Chapter 3:

☆A Late Night Snack☆

Magic Makes my Life Less Lonely!

The bright morning sky had given way to a dull and overcast afternoon. With each passing customer, I could see the sun’s rays grow dimmer and dimmer as a thick wall of clouds came rolling in.

“Remember, put a few drops on his food before every meal and your son will be eating normally in no time!”

“You’re a lifesaver, Elio! He’s become such a picky eater lately,” my thankful client said graciously.

“So what’s for dinner tonight?” I asked her.

“Liver and onions! He’s going to love it!” she exclaimed, almost skipping down the path to my gate.

“Oh...well...I’m sure he will” I said with a wave as she headed down the road back towards town. Poor boy, no wonder he’s picky! In the distance I thought I heard a quiet rumble of thunder. The wind was beginning to pick up, carrying with it the familiar scent of rain. A storm was definitely on it’s way.

“Close the door Elio, it’s letting a chill in!” Tooth yelled from inside the cottage.

“Oops, sorry!” I quickly headed back in and closed the door. “Well, that’s everyone on the list for today.”

“Except the vampire!” Tooth chirped in. “You still need to make his vampire-friendly garlic!”

“Hypoallergenic garlic, I think you mean. But yes, I need to get to work on that. I think first, though…” I leaned into the kitchen. “Brew? You there?” I asked. I heard a thump of a kettle hopping in the distance.

“Yep! On it!” the kettle said as it hopped over to the sink. I heard the tap turn on as it arrived. A moment later, it noisily hop back to the stove and turn it on before making one final jump onto the burner.

“Thank you!” I walked over to my bookcase and perused my library for a book on plants. I know I had something somewhere…

“What are you...looking for?” Cushion yawned from the couch.

“Has anyone seen a book on plants? I thought it was a big green one?”

“Maybe it’s on your desk?” Tooth suggested.

I walked over to the desk where a pile of books sat in various stages of being read. One day I’ll finish them, but for now I checked their spines for their titles. “ I forgot about this one. Nope... not here.”

“Maybe...Carton has it?” Cushion said, barely awake.

“An excellent idea!” Carton spoke up. I guess it got excited from hearing its name.

“Well Carton, you finally had something to say?” Tooth said judgmentally, rolling its eyes.

“Of course, the knowledge you speak of is most certainly held within my bounds!” Carton proclaimed. Wait, “maybe”?

“You’re just a box!” Tooth said annoyedly.

“Now, now...Carton has been helpful! I would’ve forgotten all about Novella and the other books if it wasn’t for Carton!”

“I guess…” Tooth conceded, rolling its eyes.

I opened the cardboard flaps and searched through the books again. I really need to clear them out. “Hmm...aha! ‘Finch’s Flora Florilegium: A Collection of Various Vegetations’. This is exactly what I needed. Thanks Carton!” Weird, I didn’t notice it last night...

“Always happy to help! My contents are yours!” it cheered.

Brew began to whistle in the kitchen, making me chuckle. I placed the book on my desk with the others and returned to the kitchen.

“Brew, you’re actually whistling this time?”

“Well, I didn’t have to sit as long on the burner!” it smiled as it jumped off.

“Fair enough, Brew. Thank you for the hot water, as usual.” I grabbed a cup and filled a tea bag with some oolong from the cupboard. Brew poured the hot water and I plopped the tea bag into the cup.

“Always a pleasure, Elio!”

“Alright, I’d better get to work on this next request.”

“I’ll be here if you need anything!” Brew nodded.

“Thank you, Brew.” I walked back to my desk with my cup of tea and sat it gently next to the tower of books. I opened my book of plants and thumbed through it’s index. I’d need to look at garlic a bit more closely to see what could be done to satisfy Alkan’s request.

“Here we go, Allium Sativum. Hmm, ‘...commonly referred to as garlic...a species of bulbous flowering plant in the onion family. Closely linked to shallots, leeks, and chives, garlic does not make one cry like its cousin, the onion…’. Interesting…”

I wonder...if garlic’s related to shallots, maybe I could combine it with one? The taste of garlic with the body of a shallot…a hybrid! Alkan didn’t mention a shallot allergy, and they taste much less potent than full onions. Hopefully, with it’s lighter flavor, it wouldn’t change the garlic taste too much.

“So, think you can do it?” Tooth asked.

“I think a polymerization spell should do it! Oh, but I guess I need to check if I actually have shallots... Hopefully!” I closed the book and walked to the pantry. It was fairly bare, save for some snack foods, nuts and beans. Looks like I had a healthy head of garlic to use. Over in the refrigerator I saw leeks immediately, but no shallot. Well...looks like I need to make an order with the grocer. In the meantime, I guess I could try a leek? According to the book, it’s similar enough to an onion. I returned to my workstation with the leek and garlic, and prepared for the spell.

