Henri wiped the sweat from his brow, the day’s work finally done. He glanced over to Estelle, seeing her finish pushing some dirt back into place while carefully balancing her umbrella to shield herself from the soon to be setting sun.

“I can hold the umbrella for you, mother,” Henri said, opening a hand to the umbrella.

Estelle shook her head, bringing herself up from the crouched position she had been in. “There’s no need; it is all finished for the day.” She motioned for Henri to leave the garden, so he began leading her through the gate and back toward the mansion.

“I have never quite understood why you like gardening so much,” Henri remarked, glancing back at the garden. “It seems anathema to what you are, especially being in sunlight.”

“The hard work and the danger of the sun helps to focus my mind,” Estelle replied, shifting her umbrella around for some better coverage. “If I get careless, I get burned. Within that context, it reminds me that I am still mortal, even if I might live longer than the average person.”

Henri stopped for a moment and frowned at Estelle. “You will outlive me?”

Estelle halted in her tracks and hesitated, then slowly nodded. “I hadn’t really thought about it… Yes. I will, unfortunately, outlive you. My life thus far has outpaced yours by a great many magnitudes.”

“I had always considered it, but never heard you say as much,” Henri said, glancing back to the garden. “It seemed to be one of those things that was an unspoken truth.”

“There are many unspoken truths,” another voice joined in, startling Henri and Estelle.

“Kira,” Estelle muttered, looking forward to see the dragon in her human form. “A rather late hour for you to be out.”

“And rather early for you to be,” Kira replied, her tone hiding a hint of mischief. She glanced over to Henri and broadly smiled. “With young Henri, no less.”

“Miss Shimizu,” Henri said, lightly bowing his head to greet another one of his mentors.

“It’s ‘Kira,’ Henri,” Kira corrected Henri, accosting him and draping an arm across his shoulders. She lightly kissed him on the cheek, momentarily looking over to see Estelle grit her teeth in annoyance.

“The young man knows how to properly address his elders,” Estelle grumbled disapprovingly.

“Of course, but this old tatsu prefers more informal dialogue when speaking to a friend,” Kira replied. She took a moment to look over Estelle, then Henri. “Work in the garden? Your time would be better spent fishing. I hear the outside world has quite a demand for accomplished fishermen.”

“I was doing work for mother, to repay her for allowing me to go to town with miss Schovajsova tomorrow,” Henri said, opening a hand to Estelle.

Kira’s eyebrows mischievously shot up and she flashed a grin to Estelle. “My, my, is the great vampire mother starting to allow her little boy a taste of freedom in the world? Be careful, Estelle — once a boy has a taste for adventure, you will never dissuade him from it until he has had the full course.”

“An honest living must come before adventure,” Estelle said, narrowing her eyes at Kira. “A proper apprenticeship would do him well, don’t you think?”

Kira playfully put a finger to her lips, feigning deep thoughts. “Hmm. To become an apprentice rivaling that of the smith that created my spear would be a worthy career, yet I cannot see young Henri in such a role.” She looked over and smirked at Henri. “Perhaps a kannushi would be better for him.”

Estelle frowned at Kira, not understanding her meaning. “You should know better than to use foreign terms with me, Kira.”

“Oh, essentially a shrine priest,” Kira clarified, waving a hand dismissively.

“Absolutely not! I won’t allow it!” Estelle vigorously objected.

All options must be open, miss vampire,” Kira half-whispered, half-hissed at Estelle.

“If I may,” Henri spoke aloud, interrupting the conversation, “all this inquiry to my future is appreciated, but not required at this time. I will go to the village and make a thorough assessment of openings from there, then make a decision with all the information available to me.”

“Aw, I was hoping to see you in traditional dress,” Kira disappointingly whispered, looking away.

Henri grinned and wrestled himself out from under Kira’s arm, adjusting his shirt after doing so. “You may yet, miss Shimizu; but that is likely to be far in the future. I will keep all my options open, especially at this stage in my life.”

Estelle smiled at Henri’s response to Kira, feeling pride in how he kept his head high despite her playful prodding. Henri is more than the mere human you credit him as, Kira. You should know that, having helped to raise him after all.

“Yes, I was something of a second mother to him,” Kira loudly said, flashing her eyes at Estelle. “I haven’t forgotten that, you know. Some of my strength flows within him.” She triumphantly planted her fists on her hips, jutting her chest out. “I take great pride in the fact that my ample bosom was used effectively on what amounted to an old enemy of mine.”

Henri blushed and looked away, knowing exactly what Kira was referring to. Estelle grit her teeth, then slowly smiled — looking like some kind of deranged psychopath as she did so.

