It was nearly dusk when Leisa drew up outside the pretty cottage in Ilfracombe where Edwin was currently living. Driving all day and resisting Haventon’s pull so soon after she’d gone back had taken its toll and her stomach was already knotted with hunger even though she’d visited one of her human friends before she left. She would need to feed again when she got back to Haventon and given how hungry she would be then she would have to be extra careful. For now, she pulled a flask of bloodwine from under the seat and gulped down the contents.
While she waited for the blood to be absorbed and sooth the pangs she stayed sitting in the car, staring at Edwin’s bright red front door. She needed to steel herself for the barbed politeness and unspoken demands she knew that she would get from Edwin. Between his anger at her and the gnawing hunger which was only slightly ameliorated by the cow’s blood, this was liable to be a very uncomfortable evening. And she had to keep her temper even though he would deliberately try to enrage her. She gripped the steering wheel a moment longer then got out and strode to the door.
Her knock was answered by a dark haired young woman, no more than twenty in Leisa’s estimation. Leisa’s sources told her that the girlâ€™s name was Ruth and Edwin had picked her up off the streets a couple of years back and brainwashed her into a member of the small cult he kept for defence and blood.
â€œHello?â€ Ruth was eyeing her nervously. She knew Leisa was a vampire, of course. Edwin would have taught her that once his grip on her was solid.
â€œCould you tell Edwin that Leisa Winters is here to see him, please, Ruth?â€ she said.
â€œOf course, my Lady.â€ Ruth seemed unfazed by Leisa knowing her name. â€œPlease wait here.â€ She disappeared back inside the cottage, only to return fairly quickly.
â€œHe says he’ll see you since you’ve come all this way to see him, please follow me.â€ The girl had such an odd expression on her face that Leisa wondered what else Edwin had had to say her about her.
â€œThank you,â€ she said and followed Ruth to a cozy study where Edwin was awaiting her. Another of Cultists, a young man, was taking notes as Edwin dictated something, but as Leisa came in, he closed the book and bowed to Edwin before leaving.
â€œGood evening, Edwin,â€ Leisa said. â€œThank you for receiving me.â€
â€œGood evening, Leisa,â€ Edwin said. His tone was light and friendly if somewhat formal but Leisa could hear the strain he fought to hide and see it in the tenseness of his posture. â€œI hope the nights have been treating you well.â€
â€œThe nights have been kind to me.â€ Leisa replied formally. If he wanted to use the ritual greetings she would humour him. â€œI hope that they have been treating you well too.â€
â€œThey have been good to me.â€ He poured two glasses of bloodwine and offered one to her. â€œShare blood with me as a sign you come in peace.â€
â€œIf I came in war I wouldn’t knock on your front door and ask to speak with you, Edwin,â€ Leisa said drily as she took the glass. â€œBut I thank you for your courteous welcome.â€
Edwin chuckled briefly. â€œI’m relieved to hear it.â€
Leisa took a sip of the bloodwine then blinked at the glass. â€œYou use human blood to make your bloodwine? That’s unusual.â€
â€œEvoric’s bloodline cannot survive on animal blood even in bloodwine,â€ Edwin said. â€œBut we need an emergency supply like everyone else, so what choice do we have?â€
â€œWell that must suck.â€ Leisa took another sip and suppressed a relieved sigh as the ancient formula soothed the worst of her pangs even more. â€œAnd I thought Moira’s bloodline had it bad.â€
â€œI think the way sunlight affects them is far more dangerous overall than slightly restricted dietary needs,â€ he replied. â€œBut why don’t you sit down and tell me why you are here? I doubt it’s just to discuss my eating habits though with you I can never tell.â€
â€œNo. I’m here to pick your brain. I’m trying to track down if a rumour I heard two or three hundred years ago is true,â€ she said. â€œDo you remember hearing about some fledgling vampires dying in convulsions and the death images showing a short–â€ She stopped as she saw Edwin’s expression. â€œYou do know something about it, don’t you?â€
â€œYou might say that.â€ He gripped the edge of his desk so hard that the dark wood cracked and splintered. â€œAnd believe me it was no rumour. One of the victims was a child of mine. So why ask about it now? Is it happening again?â€
â€œNot exactly but something that I think might be related is,â€ she said.
â€œTell me!â€ he ordered.
Normally his peremptory tone would have made her demur and leave but she could tell it was distress rather than arrogance so she bit back a harsh retort and told him what had been happening. He listened with a deepening frown.
