Happy Valentine’s Day! This is the right chapter for a day of luvvvvvvv.
Grim’s eyepatch is back. Is it on the wrong eye? Honest to god, I have no idea anymore.
Selvadorada, The Library of Magic
“These are the gods,” Morgyn repeated. “The first thing you should know is that there are less now than there used to be.”
William didn’t interrupt. He was trying too hard to wrap his mind around this new piece of knowledge.
“They live in the Elder Realms, each a master wielder of one of the nine schools of magic. From there, they are meant to rule as a collective, but you know how these things go.”
The gods as William knew them looked so ordinary—so mortal. But here, in these portraits, they appeared perfectly preternatural. The paintings almost seemed alive, and a voice in the back of his head whispered: You were in always danger, even before you knew what the danger was.
“Know thy enemy starts here, vampire,” Morgyn turned to him, “Are you sure you’re ready?”
William squared his shoulders. He was the Last Great Knight of Windenburg. Even if there was one god he wished he could banish from memory, this was his task.
“Tell me everything.”
Windenburg Woods, Dryad Territory
Vlad stood in the doorway, watching Caleb examine Gwendolyn’s broken dollhouse. “Thank you. I know you did not wish to return, but for Gwendolyn, there is nothing I would not ask.”
Caleb turned and shifted uncomfortably. “It’s fine. I want to help. I knew what you were asking and that once family was involved, you would be…” his expression faltered, “You’ve always been like this, haven’t you?”
Caleb had asked some version of this question over the years, and Vlad had always dodged it.
“I’ve been thinking about him,” the vampire continued, “It’s ridiculous, really, all that damn zombie’s fault. But, when I look back on things I’ve…I’ve always wondered. And knowing how you are…”
He let the statement linger.
“Your father believed us equals,” Vlad began, “He told me so one night, even as he gambled away your fortune. I, who had starved and begged and suffered every indignity to save my family, and that useless charlatan dared to say we were alike.”
“Did you kill him?”
“Yes,” Vlad forced out, letting the truth hang in the air, sharp and dangerous.
Caleb folded his arms. “And yet you still came for me and Lilith.”
“Yes,” Vlad echoed, quieter this time.
When they were first thrown back together in this house, Vlad dreamed of forgiveness. But now, that seemed infinitely selfish. More important than forgiveness was stopping Caleb from continuing this cycle.
“Something has to give. I suffered, and so I brought suffering to you. But I fear—I’ve always feared—that you will carry it forward to fill some hole I’ve opened up inside you.”
Caleb looked away.
“Passing on the sins—my sins,” he corrected, “It will not cleanse you. You will carry it with you the whole of your immortal life and you won’t just be nothing, you’ll have nothing.”
“I can’t ask your forgiveness; I likely don’t deserve it. But, Caleb, know this, even before the curse, turning you and Lilith haunted me. I never made another creature until now. And I swear I—”
Caleb stopped him, “I don’t think Gwendolyn was made with anything less than your absolute love and devotion.”
Vlad let out a breath.
“My father was a monster too,” he continued, “A different kind of monster than Josef, but hateful and terrible all the same. His words were his weapons. And his neglect. He was a lousy, venal creature, and the only reason I ever suspected you did it was that after I was turned, I went back to do it myself.”
Vlad’s head jerked back. “You never told me that!”
“You are not the only one for whom familial relationships are complicated.”
The tension between them lessened, and Vlad dared to crack a smile. “Yes, well, let us hope that Gwendolyn sees fit not to continue our tradition.”
Caleb laughed and Vlad crossed to examine the dollhouse. Perhaps he could repair it before the tiny terror woke up?
Behind him, the younger vampire cleared his throat, “You know you don’t have to invalidate what Alice wants from her family. She can be loved and liked. Her relationships—Gwendolyn’s relationships—they needn’t be as broken as ours.”
Of course, Caleb heard their argument. “And what would you have me do?”
“Get to know them. Make them like you. You can be quite charming when you try.”
“For a creature that hates me, you are very full of compliments,” Vlad grumbled.
“I don’t hate you,” Caleb maintained, a gleam in his eye. “I’m angry, and I would very much like to put a dagger through your chest a few more times, but I don’t hate you.”
Vlad rolled up his sleeves and cocked an eyebrow, “Alice said she needs an hour. I think stabbing me in the chest a few more times can be arranged.”