Silvered Blood

Siblings. One is obsessed with silver and the other is crazy about blood. She is a psychopath and he is a vampire.

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4. Three: Abroad the Ship

It was nearing ten o’clock at night when the captain came down to the foul-scented cabins and announced:

“English coast’s in da sight, ahoy, ladies an’ gentlemen!”

Taking care of arrangements as he had vowed, Wasabhu had made some bargain with a lone sea captain who had a ship but not a soul who would want to board it, what with all the horrid rats and abundance of leakages. The hoary captain, Captain Salmon as he said he was called, agreed to make some amount of repairs for the team of five that was journeying to England. The ship cabins were rotten to the core but they had to make do. Therefore, Diego and Charlotte shared Cabin 3 of the four serviceable cabins and Zola, Ernest and Wu Lin shared Cabin 1.

Salmon was a very peculiar personality with the most offbeat phonation, even for an old sea captain. He tried to use more cultured words instead of usual oceanic slang – to impress his once-in-a-lifetime passengers – but it all came down to a disastrous result. Every time he said ‘ladies’, it came out like ‘let ease’, and ‘gentlemen’ sounded hilariously like ‘jingle bell’; why, even speaking the commonest of all words, ‘the’, was a strenuous task for him!

Nevertheless, all that mattered to Salmon was that he, at least, made an effort – who would care about the pronunciation? For passengers on board, however, it was downright odd and, not to mention, laughable. The ship was already one ginormous piece of fabricated wreckage; the bizarre stench was unbearable; and, on the top of it all, the captain’s phraseology was a mayhem to the literary world. There was little doubt that they might have just sucked all his blood out – for he was an absolute walking disaster – but Wasabhu had strictly forbidden them from doing so because that would mean getting rid of the only way of reaching Moonleaf in time.

“Gentlemen, ladies! Coast of da England, it’s here!” Salmon repeated jauntily as he could, “C’mon, I sees it!”

In her cabin, Charlotte was lying on the threadbare sofa, its mauve tones as ugly as the environment they were in, and her father was sitting on the floor, poking at the grubby wooden planks out of boredom. Upon hearing Salmon’s incomprehensible cries, they both rose and came out of the cabin to find the jovial captain, a hyaline lantern swinging back and forth in the grip of his stubbly hand. Ernest, who was standing, facing the wall, in the other cabin, stepped out to see and Zola and Wu Lin, both sitting in front of each other with sufficient monotony, did the same. Both parties opened their cabin doors to immediately come face-to-face with the others and, for a brief moment, in which the only sound was the grotesque joviality of Salmon’s voice, each side was taken aback.

“Mister Captain?” Wu Lin addressed Salmon for she had overcome the surprise before anyone else, “Mister Captain, what’s the matter?”

Salmon turned, still swinging the lantern, and looked at her with a large smile that revealed two rows of mustard-coloured teeth, his shaggy whiskers enveloping his upper lip.

“England!” cried he in an accent that was only just understandable.

“Well, it about time,” Zola scoffed. Clearly he was extremely displeased with his stay on the rotten ship. Ernest looked at him and then looked at the captain whose wide eyes suggested he was eagerly waiting for excited reaction from his passengers. Salmon was absolutely sure they were over the brim with praises about their time on his vessel and perhaps, he thought, any of them might even want to stay on the ship for more time. The wonder in his eyes was so obvious that Ernest felt forced to break him out of his fantasies.

“Ahem,” Ernest cleared his throat loud enough for the captain to hear, “Say, Captain Salmon, can we go on deck and see it?”

“Aye, aye!” screeched Salmon, swiftly turning and racing up to the deck, leaving them to follow on their own. With the lantern gone, the moonlight’s hues were just bright enough for them to make out the contour of each other’s faces.

“Great job, Ernest,” Zola, whose bad mood was only worsening at every negative point, said with a sarcastic snort and he roughly pushed past Ernest, feeling for the stairs to the deck and going up himself.

Diego put his arm around his daughter, supporting her way through the darkness, and they both disappeared after Zola. Wu Lin took one step forward to follow them but turned to look at Ernest. He just stood there in the doorway, face turned, and she was quite assured that he was staring at the dimness.

