The woman’s footsteps echoed through the alley and the vampire paused his pursuit. Ahead, the woman also paused and glanced back with too much nerve. Not his typical victim, she stood tall and solid large under the weak light of a blinking street lamp. He preferred his women soft and round, petite. Not lumbering giants like this one. Her mess of hair shifted with a lazy midnight breeze. Her fashion was a disaster of creased linen. He drew his lip up in a sneer worthy of the age of aristocrats. He preferred his victims more… good looking.
He lit a cigarette and inhaled, satisfied she would see his face in the glow – his jet-black eyes, curled lips, his porcelain skin now etched with a web of fine dark lines – veins filled with dead blood. When the red haze came, his face would become a horror. A beautiful horror.
But the woman refused to be startled. She turned and marched on in her plodding way. He flicked the cigarette with irritation. This hunt was dissatisfying. Something was missing. Fear. She had none of it. Most bothersome. Particularly as he didn’t feel at all hungry.
He inhaled one last stream of nicotine before tossing the cigarette and stalking after her, making each step louder and quickening his stride. She must fear him.
Her lumbering steps came faster too, and together they made quite the rhythm in the deserted alley. Puffs of steam came from her with each breath, heavy breaths that added a harmony to their steps, like a train. No. Like sex.
She knew he was after her, but she remained stubbornly unafraid. His eyes narrowed on the blonde frizz of hair as she rushed under another lamp before turning to a door, her hand procuring a key.
Another second and she would be inside the building, safe enough from him, and that simply wouldn’t do. He summoned his rage. Without her fear, he had to cajole his limbs to move, but move they did, with superhuman speed. Soon his hands clasped her white throat. The stench of cinnamon masked a much more inviting scent beneath – the aroma of rich, buttery blood. His hunger was piqued, though she stared with large green eyes that still held no fear.
“I know who you are,” she said in perfect English.
“I am death.”
“No. You’re Nathaniel Chartley and you are a bastard.”
A heavy stone seemed to plummet somewhere deep inside. A feeling he so rarely experienced he failed to identify it. Disappointment? Shock? Shame? He flung it aside and drew once more on his rage, ever-present, ever-reliable, and he tightened his grasp on her milky throat. “You know about me? I know about you, and your friends. And I will learn more.” He bared his teeth, but they remained square and fright-less like a cow’s. He was no docile bovine. He was the wolf in the night. He was terror. He was death. He bit down hard on a cheek and tasted stale blood. His hunger was triggered further and finally the monster stirred.
The red haze came for him.
His vision shifted, making every colour swirl with its own light. The black shadows of the alley were black no longer, and a rainbow of shades from purple to jet-blue filled every crevice. Drops of moisture shimmered like diamonds on the cobbles and brick walls. His victim’s milky throat gleamed like mother-of-pearl, and the promise of her warm nectar rushing beneath the skin fed the haze. Plain she was, but her scent was exquisite beneath that foul cinnamon – tender and so much like his first victim all those centuries ago.
The memory triggered his hunger further still and he knew his change was complete. Finally, she showed fear. A thin scattering of it, and it seemed different somehow, as though manufactured, but it was enough.
His incisors now long, grazed his tongue. His hand around her throat appeared blue and monstrous, the nails long black claws. It was time.
“I know you, Georgette, but I must know more.”
He thrust forward and plunged his teeth into the warm softness of her neck. Her blood filled his mouth with its exquisite promise. The bitter cinnamon wasn’t enough to mask the hot sweetness that mingled with her fear, small and strange as it was, and he closed his eyes to capture her mind. In that instant he saw a mixture of images. Emma and the priest. A little leather-bound book he recognised from centuries past. And something that roused his curiosity and his concern – the image of a blade with a golden sleeve.
A sudden shout from behind dispelled the visions and Nathaniel tore his mouth away with great reluctance and turned, but searing pain on his skin had him crouching in the gutter, screaming like a victim himself. Trapped within a silver net.
“Schleck?” Georgette muttered.
Nathaniel tried to look up, but the netting of silver stung his face, and the sickening stench of burning blood and flesh filled the night air.
“Cuff him. And her,” an order in French barked through the alley and Nathaniel’s wrists caught aflame as they were clasped in tight silver binds. Through the stinging silvery webbing, he spied the towering figure of a known foe. Schleck was the slayer’s most prized dog. Nathaniel bit down on his lip so hard his mouth filled with blood once more.
Schleck stepped closer and spoke in harsh English. “Tell me what I want to know, and things may go easier than the last time we met.”
Nathaniel swallowed the blood cooling in his mouth and attempted to look beyond Schleck’s formidable form to the scuffle beneath the streetlamp. Muted grunts suggested Schleck’s footman struggled to capture Georgette. “And what does Amynta want with me this time?” Nathaniel’s voice remained deep and hoarse from the haze.
