Though he was exhausted, Claud could not entice sleep to find him. It was the quiet again. It put him on edge, told his brain, stay awake! There is no one here to watch your back. Though he knew that wasn't true—the priests kept a watch all night long—he wasn't used to not sharing a space with others, and so, he could not sleep.

After waiting for what felt like hours, he finally gave up, dressed, and left his borrowed home with the intention of going on a walk. But as soon as his body hit the cold air he changed his mind and made straight for the church, passing Father Eberhardt with a polite nod and a terse explanation.

It wasn't much warmer inside the church but at least there was shelter from the wind. It was very quiet here too, but it was more muffled, like the quiet of the forest. Even the arching ceiling of the space reminded him of the forest canopy. Maybe he was just too crowded in that small room, warm though it was. The tree—the cross—hung on the wall before him, the centermost item in the room. Everything directed your attention to it, and so, he found himself sitting in one of the back-most pews, considering this icon.

Midnight Mass Claud

Claud's head swooned with fatigue and his blinks grew longer and longer. Stupid—if he slept here he would be stiff and cold when he woke.

The Heart hasn't appeared tonight, which isn't unheard of, and something that shouldn't worry him. He shouldn't worry. He's not worried.... No. Francis' is just cold. And hungry. And thirsty. And lonely. And feeling sorry for himself. At least there's a nice bit of goat to try. He's gross, but he's... food. Kind of. But then the horns appear, and his vision skews to that of a grazer. UGH. Like he wasn't evil enough, now he's got the goddamned marks of Lucifer? He can't go to town like this, didn't run into any of his more friendly patrons in the forest... Francis stares at the church. Vampires don't go in churches. They can, but they don't, because they are wise, crafty creatures that could live for thousands of years...

Francis pulls the hat down tight around his ears and hunches his shoulders, passing the massive priest at a relaxed but very quick pace. He hesitates at the doorway. Everyone was a guest, in the lord's house...

Francis lets out a surprised, tearful laugh. He's inside.

Claud doesn't hear the door scrape open as he sits, nodding off in the pew, but the laugh startles him into standing, disoriented and light-headed. "I'm sorry I was just—" he leans heavily on the back of the pew, breathing hard, dizzy from standing too quick. Was he being laughed at? Did someone from town find it funny that they found a pagan sitting in the church in the middle of the night? "—Couldn't sleep," he explains, looking up at the slight figure standing in the doorway.

"O-oh, Guten Abend Father," he hurriedly mumbled, ducking his head again, this time in embarrassment. But wait—he looked up. This wasn't... any of the priests he knew. But he shouldn't worry, right? He'd seen the Christian prayers and sacred words dispel the magical creatures that plagued the town so... this person had to be human, right? Just someone he didn't know yet. Someone knew in town? It had happened before. They needed more priests, certainly.

"I'm sorry but I don't think I know your name...?" he asked, apologetic, as if he should already know though they've never met.

Francis leaps back to the door when the man stands. No one should be here at this hour but that priest on the night shift! "A-ahaha- ha don't worry yourself- mm, guten Abend!" Francis flushes and grins sheepishly, keeping his face averted at the feeling of being inspected. He is grateful for the gloomy night... "I am fairly new in town, it's no surprise. I am b- Francis. Valentine." He bows slightly, disappearing further beneath his hat. "Though I don't recognize you from mass, Mister...?" Still bowed, he waits for a name.

New in town indeed if someone as demure as Claud could fluster him so. Well. Anyone could be startled. Claud sat and rubbed at his face a bit, still trying to wake up. Of course he would be able to fall sleep in here...

Francis' words caused a little pang of guilt to run through him. No, Claud hasn't been going to mass like he should be. Like he said he would. Well, what he said he would do was try to attend mass, and he had tried. But the long prayers, the complicated rituals, the stares and whispers when he showed up—an unwashed pagan, a stranger, dressed in anything but his Sunday finest... He had taken to retreating to the forest or his small house when the streams of people made their way to the church building every Sunday.

"Um. Claud, Claud Moray." He vaguely wondered if Francis had heard the gossip yet. "I can leave if you want me to, sir," he offered, the embarrassment welling up inside him again. Francis needn't even hide his face, Claud wasn't even looking at him.

"Good to meet you, Mister Moray- Leave?? Why on earth would I need you to leave?? If anything-" Oh, he's a brother, isn't he?? "-If anything- ah. I am happy to see a citizen taking the time to get closer to God, this late at night. Speaking of..." Francis straightens, only then realizing that Claud was as uncomfortable as himself. He smiles tightly and rummages through his coat, pulling out a white candle. He heads for the altar, but pauses as he passes the human. "Did you wish to pray as well?" Without waiting for a reply, he breaks the it in half and offers the human the side with the exposed wick.

A candle... Claud regards it reverently. With this he could enjoy light in his home for several hours. But instead he would leave it here, burning, along with the others on the alter. But it would be rude of him to refuse such a generous offer.

"I--I will. If you'll, um, show me how," he admitted quietly, pulling off his mitten and taking the candle.

Francis is eager to show his faith, but he stops at Claud's hesitation and inspects the boy. He practically looked fey, skittish, unkempt, underfed. He has a hollowness about him. Francis wonders if Mister Moray even has a home to go to."Of course. Come with me, up to the altar. I was going to say a prayer for the lost souls, but you don' have'ta be so lofty as that," Francis laughs quietly. Everything he does is quiet, like he's trying not to bother an invisible congregation as he approaches the massive cross at the back of the church, or startle the nervous human."Jus'... think'a someone who could use'a bit'a guidance, bit'a God's love, ya know? Could even be yerself." He pulls out a worn book of matches and kneels down. Looking back, he offers his hand invitingly to Claud.

When Francis had his back turned, Claud carefully inspected the candle. It seemed just like any other candle he'd ever seen, if a little more finely crafted than the candles he himself had made. Why was the candle needed? Was it special somehow? It didn't seem to be.

Francis approached the alter and knelt, but Claud hangs back, uncertain until he's invited forward. It still takes him a moment to realize that he is also supposed to kneel, and does so, imitating Francis' posture best he can, watching him with frequent less-than-subtle sidelong glances.

Prayer wasn't exactly foreign to him, but the prayers of Christians were different from what he'd experienced in his life. He'd offered up sacrifices in the groves before, and whispered out prayers when something needed to happen, such as finding food, or remaining hidden from a prowling creature. So asking for guidance he understood, but what was this talk of lost souls? Or God's love?

"Please tell me," he hoped if he entreated humbly enough he would not incur the anger of this man, "What do you mean by lost soul? What is a soul? And where should it be?" He had more questions but he cut himself off after three

Initially, the glances make him nervous, but Claud just knows so little of these rituals... He remembers taking the children, wide-eyed and noisy, they were finally old enough to join the adult congregation! And walking them through the steps, lighting their candles with tiny hands and solemn looks on their small, innocent faces... He smiles. The question is balm to his heart, drawing out forgotten feelings. It also comes as no surprise. The fey were said to be child-like as they were wise.

"You will find some disagreement, as it is not a physical thing, Mister Moray," he starts, fondness in his voice. "The soul... it is what we- humans are, beneath flesh and bone. It is our consciousness, our will. It is created by the one true God, and it cannot be killed, even when our bodies die, and one day, the souls of everyone we love will reunite, even if we cannot be together in this world."

Francis lights his candle and sets it into a holder, pleased to see that the the space was clean of spent candles and dust.

"As to how one can be lost... Well. Ours is a God of mercy, and I am of the opinion that many priests are far to quick to condemn. They will say that the slightest transgression will ruin you, but they have too little faith in God's will, and too little faith in the human spirit! They say monsters don't have souls, but how can they know? They cannot! They simply judge, like Job's neighbors judged, without knowing anything of God's plan-!" A sharp crack of wood startles Francis back to reality. He'd been gripping the altar too hard- he releases it quickly, each splinter causing a pang of guilt as he struggles to catch his breath. A red glow on his hat brim warns him of his own rage, and he closes his eyes instantly.

"S-so.. what would you like to pray for?"

Oh, what Francis called a soul, Claud knew as spirit. He had seen the life of many animals leave their broken bodies, especially in their eyes. He had seen it draining from his mother's face as she lay dying in her bed... Claud shut his eyes against the memory.

Yes, he knew of the soul.

When he opened his eyes again the candle's warm glow illuminated their faces and Claud could see a little more clearly the face of the man with whom he spoke. He might have been strikingly handsome, perhaps in his youth, but he too looked care-worn and hungry, not to mention his eyes were spaced just a little too far apart. But he looked kind, demonstrated by the fact that he was speaking with gentle understanding to a stranger in the middle of the night, and this touched Claud.

Francis—Father Valentine—continued on. He started using long, complicated words that Claud didn't know the meaning of, but he dare not interrupt as the man seemed to be growing angry at past disagreements with other priests. Claud instinctively shrinks from this display of anger, even though it wasn't directed at him, flinching at the sound of the alter shifting under the priest's tight grip. Claud looked up in alarm but already Francis had closed his eyes and was willing himself to calm, the only movement the light of the gently flickering candles.

Claud's mind worked hard to process everything he'd just heard, and to make sense of what he hadn't understood. But what to pray for? "I... I'm not sure..." he admitted, turning the candle over in his hands. He knows his mother hadn't lingered as an unhappy spirit. His father might have, but Claud thinks maybe the man deserved that. So why should he pray for his parents' wellbeing? And then there was his sister... "Can I pray for a favorable hunt?" he asks with a determination in his voice that he had lacked for the whole conversation. He already knew the answer to that question. If the "one true God" was as merciful as everyone claimed, then He would guide Claud to his sister's extermination.

