Crimson

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Chapter 11

Scout made her destination the Hunter’s house bright and early in the morning. She burst into the study to find Alin. The old man looked up, saw the intruder was not a threat to his household and turned back to his book.

He did not see the hard look in Scout's eyes. "Mr. Dumitru," she addressed him coolly, "you will tell me how Macha died.”

“I will?” Alin asked, not looking at the girl.

The blonde strode forward, “I’m sure it’s a great story that you tell all the kids, so why won’t you tell me?”

“No one knows how Macha died,” Alin replied, closing his book and sitting up. “So far as we can tell, she existed long before man began writing things down.”

Scout fully intended to interrupt and say that wasn’t the death she was talking about, but she feared if she spoke, Alin would halt his tale.

“What we do know is that Macha and her two sisters were worshipped in Ireland as the conglomerate: The Morrigan.”

Scout gaped and Alin gave her a questioning look, “You’ve heard of them?”

Of course she’d heard of them. If Scout had to claim knowledge of two things, it would be how to kill vampires and Irish history. “The Morrigan--three ladies known individually as Macha, Badb, and Anu were goddesses of war. They are also known by different names, still a trio, as the patron goddesses of Ireland. Anu is the more famous sister, credited as the creator goddess Danu, sometimes singularly referred to as Morrigan, her other identity was Eiru--which the Irish claimed to name their island.”

“Yes,” Alin nodded, “these three women became goddesses of war because they could always be found on the battlefield, feeding on the dying. It was said that Anu had premonitions of who would die, Badb would warn the men with her scream or by appearing before them, and Macha would instigate a battle or fight in it. If the warriors were deemed honorable, or the girls took a fancy to them, they would make them into vampires.

“Ireland has a long history of skirmishes, so the ladies were never short on meals, or things to do. And then Christianity came to Ireland. Recognizing they would lose their fan base, the women forced conversion on more than a few of the followers of the cult of Jesus.”

“That’s how Bran got in the picture,” Scout nodded.

“Yes--” Alin answered, surprised. “When Ireland turned from a polytheistic nation to a monotheistic one, the sisters broke up. There are records of Badb traveling the Silk Road. Some claim Anu jumped across into Wales. Only Macha remained true to Ireland, fighting a losing battle to keep it in the Dark Ages.”

“And then Rhys happened.”

“You’ve read his history, haven’t you, girl?”

“I’m just struggling with this whole triangle. Macha makes Bran and runs with him for a thousand years causing trouble, but avoiding Hunters. Then, in the 1500s, some new blood catches her eye, she ditches the old guy, and within three hundred years gets caught and burned. You don’t find anything suspicious about that?”

“About what? Humans are creatures of progress, always moving forward. Maybe vampires do the same thing. Maybe Macha got bored with her old plaything. Maybe she was just as reckless before, but there were less Hunters and it was harder to travel. Maybe times changed but she didn’t. Maybe she had a deathwish. All this happened hundreds of years ago. Why is it so important to you now?”

“You know full well why,” Scout’s voice was dangerously quiet.

Alin feigned puzzlement.

“You mean your boys didn’t tell you about that one time Rhys helped me out against a gang of nine? According to you guys, vampires and Hunters can’t co-exist, so tell me why he did it.”

Alin stood up and approached a table littered with books. Among them was the sizable tome Scout had fetched from the library. The man flipped it open to a charcoal drawing of a woman and pushed it toward the blonde. The image looked almost identical to Scout--perhaps what Scout would look like in a few years.

Scout slid it back across the table. Merrick had already told her she looked like Macha. This was old news. “That wasn’t my question. Macha and Bran got on all right for a thousand years without succumbing to a Hunter. Macha and Rhys lasted barely a quarter of the time.”

“What are you asking?”

“I want to know why Macha abandoned Bran after a thousand years. I want to know how Rhys was able to persuade her to leave Ireland. Most importantly, I want to know how Macha died--in the 1700s. Rhys was there. He got away safe, but she didn’t. She was older and more experienced, she should have escaped.”

“How far did you get in your reading of Rhys?”

“Not as far as I wanted to get,” Scout found many distractions along the way: boring narrators, dodging Tom, hooking up with Rhys.

“Rhys and Macha were tracked to a warehouse. Hunters torched the place and only Rhys escaped. For awhile, many believed Macha had never been there--or escaped detection. And then Rhys became a solo act, famous for torturing and killing women. He turned some of them, but ended up killing them too. He didn’t limit himself to women. He killed men, and sought out Hunters and witches, but it was clear that women were his favorite. For the longest time, his penchant for blondes was insatiable.

“Hunters actually began to hope that Macha hadn’t been killed. Since she was his maker, she was the only one who could keep him in line. As a Goddess of War, she never would have stood for his treatment of women--so they claim. When Macha never turned up, they hoped instead that Macha’s Mate, Bran, would seek revenge, but he had also disappeared.”

