The sun set in the distance, coloring the sky in darkness. The great clock tower of Stormstar chimed the hour, scattering the gathered crows and leaving one lone figure perched on the edge, alone to greet the night from her seat far above the city.
Sora couldn’t explain what it was that drew her to high places. Maybe it was the feeling of freedom getting to touch the sky gave her after having spent so many years creeping on the ground and clinging to shadows. Maybe it was the fact that, from up here, all the humans who feared her were so small and far away she didn’t have to hide from them. Maybe it was the fact that being this close, the night could wrap around her and kiss her skin with its cool touch in a way the ground could never satisfy her.
Or maybe it was just that the sky was where someone like her belonged, flying amongst the birds on her cursed wings.
But whatever the reason might be, the night sky felt like home to Sora, which was nice because home was a word that for so many years had seemed strange and foreign to her.
But where there was night, there was home.
The cold winds rolled against her bare shoulders. Many would think it foolish for Sora to be out here on a chilly night like this, with nothing to warm her but simple trousers and a sleeveless black shirt. But Sora was never bothered by the cold, something like that…
Well, that was a human thing, she supposed.
The bell finished its chime, and that meant it was time to go. Back home. She tucked her legs in and rolled back, dropping down in front of the clock face. Bricks and cracks formed a ladder leading her to the ground, and she dropped down onto the street just as the last traces of daylight vanished on the horizon.
The back alleys of Stormstar were nicer than the run-down streets she had grown up in, even the nobles’ slums were better than those of the poor. But an alley was an alley, and the shadows they cast were the same. Sora moved through the winding streets, breaking into a run. He’d be back soon, and if he saw that she had snuck out then he would be cross. It was her first time seeing him in months, and she didn’t want to start their time back together with him being upset with her.
Her pace quickened as she turned the corner, and a small alley cat dashed in front of her feet. Biting back a cry she leapt into the air, tucking her arms in and rolling. She skidded across the ground, scraping up her arms as she tumbled across the jagged cobblestones. Pain shot through her skull as she banged her head against the metal refuse bin. Sora pulled herself up off the cobblestones, her vision swimming. A smile came to her lips as she saw the cat scurry away unharmed.
She didn’t mind her own wounds. Dark sparks crackled over her skin, the scrapes already healing up. She wiped the blood off of her forehead and the gash on her face closed behind her wrist. Her chest stung a little, but that was fine. Some minor cuts and scratches were nothing to someone like her.
She saw the familiar red brick of the professor’s house, the windows still dark. She smiled, seeing him ambling down the street with his traveling trunk. She’d made it back just in time.
Clinging to the shadows, Sora climbed up the wall to the window on the second floor, sliding it up and slipping inside, rolling onto her bed just as she heard the front door creak open.
“Sora! I’m home!” He called.
She grinned, locking the window behind her and hopping off the bed. “Coming!” She sang out, heading out of her room and down the stairs.
He had just set down his trunk and closed the door when Sora bounced down to greet him. “Professor!” She threw her arms around him and hugged him tightly, refusing to let him go.
When Damien Darkflame had come upon her in that alley all those years ago, she had looked at him with equal parts fear and frustration. He had pushed past her coldness and taken her into his home, dressed her and bathed her and let her feed on him until she recovered her strength, and all without asking anything in return. He never said one word about her fangs, or her wings. She was a vampire, and it was like he didn’t even care.
Sora would never forget that night, sleeping in a soft bed with a nice warm blanket wrapped snugly around her. She didn’t mind the cold, but warmth was still nice.
She had waited for the other shoe to drop. Five years later, and she was still waiting. The professor’s house was exactly what she and her friends had always dreamed of in the orphanage, before she’d had to run away.
It really was home.
“It’s good to be home, Sora,” the professor laughed, patting her on the back. “How are your studies coming along?”
Sora froze, pulling back from him. “W-Well, professor, I still…”
Damien raised his eyebrow and crossed his arms in front of his chest. “Sora…”
Sora glanced shiftily to the side, not meeting his eyes. She lowered her head. The professor sighed, hanging up his coat and walking past her, into the living room where she’d left her books and homework stacked up on the table. He sat down on the couch and picked her tests up, flipping through the papers with a stern look on his face.
Then he looked perplexed. He flipped through the papers a little faster and Sora tried hard not to smile, keeping her face set in an expression of contrition and remorse.
