“But… but you…”
“I know it’s a surprise. We needed to tell you before things got too far. We think you can help us… help me show the rest that Halflings can live with other vampires.”
She took a step back and half fell into the chair beside the table. Paul and Lavinia came to join her there. The older woman looked Lavinia over. There was no doubt in her mind that she was indeed a Halfling. Their energies were far removed from the sedated ones of Vampires or the lively ones of humans. They were so very distinctly “other” that one who was as in tune with the world’s energies as the Keepers could easily tell.
“But how did you keep this for so long? You must have lived centuries!”
Lavinia pulled a small corked bottle from her pocket. The liquid inside glowed a mysterious dark purple colour.
“A special mix of nightshade, mandrake root and sage. There’s a drop of vampire’s blood in there as well. My mother before me taught me to make it and Paul has been helping me. She said it would subdue the "living" half of me and keep the other.”
Sepphira nodded. She might have known. This was ancient lore however and their existing texts didn’t go quite as far as all that. In fact, most of that knowledge was lost during the Purge. That way, if any Halflings still lived, they wouldn’t know how to survive undetected and therefore be destroyed at once. For Paul, a high ranking officer in the Vampire Council, to hide such knowledge from the world for a long time... then again, she thought looking at the couple fondly, theirs had always been a love match.
“We were worried that perhaps my powers, or those of our children, might have exceeded the effects of the tonic.”
Sepphira looked from Paul to Lavinia. That was where the problem lay exactly. She wondered if and how to tell the couple precisely what she knew since this new information was much more serious than she expected. As the silence stretched on, Paul began to think that there was more to this whole affair.
“What aren’t you telling us?” he asked. Lavinia noticed it too. The Overseer looked more worried than she had ever seen her.
“Paul… the Halfling we sensed wasn’t your wife.” She was quiet a moment as the news sank in. Lavinia and Paul glanced at each other in alarm.
“But you can’t have sensed any others... All the other Halflings I know died or went into hiding, far removed from human and vampire kind. My family were the last ones on the continent.”
Sepphira turned her gaze to Lavinia. “Truth be told, I suspected it. Halflings have always been the best at hiding, at learning and keeping themselves safe. It was ludicrous to think that because we hadn’t seen them they didn’t exist. Equally, it would be erroneous to think that since you know of some that there are no others in the world. With all the discoveries of other continents that man has made, there is no doubt that some lost souls have found their way to new lands without knowing the full extent of their travels, intended or not.”
She ran a hand through her long white hair as she rose and began to pace. This was terrible. Not only were there more Halflings in the world, something they should have thought of long ago, but there was a new one forming that very moment; coming into their own as it were. The transition would not be easy and if, like their ancestors, they decided to abandon convention and go berserk, this would not end even remotely well. Perhaps they had already been lured to the side fighting against the monarchy and perhaps there were even more on their side. More Halflings meant that this war would not be one easily fought. And there was no way to track them down as of yet. But maybe… she turned to the couple so abruptly that they almost jumped.
“You can help us with the most pressing issue. The most recent Halfling. I don’t think they know that they are a Halfling yet.”
“How can we help with that?”
“Lavinia here is in the very unique position of sensing her kin directly or indirectly. Because your skills have not as yet been honed, you will have to be cautious. Even a semi-adept vampire can tell when a new Halfling is near since their energy is so erratic. This is why it is imperative that we find the new one at once.”
“How will we find them?” asked Paul gripping his wife’s hand. If it was something that would get her in trouble, he would rather not do it.
“For now, we will have to train Lavinia,” she said coming to stand in front of her, “she will have to learn to sense the others. If there have been others all this time and the other side has sensed it too…”
“Then this war is much bigger than we imagined,” finished Paul.
“Exactly. The Halfling is still new and inexperienced. My Keepers and I will be watching out for them while Lavinia trains. Paul, I suggest you and your wife keep your children safe for the time being. If you are discovered by the Council for this transgression, I don’t need to tell you the consequences.”
Paul nodded gravely. He would not see his family harmed, duty bound though he was. This was a conflict long in coming. And now that they had dealt with this one secret, they probably had a chance to change the tide of the war.
All they had to do now was find the other Halfling.
A throbbing pain woke Zahra in the middle of the night and with a groan, she shifted slowly in her pallet. She hissed as quietly as she could and struggled to sit up. At a guess, she would say it was a few hours yet before she and the other servants had to be up. She pressed her fingers into her temple and bent over as her head throbbed again. She had never quite experienced anything like this. It seemed as if whatever was inside her skull was threatening to come out.
