A week had passed without much progress. It seemed the killer had taken a break from their killings and disappeared without a trace. Rumors spread quickly, saying Dante had fled London and was now preying on neighboring cities. Though, Briar knew it to be quite the opposite.
She had spent many hours of her days with Rena in Dante’s house hidden between the trees. Most of the time Dante was drawing at his desk. She would try to peek over his shoulder but was always met by the same face of a young man and a boy before Dante would crumple up the paper in frustration and throw it out. He’d told her it was his brother and his brother’s son, though not much else. Even if she asked he would tell her just enough to not give away anything.
At times Dante seemed like an open book, but when Briar tried to read him the words were too small.
“So,” Rena said, hovering her pencil over her notebook, “iron and silver hurts you, correct?”
Dante nodded. “How painful and harmful the objects depend on the purity of the material.”
Briar watched as Rena scribbled it down, having claimed the side of the couch closest to the fire. “Like the gate of Mrs. Evans,” Briar pointed out.
“Oh, right.” Rena looked up from her notes. “Any process on that lead?” Both Dante and Briar shook their heads. “Pity, I would love to observe a wound like that.”
Glancing out the window, Briar said, “We should leave soon, it’s getting dark outside.”
“One last question.” Rena raised her pencil at Briar before turning back to Dante, not waiting for Briar’s approval. “How does reproduction work within a clan?”
“Excuse me?” Dante choked out, shifting to sit more upright.
“Reproduction,” Rena said again, her face too innocently curious considering the indication. “Is it the same as the human way or is there a difference.”
Briar laughed into her hand as Dante continued to shift uncomfortably. “It’s different. In theory, we can impregnate one another but it would be with a regular human child and it will be born as such.”
“Then what turns a human into a vampire?” Rena asked, her brows furrowed as she wrote down each exact word Dante had said. Briar leaned forward as well, suddenly finding interest as well.
Dante waved his hand with a sigh. “It’s a long and risky process. First, the human has to get bitten, then they’ll fall into a coma that closely resembles death. During the coma, their body changes to become accustomed to the vampire needs and such, though much can go wrong and waking up from it isn’t that likely.”
As Rena continued to write, Briar moved closer to Dante, sitting on the edge of the couch. “How did you get turned?”
His eyes shifted to the skulls on the shelf, hesitating a bit before speaking. “I got terribly sick, and with no parents and a younger brother to look after, I didn’t have much to lose since my death was already approaching. It was worth the risk if it meant I could take care of my brother.”
“What was his name?”
Dante abruptly stood, reaching for his coat and hat despite not needing them. “It’s getting late, let me take you back.”
“Alright,” Briar said with a nod, knowing she wouldn’t get much else out of him.
“Let’s discuss the turning process in more detail next time,” Rena added as she stood as well, putting her notebook back into her bag.
Dante handed them their coats, his eyes lingering on Briar’s hands she took it from him while voicing her gratitude. She knew what he was longing for, and what he couldn’t have because of Rena’s presence.
In some odd and unexpected turn of events, Briar had found herself more often than not curled up in Dante’s arms whenever they were alone. There was nothing romantic about it, to Briar’s dismay. Dante had admitted having an old habit of sleeping with company simply for their bodily heat, and how he was unable to sleep much without it. Briar had found both sympathy in this as much as an opportunity. She still wished for his kiss, but he had made no move as of yet to lend her one.
At the beginning of the week, Briar had complied for her own selfish reason, by the end of it, she secretly started to look forward to those quiet moments she had with him. Even if it wasn’t of the romantic kind, Briar had found relief in many of their late-night conversations.
“Tomorrow,” she whispered, placing a hand over his and letting it linger.
“Tomorrow,” Dante repeated with a regretful smile, unspoken words in his eyes as he held his tongue. A sight Briar had seen more often than she would have liked. Though, if she ever cared to admit it, Dante was the first man she showed this much interest in.
Perhaps it did not worry her yet since she knew it would be over in a matter of days, but as Rena had suggested in between breaths, perhaps it was because she was actually interested, that she actually cared. Rena hadn’t given her the time to disagree as she went on about a different subject, but every so often the suggestion would come back to Briar’s mind.
With not a single step closer to Jane’s and Mrs. Evans’s killer, trivial matters as these suddenly became a common past time.