“Aren’t you coming, Ernest?” asked she and, snapping out of his subterranean thoughts, Ernest nodded.

“I am,” he answered with a voice that could only appear distant and solicitous, “Of course I am.”

Passing a tentative nod in his direction, Wu Lin ascended up the perished staircase. Ernest followed, noting with disdain how the stairs creaked and cracked with even the tiniest step. On a more positive note, as if any such thing could exist on that sort of a shop, the musty stench of swarming cockroaches and rat droppings was beginning to fade to a somewhat fresher scent of sea air.

As the pair climbed on higher, they found themselves emerging out of a square opening and upon the deck. A starry night sky twinkled over them with a merry lucidity, a sight for the rather sore eyes of the ship’s passengers, and the small moon, aligning westward as it was, gleamed its silver rays upon them. Salmon was hanging up his lantern on a hooked pole to aid the passengers in sight and Zola was leaning on the side rails of the ship, looking at the sparkling sprinkles of stars with an odd dreariness. Nearly right next to him were Charlotte and Diego, conversing in hushed whispers and smiles, as the ship gently rocked, as to not disturb the serenity of the night.

Wu Lin glanced at the three of them and slid a long finger on one of her needles. “Well, they seem happy,” she remarked brusquely, just walking away to the very tip of the deck without waiting for any reaction from Ernest.

“Where are you going?” inquired Ernest as he swept his head in her direction, slightly alarmed at her briskness.

“To see the coast of England, remember?” answered she, not even bothering to turn around.

Ernest heaved a small sigh of despair but did not follow her. Going back to his homeland, a homeland he was forced to abandon, was a thought too overwhelming to mess with. He wondered about his family; his father, his sister and, most importantly, his darling mother? Were they fortunate enough to prosper after his departure as he had prayed? Not very likely, he thought. It was more certain for them to have fallen in an abyss of anguish and bankruptcy – but Ernest refused to think of such horrendous ideas.

“Wha’ da ma’er, goo’ ol’ sire?” came Salmon’s jovial, but shockingly high-pitched, enquiry from behind Ernest and he jerked in alarm.

“I say,” repeated the captain, grinning to an uncomfortably broad extent, “wha’ da ma’er, sire?”

“Nothing,” answered Ernest, instantly composing his stature, “Nothing at all, Captain.”

“Ye sure abou’ tha’, sire?” pestered the fusty-smelling man, “Ye lookin’ very woo-reed!”

“I am fine, Captain Salmon. Thank you for the concern, though,” Ernest countered with a hint of a forced smile.

Salmon leaned back slightly, his grin extending still, and creased his sludgy brows in mild thought. Ernest silently slipped his hands in his coat pockets, not really certain of what to say.

“Ye war bo’n he’e?” Captain Salmon broke the rather short-lived silence with a question that made Ernest jolt his head at him in pure astonishment, but he chose to veil that surprise for the moment.

“You could say that. How did you guess?” replied he, insouciance concealing his curiosity.

“Ah!” nodded Salmon, his grin now a more natural, but still toothy, smile, “The face ye makes, goo’ sire, be a face of longin’ fa hoom. I can tells ye has faameeli in England, tha’ no true?”

The question, along with the man’s shocking aptitude, disturbed Ernest but he decided to only give a spontaneous nod. Salmon gave him another cheery grin but it was a grin that peculiarly felt contemptible and sympathetic, making the young man desolate all over. No doubt his cleverness clearly had been misled by his terribly ridiculous persona.

“Sire,” the captain interrupted Ernest’s chain of thought with a profound yet undemanding voice, “if ye asks I be honest, Heaven knows, I damn know nothin’ ‘bout yer faameeli…” – with a perceptive snuffle – “bu’ ye doesn’t got pretend they no matter for ye.”

