Chapter 3 : The Runaways
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Awesome CI by Caraphernelia @ TDA!
Claudine's amber-gold eyes are dilated in fear, staring at the vampire slayer who she knows is about to kill her. Alexis Longbottom simply smirks at the Frenchwoman's expression, her own blue irises sparkling with adrenaline.
"Any last words?" she repeats.
"I have a question for you, slayer," the vampire answers. "In fact, I have two."
Alexis shrugs. "I guess it couldn't hurt answering them. You're not going to tell anyone, anyway. Go on then. What are your questions?"
"What is your full name?"
"Alexis Longbottom, but my friends call me Ally," the slayer replies. "Odd question, don't you think?”
"I truly wish to ask if Ally is short for alleycat, since you behave in a similar fashion to one, but I'll save that for another time," Claudine says. "And I'd like to know who would dare attempt to murder me. Second question: you obviously know that when a vampire compels or glamours someone, it drains their energy. But did you know that if the compulsion attempt is unsuccessful, their reaction time is much quicker?"
Alexis only has enough time for her features to contort in horror with her realization before the Frenchwoman uses all of her strength to shove the vampire slayer off of her, causing the slayer to fly through the air and crash against the wall. Panting with the effort despite the fact that she doesn't need breath, Claudine surveys the seemingly unconscious human for a few seconds before using what little energy she has remaining to bolt through the abandoned shop. She knows that running with vampire speed drains her of energy and makes her need more blood quicker, but at the moment she doesn't care. All she can think of is raven-haired Sandra, whose short life of ninety-eight vampire years had ended purely because Claudine is on the run and the reward for her corpse is the highest known amount in history - evidently, she had crossed one too many Ministries during her lifetime.
Claudine is indeed a criminal, but more importantly, she is a survivor.
That fact is the reason why, when she sees two men closing up a van covered in shadow, without any sunlight between her and the vehicle, she automatically bolts into the van just as the doors close without caring if it would remain there or move. All she needs is to get away from Alexis Longbottom, because with her instructions she had given Alexis permission to cross the threshold of the building she owned. Now, the wedding dress shop that she made successful in the seventies and eighties is no longer safe. Once a human or vampire invites the other across their threshold, that invitation cannot be revoked - and usually, Claudine is more careful about who she permits to enter her home.
"What was that?" she hears one of the men say, and she tenses, ready to bare her fangs and feed on them if they investigate the blur that had been her movement.
"Nothing," the other one grumbles. "Can we just go? If I'm late home again the wife will be chucking saucepans at my head."
Claudine can hear the first man chuckle at the thought, and then their footsteps as they walk away from the van. Sighing, she relaxes as her heightened hearing tells her that around the van, human life continues as normal, and proceeds to curl up on an empty holdall in the corner. She hates times like this: once, she had been glorious. She had fought for what she had believed in, had taken part in revolutions and even led them. She had done everything in her power to ensure that vampires survived, and yet there remain times where she is little better than a newborn, hiding in the shadows of a shabby Muggle vehicle because it is the only way to survive the next few hours. Most vampires believe that the ability to compel is a gift, and in her younger years Claudine had believed that too. But now, she has learnt that it is both a blessing and a curse, and every time she uses her compulsion to her advantage, she will also face the repercussions of it.
And now, she is indeed suffering from her rash actions in her misguided loyalty towards Sandra. For a moment, Claudine wishes that she had told Sandra the truth about why she chose to personally protect her, so that the younger vampire's death would at least not have been in vain. Then she shakes her head. It is a ridiculous suggestion, providing only further heartache and additional vulnerability on Claudine's part - although she wonders how much more vulnerable she can be right now.
Because now, the only thing that Claudine can do is wait.
Darkness is finally approaching when Hugo stands at his cousin's kitchen window, surveying the London landscape. In the distance, he can see countless lights twinkling in the twilight.
"She should be on her way soon," Jeremiah says, breaking the silence. "I suspect that Sandra will not be with her."
Hugo opens his mouth to query how that is possible, considering that Sandra is the injured party and not Claudine, but instantly realization dawns upon him and he closes it without saying a word.
"What if she's trapped? Or -" Lucy begins, before Jeremiah cuts her off.
"Do not even suggest that such a preposterous event would have occurred. I assure you that Claudine is much more of a survivor than you may think. We will wait until eight o'clock this evening, and if she has not arrived then we shall attend the coven meeting she arranged. If she is still not there, I will take her place on a temporary basis and mobilize a search party."
"Why don't you take it on permanently?" Hugo asks, and after seeing the expression on the older vampire's face, rushes to clarify his question. "I mean, you said earlier that usually it's the oldest vampire around who takes charge of everyone else, and while you were getting more blood for Lucy, she said that you were the oldest in London as far as she knew. So why is it Claudine who's head, not you?"
