Pulling my hood further over my head, I hiss my reply to Tiffany. “I fell in love with him the first time he spoke.”
Seated next to me on the church roof, she goes back to picking her fingernails with one of the twenty knives stashed on her body. “Yeah. When you thought he was a poet. You can’t be in love with the prince who just signed our death warrants.”
She’s not wrong. I’ve already gone and over thought this a hundred times since he was escorted out of the pub last night by the royal guard. My plan had been to break him out of jail. I was quite surprised to find that he knew them personally and merely got a slap on the wrist for being out past curfew. There are others who didn’t make it out of the pub with their lives.
King Richmond decreed the curfew two months ago to keep ruffians from organizing within the city limits. Ruffians. The word always makes me snort. He seems to think that wearing a gold crown can stop the rest of us from doing what it takes to make a simple living or have a drink to take the edge off of the endless monotony of working until we die.
From our position behind two stone gargoyles, I can just barely make out the prince’s blond hair. It looked silky in the dim glow of the stage candles last night. Today, he barely looks at the crowd formed at his feet. His voice trembles as he reads the words scrawled onto the scroll in his hands.
His heart isn’t in it. Not in the way he proudly enunciated each syllable of his poems last night. He memorized those words. He cared to pause and let the audience drink in the meaning before continuing to the next stanza. Once, his blue eyes caught on me and he stuttered.
He felt it, too.
I just know it.
There’s a thread knotted around my rib that ties me to Prince Castyl Richmond.
“If you don’t shut your mouth, your tongue is going to dry out.”
I snap my jaw closed. Tiffany is a good friend. She’s a better bodyguard. I’m going to have to lose her if I want any chance of getting close to the prince.
“Whatever you’re thinking is stupid. Just drop it,” she growls from her spot, those amber eyes watching me squirm.
I gesture towards her as rudely as possible, my left hand thrown in her direction while my gaze stays pasted onto the prince. From the corner of my eye, I see her stick her tongue at me, the silver ball pierced through it catching the moonlight. Tiffany is a good person. She has her life in order, her moral code intact, and no unjustified love interests. She’s the backbone of her clan and in charge of making sure I don’t get into anything too difficult.
Like a relationship with the son of the man who wants us dead.
Gods. I let my temple rest on the stone gargoyle. I can’t help it. There’s…something about him.
Those cheekbones. The way he rolls his words. That bit of electricity that restarts my heart when he looks in my direction.
Like he is…right now.
Tiffany grabs my arm, tugging me down at she hisses a curse. Bad. Nobody was supposed to see us. There’s a yell from the ground level.
“We have to go now.”
I shrug out of her hold, her sharpened nails sticking to the leather of my jacket. “You have to go.”
Her teeth lengthen as she shakes her head at me. “Non-negotiable, Quinn.”
It’s really difficult being accepted into a group of werewolves. Every argument pretty much spirals into long teeth and longer claws and a lot of saliva. I know she has a job to do. I know my place in their pack as the only mage makes me important. Nobody else can replace the wards and ensure the clan’s safety.
There’s just something that I need to do and I don’t think getting caught by the guards would be a bad thing.
“Let me go, Tiff.”
She’s pulling, her brute strength enough to haul me off my ass. “We’re leaving.”
There’s more yelling from down below. I think they’ve called the archers.
I take a deep breath and pull my ring out of my pocket, the magic stone set into it glowing red as it hums to the power flowing through my veins. “I’m not going to tell you again. You go.”
Somebody demands that we put our hands up. Tiffany is growling. I don’t really have much of a choice, do I?
It’s complicated magic to create a portal. Lucky for me, I had time before the prince’s performance and I already set everything up while Tiffany scouted our spot. It’s basically the first rule of life to come to everything with a back-up plan.
Grabbing Tiffany’s hand, I thrust her towards the circle I created in the dirt. It’s a one stop spell. Unfortunately, she’s aware of how magic works.
The wolf grabs a handkerchief from her pocket and shoves it into my mouth while we wrestle in the circle. “You cannot be serious right now.”
I roll my eyes at her. Oh, I’m serious. Seriously going to meet that prince. It’s my fate. I can feel it in my bones.
Tiffany doesn’t believe in fate or love or basically anything besides what she can do with her own hands. I don’t regret it when I stomp my heel into her foot. There’s a crunch. I wore my heaviest boots on purpose.
Cursing, she lets me go long enough for me to stagger back while I rip the fabric out of my mouth. The magic flares to life, a red light filling in the circle. I yell my spell. Tiffany is there. She’s howling and lunging at me. Then, she’s not.
I’ll be paying for that when I make it home.
If I get to go home.
I walk past the scorch mark left on the roof with my hands over my head. There are indeed several archers pointing very sharp arrows up towards me. The prince is looking up here, too.
I think my heart might explode.
“State your business, vagrant.”
Damn. I forgot how gruff the guards could be. It’s been a whole year since I last took up a cell in a dungeon.
“I just want to talk to you,” I say, clearly and calmly, my gaze never wavering from the prince.
There’s a question on his tongue. I don’t hear it, though. An arrow whizzes through the air. I move too late.
Fire burns through my shoulder as I topple forward. Blood drenches my coat. The gargoyle’s wing slips through my fingertips.
The ground is coming fast. I shut my eyes. I suppose my death will at least linger in the prince’s memory for a moment.
Something stops my fall, though. The wind. A strong gust. I open my eyes.
Magic is very forbidden. It’s bad enough that I have magic in my veins. It’s going to be a much bigger problem that the only person here with their hand outstretched is the prince.
Prince Castyl Richmond just saved my life.
And put his own on the line.
I shut my eyes again as I gently drop to the ground and the guards start to converge.
If we make it through this, we’re going to have the most epic love story.
Happy Saturday! Thank you for reading this short story. I got the dialogue prompt off of Pinterest and just ran with the idea of a character falling in love with someone based off of the first words they said.
Let me know what you thought in the comments below!
I don’t think I’ll ever grow bored of the way Erisa Nabil murmurs every sentence. She curls up like a cat next to me, her legs crossed as she settles into the booth, her long fingers wrapped around the neck of an expensive bottle of vodka she has definitely not been sharing with the regular guests. She’s celebrating.
“We still have to make it to midnight,” I tease, her good mood already pushing away the nervous edge that has clung to me all night.
I don’t move away when she presses closer to me, our shoulders touch as she lets her head rest on the back of the tall seat. Under the table, our thighs brush, neither of us dressed in anything that covers us. Just my bare skin against hers.
I barely manage to blow out a stuttering breath. This. It’s… electric.
I mentioned it to Ashby once in the first few months here in Las Vegas. He told me it was normal. Erisa has had plenty of lifetimes to create her perfectly brittle exterior. She knows how to lure her prey in by seeming demure and wanton. It’s a piece of ancient magic very alive in her amber eyes.
It happens to everyone.
Except, I don’t think she treats me like anyone else. There’s a purr to her words that vanishes when shouting commands to our staff. She chooses her words carefully when she speaks to me. Any other time, she’s lightning fast wit that could give whiplash to our drunk and handsy regulars.
This, I think, is something else.
I’m supposed to be going back to the hotel to give Ashby his midnight kiss for the new year, but I’ve come up with a thousand excuses over the last fifteen minutes to linger here. I can still make it if I leave in the next five minutes. I can just hail down a cab and hop on over to the street and meet him outside where I know he’s probably already pacing.
I wanted to see her before I stepped out, though. See her smile. See her shimmer in the glow of success. Erisa Nabil was supposed to be a queen in her past life. I like her very much as a business owner, though.
“Even if everyone left now instead of waiting the next ten minutes, we would be up in profits for the entire year. We’ve done as much tonight as I usually do in a month.” Her eyes are open as she looks down at me, a hidden message sitting there behind her pupils just out of my reach. “You made this happen, Lucy Lore.”
She tips her slender neck back and drinks straight from the bottle before shoving it in my direction. I shouldn’t. My head is already fuzzy and I have to make it back to the hotel. At least, I think I tell her that I shouldn’t. Before I know it, however, the hot liquid is burning the back of my throat while the lingering flavor of her dragon fruit lip gloss clings to my tongue.
The bottle ends up on the table. Her fingers are cradling my face. I think she asks me a question.
I don’t know what it is, just that my answer is yes. If she’s asking, the answer will always be yes.
Leaning forward, Erisa presses her mouth to mine. She’s all demand. Her fangs pull at my bottom lip, not enough to break the skin, but hard enough to remind me that she’s more than capable of tearing me apart piece by delicate piece.
I think I would like it.
I’m not thinking.
Shaking my head, I struggle out of her grasp. “I have to go.”
Her fingers form a gentle circle around my wrist. There’s a request written across her vulnerable expression. I just shake my head.
This is getting out of hand. I have other promises to uphold. I’ll see her next time we work.
No words pass my lips, but she lets me go. I hope she understands. I need her to understand. My heart is spoken for already and I won’t be the one to teach Ashby Carter about infidelity.
We have a good relationship. Me and Ris. We work well together. I love my job and our time together, but I can’t offer her much else. No matter how much I want to turn around and ask her to kiss me again.
A small voice in the back of my mind tries to reason that Ashby would understand. Syrens and vampires have always been bound together. Somehow my bloodline was always meant to find that of a Nabil, a creature old enough that it predates the science that created Ashby and his brothers.
The rest of my liquored brain is blaring an alarm to get out now and I listen to it, staggering out on my heels against the flux of hot bodies and confetti poppers people are setting off early for the occasion. Swiveling lights meant for the disco balls near the ceiling pierce my eyes as I make my way to the door. Out. I need to get out and everyone is in the way. My success is now my downfall as I grumble apologies to the three hundred excited participants of our little rebranding event and shove towards the exit.
Finally. I suck in a huge gulp of air as I pass the door.
And then realize that I didn’t grab my purse or my coat.
Rain splashes onto the sidewalk. I linger in the overhand of the building and stare at it. Water has never bothered me before. I used to live by the ocean and swim in its frozen waves.
I can handle a brisk walk in the rain.
I have to because there’s no way I’m heading back into that club and chancing another intimate moment with Erisa. I don’t have my phone, so I can’t call Ashby. I don’t have my wallet, so there’s no way to pay a cab. My feet work fine, though.
I can do this. I can do this. I’m pretty sure I can do this.
It’s only two blocks to the hotel.
I make it out from under the awning. The rain finds me immediately, reveling in the low cut dress that leaves my chest and most of my back open for its icy touch. Three steps into my journey and I already have my arms crossed in front of myself to ward off the cold as my jaw clenches in an attempt to stop my teeth from chattering.