He can feel the racing of the fey's heart. It's a great comfort, knowing that the blood it pumped would be slightly off. Probably as bad as the goat. Worse! Inedible. The thudding is false advertising, isn't it. "A hunt? Why, yes, of course you can, Mister Moray- Here, let us just-" Francis picks up his candle and brings the wick to Clauds before setting it back at the altar. "Per intercessionem sancti Huberti, patronus- NK-" Around the chapel, candle flames flare and spark. Francis is hunched over, groaning softly. After a moment, he straightens up as if nothing happened, though he wipes something as subtly as possible from his mouth, nose and eyes.

"Excuse me. As I was saying- By the intercession of St. Hubert, patron... of hunters, may you always honor God the Creator, who set man in dominion over all the animals. May the Lord God make you an honorable hunter who respects fellow hunters, the animals, and all creation-"

The candles remain steady, but Francis' deep, steady tone weakens as he speaks. By the candlelight, it's easy to see the sweat beading over his pallid skin, but his inhuman eyes are fixated on the cross before them.

"May He keep safe you and all who share the field or the forest; May He make all hunters proud of their kill, generous with their meat, and thankful in all circumstances. May God bless you: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."

He finishes strong, but a coughing fit overtakes him as soon as the last word is uttered.

Claud smiles shyly as Francis takes the candle and lights it, then begins praying. Almost immediately his brain shuts off to the Latin prayer. He'd heard the other priests pray in this foreign language before but he couldn't follow a word of it. But before his eyes could get too glazed over the candles flickered unnaturally and the priest begins choking, or maybe gagging? Now on high alert Claud looked this way and that, expecting to see something lurking in the shadows, a spirit or faerie playing tricks on them. There was nothing there, nothing that he could see at least. A moment passed, Francis seemed to recover from his fit, and he continued the prayer in German, for which Claud was grateful.

The prayer went without incident but Francis was having trouble speaking again, and Claud snuck a few sidelong glances at the man though he knew he was supposed to be bowing his head in reverence. Not to mention he had no idea who this Saint Hubert was, or what intercession was, though the rest of the prayer was nice. Not exactly the kind of hunt he needed help with though...

But before he could get too caught up in thinking about this, the prayer was over and the coughing started again in earnest. Claud lay a hand on Francis' shoulder, "Sir are you sick? It is cold and you are not very warmly dressed, please, come into my home. There is food and fire there."


Francis looks up at the massive cross on the wall as he chokes, his eyes streaming red. The hand on his shoulder comes as a shock amidst pain, but it is a welcome, kind gesture that pulls him back from the edge of unconsciousness. "HH- I-I-" am fine is unbelievable, he realizes as he again wipes his sleeve over his bloody mouth- "I have been a bit unwell, yes. Nothing catching, I guarantee," he assures with a halting tone. "D-did you... to your h-home?" He can feel something lift from him, a heavy weight the boy carried that Francis hadn't even noticed. Just like the fae's touch, he is grateful for the feeling. It offers some relief to the nausea filling him. He could no longer stand the beautiful little church. God would have to wait to hear his own pleas, if He cared at all.

"I j-jus' need some... some air, thank'ya." He smiles tight lipped at Claud. Despite the stranger's poor condition, Francis flees outside with remarkable speed.

Claud is speechless—was Francis crying? Or bleeding? He follows the priest out of the church and into the cold night air, wrapping his scarf tighter around himself, keeping his distance.

There was a choice to be made here. This man was not human, that was for certain. But what manner of creature he was, Claud was not sure. He had heard that vampires were supposed to possess other worldly beauty, yet this man was downright homely. Still, many signs pointed to 'vampire.' Reason protested, 'but he set foot inside a church!' Yes, and had to eventually flee, becoming ill. Some kind of fae? And of course Claud had invited him into his home—stupid! There was still time, call Father Eberhardt! Sound the alarm! But as Claud watched the slight, gasping form of the man in the cold, his heart took pity on him. Here was a creature just as wretched as he, who had prayed for him, had immediately shown him kindness. Claud was in his debt. Not a small matter with the hunter.

And perhaps he was mortal, and afflicted with a terrible disease. Were there not tales of lepers, who lost great areas of flesh to the bodily affliction? It was not impossible... Could Claud show an unkindness to him just because he was sick? He wondered how he himself appeared to the people of the town, and the way they by and large reacted towards him. Would he want to treat Father Valentine the way he'd been treated?

Claud groaned within himself, "Father Valentine, please, come this way." This had better not be a mistake.

It had been foolish to come, moronic to talk to the man, idiotic to try to live as a vampire that didn't eat- "Father-?" Francis looks up in surprise. He hadn't even noticed that the creature had followed him outside. What did Claud think of his pathetic frailty? Would he try to take advantage... no. He knew the stories, babies stolen, humans taken by the mushroom circles... But what use did a fairy have for a useless half-wit vampire? "I'm... I was never... actually ordained as a priest. Officially," confesses Francis quietly as he follows Claud. "I am... was a brother, though. Th-they're jus's devout," he explains weakly. Even if Mister Moray is leading him so casually to his doom, he still can't bear the man thinking him a complete liar, not after the church had lashed out at his vulgar, tainted show of faith. The night is uncomfortable, loud with Francis' ragged breath and the pounding of Mister Moray's heart. Francis studies him. A dryad, perhaps? Very well disguised... No. Even with strong magics, that bright red hair kills the suspicion, so long past the fall season... Too long past. It takes no time for Francis to quake with a cold that sinks right past the thin layers of his clothes, into the thin layers of his body. He doesn't hesitate when Claud unlocks and opens his door, rushing in after his host. The warmth from the old stove feel like a loving kiss, and Francis rushes over to it. "B-bless y-y-you, Mist-t-ter Moray!

"Oh, uh, sorry. I'm not, um, I don't really understand the right words I'm supposed to use sometimes..." As he listened to Francis' explanation, he again wondered what manner of creature this was. Again his mind whispered 'vampire,' and the more information he gathered, the more it made sense. But if he could study 'the enemy' as it were, up close, perhaps he would have a competitive edge when it came to taking down his sister. Even better still, if this person was sympathetic to humans, maybe he would even be willing to help them in the war against the murderers of the Villa.

Claud lead them as quickly as possible back to the small house where he was staying, again feeling a pang of pity when Francis makes a beeline to hover over the stove. Maybe he was just very sickly. "Please," he murmured, shedding his hat, gloves, and scarf onto the table, "Just Claud is fine." He pulled a chair over for his guest to sit, then crouched in front of the stove to feed it more wood. "And what shall I call you then? Herr Valentine?"

Though they are indoors, Francis keeps his hat on, just as he had so disrespectfully done in the church. "Don't worry about not knowin' about all the Catholic stuff, kid," the man reassures with a happy sigh. Sitting down felt amazing. The growing heat strengthens him more than his dinner ever could have. "Of course, Claud. You can jus' call me Francis, if ya like." He watches the man feed the fire for a while... Ah! Yes, definitely not a dryad. Possibly not even fey? He looks around the little room. It was very familiar. Close to the church, sparsely furnished , this seems like a room for clergy. Francis takes a deep breath and wraps his arms around himself before looking back at the fire. "Have you lived here long?"

Claud notes that Francis does not remove his hat, but until he could stoke the fire enough to drive off most of the chill he wouldn't think much of it. The poor fellow really needed better clothing for this weather. He smiles, "Alright, Francis." He stands and pulls over a chair for himself, but does not sit just yet, mulling over how much to tell the man. "A few months. I um, lost my house to fire in the autumn and the priests were kind enough to take me in, in exchange for my services, of course." Claud's stomach knotted, Francis didn't need to hear this. "Ah, can I get you anything? Food? Tea?"

Francis smiles back. The man was so hospitable, he can hardly believe this is real, though the pain from the prayer lingers enough to ground him in reality. "A fire- Ach, that's terrible, I'm so sorry to hear that..." There is something that tightens in his host when he spoke. He was no mind reader like many of his kin, but he feels an odd pang of clarity. "But they took you in? It is heartening to know that the clergy here is so generous-" He pauses at the offer of sustenance, considering... "Tea would be swell, thankya." A loud growl fills the room. Francis flushes at his stomach's noises. "So anyways what do ya do for the priests here, Mister Moray??" he adds, forgetting the informality in his haste.

Claud ladles water from a cask into the kettle, a somewhat dented and worn looking thing which had been lovingly scrubbed shiny clean again. "I'm a help, mostly. Any work that requires a strong body, I do." After setting it on the stove he retrieved two mugs and the infuser which he packed with herbs. "It's just herbal tea, I hope you don' mind," he murmurs as way of apology.

Finally sitting down he continues, "I bring in game when I can, though I try to provide for myself, so most of it goes to barter within the town. I've also agreed to be trained as a hunter." Out of the corner of his eye he watches for a reaction to that vague allusion to the fact that he hunts more than mundane animals.

"I don't know if it's generosity, pity, or necessity that they've allowed me to stay and benefit from their teaching. Maybe a combination of all three."

The kettle boils, Claud pulls it off the heat, and drops the infuser into the water. After a moment of steeping he pours the cups and hands one to his guest.