“What do you know about Mates?” Scout asked, her interest piqued.

“It is a fiction created by romantics to try to humanize vampires,” Alin snorted.

“There are many species that mate for life. You don’t think humans are among them?”

“Humans, with their complex brains, are incapable of maintaining something so simple as a relationship. They keep secrets. They lie. They are constantly learning new things. These constants irreversibly change people, turning them into different people. Who they are one day could be the complete opposite ten years down the road.”

Scout nodded, what he was saying wasn’t wrong. Scout didn’t really know much about Mates before Aubrey and Pierce’s crash course the other day--she still didn’t understand why they’d told her. She used her skills to kill vampires who came after her. Maybe knowing about Mates would make her more cautious about engaging them--but she never found out that she’d broke up a pairing until after the fact. When it was too late. “How long have you and the missus been together?” Scout wondered.

“Fifty years,” Alin grumped.

Mr. Dumitru didn’t look nearly that old. Scout wondered now if it was the vampire blood in their veins that slowed their aging process. “So you argue the point, and then make it yourself,” Scout was confused.

“There are some that claim life-or-death situations create an unbreakable bond. Examples include fighting alongside each other in battle, be it Hunters or soldiers.”

Scout didn’t try to make a rebuttal, his answer hit too close to home. She dismissed herself and started to walk home.

She tried to recap the topics discussed. Scout was still reeling with the knowledge that Macha was a member of the Morrigan. She should have realized it earlier. Merrick had mentioned something about her being a war goddess. Scout thought he was just boasting.

The Hunters believed Bran (aka Merrick) was Macha’s Mate. So why had she left him after a thousand years? They could have had a huge blowout (the temper of a goddess of war sounded pretty fierce). It didn’t sound that bad in Merrick’s recollection. Mates are kindred spirits--they should have got over it in time.

It was also a long time ago and Merrick had only just sobered, so Scout didn’t feel comfortable interrogating him. The only person who’d know for sure was Macha, and she wasn’t around anymore. Alin made it sound like Macha and Bran had just disappeared--not died--but living off the radar somewhere. But if Merrick was here, claiming to be Bran pining after Macha, Scout could only conclude that Macha never made it out of that burning warehouse.

Scout couldn’t come up with a good reason to leave Bran for Rhys. Scout had first-hand experience with Rhys working his game. He was good. Scout was normally able to ignore vampires when they used their seduction skills. She hadn’t really wanted to when Rhys put the moves on her. Had he done the same thing to Macha? To all the women he was known to have killed? Scout recalled the day Rhys put his teeth to her throat.

How close had she become to being another casualty? Merrick seemed convinced Rhys wouldn’t do her any harm because of her resemblance to Macha, but it begged the question: what had happened to Macha in the first place? Merrick claimed Rhys had killed her--though it sounded like Hunters were actually to blame.

Scout didn’t know what to think, and that wasn’t the worst part. What was she supposed to do when Rhys got back? Merrick seemed convinced he would return, despite the fact he’d been running from Merrick since Macha’s death. Scout couldn’t very well pretend that nothing had happened. Everything had changed.

She was at a loss for how to tactfully distance herself. If Rhys had a hand in killing Macha...

Scout didn’t know why it was hard to believe. He was responsible for the deaths of countless other women over the years. The thing the puzzled her was how he’d managed to kill his maker. She’d never heard of anything like that.

If he had a vested interest in Scout, he wasn’t going to take it too kindly when she broke it to him that she didn’t want to see him anymore.

Maybe Merrick would get his revenge before Scout even noticed Rhys was back.

Merrick said no one crossed Rhys and lived to tell the tale. How do you proceed knowing that? She’d always known that she’d enter a fight she couldn’t win, but she much preferred finding it out in the heat of the moment instead of ahead of time. The very idea messes with your head.

Merrick was old. He seemed wise. Maybe he would have a clever way to break things off and come out alive.


Merrick was seated on the corner post on the cemetery as she ambled home. “Where did you head off to in a hurry this morning?” He asked genially.

“Don’t worry about it,” Scout remarked as she drew level with Merrick. “We should talk about what to do when Rhys gets back. We need a game plan.”

“You’re avoiding the question--”

“I went to go find out a little more about Rhys and Macha.”

“Rhys fed you a different tale?”

“It appears so.”

“Who was the third man?”

“Alin Dumitru.”

“Of the Romanian Dumitrus?”

“Is there more than one? Such a name can’t be that common.”

“Once I heard Macha was dead, I found Rhys holing up in Germany,” Merrick explained. “I alerted the closest Hunters to our presence, hoping they would have the state of mind to end both of us. They didn’t, but they put up a good chase. I thought, for the longest time, that they were German. When they failed to put an end to Rhys, I had a rage that could not be quelled. I enlisted in both world wars because it provided an outlet--a way for me to show those Germans how I felt about their failure.

