“Stay here,” Briar said before leaping form the still moving carriage. With her skirt gathered in her hands, she hurried her way towards the horrendous sound, her heels clicking on the stone street. As she turned the corner, she was met by a sight that could hardly do the scream justice.
A crowd started to gather, having heard the screams as well, and all were equally perplexed by the sight. A young girl, not much younger than Briar, hung from her ankle from a third-story window. Much like the drunkard from a few nights prior, her throat was ripped out, her blood streaming down her face, into her hair, and falling onto the stone below.
Another rope was wrapped around her body, keeping her garment from covering the mortified look on the girl’s face. As she slowly turned, the wind spinning her body for all to see, Briar found her eyes missing, having been bulged out of their sockets.
She stepped closer than anyone had dared. The girl’s mouth hung open with inside what looked like a piece of paper. With her eyes fixed on the paper, Briar didn’t notice the rope that was slowly tearing from the weight.
A hand on her shoulder yanked her back, the body falling but a second later. A sickening crack followed as the girl landed on her head and broke what was left of her neck. Her head came to rest right in front of Briar’s feet, only a breath away from touching the tips of her boots.
With her breath caught in her throat, Briar took a step back, colliding with the person who had pulled her away and hadn’t stepped away. She half expected Dante to have followed her and to now be standing behind her, but as she looked up she was proven wrong.
Staring out from under his tilted and worn top hat, Darlington offered a raised brow.
Briar turned away, removing her shoulder from his grip and kneeled down closer to the body of the young girl. Darlington continued to stand where he was. She could feel his eyes on her, but she tried to concentrate on the body instead. The sight was terrible enough without him there.
“I’m still waiting, Miss Blakewell,” Darlington said when she continued to ignore him.
Tuning out his voice, she reached out. There was a lot of blood, and although not much could be seen other than red, Briar managed to pry the folded piece of paper she had seen from the girl’s broken jaw. Although she tried to keep her eyes from wandering, she couldn’t help but spare the torn neck a second look.
Two fang marks.
“Yes, this was a vampire attack,” Darlington said as he kneeled on the other side of the body, making another attempt at catching her attention.
Not sparing him a glance as she had done with the torn flesh, Briar started to unfold the piece of paper. “I know it was a vampire, that was not what I was looking at.”
As she read what was written on the paper, her brows furrowed into a frown before she turned a glare to Darlington. Standing, Briar held the piece of paper in front of Darlington’s face, close enough for him to smell the clotting blood.
“Care to explain?” Briar asked, cocking her head.
Taking the paper from her hands, he didn’t bother to take the clean part of it. His ungloved fingers that already started to appear purple under the nails from the cold gripped onto the bloodied edge of the note, staining them red. As he read it, a grin spread onto his face.
“That old hag has some gut.” Darlington stood as well, a chuckle on his lips. He dropped the note before wiping his fingers onto his coat. Briar watched it fall into a puddle of crimson. “Don’t worry your pretty little head about this, Miss Blakewell, I got it under control.”
“Then why do I get the impression you do not?”
Waving a dismissive hand, he turned his back on her. “This was unavoidable, my dear, it is how we start our hunts. Though I must say, the note is a first. Seems my reputation precedes me.”
“Who is this hag you mentioned?”
Darlington stopped, glancing over his shoulder. “That is the know for me and the unknown for you. If you want answers you know where to go, but I must warn, my secrets are not easily given.”
As he continued to stalk off, Briar debated on whether she should follow him or not. She already disturbed the scene too much, she had to wait for her father or one of his officers and keep those around her from touching anything more.
Biting her lip, she let Darlington go for now. None of his previous followers were in sight, which both eased and uneased her. If it was just him then Dante could have passed unnoticed. But if his followers were lurking in the shadows they must have caught sight of him by now.
Keeping her eyes and ears alert, Briar started to ask people if they saw anything and if they hadn’t to leave or back away. All the while she kept a close eye on the direction she had come from.
Reluctantly, Dante waited in the carriage. As much as he wanted to follow Briar he knew it wasn’t wise. Most likely it was another vampire attack, and if he was recognized anywhere near the body it was over for him. Still, his legs twitched with the need to spring into action.
Distant talking outside of the carriage caught his attention, and he sighed with relief, thinking it was Briar reassuring the coachman. The door opened, as did Dante’s mouth with words on his tongue, but he swallowed them instantly as a man came to sit across from him.
Dante’s eyes fell on the many silver pieces that decorated the man’s hand, lips, and ears. His smile was crooked as he raised his chin, the carriage starting to move again. An uneasy weight settled in Dante’s stomach.
“The name is Darlington,” the man said, extending his hand, though Dante knew better than to accept it.
“Where are we going?” Dante asked, his suspicion of this being the hunter Briar mentioned now confirmed.
Darlington lowered his hand. “Most people respond with their name when the other introduced themselves.”
“I gathered you already knew.”
“And you already knew mine,” he said, leaning forward on his knees. “Yet, I was polite enough to say it.”
Dante glared down at Darlington, dread spreading through his chest with each passing second. “What is it you want?”
“That is quite a broad question.” Darlington chuckled, straighten himself to look out the window. “I want a lot of things. A nice coat, a few new rings, a pretty knife I can hide up my sleeve, a woman to warm my bed, a vampire’s heart buried in my garden, the list goes on.”
He glanced at Dante from the corner of his eye, waiting for a reaction Dante wasn’t going to give him. “Let me rephrase it then; what is it you want from me?”
“Your death,” he said as casual as if he was talking about the weather. “Much like any other filthy vampire in this world. But not yet.”
“This is about the clan you’re hunting.”
Darlington nodded, removing his gaze from the window. “It is. You seem to be connected, and I’d like to profit from that before I have you killed.”
“Then I am regretful to tell you I don’t know much, and that you’ll be better off killing me now.”
“Perhaps,” Darlington muttered, giving him a long look. The carriage stopped, and he spoke again. “But your useless knowledge is not what I was after.”
The carriage door swung open. Dante had but a second to register what was happening before Darlington grabbed him and threw him on the stone street outside. He hit his head hard, black spots invading his vision as he tried to blink them away.
Men and women dressed in leather and wearing masks surrounded him, pointing silver spears and swords at him, his own reflection visible in the blades. Darlington took his time to step from the carriage, coming to stand between Dante’s legs, his hands clasped behind his back.
“And if it isn’t Marinette that wants you, well, then we’ll always have the lovely Miss Blakewell to play with.”