This is a bad idea. I’m not going to go back, though.
Head down, I trudge along the sidewalk. A car zooms by on my right. I barely see the wave of water it splashes my way before it dunks me from head to toe.
Hot tears leak from my eyes as I pull the drenched scrunchie out of my leaking hair and brush it back from my face. It’s not even supposed to rain this much in the desert. This has to be karma. It’s what I deserve for getting carried away on the magic of Erisa Nabil.
I glance up in time to see Ashby jog across the street. He has his jacket off by the time he gets to me, throwing it over my shoulders before I can protest or tell him that I’m not worth his chivalrous behavior. He’s such a good guy and I…
I don’t know what I am.
My heart is too big. I have too many emotions. I think, given the chance in another lifetime, I could definitely love Erisa just as much as I do Ashby.
Which, if I believe the common media, makes me a whore. A cheater. A bad woman.
Ashby has me wrapped in his coat and whisked off to the hotel room in no time, his dark magic sweeping us off of the wet streets. The constant pelting of fat rain drops is replaced with numbing nothingness. It’s quiet in the room. Candles line the windowsill and rose petals cover the bedspread.
Ashby Carter is too good for me.
I’m sobbing before he has a chance to ask me what’s wrong. Too cold, too overwhelmed, I can’t feel my legs. Somehow I end up on the ground. Ashby follows, crouching next to me with a towel to dry the water from my face.
“Hey, it’s okay. Ris called. I’m not upset.”
He has to repeat himself four or five times before any of his words actually penetrate the grief building a fortress around my mind. “She told you we kissed?”
He offers a lopsided grin as I clap a hand over my traitorous lips. “She forgets her manners when she’s happy. It’s okay. You can’t guess how many times she’s kissed me or one of my brothers.”
A hiccup bubbles out from me as I try to swallow my heavy breaths and calm down. He knows. Ashby knows and he’s not mad.
Somewhere down the hall, there’s cheers from other guests. It must be midnight. Ashby glances to my lips.
“What’s your wish for the new year, Lady Lore?”
“To be enough for you,” I whisper immediately.
He shakes his head. “You are. You always will be. Promise to always come back to me?”
Forgetting my wet clothes and misery, I throw my arms around his neck as I crawl into his lap. “Of course I promise.”
He doesn’t complain about my cold body as he presses a kiss to my head. “I promise, too. Always, Lucy Lore. No matter what happens in the next year or the next ten or the next fifty if you’ll give me all that time, I will always be here and I will always love you.”
“I love you.”
My words are eclipsed by his lips. We kiss. He’s a decadent chocolate meant to be unwrapped slowly before thoroughly enjoyed. He’s the warmth of a fire when I just stumbled in from a hurricane. He’s warm and safe and mine.
He doesn’t fill me with electricity like Erisa. And that’s okay.
I think that everything will be okay. As long as we’re together and honest and true to ourselves.
The new year rings in. We’re together on the floor and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Happy New Year to all of my favorite readers! It has been a whirlwind six months for me, going from keeping every snippet of my writing saved in a drawer in my desk to putting a little bit of different characters onto this blog to publishing whole chapters on Lore. Every view and comment and congratulations in person has made me feel validated and loved and pushed forward on this reckless attempt to be a “real” writer.
I am nervous and excited to start this new year. Nervous that this was all a fluke and I’ll suddenly fail. Excited that maybe I won’t and that I have no real idea of what success is going to look like in the coming months. I have plans to start more published series on kindle vella as well as working out a schedule to post more frequently here. No matter where the next year takes me in my writing journey, it started here at the gentle suggestion from Bridgette to actually show people my writing. I will always be grateful for that push and for the feedback I got in these first months.
You, readers, are the reason I haven’t given up. Thank you for coming back week after week.
If you enjoyed this story, please leave a like and a comment in the section down below. If you want more of Lucy and Ashby and Erisa, be sure to check out Lore on kindle vella: Lore by Angelica Reece
As always, please take an extra minute to read Bridgette’s amazing story and follow her page to see where the new year takes her as well!
Olivia clears her throat. “Do you think this calls for an apology?”
Never. I shake my head, my gaze flicking between the raspberry mush in the microwave and the body by the fireplace. “He broke into my house.”
Her laugh carries no real merriment as she paces the length of the room, her cloak fluttering around her legs. “It’s kind of his thing, Avery.”
Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know that. I didn’t freaking believe it.
There’s nothing I can really do about it now. The chubby, red-suited fool got caught in my bubbling cauldron like it was a snare set out for a much more malicious entity. There was a quick shout and then he hit his head and passed out.
I’m still learning how to become the matriarch of our coven and now I’m faced with a seemingly impossible situation. Either I finish the spell Santa Claus ruined and tide us over for another year, or I save his life and the benign magic the humans look forward to every December.
There’s no way to choose.
“I don’t understand why you find this so hard. Send a letter to the North Pole or whatever, tell them they have to find another guy to sit in the sleigh, and use your limited magic to give back to the coven, Ave.”
Olivia is my voice of reason. I called her immediately. She arrived in a burst of purple smoke with wide eyes and a smirk, her feline expression immediately taking in the collapsed form by the fireplace and jumping into new plans.
In rapid succession, she voiced her ideas. She suggested disposing of the body with a spell containing fireplace soot and a bottle of vinegar. She told me to save my magic and move houses, leaving him here for the New Orleans police to find sometime after the holiday. She even suggested doing nothing and focusing solely on the spell trying to bubble in my caldron, the spell that’ll give magic back to the other witches who depend on the yearly routine to be able to do more than a simple levitation throughout the long months.
It’s a yearly sacrafice. The magic festered under my skin starting last Monday. It seeped out of the other witches and returned to me, having been my mother’s before her recent passing. I could see pink specks of it color the air as it gathered in my home and infiltrated my body, wriggling under my fingernails and burrowing into my pores. To hold all of this magic is overwhelming. It takes all of my conscious energy to simply stay planted on the ground when all of this mystical dust wants to float me away to the ceiling and then out into the great beyond.
One witch each year holds the power to change the world and it is our duty to return it to those who dutifully released it to us.
The microwave dings before I can get any further into thinking about what I’m going to do with ‘ol Saint Nick. Olivia wrinkles her nose as I open it, the tart smell of raspberries overtaking my apartment.
“I do hope you aren’t planning to share a slice of that. I think it’s burnt.”
I shake my head. “That’s the sage I mixed in. It should wake him up if I hold it under his nose.”
Of course, it doesn’t. Kneeling next to the unconscious man, I wave the raspberries near him. I flap my fingers in his direction. I even conjure a little tornado to specifically carry the smell straight to his nostrils.
It does nothing.
Crap and fiddlesticks. Why did he have to come in here? I shouldn’t be on his goddamn list. I don’t celebrate his holiday or look forward to strangers breaking into my apartment. All of the different herbs hanging from the rafters make a point of keeping most malicious entities out of here. Mr. Claus apparently didn’t get the memo.
Olivia crosses her arms and taps her boot heel to get my attention. “Hey. We only have the duration of the peak of the full moon. You need to finish the spell.”
I know that. I can feel the magic getting jittery along my bones, begging me to put it to good use. My job is to return it, though, not use it.
Of course, this is a bit of a different circumstance.
“One spell,” I whisper, so that only I and my unconscious acquaintance can hear.
Olivia, obviously, isn’t going to go for it, so I make a big deal of crossing the room to check out my mother’s spell book. “Liv, I need you to grab me two canisters of mustard seed.”
“You mean eye of newt?” She teases, rolling her heavily lined eyes at my refusal to use the old lingo for these spells.
“You know what I want. And grab a bushel of lavender and a sack of honeycomb, too.”
She leaves in a poof. I don’t have much time.
I toss my spell book to the side. Mom wanted me to be a good witch. She wanted me to focus on my cauldron work and never depend on the yearly dispersal of real magic. We just weren’t that kind of witch, she would say. We’re the kind that depend on nature and its limitless gifts.
Except, I’m not.
I’m full of this electrifying power and I know that I saw something in this little black book I picked up at a tavern a few months ago.
Something to revive. Something to help a body thrive. Something to help him survive.
The book tingles under my fingerprints, humming as if it too cannot wait for me to pick the right spell and give this magic a whirl. I shouldn’t. Hesitating, I glance again to the red-suited man that this world looks forward to every year. I must.
Of course, this isn’t entirely my fault. The guy is supposed to check his list twice before jumping into any old chimney.
I’ll fix him up and send him on his way and, if I’m quick, I’ll still have time to share the magic with the other witches. There’s a whole six minutes left before the window for my spell. They probably won’t even notice the little bit I borrowed for this jolly fellow.
At least, that’s what I hope as I clear my throat and clearly enunciate the words on the page. I don’t know what language they’re in. Something Latin-based. Not something I recognize, though. Hopefully, I pronounce it closely enough.
When I’ve seen other witches perform magic, the spell usually starts at their chest, little sparks flaring like fireflies bursting to life around them. Mine, though, doesn’t. It shoots straight out of my extended fingertips. Not yellow, but maroon.
The magic flies straight for the man on the floor. It sizzles and pops, swirling around his head and then disappearing into his nostrils.
There’s a long moment in which I think I might have made the situation worse. I can’t see the magic. He’s not moving. Christmas is over and I’m about to be the world’s most hated witch.
Then, he sucks in a gasp and rolls over to cough up burgundy sparks onto my antique carpet.
It worked. Now, I just need him on his feet and out before Olivia can try to stop me.
Crossing the room to him, I hold out a hand as he carefully pushes up to a sitting position. “Sorry about the cauldron. I really wasn’t expecting a visitor.”
He lets out a raspy laugh that sounds too similar to the “ho, ho, ho” he’s known for. “No need to apologize, Avery. It was my mistake.” The guy lets out a hefty breath as I help heave him to his feet and then hold out my hands to steady him. “How may I repay you?”
I shake my head. “Totally unnecessary. Just have a good night and a merry Christmas and get out of here. You’ve got a lot of people to help.”
“There must be something I can do,” he insists, reaching into his pocket to put on some old spectacles.
Purple mist appears to my left. Out of time. I try to pull Mr. Claus to the door, but he’s not budging.
Olivia drops the ingredients as her jaw falls open. “You. Did. Not!”
Oh, but I did. This is bad.
“I can still do the spell. We have,” I glance at my watch, “four minutes. Let’s toss everything in, stir counterclockwise and get this show on the road.”
“You broke the law, Ave. You can’t use magic that isn’t yours. Do you know what will happen if the council finds out?”
I imagine it has something to do with ropes and a mighty hot fire. “The only people who know are you and me and him, so we’re fine. Let’s just do the spell.”
