Micah stopped in his tracks the minute he walked through his bedroom door.
“What the fu-“
“Surprise!” Verena interrupted him impatiently. “I got you a present. Do you like it?”
The girl was lying on the bed unconscious, but very much alive. He could feel her pulse from across the room.
“You’ve gotta be kidding me.” He groaned.
“Micah, what are we going to do with you?” Verena’s words were scolding, but he could tell she was in a good mood. She looked pleased with herself. “How can you be so ungrateful, after I went through all that trouble to fetch your dinner? I know how much you hate going out hunting…”
He glanced down at girl on the bed, noticing the bite marks on her throat. The puncture was still fresh. He looked away immediately.
“I’m not interested in your sloppy seconds.” He hissed at Verena.
“So I sampled a little…” She admitted sweetly. “I wouldn’t want to risk bringing you something foul, after all. But I assure you, this one is not.”
That much he could tell. Which was exactly the problem. “You already took enough of her blood. You know just as well as I do that if I drink from her now, she’ll die.”
“Oh, don’t be like that.” Verena refused to be deterred. She made herself comfortable on the bed next to the girl. “Come here, sit with me.”
Micah obliged begrudgingly.
Of course, the little monster knew exactly what she was doing. He hadn’t fed yet that night, something he was sure Verena was fully aware of. The heat radiated from the young woman’s body. Micah held his breath to avoid her scent.
“You should see your face.” Verena looked up at him. “I can tell how much you’re struggling. Is all of this effort really worth it? Fighting what you are, night after night?”
“There’s more than one way to go about being a vampire.” He snapped at her.
“Yes,” she confirmed with a small nod, “and I’ve been around for long enough to see them all, and to know which way is right. Which way is sustainable.”
“Sustainable? Killing prey is not sustainable.” Micah gritted through his teeth. “Death isn’t necessary. Not if you feed on enough of them, and practice a little restraint.”
“Yes, yes, I’ve heard your little speech so many times I could recite it by heart.” Verena rolled her eyes, pretending to yawn. “Which begs the question, if you truly believe that, why do you insist on telling that story over and over? The only person you need to convince is you. You shouldn’t care what I think…”
“Clearly I have to if you bring half-wasted prey into my room and expect me to finish it off!” Micah snapped.
Verena laughed. “You’re so adorable when you get all rebellious.”
“Get her out of here.” He said quietly.
“You know exactly what I’m going to do with her if I get her out of here. It’s peculiar that doesn’t bother you. You only care about your own conscience, not about whether she lives or dies. But if that’s the case, why does it matter at all?”
It wasn’t the first time she’d called him out on his hypocrisy. Deep down, Micah knew she was right. His thirst was growing stronger.
Verena’s eyes studied his face. “She’s asleep. Won’t feel a thing.” She purred. “And even if she was conscious, you know they enjoy it almost as much as we do…”
She rose to her feet. “Anyway. I’m not telling you what to do. It’s your call. I’ll just leave the two of you to get… better acquainted.”
The smug look on Verena’s face as she exited the room made Micah want to punch through the wall.
But his thirst was stronger than his anger. Stronger than his convictions, perhaps. The girl’s skin was pale, pale enough to see her veins pulsing. His throat felt dry.
He drew closer to take a better look. There’s no harm in looking, he told himself. Except he’d been there before. Told himself that before… and how did that end? Micah pushed the memories aside.
He’d met this girl, he realised. At the Von Haunt Estate ball. Delphine had noticed her appeal, and she wasn’t wrong. He remembered the grin on Delphine’s face when she told him he could have this one. And he wanted to. He was hoping to feed on her in the maze, before events took the unexpected turn they did. But that night, she hadn’t lost blood already. Their encounter would not have been fatal.
What brought her all the way to Forgotten Hollow, he wondered? It wasn’t luck, that much was clear.
Voices in the darkness. It felt like they were coming from under water. Or perhaps it was her that was under water. Drowning. Cordelia tried to make out what they were saying.
They seemed to be arguing. A man and a child. A child. The vision of the little girl in the park came back to her. All alone. But Cordelia couldn’t quite remember what happened.