Francis accepts the tea, waving away the worries with a hand. Even simply holding the hot drink is a pleasure... "Lot's of game in these woods, I've noticed," Francis agrees hazily, mind on the delightful heat of the fire. The vague implication gets a agreeable, slow nod- "W- A hunter? But-" Ah. There it went. "So you'll learn to protect the flock...?" This... human. Francis finally takes the time to look at his host. By the stove's light, it's plain to see. Rectangle-slit pupils. "It's'a noble task, fer sure. There are dangerous things in this world, Mister Moray. In this town in particular, it'd seem." He sips his tea to sooth his prayer-scraped throat, still watching Claud. "But I'd advise ya ta recall what I said back't the church. Some men are quick ta judge what they don't know. Love ta protect, jus' cause't lets'm hurt people." Francis smiles humorlessly, recalling the skeletal redhead that had visited his newly-arrived tavern. "No matter what'ya see, what'yer told, don't forget. God is merciful."

"The... flock?" Oh, that's what the Fathers sometimes called their following. "Yes, yes I suppose so, though I'd like to think I'd be helping all hum--all people in this town." He had his suspicions about the humanity of some of the folks who had been willing to barter with him; maybe not vampires, but some other form of creature outside the realm of 'man.' In a way he had more in common with them than those what closed their doors in his face.

Listening to Francis' words he stares into the fire, holding his cup but not drinking from it. It seems that when he left the forest he did not leave the world of hidden dangers or disguised enemies. But this did not surprise him. He nods slowly.

'God is merciful,' Francis had said, and for some reason this awoke a deep sadness in him which he fought to suppress. He'd been lucky, and he'd had good fortune smile on him in the form of the kindness of strangers, but he also hadn't been spared the deep heartache of losing family and home in the most violent of ways. "I'm not, I'm not sure I can believe that," he admitted softly, finally looking at Francis. Surprised right out of his self pity he blinks a few times when he sees the shape of his pupils. Some kind of fawn then?

Francis stares blankly. "All the people...? That is the flock. All them that follow His- Oh. Hum." Francis looks at Claud in puzzlement. As he juggles indoctrination with his own values, his authoritative airs fades. "I mean... well yea, of course. Anyone wit'a soul is part'a his fold." The tea makes a great distraction from the rising color in his face. "Uhm... you mean the mercy thing? Ah, well. I know what ya mean. When I was'a kid, I thought the same thing. If He's so kind, why's bad thing's gotta happen?" Francis' strange eyes light up. His haggard face blooms with a pretty, unreserved smile that shows more teeth than the man had ever intended. "But that's jus' it. The mercy, it don't mean life's gonna be kind ta anyone. But here's the thing, here's the thing! We're made in his image, ya see? Maybe you din't know, but we are. An ya know, every time ya feel compassion fer another? Empathy? Love? Joy?" The vampire practically glows, he's so caught up in his own words. " That's Him."

Claud is so shocked by what he's seeing and hearing in combination, that he almost forgets to actually listen to the man's words. The man's face is a combination of an look of innocent joy and near-manic fervor. Not to mention those teeth. But a vampire preaching the teachings of the Christians, it seems so counter-intuitive.

"What do you mean that's Him? If I am feeling something, isn't it my emotion? How can I feel someone else's feelings?" Claud feels stupid, like this should be obvious to him but it's not. He at least understood the 'made in His image' part, and he vaguely wondered what the rest of the creation myth was like.

And what did all this have to do with mercy still allowing bad things to happen?

Francis deflates when Claud fails to match his excitement for his big secret truth. "It's yers, of course it's yers," he continues in a weaker tone. "But we're made in his image. Not jus' what we look like, but what we feel, n' think, n' everything! The reason we have that... it's cause that's how he made us, ya see? Every time ya feel those good things, that's His love for ya." He leans in, looking shifty. "The whole Bible business? 'S jus' there ta keep us from hurtin one another, reminds us that every soul, every single one, it's got God in it." He stops grinning and leans back, nervous and tight lipped. "I mean... not that I'm any authority, am I..." He scowls at the floor. "But I know a'Hellova bit more'n a lot'a them that call themselves priests." Francis huffs and crosses his arms, nearly spilling tea in his awkward grip.

Claud sips his tea and listens, trying to understand. He could comprehend being the same in feeling as well as the same in form, that made sense, but he still didn't understand how feeling what you felt because of your created nature was a manifestation of this seemingly distant deity's love.

Claud says nothing and Francis continues, again caught up in an internal dialogue. Claud shifted a little, again worried the man would work himself into a frenzy. Perhaps it was best to drop the subject. He asks another question that had been simmering at the back of his curiosity, "Tell me about the one you were praying to for me? Hubert? Is he a god too?"

Francis looks up, frown fading instantly. "There is only one God, but not to worry! Hubert is a Saint- uh... A Saint is....well, technically any soul worthy of entering heaven, but there some so holy, the church honors them, even in life... They may create miracles, or simply are extraordinary teachers, or are those one can model themselves around..." He grins at Claud and sips his tea. "When we pray to them, we are asking that they pray for us. The prayers themselves, .. I always believed they're meant teach us of the Saint's holiness." Though he jitters with excitement, his eyes are growing dull. The circles under his eyes seem to bloom into bruises as he speaks.

"Saint Hubert himself teaches us to hold animals in higher regard than many do- we must have compassion for all of God's creatures. To be humane, quick and clean when we kill. To never take a mother from her children. To set aside trophies in favor of removing the sick or injured-" Francis breaks off coughing again. He quickly sips his tea to silence the noise, his face burning red.

Claud tried to imagine the heavenly game of pass along—a person on earth praying to a saint and then the saint relaying the message, to God, he supposed. It seemed a little silly but maybe it kept all the holy dead from getting too bored. Claud couldn't imagine what there was to do in Christian heaven otherwise, what he'd been told sounded awfully dull.

While Francis speaks, Claud stares contemplatively at the fire, so he doesn't immediately notice the worsening of Francis' condition. Francis moves on to talk about the ethics of hunting and Claud nods a bit, agreeing with these points. He'd always felt this way though sometimes he'd been alone in his opinion. He'd never enjoyed watching an animal suffer, and part of the reason he'd become such an excellent shot was to ensure the animals he hunted died quickly, and hopefully, with as little pain as possible. He wonders if these principles should apply to his training as a hunter of the supernatural...

"Sir, are you ill?" Claud stands, pulls a blanket from the bed, and drapes it over Francis' shoulders. "If you need to lay down, please do, don't strain yourself. You can stay the night if you need." He was hoping they could talk a little more but maybe another time

"I'm fine," Claud's guest snaps, but the kind gesture kills the tirade before it starts. Francis rubs his face slowly. It's meant to seem world-weary and wise and most of all distracting, but a soft, choked sob escapes into the small room, giving away the ruse. "Y-yer bein' awful kind without any reason," Francis mutters glancing nervously at the blanket. His face feels hot. His eyes prickle dangerously. "Ha... I'm 'fraid I probably wont be able t' sleep fer'a few hours, after all this excitement, but thank'ya. If you'd like ta just... talk... Ah, but I don't wanna keep ya from yer own rest!" Francis stands suddenly, nearly knocking his chair over as the blanket slides off.

That tiny sound clenched at something in Claud's chest. He heard himself in that sound. "You've been nice to me too..." he softly protested. He moved to put a comforting hand on Francis' shoulder, but Francis stood in a hurry as if he meant to leave.

Again Claud wondered what manner of creature Francis was. Not man, not beast, not were. But whoever and whatever he was, he wore the marks of loneliness in every aspect of his being, and it moved Claud to compassion.

Should he just let him go? If he fell asleep, Francis might attack him in his vulnerability. Claud found himself protesting against his better reasoning, "Do you mean to leave? It's so late, I don't know that there are any inns open to receive you. And surely you would die out in this cold..."

"Well, yes of course, I never meant to intrude and keep you from your rest. The tea was wonderful though, and, and na, if I keep moving I'll always make it through the night. No death here!" He pounds his chest and laughs. It ends in another brief, embarrassed coughing fit. "I- I can go back to the church," he finally concedes. "It's warm enough in there, yea? Sure it is."

Claud is unconvinced and it shows. "Francis, there's no warming fires in that building this time of night, it's almost as cold as outside. Besides—you're not intruding and I wasn't able to sleep anyway. That's why I was in the church in the first place." He doesn't sound angry, but his tone is firm. "So set your self back down before you catch cold just thinkin' of goin' out in this kind of weather."

He couldn't be intimidating if he tried, standing nearly a half-head shorter than the man, but he was firm in his resolve. Simultaneously, he wondered if he'd lost his mind. Let the creature freeze out in the cold! That would be one less whatever-he-was in the world to cause problems for humans like they inevitably did! But he thinks back to that small, sad sound, and finds that he can do no such thing.

Claud you broken-hearted fool.

"I have plenty of work I can take care of while I'm up, may as well get to know a stranger at the same time, no? Come now, I'll put more water on to boil," he smiled entreatingly at the man.

"It's not that bad- Look-" Francis sits down instantly at the order, looking to his host with mild surprise. "O-OK. Fine." The house shudders in a particularly strong gust of wind. Francis' scowl quirks into the beginnings of a grin. "You drive'a hard bargain, Mister Moray. But uh, how'bout that work? Need'a extra set'a hands or somet'in? Least I can do, for this marvelous tea, ya see."

Claud smiles, “There’s a good man,” he claps him on the shoulder on his way to the water barrel again. “There’s some darning to take care of if you’re familiar with a thread and needle, or kindling to split if you know your way around a hatchet,” he fills the kettle again and fetches fresh herbs, “Or if you’re handy with whittling I can show you how to make arrows—oh that reminds me, knives could use a sharpening too.” He sets the kettle on the stove again, smiled at his guest. “Like I said, plenty to do.”

