The Neophyte

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Vampirism

HEIDI

I counted the footsteps every time I heard them: One, two...three, four...five, six…

Grandma said counting would help me sleep. The scent of lavender wafted through the bedroom. It was particularly windy outside too. The branches of the tree tapped onto the window several times like it wanted to come in.

Or maybe it was a knock and something indeed wanted to come in.

Maybe it was a djinn, like from the stories of the neighbourhood kids. Grandma always scolded me for believing them. She said that djinns could not kill us so we must not be afraid of them. But what if I saw its hideous face at the window? I froze at the thought of it.

The shuffling of footsteps got louder, closer, like they were right above me. “Grandma!”

My grandmother was seventy-two with a bad knee after her last operation. The footsteps moved about, heavily, convincing my nine-year-old imaginative mind that there was actually someone in the attic above me.

One, two...three, four—a pause. The room had turned cold all of a sudden. I checked to see if the window was open and the wind had made its way into my bedroom.

“Grandma!” I cried again. I pulled the covers up over my head.

Quick footsteps came from her bedroom. She opened the door, “Heidi, what did I tell you—”

She stopped midway. I lowered the covers to peek. Her face paled and hazel eyes widened. Without tearing her eyes from the window on my left, she beckoned me. I was about to ask when a loud knock banged onto the window. I jumped from the bed and ran towards her.

My grandmother picked me up so swiftly like her body had forgotten that she was past seventy with a weak knee. She held the back of my head down and I buried my face into her shoulder as we headed for the main door. I could hear her staggered breaths as she raced through the hallway to head to the main door. I could hear her mutter something under her breath—a prayer?

We lived in a single-storey house in the outskirts of Orchidville. Who could hear us?

She unlocked the door to escape. We could have been free. We could have asked for help from the orphanage nearby and things might have been different.

An unseen force yanked us both and we flung backwards. I flew out of my grandmother’s arms and crashed onto a wall, my right shoulder first. I cried out for her when I saw something large and black drag her into the dark kitchen.

“Grandma!”

I pushed myself off the floor. A sharp ache jolted from my shoulder. Tears streamed down my face. It was pitch dark, I was nine and beyond terrified.

But I ran after her anyway. Portraits of my late parents that hung on the wall were cracked and loose in their frames as I entered the dining area. My bare feet stepped on a glass fragment and I yelped. I shook it off and did not stop chasing after my grandmother.

Her screams echoed in the distance. The house was not large but she was completely out of sight. I turned on my heels and made my way for the door. I felt helpless. I had my hand on the doorknob when I saw it in the corridor outside the bedrooms. It blended in with the shadows, its white eyes like two floating glowing dots. It was a sight I had always seen in my nightmares and in a blink of an eye, it caught me too.

A crash in the kitchen—someone had broken in. That was the first moment I saw her. She flew in from the window, swift and nimble. The djinn saw her and dropped me immediately.

Her hair was long and black and she had bloodless skin. Her red eyes shone in the dark as her gaze fell onto the djinn. The djinn was larger than her but she fought back fiercely.

I was about to crawl away while the djinn was distracted, when two more Vampires kicked the front door open and spotted me. I picked myself up and ran towards them. They worked so methodically—I was saved within minutes of their arrival.

* * *

NINETEEN YEARS LATER.

“You know, once you pick up Spellcasting, you could just abra-cadabra and make this apartment bigger,” Vicky said as she looked around my one-bedroom apartment.

“I’m pretty sure that’s not how spellcasting works,” I retorted lamely. “And I’m sorry that this place isn’t as grand as your boyfriend’s lair.”

We stood in the kitchen, cleaning up after dinner. Butters, my ginger British shorthair cat, hopped onto the kitchen counter and rolled on it, its belly exposed. Vicky rubbed it with her ivory hands.

“Nothing is. Which reminds me, he has invited us to the Underworld for a ball.”

“A ball?” I smirked as I rinsed the dishes on the dish rack. I wiped my hands with a towel. “Isn’t that for people in the 18th century?”

She rolled her red eyes and moved her long black hair behind her shoulders. Vicky was as I remembered from that night I first saw her—tall, lean and muscular. She, like every other Vampire, had red eyes that would glow when excited by anger, happiness and many other emotions. Vicky was also part of an elite group of Vampires who were trained for combat. She was personally trained by the King of the Underworld himself, Lord Francis Voltaire.

