The campus was practically empty. Once they were outside, Dandelion took his hood off, giving Hawthorne a full view of his handsome face illuminated by the full moon. She could still feel the effects of the booze, even more so now, thanks to the glorious byproduct of second-hand drinking directly from someone else’s bloodstream.
But Dandelion always looked handsome, drunk or not. She stopped for a moment to admire his features. Would it be so bad if she kissed him, under the starry sky? Maybe then he’d finally see…
“I can’t believe you are feeding on people.” He interrupted her train of thought. “Why, Hawthorne? Did you run out of the plasma juice? I’m sure your mum would have made you more to take back with you…”
She felt a surge of annoyance piercing through her. He wasn’t upset about her being all over that guy, he was upset over her drinking blood.
“It’s no big deal, Dandy.” She forced herself to hide her irritation. “I only take a little bit. I’ve got it under control.”
“But why do it at all? You don’t have to!” It was the first time she’d known him to raise his voice. He seemed to have realised that, continuing in a slightly more subdued tone. “Don’t you know how long your dad went for, having to drink blood because he had no other option to survive, hoping for a way out of it? Why would you go and do it on purpose?”
She shrugged. What was his problem? “Obviously I’m not my dad. He can’t handle it, tough shit. I’m having fun.”
“Fun?” Dandelion repeated incredulously. “Is hurting people fun to you?”
“Oh come on, I don’t take enough to actually hurt them…” And it will stay that way, she told herself, pushing the thought of Chloe’s neck aside. “Nobody’s complained, in fact, I’m pretty sure they’ve enjoyed themselves…”
“You know why I made the plasma fruit?” He interjected. “The vampire coven your dad used to be a part of, we had a brush with them in the past. They almost killed your mum, and for a while there, I was sure they’d find us eventually. So I wanted something to offer them instead of blood, something just as good.”
“They never did find us, luckily.” Dandelion continued. “But your dad told me if they did, the plasma fruit would have never worked anyway, that most vampires would not be interested in it. Something about the call of blood and thrill of the hunt or whatever… I didn’t understand, why would anyone choose to hurt others if there was another way?”
Hawthorne didn’t like where this was going.
“And maybe I was young and naïve then, but… I still don’t understand.” He concluded his speech. “You’re not even fully a vampire. You can survive without blood. Is this call really so strong for you anyway? Or do you just not care? I thought I knew you, Hawthorne.”
This was bad. She needed damage control. “Of course you know me. I’m still the same person!”
“I… I don’t know why I feed. Why does anyone crave anything? Like you said, I’m not fully a vampire, but I’m not fully human either.”
It wasn’t entirely untrue. Hawthorne never gave her reasons for drinking blood much thought. She did it because she wanted to, because it felt good, because she could. But there was no way she could tell him that.
“Look, there’s more sprites over there.” She motioned towards the edge of campus. “Let’s go after them. I’ll show you that door… if you still want to come with me.”
He didn’t reply right away, but eventually, he nodded and headed in the sprites’ direction.
They walked all the way to the castle in silence. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. They were on the verge of uncovering something big together, and he couldn’t even look at her.
It occurred to Hawthorne this was the first time Smokey hadn’t joined her on her little night time expedition with the sprites. Was it because Dandelion was there? Nothing else seemed different. But Smokey knew Dandelion well, so that couldn’t be it.
They reached the large door. Hawthorne finally got the guts to say what she’d been mulling over on the walk over.
“Dandy, I was born different. I do get that I’m privileged, because I get to pick. But it’s not a tough choice – be a plain, boring human or an awesome vampire badass. The two can’t compare.” She tried to explain. “Think about it this way, if you had a super power, would you not use it?”
He gave her a funny look. “Sure I would. And I did. I used my ‘super power’ to make the plasma fruit. To stop people from getting hurt, to make the world a better place. Well ok, maybe it’s a bit more small-scale than the world. But you get the point. The choice I picked was to help people. What does that make yours?”
Hawthorne was speechless. He was way off. What was he accusing her of?
She cleared her throat. “Let’s just get the damn door open.”