Ernest flung his head back to glare at Salmon’s blameless face in intense shock, his ferocious feelings boiling into fury with the witty remarks. The aroma of Salmon’s warm blood, being pumped from a beating heart as one that Ernest lost years ago, swirled him with rapacious vehemence and infuriation; from inside his mouth, he felt his teeth sharpening into whetted triangles and the canine teeth were elongating into snake-ish, protracted fangs while veins engraved livid, red streaks in his eerily malleable gums.

“Ernest!”

A sudden hand slapped his shoulder and, with his once-emerald eyes spreading like ink all over the white of his eyes, Ernest turned to come face-to-face with Wu Lin. Her face, completely vacant of real expression, was just stern enough for him to realize that it was not the time to do what he was going to do. Salmon, on the other hand, had a baffled look on his face – he had no idea that his anticipated views could have such a toll on his passenger!

“Ernest, what is the matter?” questioned Wu Lin, not slackening her taut clasp on his shoulder, even though she was well aware of what was happening to him.

The disseminating pupils in Ernest’s eyes started to shrink back to a normal state and he relaxed his parting jaws. The anger was still fresh in his mind but he chose not to disclose it so. “Just nothing,” he answered, his tone casual but his head strictly rigid.

“Sire, goo’ sire, I so-ree if ye be upset ‘cause of meh,” Salmon blurted from behind, “Ye war in beeg tensh-ion, I so-ree!”

“Not your fault, Captain,” Ernest just managed to force out before Wu Lin was dragging him away from the man, leaving the Captain quite alarmed.

“What on Earth, Ernest?” she demanded, taking her hand off his shoulder, once they were distant enough from the fear of being heard, “What do you think you were doing?”

“I wish I knew,” he exhaled, turned and looked up at the sky in self-discontent, “Well, I suppose I am more afraid of going back to England than I thought.”

“I know you had a hard time there but you cannot simply kill the only human on this ship – who is the only one who can navigate this, well, rotten ship. You know what Wasabhu said, do you not?”

“He was talking about my family. Continuously,” shielded Ernest, defending his actions from her adamant eyes.

“Well, he doesn’t know what your past was like,” she countered emptily, “I must say, Ernest, you have to keep your emotions in check. If you don’t, I fear you will expose us all, fail us in this mission. So you had a tough past – this is the present, Ernest. Wasabhu bade us to only feed on one human per day. You certainly do not want to break that streak, do you?”

“I was not going to feed on Salmon,” lied Ernest, even though it came out as a firm statement. Unfortunately, for him, Wu Lin was never easily fooled.

“I know you did not have the best life back in England,” she heaved a small, knowing sigh, “but I must make you aware that you shan’t let that interfere with this mission. You are going to be more responsible, aren’t you? Hmm, I do suppose you need to relax from this tension. Why don’t you go and make conversation with the Silverbloods? It would serve the purpose of letting you get to know them and ease your mind at the same time.”

Wu Lin made a light gesture with her head towards the father and daughter, although it appeared as though Zola was already speaking to Diego. Ernest looked at them and then at Wu Lin with a sceptical face, his one eyebrow raised high in pessimistic doubt.

“Are you serious?” inquired he, his voice very nearly abounding with incredulity.

“You ask as if there is ever a time I am not,” stated Wu Lin and bluntly added, “I don’t like those Silverbloods. I am not a vampire maniac who is going to feed on the ship’s captain. I do not have any jaw-breaking grudge with Zola. Those are the reasons that I don’t need to talk to them, Ernest, but you do – unless, of course, you believe talking to Zola might be the better option.”

Ernest placed his hands in his coat, easing his eyebrow back to its position, but his distrust was still quite obvious.

“I was only irritated by Captain Salmon,” he defended once more before sighing in short defeat, “All right, suit yourself, Wu Lin. I will go and talk to that Silverblood girl – about something, because I am not even slightly sure yet. Do you think that is going to help with what I was forced to think about because of that Salmon’s jabbering? Well, it is not.”

Wu Lin slanted her sleek eyebrows so faintly that it would be quite the task to notice but her rigid eyes conveyed the meaning her expression could not. Ernest, appearing to apprehend the persuading look, shook his head in obvious disenchantment.

“Why don’t you go and see that coast of England, Wu Lin?” he hinted with an elusive snarl, “I am certain you have a load of better things to pass your time with.”

