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Taking it Back

Taking it Back Cindy had been inside Viola’s compound for only just over twenty-four hours, and already she felt a world of difference from the cult she had left behind. This was in both good ways and bad. That feeling of constant oppression, of always being watched, was gone. There was no hatred here, no fear. But at the same time, Viola was a vampire, and not one like Marcell either. She had thralls. Quite a few of them, in fact. In the early morning just before dawn, when Cindy and Ruby and she had stumbled out of the forest and through the high gate of Viola’s estate, Cindy saw them emerge from the outbuildings and the manor house itself. They were mostly young people, men and women in equal measure. Some looked healthy, most were very pale. All of them had circular scars or even fresher scabs somewhere on their bodies. “You are scared,” Viola commented as she saw Cindy’s face. “Lucius is the only vampire you have met, is this correct?” “Besides you, yes.” “You only know his way, then,” she smiled, not unkindly. “There is more than one way to survive this curse without becoming a monster.” “By feeding off of innocent people?” Cindy couldn’t quite keep the accusatory tone out of her voice. But just then she noticed something: one of the thralls saw them coming, and waved. As she called out, a few more looked up and walked towards them with no hesitation. “You made it back!” One young women, one of the more pale and anemic-looking of the thralls simply came up and gave Viola a big hug. “We were getting worried. The sun’s about to come up.” Viola smiled, but it rapidly descended into a frown as she looked the woman over. “Camilla, you still look very pale. You’ve been taking those iron pills I gave you, yes?” “I have,” she looked a little embarrassed, “but my period came a little early.” The frown on Viola’s face deepened. “Keep an eye on yourself please. We can take you to a doctor if we need to. Eat some red meat for lunch, if you would.” “Yes, mom,” Camilla smiled, rolling her eyes, before moving back off towards the manor house. After watching her go, Viola turned back to Cindy. ”You speak of it as if I were a parasite. I prefer to think of it as a symbiotic relationship. I take the wayward, the homeless, the lost, and I give them someplace to live.” “What’s the catch?” Cindy narrowed her eyes.

Ruby scoffed. “Kind of pessimistic, aren’t ya?” “Forgive me for being stuck in a cult of insane-os for the last two weeks.” “I take their blood,” Viola grinned, showing her sharp, white teeth. “But no one is forced to stay. This is all of their own free will.” Cindy stayed quiet, unsure of what to think. It seemed too good to be true. Could Viola really be that kind? “Lucius and I may have disagreed on many things,” she continued. “But we have one thought in common: that we should live with normal people, not against them. I always felt, however, that we should be strong enough to protect ourselves. That strength can only come from human blood. Perhaps that is why we split ways.” “Sorry,” Cindy said. “It’s gonna take me a while to wrap my head around all of this.” “You are tired,” she nodded. “You may use one of the spare rooms. Follow me.” She led Cindy across the yard and into the tall, Victorian manor. Inside, the foyer was dark and somber, but down the halls on either side, Cindy could hear signs of life. Conversation and laughter. Up the old, creaking stairs, their footsteps light on the threaded carpet, they moved quietly down the upper corridors, and finally Viola left her in a small, out of the way bedchamber. And other time, Cindy would have taken a minute to take stock of her situation and breathe. But she had been awake for just about twenty-four hours, and in that time had dealt with more emotions than her brain was capable of handling. No sooner had she collapsed onto the bed that she passed right out. After the last several weeks of a hard, camp bed, the soft sheets and fluffy mattress felt like a slice of heaven. And at that moment, Cindy decided that she wasn’t going to think for a little while. She slept like the dead for most of the day, not even moving. When she finally roused herself, she saw that the sun was just setting behind the coniferous trees which surrounded the manor. Slowly, she sat, and then stood. It took her a while to figure out where she was and what had happened before it all came rushing back. Marcell needed her. She had to get back to him. She had to find her grimoire and use it to free him. It was the only chance she had. Still in the clothes from the previous night, Cindy nearly sprang from the bedroom to find Viola or Ruby. She didn’t have to search very long, for just then, she spotted Ruby coming down the hall towards her, followed by two thralls—should Cindy even call them that? Was that rude?