Damian swiped the box aside effortlessly, sending it flying until it smashed into a wall. He bared his teeth in a fearsome grimace, gleaming vampire fangs on full display. "Dorian said dead or alive, but I was hoping not to kill you," he snarled.
"Well," Dio said, panting. "Good luck with that." She was slightly bent over, one hand on her knee and the other pressed against her collarbone. Kestrel was startled to see her already so worn out, but she knew it must have something to do with the hound's mark.
"I wonder if he'd be okay with me bringing you back without a limb or two," Damian said as he reached out to grab Dio's left arm. The second he touched her, both vampires lurched away from each other as if a shock had traveled between them.
"Oh," Damian breathed, staring at Dio. Kestrel took the opportunity to slip down the stairs, quietly moving closer. Dio had withdrawn her arm and gripped her wrist tightly, meeting Damian's eyes with her own fierce glare.
"Oh," he repeated. "Oh my, so this is why Dorian wants you!" Damian threw his head back with a bark of laughter. "A dirty little fucking secret!" He grinned and stepped closer, causing Dio to take a step backward. "What are you?"
Kestrel crept ever closer, carefully avoiding stepping on anything that would make a sound. With two hands, she brought Reed up and readied to swing, aiming to take the vampire's head off in a single strike.
At that moment, however, Dio's gaze darted away from Damian to look at Kestrel, and her eyes widened slightly. Kestrel could have swung but her speed would never be able to match a vampire as Damian tilted his head back just enough to spot Kestrel.
His eyebrows shot up in surprise and he turned around fully. "Who's this?" he asked, pointing a thumb at Kestrel while glancing at Dio. "Your sweetdrop? She's pretty."
"My what?" Dio said, annoyance clear in her tone. If Kestrel had to guess, Dio was irritated because she gave Kestrel's position away.
Kestrel knew what she needed to do. If I don't get a bonus for this, she thought to herself as she blushed on cue, clasping Reed in both hands behind her back. Kestrel kept the blade drawn knowing vampires couldn't visually make out wind magic, but Damian's gaze was glued to her face.
"Not hers, but I could be yours," Kestrel said with a coy smile. She took a step closer, summoning fae magic to her tongue and tipping her head to the side to look up into Damian's gray eyes. "Hey, Damian."
From the corner of her eye, Kestrel watched as Dio's expression changed from shock to suspicion. In contrast, Damian's look shifted from mild interest to complete fascination.
"Hey yourself," he said with a smirk, giving Kestrel a slow once-over. Kestrel watched his gaze trail up her body and was silently grateful that Dio's clothes were larger than the ones Kestrel normally wore, so they hung shapelessly on her slender frame.
Seemingly satisfied with what he saw, Damian straightened and casually ruffled his hair, allowing some of the longer red locks to fall across his forehead. He looked like the type of guy who knew he was handsome as well as how to weaponize his roguish charm. Kestrel, however, was also highly practiced with her own brand of charm.
Damian reached out to grab Kestrel's chin, forcing her head up. "My sweetdrop? That's a tempting offer," he said as he swiped his thumb underneath the cut on her cheek, picking up a droplet of blood. When he looked like he was about to pull his hand away, Kestrel grabbed his wrist, maintaining eye contact with him as she tilted her head slightly to press her lips against his palm.
Kestrel watched his breath catch in his throat. Kestrel also saw Dio creeping sideways against the wall toward the remains of her box.
"Which thirst are you looking for me to satisfy first?" Kestrel said, internally cringing at her own words. She would be gagging at the corniness in any other context, but Damian looked like he was taking her seriously, his eyes fixating on her lips.
Kestrel pushed more magic into the hand that was still gripping his wrist, and Damian began to lean in. He didn't even turn to see what Dio was doing when she started rustling through the debris like she was looking for something.
Curiosity ate at Kestrel, so she peeked over Damian's shoulder to watch Dio rummage around in the remains of the box. Dio had a grim expression, her lips set in a line as she pulled out a gorgeous, golden sword.
Kestrel accidentally released Damian's hand in surprise. Why the hell was she carrying around a sword in a box? Kestel thought, mystified, and almost missed seeing Damian bring his thumb to his mouth as she watched Dio take a shaky breath, grab the scabbard in her left hand, and unsheath the sword.
Damian licked Kestrel's blood off his thumb and his eyes immediately widened. "You're-"
"Sorry, Damian," Kestrel said with a soft purr in her voice. The magical invocation of his name made him stiffen in surprise—that, or because of the radiant yellow blade that had suddenly sprouted from the center of his chest. Blood began to spread out like a macabre blossoming of red flowers, and Kestrel backed up quickly.
Kestrel felt like his eyes were following her even as he slumped to the ground. "Through the heart, that's pretty good aim," Kestrel said to Dio with a wry smile.
Dio did not look amused. In fact, Kestrel noted that Dio looked unusually pale and sweaty, and her features were twisted with pain. She dropped her sword with a clatter and grabbed her left arm, breathing unsteadily.
"The bloom?" Kestrel asked quietly.
