Dead End

The following selection is from Black Venom. This is the original, unedited version of these scenes. They were altered for the published version at the request of my editor to tone down references to child trafficking; and, I suspect, to avoid offending any Catholic readers.

Dead End

The lead had been old. Carpathia knew this, but she wanted to pursue it anyway. If nothing else, perhaps she could get a better sense of her prey’s habits. That alone would help her predict where he was most likely to turn up, even if she didn’t learn where he went.

Her informant, a sorry excuse of a slave trader in Port Royal, had not survived the encounter. Thia had been too long without a good feed and had drained him along with nearly half of his inventory.

Near sunset, the Lorelei approached a small, unassuming island with enough of a lagoon to provide a natural harbor. Several structures were visible close to the docks.

A sloop lay at anchor close to a landing platform in the deepest part of the lagoon. Captain Wormsloe blinked in surprise at the pennant it sported.

“This should be interesting,” he muttered. “Mr. Borescue, inform milady that there is an emissary of the Church here ahead of us.”

“Aye, Captain,” the first mate replied. “She’s not going to be pleased.”

On his way, Borescue snagged a sailor who didn’t look busy. Wormsloe understood the precaution. The vampire was apt to lash out over the unpleasant news. The sailor would be easier to replace than the first mate.

The moment the last sliver of sun vanished beneath the waves, Lady Carpathia erupted onto the deck. The very air around her crackled with dark energy. Her eyes glowed with an un-light.

It was a few moments before Mr. Borescue was able to stagger back topside. The grey pallor of his skin made the wash of blood that stained his neck and shirt stand out in stark contrast. Wormsloe felt relief she hadn’t killed the man, but feared his first mate might not survive the night.

“Mindoe, see that Mr. Borescue gets to the infirmary and send a couple of men down to retrieve Clarkson,” he ordered. He carefully avoided looking directly at their deadly passenger until she could compose herself. He had his master’s protection, but he didn’t trust that protection from half a world away with her in a foul mood.

*

Finally, Carpathia got her temper under control and damped her powers until she once again appeared to be human. She moved to stand close to Wormsloe and gaze across the lagoon at the vessel that was the source of the uproar. To his credit, he didn’t flinch at her proximity.

“If you don’t mind, I’d like to be able to select a few sailors from that lot to replace the ones we’ve lost before you feast,” he said.

“Careful of your tone, human,” she warned. “I am in no mood to tolerate your insolence.”

His smile was not friendly. “Just as I am in no mood to lose a good officer and mate to one of your snits, milady. Do not forget that I know how to contain you or whose protection I am under.”

She growled at him but made no move to attack.

*

Satisfied with his continued safety, Wormsloe made an observation. “The Church generally frowns on slavery, but this is not one of their battle ships come to enforce their will. Although I have never dealt personally with this slaver, Delacroix has a reputation for being a brothel supplier and being somewhat deviant in his sexual tastes.”

“He prefers men?” Carpathia smirked as she began to see a way to take control of the situation. “That is not so deviant.”

“Perhaps not to you, milady, but to ordinary mortals, it is,” he replied. “Be that as it may, men are not his particular taste. He prefers children; the younger the better.”

“Interesting. You make me wonder about this priest. Perhaps his faith is corrupt,” she said.

“We won’t know until we get ashore. Delacroix must have at least enough women in stock to keep the sailors occupied. There is no watch aboard that vessel or along the shoreline.”

“How careless of them,” she purred.

Without warning, she launched into the night sky. Mere moments later, she landed on the deck of the sloop. It didn’t’ take her long to go through the vessel and confirm it was nearly unoccupied. A cabin boy and a couple of old tars were the only ones aboard.

She drained the two men in their sleep. Their lives were the price for not posting a watch. The boy, she carried back to the Lorelei for questioning.

Once back aboard, she and Wormsloe took the boy to the captain’s cabin. He seemed to be more despondent than afraid, something Wormsloe took immediate notice of.

“What have you done to him, milady? I need him clear-headed if there is any hope of getting reliable information from him.”

