Blogophilia 9.11 – Mary part 2
It’s time again for Blogophilia, the fun blog group where Martien gives participants prompts to use in their blogs. This week’s prompts are:
And part two (the final half) of Mary’s story is here!
She tightened her hold on her weapon, waiting, counting the seconds in time to her heartbeats. As she concentrated, tense, the whisper of the breeze became a roar, the chirp of a lone cricket a deafening symphony.
She heard him before she saw him; a rush of wind followed by a blur. Jared stumbled backwards, clipped by their indivisible enemy; his motions so fast that even Mary’s vampire eyes couldn’t see him.
She swung in the space he should have bene, but hit nothing. Reeling from the missed attack, she missed him as he came behind her. She felt the fists in her back a moment before she slammed face first into the damp grass.
She jerked to her feet, spinning in an angry circle, but that was it. He was gone. He’d escaped. Again.
Oh, no you don’t. Not this time.
She checked to make sure Jared was alive, then sprinted after the rogue. The world blurred into smears of green as she followed the scent, back up the street and into town. She raced past unseen houses, their windows dark, only to finally catch sight of him ahead of her. He slowed enough to look back and she saw his face, his dark eyes gleaming with surprise and his full lips stretched in a grin, as if to say, “Do you want to race?”
She thought she heard laughter as he spurred himself forward, leaving her behind. With a prayer to whatever dark gods might listen, she pushed herself. In her memory she wasn’t in a small Iowa town anymore, but back in New Orleans, racing the dark streets after Daquin.
His words flew back to her, echoing off the towering buildings and balconies. “You’ll never catch me!”
And she didn’t. She’d get so close; once close enough to pull his flapping coat free, but at the last moment he would bound away, using wrought iron balconies to reach the rooftops, and then he was gone, laughing into the night, leaving her to slump back to Madam LaFete alone.
“Where have you been child?” her mother in blood would demand when she sulked through the door. But she knew, they all knew.
“He’s good for nothing, child. You chase only heartbreak.”
If only I’d listened.
But she hadn’t listened then, and she wouldn’t listen now. She’d lost Daquin, but this rogue…this rogue, would be her prize.
His scent was heavy on the breeze, and she skidded to a stop. The mistake she’d made with Daquin was trying to match his speed. No, the smarter thing to do was head him off, take a shortcut. They’d arrive at the same location at the same time, despite his superior skill.
But where is he going?
He’d come on the train and if his pattern held, he’d leave on the train. As if cued, a whistle sounded in the distance, mournful and alone.
No. Not this time.
With the renewed energy of a new beginning, she abandoned his trail and cut back towards the train tracks. He wouldn’t need to board at the station, wouldn’t want to, in fact. No, he’d hop on a little ways down the track, where there was no one to see him.
Praying that she was right, she hopped a fence, and raced headlong through someone’s yard. Another fence, an ally, and then on to the street. Her feet flew, barley touching the earth before they were gone again, propelling her onward, so fast it seemed she was flying.
And then she saw him. Silhouetted in the moonlight, standing by the tracks. He sensed her a moment too soon, and after a surprised look back, took off. Her fingertips had brushed his arm; his shirt. She could still feel the warmth of his body, heated by his victims’ blood.
She flashed back again to Daquin, to the texture of his velvet coat between her fingers as he ripped away from her, laughing, tossing back that curious mixture of English and French that rolled from his tongue like warm honey. She’d wanted to wrap in those words, in his voice, wallow in it, bathe in it, never leave. She’d wanted to hear him call her ma cherié forever.
If only I’d known how empty those beautiful words were.
Her prey disappeared over a rise, and she caught the scent of water; a river. If he made it there, she wasn’t sure she could track him anymore. Jared could, but he was back at the house, still. With no other choice, she said a final prayer and leapt over the rise, throwing herself toward whatever she could tackle.
Whether luck or fate, she found her mark, slamming bodily into him, so that the pair rolled and tumbled down the rocky bank into the shallow water.
He pulled partially free, but she retackled him, wrapping her legs around his middle and her arms around his shoulders, pushing him face down in the churning water. He wouldn’t drown; vampires didn’t need air, but his instincts didn’t know that. They’d fight to breathe, fight for useless oxygen, and surrender the battle to get it.
