Vlad’s eyes flew open as tiny fingers poked his face and pinched his eyebrows. He steadied Gwendolyn, whose feet were perilously close to kicking him somewhere painful. “What in the holy mother of the occult is going on?”
She giggled, that high-pitched happy sound that was death on his ears and a balm to his heart. “I pack you!” The toddler jumped down before he could stop her and ran around the bed shouting, “Mommy, I pack Monster! I all done!”
Alice leaned against the doorway with a happy sigh. “Monster is already coming with us, but good job.”
“Ok, thank you,” she blew a kiss, “I play!”
“Not on the stairs. Stay on the landing where we can see you,” Alice instructed.
Vlad stretched. He felt strangely calm, the anxious energy that had collected like a knot in his skull a distant memory. “I slept?”
“You did,” Alice replied, “For almost a week. How do you feel?”
“Odd. My back hurts.” He glanced down, noticing that he’d bled all over the pillows. “My eardrum burst.”
Alice looked apologetic. “I know, Gwendolyn was in rare form. And I think you were just…uh…” she twisted her hands nervously.
“Falling apart after transforming into a ravenous beast who stalked your killers through the woods?” he smirked. “Fitting that I would be felled by a screaming toddler and not the adrenaline-drunk soldier who tried to hit me with a tree.”
“Since you actually took that tree and drove through his torso, I don’t really think you were anywhere near being ‘felled’ by that guy.”
“True,” he smiled, “So we’re leaving? You and Latimer have a plan?”
“Mostly,” she squeaked. “It’s…uh…you know, cobbled together and sort of a hot mess because even though you were being a huge dick and definitely operating in overdrive, you were right. Everything is fucking complicated.”
Vlad grabbed her hand, “I don’t care about being right. And I’m sorry for being a dick, I was…in shambles.”
Alice’s laugh was soft, almost embarrassed. “Yeah. Bet you didn’t think this was what you signed up for when you boned me in that laundromat.”
“You have a penchant for lifting expensive artifacts and a new hunger for brains,” he winked, “It’s even better than what I signed up for. Speaking of which, shall I hunt?”
He watched the telltale signs of hunger flash across her face, but she winced. “I…I need to feel a little normal right now. Can we have pizza?”
Now Vlad winced. “If we must…”
“It’ll make me feel better,” she insisted. “What about you? Are you sure you’re okay? You don’t need more rest?”
“More rest? I haven’t slept in decades, and I’m fine. At my age, I hardly need it.” He waved a hand, “This was a fluke.”
“About that,” she sighed, her brow furrowed, “We need a new rule. You have to at least try to sleep a few hours a night.”
“Pardon?” Vlad drew back, horror coursing through him. “I thought we made up! Why would I want to lie around, playacting death for hours on end? Voluntarily?”
“Because you’re out of your mind,” Latimer called out as he came up the stairs. “Now, I need you two to stop flirting. Time is of the essence. We need to get everyone off our tails and disappear, and you,” he pointed at Vlad, “You haven’t even packed yet!”
THE REALM OF THE FAE
Caleb cleared his throat for the fourth time, trying to get Titania or Akira’s attention.
“Quit shouting, or you’ll wake up Grandma before it’s time!” the Queen of the Fae shouted.
“I am not fucking shouting!” Akira shouted in response.
An elderly fae woman suddenly appeared in the doorway. “You’re both shouting, and it’s rude.” The crazy thing was that she was shouting, too. She thrust a bony finger in Titania’s direction, “If those chickens peck at my door one more time, I’ll set this godsdamned realm on fire.” The finger moved to Akira, “Carry my suitcase up to my room.” And then to Caleb, “Fuckin’ vampires and their fuckin’ dramatics.”
Before Caleb could respond, she popped out of existence.
“She is not staying here,” Akira vowed as he snatched up the suitcases and stormed back into the house.
Caleb lurched forward, unsure of how to respond. “Should we help or stop him or…?”
“No,” Titania shrugged. “I’d rather he carry it upstairs. It’ll make things more dramatic when I cover her stuff in a corrosive poison later. He’s right. She definitely can’t stay here.”
The family dynamics of fae royalty were a minefield—not that he was judging. Caleb couldn’t imagine his whole family staying in one house, either. “About our last date. When you said you were twelve out of ten mad—”
“Sixteen,” she corrected, “It’s been two weeks. I’ve had time to think.”
Well, shit. “I promised to apologize,” Caleb started.
“I don’t want your half-hearted apology; you don’t even know why I’m upset.”
“And even if you did,” she continued as if he hadn’t spoken, “You wouldn’t know how to fix it because vampires are notoriously self-absorbed.”
“Notoriously?” Caleb reared back. “Who said we’re self-absorbed? I’ve never heard that. And anyway, aren’t all immortal creatures a bit self-focused? I think—”
Akira’s panicked and furious yell cut him off. Caleb glanced up in time to watch his friend fly out of a top-floor window and land on the ground in front of them with a thud.
Caleb rushed over, kneeling down to help. “Are you alright?”
The marksman wheezed a cough. “Fuckin’ fine. I just need a minute, and then I am definitely going to fight her.”
“Battle Royale with grandma on your own time,” Titania instructed, examining her nails as if the sight of her brother nearly falling to his death was a regular occurrence. “We need her.”
“For what exactly?” Caleb asked as he helped Akira up. He was wary of being anywhere near Titania’s grandmother.
“Grandma is an oracle,” Titania explained, “Direct line to the Moon Herself and a semi-direct line to the gods you no longer know or worship. If anyone can tell us about this wand, it’s her.”
“That’s great,” Caleb replied, still focused on her earlier comment. “But I don’t just want your help. I want to do what I pledged.” He winced, realizing how that sounded. “Not because I want to have sex; I mean, obviously, I do. But I don’t only want sex. I like you, and I realize now that we were dating, and it seemed like I wasn’t taking it seriously, but I am. And—”
“Go fuck yourself. And when you’re finished, check your phone. I’ll let you know when Grandma is ready.”
With that, Titania swept past him into the house. Akira laughed so hard he wiped tears out of his eyes. “Caleb, my dude, you have got to stop apologizing like a vampire.”
Caleb frowned and scratched the back of his head. “I don’t know what that means.”
“Figures,” Akira chuckled. “If you intend to date my sister, you are gonna have to try harder. But don’t worry,” he clicked his tongue and winked, “I have faith. You’re a real sucker for pain.”
What did that even mean? “Where are you going?” Caleb called out as his friend strolled towards the portal.
Akirabrushed a hand over his chest before spreading his arms wide. “Got an appointment. Apparently, I’m a real sucker for pain too.”