“He was like this when I found him in the priest’s cabin,” she replied. “I have not clouded his mind, nor did he witness my two kills.”

At that statement, the boy showed a glimmer of hope. “Are you here to kill me?”

“Why do you ask that with such hope, child?” Thia found it unusual. Normally, humans begged for their lives.

“If I am dead, he can’t hurt me anymore or make me do those things,” the boy answered. “It is damnation to commit suicide, but not to be killed.” He grasped her skirts, tears of desperation in his eyes. “Are you the angel of death? You are as beautiful as an angel. You said you killed Garmin and Fitch. Please, please kill me too.”

She reached down and caressed his face with a gentle smile. “Poor sweet child, if you answer Captain Wormsloe’s questions, I will grant you the eternal peace you crave.”

The boy looked over at the captain. “What do you want to know?”

*

Delacroix and Father Jerome shared a cask of wine while the father looked over the children the slave trader had in stock. A variety of races were represented, mostly boys with only four girls in the lot.

One could easily tell which ones had been in Delacroix’s possession the longest. They had a world-weary resignation about them. The newer ones seemed to have more of a mix of shock and fear.

“I am not interested in the girls, Delacroix. They cannot be easily explained away like the boys can. Also, I think I want some of the native stock this time.”

“Very well.” Del snapped his fingers. One of his men separated three boys from the group and moved them forward for inspection. “Just out of curiosity, why only the native stock?”

“The bishop has been dogging me to increase the converts in any congregation,” he answered as he looked the boys over. “A couple of native altar boys should satisfy him. These two should do nicely. The other one looks like you’ve already broken him, Del.”

“Some of my clients prefer them that way. It saves time training them, and they’re less likely to run away. The two you’ve chosen aren’t from the same tribe, you know. They aren’t even from your vicinity.”

“Doesn’t matter.” Father Jerome smirked. “The old fool doesn’t know one breed from another. He just sees bronze skin and black hair and sees ignorant heathens in need of salvation.”

Del chuckled. “You white men never cease to amuse me. All right, now that you’ve made your selection, let us discuss price.”

Before the negotiations could go any further, the door opened and the cabin boy walked in. The priest frowned at him. “Patrick, I told you to stay with the ship. Why are you here?”

“Please come in, milady.” The boy said in reply.

“Milady? What are you talking about?”

Del noticed the boy looked unusually pale and there were two angry wounds on his neck. Carpathia swept into the room before Del could voice a warning. The invitation had given her access. She moved so fast she seemed to materialize beside Patrick. She smiled and placed a hand on the boy’s shoulder.

“Thank you for inviting me, Patrick. Now I will fulfill my promise to you.” Before anyone could stop her, she lifted the boy in her arms and buried her fangs in his throat. He died in mere minutes. She ripped his head from his body as if she were tearing a piece of cloth.

Throughout this, everyone in the room had been too stunned to react. As soon as the beheaded body hit the floor, and the vampire raised her blood-soaked face, chaos erupted.

The children cowered against the wall; their guards drew what weapons they had but were plainly terrified. Father Jerome stood agape at the horror before him, still in shock. Only the slaver kept his head. He had recognized exactly what they were dealing with.

He grabbed the priest by the arm, shook him, and yelled, “Use your rosary, man! She can’t defy anything holy!”

Carpathia snarled at Del, angry that her attack might be thwarted.

Jerome fished inside his shirt and pulled out a golden rosary. With a shaking hand, he thrust it toward her. “Begone foul servant of the Devil!” His voice quavered with fear.

For a brief moment, she flinched; then she blinked at him. Finally, she began to laugh.

“It’s not working!” he cried desperately at Del.

Carpathia stood at his side in a heartbeat. “Of course not, silly man.” She laughed as she tore his arm off then flung it, the hand still clutching the rosary, out the door behind her. She clasped the bleeding priest to her and said, “Your faith is corrupt, and your God has turned His back on you. And now, I shall usher you into Hell.” She bit into his upper shoulder and tore it wide.

He didn’t scream for long.