“Hopefully this works!” I said nervously.

“You can do it!” Tooth cheered.

I placed both the ingredients next to one another and wrapped them together with a single piece of twine. Taking a breath, I held my hands aloft and began to say the combining spell.

“Come together as one, combine your flavor! Create something new with a garlic-taste we can savor!!"

The twine twitched and began to tighten on its own, pulling the leek and garlic together. A light began to glow brightly from within the ingredients. Suddenly, the lights emerging from the garlic and leek merged together and became one. It became so bright I had to shield my eyes for a moment! As the light dissipated in a shimmer of sparkles, I could see the combined ingredients had merged together to form a new hybrid! The bottom appeared as a head of white garlic, while a tall green stalk of leek sprouted from the top!

“Well it still looks like garlic,” Tooth remarked, “but does it taste like garlic?”

“Only one way to find out…” I said, pulling a small clove from the head and rubbing it in my fingers. “It certainly smells garlicky.”

“Yeah, but how does it taste?” Tooth hopped about.

“Tooth, I’m not going to eat my customer’s request! That would be entirely unprofessional.”

“Good point... I wonder if Mr. Vampire will actually be able to eat it though?”

“Oh Tooth… I hope so! I told him I could do this, and I never like to disappoint a client.”

“Eeek! I wouldn’t want to upset a vampire. He said he'd make some food with this...if it doesn't work, YOU will be dinner! And then you’d be a vampire! And then-”

There was a flash of lighting and a distant roll of thunder. I guess the storm is nearly here.

“Tooooooth! Do we need to do this every time we mention Alkan?”

“I just want you to be safe!” the little comb pleased. “I know, you should read more of that vampire book!”

“Mmm...fine. But only because I’m done with work for the day and I love an interesting read.”

“Perfect! Just make sure you clean up first.”

“Fine, fine!” I said, clearing my workstation. I was grateful for the reminder to tidy from time to time. When I finished, I grabbed the book from where I had left it last night and plopped down on the couch. The book had a bit of yellowing on the edges from age, but the spine cracked as I opened it once more, like a new book. I flipped back to the section on vampires.

“Ok, vampires…” I mumbled, before diving into the text. “Vampires are capable of shapeshifting...take on the forms of various animals-” Huh? “...or people…” Weird, are vampires not people? “...the most common association is one of bats.” Yeah I knew that.

“What else?” Cushion asked, yawning beside me.

“Let’s see…” I said, running my finger down the text for something interesting. “Vampires will avoid sunlight as it can burn them.” Burn them? It said they preferred the evening...but burn them? That seemed extreme, and also seemed like we would notice it? I guess even if Alkan was a vampire, we wouldn’t know since he’s been visiting at night...or is that proof? I kept reading. “Beware the charms of a vampire…” I said, my voice trailed off.

“What does it say?” Tooth sounded concerned. I read the next section silently to myself. “...they are alluring to mortals and it is common for humans to be drawn to these dangerous creatures.”

“Elio?” This time Cushion sounded concerned.

I guess Tooth was right to be concerned... But it’s still silly. Vampires? Maybe...just in case...I think I should be cautious with Alkan tonight. I mean, I just met him anyway. I don’t have the same rapport with him that I do with my local regulars. Besides, it’s good to maintain a good professional distance. He seemed nice enough, but nevertheless I had to remain diligent in his presence.

“Elio! Wakey wakey!” Tooth yelled.

“Huh? Oh, sorry guys! I kind of zoned out there…”

“Kind of? You went as pale as Cushion!” Tooth replied.

“And I’m pretty pale…” Cushion giggled.

“Did I? Weird. Anyway, I think that’s enough reading for now. Maybe I’ll-”

“Come on! I know it said something important. You always deflect when you get nervous.” Tooth chided me. My comb knows me too well...

“It was nothing, Tooth. I just-”

Suddenly there was a knock on the door. The three of us froze in place. I checked Tick and Tock, but the time was around 4:30. Way too early for Alkan...or was it? The sky outside was very dark from the impending storm. There was another knock.

“J-just a second!”

I slowly made my way to the door. As I placed my hand on the knob, there was another flash of lighting and a boom of thunder. The sound made me jump and I swung the door open! Standing at the door, sopping wet from rain, was Mei, a captain of the Windbloom Guard.

“Oh my goodness, Mei!” I said with a sigh of relief. “Hurry inside and let's get you out of the rain!” I ushered her in frantically.

“Thank you, Elio. I’m afraid umbrellas are not part of the Guard’s regular gear…” she sighed and huffed into the cottage.

“Here, let me get you a towel to dry off.” I felt so bad she made the long trek all the way out to see me in this rain.

“If you can spare one, I’d greatly appreciate it, “she said, holding her arms tightly across her chest. She was a stoic woman, but I could tell she was chilly. I grabbed one from the bathroom and passed it to her. Mei wiped herself down as much as she could. She even wiped the floor around her until there was no water left. So conscientious!

