Author’s Note: If you haven’t checked out the remade Chapter 3, then I suggest you do so in order to be up to speed with this.
The Ley Line Nexus was something that didn’t ring any bells even when Amelia saw the house. It was located near the edge of the town, where a lot of the old farmland had been abandoned during a recession a couple of decades ago. Amelia didn’t remember having been in that part of town even as a child, because it was basically on the other side of the town and no one she knew lived there. But up close Amelia had to admit that she would have liked the place even as a child. It had plenty of room to run in at the yard, and the fields all around them reminded her of home – even though the Spriggs now had less farmland than any of the old local farmer families. The old house felt close to home as well. It all looked very normal for Riverview, and Amelia found it hard to imagine that this was supposed to be a community of magic beings.
Tad knocked on the front door even though there was a doorbell, and it took a while before the door opened. A round, smiling woman greeted them.
“Good day!” she said in a cheerful voice that sounded much more genuinely sweet than Vanja’s, “Well, I haven’t seen you two before. I’m Brigitte Hewitt. Just Brigitte, really. Can I help you?”
“I hope so,” said Tad, “My name is Tad Dustpine, and this is Amelia Sprigg. I need to ask you a… personal question.”
“Umm… Tad?” Amelia whispered tensely, “That’s not really a good way to start a conversation with a stranger.”
“Oh, that’s fine,” she said, “As long as it’s nothing too personal. What is this about?”
Tad hesitated only for a moment.
“Well,” he said, “Have you by any chance purchased a teleportation and a cloaking spell from Vanja Leifsdóttir?”
Brigitte’s forehead crinkled.
“Not as far as I know. Why?”
Tad smiled apologetically.
“Somebody bought them using your name and has done rather… questionable things with them. Stealing, mainly.”
Brigitte’s eyes widened.
“Really?” she asked, “Well that just won’t do! Come on in! I’ll check my paperwork and ask the others if they know anything about it.”
She let them both in, and Amelia was greeted with familiar scents of wooden floors and freshly baked goods, but it was all mixed with dog fur, unfamiliar spices, and an odd metallic tinge. The house looked rather normal at first glance from the inside as well. It had the ability to make almost anyone feel right at home, or at least that was the impression Amelia got. Brigitte led them into a tastefully homely living room and shouted a name into the air after sitting down on the couch. Her gentle voice was surprisingly loud when she really wanted it to be. She turned back to them.
“So… you are clearly familiar with our way of living,” she said, “At least the wide generalisation of it.”
“You mean the… supernatural things?” Amelia asked. Reality gave her mind yet another tentative nudge.
“Yes. If you know about Miss Leifsdóttir’s witch business, you are certainly in the loop. I like to be open to those who show up on our door without pitchforks.”
She listened to the cautious footsteps that clopped against the floorboards upstairs.
“Just a fair warning, though,” she went on, “Some of the people in our little family are a bit sensitive. Some come here from rather difficult lives, you see. But even so, they’re not bad people in any way. So there’s nothing to worry about.”
She clearly tried her best to not sound ominous. It didn’t work as well as she had clearly hoped.
“Uh… good to know,” Amelia managed to say. She was starting to feel very anxious, but she forced it down. The detachment didn’t work when things were constantly being shoved into her face.
The footsteps made it down the stairs, and the face of a teenage boy peeked around a corner. There was a lot of Brigitte in his features. He was much less smiling, but there was similar warmth in his eyes. He bounced into the room, and stopped when he took a look at Amelia and Tad.
“Oh, guests!” he said, “Hello!”
He immediately made his way to a spare seat on the couch.
“This is my son, Basil,” said Brigitte with pride and love in her voice, “Basil, honey, these people wanted to ask us about a spell order. About teleportation and cloaking.”
“Those are really advanced. And you know I don’t care about that kind of stuff.”
“I do know,” said Brigitte, “But I wanted these people to see you say it. He’s an honest lad, isn’t he? He’s going to be a healer. So no need for any fancy cloaking spells.”
“No need indeed,” said Tad, “And we are not accusing or suspecting you. I just wanted to know if you knew anything.”
“Is something wrong?” asked Basil, “Please don’t tell me it involves carnivorous tortoises again! Ooh, but the green kittens were cool! Are there more of those?”
Brigitte just smiled.
“Sorry, no green kittens this time. Not yet anyway. Come on, honey, let’s see if we can find anything helpful from our paperwork. Or computers. You can come with us too, Tad, Amelia.”
