Since planning how to shape the entire future of the settlement and turn it into something more was quite the hefty task, Haven and his council took to meeting most every night to formulate the plans that would work best for each of their clans, as well as the human settlers surrounding them. This left Claire to her own devices most evenings. Rather than have to endure any more conversations with Awsha, despite the sliver of hope she had gotten from the last time they spoke, Claire most often decided to spend her evenings walking along the beach under the stars with her own thoughts.
She was not really aware of how far she had walked up the coast on that particular evening before something stopped her in her tracks. Breaking through the scent of the salty sea air that night was another scent which was much less soothing. It was the scent of blood that she recognized almost immediately as she turned her head in the direction from which the wind blew. It seemed to be coming from one of the modest homes the Spanish settlers had set up along the coast.
She swallowed a bit as she moved slowly toward the dwelling, immediately switching her eyesight to inform her of whom if anyone would be waiting inside for her that night. However, the only aura of any living creature she distinguished through the haphazardly constructed wooden homestead was one of an incredibly terrified human.
Moving her feet more quickly to approach the home, she quickly scanned the area around the abode as well, seeing nothing more than a few scattered auras here and there of the cats and dogs that wandered about the settlement hoping for scraps from night to night. When she entered the house, she was more than a little distraught by the scene before her. Inside lay the quickly cooling corpses of a man, a woman and three children appearing to range in age from ten to sixteen or so.
She allowed a slight whimper as she took in the scene before her, quickly reminding herself of the reason she entered the home at all. It was then that she heard another whimper coming from a source other than her own throat. She turned her eyes toward the corner of the small home where a door led to what she assumed was some sort of pantry. There behind the door, she again found the terrified aura that had drawn her there that night.
Moving to slowly open the door, Claire found the source of the noise in a little girl who allowed another terrified whimper upon having her hiding place discovered “shh, shh it’s ok” she attempted with as much gentleness as she could. The girl looked to be barely five years of age, with long unruly black curls surrounding tear filled walnut colored eyes, “whoever was here, they’re gone now. I promise” Claire attempted to further calm the girl.
“What if they come back?” the girl sobbed, with a slight accent as she held her knees firmly to her chest while remaining in the little ball she had curled herself into during whatever horror had befallen her family that evening.
“Then come with me, I’ll take you somewhere where they won’t know to look for you” Claire offered as she held her hand out to the girl, whose own hand was at least three shades darker, her Spanish decent obvious, as most of the settlers surrounding them did originally come there from Spain in recent years.
Slowly, the girl inched towards Claire, whose magnetism even affected mortals who were this young. That fact was one which Claire was quite thankful for right then, as she doubted it would be very easy to gain the trust of the terrified girl without that supernatural allure she thankfully possessed.
“It’s ok” Claire repeated again, gathering the girl into her arms and moving to cradle the girl’s head, turning her face against her chest so as to keep her from seeing the scene in the next room while she moved to quickly remove her from the home and back out into the night.
Claire quickly shut the door to the home behind her, not able to help one more glance of her own at the bodies inside “they hurt them all, didn’t they?” the girl sniffled again against Claire’s chest as she carried her back down the beach away from the tragedy.
“But you’re ok” was the only thing she could think of to say in response as she continued carrying her back in the direction of her own home. Not sure what words she could offer to comfort the girl, she finally decided to attempt to at least distract her instead, “who taught you English?” Claire attempted a smile down at the girl a few moments later.
“My big brother, he worked for the man who owns all the boats. He learned it from the others who help unload them” she offered with another sniffle.
“Well, you’re very good at it” Claire smiled down at her as she gently kissed the girl’s long black curls in a further attempt at calming her “my name’s Claire, by the way. I live in the big house with the man who owns all the boats” she smiled, trying to keep her own fear in check, considering that those who murdered the girl’s family still had yet to be identified or located.
“You’re rich” the girl looked up at her with widened eyes.
Claire couldn’t help a small smile, “well, the man who owns the boats is. We’re just friends of his.”
“I’m Erica” she offered as she laid her cheek against Claire’s chest again, her tears still slowly trickling down her cheeks.
“That’s a very pretty name, Erica” she allowed as she gently squeezed her in her arms once more.
“You’re pretty” Erica returned softly as she twirled a finger around Claire’s locks which were just as dark as her own.
Claire couldn’t help a slight chuckle, “No you’re pretty” she teased.
“Nuh uh. I’m little” she argued, though almost allowed a smile as she did.
“But you won’t stay that way. Soon you’ll grow up and…” Claire then couldn’t help being assailed by the memories of her own child who never even got the chance to grow up at all. And upon that particular memory, she couldn’t help having to stifle her own sob as her voice trailed off into the night.
The rest of the long walk back home was rather quiet, as both Claire and Erica seemed just a bit overwhelmed by their own dark thoughts that night. Once the house came into view though, Claire couldn’t help a sigh of relief at having managed to at least get Erica to safety. Though she wished she could have said the same of the rest of the poor girl’s family.