“Would you look at that… Much obliged, Elio.”

“Aww it’s nothing, gotta help out when I can, right?” In truth I felt guilty. It's a pretty long trek from Windbloom to my cottage. Especially in the rain! “Would you like some tea? The water’s still hot. Please, take a seat!”

Mei walked to the armchair and sat down carefully. She was what some may call a giant. Not an ACTUAL giant, but rather tall and fit, and most were intimidated by her large frame. It made her a perfect fit for the town guard; no one would ever want to cross her.

“I’ll pass on the tea, but thank you,” she said as she sat. The little chair creaked underneath her. “Mind if I rest my sword here?” Before I could answer, she plopped her sword down on the ground with a loud clang. I feel like she wasn’t exactly asking me, but I didn’t mind. She removed her helmet, revealing more of her face and hair. Despite her tough exterior, if you looked closely you could tell she was into fashion. Her long black hair was highlighted with a golden-brown throughout, and she was always thoughtful with the jewelry she wore, even though you could barely see it past the clunky armor she wore everywhere.

“So what can I do for you? I don’t remember seeing your name on my signup sheet this morning, and I’m sure you didn't come all this way in the rain for a social call.”

“You’re right on both counts. I’m actually here on official town business. You’ll want to sit for this.”

I sat down on the couch next to Cushion as Mei leaned back into the chair. Her armor must have been so heavy as the chair creaked again like it might give way.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“Well...Windbloom has a bit of an issue at the moment…” Her voice sounded heavy, like she was really worried.

“Issue? No one’s mentioned any issues to me. I mean I guess I only see my customers though. I’m pretty isolated out here in the woods.” I said with a half-hearted chuckle.

“That’s partially why I’m so concerned. You’re an adept wizard, there’s no doubt about it. And you’re resourceful. But...being so far from town, alone, has me...concerned.”

“Ok, I’m listening…”

“We’ve been receiving reports of a strange person...prowling through the streets at night.”

“Prowling? Have they done something? Is everyone ok?”

“A prowler? That's scary…” Cushion’s voice quivered.

“Oh, umm, I didn’t mean to frighten your...pillow”

“Don’t worry, Cushion’s fine. Please continue.”

“Nothing is gravely concerning as of yet, which is a relief. For the past few weeks, the guard has gotten reports of this prowler skulking around in the dark of night. And yet every time we go to investigate, we find nothing.”

“How odd…Rosetta mentioned something about new lanterns.”

“Sadly that’s not exactly a coincidence. We had to put in a request to the capital, but we’re not at the level where we need extra guards or anything. Just a little extra illumination to light the streets at night.”

“But if nothing’s really happened-”

“Oh no, things have happened. We’ve received several reports of personal possessions going missing, things getting moved around; a general sense of mischief and unease that’s beginning to take over the town.”

Mei certainly seemed concerned about all this. While the events in themselves weren’t really that bad, if left unchecked…

“I’m worried what this might evolve into, Elio. Have you seen or heard anything that might help with this mysterious nighttime trickster?” Mei seemed uncharacteristically exacerbated.

“I don’t know, Elio. Have you?” Tooth said pointedly. I knew exactly what the comb was referring to and gave it a stern look.

“Nothing that would help, sadly. It’s been as peaceful as ever.” I replied. Alkan of course immediately came to mind, but this mischief and nighttime “prowling” just didn’t fit his formal demeanour. He didn’t fit the bill. At least not enough to mention anything to Mei. Not yet.

“Nothing’s gone missing? No strange occurrences?”

“Nope. I don’t think so! I mean, Tooth and the others would have told me if anything was off.”

Mei glanced around the room at all my little friends with a slight look of judgemental confusion. “ it is you have an entire house of items that magically...come alive, I’m relieved you’re not totally alone during all of this.” Mei wasn’t one to mince words. She was taking this so seriously. I guess this is probably one of the biggest incidents the cute little town has seen...maybe ever!

“Well, I will let you know if I see anything!” I replied sincerely. I did want to help if I could.

“Yes, do keep me posted.” Mei’s armor squeaked more as she adjusted her position in the chair again.

“I just wish I could see better at night. It would make these new night patrols a bit easier to manage.” she said somewhat coyly. “Hey Elio, think you could fix me up with a night-vision potion or something?” That Mei! She played her hand and she played it well.

“Hah, sure thing,” I laughed. “Just give me a moment.” I knew exactly what I needed for this request! I never got to use belladonna often, but it would be perfect to dilate one’s eyes. Couple it with some magic, and poof! Night vision!

