Disclaimer: This chapter is currently in development. There are likely typos, errors, omissions, inconsistencies and so forth. Please do not treat this as a polished and completed work!
Carrots led the way while Clara followed, until the girl provided her with a proper name the nickname would have to do . The young girl was certainly a straight shooter, even the hustle and bustle of a major city did not sway her.
When Clara had been that young, she could never have resisted the temptation to explore. Even now that desire was just below the surface of her conscious mind, begging to be freed.
While the word incident had been used, the severity had been misreported. An incident would not require her to report back. Was it a death? It was not every day that someone from her order died.
Well not daily although a few times a year was accurate. Hunters were not normally recalled for a death, frequent use of the Terminus risked exposure. So what was important enough to have her recalled?
Clara kept these thoughts concealed along with the emotions that inevitably followed. It took a great deal of willpower to keep cool when one’s head was swirling, but Clara would not let an acolyte see anything more than cold professionalism. That much was expected from older students.
“Almost there Miss Grey,” Carrots said.
Clara nodded, she knew where the gate was currently located.
“Love your dress,” Carrots said just before walking into a restaurant.
Clara waited until the kitchen staff were out of earshot before replying, “Thank you.”
“Must take a while to put on,” Carrots said.
Clara momentarily looked down at the row of a hundred or so buttons that led from her collar to the very bottom. It did take time, but so did many aspects of being a lady.
“The price of fashion,” Clara said.
“I wouldn’t know,” Carrots replied.
“You will,” Clara countered, certain that in time Carrots would grow up to be a beautiful woman.
“We don’t all make it past our first day of freedom,” Carrots said bluntly.
That statement really caught Clara off guard. In that moment she realised that this exchange had been an elaborate distraction.
“Why,” Clara wondered.
They came to a door at the end of the kitchen’s storage area. On the other side there would be a small courtyard leading to three other buildings. The abandoned one on her left led directly to the Terminus.
Clara eyed Carrots and realised how the girl was deathly pale, even for a fair skinned redhead. Clara remembered a lecture that covered many of these details. It had been memorable because these details had been used as proof to deny the existence of these events.
“How did you find me,” Clara asked.
At first Carrots was quiet as though she were not expecting any questions.
“She wanted me to find you,” Carrots said.
“Who,” Clara asked.
While waiting for an answer Clara pulled a few pins from her hair that were used to anchor her hat. Her derringer dropped out from under and landed into her waiting hands; it was light and entirely familiar to the touch.
Instead of replacing her hat Clara kept it in hand. Meanwhile Carrots’ corporeal presence lost cohesion; so much so that Clara saw right through her.
“Rest now young one,” Clara said and for a moment Carrots appeared to smile.
Clara moved her attention to the door, hovering over the door she listened intently. For now it was silent as a tomb, which did little to reassure her.
At the moment she had the advantage of daylight to cover her advance. Vampires would not attempt an attack in broad daylight, even when under the cover of shade. The risk was simply too great.
Her instincts told her something was wrong. After all, that spirit were not roused from the grave for idle chatter.
“Well no sense in delaying the inevitable,” Clara thought.
With one swift kick the door flew open. The light of day strained her eyes, but she made out a lanky figure standing at the edge of the building’s shadow.
At first she hesitated until Clara caught that orange glow in its eyes. Without a second though she threw her hat at the figure, brought her derringer to bear and squeezed both triggers.
Even loaded with half-power charges, the weapon roared and obstructed her vision in smoke. Clara did not wait for the smoke to clear, instead she reached for her crucifix and charged.
Clara took three steps before the creature fell to its knees and collapsed. Only then did she see that a portion of its skull was missing. Clara watched as black ichor pooled on the ground.
“Ghoul,” Clara said.
Without a moment’s notice one of the adjoining doors blew open. A new figure was barreling down on her, the squeal it made would have filled her with dread if her training had not taught her to ignore such stimuli.