Jeremiah sighs, sitting down at the breakfast bar. "I could be the "head", as you call it. But that position involves a lot of responsibility - negotiating over territory with the werewolves, babysitting the youngest vampires, ensuring everyone has enough blood. I don't mind looking after Lucy, because she's a lovely kid, but it's a headache keeping everyone under control. The responsibility's not for me - not any more."
"So you were a leader before?" Hugo asks curiously.
At first, Jeremiah does not respond. He simply stands and walks over to join Hugo at the window, looking through the glass with an unreadable expression.
"Get ready to leave," he finally says. "The last thing we need is to turn up late."
Hugo merely nods in acknowledgment, and walks off to join Lucy in searching for her belongings. Jeremiah continues to stare out of the window at London's landscape, recalling the days when vampires had been forced to live in the sewers. Four hundred years ago, life had been exceptionally different. Back then, vampires had been executed with burning - experienced slayers who could stake them were few and far between, and so the humans who caught them burned them. It was less painful when they were magical, because a swish of a wand and a mutter of "Incendio!" was all it took to engulf the vampire into flames. But the humans that weren't magical - Muggles was the appropriate word according to Claudine - used far more painful techniques. They took prisoners from the local prison or sometimes Bedlam, and those victims were used to lure vampires into abandoned buildings. Once they were inside, the building would be set on fire - and the vampires would try and escape. On a rare occasion, one would succeed, but the majority of the time they suffered slowly and painfully as they attempted to survive the flames.
Quietly, Jeremiah lifts up his sleeve to examine the skin underneath - skin that is wrinkled and scarred from the burns it once sustained. Vampires heal quickly from their injuries - bar a stake through the heart, of course - and even the toxic substances of silver and aconite are not fatal, merely taking longer to recover from. But fire is the one thing they can never heal from. And as the vampire looks up back to London's landscape, he is sure of only one thing.
Some things, you can never quite forget.
When Alexis opens her eyes blearily, she wonders why she cannot see anything except dark and fuzzy shapes. After blinking several times, she finally realizes that it is night and she has been knocked out for several hours. Groaning as she turns to her side, she hopes that the vampire she had attempted to assassinate is not still around. Logic tells her that since she is alive, the vampire evidently believed that either she is dead or had not been interested in exacting revenge. However, Alexis has done extensive research into Claudine, using the limited information available, and neither option sounds viable to her.
The vampire slayer cannot fathom why she has survived. She had been unconscious and therefore vulnerable; if Claudine had wanted to kill her, she would be dead by now. And Claudine must surely have desired revenge; Alexis is all too aware of the reason that Claudine is being hunted by the German Ministry. Claudine's obsession with revenge is the very reason she remains in London, if Alexis' sources are to be believed.
Alexis' only explanation is that Claudine has fled to prepare for a more dangerous method of revenge; perhaps even killing Alexis' colleagues because Alexis has slayed members of her coven. She realizes that this is dangerous, and that her most important task now is to warn her team. Quietly, she scrambles to her feet, wincing in pain as she does so before closing her eyes.
She needs to leave; this shop is no longer safe. Her friends are in danger, and she must warn them before they set out on their hunts tonight. As leader of the London coven, Claudine's presence at their meeting tonight is guaranteed, and she must ensure that they know what to expect.
If she waits; remains for a little while longer to heal her injuries, Claudine may return – or worse, the slayers will set out on the hunt without her. If they die, it will be her fault. And although she does not want to admit it to herself, a small part of Alexis knows that it is possible Claudine may target Sammy as revenge.
That, she cannot risk. She has no choice; she must go.
The Ministry's Department of Magical Creatures has a specific Apparition point; from there, vampire slayers and werewolf regulators can Disapparate to the location of the creatures they are trying to apprehend. It is this spot that Alexis focuses upon; even an inch out of the designated circle and she will send off no less than sixty-four alarms within the Ministry.
One foot lifts up from the ground, before being placed at a ninety-degree angle to her other foot.
And then she Disapparates.
However, the noise resonates inside the shop. The echo of Alexis' Disapparition ricochets off the walls, before reaching a pair of ears. Recognizing the sound, and understanding what it means, Sandra knows that it is safe. A breath of relief is exhaled, and burnt orange eyes suddenly illuminate the darkness.
When the raucous laughter of drunk revellers becomes audible, Claudine sits up. She is sure that the majority of Muggles do not fall out of nightclubs during the daytime, and the commotion she can hear sounds as if it is being caused by multiple people. After a pause, she decides that opening the van door is a risk she must take. Recalling a prior incident where she had hurt her shoulder, Claudine stands and aims a kick at where she estimates the lock of the door to be. As expected, the door flies open – and unexpectedly lands a good ten feet away from the van.
“Whoops,” Claudine mutters to herself, although it is clear from the tone of her voice that she does not truly care of the inconvenience to the Muggle van owner. “That wasn't supposed to happen.”
