Lessons: Purity teaser

Jezebel Baudelaire was gasping for air, scratching at the sleeve of his coat with desperate fingers. Fane’s glare sharpened and he pressed his arm harder into her throat. He was tempted for a moment to be like Vanessa, when she was showing him the ropes of hand-to-hand fighting several centuries before, and coolly ask upon pinning the opponent, “So, what have we learned?”

Instead, he leaned closer to her, and she tried to buck him off by jerking violently. Fane stayed firmly planted atop her, legs on either side of her body. “Have you had enough yet?” he hissed. Somewhere behind him, he could hear the vârcolaci and strigoi morţi engaging in battle.

Satan only knew if Caitlyn had gone.

The vârcolac beneath him couldn’t answer, not while the life was being choked out of her.

“Get out of Auvergne, Miss Baudelaire,” he said, formality itself. “Return Estelle Moreau her son, and leave the pack be. I will not hesitate to kill you.”

He eased up on her throat, and a huge gust of air inflated her lungs as she finally managed to catch her breath. Gasping and panting, she glared at him and whispered, “You… won’t win. Heinrich… has too many… supporters.”

“Heinrich may have strong support, but I have greater allies. We shall see how this battle of wits plays out in the end.”

Leaning over her face as he was, Fane was suddenly very strongly reminded of several points in his childhood when he and his brother would wrestle for fun. Mircea, being older and bigger, always ended up pinning Fane, and leaned over him in this exact way, slowly drooling spit until Fane would call for their mother.

He smiled slightly at the memory. Baudelaire saw and her eyes widened, misunderstanding. She thrashed wildly beneath him, determined to free herself. Fane pressed his weight on her, and she gave up after a few moments. Her chest heaved with the effort of dragging in breaths, and she was still pawing weakly at his arm.

Fane sighed and moved his free hand. He reached into his coat and calmly removed the revolver. Pulling the hammer back with a click, he pressed the barrel into her temple, and she immediately froze.

“Return Master Moreau to his mother and leave Auvergne, and I will spare your life. This is your only chance, Miss Baudelaire, and the only mercy I shall ever show you.”

There was only a brief hesitation and flash of indecision in her dark eyes before she shoved him off. He let her and stood, watching her closely as she gasped and rubbed her neck.

“The kid’s in those trees there,” she croaked, pointing to a copse nearby. “He’s not hurt.” Turning away and crawling to her feet, she waved a hand. “Hey! It’s time to get out of here!”

The fighting ceased almost immediately.

“What?” A German voice—Manfred Gottschalk, unless Fane was mistaken—rose up in the darkness. “Where are we going?”

“Home.” Baudelaire limped toward her group, eyes cast down.

Fane kept the gun aimed at her, silent.

“Baden-Württemberg?”

Baudelaire’s mouth twitched. “Baden-Württemberg. Auvergne isn’t about to be swayed to join Heinrich. Let’s go.”

Fane watched as the rebels abandoned their fights and trudged toward their leader. The night was filled with the crunch of breaking bones for several long seconds, then a large pack of wolves stood on the ground before Fane. One—judging by the ash brown fur, Jezebel Baudelaire—glared up at him, and he nodded once, and lowered the gun. In silence, they turned toward the north, toward France’s far border with Germany, and began to run.

Fane waited until they were shadows. “Estelle Moreau’s child is in that copse. We are going home as well, and may this business with Heinrich Abendroth be finished.”

He turned and began striding back toward Le Vallon. In the distance, he could see Vanessa’s recognizable figure heading toward him, leading the third and final prisoner. A bubble of hatred popped inside him as he neared them; renewed disgust for Alfred Blade and everything he stood for.

Vanessa was near Joan Gwyther and Caitlyn now, who were watching in stunned silence, a large rifle on the grass before them.

“My lord,” Vanessa said, pushing forward the final prisoner. “What do you want to do with him?”

In one fluid movement, Fane lifted the gun and pulled the trigger. A sick splat as the bullet ripped through the prisoner’s forehead, and a thud as his body jerked in Vanessa’s arms; Fane barely heard any of it. His mind was elsewhere.

Vanessa dropped the corpse, looking disgusted, but Fane ignored it and pushed past her. Keeping his emotions under control, he said flatly, “Burn the body,” and, leaving the others behind, he slipped into the darkness around Le Vallon.

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