Stakes and Satiability – Part 3
Looking for the beginning of my Jane Austen-Bram Stoker mashup?
After having spent a fitful night asleep at his desk tormented by dreams which ranged from blackest nightmare to flights of fancy so prurient he could not have relayed them without dying of shame, Kit was awakened by shrill and terrible screaming that turned his blood to ice. As he was still fully clothed, he rushed outside immediately. Likewise, so did most every other person in residence at Chatsfordshire Park, a number that surely had to be approaching one thousand, all of them standing in the front yard in various states of undress dumbly blinking the cobwebs from their eyes.
The screaming was coming from the cook, who was near overcome with hysteria; she had ventured out to the poultry coop thinking to collect the morning’s eggs, and instead discovered the remains of several dozen dead fowl instead.
Kit approached the horrible scene with trepidation, the burden of knowing what had happened to his family’s birds causing gooseflesh to break out between his shoulderblades and an unpleasant burst of perspiration to accumulate under his arms. One dead chicken, even two or three, could have been explained away by the work of a fox or a weasel, but there were heaps of bloody feathers, mountains of them, red-tinged bits of fluff floated in the morning air like snowflakes. Bloodshed on such a scale simply could not have been the actions of any Godly animal that Kit knew of. Animals killed from hunger; this massacre had been done from delight, or possibly to inspire terror.
If the latter, it had worked.
“What is the meaning of this, Christopher?” his eldest brother demanded.
“Whyever would I know, Stephen?” Kit replied, and although nonplussed by the question, he tried desperately not to allow the considerable discomfiture he was experiencing to show upon his face. His brother couldn’t possibly fathom the true nature of the Slaughters, and Kit couldn’t speak a word about them even if he’d wanted to, which he didn’t. Entirely aside from the threats of Mr. Singh, his brother would never have believed him anyway; if Kit had tried to relay the tale, he’d have undoubtedly ended up hauled off to the Bethlem Royal Hospital while Stephen looked on approvingly.
“You’re the one with the collection of dismembered corpses in the cellar, you ghoul!”
“They’re not dismembered corpses, Brother, they’re scientific dissections! This is…this is…the act of a madman!” Or woman, a small voice in the depths of Kit’s soul whispered. Or women. He wondered if Mercy had taken part in the carnage, but couldn’t bring himself to believe it of her. “I can’t believe you’d accuse me of such treachery, Stephen!”
“Who else ‘round here would have done such a thing?” Stephen roared. “Aside from YOU?”
“Don’t you think it was most probably the gypsies?” Susanna offered.
Stephen turned the notion over a few times and appeared to find it plausible. He called to one of his stablemen. “Fetch the constable, Hawkins.” Kit felt a wave of guilt knowing the lurking gypsies were about to be accused of a crime they hadn’t committed, and the constable was not a man known for kindness or restraint. Yet he remained silent. Despite the ethical considerations, after having seen what was left of the poultry, the thought of Singh fulfilling his threat, standing by whilst Grace and Patience Slaughter had their way with him, was paralyzing.
Unexpectedly, the Slaughters’ phaeton came to a halt in the lane just then and Mr. Singh himself stepped down from it. While still wearing a gleaming white overjacket, he had donned a vivid orange turban instead of the blue one he’d wore the day before, bestowing upon him an even more imposing, regal presence. “Think of the Devil and He shall appear,” Kit muttered to no one in particular. “Or perhaps it is the Devil’s keeper.”
“What in the flaming hell,” Kit’s older brother blurted, as Singh stopped before him and bowed slightly. He handed a large cream-colored gilt-edged wax-sealed envelope to Stephen.
“It is the Slaughter’s manservant,” Susanna explained to her elder brother, and Kit could see the muscles in Singh’s jaw work beneath his beard upon hearing the words. Whatever the Slaughters were, whatever Singh was to them, he did not consider himself anyone’s servant, and very clearly resented the implication. “Hello, Mr. Singh,” she called gaily, oblivious to her apparent misstep.
