“You want me to do what?” Luke asked incredulously, staring at Matthew.
“You heard me, you have to make sure those vempousi eat some of what Peregrine and I made, if you want to live through the night.”
“And how exactly do you suggest I do that?”
“Oh, I don’t know, maybe you could say you’re allergic to garlic and everything related to roses. Come on, I shouldn’t have to do all the thinking for you,” stated Matthew as he crossed his arms.
Luke grimaced, “I know, I’m sorry, I’m just worried about coming up with a lie that even I could believe.”
Matthew scoffed, “You should have until midnight to think of something and drill it into your mind if you’re that worried about it.”
“How do you know they’ll come out at midnight?” Luke asked.
“The vampire is usually seen riding out from Akebiall around that time, and you mentioned that the spirits showed up around that time, so it’s safe to assume that the vempousi will too,” replied Matthew.
“So, you’ll tell me how you figured out about midnight, but not how you know that I will have to deal with vempousi?” Luke eyed Matthew.
Matthew paused before answering, “Pretty much, now get in there.” He gave Luke a shove towards the castle before turning around and heading back to the tavern. Luke sighed in frustration as he continued to the castle, Matthew did say he would help, but apparently that also meant that he was not going to give Luke all the answers. Luke sighed again as the castle doors closed behind him, another long night awaited him. Since he had about five hours before midnight, he figured on spending that time in the library, figuring out a way to get the vempousi to eat the food he brought instead of him. He thought long and hard of different scenarios, not all of them ending well. He was finally deciding upon which path to take when the vempousi found him still browsing the bookshelves.
“So, we have a bookworm this time, eh?” hissed the blonde.
“A cute one at that,” cooed the black-haired one as she licked her lips. Luke’s stomach was doing somersaults, he wasn’t sure if he could go on.
“Well, we have five hours to play, what would you like to do?” the brunette asked as she got closer to Luke.
“Uh, how about dinner and, uh, and . . . a story!” Luke replied, hoping that he didn’t have to try lying to them.
“A story? What story?” the brunette asked, getting in Luke’s face.
“The, uh, story of how your master, uh, claimed Akebiall,” Luke replied, trying not to throw up.
The brunette slunk back to the other two, hissing, “Wait here,” and the three left the library. Once they were gone, Luke felt like he could breathe again, and took several deep breaths. The queasiness that he felt earlier also went away, but it came back the instant the vempousi entered the room. “Very well, but you must tell us your story first. We like knowing about the men we are preparing for our master,” the brunette said. Luke winced at her choice of words.
“I hope you’re from Thule, that’s the only country we don’t have,” muttered the blonde.
“Narcissa!” the other two hissed.
Luke smiled with relief, this might work after all. “Narcissa, is it? Well, I am glad to inform you that I am indeed from Thule. One of our customs is that during dinner, people tell stories. The person who serves the food begins the storytelling, and since I brought the food, I will begin. Do you have any plates?”
“Must we eat?” Narcissa asked.
“Yes, if you are interested in hearing my story,” Luke replied.
“What did you bring?” the black-haired one eyed him.
“A fancy Thulean dinner, lamb with herbs, a mint sauce, rolls, carrots, baked potatoes with bacon, and apple pie for dessert,” replied Luke, his mouth starting water at the menu.
“What are the herbs?” the brunette asked.
“Uh, thyme, sage, parsley, onion, salt, and pepper,” came Luke’s response. The three glanced at each other before looking at Luke.
“Very well, Thulean, we will follow your traditions. What is your name?” the brunette asked.
“My name is Luke. And may I have your names?”
“I am called Viktoria,” the black-haired one said.
“Tereza is mine, and you already know Narcissa. Now, wait a bit before coming to the table with your food,” the brunette told him before she left with the other vempousi. Luke was more than glad to wait, he needed to slow down his racing heart and to wipe the sweat off his palms. He took several big breaths before venturing out to the dining room. When he arrived, he saw that the table was set, and the vempousi were seated.
“Ah, good timing,” Viktoria said when she noticed him entering.
“So I noticed,” stated Luke as he began placing the food on the table.
“Oh, not just the table, we were also discussing about your tradition. We were wondering if we could begin with our story first since you are hungry and need to eat, we can wait. Besides, we are your hostesses,” Tereza said, her voice making Luke wince again.
“Ah, well, that is true, this is your castle, I am merely staying for the night. Alright, let me serve myself a plate, and then we may begin,” agreed Luke. He set about serving himself, taking every ounce of his will to not look up when he could sense the eyes of the vempousi trying to burn holes into him. After he was served, he sat down, and Tereza began.
