Warmth. That was the first sensation. And while Patrice enjoyed the warmth, she realized that her current semi-reclined position was only marginally comfortable for sleeping. The blanket that covered her was made of a coarse fabric, not nearly as smooth as the fine silken sheets of her bed. Still, it warded the early spring chill quite nicely and made her feel safe. Not yet ready to open her eyes, Patrice buried her face more deeply into its folds, her nose picking up the faint odor of damp earth and, nearly imperceptible, the exotic aroma of spice or perhaps incense. Where had this blanket come from? She drew another breath through her nose. This time, a new smell joined the mix - the sharp, cloying scent of wood smoke. Fire?
Patrice bolted upright. The sudden movement caused a chorus of aches and pains to announce their presence, likely a result of the all-too-close encounter she had had with the tree. She was surprised to find that, for the most part, the pain was not overwhelming. She lifted the blanket under which she had been resting - which, she discovered, was not a blanket at all, but the simple brown traveling cloak the man who identified himself as Wendell had been wearing - and looked down to discover that the collection of cuts and scrapes she had accumulated in her headlong flight through the forest had been treated and bandaged where necessary. When had this occurred?
Looking around, Patrice saw that she was alone in the darkness of an enclosed carriage; she remembered the man in the bowler hat - Mr. Baine - mentioning a carriage. Where were they? Scraps of memory, floating at random through her consciousness, were slowly woven back into a tapestry of understanding. Strangers in the forest, attacked by a nightmare, running for her life and ... Camille. Mon Dieu, Camille! Like a storm on the horizon rumbling in sooner than expected, the weight of what had transpired fell upon the young woman. A chorus of sobs welled up from within Patrice; hot tears of guilt, anger and, worst of all, helplessness spilled forth, and her body shook violently. She cried long and hard, covering her face with the cloak and hoping desperately that no one could hear.
Eventually, the storm passed, leaving Patrice aching and exhausted. She sat slumped back in her seat, staring at nothing. What was she going to do? How could she explain what had happened? A waft of smoke wound its way into the carriage by way of a partially open window, drawing her attention to the scene outside. Three figures stood before a burning pyre. Wendell was the most recognizable, dressed in his strange orange robes. Next to him stood Mr. Baine, identified by the hat he wore. The two men were engaged in quiet conversation as Mr. Baine fidgeted with a rag. A third man stood off to the side, gazing at the fire. He held an empty bottle and wore an expression of bored stoicism. Patrice was sure that she had not seen him before.
They will want to know what happened, she thought to herself. Could she tell them about Camille? How would they react? Patrice bowed her weary head and tried to sort her thoughts. She was tired and sore, alone and at the mercy of strangers. It was not a good situation to be in. Several minutes passed before Patrice felt like she had reached a conclusion. Sighing heavily, she wiped her eyes, gathered what little remained of her dignity about her - along with Wendell’s cloak - opened the carriage door and stepped out.
“Ah, our damsel in distress.” Mr. Baine finished wiping something dark off of his hands and turned back to the fire. Tossing the rag he’d been using among the dancing flames, he turned back to Patrice. “How are you feeling, Miss . . . ?”
“Patrice. I am meilleur,” she paused, thinking of the correct word in English, “better.” Patrice glanced past him to the fire and the ragged, darkened form at its center. “The fire, it has been raining, no?”
“Our driver, Mr. Gaspard here, happens to be quite handy, out-of-doors.” Mr. Baine nodded to the unknown member of the group who touched his hand briefly to the brim of his flat cap in an informal salute before turning back to the fire. “Still, the wood is wet, so it is smoking terribly. We shall be off as soon as it dies down.”
Wendell stepped forward, “May we give you a ride to safety? We are currently en route to Paris.”
Patrice nodded, “Oui. Merci. I have been staying with my cousin in Paris.” A cold breeze tumbled down the road, shaking drops of water from the trees and causing her to shiver in spite of the large fire nearby. “May we talk in the carriage? I am cold.”