It was one of the few plants I grew indoors. I reached up high on one of my shelves and picked a few berries from the deep purple flowering plant. Bringing them to my workstation, I dropped the berries into the stone mortar and began to crush them into a paste with the pestle. Perhaps a touch of rose water to lessen the potency? I grabbed a bottle of the sweet liquid from a nearby shelf and measured a spoonful into the paste. After a few moments of stirring, the paste became a liquid. This would make a good base. And now for a sprinkle of magic!

“Within the night, let my vision be bright...lift the curtain of darkness and let my eyes see the light!”

Plumes of purple, cloud-like spirals swirled from my fingertips into the potion. Each swirl hit the mixture with a quiet crackle and pop, accompanied by tiny flashes of glitter. The potion changed to a bright pink that turned iridescent under the light.

“There you are, it should be good to go!” I put my hands on my hips proudly for a spell well done. “Let me explain how this works and please, PLEASE, listen carefully!” I said in a serious tone as I turned to the awaiting captain. “This is a very potent spell, using an ingredient that is very poisonous when applied often. As such, I’m only going to give you enough for a few doses. I’ll keep the rest here, and you can come back for more as necessary.” I grabbed a tiny bottle with a dropper attached to the cap so Mei could control the quantity.

“I understand. So how much is too much for the spell to work?”

“Only two drops per eye each time with each application,” I advised as I used the pipette to measure about twelve drops into the bottle. “Three drops and your eyes will seriously hurt. Four drops, you’re risking blindness. Five drops...well, it was nice knowing you.”

“Got it. I will use it sparingly.” Mei nodded seriously.

“Good!” I smiled, and handed the tiny potion bottle to her. “Here you are!”

“How much is it, Elio?”

“No charge! You’re doing what you can to keep us safe, and you came all the way out here. In the rain!”

“It’s my duty. And I’m more than prepared to pay for your services.”

“I know, but to show my appreciation, it’s on me!” I smiled again.

“Well...thanks. But next time, I will pay.” She said in her serious tone. Did I see a small wink though? I guess Mei might like me after all!

“Make sure you spread out the doses too, ok? Your eyes will need a day or so to rest.”

“Ok, noted,” she said, raising from the chair. Her armor scraped against itself as she moved. She pocketed the potion, and collected her sword off the floor.

“Thank you for checking on me and filling me in on what’s been going on, Mei! I appreciate it.”

“As I said, it’s my duty, “she said before putting her hemet back on. “You should drop by town more often, Elio. People love you.” She looked back with a smile before departing through the door. I gave a weary smile back.

“Yeah...maybe I day.” I said, though she was long gone, somewhere in the rain.

I didn’t have any plans to leave the cozy comfort of my little cottage. I couldn’t...I’m sure the infamy of that incident from Crystalis wasn’t something I’d ever escape. Windbloom was far enough from the city to afford me some degree of anonymity from the locals. But Irina definitely knew...and Rosetta seemed to have heard whispers of what transpired. It was much easier to just be out here, with no one who would judge me. I liked my friends here in the cottage very much, and my work was so fulfilling! Though many seemed to think I was cooped up, I enjoyed my time out here...with my books and all the objects to talk to!

“Umm, Elio?” Cushion asked. “Mei said we were weird… Are we weird?”

“Nope. You’re cute and wonderful and I love you all very much!”

“Aww, teehee!” the sleepy pillow said before drifting softly back to sleep.

───── ⋆⋅☆⋅⋆ ─────

Night had fallen and rain had finally let up. I sat on the couch, patiently waiting for Alkan to arrive. My stomach churned with a small pang of nervousness…and hunger. I was too nervous about his arrival to eat, even with Tooth’s good-intentioned nagging.

“Elioooo, you have to eat something. You need your wits about you! Even just some granola or something-”

There was a knock on the door.

“It’s the vampire!” Tooth yelled.

“Shhh...Tooth! He’ll hear you!” I said in a stern whisper.

“Let him! Maybe he’ll realize he’s been found out and run away!” Tooth stuck its tongue out.

“Oh Tooth… None of that when he’s here please.”

I hurried to meet my last client of the day. Alkan, the mysterious man... I opened the door and there he was, standing there cloaked in the veil of night… As he stepped into the light coming from the doorway, I saw him more clearly. His clothes were once again beautifully tailored, and he looked just as handsome in them. We stood in silence, my heart beating strongly in my chest. I realized I was staring and snapped myself out of it.

“U-uh, hi! I greeted him awkwardly.

“Good evening, Elio.” His voice was smooth and low, somewhat haunting, and yet so pleasant to listen to.

“Oh yes, please come in!” I said, remembering the formality from before.

“Thank you,” he replied with a toothy grin, his pearly fangs sparkling in the light. He crossed the threshold into the living room. I noticed he had brought a small basket with him. Curious…

“How has your day been so far?” I asked him, trying to lighten the mood...I felt slightly worried he’d heard Tooth’s accusations…

“Quite good, thank you, though it has barely begun,” he said. I think he noticed the strange look on my face as he said that. “I am, err, fonder of the evening than the daytime. Nocturnal, if you will.”

