Alistair could see the look of disdain evident on Brandon and Tristan’s faces as he entered Aleister’s Elixirs and Sundries with Callen in toe. Lizbeth looked up with a smile and a short wave. “I have heard that you were back, but I wasn’t sure if it was really you.”
“News travels fast when you don’t want it to, huh?” Alistair asked the group of keepers. He hadn’t been expecting to see them so early on, not without him having to contact them first.
“You’re not exactly hiding, are you?” Tristan, the keep of elves, asked. “This is one of the most popular places in town.”
“And the only place that has frog saliva,” Alistair replied with a simple shrug. “I’m back to teaching magic.”
“As if that’s wise,” Brandon replied with a smug smirk. “Do you not know that there’s a new keeper of magic? All teaching of the craft has to be approved by him first. And, what exactly are you doing back here? You abandoned your people and have suddenly returned?”
“Like you weren’t absolutely ecstatic that I left.” Alistair lowered his eyes at the man. “So that you wouldn’t have anyone opposing your big bad king. You were all so spineless. If I had your help, Altiere, Declan and Damian would have all been gone. But, you had to give in.”
“The safety of our people always comes first,” Lizbeth said. “They are our family.”
“You may call us spineless, but I call it opportunistic. Because, we saved ourselves from bloodshed and appeased the tyrant for a short time,” Tristan said with a shrug. “We did what was best for our people. You left your people scrambling.”
“My people were fine,” Alistair said, feeling the guilt rising within him. “I did them a favor by leaving. Anyone associated with me was in danger. They probably still are.”
“Things have become less intense ever since Declan disappeared,” Lizbeth offered. “He took with him a lot of the immature power hungry rules that we were all accustomed to.”
“Who’s in charge now?” Alistair asked, tilting his head to the side slightly. “Damian or Altiere?”
“Does it matter?” Tristan posed. “It’s the same thing, isn’t it? Altiere serves under Damian.”
“No, not exactly.” Alistair shook his head. He knew better after having met with Audric. Damian and Altiere worked independently of each other, but for whatever reason…neither of the men really contested the notion. Leaving people thinking that they were one and the same. They were both playing some kind of game, but the benefit to each vampire was unclear to Alistair. Even to Audric. Furthermore, what was still harder to comprehend was who Declan was working with when he as ruler, who he worked with prior and who his allegiance was with now. Alistair looked at the group and decided against explaining his thoughts. “Anyway, it was nice talking to you but we should really go.”
Brandon smirked, his red wings a huge contrast to the neutral walls behind him. “Without introducing the fairy behind you?”
“I’m no one special, really,” Callen replied, forcing a kind smile despite the anger he was feeling at the group who was ridiculing the man he loved.
“Ah, but you’re a fairy. So, of course you are,” Brandon said. “And as I’m the leader of the fae in Moonlight Falls, I’d like to make your acquaintance.”
“The name is Callen,” The male replied sticking his hand out to shake the older fairie’s.
“He’s my boyfriend,” Alistair added in, enjoying the look of pride in Callen’s eyes. “So before you try any of your recruiting, Brandon, his allegiance is with me.”
“Always,” Callen replied, leaning his head on Alistair’s shoulder. “I don’t much care for fairy kind to begin with. So, I thank you for your interest but I’d kindly like to decline any contact with other fairies.”
Alistair shot him a look that seemed to read disappointment, but Callen didn’t understand why. He shook it off and grabbed Alistair’s hand. “We should go.”
“Visit Casimir, the new keeper!” Tristan called after the pair who turned to leave. “He’s a real delight. You’ll love him.”
“Smug bastards,” Apollo muttered under his breath. “I hate all of them.”
Once outside, Callen let out a huff of air. “They’re even worse than the people in Fortitude! How did you deal with that?”
“I tried to ignore them. They threw me under the bus all the time. I never understood it. If we all joined forces, Altiere would have been out of the picture already.” Alistair leaned into his boyfriend. “Except, now I’m not really sure who’s puling the strings. Damian or Altiere. Damian was in charge when my father was around, and then Altiere took over when I first appointed keeper. Then, it gets murky and the two rules converge into each other. I don’t know who I should be targeting.”
“Well, step one would be to find out. Right?” Callen asked. “I mean, clearly it’s not as simple as asking who the ruler is.”
“Altiere is in power, but does that mean Damian is completely gone? Is Altiere working with Damian, or is he just a pawn in a larger game? The only person who would know that is…” Alistair’s voice trailed off. “You know.”
“Declan,” Callen surmised. “But he’s gone and disappeared, right? Maybe there’s a way we can contact him.”
“No,” Alistair said forcefully. “There has to be someone else. My daughter Adeline knows a lot about Altiere, but she’s always tight lipped about it. I think she could help us in some way. But, I must contact her in secret.”
“There’s always a way,” Callen said. “We’ll find it.” He placed a hand on Alistair’s back. “Please don’t worry.”
Alistair led Callen to the vault of antiquity. There were records he needed to see. His grandfather, Lucas, had records sealed away, and it was finally time to unlock them. Alistair didn’t care of the consequences any longer. The ancient arcane scrolls were forbidden and locked away, far too powerful to be used without dire consequences. The average mage would not be able to perform them, having to use more energy than they would normally possess. But Alistair had enough power, and this fight with Altiere had been going on for too long. The vampire needed to be stopped once and for all.
