I arrived home with a new determination, buoyed by the fact that I had once again managed to successfully transport myself across town. I had left Gabriel alone at the hospital; I found that I could only tolerate him in small doses. There was something about his cool sense of superiority that just irritated me to no end.
The instant that I was separated from him; I felt the strange cold sensation leave me. I still doubted that I would be able to become unnoticeable without his help, although it would be a very useful skill.
My encounter with Nick really had improved my confidence. I was still Scarlett; I could accomplish anything if I tried hard enough. We had pretty much exhausted all of the available reading materials and I was no nearer to finding an answer. In my fear of making the situation worse, I had been putting off the obvious option. I needed to go straight to the source. I could spend months or even years guessing, or I could find the one person who knew for certain. That witch was going to pay.
Lillian was horrified when I voiced my thoughts to her.
“No way, what if she just finishes you off?” She demanded.
“I won’t allow it. I know what she’s capable of now; I was taken by surprise before.” I argued, slightly hurt at her lack of confidence in me.
Lillian’s expression softened, “I know, it’s just that I don’t want anything to happen to you.”
I tried to sound as reassuring as possible. “I can do this, I need to do this.”
After a moment she inclined her head, “Fine, but we should take backup.”
“No, I am doing this alone. What if she hurts someone else? Do you want to put Amir in danger?” I hated to use that tactic, but I meant what I said. It was one thing for them to help with research, but I wasn’t about to ask anyone to step into harm’s way for me.
Lillian winced at my words, “Fine.” She said eventually, “But I am coming with you. I’m already dead, what can she do?”
I chose not to think about that too much; I could tell by the stubborn set of her jaw that she was determined to come with me, whatever I said.
“Fine.” I sighed finally, “As long as we keep Amir and Nick out of it.”
“How are we going to find her?” She asked, “You could use your vampire contacts but that would be risky.”
I’d already considered that option, but I didn’t want anyone to know that we were looking for her. If she told the wrong person what she had done, I would be in big trouble. It would probably help to have some background information, but I didn’t think it was worth the risk.
“I think that if I focus on her hard enough, I should be able to shift to her location,” I said slowly. “Hopefully we can deal with whatever we find when we arrive.”
Lillian was already shaking her head. “I don’t like it, what if there are more people there? What if she’s in public?”
She did have a good point. “We’ll wait for nightfall.” I decided. “That way, she’s more likely to be at home.”
I just had to hope that the woman was not near any vampires. Although, judging by her hatred of me, it seemed unlikely.
Nightfall rolled around quicker than I would have thought, considering I was waiting for something to happen. I didn’t know quite how to feel about the whole thing. The bloodthirsty part of me was almost excited; I wanted this situation resolved, one way or another. The more sensible side of me was a little nervous, although I would never admit it to anyone. I knew it would be almost impossible to get her to give me answers, but what else could I do?
I prepared as best as I could, wearing practical dark clothes and sturdy boots. I hid a number of weapons about my person, just in case. It wouldn’t be wise to kill the witch, but if it came down to her or me… it would be her. I hadn’t forgotten that I had promised Mr Winslow that I would investigate Linda’s death. Present events had delayed me, but I still fully intended to find answers. Perhaps her sister knew something that would help. Still, fixing my current mortality status was my first priority.
My phone rang just as I was preparing to leave. I thought a little guiltily of Nick, but a glance at the display told me it was just my PA, Adam. Whatever he wanted, it would have to wait. If it was something vampire-related, I was powerless to deal with it anyway.
Lillian was still nervous when I met her in our living room, but her determination to go with me had not wavered.
“Let’s do this.” She said.
Before I had another chance to rethink things, I took her hands. Closing my eyes to focus, I thought of the woman who had attacked me. It was hard to imagine her objectively, as the image was coated with my hatred of her. I wasn’t sure if I could take Lillian with me when I moved, but I thought that it should work… theoretically. Gabriel certainly had no problem transporting me around town.
At first, nothing happened, but instead of listening to my doubts, I let my anger grow. It always seemed just a hair’s breadth away these days, easily brought to the surface. I knew it had worked when I suddenly felt the cold air hit my face and Lillian made a noise of surprise.
