9. Half Vampire

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"This is the main ingredient," Nana said and patted the trunk of an old birch.

The summer nights had already began to darken as it was over a month since Midsummer, but I could still detect a big dark lump against the white trunk.

"Inonotus obliquus or chaga mushroom," Nana explained, "A parasite fungus that loves birches especially."

She took a little axe apparently out of nowhere and started hacking off the lump. How she could see, what she was doing with the axe was beyond me.

The night was short, and soon it began to lighten a bit. We kept on collecting the chaga – I gathered the lumps from the ground into a big sack while Nana hacked away. It was an old sack, worn through years of use so that the coarse fibres were almost soft to the touch now. There was plenty of the chaga mushrooms around as the forest must have been one of the oldest in the country.

"Won't the owner of the forest mind you hacking their trees?" I asked after picking up an especially big black lump from the mossy ground.

"No, she won't," Nana said.

"Oh, you know her?"

"Quite well. She stares at me from the mirror every morning."

"What? You own all this land? I never knew!" I stared at my aunt whose form was now visible in the glow of the horizon that was telling us morning was near.

"Indeed I do. When I was chosen as the wise woman who was given the secret of how to make the vampire potion, as we call it, I was given this forest. And once I am gone, the forest will go to you. It is a big forest, and many have tried to buy it from me because of the big old tall trees, but the wood is never to be cut down. Chaga mushroom loves this forest. We cannot make it into a nature reserve to protect it, either, because then we could not harvest the chaga."

I straightened my back and looked around. The silent, giant trees stood still, as if listening to something. I noticed the birds were not singing any more. The nesting season was already over and there was no need for the birds to claim their territory. Soft mist was laying still over the moist moss covering the roots of the trees. It felt like standing in some mythical landscape where time did not exist.

The sad call of a loon broke the silence. I had always loved that sound – I knew the lake where the loons lived. It was surrounded by steep cliffs and high, dense forest, and as a result it was difficult for anyone to reach. You could only find your way there by following the little stream that carried its waters towards a big bog some kilometers away. Or by arriving through the narrow road, almost a path, that we had driven when we arrived.

"It is ancient, this forest," Nana said quietly, "There are places here where the goblins have lived in even before ordinary people arrived. They consider this place sacred."

I could understand that.

"But now we need to return home. You will soon need a new dose of the medicine and we have to begin working on a new patch. Tell me – do you have the taste of iron in your mouth?"

"Iron? No, I don't think so..."

"That is a sign that the vampire infection in you is intensifying and you need to take your medicine. It starts quite quickly, so you will certainly know when it begins. Still it usually intensifies for maybe an hour, which is when you need to take the medicine."

We returned the same way we had come, our steps quiet on the thick moss. We had left a few sacks along the way, all full of chaga. I carried two sacks, and Nana took two as well. Orri appeared from the midst of the forest without making a sound. He took the remaining two sacks, carrying them as if they weighed nothing.

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