Cressida Hawkins was a deeply troubled vampire. Her sire hadn’t contacted her in two months. While it was reasonable to expect a break in communications here and there, it was not reasonable for it to be this long. A fortnight perhaps, but never this long. Something must have happened to Amelia.
Pacing in her room aboard the merchant ship, Stalwart, Cressida could think of little else. She tugged at the edges of her sleeves and walked back and forth across the planking, wobbling this way and that as the ship floated among the waves. She didn’t have far to pace, just a handful of steps. The room and its contents were small, with no light save for the candle she had lit. The sound of the ship’s creaking wood frame and men calling out above deck permeated her thoughts, preventing her from concentrating on possible reasons for Amelia’s silence. Irritated by the distractions, she picked up her book and threw it at the wall. The gray rat that had been watching her from the corner flinched where it sat.
Then it came – the sound of someone descending the steps and walking toward her cabin. She visibly perked up, temporarily flushing over the prospect having almost been caught in her little outburst. The rat scrambled back into the shadows as Cressida smoothed out her dress. Sure that it was proper, she stood up straight with her hands clasped together in front of her and waited.
After a moment, there was a knock at the cabin door.
“Hello, madam. May I come in?” It was Captain Thomasson. He was a kind, older man, but clearly unaware of what he harbored aboard his ship.
The door opened, and the captain poked his head in first to ensure everything was acceptable. Quickly, he reached up and pulled his tricorne hat off his head as he opened the door wider. Stepping inside, his presence made the room immediately shrink to the size of a water closet. He cleared his throat and presented Cressida with a letter.
“We just received this letter for you, madam.”
“A letter?” Cressida took it with haste, probably less than ladylike, and ripped it open at the wax seal.
Unfolding it, she read it carefully. Again and again, she read it. She must have read it line for line, word for word, nearly a hundred times before she looked up at the captain.
“Get out.” Her eyes narrowed and grew dark, her voice low and menacing.
“Get out of my room.”
“Are you well? Is something the ma–”
The captain, startled to be shouted at by a strange woman, immediately tucked tail and left, slamming the door shut behind himself. The sound of his frantic footsteps thunking up the stairs resounded through the cabin.
Cressida screamed: long, loud, and violently. She unleashed the unholy devil in her scream, feeling depraved and deranged. There was nothing that could quiet her. Her heart poured out her throat, and she wailed like a newly born banshee, filled with fury and despair.
Turning again to the letter, she read it one last time. Sure of its contents, she held it over her candle, watching it slowly catch fire and burn. She dropped it and took a deep breath, inhaling the smell of burning parchment.
Amelia was dead.
Dropping onto her tiny bed, Cressida fell apart. The tears came, and the rage. She gripped her bedding with both hands, wringing it tightly as if to murder it. Nothing could ease the hollow emptiness that now wrecked her from the inside out.
From the corner of her eye, she saw the rat again, and she blinked. Wiping her eyes with the back of her hands, she cleared her vision and reached out. Her hand held steady, she bid the rat come forward.
“Please. I won’t bite…you…”
The rat crept forward and sniffed her hand. Looking at her again, it leaned forward, then nuzzled her fingers. Taking a chance, she used a single finger to stroke the rat underneath its little gray chin. It rubbed against her fingertip, then came forward and climbed into her hand. Lifting her new friend up, she stared into its dark little eyes. They regarded each other for a moment.
“How would you like to help me with something?”
The rat seemed to understand her; it bobbed its head.
She set it down on her bed and stood up. Turning towards it, she asked, “Do you have any friends?”
Again, the rat nodded.
“Good. Bring them along.”
Cressida looked up, regarding the deck full of men above her. “I’m hungry.”