“Then I found out they were Romanian. They were in town for Oktoberfest,” he added. “The second Rhys caught wind I was in town, he got on a boat and was gone. I was in the right place to take up drinking. It numbed the pain until I could make good on my promise to make him suffer.”

“You’re telling me the Dumitrus were the ones who chased Rhys out of Europe?”

“And to thank them for it, every couple of generations he massacres the ones he can get his hands on. That’s why I’m surprised these ones are still alive.”

“Maybe I have nothing to do with this. Maybe he’s only here after them.”

“It probably started that way, but I don’t think it’s going to end that way.”

“Well, I’ve got a question for you that I didn’t ask Alin.”

Merrick raised a brow in question.

“I didn’t want to tell you because I’ve been trying to pretend I’m an ordinary teenager.”

“You’re not.”

Scout made a face. That wasn’t the answer she wanted to hear and she hadn’t even asked her question yet. “All my life I’ve been hounded by vampires. They find me. Why is that?” If Merrick could answer this question, it might explain why Rhys was interested in her--aside from the fact she looked like Macha.

Merrick stopped and sized the girl up, “If you’ve never Hunted, there’s no reason you should be on their watchlist.”

“I never said that. They sent you here because I have a tendency to cause trouble where I go. I’m no helpless victim. I fight back and I’m good at it. That’s how I got my reputation.”

They’d already discussed her reputation. Merrick had told her that some Hunters were born without an established lineage. Scout didn’t think she was one of those. How did it even happen? You’d have to get vampire blood into your line. Scout wasn’t in a place to entertain the notion with an open mind.

What she did know was that she’d snuffed out the existence of a lot of vampires in her lifetime. She couldn’t deny that she had knack for it. What she didn’t understand was why they seemed to flock to her.

Scout watched him carefully, “This doesn’t change anything, knowing I’ve killed your kind?”

Merrick shrugged, “I’d say it makes us even since I survive by killing yours.”

Scout watched him carefully, “You didn’t answer my question.”

Merrick made a face, “You’re going to take it the wrong way.”

“Try me.”

Merrick searched the girl’s face before heaving a sigh. Scout could be quite stubborn. “Vampires are drawn to battle by a phenomenon called ‘blood song’. It normally only occurs during times of war when much blood has been spilled and the scent is in the wind. Most of us find it hard to ignore the scent of fresh blood. Something about you emanates that particular siren song. That’s why they come looking for you.”

“Is that why you came looking for me?” Scout asked.

“No. It was an interesting surprise.”

“Have you ever heard of anything like it? One person responsible for it?”

Merrick paused before answer, “Not a human, no.”

“Then who?”

Merrick didn’t answer.

Scout didn’t give him time. She knew. It sounded like something a goddess of war would be able to do. “What do you think it means?” Scout wondered.

“I honestly have no idea.”

The girl nodded and started to walk home. She stopped suddenly and turned, “We need to figure out something to do about Rhys.”

Merrick cocked his head, “How do you mean?”

“He and I aren’t exactly friends now. We weren’t enemies before. He’s going to know something’s changed when he gets back.”

Merrick made a face, “Why don’t you just explain it to him?”

Scout glowered, “I have a notion he’s not going to take it too well.”

“I’ve got your back.”

“He’s killed every Hunter he’s ever met from what I’ve heard. And I just learned that he gets his kicks from torturing women. I don’t like my odds. I’d prefer to keep my distance and pretend he doesn’t exist. I’ve never come across anyone I’ve been afraid of before. Everyone is telling me that I should be scared of Rhys and I’m starting to believe them.

“Not to mention we’re going to have a problem when Rhys comes back because I am going to smell like you and that’s as good as a declaration of war. Remy almost got me killed because he threw me into a garbage heap one time. I didn’t even know his name when he saved my life that night. I showered the garbage smell away but the next night, smelling like him found me trouble I wasn’t expecting. So even though we’re talking in open air, this,” the girl gestured to the space between them, “is going to cause some problems. If I smell like you and don’t want to hang out with Rhys, he’s going to know I’m not in his pocket anymore. I don’t know what to do about that. I try to keep my life anonymous, my home unknown. In a town this small that’s impossible. Rhys is my next door neighbor. I don’t have a game plan for this. I don’t know how to proceed.”

“It’ll probably be safer for you if you pretend nothing has changed.”

“Pretending isn’t really my strong suit. I’d much prefer to come in strong before he realizes the tables have turned. Get the jump on him.”

“This isn’t your fight,” Merrick noted.

“It didn’t start that way, but I’m in it now.”