She shakes her head and staggers back a step, her heeled boot thudding heavily on these old floors. “It’s my duty to report this, Avery. I can’t burn with you.”
There’s no time to convince her otherwise. Purple smoke makes me cough as she vanishes.
Toad toes and crab claws. This is bad. This is really freakin’ bad.
I’m not alone, though.
Turning to the big guy at my side, I blow out a slow breath. “I think there is something you can do for me.”
He nods immediately, somehow already following my train of thought. “My sleigh has enough room for the both of us.”
And so, I grabbed a bag with my emergency essentials and then fled into the night, the sound of sleigh bells covering the panicky thud of my heart.
A merry Xmas eve to everyone who celebrates! I hope you have a wonderful time with your friends and families and look forward to Mr. Claus’ arrival.
Thank you so much for taking a moment out of a chaotic holiday schedule to read this cute story. Leave a like and a comment in the area below to let me know if you enjoyed it 🙂
The butcher next door sent us a pot roast for the coming holiday. Luna has it chilling in one of the employee fridges downstairs while she keeps me up on a ladder. I convinced her not to force me to decorate outside, but I have twelve boxes of tinsel and baubles and identical red ribbons to disperse through the library.
There’s three levels for my festive obligation. Two for guests. One for us. Especially funny or slightly inappropriate signs get put in a separate pile to be used in the employee quarters.
Stepping down, I move the ladder over another shelf and then climb back up. I would argue this as an abuse of Luna’s employer rights to have me on a ladder in the middle of the night making this place a holiday wonderland before the children and avid readers can come back tomorrow, but I don’t really mind. She’s done too much for me since my head injury. I’ve had amnesia for well over a year now with no indication that I’m ever going to remember what my life was like before she took pity on me and gave me a job and a purpose at this quaint library.
Luna broke a lot of rules to get me in here. I didn’t have any legal identification to submit. I don’t even remember getting here, but when I told her she didn’t have to help me, she just smiled and promised that this kind of thing was what librarians lived for.
There’s a couple of other employees who fill in throughout the week, but it’s usually just the two of us here. I really wouldn’t have it any other way. The others are fine. The readers are nice. But Luna is the best.
I don’t know how to put it into words. I get a warm, fuzzy sensation in my chest when I look at her in her oversized, purple sweater and round golden glasses. Her hair is always thrown into a messy bun to keep it out of her eyes while she reads and bustles around this place. The library wouldn’t stand without Luna. I swear some of the books lean out of their shelves and peek at her in the same way I do whenever she walks by on a mission to another part of this old place.
That’s her. I swivel to find her with her arms wrapped around yet another box. Through the partically open flaps, I can see that this one is full of stars in a million sparkling colors.
“I’m so sorry, but I just found this one downstairs. Do you think you could do them across the ceiling in the children’s reading area?”
She could ask me to catch and slay a dragon and I would say yes. Nodding down to her, I give a thumbs up. The work truly doesn’t matter. I get to do it in this place with her and that makes me so bloody happy.
“I have one more favor to ask,” she calls up to me after I turn back around to finish securing my tinsel.
“Yes,” I answer, eyes forward on the sparkling bits of plastic that seem to bring our readers far too much happiness.
She lets out a giggle, her simple mirth-filled sound infectious as I let myself blow out a chuckle. “I didn’t even ask it yet. How do you know the answer is yes?”
Turning back around, I grin down at her. “It’s always yes, Luna. Whatever you need.”
Her lips twist as she squints up at me. “What if I asked you to clean the toilets?”
I shrug. “Yes.”
“Or I told you I needed you to scrape the pigeon droppings from the roof?”
“Yes,” I’m barely holding in laughter as I step down the ladder.
When I’m on solid ground once more, I step over a couple of boxes to share the same small aisle with her. We’re shoulder to shoulder with the contemporary and historical romance novels. Dozen of tiny eyes stare at us from the shelves as I wait for her next question.
She steps back a step, some of the joy of the moment fading from her eyes. “You’re too nice, Liam.”
“I don’t see how that would be a problem.”
She rakes her fingers back through her frizzy hair. “Of course you don’t know it’s a problem. That’s the whole tragic flaw in your character.”
Usually, I wouldn’t think twice about the odd way Luna speaks. She lives in these shelves and breathes the air of these old books every single day. Literature is in her veins. She makes odd comparisons to novels all the time.
She’s not usually upset about it, though.
So, instead of doing the smart thing and letting this go, I push her to explain. She lets out a strangled sigh and starts to walk away, muttering that she can’t tell me the truth without telling me the truth and I have no idea what that means.
Abandoning the decorations, I follow her past the fantasy books and the horror novels and the poetry section on the way to the employee stairwell. She’s already through the door, the heavy thing thudding shut behind her before I can grab it. I watch her brown hair bob as she takes the stairs two at a time in a near jog away from me.
I can’t leave her to just be upset. Maybe I am too nice, but she’s done a thousand tiny things for me since I stumbled into this little town with nothing except the clothes on my body. She even converted one of the office spaces downstairs into a bedroom for me to use while I try to figure out who I am. Nobody accepts the credit of a person without photo identification or a birth certificate. Without Luna, I wouldn’t have a place to stay or a place to work or a purpose in this world.
I think it’s only right that I’m too nice in return.
Taking my time going down the stairs, the worn handles sliding easily under my fingertips, I amble down to the employee area. I don’t have to look around for her. She’s going to be in her personal library. The little room has enough space for two shelves packed with books that are out of print or too battered to be put back out on the floor and her reading chair. It’s her place of comfort. It’s the one place she could try to lock me out of since I have a set of keys to the rest of the doors.
As suspected, the door is shut and locked when I make it down the hall. Letting my forehead rest on the cool wood, I try to listen for any sounds from the other side. There’s some rustling. Perhaps she’s already flopped into her chair with a favorite book and she’s trying to find that one specific page that brings her joy.
No matter what’s happening in there, we still need to talk. I’m not going back up that ladder until I know she’s okay and she tells me what exactly I did to cause this reaction.
The door flings open before I can get her name out of my mouth. Stumbling forward, I fall into her and the book shoved my way. She’s talking before I can steady myself or get out the next question.
“You don’t have amnesia, Liam.”
That has my attention. The old book now in my hands has no cover. It’s just a green volume with wrinkled yellow pages. Nothing special at first glance, but clearly loved by its weathered condition.
“Of course I do. I didn’t even know my name when I got here.”
She shakes her head, her eyes too wide behind her lenses. “You’re not a real person.”
Maybe she had too much spiced eggnog. This is getting increasingly worrying. I don’t have a question at the front of my mind. Well, more honestly, I have a hundred questions, but I can’t figure out how to form any of them into words before she lets out an exasperated moan and snatches the book back out of my hands.
Ripping it open, she flips through it until she finds whatever she’s looking for and then shoves it back in my direction. Her pink, painted nail points to a sketch with a single word caption: Liam.
That’s my name. That’s certainly a drawing of my face. I trace the jawline and the nose before glancing towards her.
“What is this?”
“You were so nice,” she remarks again, her voice too high pitched. “But the writer gave you a terrible end and I just wanted to help.”
I’m not following this conversation. “This is a book, Luna. Just a story. It looks like me, but I’m sure it’s a coincidence and-.”
She shakes her head. “Just listen. It is you. You don’t really think you just stumbled by my library and then I took you in, do you?”
Of course I do. That’s been my daily background for the last year. I’ve lost my mind and Luna took pity on me and I work really hard to make sure she understands that I appreciate her.
When I don’t answer, she scrambles to continue, “Okay. I know this sounds crazy, but magic is real. Most people don’t believe it and they probably won’t ever see it, but I can and I found a spell in one of these books,” she flings her hand behind her to draw my attention to the haphazard stack of ragged volumes. “I used it. On you. And now you’re in this world instead of dying in this book.”
Oh. Okay. That seems perfectly logical. I keep my sarcasm tucked behind my locked jaw as I continue to stare at her.
“You can say something now,” she prompts, her fingers curling into nervous fists at her sides.
“I don’t know what you want me to say.”
She sighs. “You don’t believe me, do you?”
I shrug. “I think you think this happened, but it’s been a really long day and we should probably get some rest be-.”
Luna isn’t sticking around to hear what I have to say. Turning away from me, she grabs her reading chair and, using the full force of her petite frame, drags it away from the center of the space. I want to ask what she’s doing, but I don’t need to. There’s a hidden door.
Opening it, she steps down onto the ladder. “I wasn’t going to tell you anything, but the magic has gotten out of hand and there’s a leak and I can’t just keep this a secret forever.”
I stay in the main room, holding the book with my face and leaning over to try to see into her secret space. She’s back up in a minute, a wire cage in her hand. “Page 67, Liam.”
I don’t have to turn the pages to know what she has trapped in that very small cage. “So, dragons are real?”
With a skittish nod, she climbs off of the ladder and sits on the floor with the scaly creature tucked onto her lap. I sink down to be across from her as she tells me the story of how her magic escaped and I’m now not the only fictional character to make my way into this world — her world.
“I’m sure you’re upset and confused and I completely understand, but you’re kind of the only person I can ask to help me.”
She’s right. What I thought would be a typical day has now been flipped upside down and shaken around for good measure. That doesn’t change anything between us, though.
Reaching across, I let the lizard with wings smell my fingers while I look ahead to the girl who brought a book to life. “Yes. I’ll help you.”
I had no idea what I was writing when Bridgette sent me this prompt. I usually have no idea, but this vague “day in the life” prompt really threw a wrench at my personal muse. Tossing aside my usual vampires, I had to search for someone with a more interesting spark.
Liam is a character I once wrote an entire Hallmark-esque novel about ten years ago. He’s a hero in every sense of the word. Got the girl, saved the day, did everything he had to in order to fill his position. I just don’t love writing contemporary romance, so threw the book in a dark drawer to rot while I wrote about vampires and danger.
I think he’s going to be amazing in this magic filled fantasy alongside Luna the librarian/amateur witch.
Thanks for coming this week! Please leave your comments and thoughts in the section below. Reader insight is the best motivation to moving forward with these different projects.
Somewhere in the rafters above me a parakeet squawks. My father’s friend refuses to have a normal pet. She signed up instead for a service bird who has managed to escape every attempt she’s made to take him to Sunday service.
Maybe he’s a demon trapped in the tiny body and trying to run away from this cathedral before the singing commences.
In that sense, he and I would have some common ground.
My heels drag with each step. There’s a pounding in my skull that gets incessantly louder the further I make it into this holy place. My skin doesn’t burn, though. I don’t feel like I’m going to spontaneously combust or puke out the virus that has attached itself to my system.
