With a grunt of exertion she drove the stake into his chest, piercing the place where his heart would be.
The creature roared, rearing back to rip her head off. Like a clockwork soldier winding down, his blow slowed as it struck, coming to a complete stop inches from Kieran’s face. She let out an enormous sigh.
“Thank Baaz that worked,” she said. Turning, Kieran craned her neck to look for any sign of Deacon. As she watched, the other legbreaker came tearing around the corner shrieking, wreathed in flame from head to toe. Deacon came stumbling after her, looking like a candle at wick’s end. He flailed his hand out, snapping his finger as he did so, though only sparks answered.
“Shit,” he muttered. He licked his middle finger and thumb and tried again. A dark red flame flickered to life in his hand, which he tossed like a haymaker at the fleeing assailant. Finally, she collapsed to the ground, rolling about in the street as she tried to put herself out. Kieran cursed and snatched up another shard of door, hobbling over to Deacon.
“They’re nosferatu, Deacon!” she called as she closed the distance. “That’s not gonna work!”
“Not forever, that’s for sure! She keeps regenerating anything I throw at her!”
Approaching the shrieking pyre, one of Kieran’s legs gave out and she stumbled to the ground, nearly losing grip on her weapon. She let out a shout of pain and pistoned out her good leg, slamming the stake into the supine assailant’s heart. Soon enough, the vampire’s shrieks stopped, and she just burned in silence.
“The fire, Deac’! It’s gonna burn up the stake!”
“Right,” said Deacon. He hobbled over to the two of them and twisted his hand into a claw. The flame that covered the paralyzed nosferatu jittered oddly, flowing back into Deacon like a stuttering film reel played in reverse. He shook his head, ponytail long gone, and collapsed into a seated position as Kieran rolled off of their attacker.
After a few moments of quiet, haggard breathing, Kieran laboriously clambered upright, breath hitching as her ribs screamed at her. The vampire, even staked, had continued to regenerate. She now lay pristine, clad in scorched tatters. Kieran kneeled down next to her shoulder and put a hand on the creature’s arm, tearing away a shred of her sleeve to reveal her wrist to the night air. Tattooed in the vampire’s marble flesh was a simple sigil: a short horizontal line with a perpendicular vertical one, topped with a diamond. Kieran nodded, her suspicion confirmed.
“Unquiet,” she said, and Deacon groaned.
The Unquiet ruled Locksley. There were other gangs, other factions, but none of them came close to the hold that the undead mob held over the district. It didn’t hurt that their don, Roswell Dunne, was said to have been haunting the shadows of Crown since the city’s inception, or perhaps even longer. The old ghoul was a sharp businessman and an avowed occultist, and a hundred years of personal leadership had solidified the Unquiet’s sway on the eastern neighborhoods of Lowcourt into a rigor mortic grip.
Deacon ran his fingers through his hair, doing his best to comb out the blood.
“Well, I suppose this is as good a time as any to say I remember where I saw Betsy’s ring before now,” he said, giving Kieran a rueful look. Kieran buried her head in her hands.
“‘Fraid not, footpad. Three more rings just like that one are sitting in a display case in Roswell Dunne’s office. Silver, gold, platinum… looks like Betsy’s completes the set. I’d bet anything they took her to Memento Mori.”
Kieran looked up, narrowing her eyes at her cousin.
“Why were you in Roswell Dunne’s office?” she asked. Deacon shrugged.
“When I started taking piano jobs in Locksley, he wanted to make sure we weren’t muscling in on his territory. I swore up and down we were just trying to keep to ourselves and work on the up and up, since that was the truth.” Deacon’s crooked grin staggered back onto his face and he chuckled. “Guess that ain’t the case anymore, though.”
“What are you talking about?” asked Kieran, eyeing Deacon suspiciously. He gave her a tiny, hopeful look.
“I just mean, now that I’m cut loose from Marco, and you’re taking jobs…”
“Okay, hold on a damn minute,” snapped Kieran, getting up onto a knee. “I’m not taking jobs.”
“You took this one!”
“This is not a job!” hissed Kieran. “This is a goddamn catastrophe that fell into our laps and that we’re doing our best to survive! Doing what we have to, so that we can live to do what we want to.”