Merrick sized her up for the second time. She was serious and didn’t look like the type to back down. Her life was at risk and she knew it. While she claimed to be scared, she was willing to do something about it. He’d never known Macha to get scared, but she had been this bold. “We don’t know when he’ll show up or where. Just try not to draw his attention. I’ll be the shadow you didn’t know you had.”

“I always know,” she responded and she caught Merrick’s genuine surprise. She shrugged, “I’ve had a lot of experience.”

He started to protest. She just waved him away. She knew what he was going to say. She was eighteen. Hunters who lived to be twice her age couldn’t always sense a vampire in stalk-mode. She chalked it up to the fact she’d seen more action that the average Hunter.


The next day after school, Scout was sitting cross-legged on a raised tomb in the sunlight doing her homework while Merrick reclined on the grass below in the shade, “Why did you decide to sober?” When she’d asked him before he’d given her an artful answer. She wanted a better one.

“Reminiscing about our kiss?” Merrick grinned.

Merrick’s ice blue eyes met Scout’s narrowed grey orbs.

“I couldn’t fight him drunk, he said with a shrug.

“You probably could, you’ve got years on him,” she said, turning back to her homework.

“I’ve been out of commission for some time,” he said.

“And you mean to tell me you haven’t gotten into any bar room brawls?” She remarked with a smirk.

“That’s not the same,” he replied.

“Shouldn’t you be using this time to work on honing your skills?”

“Is that what you would do?”

“Yes.”

“Why aren’t you?”

“You said this isn’t my fight. I’m sitting back and letting you take the wheel on this one.”

“I never said that,” Merrick quipped, earning a sharp look from Scout. “At my age, I am naturally strong, its my senses that are rusty,” he explained. “Those are what determines who lives and who dies. When the wind whispers just so, I can tell if I need to block a punch or if it is merely a feint. I’ve spent a lot of time stumbling around in the dark. I have to get my body used to the harshness of the day.”

The girl was silent as she scribbled some words on her paper. She decided to ask him the thing that had been bothering her: “Why did you kiss me that day we first met?”

“Because I was drunk and you make a convincing Macha.”

Scout sent him a look. She knew that wasn’t the whole answer. She’d told him about Remy. If he didn’t tell her the whole truth...

“When you live alone with your memories as long as I have, you forget what’s real. I’ve been wandering for ages, always on the lookout for Rhys, always a step behind. When I stumbled into this town, I thought it would be like the others. I would be too late. And then I saw you. I thought you were a figment of my imagination. That you were Macha come to tell me that this was the place and now was the time. The fact that you smell like her was too overpowering to ignore.”

“But then you realized I had a pulse.”

“And the rest is history.” Merrick cocked his head to the side, “Did I leave you wanting more?”

Scout rolled her eyes, “You’re giving me more boy trouble than I need.”

Merrick rolled onto his stomach, propped himself up on his elbows and kicked his feet up in what he imagined was a girlish posture, “Is that human boy bothering you still? I could take him out.”

“Please don’t.”

“If he isn’t backing off--”

Tom had backed off. That wasn’t the problem. Scout was concerned about what would happen when they ran into each other again. “Doesn’t mean you should kill him. I wouldn’t like that. Then I’d have to kill you.”

“You could try,” he retorted.

Scout tried to explain, “No one’s ever said ‘no’ to him. Which is why---”

“--I should talk to him.”

Scout gave him a look, she knew that he had more than talk on his mind. “No,” she had done a pretty good job of ducking Tom recently. Her luck was bound to run out though, and soon. That was just the way her luck worked. “No,” she said again. “Because you’re a vampire and he’s a Hunter. He’s a decent one. And he’s not stupid. He’d know what you are.”

“You think he could kill me?”

“He could get lucky,” she shrugged.

Merrick rolled onto his back and put his hands behind his head and asked, “What about that vampire who saved your life that one time? The one you’re hung up on.”

Scout didn’t look at him. She looked straight ahead and glowered, “Louisiana is a long way from here. And that was four years ago. A lot has happened since then.”

“In a human life span.”

“We’re not supposed to talk.”

“But you do.”

She didn’t answer.

“He’s the one who told you about me,” Merrick wasn’t asking a question. He was stating a fact.

“Who else was I supposed to ask? Your name isn’t in any of the written histories I have access to. Because you were in the bottle, you were virtually ignored. The Hunters don’t know who you are.”

“I’ve had five hundred years to endure the loss of a Mate. You’ll get over it. It hurts, but for mortals, the pain is fleeting.”

Scout said nothing because she knew he was right. Five hundred years was a long time to pine. What was she going on, four years? She didn’t even know if Remy liked her, it was just a pipedream she clung to. Macha had left Merrick for someone else. She knew nothing of pain like that. Maybe he could give her pointers on how to cope. At the very least, he could provide her with alcohol.


