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Building it Up

Building it Up When Cindy woke up, her hand immediately went to her neck. There was no mark, no pain. Marcell must have kept it together long enough to get her somewhere safe. Wait a second, she was an idiot. The fact that she had woken up at all was proof of that. Safety of internal fluids having been determined, Cindy was now able to turn her thoughts to the splitting headache piercing through her cranium. She felt lethargic, and heavy... hung-over, that was the word she was looking for. Don’t ask her how she knew what that felt like. She had been fifteen at a homecoming after-party. And an idiot. She was dizzy, and nauseas, but more than anything, Cindy felt weak. The magic had retreated somewhere deep inside her. If she really reached, deep down she could still feel it staring at her. But whereas before it had been a roaring lion, now it seemed more like a nervous house-cat. She could barely conjure enough of it to make a bit of smoke, let alone a fire. Maybe she’d overdone it a little. This magic was inside her now. She had to be responsible with it. Cindy could do so much more than she used to, but she needed to learn to hone it. Right now, her body wasn’t fit to handle it. Even though she gave herself several minutes before attempting to sit up, when she did so the world still began to spin. Okay, now she knew she had overdone it. Flopping back down again, Cindy turned her somewhat fractured attention to where the hell she was. Old light fixture with its flickering lightbulb above her head, nice, fluffy bed, the quiet sounds of many people around her stirring. More likely than not, Cindy was back in Viola’s compound. She could only hope that Marcell was here too. She had to find him. Cindy stood, forcing herself to stay on her feet. She recognized the room now. Her and Marcell’s suitcases were sitting in the corner just as she left them, and the magic circle, though now heavily scuffed away, was still visible on the floor. One foot first, then the other, Cindy made her way to the door as her vision began to straighten. The creak of the old wood swinging open echoed through the quiet corridor as Cindy peeked her head out. “Hello?” she asked. “Ah, you are awake,” said a familiar, accented voice, and Cindy turned to see Viola materialize next to her. “That is good. I was becoming worried.” “What... happened?” were the only words Cindy could force out of her sandpaper throat. “I’m sure you would know more than me in these matters,” she raised her eyebrows. “Just before dawn I saw Lucius stumbling out of the woods with you on his back. Whatever you did must have brought him down enough that he got you back in one piece, but the man couldn’t look at you without drooling. I’ve locked him in a bedroom for now, at least until the worst is over.” Cindy frowned. “The worst?” she asked. “What do you mean?”

“For someone like him, who survives off of rodents, human blood is nearly equivalent to a highly potent drug. He’s gotten on an unstoppable high, as it were, and it’s going to take some time for him to properly come down.” “So, it’s not a good idea for me to see him, then?” “Absolutely not,” Viola shook her head. “Even if you now have the skill to hold him back, seeing you would just bring back the bloodlust. You may accompany me to his room, if you like, and I can take a message to him. But there must be no contact for a few days.” “Why even let me come, then?” Smirking, Viola glanced at her wryly. “Because I know you will just follow me anyway. Come.” She swept around on her heels and seemed to nearly float down the hallway. Cindy followed her a long way, past the many drawn curtains and old paintings, all the way to the other wing of the house. Though the entire building was old, this wing was significantly more abandoned and colorless. The carpets were moth-eaten and threadbare, and the curtains were torn and hung limply from the dusted-over windows. “I apologize for the accommodations,” Viola whispered, seeming to read Cindy’s mind. “But this part of the house is rarely used, and I wanted him away from my thralls, both for his recovery and their safety. I promised them my protection, and I cannot compromise on that.” “I understand,” Cindy nodded. “and I’m sure he does too.” “Shh,” Viola said suddenly, pausing in the middle of the hallway. “No talking beyond here. He cannot know of your presence.” Cindy mouthed the word ‘sorry’ and made a zipping motion over her mouth. After walking for another few seconds, Viola stopped just outside a door, and