Nathaniel’s curiosity was plucked once more, but he kept his gaze locked ahead as he lied. “Lance?”
“You’re a glutton for punishment, Chartley. We know you took it.”
He grimaced at the searing pain from the cuffs that were tightened by the second guard before he removed the netting. Nathaniel looked up into the stark, sterile face of Detective Jeanette Schleck. She and her guards were dressed in polished black leather reminiscent of Gestapo uniforms. “You think you’re death, Chartley?” she said with a smirk as contrived as her arched eyebrows. “Death is what awaits you in—”
Gunshots pierced the night and an eruption of pain in his shoulder told Nathaniel he’d been struck. He glanced around, desperately finding focus. Georgette stood by the door, a gun in hand. It was pointed at him, and she knew how to use it. Her hand was as still as the dawn. A moment of understanding passed between them as their eyes locked – Nathaniel was safe from her. Then she turned and ran, a frizz of blonde curls speeding away with loud, echoing steps until the darkness swallowed her.
The moans of Schleck drew Nathaniel’s attention. The detective lay within reach, both her and her two foot-soldiers sprawled on the cobblestones, all of them had been shot. Schleck’s blood poured forth from the gunshot wound in her arm, it smelled of German spice, and something filled with rancour. Nathaniel summoned the last of his strength, ignoring the pointed pain in his wrists and shoulder as he crawled the short distance.
“Casse-toi,” Schleck hissed.
“Oh I intend to go, dear Jeanette, but I need an ounce of your blood first. It will help me learn more of your intentions. But you know that already.”
Schleck’s pain was visible on her creased face, but she managed to spit at him anyway.
Nathaniel crept closer. Schleck’s blood pooled on the cobbles and held that unique aroma of decay that could only mean her blood had been tainted. “You’re a sly one, Schleck.”
Her eyes widened with fear and it fed Nathaniel’s haze, elongating his fangs further. Planting his mouth around Schleck’s wound he drank deeply. Her blood was foul, but he forced himself to ingest and opened his mind to hers, saving the images that flashed in his consciousness for later reflection. Then he sat up like the dead come to life, snapping the silver binds with his replenished strength. He groped the wound in his shoulder and, clenching his teeth, he prised the bullet from its bloody hole. It sizzled in his fingertips, the silver burning his flesh. With a grunt he flung it down the alley. The sharp pain dulled almost immediately. He clutched his wounded shoulder as he sprung to his feet, and with a sideways glance at Schleck and her guards, he raced away. It took more than a bullet and two thin strands of silver to stop an Old One such as he.
“Useless!” he heard Schleck hiss, before he bounded up a brick wall and the detective’s groans dissolved with the city bustle.
The place Nathaniel called home here in Paris was a tomb over two hundred years old in Père Lachaise Cemetery. Overgrown ivy had concealed the chapel, but the door creaked as Nathaniel pushed it open, dust stirring underfoot. He didn’t bother lighting a candle. Schleck’s blood fired in his veins and his vampire vision caught every particle of light in the tomb. It was darker than most, devoid of little windows popular at the time of its construction – a perfect abode for an Old One.
His shoulder still hurt slightly when he opened the sarcophagus where the bones of a long-forgotten aristocrat lay, but it would heal fully in another hour or so. Vampire flesh always healed in full – the damaged shell becoming as good as new again. But pain for Nathaniel had become a regular visitor, and there were moments he wondered at the purpose. When the rats were shot, stabbed, or burned at the stake, they died. Perhaps that was preferable to reliving such pain over and again as he had done. But the thought of living the miserable, enslaved life of a human was repugnant to him. This existence would have to do. Not that he had any choice.
He rubbed his shoulder absently as he studied the open sarcophagus. Along with the bones, it housed a number of Nathaniel’s possessions: books, various trinkets, his old table dagger. Even the odd scroll sat in clusters around the tomb. There was also a wad of American dollars, but Nathaniel ignored it all as he reached with both hands to lift the small oak chest and open it. Inside lay an artefact wrapped in red silk. He picked it up, unwrapped it and allowed himself a very human sigh.
The golden sleeve around the blade felt warm in his hand. The steel hilt, cold. He caressed it gently. While there was silver on the blade, it remained hidden and inaccessible beneath the gold, for which he was grateful. That much maligned metal of men and angels was no friend to vampires.
Nathaniel gave a lopsided smile before rewrapping the priceless lance in the silk cloth and placing it back in its hiding spot. His mind returned to the images that had opened to him when he’d taken Georgette’s blood. She’d sought the spear, and so had Schleck. A coincidence?
“The slayer wants her toy back,” he whispered. But what was Georgette’s game?
He closed the chest, returned it to the sarcophagus, and sat on the marble edge to think. It was time to plan for what would come next. He must find Georgette. He touched his coat where an inside pocket housed his most valued possession.
He must find Emma too.