While Kit rather hoped Mr. Singh would keep his distance, he approached them anyway. “Hello, Miss Blackabee, I trust you are well, you look it.” Susanna babbled something in return but both Kit and Singh ignored her. The large man allowed his eyes to rove over the wreckage of the chicken coop; he pressed his lips together and his thick brows knit in the middle. A piece of bloody down floated to rest on Singh’s pristine white overcoat and he flicked it away disdainfully; as he did, Kit realized he still carried an envelope in his hand, smaller and plainer than the one he’d given to Stephen. “Perhaps you should stay indoors tonight as well, Mr. Blackabee,” Singh murmured to Kit, and handed him the envelope.
“Perhaps I shall,” Kit replied, as he took it.
By the time Singh returned to the phaeton, Stephen had ripped open the large envelope. “There’s to be a ball at Quixtridge Hall!” he shouted into the air as Singh drove off, the phaeton clattering and squeaking as it jounced across the ruts in the road.
Susanna clapped her hands. “A ball! How wonderful!” Kit did not think it was wonderful. He did not find the news wonderful at all. For all he knew, by “ball” the Slaughters very well might mean “dinner party” and the “attendees” might be the “main course”. He considered how he might deter his entire family from attending the ball, gave that up as impossible, then turned his thoughts to how he might deter Susanna since she was the only one of them he really cared to keep. “What does your letter say, Kit?”
“Oh, I had forgotten,” Kit lied, having meant to open it later, away from prying eyes. He tore the envelope open to reveal a note written in a delicate script.
Please say you’ll come to the ball. I would relish the chance to explain, and Father has (wisely, I think) forbidden me to visit you so as not to encourage jealousies.
Please come; I do not expect I shall have an opportunity to see you again otherwise.
Singh has spoken very sternly to Grace and Patience and they’ve agreed to behave themselves.
But you may wish to stay off the moors come nighttime as gypsies are not always trustworthy.
Kit crumpled the note in his hand. “Whatever does it mean?” Susanna asked, who had of course read it over his shoulder.
“A peculiar misunderstanding not worthy of further mention.”
“But the ball?” Susanna pleaded. “Surely you don’t intend to forgo the ball?”
“I shall not be attending, sweet Susie, and neither will you.” Although Kit was as inflamed by curiosity as he ever had been in his entire life, understanding Dr. Faust falling prey to the machinations of Mephistopheles in a way he never had before, and though it further pained greatly him to disappoint his beloved sister, it seemed wisest to stay away from the Slaughter family altogether. Susanna stamped her foot and made a sound of protest in her throat, but Kit would not be moved.
Unfortunately, Stephen was close enough to overhear them. “Most certainly, you WILL be attending. Both of you. If you think I would miss any opportunity to parade you before potential marriage partners in the hopes of being rid of the dead weight of you eventually, you’re quite mistaken.” Susanna clapped her hands again and beamed with delight.
Kit felt cold even though he was standing in the sunlight. Words of warning rose in his throat and he considered that perhaps it might be worth risking Bedlam to keep Susanna safe, but before he spoke his eyes passed over the ruined chicken coop once again. Clouds of flies hovered and then landed upon the cut ribbons of flesh, feasting upon the monsters’ leavings. Scraps, that was all that remained of the unfortunate birds. Even the formidable geese had been shredded into down; even the stag turkey who weighed 25 pounds and was armed with 3 inch long needle-sharp spurs had been rent asunder.
Kit thought again of Singh’s threat and forced himself to swallow back his protestations.
When Kit and Susanna arrived at the ball, no one was dancing.
Nathaniel Slaughter stood in the center of the assembly room; despite being the largest assembly room Kit had ever been in, it was so full of people it was nearly impossible to take a deep breath. Over a hundred people were present, and every eye was upon Nathaniel. He was speaking of his time in India, relaying a tale of how he became separated from his fellows and wandered lost in a forest for many days, while unbelievable volumes of rain poured down upon him. “We Englishmen may claim to be well familiar with rain,” Nathaniel said drolly, “But having become intimately acquainted with the monsoon of the Punjab, I assure you, in comparison, the heaviest English rains are but a drizzle.”
