“This really is the perfect home for a vampire,” Tristan said. He speared a succulent slice of beef and popped it in his mouth, savoring the bloom of rich wine and spices on his tongue. It wasn’t every day you got to dine in the estate of a Russian magus, and a rich one at that.
“Except for the mirrors,” he added quickly between bites. “They would hate that.”
“Actually that’s just a myth,” his host said, smiling politely. “True verdilak, or as you say, vampires, care little about such things.”
“You’ll have to excuse him,” Indigo said. “He’s new to the Enclave and not really up to speed on all of… this.” Tristan noted that the brooding spell-thief, normally quiet in social situations, was unusually talkative. With his modern Gothic garb and air of nocturnal gloom, he must have felt at home in this mansion filled with candelabras, worm-eaten wood, and musty tapestries.
“Ah, yes, you’re the Will,” their host said. “There are not many of you, I think.”
Tristan had grown used to being referred to that way. As an untrained magus who could summon Void magic by will alone, it was an apt title. But the way Count Maksim Evanoff said it felt almost predatory.
“I’m pretty sure I’m the only one,” Tristan said. He swallowed another bite of beef which suddenly felt much less juicy and tender than the last.
“Indeed,” the count said without looking up from his plate.
“So, you have studied the verdilak all of your life?” Aurora asked. Tristan felt a wave of relief wash over him. The scholarly magus could engage the count for hours in esoteric conversation, diverting his attention elsewhere.
“Thus far,” the count said. “And my family before me. Vampire hunters all.” He smiled. “So, you say this is not an official Enclave visit,” he continued. “You have sought me out all on your own. Why?”
“We read your books in the Enclave,” Aurora said. “Or at least, I did. We’ve been learning about creatures who control pure Void magic. We want to help Tristan understand his… gift.”
“And how to control it,” Indigo added.
The count was silent. He took a bite of his dinner and washed it down with a long but refined drink of wine from his glass.
“I’m not certain how much help I can be,” the count said at last. “It is a very long time since a vampire has been discovered. Most of what I know is in my books, and you have already read them, so…”
“But we want to know how vampires use Void magic,” Aurora insisted. “They’re intelligent beings who can channel it, not beasts who are born from Void itself.”
“My dear,” the count said with a patronizing smile. “Verdilak have learned Void magic for one purpose and one purpose only: to feed on the life force of another and dominate the very essence that governs us. They have perfect that power. They are, in essence, mortal masters of the Void.”
“Mortal?” Tristan asked. “You mean, they’re not like, creatures of the night? Undead? All that stuff.”
“Once again, not that kind vampire,” the count said with a hint of impatience.
“You admire them,” Indigo said.
The count paused. “I respect them. They are cunning and singular in purpose. If the magi of the Enclave had such purity of focus, there is no limit to the power they could command.”
“So, do the verdilak craft spells to command Void magic or use their will like Tristan?” Aurora pressed.
“This conversation is ruining our digestion,” the count said with polite finality. “If you insist on pursuing this line of inquiry, I will tell you all that I know. Tomorrow. I assume you’ll be wanting to retire to your rooms since you are doubtless tired from your travels.”
They finished their meal in silence and excused themselves. The count, ever gracious, wished them a good night and a restful sleep.
“For someone who spent his whole life studying vampires, he doesn’t seem to want to talk about them,” Tristan said as they walked back to their rooms.
“Right?” Indigo said. “I figured we wouldn’t be able to get those two to shut up all night.”
“He obviously doesn’t understand our need to learn about them,” Aurora said, ignoring Indigo’s jab. “He’s studied vampires in order to hunt them, not to teach others how to become one.”
“Still, I would have expected more crosses on the walls,” Tristan said. “Garlic on the doors. That kind of stuff.”
“Not those kinds of vampires, dude,” Indigo reminded him.
Later, in his room, Tristan wondered if it had been a mistake to come here. Even for magi, who traveled often trading spellcraft and lore, it was unusual to seek out teachings outside of what was sanctioned by the Enclave. Yet here they were in the mansion of strange Russian aristocrat and magus trying to learn about vampires.
And for what? To help him learn how to control what so many said could not be controlled—the raw, unfettered power of the Void which magi shaped through carefully-crafted spells and a lifetime of study? All he had learned in their travels so far was that anyone (or anything) that could control Void magic did so either because it was born there or sought power beyond imagining, no matter the cost.