Fatigue was starting to take him again, but if he could take care of these chores now then it wouldn't matter if he slept in. It would consume his candles though... Oh well, with two of them working that would be a small price to pay.

Francis flinches at the touch. He's not afraid of what this human hunter-in training can do him, exactly, but... "Hm." Mundane chores. After all the religious talk, hunting, the certainty of his own damnation, Claud's list of tedious, useful tasks is like a gift. "All of it! I can help ya wit'all of it!" His pale face flushes deeper as he beams up at Claud. Physical exertion sounded like just the thing- Chopping wood? He'd shake the fatigue out of his limbs! Mending? Fixing broken things? It's too much a metaphor for Francis not to warm up at the prospect. Whittling? his fingers itch to create something elaborate and beautiful. He could help. "Anything ya need, Mister Moray! I'm used ta keepin'a place in order!"

Claud makes a mental note not to touch or otherwise startle the skittish man, but he tries to remain just as amicable. He chuckled and picked up the hatchet from the small wood pile by the stove. Pulling the leather sheath off the blade he checked how sharp it was with his thumb. Yes, that would suffice.

"Alright, I'll have you start on kindling if that's fine by you." He pulled a stool over and rolled the chopping block in front of it. It had some dark bloodstains on it and Claud frowned a bit. "Sorry about this, I was fortunate to trap some rabbits the other day." He flips the block over so the bloodied side is down and whacks the hatchet into the block. "Kindling pile is here, don't worry if woodchips get everywhere, I'll sweep later."

"Let me know if you need a hand or want me to show you how to do anything," he tosses over his shoulder, walking to where he's piled the clothing that needs the most attention. He'll start with his jacket; there were several pockets that were developing holes and some small tears he wanted to stop before they got any worse. Also his poor socks. And much of everything he owned. Clothing and sewing box in hand he came back to sit and work by the light of the fire.

Francis flinches again when Claud pulls the blade out. If only the man hadn't mentioned his recent hunter training... But then, did he want to be caught unaware? "Ah-" He balks at the chopping block. Tired as he was, the stench of old animal blood, had barely registered. Closer, the revolting stink screams at his brain. "Yea n-not a problem. Been doin' this since I was a wee bab!" comes the determinedly cheerful reply.

He holds his breath as he sits, then takes a moment to think. Well fed, he didn't need air, not really. If he just... holds it... holds it... Hold... Francis inhales sharply through his mouth. FUCK. He can taste it, this close. There's nothing for it. He grabs a log, breathing shallowly as possible. He make his way through the pile like a chef with carrots. It was a incredibly sharp blade, Francis observes with determined optimism, though he finally removes his hat as the exertion warms him. His host had clearly guessed by now he's not human, and yet still given him a weapon. If the horns and ears were a deal breaker... His pace begins to slow as beads of sweat form on his green tinged face.

Claud sits and begins working, looking up when he hears how quickly Francis is chopping through the logs, and then he does a subtle double-take. The man has horns. Well then. That's not something you see every day. Some kind of faun then?

After a few minutes of the frenzied pace Francis slows in his work and Claud can hear his ragged breathing. Claud looks up again and sees how poorly the man was faring. It caused him to wonder; did this man always push himself too hard?

Claud opens his mouth to speak, tell him to rest a little, slow down, and then realized such a direct approach would wound the man's pride and cause him to resist. He puts aside the darning and gestures to his guest. "Here, let me show you how to whittle an arrow nock, hm? I'm sure that amount of kindling will last me the rest of the winter, thank you," he chuckled.

If he can just finish the pile, he can repay this man's generosity. It's easy. there's just a few left- "What- Mister Moray? A-Are you sure?" Francis looks blearily at Claud. Was the man laughing at him? Francis wipes his face. It's terribly warm in here. Francis stands and removes his coat, shedding more woodchips on the floor. He unfastens his collar, and finally begins to cool down. "S-sounds great," he murmurs as he sets the hatchet aside and tidys the fallen kindling into a pile. As casually as possible, he rolls the block to the corner of the room with a foot. Nice and tidy. He sits back down, closing his eyes for a moment. He doesn't quite want to start the new task just yet. "I'd appreciate all the help you can give me," Francis smiles. It wasn't a lie, really.

Claud doesn't even think anything of where Francis stows the chopping block, focused instead on pulling out his whittling tools and the debarked and straightened wooden switches he'd prepared some days before. He started sharpening the small carving knives so they would be as sharp as possible, make working the wood much easier.

Francis sits next to him, looking very worn. "Of course," Claud replies easily, not making comment on the goat-man's overly exhausted appearance. He takes his time with the knives, forcing his guest to wait and rest. "Here, see if that's sharp enough for your liking," he hands him the small blade, handle first, and a scrap of wood to cut on.

Pulling a finished arrow from his quiver he showed the nock to Francis, "Think you can replicate that? I'll show you how to get started, and then it's just putting in the work."

Between his exhaustion and Claud's kindness, Francis doesn't react to potential threat of the knife. He sits and relaxes while Claud sharpens the blade. He'd done this before, been here before, working with a brother or sister to make the tools that would help protect and feed their home... Claud's room, the little stove, the rough bed, even the simple whittling tools.... It's all very beautiful. He didn't know there was a place in Streitstadt like it. Francis takes the knife and tests it, carving a tiny letter C, nodding approval. "Ah, that's lovely-" He takes the arrow a bit familiarly and inspects the nock, the fletching, the straightness. "Yes, I would love to see how to do this, Mister Moray," Francis grins. He's really not great at hiding those teeth.

Maybe it was fatigue, or his upbringing in the Knochewalde, but either way Claud just couldn't bring himself to care that he was sitting here with a faun, goat man, vampire, devil creature thing. Here was a being who had shown him kindness and no violence, and so, Claud had no reason to fear him. Yet.

While Francis tests the blade, Claud sharpens the one he would be using. Once that business if finished, he hands Francis a straightened rod and takes one for himself. "Clean up one of the ends like so," he shaves off one of the ragged ends of the rod to make it square to the shaft. "And you'll want to mark with the tip of the blade where you'll be carving out the nock," he marks out two parallel lines and leans close to show Francis. "Once you cut into those grooves a bit, you can free the piece of wood like this," he drives his blade between them, and a small sliver falls to the floor. "It's just carving and carving from here. When in doubt," he holds up the finished arrow, "Just make it look like that."

"You do that so tidily, you must'a been out here fer'a long time." Did the man have a family? He wasn't with the church, not until recently.... Had the fire... Francis studies Claud's face as the man continues the demonstration. So close, any doubts of Claud's species are pushed away by that painfully tantalizing scent. His host holds the arrow up, startling the vampire. "Oh. That's lovely." Francis stops leaning forward. "I... yes, I believe I can do that. Thank you for teaching me." He hurriedly grabs a rod, looking eager. He considers playing at clumsiness, but can't bear to do the work poorly... "Did you live in Streitstadt a long time before... the fire? If you don't mind me askin'?"

Claud tries to suppress his smiles at the compliments, but he can't help it. It's just too nice to have someone see and appreciate his skill.

They lean back in their respective chairs and get to work. Claud enjoyed the slow ponderous task of carving, especially when there was someone to work with. His smile fades a bit. When there was someone with him...

"Have I lived...?" he restates the question quietly to himself. "Yes—w-well, no, not in Streitstadt, but the Knochenwalde. I was born and raised there." It's amusing to him, he had wanted to ask about Francis' history, not the other way around. But it was only fair he supposed. "M' ancestors have been travelers and pagan for many generations, kinda funny that my family got stuck here." Which is to say, it really wasn't funny at all. A walker stuck inside a house was like a bird in a cage, or so his mother had explained to him. She had only pitied father and his frustration, but Claud hadn't understood it. Still couldn't.

Claud realizes he's been quiet longer than he'd spoken and smiled apologetically. "Sorry. Memories."

"Really? I heard the creatures'a the forest'n humans din't get on so good?" He studies Claud again, though he doesn't need to. The man's aroma pulses into his brain with each beat of Claud's heart. The kindling had been... perhaps too much, but this quiet delicate work did less to distract... "Your family got stuck? Ya mean.... generations? Stuck here?" he wails softly. Sure, things were bleak, but he'd told himself the animal diet would only be a few weeks, maybe months, at the worst. The separation bearable, because soon he'd be reunited with his family... His throat is tight, but he looks back at his work. Thank God for it.

"It's fine," Francis brushes the apology off in a tight voice. The already diminished vampire seems to shrink further into his chair, away from Claud.

"Ah, heh, we don't..." Claud started to say, but then Francis had his terrible revelation and Claud fell silent again. Another one who had seen something of the world before getting trapped here.

"W-well it was just m' parents who couldn't find a way out of the wood. If, if that's any consolation..." he knows it's not. "I'm sorry," he murmurs again. Silence falls between them and Claud very much wants to comfort the pitiful creature, but is unsure how.

Francis nicks the wood with the knife. Cuts a square notch out, turns the rod around and whittles a point out. Repeat and repeat and repeat until he doesn't have to think anymore. His vision blurs when the human offers the weak consolation. Francis had survived many loses, but he isn't sure about this one. He stares at the intricate line of prayer he'd carved up the side of his latest arrow. He sets it aside, the words unfinished. Pulls another switch to begin again.

They work on in silence for a few more moments 'til Claud notices the clatter of dowel against dowel. He looks over and sees that Francis has carved out several nocks now. "You are so fast!" he exclaims, leaning over to look at his work. Francis wasn't just fast, he was neat too! Claud realizes he's invading the man's personal space again and sits back again. "Sorry. You are very good at this. Um. I'll, I'll get the sinew to start wrapping on the fletching..." He hadn't expected them to get this far so quickly, and he stands again, retrieves the back-strap sinew and feathers.

