Ch. 16: Hunger Games

The maker’s call brought Eric instinctively to the condo’s rooftop. He found Godric looking out over the city’s skyline. He had indeed fed, judging by the slight flush in his cheeks.

“Godric…”

He turned to his progeny, his face full of sorrow. “In all of our years, my son, even in the worst of our arguments…Never has another come between us.”

Eric was taken aback. Were they fighting now? He felt the oddest sensations coming through their bond. “And no one ever shall, master. Tell me what you want. You know I will do anything. All that I am is yours.”

“And I yours, until the very end. I have never doubted you.” Godric kicked at a stray pebble, sending it flying over the edge of the roof.

“Then, what? What’s wrong?”

The shorter vampire shoved his hands into his pockets. Night sounds of the traffic below blended with the chirping songs of creatures hidden in the greenery lining the streets.

“Everything about her is bewitching,” he said finally. “Look at us breaking our own rules without thinking twice…just to please her. I acted foolishly tonight. Turning my back for even an instant was a grave mistake. All because I wished to see her smile. A smile, Eric! Instead I risked her life.”

“I will take her to the Öland house, far from any of our kind. In a month the blood bond will be gone and we’ll send her back to Boston and forget her.”

“You know you don’t mean that. You don’t want that, nor do I. Besides, we need her, Eric. I doubt we’re going to find a vampire more ancient than Marduk willing to help us in time. We’ll never be able to simply strongarm him and weres are not an enemy to be underestimated. Lillian might be the most powerful ally we have.”

He paused, not entirely sure he wanted to utter the next words.

“I know how to open her oracular vision. The witch told me.”

“Gods, why didn’t you just say so?!”

“Because it isn’t that simple.”

Eric felt a swirl of Godric’s emotions shatter across him in a million ricocheting stings. He was full of anguish and concern.

“Did not her gift truly manifest after your first bonding?”

“Yes…”

“And after the second?”

“It…..strengthened…oh…” His mouth actually gaped in shock for a split second. “I’ve had my head up my ass.”

“Yeah.”

“But our next exchange may very well make the bond permanent…”

“You see the problem now?”

Eric groaned. “Fucking hell.” He ran a hand over his mouth. “There’s no time to wait for my bond with her to dissipate.”

“Exactly. Either you seal your fate with hers or it comes down to me. I know you too well to think you’d allow anyone else. But her reaction to the blood…” he trailed off, frowning. “It has been so unpredictable there’s no telling how it will affect her.” He clapped Eric to his chest then and held him tightly. “Or what it will do to us.”

They’d never had their blood coursing through the same human simultaneously, and certainly not one who could manipulate those bonds of her own accord. It was virtually unheard of for a maker of his age not to have several, even many, progeny to dilute and weaken the strength of the maker’s bond. On the contrary, Godric and Eric had been strengthening it beyond measure over the ages. The thought of having someone now mucking about in their connection after so long was beyond chilling. It was terrifying.

“I have always been selfish when it comes to you. I could say I regret it, but I don’t.”

“We can run. All four of us…” Eric suggested rather desperately.

“When have you ever backed down from a fight?”

Of course he was right. Eric considered his maker’s words carefully before speaking again.

“You’d really be willing to?”

Godric nodded against his chest. “Only if she wants it. It must be her decision…and ours.”

Eric sucked in a ragged breath. “Then we’ll be fine,” he said confidently. He rested his cheek on top of his maker’s head. “I wanted you to know her the moment I knew for certain that she’d have me. It was so strong and natural an impulse. I think that must be when I woke you from your day sleep.”

“Amazing that life can still throw us such curveballs after so long. You’ve never been in love with a human before.”

Eric laughed ironically. “I know.”

“I haven’t either. Or at least, he didn’t stay human for very long.”

Eric broke out into the most innocent, boyish of smiles. Godric rarely saw them, but they were one of his most cherished possessions, if a smile was something you could keep. Few other things reminded him so strongly of the divinity immanent in all things. Few things made living these eternal nights worthwhile.

