Sorry for the delay on this one, ladies and gentlemen; things are particularly busy at the moment, and then this story ballooned into a bigger version of itself (though I feel the expansion was necessary), but not quite so much that I split it.
WARNING: there is a little bad language and some gruesome allusions in this one, but nothing too gory/profane.
The Wolf and the Shepherd
Emile sat back in the chair, and admired his handiwork. He had only spent a few hours working, but he felt confident that it had been worth the time. In truth, he had not planned this distraction; it was on detours like this that resulted in one getting caught, but there had been something so perfect about them. He had never worked out if they actually were newlyweds, but they had acted so much like it, that he felt comfortable telling himself they were. Not that it mattered now.
Emile frowned. Something was missing. He stood and wandered around the tableau he had created, scratching his designer stubble with one hand. As he did so, the thought clicked and he reached down towards them, arranging their hands so that they were entwined. As he stood back and admired his work, he knew that it was the perfect finishing touch.
He casually licked some of the blood off his hand, more as an affectation than any real desire to drink the stuff. He had managed to avoid spilling any on his suit, which had been very important. The last thing he needed was his next charge to have any inkling of what was to come too soon. It would spoil the chase.
He closed the door and locked it; he would later discard the key in the fountain in the lobby, but it was not as if he needed to be discrete. He did not concern himself with mundanities like an address, and could change his face if he needed to, although he had found himself rather attached to this one. People seemed to respond well to it, and that helped him indulge in his past times more freely.
He checked his watch. The restaurant was not far from the hotel, but he liked to arrive early; it was all about the mind-set. Not that he found himself needing to work particularly hard with these people, but it was always sensible not to find himself on the back foot. It took all the fun out of the experience.
* * * * *
Emile sat at the table, sipping his wine, and watching the door. He never met his charges at any location that was familiar to them; the last thing he needed was to leave a trace of himself and have some enterprising medium track him down from it. Hotels and restaurants were so much trickier for them to discern anything useful from; filled with constant guests and employees passing through, it would hide him from even the best and the most diligent of readers.
There was movement by the door, and Emile caught sight of her. She looked good, he thought hungrily, for one of them, dressed elegantly and flatteringly. He knew his body had hungers of its own, some he revelled in, some of which perplexed him, but this was one he enjoyed. He stood, and stared across the restaurant at her. She saw him and smiled, and he felt warm in his stomach. This was how it always started.
She joined him and they walked through the dance; greetings, pleasantries, perfunctory gallantry, and then they were seated, and Emile began to play. He liked to listen to them talk. It made them feel as though he cared, and allowed him to begin to work out what made them tick. He had long ago perfected the right nods, when to interject, when to tease, and he was often told what a good listener he was, or how he was ‘different’ from the people they usually met. He would shrug it off with another joke, and it would only work further in his favour.
This one, however, was trickier. He knew she had worked in charity of some sort, and that ‘she didn’t often do this kind of thing,’ and that was what had made her stand out. He liked the pure ones; they tended to experience new emotions like terror so much more completely, and besides, it felt like a proper contribution to the cause.
But Emile was having to do more of the talking, and it was distracting him from getting inside her head. She would not follow when he tried to lead the conversation, and would change subject seemingly at random. It was becoming tiresome, and, in attempting to appear casual, he was going through more wine than he usually thought sensible. He knew he could keep his faculties, but the body only had so much tolerance before it became difficult. Further still, she seemed to keep up with him, but was as coherent and sharp as she had been when she first sat down, if not more so.
She was asking questions about his childhood. His family. His past relationships. Personal information, of a person who had no real information. He changed his backstory with each new conquest; it made him harder to track, and gave him more fun to invent new details. Even ‘Emile’ was a more recent choice, though, like the face he currently wore, it was one he had become oddly attached to. It reminded him of his own name, which he had tried many times to say with this basic tongue, but had to settle for an approximation.
She refilled his wine, and continued the questions about his history. With considerable exasperation, Emile realised he had lost control of the conversation and, worse, he was now starting to lose track of his own lies. He was starting to suspect that he had told her that his parents were both dead and alive and well, so he took a long sip of wine to try and collect his thoughts. He tried to parse through all of the information that had come out of his mouth, and found himself lost.