“Just go to her, Ernest. I know you need to get your mind off whatever your mind is on. This is for your benefit, not mine,” Wu Lin forced.

“Oh, I am well aware of that fact,” he was only just able to snarl before stopping himself. Wu Lin did know he had a disturbed life in England but she never knew all the facts. Talking about his family was the thing he dreaded only less than having to see them again. True, he missed them when he had to leave but he was a vampire now. He was not human but another creature; as much as he also knew no more splendid joy than seeing them happy, he would never be able to stay with them again. Once Captain Salmon had started his bizarre blethering, Ernest did not feel the childish nostalgia he used to feel years back but pure trepidation of seeing them again.

Of course, Wu Lin – and most of the vampires in Wasabhu’s tribe – knew that he had been infected by a raging virus that gave birth to his obsession for blood but they never knew anything about how he was infected – or, at least, they never knew the truth. Nobody knew anything about Myrah or his family. Salmon was right – Ernest had been pretending that he never cared for his family for a long time. As for the present, Wu Lin did not have much of an idea of the details that occurred in his life which meant it was natural of her to think that a conversation could make him less tense. Telling her she was wrong would force him to spill out the facts.

“Forget it,” he blurted, moving past her and towards Charlotte, “I will go.”

Wu Lin watched him go with a hint of shock but she did not hold him back by making any other remark. Instead she went back to the tip of the deck to watch the coast, deciding to leave Ernest to do what he wanted. On the other hand, Ernest walked with stagnant disinterest towards the same railing Zola, Diego and Charlotte standing at. Diego and Zola were conversing about something about Wasabhu as Ernest managed to recognize some words.

“It wasn’t the best time,” Zola was whispering with a usual roll of his eyes.

“I can understand, boy,” Diego nodded, “Ethiopia was never the best place for the blacks. It is impressive how your father started his very own tribe – in Germany too.”

“Impressive, perhaps, Diego. But he has always been the bossy type.”

There could not be anyone more conceited than Zola, Ernest figured. Boastful, arrogant, snobbish – there was no negative personality that could not be associated with him. He was unable to even understand how Diego was actually talking to him – perhaps Zola was showing him slight respect in regard to age. Nevertheless, they both seemed busy in their conversation and Ernest had learnt, in his fourteen human years, to be tactful and sophisticated in a pressurized situation.

Half-heartedly, he stood near Charlotte instead. Her fragile locks blew all over her face as she stared down at the waves of nightly waters that rocked the ship back and forth, streams of glittering stars reflecting in it. Ernest gave her a side glance of observation before he made any remark. He always considered starting a conversation a skill that required insight – and, after his rather ghastly transformation to a non-human, he never had a proper chance to actually put this skill to the test.

She was not even as tall as Wu Lin – who, on the other hand, was an inch or two shorter than Ernest – but hardly up to five feet, although her heeled boots did aid her height. However, Charlotte’s dress, for the moment, particularly captured his attention. It was not quite fancy or ridiculously sized but the odd nature of it that drew him. In the dim moonlight, the azure tailcoat, made of seemingly thin corduroy, nearly made up half of her visible clothing. Ripped without much precision from the back half, it looked more of a waistcoat than a tailcoat – and the tiny buttons were only just keeping it done. Her spotless stockings, in quite the opposite sense, were a pretty rice-white colour and rather new. Even more absurd was the fact that they, while being lovely, were covered at the feet by dreadfully old, leather boots that were a little too constricted for even Charlotte’s feet. Ernest was not very interested in keeping up with fashionable styles but he did know what looked terrible and what did not – and her outfit was rather terrible.

“Weird,” he whispered to himself in a doubting whisper.

Charlotte’s face stopped swinging itself and her body became stiff as a stick in all of a sudden. Evidently, realized Ernest, she had heard him. She straightened up very slowly and looked slightly towards her father – as if to ask him to come and help her out – but he was busy talking to Zola. She stayed in a frozen position, staring at him for what seemed like an eternity to Ernest, but then she, little by little, turned to look at Ernest who stood on her right.