The virus that I had hated until it saved my life.
My limbs heavy, I press forward past a handful of bystanders who pretend not to see me. Everyone says help is at the church. It sure is for the wealthy and the affluent. Me, though, in my bloodstained shirt and bare feet, I look like a dead man walking, a bad omen that they would rather avoid than face head on.
Ash coats my tongue from laying face to face with Death all last night. Some might argue that destiny finally caught up with me. I’d argue that a coward with a hammer caught me off guard.
There has to be cracks in my skull from the impact. At least, there were several hours ago. I heard the crunch and then laid on the cold concrete while the insidious disease I contracted a few weeks ago carefully put my fractured bits back together like they were only pieces to a simple puzzle.
My vision wavers as I take another step forward. My right side swings forward fine. My left leg drags. I continue in that movement as wave after wave of nausea tries to overtake me. I continue anyway, my limp more and more pronounced with each step closer to the front of the cathedral. The bishop is speaking over my movements, pretending that I’m not getting closer and closer to his precious grasp on this audience.
“Where’s my mother?” I gasp over the pain lancing from my shoulder down through my ankle.
He doesn’t even bother to look at me. Someone nearby tries to hush me. I’m not about to be silenced. My life on the line, the life of my family as it currently stands is in danger. I won’t just be shushed and pushed aside.
I make it almost to the first step up towards his lifted podium before someone actually gets up to stop me. The bishop never stops speaking. He doesn’t hesitate to spread lies to these gullible people.
“Let me go,” I growl, my hold on the virus slipping as my vision turns red and claws extend on my left hand.
I haven’t had nearly enough time to come to grips with the supposed vampire variant. I didn’t even believe it was real until a few days after my run-in with the savvy businessman. The guy who exposed me to the virus left me a number to call if the shit hit the fan. He wasn’t exactly in a place to educate me while I fought to suck in a simple breath of air. He, though, had more civilized compassion than the person who attacked me last night.
The good samaritan who came to my side is babbling about a hospital when he notices that my eyes aren’t a normal shade. Jumping back from me, he clutches at the crucifix around his throat while some kind of garbled prayer sprays from his lips. If I was a Dracula knock off, that might have done something. Since I’m a very real, likely an invincible recreation of Stoker’s first imagined creature, it does absolutely nothing.
I make it up the first step before another voice rings through the confused din of the audience. “Erik!”
Mom. Mother. The high heeled attacker who left me for dead in a cold alley.
Glaring at the Bishop, I watch as his hands tremble over his text. Another time. I’m not going to forget the person who brainwashed my mother and then sent her after me.
I am going to deal with her first.
Staggering away from the front of the cathedral, I follow her out the side door and into a dim hallway. She’s uninjured and far faster than me. While the beast resting just under the surface of my skin wants bloodshed and revenge, I only want to talk.
She’s nowhere to be seen.
Leaning against the stone wall, I squint into the next room. Some kind of archive. Maybe just an individual prayer room with a stack of ancient texts for every need.
She’s in there.
“Does Dad know?” I ask the room as I step past the door frame.
She seemingly materializes from an exit across the room. Hiding. It’s not really the way innocent people act.
“He knows you got into some trouble.”
Right. Dad runs a bakery. He was injured in the army a long time ago and now she coddles him from the real nasty bits of our world.
“So, you left out the part where you tried to kill me?”
She doesn’t flinch at the statement. I thought she would show some emotion. Maybe she would take a breath to beg for my forgiveness. Instead, she straightens her shoulders and looks down her nose at me even though I’ve been taller than her since I turned fifteen.
“When you started sneaking around with questionable men, you betrayed the family. You’re not human anymore, Erik. If you cared for any of us, you would take care of this mess yourself.”
I’m going to puke.
“Kill myself,” I breathe, the words barely penetrating the thick air between us.
She shrugs, her thin frame wrapped in a jacket. Like this, she just looks like the woman who used to stand in the kitchen and ask about my grades. That’s not who she is now. It’s more than the additional lines around her lips and eyes or the gray strands she can’t seem to keep covered with expensive dyes in her hair. She chose the goddamned Bishop over the rest of us, vowing her life to his secret society.
One that dislikes anyone who strays from the traditional path and despises vampires.
“It’s the best choice for the family.”
Of course. The family is the most important thing. We’re not supposed to upset Dad’s life or distract Malcolm from his booming security business. We’re just expected to keep our chins up and our mouths shut.
I haven’t ratted Mom out in years. She’s been moving family funds around and going to these secret meetings with the Bishop and his followers. I open my mouth to argue with her and then firmly shut it.
There’s no point. I dragged myself off of the ground and came here to make a statement.
But it doesn’t matter.
“Tell Dad I died. I’ll get out of your life.”
For the first time since we came face to face, her stern mask cracks. There’s something else underneath. Likely not sadness since she was already prepared to wipe me off the planet with nothing more than a hammer and her personal conviction.
“Where will you go?”
That has to be a ploy. She isn’t really going to let me walk out of here. Is she?
I shrug, the action making everything on the right side of my body ache. “Anywhere that isn’t here.”
“You can’t reach out to your brother.”
It would defeat the purpose of faking my death if Malcolm was aware that I was alive. I’m not willing to keep playing these games. I’m mad, really fucking mad about all of this, but it’s not a fight I can win on my own.
We’re at a standstill. I don’t know if we’re supposed to say more. There’s no way that I’ll be trading statements of love and well being.
It really, really sucks.
But I know when I have to throw in the towel.
I didn’t stumble through college just to die in an alleyway.
I’ve got dreams and I know there’s places for me to follow them. There’s a mysterious number in my phone for me to call. I’ll see where that lead takes me while I buy a ticket out of town.
Still, I don’t know if there’s something else to do. I went through all of the effort to chase her down and say something. Is this really how we’re going to leave things?
I don’t get a chance to make that decision. She reaches into her pocket and pulls out her phone, clicking through several screens before her dark eyes, the same dark eyes I inherited, pin me to my spot.
“I can buy you eight minutes. Get out. The others are coming.”
A last minute show of loyalty or just a way for her to force me out of her life, I don’t think twice about turning away and limping down the next hall. The door closes behind me with a final thud. Half dead, rage and disgust and grief rampaging through my intestines, I keep my eyes forward.
It’s time to see where life will take me.
This writer is physically and mentally exhausted. November has been a very long month packed with keeping up with all of my usual updates and working on the NaNoWriMo challenge.
I started this prompt this morning with a vague idea that I would introduce yet another one of my characters. If you enjoyed The Last Dance a couple of weeks ago, I’m happy to introduce Erik as the stranger that whisked Miles away at the end. Erik’s story is going to play with familial tension and a resistance to religion as he tries to find himself in this terribly complex world.
As always, thank you for coming to read this blog and support my dream to write. It has meant the world to me these last few months.
Please check out Bridgette’s story as well on the theme of chasing an enemy: Chalky Hands
And if you’re reading Lore, come meet Erisa Nabil through Ashby’s eyes: Lore by A D Reece
Matthew secures the mask over my face and then steps back to look at me. “You’re divine, darling.”
I don’t bother to look in the mirror or offer my opinion. This doesn’t need to be a controversy between us. If he says I look better with my face covered, then so be it.
I take a deep breath and try to push down the juvenile need to rip off this entire outfit and hide in my room. Instead, I perform the twirl that Matthew is asking for as he claps and tosses praise my way.
Maybe it will be a good night. He’s gone out of his way to make this an event for me. I flash him an awkward smile, the edges of my mask pressing into my lips.
“You’re going to enjoy the carnival themes, darling,” Matthew continues talking, holding his arm out for me to grab as he sweeps us out of the room. “Everyone will be dressed well and have masks and then there’s all sorts of apple treats and I even got a pianist to come play.”
Lucy isn’t performing?
I jot the words onto my pocket notepad in a quick rush.
Matt shakes his head. “She had other plans.”
Oh. It’s fine. I try to breathe past the rock now settling in my chest. This is okay. I’m great. She’s allowed to have a life outside of me. A dark little whisper at the back of my mind whines that something is wrong, but I shake it off. I just thought she would have done something special for my birthday.
No worries. My husband hasn’t let me out of his sight today and I’m in for an evening of perfectly executed activities orchestrated by the great Matthew Krawlski.
We enter the elevator together as I stuff away my pad of paper, Matt stepping in first as I follow a step behind before coming to stand at his side. He presses the button to plummet us to the bottom, keying in a special code to keep the doors for opening for anyone else in the hotel. I stare straight ahead, my eyes catching on the gold mask covering my face. It follows the curve of my cheekbones, arching over my nose and sealing itself to my features. There’s no embellishments or feathers or anything fun. Its solid gold form fitted to conceal my identity.
Matthew made a point of physically turning me into a trophy husband.
Whatever. It doesn’t matter. He isn’t even wearing a mask. Matthew Krawlski isn’t the kind of man who hides his face when he can flash people his charming smile and get people to simply do anything he asks.
It doesn’t bother me. It shouldn’t bother me.
I don’t know why my head is such a mess today.
I take a shuddering breath as the elevator eases down to the lowest level. Here we go. Time to be excited for a party I didn’t ask to have.
The doors slide open. I wrinkle my nose. Sassafras. It’s not my favorite smell. Sweet and woodsy. The cloying quality of it makes me sick to my stomach. Matt takes a deep breath, though, so I don’t say anything as he leads me out into the dimly lit room.
The party is already in full swing. There have to be over two hundred people milling about in the space below. Matthew clears his throat. I don’t need him to verbally lecture me right now.
Eyes forward, shoulders straight, and for the life of me, I need to not trip down the stairs.
The music is silenced. Our names are announced. People cheer as Matt waves and walks with me down the spiral staircase meant for these theatrics.
When we reach the bottom, my too shiny shoes squeaking across the polished tiles, Matt clears his throat and looks out at the crowd that looks as excited to praise us as they would be to rip us to shreds. “Thank you all for being here. My husband’s birthday is a grand affair. I even got him out of his room.”
There’s chuckles through the surrounding group. To them, I’m a weird recluse, a nobody, a man who sunk my claws into Matt for his money and didn’t look back. Nobody knows the real reason Matthew so rarely drags me out to these affairs. They don’t know that I truly have claws and not enough self-control to always hide them.
Deep breath. Again. My last therapist insisted that breathing was the key to everything.
I can’t tell if it’s working as Matt signals to someone in the crowd and the lights turn a moody red. Everyone is ushered to the sides. A piano is lifted up onto a stage and light music begins to play at the whim of the pianist.
