ONE THE KIDNAPPER AND THE WITCH
"Blonde, should be about ten or eleven years old. You sure you haven't seen her?" asked Selwyn Rutherford. He stood in the middle of a back alley, surrounded by merchants, grocers, traders, and commoners. The man under interrogation was a butcher; his butcher's knife lay on the dust-covered floor as he shook fearfully in Selwyn's grasp.
The butcher shook his head. "I'm positive! I haven't seen her!"
"Useless bastard," Selwyn sighed, reaching into his pocket. He drew a knife. The butcher gave a squeal of alarm as Selwyn moved to punch the dagger straight into his—
"Seeeelwynnnnn," sang a girl behind the aforementioned interrogator, in a tone that did not in the end reach very many different pitches after all. "You ought to know better than me what killing a man in broad daylight will do."
Selwyn relaxed his grip on the butcher's collar. He shot one last frown in the man's direction before the meat-maker scurried away and out of sight. A long fringe of black hair fell over Selwyn's eyes as he said resignedly, "I suppose you're right, Edel."
The girl who stood before Selwyn Rutherford now was a beauty of utmost elegance. Her raven-dark hair flowed straight down past her shoulders, while a pair of dark blue eyes penetrated even the strongest of armor. A tiny, button-like mouth with smooth, supple lips gave her pale face the look almost of a doll.
"Edelweiss," she corrected in that same singing tone that amounted to very little melody. "In any case, you shall be pleased to learn that I have located the girl for whom we are searching."
Selwyn's eyes perked up at the news. "Excellent. Where is she?"
The two companions began to stride down the alley in lockstep, ignoring the looks from commoners and tradesmen alike at their foreign-looking dress, and even more unfamiliar faces. They turned out of the alley into an even more crowded square, where merchants and other tradesmen shouted hoarsely over each other's voices from behind their booths and storefronts.
"Apparently the girl is being kept as a daughter by one of the doctors of Burman," said Edelweiss as they walked. She laughed. "The man from whom I extracted the information was quite willing to speak after I was through with him."
"Not again," groaned Selwyn. "You seduced him?"
Edelweiss gave him a sidelong look with her trance-inducing eyes. "That was how I managed to get you to open up the first time we met, was it not, Selwyn? Perhaps you are jealous that you cannot keep me for yourself?"
"Of course not. I have no reason to be love-struck over a heartless vampire."
"You may rest easy this evening, Selwyn," said Edelweiss, "for it proved quite unnecessary to seduce him. That poor blacksmith became rather talkative after a bit of simple coaxing."
Selwyn sighed. "So you bled him. And yet you chastise me for trying to knife a man in public."
Eventually, the travelers found themselves navigating a much quieter lane. Large, two-story townhouses stood on either side of the boulevard. Their brick walls were scrubbed clean to the bone, with vines of ivy crisscrossing up and down their facades. The slate roofs of the buildings were equally spotless.
The driver of a horse-drawn carriage parked near the curb gave Selwyn and Edelweiss a funny look as they passed. Catching himself staring, he took off his hat and saluted them. "Perchance you require a ride, sir and madam?"
Selwyn waved his hand and grinned at the driver. "Nope, sorry there, young fella. I'd also advise you to hit the road before this witch over here turns you into a puddle of red stuff. She eats kids like you for breakfast."
Edelweiss watched the carriage disappear from view.
When she remained motionless for a while, Selwyn waved a hand in front of his companion's face. "You there, Edel? I didn't expect you to get offended from that. I was just telling the truth, after all."
"No, that's not it," Edelweiss said. She pointed at one of the townhouses across the road from them. "That's the doctor's house; the girl we're looking for ought to be inside. And it's Edelweiss, by the way."
Selwyn rubbed his hands and cracked his knuckles as his eyes found the entrance of the otherwise nondescript home. "All right," he said. "The sooner we get the girl, the sooner we can get out of this city. What's the doctor's name, anyway?"
There was a bronze knocker at the front of the door in the shape of a griffin. The two travelers strode up the short steps at the front of the house, their breaths drawn. Selwyn placed a hand on the knocker, glancing at Edelweiss next to him. They exchanged a nod. Selwyn knocked.
After a few seconds, the sound of someone fiddling with a cavalcade of locks could be heard from behind the wooden door. Presently, the door swung open a crack and an elderly maid peered out at them, squinting at the brilliant sunlight outside.
"Outsiders?" she said, frowning at the strange dress of the two visitors. "What do you want? We don't get much folk like you around here."
"My friend here," said Selwyn, gesturing at Edelweiss, "is sick. She has anemia, and I was told that Doctor Graham is one of the best doctors in Burman. Please, we don't have much, but we'd like to see him."