Quickly opening my eyes I spun around, searching for danger. To my surprise, I was in the same alleyway I had accidentally ended up in before. Thankfully Lillian still stood next to me.
“What the-?” I muttered. “This is where I was the other night!” Had something gone wrong? Had I brought us here by mistake? At least we were still in the city and I was fairly sure I could take us home if I had to.
“Maybe you were dreaming of her before?” Lillian suggested quietly.
“Perhaps. But, where is she?” Surely, we should have appeared right next to her. I stared at the surrounding buildings critically. They mostly looked like cheap converted flats. The one nearest to us caught my eye. The old fashioned window was filled with an array of colourful plants, blocking out most of the view. Tiny unfamiliar symbols were written on some of the window panes.
Lillian followed my gaze. “Well, if a witch lives anywhere here, it’s in there.”
“But how do we get in?” Life as a human was so irritating. Before, I could have just kicked the door down. I didn’t even think that I could shift in, I had never seen the place before and imagining the witch took me to this spot. I didn’t want to find out what would happen if I did something like appear in the middle of a wall.
“I’ll see if I can let you in,” Lillian suggested. She disappeared without waiting for a reply but to my confusion she reappeared an instant later, looking shocked. “I couldn’t go! Something is stopping me from entering.” Marching over to the wall she placed a hand against it but drew away quickly as if she had been burned. “Ouch!”
"There must be some kind of ward on the building," I realised. That probably explained the symbols on the windows. It would also explain why we had ended up in the alleyway- it was the closest spot to the witch, outside the barrier. That was powerful magic, not many would know how to do something like that. Not properly at least.
“There is only one thing for it.” I sighed, making my way around to the front of the building.
“Scarlett no!” Lillian hissed, but it was too late. I was already knocking on the door.
A long moment passed and I began to get edgy. All of a sudden the door opened to reveal the witch. When she spotted my face, her eyes flew wide open in surprise.
She tried to close the door again but I had already shoved my foot into the gap. The wood hit my ankle and I hissed in pain but did not stop my advance. Pushing her backwards with all my strength I took advantage of my lower position to unbalance her. Lillian rushed up behind me and helped me to push the door with her ghostly strength. All at once, we were inside. It seemed that the wards did not protect the door once it was opened.
The woman stumbled and tried to scramble away from me but I launched myself at her. She struggled and I could see her trying to come up with some magic to save herself. Quickly I brought one of my knives to her throat, freezing her in place.
“Don’t” I growled.
My other hand gripped her arm. If she tried anything I could either stab her or drain her energy. Neither option would be good for her.
“Not so confident now, are we.” I purred, happy to have gotten the upper hand.
“How are you here?” She said, her voice shaking a little.
“That is not your concern.” I snapped, “I want to know what you did to me.”
“I thought I’d killed you.” She spat. “That spell was designed to return you to your natural state!”
Interesting. “Well, apparently it interpreted this as my natural state.”
“Wait, so you’re not supposed to be dead?” Lillian cut in, confused.
“I don’t know,” I muttered, not wanting to think about it at that moment. “I just want to know how to reverse it!”
The witch’s eyes had widened, flicking between me and the general area where Lillian stood.
“You have a spirit with you?”
“So what if I do? She’s none of your business.” My patience was quickly waning. I could feel the woman trembling in my grip.
“Did you kill her too?” Her accusation was a desperate attempt to distract me, unfortunately, it worked.
“Of course not,” I said, appalled. “She’s my best friend. Plus, for the record, I didn’t kill your sister either. I was actually going to investigate her death before you waylaid me with this nonsense!”
“Lies!” She wailed, “You killed her, I saw her body. You infected her with whatever evil disease you carry!”
I could see that reasoning with her was going to be difficult. This was going to take more time than I had first thought.
“Lillian, would you mind shutting the door, please. I don’t want to draw the attention of the neighbours.” I said. The front door still hung open from where we had burst through. Lillian closed it softly, making the woman’s eyes widen even further.
“Can you see her?” I asked, curiosity getting the better of me.