“Eirikr.” A red film misted over his eyes. “You are the greatest of gifts.”

Eric pulled his maker to him and cut his tongue on his own fang. They’d long ago abandoned words, which quickly became too flimsy and hollow to capture centuries of mutual love and respect. Godric accepted the tender offering and gave his own blood in exchange. The brief kiss was deeply intimate and entirely chaste –an expression of the purest reverence and devotion.

“So,” the blond vampire broke the solemnity of the moment. “Are you going to break it to her or am I? You know she’ll be a pain in the ass about it.”

“Without a doubt,” Godric replied with a smile.

♦♦♦

Downstairs, Lillian vegged out on the couch, drawing mindless doodles in the margin of her notebook.

A breaking news bulletin caught her attention.

“We come to you now with breaking news. Jennifer, what can you tell us about the events taking place in St. Bernard?”

“Bob, I’m here reporting to you live from St. Bernard, where an undetermined number of people have been attacked by a wild animal. Police haven’t given any official numbers yet, but local witnesses say that at least 4 people may have been severely injured or killed. It is unclear at this time whether we are dealing with a bear, puma, or bobcat, but reports from the scene indicate that it is fairly large, erratic, and possibly rabid. Police are cautioning locals to stay inside, as this situation is still ongoing until the animal can be contained. It’s a good idea to keep pets indoors as well until we know more. They are also reminding you to dial 911 if you see anything out of the ordinary.”

“Pam….” Lillian rose to her feet, her voice shaky. “Pam! Get in here!”

“What?” She came out of the bedroom in a pink silk robe, her hair in curlers. “What is sooo important to interrupt my spa time? You are seriously fucking up my zen…”

Lillian just pointed dumbly at the tv, her mouth hanging open.

“Here with me tonight is eyewitness Travis Tilly. Travis, what can you tell us about what you saw here tonight?”

“Okay, well, my buddy Dan and I wuz cleanin’ crawdaddies in the yard and we saw this thing come up from the riverbank. I grabbed Dan and wuz like, what is that thing, man? And it come right up at us and dang if it didn’t look like some kinda ork.”

“An ork, Travis? Sorry, could you clarify for our viewers what you mean?”

“Like one of them things from that Lord’a the Rings movie, man. Greasy and wet and all teeth and claws! It was a god dang monster, I’m telling you! It come straight up on the dock and jumped on Dan an then…then…”

“It’s alright Travis, take your time.”

“Sorry….I’m real shook up. It come up an’ ate him, ma’am. So help me God, it did. I couldn’t do nuthin’. I was so scared. I don’t even know if there’s enough left of him to bury…”

“Well folks, you heard it first here on WGNO. This is Jennifer Banks reporting to you live. Bob, back to you in the studio.”

“Holy fucking shit.”

“It could just be a rabid animal.”

“You know it isn’t. It’s him, Pam.”

“Oh my god,” she whispered breathlessly. “He’s going to out us all.” Instinctively, she wrapped an arm around her human friend.

The men came through the door just then, playfully bantering and laughing. Their reparté stopped dead in its tracks the moment they looked up and saw Pam and Lillian’s faces.

“Whatthefuckisit?” Eric said in a single rush.

“Marduk’s on a rampage just southeast of the city. He’s ripping humans left and right,” Pam cried.

“No, surely…”

“Look!”

They stood silently before the television as the news show replayed their reportage. Eric reached for the remote and switched the channel over to CNN. The story had already been picked up nationally.

“Okay, so what do we do?” Lillian pressed. “What have you done before when somebody goes off the rails? This has happened, right?”

“We let the world burn,” Godric said distantly.

Eric chimed in. “But back then there wasn’t a fucking 24 hour news cycle and scores of digital devices to capture it all on tape. One way or another someone’s going to get video or a picture.” His phone starting buzzing in his pocket.

“What?” he barked. “Put her through. Sophie? We just saw it…What?…Yes, it’s true that Godric is here…Well, he isn’t technically in my territory so I’m still acting regent, unless you’d rather figure this shit out with him and I’ll happily take a paid vacation…Oh yeah?…You tell that motherfucker Compton I’ll string his guts on my Yuletide tree and display it in my front yard!…” he paced down the hall.

