By sundown that day, Dante didn’t think his body could last much longer. His body felt inflamed, as if a fire so hot was roasting him from the inside out. Breathing was difficult, for his throat felt like a dried chimney, funneling out each hot breath like a puff of smoke. His mouth ached, like a thousand needles dug into his gums. When they first started to do so, Dante felt around his teeth with his finger and found that they had lengthened and sharpened into fangs.
He waited in the fringe of the trees outside of the sorcerers’ cabin, watching for Valeria and Isaac to come from the path that led to their home. Dante figured an interesting detail about this cabin: it was in the middle of the sorcerers’ homes, and led to each house by branches of trails throughout the forest. It was an easy rendezvous point and made it quite simple for someone to find who the sorcerers were.
Realizing this fact about the sorcerers led him to apprehend that the sorcerers were closer to each other; it was easier for them to come to each other’s aid. If Carvalla’s clan of vampires were to attack, it would need to be from the inside.
So Dante…was an essential part of Carvalla’s plan.
Speaking of the devil…As soon as the sun disappeared below the trees, a whisper surrounded Dante, catching him off-guard. He slipped from his lounging position against an oak tree near the cabin and fell on his back, grunting in surprise.
The vampiress stood before him, clothed in black, and smiled.
“I’ve come to help you, dearest,” she muttered as she swooped down and grabbed his chin. Before he could reply, her wrist was shoved against his mouth.
Luscious blood filtered down his throat. He sputtered, momentarily taken back by the forced feeding, before grabbing her wrist and holding it in place.
His gaze flashed to Carvalla’s, whose face hovered inches away from his.
Her tongue swept over her lips as she suppressed a moan.
And then she was gone, standing feet away and wiping her wrist on the black skirt she wore.
Carvalla grinned. “There will be more for you once you are finished—if you come back.”
Dante’s eyes widened with surprise. “What?”
“Don’t worry, pet,” she said. “You have had enough blood to not lose control of yourself while you speak with them.”
Carvalla disappeared without another word, though Dante could hear her laughter ringing in his ears as he stood, dusted his clothes, and wiped his mouth of any excess blood.
A few minutes went by as he stood there, dazed and confused.
Then he heard them: first their footsteps, then their heartbeats, and then their whispering to each other. Isaac led Valeria to the cabin, both looking around the area for Dante.
Valeria saw him before Isaac and stepped toward Dante with begging eyes.
“There he is,” she said, pulling on Isaac’s sleeve. “Let’s go inside, where we can talk without anyone watching.”
Isaac’s face twisted in a scowl as he nodded to Dante and headed to the cabin’s door. As Dante and Valeria followed closely behind, Dante saw Isaac place his palm flat on the door’s surface. The barrier pulsed once and weakened, as if just the touch was recognition enough for them to enter.
The sorcerer shoved the door open and stepped aside, ushering both his sister and Dante into the room before closing the door.
“Okay,” Isaac said as he turned to Dante. “What do you want?”
Dante gulped. From here, he had no idea where he could go. Quickly, he racked his mind for lies; finding none, he thought of something else.
“I—I want to try to be a part of your group,” Dante said. “Maybe…maybe then your family will accept me. Then, Valeria wouldn’t have to marry Thomas—”
“Stop,” Isaac said and stepped up to Dante. He pursed his lips, debating words, and put his hand on Dante’s shoulder, as if to comfort. “Dante…I’m sorry, but that can’t happen.”
“Why not?” Dante feigned hurt, though after reading those three stolen books, he knew the truth: sorcerers were not made, but born.
“You have to be born into sorcery, Dante.” Isaac sighed. “I…I’m sorry. I wish it didn’t have to be this way.”
Dante looked to Valeria, who averted her wet eyes away from him, ashamed and heartbroken. God, she’s beautiful, he thought.
And he couldn’t have her.
His fists clenched at his sides as he turned to Isaac again. “Then what can I do? Please—I can’t just let you two go. She’s the love of my life—and you’re the closest thing I have to a brother.”
Valeria looked at Isaac, pleading with him with her puppy, blue eyes. Isaac stared back, as if debating with her and himself internally, before turning to Dante.
“There is something I can do.” Isaac swallowed visibly and said, “I can…I can erase your memories.”
“What?” Dante didn’t know they could do that—and why would he want to do that? To lose his memories of all the great times he had…no, he couldn’t do that.
“It would be easier for you, to move on,” Isaac said. “I know it’s not what you want, but it would be wrong of me to let you go on with your life and to know about us. It might save you the heartbreak—”
“No,” Dante growled—and almost slipped up. He felt his newfound fangs creep out and turned away from them. “I…I can’t do that—why would you ask me to do that?”
“To keep you safe, for collateral damage?” Dante shook his head and turned back to them, now that his fangs were under control. “You don’t care about my feelings, just that your little secret isn’t let out—”
“Dante, please—” Valeria came closer, to comfort him, but was shrugged off as Dante stepped out of her reach.