The professor looked up at her and let out an exasperated sigh, tossing the papers down on the table. “Really?”
She blinked innocently. “Yes, professor? Is there anything odd?” She asked.
“Perfect, simply perfect,” he said, shaking his head, a chuckle escaping his lips. “Sora, these scores, they’re amazing! I’m so proud of you!” She reflected his smile with one of her own, giggling.
“Oh, yeah!” Sora said, pumping her fist into the air. “That’s what I’m talking about! Sora’s great, Sora’s great, Sora’s the best, she aced the tests, woo, woo, wooooo!” She rolled her fists in front of her like she was punching invisible foes as she swayed from side to side and cheered herself on.
“Sora, these results, amazing,” the professor said again, standing up and walking over to her.
“I know, I’m amazing,” Sora boasted, relishing his attention as he patter her on the head, his fingers tousling her feathery black hair.
“That definitely makes me feel a lot more comfortable about what I’m going to tell you,” Damien said. His voice didn’t sound as warm and comforting anymore, and Sora looked up at him in wary confusion.
“Huh? What is it?” She asked.
“I spoke with the faculty, and they came to the decision that it won’t be appropriate for you to continue homeschooling,” the professor explained, moving his hand from her head to clasp her shoulder. Sora could tell he was trying to be reassuring, but right now she didn’t know what to make of his words. No more school?
“I… don’t have to study anymore? But you said… you said that it was important that I learn more about magic and the world, so I could use my abilities to help people, professor! You said that!” She said, shaking her head.
“Yes, I know, and I still believe that,” the professor gently tried to assure her. He moved to hug her again, but right now Sora needed her space.
“But-But my grades,” Sora said, pulling away from him. She dashed over to the desk and snatched the tests up, shoving the crumpled papers into his face. “I did perfectly! In everything! And they’re kicking me out?! But I want to help people, so I don’t have to… so I can… no, it’s not fair! You SAID I could be a mage if I studied hard, and I did! LIAR!” She wailed, stomping her feet. She flung the tests on the ground. Stupid exams. What good were they!?
“No, no, Sora, you’re misunderstanding me,” the professor explained. His eyes were wild with panic and he held out his hands to try and soothe her. He tried to approach her slowly and cautiously, and she stepped back, afraid to get close.
If he was close he was going to hug her, and if he was going to hug her then he was going to say bad things!
No, no, this was all going wrong, she had planned it out perfectly! The professor was going to see her amazing grades, and then tell her how proud he was of her, and then they’d curl up together after he ate and she fed and he’d say she was an amazing girl and he was so happy he had found her back then and-and-and-
Oh no, she was starting to have another panic attack. She fled back to her room as the professor called desperately after her, locking the door and hiding under the sheets.
“It’s okay,” she told herself, taking deep breaths. She hugged the pillow tightly to her chest as her heart ached. “It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay. You’ll be a good girl, it’s okay. The professor won’t be mad at you when you go down and apologize, he’ll tell you it’s okay and that he’s not mad and then you’ll hug and make up.”
But what if…
“No!” She buried her face in the pillow and curled up into a ball. He wasn’t going to put her back out on the streets, he wasn’t! He wasn’t!
A knock on the door snapped her up. She turned fearfully towards it, wrapping her blanket tightly around her.
“Sora, can I come in?”
“Yes, please come in, I’m sorry I shouted just now, I just go a little anxious is all,” Sora wanted to say. Instead, she squeaked, “are you going to kick me out?”
“What?! Why would you think that?” The professor asked, stunned.
Sora’s heart stopped hurting. She calmed down, the panic attack passing as quickly as it had come. Now that she was thinking clearer, she could ask herself that same question and couldn’t come up with an answer.
Sora sighed and buried her face in her hands. She’d overreacted again. She walked on shaky legs to the door and peeked out, afraid of what she would see. But the professor wasn’t cross with her at all. His eyes were filled with warmth and concern.
“I’m sorry I yelled at you,” Sora apologized, lowering her head. “I didn’t mean it… I just…”
Before she could finish he had scooped her up in his arms and pulled her close to his chest, hugging her tightly in his grasp.
“No, hush sweet little girl,” he whispered, kissing her forehead. “It’s okay, it’s okay…”
He led her to the bed and sat down, and she awkwardly sat next to him, hugging him all the way. She was still afraid that if she let go then he’d be gone.
