This cautionary tale was not only about Merle's misdeeds with dark magic and his inability to handle the fallout but also about my own misdeeds with the truth. I shared too much with Merle before knowing what type of person he was. I had only the account he provided because circumstances prevented me from learning more.
On my return to my run-down office in the least glamorous part of New Cari, I did all I could do for Merle without attracting anyone's attention. Which wasn't much. I monitored the forums where I first came in contact with him. I didn't send him any messages, just checked the last login date on his profile. It never changed.
Since his disappearance, I have been able to verify a few details like Eric's death.
I didn't research Mortilus. Prying into the business of a master of dark magic with a fresh stockpile of human blood and the means to acquire more is against my personal policy. Merle chose that path; there is nothing anyone can do for him now.
On the more practical side, I tracked down the real estate records regarding the sale of his grandmother's home, which was terribly undervalued. Peggy wound up selling it for four times the amount she paid him.
Tiffany has gone underground, and I see nothing to gain by pursuing her. Most magic users don't want to be bothered and don't treat those who go against their wishes kindly.
Amber was another story. I found her, quickly enough, living at home with her parents. Speaking with her was a different matter. She had entered a near-catatonic state.
Her parents allowed me to visit her, although there was confusion over how we knew each other. When I told them we'd never met, they almost threw me out but changed their minds when I told them there was a chance I might be able to get her to talk. They were so desperate they let me in.
But Amber didn't talk. She reacted. The moment I mentioned Merle's name, she shrilled and then crouched into a corner crying. Her parents rushed to comfort her. Told her everything would be alright. I couldn't decide if her reaction was rooted in panic or fear. But it was plain there was no guilt in her reaction, which is what I had expected from Merle's account. If she knew anything about Merle's whereabouts, she wasn't going to tell anyone. It all made me wonder how much of what Merle told me had been true.
I left before they could throw me out or call the police. They were silently debating between the two. Maybe summon up a lawyer.
As much as I wanted to share the news in the paranormal community that there was a band of dark sorcerers masquerading as vampires in the Midwest, I kept my word to Mortilus. Merle didn't strike me as someone who craved power for the sake of dominating others the way Mortilus or Tiffany did. Maybe he could be the architect of Mortilus's demise. Then again, I barely knew him.
I'm not keeping my hopes up. I've kept my ear open for any unusual paranormal activity in the area surrounding Riverfront University, and nothing ever seems to pop.
For now, Merle's case remains open only because I'm afraid to close it.
-- Viktor Krelig