“My master hated seeing me heartbroken.”
“He told me he was sorry that Tetsu had left me, and that he wanted to make everything right.”
“He told me he was going to go and talk to Tetsu personally, and I couldn’t believe it. My master had not left the house in over 100 years.”
“But he said he would do it. For me.”
“And then he disappeared for a few days.”
“He returned just before daybreak of the third night, and told me Tetsu was here. I was so anxious! All I had to do, Vlad said, was look out the window.”
“But I didn’t understand. Why was Tetsu locked in the graveyard? Vlad told me not to worry. He said that he loved me, and that he was doing this for me so Tetsu could never hurt me again. He said-“
“Just enjoy the sunrise.”
“And then I realized what Vlad had turned Tetsu into.”
Zell was crying too hard to continue.
“Zell,” I said quietly, my heart aching. “You don’t have to keep going-“
“No, I want to,” he said, wiping the tears from his face. “I need to talk about it. I’ve never told anyone.”
I nodded, and Zell resumed his story.
“When Tetsu died because of me, something broke inside me, and I knew I had to get out of there.”
“But where could I go without money? As Vlad went to hibernate, I found myself staring up at the portrait in the parlor, and I had a dastardly idea.”
“The price of that painting couldn’t buy a mansion, but it was certainly enough to buy a small house. So I took it and left.”
“And that’s how I moved out. I thought Vlad would be angry and come after me, but for some reason, he didn’t. He did, however, keep inviting me to his dinner parties. But we never talked about Tetsu again, or about how I had betrayed Vlad.”
Zell took a shaky breath. I had never seen anyone look so remorseful.
“Zell, you need to listen to me right now.” I grabbed his shoulders. “Tetsu’s death was not your fault.”
Zell lowered his head to avoid my gaze, staring at the ground.
“The Count is abusive and manipulative,” I continued firmly. “He killed Tetsu because he’s evil.”
I embraced him and repeated it. “Tetsu’s death was not your fault, Zell.”
And then he suddenly melted into my arms.
I could feel Zell shaking uncontrollably in my arms, wracked with sobs.
But I held on to him tightly, and I didn’t let go.