“Are you sure it’s safe for you to be here?” Briar asked as Dante followed them out of the carriage. His white hair was neatly tucked away under his bowel hat, making him appeal like any other man to anyone passing by. Especially at night. Yet, Briar could never help but worry.
Not wanting to risk waking up Mr. and Mrs. Prescott with the rumble of a carriage, they had stopped a few blocks away from Rena’s home, deciding that walking the rest wouldn’t be too bad.
“I need to stop by the morgue on my way back anyway,” Dante said, falling into step beside them. “It’s too bad I only get the blood of the old and sickly that recently passed, it makes me miss the animal blood.”
“Does it taste that differently?” Rena asked before Briar could even part her lips.
Dante chuckled. “It does, and it’s disgusting.”
“How are your senses?” Briar asked before Rena could interrupt again, though she didn’t seem to mind as his answer interested her as well.
“Loud noises tend to irritate more these days, and my smell—” he took a deep inhale through his nose, the easy smile that had been there for most of the trip falling immediately “—is good enough to pick up traces of blood, and it reeks of it here.”
Sniffing the air again, Dante stopped, turning to the rows of houses and their occasional alleyway in between. Briar and Rena followed closely behind as he approached one of the said alleyways.
“What is it?” Briar placed her hand on his shoulder, trying to keep up.
Dante stopped, his body going rigid. He held out his arm to stop them from getting closer, though his attempt at shielding them from the horrors of the attack was fruitless as the scene was too widely spread to be concealed by his body.
Briar gasped as she saw what Dante tried to protect her eyes from. The body of a man lay in a puddle of melted snow turned red with his own blood. His throat was ripped open, his blood covering the walls on both sides of the alley. He had clearly struggled against his attacker, and they had left him in this state because of that. Much like Mrs. Evans, his face was contorted in a permanent state of screaming, though half of it was covered by his own blood that still dripped from the corners of his mouth.
“Careful.” Dante scanned the space, slowly guiding them away from the scene. “This just occurred, the killer might still be here.”
Rena yelped, startling Briar as she quickly turned and collided with Dante. In the blur of her struggle to keep her balance, all Briar could make out was a figure holding onto Rena from the shadow. Wide-eyed, Briar reached forward as blood rushed to her ears, her heart picking up speed as the most unthinkable things flashed before her eyes.
Taking hold of Rena’s shoulder, Briar pulled her back with all her might. The figure lifted their hands up, taking a step closer.
“Don’t move!” Briar yelled, digging her nails into Rena’s coat.
“Calm down, Miss Blakewell,” a familiar male voice said, though she couldn’t register exactly to who it belonged. Taking another step forward, he took off his head, revealing his face in the dim light. “It’s just me.”
“Clyde,” she breathed, releasing her grip on Rena’s coat ever so slightly. “W—what at you doing here?”
“I was taking a walk when I noticed movement.” Glancing behind them, Clyde’s eyes widened. “Good grief, that is a nasty sight. This isn’t your doing, is it, Miss Blakewell?” His gaze then fell on Rena, and despite the murdered man behind them, Clyde had the audacity to smile. “Miss Prescott?”
“How can you be so calm?” Rena stepped forward, taking him by surprise. “This man had been murdered, for God’s sake. Do something!”
“I lied,” Clyde said as he stepped back, seemingly more frightened by Rena’s outburst than the potential murderer still in the area. “I already called it in, alright? Chief Blakewell is on his way with back-up. I noticed you walking in and came to warn you before they arrived at the scene.” His eyes once again glanced behind Briar, though this time he wasn’t focused on the body. “Especially you, Dante, you wouldn’t want to be caught anywhere near here, now do you?”
Dante didn’t respond. Briar had to look behind her to make sure he was still there, and he was. His eyes were fixed on Clyde, a clear warning in them. As he opened his mouth, his fangs were visible as he bared them.
“We’ll be leaving, then.” Dante’s voice was low, an underlying growl rumbling in each word as he spoke. Briar swallowed, flinching as Dante’s hand came to rest on her shoulder to guide her around Clyde and away from the alley.
Briar took hold of Rena’s hand, dragging her with them from the detective.
“Will I still see you tomorrow?” Clyde dared to ask, dared to grin.
“You are not funny,” Rena said through gritted teeth, poking him in his chest before letting Briar pull her away.
“Enjoy your evening, Dear Rena.” Clyde paused. “It was a pleasure finally meeting you, Dante.”