Karolina Dalca, Dark Eyes by M. R. Noble

The flames exploded outward, licking up the surrounding walls and into my face. I jumped back with a scream.

Mama gasped. “Karolina! When will you learn? You can’t use your magic if you can’t control it!”

The flames died down as quickly as they arrived, leaving only charred streaks on either side of the hearth. I can control it. I just need more practice. I sighed, already accepting the responsibility of painting over the black marks—again.

“You’re better off using the earth magic I taught you,” she said.

“I’m not giving into the gypsy stereotype,” I said. “Earth magic is all healing and love potions. Maybe I’ll grow a mole on my face too while I’m at it.”

A hunk of meat thumped against the cutting board.

“What’s that on the table?” she asked and eyed the box of candies.

“A peace offering,” I said.

“You don’t need a peace offering for a fight that’s already over,” she said. “What date do you start back at school?”

“I’m due back on campus in two weeks.” I flopped down on the couch, brainstorming how to approach the subject of my father again.

“Mama? Do you have any other family left I haven’t met?”

“Just Auntie Miruna in Romania,” she said.

I looked over the couch and saw she had pursed her lips. She knew what I was about to get at. My fingers fidgeted with my necklace. It was the only item I had of my father’s. A pendant of braided gold, all three shades intertwined into the shape of an oval. Set inside was a ruby. It didn’t melt under heat like regular jewelry, which added more to the mystery of my father. I hadn’t taken it off since Mama gave it to me.

“If you had more family out there in the world, wouldn’t you want to know?” I asked her.

“It depends, my darling girl, if they are people worth knowing,” she said.

“If they help me understand who my father was, what he was like…then it’s worth it.”

“There are some things you’re better off not knowing, Karolina.”

“Every daughter needs to know about her father! I can’t believe you don’t know anything else about him. You can try to keep it from me all you want, but I will find out.”

She’d tried convincing me my father was an injured Russian vampire who dropped unconscious on her doorstep in Romania. She nursed him with her healing magic and her nineteen-year-old self was apparently seduced in the process. No qualms over giving it up before marriage for her.

“How many times do I have to tell you, Karolina? He died. He died the day after I met him, I have nothing else to tell you,” she said. “I was lucky enough to have my parents to care for me and come with me to Canada.”

“How could you fall in love with a man in one day?” I yelled. “What is it you’re protecting me from?” I gripped the spine of the couch, crunching it inward. “Mama, I have fire magic. The women in your family always had earth magic to be healers, the men were fighters, my fire originated with my father! If I could contact his family, maybe they could teach me more control.”

“It’s out of the question,” she said.

“What if something ever happened to you, Mama? Who would I turn to?”

“The Lupei family will always care for you like you’re their own.” She looked so satisfied with her answer, that my frustration—and my fire—threatened to explode.

The Lupeis were like family, but I wasn’t one of their own. They would never know what it meant to be a vampire. We could share the sunlight, religious temples, and even a poutine, but if they cut their finger—they’d never share the lust to suck the blood from it like honey from a pixie stick. They wouldn’t know what it’s like to have inhuman strength or a fear of silver. And they wouldn’t understand how it feels to never know your own kind.

The vampire underground—akin to a mafia—had a foreboding reputation. Mama had filled my head with stories of vampires who let their egos run rampant at nightfall. If one got caught killing a human or exposing our kind, the underground would deal with the indiscretion. A vampire could disappear overnight if they weren’t worth the cost of interceding with the authorities. But this was based on Mama’s word—and I already knew she lied about my father. Never knowing another vampire was more frightening than any of Mama’s cautionary tales.