Afterlife Page 62

I gasped, but nobody seemed able to hear me — the difference. maybe, between seeing the past and being there. Christopher stood quiet beside me as we saw the highway bandits or whatever they were pull open the doors of the carriage. In the lantern light, I could see their faces, their wicked grins, and their fangs: vampires on the attack. “Well, well. What have we here?” one of them snarled. “Guests for dinner?”

“I shall tell you what you have.” Mrs. Bethany — in Regency costume, her hair piled high upon her head — leaned out of the door, completely unfazed by the attack. Was this the moment she was changed?

Then she hoisted a crossbow. “You have to run,” she said.

The vampires scattered, but not fast enough. Mrs. Bethany shot one straight through, the wooden shaft staking it in the heart. In a flash, the carriage driver and liverymen leaped into action, each of them armed, each of them sure and detem1ined as they ran into the forest after the vampires.

“Quickly!” Mrs. Bethany cried, jumping from tl1e carriage so that her skirts fluttered. Already she had reloaded the crossbow, and despite the darkness, she took aim and brought another vampire down in a single stroke. Her smile was brilliant in the night. ;;We have them now!”

She laughed out loud as she pulled a broadsword from within her cloak. As she lifted it high, I turned away: I’d seen one vampire being beheaded, and that was enough for a lifetime. As I heard the sick wet thud,l winced — and then my eyes opened wide.

“The way they’re fighting .. . the way she throws herself into it…” I’d seen this before.

“Trained well, don’t you think?” Christopher never looked away from Mrs. Bethany.

“If she was hunting vampires, and if she knew just what to do, then she was — she had to be — Mrs. Bethany was in Black Cross?”

I had to look at her again now. The fight was over, the vampires dust at her feet. In the moonlight, her smile softened and became warm as she rushed forward toward one of the liverymen — who, I now realized, was a slightly younger Christopher. They embraced each other, her arms tight around his neck, and kissed so passionately that I felt my cheeks flush.

“We were both raised among Black Cross hunters,” Christopher said as he watched his long — ago happiness with his wife. “When I emigrated to America in the first years of its independence, I connected with the first Boston cell. There we met. Few women hunted in those days, but nobody questioned her. She was the best fighter among us. And the vampires — they always underestimated her l!lntil it was too late. There sprang up a legend amorng them of a huntress both beautiful and deadly, which they disbelieved at their peril. Sometimes it was the last thing they said, even as the stake sank into them. ‘It is her.’”

The forest had darkened into indistinct gloom, but now shapes began to form anew. I saw a small house, simple, with one large room that seemed to be both kitchen and parlor. The fireplace was enormous, deep enough to walk into, tall as a person and as long as the house itself. A teakettle hung near the flames as Mrs. Bethany busied herself cutting cake; at the table, Christopher sat with a few men dressed as he was, with long coats and white kerchiefs tied at their throats. They had large metal cups filled with something that looked like beer, and they were laughing loudly.

Was it tbe clarity of this place that showed me the others weren’t as happy as they pretended to be? That their eyes watched Christopher cagily tss as he took another drink?

“Business associates.” Christopher’s face was illuminated by the long — ago fire. We seemed to be standing at the very edge of the room, in deep shadow. “Friends, or so I thought. We joined in a shipping venture. Trade between Europe and America, in fine goods — a growing industry in that time, and therefore a likely bet to increase my family’s wealth. But I was accustomed only to the company of Black Cross hunters; say what you will of Black Cross, but they do not engage in such gross trickery. I had been brought up to think that all evil was embodied by vampires. I did not look for it in men who called themselves my friends.”

“What did they do?” 1 whispered, though I knew by now the figures before us couldn’t hear.

“They did not want to establish a shipping business. They only wanted to steal the family money I gave them as investment.” He still sounded slightly bewildered — like after a couple hundred years, Christopher hadn’t yet wrapped his mind around the fact of his betrayal. “After some months, I began to press them for returns. Profits. To examine the books. They had countless excuses and nothing to show me. One night I swore I would take them to court. As I walked home that night, they attacked me. I was unarmed, and recovering from a winter illness. My Black Cross training was to no avail. They left me dying in a ditch. The last sound I heard was their laughter as they walked away.”

“I’m sorry.” Before us remained the happy scene with everyone being friendly. Maybe he preferred this to remembering his death; I wouldn ‘ t blame him. I didn’t like remembering my death either, and at least I’d been in my bed, with Lucas by my side. “That’s awful.”

Christopher stared hard at his killers, who were at that moment laughing at one of his jokes. Mrs. Bethany set the slices of cake in front of them; she didn’t seem to be in as good spirits as the others. In fact, her expression was wary. She’d picked up on trouble even if her husband hadn’t.

Then the room shifted again, with Mrs. Bethany remaining motionless at the center of it, her dress flowing from one color to another and her expression changing from unease to rage. “What do you mean, you cannot act?”

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