Delacroix’s men made a run for the door. She let them leave. The children remained huddled in a corner.

Seeing that his men made it out, Del tried to escape as well. Carpathia appeared directly in front of him just as he reached the door. As he stumbled back, she stalked toward him.

“Leaving so soon? I have business with you, Delacroix.” She tsked and wagged a finger at him.

He kept backing away from her until he tripped over Patrick’s body. He crabbed backwards into the wall, kicking the boy’s dismembered head in the process. It rolled to rest facing him with a bloodless, peaceful expression.

Del heard someone screaming. It took him a few moments to realize that it was him. In that time, the vampire moved to stand over him and grasped his chin.

This forced the slaver to meet her gaze. “You are going to tell me everything you know about the pirate, Viktor Brandewyne.”

 

Chapter 19

“I know that I want to kill that son-of-a-bitch,” Del snarled, instantly angry. That his anger was strong enough to afford him partial protection from her power said something.

“Interesting; why is that? I thought he occasionally sold to you,” she said.

“His prices are exorbitant. He demands full market value, which makes it nearly impossible to make a profit.” He stopped and glanced at the vampire. “And he seems to attract murderous bitches. You are the second woman who has come to me wanting information about Vik Brandee.”

“Really?” She tilted her head. “What kind of woman was the first one?” Thia thought perhaps her master had sent another hunter. If so, it would complicate her plans.

“I’ve sent out scouts to find out about her. Samantha Brumble is the only daughter of Tobias Brumble, proprietor of the Brumble & Sons Trading Company of Boston. Apparently, Brandee took her brothers and she wants them back. The crusading bitch stole my inventory and almost castrated me. If I ever get my hands on her, I will use her body in every way known to man while her father is forced to watch then gut her in front of him.”

“So you really don’t like her.” Thia smirked. “You show potential, Delacroix; but I don’t have time to train you properly. I could teach you how to make her death last weeks.” She shook her head and got back on course. “What else can you tell me about Brandee?” She put the full force of her will behind the question.

Del’s face went slack as his will and anger evaporated before her power. “His ship is almost a dreadnaught and is called the Incubus. His first mate is Hezekiah Grimm, the Grimm Reaper. There is a woman on his crew, a red-head. The Reaper told me she is a siren. The last time he was here was well over two years ago. Very few crewmen were allowed ashore. Scuttlebutt was they were heading to Islas de la Roques.”

“What about ports he is known to frequent?” She knew chances were that Brandee was nowhere near the named islands by now. She needed a better grasp on his habits and haunts. There had to be someplace that was most likely a good place to intercept him at.

“Vik Brandee is hard to predict. There are some that say Savannah is his home port, but he has been seen in just about every major port in the Caribbean as well as up the Atlantic coast. The Reaper, on the other hand, seems particularly fond of Havana and New Orleans.”

Carpathia smiled. “You have been very informative and helpful, Delacroix.”

He grinned at her approval. He was so happy that she was pleased with him. He was still grinning when she tore his head from his shoulders.

The entire time, the children huddled in the corner had not moved. They were frozen with both fear and fascination. She saw the hobbles on their ankles and realized those had probably played a part in it, as well. A chain ran through the hobbles and connected to a ring in the floor.

She strode over to the ring and ripped it from its mooring in one swift pull. She looked at the children with no expression on her face and said, “Come.”

They obeyed. Even the ones that had not been subjected to Delacroix’s affections had been prisoners long enough to know that they would just be dragged by their hobbles if they resisted.

One of the older children asked, “Why didn’t you eat him like you did the other two?”

Carpathia stopped and peered at the child. “You do not fear me, even after all you have seen. Why?”

He looked back at the pale-skinned woman who held his chain. She was monstrously beautiful; standing there soaked from chin to knee in the blood of her victims. He shrugged and said, “At worst, you will kill me. After what that bastard put my mother and me through, death would be a blessed rest.”

“Only if it is the true death,” she amended with a cryptic qualifier. “I did not feed on the slave trader because I did not want to take the chance of him becoming what I am. He did not deserve that kind of power.”

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