Lyuben gazed at Nerea’s peaceful visage as she slept soundly. He could sit up all night watching over her, which he had done on many occasions before. During the first few times of doing so, his heart ached over their forced separation. Gradually, he learnt to find peace instead.
At least she is safe.
That was the mantra he chanted to himself every night whenever the sudden pang of longing hits him. He wanted to touch her so badly but he only allowed himself to kiss her before leaving her room. For some reason, that night, he missed her more than usual. Perhaps it was the presence of the new batch of students that reminded him of their first meeting. Perhaps it was the atmosphere of the first week of school that reminded him of the times they kept bumping into each other unwittingly.
“You know, you don’t have to keep torturing yourself like this,” Yezekael’s whisper interrupted Lyuben’s thoughts.
“You know, you didn’t have to blow at Zola’s neck while you stalked me,” Lyuben whispered back.
“Oh, you saw that? And you noticed me following you all these while yet you never berate me about it?” Yezekael sniggered.
Lyuben ignored Yezekael. He had absolutely no interest in his so-called saviour and his prerogatives.
“Well, aren’t you going to ask me why?” Yezekael continued, feeling a little annoyed by Lyuben’s passiveness.
Lyuben remained unperturbed.
“Lyuben, I have followed you for about six months now yet you remain unfettered by my constant watch on you and even as immortal as you are right now, such placidity is simply beyond inhuman!” Yezekael hissed, clearly reaching his tolerance level.
Lyuben almost jumped out of the chair he was sitting on as Nerea showed signs of movement. As Nerea was about to open her eyes, a gentle voice, singing what sounded like a lullaby, permeated the room, faintly at first before it became audible to their ears. Before Nerea could make out the two shadows before her, the lullaby seemed to carry her back into deep slumber.
“Honestly, you two, I could call campus police and have you arrested for trespassing into the girls’ dormitory, what more stalking a girl creepily,” the singing voice changed into a talking voice. Both guys searched for the source of the voice while Nerea was unstirred.
“Oh, is there no better way to taunt us than to have us look into the mirror, Venera?” Yezekael said cheekily.
“Well, I could iFace you on your mobile devices but the both of you have made enough noise already. Can’t have your phones ringing in the dead of the night now, can we?” Venera replied sarcastically.
Lyuben looked away from Venera’s image in the mirror and turned his attention back onto Nerea. Venera noticed his action and addressed him kindly, “Don’t worry, Ben. She can’t hear a thing until sunrise and our voices can’t travel out of this room until then either.”
Lyuben gave a brief nod without looking at Venera.
“Did you charm him into acknowledging you as well, Venera?” Yezekael snorted in disbelief.
Venera shook her head and tutted, “You can’t charm a broken heart. Hasn’t it occurred to you that he is angry at you but not me? I wasn’t the one who turned him into a vampire!”
Yezekael frowned and replied, “Hey! I saved him! I could use some appreciation here!”
Venera shook her head again and said, “You may have saved him from death but you are killing him with the separation from his loved one. Not to mention you condemned him to eternal hell with you!”
Yezekael, furious, readied his hand to strike the mirror but Lyuben caught hold of his arm in time. Yezekael turned to look at Lyuben, baring his fangs with ferocity but stopped short when he saw that Lyuben’s eyes begged him not to. For the first time, Lyuben allowed Yezekael to see the sorrow that had been stowed away in him for so long. Yezekael’s face softened and brought down his hand. He felt as though a knife had cut through him. He looked away from Lyuben for he could bear no more that mere glimmer of mortal pain he once knew long ago. Lyuben patted Yezekael on his shoulder and turned to look at Venera to address her, “Ven, there must be something important you wanted to tell us.”
Venera gave a half-smile. She could not help but show her fondness for Lyuben but at the same time, she had grim news to share with them, “I’ve been having disturbing premonitions. What happened six months ago, might happen again.”
Lyuben and Yezekael were dumbstruck. Venera inhaled deeply, “I think the Qakkir we killed wasn’t the only one around.”
The mere mention of the creature’s name made Lyuben flinch. He could still remember the torrid pain from being attacked by it.
“Shit,” Yezekael cursed. “You mean there might be another one?”
“One more is not the problem. The problem is that we killed the baby…and the mother is not too happy about it,” said Venera.
“How do Qakkirs come about anyway? I mean, are they part of this earth? Are they aliens from outer space? Are they creatures from heathens?” asked Lyuben.
“Qakkirs are what you mortals would call aliens…yes…but not from outer space…but from another dimension… An alternative dimension… Much like heathens…but not exactly a spawn from hell… Do you follow me?” Venera replied, with many pauses in between as she tried to find the right words to describe to Lyuben.
Lyuben’s brows arched in confusion.