“Er, yes, to which I am thankful for,” Henri mumbled, rubbing the back of his neck and trying to dissipate some of his embarrassment.

“Yes, we are extremely thankful for that, miss dragon,” Estelle hissed, her jealously clearly bubbling up through her words. She took a deep breath and shifted her umbrella over a bit, masking her from the changing sunlight. “What brings you out of the water this time?”

“Ediva spoke with me, as did Tereza,” Kira answered, folding her arms. “I decided to see for myself what their consternation was about. I had my doubts early on about you and your mansion here, but I seem to be the only one who had no doubts when it came to you and the matter of Henri.”

Henri glanced over to Estelle, wondering what Kira was speaking of. There does seem to be a lot more being discussed about me recently. I know my birthday is soon, but does it really demand this much attention — much less a week prior? And what is it that mother is avoiding?

Kira sighed and lightly shook her head. “You’ll know soon enough, Henri. In this particular matter, I have full faith that Estelle will do the right thing.”

“Are you reading his mind again?” Estelle pointedly asked.

“There’s no need for that, miss vampire. You can see it written across his face — the questions and, unfortunately, the answers.”

“You have me at a loss, miss Shimizu,” Henri said, his face contorting into a frown.

Kira waved a hand dismissively. “It is no matter. I will speak my own piece to you before you leave tomorrow.”

“Under my watchful eye, of course,” Estelle added.

Kira looked over to Estelle and snorted. “No, Estelle. The words must be between us, and us alone. The mentor and the student, as it were.”

Estelle narrowed her eyes in distrust, then Kira winked at her, allaying some of her concerns. She let out a breath, following it up with a nod. “Fine. If that’s what it’s about and not-“

Kira hissed and displayed her own fangs, along with a mouthful of sharp, pointy teeth. “Yes, regarding a mentor and her student — nothing more.

Estelle pulled her head slightly back, then glanced over to Henri. “Of course. Matters of skills and education must be paramount for a young man.”

“Exactly,” Kira muttered, her tone indicating a mild level of annoyance over Estelle’s near-slip of words. “For now, I require a moment of your time.”

Estelle lightly bowed her head. “Very well. What is this about?”

“Henri, please go inside,” Kira said, looking over to Henri. “Your mother and I have some things to discuss. She won’t be long.”

Henri glanced between Kira and Estelle, then lightly smiled. “Miss Shimizu. Mother. I will see you back inside.” He walked ahead of the other two, heading back toward the mansion.

“What is this about, Kira?” Estelle asked, looking past Kira to watch Henri.

“There are rumblings from the outside world,” Kira answered, opening a hand toward the distance. “It might be related to Henri.”

“What makes you think this?”

Kira shook her head. “It has nothing to do with thoughts and everything to do with feelings. I felt similar when his mother arrived here; it is not a pleasant indication. The witch’s power is strong, so when a breach occurs, it can have a ripple effect — both forward and backward in time.”

Estelle lifted an eyebrow. “Forward and backward? You have me at a loss.”

Kira let out a deep sigh. “Of course, the undead wouldn’t quite understand.” She glanced up and cleared her throat. “The witch’s spell has isolated our home — this whole area — from the outside world. It’s a rather simple spell by my standards, but in essence what it does is cause a small distortion in time. Thus, when it is breached, the effect is someone is going back and forth in time momentarily. This would kill most mortals unless they had access to power similar to the witch’s.”

“I am not undead,” Estelle muttered, holding a finger up. “And time is time. I will not pretend to understand Ediva’s spells, but to say that we have been spirited away by some kind of time travel is absurd. I do not care what your dragon intuition says about it.”

“Even though you are in essence a being that has a different perception of time — and at one point, you knew what it was like to perceive it as a human?”

“Time has different meanings to everyone — that changes nothing about this,” Estelle remarked with frustration.

“Time is everything,” Kira corrected Estelle. “Believe it or not, but it is the one constant that unites us all. Mortal, immortal, undead — perception might change, but that does not affect time itself.”

“And why is it so important for Henri?”

“Beyond the fact that his is limited?” Kira looked back over to the mansion and let out a breath. “Henri’s mother broke that constant, somehow. And if she could do so, then so could he.”

“All that tells me is that Henri could breach Ediva’s spells,” Estelle replied, shaking her head. “Which means absolutely nothing to me. Outside of Henri being able to cross between here and the outside world.”

Kira nodded knowingly. “At last, you understand.”

Estelle glanced up and raised an eyebrow. “Understand what?”