—and Cindy instantly recognized what they were carrying. “Our stuff!” she smiled. “You found it.” “It was a bit of a trial,” Ruby admitted, “but we sent out a few normals to Anaxi. They had to shake up the bartender a little, but luckily she kept most of it. You’re lucky you’ve got all these nice-looking things. I think she was planning to sell most of it.” “I’m sorry you had to go through such trouble,” Cindy said, grabbing her suitcase from one of the thralls. “Can I store it in the bedroom?” “Be my guest.” Ruby and the others followed her into the chamber, and Cindy threw her suitcase down on the bed and yanked it open. There was one thing she needed to find. But try as she might, it just wasn’t there. Though she threw the entire contents out of the case, her grimoire remained elusive. She knew exactly where she had put it, zipped into the pocket in the lid, but it just wasn’t there. She spun around to Ruby again. “You didn’t happen to see a book in any of my things, did you?” she couldn’t help the sound of her voice rising. “Big, old leather cover?” Ruby winced. “Well, see, the thing is...” she handed the bundle she was still carrying to Cindy, who unraveled it on the bed next to her suitcase. A small, animal noise escaped her throat. Inside were the charred, half-burned remains of the Liberis Decipis. It had been ripped clean in half, so many of its pages were burned beyond recognition or simply gone. Though some of the pages still had a few words that were legible, it seemed as if no whole spell had survived. “I’m sorry, kid,” Ruby apologized, looking down at the floor. But Cindy didn’t hear her. She fell to her knees, her mouth hung open in despair. That had been her one shot, her only chance to save Marcell. She’d only gotten out of Raz’s cult alive because of the help of so many others. Without her magic, she was just ordinary Cindy Miller. Without her magic, she was nothing. “Don’t know how, but it was a resilient fucker, I’ll tell you that. The bartender said that she’d apparently tried to burn it about four times.” “That would be because of its magic,” came Viola’s voice from the doorway. Cindy bit her lip to keep herself from crying and turned to face her. “It’s very pages are imbued with it.” “What do you mean?” Cindy choked out. “I thought it was just a book.” The vampire frowned, and pulled a chair up to the bed. “Has no one ever told you how grimoires work?” Cindy sat back on the bed, and shook her head.

“Long ago,” she began, “some ancient sorcerer or warlock first wrote in that book. This was when the world was full of magic, and so the writer left some of their own behind in its pages. And when that magic faded, the books came to be passed down, on and on through the centuries. There is no more magic in the world now. All that remains is contained in those grimoires still left. " “So what you’re saying is...” Cindy thought aloud. “I myself have no magic, I’ve just been using the magic that’s inside this book.” Oui,” Viola grimaced. “Then...” Cindy clenched her fists together and looked down at the old, carpeted floor. “Then there’s no hope. No normal person could ever free Lucius.” Leaning forward, Viola grabbed Cindy’s hands. “I wish I could offer you my aid. Truly I do. But the only true fighters here are Ruby and I. Ruby is still weak, and even I could not go against the full force of the cult by myself.” “I understand, I just...” Cindy nearly choked on her own breath. “I don’t know what to do. I promised him I’d come back for him, but what can I possibly do?” Viola’s lips were pursed, and she took a deep breath inward. “There may be one thing,” she said hesitantly. “What?” Cindy leaned forward. “I’ll do anything.” “I hate to even suggest it,” she looked away. “One vampire may not be enough to stage a rescue mission, but two...” she trailed off. “I could share our curse with you, and with that power, it may be enough to free him.” There was silence for a while, as Cindy froze. Vampires were powerful, she’d seen what Marcell could do while only surviving on rodents. With that power, and the two of them, it would most certainly be enough. But afterward, what then? The curse wasn’t just something that could be reversed. She wouldn’t be able to die. She’d stay young forever while her mom, and Tommy, and everyone else she knew and loved grew old and left her. She’d have Marcell, but would that be enough? Viola must have noticed how pale her face had become. “I see Lucius has been telling stories again.” She smiled. “That’s good. There’s a reason it’s called a curse, after all.” “C-can I have some time to think about it?” Cindy asked. “Of course,” Viola stood, not without a kind smile. “Take all the time you need. I will not be going anywhere, after all.” She left, leaving a slight trail of mist behind her. Ruby and the others followed, and Cindy was left alone. And there she stayed in that room for the next several days, only leaving for meals and when she couldn’t stand staring at those walls any longer. She tried to think of anything else, any way she could possibly get Marcell out of the cult without any powers. But it was impossible, there was no way. Not for a normal person. Ruby came to visit her once or twice, and finally, on the latter of these, Cindy came to a conclusion. She was going to have to take Viola’s offer. Marcell was going to be pissed at her, but at this point, she didn’t see any way around it. She told Ruby this, and the werewolf sighed, and stood. “I’ll tell Viola,” she said. “Maybe you should go outside, get a little last sun before... well...” Both women were silent. “I’m sorry honey,” Ruby finally whispered. “I wish more than anything that there was a way for you to take your magic back.” “Yeah...” Cindy glanced down at the remains of her grimoire, its charred pages still managing to glow in the fading ligh... Wait a second. The sun had just dipped below the trees outside the window. There was nothing to reflect off of. The book was glowing on its own. Faintly, and seemed to get fainter. But something was still there. “Ruby...” Cindy