Walking out into the dark
Cutting out a different path
Lead by a beating heart
-Laura Palmer, Bastille
Rupert jerked awake the moment before his face hit the open book. He spun around for a second, disoriented, then relaxed as he recognised his surroundings. The Oxford library had been slowly emptying out for hours, and now there wasn't a soul in sight. He glanced at his watch, a gift from his father when Rupert was sent off to the Academy. Having worn it for eight years now, the band was a bit tight, and the face a bit battered, but he hadn't been able to bring himself to replace it.
2:47 am. Rupert pushed his glasses up to rub his tired eyes. Time to call it a night. He put on his coat and repacked his bag, wincing as the weight of heavy books made the strap dig uncomfortably into his shoulder. He made his way lopsidedly down the stairs, waving to the librarian behind the circulation desk on his way out. The severe-looking older woman allowed a small smile to pass Rupert's way, then returned to her work. Some of his fellow students treated the librarians as if they were a different species, but Rupert found them to be a wealth of information, if you knew how to ask nicely. In any case, his long hours here nearly every night seemed to have endeared them to each other.
Cold air whipped his face as he exited the front door, pulling his collar up around his neck. He started toward his dormitory at a fast trot, both to get out of the elements quicker and to warm himself up in the process. He ducked between the ancient brick buildings, taking his well-known shortcuts like a criminal in the night.
As he approached the final alleyway between himself and the dorm, Rupert glimpsed two shadowy figures and heard murmured conversation. He quickly backed behind the corner of the building, peering at them and cursing his vision, far from perfect in the daylight but even worse in the dead of night. The figures appeared to be two men, one about his age and one several years older, maybe even nearing thirty. They were smoking cigarettes (or possibly something else, Rupert thought- he wouldn't know), and the older man, now with his back to Rupert, seemed to be the main source of conversation. The younger man- barely more than a boy, really, though Rupert shuddered at being thought of in the same way- was straddling the line between elegantly thin and just plain scrawny. His eyes were focused on the older man as he took a drag from his cigarette then let the smoke float unaided out of his slightly open mouth. A raised eyebrow, a pursed smirk… Rupert got the unexplainable but distinct feeling this guy's reactions to whatever the other man was saying were contrived somehow, like he was performing them rather than experiencing.
The older man shifted slightly and was caught in the light of a streetlamp at the end of the alley. Rupert furrowed his brow as he now saw the man's facial hair- thick mutton chops connecting to a long, curled mustache. He took in the rest of the man- were those coattails? -an instant before the man launched himself forward, pinning the younger man against the brick wall.
Shit. Rupert’s blood ran cold. He had some practice with vampires from the Watcher Academy, but those tests had always been rigidly controlled. This was the first one he'd come across since arriving at Oxford two months previously, and for a moment he found himself immobile. A strangled yell from the victim in the alley brought Rupert to his senses, and he began digging for his stake. Of course I've just put all this rubbish on top of it, he thought with a bite of frustration as he struggled to reach the bottom of the bag. His fingers found the edge of the stake just as the largest book slipped out of his bag and landed on the ground with an enormous THUNK. He froze, then slowly looked up to meet the eyes of the bumpy-faced vampire and its victim, both staring right at him.