Part two of this chapter was a lot. I’ve been dreading it (and thus delaying it and rewriting it forever), but also laying the groundwork for it since the beginning so I’m kind of excited that I just took the plunge (?). I may have been a smidge ambitious and had to jettison a few things to a later chapter, but overall I’m happy (and also sad lol this chapter was an attack on myself).
Halfway through editing, I got a new computer so the quality of images on the last page is greatly improved.
Oh and I’m experimenting with footnotes because this story is dense and my world-building is dense (overzealous?). Hopefully, this will help when I’m doing call backs to past information. But who knows? This is an ever-evolving project 🙂
Laurel and Hodges Cemetery Crypts
Vlad did not look up when William came into the tomb. This is who I am. William had always known, and Vlad had wanted Alice to know too.
“I’m not used to receiving phone calls from you wanting to talk. Usually, I happen upon the destruction and force you.”
“There’s no destruction,” Vlad replied, unable to keep the petulant tone out of his voice. Ego and arrogance demanded he make calling William seem like a favor, rather than a need.
“Right,” William observed wryly, picking his way past a few stones and the coffins Vlad had tossed into the center of the room.
“Fine, there was a little destruction,” Vlad grumbled, ignoring the non-committal sound William made in response.
“I don’t understand any of this!” he continued, agitation causing him to pace. “All of this feeling is killing me. And to what purpose? There’s no rhyme or reason to it!”
“There’s no rhyme or…Vladislaus, do you not see that you’re a—”
“Monster,” Vlad finished, pinching the bridge of his nose. Talking was a bad idea. He already disliked it.
William sighed, casting his eyes heavenward as if to ask for patience. “Do you remember when we died?”
Of course he remembered. It was not a thing to forget. Vlad’s father had demanded they go and clear Forgotten Hollow. It was the price of getting back his wife and son.1 It seemed an insurmountable task but when they rode up with their small contingent and saw only a few half-starved looking soldiers, Vlad was sure his father had truly gone mad.
“I told you that we were lucky,” Vlad recounted, his voice tinged with bitterness. “That the Villain King had lost his bite and his mind and we would do this small task and be home before a fortnight.”
But the small half-starved army had turned out to be half-starved vampires. They made mince-meat of nearly everyone but William and Vlad.
“Your father, the King, knew exactly what early grave he sent us to.”
“Dying was not the worst of it,” Vlad croaked, voice thick with the emotion the memory summoned up. “The waking up was…brutal. But you were determined—”
“No,” William interjected. “You were determined. I was the last Great Knight of Windenburg,” he mocked, his head tilted in disgust. “Trained under Fatima Simovitch herself, and what did it buy me? A desire to meet the sun. But not you, crowned prince. You refused to grant me leave. A great big pain in my ass. Savior of my undead life.”
The olive branch hung in the air, but Vlad could not make himself reach for it. “I don’t remember that version of myself,” he said instead.
“You didn’t forget it by accident, Vladislaus. Josef ensured you would be so broken, so lost, that you would step into the mouth of that cave and let that darkness scrape out your insides and take up residence.” 2
Even as William laid the blame at his father’s feet, it scalded Vlad like an accusation. He could not stop experiencing his trauma as something he had somehow caused.
“Was excruciating,” William countered angrily. “But not singular! You cannot carry it with you the whole of your immortal life. You won’t just be nothing, you’ll have nothing.”
William rubbed his eyes, “You can have your misery or you can have Alice, but mark my words, you cannot have both.”
Alice wasn’t just Alice. For Vlad, she had come to represent a purpose outside of just existing, a possible version of a life where he could pine for something other than how things used to be.
“Why would you tell me this?” he rasped. “To remind me that I have a beast within me? That it pushed her away?”
“Yes,” William declared firmly. “To remind you that you are this creature, but you are Vladislaus too. You called me here because you did something dramatic. That’s not the actions of some monster, that’s just the same soft-hearted fool I’ve known most of my life. So you went too far this time and didn’t go far enough before? Go and find some middle ground.”
Middle ground? Vlad often felt he was all one thing or all the other, nothing in between. But he could try, couldn’t he?
“Any other wisdom?” he retorted, but there was no heat in it.
“Yes, since you asked. Stop bloody blindsiding her! It’s a wonder she didn’t try to stake you. I’ve been a vampire for nearly 600 years and even I find the sight of those eyes and those wings unsettling.”