Claire woke up to the sound of her phone vibrating on her nightstand. She mumbled something incoherent and brushed hair out of her eyes as she peered through the dark to see the screen lit up and illuminating things close to it: a hairbrush, lip balm, and a silver-coated stake. Claire reached out and opened her cell, squinting at the harsh glow.
"Meet me at the crossroads of mason and howe immediately"
"Now what?" she hissed to the quiet room. Within the past week, he'd been texting her more and more often and she, quite frankly, was getting sick of his constant nagging.
"Claire, pick up some doughnuts."
"Claire, I've just discovered a new movie with this Lionardo Decapitato in it."
"I've found you the perfect Halloween costume, Claire. The last six I showed you were horrendous compared to this one."
Claire, nearly completely awake, got out of bed, dressed, and wrote a note to Shane which she stuck under the crack of his door.
After pocketing the silver stake on her nightstand and her cellphone, she left the Glass House as quietly as she could while finger combing her hair—the best she could do in the limited time provided—and started down the silent sidewalk.
She shrieked and spun around too quickly, her feet entangling themselves in one another. She started to fall but cold, pale arms caught Claire around her waist and hoisted her back up onto her feet. She tried to shout, but her mouth was covered by long, slender fingers.
"Jesu, Claire, you'll wake the whole neighborhood," Myrnin said in greeting as he removed his hand from Claire's mouth and slowly released her from his grasp. His hair shone in the moonlight and his face was white while his eyes looked pitch black. He was in an old sea rover ensemble with his favorite pirate boots that were starting to look worn in places.
Her heart was still pounding. "I thought you said meet me," Claire whispered harshly.
"I did," he said, taking her wrist in his hand and leading her toward the end of the block. "You hadn't arrived quickly enough for my taste, so I came to get you. And, besides," he said calmly and waving vaguely toward the darkness, "there are things out here tonight."
Claire looked behind her into the dark where a vampire in an old, billowy red shirt seemed to be following them, walking on the sidewalk a little ways behind them. He flew off the cement and into a clump of shrubbery when Claire's eyes met his. His were lit up like a cat's at night, reflecting the little light that came from a streetlamp a few yards away. Claire felt the blood drain from her face and her hands grow numb. She tore her gaze from his and stepped closer to Myrnin. "Myrnin," she said, standing on tiptoe to try and mumble it in his ear, "there's someone behind us. In the bushes."
He waved his hand dismissively. "I know, I know. That's why we need to get where we're going quickly." His strides were confident, but he walked fast enough to make Claire sure he knew there was danger. And yet, his pace omitted something like… authority? Like a you-can't-bite-me-I'm-Myrnin kind of walk?
They turned left off of Lot Street and walked for a few more terrifying minutes, Claire glancing over her shoulder every few steps. The red-shirted vampire was still following them, but never got within a twenty-foot radius.
They were walking, when suddenly Claire felt something brush past her and Myrnin lifted her off her feet and swung her to his other side in a flash. It took her a moment to catch her balance; Myrnin kept a hand around her to keep her steady.
"What was that?" she snapped.
"You were going to trip over that crack," Myrnin replied easily, pointing behind them at an exceptionally large crack in the sidewalk as roots from a tree were pushing themselves up and out into the night, creating a death trap for anyone who couldn't see where they were going. Claire knew that funding for public facilities was low in Morganville, but not that low.
The darkness crept back around them and uneasiness filled the pit of Claire's stomach again. She looked behind them again to see the vampire in the red shirt, but he was gone.
I'm safe with Myrnin, she kept repeating to herself. I'm safe with him.
But, really, she wasn't so sure.
A few blocks later, they were reaching the intersection of Mason and Howe where one lone, dilapidated streetlamp was lit. Its orange light flickered. She was too busy looking behind her, watching the vampire to notice Amelie's presence in the middle of the street. Amelie—and her usual company of guards.
When the vampire following Claire and Myrnin saw Amelie and her crew, he melted back into the shadows and Claire could hear his quick footsteps muffled by the grass that indicated his hasty flight.
