In the moments after L'il's departure, I felt this emptiness gnawing at my chest.
It struck me as peculiar. No matter how hard I tried to fill it, it would not go away.
I tried everything. I gorged myself on blood, I jousted in tournaments, I even(and I say this regrettably) courted a few more princesses, hoping that maybe, just maybe, by finding my true love, this aching in my chest would go away.
But none of it worked.
With every princess I courted, the aching only increased, until it was nearly unbearable. Sure, they were all decent princesses, a real catch for some lucky man, but they weren't right for me.
I could think of only one girl who had ever been right for me.
And suddenly, I realized the cause of this aching.
I was in love with her.
After that, the aching was constant. It never stopped. Memories of the amazing days I had spent with her were my only reality. The rest of it felt like a dream.
By day I would wander the streets, trying to just get a sense of reality.
But even that failed.
My mind would play tricks with me. I would hear her musical laugh and charge forth, only to find a human girl, or even a water fountain, in her place.
I would spend my nights locked away in my room, crying until I had used up all my tears, and all I was left with were dry sobs.
Months had passed before I even considered that there might still be a way to get Li'l back.
I remembered that Li'l had been with that witch, Emma, and her friend Eadric.
They'd come from the future.
I realized that now, in my time, they hadn't even been born yet.
Hope bloomed in my chest, fresh and new, temporarily filling the gaping hole Li'l's departure had created.
I began pacing, my feet creating shallow grooves in the dirt.
I knew they were not here, but where exactly were they?
I had no idea.
So simply waiting was out of the question. There had to be something more. Something that I was missing.
I racked my brain for memories of what they had said, trying to come up with an idea as to what I must do.
I vaguely recalled Emma saying something about a jousting tournament.
Then that is where I must start. I will go to each jousting tournament, until I find my Li'l.
However, this proved to be more tiring than I had originally planned.
Years passed, and nothing.
Each tournament was the same. Young knights striving for the honor and respect that came with winning.
Some competed for money, others for the hand of the girl they loved.
If only I could compete for something like that.
As decades passed, I found myself searching caves for her as well. Every bat I spotted seemed to bear some resemblance to her, until just spotting a single bat nearly drove me insane.
I wandered through town occasionally, searching for information. So when I heard news of the upcoming jousting tournament, I hurried to get my name put down.
I tried not to get my hopes up.
So far, all the tournaments had led to was disappointment. No sign of Emma, Eadric, or...Li'l.
I was beginning to lose hope that I would ever find her.
It is a torturous ordeal, to go through the same thing over and over, only to be disappointed again and again. It makes one want to give up nearly every time. I did not know how much more of this I could put myself through.
I'm going to ruin myself. I thought. If I have to face disappointment but one more time, I'm not sure if I'll be able to pull myself back up again.
So finally, I came to a decision.
This would be my last tournament.
If I found Li'l, then all would be solved.
But if I didn't find Li'l...
I couldn't even think of it.
I had to find her this time.
Or I would be reduced to nothing.
The time before the tournament passed slowly, and I was became a nervous wreck.
What if I didn't find her? What if I spent the rest of my life a lonely vampire?
All these years without her, at least I had the hope that one day I would find her. But if I didn't find her this one last time, I wouldn't even have that anymore. My life would completely lose it's meaning.
Finally, tournament day rolled around. I gathered my black armor, polished by myself the day before, and set off on my horse to the game grounds.
It was a tough competition with tough competitors, but so far, I was able to hold my own.
I was doing very well until I faced a man announced as the Silver Knight.
At first strike, both our lances splintered, leaving us unharmed.
On the second round, our lances splintered yet again, leaving both myself and my opponent flustered.
On the third round, however, my lance managed to splinter again, leaving the Silver Knight with an opening, which he promptly used to knock me off my saddle and onto my back.
I lay there for a moment, shocked, then started to get to my feet, accepting that I had lost.