The remainder of Scout’s week was relatively quiet. She wasn’t able to avoid Tom altogether, but he seemed give her a great deal of space when he was addressing her. She thought it welcome, but odd, like someone had given him a strong talking to about personal space.

She didn’t see much of her mom, which was good. She was leaving passive aggressive notes around the house about screwing things up with Tom. And breaking his heart.

On the bright side, nobody tried to kill her, which was refreshing.

Scout tried to figure out how her mother knew the date was a bust. She gave thought to reaming Tom out for squealing, but she realized Mom had probably figured it out on her own. Tom hadn’t called or shown up unexpectedly. Maybe that meant he had got the hint.

Finally.

Maybe that was why he was giving her such a wide berth--or Merrick had made good on his threat. She hoped not, but if he had, she was thankful for the result.

When the weekend rolled around again and Rhys hadn’t resurfaced, Scout decided to take advantage of the fact that no one used the Dumitru library in the early morning to sneak in and read up on Macha. She knew about as much as she cared to about Rhys, and Merrick was an open book. There wasn’t anything he hadn’t told her that she hadn’t already looked up. If Rhys wanted her to be Macha: Level Two, she needed to find out what not to be like. And yeah, maybe she wanted to find out what had happened to Badb and Anu.

She was a little worried about how Alin felt about her as a result of their last encounter. It was why she was treading softly on the floor. She didn’t want to make her entrance public. Or try not to at least.

Scout ran into a brunette as she was rounding the corner to the study. She smiled, anticipating Luca’s happy face. She found herself on the receiving end of one of Mirela’s more serious glares.

“Sorry,” Scout mumbled, and brushed past. It was early and Scout was raring for a fight but she knew better than to waste her energy on Mirela. She was saving it for Rhys. Just in case.

Plus, the Hunter was exiting, so there was nothing to get revved up about.

Scout sunk into one of the cushy armchairs and began leafing through one of the tomes she had used when looking up Rhys.

A little while later, Mirela returned.

Instead of taking a seat, the girl deposited some books on the table and removed a few of the ones on the bottom of a pile of books. The pile of books about Rhys, Scout noted.

It was nearing lunch when Scout was interrupted again. This time it wasn’t Mirela. There were two voices approaching.

“You’re certain then? About ---?” Scout bristled. The voice had Dacy’s distinctive lilt.

“Never more so.” That was Alin. Scout cringed involuntarily.

“Don’t you think you should tell her?” Dacy wanted to know.

“It may only make things worse.”

“It could make things better. If she were informed-- maybe we could avoid all of this coming to a head.”

“She’s a loose cannon. We have no idea what sort of reaction this will incur.”

“Raluca will not be pleased.”

The door eased open. Both parents gasped.

Scout looked up from her book, trying to look just as spooked, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“We just--we weren’t expecting to see you---or anyone--in here,” Dacy replied.

“Sorry, I’m just reading,” Scout said. Because that wasn’t suspicious, she scolded herself.

The parents looked at each other. “What?” Alin inquired.

Some days Scout could be clever. Apparently, today wasn’t one of them. She did know that she didn’t want tell them that she was researching Macha. Best to lie, “Bran.”

“Why the interest in him?” Alin wondered.

Scout avoided his gaze. He damn well knew why. They’d talked about it, hadn’t they? “Well, he just might be the only thing Rhys is afraid of. I’d like to know why,” she said..

Dacy nodded, “Because he was Macha’s true love.”

Scout was surprised. Looks like the missus believed in Mates even though her husband didn’t.

“That was a long time ago,” Alin added. “No one’s heard from him in about three hundred years. He could be dead for all we know.”

“He’s been dead for quite some time,” Scout replied coolly. “That doesn’t mean he doesn’t still exist. The reason no one’s heard of him is because he changed his name. Bran had too much of a history, one with too much brass and too many memories.”

“Why do you say that?”

“You’re Hunters. I’m sure you know his life story. All the things he did? The love he had with Macha? After he lost her, he lost his reason to live. He had to change it or else people would never leave him be. He risked folk constantly asking him where she was. When your girl leaves you for someone else, it’s not something you want to have to explain a hundred times over. By changing your name you get anonymity. No one knows who you are. No one cares. I should probably invest in that. Though, my name does sort of give me some street cred...”

“You seem to have thought about this a lot.”

“I’ve been reading for quite some time,” she admitted. “It seemed logical to me.” Lies.

“That is remarkably logical,” Dacy admitted. “Three hundred years of Hunters couldn’t come to that conclusion.” She turned back to Scout, “Since you seem to have an insight we lack, maybe you can ruminate on this: If we were entertaining the idea that he still exists, where do you think he would be?”

