The moment fell into time and burned into their memories as something to never forget.
Elsie noticed the state of Hildreth’s coat. “What happened to you?”
“Vampire. Oh, and I got beaten pretty soundly by a fierce little thing with a ton of hair.”
“You’re exaggerating. My hair isn’t that big.”
“I don’t know. I’ve seen you in hot weather. Whoosh! Major frizz attack.”
She laughed and lightly punched his arm. “Well, hot weather makes your hair curl.”
“Does too. Just along your hairline. Right back here.” She rubbed the back of his neck.
He smiled. “Hmm, that feels nice.”
Elsie and Hildreth scrambled up to their feet and into their fighting stances.
The vampire flipped his long white-blonde hair over his shoulder before rubbing his nose. “Ngh. Oh, please don’t stop on my account. I’m having loads of fun over here.”
“What do you want?” asked Elsie.
He sneezed again. “Your blood, of course. But, really first thing’s first. The master of this town wishes to meet you.”
Elsie and Hildreth exchanged looks before asking in unison, “The what?”
“Are you contagious?” asked Hildreth.
“No. I’ve—” He rubbed his nose again and again with his bare hand. “—I’ve had this cold for the last sixty years.”
“Why?” asked Elsie. “I thought vampires can’t get sick.”
“I was sick when I was changed and, for some reason—”
Another series of sneezes.
“—the change did not heal my cold at all.”
“I don’t—” Five sneezes in a row. “—know. I’m just special that way.”
“Seems more like unfortunate to me.” said Hildreth.
He rubbed his nose again.
“For the record,” said Hildreth. “I am not shaking your hand.”
“Ngh. I said I’m not contagious.”
“I don’t want to take any chances.”
“Well. Follow me.”
Elsie didn’t budge. “What does your master want from us?”
“Not ‘us’. You. You’re Elsie Vansing the Hated. Elsie Vansing the Marauder.”
“Marauder?” Hildreth grinned. “Elsie the Marauder. Nice! I can just see you in a little leather scrap dress with fur trimmings—”
Elsie shook her head.
“—an iron cap thing with horns, and a spiked club. Unfortunately, I think you’d be the type to spit and smell like horse urine.”
“Oh, Hildreth! Really? Horse urine?”
“Yep. Horse urine.”
She sighed. “And here I was worried that you’d call me Attila the Hun.”
“Aww, you’d make a cute Attila.”
“I’m really not sure if that’s a compliment.”
“Ngh. This is sweet and adorable and altogether quite fetching.”
“Fetching?” Hildreth considered all of the definitions of that word. “I don’t think that means what you think it means.”
Another sneeze. “At any rate, the master wishes to see Elsie.”
Annnnd another sneeze. “Just follow me and you’ll find out.”
“Wait. Can we go home for a second? My…Well. Just look at my coat. It’s all shambles thanks to one of you.”
“Her name was Gretchen.”
“Didn’t look much like a Gretchen to me, but besides the point. I’m gonna catch my death of cold out here. It ain’t exactly springtime, buddy.”
The vampire fidgeted. “But the master—”
“The master can wait until I’m more suitably dressed. I don’t want to him to think I’m a bum.”
“Well. The master doesn’t really care about you.” Another sneeze. “More interested in her. So, I guess you can go?”
“Hildreth! What are you doing?”
He smiled at the vampire. “I want to meet this master too. Could you give me directions or leave a trail of breadcrumbs?”
Seven sneezes later…”I’m bad with directions.”
“Then leave some sort of trail I can follow.”
“Hildreth.” She grabbed him by his ragged collar and dragged him away from the vampire. “What do you think you’re doing? Are you really going to abandon me? We don’t know anything about this master. He could be—”
“Elsie.” He kissed her forehead. “Trust me. I have a plan.”
“Does it involve calling every hunter we know and getting them over here?”
“That’s a good plan, but no. Just trust me. I’ll be quick.” He kissed her lips. “I’ll find you. Be safe. Don’t get hurt. Don’t get changed. And don’t trust him.”
“Sir Sneezes-a-lot, for starters.” He lowered his voice. “I’ve never heard of a vampire being sick. Have you?”
“Assume he’s an awesome fake sneezer and that he’s up to no good.” He removed his stake belt and fastened it around her wrist. “It’s a little loose, but it won’t slide off.”
“Hildreth. Look at me.”
“What are you going to do? Are you really going to leave me for a coat?”
“Elsie. Trust me. And don’t let him put you into any slave Leia outfit. You’d look supremely hot in it, but this just isn’t the right time of the year for it.”
“I’m going to slap you if you don’t calm down and talk sense.”
“I have to go.”
“Don’t leave me.”
“Elsie. Don’t forget your reputation. You’re Elsie the Marauder. If push comes to shove, maraude to your heart’s delight.” He fastened his other stake belt to her other wrist and whispered in her ear, “Leave your phone on. Okay?”
“Hey, Sneezy. You gonna leave me a trail to follow?”
“If you don’t, I’ll thoroughly thrash you next time we meet.”
Two more sneezes. “Of course, you will.”