The maid stared at Selwyn, seemingly scrutinizing every minute detail of his face. For his part, Selwyn did not flinch or turn away, but gazed back into the maid's eyes, his eyes wide. "Very well," the old woman said at last, stepping aside to allow the two guests to enter. "Just one moment while I get him."
Inside the narrow entryway, with its flowery wallpaper and china-filled shelves, Selwyn waited with Edelweiss. He leaned close to the girl. "Wait for my signal."
A few moments later, the maid returned with Doctor Graham. He was a middle-aged man with a weak chin and a thin goatee. Graham wore a pair of round spectacles that gave him an owlish appearance, which he promptly used to inspect his guests with.
"This is the patient?" said Graham, looking Edelweiss up and down. Wordlessly, he turned away and stepped back through the door from which he'd come, beckoning for Selwyn and Edelweiss to follow.
They followed Graham into a narrow corridor. On their right, a door opened into a cramped but comfortable parlor, where voices could be heard spilling out from inside the room. Graham led them past it and into an office at the end of the hall, but not before Selwyn spied the unmistakable figures of children playing inside the parlor.
Sitting down behind a mahogany desk, Graham folded his arms and turned his attention to Edelweiss. He waved a hand at the empty chair on the other side of his desk. "Please sit."
The girl sat, while Selwyn hovered near the door with folded arms. He noticed as Graham's eyes flitted for a second to rest on the sheathed sword attached to his belt. Selwyn did not try especially hard to catch the doctor's eye.
"I'd like to examine the patient and take a blood sample first, if that's all right with you," said Graham. He peered at Selwyn from behind his large glasses.
With a nod, Selwyn unfolded his arms. "I hear you, Doc," he said, injecting as much disinterest into his tone as possible. While Edelweiss undid the top buttons of her blouse, Selwyn straggled away from the office door and back into the corridor.
The sound of the children playing crept into the corridor through the parlor's open door. Selwyn found himself standing at the entrance, watching. There were three of them. Two, a boy and a girl, were dark-haired like the doctor, but the third, a girl, had hair the color of gold to go along with brilliant green eyes.
"Bingo," Selwyn said to himself.
Unfortunately, either Selwyn's voice or his unmistakable presence caught the old maid's attention. She tottered closer to the children as if by instinct, hovering over them as they played with a set of dolls and toy trains. The blonde looked towards Selwyn as he stood in the doorway.
"Want to play, Mister?"
Selwyn scratched his face sheepishly. "Heh, sure, why not."
Kneeling down, Selwyn took the doll held out to him by the blonde. He stared at the miniature girl resting lifelessly in his palm; it was one of those frilly things with fanciful dresses and plaited hair. "What's your name?" Selwyn asked the real girl sitting before him. She was about a head taller than either of Graham's children, and clearly at least a couple of years older as well.
"Wendy," she answered with a grin. "Are you here to kidnap me?"
"I—what?!" Selwyn shouted, leaping to his feet and skidding several steps back. His hand instinctively groped for the sword by his side. The maid was already tottering with her hands outstretched towards the other children, and Selwyn sensed the doctor following soon after. "Damn, it was a set-up?"
In Graham's office, the middle-aged doctor looked up as he heard the fuss coming from the parlor. He blinked. "What's—?"
Graham grew silent as he felt the edge of a sword press against his neck. Edelweiss held the naked blade close to the doctor, her eyes narrowed with concentration as she listened to the noise coming from outside. In the process, the sleeve of her blouse had moved, revealing a strange crisscrossing pattern of black marks on her left shoulder. The doctor's eyes grew wide at the sight.
Graham drew a sigh of relief as Edelweiss withdrew the sword. However, the doctor's breath soon grew short again as Edelweiss now pulled a flintlock pistol from the inside of her jacket.
"It would be unwise to follow," she whispered, before firing.
As the gunshot reverberated through the house, Selwyn slid his sword straight from its sheath and pointed it at the maid. The old crone gasped, freezing in place as Selwyn reached down and wrapped his other arm around the waist of the girl named Wendy. "Sorry, but I think it's time for me to leave!"
Selwyn's footsteps thundered against the wooden floorboards underneath as he whisked himself and Wendy out of the parlor. Before anyone else in the house could react, Selwyn had gained the front door of the house, and threw himself through it.
The sunlight outside blared brightly in Selwyn's eyes, but he tucked his head down and made a swift choice, turning left and hurrying away with Wendy still in his grasp.
"Oh man, if they write a book about my life I hope they don't start with this, because kidnapping little girls isn't exactly a great first impression!"