She almost shook her head before remembering the knife. “No, but I can… sense her.”
“That’s interesting, not many people can.” Of course, being a witch she would be more sensitive than the general population.
I did my best to reign in my anger; I had to get this woman to see reason. I took a calming breath.
“Now, I do realise that we haven’t exactly had the best start here but, I would like to have a rational conversation. Do you think that would be possible?”
Her eyes regarded me with blatant hatred and mistrust. “Will you drop the knife?” I could see that she didn’t believe I would do it.
“If I drop it, I will need your word that you will not try to harm Lillian or I with magic. Can you do that?”
There was a long moment of silence whilst she contemplated my bargain. I knew she was eager to get away from me. The thick tension in the room was setting me on edge.
Finally, she spoke. “I will not harm you or the ghost today if you drop the knife and do not attempt to harm me in any way. Deal?”
“Deal.” I agreed, immediately releasing the weapon and backing away. I dropped it in such a way that it bounced and fell far away from us both, in case she thought to use it against me.
Looking at her now, she didn’t look threatening at all. The woman was dressed in the kind of comfy sweat pants people usually only ever wear when they plan to not leave the house. Her short blonde hair was pushed back from her face and her brown eyes were scared.
Glancing quickly around, I could see a half-eaten meal on the table in the small kitchen area. We had obviously disturbed her in the middle of dinner. The rest of the small flat was a little messy in a lived-in kind of way, although everything looked essentially clean. The furnishings were basic but functional.
Faced with her now, I found that I didn’t actually hate her as much as I had thought. She was fundamentally just a misguided young woman trying to avenge her sister. I probably would have done something similar in her position. Although, I wouldn’t have made the mistake she had. Always ensure that your victim is actually dead. Otherwise, they can come back to bite you later on, just like I was doing now.
“We don’t want to hurt you,” I said, trying my best to be diplomatic. “I just need to know what happened to me. Can it be reversed?”
“Why should I help you?”
The question was simple but nonetheless difficult to answer. Still, I was no stranger at making deals. I put my hand on my chest and tried to make my expression as open as possible.
“I swear that I didn’t kill your sister. We did have a short business arrangement several weeks ago. A friend of mine lost his brother and we needed Linda to help us with a location spell. I paid her the money and that was the last I saw of her… until she turned up in the morgue. As the head vampire in this city, I was asked to investigate her death. Of course, I probably would have done it anyway as the circumstances were… strange.” The red colouring was still bothering me, as was the manner of her death.
Her eyes searched my face, no doubt trying to figure out whether or not I was speaking the truth.
“Head vampire?” she asked guardedly. “I thought that was Rowland.”
She was more informed than I thought. Still, her material was a bit out of date.
“Rowland kidnapped a young child. I could not stand for it so I had to intervene. Rowland died at my hands, so I was forced to take over his position. That is the tradition.” As I had found before, honesty really was sometimes the best policy. People always made all kinds of assumptions about me, they were rarely accurate. Directly challenging them with an argument often just made people act more defensively. Instead, explaining my view of events openly could give them room to readjust their perceptions.
After taking a moment to absorb that information she raised an eyebrow in question. “But, you’re human now?”
My lips twisted with distaste but I kept my voice neutral. “Yes, so you see the dangerous position I am in. You are one of a very select few who are aware of this information. I am putting my trust in you now,... if it falls into the wrong hands I would be in grave danger.”
Her expression became one of incredulousness. “Why tell me this information then?”
“Because I believe that we can help each other and somebody needs to take a leap of faith here.” We could spend forever fighting but neither of us would get what we want. I could kill her, but it wouldn't solve my problems.
“You really didn’t kill my sister?” She said after a long pause. I could tell that she didn’t want to believe me.
“No, I did not,” I said, just glad that she was finally listening to me.
Her face suddenly crumpled with anguish. “I’ve made a big mistake.” She moaned. “That spell was irreplaceable! I used the last of ingredients that don't even exist anymore. Herbs that are extinct now." Her voice caught on a little sob. "I spent my entire savings account on a one of a kind gemstone that I had to grind into dust! All of that, for nothing! It was a one-shot deal and I blew it."