Amelia managed a smile, even though the anxiousness of trying to keep pretending that she could keep up pretending that everything was fine was becoming a nearly physical weight in her stomach.
“You go ahead. I think I need some fresh air.”
Brigitte studied Amelia worriedly.
“You do look a bit pale. Do get a glass of water from the kitchen. It’s right through the dining room you no doubt saw on your way in.”
Amelia made it to the dining room, but no further. She slumped against the wall and listened to the sounds of Tad, Brigitte, and Basil walking upstairs. She tried to breathe in deeply, but the stress had lodged itself into her windpipe. Why was she reacting this way again? She had been fine with this!
No, I haven’t.
What am I doing here?
She sighed. Okay, so she was still very conflicted about this all. This was not a place for her. This was not a reality for her. And she still kept trying to push her way into it.
A soft patter of footsteps pulled her head up. A young woman walked out of the kitchen. She was carrying a jar full of sorbet, and kept glancing around warily as if she was doing something illegal.
She froze when she spotted Amelia. They studied each other in tense silence. Amelia noted the glowing eyes on the rather melancholic face, and the pallor that didn’t look healthy at all.
The woman looked from Amelia to the sorbet, and then cleared her throat nervously.
“You… you never saw me. Or this jar. Got it?”
“I… uh…” Amelia managed, “Yes?”
The woman set the jar on the table and then fidgeted nervously. Amelia wondered idly what she was. She was pale like Tad, or at least a little bit like Tad. Amelia’s frayed nerves hoped she was something more approachable than an anthropomorphic personification of something that scared her.
“Stop thinking about me,” the woman suddenly said, “It makes me nervous. Just… I don’t like that. And I don’t even know you. So just… go away.”
Amelia couldn’t help herself.
“Well, that’s not a very nice thing to say,” she said in her kindest voice, “I’m just visiting. I’m Amelia.”
The woman shook her head.
“Stop. Thinking. About. Me.”
Amelia frowned. She felt an odd sensation in her head. Like a tiny needle and thread going through it. She tried her best to ignore it. It was probably nothing. Right? Right?!
“I have to think about you if I’m talking to you. It’s a very automatic thing to do.”
“Then don’t talk to me,” the woman said, this time raising her voice. Her mouth opened a bit more, exposing a pair of gleaming fangs, “Just shut up!”
Amelia added a few things up in her head.
A vampire? Oh, darn. I forgot to add them to my list of existing things! Well, one learns new things every-
“I SAID SHUT UP!”
The woman’s face twisted into an angry snarl, a feral growl escaping from her throat. Something shoved against Amelia’s mind. Then it stabbed.
And it felt very real.
It was what finally broke Amelia’s carefully crafted defence. The walls of denial and detachment crashed and burned.
She faintly heard Tad calling her name. She also saw a shape of purple and lime green that laid their hand on the vampire woman’s shoulder as if he had always been standing next to her.
It is a good thing to note here that Tad did know quite a lot about the fight or flight instinct and how cornered animals – including humanoids – acted. He had been there for many such occasions. Sadly, it still didn’t make him any better at reading people. If it had, he probably would have realised that grabbing a frenzied vampire without warning had very few pleasant outcomes.
She turned like a tornado and sunk her fangs into the offending arm.
Tad stared at her, mildly surprised.
“Oh,” he said, “Well, that is unfortunate.”
Amelia opened her mouth, but this time she didn’t scream. The anxiety and stress had closed off her throat. A part of her mind that wasn’t finally letting the floodgates open remembered that a vampire bite was not a good thing. An even tinier part wondered if it would matter when the one being bitten was Death.
Most of her mind, however, was too busy panicking. She sunk into a sitting position and vaguely heard Brigitte’s commanding voice:
There was thump when the woman – Mimosa – also slumped to the floor, chanting apologies and turning them into a personal mantra.
Amelia didn’t know how much time she spent on the floor, trying to catch her breath. She only registered her surroundings again when she was pulled to her feet, and she saw Tad’s worried face. Somewhere near the kitchen, Brigitte was standing with a shaking Mimosa firmly in a hug.
“Are you alright?” Tad asked, “She did not want to hurt you, or anyone else. I am fine. Look, I even refrained from bleeding.”
He reached out with an arm that indeed had no marks of a vampire attack whatsoever. Amelia pushed the arm away.
“Is that supposed to make me feel better?” she snapped before she could stop herself.
