The university campus looked grander than Micah expected. Old. He’d never gone to university himself. When he was Hawthorne’s age, his plans merely involved painting, and standing on his own two feet as quickly as possible.
His first place when he moved out was definitely nothing like this. It had been a whole other lifetime, but he could still vaguely recall the sense of excitement. The excitement he now saw in his daughter’s eyes.
As if she was eighteen already. Seemed like not too long ago, he was braiding her hair when she was a little girl.
Then again, he still remembered doing the same for his little sister, and Sasha would now be… in her early fifties. Wherever she was… When he last saw her, she would have been no older Hawthorne. Mortal life passed far too quickly. Like Cordelia’s. Micah didn’t want to think about it, any of it. He needed to get out of his head.
Hawthorne pointed at one of the buildings. “That’s the one.” She said. “I think.”
She’d been very perky the whole way to Britechester. But her crying face from earlier that night, when she came out of the tree, was still fresh in Micah’s mind.
His first instinct was to go check on Dandelion. But it seemed Micah’s worry was unfounded. The elf was fine. A little off, yes, but unharmed. Or at least so he said, and he didn’t seem to have any obvious puncture wounds… But something wasn’t right.
Micah had hoped Hawthorne would open up on her own on their way over she hadn’t as much as mentioned it, and they were running out of time.
“Hawthorne… about earlier,” he broached the subject finally as they stood in front of the hall’s entrance. “You sure you don’t want to talk about it?”
“There’s nothing to talk about.” She replied all too quickly. “Should we go in?”
But this was too important to let it go. “Something happened with Dandelion. Did you…”
The realisation spread across her face. “Oh, dad, no. You know I wouldn’t feed on Dandy. That time… It was a long time ago, you know.”
He wanted to believe her. Cordelia was far too eager to leave what happened when Hawthorne was little behind, and Dandelion would have made that easy, but Micah couldn’t forget.
They never did have repeats, and eventually he relaxed a little, even allowing Hawthorne to go see Dandelion alone eventually. But tonight made all the old worries resurface.
It was strange for Micah to reconcile. Was it thanks to having access to plasma fruit from such a young age? Or was Hawthorne’s thirst much weaker than his, as he’d once hoped?
“I did go check on him.” He examined her face, waiting for a reaction. “And he seemed fine but… out of sorts.”
“Was he?” Hawthorne’s voice flew up a couple octaves, her interest in the conversation seemingly peaking. Something did happen between her and Dandelion, Micah was sure of it. But what?
“I… I didn’t like the idea of saying goodbye to him, so I said some things I didn’t mean.” The girl admitted finally. “That’s why I was upset.”
Micah felt the tension in his body easing slightly. He tried to go back to those memories of being eighteen. Of course everything would have felt a lot more intense back then. Not to mention that Hawthorne was not undead. Her skin was warm, her heart was beating, she even had a reflection in the mirror. Perhaps it did make a difference. Perhaps that really was all there was to it.
Having eliminated the worst-case scenario, Micah considered what Hawthorne actually said.
“Pushing people away when you’re hurting is not a good route to go down.” He told his daughter.
“No shit.” Hawthorne muttered.
Micah frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean?” Not that he really needed her to clarify…
Hawthorne thanked her luck when the girl freed her from the misery of the odd impromptu heart-to-heat her father had launched into.
“You guys are moving in late! Are you living in Drake Hall?” A girl approached them.
Another student, though not exactly the kind of person Hawthorne was too keen on associating with. Far too ditzy looking. Still, Hawthorne didn’t know anyone here yet, and the girl did unwittingly help her out.
“Just me.” She informed the blonde. “I’m Hawthorne.”
“Chloe.” The girl turned to Micah. “Are you in one of the other halls? Or in one of the student rentals?”
“I’m just helping Hawthorne move in. I’m not a student.” Her father explained.
“Shame.” Chloe batted her false lashes. Hawthorne couldn’t decide if she found the encounter cringy to no end or hilarious. Perhaps both.
“I’ll go get your stuff, Hawthorne.” Her father informed her, practically sprinting away. She repressed a laugh. She’d bet anything he wished he could use his vampiric super speed to get away.
He’d left the bottled plasma fruit fizz on the ground. Great, Hawthorne thought. Now she had to lug that up to her room on her own.
“Damn.” Chloe finally acknowledged Hawthorne properly. “He is hot. Is he your brother?”
Hawthorne felt like she was going to gag.
“Yeah.” She went along with the girl’s assumption.
“You guys from far from here?” Chloe continued with her questions.
“A few hours on the train, small place called Glimmerbrook. You wouldn’t know it.” Hawthorne shrugged.
“Is he seeing anyone?” So that was why she was asking where they were from… Hawthorne could barely stop herself from rolling her eyes.
The truth was Hawthorne wasn’t entirely sure what the actual answer to Chloe’s question even would be. She was fairly certain about her mother’s love life – she had none. She was not so sure about her father. Not that she was planning to tell the girl that.
“Long-term boyfriend.” She opted for the answer most likely to shut the blonde up. “Sorry.”