Vicky and I grew close after the attack at my grandmother’s house. She took me in when I had no other family—my parents died when I was too young to remember while my grandfather disappeared in the nearby forest and was found dead ten months later.

Vicky took me to The Lucky Orphans where I was raised until I was eighteen. There she would visit me from time to time—somehow she was the only visitor the orphanage ever had and I was, to say, pretty lucky to have an outsider care for me—let alone by a strong elite immortal being. That was also when she would come by the orphanage to secretly teach me several different martial arts—Vicky was a black belt—so that I would know how to fend for myself. She only did so after I begged her several times. She would bond with the other children too, but she was particularly there for me. She had been my best friend ever since.

My eyes darted around the kitchen—from the countertops to the rusty sink to the green and white linoleum beneath my bare feet. Vicky stood beside me, palms on the kitchen counter with her back leaning against it.

I would be away at the Magic Realm for six months. We stood side by side in silence, letting our minds wander. I glanced at her red eyes which were dimmed with welled-up tears. I knew she was thinking of my absence as well. Vicky had always been expressive and never hid her emotions from me. In fact, she expressed herself better than I ever would in my mortal lifetime.

“Well,” she cleared her throat and stepped in front of me. She adjusted her black dress—something I rarely saw her in—and turned to me, “it’s time to get ready for the ball. Call me when you’re ready and I’ll open the portal.”

I nodded and turned back to my cat. Butters was asleep on the countertop. I placed some wet tuna into his bowl and placed it beside him. He awoke, meowed, and chowed down his dinner. I went into my room to change and soon I was ready. I held my charm necklace with her blood in it and shut my eyes.

A portal materialised in front of me. I strapped on my heels and walked through it, stepping right into a whole other dimension. I had never been to the Underworld before and I was nervous. The portal immediately closed behind me as I stood on large wooden tiles of a dinner hall. Vicky was waiting there.

The Lair was massive and impressive. It was mostly made of wood with its parquet tiles and wall panelling, embroidered with handcrafted beading. Vicky took my hand immediately and we moved through the crowd. She introduced me to every Vampire that bowed and curtsied.

I tailed her to a crowd that had circled around a tall and regal Vampire. He wore a black coat jacket with a starched collar and buttoned cuffs. He had long blond hair that tied into a ponytail and a pair of deep-set red eyes above a pair of high cheekbones. He spoke and laughed in a rich baritone, a very distinct character that stood apart from everyone else there. Vampires from all ranks circled around him to listen to his stories. When Vicky shouldered her way through the gathering crowd, his red eyes lit up and a wide grin broke across his face.

“Victoria, my beautiful lady! You have returned to me. So is this your lovely friend?” He asked. Then his eyes bore on me which made me feel absolutely seen.

“Lord Voltaire, this is Heidi.”

Lord Voltaire took my hand, his red eyes glowing with excitement. He planted a cold kiss on the back of my palm, “It is lovely to finally meet the famous Heidi. Victoria has told me so much about you.”

I curtsied. I felt like I was transported back into those Bronte books that used to accompany me on sleepless nights back in the orphanage.

He then took Vicky’s hand, “Come, ladies. Let’s have our feast!”

At the long table, Vicky was brought to sit by Lord Voltaire’s right hand while I sat on his left. He seemed like a peculiar Vampire but there was humility to him and the way he treated his Vampires. Especially Vicky—he treated her like a queen.

“My love,” Vicky turned to Lord Voltaire. He leaned in. “Heidi here wants to be a Spellcaster.”

His eyes flickered to me. “Ah, lovely! A Spellcaster is not an easy feat. I know Jessie White very well—he is the Sage of Practical magic as well as a dear friend. I can write him a recommendation letter for you. Just send me your particulars and I will take care of the rest.”

“Oh but I wouldn’t want to trouble you.”

“Nonsense,” Vicky waved me off. “A Voltaire recommendation means you’re a V.I.P. You’ve got special privileges and you’ll be personally trained by the three Sages.”

“Well,” I said slowly, “thank you. How’d you become friends with one of the Sages, anyway?”

“I saved his life once,” Lord Voltaire responded. “Perhaps he feels obligated to owe me, though I was only doing what was best. Besides, I have only ever recommended one other person.”

“Who?” Vicky asked.

“That sixteen-year-old, remember? Red hair and pasty-faced? Anyway, if you must know, Heidi, Jessie had lost his wife to a djinn. It was a long time ago.”