I bit back a nasty remark and instead said; “Please tell me that it can be reversed. I need my powers back if I going to get anything useful done.”
She was shaking her head, still looking stressed. “I don’t know but I doubt it. It was supposed to kill you; it didn’t exactly come with an exit clause.”
“This is nonsense!” Lillian snapped, getting irritated. “Surely she must have thought about her actions more? You don’t just try to kill someone without checking all of the facts!”
Remembering that I was the only one that could hear Lillian, I repeated her thoughts out loud. The witch stared at me with tearful eyes.
“I was really angry; I wasn’t exactly in the most rational state of mind. I just wanted revenge for my sister!”
“You stupid girl.” I hissed as my temper finally got the better of me. “You’ve ruined my life on a whim!”
“Hey!” her anger rose to match mine. “How dare you insult me? Who are you calling girl, anyway? You look younger than me!” It was true, I did.
“I’ll have you know that I am well over a thousand years old!” I snapped. “You-”
“Hey!” Lillian’s voice echoed through the room, loud enough even to be picked up by the witch. A sharp wind whipped around us, cutting the argument short.
A small ribbon on embarrassment curled in my stomach but I ignored it. Emotions were running high; it was natural that there would be tension.
“I’m sorry,” I said stiffly. “I am not dealing with the current situation very well.”
Again I had surprised her. “Apology accepted… I guess… I didn’t do so well, either. But… I have to ask, why would you want to go back to being a vampire anyway?” Her expression showed her clear distaste of the idea.
“I don’t expect you to understand, but it’s my life.” I didn’t think it was the right time to explain the whole vampire/draugr thing. “It’s who I am. I know you probably have your prejudices about… the undead, but we’re really not that bad. For the most part, anyway. Every race has some bad people.”
“For the record, I’m not overly fond of witches,” Lillian muttered to herself. My lip twitched with amusement but I stopped myself from laughing. It was definitely not the time.
“I have no idea if it is possible to counteract the spell I did.” The woman shrugged uncomfortably. “It was old, old magic passed down through the family. Still… I recognise that I may have shot myself in the foot. I just wanted revenge for Linda; it seemed worth it at the time. Now, I have no materials to recreate what I did and nothing to fuel the spell anyway. The rare gemstone it used really was one of a kind.”
“Why are you telling me this?” I asked. If she was trying to bargain with me, she was doing it badly.
“Because I need you to understand my position.” She admitted. “I already played my best move and I lost. I don’t know who did this terrible thing to my sister and I have no more power to stop them if I do find them. That’s where you could come in.”
I raised a disbelieving eyebrow. “You want me to help you, after everything you’ve done?” She had literally ruined my life because of an assumption. The thought of helping her was repellent.
“We could help each other.” She countered. “You said it yourself, you were investigating anyway. All I am asking is that you continue and if you find the evil bastard that did this… you make them pay. In return, I will try to reverse my spell. I cannot make any promises, magic is tricky and unpredictable. But, I’ll do my best.”
“I don’t like it,” Lillian muttered. “How can you investigate without your powers?”
I nodded at her. “Lillian makes a good point. It would be a great help to my investigation if I had my powers back. I can’t exactly walk up to a group of vampires like this and ask who did it.” I gestured to myself impatiently.
The woman shrugged. “That’s the best I can do. If you don’t want to investigate, I have no reason at all to help you.”
I ground my teeth in frustration. Why was this woman so irritating?
“Fine.” I snapped. “I will make a start, but I expect results from you.” Being human didn’t mean that I was above killing her if she became useless. She had caused this mess, after all. It wasn’t exactly the wonderful solution I had hoped for, but I sensed it was the best I was going to get. She genuinely did not seem able to help me immediately. This was consistent with my knowledge of witchcraft, limited as it was.
“We should exchange details.” She suggested, either oblivious or choosing to ignore my implied threat. “My name is Vanessa; I have a card with my phone number on. Please use it next time instead of breaking down the door.”
“Scarlett,” I said, taking the small white rectangle she offered.
“Oh, I know.” For the first time I saw the trace of a smile. “Your reputation precedes you.”