Deacon looked down at his shoes, scuffed and bloody. Looked at his hands, calloused and still slightly steaming. He looked over at his cousin, dark eyes peeking through the wave of his hair.
“What if I want to do this?” he asked. Kieran stared at him, anxiously cracking her knuckles a digit at a time.
“You don’t want to do this, Deacon. You want to be a musician. You’ve always wanted to be a musician.”
“Why can’t I be both?”
“You can’t,” insisted Kieran, shaking her head. “This isn’t gonna start anything for us. We went straight, and we’re staying straight.”
“Too late,” muttered Deacon.
“You know what I mean,” snapped Kieran. Deacon looked away. She sighed. “We can’t… We just can’t live that life. That’s not a life that lasts.”
“It lasted fine for Tom,” said Deacon, still refusing to meet her gaze. Kieran scrambled over to him and grabbed him by the lapel of his vest, forcing his eyes to meet hers.
“And what about Tom’s brother, Deacon?” Her voice was ice. “How’d the life last for him? Or what about–”
“Don’t,” said Deacon. “Don’t say it.” The two of them stared at each other for a long, tense moment, and then Kieran let go of him.
“Come on,” she said. “We’re gonna sort this out with Dunne, and the first step to that is not leaving his goons out where the sun might get them.”
She staggered over to the supine assailant and crouched beside her head, working her fingers beneath the vampire’s shoulders like she was hauling a piece of furniture. Kieran looked over at her cousin expectantly. Deacon sighed and heaved himself to his feet and grabbed the vampire by her boots. The pair hefted her up and, slowly, agonizingly, and with more than a few curses, they managed to haul her into the destroyed bait shop.
They repeated the process with the standing attacker, tipping him over to lay in the shop’s backroom beside his partner. Kieran and Deacon regarded them, frozen in the moment of their staking.
“It’s like… the world’s most horrible wax museum,” said Deacon. Kieran chuckled despite herself. She went out into the storeroom and grabbed a bundle of windbreakers and novelty fishing-themed shirts, piling them atop the paralyzed nosferatu to guard against stray sunbeams. She pulled the backroom door shut.
“Do you see a marker or anything anywhere?” she asked. Deacon strolled over to the cashier counter and regarded the open register for a moment. Shaking his head, he slammed the drawer shut and rooted around in the counter’s drawers for a moment, returning shortly with a permanent marker and a pad of sticky notes.
“Perfect,” said Kieran, and slapped the note onto the door before scrawling on it: VAMPIRES INSIDE – OPEN WITH CAUTION. She stepped away, and Deacon took a moment to add a second note with a doodle of a cartoon vampire for emphasis. Kieran rolled her eyes as the pair exited the store. Blessedly, if anybody had called the guard, they were still far away; no sirens split the night. Deacon looked to his cousin.
“Well? What’s next, footpad?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” asked Kieran. “We get Betsy back and put an end to this whole affair.”
She took a step forward and promptly collapsed.
“Shit,” she muttered. Deacon chuckled and knelt next to her, helping her back up.
“Adrenaline finally ran out, huh?” he asked. “You’re not putting an end to anyone or anything in this state. We need to get you medical attention.”
“Oh, that’s a great idea, Deac’, thanks.” Kieran scoffed. “Let’s just go to the clinic and tell them all about how we spent the night brawling with undead mobsters and plan to do more, that’ll go over well.” Deacon rolled his eyes.
“Still, we need someone.” After a moment’s contemplation, he snapped his fingers. “That’s it! If I remember right, the doc lives nearby. We can just pay him a house call.”
“That’s not how house calls work, Deac’. What doc?”
“Doctor Kayode! Remember, from when you got shot during the whole thing with the New Crowns?” Kieran furrowed her brow, casting her mind back.
“The doctor that we held at gunpoint? How the hell do you know where he lives? And even if he does live near here, why in all the hells would he want to help us?”
Deacon grinned sunnily as he threw his cousin’s arm over her shoulder and the pair began limping down the street.
“Oh, I’m sure it’ll be fine. He’s a doctor, they’ve got oaths and shit that say they can’t turn away a wounded person.”
With that, the Cousins Quick rounded a corner and were gone, and the street was silent once more.