Before he could correct his story, she raised an eyebrow at him. “Dear me, you’re not very good at this,” she stated, unamused. “No wonder your side lost the war.”
Every thought in Emile’s mind stopped as if it had hit a wall. He stared at her for a moment, and, for the first time in many long years, tried to look not at who he thought the person in front of him was, but who was really there across the table from him.
But old habits die hard, and Emile went straight for deference; he raised an eyebrow at her, trying to hold his demeanour, and quipped, “my side? My dear, I have no side. I’m a one-man army.”
He winked at her, but he no longer felt the confidence he wanted to project. He had met sharper humans in the past, ones he could not lazily lead along, but eventually he worked out how to worm his way into their heads as well. They all had their own tells that he could eventually identify, but this seemed to be no ordinary opponent. She had shifted in her chair, no longer a willing participant in the game, and he shifted uncomfortably every time she fixed him with her focused gaze.
“We can keep playing, if you insist,” she offered, but there was no spark in the air anymore. “But may we at least drop the façade?”
Emile pursed his lips, letting the grin follow again for a brief moment, before relenting. He downed the entirety of his glass, and sat back in his chair, folding his arms petulantly.
“How long have you known?”
“I knew the moment I saw you,” she replied, a pensive smile crossing her lips. “Didn’t you?”
Emile shrugged. His head hurt, which was not an effect that alcohol regularly had on him, not since back in the days of Viking raids, when there had been proper feasts. Had he known? He was no longer sure, and, worse still, could he even tell anymore? He knew there were more of his kind walking this world, but he had started to wonder if hers were just a distant memory. He frowned as he thought about it. “Maybe,” he wondered allowed, “somewhere deep down, perhaps? I guess I was just hoping I was wrong.”
They sat in silence for a while. Emile studied her face, trying to see through her mask. She returned his stare, but tilted her head from side to side, as if she were trying to help him see underneath. She wore her skin so naturally it was if she had actually been born into it, and that was when Emile had his moment of clarity. She did not use the body like a vessel, a means to an end to blend with the natives. It was an extension of herself; it really was her skin, as far as it could be, further than he had ever allowed his own transport to be. How could he have seen through that?
“So what happens now?” he asked, his bravado having long since departed.. He had not often felt fear whilst he had walked this world, but what he felt in his stomach was unmistakeable.
“You know what happens,” she replied, with what he hoped was a note of sadness. She put a hand on his and looked into his eyes. “Will you come willingly?” she asked, and the hope in her voice made his heart skip a beat for a moment.
Emile grinned for a second before he could stop himself. “I don’t know,” he replied, chewing over the idea in his head. “Is that an option?”
She nodded reassuringly, squeezing his hand a little. “Completely.” As he returned her gaze, her eyes flicked to a couple at a nearby table, then to the waiter, then to a family by the door. Her eyes returned to meet his. “It would be easier.”
Emile had understood the look. He leaned back, extracting his hand from beneath hers, and stretched. He made no efforts to be subtle as he turned to look at the groups of people dotted about the restaurant.
He turned back slowly to her, relishing the discomfort on her face. “For whom?” He asked with a devilish grin. “For them?”
She clucked her tongue, and Emile saw it was not part of a performance. He cursed inwardly for letting himself believe he was beyond detection.
“They don’t need this,” she replied, sitting back in her chair, her face hardening. “The clean up would be … extensive.”
While the thought of his last fight being messy thrilled him in a small recess of his mind, he ultimately decided that it was not the end he wanted. Emile had never been a devout scholar of honour or duty, but here, outed by the superior soldier, he felt that this was a compromise he could make.
But he was not quite ready to roll over completely just yet, nor was he about to openly admit defeat. He lied, simply because he could. “Truth is, I don’t think I’ve got the fight left in me, even if I wanted to be a pain in the arse.”
“Trust me,” she said, smiling back, and he was warmed to see there was at least some sincerity to it, “it’s better that way.”