“Oh really? I’m like that too! My clients often come early these days though, so I’m kind of forced into being a morning person!” I explained. “Goodness, where are my manners? Please sit down! Would you like some tea or something?”

“You can sit next to me, Mr. Alkan,” Cushion said sweetly.

“Hello again, Cushion!” I could see the pillow blush at Alkan remembering its name. “Tea would be much appreciated,” he nodded appreciatively.

“Wonderful. Brew? Could you please heat some water for our guest?”

“Aye, aye!” Brew hopped to and filled itself with water again.

“Oh, do you like milk and sugar in your tea?”

“Yes…both please.” He glided gracefully into the kitchen and watched as Brew filled itself with water from the sink. “An enchanted kettle? My, I suppose such eccentricities are to be expected from a wizard!” Alkan wondered aloud.

“Y-Yeah! I, uh...have several friends that live with me out here!” He said “eccentricities”, does he think I’m weird?

“It must be lovely. A house full of friends, and they all just simple household objects.”

“Excuse me, but I’m anything but simple,” Tooth said, clearly offended.

“Oh dear, forgive me. I meant no offense, I just find you so fascinating,” he responded. His sincerity seemed to have little effect on the comb, so I decided to cut in the conversation before things got worse.

“Mind if I ask what’s in the basket?” I asked.

“In due time, Elio. First let us discuss the matter at hand. Were you…able to fulfill my request?”

“So, I did a bit of research. You’re allergic to garlic and garlic only, right?”


“Garlic is part of the onion family, soooo…I did a combining spell to merge the garlic with a plant of the same family! I tried it with a leek, and, well…” I said, walking to my workstation. “Let me just show you!” I grabbed the creation from the table and presented him with the hybrid plant. “See? It’s mostly garlic at the bottom, but more like a leek up top! The taste should be similar enough to garlic that you’d never know the difference.”

Alkan inspected the hybrid thoroughly with his eyes. “Remarkable,” he said as he cautiously took it in his hands. “Just being close to garlic in the past would cause me to…well, it’s not pleasant. So it's a hybrid of garlic and leek...What do you call it? Garleek?” He raised his eyebrows up and down in a teasing manner. I made a small snort, trying to hold in a laugh.

“That’s silly.”

“It made you laugh!” He grinned. I smiled back at him.

“Anyway...I think for your recipes, this should work really well!”

“Let us find out then, shall we?” he said coyly as he reached for his basket. “I hope you do not mind, but I figured the best way to test if the garlic worked is if we tried it tonight!” He opened the lid and revealed several fresh and delicious looking ingredients.

“Y-you want to cook it here? Right now?” I stammered. This was completely unexpected!

“If you do not mind? After you told me you rarely cook, and often forget to eat, I thought it might be nice!”

“Wow...uhh...” I put a finger to my bottom lip to think about it as Alkan continued.

 “Think of it as a thank you for your hard work. Also…I rarely get to cook for other people. It would be my pleasure!”

“I…” I saw Tooth’s concerned face from across the room mouthing “No!” Alkan’s offer was so sweet though, I could hardly pass it up!

“I…I am so glad I forgot to eat dinner tonight! The kitchen is yours, chef Alkan!”

Alkan’s face lit up with a big smile, flashing his pointed teeth once again. He rushed into the kitchen and immediately began preparing the meal.

“So what’s for dinner?” I said as I admired him. He was stunning. You could see the fabric of his shirt tighten around his biceps as he took the ingredients out of the basket.

“A black truffle garlic cream sauce over homemade rigatoni. If I am finally able to enjoy garlic for the first time in my life, I want it to be something strong and maybe a little bit decadent.”

“That sounds amazing…” I drooled. “I thought you said you were a beginner?” Alkan just shrugged and smiled once more. As he worked, Brew began to whistle and hopped off the burner.

“Water’s done! Too bad I don’t eat, that sounds delicious, sir!” said Brew. It had already prepared two teacups and poured the water for each.

“Thank you, Brew! How about a nice earl grey?” I said, grabbing the tea jar from the cupboard. I plopped them into the cups and gave them a little stir. We both grabbed a cup and gave them a little clink.

“So Elio,” Alkan said in-between cutting the garlic and grating the truffle, “may I ask you something?”

“Of course!”

“Your little friend here…what made you want to enchant it in the first place?” he asked. I guess it was bound to come up sometime. It wasn’t something I wanted to share with my clients, especially with Alkan, but…he was being kind and I didn’t want to be rude.

“Well, actually Tooth—the little comb currently sulking in the corner there—was the first one I enchanted...” I gestured over to the corner where Tooth was conspiring with Carton. I could tell they were whispering to each other, but they were too quiet to hear.

