The Gnome’s Arms Pub, Henford-on-Bagley
“Excuse me!” The woman at the end of the bar waved. “I’ve been waiting for a drink all evening.”
And you’ll keep waiting, Alice thought. It had been easier to ignore her when there were more sims in the bar, but now it was taking all of Alice’s concentration. She missed Vlad. When he was around, this sort of thing didn’t happen.
“Hey, can we get some water for Lucy?” one of the sims who came in with the bachelorette party gestured at the restroom, “She’s in the bathroom puking.”
“I cannot believe you’re just going to ignore me!” the woman at the end of the bar growled, “I’ve been sitting here for hours.”
It was the entitlement that had Alice gritting her teeth. She didn’t so much as glance in the woman’s direction as she followed the group to the bathroom. The clean-up was gross, but toddlers got you pretty well accommodated with gross, so Alice managed it without much fanfare. Afterward, she tucked the stumbling lot of them into a taxi to return to their bed and breakfast.
“I want a drink!” the woman screeched.
“You don’t need one!” Alice hissed, “You don’t need food at all, so can you please just—”
“Who are you talking to?” Michael asked as he set down a box of bottles he’d carried up from the basement.
“N-no one,” Alice stammered.
The woman began to sob, hunching forward to reveal the gruesome knife plunged into her skull.
“Just complaining to myself about cleaning up all the puke,” Alice finished, breathless.
He grimaced, “Yeah, when I offered to drop off the mushrooms she ordered, Sarah said you were working really hard. She told me she left a bonus for you under the cash register.”
The woman’s sobs grew frantic, and red energy began to pour out of her.
Alice dug her nails into her palms and forced a smile. “Thanks, it’s no big deal. Would you mind locking up? I’m spent.”
Alice didn’t wait for the rest of his answer. She grabbed the envelope and high-tailed it out of the bar.
Sims International Hotel, Oasis Springs
It was only practice that kept him from limping. That, and sheer, burning determination.
His dark form pulsed again, begging to be let out, the hunger now insistent, like knives being driven under his skin.
Shaking with the effort of leashing it, he stumbled into the bathroom and flung open the cabinets, searching for a bottle of painkillers and crying out when his hands trembled so badly he spilled them.
He crawled, scooping them up, then tore at his clothing and hobbled into the shower. The pulsing sound of the water helped drown out the aching roar in his ears. It was too many painkillers. If he were mortal, he’d be dead. But they worked with whatever occult energy he could release to dull the pain until it became almost hazy.
He stretched out on the bed and turned on the livestream of the conference. Lilith was brilliant, carefully laying out her work on interpreting old manuscripts. Vlad closed his eyes and leaned back, smiling whenever he heard her reference a book or an argument he remembered from her ongoing thesis. Every few decades, when she had to pretend to be a student again, she worked to refine it, albeit in terms mortals would find acceptable.
Magic, Lilith believed, wasn’t just contained in old books as spells; the old books were magic all their own. They held a spell only until the idea of it took on a life of its own and no longer needed the pages as a physical container. Or at least, that was his best understanding of it. Lilith had written most of it in formulas and numbers. She said that was how magic made sense to her. Vlad knew the taste of magic, the shape, weight, and smell of it—but not its logic.
He was just starting to relax and maybe fall asleep for the first time in years when there was a commotion onscreen. The bespectacled sim that corned him earlier was peppering Lilith with absurd arguments and observations.
“…but you’ve only done a preliminary review of these texts. As Goodley Mather detailed in The Ultimate Vampire Tome, occult energy is patriarchal in nature; it’s why male vampires have better control of it. Now, if men could harness that power—“
“Is there a question in there?” Lilith asked icily.
Suddenly, Vlad was standing in front of the TV, nostrils flaring.
He had been hungry, so hungry. He bared his teeth and took note of the sim’s name, tracking the sound of the man’s walk. Vlad was so immersed that he barely noticed as the last of his bones cracked back into place, and light sparked in the eye that was usually dead.
When the sim got up and left, Vlad did too. He stood in the hallway like a man deranged, listening for the cadence of those steps.
And when he heard it…
“Good evening Biffington Bobridge; as it turns out, I also have a question that’s really more of a comment.”