began as the werewolf made to leave. “Hold on a second. Do you have any chalk here? And candles?” Ruby stared back at her, shaking her head slightly. But after a second, she sighed. ‘I think so. You want me to bring you some?” “Yes. Please.” Even though her spells were gone, she remembered enough to get by, If it came down to it, she may have been able to rewrite some of the basic contents. But if that magic was still there, maybe she could find it. It failed to burn, after all. Something must have been keeping it together. Maybe this was just all wishful thinking, but if there was even a small chance, she had to take it. As soon as Ruby brought the chalk, Cindy got to work. She moved the bed and threw aside the carpet. The wood underneath was a little warped from years of midwestern weather, but it would have to do. Ruby raised an eyebrow as she watched her clear the dust from the floor. “If you think I’m crazy, you don’t have to watch,” Cindy muttered to the floor as she measured out the circle. “I don’t think you’re crazy,” Ruby claimed, leaning in the doorway. “But I do wanna make sure you don’t hurt yourself.” “Well, if you’re just gonna stand there, you might as well help.” She grabbed a box of matches and threw them in her direction. “I need candles lighted. Eight of them, if you please.” Though she made a low, rough sound in the back of her throat, Ruby got to work as Cindy drew the lines of the magic circle. Finally, once the candles had all been placed in their respective corners, and the circle was complete, Cindy scooped up the remaining parchment, and placed the corpse of the Liberis Decipis in its center. She then sat on one side of the circle, and gestured Ruby to the other. “Two people are better than one,” she explained. “Alright,” she continued once Ruby had followed her instructions. “Let’s see if this works.” Closing her eyes, Cindy placed her hands down on the circle, and made the world shrink down to only her and the book. She started with its cover, imagined herself opening it, searching all of the pages. Not there, not there, but she felt something, something alive, and she was getting closer. It tried to hide from her, but she chased it page to page, across the text in so many different hands. And then, finally, on the very last one she cornered it. It was very tattered, its face blackened by soot and its clothes charred to rags, but Cindy recognized just then whose magic it was, and she couldn’t help laughing out loud. She’d know that sour expression and singular, yellow eye anywhere. All along, the magic she’d been borrowing, that handwriting in an ancient language that she could not read, had belonged to Gilveidan the All-Knowing. Because of course it did. The figure standing before her was not the man himself, of course. It didn’t stand like him, or stare like him. Its look wasn’t melancholy and sad, but fiery, maybe even a little bit angry. It was merely a fragment of his magic, probably split off from him long ago. This must be the only form it knew. “How did you find this place, Cynthia Miller?” It gestured to the page behind it. She shrugged . “I just... looked. Has no one ever done that before?” “You are the first user of the book that I’ve met face to face.” It winced a little, as if it were in pain. “You’re badly burned.” She took a step towards it, but it flinched away. “My home has been destroyed. But unlike most, I remain bound here even if the book should turn to dust. Stuck.” Cindy moved forward again, slowly this time, and it did not back away. “Well, if that’s the case, you don’t have much time left. The book’s been nearly disintegrated.” “You don’t think I know that?” “I’m...” she faltered. “I’m sorry I let this happen to you.” For the first time, it smiled a little. “I don’t blame you, Cynthia. It was bound to happen eventually.” It sighed. “Those who have used magic have always been feared.” “And there’s no way for you to leave this book?” she asked. “You were Gilveidan’s magic once. If you wanted to, could you be mine?” “If I wanted to.” The implication stung. She looked around at the shrunken, crinkled paper. “Would you rather stay here and die?” “That depends,” it responded. “If I am to be your servant, then how would you use me? Irresponsible magic was a cause of great distress in my progenitor’s life, so answer carefully.” Cindy took a deep breath. “The man I love most in the world is being held prisoner by an insane cult leader who hates all things unnatural, including magic. I want to rescue him.” “And will there be any casualties?” “Only if they get in my way.” It laughed, hard, the force of it shaking a few ashes off the pages. “Good,” it said. “I think we’ll get along just fine.” It stuck out its hand, and Cindy took it. ~~ o ~~ As soon as Cindy regained her senses, she stood and made for the door. “Whoa, whoa,” Ruby grabbed her hand from behind. “What in the hell is goin’ on? You pass out for ten minutes and now you’re just walking out? Ouch! Motherf—” she pulled away as the skin on her palm felt the heat emanating from Cindy’s arm. Ruby looked up, into her eyes, and saw a yellow sheen to the green depths that had not been there before. “You got your magic back. How—?” “It’s mine now,” Cindy said. “I don’t need the book anymore. I’m going to free Lucius and there’s nothing, not a psycho cult leader, or his hoards of minions, or any vampire alive can do to stop me.

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