“Ow! What in the!?”
I open the sarcophagus and jump out in a fury. I am inside the carriage. It is currently running at full speed on a bumpy road. Why would they ever do something so…
Ah, of course.
I open a small slit that allows sight to the forward coach.
“Uncle? I take it the negotiations did not pan out?
“Ah, Ari. We can’t seem to shake them off. Can you think of something?”
“Miss Delaney, this is not safe, you should stay inside while we deal with those ruffians!”
“I’ll see what I can do!”
I jump and reach a hatch on the carriage’s ceiling. I quickly open it and take a look outside.
Around us, a dense pine forest hugs a trail that should be too small for our wheels. Behind, a dozen men on horses follow us with sabers and pistols waved fiercely. As I watch, one of them tries to overtake the carriage and catches a bullet for his trouble.
I turn my head and end up face to face with a bandit crawling forward. His surprise turns to a vicious smile when he sees me.
Could it be… Breakfast delivery? How thoughtful!
I grace him with my own vicious smile and as he starts screaming, I claw his shoulder and drag him to the darkness below, face first. I am about to bite when Loth yells.
“Hurry girl, Asni can’t last much longer!”
Hum, annoying, they are interrupting my moment. I stun the man with a hit to the neck and decide how to address the problem. Prey. PREY. WEAKLINGS. MAGGOTS. WAIT YOUR TURNS BLOODBAGS. CLIMB, HATCH. THERE. RUNNING AFTER ME! LET THEM KNOW.
Horses panic and collapse. Men try to keep control and fail. The pursuers stop in their tracks.
Now, back to…
“W… What was that?!”
I grab something on the floor and open the slit to a pair of curious eyes.
“Uncle, it worked! Your phlogiston noisinator scared them off!” I yell while waving around what is essentially a fuel tank with a gauge and three connectors.
“Remarkable!” answers the eyes on the right. “This invention is truly a godsend!”
“Yes, niece, I congratulate you on your… quick thinking.” answers the scowling pair of eyes on the left.
I nod happily and discreetly push the bandit’s body under a tarp in case Bingle’s eyes start roaming.
“Unfortunately, we are not safe yet. They are sure to resume pursuit and Asni has reached the end of his stamina. We need to hunker down somewhere and hold them off.”
“How about the river crossing, Loth. There is a small cliff on the side. We would be protected and have a commanding view of the passage.”
I close the slit. We don’t have much time! I quickly drink the bandit, barely enjoying the experience. I open the hatch and let the corpse drop on the road. There. Ariane, queen of expedited evidence disposal.
A few minutes later, we cross a small river, not large enough to prevent passage downstream by determined riders, I note. The carriage is parked some distance away and the men take their weapons and prepare to leave.
“I shall stay here and water Asni. Be careful uncle, please! And you too Mr. Bingle.”
“Hah, those low-lives will rue the day they came across Cecil Rutherford Bingle, I say! For it should be their last.” The man trumpets.
“I care not for the lives of those men, Mr. Bingle, I only want both of you to return to me safe.”
“Of course Ms. Delaney” he replies with a tremor in his voice, “We shall come back safe and sound. You have my word!”
I watch the two disappear in the darkness. Well, darkness for them, I can see perfectly well under the moonlight.
I take out a humongous barrel and start rolling liter upon liter to the poor overheated Asni. A few minutes later, the crack of discharged muskets reaches my ears.
Loth is only wearing a secured surcoat but I know he brought his night vision monocle. Those imbeciles are as good as dead.
That said, there is an obvious way to circumvent their blockade.
I close my eyes and focus. Yes, I hear the sound of hooves from across the water.
I lay low and follow them. Two hundred yards downstream, three men on horseback emerge from the vegetation and start crossing at a cautious pace.
I let them pass me by. One, two. Any time now.
The horses catch my scent and neigh nervously.
“What is wrong with those…”
Using the distraction, I jump on the last rider and stab him in the spine, then I haul him backward.
“Some sort of beast? Smith, do you see… Smith?”
I slap the panicked horse on the rump and the scared animal immediately goes to a gallop. Cursing, the two other men try to keep control of their mounts and I take down the second one in the same manner.
The last man takes the hint and urges his horse to run away.
I move. I grab him and bite deep. Once more, I must hurry and do not enjoy myself. Curses, but this travel is having some unintended aspects, namely, vampire travel rations.
I drop the third body and after making sure the horses are heading away from the crossing, I quickly run back. There, crisis averted and in perfect silence as well! Ariane, queen of efficacy.
I make sure that Asni is cooling down and settle down to wait. The two men soon return without a scratch. I come from behind the carriage with apparent worry turning to apparent relief.
“Oh, thank G… cough, thankfully, you are back! Are you both safe?”
“Yes, miss Delaney! Fear not, for we sure gave them what for!”
Loth silently points at my cheek. Oops.
I turn my visage away and pretend to dry tears while I do my best to clean the bandit’s blood.
“Oh miss Delaney…” says Bingle with emotion.
Loth takes me in a bear hug and pat my back.
“There, there, it is all over, we are safe.”
And then more silently.
I escape the hug and turn to him with eyes full of tears.
“This wait frayed my nerves! I know it was a short time, but it felt like three hours!”
“We gave them a lesson aye, one the survivors will not soon forget. Nevertheless, we should hide and recover for now. Let us depart, niece.”
We find a small recess in a woody valley large enough to accommodate everything. The men promptly dig a hole while I gather wood. They build the fire inside and when it starts, the light is blocked by earth. Loth even uses some sort of grill to prevent smoke and floating embers from rising into the night sky. I do not mention that anyone with one eye and half a brain could follow our tracks.
I offer to take the first watch and Bingle only protests twice, a testament to how exhausted he is.
After three hours, Loth wakes up and joins me around the pit.
“So how did it go?”
“They denied ever meeting Flora. Bingle managed ta search their leader’s hideout while I was distracting the rest of the Valiants with a demonstration of the latest iteration of the Skoragg repeater. Reminds me of that time my first wife Gurda distracted a crowd with the proper way ta skin a rabbit while I was robbing their granary. Anyway. He stole a diary and another notebook but was found out. We escaped before it could degenerate into a firefight.”
Loth is quiet. I know him rather well after our six months of friendship and I can tell that he is not done.
“There is something strange about that Bingle lad, a kind of magic.”
“He is a mage?”
“What? No. No, it is different. All our timings were too perfect, too dramatic. His infiltration should never have worked yet it did, and his exit should have not been noticed yet it was. It is as if... the world works around him, somehow. Events are changed to make things more exciting and keep him alive at the same time.”
“Are we in danger?”
“Good question. I don’t think so. He would not endanger us on purpose, ya know. Just.... consider the narrative when he is involved.”
“This does not make sense.”
“Welcome ta the world of wild magic, Ari.”
“... I suppose I should not complain when it comes to magical aid. Vampires are not exactly at a disadvantage either.”
“Heh. Speaking of vampires, how are ye feeling?”
“It is barely past midnight. I can go on for another few hours. Why?”
“I’d like ya ta trace back our steps. See if we’ve been followed. The leader of the Valiants, Crow, he called himself, he was a bit on the side.”
“Aye, mad as a March hare, a few cards short of a deck, out there with the faeries, batty, nutty, off his damn trolley. Ya know.”
“I’ll go. If I don’t see him within one hour, I shall head back here.”
I strap up my knives but leave the rifle. I do not intend to shoot anyone if I can help it. We need to be discreet.