“No, Val. I love you too much to just let him,” Dante flung a finger at Isaac, “Take away my memories of you.”
“We can’t let you go with you knowing about us, Dante,” Isaac said and came up to him. He crossed his arms. “We aren’t allowed that, not after our parents found out that you know.”
“They’re afraid you’ll tell,” Valeria muttered, still on the verge of tears. She tried once more to touch Dante and this time he let her place her hand on his arm.
His head started to swim with their smells. Had Carvalla’s blood stopped working? Would he cave?
Dante swallowed and stepped once again out of Valeria’s reach.
“I wouldn’t tell,” Dante said. “It’s not my secret—especially since it means so much to you two that I don’t.”
Tears fell down Valeria’s cheeks as she turned to Isaac and said, “Isn’t that enough? We could lie to our parents—tell them that we did it.”
“And if they see him and it’s clear that he still knows?” Isaac rubbed his eyes and sighed. “We can’t. I’m sorry, but we just can’t. It’s a sacrifice that needs to be done.”
Valeria slumped into a dining chair by the rounded meeting table and dropped her head into her hands.
Dante looked between her and Isaac, who stared at him with apologies written into his expression.
“So you’re going to force me?” Dante asked with a grimace.
“I will have to.” Isaac pulled up his sleeves and came closer. “It will be best if you don’t run—”
“Fuck you, Isaac,” Dante hissed. “I’m not doing this—” Just as he turned for the door, his whole body froze. An invisible hand, spurting from Isaac’s open palm, wrapped around Dante’s limbs and squeezed.
Dante gasped and sputtered, hissing through his teeth. He forced his lips over his mouth as his fangs popped out once again, groaning as Isaac came around to his front and placed a hand on his forehead.
“Please don’t struggle,” Isaac muttered. “It’ll hurt more.”
Just as the magic sizzled and caressed Dante’s face, the same fire that plagued Dante before Carvalla came to him earlier flared in his chest.
Dante cried out, exposing his fangs and dropped to his knees. The magic, however strong, dissipated into the air, and Dante fell forward onto his hands and knees.
He moaned through the pain, shaking as waves of drying heat coursed through his body. Both Isaac and Valeria lurched forward to help him, but stumbled back when Dante lifted his face to them, bared his teeth, and hissed, “Get back.”
“Sorry, pet,” Carvalla’s voice rang in Dante’s ears. “I had to…save you from that mess.” Laughter accompanied her echoing words, only for Dante to hear.
Dante jerked as he felt a hand grip his arm.
“Open the door, Val,” Isaac said as he hauled Dante to his feet and shoved him toward the exit.
Valeria did as she was told, terrified as she watched the love of her life turn into a monster.
Dante turned just as Isaac shoved on his chest, forcing him through the open door and into the yard of the cabin. He landed on his back and the air was knocked out of him.
Isaac squatted by Dante as he coughed and huffed.
“When were you bitten?” Isaac asked.
Dante moved to get up, but was shoved back down as Isaac stood and planted a foot on Dante’s chest.
“When were you bitten?”
“Yesterday,” Dante choked out. “Isaac—”
“Did they attack you?” Isaac asked. “Are you completely Turned? Tell me—”
“Yes—no,” Dante hissed through his teeth as Isaac’s heel dung further into his chest. “They attacked me, but no, I’m not.” Carvalla may not have liked it, but if Dante told him that he did ask to be Turned, then there was a higher chance that Isaac would kill him on the spot.
Isaac stopped and stared at Dante from under his foot. Decisions were being made in that one look.
Dante glanced between him and Valeria, who held onto the door for support as horror wracked her body. She stared back in shock with her mouth hanging open.
“Valeria,” Isaac said, breaking the silence. “Say goodbye—”
“What?” Valeria moved away from the door and stumbled toward them with her face streaked with tears. “I’m not—”
“You know the rules,” Isaac said. His words shut her up.
Her mouth clamped closed as she looked at Dante. Her face, so full of sorrow, was still just as beautiful. Dante gave her a weak smile.
“Say goodbye and go home,” Isaac commanded her. “I will not tell you a third time.”
Valeria ran to them and shoved at Isaac. He moved away, glaring at her, as she dropped to her knees and grabbed for Dante.
The swift embrace shocked Dante as he felt her frail arms wrap around his shoulders. Her head rested on his chest as a loud sob echoed in his ears. He looked down to have a mess of blonde curls fill his face.
Then he moved his arms around her and inhaled. He put into memory every detail about her, from the way her hair smelt, to the rushing blood in her veins, to the rapid heartbeats pounding in his ears.
Valeria was so beautiful…and smelt so delicious—
Dante stopped himself. He scooted backward, shoving Valeria away from him. The hunger was close, creeping on the edge of his conscience like a vicious predator waiting to strike. He covered his mouth, hiding the fangs, as Valeria gaped and reached for him.
