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It has been a week since I left Montfort. I have been able to take shelter in sheds and barns locked for the winter without much difficulty. The ability to climb means that I never have to force a door open. At worst, I have removed a pair of planks.

 

As for nourishment, it was not hard either.

 

There are several kinds of victims.

 

Some villages have sentries who walk around with a lantern. The light they carry makes them visible from hundreds of meters away, which I find very thoughtful of them. I have but to follow the signal and blood is to be found.

 

There is also the odd travelers. A surprising amount of people move at night for one reason or another, merchants coming back home, doctors, soldiers on leave…

 

It is enough.

 

If I ever grow desperate, I can always remove a layer of clothes and knock on a door with desperation on my face, although I shall do this as a last resort.

 

I have followed Jimena’s advice to stay on the move and to leave no body to be found. The best way to do so, I find, is to not create one to begin with. It seems that tonight will be the exception.

 

 

 

I am reaching the end of settled land and have started to skirt Choctaw territory, moving East. This used to be Native country as well, but it changed hands when a certain governor decided that respecting treaties only applied when the other side had a modern army. I noticed that since passing Mobile, the land and its people have grown increasingly rough.

 

Case in point.

 

“Your turn, Bouc!”

 

I stand at the edge of a small clearing. A hound is attached to the opposite end and is voraciously devouring a piece of charred meat.

 

Two patched tents sit on both sides of a small fire and the ground is littered with half-chewed bones and empty bottles. The culprits are three filthy men in their twenties who roar in laughter when a thrown knife kisses the cheek of a slave bound to a tree, eliciting a small whimper.

 

I frown in disapproval. I understand playing with your prey but there is something about this situation that bothers me. The black man shows courage in the face of defeat, surely, this warrants some sort of respect, no?

 

The situation is quite clear to me. The slave escaped, was successfully tracked down and now he will be returned, judged and punished according to the Black Code. The way they torture him and shed his blood for no reason feels wasteful and disrespectful of the Prey and the Hunt.

 

Those people disgust me, and I am Thirsty, so we shall see forthwith if they truly are the predators they believe themselves to be.

 

I retreat and hide my backpack as well as my precious rifle. I quickly don my most tattered dress, leave my travel cloak on the ground and return to the camp. After some deliberation, I decide to bear one white shoulder for them to see. The bait is set.

 

I take the hunched posture of the victim and cross my arm in a protective gesture. I step into the clearing, let out a loud gasp and deliberately step on a branch. The dog starts growling.

 

The three men fail to notice me.

 

Unbelievable.

 

Only when the slave’s eyes grow wide, do they turn around. I have maintained my frightened deer expression for a solid ten seconds now. Heavens, how much effort I am wasting trying to turn this into a proper contest! I could have broken two of the ruffian’s neck and the last one would still be giggling like a cretin while scratching his privates. I really hope they will do better from now on.

 

“Well, well well sweet thing, are you lost? Don’t ya worry, me and the boys will take reaaaal good care of ya, won’t we lads?” says the leader, a gangly man with a cruel face.

 

“Yeah, huhuhu” replies a short man with a bushy beard and a lazy eye. The third man just stands there with an absent smile. A trail of drool drips down his chin.

 

And just like that, my interest in a verbal exchange has died down. There is little cause for a battle of wit when my opponents are so obviously unarmed, so I let out a distressed yelp and turn to flee.

 

As expected, the three launch themselves after with drunken laughter. I am forced to slow down so that they do not lose my trail. We eventually reach another clearing and I veer left, then I hide at the base of the tallest beech tree I can find.

 

The trio reaches the clearing and the leader scowls. He makes a hand gesture and they separate to start to look for tracks.

 

“Should have taken the dog.” Says the leader.

 

That would not have saved you.

 

I wait a bit until they are properly split, then I let one foot hanging out of my hiding spot. As soon as the closest lout looks in my direction, I snap a branch and his eyes land on it.

 

I hope he is dumb enough to fall for that more than obvious ploy.

 

He is. I am not surprised, but still a bit disappointed.

 

I see from the corner of my eye the man, the bearded one called Bouc, gesture at his friends to join him. Of course, they are already too far from each other to notice and so he would have to call them, warning me that I am spotted.

 

Or he could take me by surprise.

 

Bouc is eminently predictable. I know he will prefer to end the chase as fast as possible and I also know why. He is after another kind of sport.

 

As the man creeps ever closer with all the subtlety of a drunken bull in a China shop. The wind blows and I catch a waft of his musk.

 

Oh. My. GOD! Do I really want to drink from him? Can I truly not catch any diseases? I am afraid that I will have to burn that dress afterward, or risk being noticed from a mile away. How can a man allow himself to be so revolting? How has his nose not fallen off yet? Ah, this is getting worse and worse.