Most of the people in the room chuckled at that, granting a brief opportunity for speech. “My, how handsome Nathaniel Slaughter is,” Susanna exhaled dreamily as she smoothed her apple-green lawn skirt absentmindedly, a rather forward sentiment most unlike her, and Kit wondered if there was something in the fundament of the fiends’ creation that made them unusually pleasing to the human eye. It made sense that there would be, enabling them to lure their prey to them with their beauty and fragrance as a carnivorous plant attracted the unsuspecting fly.
“But as miserable as those blessed rains made me, the water from them kept me alive,” Slaughter continued. “Had I been lost in the dry season, I would surely have perished. I wandered for many days, so many that I grew delirious and lost all hope. I found a river, engorged with rain, and after praying to God to forgive me, I threw myself into it, and knew no more. But I woke to find myself under the care of the most beautiful creature I’d ever seen, and that woman was Mercy…’s mother.”
Slaughter gestured and everyone in the room turned to look at Mercy, who stood in a doorway. Kit was struck once more by how lovely she was, and pushed the thought away because while she did possess considerable loveliness, it was her humanity which was lacking. He envisioned the sticky, deadly pink filaments of the sundews that grew in the bogs on the moors, and himself a helpless gnat trapped therein. He realized with a chill he saw himself as the gnat already trapped and the not one buzzing off towards safety. “Shall we let them dance now, Father?” Mercy asked him, and the room broke into applause.
“As clever as she is beautiful,” Nathaniel Slaughter said. “Mr. Singh,” he prompted, and the crowd parted to let Singh, wearing a resplendent pink turban atop a black waistcoat and breeches as fine as any worn by as the richest gentleman present, alongside several men dressed in the same fashion, with turbans of varying colors, into the center of the room. Music began, a kind of jolly and energetic music the likes of which Kit had never heard before, and much to everyone’s surprise Singh led the Slaughters’ servants, whom Kit knew not to be servants at all, in performing an elaborate folk dance in the middle of the room.
The men whirled and stamped and gesticulated in a carefully orchestrated series of simultaneous movements so perfectly executed that one regretted looking away from them, even to blink. They leapt into the air and spun and swirled one about the other. They whirled and lunged and vaulted and sprang. The concept of a human being, a male in particular, allowing oneself to indulge in such a hearty display of sheer unabashed exuberation was something Kit couldn’t quite fathom. Even the sternest dowager was won over by the sheer joy of it.
“Oh Kit, isn’t it wonderful!” Susanna exclaimed, her hands clasped before her, and Kit was forced to admit that it was. It was wonderful, entirely wonderful and he couldn’t help but think staid English dances like the cotillion and the minuet did not compare at all favorably to this marvelous spectacle. While the word “dance” applied to them both, they seemed as different as night and noon. It could not be denied, the Slaughters and everyone around them had a kind of magic, and only Kit knew much of that magic was literal, not figurative. “I never want for it to end!”
But end it did, with a great shout from the dancing men that shook the whole room, and then much to the great surprise of the audience, as the musicians began to play a lively and familiar tune suitable for a Scotch reel, the men spread out through the room and began to ask the ladies to dance, and everyone was still so delighted from their performance that not a one refused them.
A slim man too young to have grown a thick beard like Singh extended a hand to Susanna and she took it and floated away to join in. The men were as expert in English dances as they were those of their own people, and soon the floor was crowded with dancing couples. Patience and Grace swung on the arms of two of the men, and if he hadn’t known to look for it Kit would not even have noticed the ravenous gleam in their pale eyes. He looked for Mercy, but she was nowhere to be found. Luckily for Kit, there were ample male partners for the ladies, for he felt rather melancholy suddenly and not at all like dancing.
“Do you not enjoy dancing, Mr. Blackabee?” Kit turned and found the Slaughter’s bosom friend Charlotte standing behind him, wearing a pale yellow gown that greatly benefited her wan complexion. Despite still being a bit drawn from her illness, she looked much stronger, her sallow color had brightened and her eyes were smiling instead of constricted from the effort of living. Kit could see that she was pretty, or had been, before having been ravaged by illness, or far more likely the Slaughters.
“No,” Kit replied.
“Neither do I,” Charlotte explained. “Do you think we might excuse ourselves from the festivities and have a private word? Be warned, it may be seen by some as improper.”