Standing outside on that warm night were Haven and Sean as well as the other members of the council. Their meeting apparently had moved outside to survey a build site for another home to take some of the strain off of having ten very different Kindred living under one roof. They all easily noted her approach and turned toward the sound of her footsteps.
Claire had to quickly move to shield Erica’s eyes again as the Nosferatu Primogen, Dahlia, was there with them, and the sight of her would be sure to cause even more nightmares for the little girl. Dahlia’s entire clan had the weakness of being unbearably hideous to look upon, with bald heads, pointed ears, beady eyes, elongated fingers, and sharp teeth surrounding already deadly fangs. Claire gave her a look that told her that she needed to get out of sight right then if she wanted to uphold the Masquerade. Dahlia huffed in annoyance, pulling her dark hood closer around her bald head, and disappearing back into the house.
Though that was not the only look exchanged that night as they all looked back at Claire more than a little shocked by the young human girl in her arms “I didn’t know we were having visitors tonight” Haven stated slowly as Claire approached the group.
“Sean, can you please take Erica while I tell Haven about the events of the evening?” she asked him pointedly, handing the little girl off to her more than shocked looking husband. He gave her one more questioning look as the girl was deposited into his arms, but he simply nodded warily as he moved to take her inside, hoping that Dahlia had retired to her own quarters inside the home by then as well.
The other representatives grumbled slightly, but Haven easily waved them away as he waited to hear Claire’s explanation. They all trailed into the house behind Sean then, giving him their own questioning looks as they moved past him to make their way to their own quarters.
Once all the other Kindred had left the room, Sean finally looked down at the young girl in his arms that looked right back up at him with her own questioning look “hello” he attempted when confronted with her expectant look.
“Hi” she stated simply as she looked up into his pale eyes, waiting for him to make the next attempt at conversation.
“So, your name’s Erica, then?” he managed, obviously so far out of his comfort zone right then that all his usual eloquence and charm seemed to have abandoned him.
“Who are you?” she asked frankly.
“I would be Sean” he attempted, his wariness of her very presence still obvious “The lady who brought you here is my wife, Claire” he attempted.
“She’s pretty” she returned.
“Yes, I would have to agree” he allowed, a small smile finally touching his lips.
“Why are you both cold? It’s warm out” she stated simply, the innocent words managing to catch him up easily, trying to find some response to that question.
That was when Awsha appeared in the room “why is everyone back? Is the meet…” she then stopped dead as her eyes fell on Sean holding the little girl “what is that?” she asked bluntly.
“This” Sean allowed another wary smile “would be Erica, apparently” he answered, allowing a slight shrug to let her know that he honestly had no better answer for her right then.
Not seeming to take or care about his nonverbal cues, Awsha continued “why is it… she” she corrected “here?”
“A very good question” Sean replied, giving her another look that she at least seemed to catch this time as she stilled her tongue. Though Awsha still couldn’t help moving to walk around them, looking at the little girl as though she were an oddity on display at some museum.
Erica was apparently less thrown by her own presence than either of the two in the room with her seemed to be, as she answered the question for them “bad people hurt my family. So Claire brought me here” she finished with another sad sniffle.
Her words did do well to catch Sean and Awsha both unaware as he finally moved to set her back on her feet and stooped down to brush a few disheveled locks off of her tear streaked cheeks “did they hurt you too?” Sean asked, finally moving past his own shock at her presence when hearing of the tragedy that had led to it.
“I hid” Erica answered as the tears were replenished, causing her to move to tightly embrace Sean again, as though hoping that he would be the one to protect her now.
Easily touched by her fragility, Sean moved to wrap his arms around her shaking little body, not sure how they would ever deal with having an innocent human child brought into their lives now. But he did know then, that he would do all he could to protect her; Especially after his tragic failure to protect his own child, over a century ago.
After explaining the situation at Erica’s home to Haven, he and the rest of the council quickly retired back to their meeting room to plan how to go about determining what this new threat was and deal with it. Claire had taken Erica back to her and Sean’s quarters, cleaning her up a bit before tucking her into a temporary bed in the form of the small sofa in her and Sean’s bedroom.
Claire had finally gotten the girl calm enough that her exhaustion eventually took over and caused her to drift off to sleep at around one that night. Shortly thereafter, Sean returned from the meeting and quietly closed the door behind him once he saw Claire looking down at the now sleeping child before her.
“Well, this was an unexpected turn of events” he whispered as Claire stood, turning her attention back to him.
“I didn’t know what else to do” she whispered back as she moved to Sean’s side “I didn’t want to just leave her there with….” She just shook her head rather than rehashing the scene.
“Well this has got to be the safest spot for her now, ironically enough” he had to add wryly.
“So, you’re ok with this?” Claire asked him softly, looking up into his face.
“With what? You helping a little girl who needed it? Why wouldn’t I be?” Sean smiled back down at her, gently squeezing her shoulder.
“Yeah but just bringing her into our home like this. You can’t have expected that.” Claire continued in the same quiet tone.
“Just because it was unexpected, doesn’t necessarily mean it was a bad thing…” he stated. Though, as their eyes met, neither could manage to share any more thoughts that those words brought to mind all over again, for both of them.