“You already took enough of her blood. You know just as well as I do that if I drink from her now, she’ll die.”
It took a while for Cordelia to process the words. Such a long time their voices had gone quiet. She heard the door open and shut, small steps walking out of the room. The little girl. Blood. She finally remembered, opening her eyes in terror. They were talking about her.
She tried to prop herself up, but her body felt weak. She realised the man was right next to her. He bared his teeth. They were sharp, just like the little girl’s. And the way he was eyeing her up didn’t differ from the way the girl looked at her either, right before…
Before she knew it, Cordelia was in his arms. She wasn’t sure how it happened. Did they fly through the air? It didn’t matter. She was his now.
She’d heard enough of his conversation with the child to know this was it. She was going to die. Oddly, she didn’t feel panicked. Her mind was all over the place, but not scared. She thought of her mother, and the night the sprites took her.
She thought of her kiss with Morgyn on that balcony above the chateau gardens. Morgyn, who probably never even was in Forgotten Hollow in the first place. Was this what L Faba wanted?
She thought of Dandy, who’d be all alone in his meadow again. She hoped he wouldn’t think she abandoned him. Bizarrely, Cordelia found herself hoping that L Faba would use the opportunity of her absence to reconnect with her old elf friend.
But that wasn’t Cordelia’s decision to make. She’d made all the decisions she would be allowed in this life. Nothing mattered anymore. She closed her eyes, ready for the end.
It all happened so fast. Cordelia expected him to sink his teeth into her throat, but instead, he pushed her away and propelled out of the room. The door slammed shut behind him. She rushed to it, but she could already hear it locking on the other side.
“No!” She cried out desperately, launching herself at the door, banging at it with her fist with all the might she had left. “Let me out!”
“Let me out… please…”
But nobody answered her pleas. Of course not. What did she expect? He may have spared her for the time being, but that didn’t change a thing. She’d meet her end in this house, she was sure of it.
Exhausted, she leaned back on the door, allowing her body to slide down against it. Finally, her emotions caught up with the situation. Despair took over her.
The woman noticed the tiny snowflakes falling on her coat, and on the palm of her hand as she made her way through the footpath.
What she did not notice was the vampire looming behind her in the darkness.
Micah acted swiftly. She was his third prey of the night. He found three was usually a good number, both in terms of satisfying his thirst and in the amount of blood he could take from each victim, enough to keep him going, and enough to keep them alive.
The episode with the girl Verena brought had left him on edge, so he made sure to choose particularly unappealing ones tonight. Ones that wouldn’t tempt him to take too much, that made him confident he could stay in control.
The curse – and the beauty – of drinking blood laid in the fact that it was much akin to consuming a part of someone’s soul. Their memories. Their hopes. Their fears. It was tantalising like nothing Micah had ever known. The more he drew, the more he yearned for more.
He’d grown better at pulling himself away in time over the years. But on a night like this, choosing the right targets that would make the ordeal of restraint easier was crucial.
Like this middle-aged woman with an uninspiring office job and unfulfilling love life. Those with very little vigour for life were ironically always the easiest to keep alive.
Micah made his teeth withdraw from her skin, and dropped her to the grass with a soft thud. He gave her a quick glance. Her chest was moving up and down as she breathed in and out rhythmically. She looked as if she was having a pleasant dream. From what Micah remembered of his day of turning, the sensation she felt was not too dissimilar to a vivid dream indeed.
But her dreams were none of his concern – he’d just seen how underwhelming they were. He made his way down the path; she would not stay out for long, and he couldn’t be in sight when she awoke. That was enough blood for the night. Three was the magic number.
Just as Micah was about to head back home, he noticed something down by the last lamp. Someone. A presence. Not quite mortal.
It couldn’t be. But it was.
“You. You found me. While I was hunting. And I didn’t even spot you.” How was that possible? Of course, Micah recalled the whole sage of the untamed talk, but he still wasn’t sure what it really meant. This was no ordinary mortal, he understood that much.