He choked, sputtered, tried to get his hands free. She tightened her grip, squeezing with all her strength. Water splashed in her face, filled her nose, burned her eyes. I don’t need the air, she told herself. I’m fine. I’m safe. I don’t need the air. I can’t let go.
He choked, and finally went still. Surrender. Or at least the appearance of it. But she knew better than to take it at face value.
She pulled back, lifting his face out of the river. He coughed, hacked, gasped for wheezing lugfuls of air.
“All right. You…you got me,” he choked out. “Now…what?”
“Now I take you to the citadel to stand trial. Or kill you here, and leave your body to burn in the sunlight. Whichever you prefer.”
“I get a choice?” He spit out a mouthful of laughter and managed a chuckle.
“No, I do. Now get up.” She slackened her grip enough to slide off of him, using one hand to pull his wrists behind his back. She’d lost her mace in the struggle, so she settled for jamming her backup dagger under his chin. “If I have to, I’ll drain you dry and drag your empty husk back. On second thought, that might be easier.”
There was no fear in him, only amusement. “That it would. But you’d better hurry.”
“Or you’ll have to fight my master, too.”
His master? Mary’s instinct was to jerk away, dagger held at the ready, while she scanned the night for a second vampire, but that was just what he wanted her to do. He wanted her to let go, to lower her guard so he could escape.
“I’ll worry about that when he comes. Now get up.”
The rogue shrugged, and stood, sinewy muscle sliding through her hands as he straightened. Too tall for her to reach his throat effectively, she snapped the dagger around to his back, pressing the tip behind his heart. “What is your name? And who is your master?”
He spit out river water, and shook his soggy brown bangs out of his face. “Seth.”
Half an answer was better than none, and she didn’t have time to mess around. She needed to get back to Jared and Deanne, Between the three of them, they should be able to hold him. On her own, one wrong move, and he’d be free, and gone.
“Fine, Seth. Now march.”
He spit more river water and stumbled his way up the bank, tugging at his hands. She held them hard, and applied more pressure to the dagger. If he tried, he could break free. Hopefully the blade held enough fear for him to prevent that.
Or Jared tracks us here, and joins me in detaining him.
He stopped at the bank, shaking water from his boots. “Where are we marching to?”
“Back to the house, and the humans you butchered.”
He scoffed. “Since when did vampires care about mortal lives?”
“We don’t. We care that you kill in such a public way. Leaving the bodies lay in their beds, for some fool to discover? Do you know what they make of such a mess? What happened in Utah? This modern humanity is not so modern that a little evidence won’t convince them monsters exist. It was only luck that one of them blamed the open window and a rabid dog with blood on its muzzle. If you want to kill to feed, then do so discreetly. You’re so-called master should have taught you that.”
“Where’s the fun in that?” He snickered and flexed his wrists again, testing the strength of her hold. “You’re what they call an Executioner?”
“Yes,” she snapped. “Now march.”
“I would, but…” he trailed off into another chuckle. “It’s rude to go when we have company.”
Mary’s heart hammered and her eyes darted around, seeking the invisible “company”. Had his master arrived, as he’d threatened? She sniffed the air, finding mud, the heavy smell of the river, the green of the plants, the peculiar smell of a cool summer night, and then, on the breeze, the scent of shadows and molasses; a scent that froze her chest.
The voice came from the dark trees that bordered the river, words rolling like thick honey. “Seth, Seth. What trouble have you gotten yourself into this time?”
Though it had been years, Mary knew that voice, knew that scent, felt both echo in the core of her being.
He stepped free of his shelter to stand in the gently waving grass. Diffused moonlight shone on his chocolate skin, and his dark hair curled in a new style, one more suited to his modern wardrobe. Though he was some distance, her vampire eyes gave her a clear image of him, and of his face, so familiar and yet foreign by the passage of time.
“Master.” She could hear the grin in Seth’s voice. “I warned her you were coming.”
Master. No wonder the rogue made her think of Daquin, when he carried his blood.
“Those in power are all the same, they never listen. Why would immortality make that different?” Daquin walked closer, his movements the smooth grace of a predator waiting to spring. “Executioner, is it? You can see you’re out numbered. Drop the blade and step away.”