Kit hesitated; despite the overweening curiosity that plagued him, he had no desire to ruin the girl’s reputation by meeting with her illicitly. But then he realized she was teasing him. “I have never cared overmuch for propriety, Charlotte.”
“We shall get along famously,” Charlotte said, and took his arm. They ended up in a room that appeared to be a study. The walls were lined with books and there was a desk with papers strewn across it, which Kit would have very much liked to peruse for hints about the Slaughters’ true nature. Moonlight poured in from a row of long thin windows along the furthest wall.
On the wall nearest the door hung a portrait of Nathaniel Slaughter, standing on the moors with his hunting dogs at his feet. It been made in the years before his disappearance and Kit and Charlotte stood in silence looking up at it. He looked the same, near exactly the same, and yet thirty years had passed. “Will you tell me what is going on, Charlotte? I have seen things and my mind cannot believe in them, yet my eyes keep telling me that they are so.”
“I can tell you very little, Christopher, that I think you do not already suspect, for I am bound to secrecy, but I did want to urge you to caution, although I fear I am already too late.”
“Caution,” he repeated, and then he realized that Nathaniel Slaughter did not, in fact, look precisely the same as he had thirty years past. In the painting his eyes were brown. Brown eyes, not the near-colorless ones he had once believed a quality that ran in the family. Kit knew without a doubt that Grace, Patience, and Mercy were not begotten of Nathaniel Slaughter – at least they had not been conceived in the manner that human beings reproduced. He imagined Mercy Slaughter as God had undoubtedly created her, with a warm complexion and merry brown eyes like Mr. Singh’s, instead of the empty blue orbs and bloodless skin that had been inflicted upon her by some dark and probably-evil force, and wished fiercely he could look upon her that way just once. His throat grew tight at the thought of the wrong that had been committed upon her, stealing away her natural beauty and replacing it with such a terrible coldness.
“They can take you places and show you things, Kit, amazing things, they can reveal a world of miracles and wonders the likes of which you could never have envisioned no matter how many books you have read, but in the end, they will destroy you just as they have destroyed me.”
“Is it worth it?” Kit replied.
“Yes,” she said without hesitation. “Oh, yes.”
“Then why are you warning me?”
“Because you seem so…alive.”
“Charlotte,” Mercy said, and Kit spun and saw she was standing in the doorway. Charlotte inhaled sharply and raised the back of her hand to her lips as if she was afraid. “My sisters are looking for you.” Charlotte took her hand away from her face and nodded, then rushed from the room like a guilty child sent to her room without supper.
“Be kind to her,” Kit urged, as Mercy glided into the room. Her loose ebony hair gleamed in the silvery light streaming through the window, and the gown she wore was quite becoming, an Empire style like English gentlewomen wore, pulled tight at the high waist emphasizing the decolletage. But it was dyed a stunning pink, brighter than the brightest pinks an Englishwoman would have dared wear, the same hue as Singh’s turban. The gown was embroidered with a motif of lotus flowers stitched in gold thread and had to have cost a fortune. It suited her particularly, Kit thought, for the dress, like Mercy herself, was both familiar in form and yet so far beyond the reach of mere mortals a man could hardly dare hope to touch their hem.
“I am always kind,” Mercy said. She came closer and Kit realized he was trembling. “Do you wish to see?”
The rules of polite conversation required that Kit equivocate, feign that he had no idea what she was talking about; it was understood that they should both maneuver delicately around the issue before them like the revelers were capering around each other in the assembly room, but the truth was that Kit DID want to see, he wanted to see desperately, he wanted to see even if it meant he would greet the new dawn torn to pieces like the chickens in the coop. He wanted to see even though he was very afraid of what horrors he would witness and was very very afraid he might never be the same for having seen them. But despite his fear he craved to understand the creature that stood before him looking so lovely and human and perfect, and felt his very sanity was at risk if he walked away from the opportunity. “Yes,” he said, and his voice sounded strange to his own ears, too deep and too loud.
“Wait here, remain in the shadows, and stay silent.”
