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The sun was still quite low in the sky when the farmhouse came into view. Not low enough though that Mila couldn’t make out the broken windows and the blood splatters that decorated the porch.

“Christ…” She murmured. Caelan stayed silent as they dismounted and cautiously approached, but she could see the cold anger in his eyes. “Do you think - ”

Caelan’s eyes narrowed and he abruptly raised his hand, cutting off her question. She frowned. She hadn’t heard anything but she was certain his senses were better than hers. After all, it was mainly his nose they had been following across the country.

“What?” she said after a few impatient seconds.

“There’s someone in the barn,” he said. “Actually, make that two people.”

Mila glanced towards the large wooden structure about a hundred feet away and saw a hint of movement around the slightly open door. “Trouble?”

Caelan flashed her his most charming smile. “Not if I can help it.” He raised his voice, directing it towards the barn. “We know you’re in there. We don’t mean you any harm. We just want to talk.”

It took a few long moments but the door opened a further crack and a pair of dark eyes surveyed them warily. Mila felt her stomach clench. The boy had to be no more than fifteen years old but something in his eyes made him look much, much older.

A small hand yanked the door open wider and a young girl peered around. The teenager shoved her back with a mixture of fear and irritation. “Ellie, I told you, stay inside.” He looked back towards them. “What do you want?”

Caelan took a step forward and Mila let him lead the way, trying to corral her face into what she hoped was a friendly expression. “What’s your name?” Caelan asked.

The teenager’s eyes narrowed. “What’s it to you?” he retorted.

Caelan shrugged easily. “Nothing at all. Just trying to be polite.” He gestured to Mila. “This is Mila. I’m Caelan.”

A hint of embarrassment flickered across the teenager’s face. “Robert,” he said. “My name’s Robert.” Almost immediately his eyes narrowed again. “What do you want?”

“What happened here?” Caelan asked, his tone as delicate as could be expected under the circumstances.

Mila got the impression that Robert’s sarcastic expression was hiding a lot of pain. “What do you think happened? Group of vampires came. Night before last. They…” He gulped. “They killed our parents. And our uncle.”

The girl, Ellie, was back. Almost subconsciously, it seemed, Robert put his arm around her, holding her close to him, protective. She looked about eight years old, and very small, but like her brother she seemed to have eyes that had seen too much.

“We hid in here,” Robert was saying. “We heard them when they came up after sunset and we thought that they…” He hugged his sister tighter to him. “But we had our crosses and they left us alone.”

“Did you get a look at them?” Mila asked before she could stop herself. It might have been insensitive, but it would be reassuring to get confirmation that they were on the right track.

Robert nodded. “There were five of them. One of them had red hair…” He trailed off as he saw Caelan and Mila glance at each other.

Ellie spoke up suddenly. “You’re bounty hunters.”

It wasn’t a question but Caelan nodded anyway. “Yes we are.”

“Are you going to kill the vampires that killed my parents?”

Caelan’s expression was serious, and in no way patronising. “We’re going to try.” He looked at Robert, who seemed to be swallowing back a bitter ‘good’. “You shouldn’t stay here. You’ve been lucky so far, but it won’t last.” He hesitated, glancing at Mila. “If you came with us I’m sure we could find you somewhere to - ”

“We’ll be fine,” Robert said shortly. “Thank you.”

Caelan looked unsure. He looked back at Ellie who was staring up at him with wide eyes. Robert hugged her closer in response.

“If you’re sure…” Mila could tell Caelan didn’t like it but she was certain the boy wasn’t going to change his mind, no matter the consequences. She wasn’t entirely sure she blamed him - trusting strangers, no matter how friendly they seemed, could get you killed.

She looked at Caelan and barely repressed a roll of her eyes. Yeah, she thought, they might turn out to be dhampirs or something.

“We’re sure.” Robert’s voice was firm, strong. Mila could only hope that his strength was enough to get him and his little sister to safety.

Caelan nodded. “Very well.” He reached into his pocket and Robert tensed slightly before he brought out a 100 credit token. “Then at least take this.”

Robert paused for a few long moments, before nodding. Ellie reached forward eagerly and Caelan handed it to her. “Thank you,” she said, suddenly smiling. She was missing a front tooth.

Caelan looked like he was about to say something more, but he stayed silent as Ellie retreated back to her brother’s side. Only when Robert started to shut the door did he speak again. “Good luck, to both of you.” He sent a final smile down to Ellie before turning away. The girl looked sad to see him go, and Mila thought she saw a moment of deeper contemplation in Caelan’s eyes before he looked up at her.

They walked side by side back to the perimeter fence before Mila softly asked, “Do you think they’ll make it?”

Caelan ignored the question. “The group were here yesterday,” he said. “We must be very close.”

Mila nodded. They’d been pushing forward as hard as her wounds would allow over the last four days - it seemed like it had paid off.

For a moment Mila wondered whether, if they’d just pushed a little harder, they might have been in time to save Robert and Ellie’s parents.

She put the thought out of her head. It wouldn’t help them now.

Caelan was looking at her. “How do you feel?” he asked.

Mila knew what he meant. She mounted her horse, face hard - she wasn’t going to let her injuries lose them their lead. “I feel like killing some vampires.”

Caelan flashed her a quick grin as he mounted Friday. “Let’s go then,” he said.

 

~ ~

 

They rode as fast as they could, given the terrain. The woodland might have been good for keeping the weather off of them, Mila reflected, but she could kill for a wide open plain to gallop across… Which was probably, she reminded herself, why the vampires had kept off of the roads.

Soon, she promised. Soon. Then they’ll pay.

They stopped for lunch, but only to rest the horses, and were off again as soon as possible. Caelan seemed quiet, lost in his thoughts. Most likely he was planning for the fight ahead, but Mila couldn’t help wondering if he was still thinking of the little girl and her big, dark eyes. In the afternoon they rode even harder, especially when trees started to give way more frequently to fields.

Caelan saw the house first, at about mid-afternoon. He slowed, waiting for Mila to catch up. “This is it.” His voice was even but Mila could sense the promise of violence lurking beneath.

“It could be a trap,” she reminded him quietly, even as she surveyed the building up ahead. It was more a manor than just a house. Unlike the farmhouse, it didn’t look like there’d been a fight - one of the front windows was smashed but the emptiness was somewhat sad… quiet. Abandoned, then. “They know we’re coming.”

“It’s daylight. If there is a trap it’s not going to do them much good.”

Mila followed him as he urged his horse into a gentle trot. At the door he dismounted. Mila watched as he laid his hand on the wood, closing his eyes and inhaling.

“They’re here,” Caelan said, no room for argument in his voice.

Mila thought she caught a glimpse of violet in his gaze but it was gone before she could be sure. There was more than enough predator in his smile to make up for it.

Mila’s answering grin was decidedly lupine. “Let’s do this.”

 



Submitted: March 26, 2018

© Copyright 2021 Amy R. Beckett. All rights reserved.

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Sylvermyst

I feel so bad for Robert and Ellie to lose their parents and uncle as well as grow up a little faster than most have to.
I wonder if Mila is ready for a fight with her injuries. I hope she'll be alright. Great chapter.

Wed, April 11th, 2018 1:37am

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You'll have to wait and see ;-) Thank you for reading!

Fri, April 13th, 2018 8:03am

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