This must be what being in shock feels like, thought Patrice as she ran behind Mr. Baine. But then, how am I able to think about it? Doesn't the fact that I am thinking about being in shock mean that I am not?
Patrice rounded a corner and was dimly aware of bumping into Mr. Baine, who had stopped suddenly. She tried to think about something – anything – that did not involve the man on the bridge being ripped apart. He may have worked for Henri and been chasing her, but surely he did not deserve such a fate. She tried to block from her mind the vision of the vampire shredding first the man's clothing, scraps of fabric tossed aside like the feathers of a plucked chicken, then his flesh; to deny the pool of blood, glistening black in the dim light of the bridge, spreading everywhere like liquid shadow.
They asked me something about Belfort. She struggled to remember what had transpired even an hour before. What else? Running, so much running, and … noise, and fear. Mostly fear. And that made her angry. She tried to think of something pleasant - or, at least, not terrifying and horrible. The only coherent mental image she could summon at the moment was of a great stone lion, powerful and serene. Mr. Baine lurched back and bumped into her a second time and her mind was off and racing yet again.
So much has happened, it all blurs together. Maybe I am still in shock over Camille. Had her death been as gory and violent as that on the bridge? No, that vampire wasn’t as desperate. As soon as it had become aware of Patrice hiding in the bushes, it left her cousin’s remains to chase down a second meal. It got greedy. The vampire on the bridge, however, must’ve been out of its mind with hunger. It had …
“Look out!” Wendell grabbed her arm and yanked her to the side. With a gurgling hiss, a tattered form slumped to the ground where she stood but a second before. Looking down, Patrice was surprised to see a vampire – not the one on the bridge – lying in a heap, a wooden stake protruding from its chest. When had this happened?
“This one's fresh,” said Mr. Baine, nudging it with his toe. That look in his eye, was it satisfaction? "Got a uniform on, too." The corpse was that of a young man, dressed as the soliders at the gate had been.
"Do you think they patrol out here?" said Wendell, turning to Patrice.
Where are we? Patrice realized that she had no recollection of their journey after the bridge.
“Patrice.” Wendell gave her a gentle shake, “Are you okay? Were you hurt?”
“I … no.” She shook her head, trying to clear the cobwebs and bring herself into back to the here and now, “I'm fine.” She managed a weak smile. Mr. Baine stooped over the still form of his attacker and grasped the stake.
“Should you do that?” said Wendell, “It will revive.”
“Eventually, maybe” said Mr. Baine, “But it's recently turned, doesn't appear to have fed yet, and is now mortally wounded.” With a grunt, he withdrew it, wiping the gore off on the dusty, bloodstained uniform. “Besides, I don't have many stakes left and the gatekeeper was right - this area is rotten with the buggers. Pardon the pun,” he said, looking down at the vampire. He got no reply.
"Give one to Patrice," said Wendell.
"Her?" said Mr. Baine.
"Me?" said Patrice.
"I just said I don't have many left."
"I can fight and you have your gun," said Wendell, "She needs a means of defending herself, especially if we get separated."
"One shot from the pistol and we'll have every bloodsucker is the region surrounding us."
"That did not prevent you from shooting the man on the bridge." Wendell's voice was level, but Patrice could tell he was upset.
"Look, I hate that it came to that, but we needed a diversion. Every one of these buggers fighting for scraps back at the bridge and blocking her uncle is one less over here chasing us."
"It made us look like the killers we are accused of being." said Wendell.
"It saved her life," Mr. Baine pointed at Patrice with the stake, "She was the closest to it. If I hadn't drawn blood, she'd have been attacked."
"I would have protected her."
"And then ripped her to pieces right after? Possibly the both of us?"
"No! Never!" Wendell's reply was adamant, but Patrice couldn't help but notice the monk look away as he said them. She decided to intervene.
"Maybe if I had a stake, I could have killed it." Patrice hoped her words sounded braver than she felt.
The two men turned and looked at her.
"I ... I'm sick of feeling so ... helpless." The admission stung her pride a little, but at the same time it was as if a weight was lifting, "It's time I started taking care of myself." She squared her shoulders and held a hand out to Mr. Baine. "May I?"
There was a moment of stunned silence from both Wendell and Mr. Baine. Mr. Baine looked to Wendell, who nodded. Then, somewhat uncertainly, Mr. Baine extended to her the stake he was holding. "You're certain? This isn't a game." He said.