“Henri could step across time, Estelle. Forward and backwards. We don’t know that for a fact, but the way Ediva’s barrier works suggests that he could go anywhere he wants within the constant. The question is how and why he would have such an ability — what in the outside world granted that to him?”

Estelle pursed her lips, then let out a deep sigh. “Does it really matter, Kira? He’s my son, no matter what strange or hidden power he might have. Can’t he just be that here? Does more really need to be read into it?”

Kira folded her arms and lifted her chin up. “You could ignore it, yes. He could live his entire life here and nothing could come of it.” She then held a finger up. “But once that kind of power falls into the hands of men and mortals, they will be loathe to give it up.”

“I think Henri deserves a bit more credit than that. He would-“

“Henri might,” Kira interrupted, “but those who know of him might not. Remember those words of his mother, Estelle. And we have no idea where his father is in this picture. Those are powerful, chaotic elements that could easily come crashing into our small corner of the world.”

“Are you saying that Henri might alter the past?” Estelle asked, opening a hand.

“Perhaps not him, but those around him.” Kira gestured toward Estelle. “A vampire, for example. If you could alter the curse that made you what you are today, through the power of time, would you? To find out just what placed that incredible burden on your shoulders?”

Estelle looked down as she gathered her thoughts. It’s been something on my mind for… Centuries now. Vague memories of a previous life. The monster clawing at the depths of my soul. To find out and potentially change what brought me to this point… It’s dangerous.

“There is temptation within you,” Kira whispered, nodding knowingly. “A young boy, raised under you, with the love of child to parent binding your path together. What will you use that for, miss vampire? How will you wield it?”

Estelle glanced up and narrowed her eyes. “I will leave that in Henri’s hands. I am his mother and I will guide him as best I can, with whatever wisdom I can pass down to him.”

“And it may not be up to either of you,” Kira remarked, rubbing a thumb under her chin. “As I said, if those chaotic elements are aware of him, they would stop at nothing to find him. The power to change a constant is difficult to resist, as you’re now aware.”

“Can you?” Estelle asked.

Kira grinned and followed up with a snort. “You know what I am. I have no need for such a power; that is beyond my desires and my needs. I do not meddle in the affairs of gods, nor universal constants — I simply observe to see where it all goes, for my curiosity is whether the end matches what I have foreseen.”

Estelle let out a breath and shook her head. “I’ve never quite understood why you agreed to ‘guard’ the mansion, Kira. I am certain that Tereza had her reasons for asking you to do so, but you are so far beyond us that it makes little sense.”

Kira lifted an eyebrow. “Is it really that hard to understand, miss vampire?” She opened a hand to the distance, in the direction of the village. “Someone had to make sure you two wouldn’t start to prey on the inhabitants of this place. One can never really quite trust the undead, especially those that lust for blood.”

“Just like one can never really quite trust a dragon,” Estelle muttered in response.

“Indeed. It makes for a fitting match, doesn’t it? Though I must admit I am far more intrigued by the immortal; her path is one of many twists and turns. She will outlive you and perhaps even me.”

“Your words make you seem unsure of that possibility,” Estelle dryly remarked.

“Nothing is certain in the world, Estelle,” Kira replied with a smirk. “Like the flow of water, everything is subject to change. And while I can see many possibilities, some are more probable than others.”

“And Henri? What possibilities do you see within him?”

“For him, the question is merely whether he will take the road that will lead us all to ruin. All the other roads in front of him are inconsequential for the crossroads he will soon witness.”

“So if I were to not tell him the truth-“

“Doing so would make a far worse thread for us all,” Kira interrupted, narrowing her eyes at Estelle. “You wouldn’t be able to mask the truth regardless — you love him too much to lie to him over something so critical to his future. Push it out of your mind, Estelle: you must face the harsh reality of what his blood mother had said, all those years ago. Find a way to tell him without shattering everything.”

“Help me,” Estelle whispered, glancing down, then back up to Kira. “Help me tell him those words.”

Kira shook her head. “I cannot. You have accepted the responsibility of being his mother and thus the great pain that comes with conveying cold, harsh truths to him.”

“Why won’t anyone help me with it? Why does it only have to be me?!” Estelle asked in frustration.

“Because he’ll know if it doesn’t come from your soul,” Kira whispered with a sad smile. “He’ll know if we helped you prepare for it, as our words will ring hollow as they echo from your lips. When they come from your very soul, as harsh truths must, then he will truly understand. And that, Estelle, is what will save him.”

Estelle let out a depressed sigh. “I don’t see how words will save him. More importantly, save him from what?”

“Mere words won’t save him. His soul will be saved because you still have yours. And if a vampire can retain their souls, then so can he.”

Return to The Vampire’s Garden