“If… If I study really, really hard, can I still keep learning?” Sora pleaded. Being a mage meant everything to her, it gave her the chance to use her powers to help others, instead of hurting them.
And for Sora that meant more than the sky itself.
“You didn’t let me finish,” Damien said, softly running his fingers through her hair as he pressed her to his shoulder. “They don’t want you to homeschool anymore. I tried to convince them you were talented enough to handle it, and clearly, you are.”
“I’m amazing,” she reminded him.
“Yes, you are, you’re my amazing little vampire,” he assured her, and she sighed in relief. Just hearing him say that felt nice. “But the Rem Magic Academy is about more than just grades. The Chancellor is afraid that by keeping you home, you won’t be able to receive the experiences you need to truly mature into a mage.”
“But I can!” Sora protested, pulling away from him. “Show him my tests, and he’ll see, he’ll let me keep studying!”
“The Chancellor and the rest of the faculty want you to continue your studies,” Damien said, but the shadow on his face told a different story. “But as a full-time student.”
Sora didn’t know what that meant. “Full-time… huh?”
“It means you’ll be staying in the dorms,” Damien explained. “Attending classes instead of following a curriculum guide. I made sure there was a spot open in the Stars Cohort this year, so when the next term comes-“
“You mean… a classroom… with other people?!” Sora pulled back like the professor had struck her across the face. “Humans?!”
“And malkin, and a half-elf, but Sora-“
“No, no! I won’t do it, I won’t! You can’t make me!” Sora shouted. “Professor, they’ll laugh at me, they’ll tease me, they’ll call me a freak and a monster! I’m a vampire, I can’t go to school! I can’t, I-!”
She clutched her chest and began taking deep breaths, her vision swimming. No, no, no, this was bad, this was bad!
“Where’s my locket?!” She demanded, scrambling over to her night stand yanking the drawer open. There it was. She grabbed the golden pendant and held it tightly, falling to her knees as her panic attack subsided.
“Sora, please, it’ll be okay,” the professor begged, not getting off the bed. He reached out to her, but as their eyes met he pulled back, staring at her like he was worried and unsure. Didn’t he see she wanted him to hug her now?! Why wasn’t he hugging her?!
She squeezed the locket tighter, feeling the four-letter inscription press into her skin. S.O.R.A. The one thing familiar and safe from her past. The pain of the letters digging in always helped calm her down. When her head cleared, she looked sheepishly back at the professor. Again. She’d done it again. She hadn’t meant to, she hadn’t!
“I’m sorry,” she sobbed. “I’m sorry, I-“
Then Damien smiled, and it was all better. He reached out to her and she smiled back.
“It’s okay,” he murmured, pulling her into his embrace again. “It’s going to be okay.”
“I’m scared,” she sniffled, burrowing her face into his chest. “I don’t want to go.”
“Sora… I know you don’t like other people,” Damien said gently, stroking her hair. “I know you’re frightened that if they know what you are-“
“A monster,” she spat out.
“…Different,” he corrected her, like that made any difference. “That they’ll hurt you. But I won’t let anything bad happen to you.”
Sora leaned back so she could get a good look at his face, peering blearily at him through her tears. He seemed to be sincere. “Promise?” She whispered.
“I promise,” he nodded. “And it might even be fun. You might make some new friends.”
Sora tried to smile like he was, but it was too hard and she gave up. She’d had friends. And now she didn’t. That said it all.
But as she looked Damien in the eye, she could see the hope and admiration there. He really thought she could do it. Just like he’d thought she could pass all those tests.
Sora didn’t want to let him down.
“I’ll… try?” She offered. It was the best she could do.
Damien smiled, and she smiled back this time. “That’s good enough,” he said, tousling her hair. “One step at a time.”
A stab of pain shot through Sora’s chest and she winced. Between her two panic attacks, she’d forgotten she still needed to feed. But asking him now felt…
“Are you hungry?” Damien asked her. Of course he would notice something like that. She bit her lip and nodded, too embarrassed to say it. She’d fed off him for five years now, and it still made her uncomfortable.
But he offered his arm to her all the same.
“It’s okay,” he assured her. “I’m back. You can have as much as you like.”
Grateful, Sora opened her mouth wide, her fangs slipping past her teeth. She buried them in his wrist and began to feed.
Just like him, Damien’s blood was warm and sweet and filled with love. It tasted like finally being home.