The sun was still setting; a violet haze still lingered on the horizon, streaking the clouds rainbow hues. It was beautiful, despite the faint sting on his flesh; he had forgotten just how much he once enjoyed simply sitting outside and watching the last dredges of daylight struggle against the night. It was poetry in nature.
A twig snapped beneath his perch, and he squinted through the cover of leaves to see three people trudging through the dense forest beneath him. Two strigoi morţi, famished but well rested, dragging a limp figure through the dry grass and fallen leaves of autumn.
Dmitri sniffed. They had followed Prince Dracula’s orders, then; they hadn’t fed, and hadn’t tidied themselves up after coming out of ground for the night. They smelled only of dust and earth, and blended almost perfectly with the forest around them. The only new smell was that odd blood-dog mix of Joan Gwyther’s, and mixed with her reek of fear and hunger, there was no doubt Heinrich Abendroth would smell it and come running.
He settled more comfortably on his branch, watching the two vampires dump Gwyther on the ground and slip back into the night. Surrounding the area, buried deep and safe and warm in the dirt and soil were the creatures of Castle Dracula and the allies who chose to join them in Germany. They would wake soon. Dmitri only hoped it wouldn’t be too early.
Below him, Gwyther whimpered and rolled onto her back. Filth and dirt clung to her oversize jean jacket—the same she wore the night she murdered Quinn Atkins. A frown furrowed his brow and he took a deeper breath. Quinn’s blood scent still clung to the denim. A well of anger bubbled up beneath his breast, reminding him why he sat in a tree in the Black Forest with a powerful rifle and long-range scope. Joanie killed Quinn. No matter if she lost her mind, she still did it. He was dead because she couldn’t control the monster in her heart.
Dying sunlight lit up her eyes when they opened. Groaning, she pushed herself up and rubbed her face, smearing dirt across her brow, and frowned at her surroundings. Starvation was making her weak, making her sleep longer during the day; she would have no knowledge of ever leaving Castle Dracula. Everything was running smoothly. Prince Dracula would be pleased.
She lifted her face, eyes shut once more, and sniffed the air. Dmitri watched, lungs and heart still. Nothing. There would be nothing. The gnawing feeling in his very soul told him that. He had not fed yet and hadn’t brushed the soil from his clothes and hair. He smelled of nothing, the two who had brought her here smelled of nothing; she would only catch the fragrances of the earth and wild, untouched forest around her.
And, God willing, the not-so-distant stench of werewolf.
She coughed and climbed to her feet. “Fane?” she ventured. Her voice was almost immediately swallowed by the darkness. “Fane? Vanessa? Is anyone there? Jesus Christ.” She buckled, hands gripping her head, and nearly fell to her knees. Dmitri pulled himself up and one hand went to the scope of his rifle. Fuck what Prince Dracula and Vanessa said—if she showed any signs of turning, he would put a bullet through her brain without a second thought. She didn’t mean so much to him that his conscience would stop him.
She rubbed her face again and straightened, stumbling a little over the thick carpet of leaves. “Leandra? Dmitri? Please, is someone here? Fane?”
“Fane is not here, Hündchen. But I am.”