Richard found that if he kept to the wall, away from the railing and the yawning chasm that awaited just on the other side, he was fine. Which not only helped his sense of safety from falling, it also helped him regain his dignity, what was left of it anyway. Being able to not only look calm, but feel calm did wonders for his self esteem.
“I don't want to be the pessimist in the group.” he finally said, once he had fully recovered from his ordeal on the plank. And who the hell had decided one narrow plank of wood was sufficient for crossing a bottomless pit in the first place? “But what if Islington doesn't know where the key is either?” He wasn't worried about how Islington would take it when they returned without the key. He'd put Richard and Door completely at ease when they'd seen him before.
Hunter on the other hand, was a trifle concerned. How would this affect the plan? Were Croup and Vandemar still going to meet them on the way? And if not, how was she to get the spear? She was the greatest Hunter in the underside, but she'd gotten that title not only by being very, very good on her own, but also understanding how certain things worked. And for whatever reason, the Beast of London could only be killed by the spear of destiny. Which Islington's goons were meant to give her, in payment for her cooperation. She felt a swell of pride knowing that even the legendary cutthroats were not so confident in their ability to defeat her. If they had been they would simply have coerced her into helping, rather than offering the spear in payment.
“I am confident that even if he does not know, he will know how to find out.” she said finally.
“Magic that powerful always leaves a trace.” Door added. “If you know how to look for it, you can maybe follow the trail.”
“Well, well, well, Mr. Vandemar.” Mr. Croup grinned, looking in amusement at the carnage of the abbey. “Someone's made a very large mess.”
“Big mess Mr. Croup.” Vandemar agreed. “Very nice mess.”
“They don't seem to have enjoyed themselves however.” tsked Croup.
“No they didn't.” Vandemar nodded. “Not at all.”
“One should always take pride and pleasure in their work Mr. Vandemar. Otherwise there's hardly any point is there?”
Vandemar shook his head sadly. “Almost feel sorry for 'em.”
“Well we can't all be artists can we. Still, impressive display of rage and frustration.”
“And a woman did it.”
“The deadliest of the species indeed. Excepting ourselves of course. Now then, I think I've got a scent, let's see if we can't discover what's become of the lost trinket.”
“It's very good of you,” Lamia said, walking beside Richard. “Taking me with you like this.”
“Least we could do.” Richard said modestly. She was looking at him in a way he couldn't identify. He rather liked it though.
Ahead of them, Door and Hunter turned a corner and were lost to sight.
“The others are getting a little ahead.” he pointed out. He hadn't realized until now that he and Lamia had been slowing down.
“Let them go.” she said softly. “We'll catch up.” She stopped, and ran a cold finger down his cheek. “You're so warm. It must be wonderful to be so full of warmth.”
Richard thought she was speaking metaphorically. “Uhm, it's not something I think about really.”
She stepped closer to him. “Would you share, some of your warmth with me?” she asked coquettishly.
He still thought she was speaking metaphorically. Well actually it was rather hard to think at all right now really. “I, what?”
“Don't you like me?”
“Of course I like you.”
“And you're not using all of your heat are you?”
Now he REALLY wasn't sure what she was talking about. “No, I suppose not.”
“And you said you'd pay me, for being your guide. And that's what I want for my payment. Warmth.”
She was standing so close to him now. His world collapsed till all it held, all he could see was her. The white of her skin, the color of her eyes, the black of her hair. Inside him, the part that had seen this movie was screaming at him that this was a very bad idea. But she had woven her spell to well and he ignored it.
She cupped his face in her hands, and kissed him gently, but firmly on the lips. She was so cold. The cold within her seemed to spread, infiltrating him, and stole his breath. Like jumping into a cold bit of water and having the breath sucked out of you, only stronger.
She pulled back, and took a deep breath. Her lips and face were not so pale now. And dimly, through the numbness of his skin, he could feel that her hand on his cheek was not quite so cold anymore. Now he could identify the look she was giving him. It was hungry. And she wasn't sated yet.
“More.” she purred, pulling him to her again. He hadn't the strength or the will to fight her, and he felt her lips press against his again. Suddenly, just as his sight was beginning to dim, she was yanked away from him.
Though his mind felt blurry, Richard realized that the Marquis had caught up with them. He was holding Lamia tightly by the back of her neck. “Give it back.” he growled at her. “Give him back his life.”
She struggled, hissing and scratching like an angry kitten, but was unable to escape. Finally, grudgingly, she leaned forward as best she could, and breathed softly into Richard's mouth. He felt his body temperature slowly return to normal.
“All of it Lamia.” the Marquis rasped, shaking her. Giving De Caribas a look that would have curdled milk, she she breathed the last of what she'd stolen back into Richard. He felt like he'd run a mile, but at least he could breathe and think again.
“What did you do to me?” he gasped.
“She was stealing your life.” the Marquis said, his voice still raspy. “That's what she and her kind do.”
“I need it more than he does.” she spat. Her color had returned to normal.
De Caribas gave her another violent shake, then shoved her roughly away. “Come near him again, you or any of your kind and I'll come to your cavern during the day, and burn it to the ground.”
She looked for a moment like she might rush him, her fingers curled into claws. But the look he gave her back was even more chilling than Richard could have imagined. Finally, all she did was spit in the man's face, and flee.
He wiped the frozen spittle from his cheek, and turned to Richard with his familiar smirk. “Charming woman. Now let's catch up to Door. She's in danger. Did you get the key?”
“No?” De Caribas snapped. “What do you mean no?”
“I mean no. It was gone. Someone got there before us, and killed the monks. We don't know what happened to the key.”
This was a surprise. And the Marquis did not like surprises. “Well now, this is a wrinkle.”
To Be Continued...