Merle hadn't expected there would be anything beyond the first night. But Tiffany had spoken honestly. There was a next time. There were several next times. Each spaced out long enough for Merle to regain his strength.
Amber dropped out to go back home to her parents, while Merle returned to classes. He might have been able to catch up if Tiffany wasn't always showing up. Whether he was in the library or at a lecture hall, she always found him.
One time he was out getting takeout, and she was waiting for him in his room, scrolling through her phone. She didn't greet him and he didn't acknowledge her. He knew she was there to pick up another gift and he knew how to work the device unaided.
He laid on the bed, assembled the mutilation device, and attached it to himself.
She didn't say a word or look up from her phone until she needed to pack up the gift.
"When will I be done?" he asked, using more energy than usual to speak at a conversational volume.
"You have to prove yourself useful to them in other ways."
"Like running errands for them in the daytime."
"But, You barely give me enough time to get my strength back."
"You have to figure out how to power through the weakness. Once you become useful to them beyond supplying them food, you won't have to give them as many gifts."
"You still have to give them gifts?"
"In a way."
"What do you mean?"
"The only way out is to find two more people to take your place. You have to recruit them. You have to handle them."
"I can do that."
She laughed. "No, you can't. The only way you earn friends is by buying them with money you conjured using dark magic. You're trying to break free from those consequences, remember."
"Besides, you don't jump from livestock to handler right away. Running daytime errands serves an important purpose. You get introduced to their culture and learn the proper etiquette. You have to learn how to behave around them before they let you recruit fresh livestock. They have to believe you're an obedient pet."
The night he met Mortilus, she had knelt beside him and smiled while he stroked her hair. Merle had thought she was under a vampire thrall, but now it sounded like it had been part of her training.