Dio nodded. She had her teeth clenched and eyes squeezed shut, and Kestrel could only watch a few seconds of Dio trying to ride through the waves of pain before circling Damian's corpse to put a hand on Dio's shoulder. Once more, Kestrel pushed her magic through her hand and only stopped when she heard Dio's breath catch.
Kestrel backed off and eyed the golden sword as she waited for Dio to gather herself. From the pommel to the guard, it looked annoyingly garish as if it was made out of actual gold. The blade was similarly ostentatious and somehow even brighter like there was a perpetual ray of sunlight gleaming off the yellow metal.
With Dio's level of light magic, Kestrel had no doubts that the truth was something similar. She bent down to tear a piece of Damian's shirt off to wipe his blood off the sword. However gaudy, Kestrel couldn't deny that it was gorgeous and incredibly well-made.
Kestrel quelled a rising tide of envy as she cleaned the blade and tried to reassure herself that a wind blade was equally cool, even if she couldn't parry.
The sword was pulled away from under her hands, and Kestrel looked up to see that Dio had taken it. It looked perfectly balanced in her hand as she lifted it, turning it once to check the blade before sheathing it.
"Is that safe for you to do?" Kestrel couldn't help asking.
Dio smiled weakly. "It's fine if I don't hold it with two hands, but old habits die hard and all that." Kestrel watched as Dio sighed and returned to the rubble of her box to pull out a belt that she slung over her shoulder and buckled around her waist.
"If you could help me," Dio said, turning around, and held out the sheathed sword to Kestrel.
Kestrel glanced down at Damian's unmoving body before stepping over to Dio. As she helped Dio fasten her sword to her back, Kestrel said, "My MO is usually 'off with their head,' so I don't think I can take credit for this kill even if I lied."
"You were too close for me to try something that flashy," Dio said over her shoulder.
"Right, like I'm the flashy one," Kestrel muttered as she patted Dio's back to let her know that she'd finished with the straps. Even the scabbard was bright gold.
"I didn't want to ask, but I would like the context," Dio started hesitantly as she went back to the stairs to pick up the bag she'd dropped. "What's a sweetdrop?"
"It's vampire slang," Kestrel said as she knelt down and began to rummage through Damian's pockets. "It refers to a vampire's lover that they also feed on."
"And he thought you were mine?" Kestrel glanced up, and Dio had the grace to blush. "I really don't know any vampire lingo. Are you actually looting him?"
"No," Kestrel said. Yes, she thought. "And are you actually wearing a backpack over a baldric?"
Dio shrugged. "It doesn't get in the way if I wear only on one shoulder." She squatted down next to Kestrel until Kestrel sighed in frustration.
"Nothing. There's nothing."
"What are you looking for?" Dio asked. She eyed Damian's corpse but looked hesitant to touch him.
"Information. Maps, names," Kestrel said as she stood, brushing herself off. "Loot."
Dio's lips quirked. "I can give you all the information I know about him if you'll give me some about yourself."
Kestrel paused. "That's a shit deal and you know it."
"I only have one question," Dio said quickly and reached out to grab Kestrel's hand before she could walk away.
"Then make it quick." Kestrel rolled her eyes and glanced pointedly at the open hole in the wall where the door used to be.
Dio stood and Kestrel couldn't tell if she was doing it on purpose, but Dio leaned closer to pin Kestrel with her smoky gray eyes. "What are you?"
"I'm a quarter-elf," Kestrel said, wilting a bit under Dio's intense stare as she started toward the exit.
"But that's not all," Dio countered as she followed.
Kestrel picked up Damian's cloak from the floor and swung it over herself, clasping the button and pulling the hood up as she stepped out into the storm. "I'm also a quarter-human." She said it quietly but Kestrel knew that Dio would be able to hear her. Vampires and their keen senses.
Kestrel squinted up at the spire, shading her eyes from the pelting drops of rain. The three-pointed star somehow looked more menacing than before, and Kestrel half-expected pink smoke to start billowing out from it.
Kestrel jumped from a tap on her arm, whipping around with Reed in hand. "Sorry," Dio said, palms out. "I didn't mean to scare you. What were you saying?" She had gone back in to grab her own cloak and hurriedly pulled up the hood before her hair could get even wetter.
"Dio," Kestrel started. "Are you sure you want to come with me? I'm going back to the vampire hunters." Dio had saved her life, not once but twice. Kestrel felt like she owed her at least a warning.
"They'll be back for both of us since we have these." Dio tapped her mark, hidden beneath her shirt. "I would feel safer about you if we stuck together."
"If you're genuinely concerned about me, then I guess I'll put up with you," Kestrel said with a laugh and began to stride off in the direction she'd come from earlier that day.
She didn't wait for Dio who hurried after her, and they began to walk in stride, shoulder to shoulder. "Are you going to tell me what you were saying earlier?" Dio said with a sideways glance.
Kestrel pursed her lips. "Sure, but don't blame me if it changes your opinion of me. And it's not a secret but it's not that obvious either, so keep it on the down-low." Dio raised her eyebrows but nodded.
Kestrel kept her eyes carefully glued to the road ahead as her words tumbled out fast and soft, like an admission of guilt. "I'm half-succubus. Mom's side, of course."