The darkness was complete, total. Aealia's eyes refused to function in the inky blackness, and she blinked like an owl when Naurie flicked on the light. Even the lights were dull gray, hardly giving off enough illumination to see by.

"Normal light bulbs are bright enough to be painful to Alex," The male Soultalker explained. In the faded light he resembled one of the shadows in human shape -only the whites of his eyes really stood out at all. He held out a hand for the younger girl, and led her through the darkened halls of the great house, electrical lights flicking on as they went.

"It's beautiful in here," Aealia observed. Antiques and priceless artifacts decorated every room, and the art that hung on the walls was astounding. She sneezed as her long ponytail stirred up some of the dust lying in a thick coat on each piece, then sneezed again as she took another step. There was even dust on the floor, except for one worn path, as if the person who used it never walked anywhere else in the room. The ribboning trail led directly up the spiral staircase, to the upper level.

Sharing a glance, the Soultalkers followed the path through the darkened upper corridors, until it came to a dead stop just before a massive set of oaken doors. Aealia shivered against the chill of magical wards. "Alex will be in this room," Naurie said. He paused, and turned to face Aealia, cupping her shoulder in a hand that made her seem like a miniature doll. "This could quite possibly be dangerous. He hasn't fed for about two months, and we're only human after all. He might not be able to resist."

Aealia said nothing to that, though it was on the tip of her tongue to comment that she wasn't in much danger at all. Instead, she merely reached behind her and drew two pictures from the back pocket of her jeans. An eight by ten glossy was resting atop the other, and four mastiff sized dragons peered out from that image, each brightly colored and grinning little dragon grins as they made a mess of holes in Aealia's back yard. "The bright scarlet one's Jengo, the green one's Oran, and the purple and black ones are Iola and Mauli. Now this other picture."

"This is really not the time to be admiring photography," Naurie interrupted. His hand pressed to the door's thickness before Aealia could warn him of the enchantment, and he rocketed back, slamming against the far wall with a sickening thump. He blinked sluggishly, and slumped to the floor, out cold.

"Watch out for that first step..." Aealia muttered after he had lain there a few moments. She stepped over the male Soultalker and rolled him over, though it took all of her strength to do so. He'd be out for a good two hours, plenty of time for her to take care of the vampire and be gone. He'd be safer outside of that room anyway. "You just stay here Nau, I'll take care of Alex."

Straitening again, Aealia gazed upon the doors before her. She tested the wards with the tips of her fingers, finding herself skidding backwards with just the touch of a single digit against the wood. "Repels living I assume... So we'll just use the dead." She spoke to herself, a habit she had picked up, even as the second picture, the one she hadn't had a chance to explain, was taken to hand.

To anyone lacking the gift of spiritual sight, there would be nothing in the picture but a blob of light hovering over the ground. Aealia smiled faintly at the image, and tossed it into the air, as if she were throwing it away. "I summon, Sebastian!"

The light that filled the hall was blinding, and Aealia covered her eyes with her forearms to avoid it. By degrees it faded again, and the corridor was once more plunged into shadow. But a pinpoint of light remained, and it grew, changing to a dull glow and altering its shape, until another figure occupied the dank space. The apparition shook all over, shimmering and fading out before realigning its shape again. "Christ and hunter Aealia! Thee gaveth me a near life experience!"

The ghost looked quite ruffled, and nervously ran his hands over his blood stained dressing gown, straitening himself out as he eyed the Soultalker with the only eye he possessed. The other was covered with a pirate's patch, making him look quite debonair even in death. Aealia smiled at her friend, stooping to pick up a curiously empty photograph. It had been yet another ghost who had taught her summoning, the drawing of a spirit or entity from photographs and sketches. "I'm sorry for that, but I needed you for something."

"I guessed that," the sorcerer's spirit grumbled. His attention was drawn to the magic that both could sense, and again, he shimmered and lost his definition. "Child's play. I suppose thou wishes me to remove this barrier?" When Aealia nodded, the ghost sighed, sending a chill wind through the hall. "Very well."

Aealia covered her eyes again at the second flare of light produced by the ghost. This was a different, paler energy though, and within seconds it retreated back to Sebastian's fingers, which had been lifted to touch at the magical ward itself. The doors swung open of their own accord, and Aealia recoiled at the foul stench of rotting flesh from inside the room. Even Sebastian covered his nose and mouth with a hand.

"Disgusting," The ghost commented. He stepped backwards towards Aealia, a dark eye cast her way. "I do not feel sorrow for thee who can smell. This is the punishment thou gets for calling me from my tea time."

"Ha ha," Aealia countered. She stepped past the sorcerer, well, through actually, and into the previously guarded room, a hand over her nose the entire time. With the doors open, the stench was dissipating, but it was still enough to make her gag. Alex... or the figure she assumed was Alex was lying motionless on the bed, his arms crossed over his chest. The smell wasn't coming from that emaciated figure though... it was emanating from the decayed remains of the human at the foot of the four-post bed.