What to do? How could he help? Some of the folk who came from abroad had enjoyed being asked about their histories and their travels, maybe Francis would respond the same way? Sitting back down with the appropriate materials and a flat board to cut on, he tried to think of a way to broach the subject. When he could think of no other way than directness he finally just asked, "Do you, um, do you want to talk about it?"

The human comes closer- not 'human', Claud. Mister Moray, his generous host and a kind man who smelled divine, full of rushing life, how had he ever mistaken him for a fae? Claud leans back. Francis does the same. "Hmm? Oh- Thank you-ah..." Francis responds before really hearing what he'd said. "Er.." What he said makes Francis bloom with pride. Maybe bloom was too strong a word, but he'looks slightly less like a ghost come to haunt Claud's home. He picks at a scrap of wood with the knife as Claud gathers materials. The blade nearly slips when the question comes. "Uh... I dunno... I'm just... new town, don't really got anyone here, y'know how it is... well no, you wouldn't would'ya." The blade nicks his thumb. It doesn't help. "I jus' miss my... my family, is all. Not much else ta say. But thank'ya fer askin, Mister Moray."

Claud listens to his guest's words and spends a moment in thought on how best to answer him. He sits and starts picking apart the sheet of sinew.

"I think our... situations are more alike than you may think. This is a very tight-knit town of fearful people—fearful for a good reason—but sometimes people here let that fear get the better of them and they treat outsiders poorly. There are kind folk here too, of course, and then there are others like us; outsiders that have found themselves stuck here against our wishes. There are friends here, Francis, you just have to find them."

But there was an air of deep sadness about him that took the credibility from his words. If there were friends here, and if he had reportedly found them, then why was he still so lonely? Claud picked finer and finer threads from the sinew sheet, and his eyes grew distant again.

"I'm sorry I cant help more than this."

Francis snorts when Claud compares their situations, but listens as he explains himself. But Moray doesn't believe his own consoling words, and Francis knows he shouldn't either. "It's fine. It's jus'... jus' the way things go, isn't it?" His host radiates discontentment. Francis feels as if he should do something, but a wash of weary apathy floods him. He should do his best to spread kindness and promote God's love. He had no excuses for this laziness. He sighs and rummages beneath his robe. A flask, practically gaudy with decoration, appears from the folds. Francis takes a mouthful before quickly tucking it out of sight. "Anyways, like I said before, you been awful kind already. No need for apologies. 's not yer fault this place's like this."

Claud only catches a glimpse of the gold flask before it's hidden away again. Uttering a soft, "Hmmn," he sets the sinew aside for a moment and places some feathers on his work-board.

"Here, you know how to prepare feathers for fletching?" Claud starts cutting up one of the poultry feathers, apparently finished with the previous depressing topic. It was a bad habit of his, trying to run away or change the subject, but he didn't know of any other ways of coping. The feather comes apart neatly and soon he's got it trimmed neatly in half with about an inch of exposed quill on each end.

But how he starves for more stories of places beyond the trees.

The drink burns his throat, down into his belly, spreading slowly to his fingers and toes. It would take some time for it to really take hold though... "Fletching? Ah... Yeah. Truth be told, I made a lot'a arrows in my life. I dunno why I lied earlier. Seems really pointless now. Sorry." Francis takes the feathers and gut- He's surprised how awful it all smells, particularly the gut. He gets to work, conversation dying as he focuses as hard as he can on trimming and wrapping the feathers neatly.

"O-oh, uh. I-it's fine..." Well it made sense, Francis was so good at it. Claud'd been misled but he still feels foolish for having explained so much to someone who already knew what he was doing. "Great. Thank you for helpin' me with this, um, again."

He took one of the nocked rods Francis had prepared to buff down the sharp corners on the whittling when he noticed decorative carvings along the shaft. He turned the arrow-to-be over in his hands, admiring the handiwork before looking up at Francis. "This is beautiful," he breathed, holding it up, "What is it?"

Francis merely nods, his urge to converse dwindling by the moment. He notices his own sullenness and looks out the window. The horizon is still dark. He considers his flask again, and is just about to reach for it when Claud notices his foolish carvings. Francis looks back at his arrow and resumes winding gut. "It's... I dunno why I did it. It'll help ya... um. If those hit'a lycanthrope, r'a fae, or'a... a vampire... Well. It'll slow'm down a bit, if they're strong. If they're not..." He silently finishes his latest arrow. It could easily kill him, couldn't it? He hands it to Claud and picks up another arrow to fletch.

Claud held the beautifully embellished thing in his hands and he felt a strange combination of reverence and fear. Was this it then? The arrow he'd use to kill his own sister? The arrow that would render him truly alone in this world?

Claud takes the newly fletched arrow and inspects it; immaculate work. His admiration hardly cuts through the sick feeling growing in the pit of his gut, and he places it aside, goes back to looking at the carved runes or words or whatever they were. He knew what he had to do, and he knew it was right, but it still felt like contemplating murder. It was murder.

"I'm gonna um," Claud starts moving materials off his lap, "I'm gonna check on m' rabbit pelts um. I'll just be a moment." He stands up in a hurry, leaving the lovely, deadly arrow behind with its less decorated siblings.

"Sure thing." As he winds the next arrow, dull heat begins to pound at his temples. He looks at the horrible carvings- his carvings. Well, now the hunter would have some tools for his craft. For this idiotic war Francis had just wanted out of. The rod would be so easy to snap... "Hey? Mister Moray-?" Should he leave the man his privacy? Francis scowls. Student-hunters would risk punishment just to touch an arrow carved by an official scribe- Francis remembers the wonder of holding the blessed thing, and the lashing he'd received after he'd been ratted out. Why the Hell is Claud crying?? "I... I can remove the carvings without damagin' the arrows, if ya like??" he calls in a puzzled voice.

Claud was only half lying. Or more like omitting the truth. He had rabbit pelts soaking in a tanning solution in a barrel in the back pantry, but he needed to remove himself from his guest's presence until he could get his emotions under control again. It proved more difficult than he thought. After stirring the pelts he still didn't feel better, in fact he felt worse. Leaning against one of the shelves he shut his eyes against the prick of tears and fought to control his breathing.

Why now? Why was he reacting like this now, in the presence of a stranger no less? Apparently he took too long because Francis was calling to him. Wait—he could hear him? Why could he hear him? Because he's got giant stupid goat ears, you idiot boy. It took another moment of deep breathing for Claud to realize what Francis had said. He couldn't respond of course, his voice would break. But Francis already knows he's crying so why bother hiding it?

Sitting on the floor in the corner he tried to make his words come out as not-weepy as possible. "Wh-why?"

"Uh... Jus'... You don't seem happy. I thought..." Francis looks at the arrow in his hand, at a complete loss. "Did I do somethin' wrong?" He asks nervously as he stands up. Francis glances at the window again. The outline of trees is faint, but definitely noticeable. He puts his coat back on, then his hat. "I-I can leave if ya need. I din't mean ta upset ya, Um."

Claud wanted to be alone. He wanted to be alone and mourn and then fall asleep and never wake up. "No," he hears himself say, "No, no," he didn't want to be alone, didn't want to be left with nothing but the horror of what he had to do. "You didn't do anything wrong, please, don't..." His throat closes up and he looks up at the ceiling, head hung back. The man deserved an explanation.

Finding his strength again Claud stood, made his way back to the main room, one hand on the wall for support. "You didn't do anything wrong it's just. It's my sister," his jaw clenched, he had to tell him. He couldn't lift his head beyond looking at the man's feet but he had to tell him. "She's given herself to Braydon, she's already killed a few people. I-I have to," the horror takes him again and he looks at the floor for help, "I have to stop her."

Francis bites his lip and lowers his hat. If he didn't do anything wrong, why does he feel terrible, and why did Claud start crying?? Francis shifts from foot to foot nervously, about to leave despite his hosts protests, but Claud returns before he can reach the door, and suddenly the human is right there in front of him, smelling of sadness and dead animals and food. "B-Braydon? Who is- she's killed- ok, slow down, I don't have'a clue what yer talkin' about here." Very uncomfortably, he puts a hand on the human's shoulder. "Y-yer ok, let's jus- let's take it slow, ok? Y-yer... human, right? Right. An' yer sister should be... who is Braydon?"

The touch surprises him, and he calms a little. "I am," Claud confirms with a nod, "But she is no longer." Francis hadn't heard of Braydon? He really hadn't been in this area long. Maybe he wasn't a vampire after all...? "Asher Braydon is the lord vampire of this area. She went willingly and he turned her." Need he say any more?

Francis removes his hand the moment he feels the human's pulse slow. His own begins to race. "The- oh..." He looks at his feet. They weren't all evil, comes the first defiant thought. "A-and ya say she's already... killed people.... was it on purpose though? Sometimes, when- when they're new, they can't help th'mselves." Though a lord vampire would be powerful enough to control a fledgeling...

Francis pulls away, Claud shuts his eyes tight again. The images from that chaotic night come flooding back to him nevertheless; the burning house, finding his father's corpse on the floor with his throat torn out...

"The night she turned she k-killed my—our—father. After that she's made sure to mark the bodies s-so people know it's her, or, well, the same person." He backs up so his back is against the wall. "I have to stop her," he voices quietly, well aware that his resolve could be a death sentence for him as well.