Godric took Lillian’s hand. “Come, child. We need to talk.”

He led her into the bedroom and quietly shut the door.

“Are you still angry with me?”

“What? No, I wasn’t ever angry with you. Have a seat.”

She sat on the bed and pulled a plush pillow protectively across her lap. “Am I in trouble? I feel like I’m getting called in to the principal’s office.”

Godric laughed softly. “Nothing like that. I want to speak with you about the nature of vampires. There are some things you need to know.”

“Okay…” she said with some temerity. She really wasn’t sure where this was about to go.

“You have exchanged blood twice now with Eric.”

He had her attention now. “Is that okay? It isn’t interfering with you all? I mean, what you said tonight about trying to deal with my unwelcome presence in your ties…”

“It’s unexpected, not unwelcome. Just let me speak.”

“Sorry. Go on.”

“A third, sometimes fourth, simultaneous exchange – it depends on the age of the vampire and the amount each party takes – this seals the blood bond. It’s as if your souls become laminated… permanently. You understand permanence is a serious word for a vampire.”

“Yes, I understand the concept of it. It’s hard to imagine the scale of eternity, but I get it.”

“You two must proceed carefully from here on out. A full blood bond should only ever be done by mutual choice.”

A long silence passed. “But…when the human dies…”

“I have not experienced it myself. I hear it is not quite as devastating as losing one’s progeny. Though because there are only the three of us in this family’s bloodline, we would all bear the brunt of it.”

A long silence passed.

“I can barely remember my human grief. Is it not like a weight on your soul?”

“Yes. That’s a good way to describe it. Like you could drown in sadness.”

“When you lose someone in the blood, it is different. When you’ve bonded with Eric, you probably saw his thoughts and memories. Maybe you felt him inside as if he were you or perhaps you lost yourself in him. Maybe both at the same time.”

“Yes, the latter,” she murmured.

“Among vampire kin, it is sort of like that all the time – always there at the back of our consciousness, so natural that it is part of you. Except, for my dynasty, it’s that way…times a million. A death in our bloodline wouldn’t be like a yolk around the soul, Lily. It would be like someone punched a hole straight through it. It’s an emptiness that never goes away.”

“That’s monstrous!”

He chose his next words with care.

“You may ask Pam or Eric if you like. They see my maker’s absence as a black void enveloping us all. Just imagine what that might be if I had actually cared for him.”

A tear escaped Lillian’s eye and rolled fatly down her cheek.

Godric caught the sparkling liquid on his fingertip and stared at it in fascination. His brow furrowed and he wiped the droplet away on his knee.

“You understand…my life is forfeit the day Eric dies. Eric on the other hand, he might survive my loss. He just might. But it would be the single most devastating thing that could happen to him, at least for the foreseeable future. I…I hate even breathing these words into existence.”

Lillian pressed her fingers against his mouth, silencing him. Her hands were shaking. More tears streamed down her face. Godric pulled her hands away and shook his head bitterly.

“I’ve been reckless. I never consciously decided not to make more fledglings. I just…I couldn’t in all faith believe I could do any better. So here we are.”

She sniffed hard to break the congestion gathering in her head. “I promise,” she looked him straight in his sea-colored eyes. “I won’t do that to you.”

“That’s not why I tell you this now – to extract promises from you. Anyhow, don’t make promises you might not want to keep. You need to know the facts. To bond fully would likely be a profoundly fulfilling experience for you both. However, I’ve mostly known vampires to do this when they choose to live one final lifetime, since the grief makes going into the sun easy. In other cases the vampire bonds in haste or foolishness and is faced with the haphazard decision of letting the person die or turning them. That can go any number of ways. A maker is not the same as a lover – there’s a power inequality fundamental to the relationship that cannot be changed. Ever. Not everyone is willing to accept this asymmetry. It’s why Pam doesn’t have sex with Eric, little dominatrix that she is. We’ve also noticed increasingly that many baby vampires now fight their makers tooth and nail, thinking they are automatically entitled to total freedom and don’t need someone to depend upon. I can’t tell you how often I’ve been called in to straighten out such younglings.”