“Well, if this is my last night in the world, let’s at least enjoy the meal?” he said softly, flashing her the smile again. He raised his arm and snapped his fingers. “Garcon!” he shouted to the restaurant theatrically, turning to look for the waiter.
She rolled her eyes at him, but the smile did not fade. Not yet.
* * * * *
They left the restaurant hand in hand. He was surprised to learn that he had not been bluffing. Now that he was presented with his fate, he found he had less fight left than he had believed. Maybe it was her presence that did it. He gave her his jacket, less because it was gentlemanly, but because it had become routine for him.
They walked up to one of the observation points on the seaside. He had brought others here before, so he wondered if this was poetic justice. He watched the waves, far below them, for a moment. There was no moon and the stars were hidden by the glare from the city lights, and it made Emile feel alone. He had not cared much for the romanticism that humans tended to bestow upon the lights in the sky in the past, but on this night, he felt as if it made some sense.
“Was it the last two?” he asked. She stood a few paces behind him, almost as if to remind him there was nowhere to go.
“The two in the hotel? I haven’t done a lot of couples. Gets tricky to keep track of them both at the same time. Thought it might have been a little ostentatious, but, well, you have to branch out eventually.”
He waited for a response, and when he did not receive one, he turned and stared at her. She was not looking at him, but out over the city, and the traffic moving on the road down the cliff side from them.
“Why even do any at all? It’s not exactly subtle,” she said eventually.
Emile shrugged. It was not something he had really thought about. “Fun, I guess.”
“All the normal ways not enough for you?”
“What, like sex?”
It was her turn to shrug. “It’s better than murdering them.”
He waved his hand in front of his face, as if trying to swat a fly. “There’s always been sex,” he said, rolling his eyes. “Back since they were skulking in their caves, right up ‘til the here and now, they’ve always rutted like animals. But death … death used to be commonplace, but these days, introduce a little death into their lives and they lose their minds!” he beamed. “Watching them scurry about trying to make sense of it … it’s one of the few pleasures left in this humdrum little world.”
She shook her head. “And that,” she replied quietly, “is why your side lost the war.”
“We lost the war because your side turned their backs on us,” Emile spat at her, abandoning the charming front entirely. He could feel a little fire building in his stomach, and wondered whether he would have enough strength for a last stand. It would probably look better if he returned home a fallen warrior than a spy uncovered.
“We turned our backs on you because you became something unrecognisable,” she said. In answer to his confused look, she went up to the railing and looked out over the rest of the city. “Look out there.”
Emile glanced in her direction and shrugged. “I see lights. What’s your point?”
“That is a city burning with light, because without it, their kind are flailing in the dark. It’s hard enough for them down here without your kind treating them like cattle to be slaughtered, and that’s what why we turned our backs on you. I won’t claim that we have a profound love for these people, but we couldn’t stand with what your side were proposing.”
“Please!” he scoffed, throwing his hands up. “We’re no worse to them than they are to themselves. If they had the right teeth, they would eat each other!”
“So your answer is to eat them first?”
“Laws of nature,” he grinned, the same smile he had always worn before showing his conquests his true self. “The strong preys upon the weak.”
She looked at him in astonishment, and he could feel her inspecting his very essence, beneath the vessel that had carried him for so many years. “When I look at you now, and realise that we were once kin, sickens me. You’re nothing but a parasite that needs exterminating.”
Emile felt as though he had been slapped. He considered shouting, balling his fists and taking a swing at her, trying to make her see what she was so blind to, but in his heart of hearts, deep beneath the fleshy organ in his chest, he knew it would be futile. He joined her at the railing and let it support his weight. “I guess we’re never going to see eye to eye on that one,” he muttered.
“Some wounds run too deep,” she all but whispered.
“I’ll drink to that,” Emile replied flippantly, staring out at the buildings below. He may have hated the mortals that scurried about below, but he was suddenly struck by the look of the city at night. “I’ll miss this place.”
“You won’t,” she replied simply.
Emile looked over at her, and she looked back at him. She answered him before he could ask what she meant.
“This isn’t exile. This is execution.”