Amelie was wearing a simple suit with a pencil skirt made out of a soft blue material. Her pale hair was up in an easy bun. Her face was completely smooth; the only sign of her irritation was a raised brow and her lips that were stretched into a thin line. If Myrnin's sober actions hadn't convinced her that this situation was severe, Amelie's expression did.
Claire looked at the circular wall the guards had formed around Amelie. Amelie beckoned to the two and Claire and Myrnin quickened their pace, walking through the wall of bodies that opened up to them.
Once the circle closed around them, Amelie tilted her head slightly to something on the street. Orange light fell onto what Amelie was looking at, and when Claire saw it, she felt her stomach drop.
Carved into the street like words etched onto a tombstone read:
Dammi Claire o bruciare.
Her name was in it.
"Myrnin?" she asked, staring at the words carved into the street tar.
"It's Italian," Amelie said.
"'Give me Claire or burn,'" Myrnin translated.
Claire's heart skipped a beat and proceeded to pound at an alarmingly fast pace. There were a lot of vampires in Morganville that disliked Claire for being Amelie's…. Well, 'favorite' wasn't exactly what she was looking for. There were also a lot of humans that would want to hurt her, but none that she thought would take the risk of carving such a message on the street. Frank and his cronies, perhaps. But Frank was dead—without their leader, Frank's followers were as harmless as a toothless bulldog.
"What did it?" Claire asked quietly as the clouds rolled in, hiding the moon from sight.
Myrnin's face was swathed in the orange streetlamp light. He stood stock still and out of the corner of his eye, he looked at Claire. "If by 'what' you mean vampire or human, I'd say vampire. No human would have the gall to vandalize public property at such a late hour in the night." His gaze went to the deep indentations of the letters in the tar.
Amelie stood there, looking into the night beyond her guards. "We must have it paved over," she said. "No one else can see this."
"Agreed," Myrnin said. He and Amelie shared a look that Claire could not even begin to understand. Amelie seemed to approve of whatever information they weren't including Claire in. Myrnin broke off the exchange and seemed to pull himself together.
He bent down and sat cross-legged near the message and traced the words with his forefinger. His eyes narrowed and he picked something small off the ground near the C in Claire.
"What is it?" Claire asked.
Myrnin held it up to the light to be sure. "A fingernail."
Amelie dropped her ladylike act and scoffed. "They scratched it into the tar without tools." She sighed. "Eloquence these days—inexistent." Claire really thought that was not what Amelie should be focusing on right now.
Myrnin nodded his head in agreement. "And the script is practically unreadable. The vampire is obviously quite young; an older one would have worried more about the legibility of the words whereas this one certainly did not. The handwriting, I would say, is…. Well, not defined by an era. Perhaps made last century?"
Amelie surveyed it and said to Myrnin, "Exactly what I had been thinking. I've dealt with enough paperwork to tell."
Out in the night, far beyond the reach of the streetlamp's rays, someone cackled. It threw Claire off entirely because she had heard that laugh before. She'd heard it when Myrnin was insane—when he found amusement in the darkest of things. It was a laugh full of mania.
Claire looked behind her again, but all she could see were the backs of the guards. And she kept telling herself that she was safe.
"Myrnin," Amelie said, her tone serious, "you'll take Claire to your laboratory and keep her there for her safety. Leave the portals open so as to provide for emergency evacuation if necessary. You have your cellular device, do you not?"
Myrnin felt the pockets in his pants, coming up with nothing. He felt his ballooning sleeves. He took off his boots and shook them out. It was quite a show. Finally, he just looked confused. "Well, I thought I did. I suppose I must have left it at home."
"I want that on so that I may contact you if I come across any leads on this—story. Claire, do you have yours?"
Claire reached into the pocket she usually kept her cellphone in, but it was empty. "I—I swear I put it in my pocket." She put her hand on her other pockets, but the only thing she could find was the silver stake she'd brought.
Myrnin jumped in before Amelie could say anything. "Never fear, Amelie, I've my little hand device at the laboratory and, if needed, we can use the portals to get Claire's as well."
Amelie eyed Myrnin with what seemed to be suspicion, and Claire didn't blame her; she wasn't feeling all too sure herself Myrnin was being completely honest with them.
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