Crickets chirped in the distance while several other bugs with rather large wings flew in and out of the light of the campfire. A blanket of darkness covered the empty, rolling hills outside the city of Burman. Selwyn sat with his legs crossed, leaning against a large rock as he gazed up at the vast darkness, broken only by the innumerable tiny pinpricks of starlight gleaming in the sky.
His hostage, Wendy, sat shivering atop the stump of a tree nearby. She rubbed her hands against the warmth of the flame, but otherwise kept quiet. Selwyn stared at her.
"Say, you seem rather… calm about this. Have you been kidnapped lots of times before or something?"
Wendy glanced at Selwyn with her bright round eyes, green as a blade of grass under the midday sun. "Nope, this is my first time!"
"I see," said Selwyn, rubbing his chin. "I guess that was a pretty stupid question. But back there, you knew I was going to kidnap you. How did you find out? Who told you?"
But Wendy only gave Selwyn a large grin. "They're going to find you, you know, and then they're going to skin you like a wild boar."
As the two of them fell into a silent reverie, Selwyn found himself staring into the flames of their campfire. Every so often, a spark would crackle and then leap free from the pit, curling into a thin wisp of smoke before vanishing. Selwyn rubbed his chin again. "That's what I was worried about in the first place. If Wendy already knew we were coming, then that probably means he knows as well. Things will be a lot more complicated if that's the case."
With an exaggerated yawn, Selwyn stretched and stood up. "Well, if I'm gonna be hunted by assassins, might as well be ready for them. You hungry, Wendy?"
Selwyn looked towards the girl, but paused when he saw that she was already asleep. The girl was still on the stump, her figure tilting slightly to the right as her head drooped sleepily. Her eyes were closed, and a bit of drool had already accumulated on her chin.
A rustle of footsteps disturbed the night. Selwyn spun around, his hand automatically reaching for his sword. Almost as quickly, though, his grip on his sword relaxed as Edelweiss emerged from the darkness, her face pale and impassive.
"There you are," said Selwyn. "You sure took your time joining back up with us."
"I am afraid I had not the heartlessness to interfere with your little lolita fantasy," replied Edelweiss. "Kidnapping little girls is quite a grotesque fetish, Seeeelwynnn."
Selwyn only frowned back at his accomplice. Nevertheless, he gave Wendy a quick glance before turning back to Edelweiss. "Cut it out. You know full well why we're doing this, Edel."
"Edelweiss," she said.
As she pronounced her own name, the girl appeared to grow even paler than usual. Additionally, a crimson flush began to creep into her blue eyes, giving her a frightening, demon-like glare. Edelweiss sighed, dropping to a seat near the ground.
Selwyn fidgeted. "Feeding time?"
"Yes," Edelweiss responded faintly. "Unfortunately, the state of becoming a Gestalt renders me quite dependent on willing hosts like you to supply me with mana, Selwyn."
"Yeah, yeah," said Selwyn. He crept halfway down the hill on which their campsite stood before stooping down next to Edelweiss and shrugging off his tunic. "Just hurry up and get this over with. I don't want the girl to see."
Edelweiss laughed, revealing a pair of fangs. "Oh? I had no idea you were so keen to maintain your lolita fantasy, Seeelwynnnn."
Selwyn clenched his teeth and winced as the vampire sank her teeth into his exposed neck. Her long fingernails dug into his skin as she drained the mana out of his body.
"It seems that he knows," said Selwyn, his fists balling up as Edelweiss' tongue grazed his skin. "Wendy knew that we were there to kidnap her. If this is all true, then it's going to be more difficult to find him than we thought."
"Still," Edelweiss said, licking her lips, "that girl Wendy is his flesh and blood, is she not? What I have observed in humankind is the tendency to be quite protective of their own blood."
"The problem is finding him. If he knows, then he'll be sending as many men as he can to track us down. We're at a disadvantage because we don't know where he is. We'd have to find him first, before his men kill us."
"You don't think you can do it?" Edelweiss said, removing her teeth from Selwyn's neck at last. She wiped her mouth with the sleeve of her blouse.
Selwyn grumbled as he put his tunic back on. "It's not that I don't think I can do it. It's just that this is more annoying than I'd like. This isn't some holiday trip. We're babysitting that girl, too."
The two of them turned to look at the stump near the campfire. Wendy was not there. Selwyn leapt to his feet, his eyes growing round. "Where'd—?"
"I can help you," said a girl's voice in front of Selwyn and Edelweiss. Wendy smiled at them, her hands clasped behind her back. "Find Crow, that is."
A/N: Thanks for reading! New chapters are posted on random Tuesdays. Special thanks to Jax Creation for beta-reading this first chapter.