A few young squires rushed to my aide, and helped me to gather my splintered lance and lead my horse out of the arena.
I nodded to the Silver Knight as I passed. He was far more skilled than I had anticipated. His victory proved that.
I waited in line a few more turns, watching my fellow knights compete.
Even though I'd been to more tournaments than I could count, this one seemed different somehow. I couldn't quite put my finger on it.
The most curious occurrence, was the sudden appearance of a new knight in the games. His identity was hidden by his helmet, but I could see that he was wearing silver armor, similar to that of the knight I had lost to.
He rode up to the herald, and I couldn't help but notice how smug his canter seemed.
"You may announce me as the Silver Knight." he said, voice muffled by his helmet's visor.
"You can't be the Silver Knight." replied the herald. "We already have one. There's only one of a color allowed per tournament, so you'll have to go."
But the knight persisted. "And if I come back in another color?"
"That would be fine."
The knight set off, and another knight took his place in the next fight.
Shortly after this fight finished, the knight returned again, this time dressed in black armor, like mine.
"We already have a Black Knight." the herald called out.
The knight cursed. "But I don't have any other armor!"
The herald sighed, looking annoyed. "If you want to participate you'll have to find something else to wear."
With a loud huff, the young knight set off yet again.
I shook my head. What was up with this guy?
He returned a moment later, in a mottled, purple and brown color that quite resembled newly watered mud.
Not a pretty sight.
The herald, with a smirk, announced him as the Puce Knight, much to the amusement of the crowd.
I chuckled as the knight scowled, then set off to fight the Silver Knight.
Things took a turn for the worse, however, when the Puce Knight struck the Silver Knight down hard, with a harder than an average lance should be capable of dealing.
To my surprise, the Silver Knight got up, completely unscathed.
There must have been magic involved.
When he removed his helmet, I was in for an even greater shock.
It was Eadric, the boy that had been traveling with Emma and Li'l way back when!
My heart pounded with exhilaration, and I quickly scanned the field for any signs of my beloved bat.
Unfortunately, there was not a bat to be found.
I saw a girl step forth, and immediately recognized her as Emma.
She saw to it that all the knight's helmets be removed, so there would be no hiding who was participating.
When I removed my helmet, Emma gasped and leaned forward in her seat. "Garrid, what are you doing here?"
I smiled. "Hello, Emma. You don't know how relieved I am that I finally found you. I've been waiting for you for years."
She looked confused. "For me?"
I chuckled. "Actually, I've been waiting for Li'l..." I quickly told her my story.
After I was finished, she told me that I could find Li'l in the storage room in her tower.
I saluted her with a grin, then took off across the field, not even bothering to remove my armor.
When I had reached the castle I quickly undid my armor, tossing it onto the ground near the moat.
It didn't matter if it got ruined, or even stolen. I didn't care.
I was about to see my Li'l.
With a gust of dank air, I was in my bat form and flapping frantically to the top of the tower.
I glided through the window and headed towards the storage room. In just another moment, I would see her. My beloved Li'l.
My heart pounded with excitement as I soared through the rafters.
What I saw next nearly took my breath away.
A slim, delicate bat was hanging from a rafter, suspended upside down. Her head was tucked into her wings, and she snuffled softly in her sleep.
As she swayed gently back and forth, my heart fluttered. I glided silently over to her, landing as quietly as possible, so I wouldn't wake her from her slumber.
However, a sigh of contentment escaped my lips, breaking the spell.
First her head poked out, eyes squeezed shut. I held my breath, not sure if I would be able to wait a second more to see her sparkling black eyes.
Then they were opening, and she was looking around with mild confusion.
"Hmmph..?" she mumbled, lifting one wing to rub her face. "Is it nighttime already?"
I couldn't help myself. "Not yet."
Her eyes popped open wide and she gasped, letting go of the rafter in her surprise.
