“I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.”– Friedrich Nietzsche
Weeping Willow Cemetery
Without a sound, seemingly out of nowhere, the dark figure slipped onto the bench right next to where she was sitting.
“You came!” the woman with the many silver strands in her coppery red hair exclaimed. Once a stunning beauty, now marked by the hands of time.
She was Seraphina Bartholomew, formerly Latimer. A witch, once their leader, until she stepped down. He was Caelan Vatore, son of the leader of all vampires of the region, Caleb. As a vampire, he did not age, looked still like the young man who once had been Seraphina’s lover. A love that had turned cold and bitter. But one thing was left to bind them: a daughter. Leeora, whom both of them loved.
His reply was merely a grunt, without ever looking at her, dampening her initial excitement into oblivion. With a sigh she succumbed to the realization this would be another one of those unpleasant conversations with him.
“I wasn’t sure my message was received and that it was clear enough. Or that you would find me.” she mumbled.
“I just followed the smell of lies and deceit and voila – there you were.”
“What did you expect?! Huh? After all that happened between us, the way you played me dirty again and again, back when there was a ‘we’, and you also kicked our precious daughter out when she was barely 18. 18! Practically a child, destitute and scared with no place to go! I will never forgive that. After all that, my excitement to see you is and will always be non-existent. But I am here, aren’t I? Make it worth my while.”
“Well, we both know that your take on all this is a little too simplified. Leeora had been pushing every single button, for months before I finally lost it. I tried to apologize to her, but she is stubborn like her father. I always knew she would go straight to you. And evidently, she quickly found a permanent place to go and look at her now. She lives in a mansion with a park for a garden. I did her a favor! It is unreasonable by you to always paint me as a terrible mother, when all you ever were, is a weekend dad to our daughter. You have not the first idea who Leeora can be when she doesn’t get her way. She did nothing but disrespect me all her life, while you were up on a pedestal, no matter what you did!”
“Respect is earned, Seraphina! She didn’t get her way with me a lot either, but unlike you, I didn’t resort to screeching at her and pushing her away. I explained my reasons to her, even as a child, she may not have liked it, but there were no meltdowns.”
“You are still every bit as unrealistic about how life really works as you ever were!”
“And you are OLD!”
“Thanks, I know, you tell me that every time we meet. Good for you that you do not age. I do, and that’s that, not much I can do about it. At least I have feelings. Emotions! You know nothing about that, cold as a block of ice.”
“I feel plenty, Seraphina! Including nausea sitting next to you. Maybe it’s your witch potions!? I wouldn’t be surprised if you calling me here for a so-called emergency was nothing but another attempt to control me. Your witch bullshit doesn’t work on me.”
“No worries there, Caelan. Besides, your beloved daughter – who can do no wrong in your book – is a witch too, so maybe keep your hatred at bay, if only for her sake! And if you opened your eyes for once, you would see that Leeora isn’t as innocent and delicate as you act.”
“She’s a witch, but she doesn’t use it against me, unlike another witch we both know! And unlike that other witch, Leeora REALLY loves me.”
Seraphina was about to respond but stopped herself, knowing that if they kept going, all they would do is fight, until he would just vanish.
“Caelan, listen to me. There is a real reason I asked you to meet me. It’s important and concerns all of us. You, me, Leeora, your son, your father, my brother, a lot of people.”
“I can’t wait to hear this tale now.”
“Not a tale, the truth. I swear on my children’s life and my own.”
“Do you even know what that is, truth?”
“CAELAN! I am trying to save your life! And Connell’s and Caleb’s and maybe others’. You are all in grave danger.”
Caelan laughed dismissively, shaking his head, apparently not believing her.
“Caelan, please, listen to me. Leeora’s husband is not who we all think he is. He is one of us, a witcher, but nobody knows that, because he is part of a secret cult. He doesn’t come to the Realm, doesn’t attend meetings, has never even mentioned it to anyone that he is a witcher, he stays away, hidden. He’s a hunter, Caelan. A vampire hunter. And my brother hired him to eliminate you, and others. I don’t know who all, I found some documents, my brother accidentally left out, and he almost caught me snooping, I had to hide before I could read it all, but I definitely saw your name and can only guess your father, son and Riordan are on the list. But I am certain of this, there was an edict, a contract, signed by my brother as ruler of the Magic Realm hiring the vampire hunters to eliminate you. He seems to think he is doing it for the wellbeing of the witches. He never trusted your kind. Maybe it was a mistake for me to step down and hand the scepter to him. I should have known better.”
Caelan’s laughter had long seized, he was staring at Seraphina, trying to figure out whether and how much to believe her. Something cautioned him to not dismiss her.
“Why would he? The vampires and the witches have had a truce for years. Nobody ever breeched it, as far as I know, and they even extended it to legalize marriages between vampires and witches. And even if it were so, that they wanted to kill me, why would you tell me? Should suit you just fine. And have you forgotten who and what I am? I am not exactly easily killed.”