“I must confess that being discreet is the exact opposite of my nature. I much prefer the spotlight.” The sage’s lips curled into a smile.
“You’ve been stalking me?” Micah asked incredulously.
“I’d prefer the term observing,” the sage corrected him. “I’ve seen you wander the streets of Forgotten Hollow for the last few nights, yes. I must say, it’s been fascinating. You take victims, one after the other, but only in moderation, as to preserve their life force. Why?”
“Do… what is it you called your kind again?”
“I’m a spellcaster. But you can call me Morgyn.”
“Do spellcasters not believe life force to be worth preserving?” Micah didn’t allow his train of thought to be interrupted.
“Depends on the spellcaster. Much like what the case is with humans.” Morgyn shrugged. “I assumed the matter was much more clear-cut with vampires.”
“You assumed wrong!” Micah raised his voice.
The sage didn’t seem particularly concerned. “Clearly. Please don’t mistake my curiosity for contempt. It’s quite on the contrary. I find you even more captivating now than when we first met.”
Micah grew impatient. “What do you want from me?”
Morgyn stood up, looking right into his eyes. “Everything, preferably.”
Micah was dumbfounded, taking a moment before speaking “Are you insane?”
The sage just smirked. “I’ve been called worse.”
Tonight had to be one big joke, Micah decided. “I told you this at the Von Haunt Estate, you have nothing I want.”
“And yet, you allowed me to find you. If memory serves me right, you did say I may possess something you might be after at the end of our last conversation,” Morgyn reminded him.
“And what do you think that is?” Micah retorted. “What is it that I want?”
“I’m not certain you know what you want yourself,” the sage said. “But it’s clear what you don’t want. You don’t want to be a vampire.”
Micah opened his mouth and then closed it again. Finally, he spoke, although his voice almost betrayed him. “Are you saying… that you know a way to cure me?” He tried his best to sound sarcastic.
“No. But I imagine it can be done. Untamed magic has ways to bring the dead back to the living. Surely the undead should be far easier.” Morgyn grinned confidently.
What a waste of time, Micah thought. “Do you have anything you can offer me apart from riddles?”
“I can offer you plenty.” Morgyn said, taking Micah’s hand into theirs.
And with a flash, the two of them were no longer in Forgotten Hollow.
“I can’t promise you your old life, but I can promise you a world that’s completely new. I can take you to places that you never even knew existed, places far beyond those your imagination could create…”
“I can’t promise you life in the sun again, but I can promise you sunsets all across the globe, and beyond…”
“I can’t promise you the light of the day, but I can promise you city lights, the bustle, the energy, surging through the veins of any metropolis you’d like to visit.”
“Most importantly, while I can’t promise to change the fact that you’re undead, I can promise that I can make you feel alive again.”
Before Micah could take it all in, they were back in Forgotten Hollow, back by the same bench where their conversation started. Whatever this spellcaster’s magic was, it was real.
He was smart enough to know that what Morgyn had chosen to share was just a fraction of what was possible. The sage struck him as someone that would not divulge all of their secrets easily, if at all.
Which meant there was hope.
“Here. Take this.” Morgyn placed a strange fragment into Micah’s hand.
“What is it?” The vampire asked.
“It’s called a Glimmerstone. It can take you straight to the magic realm, to me, should you choose to visit. No strings attached. Take your time.” Morgyn said with a smile that made it more than clear to Micah that the sage believed there was only one choice they could envisage him making.
They didn’t wait for any form of reply. Instead, Morgyn took out their wand, and with yet another flash, disappeared right in front of him.
Micah’s mind was racing. For more than a decade, all of the limitations of the world were so clear-cut in front of him. But now… anything was a possibility.
The encounter almost made him forget about the girl that was still locked in his room. Micah wasn’t too sure what to do about that predicament. He didn’t imagine Verena would just let her go. She intended to teach him a lesson, he gathered that much.
But perhaps he could just walk away from it all. The coven, the girl in the room, all of it. Maybe he could even walk away from the life of a vampire…
He fiddled with the Glimmerstone between his fingers. Then again, nothing was free.
Perhaps it was all too good to be true.