“Honestly?” Scout pretended to think, “I think he’d go after the guy who killed Macha. She was his Mate and his maker. He’s probably spent the last few centuries chasing Rhys. Maybe he’ll catch up to him here and save me the trouble.”

“You aren’t honestly expecting to fight Rhys?” Dacy asked, shocked.

Scout shrugged, “This is my life. It’s only a matter of time. It doesn’t hurt to anticipate the situation.” Scout didn’t want to fight him. Rhys hadn’t done her any real harm. She was more than happy to sit back and let Merrick take the reins, but she had a sinking feeling that things weren’t going to go so smoothly.

“If Bran came here, we’d be a hundred times worse off than we are now,” Alin scowled.

Scout shrugged, “Only one way to know for sure.”

Dacy nudged Alin and the pair of retired Hunters backed out of the study, “Good luck on your research.”

“Thanks,” Scout mumbled. They hadn’t looked at, or even taken a book with them. She didn’t mean to upset them with the thought of Merrick loitering in their town. He would be a major asset in regards to taking care of Rhys. And once Rhys was out of the picture, hopefully he’d move on. Come to think of it, in the few days that Merrick had been in town, she couldn’t recall the death toll increasing dramatically. She tried to think about what that meant.

She was reflecting on these things when Luca entered. “Just the person I wanted to see,” Scout smiled.

“What?” The girl was instantly suspicious.

“Remember that time that you told me that in all of vampire- dom there were only three that mattered? Rhys was among them.”

The Romanian nodded, still unsure of what Scout was getting at.

“You said that the other two I didn’t have a chance of meeting because one was dead and the other was MIA. They weren’t, perchance, Macha and Merr--I mean--Bran, were they?”

“You’ve gotten to that part of the history have you?” Luca asked, taking a seat.

“Yeah,” Scout lied, sinking lower into her chair.

Luca shook her head and said, “I would have loved to know what she was thinking when she ditched Bran. He gave her nothing but pure adoration and she ups and leaves him to go gallivanting around the world with some other guy who gets her killed.”

“Adoration is not the same as love,” Scout pointed out.

“I would think, if that was the case, she wouldn’t have waited a thousand years before leaving him.”

This was true.

Luca laughed lightly as she pulled a book from a pile, “Did you know that there are Hunters who have these discussions all the time? Trying to figure out what exactly it was that caused the pair to split? It’s amazing. To think, people spend all their time arguing about something we could never possibly know. The only two people who really know are either dead or missing, and even if someone else did know the truth of the disagreement, it’s probably a vampire, and you don’t see us and them conversing very often do you?”

Scout grinned and replied, “No,” amused at the irony of the situation. Not only did she know that Merrick was still existing, she had talked to him for an extended period of time, and could probably get to the truth of the matter. If she tried.


The girl saw herself out of the Hunters’ home when she heard Tom and the boys arrive to work on whatever it is boys work on.

She reappeared the next morning to continue her reading. Again, she was interrupted by Alin and Dacy coming down the hall. “I’m worried,” the wife whispered.

“Because of Rhys?” Alin responded.

A brief silence occurred in which Scout assumed a nod happened.

“What’s done is done. Luca will let us know if anything changes.”

“But we don’t know what she’s reading---”

“Don’t worry. We’ll sort this out in time.”

Scout feigned sleep as the door creaked open, and then shut again.

What was it that Dacy feared? What did Rhys have to do with it?

Had Luca told them about Scout’s encounter earlier on? Scout wanted to be mad, but given her inquisition of Alin’s knowledge of Rhys and Merrick, it was only fair they know all of her involvement with him. Well, as much as was safe for them to know.

Mirela breezed in a little while later. She exchanged some books for a few others.

“You reading about Rhys?” Scout asked trying to be polite.

“What’s it to you?” The girl all but snarled.

“Well, I’ve read most of them. Is there anything you’re looking for specifically? I could help point you in the direction of the right volume.”

“I’m picking up where you left off,” she growled. “Trying to find a weakness. You quit on us, I figured I might as well give it a shot. Killing a friend of yours would give me immense pleasure.”

Scout stilled. What? “He is no friend of mine,” she replied, her voice turning icy.

“You mean to say that all your extracurricular affairs with him were purely academic?”

“Yes,” Scout replied slowly, setting down the book in her hands. How did she know these things?

“You won’t deny that you have a soft spot for him? That’s why you're turning down Tom, isn't it?”

“What?!” Scout nearly shrieked, “How I feel about Tom is none of your business.” She definitely didn't have a soft spot for either of them.

“It’s everyone’s business. You spurning him is affecting his game.”

