Vlad’s favorite answer.
“Which way I fly is hell; myself am hell; And in the lowest deep a lower deep, Still threat’ning to devour me, opens wide, To which the hell I suffer seems a heaven.”
― John Milton, Paradise Lost
“Did you see her?” Vlad demanded.
“See who?” William prodded, dragging out the end of the last word.
“The girl! She didn’t leave the cookies!” Vlad sucked in a breath as he considered more of the facts. “If she ever even had them…Damn it all! She never even had cookies!”
“There is no girl here,” William said slowly, approaching Vlad as if he were feral cat, “But we do have the information you requested. Would you like to talk about that?”
Vlad hissed. He was not a child and he wasn’t crazy. The girl must’ve slipped around the side of the house, cut through the woods. But it was dangerous in the woods. His eyes darted back and forth as he began to consider all the possible horrors she could face picking her way through the shadows of the mountains. Perhaps it was good he kept this form, he could travel faster in his true form. Maybe even cut her off at the pass. And once he did locate her, and tried not to ring her neck for being so careless—
William broke into his thoughts. “…I said, the translation says the owl was the cause of a fight between the gods. Elmira, Goddess of the Hunt, wanted to use it to make her followers—“
“Yes, yes, I know that,” Vlad waved a hand dismissively. “The Goddess Elmira has a statue of some bird. Blah, blah. The feathers can only be used to undo states. Etc, etc. I sent you out so you could find new information, not repeat to me what I already know!”
William ran a hand over his head. “Well, I think you missed at least a few important facts—“
“No William, don’t bother,” Caleb interjected. “King Vladislaus is in one of his moods.”
That smirk! Vlad blinked slowly as he registered his offense. Moods? Caleb was the one who had been in a terrible mood as of late. Vlad clenched his fists. Once upon a time, Caleb would deliver bad news over a stiff drink followed by a session of plotting revenge. Even though he had been so young, it was Caleb who took over battle operations when William fled to Selvadorada. Yes, they had clashed over the last 200 or so years, but this disdain Caleb had was new.
Maybe he was the one who needed to spar now.
“Mood? You must have me confused with one of your precious sims, or, sages help us, your witch friends,” Vlad snarled, a dark energy rolling off of him.
“O-kay, well, this is about to go poorly. I don’t think you lot are in a place to have this conversation so let’s take a breath and—” William started.
“Oh rest assured, sire, I would never confuse you with a witch. Not ever. That would be an insult to the witches!”
Caleb sneered the word sire. Sneered it! Vlad felt his blood beginning to boil. This sparring match was going to be good.
Don’t do this, his conscience warned.
But all Vlad could think about was how much Caleb needed this for his own good. How long had it been since he had taught a lesson in humility?
“I love it when you call me sire,” Vlad smiled. “It reminds me of your place.”
“Are you mad? Vladislaus!” William tried again. But Vlad was past letting the vampire deescalate the situation. He flicked a hiss in Caleb’s direction and let some of the dark energy thrumming through him curl tendrils around Caleb’s neck.
“William Redding is not the only vampire who’s not afraid of you!” Caleb shouted.
“Oh really? That’s new,” Vlad said, picking at his nails as if the entire conversation bored him. This is a mistake, his conscience promised. Already, the anxiety had begun to crawl up his back, bringing sharp pangs of uncertainty.
Vlad pressed on. “I suppose you’ll be wanting a challenge then? A spar? Who knows? Maybe you’ll even beat me.”
“There is no maybe about it,” Caleb glowered as he rushed to change into his dark form and attack. William heaved a sigh and hung his head but it barely registered on Vlad’s radar.
“Come on then,” Vlad leered, and welcomed the onslaught.