Although my nights were no longer devoted to fulfilling a countless number of Master Straud’s unpredictable and unconventional requests, I would not necessarily call the weeks I spent in the city dull or unsatisfying.
The daily snoring of the occupant in the room adjacent to mine was soothing, in its own way. The cacophonous sound reminded me that I was surrounded by living creatures, whose ranks I might hope to rejoin someday.
But I didn’t have hopes. As Saul once told me, that was for the best.
Nights stretched into weeks. If I had once had hopes, I might have lost them. But Saul would tell me not to give up or get depressed. He often fails to remember that I am incapable of doing either.
Saul seemed even more at home in my temporary lodgings than I was. He would visit without warning to update me on the progress of my case. However, his visits seemed more frequent than strictly necessary, as little progress had been made. Despite his professed aversion to vampires, he displayed few signs of fear in my presence—and even less regard for personal space, though not to Master Straud’s degree.
“Sooo,” he said, “you ready for our hot date later?”
“I was under the impression that we were scheduled to meet with a person of interest related to my case.”
“Hell, I’m a single guy, and you’re a single…vampire…lady. That’s gotta count for something. …You’re single, right?”
“Correct; I am eternally alone. However, you are currently employed by me. An imbalanced hierarchical working relationship leading to one of a romantic nature has a number of alarming moral implications, all of which are outlined in my butler handbook. You are welcome to read it for yourself if you like.”
“Ease up, Daya—it was just a joke. Ha ha?”
“Then I must apologize for my failure to properly grasp it. I sometimes have difficulty discerning humorous intent.”
“…I noticed. Well, I’ll just…wash off some of this sweat and get ready for later.”
“I believe that would be wise; your musk is unusually pungent this evening.”
Saul’s shower lasted nearly eighteen-and-a-half minutes. I could hear the water strike his bare human flesh throughout its entirety.
He returned to my room approximately two hours and forty-seven minutes later. I only counted the minutes because I lacked any other more interesting or productive ways to pass the time.
“I am able to observe telltale signs of joy in your face,” I said.
“The city’s got some nice views at night. Had a chance to enjoy some of ’em for once.”
“I see,” I said, but I failed to see completely. Could any sight truly be so beautiful as to inspire a state of near-rapture? I believe that was the intent of art—something I also failed to understand in any real capacity.
He allowed himself to drop down on the bed beside me. “You ready to head out? I already told you that you don’t look half-bad tonight, right?”
“I am, and you did not.”
“Well, you do.” He rubbed at the back of his neck, where dark hair curled. “Let’s get a move on, then.”
As I had been prepared for this venture for hours, I took the lead out of my room. “I should remind you that is unnecessary to approach me with every lead regarding my case, particularly the less promising ones. I did not feel it was beneficial to discuss the alleged mystical properties of rocks for hours with a human woman who also spoke at length of her past life as a unicorn princess.”
“She said they were crystals. Figured that woo-woo shit might be good for something for once. And look, I got good intel on the guy this time. He’s creepy as hell—judging by the police reports—but I get the feeling he might be just the kind of creepy we’re looking for.”
“I will trust your judgment. Again. But if this job proves to be too demanding for you, I can seek help elsewhere if necessary. I may have eternity, but you do not.”
“Nah, I’m good. Have a little faith in me, will you?”
“You once again forget that faith is something I am utterly incapable of.”
“Well, maybe if you try real hard.”
“I do not believe any amount of effort will conquer an impossibility.”
“Just try, Daya. For me?”
“Very well.” I had learned that sometimes it was simpler to concede to Saul’s demands, at least outwardly. For someone who had once been so reticent to take on my case, he now showed astounding dedication to it, chasing down even the unlikeliest clues toward a cure for vampirism.
Now Saul took the lead again. In the past few weeks, I often accompanied him to obscure locales all across the city. Perhaps I had been correct to tell Master Straud that I was looking forward to the change of scenery.