She plummeted to the floor, but I swooped down, catching her on my back. "Careful." I rumbled, smiling.
I expected her to thank me, to say she was glad to see me...pretty much anything other than what she did next.
"You stupid bat!" she cried, pounding me sharply on the back with one wing.
The blow caught me off balance, and I just barely managed to save us from both toppling onto the cold hard ground.
I landed quickly, and Li'l slid off my back, moving a few feet away from me.
I groaned, rotating my sore shoulder. "That was hardly necessary."
"Oh, I think it was completely necessary!" she shot back. She crossed her wings, glaring at me fiercely, her nose wrinkling.
It was rather cute, actually.
I found myself smiling. Her attempts to appear tough were one of the many things I loved about her.
She let out a huff and I heard a stomp.
I blinked. "Wait...did you seriously just stomp your foot?"
"That's besides the point"
"But...I thought girls only did that in pla..."
Her growl cut me off short.
I held out my wings. "Alright, alright. We'll stop talking about your...foot stomping."
Her eyes narrowed, but she said nothing.
I cleared my throat. "...awkward..." I glanced around. "So this is where you live, huh?"
Li'l's gaze never left my face. "What are you doing here?"
"What do you think I'm doing here?" I replied smoothly.
"You didn't answer my question."
"Yes I did. I answered it with a question."
She shook, and I thought I was going to have to deal with another foot stomping. But instead, she rose up, shaking, eyes wild with anger.
My eyes widened in alarm. "Li'l. I..."
"Shut UP!" she screeched, voice shrill.
My mouth closed with a snap. I swallowed hard, heart pounding so hard I thought it was going to pop out of my chest.
Li'l clenched her teeth. "Do you have... any idea what kind of emotional stress you put me through?" she hissed. "I thought I knew you. I thought you were just like me."
"Li'l, I am like you..." I cut in.
"No." she said. "You're not. You're a..." she took a breath. "..vampire."
I tipped my head to the side. "And what's so wrong about that? Bats drink blood too, don't they?"
She sighed. "Bugs hardly count. And that's not the point."
"Then what is the point?" I cut in.
Her eyes bore into mine, and I shivered.
Wow, angry Li'l was not something you wanted to deal with in your lifetime.
"If you stopped interrupting me, you would understand!" she cried. "You lied to me! You led me on to believe you were just a regular bat, like me! You promise to marry some other princess, then run off when she's no longer fit enough!"
I noticed something wet glimmering on her cheek, and realized she was crying.
"Li'l..." I murmured softly. My first instinct was to reach out for her. But when I tried to get any nearer, she slapped me with her wing.
"Ouch! Li'l!" I protested.
"Don't touch me." she hissed.
"Okay, I'll admit. I did wrong. But I never lied. I just...never told you the whole truth." I fluttered a little closer, and Li'l raised her wing menacingly.
"Easy there." I said.
I sighed. "Fine. I'll stay here then." I lowered myself onto my perch, before continuing. "But was all that really so bad?"
Li'l glared. "I might have forgiven that...had you not run off. Then I was left with no choice but to return to my time and suffer with these..." she broke off.
My heart caught in my throat. "So you feel it to?"
She looked up at me suddenly, then quickly attempted to hide her hopeful expression.
But it was too late, I'd seen it.
I fluttered a little closer, and she raised her wing again, though it was hesitant this time.
"Please, hear me out."
She hesitated again, then gave in. "Alright. But just this once."
I sighed in relief. "Now we're getting somewhere."
I lifted into the air, landing beside her. "Now I know what you've been through, but you still don't know what I've been through."
Li'l tipped her head to the side curiously. "Oh? And what have you been through?"
I stared into her eyes. "I've been scouring jousting tournaments for decades. Searching."
Her ears pricked, and I heard her take in a sharp intake of breath. She leaned forward. "Listening for what?" she whispered.
I leaned closer. "For you."
And the rest...well, we all have to keep some things secret, right?