The two girls hurried inside the pub, escaping the snow outside.
“Brrr,” Chloe shivered, looked around the pub. “None of the others are here yet. Are we early? That’s so embarrassing…”
“Not as embarrassing as falling on our asses in the blizzard would be,” Hawthorne shrugged. “Let’s get some drinks.”
“I do look forward to ditching the arctic for a week.” Chloe told Hawthorne once they settled at a table, glasses in hand.
Hawthorne rolled her eyes. Britechester was nowhere near as warm as Chloe’s hometown of Del Sol Valley, but Chloe was exaggerating, as per usual.
“You’d never last in the arctic,” Hawthorne smirked at her roommate.
“Oh, and you would?” Chloe raised an eyebrow.
“I dunno. I’m resourceful.” Hawthorne grinned.
“You’d have to ditch the mini skirts, for starters…” Chloe said, taking a sip from her drink.
That much was true. Hawthorne sometimes wished she was like her father, unable to feel any temperature at all. But that seemed reserved for the truly undead. Still, Hawthorne quite fancied the idea of being challenged by the harsh environment. She’d have to feed on the wildlife… not that drinking from a polar bear would be particularly stimulating, she thought to herself.
Then again, Hawthorne wasn’t sure her current choice of prey was all that stimulating either.
She was had been right about the restraint thing. To think she was almost nervous the first time she was about to feed in Britechester… Her father must have gotten into her head. But of course she’d been right all along. It wasn’t difficult to stop at all. Nothing like what she remembered from when she drank Dandelion’s blood.
These boys… they were all the same. Like that brief time she drank from Ollie. All they cared about was sports, parties, and getting into her pants.
Which didn’t exactly equate to a compelling feeding experience. Basic, boring memories of a jock. No substance.
Hawthorne did enjoy the thrill though. The moment she’d turn that seductive nibble on the neck into fully sinking her teeth in…
She liked the rollercoaster of whether she’d be able to get away with it. But she always did. And beyond that initial thrill, Hawthorne felt little need to continue drinking from them once she had a little taste.
It was almost disappointing, really.
“You’re doing that thing where you zone out again.” Her roommate nudged her. “Honestly, Hawthorne, you’re a terrible listener…”
“Sorry, what did you say?”
“I asked if you were excited to go home for Winterfest.” Chloe asked brightly, undeterred.
“Hm, yes and no,” Hawthorne told her truthfully. “My family is… complicated.”
She was looking forward to seeing everyone, but she could already picture how tense the Winterfest gathering would be.
“Oh I know, my parents are divorced too,” Chloe agreed. “It’s going to be a mad dash to try to see everyone…”
“My parents aren’t divorced.” Hawthorne corrected her. “Well, they aren’t married. Never were. I don’t think they were ever really… together.”
“Oh, they would have have to have been together,” Chloe giggled.
“Ugh, gross. I do not want to think of my parents getting it on, thank you very much…”
“Is your hot brother going to be there?” Chloe changed the subject, perking up.
Not this again. “Yeah. You wanna send him a love letter or something?”
“Is he still with his boyfriend?” Her roommate asked giddily.
Another Britechester student approached their table, sparing Hawthorne having to make up an update about her fictional brother’s fictional relationship. Sparing being a relative term.
“Hawthorne! Did you get my text?” He looked over at Chloe anxiously, toning his voice down as he leaned in closer to Hawthorne. “You never called me after we went out.”
“Oh yeah. I totally meant to.” Hawthorne wracked her brain, but she couldn’t remember what his name was for the life of her.
“You did?” He beamed. “I haven’t stopped thinking about you.”
“Listen, I’m meeting some friends tonight, but we should hang out tomorrow. I’ll text you.” Hawthorne smiled.
“Cool.” He took a step back, trying – and failing – to look tough. “See you tomorrow. Or whatever.”
“Hawthorne! I thought you were already off to your parents’ place tomorrow?” Chloe whispered once he was out of earshot.
“I am.” Hawthorne admitted. Sure, he was cute enough. But his face was familiar, and yet she couldn’t remember a single memory of his. That alone told Hawthorne there was no point in bothering.
“How do you get all these guys chasing after you?” Chloe shook her head.
Hawthorne gave her a crooked smile. “I bite them.”
“Very funny. Though I bet some would be into that,” Chloe chuckled. Apparently, Hawthorne thought. “Seriously though, what’s your secret? I wouldn’t be opposed to getting more action…”
Her secret? It was simple enough. None of them were the one she actually wanted. “I’m not sure if you’d be into my kind of action, Chloe.”