Tad stepped back with alarm on his face, but at the moment Amelia couldn’t bring herself to feel guilty about snapping at him. Tad was easily the most frightening thing in the room. Amelia had managed to think of him as just Tad with very impressive determination, but now it slipped away, and Amelia finally let what she had seen at that old fire station sink in.
I saw someone die.
Oh my all the gods that may or may not exist I don’t even know anymore.
A couple of nights was definitely not enough for her to become okay with all this.
What happened next was all a bit fuzzy to Amelia. Brigitte quietly led both Mimosa and Tad out of the room, leaving Amelia alone for a long while. When she came back, she went straight to the kitchen and calmly heated up some water and set the table with two large teacups and a well-stocked stash of teabags. The sorbet was melting, forgotten on the table, the Plasma Fruit Freshness -text covered with the drops of water on the sides of the jar.
Amelia found herself sitting across from the kindly smiling woman, selecting a calming chamomile infusion from the tea collection and dipping the bag into the boiling water. She did this all on auto-pilot while her thoughts hopped up and down on her now defence-free perception of reality. A part of her wanted to run again, but a larger part was too tired to do so. And there was something… grounding about the tea and Brigitte’s calm smiles. They made Amelia feel like all of this could be solved after all, and it was such an Amelia-like thought that she clung to it and embraced it.
She and Brigitte drank their tea in silence, and Amelia found herself relaxing bit by bit again.
“Are you ready to talk about this?” Brigitte asked finally, after what was probably half an hour of silent tea break.
Amelia looked at her teacup. It was still half full.
“I guess so,” she said in a weak voice.
Brigitte smiled again.
“Mimosa is very sorry about all this,” she said, “I did warn you that some of us here are very sensitive. Mimosa is shy, and doesn’t react to strangers well, but she means no harm.”
Amelia nodded slowly. There must have been disbelief on her face, because Brigitte went on:
“She is also very jumpy. She was just defending herself. Like I said, she is very sorry. As for Tad, he’s perfectly fine. I have never seen anyone recover from vampire bites like that. Mimosa said she didn’t even taste any blood.”
Amelia didn’t know what to say. A shudder went through her. A shudder from another time that she hadn’t quite let in until now.
“This is all very new to you, isn’t it?” Brigitte asked, and Amelia nodded again, “It does come as quite a shock to most people who are unfamiliar with all this. But it isn’t that strange, after everything’s said and done. You can just think of us as another group of people you just didn’t know about yet. That’s not scary, is it?”
“No,” Amelia said, “It’s… it’s not. I’ve just been trying to wrap my head around this.”
“Ah, yes. Accommodation,” Brigitte nodded, “I studied psychology back in my university years. And yes, I guess this does take quite a lot of accommodation.”
Amelia took a slow sip from her tea. It wasn’t very hot anymore, but she didn’t mind. The taste of chamomile alone helped her nerves.
“I think that this all would be easier if it wasn’t for… well, Tad,” she admitted.
“Yes,” Brigitte said understandingly, “He is a rather… abstract being, underneath that human shape. I’m not quite sure what he is, but I have my doubts. You know, don’t you?”
“You don’t have to tell me,” Brigitte said, “Some beings like to go around in secret, undercover, for whatever reason. I don’t question it. I mean, we here at the Nexus live a bit clandestinely too. But that’s mostly just to keep up the status quo in Riverview. It wasn’t established as a supernatural community, after all.”
She emptied her teacup in one good swig.
“It’s the order of things,” she said, “In many places, we belong to storybooks. We’re a safe way for people to handle the monsters and magic that is relevant to them. I think it’s quite a nice side job. Helping people grow by just existing. Of course, it wouldn’t have to be that way, and some don’t like it. But those who don’t, well, they just go to places that see differently.”
She put the teacup back down.
“But if you want to talk about this… Tad… then I’m willing to listen.”
Brigitte Hewitt was easily the most approachable person Amelia had ever met. She could probably make a crowbar feel relaxed and pour out all of its worries. Amelia let the warm, fuzzy hospitality wrap around her.
She would have wanted to pour her heart out to the kind woman, but there was something that stopped her. Tad clearly hadn’t wanted to tell too many people about his real nature. And Amelia wouldn’t ruin that, no matter how conflicted her feelings about all this were.
“I don’t know,” she said, “It’s just… I don’t know what to do with him. He needs my help, and I want to help, but I… I’m afraid of him.”
Brigitte’s brow furrowed.