She was back soon after accompanied by a young gentleman in a soldier’s uniform of red and blue, trimmed in gold and with brass buttons gleaming down the front. The man’s curly yellow hair was soaked with sweat from dancing and his blouse was open at the throat. He seemed a bit of a dandy, plump and useless-looking, the type who had a rich father who had purchased him a military commission he neither wanted nor deserved. Kit was pleased to find he compared favorably to the younker in both face and form. Mercy led him into the room as if he was a lost lamb, he seemed near insensible; drunk, perhaps, or perhaps under the influence of a force more sinister than the consumption of too much cider.
Kit felt an overwhelming pulse of an emotion he didn’t recognize, then realized he was near to boiling over from jealousy. Whatever was going to happen, he wanted for it to be happening to him – even though rationally that seemed a very poor idea, he desired it nonetheless. Mercy pulled the man near to the window so they were bathed in moonlight, and then she took his hand in her own. It took everything within Kit not to emerge from the darkened corner giving a battle cry and run the man through so he could take his place, but he didn’t have a sword. Just when he thought he couldn’t bear the anticipation another moment, Mercy looked up at Kit where he cowered in the shadows, stared into his soul with her awful colorless eyes and bit into the man’s wrist with a row of pointed teeth that had not been there before.
She fed on the man while looking at Kit the entire time, a most remarkable experience.
After a minute, perhaps two, not nearly long enough for anyone’s liking, she pulled her mouth away and Kit could see the blood on her lips before she licked them clean. “More,” the man urged. “You can have more. Please, do help yourself.”
“No, dear boy, I mustn’t, but thank you.” She laid her palm upon his cheek for a moment and then took the cravat from the lad’s throat and wrapped it around his wrist tightly to stanch the blood. “Begone. It shall heal in time, but don’t pick at it, even when it itches.”
The man exited. As soon as the door shut, Kit stumbled from the darkened corner flinging his waistcoat onto the floor, feverishly tugging up his shirtsleeve as far as he could get it without unbuttoning it for he was in too great a passion to even consider mundanities such as buttons. He could only get the cuff midway up upon his forearm before the stubborn cloth refused to go any farther. Kit thrust his arm at Mercy insistently and she ran her fingertip across the veins, and every hair upon Kit’s body stood up on end.
“Don’t tempt me,” she said. “I could easily take it all right now, such a hunger has come across me of late as I have scarce known, and I don’t want to disturb Singh while he’s having such a pleasant night to have to come and stop me from killing you.”
“Is that what he does?”
“He tries,” Mercy replied. “But there are too many of us, and only one of him.”
“What is he? What are you?”
Mercy didn’t answer. She picked up a blue velvet cloak that lay draped across a chaise and arranged it upon her shoulders; her eyes seemed even paler by comparison. “Shall we walk upon the moors again, Christopher? I solemnly promise you shall have nothing to fear from gypsies so long as I am beside you, and I can answer all your questions just as you answered mine – without fear of being overheard.”
Kit replied in the affirmative and retrieved his crumpled waistcoat from where it lay upon a fine Turkish carpet, and tried not to feel too foolish upon recalling his haste. They walked away from the house, the music echoing across the moors as they did. In the back garden of the Slaughters’ home there was a massive flat grey stone embedded in the grass upon which some ancient peoples had carved cup-and-ring markings. Mercy refused to trod upon it, giving it a wide berth and looking at it askance as if she found it disturbing. Kit wondered just how much magic there was running loose in the world.
But he forgot entirely when Mercy tucked her arm through his again, as he’d greatly hoped she would; although her delightful proximity set his wrists to burning as if he’d scalded them.
They walked on in silence for quite some time before Kit found the courage to prompt her. “What are you, Mercy? Will you tell me? I shall beg it, if my debasement pleases you.”
She sighed, as if she wished the subject had never come up again. “I am a revenant, Kit. I am one of your dead things, brought to life again. A vampire, the Serbs would say, although what they describe by that name is far more monstrous than I believe myself to be.”
