05) The Stowaway
"I can't believe this!" Rachel exclaims, her eyes glistening with soon-to-be-shed tears. "My first night as a big sister, and I lost David!"
Beth brings a delicate hand to her mouth, stifling a yawn. The girls have settled down in a small cabin, one of the few private sleeping quarters on the ship. "Technically, David ran away. You didn't lose him."
"That sounds worse! Was I such a horrid big sister that he decided to run away!?" Rachel throws herself on the small bed and buries her face into a pillow, mumbling something inaudible.
Beth sighs at her friend's dramatic display. Growing up as a princess, she was taught to keep her emotions in check. Rachel, on the other hand, is quite the opposite. Her fiery-red, wild tresses match her spirit, but she has the tendency to exaggerate. Beth calmly hops on the bed next to Rachel, giving her a soft pat on the head. "I'm sure David is okay. I mean, we're on a ship. Where can he go?"
"Oh, my god!" Rachel jolts up with her fists in her hair, nearly knocking poor Beth out of the bed. "What if David fell overboard?" Not waiting for a response, Rachel hops onto the floor. She grabs a wooden stool from beneath a small desk and drags it across the floor towards the room's only porthole.
"You're not going to see anything from there," Beth says, watching Rachel climb onto the stool. "Besides, David wouldn't go near the water. Remember the fight he put up when we tried to bathe him?"
"He was just playing."
"You fell in the tub and got a huge bump on your head. Then Matthew intervened, and ended up with stitches."
Rachel plants her forehead on the porthole, her breath fogging the cool glass as she sighs her resignation. "If David gets hurt, it will be my fault."
"No, it won't," Beth says. "Remember when Mum passed away? I cried for days, and only stopped after you came into my room to console me."
Rachel turns towards Beth, gazing at her from on top of the stool. "I remember, Beth. I said that I will be your big sister and take care of you."
"That's right. And you're a great big sister. David will be fine, and he's lucky to have you." Beth extends a hand and helps Rachel back onto the floor.
"Dad and Matthew are probably playing chase with him on deck as we speak. I'm sure of it." Beth chuckles a reassuring smile as she brushes a loose curl from the front of Rachel's face. Her bright mood drops once Beth notices her friend's tired, brown eyes. "You've been working since the invasion. It's your turn to rest."
"No. Just lay here and I will wake you as soon as David comes back."
And without another word, Beth leads Rachel back onto the small bed. Rachel does not resist, confirming her fatigue. A gentle shove is all it takes to convince Rachel to rest her head onto the inviting pillow. Humming a soft tune, Beth drapes a blanket over Rachel, who seems to already be fast asleep.
Beth lets out another yawn, ready to follow Rachel to the land of slumber. A knock on the door, however, interrupts her plans. Her bare feet creaks on the wooden floor as she hurries to answers the door. A princess never keeps her guests waiting.
Beth slowly opens the door and peers through the crack. "General Sterling!" Recognizing Philip, she flings the door wide open and gives a deep curtsy in her night gown. She brings her gaze back to Philip, and notice little Kaiden cradled in his arm. "What has brought you here, Sir?"
Philips holds Kaiden as the baby vampire coos happily, stretching his arms towards the former princess. "Sorry to bother you at this hour, Your Highness," he says, "but your father has requested my presence on deck. May I leave Kaiden with you for a moment?"
"Of course!" Beth reaches for Kaiden, matching the infant's eagerness. As soon as she gets him in her arms, she gives Kaiden a playful tickle on his belly. "I guess Dad and Matthew need help finding David."
Philip arches a brow. "David, Your Highness?"
"General Sterling, Sir." Beth pauses, adjusting the playful Kaiden in her arms. "I'm not a princess anymore."
"I apologize, uh… m'lady. But, you said something about David, did you not?"
"Yes. He ran away from us and might be hiding above deck."
A subtle smile crosses Philip's face. "That's reassuring. Your father sounded troubled over the radio."
"I guess he's worried about David, too. I heard a vampire can smell a werewolf from miles away, though. I'm sure you can find him in no time."
"I haven't fed in quite some time and my senses are dulled, but I'll be happy to help. It shouldn't be much trouble."
Bernard glares at the wolf, the dread rising in his throat concealed behind his stern gaze. "This is hopeless, Wolf. You are outnumbered. My knights are on their way."