“Yes, the comb. It seems rather…protective of you.”

“Tooth can be, but I know it means well… To make a long story short, I kind of went through a pretty difficult period recently. Things happened, times were tough, and after a complicated move from the city, little things like self-care went by the wayside. In an act of clever desperation, I tried to make it all a little easier for myself with magic.”

“Ah, I see! You enchanted your comb to help with your hair?”

“Exactly! Do you see this hair? It never used to be this long, but I was pretty blue, and I needed some help...” It was weird to admit this to a total stranger, but it felt nice to talk about it, even on a surface level like this.

“The style definitely suits you, Elio. It is very cute.” He smiled again and my heart fluttered. W-Was he flirting with me?

“Oh! T-Thank you! I’ve grown to like it now!” Alkan’s dish filled the kitchen with a mouthwatering aroma. “That smells delicious by the way!“ I said, taking a small whiff of the air.

“I can smell the garlic. This is so exciting!” he said, stirring the sauce.

“Anyway, when I went to do the enchantment, the spell didn’t go exactly as planned and instead of a magic auto-brushing comb, I got Tooth!”

“I see. So then you decided to enchant more objects to help?” he nodded.

“Well, it was so nice to have a friend to talk with, I decided to keep going! Clocks that tell me the time, a book that reads to me. I sometimes feel like half the house is ready to come to life at any moment!”

“And with all this, do you still feel blue?”

“I…hey!” The nice feeling went away, replaced by a pang of anxiety. “I think I’ve talked a lot for one evening. It’s your turn!” I countered, changing the subject. Maybe I shared too much…

“And so it is,” Alkan said, checking the pasta.

“So, what’s your story, Alkan? It’s not every day I have a mysterious stranger show up at my doorstep in the dark of night, you know.”

“Yeah Alkan, tell us about yourself!” Tooth had hopped into the kitchen, a mischievous glint in its eye. Oh dear…

“My story? Hmm…” He paused, thinking carefully. Was I a bit too forward with that?

“I didn’t mean to offend—" I tried to say.

“It is quite alright, I just do not believe anyone has asked me that before.” He grated some parmesan into the sauce before continuing. “I suppose there is not much to tell, really. Given my…peculiar situation, I find my days quite tiring. I generally have the evening to myself though, hence the nighttime visits.”

“What is it you do, anyway?” I asked.

“It’s rather draining work, I admit. People can be so difficult to deal with.”

“Ugh, I know that feeling! That’s why I love living with my enchanted friends! They never leave me feeling drained, at least not the same way people do.”

“That sounds...nice actually. I live alone, and while I prefer solitude, it can get lonely in that big house sometimes…” his voice trailed.

“Do you live in Windbloom?” I asked.

“No, I actually live much further out than you do. Towards the mountains in the east.”

“Really? Why would you do that? That’s so…remote!”

“Well, it is where my house is, I suppose.”

“I guess that makes sense…”

“And you? A wizard of your skill could have gone anywhere after leaving Crystalis, and yet you chose all the way out here?”

“As I said…that’s a long story. I felt like I couldn’t stay there after…”

“Forgive me, I am pushing too much and have made you upset.”

“No, no, it’s just…too embarrassing…”

“Why is that? An ex-boyfriend or something?” His lips curled into a teasing smile.

“N-Nothing like that!” I blushed, quickly taking a sip of tea to hide my face. “H-How’s the dinner coming?” changing the subject once again.

“I is done! Would you mind getting the plates?”

Alkan scooped a large amount of rigatoni onto the two plates and poured a healthy amount of the truffle-garlic cream sauce over each. It smelled absolutely delicious!

“Here you are!” he said, flashing his fangs.

“T-Thank you so much!” I replied, and brought both plates to the table, setting them on either side. He must’ve followed closely behind as he had already taken a seat before I’d even sat down! I gulped. He was quick and quiet. I looked down at Tooth, tut-tutting me from the floor. I coughed nervously to cover the sound, I didn’t want our guest to hear!! While the conversation was a little awkward, he was nice enough to cook for the both of us after all!

“Shall we?” he asked excitedly, looking at the large plate of pasta and aromatic sauce in anticipation.

“Absolutely! Let’s eat!” I smiled and lifted a forkful of the pasta to my lips. It was very hot, I had to blow on it a few times before finally taking a bite. It was a delicious symphony of flavors. The top note was most definitely the garlic, or garleek as Alkan had joked. As I chewed, the truffle hit my tongue. It was bold and fragrant, and paired perfectly with the creamy-nature of the sauce. This was the fanciest meal I’d had in years! The last time was probably in the palace? of the banquets… I felt a hint of sadness, but before it could take hold, I heard a giant yelp of approval!