He sighed. “So these are the realities Eric must grapple with should you two choose that path.”

“Jesus christ, Godric. Why are you telling me this now?”

He took another deep, unnecessary breath.

“Because it’s Eric’s blood that is developing your prescience. It didn’t just open the gift, it’s feeding it.”

The air hitched in her throat.

“How is it that you both were so fully in denial about this?!”

“It all happened so fast.”

“I won’t lie to you. The gift of prophecy could determine how the coming events unfold. We’re doing our best to figure out how to capture and contain Marduk, but the plan is still weak. You could be a powerful weapon in our arsenal. But that’s only one consideration out of a great many.”

“What else, then?”

“There are political advantages as well – the whole ‘official asset’ thing we spoke of. You’ll be recognized for your supernatural abilities. You’ll be protected, revered, cherished.”

“Let me see if I have this straight. I can permanently bond with Eric and become some sort of crazy prophetess, which may well turn the tide of your shit vampire war and make me safer in the long run.”

“Yeah.”

“That’s not exactly the career I’d envisioned,” she huffed sarcastically.

“But going down that road means giving up the life I anticipated, and when I die it will probably break Eric, likely sending him, and consequently his entire family, to an unnatural, disastrous end.”

Godric shrugged. “That’s the long and short of it.”

“You should have paid the witch more.”

Godric howled in laughter.

Lillian backed off the bed and went to the mirror over the armoire. She stared at herself for a long, hard minute. Then turning back to him, she declared resolutely, “That witch spoke to me about the balance between selfishness and sacrifice. That’s the line right there. I can’t take on the responsibility of your entire family and their fates. I cannot allow it. Not now and definitely not just because we’re in the shit. We’ll just have to figure out another way to get a handle on this psychic thing and in the meantime hope to hell we find a better plan.”

Godric shifted his weight awkwardly and bit the inside of his cheek. He lowered his eyes, his long dark lashes shading his gaze from her.

“You could always take another vampire’s blood.”

“Yeah right,” she snorted indignantly. “I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Eric would not be on board for that.

“Are you so certain?”

“He doesn’t share.”

“He does with me,” Godric said in a near inaudible whisper. Then after a beat, he met her look dead on, adding, “And so do you.”

Lillian fell quiet, her cheeks flaming red. Under normal circumstances, she was an extremely private person. She was more than embarrassed at how unexpectedly sensual it had been to have Godric watch and sorta kinda be part of their second blood bonding. But it was more like Eric’s excitement fed through her own, magnifying everything quite literally out of human proportions. She knew in her head that it was all done in loving intimacy, but still, it pushed at her boundaries in ways she hadn’t had time to digest.

“You are uncomfortable with the idea,” he said after her long silence.

She did something then that shocked even her. She went to the edge of the bed and slapped him as hard as she could across his stony face.

“How dare you!” she hissed and stormed out of the room.

“Eric, your maker has lost his fucking mind!” she bellowed down the hallway.

“Hold on,” he hit the mute button and pressed his cellphone against his shoulder as an extra precaution. Godric materialized silently behind Lillian.

“I take it she took it about as expected?” Eric asked him over her shoulder.

“What!? You already know about this?!” She stared at Eric, dumbstruck.

“Lillian, if you didn’t notice,” he said with a forced patience, “I’m on the phone with the queen regent of New Orleans trying to save all of America from a vampire hellbent on making Jack the Ripper look like a fucking kiddie bedtime story. To boot, we’re now hearing of several vampires that have gone missing and are presumed dead in Greysolon’s territory with implications of werewolf involvement. Were I free, I would be sitting in there talking it over with you myself. Kindly calm down and I’ll be with you in a moment.”

“Great. Perfect! Well. Glad we’ve certainly gotten this started off on the right foot. Fucking conniving bloodsuckers!” she screamed.