"Why don't you shoot me, then?" the wolf growls, still holding David and the unconscious captain in each of his arms.
Bernard keeps his stoic expression as he steals a glance towards Matthew. Judging from the lad's ashened face, it seems that he is unarmed as well. His bluff will not go far. "Whether you take my life, or not, you won't come out of this alive."
The wolf grins, his assumption confirmed. "Before I send you two to a watery grave, I demand to know the meaning of this! Do you humans have the audacity to keep our kind as pets!? Were you testing your ability to domestic us with this runt!?"
The werewolf tosses the captain aside, his limp body landing on the deck with a sickening thud. Much to Bernard's dismay, the pup begins to growl, angered by the werewolf's mistreatment of the poor captain. Bernard takes another quick glance towards Matthew and curses silently. The boy's panic-stricken face will surely make David a liability.
The wolf snarls at David, but then his ears twitch as he makes a new realization. "Now I understand. You humans were hoping to have your own werewolf army to fight against us. Even now, he's protective you."
"It's not like that, at all!" Matthew yells. "The pup is innocent!"
Bernard nudges Matthew, silencing him. "He was found wandering the Harlon Forest. We simply didn't have the heart to kill the pup."
"What kind of idiot do you take me for!? I won't stand by and allow you to put my kind against each other! Your plans will end starting with this runt!"
With his words, the wolf raises his claws, ready to strike little David. He holds him firm, making the pup skirm and whimper as his claws dig into young, tender flesh. However, right before the werewolf can make a finishing strike; right before either Bernard or Matthew can make a futile and desperate charge at the wolf, Philip explodes from over the ship's railing.
As the airborne Philip raises his silver-lined rapier, a wave of relief washes over Bernard. It's as if the gods heard David's cries, and sent the vampire general to his rescue him.
The werewolf jumps back, leaving Philip to cut through the space he once stood. He dangles David by the scruff of the neck, growling at the vampire to keep his distance. Unfortunately, the pup is between the wolf the the tip of Philip's sword.
"About fucking time," Bernard grumbles.
"My apologies," Philip says. Water drips on the deck from his soaked body and the tip of his blade sways slightly. The sky flashes as a bolt of lightning cuts through the air, and the ship vibrates under the rumble of the thunder.
"You're clever to use the sea to mask your scent, vampire," the werewolf snarls. "You could have cut me down if you used the thunder to cover your advancement. Did the runt's cries cause your early arrival?"
Philip doesn't respond, his crimson eyes fixated on the wolf.
"Your silence is deafening." The werewolf lifts David higher, grinning at his advantage. "I will kill you where you stand, vampire! And the story of my victory will be retold for decades!" He takes his eyes off of Philip and stares at the squirming David, his lips curling into a snarl. "However… holding my own kind as hostage will not be part of it."
Bernard lets out a silent sigh, grateful for the werewolf clan's' misplaced sense of honor. His relief is short-lived, however, as he watches the wolf roughly toss David in the air. He tries to catch David, but the pup is well-over his and Matthew's reach.
David lets out a final yelp before falling over the railing.
"David!" Matthew races to the railing and desperately scans the darkness of the sea. "David!"
"You damn wolf!" Bernard shouts, his fists balling up with fury. "I'll have your bloody hide!"
"Get David!" Philip yells, charging the wolf. " I'll take care of this bastard!"
Bernard bites his lip, fighting back the urge to help Philip. His stance appears sluggish, and his attacks are slow. The werewolf easily dodges each strike, slipping away like an invulnerable shadow.
"Bernard! Help me reach David!"
Another thunderclap rumbles the ship, and the heavens finally open. Cold rain begins to pelt Bernard's face as the winds pick up. He can barely hear David's distant yelping, but it's enough to convince Bernard to leave Philip to his own fight. He grabs a nearby coiled rope, and hurries to the railing at Matthew's side.
"He's clawing the hull!" Matthew yells.
Bernard hands the end of the rope to Matthew. "Quickly! Use this and grab him!"
Matthew ties the rope around his waist and hops over the railing, leaving Bernard to support the other end.
Bernard grits his teeth as he braces himself for Matthew's weight. As much as he tries to hide it, the former king doesn't feel as young as he used to. The rope begins to burn in his grasp, but he holds it steady, slowly lowering Matthew down the side of the ship. Bernard sends a silent prayer to the gods for strength. If his body fails, both Matthew and David will have a watery grave.