The vault of antiquity connected to Moonlight Falls’ public park, and thus it was always frequented. Secrets hidden in plain sight, no one thought to even question it. But, the nature of his visit wasn’t what filled the mage with apprehension. It was what had happened in this very spot many years ago that made Alistair shake with disgust. “You okay?” Callen asked softly, noticing the shift in his boyfriend’s demeanor.
“Yeah,” Alistair mumbled, turning his head to the side. “Just the memories that were made here.”
“Want to talk about it?” Callen asked. “You don’t have to.”
“Stand here,” Alistair instructed, grabbing the man’s hand and dragging him towards the fountain in the middle of the park. “Please.”
Callen tilted his head but did as the man said. “Okay, now what?”
“Kiss me,” Alistair said, brows furrowed. “Like there’s nobody but me and you here. Like, your life depends on it.”
Callen opened his mouth to question it, but stopped. He was intrigued to see what Alistair was trying to do. “Okay, but only if you’re sure. In front of all of these people?”
“Since when do you care who watches?” Alistair demanded, a slight edge to his voice.
“Woah now, Tiger. I love you, and I’ll kiss you any time you ask me…but not if it’s to put on a show to the people you used to know. I don’t want to be some show piece, Al.”
Alistair stomped his foot and let out a frustrated sigh. “No! It’s not like that.”
“Then what is it?” Callen asked. “Be honest with me.”
“He…he proposed to me here,” Alistair mumbled, shuddering. “I want to erase that memory of him forever, with a memory of you in it’s place.”
“Oh, Honey…” Callen frowned. “You know it doesn’t work like that, right? We can’t just swap out our memories. Moonlight Falls will always remind you of Declan, no matter what I do. You and he had such a poignant relationship here, and the betrayal happened in Moonlight Falls too.”
“So…what then? Our memories will only ever be in Fortitude? Is that it? Or, is that tainted too because of Luke?” Alistair cried, in a frustrated tone. “We can’t make any memories at all here?”
“Of course we can,” Callen said patiently. “But I know better than anyone that you can’t replace your memories. They’re a part of who you are.” Callen pointed to his tattoos. “Every single memory makes you who you are.”
“I hate it when you’re right,” Alistair replied, glaring at Callen. “You suck.”
“Hey now, I will offer you the same lascivious kiss you wanted,” Callen replied with a wink.
“Oh, no. You were right. Let’s not make fools of ourselves in public,” Alistair teased, leaning up to kiss the fairy on the cheek. “Thank you for being here with me. I mean it.”
“Fortitude was getting a little too dull anyway,” Callen said. “I can see this place is going to be a bit harder to handle than I thought, but we’ll make it through.”
“If it ever gets to be too much,” Alistair began. “You can go home.”
“You’re my home,” Callen replied with a simple shrug. “I don’t know why you think otherwise.”
Alistair paced back and forth inside the house, his hand on his chin. “I just don’t get it.”
“Dad, what’s the problem?” Charlotte asked. “You’ve been doing this ever since Callen dropped you off. Is he adjusting well?”
“Yes, it’s not that.” Alistair looked puzzled. “How could they lock me out of the vault? Being the keeper of magic is in my blood.”
“Daddy, they locked you out?” Charlotte asked, shock evident in her voice. “What? Why were you there to begin with?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Alistair muttered, avoiding his daughter’s gaze. “What matters is that I can’t access any of the files, spells, ingredients or even family history! All because there’s a new keeper.”
“Well, why don’t you go and ask them to let you in?” Charlotte asked. “Explain to this new keeper why we’re here and what we’re trying to accomplish.”
“Like he’d pick me, an outsider, over the other keepers?”
“You’re not an outsider!” Charlotte cried. “You did so much for your people. Don’t they get working together will finally bring peace?”
“Altiere has a way of pitting people against each other. I don’t think the other keepers are used to working together to begin with. Each clan has their own way of doing things, so long as Altiere is there they’ll keep stepping on each other,” Alistair replied. “Don’t worry about me.”
“I will worry about you, because we both know how many times Altiere has screwed with us and we both know how the people of Moonlight Falls are,” Charlotte countered.
“Have you helped Ethan craft a lesson plan that will be good for Gracie?” Alistair asked, changing the subject. “You know how the group projects work better than anyone.”
“Well yes, about that.” Charlotte had given up telling her dad what to do because she knew he wouldn’t listen to her when he had his mind set to something. “I don’t want Graciela involved in any group projects. I don’t want her to have to rely on someone who may hurt her.”
“Not everyone is Declan, Sweetie,” Alistair replied. “Jeffrey certainly wasn’t.”
“Yes, but Gracie is more like you than she is like me. I feel like she’ll default to depending on her partner for this assignment, as she did with Leon. She won’t be as apt to test them,” Charlotte said. “At least pair her with Braylen.”
“I won’t,” Alistair said. “She’s comfortable with him, but we need to push her. I have the perfect solution to our problem. But, I don’t have time to explain it to you now, so be patient with me and work on the actual lesson plan with your grandfather. I’m taking your advice and I’m going to see the new Keeper.”