Chloe pulled face. “Just my luck. Any chance he swings both ways?” She asked with a giggle. “I mean long-term relationships can get pretty stale…”
Hawthorne couldn’t help but laugh at the girl’s persistence. “Nice to meet you too, random stranger who’s trying to sabotage my brother’s relationship.” She smirked.
“Way to make a first impression, huh…” The blonde backtracked. “Let’s start again. Why don’t I show you around the hall! I got here in the morning, you see…”
Hawthorne followed Chloe into the building. This girl was showing no signs of leaving or shutting up. May as well find the amusement in it all, for her own sanity.
Hawthorne plopped the plasma fruit juice on the floor as soon as they got out of the lift.
“This is the main common room. And my room is right over there, number 14.” Chloe waved her arms in the air, gesturing towards one of the doors. “Come by any time you like. I swear I’m a lovely person, when I don’t drool over people’s relatives…”
Hawthorne hesitated. She herself could come on strong, she knew that. Who was she to judge?
“I’m Hawthorne.” She gave the girl a small smile, looking for her own bedroom key. She dug it out of her pocket and read the key chain. Figures. “And I think we are roommates.”
Hawthorne’s head was hurting as she lay in bed. If only sleeping it off was an option… But she hadn’t managed to fall asleep since she was 9 years old.
Her first night in Britechester had been a whirlwind. Her father didn’t stay long – while Hawthorne knew he had to get back home before sunset, she was convinced Chloe played a part in his hasty goodbye as well.
Not that Hawthorne was complaining. It was already so late, and she had people to meet. She resolved to leave unpacking till tomorrow and try to find out more about the other residents of Drake Hall.
This was where Chloe became invaluable. It seemed there wasn’t anyone in the building Chloe didn’t already know. She introduced Hawthorne to people living on their corridor and they all had a little housewarming of sorts.
Hawthorne didn’t quite make up her mind on whether feeding on housemates was a particularly good idea or if she should go further afield, but it did appear she wouldn’t necessarily have to go far to find people who would not be opposed to her having a little nibble.
Not bad at all, Hawthorne mentally evaluated her first few hours of university life when they finally stumbled into their room around 3am. Now she just needed to stare at the wall for an hour or two to purge her mind of Chloe’s never-ending babbling. Unfortunately, her roommate didn’t seem all that tired, still yapping away.
“I think I’m going to do the tryouts for cheer. Definitely joining the Britechester Spirit Corps.”
Hawthorne scanned the room looking for a distraction. That’s when she spotted it. Shiny and green, fluttering right before her. One of Dandelion’s sprites. Holy hell.
She propped herself up in her bed, staring at them. She’d been right. They’d never followed her before.
“What’s up?” Chloe asked, looking in the direction of the fae, confused. She couldn’t see them, Hawthorne realised.
“Oh, nothing. I think I drifted off and had a weird dream.” Hawthorne improvised.
“Well sorry to bore you…” Chloe pulled her duvet up, turning to face the wall. “Good night then… roomie.”
Hawthorne waited for Chloe’s breathing to get heavy before slipping out of bed. The sprites seemed… impatient?
They flew across the room, and out of the door. Hawthorne grabbed her jacket and hastily followed.
She knew all too well that her mother was not fond of the idea of her studying in Britechester. Cordelia insisted Hawthorne could have picked anywhere. Which was a stretch – she was far from a model student – but not completely untrue.
There were universities that would have been an equal or even better option for a physics degree that would have happily accepted Hawthorne. Her choosing Britechester was no accident.
Her parents, Dandelion, even Morgyn… none of them seemed to want to share a great deal about the sprites with her. All Hawthorne really knew was that before they started hanging around Dandelion, they used to follow her mother. All the way from here.
Apparently, her mother and Morgyn even went on some crazy trip all the way to Selvadorada to try to get to the bottom of the mystery. Hawthorne could not picture that at all, her mother hated Morgyn’s guts.
More importantly, she never understood why those two opted to go all the way to the other side of the world. If the sprites came from here, obviously that’s where they should have looked. Why start anywhere but the beginning?
Then again, Hawthorne knew she was clearly smarter than the lot of them.
She realised she had even more company once she neared the edge of the campus.
“Hey, Smokey!” She looked up. “What are you doing here? You were supposed to stay in Sylvan Glade! Did you fly all the way here?”
The phoenix just flapped its wings, refusing to leave.
“I guess it would be nice if you came by for a visit every now and then. But only when I’m alone, ok?” Definitely couldn’t explain away a damn phoenix, not even to someone like Chloe, Hawthorne thought.
The sprites led her through the centre of the small town of Gibbs Hill, past a castle ruin of some sort.
They all ended up on a small clearing under the castle, just outside of Gibbs Hill. Hawthorne looked around. Mushrooms seemed to line the area in a strange, almost deliberate pattern, and that rock in the middle of the clearing could almost be an altar of some kind.
“Trippy,” Hawthorne whispered to herself. She wondered if it was that kind of mushrooms. She could definitely picture it.
The sprites gathered around the rock, almost multiplying. Hawthorne had never seen so many, and all kinds of colours too. She had no idea what any of this meant.
No idea apart from one thing, she’d been right. This was definitely the place to find answers to the mystery of Dandelion’s sprites.
“See, Smokey? I’m a fucking genius.”