“Basically, they’re creatures from the world of the undead, much like animals in the world of the living. They can be wild or tamed,” Yezekael quickly explained, much to the surprise of both Lyuben and Venera. “It’s just that to mortals in general, their features are too weird for them to be labelled as animals so a closer reference would be to aliens. Plus, the way they behave are like human beings except they are without human conscience and human consciousness.”
Lyuben and Venera were silenced by Yezekael’s insightfulness.
“What? I can’t be the smart one? How do I even get admitted to college in the first place?” Yezekael shrugged puzzedly.
Lyuben and Venera sheepishly muttered things like “Oh, yeah, you’re right” and “That’s true” under their breath. At least that was what Yezekael’s ears could make out.
“I think we’re lucky enough that we’re dealing with Qakkirs and not creatures like Steqryr. Qakkirs are quiet. Not quite easy to kill but at least quiet. Makes it easier for us to deal while staying under the radar of mortals,” said Yezekael.
“So what’s the plan now?” Lyuben asked worriedly.
“I have alerted the angels and I’m trying to get Zola’s angel, Anar, to watch over Nerea together with her angel, Afif,” Venera replied.
“Wait, wait, what? Angels? Are they for real?” Lyuben asked in bewilderment.
“As real as you are a vampire,” Yezekael replied nonchalantly before questioning Venera, “Isn’t Anar unreliable? He wasn’t able to discourage Zola from coming to Arevig in the first place. What makes you think he can handle two charges at the same time? Afif wasn’t doing so well either with Nerea.”
Lyuben was astonished. Suddenly his peaceful nights have come to an abrupt end with talks of Qakkirs, creatures of the undead, and angels. He was starting to feel a throbbing in his head.
“It’s precisely because Afif couldn’t do it by himself that it’d be better if he was paired up. It only seemed like Afif managed to guard Nerea because you managed to bring her to me before you went to help Lyuben,” Venera explained calmly.
Lyuben was even more astonished. He looked at Yezekael to confirm if it was true. Yezekael looked away sadly. Venera examined the silent exchange between the both of them before asking Lyuben gently, “You mean, he never told you? Oh, Ben, he felt that it was what you would have wanted him to do…to save Nerea first but he couldn’t leave you for dead either.”
In that moment, Lyuben felt all his anger melt away, especially at the sight of a melancholic Yezekael, who was usually very spirited, and sincerely said, “Yezekael, I’m sorry. Thank you.”
Yezekael nodded silently to acknowledge Lyuben for he was too overcome by the emotions upon being reminded of the fateful night.
Lyuben turned to Venera and asked, “I’m guessing Nerea is an obvious target for Qakkirs, given her encounter with the one you guys killed, hence the extra protection for her. But why were you trying to discourage Zola from coming to Arevig? And why have you decided to leave her unprotected?”
“Not completely unguarded. Yezekael will help to watch over her as well,” Venera nervously looked at Yezekael, afraid he would reject her claim.
“Don’t worry, Venera, I’m agreeable but it would help for you to explain further. What’s so special about this Zola girl?” Yezekael asked gravely.
Venera held up the Computer Club’s sign-up to them and pointed at a particular name on it.
Yezekael whistled and said in disbelief, “No way.”
“What? I don’t get it. All I see is her name,” Lyuben looked on confusedly.
Venera tapped her finger on the last name.
“Mate, she’s a direct descendent of the great African witch, Afolayan. Chichi Afolayan. Any female born with that name in her name has the potential to be a powerful witch,” Yezekael chimed in.
“With emphasis on ‘potential’. We don’t know if she possesses any dormant powers and if she does, we don’t know how they can be unleashed,” added Venera. “But I decided we should loosen the guard on Zola because dormant powers can awaken when a person is facing danger. But we should all have been prepared when that time comes. Also, while Anar was trying to discourage Zola from coming to Arevig, he encountered some strange things that happened to Zola… and even around her. That is why I feel she would need lesser protection compared to Nerea. Plus, Nerea has forgotten everything about her tragic encounter and she is oblivious to the looming danger due to my spell,” said Venera.
All three fell silent, uneasy with the upcoming danger befalling everyone.
Lyuben felt his handphone vibrating. It was going to be sunrise in an hour. He informed the rest.
“See, Venera, you could have just iFace-d us. We’re sensible enough to put our phones on silent,” said Yezekael.
“Just felt I had to live up to the stereotype of witches and magic mirrors,” Venera shrugged before waving her hands dramatically. “Magic mirror on the wall…”
Both guys looked on with interest.
Venera stopped and smiled before cheekily saying, “Log me out of the group conversation, please.”
Once Venera’s image swirled out of the mirror, both guys looked at each other but it was Yezekael who spoke, “I swear, if that thing had said, ‘You have been logged out’ like our smart phone voice responder, I would have totally freaked out!”