Tristan didn’t want power. He wasn’t even ambitious enough to apply himself to the study of magic and was a poor student of the Enclave at best. There was another more selfish reason Tristan wanted to master his gift—since everyone insisted he was special, he wanted to make sure he proved them right. As he drifted off to sleep, he consoled himself that Indigo was probably having a great time sleeping in the creepy old castle.
* * *
“Hey, wake up.”
Tristan nearly jumped out of bed. In the waxy moonlight coming from his window, he could make out Indigo standing over his bed, fully dressed. As usual, Aurora had placed charms of protection and warding on their doors, and as usual, Indigo has broken them.
“What the hell?” Tristan groaned. “What time is it?”
“I dunno,” Indigo shrugged. “Just come with me. You’ve gotta see this.”
There was no point arguing with Indigo. When he was excited about something, it was usually worth seeing. Tristan dressed quickly and followed him out of the room. Aurora was waiting in the hall.
“It took you long enough,” she whispered in what was almost a hiss. “I don’t want to get caught.”
“Then be quiet and follow me,” Indigo said.
He led them through halls of the manor until they reached a wooden door which Indigo opened. Stone stairs spiraled down into darkness. Indigo twisted a ring on his finger and a ball of ruby light sprang out of thin air.
They walked down the stairs, the ball of light hovering just ahead of them. At the bottom was another door which opened into a long stone corridor of what must be the cellars. But instead of leading them further, Indigo turned to face one of the walls. He traced a pattern on the wall and the outline of a door appeared. Indigo smiled.
“I unsealed it earlier,” he said. “But I wanted to wait for you. Let’s go.”
As Indigo laid his hand on the door, Tristan felt a familiar surge of dread pass through him. But before he could say a word, there was a brilliant flash of light, and then darkness.
* * *
When Tristan woke, he was laying flat on his back on a cold, hard surface. His body was paralyzed from the waist down, but he could turn his head and open and close his mouth and eyes.
One his was Indigo, lying on his back on a stone table. Aurora was on his right. Both were awake and seemed as immobile as he was. And slowly pacing a circle around them was the count.
“Why would a scholar of vampires choose to live in such a place?” he asked no one in particular. “To share what he has learned? No. To be left alone. To be left in peace so he can master his studies.”
“You’re a vampire,” Indigo said. “The thing you’ve studied your whole life.”
“That’s why he wrote about them,” Aurora said. “About him. What better way to stop magi from learning about vampires than to become the expert on them?”
“I did not intend to do this,” the count said. “But you sought me out. I have fed on scraps for so long. But this…” He paused and hovered over Tristan. “This is a feast. Instead of a mere mortal essence, I will drink from the Void itself. Something no verdilak has ever done.”
“Wait,” Tristan said. “Is this lethal. I meant, am I going to die?” He had no idea why he asked that question. Maybe it was because that’s what every victim in every vampire movie he watched asked before getting bitten. He also hoped that he wouldn’t get bitten, mostly because it would just be weird.
“Do you know where the word lethal comes from?” the count asked. “It comes from the Greek lethe which means forgetfulness. No, you will not die. You will forget.”
He leaned closer and placed a hand on Tristan’s chest. Something ripped open inside of Tristan like a locked door torn from its hinges. A torrent of energy surged through him. He focused on what little he had learned and tried to control it, but it was a losing battle. He was fighting both his feeble hold of Void magic and the will of the count, which was strong and focused. Only one choice remained.
Tristan eased his control of the Void energy as carefully as he could. As he expected, the count began to draw it into himself with a grace that Tristan could never hope to master. Just as he felt the count ease into feeding, Tristan let it rip.
It wasn’t just about losing control. Tristan had done that before without trying. Instead, he reached beyond himself, clawing at the Void energy. He began to dissolve, both mind and body. A frightening ecstasy filled him, and for a brief, terrifying moment, he craved more. Then the count screamed and Tristan lost consciousness.
When he woke, Tristan was already sitting upright on the stone slab, Aurora and Indigo on either side holding him steady. The body of the count lay on the floor, dry, shriveled, and white as ash. For a long time no one said a word
“Shouldn’t we drive a stake through his heart, or cut off his head or something?” Tristan said, breaking silence.
“Not that kind of vampire!” Aurora and Indigo yelled in unison, and they laughed.