“I have my reasons. Our daughter loves you so, losing you would rip her heart out and I know how that feels. Think of me what you will, but I love Leeora, always have and once upon a time I loved her father and he me. Maybe something is still left, I do not want to see you harmed. It was a shock to read it, but now finally a lot of things make sense. The way that Jonathan seemed to have come out of nowhere, nobody has any background info on him, not in the Magic Realm, and not anywhere in the mortal world. He’s like a ghost, no work history, no social media entries until just before he and Leeora met, Caelan, it’s a ruse. He is as fake as a three-dollar bill.”
“Well, I will admit I always found him rather fishy. Even Rhiannon, my wife, doesn’t care for him, and she is very friendly and loves everyone. Except him. And there was something about him that just irked me all along, I just could never put my finger on it.”
“So, you believe me? Thank God. What are we gonna do, Caelan? We can’t just sit around hoping for the best. That won’t work. Action is in order; I just don’t know how. How do you track down a ghost?”
“You will do nothing. I will handle it. Tracking down those who don’t want to be found is what I do, as the Vampire Punisher, and I like to think I excel at it. My kind are masters at hiding, so if I can track down vampires, witches will be no problem. Your only job is to keep your mouth shut, not a word of it to anyone, and make sure your brother doesn’t realize you know. I will handle the rest, including explaining it to Leeora. I do not want her blindsided by this. We have our own ways to research and confirm.”
Willow Creek Vandenberg Residence, home of Jonathan, Leeora and their toddler daughter Aubrey
Jonathan entered the kitchen, where she stood with her back to him.
“There she is, my beautiful wife.” he hugged her from behind, but noticed her stiffening, so he let go. She turned to face him.
“I have told you before that I can forgive most everything, except lies. My childhood was filled with them, courtesy of my mother, and while I am aware our kind thrives on deceit and deception, I asked you to be 100% honest with me about one thing. So, I will ask you straight out, and advice you not to lie to me.”
“Are you still active as a hunter?”
“No. I told you. I am only an advisor now.”
“So, you are telling me you are not actively plotting to have my father, my grandfather, my half-brother and God knows whom else killed?”
“Leeora … I don’t know where you are getting all this from …”
Leeora’s eyes locked onto Jonathan’s.
“I know, Jonathan. I KNOW. Someone told me you are still doing this, so I snooped – and l found everything. You forgot whom you are married to, I am powerful and your lame spells to hide things from me were laughable. I breeched them all. You are not retired. I saw it all. I know, and they know. They are coming for you. But they will not get you. You were the very last person I ever trusted, only to have them betray me. I had high hopes for you, I believed you, I wanted to believe you. Not only did you lie, but you also wanted to take from me what I love.”
She stepped forward and kissed him. When they parted, her eyes were angry – and sad.
“Goodbye Jonathan.” there was a finality in her voice.
Jonathan halted, eyes wide, before staring down on himself, watching blood ooze from a brand-new hole in his shirt, then in disbelief he stared at his wife, then at the tiny, thin dagger in her hand, before he collapsed.
The kiss of death.
The blade had been laced with a quick-acting poison, handmade with great care by Leeora herself.
Jonathan’s twitching slowed down, white foam began to pour from his lips, before he seized all movement and his wide-open stare broke. The eyes of a dead man.
Leeora looked down at him, laying at her feet, trying to put her mixed emotions into words. It wasn’t sadness. Nor regret. There was a comfortable numbness … relief, maybe? The feeling of justice having been done by her hand? Freedom?
“I really thought I loved you, maybe I did, but your lies killed every last bit of that. You were like a weed, beautiful to look at, but quietly destructive and toxic.” Leeora whispered.
By the time dark clouds produced two vampires in her kitchen, Leeora was still staring at the lifeless body on the floor in front of her.
“Leeora! No!” Caelan exclaimed as both he and his son rushed over to the scene.
“Too late, daddy. I took out the trash. You won’t have to.”
A quick glance at his son, shaking his head after having checked Jonathan’s vitals told Caelan everything.
Caelan felt a flash of recognition of that look in his daughter’s eyes. There was no remorse. No sadness. No regret. It was the look of a killer. Like him. Like Connell. An inner darkness.
Connell could barely comprehend the scene. Never had he seen a mortal act so nonchalant about killing anyway, especially not their own husband, father of their child. His father looked equally shocked, but was better at keeping his composure, his voice was firm when he turned to Connell.
“Clean up the body, bring him to the castle and see that Riordan comes up with something believable for the mortals. Something accident or a mugging that ended fatal. Go!”
Then he turned to his daughter, leading her to the living room to make sure she wasn’t just in shock, when his granddaughter Aubrey appeared after having had a nightmare.
With her in his arms, Leeora whispered
“I did it for her, daddy. And for you.”