even though he was sitting on the other side of the room, it still made April feel a bit queasy and had driven Caleb into another room entirely.

Melinda seemed mostly unaffected by Wyatt’s smell. She also seemed happier than April had seen her for a while, doing that thing she always used to do where she tickled the soft part of April’s arm. April liked that.

The movie they had been watching, about a gigantic, hungry chicken with flames for eyes, had ended and the credits had just finished rolling. Wyatt had it set up so that the next movie would play automatically and, after a brief pause, the screen lit up with the next title.

“Yay! It’s starting! Ooh… Vampire Whores from Outer Space,” April read, then immediately realised what she’d said. “Oh my goodness! Is this…?” she dropped her voice to a tiny whisper. “Pornography?”

Wyatt laughed from his corner. “Nah. Have you never seen this one? Zero budget, terrible acting, the crew are in shot half the time. Literally, it sucks.”

“Sounds great!” April clapped her hands.

“It really isn’t,” Wyatt said. “It’s marginally better when you’re loaded, though.” He paused and jumped up. “I’ll be back in a mo.”

“I guess he really needed the bathroom,” April shrugged and settled back against Melinda, who huffed.

“I think he’s gone to get high, April.”

April frowned. “What do you mean?”

“Oh, come on. He’s always high.”

“Is he?” April thought for a moment about how happy and goofy Wyatt always seemed to be. She pictured the lazy look he often wore and replayed how soft his syllables were. Maybe Melinda was right; she often was. She sighed. “Oh. Oh dear.”

“Yeah. Didn’t you know?”

“No.”

“Oh. Are you OK?”

April nodded. “I suppose it’s not so much worse than Mother always being inebriated, is it? In fact, it’s better because Wyatt is happy when he’s high but Mother just got more cross.”

“Hm,” Melinda mused, drawing a small circle on April’s wrist.

“Have you ever taken any drugs, Mel?”

Melinda looked at her friend and laughed. “Me? Come on.”

“Have you ever wanted to?”

“Not really. Why, have you?”

It was April’s turn to shrug. “I haven’t really thought about it before. I do like the fuzzy, giggly feeling I get when I drink alcohol. Do you think drugs are the same?”

Melinda squirmed. “Um, I don’t know, April.”

“Oh! Do you think if we asked Wyatt nicely that he’d let us try some?”

“Sorry, I thought it’d just be a leak, but all these fibrous potions Mum is giving me… TMI,” Wyatt said, entering the room again. He threw himself back into his chair. “What do you want Wyatt to let you try?”

“Nothing,” Melinda said at the same time April blurted out, “Drugs!”

Wyatt made a face. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Oh,” April said turning to Melinda, “But you said he’s always high!”

“Uh…”

“Heh, I’m screwing with you,” Wyatt laughed. He glanced around conspiratorially. “But like, don’t say that in front of everyone, yeah? So, what d’you wanna try?”

April tapped her chin thoughtfully before declaring, “Heroin.”

Beside her, Melinda choked around a laugh and before her Wyatt grinned wryly.

“Yeah, that ain’t happening.”

“Oh,” April shrugged, wondering what she’d said that was so wrong and feeling very silly. “How about, um, oh I don’t know. I don’t know any others.”

“Really?” Wyatt grinned. “Thought you’d have been surrounded by ‘em at all those fancy-schmancy celeb parties.”

“Oh!” April gasped, a memory or three coming back. “Of course! What about that white powdery one that sticks to your nose? Is that one?”

Wyatt whistled. “Proper lil’ junkie, ain’t you? I ain’t getting you that either.”

“Well, I don’t know!” April huffed. “Stop laughing, Mel. I just wanted to try something new.”

“Apes, you are freaking adorable. Tell you what. If you’re that curious, I can whip up a lil’ batch of tea for tomorrow night, just for you two.”

“Um, I—“

“Tea?” April asked, frowning. “What flavour?”

“That’s her first question?” Wyatt chuckled to himself. “Adorable. What’s your favourite flavour?”

“Strawberry!” April blurted. “Although, I suppose it’d just taste like ash now.”

“Strawberry ash it is.”

“What does the tea do?” Melinda asked, although she didn’t sound very excited.

“Turns the world into a kaleidoscope. Caleb tried it, first day he worked here; he was tripping his balls off, seeing elks and all the bright! but for you two I’d tone it down, uh, a lot.”

“OK!” April said, snuggling back against her friend. “A kaleidoscope! And I’ve never seen an elk! That sounds like so much fun, doesn’t it, Mel?”