â€œYes, I’m sure it’s related,â€ he said when she finished. â€œThere’s too many commonalities in spite of the obvious differences. The death link was occluded in the cases back then as well and the description of the culprit â€“ such as it is â€“ and her ability to conceal her identity is the same. Now that much could just be coincidental, though I think that’s unlikely, but there’s one more thing that I think makes the connection almost certain. All four of the victims back then were werewolf hunters. And they were not only still active ones, but in spite of being vampires they were siding with the hardliners in that little civil war that The Order was having at the time. You’d think they’d have known better but no…â€
â€œThere were four victims?â€ Leisa said. â€œI only heard of three deaths.â€
â€œYes, only three died. There was a fourth victim who survived thanks to the quick intervention of his blood father,â€ Edwin said. â€œAnother thing that makes me sure it’s related since the fledgling was one of Lucas’s which fits with what you were saying about it being elf-shot.â€
â€œAh!â€ Leisa nodded. Lucas had been a hybrid, a fairy that had been turned into a vampire to save him from iron poisoning. If anyone could have figured out a form of elf-shot that affected vampires it was him. â€œThat does make it very likely.â€ She sobered. â€œI liked Lucas I was sad to hear that a hunter got him. I would have thought him old enough to deal with even the best hunter.â€
â€œEveryone liked Lucas,â€ Edwin said. â€œAnd everyone was surprised, but what’s important here is that the fledgling in question is still alive and currently in Haventon, apparently he had a massive change of heart about werewolves after what happened as well. I’ll give you his address as he may be able to give you some insight.â€
â€œThank you,â€ Leisa said. â€œWhat do you want in return for the information?â€ She tensed, sure she wouldn’t like the answer.
â€œNothing,â€ he said. â€œ
â€œNothing?â€ Of all the things she’d expected that was not one.
â€œNothing,â€ he confirmed. â€œI’ll give it to you for my precious Elizabeth’s sake. Just find out who killed her, please, and then tell me so I can demand restitution from them.â€ He closed his eyes and bloody tears leaked between his lashes. â€œShe was one of my favourites in spite of the hypocrisy of her werewolf obsession and given what happened to her family I could never really blame her for that.â€
â€œI will,â€ Leisa said. â€œI’m sorry for your loss. Is there anything else you can think of that might help?â€
He shook his head slowly. â€œI’d tell you if I did.â€ He scribbled a name, address and phone number on a piece of paper. â€œThis is the survivor’s details. He’s been looking into what happened to him which is why we’re in touch.â€
â€œThen I had better leave if I don’t want to spend another entire day driving,â€ she said.
â€œYou should feed first,â€ he said. â€œAnd more than just bloodwine. You’re really pale and even at your age you must have burned through most of your blood reserves today. I’ll call one of the kids.â€
â€œNo,â€ she said firmly. â€œI won’t feed on one of your mind controlled slaves, Edwin. You know how I feel about what you do.â€
â€œThey’re happy, Leisa,â€ he said. â€œDo you think they’d be happy if I hadn’t taken them in? They were on the streets or worse when I found them.â€
â€œIt’s a damn fake happiness!â€ she flared. â€œFreedom is better.â€
â€œI’m not going to argue with you,â€ he said. â€œWe’re never going to agree on this, but you’re liable to hurt someone if you don’t feed before you next exert yourself in daylight.â€
Leisa flinched. He was right about how low she was on blood; there was a cramping in her stomach that was warning her of that. Driving back without feeding would cause her problems but she still didn’t want to feed on one of his slaves.
â€œYou can feed on me, Lady Leisa. I’m not mind controlled.â€ Ruth said from the door. Both vampires looked at her in surprise. â€œAfter all I wouldn’t be eavesdropping if I were,â€ she added. â€œI was curious because he pulled such a face when I told him you were at the door.â€
â€œThat’s true actually,â€ Edwin said. â€œRuth is mildly psychic and it makes her resistant to my control. I tried and she punched my nose but she stayed with me anyway. I think she’s hoping I’ll turn her.â€
â€œYup, also it’s nice to have a roof over my head. Donating the odd bit of blood is a very reasonable rent for such a nice roof,â€ Ruth said brightly before turning back to Leisa. â€œYou can check if you want, but I really don’t mind feeding you and I am saying that freely.â€
Leisa frowned at Edwin suspiciously before brushing Ruth’s mind lightly. Surprisingly the girl was right, it seemed, she wasn’t mind controlled.
â€œAre you really sure?â€ she asked.
Ruth nodded. â€œI’m sure, and you do look like you need it. You’re white as a sheet.â€ She stuck her wrist under Leisa’s nose. â€œI’m sure you don’t want to accidentally hurt someone so you’d better.â€
â€œThank you then.â€ Leisa bit down gently and her mouth filled with the girl’s blood. She drank cautiously; given how hungry she was she didn’t want to take too much. Even so, Ruth was swaying a bit on her feet when Leisa stopped drinking. Leisa leapt to her feet and pushed her into the chair in her place. â€œI’m sorry, I took too much.â€
â€œNo, it’s fine,â€ Ruth said. â€œYou were very careful considering how hungry you were. I’m just a bit light-headed. I’ll raid the kitchen and then go to bed and I’ll be fine in the morning.â€ She gave Edwin a stern look. â€œBut you are not allowed to bite me for at least a week, probably two to be safe.â€ She climbed to her feet and walked shakily towards the door.
Leisa watched her go then looked back at Edwin. â€œI think you’ve met your match there.â€
â€œTell me about it,â€ he said. â€œAnd I’m probably going to give in and turn her, you know.â€
â€œI can tell,â€ Leisa said. â€œJust make sure she knows what she’s letting herself in for and how much danger she’ll be in.â€
â€œAlways,â€ he said. â€œI would never turn someone unless I was sure they were completely happy with their decision and understood the risks. That’s one thing we do agree on.â€
â€œGood,â€ Leisa said. â€œAnd thank you for your help with this. I’ll make sure to tell you what I find out about who did this.â€
â€œThank you,â€ he said. â€œTravel safely, Leisa.â€