“My…family if you could call us that, were created as guardians, by a culture so ancient that no one remembers its name any longer, not even us. These sorcerers who made us cared for us, protected us, fed us from themselves, and made us a home in their sacred temple. A sanctuary. They told us sweet and noble lies, vowed to us that we were servants of God instead of the devils we actually are, and when they needed us to defend their people, we did, out of love and loyalty. We killed Alexander the Great as he slumbered and scattered his men to the winds, we repelled the armies of Muhammed when they ventured too near our lands. We drove back the Mongol hordes alongside Alauddin Khalji, and we destroyed other enemies that you have never heard of. We won so many battles there are too many to recall, even for those who made those who made me. As centuries passed, the world changed around us, but we carried on just the same. When one of us died, a new one was made, always four and twenty, never more.”
“Why?” Kit asked, imagining the power one could wield if they created an army comprised of creatures like the Slaughters.
“Because of the gemstones. The jewel that Singh wears. It bears an enchantment upon it. There were eight enchanted stones, each of them allows a human being to control three of us. Our destiny falls to something so commonplace as a mathematics equation – enough of us to serve as guardians, but never so many that our strength could be used for aggressive intent. Your sister believed Singh was our servant, Kit, but in truth, he is our master. If not for the magic contained within the gemstones, we would be insatiable, bloodthirsty beasts, not unlike the vampires the Serbians describe. And we do not know how to make more of the gems. The secret died long ago with our creators.”
“You came. The British. You came on fast ships with guns and cannons and cut our dependents down, those we were sworn to defend. So many of them died at your hand, so quickly, that those who survived began to doubt in us. Some of them lost faith. They grew angry with us, for the first time in thousands of years they were angry with us, because we had failed them so badly. The British just kept coming no matter what we did. No matter how many we killed, more of you came. We were frightened and we grew careless.”
“You became frightened of us?” It seemed an impossible thing.
“Yes. We had never faced a threat like the British before and we did not know what to do to be rid of you. So the elders did something dreadfully stupid. They began to make more of us. That is how I came to be; I am one of the youngest in my family, barely older than you yourself, Kit. The elders believed we could defeat the British if only we were greater in number. Somehow the gems still held us; I now believe it was because we wished to be held by them – surely it is easier to control someone who attempts to control themselves to begin with. We redoubled our efforts and fought harder. We tried to send the foreigners away, but still, despite our best efforts, the flow could not be shut off. And the elders made their critical mistake, they decided we needed to understand the British better.”
“They created Nathaniel. Nathaniel is a wise man, and gentle; he became one of us. He adopted our customs and took up our cause as his own. Nathaniel is like a father to me, truly; he is a better vampire than I am, even though I have been one longer. We even had some victories with Nathaniel’s assistance. But the elders were blinded by their success. Encouraged by Nathaniel, they attempted to create more British revenants, and…sigh.”
“The gemstones couldn’t control them all.”
“No. We began to lose control, Kit, even the mighty elders who were experienced and strong of will. We grew weak and monstrous and did terrible things and couldn’t stop ourselves from doing them. We turned against our own beloved caretakers and those we did not murder outright ran from us in fear. I did terrible things, things that cannot be forgiven; I committed the gravest of sins and I shall never be redeemed from them. If God ever loved me, He cannot love me now, this I know. And it was all for nothing. The British revenants, not only did they lack self-control, but their loyalties were divided. Some of them sided with their own people over ours, others were as Grace and Patience and thought only of themselves and their own amusement. In the end the British Army came and with the help of some like me, destroyed the temple and killed nearly all of us. My darling Singh helped us to escape, but his tolerance wears thin, I am afraid.”
“And you came here to England? To hide?”
“Nathaniel thought it would be the safest place.”
“It is very difficult. With only one gemstone. And so much temptation.”
“Everything here is new, and looks delicious. It is not like India, where thousands of people once came to our temple to feed us out of gratitude and we never knew hunger. In England, it is as if we sit at a banquet and cannot enjoy a single morsel. We have been subsisting on animals and a taste of poor Charlotte now and then, but that cannot stave the hunger for long. That is why we have thrown a ball, even though we risk discovery, because we all needed to feed or risk the rising madness.”
“I am yours, if you wish it.”