“Many years ago, our father, mine and Viktoria’s, grew tired of getting his requests for immortality turned down by genies. He met with a man who was dressed in dark clothes who had come to our castle one day, and the two struck a deal, our father would receive immortality if he helped the man build an army. The man said that with the immortality, our father would also get the means to recruit for this army. Viktoria, Narcissa, and I were the first recruits. You will be the next recruit,” Tereza smiled cruelly. Luke gulped, and swallowed the food he had in his mouth.
So, then what of the lady in the tower?” Luke asked, understanding that he was running out of time.
“Ah yes, my and Tereza’s youngest sister, Leyla, that was our grandmother’s doing. Leyla was living with our grandmother for her lessons and, as part of the agreement between her and father, would not come back to Akebiall until she was fifteen. Father made the deal with the man a year before her return, so grandmother must have suspected what was going on because when father tried to recruit Leyla, she fell into a deep sleep, and we have not been able to touch her since,” explained Viktoria.
“But we have been able to use it to our advantage, for have been able to get many men to come and try to wake her, and we have been recruiting those who come back for the second night,” sneered Narcisa.
“Narcisa, you are not a member of the family, so are you a maid?” Luke asked.
“Yes, one who is loyal to her mistresses. Now, Luke of Thule, have you had enough food? I want to hear more about Thule,” Narcissa said.
“Oh, um, yes, uh, very well, um, what would you like to eat?”Luke asked.
“Just the lamb,” hissed Tereza. Viktoria and Narcissa nodded in agreement as the three sat down.
“Alright. Um, before I begin, may I ask one question?” Luke asked as he served their plates.
“Oh, very well,” sighed Tereza as she snatched a plate from him.
“How will you recruit your sister?”
The vempousi glanced at each other before Tereza replied with, “We will not, we will continue to use her as a ruse to bring men to us until we have enough.”
“What will happen to her after you have enough?” Luke carefully prodded.
“We will let her rot in the tower. Grandmother’s powerful enough to keep Leyla alive while she sleeps, but not powerful enough to keep old age and death from claiming her. Now, enough about Leyla, it’s time for your story,” said Viktoria, before she attacked the meat on her plate. The other two followed suit, all watching him with hungry eyes.
“Yes, time for my story. Thank you for sharing yours and for being so patient. If you don’t mind, I would like to begin by explaining this Thulean tradition that you are kind enough to share with me. In Thule, stories are very important, so important that interrupting a story gets you kicked out of the audience, a much better punishment than what they used to do in the old days. They actually used to kill people for interrupting, that’s how much stories are valued. The same with music, you do not want to interrupt a concert anymore than you would a story. Now, um . . .”
“What was in the meat!?” shrieked Tereza as the vempousi clutched at their throats.
“Uh, everything that I told you. Now you will have to leave for interrupting me,” replied Luke, pointing to the door. Tereza rose, then lunged at Luke, her face distorted with a snarl. Luke yelped and jumped back, Tereza just barely missing him. She fell to the floor and didn’t get up. Both Viktoria and Narcissa crumbled to the floor, gasping for breath.
“The salt, the salt was blessed!” Tereza shrieked. Luke put some distance between himself and the vempousi, but there was no need for in the next minute, they were still. Luke was so shaken that he had to sit down, and he certainly did not want to go check on the vempousi. THe castle became quiet, so quiet that Luke jumped when he heard a soft hiss some time later. He slowly rose from his chair, his body tense and ready for flight. He let out a gasp, the skin on the vempousi was melting away under the rays of the morning sun. Luke ran out of the dining room, and he kept running unti lthe door closed behind him at the Silver Key. There, he was met in two ways, Peregrine with worry creasing his brow and Matthew with a grin etching his face.
“You did it!” whooped Matthew.
“Are you alright?” asked Peregrine as Luke slumped to the floor.
“I-I just want to go to my room,” whispered Luke. Matthew and Peregrine glanced at each other before helping Luke up and to his room. The two left Luke sound asleep some time later.
“He has to face him tonight,” growled Peregrine.
“I know,” stated Matthew.
“I know you know, but he doesn’t!” snapped Peregrine ad he pointed at Luke’s room.
“He’s a smart kid, he’s probably figured it out,” came Matthew’s retort.
“He barely made it through last night, and you expect him to be all rainbows and sunshine tomorrow?”
“I’ll let Lady Leyla handle that,” smirked Matthew.
Peregrine sighed, “Oh you and your romances. Then how exactly is the young hero supposed to defeat the evil dragon and save the fair lady?” As if in answer, a bundle floated their way and Matthew unwrapped it. Peregrine gasped when he saw the contents, “You didn’t! This will not work for long!”
“I know, which is why I will personally see to it that Luke prevails in this last test,” Matthew calmly stated. Peregrine looked at Matthew, who returned the gaze with a solemn fierceness.
Peregrine, pleased with the unspoken results, nodded, “With you, he will succeed, and we will finally be free of this monster.” Matthew nodded, then smiled and winked before leaving the innkeeper.