April was still fast asleep and Zahra didn’t want to wake her. She still had some of Tess’ herbs – a few for various pains and a bit of her pain tonic. It tasted horrible but had been very effective in the past. She slowly staggered over to the chest containing her things, opened it and searched for her vial.
When she had located it, she pulled open the cork and downed its contents. She remained leaning her head against the chest, her breaths coming with some difficulty as she fought through the searing pain. She hoped it wasn’t something serious. Her Masters didn’t seem to be uncaring about her wellbeing but if she fell sick often, who knew? Bit by bit, the pain ebbed away leaving a soothing lull in its wake. Zahra slipped to the ground resting her back against the chest as she blew out a relieved breath.
When she opened her eyes, she was very startled to realise two things.
The first was that she had successfully made her way to her chest in the pitch darkness without tripping over anything. With a splitting headache, she had managed to navigate her way past April’s pallet without stubbing her toes and made her way directly to her own chest instead of April’s which was closer.
The second thing was more startling – she could see perfectly in the dark.
She glanced down at her fingers and splayed them turning them over and over not believing they were hers. Everything seemed covered in a golden yellow hue but it was clear as if it were afternoon and not the middle of the dark night. With all the lights turned out and the curtains drawn, there was not a bit of light to be seen. How was this possible?
She shut her eyes tightly wondering if there was perhaps something wrong with them. She made her way over to the small table in the room and picked up April’s mirror. When she saw her reflection, she nearly dropped the precious keepsake. Besides her usual features, typical of her bedraggled state, her eyes were a glowing amber. And as she gasped, she realised that her teeth were also different.
Shaky hands set the mirror back on the table and she took a step back clutching at her face. When she was younger and her grandmother had told her stories of demons and spirits who haunted the plains, that was what she had imagined them to look like. Abandoning the mirror and the horrifying image she found there, she went straight back to her bed, lay her head down and screwed her eyes shut.
This couldn’t be real. It couldn’t be.
How she managed to fall asleep a second time was beyond her but she was roused from her slumber by April’s sleepy voice. She sat up remembering the night before but found herself thankfully surrounded by darkness broken only by the candle April had managed to light. A brief survey of her mouth with her tongue found nothing out of the ordinary, no elongated teeth at all. She breathed out a sigh of relief. Perhaps it had all been a dream? That must have been it. She must have dreamed it all.
However, when she went over to her chest, her toes made contact with something small sending it skittering across the floor before it clinked against the wall. She knew without looking that it was the vial she had drunk from the night before. She glanced at April who was preparing herself for the day ahead without even glancing in her direction. It was not uncommon to kick things in the dark and they did often.
It was uncommon to be able to see in the dark at all. None of it sat well with her and yet, she thought with a glance at April, how could she explain it to her friend when she didn’t understand it herself? She’d heard one of the maids mention that there was a healer somewhere in town. Perhaps it was time to pay them a visit. If she could get permission from Ms. Delaney, then she would go as soon as she could.
Evening came more or less without incident. Phillip was away with Master Lucas so Zahra didn’t have to find creative ways of avoiding him. And yet, she rather wished he would corner her again as he had in the library. Foolishness, she told herself firmly for what had to be the fiftieth time in the day. Besides, she hadn’t had time to go and see a healer about her problem. She didn’t know what she would do if she didn’t have her tonic. If she carried the vial with her, the healer would probably know what to put in it.
Even if they didn’t, perhaps they had the specific herbs she needed. It was a good thing that Tess had taught her a bit more about herbs and tonics. She had seemed keen that Zahra learn all she could about keeping herself safe. It was a blessing that they had met. Zahra would probably have died of some nasty disease in that slave store if Percy hadn’t picked her from the rest.
April had asked again about Phillip and although Zahra had been reluctant to tell her, she had decided that perhaps just one confidante was enough. She would need strength for the days after he left and as close as they had gotten, she was almost ready to trust April with her life. So she had hinted at a liaison, mentioned that they had seen each other outside the barn and in the library, but never said anything about stolen kisses or grand promises.
She wasn’t quite ready to divulge that much.
That evening, as they prepared to go to sleep, Zahra checked her reflection in April’s mirror. There was nothing wrong with her reflection and the world did not glow amber. Even as April put out the light, nothing seemed to be the matter. She hoped whatever it was would not bother her. She had more worries on her plate than she could count with the illicit affair she was engaging in and her current slave status. A new illness would only make things worse.
With a quick prayer for guidance from the Creator, she gave herself up to sleep and left the world and its many worries behind.