“Has he tried to hurt you?” she asked.
“No. He’s very nice.”
“I thought so,” Brigitte said, “I saw it the moment he walked in. And people do say I’m a very good judge of character. Besides, I doubt a very bad person would willingly endanger themselves to protect someone from a frenzied vampire. Though next time he could do it with a bit more tact. He’s lucky Mimosa didn’t bite his arm off.”
“I guess so. I just don’t understand him.”
“And people are usually afraid of what they don’t understand,” Brigitte said, “Well, he seems to have let you in, so maybe he can try to explain himself a bit better after this.”
“Maybe,” Amelia admitted.
“And you’re doing so well with all this newness. Some people just faint even at the sight of me.”
Amelia saw a glimpse of fangs when Brigitte smiled.
“You aren’t scary at all,” she said.
“Thank you,” Brigitte said, “I’m glad you understand.”
Brigitte stood up.
“No problem. Now, before you go, I want to show you something.”
Brigitte pulled out her phone and tapped the screen a few times. She held the phone up to Amelia, and Amelia watched uncomprehendingly at the screen.
“Uh… what is this?”
Brigitte looked shocked.
“You don’t know?” she asked.
Amelia looked at the skittish ball of fur darting back and forth on the screen.
“I do know what it is,” she said, “But… uh… I just don’t understand what a cat video has to do with this.”
“Nothing much,” Brigitte admitted, “I just figured it would make you feel better. Cat videos always do it for me, at least.”
“I… thought this was going to be something more deep and import- oooooh did you see that? Sooooo cute!”
“I know right?”
“And so fluffy, too!”
“The fluffiest,” Brigitte agreed, “So, are you feeling any better?”
Amelia breathed in deep. The stress was gone, or at least it was a much smaller lump in her throat than before. This time she didn’t pretend that she was fine, though. Maybe that was what actually made things better. That and the conversation with Brigitte. And the cat video, probably. But mostly the conversation.
She exchanged a few more carefree words with Brigitte, and Brigitte led her to the front door, where Tad informed her that no one in the Ley Line Nexus commune knew anything about the spells that had been ordered from Miss Leifsdóttir. They were back to square one in that regard, and in a way with everything else as well, perhaps. Amelia wasn’t sure anymore.
The girl named Mimosa was there too, standing awkwardly near the stairs and quietly mumbling apologies until Amelia assured her that there was no harm done and no grudge to even be considered. Mimosa still didn’t want to come close to her, which Amelia was quite grateful for. She didn’t want them both freaking out again.
Brigitte waved at them at the door, and Amelia stepped out of the warm house and into the cold air.
When had it become night? Just how long had they been in there?
Amelia stopped when she realised that Tad’s voice was coming from rather far away. She had started walking without making sure that Tad was following. Or maybe she had been trying to walk away. To run.
“What?” Amelia asked.
“I know you are afraid of me,” Tad said, “I am not very good at reading humans when they are still alive, but this is rather obvious. I just… what can I do to make this work? I… You are a good friend. I would like it if you… would still like to keep me around.”
Amelia breathed in the night air. It was cold and refreshing.
“I don’t know,” she said, “I did say I wanted to help you, but this… this all started too fast. I lied to myself about being okay with it.”
“I can see it now,” said Tad, “Brigitte and I talked as well. She said that we should perhaps start with something more… normal for you. What would it be? What would you like to help me with, if I was just a normal tenant? If you are still willing to try, that is.”
Amelia slowly turned to look at Tad. He still looked like the sympathy-garnering, pale, skinny young man he always had. Well, always for Tad Dustpine, not for the… other thing he really was. Amelia tried to get back to her surreal way of thinking, but this time with less detachment. It wasn’t easy. But maybe now she would really be alright, with a little more time.
Why did she keep trying when Death scared her so much?
Maybe… maybe exactly because of that.
Amelia managed a small smile.
“Well… I guess I’d like to teach you how to use that stove. It really isn’t as dangerous as you seem to think.”
Tad smiled back at her.
“I’d like that.”
Author’s Note: Okay, I’m happier with both Amelia’s reaction and the pacing of this story now. I didn’t have to stop the plot for Amelia’s little journey of acceptance, but it wasn’t too unbelievably easy either. Okay. So next up is the chapter with the bits of the original chapter 3 that didn’t make it to the new one.
I’ll try to keep stuff in order and get my better ideas first, but you never know. Anyway, enjoy and maybe talk to me if you want.