“Oh that’s awful.”

At that moment, appetisers were served; tuna tartar and some other things I did not recognise.

“It is. The djinns entered his home through another mortal’s request.”

“I hate that,” I muttered. “Some people just want that power.”

He nodded sullenly. “I was summoned by his neighbour. The neighbour was another Spellcaster. By the time I arrived at the scene, there were seven djinns that had raided the house and possessed his wife to climb onto the roof. It took me and several other police officers to try and calm her down for twenty minutes. But alas, her fate met her that night.”

Vicky remained silent. She glanced at me and then back at her plate of tuna tartar.

“But I’m sure she is at peace now, free from the tortures of the djinn,” he concluded. Then he clinked his glass and raised it.

“I would like to thank you all for attending tonight and accepting my invitation. I would also like to extend my gratitude to my fellow Grand Masters for aiding me in throwing this wonderful dinner banquet that is before us. Lastly, but most importantly, we have a mortal joining us for this dinner party. Welcome to our Lair, Heidi! Tonight, we feast!”

Lord Voltaire had a flair and charm that always excited people. Perhaps it was his supernatural abilities that could easily charm anyone, but it was mostly his charisma and genuine love for his kind. He respected anyone that deserved it while maintaining his high position as the lord of Vampires. Lord Voltaire also believed in maintaining healthy relationships among the Vampires, mortals and the Spellcasters.

I glanced around the table and witnessed the sophistication that the Vampires possessed. The Lair was basically a civilisation, a society that lingered in its own realm and culture. While the Worldly Realm was already in the twenty-first century, the Underworld was still set in the nineteenth.

I sat and watched everyone chat heartily and lively. Vicky was conversing with some other Vampires of her rank, the Masters, who surrounded her and told stories of what happened when she had been away fighting djinns in the Worldly Realm.

Seeing that Lord Voltaire was not engaged, I decided to strike a conversation to make things less...awkward. I cleared my throat.

“Are all of them high-ranking Vampires?”

“Not all,” he replied and waved his hand vaguely at our table, “Most of these are, yes. But the ones at the other tables, those are the Fledglings and the Minors. Those over there, they are the Primes and some new Masters. The ones with us at this table are mostly the Masters and Grand Masters.”

The dinner party lasted a whole night. By the end of it, I was drained. Lord Voltaire had wanted to send us home through the portal—mostly because he was following Vicky who accompanied me home. When the portal closed behind us, he turned to me solemnly.

“Heidi, this might be a rude question but did you ever learn of what happened to your grandmother?”

Vicky shot him a look. I admit, that question caught me off-guard.

“No, actually. Why?”

His red eyes were riddled with concern. “I make no promises but I can help you look for the answers. In the meantime, I believe you must get ready for your training tomorrow. As a thank you for being such a wonderful guest, I shall transport you to The Academy myself.”

* * *

My bag was all packed and I was ready. I scratched Butters’ ears and handed him to Vicky as I stood up from the bed. I put on my combat boots.

“Butters is in good hands,” Vicky held her tears and leaned in for a hug. She had planned to stay at the apartment while I was away. “I can’t believe you’ll be gone for that long. Butters and I are going to miss you.”

I pulled away and lifted my duffle bag. I sucked at goodbyes.

Au revoir, Heidi. Please extend my greetings to Jessie when you meet him,” Lord Voltiare said in his soothing voice.

“I will, Lord Voltaire. Thank you for helping me with this. I owe you.”

He held up a white palm forward, “Nothing that I cannot do. Are you ready?”

I closed my eyes and braced myself. My heart was racing and I began counting my breathing, the seconds between breaths, the way my grandmother taught me. I could feel Vicky’s presence nearby, anxious and desperately holding back her sniffles. I felt Voltaire’s palms on my shoulders and chanted something in an ancient tongue.

In mere seconds, the current world fell away. My knees began to sway and shake but I held on. Soon I felt solid ground again, but this time, neither Vicky nor Voltaire were with me. I knew I was not in my cozy one-bedroom in Orchidville anymore.

I counted to ten. I slowly pried my eyes open and took in the sight. Lush green surrounded me and purple skies hung above. An endless spray of stars dotted across lie ember freckles of the universe. I had learned what the Magic Realm looked like but seeing it in person did not come close to what I had always imagined.

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