“A knight? No.” Kat trailed after him, not trusting him enough to get any closer.
Her gut twisted into writhing knots. She didn’t like any part of the situation. Not only did she have to follow around some maniac that thought he was a vampire, but he also thought killing her would free him from some imaginary curse. And that wasn’t even the end of her problems. Walter seemed to trust him, kind of. But who was Uriel really? And, why didn’t anyone ever mention him before?
Kat bit her lip, and they made their way up the main staircase.
“Well, to be honest, it could be the Templar or the Order of Malta, but for our sake, let’s hope for the first.”
“I haven’t heard of the Order…of Malta, was it?”
They passed a couple of maids carrying a few small medical kits. The shouting grew at the end of the corridor.
Uriel tensed and edged them along the side of the hall. A large mirror had shattered on the opposite side along with an end table that was missing two of its legs. Whoever was after them had definitely come down that way. Kat glanced around for the few guards they employed, but none of them were in sight.
“Let’s just say the Order keeps everything in balance. There are multiple factions that most people aren’t aware of and the Order keeps anyone of them from gaining too much power.”
“But Uncle Charles didn’t have power like that.”
Uriel stopped and turned to her. His eyes held that same frost once again. “If you truly believe that, then you are more naive than I imagined.”
She narrowed her eyes. “Let’s get one thing straight here. No one told me a damn thing about any of this. As far as I’m concerned: you’re crazy, Walter is senile or a liar or both at this point, and I am going to have to interview you and every other person here to give an official report to the local force in town. I’ve got my work cut out for me, so stop making my job harder or I will find a way to make your life a living hell. I’m not in the mood for your idiotic remarks. I don’t know who you are, why you’re here, or why we are being attacked. Everyone has obviously left me in the dark, so it’s not my fault, alright?”
The fake vampire’s jaw tightened, then he continued toward the ballroom. “If you say so.” He huffed out a small breath, glancing back at her again. “I simply find it difficult that someone whose entire family is from the Order would have no idea about any of it.”
Kat stumbled to a halt. “What did you say?”
“Look,” Uriel growled, grinding his teeth together. “I don’t have time to play school right now. If you want to ensure the old guy’s safety, then I suggest we hurry and save the questions for later, or at least keep walking.”
“Fine.” Kat jogged up behind him.
She rolled her eyes and kicked the side of his foot, making him stumble. She smirked at him when he whirled back glaring at her. Kat wasn’t usually playful by nature, but it was an excellent way to test how far he was willing to go with the insane idea of a curse.
“I didn’t take you for the childish type,” Uriel snapped with his eyes narrowed. He spun to continue walking before she replied.
“I’m not. I just like watching you suffer. If you’re going to kill me anyway, might as well cause you as much grief as I can until then.”
The key chilled her skin and she fished it out with its cord still around her neck. She examined it in her palm as they walked. Despite her relaxed front, she couldn’t bring herself to let the subject go. “What do you know about my family—”
“Shhh.” He eased up to a nearby door and pressed his ear against it. His lips curled back revealing sharp fangs. “They’re inside. At least two of them. Stay here.”
“I am not staying here. I’m going to help Walter. I am a trained officer or will be soon. I can hold my own.”
Uriel rubbed at the bridge of his nose and exhaled out a huff of air. “If you don’t listen to reason, then it’s going to be very difficult to keep you safe.”
“I thought you wanted me dead.”
He growled and inched closer to her. “I do want you dead, but the key requires that I protect you. It’s,” he hesitated, “complicated.”
She rolled her eyes and pulled her knife from its holster. “Whatever you say. We need to get to Walter. If he’s in there, I’m going with you.”
“Why do you care about him? He’s only the butler, right?”
Kat grabbed for the door handle, but Uriel snapped his hand over it before her. She sighed and turned to eye him. “You know he raised me and Michael since we were four. So, he’s family, okay? Do you understand that?”
Uriel’s eyes blazed with a deep, almost pained light. She recognized that look. It was the most human expression she had seen on him thus far. Despite her intrigue, she bit her lip to keep the questions back. She wanted to ask him about his own family, his own past. Yet, she knew they didn’t have time for such an extensive conversation. She pushed back the thoughts for the moment, focusing her attention on the room once again.
Shouts rose up inside the ballroom.
Uriel cracked the door open and peeked inside. His jaw tightened. “Be quiet and stay close.”
Kat sighed, stepping up beside him. She glanced inside.
The room was the size of a small banquet hall with space for at least a hundred people. A few elegant round wooden tables and chairs lined the edges of the walls; each decorated with a centerpiece of fresh white roses, though some were bare of the display as it had been knocked to the ground. There were no windows but had three doors, including theirs, into the room. One entrance at the far end of the room was blocked by two men. They wore black suits and held huge swords that were as long as the wielders were tall. Claymores, she thought they were called. The weapons seemed more like stolen props from some medieval battle. Yet, the men held them with practiced grace and that wasn’t the only oddity.
