The vampire slammed his bedroom door open right before they had to leave. Varis’s hair matched Aaron’s, stylishly mussed. A ripped long black coat snapped behind him, silver designs along the collar and cuffs. Tight black pants stopped just short of black oxfords. the red v-neck shirt gave him the only splash of color. A silver choker wrapped itself around his neck. His eyes were solid black.
Varis paused next to Aaron’s desk, gesturing for him to move his hands away. He picked up the pages and read them over, sneering. “Handwriting speaks volumes about a person. Yours matches you perfectly. Elegant and composed, superficially. Scratch off the the gilded exterior and you find the dull, brittle core. Uncreative, inflexible, and entirely uninspiring. And unable to even brush my expectations apparently.”
Varis ripped the pages and left the shreds on Aaron’s desk. “Tomorrow you’ll strive to complete more in this time frame and be thankful I only started you from the beginning.”
Varis turned on his heel and stormed out the door, nearly clipping Aaron with it as he slammed it shut and locked it.
Varis remained silent the entire way across campus. The Princess was hosting the dinner at her mansion, tucked back into the forest. A few students walked the paths, escorted by heavily armed Noilan guards. Most made a brief movement to intercept Varis but, after a quick glance at his face, hurried away. Those who didn’t stepped off the path and bowed to the pair as Varis stormed by. All the while, Varis seethed. ‘My hair is a disaster, these clothes are hideous, and I have to tramp all the way across campus looking like a human tween posting poorly written emo poetry because Ryner didn’t bother to send a car.’
He halted at the edge of the forest abruptly and whirled on Aaron, yanking him close and cupping his hand around Aaron’s ear to shield his lips from sight.“I will give you one warning despite your abysmal performances this evening. My Lady employs only mages skilled in the art of telepathy. If you do not wish your secrets and insecurities laid bare to her in the easiest fashion, I advise you stay within three steps of me. Outside of that and my presence will not protect you.”
Varis released the boy, smoothed out the section of clothing he grabbed, and resumed walking as if nothing happened.
A cobblestone path wound through the forest, twisting into the darkness. Little light filtered down through the canopy, leaving most of the path in deep shadow. Varis walked steadily, unfazed by the lack of light. Periodically, patrols of mages and vampires would slink out of the darkness and back into it, the familiar prickle of magic ghosting over the vampire and mage as they did.
What caught Varis’s attention was the sound, or the lack thereof. Their footsteps made no noise as he set a brisk pace. No insects hummed in the air and no wind rustled the trees. No birds or rodents made their presence known and the air felt heavy and sluggish.
The feeling lifted as the path followed around to the front of the Princess’s mansion. A modernized tudor, the mansion glowed warmly and boasted a long driveway ending in a spectacular water feature. The cobblestone path dropped the pair off at the front gate and they were escorted to the fountain. Salem stood there speaking softly with the Princess already. The group looked up as Varis and Aaron approached.
“Varis, Aaron. Welcome to my home away from home.” She spoke softly, a warm smile on her face as she leaned forward to kiss the Count of the cheek. Anyone who knew her though could see the smirk curling at the edge of her lip and the playful sparkle in her eye at the sight of Varis. The Count turned his head, normally an affront, but the Princess instead whispered in his ear, “Bishop.” She stepped away and Varis audibly ground his teeth, staring past the woman at the fountain. “And Aaron. It is a pleasure to see you.”
She pressed a soft kiss to his cheek as well. “I cannot wait until Mother sees you in that outfit. Though she won’t dare say anything until Lady Sinnenodel departs, she’ll absolutely hate it! We’re matching that way I guess. Oh, you don’t know how much it pleases me to welcome you here as a student rather than a servant. I would love to hear about your first day of life outside of the household when we have a chance.”
She sent a warm smile before turning back to the Count.“I utterly loathe you, old hag. Not even a car and now that?”
Varis said bitterly. His eyes lightened slightly however. “We are discussing this later. In length may I add. But first, I must address…”
He gestured to Ryner in general, eye brows high and disgust plain on his face. “All of this. I hardly recognized you walking up the drive. I nearly thought you’d sent an Astorio’s second hand concubine to greet us.”“The nastier you are, the more I know you like it.”
Ryner laughed at him. “Maybe if you took the stick out from your ass you could enjoy your life for once, you conceited lickspittle.”
Varis’s lip twitched and his eyes lightened further. “At least I know how to handle it once it's there.”
Varis shot back, pulling out a file and touching up a few uneven spots he missed in his rush. She smack him gently on the arm.“I’m a dedicated woman. I prefer one drink, not a new one each night.”
Ryner leveled him with a look. “And I would have found myself a married vampire already if you stopped interfering for a few decades.” “They were cheating on you before me.”
Varis waved the accusation off. “All I did was air out their dirty laundry. Frankly, I did you a favor.”“Varis, it’s not a favor if you are part of the laundry.”
She said dryly but held up a hand, cutting off Varis’s retort. “We’ll have plenty of time to debate the moral implications of your actions, again, after dinner. For now, introductions! Varis, this is Salem Spellman. He is the only son of the CEOs of Modern Tonics and Mystic Teas. His partner, Sir Lucan Bordeleaux, will hopefully be joining us later. Aaron spent the past five years learning swordplay under Sir Bordeleaux.” “And Salem, this is Count Varis Sinnenodel. He is Lady Sinnenodel’s current protege and I believe he has done some business with your father recently. His partner is Aaron Starag, the youngest member of the Starag line. He is quite skilled after Lucan’s tutelage and excels easily in most areas.”
Varis stared thoughtfully at Salem for a few moments.“Modern Tonics. Ah yes, Salem Spellman. How odd. I don’t recall Salem mentioning a son.”
Varis looked the plant mage over a moment more and then dismissed him, turning back to Ryner. “But omission speaks for itself. A pity Sir Bordeleaux isn’t here though. His insight could have proven useful. The boy lacks critical thinking skills and a few ideas from a former mentor could have gone a long way. Just earlier, the boy was trying to find a place to put his cufflinks after I rolled up his sleeves. It was a horrifying display of incompetence, wouldn’t you agree boy?”