The heavy door opened before them as soon as both of the keys were in. But it didn’t feel like a victory. Not the shared moment of discovery Hawthorne had envisaged.
Whatever was behind that door, did it still really matter? Not when he clearly thought the worst of her. And for what? For having a bit of fun?
“You think I’m some kind of villain?” Her words came out angrier and louder than she intended, but it didn’t matter. “Working against you with my evil powers? Because that’s basically what you said, isn’t it?”
“You’re the one who started the whole talk about super powers, not me.” He replied. Unlike her, he sounded calm, just sad. “I don’t think there’s such a thing as villains, so how could you be one? I’m definitely not a hero. I’m just me.”
“And I am me! You’ve known me my whole life.” She pleaded with him desperately.
“I’m starting to think that maybe how long you’ve known someone for doesn’t really make a difference.” He sighed, gazing into the castle court yard. “I think I’ve had enough for one night.”
“Had enough? We’ve only just opened the freaking thing! But you know what? Go! I’ve got the door open, and you clearly don’t care what’s inside, or you’re sick of me, or whatever… well then get the fuck out! I can go in there just fine without you!”
He stared at her in disbelief for a split second. “Fine.” He said eventually. “Whatever. You enjoy whatever’s in there, along with your super powers.” He huffed, turning around.
She watched him walk away from her. It was an odd sensation. She’d lashed out at him before, of course, but it had always been her who got to storm away, with him calling for reconciliation.
If he thought she was going to beg him to come back, he was sorely mistaken, she thought. It was time to figure out what this place was all about.
A party full of drunken students was the last place Alba expected to find leads of any kind. She’d searched so many cities for the traitor, scoured anywhere she could think of for any hints of where this magic realm might lie. But 20 years passed by, and she never discovered anything of significance.
She couldn’t bear going back to her mistress empty-handed, and so her search continued.
Britechester, or more specifically, Gibbs Hill had technically been one of her first stops in her efforts back when she first started her search, given her past experiences there. But much like all those years ago, it had been a dead end, yet another disappointment.
When she happened to find herself in the area 20 years later on New Year’s Eve, all she was expecting was some easy prey to tie her over before she figured out her next move.
Young and reckless mortals like these weren’t really Alba’s preferred kind of prey, but had their benefits. The state of most of the students on campus on New Year’s Eve meant she didn’t have to be particularly discreet.
What she did not expect was to find traces of another vampire. One that took the bare minimum and left their prey alive.
Alba only knew one of their kind who did anything of that sort.
The traitor could have easily blended in on a university campus. Alba was so sure it had to be him…
What she found instead astounded her, and Alba did not think she was still capable of being astounded.
The girl was a vampire, but at the same time, she wasn’t. She herself exuded the same warmth their prey did. She unmistakeably had a pulse. And she was the traitor’s spitting image. How was any of this possible?
When the girl left the party so abruptly, Alba seized the chance and followed.
Her and the young man who was with her, presumably another student, exited the building, surrounded by strange of purple moths of some kind.
Alba wasn’t sure what those could be, but there were more pressing mysteries to solve than odd illuminated insect. She hurried after the duo, preparing to attack.
But before she could strike, a large bird enveloped in flames flew directly at her.
She had never seen anything like it, and she was not keen on getting better acquainted. An ordinary bird’s clawing would have been a minor nuisance, but fire and vampires did not mix. Her pursuit would have to wait.
Alba took on her bat form to try to outmanoeuvre it, but the bird persisted.
Alba wasn’t sure how long they’d been going around in circles, her trying to dodge the bird’s flames. But suddenly, it was gone. Flew off in a haste. But where to?
She felt embarrassingly disorientated. Ever since she became a vampire, Alba took pride in her newly found eyesight. She herself had been like a hawk, her eyes would never miss anything. But now she didn’t have the faintest idea where the bird went, no less the not-quite-a-vampire girl.
Still, all hope wasn’t lost. Someone had to know the girl, know how she was connected to the traitor, or how her existence was even possible.