“I hired him just for you, darling. He plays all that classical shit you adore.”
If anybody else was nearby, Matt wouldn’t curse. He feels comfortable here. He thinks he’s done a good job.
We walk by a large table filled with food. There’s chocolate fountains and mountains of meats and cheeses on gold platters that sparkle with the red lighting. Desserts tower everywhere else. Truffles and flaky cookies and a hundred other pastries line circular plates. At the end, there’s sweet caramel apples, some of them sliced open to show off the center. They’ve been there too long. Oxidation has settled in the core, turning them brown amongst the table of delicacies.
It’s rare for Matt to allow an imperfection.
I don’t mention it. Instead, I keep my fingers on the crook of his elbow and follow him to the front of the crowd. The dancefloor. He turns to face me as the pianist switches to a slow tune.
“Will you allow me the first dance, darling?”
It’s not a choice. I don’t need to pull out my notepad to form an answer. I just put my hands into his and follow along to the steps of the waltz.
The crowd cheers as we spin. I shut my eyes as the lighting changes from red to blue to pink to yellow. It’s a rainbow array meant to dizzy and disorient.
I miss my footing.
Matt catches me as I crumple, a curse under his breath. “Keep it together, Miles. We’re in front people,” he growls, no concern on his harsh features for what is likely a sprained ankle as I gingerly limp through the rest of the song.
There’s applause. My whole leg is throbbing with it. Matt pulls me down into a bow before welcoming the rest of the people out onto the dance floor as the pianist begins a jaunty tune.
“You should take a minute to recover.”
No pet name. Matthew’s mad. In his mind, I just embarrassed him in front of hundreds of people.
Even if I wanted to complain, I don’t dare grab the notepad from my pocket. There’s no way I’m writing out my feelings to him in the middle of this elaborate affair. I’ll stay quiet. I’m plenty good at staying quiet.
Matt tucks me into a booth to the side of the stage that’s mostly hidden from the party. “Take a few minutes. When you’re ready, I’ll be making arrangements with some of the big players in the city. There’s a private table at the back. The security knows to let you pass. Can you handle being alone?”
I excel at being alone. Matt grabs my chin, though, when I don’t answer quick enough. His hold is rough enough to bruise. A shuddering breath rushes through my clenched teeth as I stare up at him.
I will not cry. I won’t make a sniffle. He’ll be distracted soon.
“Behave yourself. Do you understand?”
There’s no hesitation this time. I nod. I nod too quickly into his hand and he drops it. Stepping away, he throws an unnecessary affectionate phrase over his shoulder to keep his image good with anybody nearby and then struts off to care for his precious business.
God. I hate my birthday.
If I could laugh, I would now. Not some mirthful sound, but a choked gasp at my situation. This is my life. This is the foreseeable course of my life. I have years if not decades or centuries going through these motions.
Matthew Krawlski will never let me go.
The piano music changes. I tilt my head to look over at the dark form walking away from the stage as the pianist gives a thumbs up for the requested song. It’s not a classical tune.
Matt is going to be so upset if he realizes this guy is playing other songs.
Yet… I don’t want it to stop. I think I can recognize it.
It’s on the tip of my tongue. A warm wiggling at the base of my mind, the title just barely escapes my capture. It’s something that probably played on the radio once when I was walking through the hotel lobby.
Before I can come to any conclusion on its origin or importance in my life, the lights swivel to catch on a man in a mask similar to that of the Phantom of the Opera. He has a microphone in his hand. He’s…
He’s singing and looking straight over at this booth.
That deep voice. The amusing swing of his hips. This guy must be a performer. He’s used to standing in front of people and making a fool of himself.
But that voice. I could listen to it every day for the rest of my life.
My fingers trail the scar on my own throat. My memories are jumbled. I think I used to like to sing, though. I would have liked the chance to sing with this man as he repeats the chorus and demands that the audience to his words saves the last dance for him.
I’ve heard those words before, but I just can’t remember.
Eventually, the song ends and the pianist continues onto another song. Someone else gets on stage to sing. She’s nowhere near as good as the last guy.
I don’t have much time to ponder anything because I’m no longer alone. My shoulders stiffen. I try to paste on a bland smile to fend off Matt, but…it’s not him. The guy with the phantom mask. He unabashedly shows off half of his handsome face, daring anyone to identify him outside of this particular event.
He holds his hand out to me. “I really would like that last dance if you wouldn’t mind.”
How do you know it’ll be the last? I want to ask. I want to know his name and why he has gone out of his way to make a spectacle in my husband’s hotel.
But, I look into his deep brown eyes and forget to grab my writing pad.
Is this what it feels like to know in your soul that you’ve met someone in a past lifetime and they’ve managed to make it back to you?
I don’t know.
I want to find out.
Knowing there will be consequences, I slip my fingers into his gloved hand and step out of the safety of the booth.
Welcome back to Miles’ portion of this complex story. If you’re new or want to follow re-read his stories, check out: High School Nightmare, Three Little Words, and Artists as well as this week’s prompt.
There are some exciting twists coming in his story, so hang in there and keep checking back here for his intermittent additions.
If you’re following along with Lore, Matthew Krawlski just became a named character in the latest episode. Read it now by clicking here: Lore by Angelica Reece
As always, I would not make it every week without my amazing writing partner cheering me on. Please go see Bridgette’s rendition of this piano prompt! A Night at the Carnival
Thank you so much for coming here every week. We’ll see you next time!
“What am I supposed to call you when we’re alone?”
We’ve survived two days together. I flaunt my appearance as Alyssiana Laur and watch the vampires in this mansion shrink away. I don’t know all of her history yet, but she’s a real piece of work who knows how to keep people in line. Perhaps in another life, I would be as cold and malicious as her.
Laur is always by my side. He’s quiet during the day and a bit boisterous at meals, but he doesn’t truly come alive until we’re shut away in our shared room. I tried to argue to stay in my own chambers, but he insisted that I could protect him better if we stayed close.
He was right.
I haven’t slept since receiving the envelope with this job and it’s starting to grate on my general wellbeing. “We could just not talk,” I grumble, the edges of my personality blending with the cruel persona of Alyssiana Laur.
Laur snags a pillow from the bed and heads for the couch on the opposite side of the room. “I think I liked you more when you were trying to cut my heart from my chest.”
I shouldn’t care. This man is a means to an end. He’s a job. A job that if done well could result in me making enough money to pay off my debts to Jack. I didn’t mean to become a mercenary. It seems like a lifetime ago that I made a deal with the well-dressed devil. Now, though, since Laur has agreed to split the estate’s wealth with me if I remove Alyssiana from the picture, I have the first real chance in eighty-seven years to make a gamble for my freedom.
The word is a bubble of hope that clogs my heart. It’s stupid. I shouldn’t be putting too much thought into all of this. My dreams are a seal about to be swallowed by a killer whale.
There’s no real escape from my lifestyle.
Laur has slung a quilt over his legs and crossed his arms over his chest. I shouldn’t care that he’s a pouting fool. I can’t decide why his scrunched eyebrows under that ridiculous dyed blue hair matters.
It doesn’t. That’s the truth.
Something akin to sympathy or concern registers in the back of my mind. Feelings. This stupid excuse for a man is ruining my heartless image.
It’s my fault. I shouldn’t have made this bargain with him. There’s no janitor waiting around these halls to clean up my emotional mess, so I have to deal with Laur myself. It’s for the best that we continue to play a united front.
At least, that’s how I try to argue that my next words are more for him than me.
“Phoebe. No last name. Just Phoebe is fine.”
Laur sits up instantly, surprise coating his features as he gathers his blanket in a heap in his lap and stares at me like I’ve repeated complete gibberish instead of real words. “You’re Phoebe the phoenix.”
It’s not a question. He’s tasting every syllable on that silver tongue. It shouldn’t matter what he thinks. It doesn’t. Yet…when he utters a name I haven’t used in the better part of a century like it’s a title meant to be worshipped or praised or never forgotten, I can’t completely ignore the way my chest warms a little too quickly.
I should say something else. I should turn out the lights and tell him to go to bed. I should…
The power flickers and then cuts out completely, drenching us in darkness.
Laur immediately scrambles to his feet, grumbling as he stumbles to get out of his blanket and manages to kick something with his big toe. I don’t move. There’s thumping and cursing coming from Laur, but nothing else.
A sliver of moonlight sneaks into our room through the thick, grey curtains. We’re alone. It’s dark and we’re alone.
Laur doesn’t let fear quiet him. “Who do you think did it?”
The undead man can’t see me any better than I can make out his dark form in this room. If he was a full vampire, then I could use his specialized vision to our advantage. No, as we are, I need him to be quiet while I listen for any threats.
My arm outstretched, I hold my hand at face level as I let flames break out along my fingertips. It’s not a lot of light, but it’s enough for him to see me raise a single finger to my lips in a motion of silence. Quiet. Somebody has cut the power on purpose. They want to catch us off guard.
It’s probably that woman from the dining room yesterday afternoon. I can’t remember her name. All of the people here think too highly of themselves. They have ridiculous names to go with their posh demeanors. This one in particular had her hair piled on top of her head and a dozen roses threaded through it. She thought it was clever to hand out flowers to the rest of the gathered women.
I was foolish enough to take it from her.
A thorn bit into my hand and a single bead of blood welled to the surface. I saw her nostrils flare. My exterior is perfect. I look exactly like Alyssiana Laur, but I’m no witch and no vampire. There’s no way to cover the smell of ash and lingering smoke that runs through my veins. Her eyes dipped right to my hand before I could excuse myself from the room.
Maybe this isn’t about Laur at all.
My heart thunders in my ears as I move to stand closer to the window. If this isn’t about Laur, it’s about me and they’ve been smart enough to attack at night. Magic still swirls through me, but a phoenix is tied to the sun. I won’t be able to change my appearance rapidly or keep a flame lit through the long night if I also have to run from a predator or engage in a fight.
I hear the footsteps too late. They’re already in the conjoining room.
I hiss the words at Laur, but he’s too busy staring at the door to pay me any attention. “Who’s there?”
My physical appearance can be changed at will, but there’s nothing I can do to reduce the effect physics has on me. I can’t move faster. I can’t stretch my arms beyond their limits and wrap them around Laur across the room from me. Instead, I’m rooted to the floor as the door splinters inward and he’s slammed backwards.
His head cracks against the wall. There’s a smear of something that can only be blood as he slumps to the floor. I let the flames on my hand die.
“Make this easy, little bird.”
I know that voice. I’ve fulfilled jobs for that sultry voice. I will spend the rest of my days wishing I’d never met the owner of such an addictive tone.
