There was a body in the bottom of the lake, and Vlad had no idea how it had gotten there.
He stood on the bank, where the cat-tails crowded around the shaggy lawn, and stared at the faint white arm flapping in the current below. Every once in a while, a fish passed in front of it, or algae, obscuring it from view, but then it appeared again, looking all the more like a piece of debris instead of an arm.
Except that when he had tasted the water, he had tasted death.
The moonlight shone down on the water, and for a moment, he wondered if anyone else would be able to see the arm until morning when human eyes could see more clearly.
"You called?" Reginald's voice had lost its edge of suspicion soon after Vlad had been forced to make Anna into a vampire. There was no love lost between them, but respect had replaced some of the distrust, and Vlad had known it would be Reginald who responded to his call.
"There's a body in the lake," he said simply. "I wasn't certain at first, but the water tastes of death."
Reginald stared at him for a moment, then nodded. "Can you show me where? If we go out on a boat?"
"If you have spells to combat the darkness, you might be able to see it from here," Vlad said. "There may be more than one. I can't tell."
"More than one?" Reginald frowned.
"I'm not sure the taste would be so strong if it was a single body," Vlad said, and pointed to the middle of the lake. "There."
The arm waved. Vlad fought against an almost overwhelming urge to wave back.
"Oh," Reginald said. "And you just--saw it?"
Vlad's lips twitched. "Interrogating the only witness?" he asked lightly, knowing that Reginald was only doing his job. "I often walk around this lake. It's near my house, and it's usually fairly empty at this time of night. I've never seen anyone near here, before you ask. And the body wasn't in the water three nights ago, which is the last time I was here."
"Or bodies," Reginald muttered.
"Or bodies," Vlad said, watching the faint form in the water. "I hope not, but I thought you would be the one to call."
"I'll have my men drag the lake," Reginald said. "It might take longer than a night to find everything--if there is anything else to find."
Vlad nodded. "You know where to find me if you have any other questions," he said, and turned to walk away.
It was the first time Vlad remembered Reginald actually speaking his name. "Yes?"
"How did you see--How did you see the body in the water?"
Vlad wanted to say that it had waved to him, but that wasn't quite true. He'd been resting his leg, which still ached, standing there watching the night birds fly across the dark water, letting his mind run free to chew on the peculiar problem of what was to come. He'd been invisible in the shadows, content to step away from the world for a moment and contemplate civilization from the outside again.
Where vampires belonged.
The white of the arm had caught his attention first, and long before he realized what it was, he had watched the waving form, wondering why someone had sullied his solitude with their trash.
He could have explained all of this to Reginald, but he did not want the policeman to have such an intimate understanding of a vampire's mind or moods. "It reflected the moonlight," he said softly. "And it did not belong. I didn't realize what it was until I tasted the water."
Not quite the truth. But Reginald would have other concerns once the body was freed from its watery grave. He wouldn't have time to pick apart Vlad's explanation, or wonder why he had chosen this particular lake or this particular place to wander at night.
In truth, Vlad liked to believe that walking helped the stiffness, and would eventually entice the wound to finally heal. At least he'd healed enough to eschew the cane. Most of the time. He had stood in one place--waiting for Reginald to arrive--long enough to wish that he had it now.
"Thank you," Reginald said, two words which must have cost him a lot of pride to voice.
Vlad inclined his head. "You're welcome." He glanced at the sky, which was still dark enough to be night. "I should get home."
"I know where to find you if I have any questions," Reginald said with a nod. "I'll let you know what we find."
Six months ago, that sentence never would have left his lips. Six months ago, Anna had been alive and not tied to the night like Vlad.
Six months ago, he'd abandoned his castle out in the country and moved to the city to hide. And nothing had been the same since.
At a mortal's pace, Vlad walked away from the lake, his movements hampered by the growing ache in his hip and the vain urge not to limp while Reginald was watching. He made it as far as the sidewalk before abandoning all pretenses and sinking down on a nearby bench. It was only second nature to blend in with the night so the occupants of the carriage that swept into the park did not notice him at all.
But the second carriage that pulled up in front of him had no such blindness.
"Do you wish to ride, my lord?" Willie's face was perfectly blank, which probably meant that Maggie had sent him.
"Are you my nursemaid now?" Vlad snapped, and pushed himself up. He couldn't help but sway backwards as the ache in his hip became more of a throbbing inferno; he'd definitely overextended himself tonight. "I would prefer to walk. Go home." Peevishly, he limped forward, and had to grab hold of the nearest wall--or else collapse into an ungraceful heap on the ground.
"My lord--" Willie sounded perfectly miserable.
"My name is Vlad," Vlad snapped.
"Yes," Willie said. "I realize that. And you've not lived this long by indulging in stupidity."
For a moment, Vlad could only stare at him, his mouth agape at his words, his mind more shocked than angry--at least for now. "What did you say?" he asked, certain that he'd heard wrong. Perhaps in addition to his hip, he was also losing his hearing. That would just be the icing on the cake. After all, no other vampire had survived a silver wound. Why did he believe he would be so lucky?
Willie closed his eyes. "I'm sorry. I spoke out of turn." But his voice--and his apology--lacked conviction, meaning that he had meant what he said.
In silence, Vlad opened the door and climbed into the carriage. Willie was--well, he was right. He had pushed himself and pushed himself until he had nothing left to push, and for what? He was no better off now than he had been six months ago. The wound had not completely healed, he had none of his prior strength or speed, and if the vampire hunters showed up at his doorstep, he'd be hard-pressed to avoid them.
"You were gone longer than normal," Willie said from above, not raising his voice, since he knew Vlad could hear him. "She gets worried."
"I know," Vlad said, and leaned back against the seat. The rocking and jarring thumps as they drove over cobblestones did nothing to help the throbbing pain, but a small part of his mind admitted that it wasn't necessarily a terrible thing to ride home, especially on a night like this. "I found a body in the lake, and I had to call Reginald."
For a moment, he thought Willie hadn't heard him. And then, incredulous, "A body?!"
Vlad closed his eyes. "Or bodies," he said. "It was a bit hard to tell. Don't be surprised if we get a visitor later on; he said he'd let me know what they found."
"Yes, my lord," Willie said, resorting to his habitual response.
They rode the rest of the way in silence.