“Um… I’m not sure if I want to…”

“Cool. No pressure, you can just chill,” Wyatt said casually. “You’ll have more fun watching Apes off her face than watching this crap, anyway.”

“What? I have to take my face off?”

“Adorable!”

The first thing that Broof had noticed about the house interior was the scent of decay.

The second thing he noticed was that the place was immaculate. He knew from having Lilith as a houseguest that she wasn’t a messy person – when she was sober – but he didn’t have her down as a fellow neat freak.

Lilith hadn’t bothered to give him a tour, instead taking him straight up to her room and ignoring him almost entirely while she packed her belongings into her suitcases. Broof, who had spent a good portion of his life being ignored by those he served, didn’t feel bothered by this; he was occupying himself by browsing the books on her shelves. Many of them were medical journals, some even looked handwritten, he wondered how old they were. Surprisingly, there were a few botany books in the mix.

Strange and Forbidden Plant Genetics,” he read aloud from the spine of a book. “Huh. I didn’t have you down as a botanist.”

“I’m not,” Lilith said, gesturing to a potting station that was covered in plants in various stages of dying. “There was only one plant I was interested in.”

“Oh?” Broof asked.

Lilith set down a blouse she was holding and crossed the room. She plucked an ancient book from a shelf, propping it on a stand and allowing it to fall open to a page that had been viewed so much it had been broken into the spine.

Dr. Blorgfart has synthesised ‘a plasma fruit’ – a pome fruit, with a mealy and succulent flesh and no obvious core. The fruit, which has a mild, metallic flavour and high iron content, induces nausea when consumed and has no known medicinal or culinary applications. The fruit is the latest unusual endeavour devised by Dr. Blorgfart’s team, who claim it can be used as an alternative food source for the likes of mosquitoes, fleas, bed bugs and other such bloodthirsty creatures. Although, why one would wish to feed hematophages, rather than eradicate them, remains a mystery.

“A plasma fruit? I’ve never heard of it, but it sounds revolting. Is that what you were trying to grow here? Who was this scientist, Dr. Blorgfart?”

“I don’t know,” Lilith shrugged. “The only other mention I can find of him afterwards is a small newspaper clipping that simply said the Dr. had closed his laboratory and where to direct queries. It appears he vanished. Although I have an inkling that it had something to do with rogue vampires or…” she hesitated.

“Or..?” Broof coaxed.

“Never mind.”

Broof swallowed hard. “Or something to do with the witches, yes?”

Lilith chewed her lip and turned away.

“Lilith, I overheard you talking to Sage—”

“Spying on me. Typical. So you don’t trust me, either.”

“You were in my house. And no, that’s not what I meant, I meant that—”

“You goddamn witches are all the same; so bloody righteous.” Lilith stared at her half-packed suitcase. “Maybe staying with you isn’t such a good idea. In fact, it definitely isn’t. Get out.”

“No. Bloody hell, Lilith let me speak!”

Lilith blinked at him in surprise, muted, and he couldn’t say he blamed her.

That was not in the butler code.

“I get it,” he said, trying to soften his edge. “I get why you despise witches. I would too in fact… I do too.”

Lilith snorted. “Right, of course you do. I’ve heard this bullshit before ‘I’m on your side, Lilith!’”

“I am.”

“You lot—”

“Please, don’t ‘you lot’ me, I’m not like the others.”

“Heard that before too. You’re like a book of clichés, Broompig. You’re all a bunch of self-serving bastards, on the side of preserving pure magic, ensuring that no creature can ever usurp you as the pinnacle of Sim.”

“I’m not on the side of ‘pure magic’,” Broof whispered his throat dry as he prepared to unburden himself of his secret. “Not anymore.”

Lilith folded her arms. “Is this something to do with why you can’t cast any spells? Yeah, I’ve noticed. What did you do to piss off ‘Mother Earth’? Cast your circle widdershins instead of sunwise?” she asked sarcastically. “Burn the wrong colour candle? Ooh, cardinal sin, that one.”

“No,” he whispered, feeling his heart pause. “I tried to resurrect my daughter.”

“…What?” Lilith managed eventually after what felt like an hour of staring. “But you can’t do that with pure magic… to do that you’d need to use… and that goes against… and she would have been… oh, holy fucking shit.”

“Yeah,” Broof exhaled the breath he was holding and wilted like a flower. “But to know that my child was gone and that there might be a way I could bring her back? Who wouldn’t?”