“Kinky!” A familiar voice jumped in. No need to make excuses this time, Harris had never been on the menu for Hathorne, and never would be – he was even more boy-crazy than Chloe. “What else did we miss?” He asked as the rest of the gang joined the table.
“You guys took your time!” Chloe greeted them.
“You know Harris, always has to do his hair, even when he’s wearing a beanie over it…” One of the girls said jokingly. “More importantly, you guys better be back for New Years Eve. Bailey is planning a huge party…”
“Morgyn, a visitor for you.” Darrel’s voice disturbed Morgyn’s writing.
Morgyn tried to gauge whether said visitor was Gemma. Hard to say; Darrel sounded unenthused, but then, Darrel almost always sounded unenthused. No reason it would be any different when it came to his sister.
Apparently, Gemma finally managed to crack the rejuvenate spell. A touch late, in Morgyn’s opinion, her prime years were behind her, but still, almost unheard of, for a non-sage. She was talented, Morgyn had to give her that. Definitely far more gifted than Darrel. Too bad she focused all of her efforts on her fruitless pursuit of the sage. Morgyn would have enjoyed to actually working with her, but she made a professional relationship virtually impossible.
Any other thoughts the sage may have had on the matter became irrelevant when they realised who the visitor was.
“Micah.” Morgyn’s mood instantly cleared. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“Can’t I just come over?” The vampire asked.
“But of course…” Morgyn nodded. Except that Micah rarely just came over. “Why don’t we go for a walk, get some air?” They suggested.
Micah followed them out. He seemed lost in thought.
“Hawthorne’s first semester is almost over.” Micah said finally. “Sounds like she’s enjoying it every time I speak to her.”
Seemed unlikely the vampire made the trip just to make small talk about his daughter, but the sage played along. “Yes, studying physics. What a waste of time.”
“Is that what you said to her?” Micah turned to them.
“Of course not.” Morgyn was annoyed. Was Micah doubting them? They’d promised Hawthorne would always be able to make her own choices, and they intended to keep that promise. Which meant they would not belittle her choices, peculiar as they were.
“Doesn’t mean it’s untrue, though.” Morgyn continued. “As soon as she ascends, I will teach her spells that defy all laws of physics, all laws of nature.”
Of course, it wasn’t entirely terrible that Hawthorne wanted this university experience. Gave Morgyn more time to arrange her ascension in the first place.
Morgyn had been near exemplary in their duties for the last decade, but Simeon was still going to be tough to sway. Hopefully this was where buttering up Darrel and his bogus title would finally come in handy. If the advisor to the sages found Hawthorne’s ascension agreeable, how could Simeon block it? It was him who wanted an impartial advisor, after all. And Morgyn would make sure Darrel’s impartial advice would benefit them.
“Speaking of laws of nature…” Micah interrupted Morgyn’s train of thought. “There was something I wanted to speak to you about.”
“Oh?” Morgyn was intrigued. So there was a reason Micah came over.
“It’s about Cordelia.”
Of course it bloody was, Morgyn thought. “What about her?” They asked.
“I… the spell you cast on yourself, to stop aging. Can it be cast on others?” Micah cut to the chase.
So there it was. “Ah. You want me to stop her aging.” Morgyn bargained for time. Ironic, given the subject at hand, they mused.
“She’s been unhappy for way too long. And at this rate she’ll never… she needs more time.” The vampire concluded awkwardly.
“You think time will be the answer? You’ve had plenty of time, has it helped with your issues?” Morgyn maintained their cool.
“I could ask you the same thing.” Micah snapped back.
The truth was, Morgyn had considered it before. Which was precisely why they could almost hear Simeon complaining about the natural order and how they couldn’t just sprinkle immortality onto common humans, or some such. Was it worth everything Morgyn had worked for to try to get into Simeon’s good books? Putting Hawthorne’s ascension at risk?
Besides, there was another matter, one far more selfish. By now, it was crystal clear to Morgyn that as long as Cordelia was in the picture, they could never be with Micah, not truly. Admittedly, by the sage’s own making. But with Cordelia mortal, and Micah and them having an eternity…
Oddly, those thoughts always came with a side of guilt, a sentiment Morgyn had worked hard on burying in the past. Unlike Micah, Morgyn didn’t care for dwelling on things or drowning in remorse. So why did something this irrational bring about that bitter taste? They weren’t doing anything wrong. Everyone’s life would eventually end, so why should it be any different with her? From what Morgyn could gather, she was hollow these days anyway. More hollow than them, even.