In the corner of her eye, Alba spotted yet another intoxicated youth wander out of the building.
The castle ruins had several courtyards. Or perhaps some of these used to be rooms. It was too hard to tell, with so much of the ruin open to the night sky.
But one thing Hawthorne had no difficulty telling was which of these courtyards mattered the most. She saw a sea of sprites before her.
But it wasn’t just the sprites she found.
There was a man inside the ruins. Did he live here? More importantly, Hawthorne could tell he was an elf, without a shadow of a doubt.
As a child, she sometimes wondered if any other elves existed somewhere in the world. Clearly, Dandelion and L Faba were the only ones near Glimmerbrook, but there had to be more… seemed she found the answer.
She walked towards him, cursing herself. Dandelion should be here. Why did they have to get into that stupid fight? If more of his kind existed, he needed to know. Whatever this elf knew would definitely mean more to Dandelion than to her. And she messed it up. Messed it up for him.
“Almost three quarters of a century since the gate last opened.” The elf spoke. Perhaps it was the echo in the ruins, but he almost sounded otherworldly to Hawthorne.
“I have expected many kinds of visitors, prepared for them all. I knew it was a matter of time.” He continued. “I did not anticipate a vampire.”
He did not sound friendly. Hawthorne took a step back. “I… I’m not a vampire.”
If she didn’t feel so scared, she would have laughed at her own words. So much for choosing to be a vampire badass. Maybe it was for the best Dandelion wasn’t here after all, to see her react like a pathetic wimp.
“Is that so?” The elf asked. “Have you not consumed the blood of another before coming here?”
How did he know? “Well, yes, but-“
“Silence, vampire.” He stopped her, raising his arm. She found herself unable of making another step. “It makes no difference to me. Whoever the order enlists, I will protect the well all the same. Against vampires, spellcasters, or whoever they send my way.”
The well? The order? What was he talking about? But Hawthorne had no time to respond. As his arm lifted higher, she found her own body being thrust into the air.
She rose into the air slowly, but the fall was abrupt. Her body hit the stone floor in full force.
“Now speak, vampire!” The elf ordered. “How did you open the gate? Where did you get the key?”
She could not answer, could she? If this crazy elf found her family, found Dandelion… Hawthorne swore under her breath. What was she thinking? What a colossal fuck-up…
What would Morgyn do, she wondered? The sage would surely find the elf no match. She desperately wished for them to be there. Even more so, she wished that she’d just left the sprites alone and none of this had happened.
“Answer me!” The elf’s voice echoed through the courtyard.
She felt him taking control of her body again, but something interrupted him.
It all happened so fast. Her phoenix flew in, then she heard Dandelion call out her name, and the old elf just froze. Next thing Hawthorne knew, Dandelion’s arm was reaching towards her.
“Hawthorne! Are you ok?”
She clutched onto his hand as he helped her get up.
“Dandy… you came back for me…” She managed.
“It was Smokey.” Dandelion explained. “He was flying towards the castle. I’ve never seen him move that fast. I had to go after him, to see what…. To see if you… I’m sorry, Hawthorne. I never should have let you go in on your own.”
“I freaking love you!” Hawthorne exclaimed. She wanted to throw herself into his arms so badly. But she realised the other elf was still there. Why was Smokey not handling him? Her phoenix hovered above them, cautious, but not attacking.
Then the old elf finally spoke again, but this time, it was not Hawthorne he was addressing. In fact, it seemed he’d forgotten all about her.
“Denillian? It’s you, it’s really you.”
The glare Dandelion gave the older elf made Hawthorne weak in the knees, and not just because she was bruised.
“You harm Hawthorne again, and I will end you.”
Hawthorne didn’t care Dandelion had no way of acting on his threat. The words alone made her fall in love with him all over again, as if it was possible for her to want him more.
“I was not aware that she was with you. That changes everything, naturally. I apologise, Denillian.” The older elf nodded.
“Why do you keep calling me that?” Dandelion snapped. “I have no idea who you think I am, but I don’t know you.”
“But I know you.” The other elf smiled for the first time. “We have much to catch up on.”