“Mmmmm...Mmmm..MMM!!” Alkan’s face lit up with happiness. “This is-! I never imagined-! So delicious…” he tried to say, but he was clearly overwhelmed. His eyes welled up with tears of joy. “I never thought I would be able to savor such a flavor. I can see why people love garlic. Truly, a gift from the heavens.”

I broke into a giggle. “I’m so happy you like it! This is a wonderful meal, thank you so much for making it!” I smiled.

“Do you like it too?” He asked as he brought another bite to his lips.

“I love it! Alkan, it’s the nicest meal I’ve had since...since forever!” I smiled at him sweetly as I speared more rigatoni onto my fork.

“Elio, this is...I have no words… Thank you so much, my wizard friend. I am just elated to finally have tasted this wonderful food.”

“It is my pleasure, Alkan!” I smiled and took a bite.

We both exchanged glances of pure bliss as we ate.

In the midst of savoring this delightful meal, I hadn’t noticed Tooth had hopped its way up to me until I felt a tap on my shoulder.

“Are you happy now?!” It hissed in my ear. “Now that you made a kind of garlic the vampire is immune to, how are you going to repel him if things get dicey?” I tried to ignore my angry, little comb.

“So good…” I remarked.

“Seeing as it was your magic that made this possible...I am very happy to share this moment with you,” he expressed sincerely.

“Well, I’m glad to share it with you too.”

We talked and ate for a while more before our plates were empty and our bellies full.

“Shall I do the dishes?” he asked.

“Oh no, I can do those later. You’ve done enough for one evening, it’s the least I could do!”

“If you insist. I suppose that only leaves the matter of payment. How much do I owe you for your services?”

“What?! Dinner was more than enough-”

“Nonsense, you must be rewarded for your good work. Besides, I believe I owe you for your garlic and leek, no?

“ does seven sound?”

“Then seven it is.” He retrieved some pieces from his coin purse and held out his hand. I held out my own and for a moment, our hands brushed each other. His pale grey skin was soft but cold, and felt like velvet for the brief moment he touched my palm. I looked down at my hands, and was shocked at what he gave me!

“W-Wait just a second.” I stammered as he was gathering his things. In my hands were seven bright and shimmering coins of platina. These were worth one hundred gold each! No one around here had coins like these…

“Hm? Apologies, did I miscount?” he questioned, blinking in confusion.

“I didn’t mean seven platina. I meant gold!”

“Do you think your services worthy of such payment? Please keep them, “ he said with a chuckle.

“B-But these are way more than what I asked for!”

“Then think of it as a very good tip!” He winked once more as he glided to the door. “Thank you so much, Elio. I had a most enjoyable evening speaking with you. Good night.”

“It was nice to talk with you too, Alkan! Night night, and, uh, thank you!” I waved, probably with an astonished look on my face. He slipped back into the night, and I shut the door behind him.

“Tooth, uh...look at these!” I held out my hand, filled with the glimmering coins.

“Whoa…” Tooth remarked.

“I know, right?! He just paid me in pure platinum! I feel kinda guilty about it.”

“Why? You did good work. Combining spells usually get a wizard a fine sum!”

“I’d say maybe one platina at most...not seven, Tooth!”

“Well, he can pay extra. Call it a hazard fee!”

“Tooth! He was very sweet! I think all this vampire stuff is just bluster at this point!”

“He’s a bloodsucker, Elio! Didn’t you hear Mei earlier?! Something or SOMEONE has been sulking around the town at night! You saw how he moved, no, practically flew around? I bet it’s him!”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“Is it? Let’s go through the facts. He only comes out at night. He’s allergic, sorry, WAS allergic to garlic. He said his work is ‘draining’. He’s got fangs and lives in the mountains for goodness sake!”

“I feel like you’re picking and choosing things here....”

“Elio! If he looks like a vampire and sounds like a vampire, then he's a vampire! It’s practically time for you to hit the cushion!” 

“What does that even mean?" I scrunched my eyebrows together, puzzled.

“Hey! I heard that!” Cushion yelled from the couch. I picked up Tooth and sat on the opposite armchair. It seemed hardly fair for Cushion to be mentioned without being part of the conversation.

“I say he’s NOT a vampire! Just an attractive dandy!” Cushion stated, all too pleased with its assessment.

“You’re just being difficult.” Tooth scoffed.

“So what if I am? Elio agrees with me, right?” Cushion hopped a bit on the couch in excitement.

“Well...I am not sure if he’s a vampire...but I think he’s good-looking, yeah.”

“See? Case closed! You’re the only one who really believes he’s a vampire!” Cushion said, sticking its tongue out at Tooth.

“Cushion, you’re just a big softy, fine with anything that cuddles with you,” Tooth said in a condemning manner.

“What are you saying…?” Cushion sniffled.

“He sat on you when he first got here and you liked it!”

“...That’s not true!”