“Dante—” Valeria called for him, but was once again shot down as he lurched to his feet and put distance between them.
“I’m sorry, Val,” Dante said. “I…I love you.”
Isaac dragged Valeria to her feet and put himself between her and Dante.
“Go,” he told his sister and shoved her in the direction of their home.
Valeria sobbed into her arms as she stumbled in that direction, disappearing into the darkness of the trail. Dante watched after her, then turned to Isaac, who glared at him from in front of the cabin.
“I’m going to have to kill you, Dante.” Isaac stepped slowly toward him with caution, waiting for any quick movements from Dante.
“Looks like there is no other way around this, is there?” Dante matched his steps, gaging each of Isaac’s actions with just as much caution as the sorcerer. While Isaac might be stronger than Dante, he did have one advantage: he had been his best friend for the last twelve years. There were things he knew about Isaac that might as well be just as secretive as the fact that Isaac was a sorcerer. Every little quirk, Dante knew, and that would inevitably be the death of Isaac.
And so when Isaac’s hands twitched and reverberated with colorful energy, Dante raised his hands and said, “Please, don’t kill me—I’m your best friend.”
Isaac straightened and dropped his hands. This would only prolong the battle as Dante found a weak point in Isaac’s barrier.
“Dante,” Isaac hissed through his teeth. “You betrayed us! You have no idea, do you? What those vampires can do? Will do? And now, you’re one of them!” Isaac clutched his head and groaned. “This has gotten out of control…I should’ve erased your memory a long time ago—”
“Please, just let me go,” Dante said and stepped toward him.
Isaac shot him a look and matched his step with distance. “You are a pawn of theirs, aren’t you?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You do,” Isaac said and pointed his finger. “I can see it in your eyes. You…you wanted to be alone with me, didn’t you? So Val didn’t see what you would do—”
“Look, I don’t want to cause any problems.” Dante took another step towards him and raised his hands in feigned truce. “I’m not here to fight.”
“They want you to kill me, don’t they?” Isaac opened his palm. Energy pulsed around it and crept up his palm, like currents of a never-ending wave. “Stay back—”
Dante leapt aside as Isaac shot a beam of light at him. It hit a tree, bouncing off into the bushes like a round of dust.
Isaac was panicking, Dante realized. And with disorganized, frantic thoughts, Isaac’s focus was lost.
And so Dante darted to the side of Isaac, gaining proximity, before tackling the sorcerer from the side. They tumbled to the ground, until Dante came out on top and held Isaac down by putting most of his weight on the sorcerer’s chest and grabbing his wrists.
Dante was surprisingly stronger than him in physicality; that must’ve been the vampire blood coursing through his veins. His fangs showed as he dropped his face down just inches from Isaac’s and hissed, “How can you kill me if you can’t hit me?”
Isaac blanched and stuttered. “Dante—don’t—”
“You think you’re so fucking tough, don’t you?” Dante smiled, giving Isaac a close view to his new vampiric features. “You made a big mistake thinking that you could take her away from me.”
“Dante.” Isaac begged. He stopped struggling underneath Dante. “Please, just leave. I will leave you alone if you leave us alone. I can’t—”
“Fuck you, Isaac. I’m done playing this game with you,” Dante said. “This ends now.”
Dante’s fangs bore down on Isaac’s neck, tearing through the skin and muscles. A howl erupted from Isaac as Dante wrapped his arms around his body, holding him down as he drunk deeper, faster from the wound. The invigorating blood was delicious, far more superior in taste to Carvalla’s blood, and filled Dante with a warmth never known by him.
What stopped him from finishing off his friend was the sudden grip on his shoulder. Isaac, though weak and nearly unconscious, held onto Dante and energy pulsed from the hand, piercing through the clothes and skin of Dante.
He hissed and shoved away from Isaac, clutching his shoulder as the energy ate away at the muscles of his arm.
Isaac fell, slumped onto his side, as he watched Dante rub the wound and dust off his clothes.
Dante stood. Already, he could tell the difference. The sorcerer’s blood, though potent with magic, was like the elixir of the heavens, drenched in sweetness and potency.
“Please, leave me,” Isaac muttered as he tried to sit up.
Dante watched with a cool, stony gaze as his old friend failed and turned onto his back, wheezing.
What a strong creature, Dante thought with distain. He had expected a fight and instead, it was a pitiful excuse for a confrontation.
Dante crouched in front of Isaac. They met stares: Dante’s filled with hate; Isaac’s filled with pleas.
“You did this to yourself,” Dante muttered. “I hope you go to Hell.”
“What are you going to do?” Isaac asked. “When Val finds out?”
Dante smiled, showing his full-grown vampire fangs. “She won’t.”
He then grabbed Isaac’s body, hoisted it over his shoulder, and headed into the unmarked trail of the forest, which lead to a particular cave that Carvalla mentioned earlier that day.
There, Dante would finish the deed, and Carvalla would finish her side of the bargain.