Ned Covington had spent so much time cleaning up after Molly that he'd learned over time not to slay the humans until they revealed their secrets. Molly didn't always follow those methods, making Ned's job harder at times. Cleaning up after the older vampire had been a challenge more than once. But unless he was willing to go out on his own there wasn't much else he could do. The vampire council would kill him quicker by himself than with Molly. He figured Molly had something stashed with something damning to have stayed alive this long. She'd yet to give up that information to him so until that night came, he'd just stay near and clear up her mistakes without being told.
Humans noticed possessions stacking up without owners far faster than they noticed the missing people. Years of practice had helped Ned travel under the radar by making sure to find where they holed up before they died. The man, Professor Kevin Erdman, was an illusive conman and was reluctant to give up his wagon's placement. Usually when he fanged in all the fears and thoughts nearly swallowed his mind whole as he drank out their life's blood. The salesman had his mind so cluttered with unnecessary thoughts of larceny and painted ladies he had been forced to keep him alive longer than normal. But he did eventually point out to Ned where his things were before his final breath.
He shut down his stray thoughts and saw that Molly was still seducing the Jenny woman. She'd proved to be harder to trance than most due to her distractions and son. Ben wasn't at the fire for a change. He'd talked his distraught and preoccupied ma into letting him stay with some other child and his kin. That worked out well for the vampires. They couldn't exactly take his mother into their fold while a child berated her for some misdeed and spied on them with those suspicious little eyes.
"Molly, I feel funny," Jenny's voice was a mumble and jumble of sounds. She had begun to breathe in the drugged smoke from the fire at a quicker rate, as she grew dizzy. Both the vampires were trying to go slow but her rapid breathing was complicating the binding.
"You're fine. It must be this heavy air. Let's go lie you down and see if we can't make you feel a mite better." Molly lifted Jenny up nearly single-handedly. Ned grew worried that she'd let her nature get the better of her.
"Molly, she's best here by the fire." He tried to catch the wayward vampire's eyes. Molly snapped and growled. It wasn't a human sound by any means. The accentuating long vampire fangs didn't help her sustain any sort of illusion of humanity. Ned drew back and looked around feeling vulnerable for the first time in decades. The shadows were deep, as the moon was hiding behind the clouds, and he couldn't see anyone in particular. Given how densely populated the field was where the humans were all camping he couldn't pick out a single fast paced heart or any other signs indicating that they were being watched. Instinctively he knew something was wrong but he couldn't tell. Quickly they both rushed Jenny underneath her canvas away from prying eyes.
Leon saw the fangs flash and heard Daniel's soft gasp. They were vampires and hadn't finished with Jenny Foley yet. Ben's mother had been unknowingly inhaling drugs to relax her and make her more compliant. This was age-old technique, practiced in the Old Country. So the vampires that had the woman were either from there, or their masters were.
Nodding he led Daniel away from the wagon.
Once out of range of sight and hopefully hearing Daniel hissed, "Why didn't we save her?"
"Son, we can't. She's with them of her own free will and now will be offered the blood of the vampires. She doesn't have to take the offering. The female vampire will seduce her or kill her. We wouldn't live through the fight if we tried to interrupt this ritual. We aren't strong enough," Leon didn't sound particularly worried about dying in a fight Daniel thought. But then his father's tales now took on an entirely different meaning. All his life he'd thought his father's stories about monsters were just that -- stories.
Without another word they continued to their campsite. The boys were still sleeping not having moved one bit the entire time they'd been gone. But then it hadn't been a long time, Daniel figured out. It had just seemed like an eternity -- but then his worldview had taken a marked shift since he'd left.
The night took on new meaning as Daniel and his father whispered their plans. Leon said he'd track them back to their lair and come back once dawn broke. Then he added a single comment that rocked Daniel to his core, "That's if they are the kind that sleep during the day and don't walk the in the sunlight. We will soon see."
Leon walked away while Daniel sorely digested that new information. Never in any of the stories had he heard of vampires walking in the sun but his father didn't seem to find this unheard of in the least. Carefully he made his way to his son's side and settled uneasily down to get sleep. His nightmares were fast in coming.
"It's perfect!" Nate's voice shrilled Daniel awake. It was past dawn. His eyes flew to the spot his father usually slept. The bedroll was still bound and his father obviously hadn't come back yet. Nate giggled and Ben said, "Do you think it's bigger than the one you caught last time?"
The children's voices were eager and playful. Daniel struggled free of his night's horrors to see to their needs. The biscuits from Jenny were brought out and shared. Daniel scanned around the nearby camps and saw most everyone he'd grown to recognize over the months they'd been here. A few nodded and set about their morning while scratching and yawning. It was a typical crisp morning in the field.
Relief raced through Daniel as he watched his father approach. His stride was strong but he looked exhausted. Daniel walked to greet Leon with a clasped hand and a searching look. The lines on Leon's face were sharper than they'd been the day before and his frown worried Daniel.