“C’mon. Please, Lily,” Godric led her away. She was flushed and hot with anger. And pain. The throbbing in her hand was excruciating. She couldn’t hide her wince.

“Silly woman. You put two hairline fractures in your hand pulling that stunt. I heard the little bones split.”

Suddenly it all became too much. She couldn’t hold the dam against her emotions any longer. She broke into ragged, undignified sobs.

“Shhh.” He enveloped her in his arms and stroked her hair. “Shh. It’s okay.”

“I…I haven’t even called my family in a month! I have a life back home…an apartment, a job, friends!”

“And there’s nothing to keep you from returning to that if you wish. Eric’s already suggested that you two could hide out in a little cabin we have on the Baltic Sea. It’s not too far from where we first met, actually. You can wait until the blood bond dissipates and then it will be more or less safe for you to go home.”

“God you are all so fucking manipulative! You say that but you bait it with all these fascinating mysteries that you know only draw me in further. You dangle the secrets of history before me and tell me to act casual.”

“I am not manipulating you in any way. I’m telling you every option available to you. If I took a roundabout way to suggest that you use my blood to strengthen your foresight, it was only to make clear what was at stake in the alternative.”

She slumped over, feeling defeated. “Let’s just all run away. Fuck this stupid war and fuck Marduk.”

Godric laughed heartily. “That’s exactly what my progeny said not an hour ago. It’s not possible, darling. Especially not now. Between Marduk risking exposing us, werewolves picking a fight, and half of Sophie-Anne’s court already hearing about you via that shitrat Compton…Well…We can hide you away while we fight, but my family must stand our ground. Eric was right: it was only a matter of time before you were detected by our kind. I honestly can’t believe you hadn’t been noticed before, even without having vampire scents all over you. You either are incredibly lucky or don’t go out after sundown.”

“Is it that…good?”

He gave a conciliatory smile. “It’s that good.”

“Blerg,” she moaned and collapsed in exhaustion on the bed. “Is this just some twisty, sick way of you both getting a dip in my veins?”

“Hardly. You know we could easily take whatever we wanted from you if taking was our aim.”

“Ugh. I know you’re right.”

“Do you want medicine for the hand? It’s got to be painful.”

“I ought to slap you with the other just to even things up,” she retorted, half hiding a smile before giving in and rifling through her purse for a bottle of Advil.

Godric sat cross-legged at her side, unmoving, while Lillian rested and waited for the pain to ease.

Out of the blue, she spoke again. “I am afraid that I’ll see something horrid in the future and be unable to change it. Or else that someone will get a hold of me in order to exploit this gift, if it actually ever manifests fully.”

“Isn’t that what any of us fears? Powerless in the face of change and at the hands of others?”

“I guess. It’s a little more of an immediate concern in my case.”

“We will protect you no matter what. Of that you can be sure.”

Eric peeked around the door. “Is it safe to enter or do I risk the valkyrie’s fearsome right hook?”

Lillian let out a much needed laugh. Eric strolled in casually, losing his shirt and pants along the way. Apparently he hadn’t seen the utility in wearing underwear this evening. Only a man with a body sculpted like a god could swagger so confidently in his nudity. He slid under the covers and beckoned his love to crawl under. She obliged.

He held her close, enjoying the rise and fall of her breathing against his chest. “I love you, Lillian.” She squeezed him tightly. “Take time to think about it. It’s your choice. We will respect whatever decision you make.”

“Oh thanks. Don’t put any pressure on me or anything!”

“I mean it earnestly.”

“I guess I should be relieved you didn’t just slip his blood in my drink or something.”

Godric took offense. “And have your burning resentment and hatred splattering all over my mind, filling me with self-loathing and undermining my confidence? Sending Eric flying off the handle at me over every little thing because you were feeding even the smallest impulse he might have to become annoyed with me? I’m not a masochist!”

“That’s just it! This complicates everything unnecessarily! And what if it changes how I feel?”

“The blood doesn’t make you feel things, min Lila. It only amplifies your emotions.”