“Of course. Mr Gaspard, will you see to the fire until it is safe to leave?” Mr. Baine turned to the driver, who nodded in response, then moved to open the door for his companion and their guest. Inside, out of the cold night air, the two men sat on the bench opposite Patrice. It was dark, as night had arrived during her period of unconsciousness. Despite the deep, black shadows hanging in the corners of the carriage interior, the light flickering in through the windows from the fire outside provided just enough illumination for the occupants to see each other.
Mr. Baine looked at the young woman, “Have you been crying?” he asked bluntly.
Patrice affected what she hoped was a casual tone, “The smoke from the fire. It stings my eyes.” A brief moment of awkward silence passed between them before Patrice realized she had yet to thank either of her rescuers. She cleared her throat, “I have not expressed my gratitude for rescuing me. I owe you my life.”
“Not at all, milady,” Mr. Bane appeared to be the spokesman for the duo, “It is fortunate that we happened to be in the vicinity and Wendell here heard you scream.”
Patrice stared at the silent warrior. “You heard me - through the trees and over the noise of the carriage? Surely, monseuir, you have the ears of le loup!” Wendell’s face flushed so deeply that the change in color could be seen even in the dim light of the fire outside. He gave a wan smile, lips pressed tight, and turned his head to gaze out the window at the fire.
“It is doubly fortunate,” Mr. Baine continued, “that you were not bitten, else Wendell and I would be warming ourselves over an even larger fire.”
Patrice started to ask how he could know such a thing, but it appeared that Mr. Baine had anticipated the question. “While tending to your injuries after you passed out, I took the liberty of inspecting for bite marks. To your credit, it was not an altogether unpleasant experience.” He winked.
“Th-that is no way for a doctor to behave!” she felt her cheeks grow hot and, realizing the current immodest state of her attire, reached over to once again cover herself with the cloak.
Mr. Baine snorted, “I am hardly a doctor, madam. But rest assured, I am a gentleman,” A small cough from Wendell prompted him to add, “... for the most part.”
“Then why do you carry around that bag,” she nodded to the leather bag at his feet, “treating injuries and administering medicine?”
“It pays to be prepared, one never knows when they might encounter a young woman being chased through the forest by a vampire.” Mr. Baine removed his bowler hat and ran a hand through his hair. “What in heaven’s name are you doing in the middle of nowhere? Unaccompanied and at dusk, no less!”
Patrice suddenly felt like a child having to give account to an angry father. She followed Wendell’s gaze out the window, so as not to see their reaction, “We - that is I - wanted to see it. I had heard stories about how he was once a handsome nobleman, and … and ...” She blushed.
“...and it sounded romantic and exciting and the thought of being in the presence of something so dangerous and alluring roused your heart and so on and so forth.” Mr. Baine rolled his eyes with a sigh. “Honestly, the world loses more young women to the ridiculous notion of romancing the undead than anything else I can think of.” Patrice wanted to protest, to say that this had not been the case, but if she were honest with herself, the tactless Mr. Baine was uncomfortably close to the truth of the matter. She held her tongue and simply nodded.
“Let this be a lesson to you, then.” Mr. Baine concluded, “Dead things do not stay pretty for long. Fresh blood can preserve them for a while, but ... well, you saw what happens eventually.”
“You said ‘we’,” Wendell had turned back to rejoin the conversation, “Was someone with you in the forest?”
“I was accompanied to the forest by my cousin, Camille - the one I have been staying with in Paris. It was she who told me of the creature and where to look, but she became frightened and left before we came upon it.” she turned back to the two men, quietly holding her breath as she gauged their reaction to her account.
“And there is no chance that she was bitten?” Mr Baine narrowed his eyes ever so slightly. Feeling the weight of his scrutiny, Patrice was on the verge of confessing the truth; then she remembered the bonesaw and the horrible, horrible noise it made as it began to chew through the fallen vampire’s neck. She shuddered involuntarily and shook her head,
“I lead the creature away from where she waited with our horse. She would have ridden back to her father for help.”
An indecipherable look passed between the two men. Mr. Baine crossed his arms, rubbing at the stubble on his chin thoughtfully, “Depending on how far away your cousin lives, I doubt they would have gotten a search party assembled before the sun set.”
“We should see the lady home as soon as possible,” Wendell said, “They will be worried.”