There’s a snap of fingers and the lights come back on. I blink against the sudden change, glaring across the bed at the man who broke into our room. He tilts his head to the side, taking in Laur’s prone body and my undressed state.
“Didn’t realize you were getting paid for evening deeds, dearest.”
I bare my teeth at him, flames biting at my gums and reshaping my smile until I am sharper and deadlier than ever before. “Most mercenaries work at night, Jack.”
His black eyes flick between me and Laur once more. “Shouldn’t you already be done taking care of this job?”
I shake my head. “He’s the client.”
Jack’s depraved laugh rips through the room. “I wouldn’t have approved of that. Who gave you the mission, little bird?”
This is not the time or place for this conversation. Cassias Laur is a private man, but his estate is only so large. Eventually, someone else is going to realize that there was a problem with the power and come looking for the supposed master of the house.
“I’ve been doing this long enough to take my own cases, Jack. Let me finish this one.”
Arguing with Jack is miserable work. The demon has the patience and wit to walk most people in circles. He’ll have me agreeing to something far worse if I can’t get him out of here quickly.
He obviously has the same idea. Another snap of his fingers plunges the house back into darkness. My heart stutters. It climbs to my throat and demands to be released.
I wouldn’t admit it to Laur, but I’m terrified of the dark. Phoenixes are terribly difficult to kill. It’s much easier to lock them up somewhere and forget the key. Jack knows that.
He knows I dread the night.
His cool breath caresses my ear. I don’t move. My skin crawls and sweat coats my palms, but I don’t dare move.
There’s certain rules in dealing with Jack. He can’t touch me unless I make contact first.
“Are you getting attached to your clients now, fire walker?”
Jack’s low chuckle seems to vibrate in my bones as he circles me. The man is more shadow than figure. The moon doesn’t dare peek in anymore. My vision is gone. He moves too quietly for my ears to pick up on the movements. I’m prey sitting pretty for my predator.
Terror winds its way down my spine like a centipede, weaving its writhing body through my nerves and pinning me to the floor.
I was ready to deal with a witch to retrieve Laur’s heart.
I don’t know if it’s worth going toe to toe with Jack.
There’s a low moan from the other side of the room as Laur starts to come back to life. My foolish heart gives a hopeful thump, thump, thump. It’s a worthless reaction, though. Cassias Laur is a coward and a scam artist trapped in this house by the witch who took his heart. He isn’t a hero. He can’t save me.
Nobody can really save me from Jack.
Jack is what lurks at the edges of my nightmares. He is night incarnate. A blackened soul ready to reap the vulnerable with a cutting grin and curling fingers. He is the darkness made physical.
He holds the key to my freedom and knows it.
Unperturbed by Laur’s waking, Jack clears his throat. He’s centimeters from my face. If I waver at all in my current stance, we’ll brush together.
“I was contacted to come retrieve my asset by the lady of the house, little bird. You can leave with me now or I will give her permission to deal with you as she sees fit.”
That damn woman in the dining room. She must have snitched to the real Alyssiana Laur. Any attempt to take the witch by surprise is now gone.
There’s no good way to get back Laur’s heart without going straight through Alyssiana. I wanted to sneak my way into her world and tiptoe back out, but that option has been ripped out from under me.
We’re completely screwed.
“Don’t worry ‘bout me. You can go home. I’ll deal with her on my own.”
Laur’s words are slurred. He’s still on the floor trying to recover from the damage Jack’s arrival caused.
“You’re a dead man,” I murmur, my words struggling to penetrate the consuming darkness.
There’s a scuffle. Laur must be trying to push himself up into a seated position. “I haven’t lived in a long time. I’m willing to go down for this, but you don’t have to stay involved. Go back to your life, Phoebe.”
I would have.
A day and a half ago, I would have wiped my hands of the money and the possibility to better my life in order to return to the relative safety of my previous lifestyle. Now, with my name on his lips and his pain my fault, I can’t just leave. Cassias Laur needs his heart. He deserves it more than anyone else.
I won’t abandon him.
Jack must sense my wavering loyalty as he leans close enough for me to smell the peppermint on his breath. “When Lady Laur is done with you, I’ll have a dark hole to shove you into, Phoebe,” he snarls the threat, my real name a weapon in this circumstance. “Don’t make me the villain, little bird. Come with me now and we’ll pretend you didn’t just try to make the biggest mistake of your career.”
That’s his promise.
If we fail, Laur dies and I’ll be tortured to live out my extended lifetime in some mildewy pit deep within the earth. I’ll be down there long enough to forget the way the sun feels when it tickles my skin at the beginning of the day. He’ll keep me hidden from the world until my magic is dried up and my name is long forgotten. I’ll die a thousand times in the dark.
Somehow, Laur makes it across the room and presses his fingers into my trembling hand. “It’s okay. Go home.”
I shake my head. If I leave now, Laur is dead. If I fail, Laur is dead. However, if I stay and best the witch, we both get a chance to live.
It’s not fair to throw away his life to save my own.
I may fear the dark more than anything else on this planet, but I won’t let it conquer me. Holding onto Cassias Laur, I send Jack away and accept my fate.
Win or lose, I’ve made a decision and can no longer deviate from this path.
Squeezing Laur’s hand, I let my head fall on his shoulder as the lights flicker on and the night continues.
Thank you for making it to the end of yet another short story. I made a total of three versions of this story, covering the subject of vampires chasing different characters through the dark and creating intense fight scenes from thin air. None of it hit the mark of being scared of the dark, though, so I dug around in my phoenix story for a better lead. I hope you all enjoyed this character development and the official first time I’ve named Phoebe.
For anyone new to the blog this week, most of my stories have recurring characters. To follow along with Cassias Laur and Phoebe, you can check out my other stories containing them: Here for a Heart, Villain or Hero
As always, take a few more minutes to check out Bridgette’s story as well! Afraid of the Dark
Thanks for your continued support and come back next week for a story centered around a “deal with a devil.”
Someone is playing a wicked prank this evening. Witchcraft of this sophistication must cost more than all of the rare sand dollars in the world. I eyeball the woman on my arm as we step out of the dining hall.
The paprika-spiced pudding in my other hand was a dreadful decision to grab. If this interaction turns into a bout of fisticuffs, I’ll be forced to smash it into her pretty face before running for my life. I haven’t lived as long as I have by taking on my problems head first. I’m much better at getting some distance and strategizing.
I’d recommend that lifestyle to anyone.
Run and live another day.
It’s how I became Cassias Laur.
Which, I’m fairly sure, is the reason there’s a shapeshifter playing the woman of the house.
She follows along, matching my pace as we leave behind the hall and enter a room lit only by a small night light in the corner. There’s a hiss next to me. Dammit. She’s taking this opportunity to attack me.
Nope. Not going to do that.
I step back, ready to throw the pudding as hard as I can, but she’s no longer by my side. Squinting into the dim room, I don’t see her again until the plate is slapped out of my hand and a knife is pressed to my throat.
Not how I intended to end my night.
I mean, I’m aware someone is trying to kill me, but this is just getting ridiculous.
“Woah, woah, woah. What did I do to you?”
Her voice is so quiet next to my ear. “It’s not personal, darling. Someone paid me for a heart and I’ll be taking it now.”
I’ve always been a nervous laugher. Now, the giggles start and I can’t stop them. I’m trying to explain to this shapeshifting woman why this is hilarious, but I can’t seem to get anything out other than blatant gibberish.
Confused or infuriated, the woman pulls me tighter against her lithe form. The knife travels from my throat to my chest. She’s trying to get my heart.
I’m trying to get my heart.
I’m going to kill my friend when I find him. That letter wasn’t really meant to be shipped off to an assassin. Now, it has completely backfired and this woman is going to be quite upset when she realizes that my ribcage is lacking the one thing she is trying to take.
“I don’t have it,” I finally manage to wheeze out.
Her hold doesn’t loosen. “What do you mean you don’t have your heart?”
I truly doubt that she finds me intimidating in any way, but I put my hands up in the general sign of complacency and innocence. “Please let me explain. I haven’t had it for years.”
“If you try anything…”
She doesn’t need to finish the sentence. “Totally. Of course. My heart is already gone, but you can take a kidney or something if you want.”
Releasing me, she lets me turn around to face her before she slams me against the nearest wall and replaces the blade over my chest. “Talk fast. I don’t get paid to wait.”
“I’m the one paying you!”
There’s a war playing out over her borrowed features. I’ve seen the real Alyssiana Laur make that face. She’s either going to demand a heinous crime of me or commit one herself.
“Look, I don’t really have a moral stance on suicide, but this isn’t really an appropriate way to go about ending your life.”
Those blue eyes almost seem kind on this supernatural creature. She’s giving me a moment to explain myself.
“No. I’m not a vampire.”
It’s a strong start. Doesn’t explain anything really. I have to say more.
I’ve got this.
“The woman you’re currently using as a costume is my boss. Well, more like my keeper. She’s a witch and she took my heart and I just wanted it back, but I didn’t really mean for a letter to get sent out to someone like you.”
I drag in a breath of air after spewing out way too much information. The way she’s watching me makes my skin feel too tight. She could still stab me. It won’t kill me. The only thing that could kill me is the real Alyssiana destroying my heart. However, stabbing doesn’t feel nice whether or not one is immortal, so I am really trying to avoid that outcome and I can’t relax until the weapons are put away.
Frustration tears through her pretty face. She pulls down the bracelets on her wrist to flash a dark tattoo at me. “Show me yours.”
Oh. That. I unbutton the first few buttons on my shirt and pull the fabric down to reveal the jagged scar on my chest. “It showed up this morning?”
The woman, creature, she-demon lets out a yowl and stalks away from me. Her muttering is interspersed by her making jagged swipes at the air with her very sharp knives. I keep my back to the wall and my mouth closed. This isn’t the first time I’ve dealt with an angry woman and I’d like to leave this room with most of my important parts.
Finally, she composes herself enough to whirl back on me, her knives tucked into sheaths somewhere on that stunning dress. “If I don’t get your heart, I give up mine at the end of our agreement.”
Shit. That’s some crazy stuff.
I didn’t write that.
But I know who did.
“Look, this is all a huge misunderstanding. My friend got overzealous in his attempt to help me. Can’t I just release you from the bargain?”
Her sneer is sharp enough to cut through a stack of wine glasses. “That’s not how magical bargains work.”
Right. I should have known that before I said anything. My bad. I’ll make a point of researching magical practices at the first opportunity.
I stare at the woman impersonating the tempestuous witch who chained me to my current predicament. This doesn’t have to be a truly bad situation, does it?
Before I can lose my nerve completely, I just blurt the next words. “Maybe instead of being a bad guy who stabs people, you could help me?”