“But that’s not true. I hadn’t known Godric for more than a few hours before I felt the influence of your bond with him pushing me toward him like he was my maker. It went against everything I knew in my head was right.”

“You must have already been predisposed to want to please him.”

“I always want to make everybody happy! Arg! I feel like you’re passing me off onto him because you want me draw you a god damned battle plan!”

NEVER,” Eric said, his voice thick with passion.

“What will happen to our blood bond?” she cried desperately. “I don’t want to lose you.”

“I don’t want to lose you either. It won’t cancel our bond, if that’s your worry. But the hard truth of it is that we don’t really know what will happen.”

“Look, have you ever…Okay, don’t laugh at me. Have you ever seen the movie Ghostbusters?”

“Huh? Yes…I liked the chamber full of nasty ghosties.”

“Hah, of course you did. Remember when they say under no circumstances do you cross the streams from the proton packs?”

“Yeah.”

“And in the end that’s exactly what they end up doing?”

“Go on.”

“What if that’s what happens? Your magic comes from him and I’m tied to you, but then I get tied to him and the lines get all mangled, sending everything straight to hell?”

“That’s one way of stating it. You are, incidently, the biggest nerd I have met.”

“Thank you.” She stuck her tongue out at him. “How big of a concern is it, Eric? Don’t b.s. me.”

He shrugged. “You’ll be mixed up in the middle of our bond. What that means is anyone’s guess – there’s never been anything mediating our tie. Pam is downstream of us, if you will. My sincerest hope is that Godric and I will just enjoy our connection all the more that we get to share it with and through you. I hope that it is new and exhilarating. But if we start to argue, fight…if one of us is injured…it could be a very, very bad month before the bond with him weakens. We can’t know the lasting effects for master and I, but that is our concern and we’ve already made our decision.”

“How do we know that me taking more blood will work? What if I’m a dud and nothing happens?”

“Do you believe that’s what will happen?”

“No…” she replied sheepishly.

“Mmhmm.”

Lillian contemplated the situation.

“Who are you at your worst, Eric?”

He was taken aback. “That’s a very clever question of you to ask.”

“If we’re going to be stuck with each other, I need to know how to keep the peace.”

Eric thought about it, but it was Godric that answered.

“Eric’s temper is legendary when crossed. He is vicious. Unrelenting. Beyond expert at burying his emotions. Master manipulator – he’s the one you should worry about on that front, by the way, not me. He will happily punish himself as much or even more than his enemy if it means achieving his revenge or proving his point. He may have invented the word ‘overkill.'”

“Yeah, well. I learned from the best,” he retorted happily, wholly unashamed of this characterization.

“I think you left out ‘high-handed’. And you, Godric?” she pushed, determined to hear the truth.

Eric didn’t hesitate to draw his picture. “He can be cruel in ways the world has long forgotten. He exercises fanatical restraint, but unleashed…well. For centuries he was known simply as Death. He surpasses even me at being heartless if it’s his will. Few ever garner his notice and even fewer earn his respect.”

“So all in all, a couple of real gems? Good lord.” They laughed, breaking the tension looming heavy in the air.

“But,” Godric countered, “Eric is intensely fair, egalitarian even. Notoriously even-handed, methodical, and cautious. Loyalty comes second-nature to him for those who inspire it. His enemies’ hatred is almost always fueled by the secret desire to either possess him or be him, sometimes both at once. Underneath it all, at his core he is as steadfast and true a man as I will ever know.”

“I forgot to mention how my master wields flattery like a blunt instrument.” Eric gave a sly grin. If he’d had a pulse he would have blushed like a schoolboy. “But, in truth…Godric is the most enlightened creature I have ever known. He may have been those things before, but he has made an art out of mutation. He has evolved so much that I sometimes wonder whether he is still entirely vampire or if he hasn’t become something more.”

“Know thyself,” she murmured to herself. Godric raised his eyebrows. This was the Delphic oracle’s maxim carved into the lintel of her temple.