"He beith alive," Sebastian said from around her shoulder. A hand settled atop Aealia's head, comforting despite sending another cold chill along her spine.

"I know, I can feel his life," Aealia answered. She'd take care of Alex in a moment though. First thing was first. Careful to avoid the mess of parts laying discarded on the floor, she picked her way to the only window, and opened it, letting fresh airflow into the room and carry away more of the nauseating odor. The figure on the bed stirred.

"Alex," Aealia said aloud as she turned back. She knew he could hear her, for he shifted again in his resting spot. "Alexander Divinci, wake up." His eyes opened, and Aealia almost took a reflexive step backwards. The dark brown orbs were hungry, and glowed as they settled upon her. The vampire never moved though, still lying atop his bed, as if awaiting death to take him.

"I was called to save you," Aealia said.

"...Nau...rie...?" The figure croaked. His voice rasped with disuse, and for a moment those eyes softened, then became cold again. He coughed, and Aealia wouldn't have been surprised if cobwebs had come out of his mouth. "The... fool... I hunger, Soultalker... I hunger yet you dare to break the seal." He pinned her with his gaze, and tapping into some hidden reserve of strength, pulled himself into a seated position.

He was a mockery of a human, or even a vampire. It seemed ever muscle in his body was wasted away, and when he lifted a hand to point at Sebastian, Aealia found herself comparing his hand to that of a mummy's. "A spirit will not save you girl... Even now I fight the hunger... ah goddess! It is hard, when I hear every beat of your mortal heart... begging me..." He licked at his lips, and Aealia took one more step backwards from him. Alex's face twisted, as if she had physically struck him with her withdrawal, and his voice lifted into a horrendous screech.

"I hunger!" He whispered as the last echoes of his pained cry faded. "I hunger... Leave Soultalker! I do not wish to spill your life's blood!"

"Then take mine."

* * *

Later on, Aealia couldn't have been sure who moved first, Naurie towards Alex, or Alex towards Naurie. But like magnets, the two were drawn, and Naurie wrapped his arms about the frail nightwalker and held him close. But it was too much for Alex, and Naurie did nothing to stop him as his teeth bit deep into the hollow above his collarbone. Aealia didn't' see any fangs, but she did see Alex's tongue flash, and the barbed muscle sliced into Naurie's skin like a razor.

The Soultalker jerked, and Aealia would have gone forward if Sebastian hadn't detained her with the freezing touch his arms around her shoulders. She did cry out though, when Naurie crumpled, and Alex held him instead of the other way around. Even still feeding, the vampire sunk to his knees, and when his lips left the Soultalker's neck, he cradled the fallen man in his arms, and sobbed. "Naurie, Naurie, how could you? You knew... you knew..."

Sebastian finally loosened his hold, and Aealia jerked herself free. Teeth chattering, she approached the pair. Alex was gently stroking Naurie's face, pale skin against dark making a sharp contrast. His eyes lifted to once more impale her, and again, softened. "He knew I wouldn't be able to stop..."

"Yeah..." Aealia kneeled, and with supreme strength of will, held her own tears at bay. Alex was openly crying, and even Sebastian sniffled and wavered with emotion. "I am sorry!" The ghost wailed, "I cannot abide by a sad ending! It is much liketh an episode of All my Children!"

Naurie stirred, and his eyes opened, fluttering weakly as he struggled to keep them focused. Alex's sobs renewed, and he bent his head, brushing bloodstained lips to the Soultalker's forehead. Naurie smiled, and slowly let out his last breath.

* * *

"So everything turned out all right?" Risha queried as Aealia reached for one of the cookies her friend was holding out. Hardly an hour since her return and she was already being questioned, and Fred had already eaten another pair of shoes... and Max was once more pressing another quest onto her. Everything was back to normal again, or as normal as it would ever get.

"Yeah, I guess it did," Aealia conceded. She bit into the chocolate chip masterpiece, and let her gaze wander, first to Risha's far wall, then outside, through the bow window looking out onto the clairvoyant's second masterpiece, her garden. Even now with fall fast approaching it was beautiful, and Aealia admired the colors that arose in stunning display.

"Naurie's actually happy being a vampire, and he and Alex are trying to find alternate feeding patterns..."She faded out, and chuckled. "When they aren't making puppy eyes at each other that is. It's an amazing thing to watch Risha... I thought Naurie was dead, then he opened his eyes again and asked why everyone was crying."

"Vampirism is spread through the saliva blood contact," Risha commented. "It's like an STD. Alex could have drained him completely and killed him, but by leaving him partially alive, it took hold. It's a good thing you wrote everything down, now the book has it stored forever. You did change quite a few opinions though."

"Like the fact that neither of them grew fangs?" Aealia said.

"Yeah. I still have one really important question though."

"What's that?"

"Did they really have All my Children in fifteenth century Europe?"

Both Soultalkers laughed.