“That’s not my fault. I never indicated affection or led him on. It’s all in his neanderthal brain that tells him every woman secretly wants him. It’s not true for me, but it might be for you. Is that what’s got your panties in a wad? Or is it the fact that you’re the most blue-blooded Hunter in this group, but he’s the one in charge and he’s running them into the ground? Why don’t you take over? Claim he’s unfit to rule? Don’t take it out on me. I was only a temporary member of your little club, but I don’t want any part of your crew.”

“The leader has to be voted in,” Mirela’s voice was deathly quiet.

“Oh,” Scout couldn’t help but grin and let out a small laugh, “I see why you’re so bitter. You’re such a bitch that you know no one would vote for you, even if you were the only name on the ballot.”

“You don’t know anything about me,” the Hunter responded, hotly. Scout had hit a nerve.

“Likewise,” Scout replied coolly, and exited.

She was fuming about Mirela as she trudged home. How she had managed to let her guard down enough to be stalked by a human? There was no greater insult. She kicked at the dirt in anger, not realizing, in her self-loathing, that she was currently letting her guard down.

She was being followed. A fallen limb snapped in the woods, pulling Scout out of her musings. Immediately she was alert, trying to determine the position of the sound. She realized why she was having difficulty in short order. There was more than one vampire.

At least five, Scout deduced, ready for the onslaught. Something tore out of the woods on the side of the road Scout had her back to. She turned to face it just in time to see something else lunge from seemingly nowhere.

That was the sign.

Six vampires broke cover. Scout, in a rare moment, panicked. It was broad daylight and she hadn’t been attacked in a few days. All she carried was a single stake. How quickly one forgets the dangers in such a tiny town.

Before a single one of them could touch her, she found Merrick at her side.

“What are you doing?” A young-looking man with a too-pale complexion growled.

“What does it look like?” Merrick responded in an equally intimidating tone.

“We told you where Rhys was so you could dispatch of him and let us take care of the girl.”

“Things don’t always work out as planned. Rhys is gone. As payment for my service to the community I want her.”

“Fine. Your death,” the vampire scowled.

Merrick cast Scout a sidelong glance, “I’m sure we’ll work something out.”

Scout gulped, “I just want to point out that I’m not really a threat anymore. I haven’t killed anyone in some time,” she told Merrick.

He smirked, “There you have it. Now, if you lot don’t mind. We’ll be on our way.”

The vagrants grudgingly dissolved back into the forest.

“Never a dull moment in your life,” Merrick commented as they strolled homeward.

Scout laughed, “You should have seen it before you got here.”

The pair of them spent the rest of the day walking around the town and talking. They were on the homestretch when Merrick stopped dead and sniffed the air.

“What is it?” She asked.

“Trouble.” Merrick broke into a jog and Scout sprinted after him. His jog consisted of him gliding along at a much faster pace than humanly possible. The only way Scout could have feasibly caught up was to sprout wings.

The vampire stopped outside the cemetery gate. Scout huffed and puffed behind him. “What’s going on?”

“Human and those lovelies we ran into earlier,” he replied easily.

Scout hated him. He wasn’t even winded.

“Well?” She asked, preparing to jump the fence.

“Where are you going?” He asked.

She hurdled the fence, “To help. Aren’t you?”

“It’s not wise to keep a gang from their dinner.”

“You did it before,” she pointed out.

“That was different.”

“Because it was me? I’m not some helpless thing.” She knew why she was angry. Because she’d gotten used to him being by her side. He was someone she confided in and for a split second she’d forgotten who he was. Remy would jump into a fight with her. Apparently, Merrick was above such things.

“I know that,” Merrick made a face. “I came to your aid because I need you alive for when Rhys comes back.”

“Not because we’re friends?” Scout’s voice was flat, begging for a fight.

Merrick realized his mistake, “Also because we’re friends. Why would you help a complete stranger? Risk your life? Your identity? That person out there won’t understand what’s happening. You could get in trouble for saving their life.”

“You sniffed them out,” Scout said. He could have not said anything and she wouldn’t have been the wiser.

Merrick seemed to note this unspoken observation but responded with, “Because they are offensive to my palette.”

Scout glared, “I’m going.”

“It’s not your job,” he said. “And I don’t know if you know this, but, I’m a vampire. I used to have a reputation. I like to fly under the radar. I don’t want every bloodsucker in the lower 48 after me because I helped a human.”

“Oh, I see, you’ve got a rep to protect,” she nodded in understanding. She didn’t need his help. She’d just expected it. Her mistake.

“Yeah,” Merrick admitted after a suitable pause. He wasn’t looking at her. He was embarrassed.

Scout had to admit, on an average day, she didn’t go looking for trouble. Once upon a time--yes. But not anymore. If she passed a gang of vampires about to feed, she would ignore them. She would tell herself: you can’t win every fight. That was her way of justifying it. But she always ended up sprinting back. Maybe it was because she needed to be a hero. More likely it was her conscience. It was why she always felt guilty about breaking her mom’s rules even when Mom wasn’t around to enforce them.