after grabbing the key from a chain around her neck, slipped inside. Cindy leaned her ear against the door, and tried not to breathe. “Good evening, Lucius,” she could hear Viola from just behind the hollow wood. “How are you feeling?” “Cold,” came the reply. “Do you have an air-conditioner on or something?” Non, not in this part of the house. And it’s also the middle of the summer.” “Shit. This is going to get bad, isn’t it? I... went too far, didn’t I?” “Like a heroin addict on his first bender.” “After all these years, I still find it so amazing how easy it is to slip.” “If you ate a reasonable diet this wouldn’t happen.” There was an audible sigh. “I don’t want to get into this again, not after all these years. When was the last time we were together? Paris?” Oui, it was Paris. I am sorry about what I said back then, you know that, right?” “As am I, truly. But please, Viola. I’m so thirsty. Still so thirsty. It’s almost like I can still taste it on my tongue.” “I have some blood bags for emergencies. But we’re going to ween you off of it slowly. As much as it pains me, I do not think it is safe for you to drink human blood anymore.” “Not in the slightest.” Cindy could hear the doorknob turning, but it paused as Marcell spoke again. “Viola,” he asked. “Where’s Cindy?” “She’s safe. You did not hurt her.” “Good. I want to see her, but.” “Only see her for the right reason,” Viola admonished, seeing right through his bullshit. “It is not safe now. In a few days, perhaps. She told me to tell you to, ehem: ‘Stop being a pussy ass bitch and bring back my boyfriend.’” He laughed. “Yep, that sounds like Cindy.” “You really are in love with her, aren’t you?” Viola asked. There was no verbal response, but Cindy heard Viola scoff a little. “Remarkable,” she continued. “My condolences. Her magic will give her a long life, but she will not live forever.” Silence in the room. “But I suppose that doesn’t matter now. I’m sorry I mentioned it. I’ll bring you up a blood bag.” She turned to the door, and Cindy stepped away as Viola threw it open and shut behind her. “Come,” she said, a little more brusquely than usual. “I will take you back. This house is very big.” They walked back in silence, each stewing in their own thoughts. Cindy had given it some thought, of course, how she would die and leave him all alone. She supposed it must be like owning a dog for him. You knew the dog would grow old and you’d eventually have to say goodbye, but you tried not to think about that. Of course, it was a little strange to imagine herself as a dog, and the analogy wasn’t perfect—at least, she hoped not—but it was the only thing she had to compare it to. Several times she almost opened her mouth to ask Viola about it, but every time she stopped herself. It wasn’t Viola’s problem, and she had enough to deal with. Cindy would figure it out on her own. She really wanted to talk to Lucius. But she still had to wait another three days before she could. And it was torture. Cooped up in a strange place she hardly knew all by herself was not fun. Worst of all, the internet connection sucked. It was just strong enough to receive messages and browse basic webpages very slowly. Of course, her mother and Tommy were freaking out about not being able to get ahold of her, and she responded to them as soon as she could. Though she made up some excuse about camping in the woods with no signal, she was sure her mother didn’t believe her. But thankfully, she let the subject drop. There was still one problem, though. Marcell’s car had long been sold off, it was gone. Rest in peace the vintage Ford Falcon. She would never forget the time spent in its front seats. Viola didn’t have a license and Ruby couldn’t leave for the days it would take them to get back. Once Marcell recovered, they would need someone to get them home. “Wait, wait, wait: where in Satan’s hairy jockstrap did you say you were?” Niko asked over the phone. “Like I said, in a vampire compound in the middle of nowhere, having just escaped an insane cult. I promise we’ll tell you the whole story on the way back.” She could hear him audibly sigh. “Jesus Christ, Cynthia, you’re going to owe me so many favors after this.” “Thank you, Niko, love you too.” “In debt for life.” “I’ll see you in a few days, then?” “Yeah, yeah, but in debt for life, Cindy!” All of the arrangements made, Cindy had nearly nothing to do for the next three days. Finally, just when she thought she couldn’t take it anymore, Viola knocked on her door one evening and leaned inside. “He says he’s well enough to see you now.”