“Charlotte, wasn’t it?” spoke Ernest immediately with a vague smile. He was not quite ready to fail his prided talking tactics just yet.

“Y-Yes,” stammered Charlotte, her viridian eyes large and timid.

“I am Ernest,” he introduced in a less-thought-out moment and went on to correct himself discreetly, “I suppose you already know that.”

“Yes,” whispered she again.

“I am sorry, are you bothered?” he ventured to ask, understanding quickly that she might be too nervous to talk. It had been some time since he had any interaction with someone so shy and he did not have any intention to blow it.

Charlotte only looked towards her father’s turned back with pleading eyes but turned back to shake her head at Ernest. Apparently, she was not very open in her views lest they offend someone.

“I can always go away if that is what you would prefer,” Ernest explained with a moderately consoling tone, “I came here only because your… dress seemed quite, ahem, extraordinary.”

“Oh,” she realized and, looking down at her outfit with a flushed face, repeated, “Oh!”

“Did Wasabhu give you that?” he went on, acknowledging but ignoring her nervousness. He believed that being forthright with her was the only way to indulge her in the conversation.

“No,” whispered she, loosely hugging the coat to her chest, “it is mine.”

“I thought Wasabhu provided provisions for the entire team. Huh! Seems like that didn’t quite happen,” mused Ernest with slight disapprobation – towards Wasabhu, not Charlotte.

“No, it is mine,” whispered Charlotte in a miserable voice as she wrongly took that the offense was meant for her, “I brought it along. It is one of my better clothes.”

Ernest, being one of sharp intellect, immediately understood her interpretation. Instead of apologizing for the mistake he didn’t actually make, he covered it up with a direct compliment. “Your stockings are pretty. They are yours too, I presume?”

Charlotte’s eyes widened a little in astonishment and she nodded, a small smile finally growing on her salmon pink lips. Ernest smiled back.

“They are quite new,” she explained gently, her French accent softly accompanying the words, “I really think they don’t go with the rest of the clothing.”

“Well, I think they look absolutely amazing. Where did you get them from, if I may ask?”

Charlotte giggled silently at the latter part of the question. “A small store in Paris,” she answered, “It was just days before we came to, um, Germany – to Wasabhu’s tribe.”

“Ah, yes,” agreed Ernest, “You and your father caused quite the sensation. We have never had a Silverblood before as you must be aware.”

“I am aware but that was not really the reason. Papa knew that it would be best if we joined a smaller tribe – the more crowded ones didn’t seem to have a very friendly nature.”

“So you previously were part of another tribe? Fancy that!”

“Hmm, it was a place in France. On the outskirts of Paris, to be exact… We didn’t have the, uh, best time there. I think it was a community of around two hundred vampires – and, oh, it was terribly hard to fit in!”

“You don’t say,” Ernest remarked, internally proud of himself for getting her out of her introverted bubble, “Well, then it is clearly a good thing you found a place in our tribe.”

“It is,” agreed Charlotte, “Um, what about you?”

“Pardon?” he very nearly choked but kept his composure cool and collected. He had not expected the questioning to backfire on himself.

“How did you come to the tribe?” she clarified and meekly added, “I heard you were born in that town, Moonleaf.”

“I was born in England, that’s true,” sighed Ernest, “and, yes, I spent fourteen years of my life there. Moonleaf was called Queenshire back then – as you might know – and I lived there with, well, my family.”

“Oh! Well, I only had my father when I was a, uh, non-vampire… and my mother… but… Oh, never mind. You were saying?” Charlotte’s own narration faded as she listened further to Ernest, not noticing that her father was done with his conversation from behind her.

“There was this disease plaguing the country – the people called it the Insane Syndrome – and, upon being infected, I got this terrible obsession with blood… I didn’t want to harm my family so, one night, I just ran away. I am quite certain I spent at least two whole years lingering about, trying to find somewhere to settle, and then I found this tribe. It was small back then – a bit of a cult, if I do say so myself. Well, cult or what, I have been calling it my home for the past three years and everyone I know there are my friends.”

“Oh? That is so sweet,” she stressed tenderly, “And Zola?”