A barking laugh blasts through me as she throws her hands up into the air and stomps back across the room. We’re in a small tea lounge. I figured most of the house guests would be busy until later, so this was a safe space to talk to this woman, but now I’m concerned she’ll start smashing the quaint furniture and wrecking the glass cabinets.
None of it is really mine, but still…
If we could get rid of Alyssiana, then technically I would be the rightful owner of this whole estate.
Not a bad idea. I don’t have a plan yet, but this feral creature has to be the key to getting the freedom I have craved for centuries.
For too long, I have played the part of doting husband and loyal subject. Alyssiana tricked me into this. She carved my heart out of my chest and tied my immortality to herself. I didn’t do anything to deserve this and I truly feel remorse for getting this woman involved, but… if it helps… I really would like to see if she can retrieve my heart before the month is out.
“You want me to play hero?”
Her voice is hollow from the other side of the room. This isn’t a joke. It’s a real question as she contemplates her place in the world.
“You could be villain-adjacent if it means I walk away alive at the end of this.”
There’s no humor gracing her severe expression. “I thought you were the villain when I arrived.”
Her words are soft and thoughtful. She’s hiding in the shadows, likely more herself here where I can’t see her clearly than she ever would be in any physical form under direct lighting. I don’t know how long she has lived or how many lives she has taken. Perhaps our lives have crossed for the betterment of both of our stories.
“Well, this is a chance to work together and be whatever we want.”
The single syllable is whispered so quietly that I could have imagined it if the aching hole in my chest didn’t suddenly feel full. She gets it. We’ve been used and pushed into black and white boxes as simple as hero or villain.
It’s time we take back our stories and write the ending we deserve.
I hold my hand out towards her. “No more contracts, but I agree to help you if you help me.”
She regards me like I’m a bug that has wandered in off of the street. I’m worthless and small and inconvenient. Her head tilts to the side. Those soft eyes can’t belong to a monster. She lets her gaze travel over me and I feel like a marble statue being inspected and admired and remembered.
Crossing the room, she slips her hand into mine. “Words are just as binding as paper, Cassias Laur. If I play your hero, you agree to be mine. Deal?”
Yes. Of course. This is likely a terrible idea that will earn me the death Alyssiana has been foretelling for decades, but I don’t care.
Yes. I want a chance at my own life.
Yes. I want someone to think of me as a hero.
While this portion can stand alone for my villain to hero prompt, I would like to point out that it is a continuation of my “Here for a Heart” story a few weeks ago. I flipped the perspective and gave Cassias Laur a chance to speak his mind this week. Goofball characters that are unsure of themselves and mesmerized by the sophisticated, supernatural counterparts I cast opposite them is probably my absolute favorite thing to write, so please keep coming back to the blog if you enjoy it!
These are characters that I don’t have a decade long outline to work off of, so if you enjoyed this or the “Here for a Heart” told from the phoenix’s perspective, please let me know in the comments, so I continue to make time to shape these foolish people and their complex outline.
Thank you for reading this week and make sure to check out Bridgette’s prompt as well: Room 313
We’ll see you all next week!
Next week’s prompt: Tumultuous soulmates are on opposing sides of a conflict
Must include the words: apothecary, bow tie, ladylike, sprocket, mushroom, scrounge, frenzy, match, oust, prisoner
A hand towel thrown over my shoulder, I look down at the list of ingredients for this recipe again while Lucy bounds in from the other room. Cooking is still difficult. Baking is impossible. She wants me to make cherry blossom cookies from some handwritten recipe her mother gave her a lifetime ago. It, however, is not going well.
Unconcerned with my baking implements or her personal safety, she hops up onto the counter. Flour coats the side of her leg. Her dazzling eyes snag on my boxers and then bare chest before meeting my gaze. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the way she devours me without any hesitation. There’s no way to describe the way my chest begins to flutter at her mere presence. Lucy is magic and that’s all I truly know in this world.
She flips her phone towards me, the bright screen jittery in her hold as I try to read the bold words: Archaeologists in Poland Just Unearthed the Remains of a 17th Century Vampire. My fingers wrapped around her wrist in order to steady the device, I read the heading twice while I try to suppress a smile. I think I already know what she’s going to say.
“Did you know her?”
Yep. That’s it. Grabbing a pinch of flour off of the counter, I flick it onto her tank top while I shake my head. “How old do you think I am again, Lady Lore?”
She laughs, scooping up flour and sprinkling it into my hair. “Just old enough, Mr. Carter. Seriously, though, I know you couldn’t have known her while she was alive, but do you know about the vampires in Poland?”
I shrug. “Ivan supposedly comes from there. He might have known her.”
Turning the phone back to herself, she scrolls further down to show me details of how the poor woman was buried. A sickle over her throat and a padlock on her left toe. It makes for a great story, but would be effectively useless against an actual creature of the night. Not that I’m volunteering to test that theory. I think being buried alive is one of the worst punishments in this world. I’ve lived through it and I won’t do it again.
“Apparently, she had large front teeth, so the community thought she was either a witch or a vampire.”
I work on putting all of my ingredients together as I shake my head at her. “You’ve likely met more than a few vampires in your life, Luc. We don’t walk around with our fangs showing.”
Waving my reply off, she continues to scroll. “This anthropologist down at the bottom says that the fear of vampirism has always been thought of as an outside issue in these old towns, but this woman seems to have been a wealthy occupant of the community. That’s so horrible! Her own people likely turned on her because she got sick.”
“People have died for less, love.”
She pushes my shoulder. “You’re so pessimistic today, Ashby!”
I pull myself away from the cookie dough long enough to give her a lopsided grin. “Death is something that has been put into artwork for centuries. Talking about it doesn’t stop it from existing. I didn’t know this woman. I just know that she’s likely not a vampire.”
The oven chimes to let me know it’s hot enough to start baking the cookies. Lucy pulls the mixing bowl closer to herself and starts spooning cookies out onto the already lined tray. She’s quiet. I don’t’ push her to say anything. Instead, I give her a moment to process what she’s read and come up with the questions I know she’ll want to ask next.
There was a time in my life that I built a metaphorical wall between me and anything else. When I met Lucy it became a chain link fence, letting good moments filter through between us. Now, there’s nothing but comfortable silence as she scoops my poorly mixed dough onto the tray.
“Do you think you’ll ever have to bury me?”
The words are so quiet, I would’ve thought they came from the back of my mind if I hadn’t seen her lips move. Panic swells through my chest. Yes. I’ve thought about death for months now. I know how it looms over the naive, more than willing to take a life before it’s ready to go. Death will not come for me. Try as I might, it seems to pull away every chance I give it, but it could definitely hurt me more by coming after this woman on the kitchen counter.
“Why would you ask?” I finally make myself say, depositing the first tray of cookies into the oven and leaning against its warm front to give myself a way to stay grounded in this tumultuous conversation.
She shrugs, eyes down as she starts dishing cookies onto the next tray. “I’m a syren. I have magic and I’m pretty cool, but I don’t know what my expected life span is supposed to be. My mom left so early, you know?”
I nod and cross the space between us. She spreads her legs to allow me to slip between them until I’m close enough to hold her warm body to mine. Her head on my shoulder, I hear her sniffle and my heart breaks.
“I’m going to find a way to never have to leave you, Lucy Lore. I’ll do whatever it takes, okay? Vampires have been taking on mortal companions since the beginning of time. I’m different since I’m a man-made vampire rather than a naturally occurring phenomenon, but I know there’s an answer out there.”
It’s the best I can give her. Research on this subject hasn’t been the easiest to find. There’s too many unaccounted variables for me to make any positive assumptions. All I know is that it’s possible and I’m the scientist that can figure it out.
Nothing is going to take me from Lucy.
She sniffs again and then leans back, giving me a chance to wipe the tears from her face. “Do you promise?”
My chest aches at the way her voice cracks and I immediately nod as I press my forehead to hers. “Yes. I promise that nothing will part us, Lucy Lore. Death can try, but I will always find my way back to you.”
She presses a kiss to my nose. “I promise, too.”
This week is just a short and sweet scene between Ashby and Lucy since they’ve been on my mind. I completely stumbled across the article detailing the recently discovered vampire and thought it would be a fun conversation between these two. Obsessed with vampires, it was a fun week to dig into some different myths and legends surrounding the death and captures of these infamous creatures.
If you have been following these two in my Lore series on Kindle Vella, you’ll be excited to know that episode eleven will be available this afternoon!
If you haven’t check it out yet, use this link to follow Ashby and Lucy through the beginning of their romance: Lore by A. D. Reece
As always, Bridgette has a story for this week’s prompt and it would mean the world to us if you read that as well:
There’s a knock at my door. I don’t bother to answer. They took the locks away a long time ago. Nothing is stopping them from coming in.
My nightmares still roaring in my ears, I wipe my nose on the back of my hand and then go back to fiddling with the tie of my left shoe. “Hey. You’re already up.”
Seth. He’s only here half of the time. I don’t glance up. “Do you need something?”
He takes three steps into the room and sets a glass bottle down on the table against the wall. “Just wanted to say happy birthday before I head out.”
I glance at the pink substance. Twenty-one. I didn’t think I’d make it this long. Most days, I wish I hadn’t survived.
“Thanks,” I murmur, my throat tight.
Seth hesitates in the doorway, his bulky frame overtaking the small space. “I don’t have to leave if you wanted to do something special tonight. I could push the rest of my plans, Tamyra.”
I shake my head. I don’t have the energy to argue with him. What would we possibly do? My birthday is the anniversary of everything going wrong.
He doesn’t insist on springing any other surprises on me. “You should put that in the fridge if you don’t want it until later. I put some other stuff in there, too.”
“Thanks,” I say again, my hands undoing and redoing the lace of my boot as I wait for him to leave.
He lingers there again, but I don’t continue the conversation. There’s too many muddled emotions between us to try to sift through it right now. I owe him my life. I hate him for it. He wants me to have a future, to be happy, and there’s just no way I can promise to do that. My life ended three years ago and I continue to go through the motions every damn day for his sake, for the sake of people I don’t know and may never meet, for the memory of everyone who lost their lives so I could continue to trouble the world with my presence.
Finally, Seth leaves, his heavy footsteps thudding through the rest of our shared cottage. His departure means Seymour should be getting here any minute. I only have one shot.
Grabbing the bag I stuffed under the mattress, I sling it over my shoulder and tip-toe out of the room. Silent. One careful step after another. These vampires have better hearing than most and will catch me if a single wooden board dares to squeak.
I just need to get away.
To scream out into the world and not have someone watching me break down.