“It is! Just ask Tick and Tock! They’ve got the best vantage point in the--”

“TICK! TOCK!” Cushion screamed. Oh boy...

“W-What?!” Tick groggily shook awake.

“What’s with this racket?!” Tock demanded to know as it opened its eyes.

“Do you think I just like anyone that cuddles with me?” Cushion whined

“...I mean…” Tick said nervously. I think if it could sweat, it would be now.

“It’s in your’re a pillow, Cushion.” Tock said bluntly.

“You meanie!! You always take Tooth’s side!” Cushion complained.

“Now, now...everyone please calm down…” I tried to say, but my words went unnoticed. Tooth, Cushion and the clocks kept arguing amongst each other. I sunk into the corner and watched it all unfold.

“I...don’t have an answer for this, I’m afraid,” Carton said from the floor beside me.

“Me neither...I think I’ll just let them argue for now. They'll tire themselves out soon enough! Good night, Carton.” I said as I made my way upstairs.

“Sleep well, Elio… Somebody has to.”

───── ⋆⋅☆⋅⋆ ─────

The arguing had quieted downstairs, but I couldn’t sleep. Novella was kind enough to read to me, telling tales of faraway land… Pirate queens taking on the kraken, queens becoming kings, and princes who loved each other…but none of it helped.

Thoughts of Alkan kept running through my head. Was Tooth right? Did I just help a vampire? Does it matter if he is one? Would I see him again? He was kind and sweet, if maybe a little formal and intense. There was something about him that was so...confusing.

“Novella...I’m feeling like a midnight snack. Would you keep me company?”

“The prince snuck past the sleeping guards, careful not to wake them…” Novella recited.

“Don’t worry, we won’t wake the others.” I picked up the little book and went down into the kitchen. The others were fast asleep; I guess they tired themselves out. I opened the pantry, grabbing a box and a little bag. They rustled a little too loudly and I heard something stir in the living room.

“Zzzz...hmm? Elio?” Cushion said quietly.

“Shh.” I snuck over to the couch and tucked the pillow under my arm.

“You’re up late…. Whatcha making?” it asked.

“Hehe, you’ll see,” I whispered excitedly. “Let’s just keep quiet so we don’t wake Tooth. You know it doesn’t do well at night like we do.”

“ cranky,” it yawned as I placed Cushion on the counter next to Novella and the box. “Oh hi Novella! Wait...I know this box!”

I went back to the pantry and took out a small bar of chocolate before closing it again.

“S’mores!” Cushion cheered. It’s funny, Cushion can't eat but gets so excited when I make things like this.

“You guessed it!” I winked at the pillow and spread the ingredients out on a plate. I began to make the sweet sandwiches, first the graham cracker, then the chocolate, and finally topped with a big fluffy marshmallow.

“A feast fit for a queen…” Novella said. I guess it likes s’mores too!

After making a couple, I turned on the broiler and placed them inside on a baking sheet.

“Sorry about the arguing, Elio… Did it keep you up?” Cushion asked sheepishly.

“No it’s fine, you didn’t. I just...I can’t stop thinking of Alkan. He’s funny and kind and, I don’t know, easy to be around.”

“Yeah? Do you have a cute little cruuuuuush?!” Cushion teased.

“Maybe I do… Ugh but that’s so unprofessional!”

“Well, I don’t blame you. That’s a hunk of a man!”

I giggled, “I knew I could talk to you about this Cushion!”

“Of course!”

“I wonder if he will even come back? It was a total fluke that he came in the first place...It’s not like I’m well-advertised or anything!”

“Hmmm...well maybe you could go see him?”

“Cushion! I couldn’t! I haven’t gone anywhere since I got here. Besides, I have clients to help and things to do and...and...” I was looking for excuses, but running out of ideas. I wasn’t going to leave the comfort of my home...

“Well, if you really want to see him again, maybe you SHOULD!” Cushion nudged. I checked on the s’mores, their tops were slightly golden and they looked perfectly melted. I took out the baking sheet and placed it on top of the stove to cool a bit.

“Maybe...But right now, it’s time for s’mores,” I said. I grabbed another graham cracker and pushed it down on to the gooey, toasted marshmallow. I grabbed it carefully and took a big, crunchy bite through the graham cracker and into the chocolate and marshmallow. Delightful… The cracker had just the right amount of cinnamon. The chocolate was creamy and melted slightly from the heat of the marshmallow, which was perfectly toasty and warm. A delicious midnight snack to savor while I turned late night thoughts around in my head.

“The lonely princess stared down from her high tower and stared longingly at all the people. Oh, how she dreamed of being a part of the crowd below…” Novella quoted from one of it’s stories.

“Well I don’t really get it, but I agree with Novella!”

“I love you both, dearly” I said, stroking Cushion’s back, “but you just don’t understand…”  
N. D. Skordilis
Taylor Victoria