Pierce drew in a deep, much needed breath. His neck had healed itself at last, the bones back in place.
Smoulder must have worked hard to keep him out this long.
He sat up, groaning, and the dragon’s face loomed down from on high, wearing a smug, ‘I’ve won’ kind of look.
“Ah, Pierce, welcome back,” he said, before drawing away again.
Pierce looked round, quickly, getting his bearings.
Smoulder must have carried him, or gotten one of his ogres to, for they were no longer in the dining room.
One of the ogres was standing guard by the wooden door.
Everything in here was made of wood, from floor to ceiling.
Ok, so he was in a wooden room with a fire-breathing dragon. So what? Burning doesn't kill vampires.
Then he saw who else was in the room, and they certainly were not fire-proof.
The troll was restrained in a wooden chair.
Pierce was shocked by his appearance.
The troll had lost a lot of hair now, for there were bald patches on his arms and legs. Something odd was happening to his ears too, they were somehow merging from pointed to rounded.
Poor Bill Bayleaf! He hadn’t handled him gently during the kidnap either, for he had a black eye and bruises.
“Imprisoned again?” Bill tutted, chuckling bravely.
But Pierce wasn’t looking at him, he was more interested in what was next to him.
To one side of Bill sat a large, empty cage made of an enchanted metal.
There was nothing inside it.
The metal was constantly on the move, like it was simmering, gently. Pierce wondered what it was for, but his attention snapped back to Smoulder.
“You did this to him, didn’t you!” he growled, pointing at Bill.
“Do you like my little experiment?” Smoulder asked, circling them slowly, “I've been gently testing the Cornerstone on him. He's slowly becoming human, as I wanted. But he’s not finished yet,”
Pierce’s eyes widened.
“I'll have you down for kidnap, theft, and abuse, Smoulder, you mark my words!” he rumbled.
“Will you, now?” Smoulder snapped, “There is one thing you didn’t include on that list, but exploiting the dead isn’t a crime that we know of,”
“What are you talking about?”
“The ghost of Sunshine,” Smoulder grinned, “Won’t you say ‘hello?’”
He tapped the cage next to Bill and something human-shaped shimmered briefly before vanishing.
“Sunshine ...” Pierce said, vaguely. “How the hell did you find him?”
“Telepathy,” the dragon said casually, “Myself and the Cornerstone are on friendly terms. It’s a stone after my own heart, you know,”
“You have a heart of stone,” Pierce said, coldly.
“Do I, Pierce?” Smoulder whispered, “I’d say I’m more like you,”
And right before their eyes, Smoulder transformed. He shrank and morphed into a humanoid shape, and Pierce found himself facing a perfect copy of himself!
“What are you?” Pierce growled.
Smoulder answered by attacking.
They became a whirlwind of colour and snarls, never quite staying solid as they streaked round the room as black smoke, trying to bite each other.
The ogre by the door looked from the grappling vampires to the shedding troll, and slipped out the door, grumbling, “I'm not paid enough for this,”
Bill watched Pierce and Smoulder fight and knew it was a stale-mate situation.
As the last of his fur fell away, revealing a completely human man sitting in the chair, he had pretty much reached the end of his tether.
He willed himself to break free of the bonds, and as if obeying his command, the ropes blasted away.
Bill marvelled at what had just happened.
It was as if he possessed great magic power. But he couldn't have, he was human!
Then he heard the Cornerstone whisper to him and he felt completely calm.
Bill stood up, his robes and hair gently fluttering behind him as he felt the magic build in him.
Above him, the two vampires saw he had broken free.
Without warning, Smoulder turned back into a dragon and pinned Pierce to the floor.
“I want answers!” he snarled at them both, “Only a wizard can use the Cornerstone!”
“Wrong. Only someone with a big heart can control it,” Bill answered, calmly, “otherwise it’s dangerous. Quam substructio consistio gaudium est intempestivus,”
Smoulder was puzzled, and Pierce seized his chance.
He threw the dragon's foot off him and streaked backwards.
Smoulder roared back ... and then he filled his lungs.
Pierce realised he was going to ignite the room. So did Bill, and they all moved at the same time – Smoulder exhaled a jet of flame, Bill cast a second spell, and Pierce dove on Bill, shielding him from certain death.
The wooden prison exploded in a ball of orange flame. Debris rained down on scorched grass.
Pierce grunted as he slowly got up off of Bill's chest.
“Are you alright?"
“I think so,” Bill groaned, coughing. The smoke was quite overwhelming.
Pierce coughed too ... and frowned.
He was coughing. Why was he coughing? He felt aches and pains from the fight, and his knuckles were bleeding.
“Why do I hurt?” Pierce asked himself.
“You're human,” Bill replied, “I made you both human,”
Pierce put his hands to his chest ... and felt his heart beat for the first time in centuries. Then he looked round at Smoulder.
Sure enough, an unconscious human man lay among the wreckage, but that wasn’t all. The cage which had imprisoned Sunshine had broken open.
Pierce rushed over to Smoulder to check he was alright.
“I – I can’t see like I used to,” he said, close to panicking, “I can’t do anything!”
Bill came over. Pierce saw him put an ear close to Smoulder’s mouth.
“His airway’s clear,”
Pierce watched, transfixed as Bill put two fingers on Smoulder’s wrist.
“And he’s got a good pulse, but he’s should go to hospital. No – don’t move him! He might have broken something. We might make it worse,”
Pierce stared at him.
He was on the verge of asking Bill how he was so amazing when something unexpected happened.
“Don’t be afraid,” said a gentle voice.
They looked round.
A tall man in pearly robes was putting out the fire with gentle gestures of his hands. The smoke cleared, and the silence rushed in.
Sunshine stood still, facing them both.
He had light brown hair and a goatee.
“Thank you for restoring me, Bill Bayleaf,”
It took a while before either of them could stop staring.
“I - restored you?” Bill stammered at last.
“Yes,” Sunshine smiled, “The Cornerstone's learnt a lot from you. Because the City of Fae has felt so much pain and anger, it in turn felt it too. But your compassion has made it kind. Things need to change,”
Sunshine raised his hand, and in an instant, he had restored Bill and Pierce back to their normal selves.
Pierce felt relief wash over him as he became mortal again, and Bill was happily stroking the fur on his arms. Then he felt the back of his head.
“I don't suppose you could sort out my bald patch, could you?” Bill asked Sunshine.
Pierce dug him in the ribs and laughed nervously at the wizard.
“I have no business cheating with nature,” Sunshine said, wisely, “I should have realised that before I made the stone. Now it is in safe hands again, and I can be at peace. I wish you the best at making the city the same,”
With that, Sunshine began to fade until he had completely disappeared.
“Bill,” Pierce said in a hollow tone.
Bill looked at him and then at the spot where Smoulder had laid ... He had disappeared too.
Pierce swore and punched the ground.