Bernard looks over his shoulder and sees a silver-lined rapier clattering to his feet, it's owner slumped against a nearby mast. Standing on his hind legs, the werewolf towers over the exhausted Philip. His sharp canines flash as his lips curl into a triumphant grin.
"I got him!" Matthew suddenly yells. "Pull me up!"
Bernard curses inwardly, shifting his gaze between Matthew and Philip repeatedly. Philip hasn't moved an inch from his slumped, vulnerable position. The waves crash against the ship as the storm picks up intensity, threatening to toss Matthew and David into the frigid sea.
Bernard has ruled a kingdom for over twenty-five years, so making difficult decisions isn't new to him. Matthew has a chance of climbing the rope back to the ship. At the very least, he can hold on for a few more minutes. Philip, on the other hand, is injured and unarmed. The wolf is on all fours now, ready to maul him.
"You'll have to climb, Matt!" Bernard shouts as he ties his end of the rope to the railing. With his hands finally free, Bernard grabs his radio from his side to call for backup. He'll just have to play wolf bait until help arrives.
He brings the radio to his lips, but a familiar sound sends dread raising in his throat, obstructing his voice. Bernard has taken many roles in his life; king, protector, provider, commander, and so on. But the sound of his daughter's voice instantly shifts him to his most vulnerable role; father.
"Dad, what's going on?" In the midst of the excitement, no one has noticed Beth until now. She cradles Kaiden in her arms beneath her long cloak. Kaiden lets out a loud hiss, taking notice of the stowaway werewolf. Her sapphire eyes widen with horror as the werewolf turns away from Philip and locks his gaze on her.
"Elizabeth!" Philip yells, pausing to let out a pained grunt. "Take Kaiden and get out of here!"
The werewolf snarls as it begins to stalk Beth. "Another vampire..."
"Stay away!" Bernard grabs Philip's sword and charges. He has heard that werewolves are trained to kill vampire kits first to demoralize the adults and weaken their will. He knows that both Beth and Kaiden are the wolf's new target.
Now in range, Bernard swipes at the wolf. "I said stay the fuck away!"
The werewolf jumps onto his hind legs, dodging the attack. A few strands of wet fur scatter in the wind as the blade harmlessly swipes across the wolf's chest. Before Bernard can follow with another swing, the werewolf grabs his arm and pulls him off his feet.
Bernard dangles helplessly. The wolf's grasp tightens, and the freezing rain amplifies the growing numbness in his arm. Eventually, Bernard loses his grip, and lets the silver-lined rapier clatter at the werewolf's feet. Bernard glares at the wolf, his face just inches way from rows of sharp, white teeth.
"Let go of Dad!" Beth yells in a cracked, high-pitched voice.
A loud screech is heard, and Bernard finds himself falling face-first on the deck. He wipes his wet, matted hair from his face, and catches a view of a large, bat-like form wrestling with the wolf. The pair screech and snarl at one another, the sound of tearing flesh heard over the howling wind and rain.
"Dad!" Beth runs to her father's side, kneeling over him. "You're okay, Dad?"
"Get below deck, now!" Bernard commands as he slowly gets to his feet. "Philip can't keep that form for long and—"
Bernard's body slams hard onto the deck, taking the impact of Philip's thrown body. Beth screams frantically, clutching baby Kaiden in her arms. The werewolf approaches the four, his eyes focused on Kaiden and Beth.
"Hey, Stupid-head!"yells another voice, followed by a click sound.
The wolf's ears twitch and he stops his advancement. He turns towards the voice, and stares in disbelief at Rachel pointing a handgun at him.
"Leave them alone!"
The wolf snarls at Rachel viciously, but Bernard can see his tail slip between his legs. "You wouldn't!"
Rachel takes a few steps back, biting her lip. The werewolf senses her fear, and begins to approach.
Panicked, Rachel backpedals. "Stay back— Ahhh!" She trips over the captain, who is still sprawled on the floor.
The werewolf immediately charges, landing right on top of Rachel as her body crashes on the deck.
The gun goes off on impact.
The last thing Rachel sees is the werewolf's lifeless body collapsing on her.