She recognized them.
“I know them,” she whispered.
He gave her a puzzled glance. “How?”
“They were on the train the other night. They were looking for a woman, named Ashley something.”
The wannabe vampire glanced at her and rolled his shoulders. “Come on.”
Uriel slipped into the room and crouched behind a group of chairs. Kat followed suit and knelt beside him. “What’s the plan?” she said as she caught sight of Walter.
He and a few of the maids stood opposite of the two men. Walter was the only one with a weapon. He held the poker out, but his hands already started to shake. She didn’t see any blood on him, but the men didn’t appear to be taking his defense seriously as they missed several opportunities to sneak in a fatal attack.
“Time is running out,” said the closest knight to him. “If you still refuse to answer, then we will end this now.”
The two knights lunged forward. Their swords rang out in a swinging arc.
Walter pushed the maids behind him, avoiding the attack. Kat could see sweat beading down his forehead.
It would be over quick.
She stood, leaping forward to save him.
Her heart pounded in her chest. She had her knife but throwing it could be dangerous to Walter and the others, even if she hit the assaulter. She couldn’t let her terror or panic take over. A calm, rational route was the only way to save him.
A hand took her wrist, halting her advance.
Uriel nodded for her to stay down, then disappeared. Thin tendrils of smoke puffed out where he’d been standing.
Kat blinked and stood dumbfounded but snapped her gaze back as Walter cried out.
The knights advanced.
Their swords swung down, aiming for his chest.
Walter stumbled back with his eyes locked on the falling blades.
Uriel appeared from a burst of dark mist between Walter and the swords. A blood-red rapier shimmered in his hand as he parried the attacks.
Mist swirled around his body in churning puffs. It seemed to almost emanate from him as though the pores in his skin leaked darkness, allowing him to evade his enemies. The blade between his fingers gleamed in the light and seemed to stir-up more vapor with each thrust.
Kat couldn’t pull her gaze from the fight. Her training urged her to break up the struggle, yet her instinct warned her to stay back. Whatever was going on was bigger than herself, or any police force.
Uriel’s fangs protruded from underneath his lip. He seemed almost to be enjoying himself as he parried and knocked back one of the knights. The wannabe vampire glided through the men with his weapon, appearing as graceful as a dancer.
Their attacks slid around him but never landed. His duster billowed out through the fog, throwing the men off-guard. Uriel smirked and kicked one of the men’s legs out from under them, while his blade blocked the other. He knew how to use the sword even more than his attackers.
Rage edged into the knight’s face that stood closest to Walter. His claymore slashed, missing Uriel by less than an inch.
His partner swung for a back attack, but Uriel dodged without even looking.
Kat had never seen anything like that before. She stared, wondering what contraption allowed him to pull off such a feat, like the churning mist.
The other maids helped Walter to his feet. They dragged him back to the edge of the room. Sweat gleamed along his brow, and his head swayed from side-to-side as though he didn’t realize what was going on.
Kat’s heart thudded against her ribcage. Why had those men come to the house? There was no Ashley person there unless it was one of the maids.
Uriel spun and stabbed the knight behind him in the chest. The blade pierced him with a gliding ease. It protruded from his back, slicing through him.
The remaining knight cursed and reached into his pocket. He pulled out a small piece of paper as Uriel lunged at him.
The knight ripped the paper, and his body vanished. It seemed similar to how Uriel had disappeared moments before. But she hadn’t seen him use any paper.
Uriel cursed and the shouts of battle faded.
Kat blinked and glanced around her. “What happened?”
“He got away,” he hissed and walked toward her.
His blade shimmered and disappeared into thin wisps of crimson smoke. His body lost the swirling darkness and appeared normal again.
A growl escaped his lips after he noticed a few nicks in his duster. “Bastards tried to ruin my nice coat.”
Walter limped over to them. He seemed okay and had caught his breath again. “You took your time, but all the same, thank you,” he said when he reached Uriel. “I worried they would show up sometime this week, however, I did not suspect it would be this early.” He dropped the bent poker and it clanged against the marble tile.
“It’s foolish to keep her here,” Uriel grumbled and folded his arms. The leather creaked under the tight strain. “You should send her back now. They didn’t find her before. I doubt they’ll find her any time soon.”
“Find who? That Ashley person?” Kat said. She had pulled a small notebook from her back pocket and had started scribbling notes. She needed a clear account of the incident for the police once they arrived.
“I think that’s up to her,” Walter said and turned to Kat. “It is not safe here anymore, Miss Katharine. If you wish to return to your apartment, we understand. However, I think you should know that if you stay, then you will get to see Michael again at the end of the week. He has agreed to come back for the Reading of the Will.”
Kat blinked up at him.
Her pen had stopped moving.
It had been years since she had seen her brother.
Perhaps staying would be worth it, but had she even considered leaving in the first place?