Ernest tried not to roll his eyes at the name. “What about him?”

“He is your friend too?”

“I… well, I am not sure. We, ahem, have had our differences in the past.”

“Oh, um, I am so, so sorry.”

“Uh… that is quite alright. It is not your fault after all,” laughed Ernest playfully but Charlotte did not seem to quite share his humour, lurking slightly away from him in anxiety – and hitting her father with her back as she did so. Zola looked over from behind Diego’s shoulder to note the sudden silence to meet Ernest’s displeased face. Salmon too looked up as he sat on his haunches, untangling seaweed from a rusted anchor and, sensing the impulsive unrest on the ship, Wu Lin turned around, away from the coast the she was viewing.

Charlotte herself was swift to turn to face her father, her face pale and frightened. Diego did not look very pleased either.

“P-P-Papa…” she stuttered, tears slowly welling up in her eyes.

Since her back was now turned to Ernest, only Zola and Diego could witness her tearful face. Nevertheless, Ernest could hear how she was losing her voice and Wu Lin knew that Ernest was in trouble – and she took long, swift strides to reach them in time.

“Charlotte?” her father finally asked.

“I… I-I-I…” she faltered so much that one would fear she might have lost her voice. Tears started streaming down her face and she broke into sobs. Immediately, Diego took her in a paternal embrace, comforting and shushing her gently. Zola shot a disapproving glance at Ernest’s baffled face while Wu Lin caught up in time.

“Charlotte, dearie, what is the matter?” consoled Diego, patting her red hair gently.

“Oh, I’m so, so sorry,” whimpered Charlotte, her arms limp by her sides as she wept.

“But what happened, child?” urged her father.

“Was it something Ernest did?” Zola piped in, earning a detestable glance from his nemesis, “Because my gut is telling me it was.”

“I-It is all… all m-m-my fault,” snivelled the girl. Salmon, suddenly appearing in front of the scene, looked around with a very confounded face.

“Eberythin’ goo’, ladies an’ gentlemen?” he inquired, scratching his rough beard as he saw Charlotte.

Wu Lin was quick to take hold of the situation. “Yes, Mister Captain,” she nodded, “It is a family issue. Nothing for you to worry about, at the least.”

“Goo’ ta hea’, goo’ ta hea’!” Salmon burst into a deep chuckle, swinging his head in a nod towards her, and added, “I comes by, ship dockin’ in da England coast!”

“Docking at the coast? We have reached England?” Wu Lin tried to get him to clarify for his sea accent was rather difficult to decrypt.

“Aye, aye, mi laadi! Aye!” he vigorously swung his head at her again before disappearing to the lower cabin in a frenzied fit of enthusiasm. The passengers, except Charlotte – who was miserably soaking herself in tears, watched him leave with blank eyes. Her mind sharply searching for options, Wu Lin thought to make use of the opportunity to cut Ernest some support.

“I hate to break in,” she started, “but perhaps we can settle all this later. We are on an important mission here, as I hope none of you have forgotten, and let us all get to that town before we make any mess among ourselves.” She cleared her throat with authority and looked at Diego, who himself did not appear impressed with her suggestion.

“I am sorry for whatever might have caused your daughter to break down, Mr. Madrias,” stated she, her blankness harshly obvious, “but we can settle our differences later, do you not agree so?”

“I say, we settle our differences right here and now,” Zola rudely cut in, much to Wu Lin’s irritation, “If we keep a grudge on, it could cause problems in our mission. Settling everything now might prevent long-bearing tensions, huh, Wu Lin?”

“Settling everything now,” she replied, narrowing her eyes just a slight, “will make us late. Mr. Madrias, do you have any second opinion?”

Charlotte, now coming to grips with her crying, looked up at her father with less tearful eyes. Diego parted her from the embrace, still keeping a supportive arm around her shoulder, and sighed.

“Yes, Miss Wu Lin,” he approved, “Let’s just leave this disaster of a ship.” With the words that Zola found rather disappointed, he and Charlotte departed down below. Now that the two of them had gone, Wu Lin snapped her head at Zola.