The reason Scout chose this fight was because these vampires were meant to be preying on her. They had tried. Merrick had scared them off. This was Scout’s fight. It had just been delayed a little while. That deciding factor had Scout vaulting over the fence and jogging toward the sound of distress.

“You’re unarmed!” Merrick told her jumping the fence after her.

Not completely true. She had a stake in her back pocket. She mustered up a sassy teenaged, “So?”

“You’re doing this to piss me off aren’t you?”

She stopped and turned, “I don’t want to give you too much credit, but yes. Since you aren’t going to fight nancy-boy, the least you could do is grab my sword from under my bed.”

“You keep a sword under your bed?” He asked, stopping in his tracks.

“A weapon would be swell,” she told him.

“I don’t know if the rules work like that.”

“Do I have to be standing in my house to permit you entry? I’m within sight of it. That should be close enough. If not, I think Rhys keeps some things in his umbrella stand by the door,” the girl turned back to face her destination.

Scout wasn’t really paying attention the day that Remy told her the rules about vampires entering houses. She was pretty sure they couldn’t enter unless they’d been invited, after that, it was fair game, but she’d never had any vampires to try it on. The first night she met Rhys--the night she’d attempted to stake him, she’d expected him to attack her house, but that hadn’t been the direction things had gone. She still didn’t know what would happen.

Merrick bolted off and Scout jogged toward the fight. Her jaw dropped as she came upon the scene. Mirela was doing her best to fend off twelve of the gang Scout had previously encountered. What exactly was Mirela doing by herself, after dark, in the graveyard? Scout didn’t have much time to dwell on it, because at that moment, about four of them caught her scent and growled so fiercely, the ground rumbled with the sound.

Scout immediately brought up her stake to block a jarring blow and engaged her attacker. He feinted again and again, trying to get Scout to make a mistake or leave an opening for him to use. He was good. That didn’t bode well. It either meant he was a fighter in his previous life or he was old. He aimed a kick that she blocked. He came at her with a something that turned into a forward roll that had the girl quickly repositioning in order to be ready for his next attack. He lunged with a flying kick, sending Scout reeling. She landed roughly on her back, the wind knocked from her lungs and the stake from her hands. The vampire pounced. Scout scrambled for something, anything. She heard the sound of steel clatter to the ground and her hand shot for it. There, on the ground, lay her katana. With a smirk, she grasped it by the handle and in one slice, separated the man’s head from his shoulders.

The next vampire stepped up. He dodged well, but Scout anticipated his move and sliced him apart. The third opponent had a weapon of his own. A 2x4. He parried her attacks and laid out a few of his own, hefting the piece of lumber as though it was a foil. She did her best to avoid him. His attacks jarred her sword hand and bruised sorely where they hit their mark.

He had her stumbling away when he got greedy. She took advantage of his lowered guard and cleaved off his head.

Scout didn’t know how many she ended up killing in the end, only that she was exhausted. She felt a presence behind her and whirled, her blade clashing with another. Mirela was scowling at her from behind her szabla. “I didn’t need your help,” she growled.

“You may not like to think so, but what’s done is done. I’m sure you could have easily handled all twelve of them and their hundreds of years of experience at staying alive when it comes to fighting Hunters. Don’t beat yourself up about it, I don’t want your thanks. What I do want is an explanation. What the hell are you doing in my neck of the woods? Alone.” Scout added.

“That’s none of your business,” Mirela scowled.

Scout smirked as she cleaned her blade, “Rhys isn’t here.”

“You would know that wouldn’t you,” her tone was demeaning at best.

“You could have just asked.”

“Like you would have told me?” She scoffed.

“I just did,” Scout let out an exasperated sigh. “I’m not like you. I don’t go out killing things. I only end the ones looking to do the same to me. This sometimes allows me to befriend the occasional vampire. Rhys helped me out in a tight spot. I felt obligated to be his friend. He hadn’t done me any harm.”

“Do you know what he’s done to the Dumitru line--?” Mirela interjected.

“No. Because no one talks about it. What we have here is a failure to communicate. Luca told me he was bad news but failed to elaborate. I figured it was just the Hunter-hatred for anything with fangs.

“Rhys issued a no-kill order on me. He told the local color to back off. As a result, he pissed off some folk. Hanging out with you guys created something of a rift between us. Only recently have I learned of his endeavors. He skipped town because the folk he pissed off sent someone from his rookie years up this way. I don’t know if he’ll be back. Now, let’s let bygones be bygones and I’ll do you the honor of helping clean up for once.”

Mirela eyed the girl carefully before nodding. They worked together to pile the bodies in silence.

“Do you think he’ll come back?” She wondered quietly.

“Not if he knows what’s good for him."

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