“Another,” Clara asked.
Clara stood her ground even as the seven-foot tall creature barreling towards her. Clara averted its gaze waiting and once it was nearly within arms reach she kneeled. Her positioning tripped the creature and sent it soaring overtop. A moment later Clara heard its body impact against the wall.
Once she dropped her arm, Clara noticed how it was stained with black ichor. Her blade had caught a piece of that thing during their brief interaction.
“That’s never going to come out of the fabric,” Clara said.
She approached the second attacker and without hesitation cut a deep gash through its throat. A spurt of ichor splattered against the wall, but the tide soon subsided once the creature’s lungs filled with fluid.
Clara was confused, Ghouls followed death. It was unheard of for their kind to seek out the living for their meal or for that matter hunt in packs.
“She wanted me to find you,” Carrots said.
Clara’s thoughts were disrupted when the cooks appeared at the doorway. One nearly dropped his butcher knife when the Ghoul’s stench reached them.
Clara expected to talk her way out of this situation, but they all seemed clueless. The human mind often chose to cast aside things that were deemed an impossibility. That’s the reason why Ghouls were able to survive without being discovered.
“Is everything alright mademoiselle,” a moustached man asked.
Clara concealed her crucifix and blackened sleeve. Her smile was warm and genuine, even while she looked over the courtyard to find an excuse.
“Mais oui,” Clara said. “I tripped on a crate and ran into the wall,” she added.
At first they seemed sceptical and the smell certainly kept them from getting closer. Fortunately that smell also provided her with an excuse.
“Must have been an old crate filled with rotten eggs,” Clara said. “Oh dear, looks like I broke a nail,” she whined.
“Pierre,” a man in the back row exclaimed just before he slapped the armed cook. “You idiot,” he added.
The cooks’ civility devolved until they retreated from sight. Fortunately men tended to keep their quarrels concealed from the fairer sex. Although there would surely be a black eye or two after the dust had settled. At least she had the opportunity to deal with this mess.
“I was called here,” Clara thought.
To give her a moment to think, Clara picked up her derringer and hat. The smell was really overpowering and her eyes nearly teared up. Still there was something amiss, so on a hunch Clara held her breath and closed her eyes.
“Nothing,” Clara thought. “Wait,” she said.
Clara heard a swarm of flies nearby, but there was nothing in sight to attract them. The ghouls bodies were too fresh to attract a swarm. That meant there was carrion nearby.
She walked from door to door until she neared the one nearly torn from its hinges. The sound through that door was more pronounced, but as a precaution she reloaded her derringer using full-powder charges.
The first thing she noticed was just how clean the Ghoul’s home was. These things tended to live in crypts or in caves, so this was highly out of the norm for their kind.
“Other than a few stray claw marks this place looks ready to live in,” Clara thought.
Clara came across a pearl encrusted cigarette holder with lipstick smudges at the base. Someone had left this behind recently and could not have been the ghouls. Difficult to say the least since they did not have a set of lips.
Immediately besides the cigarette holder there was a stray blond hair. Clara thought about it at length, but thought better of it, after all blondes were not exactly uncommon.
Clara followed the sound of the swarm and moved deeper into the building until she found a locked door. There were claw marks around the lock, which meant that whatever was inside had been locked in.
“Why would a Ghoul lock something in? Or why were they locked out,” Clara asked.
With the help of hair pins Clara unlocked the door with a skill that would make a locksmith envious. With her derringer in hand, she cracked open the door.
Signs of a brutal attack were immediately apparent, blood spatter covered the walls and there were blood streaks that led both deep inside and out of the room. Clara saw that this was a library, on a different day she might have been excited to make this discovery.
Instead she followed the blood until she found a shoe, followed by another and a bare leg with a deep gangrenous gouge. Clara gasped, even through a thick cloud of flies she could make out the pale and delirious Edith.
“My angel has come to save the day,” Edith murmured.