Claud needs to stop panicking, it's doing terrible things to the thudding, making it race invitingly. This isn't the time for that, it was never the time for that-! Francis is desperate to soothe that pulse. Touch had worked before. He takes a tentative step that closes the distance between them and nervously settles against the wall too, leaning so that his shoulder bumps against Claud's. "L-look, shhh, c'mon, it's ok, lets jus' calm down for'a second, let's talk about this, think it through...." She killed their father? It went against God's will, certainly, but a newly turned vampire couldn't be held accountable, not really. It was up to the master... Even privately, he doesn't want to admit to himself that he can't quite condemn the girl yet for patricide. "Ya gotta understand... when they turn, they're hardly sane. Almost more dangerous than ancient sires, the fresh ones are. Don't mean they can come back from it. Um...." He tilts his head towards Claud, hope in his unpleasant eyes. "H-has there been anyone else? I mean... how long's it been? It might matter, 's the only reason I ask."

"She threatened to do it," Claud spoke, eyes unfocused, almost if he hadn't heard the last question. "She swore she would find a vampire, have it change her, and then kill our father. And she made good on her word." He was hugging himself now, trying to curl inward again. "She's killed four more since then. The priests prepare the bodies for burial you know, the graveyard is right over there," he waved a hand in a vague direction. One more reason to move into town, away from this place full of the dead. "I don't remember when the last one was. Weeks ago. Or we've not found the body yet. But she uses my mark, I know it's her."

Francis's ears perk, he almost smiles- if she'd threatened before she turned, then it wasn't even her vampire nature that killed the man! Simply a vendetta against someone who quite possible provoked- "F-four?" Francis closes his eyes and sinks to the floor. "They didn't possibly.... provoke... No.. I know, I know... I jus... That's kinda scary, ya know? And killin yer sister... that's terrible. It's clear ya love her, too, elsewise ya wouldn't be... Are ya sure it's her though? Vampire sires' gotta lot'a control over them they turn..." What was worse? A homicidal fledgling, or a homicidal master that forced lesser monsters to kill? For Claud, probably the former, given the circumstances. For Francis... No. Surely, only his master would have power over him... "I just... I mean, you don't jus' turn evil when ya turn, ya know? Yer still in there. Just... so's the hunger. But w-they don't have ta kill, ta feed! Any master worth their salt'd teach them that! B-but, maybe... maybe this Braydon fella's jus'... jus' irresponsible??" "But I can only guess... you know her best..."

"I don't know, I don't..." Claud sank to sit next to Francis and he cradled his head in his hands. His guest was saying a lot that confused him and he was having trouble processing it all. First and foremost it surprised him that not only was he seemingly unphased that his sister was a monster, but he was speaking out in her defense? Or maybe he was just trying, in a strange way, to cheer him up.

"From what I've heard Asher is very old, and very cruel. Perhaps she inherited his madness. And I suppose it's entirely possible that the vampire killing these people isn't her. But I don't see why any of the others would have reason to mark this on the bodies," he pulled out the silver talisman he wore on a leather thong around his neck.

"If there's a way to feed without killing, then either she doesn't know it, chooses not to, or it simply can't be done. I don't know how reliable your sources of information are Herr Valentine, but that sounds a lot like wishful thinking."

Why the hell were there so many vampires in this town? And it had to be one of the shitty powerful ones, didn't it. Francis wonders if his host knows where the lord lives, so Francis can keep the fuck out of a forty mile radius of wherever the hell that is... Francis looks at the talisman and immediately shrinks back, eyes watering. "I.. I dunno. I never seen that before. Is it somethin' you'n her share?" he asks in a tight voice. The silver light jabs into his skull, even through closed eyes. He's going to be sick- Francis rolls to his feet and scrambles away from the amulet. "I don't know, haha- I don't know I got a bit'a knowledge about these things, ta be perfectly honest wit'ya" Francis hisses, yanking open the door, desperate to get away from the pain.

"Oh no," Claud shoved the talisman back under his clothes again once he figured out what was going on. He thought of taking it off, but he wasn't so trusting of this stranger just yet. "Oh no I'm sorry, a-are you hurt?" He was up on his feet and after Francis, trying to remedy the situation, "I've put it away again, it shouldn't hurt you if it's covered, right?"

Outside, the sky is warming. Francis gags and leans against the side of the shack. The weak dawn sears his exposed hands, which he tucks away with a yelp. It's too much. The vampire's stomach churns. The strange features shrink away as weak red bile spatters into the snow. "G-go back inside," Francis snarls at the hunter.

Claud's eyes go wide and he does as he's told, shutting the door with more force than necessary in his panic. What had just happened? Had his face changed? Was that... blood he'd thrown up?

Claud stood looking at the shut door, afraid he'd here a knock, afraid he'd look out and see nothing. After a few seconds of tense waiting, he directed his nervous energy towards the general disarray of the room, gathering up the materials left laying about and dumping them on the table, pulling the long forgotten kettle off the stove, and placing several more logs on the fire.

The door closes and Francis is left alone. The world goes dark around the edges. He leans his head against the wall, taking deep breaths of the icy air. "Thank you," Francis whispers miserably for no one to hear. It's quiet out here, even the birds aren't quite awake yet. He feels feverish, but the winter air is bitingly sharp and surprisingly soothing. Ok. As the silence drags out, the ground stops convulsing. Breathe. Ok. Claud hadn't meant to attack him. Breathe. Ok. He's not dying. He just got... worked up. That's all. Didn't hurt anyone, didn't go 'evil'. Just panicked.

Francis trudges slowly to the door, leaning on it for comfort and protection. "Mister Moray, I'm really sorry. Ya jus' suprised me, and I'm not really... I over reacted, ya see? You been nothin' but kind, I shouldn'ta snapped at ya." Breathe. Ok. "Thank'ya very much fer yer hospitality tanight. Maybe I'll see ya around sometime."

Claud opens the door, eyes still wide, breath misting in the cold. He should have noticed it before, there was no cloud of steam at Francis' mouth. Whatever manner of creature he was, he was not a living thing.

The goat features were gone. All that was left was a starved looking man dressed in equally distressed looking clothes. Claud pulls the door open a little wider, "Well get in here before you freeze or burn to death or whatever happens to your kind at sunrise." He's just tired. He wants to get this idiot traveler safely inside and climb into bed.

When the door opens, Francis must reel back so that he doesn't fall into the hunter. He looks up, shocked at the offer, then glances back at the now glowing horizon. "AHGGHHFor the love of-!" He scrambles blindly through the doorway, covering his eyes with a twitching hand. Just as he had hours ago, Claud's guest makes a bee-line for the stove, crouching before it like a broken, mangy bird. "S-some hunter you are. Letting demons into your home even knowin' better," Francis growls. "What the Hell'r these useless hick priest's teachin you?"

"I know," Claud admitted, closing the door. He had a very strong urge to ruffle that dirty mane of blonde hair as he walked past. "To be fair my training doesn't really start in earnest until the spring. Mostly 'm jus' tryin' ta stay alive 'til then." He sets about, closing the curtains as much for his own comfort as for Francis'. It was already sunrise! He couldn't believe it. His body ached with fatigue.

"If you don't have a problem with me then I don't have a problem with you. You had opportunity to hurt me all night and you didn't. You're obviously hungry. But you didn't hurt me. In fact you were kind to me." He sat in a chair again, exhausted. "The priests didn't tell me about vampires that could change their faces like you did. I thought you were a faun maybe."

Wearily he looked around the room, wondering where Francis could safely spend the day. Under the bed maybe? If he could change into a bat he could roost up in the rafters perhaps... He rubbed at his face, this was ludicrous.

"I suppose that's a fair excuse..." How long ago had his sister turned? Only four kills. Francis groans softly. Claud is simply ignorant of the danger. "First rule'a survival, don't fuckin' invite us inta yer house. We can't enter without an invitation." Despite the snappish tone, the growl in his voice fades when Claud blocks the light. "It's not about havin'a problem. A bushel'a creatures got it in their heads that yer kind is food, Mister Moray, and here you go makin' one'vm tea." It wasn't kindness... he's just tired, and weak. If he was any better than an idiot fledgling, Moray would be dead, or at the very least, dangerously anemic. "The priests? Tch. Maybe they don't know anythin' either."

His vision is beginning to return. He glances down at his tightly clenched hat. His hands are shiny with burns. "But y'know. I... I wasn't tryin' ta deceive ya." He hesitates at the squeeze of guilt. "Well. I mean, ok a little, but all I wanted tonight was ta pray in the Lord's house. Honest."

"I know but I-I didn't—I didn't know you were... You had horns and ears like a goat..." he ran his hands through his hair, eyes growing bleary with need for sleep. "'m sorry I interrupted your prayin', I wasn't even supposed to be in there," he mumbled.

"Um, but we gotta find you a place where you can spend the day, right?" Claud was eager to change the topic from how foolish he was to something, anything, else. "M-maybe under the bed or-or if you can turn into a bat," that was definitely something that he'd seen happen, "There's little spaces in the rafters where you could hide. It'd be warmer at least..."

Francis' words buzzed in the back of his mind though. Eating without killing, the implication that vampires could subsist off of something other than human blood... But these were questions for another time.

"I didn't do it on purpose- but some can! The stronger creatures, some'a them can look perfectly human. That's why it's rule one. Flash that bit'a silver ya got, touch'm with it if ya can, but the stronger ones might not even mind that." He lets go of his hat, wincing. "I say it only fer your benefit. I... I am grateful to ya and.... and glad to have... yea. Don't worry about it." The vampire stands unsteadily. "And yea. I can do that. If you could jus-" Francis stares at his feet. "-look away fer'a moment?"