She could tell by Viola’s face alone that she did not agree with his assessment. “He’s only half on rodent blood on the moment, but if he says he’s alright...” Viola shook her head as she led Cindy back to his room. “I suppose he’s the only one who truly knows himself.” “I wouldn’t worry, Viola,” Cindy responded. “I’m mostly recovered now as well. If he’s not ready yet, I can protect myself just fine.” They paused just outside the greying door. “I believe you,” Viola nodded. “But I’ll be right outside, just in case.” “Thank you,” Cindy blinked in gratitude. With a nervous sigh, Viola turned the key in the old, brass lock, and allowed Cindy to step inside. She leaned on the door as it closed behind her, quickly taking in the room. It was quite spacious, and echoey. The carpet had been hastily rolled up and lay against the far wall, probably to prevent stains. For here and there along the exposed wood were splotches of blood. But it was with a heady feeling of relief that Cindy noticed how they seemed to be old, each of them darkened and peeling. And there, sitting on the bed across from her, was Marcell. He looked tired, the bags under his eyes had returned, and his eyes were once more a dull shade of maroon. He was back, at least for the most part. His breathing still quickened a little when he saw her, and she caught a small flash in his eyes. But he quickly cleared his throat and shook himself. “Hi,” he said, after a minute. “Hi,” she repeated, every nerve raised. They stood there, in awkward silence, for a long minute, neither quite sure what to say. Finally, Marcell broke the silence. “Listen, about all of this—” “I’m sorry,” she blurted, before he could continue. Marcell looked taken aback. “Sorry?” he repeated, blinking. “What on earth do you have to be sorry for? Everything that you saw was because I couldn’t control myself.” “But that’s the thing,” she continued. “I let it happen. I could have done something, anything, but instead I sat on my butt and waited for someone to save me. When I finally did do something, it was already too late.” “It certainly was not,” he smiled. “I’m here, aren’t I? All—well, mostly—back to normal. If I had stayed there longer I would have hit a point of no return, but you did it. You intervened just in time. Thank you, Cindy.” “You’re welcome,” she said, “but—” “It’s all my fault, really. I was the one who gave into temptation and made you deal with it.” “Are you kidding?” she scoffed. “I know you. You would never have done that under any normal circumstances. Raz set you up to fail.” He laughed a little. “Well, should we just blame good old Anaxagoras and call it a day?” “Yes,” she grinned back. “Let’s.” Her face quickly fell, however, as a thought occurred to her. “Lucius,” she began, looking down towards the ground. “All those things you said in the arena, about me and—” Sighing audibly, he leaned forward on the bed and rubbed his temple, then gestured for her to sit next to him. “Will you be al—?” “I’ll be fine,” he grunted, a little sharp. Cautiously, Cindy sat down on the bed next to him. She felt him stiffen momentarily, but it only lasted for a few seconds. Cindy let out the breath she realized she’d been holding. “I’m going to be honest with you now,” he began, staring off towards the wall. “I never mentioned it before because I never thought it would be a problem. And... I didn’t want to scare you. But... your blood... is some of the most... alluring I’ve ever smelled. I don’t know if it’s because you’re a witch or something else entirely. And, I will admit, that is part of the reason I fell in love with you. But I promise you, it’s only a small one.” Cindy didn’t say anything for a while, just stared at the ground and thought. “If that fact makes this, makes us, too dangerous for you, then I understand completely if you never want anything to do with me again.” “Well...” she broke her silence finally. “I will admit that I have thought about it. But in the end I always come to the same conclusion. It would just hurt more to not be with you. I love you Lucius, and that’s not something I can change. Plus,” she added, a smirk beginning to grow on her face. “If push comes to shove, now I know that I can just put you back in bitchy baby jail.” “Is that what you’re calling it now?” he asked, bemused. “Yes, and if you, ahem, bitch about it, then that’s exactly where you’re going.” He laughed, a big, genuine one, and wrapped his arms around her. “That’s my girl,” he whispered, kissing her on the forehead. Cindy closed her eyes and just felt. Yes, she smiled to herself, she really had missed this, the one place where she truly felt at peace. They spent a couple more days at Viola’s compound, while Marcell fully recovered and stopped holding his breath every time Cindy entered a room. Finally, the day of goodbye’s began. Shockingly, Ruby almost cried seeing Cindy go, and Marcell and Viola said a few quiet words away from the others, until, precisely at seven PM on the dot, Niko showed up. He climbed out of his black sports car, and flicked his reflective shades off to get a better look at them. He appraised them carefully, like they were a new shipment of... whatever it was he dealt in these days. “Hey Cindy,” he said finally. “Good to see you holding up. Marcell, you look like shit.” “Feel like it,” Marcell nodded back. They hopped in the back of the car, and away they went. “So, uh,” Niko began after a minute of silence. “God I feel like a goddamn suburban dad picking his kids up from a party. Look what you’ve done to me.” “Please don’t put that image in my head,” Cindy grimaced. “Oh god the polo shirt, it hurts my eyes.” “All I gotta say,” Niko chuckled, “you two better have a good explanation for all of this.” Marcell managed a small smirk. “What happened to the ‘no questions till the morning’ rule, dad?” “You’re on thin ice, buddy,” Niko turned around in the driver’s seat. “I will kick you out of this car.” “We’ll tell you in a minute,” Cindy said. “But first: what’s been happening in Ede Valley?” “Well,” Niko grinned at them through the rear-view mirror, “it’s a good thing we got ahold of you when we did, Cindy. I think we’re gonna need your help.” “With what?” “We’re gonna figure out what the Truth really is, and how we can kill it.”

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