His face fell. He had not been expecting to get caught, by any means, but he felt he could have conceded defeat to the more worthy player, when defeat had meant banishment back to the pits. But he had not considered execution. To be consigned to nothingness? To cease to be entirely?
He looked back down the pathway they had taken up to the observation point. It was a long, winding path, lit atmospherically, as if built for lovers to walk on nights like this one. Emile considered making a run for it. She may have outmanoeuvred him mentally, but physically, he surely had the upper hand. She was in heels, after all.
He did not reach the path. He looked down at his feet, and they had not moved. He looked back, and she had placed her hand on his shoulder.
Emile sighed. “Can’t blame a guy for trying.”
“Even if you got down the path, you can’t hide anymore. We’ve seen you.”
His arm felt strange where she was touching him. Somehow warm and cold all at once, and he felt trapped. He could not move away, and did not dare take his eyes off her.
He tried to stall for time. “Just answer me one question.”
She bit her lip. “Fine.”
“Is that your real name?”
She looked away for a moment, and that was all the answer he needed.
“Fuck,” he said, more to the world than to her specifically. “I spend centuries lying my arse off, and I don’t see through that?”
“I wasn’t trying to deceive you,” she replied quietly.
“Then that makes me feel ten times worse,” Emile scowled, rubbing his face with his hand. “How in the hell did you manage to play me?”
“I wasn’t playing you,” she answered, her ice-blue eyes hard and unwavering. “I wasn’t even looking for you. You just didn’t even try to hide. I was following a different lead all together, but you just couldn’t help yourself.”
Emile stopped himself before he could reply. Regardless of the situation it had put him in, there was something about her comment that made him feel immense pride. He flashed the shark-like grin at her once again, ensuring it was neither warm nor friendly. “Like I said, laws of nature. The wolf only does what he does, when surrounded by sheep.”
“A wolf amongst sheep?” she repeated incredulously, sounding out each syllable as if it would help her to understand them better. “That’s what you think you are? And, what, you’re just going to tear apart the herd because it’s in your nature?”
Emile bowed theatrically. He was cornered, and he could not run, so he did what he had always done. As he stood, he flashed her the grin once more and winked. “Mr Wolf, at your service. I may huff, and I may puff, but I will get you where you want to go.”
For a moment she made no move at all, and for those fleeting seconds, Emile relished in his small victory. But it was short-lived, and suddenly she was directly in front of him, a hand on his forehead. He tried to struggle, but his strength escaped him, and she pushed him to his knees without effort. She leaned in close and whispered to him threateningly, “Well, Mr Wolf. The shepherd is here now. And she is fucking angry.”
* * * * *
Celeste sat in her car, across from the hotel. She watched as the police arrived at the scene, their lights bathing the street a deep blue. She stayed for the arrival of the ambulance crew, the extraction of the bodies, and, later, the slow dispersal of the crowd that had gathered and watched the proceedings. Though she had seen more than enough corpses in her time, not just human ones, there was something about the pair of them together that made her heart feel heavy.
Her phone buzzed on the dashboard. She tried to ignore it. She knew she had spent more time on this case than she should have, but there had been something about his arrogance that she had not been able to ignore. His complete self-assurance that he was in charge of every situation, and that he could not, would not, see her had made it difficult to restrain herself. It was only centuries of practice that allowed her to rein in her feelings long enough to get him away from the restaurant without processing him then and there.
Celeste rubbed her eyes, vainly trying to shift some of the exhaustion from them. In truth, she had not known about the couple in the hotel. Whether it was guilt or pride that had fuelled it, she could not deny that Emile’s statement had saved her a lot of time, even though she had been unable to prevent the fate that had befallen them.
A shopping bag filled with his clothes had been thrown onto the passenger seat. She would probably leave them in the doorway of a charity shop, though she had the desire to simply burn them, to remove any remaining traces of him. Celeste reached for her phone, and caught sight of herself in the rear-view mirror, realising slowly that she was still wearing his jacket. She stared at the reflection of herself for the longest time, but made no move to take it off. Her phone buzzed again, derailing her train of thought, and she answered it.