“Abashed the devil stood and felt how awful goodness is and saw Virtue in her shape how lovely: and pined his loss”― John Milton, Paradise Lost
The Vlad who woke up after being suspended in a terrifying blankness felt both gratitude and confusion. Confusion because he groped around blindly for the thread of a thought that would lead him back into his undead life. Gratitude after he found that thread and pulled on it, climbing painful inch by painful inch back to the surface.
He shifted slightly, and then bit down to silence a groan at the feeling of his bones grinding together. He kept his eyes closed, assessing his surroundings. Light conversation filtered in and his brain scrambled to make sense of the voices.
He heard Caleb, which put him somewhat at ease.
Vlad didn’t move.
“I think we can dispense with the code word don’t you? You don’t listen to me about anything else, especially not running off into the night after some random sim you barely know, so following this rule seems arbitrary.”
“Alice?” Vlad hissed, sitting up, frantically scanning the room. He knew he was in the hotel, could recognize the room by scent even before he opened his eyes. But he had no idea how he had ended up back in his bed or what had become of Alice “Not madame” Martin.
Caleb stood nonchalantly at the foot of the bed while a witch in hooded sweatshirt eyed Vlad warily. Vlad, who felt as if he were being held together by a thin film of tendons stretched beyond capacity, held Caleb’s gaze and tried to assert some level of his old control.
He was a king wasn’t he? Even if he felt like a dead one.
“Alice.” he repeated, making it a statement rather than a question.
“Would you like to talk about the war you nearly started with Contessa Arcadia? Or the vampires you slaughtered? Maybe the reports of a demon stalking the streets of San Myshuno last night?” Caleb asked, his tone deceptively bored.
War? Contessa? Vlad had torn through her territory, that was true. And it was, perhaps, a bit…imprudent. But it hadn’t felt imprudent at the time. It felt…necessary. And yet, he couldn’t explain the creature he had faced or why Alice Martin had warranted freeing the darkness he kept swirling inside him.
Was it all for nothing?
No, Caleb wouldn’t be so calm if Alice were dead. He liked mortals. Enjoyed sims, even. He’d…he’d…
Vlad struggled to bring his mind back to the present. “Alice,” he rasped, his voice hoarse. “I was following her and—”
“Alice is fine,” Caleb sighed. He turned to the witch, “Thank you, your payment will be deposited by noon tomorrow.”
Payment? Noon? Alice was…fine? Vlad stood, giving the witch a dangerous look which he was in no position to follow up on. He was so thirsty he could barely think. His legs were shaking from the pain radiating down his spine.
What was going on?
He growled anyway, determined not to show an ounce of weakness. “There will be nothing but explanations until I give you leave, witch.”
His back. The creature had broken his back. That was where the pain was coming from.
Caleb folded his arms, “Really? That’s the first thing you want to say? After what we went through to get you—”
The witch silenced Caleb with a swish of her hand. “That creature would have snatched your soul and drug it down to the seventh underworld if we didn’t free you. It took an unbelievable outlay of magic and it cost you in the high six figures, so you’re welcome. And for the record, your reputation precedes you so no, we can’t undo your curse.”
Vlad stared at her like she had grown three heads. Soul? That was definitely a thing he didn’t have anymore.
“And what do you know of creatures from the Underworld?”
The witch gave him a pitying look, turned on her heel and left.
Vlad took a moment to collect himself, resisting the urge to chase after her and demand answers. Caleb would have already questioned her and avoided disaster with Contessa through whatever means it took to clean up the mess.
That feeling of gratitude returned and Vlad, unused to such a thing, almost surprised by it, decided to acquiesce.
When Caleb opened his mouth to add another quip, Vlad held up his hand. “I will save you your tirade, Caleb. You were right to call the witch and, I suspect, about anything else you had to do to make amends with Contessa and keep this under wraps.”
Caleb tried to cover the look of surprise that came over his face but he was not quite fast enough. “Y-Yes. And Alice is fine. She’s been in and out of the hotel all week and is headed to auditions as we speak…”
“Week? I’ve been out for a week?” Vlad cried.
He tried to gather his wits. Alice was safe, auditions were today. He needed to be there to see Alice—Jimena, he corrected himself. He needed to be there to see Jimena.
William strolled into the room, “Aye, sleeping beauty finally wakes?”
“Call a car,” Vlad insisted as he pushed past William and lurched towards the closet. “We’re going to those auditions.”
“Vladislaus, there are a few things you might want to know…“ William called after him.