Unlike Forgotten Hollow, the city was always changing. Food carts appeared and disappeared just as quickly. Humans from afar gawked at the city’s many sights then returned home, replaced by similar but different humans. Residents were evicted from their apartments, their belongings strewn all over the dirty streets. New smells, new sounds, new faces.
Saul stopped in front of a shadowed apartment building and glanced down at his phone. “This is it. Looks…promising?”
It didn’t look like anything in particular to me, but I didn’t want to sound ungrateful. Although little headway had been made on my request, I appreciated Saul’s effort—and to a lesser extent, his company. “Yes.”
The elevator was out-of-order, but he guided me up several flights of stairs and to the apartment number listed in his phone. I was relieved to discover that he wasn’t winded. Humans were fragile.
“And here we are,” he said.
He knocked on the door, but we received only silence in return. He knocked again.
“EnTer,” a ghostly voice commanded. “Or BeGonE.”
And so I chose the former. Saul followed close behind me.
“This sight almost evokes a measure of nostalgia,” I said.
“Are you shitting me? Daya, maybe we should go—”
I failed to see any reason for the sweat I could now smell beading on Saul’s warm flesh, and particularly under his arms.
“Who dares disturb my slumber?” a sleepy voice interrupted us.
“We do,” I said.
“You are honest,” said the stranger. “For that, I will permit your worthless, wormlike existences to continue…”
“For one moment longer,” he finished.
I ignored the urgency in Saul’s voice and stepped over a line of candles, toward the stranger. “We understand you are a master of the occult. We’ve come to seek your assistance in a very important matter.”
“My ritual!” the stranger hissed, his arms dropping to his sides. “Do you imbeciles realize what you’ve done?”
Though his steps were shaky, Saul remained my shadow.
“We can leave,” Saul said. “Right now. Can’t we, Daya?”
“Are you not the expert we seek?” I asked the stranger.
“Am I not…?” he said incredulously.
Saul coughed. “You’re, uh…good ol’ what’s-his-name, right?”
“You are in the presence,” the stranger said, “of no less celebrated a personage than Hadrian Grimsley Ravensbane, the greatest warlock to ever grace San Myshuno.”
“Not the world? And hell, I’d love to get a good look at your drivers license.”
“Hubris often proves fatal,” Hadrian said. “And Hadrian Grimsley Ravensbane has no need of worthless scraps of paper to prove his worth or abilities. Or identity.”
“Remind me to pull you over if I catch you on the road sometime. Wait, what the hell is this…?”
“They are priceless ritual objects, and they are not to be touched by meddling human hands.”
“I am a vampire,” I said. Like many humans, Saul was sometimes easily distracted. “I no longer wish to be one.”
“You have no need to tell Hadrian Grimsley Ravensbane what you are,” Hadrian muttered. “Death enwraps you like a shroud.”
“Do you know of a cure, Master Ravensbane?”
“Do I? Do I?”
“Do you?” Saul said. “Because I’d love to get the hell out of here and never come back if you don’t.”
“Please,” I said, attempting a smile. “I would be eternally grateful for the assistance, or at least grateful until my potential human life expires. I will also reimburse you for any time or ingredients you may offer.”
“I have been experiencing great difficulty in staying current with my thrice-cursed rent…” Hadrian said at last. “San Myshuno lease agreements will extract far more blood than a pact with even the most powerful and violent of demons.”
“I have funds in reserve,” I said. “You will be paid generously.”
“In simoleons, yes…but what of unicorn horns, fairy wings, werewolf claws, and the oldest warlock staple: fresh virgin blood?”
“Well, if it ain’t too late,” Saul said, “we can ask Byron for the last part.”
“We will ask nothing of Master Blackwell,” I said. “Simoleons are all I have to offer, Master Ravensbane. Do you accept?”
“My rent is due tomorrow,” he said, heading for a bookshelf tucked away in the corner. “Behold: Hadrian Grimsley Ravensbane’s glorious arcane library. My collection spans millennia as well as every subject you can imagine—and many you cannot.”
“Should we follow him?” I asked Saul.
“Watch your step,” Saul said.