Claud considers for a split second that this might be an unwise decision, but he's come this far tonight without getting attacked, so... "Alright," he turns in his chair, facing the other way. Truthfully, he'd wanted to watch the transformation. Oh well.

Francis' uncomfortable flush fades as he tries to concentrate. He thinks of flying and being close to his master, being held- his stomach gnaws with the constant sharp pain that throbs along to the human's pulse. "UGhh... I got this..." Francis breathes. His hands ache. Sitting alongside Claud, making things together, being useful...

A soft chirp announces his success. The ragged clothes are nowhere to be seen, though the small creature looks about as worn as ever.

Claud turns around, "Hm? Oh! Oh, you're... you're so tiny..." he holds out his hands, cupped together, for Francis to land on them. Ragged though the bat was, it was still marvelous to see how small he'd become, and the clothing magically whisked away he supposed; nothing like what he'd heard a were-transformation was like.

With massive blue eyes, Francis blinks up at the dim shape that was Claud. The man's voice is loud and clear now. Pleasant too. And his pulse! Francis squeaks, then crawls awkwardly towards his host when he notices the welcoming hands. A graceless flutter lands him on the generous platform of Claud's palms. The human smells even better up close like this. Francis licks one of Claud's fingers with interest and a notable lack of self-consciousness.

Claud laughs nervously and pets Francis' tiny body with one finger. Wow, he was so little, and the tiny bones in his wings were amazing. He'd never seen a bat this close.

"Um, ok, ah, let's see," he cast about for something soft and settled on his scarf. With one hand he folded it neatly, then set it inside a small wooden crate. "I know I said you could sleep in the rafters, a-an you still can but um," Carrying these things and Francis, he moved one of the chairs into a corner of the room, behind the stove. He set the box down on the chair, then draped his coat over the whole ensemble, ensuring that no light would reach the tiny make-shift bed. "Um, this might be nicer though, if-if you want." This was ridiculous, Francis was a person (sort of?) not a pet. And would a bat even be comfortable sleeping on a little bed? Didn't they hang upside down?

Francis quivers when Claud returns his affection. It was hard to worry as much about the world and heaven and souls when he's like this. As the man tries to carry him and the crate, Francis is squished close to Claud's chest. Wonderful. He wanted to stay right here as long as possible, warm and close to another living creature who knows him and who he likes very much... Francis chirps vaguely when Claud makes offers that he's barely listening to. His eyes are already closing... A question comes that doesn't sound rhetorical. Clinging to the human's clothes, he looks curiously up at Claud, then to the little box. It's beautiful and thoughtful, and if he wasn't small and fuzzy brained, he might have cried right there. Instead, he utters a quiet whistle and presses his face against Claud's chest, sighing contentedly.

Claud blinks a few times and realizes that maybe Francis was not only unable to reply, but maybe he can't understand human speech very well in this form. If at all. His brain was awfully tiny now, and that's what made an animal smart, wasn't it? But then again faeries were terribly clever and they were so small... and magical. But Francis was also magical? Claud's brain hurt and he still had a small creature clinging to him.

For a moment he just stands there, cupping Francis to his chest, gently stroking his furry back with a finger. It felt... nice to hold a tiny creature like this. "Um, I can't let ya sleep with me though, y'know, you're so tiny I might hurt you just by rolling over, or if some light shines in accidentally..."

Oh, he missed human contact sorely.

The bat's eyelids fall as he's touched. The heartbeat isn't such a scary thing now, though it still soaks his thoughts until it's all he can think of. Claud's voice rouses him. As way of answer, Francis crawls sluggishly out of Claud's hands, scaling his shirt using tiny, harmless claws, up until he's able to scrabble up around his neck like a bizarre furred scarf. He presses his nose against the man's skin with extreme interest, taking his time around the delicate areas where the blood is closest to the surface. After a small lick and a nuzzle of possessiveness, Francis trills with soft satisfaction.

"What are—um," Claud held very still as the tiny bat crawled up him. it worried him, when his neck is nuzzled, and he wonders for a tense moment if Francis was going to bite him, small as he was. But no, he just seemed to be content to sleep on Claud's shoulder, and Claud uttered a weary sigh.

"Well I'm going to bed," Claud announced softly, and walked over to the pile of blankets on the thin mattress. Sitting as gently as possible he began pulling off his boots, then his belt. It felt strange to undress in front of a stranger, even if that stranger was a bat at the moment. "Hey, you really wanna sleep there? I'm gonna lie down," he pet Francis again.

Eyes closed, Francis chirps again at the announcement. Maybe it's in agreement, or congratulating him on finally getting sleep, or maybe he's just trying to be conversational. Francis begins moving again once Claud sits down, as if he'd done this kind of thing many times before. Lazily, he slides off Claud's shoulders, down into his lap so that the human can comfortably lie back. He looks up at the question, and stares for an uncomfortable length. Claud couldn't understand what his hospitality meant. For a vague moment, Francis considers waking the hell up and transforming back so he can explain... The bat warbles and curls up against Claud's belly instead. He'll tell him in the evening...

Sleep grabs Francis exactly as the darkness falls. He squeaks gratefully- but this isn't quite right. Now that Claud's settled, he wiggles up beneath the covers, back towards the human's shoulders . The small creature curls tightly up in the little nest made from the man's shoulder and neck. With one last lick, he finally stops moving. Francis' breath slows instantly.

Claud barely registers Francis moving about, and he slips into sleep almost immediately, dreaming of small creatures that fit in his hand and looming shadows beyond the firelight.


Some hours later Claud wakes to the sound of small birds and of human life going on despite the cold. He hadn't shifted much in his sleep and Francis was still there, curled up next to him, so close he could hear his very slow intake of breath. It was tempting to just fall back asleep, it was so warm under the covers, but he had lost so much daylight already—he had work he needed to do.

As soon as he stirred, Francis began protesting in a series of squeaks and small flutterings of his wings. "Shh, shh, keep sleeping, it's ok," he coaxed him, holding him close as he sat up. Realizing how disastrous it would be if one of the clergy were to pay him a visit, Claud began looking around for a place to hide Francis. He couldn't just shove him back under the covers—the crate! Grabbing this he pulled back the blankets and, amidst much sleepy protesting, placed Francis in the center of the still-warm divot his body had made in the mattress. This seemed to calm the creature some and he carefully covered him with the crate, then further shielded it with a tent of blankets. Francis should be able to get out of the handle hole cut in the side of the box should Claud be out past dark (not his intention), and there should be enough ventilation for him to be ok, right? Could vampires even suffocate if they were already dead? But Francis had been breathing...

Claud pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. He really needed to stop thinking about magical beings and focus on the tasks of the day. Food, water, barter, warmth. After pulling back the curtains he saw just how much daylight he'd slept through and gained the proper motivation to get his ass in gear. As quietly as he could he pulled on the articles of clothing he'd shed before bed, threw more fuel on the fire, and shoved a late breakfast down his throat.

Too soon he was out the door and out in the cold, going about the tasks of what was left of the day.


By sundown he was back in his small house, sitting contemplatively before the fire, letting the light fade naturally from the room with no candles lit. The smell of pine pitch filled the space; he was putting the finishing touches on the prayer covered arrow, and as he did so, he considered the wisdom in showing it to the clergy in the hopes of making more, though he knew this would bring unwanted attention to Francis.

He still had questions for him.

Francis shrieks. Heart racing, he curls into a tight, quivering ball. He really should be used to waking up like this, it had been months after all, and yet as the terror lessen, he still searches blindly in disoriented panic, before remembering. He flops back down, heart sinking as the reality of his situation floods back. He is alone. But tonight, instead of freezing dirt or hard icy stone, Francis is bewildered by the soft bedding beneath him. He rubs his face against it, just to be sure... it's so comfortable... A sharp scent wakes him up the second time. Fire- the forest is burning around them-!! There is a scrabbling under the crate, a squawk, and a soft thud that barely makes the box tremble.

The light in the room dims for a moment, and a black mist pours from the hole in the crate, disappearing as soon as the light in the room touches it. The wood clatters to the floor loudly. Francis sits on the bed in it's place, humanoid, fully dressed, and shivering violently. His eyes race around the room, looking for an escape- Mister Moray? Claud. Francis stares at Claud in tight silence.

Through the crate and the blankets Claud hears a noise like an animal in pain. He couldn't exactly drop what he was doing though, the pitch was hot and he had to apply it to the arrows neatly to secure the arrowhead. He couldn't even reply immediately as the applicator stick was clenched in his teeth while he positioned the arrowhead. Once he was sure it would not shift, he set the nearly completed arrow down on the floor where he crouched before the fire in the stove.

Francis had quieted down again, though to be sure Claud waited a moment or two, listening. Shrugging, he reached for his tools to apply another arrowhead to a completed shaft when he hears more frantic sounds coming from the box. He jumps up, pulls the blankets from the crate and is about to lift it up when the fire flickers and dims somehow, and Claud stumbles back from a dark mist that creeps towards him, then falls backwards when the crate flies to the floor and Francis appears, fully formed, in its place.

"Ah-uh, g-guten abend," he gasped out once he caught his breath and his wits. Then, noticing the man's discomfort, he rose and inquired, "Francis? Francis are you alright? D-do you need to sit by the fire?" Claud realized with a sick feeling that he was probably hungry, and here he was, a hapless meal waiting for him when he woke up. Shame mixed in with the fear and he tried his best to hide it with a casual smile and by busying himself with pulling the second chair over to the stove.