“I shall converse with Mr. Gaspard and see how soon we will be able to depart.” Mr. Baine maneuvered between the other two occupants of the carriage and opened the door. Patrice was surprised at how chilly the brief rush of outside air felt on her face and hands and was glad she was covered; Wendell seemed not to notice, despite the absence of his cloak.
Once Mr. Baine had walked a certain distance away from the carriage, Wendell turned his attention back to Patrice. “I should apologize for Mr. Baine, he can sometimes be a bit … uncouth, but he means well and is committed to your well-being, as am I.”
So different, she thought, then asked, “How did the two of you come to be traveling together?”
Wendell studied the young woman’s face for a moment, his eyes inscrutable in the darkness. He seemed to come to a decision, drew a breath, and began to speak, “I had just returned to England and was looking for someone - a certain doctor in London, rumored to be have studied the diverse aspects of the human mind and developing a chemical means of isolating them.”
“Returned from where?” Patrice interrupted.
“I ... spent a number of years in the Orient seeking …” he looked down at his hands.
"Inner peace," he answered, ruefully.
An awkward moment of silence between them led Patrice to a momentary pang of guilt for her prying. “Did such a man exist?” she asked “In London, I mean.”
Wendell nodded, “Unfortunately, having experimented on himself, he apparently went mad and took his own life shortly before I managed to track him down.”
Patrice gasped quietly. “Then it is probably better that you did not find him. no?”
A shrug. “Instead, I found Mr. Baine. The doctor’s work was of mutual interest to us, so we began a professional relationship - one that eventually lead us here.”
“Paris is just a stop, we are on our way to Munich in Bavaria.” Wendell turned to gaze out the window once more. Something in the man’s tone led Patrice to believe that he did not wish to continue the conversation. She decided against asking any more questions. A long moment passed as the man and woman sitting in the carriage absentmindedly started out at the two individuals tending to the fire outside. Mr. Baine was poking a long branch around in the center of the flames while Mr. Gaspard walked the perimeter of the fire, kicking dirt among the outlying coals. As she contemplated the small cloud of sparks stirred up by their activity, Patrice found herself replaying the days events over in her mind. As she recalled the struggle between Wendell and the vampire, a thought occurred to her.
“The two of you were not surprised by the creature. You have encountered them before?”
Wendell nodded. “Several times, in fact. They have become all too-common in the remote places of Europe. Fortunately, they are ruled by their insatiable hunger and follow predictable patterns of behavior.”
“Your journey East will take you into lands more dangerous than these, no?”
“The journey must be taken - there are worse things than vampires that must be dealt with.” Wendell suddenly seemed to be very far away. Patrice struggled with the curiosity burning within her, she wanted more than anything to get this man to explain himself, his strange appearance, and the obscure references he was making. Despite Mr. Baine’s tactless nature, at least the few interactions she had had with him felt complete and self-contained, and not like he was conducting only half a conversation while trying to keep the other half hidden away. Perhaps, she thought wryly, that is why Mr. Baine does the talking when he is around.
The door to the carriage opened suddenly, causing Patrice to jump, and Mr. Baine climbed inside. She noticed, as he sat down, that the light coming in through the windows had grown quite a bit dimmer. “The remains appear to be sufficiently cremated, given the advanced state of decay and the accellerant used - we now owe Mr. Gaspard a bottle of Cognac, by the way - the process took less time than I feared it might. So we should be able to depart just as soon as the flames are out.” Mr. Baine drew a breath and continued, “That clever Mr. Gaspard suggested pushing any remains down into the coals and covering the whole thing over with dirt, as that would allow the cremation to continue a while longer without setting fire to the forest. Though, as damp as it has been, I cannot conceive of that happening.”
“I should like to get you home and find out what has become of your cousin - Camille was it?” He nodded towards Patrice, who shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “We shall then be on our way.”
“Mr. Baine,” Patrice hesitated for the briefest moment, as if uncertain about what she was going to say, deciding finally to continue, “I am curious, if one is been bitten by a vampire … can it be reversed?” Had the carriage not been so dark, the two men might have noticed a look of desperation in her eyes.“Not unless you can raise the dead, my dear. Even then, I would not be so sure.”