She narrowed her eyes, met his gaze full force. “Or what?”
He stopped, close enough to reach out for, and studied her. She could almost see the gears turning in his head as he surveyed her. “Do I know you, chere?”
That word slithered through her, and it took all of her self-control not to react. “I doubt it. Now back away, or I’ll take you in as well.”
Daquin gave a hearty laugh. “You have some nerve, I’ll give you that. But, as I already told you,” the amusement sipped from his voice as he closed the gap between them, leaving only cold menace. “Drop the blade and step away.”
He grabbed her wrist and she twisted away, pulling from his grasp. The moment the dagger was out of Seth’s back, he jerked loose from her, and bounded up the bank, stopping on the high ground to peer down. “I warned you, Executioner.”
“I told you, boug, they never listen. Haven’t you listened to the stories of the Executioners? The fearful whispers in the shadows of their merciless strength? We’ll see how strong they really are.” Daquin smirked, as he moved toward her, his every move smooth like a swaying snake that held her hypnotized. She wasn’t there, by the tiny Iowa river, but back in Louisiana, watching him draw close, that same predatorial smirk on his face. Only then it wasn’t her blood he meant to claim, only her body, a thing she’d given willingly.
But Daquin, he was rooted firmly in the present, in a time and place where he didn’t know her, and didn’t care. “How do you want to die, Executioner? Fast or slow?”
Inside, she screamed a torrent of frustration. She couldn’t take two of them alone. There was only one option – to let them go.
“Neither.” And she took off, leaving his fingertips brushing empty air.
As she bounded past Seth, knocking him down for good measure, she heard Daquin laugh. “A shadow racer!” but she didn’t stay to hear the rest.
She’d crossed the tracks, when she was aware of him, tailing her, catching up. She was not the prey and they the hunters.
If I can just make it back to Jared and Deanne.
She put on a burst of speed and cut through a yard. Over a ditch, through a garden, past another block. So close. So…
He nailed her from behind, slamming her into the ground, just as Seth had earlier. Only, instead of leaping up to run away, he stayed, pressing her into the damp earth with the weight of his body.
“Not so fast, are you? What a pity for you. What should I do with such a weak Executioner?”
As she’d fallen, she’d folded her arm, keeping the dagger flat against her body. She wriggled under him, working to slide her arm free. “If you kill me, they’ll be a mark on your head as well as your fledgling’s. To this moment you’ve done nothing worth dying for. Do you really want to get involved in his crimes?”
“Nothing worth dying for? Ah, ma chere, but you don’t know me. I have done a million terrible things. What’s one more?”
Her arm broke free, and she used it to arch herself up, dislodging him, then rolled, slashing with the dagger. The blade caught his shoulder as he pulled back, leaving the glittering edge wet with crimson. He flinched away in surprise, then his face clouded with fury. He slammed his arm across her shoulders, knocking her back to the ground, and grabbed her wrist with his free hand, squeezing, trying to force the dagger from her grip. Leaning his face close to hers, he snarled, “You will die for that Ex-“ He broke off suddenly and leaned back, those invisible gears spinning again. “No, no, ma chere. You do know me, don’t you? Hmmm? And I know you. But from where, I wonder? Who are you?”
“I’m an Executioner,” she snarled between clenched teeth. She was already nearly outmatched and had no intention of telling him the truth; that she was that weak little thing he’d left broken hearted when he broke from their master so long ago.
He leaned close again, inhaling deeply, like she was some kind of exotic dish. “That’s as may be, but you have a name. And a history. Mmmmm. Your smell, it rings a bell, as they say. The edge of a memory. I can almost taste it.” He snapped his teeth and snickered. “I’ve had you before, yes? There’s so many, it’s hard to keep track of all of you.” He applied more pressure to her wrist, his thumb sending shooting shards of pain up her arm. “The question is, were you satisfying enough to spare, or should I go ahead and kill you? That I can’t remember says you can’t have been completely disappointing.”
While he rambled, she pulled her other arms free and used it knock him off of her. By the time he recovered, she was on her feet, blade at the ready.