 

The man extends a filthy hand to catch my leg and at the last moment, before he can stain my sock beyond anyone’s ability to wash it, I move. Two fingers close on his airway without drawing blood, yet. I smile to him and make sure he sees the eight fangs.

 

I start whispering.

 

“Congratulations, you caught…” And I freeze.

 

The man just soiled himself. I thought the smell could not possibly get any worse, I was sorely mistaken.

 

“Tch, you insufferable swine! I…”

 

I stop again.

 

Something is crawling from his beard to my arm. My eyes widen in shock as my enhanced vision reveals the unwelcome transient.

 

Lice.

 

“Hsss!”

 

Oh, that is IT! I punch the man in the throat, grab his arm and bite deep. In the safety of my refuge, I ignore both the rush of life and my memories to stare at the echo of the Silent Watcher.

 

“Don’t think about it, don’t think about it, don’t think about it…”

 

“Ngah!” With a last shiver of revulsion, I drop the bloody arm and the corpse it is attached to slumps on the ground. I made a bit of a mess and I silently scold myself. I should not, in any circumstances, waste blood. Still…

 

“Bouc?”

 

The leader is walking in my general direction with a scowl. I push the horrendous remains in a recess and walk forward in the clearing as if I were trying to be stealthy. I then seemingly notice the leader and run away with a scream of terror.

 

The leader smiles and sprints, all thoughts of his friend promptly forgotten.

 

We race for half a minute, during which the man manages to promise me that I will like it, threaten me if I don’t stop, call me a dumb whore, and “compliments” my rear. Really, what is it with men and my posterior? Should I ask?

 

Eventually, I pretend to fall. The gangly lowlife stops to savor the sight of his target crawling on the ground. The glint in his eye is quite telling, and so is the way he licks his lips. Then I turn my head and fix a random spot in the tree.

 

“Behind you!” I scream in terror.

 

The man frowns and turns away, only for two talons to grab his neck.

 

“I said,” I add in a sultry voice, “Behind you…”

 

 


 

 

 

 

I took my time enjoying the leader and I am now sated. The Thirst has left me be for the night and I now face a dilemma.

 

Should I slay the simpleton in front of me, or let him go free?

 

I am not confident about my ability to make him forget. When I drew from travelers on my way here, the bite and a look were always enough to send them off with no recollection of the event. A chase that resulted in the disappearance of friends, however, is another issue altogether. If I let him leave, will he speak of a blonde woman in a tattered dress? In the best-case scenario, informed parties might recognize the influence of a vampire. In the worst case, they could start a manhunt.

 

He is dangerous.

 

And yet is any of this truly his fault? He looks too dim to understand the evil of his ways. His “friends” were quite possibly a bad influence. Am I not being too hasty?

 

I am already feeling just a little tipsy. Could vampires get drunk from too much blood?

 

Surely not.

 

“You woman! I fouuuuund you!” says the dullard as he finally notices me. He then proceeds to unhook his belt and lower his pants.

 

“I do you like the servant girl!”

 

Well, that settles it.

 

 

 

 

“Teeheehee!”

 

Oh but what a beautiful night it is! So nice and quiet, and peaceful, and the weather is so clement. Why, I could have a tea party under the moon! And the Silent Watcher! Except, with no tea, please. Instead, we could have gentlemen on the table and Jimena and Constanza could be there! And the gentlemen would be completely… Nude!

 

“Teehehehehehehe, nude!

 

But first I have to clean up the bodies because Jimena said I should and Jimena is my best friend in the whole world! So, I bring them together, it is so easy. The idiot was already there, so I went to pick up the leader and it took me a little bit to find him but eventually I did and then I brought him and piled them and then I found the stinky one but he is too gross so I took the belt from the idiot and wrapped it around his leg and then I tied it to the head of the idiot. Now I only have to drag the idiot to move both of them!

 

“Genius! Ariane, the light of your intellect truly shines upon this world!”

 

So, I take the leader’s belt and attach his head the idiot’s leg and now I can just return to the camp in one go with all three corpses! My ability to innovate knows no bounds! So, I pick the leader and start to drag and fall on my face.

 

Heavy!

 

I spit out a few leaves and stare up at the Silent Watcher.

 

“You didn’t see anything!”

 

It watches.

 

“Fine! But don’t tell anyone, I am serious!” I continue between two grunts, “I have a reputation to uphold.”

 

I navigate myself and the corpse train back to the camp and only fall twice and bump against one tree. Ariane, queen of dexterity!

 

As I reach the clearing, the dog starts barking and howling so I roar once and it quiets down with a whimper.

 

Good dog.

 

I drop my luggage and look around for a shovel. There are no marshes around so I would be better off burying the bodies.

 

Oh but wait…

 

I turn around and burp. A trail of blood drips from my chin. Ariane, manners! Ah yes, I remember now. The captive!

 

I move closer and the black man looks at me with a surprising amount of calm. Why, how courageous. My mouth is positively covered in the red liquid and still, he does not flinch!