"It never was," she replied, taking the stake. It was only a bit of wood, but there was a weight to it - a realness - that Patrice had not expected. This was a weapon. It was primitive and crude, and would require her to be closer to one of those foul creatures than she ever hoped to be, but no less deadly for it, as the dark stain along the taper reminded her.
"We need shelter," said Wendell, his words intruding upon her grim rumination, "Something defensible." The morality debate had been postponed, for now.
Patrice looked around, taking in the city beyond the walls for the first time. Several roads crisscrossed each other and a number of buildings stood silent and still in the night, though they were not nearly as densely packed as those within the fortifications. The area was littered with small craters; scraps of woods and chunks of broken masonry were heaped randomly against buildings or piled in the middle of the street.
Upon closer inspection, many of the buildings were boarded up and had holes gouged in them. A few were little more than ruins. These were the scars of the Prussian siege which had occurred almost twenty years ago. Patrice struggled to recall the details; history was never her best subject, but she was proud of her heritage and of her father who had served – and died - in the war. For those lessons, at least, she had made an effort to be attentive.
An unsettling realization shouldered its way through her preoccupation: twenty years and still the people of Belfort have not reclaimed this portion of the city. Are they so afraid of the vampires? Perhaps, they are unable to wrest it from the plague of vampires which flourished in the wake and destruction of the war? Staring into the distance as she silently mulled this over, she noticed a hunched figure shamble into her line of sight from a set of ruins some distance away. It was too dark to see it in any great detail – a fact for which she was somewhat thankful – but could see well enough to realize it had stopped and was sniffing the air.
“Company.” Wendell had seen it, too.
“It's not coming any closer,” said Mr. Baine, “Surely it can sense us?”
Realization dawned for Patrice, “We're outside of its territory.”
“That,” said Mr. Baine, a hint of shock and admiration in his normally dry tone, “is a surprisingly astute observation. Well done.” Patrice wasn't sure if she should be proud or offended.
“We should go,” said Wendell, “if the other vampires realize this one is incapacitated, they will cross over.”
"You think they would?" asked Patrice.
"I would," said Mr. Baine with a shrug. "I wonder how they make the determination? They're not the sort to discuss matters over a cup of tea ..."
"We can discuss that later," said Wendell, urging them onward.
Keeping parallel to what they believed was the edge of the vampire's territory, the three of them hurried deeper into the shattered remains of Belfort-beyond-the-wall. They skirted a large building and crossed over the foundation of another, small portions of wall rising up from the earth like the craggy, rotten teeth of a giant. Patrice imagined a cavernous maw snapping closed on them as they walked and immediately wished she hadn't; the possibility of something like that happening felt all too real in this forsaken area.
Wendell, now in the lead, started to round another corner before pulling up sharply. Turning, he tapped his nose and pointed down a ruined street. After several tense moments of silence - at one point, Patrice could have sworn she heard a quiet hiss from somewhere in the shadows of the building opposite them - they started forward once more.
Sneaking through the streets on the other side of the walls – the 'safe' side - was a game compared to this, thought Patrice. Here, it feels as if the darkness itself will swallow us whole if we stand still for too long. Even the threat of violence at the hands of her uncle and his men had felt ... tame, compared to this. Possibly because there was nowhere they could feel safe out here. When you hid from a living, breathing human, there was a sense of exhilhiration at evading their senses, which was always a possibility; humans don't rely on their senses like they used to. But a relentless creature that's always hungry, hunting for food - it's never a question of 'if' you get caught, but 'when.' And given the poor state of the buildings they'd seen so far, Patrice didn't imagine it would take long.
Her mind then took an unpleasant turn: What if someone - something - like Wendell was hunting them? Was there a chance the monk would turn on them? It seemed unlikely, given that he'd already risked his life to save her - and on multiple occasions. But Patrice had to admit that she barely knew anything about either of her companions. She wanted desperately to ask Wendell about his condition, but with things being so chaotic from the moment they'd met, it never seemed appropriate. It was clear to her that the monk was wrestling with demons; Patrice wanted to know what sort of threat he posed if he lost. If she was going to be traveling with them, it seemed only fair.
They exited an alley and found themselves on the edge of a rough clearing. This was not a natural clearing, nor had it been designed as an open space. This particular block had suffered greatly during the Prussian seige twenty years earlier. Now, low walls and piles of rubble served as the only remains of the structures that once filled the area. All gone now, save one surviving townhouse standing alone in the middle. And there, on the ground level, slipping between the ragged curtains that had been pulled closed and sneaking out through boards nailed across windows, the warm glow of a lantern danced defiantly in the hungry night.