He stepped back, hands up, laughing. “If you were mediocre, then you have improved, ma chere. Feisty. I like that in a woman. You may have saved your own life, but you cannot hope to take me to your Guild. You can’t catch me.” She saw the comprehension dawn across his features, the light of recognition spark in his eyes. “Of course! How could I not recognize our shared blood sooner? You are one of LaFete’s children…what was your name? An S I think? No, an M. Magdalene. No…No…Mary!” He made a sound of triumph as he lowered his hands. “Lord, but it’s been a spell, ma chere. An Executioner?” He whistled and circled her, as if taking in a grown child. “I didn’t expect that of you. I thought you’d be back in the bayou with LaFete, or long dead, like the others.”
Mary tightened her hold on the dagger, as if she could choke the air from him by proxy. Her memories flashed and she saw the others, victims of a coven war, their blood splashed up the walls. The basket she’d held slipped from her fingers, and she’d turned and run, sprinting harder than she ever had before, leaving behind the stench of death. It had taken her two days to go back. By then, the bodies were long gone, all evidence erased, and the other coven had moved in. She managed to avoid them, and found Madam LaFete hiding out in the bayou. Though her master swore revenge, it wasn’t something Mary could face, so she’d left.
And spent the years after trying to make up for that cowardice.
Maybe she wasn’t the only coward. “And where were you when they were killed, Daquin? No one had seen you at the den for days, we thought you’d already cleared out, but if you knew their fate, then it means you weren’t so far gone as we imagined.”
“Oh, I was gone, all right. And smart enough to stay gone.” He slipped closer, dropping his voice to a purr. “I knew they were coming, huh? Knew they were coming and knew better than to get involved. As you did, or you wouldn’t be standing here.”
“I was at the market when they attacked!”
“Then luck was with you, ma chere. And Lafete? Did she tell you where she was?”
Mary faltered. In her memory she saw her master, dark braids falling around her shoulders as she swore to destroy them. “They killed my children! They will die for this!” She’d poured out plans, but never had they discussed how they’d both come to survive.
Daquin snickered. “I can see by your face that she didn’t. She left, of course. When the fighting started, when the blood began to flow, LaFete slipped out the back and kept right on going. She conceded the den, the coven, all of it to save herself.”
Anger rose in Mary, anger she struggled to control. “How would you know? You said yourself you left before the attack.”
“And that I looked up LaFete afterwards. Call it curiosity to see how the old hag made it through.”
“Watch your tongue! She is your master, you owe her respect!”
All humor disappeared from his face. “I owe her nothing! And I owe you nothing, little Mary. She made us not out of love, but for her own selfish ends, because we pleased her eyes or her senses in some way, or reminded us of what she’d once had. A replacement for her daughter, weren’t you? But when she escaped that den did she go to the market to warn you, or did she flee, and leave you to your fate?”
“No doubt she trusted I was smart enough to notice the commotion.”
He stepped closer. “And were you? Or did you go back to that den, and only escape because fate let you? You should have learned the lesson I tried to teach you; you don’t owe anyone anything. Take what you want, leave behind what you don’t, just as she left you.”
With a cry of rage, Mary lashed out, slashing only air. Daquin chuckled behind her, and she spun in time for him to disappear and reappear near her elbow, holding a pocket watch. “A fun diversion, but one I don’t have time for. It’s been nice to see you again, ma chere, my sister-in-blood, but I have a fledgling to take in hand and a train to catch soon. I’m afraid this must be goodbye.”
She grabbed for him, but her fingers only brushed him before he’d hopped away. “I’ve let you live, this time, because I do remember you, and you were far from disappointing, sweet little cherry, but if you continue to hunt us, things may go differently.”
She suppressed a growl. “It’s your fledgling I want. He must answer for this, for making such a display, leaving such a mess.”
“Pshaw. Such a thing is in our nature, but this once, for the memory of that long ago time, I’ll speak to him. Hmmm?” He shot her a wink. “Adieu.”
And then he was gone. Mary lunged at the spot he’d been, but there was no point. His scent was strong, and she could have given chase, but again, it was futile. He was faster than she was, and she’d only end up pinned between the two of them, with very little time before sunrise.
At least I have names now.