“I haven’t had the centuries to explore my darkest impulses as you two have. But I know I am often spiteful about injustice, which probably comes off as being petty. I despise rudeness. I’m uncooperative when I’m convinced I’m right; fiercely independent to the point of being a loner. I know how to hold a grudge and I take pleasure in seeing mean-spirited people get their comeuppance.”

Eric kissed the top of her head. “The things you see as faults in yourself are found in everyone. You, Lillian, are pure of heart. You are brilliant, intoxicatingly beautiful, innovative, witty, and seriously fierce.”

Godric cut in. “I have already told you what I think. Compassion, empathy, and love, Lily. These are your gifts to us. In them our humanity is redeemed.”

♦♦♦

She woke startled, feeling as though she was being watched. She wasn’t. The bedside clock read 5:13pm. The summer sun wouldn’t fully set for several more hours and Godric and Eric were dead asleep. She had slept in her clothes, her dreams a snarl of their confessions and fears – a long and tense conversation.

After fumbling with the coffee pot, she brought a steaming mug of caffeine out to the balcony and watched the sun slowly dip into the horizon.

The daily dance of the cosmos, she thought. Imagine seeing a thousand years of this same remarkable movement. Or two thousand. One could understand it abstractly. But to truly comprehend it? No.

There are a few rare times in life where you stand before the bend of your own fate knowing whatever choice you make will be irrevocable. More often than not we stupidly run by these moments blindly hurtling ourselves towards the next and the new. It is the drunk that shrugs and gets in his car, the angry words yelled as a loved one walks out the door, the rage that uncoils in a fist. Then there are moments such as these where the very breath of time hitches before the deed: the hesitation of the pen over the marriage license, willing a nod of the head to the doctor waiting to silence the machines. Do we appreciate the instances where consciousness rules? We cannot know how our actions will reverberate through our little worlds. If we pause, it is only to stare down our profound ignorance of the future in resentment and desperate optimism alike. We hope much of what we do has an out, an alternative, a happy ending. But really every day is a flailing leap into the unknown. We hope that our failures and our stupidities and our best of intentions gone terribly wrong aren’t beyond the pale of the retrievable – that we can salvage something worthwhile in our lives, reconcile the jagged pieces in the wreckages of our own making, and forge ahead.

What Lillian contemplated now was the decision to transform herself permanently, and in doing so, give up this most wonderfully human of inadequacies. If the blood worked as it should, she might never again feel this uncertainty, this exhilarating sense of risk and adventure in the unknown. To see into the future meant a life of nothing but finalities. Or at least she supposed that’s how it would seem. Maybe every second is another chance to change the course of events. That wasn’t so inhuman after all.

She sat staring down her own crossroads in the flushed orange and pink cotton hues of setting sun. She could run. She could run as she’d failed to do from the beginning. Back in the comfort of her university she could publish her research – a book about people searching for magic in their lives, a topic driven by her own hope that there might be something more to it all. Perhaps she would meet someone else and have a few kids before it was too late. She could garden in the summer sun and spend lazy days playing with her little ones seaside. It wouldn’t be a bad life. It had always seemed like more than enough to be so blessed.

But would she stay up late in the twilight of her days hoping against hope that some shadowy movement in the night was more than the tired filaments of her addled imagination? Would her soul ache to see a tall stranger step out of the darkness, run a hand through his golden locks, and flash her a rakish smile? Perhaps he would even be charitable enough to ignore her withered frame and make love to her one last time before the earth reclaimed her.

Hot tears streaked down Lillian’s cheeks.

Could she live a life colored by the knowledge of what she’d given up? She already knew she wasn’t brave enough to ask them to glamour it away. Lillian tried to imagine all the ways entering into a dual blood bond might go catastrophically wrong in the space of the month. She was so in love with Eric and he was everything, everything she’d secretly desired. Conversely, it seemed hard to mourn for a husband and children she didn’t yet have, a life that hadn’t panned out that way so far in spite of her attempts. Would she rather live a short life to its fullest, or a long life not fully ventured?

It suddenly didn’t seem like much of a debate.

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