“I do wish it, very much, but I do not want to share you. I learnt my lesson with Charlotte. I am trapped, Kit; I must stay with Singh or become a demon, but with only one gemstone between the four of us, Patience and Grace too easily become madwomen who cannot be controlled. Nathaniel and I do not have the heart to kill them as they are all that remains of our family. Singh would kill them, and happily, but his love for me stays his hand.”
There came a sudden gust of wind and Nathaniel Slaughter was standing before Kit.
“Don’t Father me, Eisha, the game grows thin. Have you told him everything, then?”
“Why are you such a fool?”
“I am lonely.”
“Lonely, she is lonely,” Nathaniel Slaughter mocked, and then turned his attentions to Kit. “More accurately, she is hungry. As am I. I long to devour you right now, do you understand that, Mr. Blackabee? I long to tear you to ribbons and suck the marrow from your bones, and I would had I not just fed upon a lovely widow from Northumbria.”
“Please don’t talk like that, Nathaniel!” Mercy, or Eisha, cried in a strained and plaintive voice. Her hands dropped to her skirts and she kneaded handfuls of the pink and gold fabric.
“She urges me to silence not from delicate sensibility, Mr. Blackabee, but because she wishes to partake of you in that fashion herself and my words inflame her desires. Never forget what you see as a beautiful woman is actually a ravenous monster. But I knew your father, we were boys together, and despite my hunger, I yet feel that affection for my childhood friend and so I shall let you live. But heed my words, you walk on a knife’s edge, and if you do not wish to slip upon it and die in agony, return to Chatsfordshire and stay there until my daughter has developed affections for another. Knowing her as I do, it should be before the end of the night.”
The thought of Mercy touching another man’s wrist caused Kit’s knees to grow weak but before he could protest, both Slaughters were gone, leaving him alone upon the moors.
Dawn found Kit still awake, having spent the rest of the night pacing and planning and debating inwardly and watching the seconds tick by on the clock. Once the sun had cleared the horizon he leapt onto a horse and rode back to Quixtridge Hall as quickly as the horse was able to carry him.
The doctor’s carriage was in the courtyard.
Kit leapt off the horse with a hundred different heartbreaking, gutwrenching scenarios playing in his mind. In his panic he forgot himself entirely, and began to pound on the door with a flat hand whilst shouting Mercy’s name. He would have shouted her true name as well, but in his agitation he had quite forgotten it.
A few moments later, a disapproving Singh opened the door, wearing the same blue turban he’d worn the day Kit had first seen him. “Mr. Blackabee, do control yourself, in Heaven’s name!”
“Where is Mercy?” Kit asked desperately. “Is she ill? Injured? Why is the doctor here?”
“The doctor is here because Miss Charlotte Wood has sadly succumbed to her malady,” Singh explained.
“Charlotte died in her sleep.”
“No, she didn’t. You know and I know that is not what happened, Mr. Singh.”
“The ball was too much excitement for her and she died. The doctor believes it was an attack of apoplexy.”
“No,” Kit stated plainly. “Let me speak with Dr. Brooks.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Singh said, and stepped outside and shut the door behind him. “My sister has a message for you,” he continued in a low voice, and Kit realized that the uncanny resemblance between the two was no coincidence, Singh and Mercy had indeed been born as brother and sister. She had been speaking honestly when she said she had not been a vampire long. “The message is for you to stay away. Do not come to Quixtridge again. She does not wish for what happened to Charlotte to happen to you.”
“I cannot stay away.”
“You think that now, but with time and distance it becomes easier. Do you truly think you are the first I’ve given this message to? I assure you, you will certainly not be the last.” Kit felt his face grow very red. “You are not special, Mr. Blackabee, you are no one’s true love, all you are to my sister is a pretty man to have for dinner, and you’re far less than that to the others, so comport yourself accordingly. Because I find I tire of trying to save your life when you seem hell bent upon throwing it away.”
“Go HOME, Mr. Blackabee, before I throw you over my shoulder like a woman and carry you back to Chatsfordshire kicking and screaming. I have too many things to attend to this morning to spend another moment on you, you bloody stupid fool, begone or I shall kill you myself!”
The final chapter of Stakes and Satiability, coming soon to an Ordinary Times near you!
Want to read some other horrible sort-of romances I wrote as a challenge?