The street is dark, the only light available provided by a street-lamp that flickers erratically. Fortunately, Claudine learnt the surrounding streets by heart when she masqueraded as a Muggle fifty years ago, and now she uses that knowledge to calculate the quickest way to the coven meeting. After all, she cannot miss it – if she does, she risks losing her position among the London vampires. That is something that she will never let happen; she does not want to live under the command of another vampire again.
As Claudine pulls out her mobile phone, wishing that it had been able to inform her of when the sun set when she'd been inside the van, her homepage screen reminds her of something she should have recalled earlier. Apartment 21B, Williamson Court. Lucy Weasley's home, and an address that is well-known among the coven. Claudine herself instructs all vampires in the area to visit Lucy if they became injured, because of the surplus blood supplies that she trusts Lucy with. It is an important address in the world of vampires, and Claudine has revealed it to a vampire slayer, putting Lucy and anybody else present in grave danger.
“I'm sorry,” she whispers to the phone, even though there is no call in progress. The time tells her that the meeting begins in ten minutes; if she uses vampire speed, she can get there in time. Her only option is to attend, and to hope that Lucy is there and safe. Putting her phone into her pocket, Claudine quickly glances around her surroundings to verify that she is alone.
Then she does what she does best, and runs.
Paris, France. 1789.
The barman does not complain when Jeremiah requests more whiskey. He does not make mention of the fact that the vampire has been ordering countless quantities of alcohol since one o'clock that afternoon without having yet made a payment, but instead picks up the bottle and pours another serving without a word. Jeremiah can tell from the barman's eyes that he knows he is serving a vampire, but he does not dare to question why. It is entirely possible that the barman is the possession of a Parisian vampire, and considering that he has no desire to inform the local coven of his presence, it would not be a good idea to ask uncomfortable questions.
“You are a difficult person to locate, monsieur,” a woman says from behind Jeremiah. “I had expected you to enquire after me, after I sent for you.”
“You sent for me, Miss Mimieux,” Jeremiah answers, “and therefore, it is your responsibility to locate me. I am doing you a service, not the other way round.”
Valérie laughs, tilting her head back and loosening her blonde hair from its bun more than it already was. When she looks back at Jeremiah, his back is not to her but to the barman. His cream-coloured eyes are piercing her own red ones, and her laughter fades as she realizes that the colour of his eyes is unlike any other vampire's that she has met.
“Your eyes...” she whispers, gazing upon him in surprise. “Les beaux morts?”
Jeremiah does not speak French, but he can guess from Valérie's expression what she has just said.
“No,” Jeremiah answers, quietly as not to attract the attention of the humans laughing in the corner of the dark pub. “I am not a part of the Beautiful Dead.”
“You must be! Your eyes indicate that your age –“ Valérie begins, before recomposing herself. “Never mind, monsieur. The Beautiful Dead can wait; this task can not. It must be performed at the earliest possible moment.”
Jeremiah holds his hand up as if he is a man about to testify in a courtroom, silencing Valérie. “I will not listen further until the fee you promised me has been paid. Enough time has been wasted already.”
Valérie's eyes narrow darkly, but she reaches into a concealed pocket in her exorbitant dress, retrieving several gold coins. The dark-skinned vampire extends his palm, and the blonde counts out the money.
“Is it true that you were once a vampire slayer? That you are now one of us because someone you loved was turned in an act of revenge, and in turn, that someone turned you?” Jeremiah asks, curiosity taking hold. He did his research on Valérie Mimieux before he came to Paris, just like he does when he is requested to conduct certain tasks, and her history intrigues him more than he anticipated.
Valérie pauses before answering. “Like you said, monsieur, you are here because I am paying you. I have no obligation to answer that question, or any others.” Without another word, she turns on her heel and leaves the bar, pausing at the doorway to motion for Jeremiah to follow.
Once they are outside, Valérie picks up a copy of a newspaper and opens it, turning the pages until she sees a familiar face. She thrusts the newspaper at Jeremiah, who ignores the French words inked upon the page and instead looks at the photograph shown. It features a pretty young woman with dark-coloured hair. Although the photograph is sepia-coloured, as all photos are, Jeremiah can tell what the woman looks like.
“Her name is Claudine,” Valérie says. “She is a witch – and an extremely proficient one, considering that Beauxbatons gave her no education. However, without her wand she is powerless. Remove the wand, and she will be easy prey for you.”
Jeremiah nods. “And what fate do you wish I inflict upon her, Miss Mimieux?”
“I want her dead. Tonight.”
Author's Note: So, what did you think of this new instalment? You probably noticed that the last segment was a flashback scene - those will be noted with the place and year above the scene. ;) If you have time to leave a review, I would appreciate it very much!
monsieur = sir
les beaux morts = the beautiful dead
*hugs to ValWitch21 for helping translate*
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