WARNING: Some violence.
Charlotte and Bran track down the rogues.
London – 1841
Watching Bran track was interesting. He walked along inhaling the air and holding it a moment, as if he was sampling wine. I wouldn’t have noticed if he hadn’t kept interrupting his neat pattern to say Josef was better at tracking.
Despite his claims we made swift progress along the dark streets. I let him lead, his senses, including his night vision, were far better than mine. My night vision was busy turning shadows on the edge of perception into vampires and lurkers. The streets were too quiet. You could feel people quaking in their homes.
Bran threw out his arm in front of me and drew me into a alley between two houses.
We stayed there so long inaction made me itch.
He tilted his head towards the row of lopsided houses opposite. A figure climbed out of a window, lowered itself over the ledge then dropped. Their jacket plumed in the updraft and they landed with a soft thump on the cobbled road.
I made to move. Bran’s grip tightened on me and he shook his head.
I shot him an annoyed look but relented. I couldn’t rely on surprising vampires all the time, not without a plan and I had none.
The figure didn’t move, it luxuriated in the cover of night certain no-one knew he was there and he could do what he wanted.
He started moving.
Bran waited a few beats before following. I curled my hand around his to reassure him that I was there and safe. If he got anxious his ability to hold our cloak of don’t-notice-us might fail. It was a strange sensation to be walking only a few feet behind a vampire and have him be oblivious. I thought I might be used to it by now, spending so much time with Bran, but that was around humans, not vampires.
The vampire didn’t hurry, he walked as though he was on his way back from a party, cheery and relaxed.
Finally he rounded a corner and let himself into a large stone house with an impressive oak door.
‘The haunted house is clichéd,’ Bran whispered leading me into a nook where two houses met.
‘It doesn’t look haunted to me.’
Bran blinked and frowned. ‘It doesn’t look like it’ll fall down in a stiff breeze?’
I shook my head. The mansion had a metal fence circling it, impressive sized windows and a cobbled driveway for coaches. It looked more like the home of a wealthy family than the den of predatory vampires.
‘They must have an illusion covering it,’ Bran said close to my ear. ‘They would’ve brought it off a Fae. To persuade people something as big as a house should be avoided we’d at least need to be speaking to them.’
Given Bran’s skill with mental illusions I’d take his word for it. He might make himself unnoticeable with no apparent effort but he was smaller than a mansion.
‘I can tick massive illusions on my list of things I can see through,’ I muttered. ‘Personally, the haunted house is the first place I’d look for a vampire.’
He opened his mouth to argue and I grinned at him. He shook his head.
‘Now we know where they are what do we do?’ he asked.
‘We watch,’ I replied. ‘We need to know how many there are.’
‘I count six different scents,’ he said. ‘That’s fresh. Older ones are harder to decipher.’
‘Six?’ I repeated.
‘At least,’ he added.
That sounded like a lot of vampires to me. I sucked my teeth, one vampire was difficult, six was going to take a decent plan. Perhaps a vampire of Bran’s age could take them, but he’d be distracted watching out for me. I wasn’t going to pretend I was as strong or as fast as a vampire. That was how you got yourself killed. Planning wasn’t cowardice, it was productive.
‘Would it be better to take them out individually or as a group?’ I asked.
‘If they feel threatened they’ll come looking for you,’ he said.
I didn’t mention that, in my experience, vampires weren’t very good at that. I’d been attacking Richard’s business network for months as The Reaper and he’d yet to make an appearance. At the rate he was going I’d die of old age by the time he found me. I was sure Bran would put on a lovely funeral though. The wake might not be so good.
‘Wait here,’ Bran murmured.
I grabbed his arm and pulled him back. ‘What good will your sneaking powers do if you can’t see through the illusion?’ I asked.
He glanced away. ‘I don’t know if I can mask you from so many of them so close.’
I didn’t like it. It was his fear of failure making him doubt himself, not a fact. I reminded myself he could move faster if he didn’t have to keep to my pace, it didn’t help.
‘Be careful,’ I whispered and gave him a kiss. ‘Straight back.’
He smiled at me and I let him go then he disappeared into the darkness.
I pushed myself further into the nook and waited.
I shifted, feeling itchy again. Where was he? If something had happened to him I couldn’t leave him there.
I leaned out of the nook. The street was silent and still. I crept down the street, over the fence and to the nearest window. Crouched beneath the ledge I rose just enough to peer inside.
Bran was in the sitting room surrounded by toppled and broken furniture. He was splattered with blood and dust and his garrotte was around the throat of another vampire. The other vampire’s head fell off and disintegrated then the rest of him exploded into ash.
Well… I hadn’t seen that coming.
Part of Jesse’s Studio’s Fiction Frenzy there will be a new episode of Victorian Mistress everyday.