“Settle everything right here and now, did you say?” she seethed, although her face remained just as blank, “In quite the hurry to settle things today, hmm, Zola?”

“What are you accusing me of?” Zola shrugged nonchalantly, not showing how intimidated he actually was, “I was only trying to prevent tempers from flaring.”

“By starting a heated argument between the team? Rather poor a suggestion, if you ask me.”

“If they talked things over, perhaps there was a greater chance of… reconciliation,” blurted he. As much as he did not like to admit it, Wu Lin was an inescapable catastrophe when she lost her own temper.

“A greater chance of bursting a blood vessel, you mean?” probed Wu Lin, her finger spinning at the tip of her sharpened gold needles.

“Greater chance of getting through this mission!” Zola burst out hastily and, after a quick pause of thought, repeated, “Yes, exactly! A greater chance of getting through the mission!”

“Don’t make a fool of yourself, Zola, and just try to cooperate,” forced she, her voice merely more than a disapproving hiss for she considered it important to remain calm for the sake of the mission ahead, and, very firmly, added, “Please.”

Spinning away from him with her face still vacant – ironic as usual, taking in account how annoyed she truly felt, Wu Lin proceeded to go down below, leaving Zola to conceal his fear. Just before she stepped on the first stair to leave, she realized she did not want to leave Ernest alone with Zola. Seeing how Charlotte had shockingly broken into tears after taking to Ernest, Wu Lin knew that Zola was going to taunt him once she was gone.

She hesitated. Her brown boot lingered over the cracked step.

Was it really necessary for her to stand up for Ernest? It was not as if he were a child after all. However, on the other hand, she was terribly aware of what a pest Zola could be to him. Even so, if she did go back to them, she might just appear weirdly overprotective – and Wu Lin did not want any of that.

Her boot came down on the stair with an inhumane creak that concealed her remorseful sigh. She hated seeing Ernest being pushed around but she had her own image to see as well. Ernest would manage Zola himself, she told herself – still, she knew the opposite was true. Leaving them together might just cause a fight to break out. In any case, Wu Lin would not risk her own reputation of an unfeeling vampire at the face of such possibility.

“Keep your emotions in check, Wu Lin,” she thought to herself, “Just leave them be. Leave them be.”

With this thought calming the guilt in her mind, she descended down the steps. Zola, watching her leave, turned to a silent Ernest. The latter had not the slightest idea as to why Charlotte suddenly started crying. For all that he thought he knew, she either had a very poor sense of humour or she just misheard something he said. On either account, he could not take blame for what happened.

“Well, what do ya know?” Zola smirked, his fear washing away as Wu Lin left, “Someone clearly made the French lady cry.”

Ernest snapped his head, shaking himself out of his zone. “I only wonder who that could be,” he hissed.

“I wonder,” agreed Zola sarcastically but soon added, “So why did you do it, Ernest?”

“I did nothing,” barked his rival, although he knew Zola would be simply deaf to every defence, “She just started crying right out of the blue. Why would you think I did anything, Zola?”

“Because you were the one she was talking to. What are you, dumb?”

“On the contrary, I believe you are,” Ernest fought back, “Charlotte is just a little sensitive – that is why she cried.”

“Honestly? I know sensitive people – and no one has been so delicate to burst crying for no reason. I hate to say it but –”

“You don’t believe me? Spare me your overblown ego, Zola, but that is exactly what happened. You think she is not sensitive? Be my guest; talk to her yourself.”

“Huh, I will be glad to talk to her, don’t you worry,” sneered Zola, “Not everyone on this ship is an absolute jerk.”

His words ending in a customary smirk, Zola swept his khaki cape with a twirl and headed to the lower ship himself. Ernest’s infuriated eyes watched him go down the steps. He was not a wimp – he just had to be patient. If he let his anger speak for himself now, the endeavour would fall at risk – and that was not going to happen, not on his watch. Zola might be the son of the tribal chief but he was not the master of Ernest. If he thought his spiteful insults would make Ernest lose his calm manners, he was wrong – because Ernest would never fail a mission and this would not be his first.

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