It’s all I want for my birthday. Not to hurt anybody or escape. Just to have a moment alone.
They boarded up the windows in my room and the bathroom after my last escape attempts. There’s another window in the kitchen and the front door, both of which Seth or Seymour could see me using to leave. Typically, they keep the room they share locked, but they’ve been getting sloppy the last few times they swapped positions. I can grab a few more supplies and sneak out the window in there before they have a chance to realize I left.
I inch the door at the end of the hall open and squeeze inside, careful to hold the handle as I put it back in the closed position. Breath frozen in my lungs, I listen for footsteps. Nothing yet. I don’t hear Seth talking, either. He’s probably out there waiting for Seymour to get here.
There’s locks all over the drawers and cabinets in the rest of the house, the two men in charge of me making sure I don’t get into anything without their direct permission. I brought that on myself. The first few months of my imprisonment are a blur, but I remember acting out. I broke so many dishes that they switched everything to plastic after only a week. I let the stove run just to press my hands to the hot grates and then sit on the floor to watch it heal. I couldn’t hurt myself, punish myself enough, so I took it out on the rest of the house and the two men working to keep me alive.
Three years later, I have a better understanding for why they did the things they had to, but it doesn’t mean I like it. It certainly doesn’t mean I appreciate any of it. Seymour likes to tell me that grief is immeasurable and will ease with time, but I can feel its deadening weight in each of my limbs.
Nothing helps. Nothing erases the memories of that night or quiets the screaming that fills my dreams. Nothing takes my focus off of the past, I suppose, but the letter tucked into my pocket.
A careful handwritten letter composed of three lines.
You are in grave danger.
Your friends can no longer help you.
Meet me at the waterfall.
I found it tucked under my pillow three days ago. The words woke something dormant in my veins. Not fear. Fear is an old friend at this point.
Something dangerous and thirsting for retribution.
Whoever left it had all the chances they wanted to attack me when they dropped it off. I don’t know how I slept through an entire person in my room, but I won’t let it happen again. I’m not even worried about the warning. There’s always someone trying to kill me. It’s an average Tuesday after the last few years.
Whoever this is needs me alive and needs me to come willingly or they would have kidnapped me from my bed. Curiosity piqued, I need to get out there to see who it is and find out what they want. I cannot have a whole entourage, so I need to be out of the house in the next thirty seconds or so in order to slip my personal guards.
Stopping in front of the dresser placed at the foot of their bed, I pry open the first drawer and take out a handful of sharpened blades. They slide into the designated sheaths in my pants. Four blades total. Two slipped in at thigh level, the metal pressed tight to my body. The other two are smaller. They slide into the pockets designed into my boots. All of them padded and secure. All of them seamlessly designed to make it nearly impossible to see the weapons before I pull them out. I pull out one more and tuck it into the holster-like pocket attached to my hip for quick access.
It’s time to go.
I slide open the window and slip through without a sound. It closes with a whisper, straining to tattle on me. I don’t stick around to see if either of them noticed.
Nobody comes racing around the other sides of the cottage as I step away from the building and disappear into the trees. Tightening the bag on my shoulders, I take off at a sprint. The waterfall isn’t far from here. It’s a space they use for training me in different combat combinations, forcing me to keep my balance along the wet shore and uneven rocks or hold my breath under the water until I can reach the other side. It’s basically home territory against whoever left that note.
I don’t slow down until I’m almost there, listening for any pursuit from my guards while also scanning the area ahead. There aren’t very many hiding places out here. The trees are a bit more sparse in this area and are too thin to truly hide behind. I press my hand to one of them, my fingers sticking to the syrupy substance bleeding from the trunk.
The rushing of the waterfall makes it impossible to hear anything clearly. I step past the tree line and look over the bank of the river in our metaphorical backyard. Nothing. No one. The writer didn’t give me a timeframe.
This was stupid. I don’t know what I expected.
That’s a lie. I do. I’m waiting for an opponent who can finally put me out of my misery. Someone good with a blade. Someone better than me at hand to hand combat . Someone faster and stronger and merciless. Someone dressed in old fashioned robes and spouting insane science like an alchemist out of the old world who just needs my heart or my blood or my spleen, but not me to continue on with their evil plans.
I won’t go down without a fight, but there’s a dark part of my soul that would happily lose.
When still no one comes rushing behind me to drag me back to the cottage and no strangers pop out from the dirt to end my life, I walk to the edge of the water and settle onto a large rock. The waters are clear here. Small fish wriggle along the bank, picking up bits of sand and spitting them back out as they search for food.
My reflection taunts me from the surface of the water. Look, it dares.
I don’t meet its challenge.
There’s a shoescuff behind me. I’m off of the rock in a split second, my boots splashing into the water as I pull the knife from my hip.
The man behind me has his hands held on either side of his head. Not Seth. Not Seymour. Taller than me by a few inches with long, black hair and a prominent nose, he watches me with careful eyes, his posture too casual for someone at the other end of my blade.
“I just want to talk, Miss Raeleigh.”
My hands don’t tremble as I stare across the space. “Talk fast.”
“You’re in danger.”
He waits for a response. I don’t give him one. That’s not news. It hasn’t been news for years.
“I want to take you somewhere safe.”
I can’t stop the snort that huffs from me. “And you expect that I’ll just go?”
“I expect that you won’t have much of a choice.”
My blade catches the early morning sun. “Why’s that?”
“Ivan’s troops have learned the location of your safe house. We have a couple of hours to clear everyone out before they’ll be here.”
Ivan. It’s such a simple name for such a terrible man.
I don’t lower the knife between us. “I can handle it. I’m not abandoning the others here.”
He lets his hands slowly fall and rest at his sides. “They’ve been made aware of the situation. They know what to do.”
No. That’s not good enough. Seth and Seymour aren’t family. They’re barely friends. I don’t know what relationship title to give them, but, whatever it is, they don’t deserve to die in a battle that was meant for me.
Nobody else gets to die for me.
“Either let me walk away or try to restrain me, but I don’t have time to stand here with you.”
He doesn’t move. “I’m on your side, Miss Raeleigh. I can take you somewhere safe and your friends will join us later.”
Each step a carefully calculated risk, I move out of the water and then circle him until my back is to the trees. He can attack and die here on this lonely beach or he can let me go. Those are the only options I’m giving right now.
Before either of us can make a move or issue further threats, a boom echoes through the forest behind me. Ivan. He’s early.
I don’t bother with the man by the river. I sheathe the knife at my hip and start running. Back to the cottage. Back to Seth and Seymour. Back to all I truly have in this meager life.
The man from the waterfall is yelling. He wants me to stop. Desperation burns through each syllable.
I don’t care.
They need me more and I don’t owe him a damn thing.
I’m halfway back, the acrid smell of fire burning its way through my sinuses, when he launches his attack. He doesn’t tackle from behind or throw weapons. He just appears in front of me, in the line of my path, and I have no way to stop.
Smashing my shoulder into his chest, he lets out a groan as he hits the hard-packed dirt first. I roll, but he’s not out of the fight, his hands clinging to my backpack. Hunched over in an attempt to get away, I pull the knives from my boots and let him pull me back. One hits dirt. The other hits its mark.
The vampire lets out a snarl as the knife wedges itself deep into his bicep. “I’m here to help you, Tamyra Raeleigh. Do not stab me.”
I don’t care that he knows my name, that he isn’t retaliating other than to let me go and pry the blade from his arm. All I care if that I’m on my feet. The ground rumbles with the machinations of war. Birds launch into the sky in a cloud of black bodies, their screams just barely audible over the next explosion.
I don’t know if I yell it. It’s my only thought. No. Not this. Not again.
I stumble forward a few steps on the uneven ground before the vampire behind me grabs me around the waist and lifts me from the ground. Thrashing in his hold, he knocks my next knife out of my hand before I can use it. I elbow him in the abdomen.
Growling ensues. We’re worse than two mountain lions fighting for territory. I scream and he demands that I stop.
I’m drawing attention to us.
If they know I’m here, then they’ll leave the others alone.
My last two knives in my hands, I stand my ground against the vampire from the waterfall. “I will end you,” I spit.
“You could definitely try,” he snaps back. “Let’s agree to do this another time at a safer location and I’ll let you show me all your best moves, Raeleigh.”
The ass. Without thinking, I throw the knife in my left hand. It whizzes through the air, narrowly missing him as he leans to the side. It lodges into a tree several yards away.
“If that’s your best, I think I’ll be just fine.”
Killing vampires has been my main curriculum since the creatures crept into my life. Nobody told me I’d have to have a conversation with them. They certainly didn’t mention how infuriating that could be.
I bare my teeth at the creature. My human teeth. I may share some of their DNA, but I refuse to finish a fight as anything but a woman.
“Why don’t you just stand still and take it like a man?”
He clucks his tongue at me. “I expected you to think like someone born close to the twenty-first century, Raeleigh. It’s not very feminist of you to try to belittle me based on my gender.”
Who is this guy? There’s a full scale attack happening up this hill and he wants to discuss philosophy. I shake my head. This is ridiculous. A ridiculous waste of my time.
He’s trying to waste my time and keep me down here. Ivan’s people couldn’t beat me the last dozen times they tried and they won’t now. Seth and Seymour need me.
Without another word, I go back to racing up the hill, zipping past trees and keeping my path irregular in order to keep him from popping back into my path again. Up. I just need to get up. They need to be alive.
The man appears on my right, lunging to stop me. I swing at him, but he grabs my hand, pinning it to the ground as he falls on top of me. His legs on either side of my hips, his hand holding mine down, he doesn’t expect me to punch him in the face.
Blood trickles from his nose as his fangs appear just over his lip. “Seth is my brother. I’m not trying to hurt you or him. He has everything covered up there.”
There’s still yelling in the distance. No signs of fighting, though. Either they’re already dead or this guy is being honest.
“How do I know you’re telling the truth?”
His chest expands as he takes a deep breath. “You don’t have much of a choice right now, Raeleigh. Say you’ll come with me.”
What choice do I have? If he’s telling the truth, the only thing waiting up there for me is a lot of angry men hurt by the explosion Seth set. If he’s not, I can figure out my next moves from somewhere that isn’t the floor of a forest.
I can always escape and start my life over somewhere else.
“Fine. Let’s go.”
Happy Saturday and welcome to the first story from Tamyra Raeleigh. The main protagonist for my vampire novels, she’s a character that fights for the bare minimum, clinging desperately to an idea of normal while she’s swept away by the actions of those surrounding her. Fiery and feral, she’s ready to spill blood to save those left in her life.
Please also check out my writing partner’s blog piece on this mysterious letter prompt!