Cursing the whole way, she made it back to the small house of death. The back door was unlatched, so she let herself inside. She found Deanna standing in the living room, a gory axe still raised and her face creased in a frown.
“What?” Before she could answer, Mary saw the child who lay at her feet, half inside a tiny bedroom.
Deanna lowered the weapon. “She was still alive. She regained consciousness as I was finishing the other child, and attacked me.”
Mary gave the window an impatient glance. “The sun will rise soon. We need to leave and find a safe resting place. Where is Jared?”
“Upstairs, finishing his strange rituals.”
“Then he needs to hurry. Go, wash up.”
Deanna saluted and hurried away, leaving Mary to stare at the ruined child sprawled on the floor. With a mutter of disgust, she hefted the body, and tossed it on the bed. The mirror had already been covered, probably before Jared went upstairs, and clothing was tossed on the floor, no doubt to cover their faces with.
Jared’s odd habit.
Mary grabbed the up and tossed them over their heads. She noted the odd angle of the second girl’s nightdress, but didn’t have time to correct it. They needed to go. Now.
The pair popped down the stairs, Deanna still wiping blood from her face and hands.
“Did you catch him?” Jared asked hopefully.
“No.” It was easier than trying to explain. “But we will. Come. The sun will rise in an hour and humans will be awake before that.”
They locked the doors and climbed out the window, pulling it closed after them. Mary rounded the side of the house and stopped when she something heaped in the yard.
Moving to it, she recognized Seth, his clothes and hair still wet from the river. His chest was a gaping hole, not yet congealed, and protruding from his shirt pocket was a rolled up piece of paper.
“Who’s that?” Jared asked, but his face showed understanding a moment later as he recognized the scent. “What in the hell?”
Mary pulled the paper free and unrolled it.
I already let you live as a favor, but just to me sure that you owe me when next we meet, I have also ended your chase. DO not take is with more sentimental meaning than there is. He has been troublesome for some time and, truth be known, I have also been chasing him. Not for his very public murders that you so object to, but because he stole from me when he left. I have recovered my property, and your manhunt has ended. We are both well served.
Deanna read over her shoulder, and drew back frowning. “I don’t understand.”
“Never mind.” Mary jammed the note in her pocket. “Grab him and let’s go.”
“Where?” Jared asked as he lifted the corpse.
“Back to the citadel. As the letter said, our manhunt is done.”
Mary signed her report with a flourish and leaned back in the chair. Once more at the citadel, she sat in the safe solitude of her rooms, locked away from the other vampires and their prying eyes.
She drew the note out of her pocket and reread it again. How like him to pretend at first that he’d done her a favor when he’d planned to kill Seth all along. As she rolled it up, for a moment she could smell him, the same scent that lingered in her dreams sometimes, and had been back with more ferocity since she’d started chasing Seth. It was the smell of jambalaya cooking, of palm trees, of ancient ceremonies, of drums beating in the dark while Madam LaFete conducted the ceremony to bring her children into a world of darkness; a ceremony Mary now knew was nothing more than show. But back then they’d thought it was real, that it was the magic that changed them, that drinking her blood was just to hammer it all home.
Maybe Daquin was right. Maybe she was always a liar.
Mary glanced at the report, the report that didn’t mention him, or the real way that Seth had been killed. And maybe I’m one too. Or maybe something worse. Shed allowed the office to misidentify Seth, saying his mark looked like the work of Wapiti, a vampire long known to be rogue. They’d poured through the annals and determined that Seth was his fledgling Barnabas. She didn’t correct them, and had even gone so far as to bribe Jared and Deanna not to mention the note, or how the truth of Seth’s death. In exchange for silence, she’d given them special accolades, the kind that would look good if they ever wanted to be Executioners, and that also meant a pay raise.
But she hadn’t done it to protect Daquin. No, she did it to protect herself. There’d be too many questions, too many inquiries, too much to explain. She didn’t need that, didn’t need to relive it all, or to even think about it, if she could help it. Instead, she needed to dust while she could, and get ready for her next assignment.
At least this time it won’t involve faking axe murders.
- reflection 2. chorus line 3. can can 4. dancers 5. ballet 6. feeling blue 7. looking back 8. reverberate 9. stretching on 10. in line