“You’ve already ruined my ritual,” Hadrian said with a lofty shrug. “But if any demons devour you alive during your journey through my apartment, you will have no one to complain to but my landlord. I absolve myself of any responsibility.”
“I get the feeling you do that a lot,” Saul said.
“I lack only a maid or butler to alphabetize my collection. It will take me some time to find the relevant materials.”
“Don’t you even think about offering,” Saul warned me. “Let the guy clean up his own mess.”
I shook my head. “I am able to separate myself from my work—and my employer. He is not Master Straud, and therefore I feel no such obligation.”
Hadrian ignored us as he sat down on a bench—the only piece of furniture available for such a purpose in the entire apartment—and began to thumb through a thick tome.
“Guess some butlers can’t help themselves,” Saul said. “You’re lucky. You should’ve seen this one spraying down the couch in a spa before dragging his sister out of there—and I got to admit, I wished I’d had him around back when I lived with Reed and his girl.”
“That sounds unfortunate,” I said, though my attention was on Hadrian. He shook his head and returned to his bookshelf.
“The last selection was woefully out of date,” Hadrian said, returning with another tome.
“In a collection that’s thousands of years old?” Saul said. “You don’t say.”
“You may browse my collection if you like,” Hadrian said, sparing a glance in my direction. “You alone—not the unremarkable oaf.”
“I’m just fine with not touching anything you own, thanks. I like to think I have a pretty high creepiness threshold, but this place is pushing it.”
“Compliments won’t win you any of Hadrian Grimsley Ravensbane’s favor, worm.”
I could find no references to vampires in the book I chose, though there were recipes that called for a large number of human organs. Even if I became human and could taste food once more, I suspected I would not enjoy any of these meals—though the spleen terrine had a nice ring to it.
“I need to consult one or two of my most useful connections,” Hadrian announced, snapping his book shut. “Information on fae magic is supremely difficult to find.”
“Fae magic?” I repeated. “But I am a vampire.”
“Again you speak unnecessarily,” Hadrian said, returning his book to its proper place. “Did I not say that death enwraps you like a shroud? And what may best counteract death but a magic that pulses with new life?”
“I know somebody,” Saul said. “Knew. Barely—well, heh—it’s complicated…”
Hadrian ignored him. “Under any other circumstances, I would advise against any sort of dealing with fae or their magic. The prices they extract from their bargains are often crueler than any demon’s, though it may take far longer for the true nature of that price to be revealed. One would require the services of a top-tier lawyer specializing in fae law to avoid every last potential pitfall of a binding agreement with the fluttering menaces.”
Saul grunted. “Yeah, I’ll get right on that lawyer search. Daya—what do you say we leave Mr. Ravensbane here to his research and do some of our own? One of us is sure to turn up something.”
“And that ‘one of us’ is Hadrian—”
“–Grimsley Ravensbane, we get it. Let’s head on home, Daya.”
“Yes,” I said quietly. The sun would rise soon, and I grew weary. “Thank you for your time, Master Ravensbane.”
After I paid Hadrian Grimsley Ravensbane for his time, Saul and I left for home together. I noticed him kick over three candles on the way out.
Home. It was strange, to consider my impermanent city lodgings home, but perhaps I had begun to do so sometime after Saul had moved into the room beside mine. I had begun to…I wouldn’t say that I dreaded the mornings, when I had to sleep and Saul had to leave my side, but I did not welcome them.
“Could’ve gone worse,” Saul said as we stopped at the door of my room. “I think I’m building up a tolerance to the crazy.”
“Thank you for your help this evening, Saul. I know you have work of your own to attend to.”
“Aw, hell, it’s nothing. Makes for an interesting story if nothing else. You think he sacrifices babies up there? Because I should probably report that.”
“None of the death I smelled was recent, though I cannot pinpoint its exact nature.”
“Good to know, I think. Well, I think I’m better off not knowing anything, so I’ll just…keep on not knowing.”
“Good morning, Saul.” I smiled at him before he walked the short distance down the hall to his own room.
“…Good morning, Daya.”