 

“Greeting, princess.”

 

Huh, did he just…

 

The man leans forward despite the ropes biting in his wrist and offers his jugular.

 

That is so unusual and so exciting! He spoke the tongue! And he was so polite by calling me “Nin”, a princess! And this submissive position, I feel that I should not hurt him. Why, I am curious now. I was going to kill him cleanly but now I just have to hear what he has to say!

 

The words escape my lips, unbidden.

 

Supplicant.

 

The man almost collapses in relief. What? He was that anxious?

 

Princess, would you please free my hands?”

 

It is a reasonable request, and besides, he cannot kneel properly as he is. The position of supplicant is all wrong!

 

“Very well.”

 

I walk to him and cut the ropes with a few swipes with my talons. Just like a cat!

 

“Teehehehehe!”

 

Now the man massages his wrists, well, where is my kneeling supplicant?

 

He freezes and slowly kneels and, again, offers his throat to me. Just so! Now, I am satisfied. So I stop growling.

 

“You may rise.”

 

He does not move and so I sigh,

 

“You may rise.”

 

Silly Ariane, you cannot expect every human to know the tongue! Bah.

 

“What is your name?”

 

“Toussaint.”

 

A Creole! That might explain it. He is acquainted with the Ekon, maybe even that scandalous girl Nami.

 

Possibly.

 

“How do you know how to address me?”

 

Princess, there is a Bokor who goes from plantation to plantation. He speaks to us of the Voodoo and the way of magic. He also told us of the loa, the loup-garou, and the pale ones. He said that if one meets a pale one outside at night, he should greet them politely, and pray they are feeling merciful.”

 

I hold my hands up, this is a fascinating tale but I now have a most urgent matter to attend to.

 

I rush to the nearest bush.

 

“OooOoOoo…”

 

I throw up blood. It stinks! There is no vitality to be found in it, at all. Bah! I should not have drunk so much, but, well, I did not want all that life to go to waste.

 

“Hic! Uuuuh.”

 

When I come back, Toussaint has not moved an inch, Droplets of cold sweat have gathered on his brow however, despite the chill.

 

“What is a loup-garou anyway?”

 

“A werewolf. A cursed soul who turns into a horrible monster under the light of the moon. It is said that it is as tall as two men, covered in fur, and strong enough to shred metal! Only by silver can it be slain, but it is no small task! For the beast is terrifying: its maw is like that of a wolf and lined with nightmarish…”

 

“Ooooh, so thaaaaaat’s what it was. Well, it was delicious. Full of life and power. I wonder if I can catch another one?”

 

Toussaint does not reply but he smells afraid again. Was it something I said? Bah.

 

“So you presented yourself as a supplicant. Now tell me, what is your request?”

 

“Hum, I would like to live.”

 

“Hum!”

 

I tap my index against my chin and ponder those words. He would like to live. Well, it does sound reasonable, I suppose. I cannot stomach another human anyway. I could let him go?

 

“Ah Toussaint, I wish I could, but I really cannot have someone spread tales of my passage. You see,” I grab his shoulder and lean closer because it’s a secret.

 

“I am trying to move inco… Incon… Wait. INCOGNITO!” He winces.” Yes, that is it. Teehee!”

 

“That is not an issue, princess.” He replies with the barest trace of panic. “I can swear an oath on the loa!”

 

“So?”

 

“If I lie, my soul will burn in hell for all eternity! The Bondye will never forgive me!”

 

“Hmmm, give me your hand.”

 

I lightly bite him and stare in his eyes.

 

“You meant to betray me?”

 

“No princess! Toussaint is a man of honor!”

 

“Do you believe that if you break an oath to the loa, your soul will go to hell?”

 

“Of course!” He answers, scandalized.

 

“Humm. Very well then. I will consent to let you go. In return, you will help me bury the bodies.”

 

Princess? Truly?” He licks his lips, hope clear as day on his face.

 

“Yes. Now Swear!”

 

 

 

I expected a hastily cobbled up sentence, instead, the man actually builds a small altar of wood and soot and mutters a long prayer, complete with a loud proclamation of demise should he break his word. How queer! I was having a perfectly reasonable night and suddenly, something completely out of the ordinary happens, a heathen ceremony. That is so quaint!

 

After he is done, Toussaint finds a small gully and we drop the bodies there and then cover them with earth and heavy stones so that wild animals don’t dig them up. Tada! They’re gone. Ariane, queen of prestidigitation!

 

We walk back to camp one last time. Toussaint assures me that he knows where he intends to go, that he will take care of the men’s belonging and their dog as well. He also gives me some directions without prompt. On this note, we part ways. The expression of grateful incredulity he shows me when I leave is so touching. He is, as my father would say, a good lad.

 

With his advice, I quickly find shelter in a natural cave system and although it is still quite early, I decide to call it a night.

 

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