“It didn’t even work, obviously, probably because I had no idea what I was doing; it’s not like you learn this stuff during your mentoring. The complete lack of understanding from the coven when Cabbage died; the total unwillingness to try… it changed my whole outlook. What am I worshipping? What’s the damn point?” he growled. “Tell me; how can wanting to give life back to a child possibly be construed as wrong, or punishable, or as… as…”

“Evil?” Lilith asked.

“I was going to say ‘fair’,” Broof sighed. Lilith was so close he could smell her unusual perfume. Vanilla and something he couldn’t identify. “But I suppose that too.”

Lilith nodded. The two sat in silence for a few minutes before she patted his knee and climbed back to her feet. “Come on. Now’s not the time for moping. In the room next door is some of April’s stuff that she dumped here before they all ran off and left me for dead. I was going to sell it, but seeing what Sage is dressing her in… ugh, poor girl. Go grab what you think she’d want. I’ll finish up here and meet you at the bottom of the stairs.”

Broof scrambled up as panic gripped him. “Look, you don’t have to stay with me, but, well, no one knows about… about what I did, or about the lack of magic. Well, Wyatt knows about that but not why… and I—”

“Your secret is safe with me. Hey, who knows, one day I might give you one of mine in exchange,” she teased. “I’m going to stay with you, if that’s still all right, which I presume it is. If you smiled any wider you’d split your philtrum.”

“My what?” he asked, glancing down.

“Oh my word.” She walked back over to her bed. “And don’t flatter yourself; I’ve had enough of this house, this forest, is all. Besides,” She snapped her case open. “Us ‘tainted beings’ have to work together, don’t we?”

A collective of those who misuse magic, practice dark magic…

…Necromancers and beasts.

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Chapter 3.35 – Question Everything

Jessica jolted herself awake a second before her face would’ve hit her desk. She shook her head and gave herself a hard smack on the cheek, but it was a poor substitute for a full energy bar.

The previous night had taken its toll. After Beth had arrived – with a little old lady in tow, for some reason – she had given her and the GliTS a once over and ordered them to leave the area.

Jessica had eventually made it home in the small hours, having been given a lift back to her place by the GliTS in their painted van that was in no way whatsoever a poor man’s Mystery Mobile. They’d offered to stay the night, to check she was alright, but Jessica had sent them on their way. She’d claimed she was fine. Reminded them that she was a police officer; that homicide was all part of the job. And that after their crazy night, she’d surely sleep like the dead.

She’d spent the night counting and recounting the tassels on her bedspread as her mind replayed the moment she’d found Will over and over. Jessica hadn’t been to any kind of police academy, or had any real training. She’d seen an advert online and applied. Chase had barely interviewed her. And no amount of dead minks or real crime documentaries could’ve prepared her for what it’d be like to set eyes on her first human corpse.

Yawning, she tapped her computer back to life to check again if there had been any progress on today’s breaking news. She didn’t want to look; she didn’t want to see Paul’s face on her screen. She didn’t want to be reminded of seeing Will hanging in that tree. She wanted to forget it all happened.

But she couldn’t.

This morning, on her bus ride, Jessica encountered the usual people. The man who stared at her but didn’t say anything. The woman who had knitted a hat out of bin bags. She’d been afraid to talk to anyone, not trusting herself. Yesterday, these had all been normal people, but today? Were they alive? Were they ghosts? Jessica had no idea.

Had Paul’s ghost been a figment of her imagination? And if it wasn’t, what did that mean?

Jessica scrolled idly through the news; wild speculation was mixed with fact – yet it was the fact that was the strangest. Fighting to keep her eyes open, Jessica was considering drinking a cup of coffee for the first time in years, when she heard the police reception door buzz open.

“Why are you here?”

“Good morning to you, too.”

“No, I mean…”

Beth held up her hand. “Saggy Balls didn’t give me a choice.” She pulled up a chair and fixed Jessica with her steely gaze. “How did you find him, Jess?”

Jessica swallowed hard. “H-he was dead—”

“No shit,” Beth sucked in a breath, “I mean, how did you know he was there? And don’t give me any of that ‘found him by accident’ crap.”

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

“You know with all the weird crap going on, I probably would,” Beth said. “Try me. What happened?”

“But if Mum isn’t speaking to ghosts then who is she speaking to?”

“Herself.”

“No, she can’t be. She knows things. They teach her things. They—”

“—have driven her mad. It’s for your mother’s own good, Jessica.”

“I happened upon him by chance,” Jessica explained. “When we were looking for mushroom people.”

Beth sat back and eyed Jessica suspiciously. “And you just happened to know that Paul was deep in the ravine?”