Francis stares at Claud for an uncomfortably long moment, his eyes caught on a spot just below the human's chin. “Guten abend,” he responds suddenly when Claud stands up. “I am good, thank you! It has been'a long time since I slept so well!” Francis grins brightly, though he continues to shiver. “But the stove'd be lovely, I gotta admit.” The vampire yawns as he gets to his feet. The hot pine scent is cloying, and, mid-yawn, the man sneezes when he gets nearer to Claud's work. Sitting down, he looks over to the arrows. The sight of the sharp arrowhead attached to the hymn-carved rod trips the smile up. Francis looks away quickly. “Thank you for your hospitality today. If you'll give me a moment ta wake up, I'll get out'a yer hair so's you can sleep.”

Claud wondered about the seemingly trance-like state that his guest was in before he spoke. Maybe it was the vampiric equivalent of being grouchy when you first woke. Maybe there were some things that never really changed. When Francis sneezed Claud's theory was only reinforced. It was such a strangely human thing to do.

"Of course of course, um. Sorry about the crate, I, I didn't want you to get smothered, if that's even possible. Ah," he gathers up the scattered materials and deposits them on the table, pulling the pitch off the stove and hiding the arrows away. "I um, I still had a few questions for you, if that's alright. Though if you need to go I understand." He busies himself about the room so as to not crowd Francis.

“Crate?” Francis looks around- Yes, there it was. “Ha, y'know I didn't even notice?? Huh.” He stares. Despite his livid protests, his master had insisted they use the traditional coffin. Francis had never slept so well, even as a human. Was that stupid little crate to blame for the day's wonderful dreamless sleep? “I thought you were there, too though,” he muses vaguely after gazing fixedly at the box a long while. “M-? Did you say- Ah, yea, I'm not in a rush-?” Francis closes his eyes. The Heart wasn't calling to him. He sighs. It would be a long night. “Not to worry. Ask away.”

"I was there. Well, not the whole day, had to get up and take care of a few things," he smiled and patted a lone jar of pickled vegetables. He missed vegetables like he missed the summer sun, and had bartered dearly for the little bit of preserved food. Then he smiled at the memory of a small bat not wanting him to leave, but he didn't say anything of it.

Sitting in a chair next to Francis he fussed with the fire a bit before speaking again. "I'm sorry if this is an uncomfortable question but, how is it possible to, uh, feed without killing?"

“Ah, of course.” Francis smiles uncertainly. He didn't remember waking up for Claud's departure, but he'd slept so well... There had been a pulse, handn't there... yes. What a marvelous day.. He looks at the fire through the stove's grate, remembering the conversation last night. He'd be alone here forever, if Claud was to be believed. Francis stops shivering and goes very still. “Oh, not'a worry. That'sa easy one, y'know? Ya jus' don't...” He hadn't admitted what he is yet, only skirted around it last night with an exhausted mind that didn't care quite so much. He doesn't want to say it aloud, but Claud just watches him expectantly, looking so innocent and frail and kind. That pulse had lulled him to sleep, hadn't it, promising companionship and understanding and a meal... The flask makes an appearance. The vampire takes a long drink, draining it before it vanishes again.

“All ya gotta do is not drink em dry, right? No one needs every drop'a blood in them, an you can get quite a bit out'a a person 'fore it does any harm more'n make'm a bit light-headed. It jus-. ” he looks anywhere but Claud, ”-requires control. Fledgling probably can't do it alone, but with 'a half decent master? Easy.”

Claud laughs, a small sad sound before he can stop himself. "Well there goes that idea," he groaned. Gladys had neither control nor a half decent master.

Yes, he knew of blood loss and how long you could bleed before it was dangerous to your life; "But what of the wound? Infection? How can you stop the bleeding?"

The laugh hurts. He'd say a hundred prayers rather than hear that hopeless sound. He'd been about to mention the other option, but instantly shuts his mouth. It would just lead to another one of those crushing laughs. A vampire who reveled in death would never choose this hard, thankless road. Even an idiot like him struggled, and he hadn't even had to do it for that long. Yet. Generations, Moray had said.... He looks at Claud again. Would he slip? Someday, a good soul like this would let him in and show him kindness, and Francis would ruin everything. What was he playing at, anyhow? Teaching humans vampires weren't to be shot on sight, when at any moment even he might be overwhelmed by hunger... “What? Do you have one??” his voice is too eager, and shame dances across his face before he can physically turn away. “I don't... Um. Stronger ones can stop it. I don't know. Maybe weaker ones too. We.... we weren't designed ta kill with every meal, I think...” Francis bites down on his knuckle. The fangs sink into his skin, creating a distraction. He will go as soon as the room stop orbiting Mister Moray, as soon as the world stops throbbing along to his heartbeat.

"I-I don't," Claud replied, surprised. He looks at Francis and they both look away, Francis in shame, Claud in shock. He was right, the poor fellow was starving.

A tense silence falls when Francis stops speaking. "I had so hoped..." he trails off into silence, then he sighs. "You were right you know. I still love her, I don't want to kill her. To be alone." He grits his jaw. Was he going to give up on his sister, his twin, so easily? He had to be brave, if only for the possibility of a possibility of helping her.

"C-can you show me?" he asks, with only a slight tremor in his voice.

“Y-you don't need family jus' ta have a bit'a fuckin' company,” Francis hisses the words into his hand, sounding pained. The politeness of his speech disappears. “Plenty'a other people'n the world, even this God's forsaken hell... hole-?” Francis jolts at the question. Claud is too close, the swish of liquid through arteries too loud. The vampire's skin seems almost transparent, it's so pale. He leers at his host with firey eyes. “Yes... yes I would... love that...” The room hums with peacefulness as Francis stands. Everything is fine. Everything is beautiful. Francis loves Claud, so it only makes sense that he should be nearer, closer, enough that they could touch, of course, Francis' touch is nothing to fear, it's simply an affectionate gesture, a caress of Claud's graceful neck-

Francis leaps back the moment his cool skin brushes Claud's warmth. He backs away, crouching into a corner of the room, covering his face with his arms. The overwhelming contented quiet shatters when the monster whimper. “Y-you can't- I-Im practically'a fledglin' myself, Mister Moray,” Francis confesses in a sobbed whisper.

Claud is about to protest, clarify that they weren't just family, not just siblings, they were twins—but he looks at Francis and the man's gaze seemingly draws him in, causing his body to relax and his mind to go blissfully blank. Francis stands, moves close, looks at him, truly looks at him, and Claud smiles. He feels loved, he feels appreciated, wanted... He felt like laughing, he felt like crying.

All too soon the spell breaks and Claud gasps in a ragged series of breaths as reality crashes back in through his senses. Squinting his eyes shut he fights down the terror. Once it subsides enough he looks around the room, bewildered, until he catches sight of Francis crouching in the corner. The sob drives a lance of shame and guilt into his gut. Grimacing, he looks away.

"I'm, I'm sorry I—I thought... You look so sick an' an'... What will you eat?"

“W-what I eat is none of your concern, Mister Moray,” Francis snaps, the quiver in his voice giving the anger a hint of dangerous instability. “Y-yer'a human an' I'm'a thing that eats humans an we canna pretend otherwise cause I don't wanna have any accidents, an' pretendin' we're the best'a pals is how we have those. Accidents, I mean.” He races to finish the words, the speech making him uncomfortable. Not talking is also terribly uncomfortable though. Everything is aching. He pulls his flask again, but it is empty, and he can never leave this fucking town. “I will go and you will sleep and soon you will become a hunter and hopefully we will not meet again, God willing. That is how it ought to be.”

Claud hung his head and gripped the edges of the seat of the chair with both hands; he couldn't stop shaking and his head was still swimming with the echos of the things Francis had made him feel. Half-hearing Francis' words he nods mutely, eyes screwed shut again, unable to fully process everything that had happened, that was happening, and terrifying still, what might happen.

Good. That is settled. Now he will go to the door and open that and walk outside and keep moving so he doesn't freeze, and then he will find dinner, and then he will spend the rest of the night trying to keep that dinner down, and then find some semblance of shelter, and then he will sleep, until the whole process begins again. Francis finds he's been sitting in this corner for many minutes since he'd announced his departure, going over the routine that would apparently be his eternity here. No. That's not right... Claud looks devastated, otherwise he'd never have shared his epiphany. “My master will come though. Everything will be alright when she finds me. We can even be friends, not just... this. Afraid of one another. She will come.” He finally stands up. He seems more frail than before, though it wouldn't have seemed possible. Grabbing his fallen hat, Francis heads towards the door.

Later, when he lay in bed and thought and re-thought over the many things that had happened this evening, Claud would ponder on the fact that Francis' master was a woman. But for now he just stares mutely up at Francis, watched as he walked towards the door. It's only when he has his hand on the handle does Claud find his voice.

"Auf widersehen, Francis Valentine. I do hope you meet her again." He looks at him, his expression one of exhaustion, but also showing the effects of grief. He was too tired to be scared.

Francis doesn't acknowledge the farewell, for Claud's protection, he tells himself. But the follow up catches him before he can close the door. He freezes in place, frigid air rushing past him, into the tiny home. “I will pray for you, Mister Moray. You are a good soul.” He closes the door.

In the dark forest, the warmth of the human's fire leeches from his body until he is as cold as a dead thing ought to be. He looks up at the black canopy of trees, then towards Claud's home, too far now to see even the faintest light. Francis shivers and keeps walking, full of regret. He should never have set foot in that church.

That last line makes Claud blink, and he can only sit there, wondering, long after the door had closed. In the end he decided to save his candles and just go right to bed, though sleep would again elude him for many hours. But this time he had oh so much more to think about, and to regret.