By your doing, the demon reminded Morgyn helpfully.
The sage cleared their throat. “There’s no need for hostility. I just think that if you’re asking me for a favour of this calibre, I deserve more than a pathetic excuse.”
“Right, a lecture on being open and honest, from you.” Micah scoffed. “That is rich.”
“When have I been dishonest with you?”
Micah opened his mouth, but seemed to have changed his mind.
“You want the honest answer? I’m not sure I can live without her. Happy?” He blurted out.
“That’s quite the sweeping statement.” Morgyn said slowly. “Don’t know if I have it in me to deal with such melodrama.”
The sage was careful not to give away their concern, after all, Micah was better at reading them than anyone. And this… this was worrisome.
From anybody else, it would have been a cheesy line. But Morgyn was far too well aware that with Micah, there was a good chance he was being literal in this particular case. A good enough chance for Morgyn not to want to find out.
“Very well then.” The sage said casually “I’ll grant your wish. Otherwise you’ll mope about it forever. Though knowing you, you’ll find something else to mope about…”
“Good chat.” Micah hissed.
“Wouldn’t hurt for you to show some gratitude.” Morgyn replied with a frown.
“You’re most gracious.” Micah gritted through his teeth. “What do you want me to do? Curtsy?”
“You could spend the night at least.” Morgyn attempted to change the tone.
“I… have a painting to finish. Custom order.”
That was an outright lie. Micah had become quite successful under his current artistic pseudonym, yes, but the sage knew that he’d never do a straight up commission. Micah liked to paint what he liked to paint.
“I see. I suppose I’ll see you at the Winterfest dinner.” Morgyn said stiffly.
“Yeah.” Micah agreed. “See you then.”
The sage watched the vampire walk away from them.
Suddenly, Micah stopped in his tracks. “Morgyn… thank you.”
Morgyn gave him a small nod. They couldn’t say another word. Micah was slipping away from them, no matter what they ended up doing. Morgyn knew that. Saying anything about how they felt would be far too dangerous.
Now more than ever, the demon had to stay silent.
Chloe was fast asleep. Hawthorne took another sip of her plasma fruit juice. She thought of Dandelion. Not long till she’d finally see him again. But with how they left everything off, what was she even going to say to him?
She noticed a sprite in the corner of her eye. There they were again.
They came by at night time every so often, but disappointingly, Hawthorne hadn’t learned anything new about them since finding the odd ritual grounds of sorts on her first night in Britechester.
Admittedly, a part of that was her own fault. The boys and the parties had kept her busy. Occasionally even actual studying, too. In any case, the first semester was almost over, and here she was, on the eve of returning home for a week, with no new clues.
More sprites appeared and fluttered her around the door. Here we go again, Hawthorne thought, finishing her bottle.
She was sure they’d just lead her to the mushroom circle yet again. But it wasn’t as if she had anything better to do.
She passed the castle ruins, and sure enough, found herself in that clearing once again. As per usual, Smokey made an appearance too. A sigh escaped Hawthorne’s lips. What did any of it mean?
Her eyes wandered the clearing, looking for any new clues she’d missed before. But there was nothing. And as always, there’d been nobody in sight. The make-belief mushroom cult Hawthorne came up with on her first visit never made an appearance. Frustrated, Hawthorne looked up to the castle above her.
It occurred to her she never did go have a look into the ruins. Strictly speaking they were closed off to the public, but she wasn’t going to be stopped by nonsense like that. Besides, beyond the University students frequenting the village pub, the town of Gibbs Hill was mostly dead. Who would really see her trespassing anyway?
As if to show their agreement, the sprites flew up towards the castle too. Hawthorne followed them up the mountain. The walls of the old castle were in better shape than she expected. And the only way in was a large, heavy door.
She tried the handle, but the door didn’t move. Locked. The sprites surrounded her all too closely now.
Hawthorne inspected the lock. As if there was any use, she didn’t know the first thing about lockpicking. She wondered if Morgyn knew any spells to open doors.
She wasn’t sure what gave her the idea to try the key on her necklace, but it was a perfect fit. Hawthorne let out a victorious laugh. How did her grandmother get that key, Hawthorne wondered? Was she secretly royalty? In any case, there was no doubt Hawthorne had been right about finding answers to the secrets of the past here.
The door still didn’t budge, though. She’d celebrated prematurely. The lock required two keys, Hawthorne realised.
Luckily, Hawthorne knew exactly where to find the second key. Not that the mischief sage would ever let her have it.
But this was perfect. Just the excuse she needed to talk to Dandelion.