"We'll talk later," was all Leon would say. He went to greet the boys and admire the large frog Ben had found. Daniel had to be content with that and went about his morning. He hadn't wanted to remember his past, but he found himself wondering what he could've done differently to protect his family. He also knew that woman Molly from the saloon down on the main thoroughfare of the makeshift town, and Ned had a vaguely familiar face. Sick to his stomach, he wondered if he'd gambled with the vampire.
Time passed slowly for Daniel. Leon encouraged the boys to go fishing much further upriver than they'd ever been before on the grounds he wanted a good string of fish to share with Jenny for her kindness. The boys were just happy to be free from chores and any sort of parental rules. They nearly ran to do Leon's bidding. Once they were gone, Leon dropped the charade of happy grandfatherly concern and well wishing and sat with Daniel by the fire.
"Some good news and some not so good news." Leon opened up the topic that'd been eating at Daniel.
Unwilling to push his father for information Daniel stirred the dying embers and added some more dry wood. He put the kettle on to make some tea. There wasn't much left but enough for the pot. Once the cups were ready they sat a knee's width apart and talked.
Sipping the tea Leon continued, "They both are vampires. Jenny didn't allow them to turn her yet. But they have begun to mark her. Tonight they will have to make her their servant or kill her. She's nearly ready for that."
He took a breath, "They can walk in the daylight. Not much. Molly was walking briskly when dawn broke. But they both can move in daytime. Ned wasn't sleeping with Molly. She's working in the saloon as a whore. While he takes a room in a local widow woman's home, he's going to be harder to kill than she is because of his size."
Daniel nodded and said, "What do we do now?" "Why we go kill them, of course." Leon smiled at his son and clapped a hand on his shoulder.
Jenny Foley woke up feeling poorly. She automatically looked around for Ben. She then remembered that he was staying over with Nate's family. Johnny wasn't coming back. She had to face it. It had been too many days and nights and Ned and Molly were right. He had left them. Molly wanted her to travel with them to head further west for the Black Hills. The Dakota Territory had so much more to offer than this small town, Ned told them. She was considering it. Molly said she had to make her decision by this evening because she and Ned were done with the town.
Ben would find new friends, she just had to make sure to tell Nate's family where they were headed. Maybe in a few months they could meet up again. From what Ned said about the area, the mines were pretty much played out and the big bosses weren't giving as much money out as they used to. Seemed like the 'new' town was already done for and that the smart folks were heading out.
She padded around slowly feeling tender all over as if something was ailing her. There were holes in her memory from the last night. She remembered feeling really good with Molly comforting her and Ned looking at her so sweetly, but she was fuzzy on what all happened. Her stomach rumbled and she ran for the public privy.
Daniel stopped his reading and watched his father sleep. His dad said he'd just close his eyes for a bit but it seemed like that 'bit' was going on a couple hours now. Leon needed his rest but Daniel was worried it was already middle of the day and if they waited too long the vampires would be awake again. Chewing the inside of his cheek he bit too hard and drew blood. The flood of coppery flavor startled him. He spat out the blood and put the book aside. Reading all these ancient texts weren't going to save the boys. They had to get moving.
Reluctantly he got up and went to his father's slumbering form.
"Father, wake up." He slowly shook his father's thin shoulder.
Leon snapped instantly awake and Daniel was stunned to find a sharp blade pressed firmly to his chest about where the spot his heart was.
"It's me -- Daniel!" His father's eyes were ablaze and it took him a second to recognize his own flesh and blood. The point of the knife had sunk through his shirt and was pricking his skin.
Pulling back Leon kept the weapon in his hand while apologizing, "Daniel, my son, sorry. I didn't know it was you."
Daniel nearly didn't understand his father, as his accent was nearly another language. A muttered curse, which Daniel did recognize as his father's native tongue, followed the apology. Leon briskly got free from his bedding and awkwardly stumbled to the wagon. The small tear in his shirt would be easily mended. The blade had pierced his skin and a few drops of blood spattered his chest and a bead of crimson replaced his flesh.
Carefully Daniel pulled off his shirt and dabbed at the wound while watching his father get ready. Leon didn't meet Daniel's gaze as he dressed and ate a bit of leftover biscuits. The book resting near the fire caught Leon's eye.
"Daniel, what did you learn?" His accent was nearly back to his usual voice. There was a tremble in his hands that Daniel couldn't remember him having the day before. That worried him even more as he replied, "There are more than one type of vampire. The ones here aren't rare but just not usually seen because they blend in to society well. That the woman will die or be made into a vampire slave tonight."
Nothing he hadn't heard earlier from his father. Daniel waited to see if he was missing anything. The texts were written in Latin and his comprehension skills varied from his father's in that subject.
"Good enough." Leon pronounced finally meeting his eyes.
"We must go." And with that he handed the satchel back to his son.
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