"Julian!" Verun rocked back on her heels a bit in surprise.
Julian stared at her for a moment, eye wide, before his gaze dropped to the water below. His figure was doused in shadow now that he had moved away from the city lamp, a silhouette framed in moonlight. In his hands he held his mask, gently turning it over as his eye seemed to pick it apart.
"Fancy seeing you here, Verun. Out for a night walk or something? Didn't think one like you would wander so far." He sighed, gaze fixed on the red water again as the moonlight flickered on its surface, turning it crimson. "I was just… thinking. Probably thinking too much at this point really. But life is such a fickle thing, don't you think?"
Verun shifted a bit, not sure how to respond as she sort of shuffled forward. "... Should you be standing so close to the water?"
"Oh, this water? It's perfectly safe- well, as harmless as it can be, at least. It can't do anything to me. People might get sick if they go for a swim, but otherwise…" he sighed, shaking his head. "It's amazing, Verun. They did it! They figured it out, or outlasted it. The plague is over, by some sort of miracle… and, so is my career. Who needs a plague doctor if there is no plague?"
Verun kept her eyes on him, paying rapt attention to the way he talked. He seemed so… sad, mourning something. But he didn't seem to be talking to her, it was like he was working himself up to something with a one-person audience.
"It's like… a Count with no city! Or a barkeep with no drinks." He spread his arms with a flourish, a piece of hair falling in front of his good eye and obscuring it so that Verun was hard pressed to know if he was looking at her or not. It was… very theatrical, everything from the pained look on his face to the grand motions he weaved as he spoke. But then he quieted. "So here I am… throwing away the last piece of a past I can't reclaim. Ah well."
He glanced down at the mask for just a moment before letting it drop, aiming for the red water. But Verun was quicker, moving forward and snatching the mask up before it dropped too far. Julian startled, looking at her with one wide eye.
"Verun, what are you-"
She felt herself blush under his surprised gaze, stepping back with the mask in hand. "Sorry, I just. Think it looks cool?"
He stared at her for a moment longer before letting out an incredulous laugh. "You're an odd one, aren't you Verun? Who'd want a plague mask?"
She blushed harder and looked away, down into the red glass eyes of the mask. "Hush! I just like… collecting interesting things."
The two of them froze as the raven from earlier suddenly screeched, nearly flying into them in its frenzy. Julian grabbed her hand and grinned widely at Verun.
"Guards afoot, Verun. Look lively, we'd best make tracks."
And then together they took off along the lip of the aqueduct, following the edge to get to the closest street. The rocks underfoot were slippery from water, unsteady in some places, but Julian was as surefooted as a cat and was able to keep himself steady as they ran. Unfortunately, Verun was not so nimble, and she knew she was holding him back, so she let go of his hand to let him run. But then her foot slipped on one of the wet stones, and she suddenly she was crashing, lurching into the water, crying out to Julian.
She saw him turn back for just a moment before the murky red water engulfed her, making everything go dark. The impact knocked the breath from her lungs, and almost immediately creatures hidden in the dark swarmed around her, one latching onto her as she tried to flail her way to the surface. Her ribs lit up in pain, the feeling of it shocking a scream out of her as she heard Julian above her.
Then his arms were around her wrists, hauling her out of the water with the creature still attached. Verun could barely see, blinking stinging water out of her eyes as she gasped for air, her hands clenched in pain. Julian laid her down, his hand gripping the creature behind the head even as she could see blood running through it's translucent body. His grip made it release its hold on her before he tossed it back into the water. She only caught a glance of razor sharp teeth and shuddered.
"Okay, up you go, come on." He helped her to her feet, keeping one of her arms slung around his shoulders as his arm wrapped carefully around her waist. "I got you Verun, don't worry."
The two of them slipped and slid their way down the aqueduct and onto the street below, Julian half dragging her along. Verun's legs were shaky at best, going numb as she watched in horrified fascination as her blood ran out of her and down her leg, mixing with the puddles she left as they ran. It would be a morbid sight for someone to find in the morning.
He paused in the shadow of a building, shifting his grip on her. "You okay, can you stand?"
Verun leaned on his shoulder, barely able to keep her fingers wrapped around his arm as her entire body began to shake. Julian scowled and shook his head with a huff. "Of course not, stupid question."
With that he held her up a bit more and continued on his way into the maze of buildings, finding a narrow alleyway to lay her down in. Carefully he rolled back her clothes so he could get to her wound, practiced hands doing their best to do what he could.
"Damn , the bleeding won't stop." For a brief moment he looked desperate, eye wide and terrified as he stared at the gaping wound against the edge of her ribcage. Then he shook his head, pulling his gloves off and laying them down beside her. A murderer’s brand sat stark against his pale skin, immovable and impossible to miss without the gloves. Her body shuddered automatically as he laid an ice-cold hand over the wound, his other hand slipping around the back of her neck. "Just stay still, okay? You'll be fine. Take deep breaths."
Verun let out a short, pained groan and laid her head back against his hand and the cold cobble below. There was a faint tingling sensation that didn't last too long, before the pain disappeared. She took a deep breath, in… and out, and blinked slowly.
"We really have to stop meeting like this," she remarked with the barest hint of a smile.
He laughed shortly, pressing a hand to her forehead. "Well, if you're good enough to joke, you're good enough to sit up. C'mon, let's get you upright."
Verun gave a bit of a groan as he tugged her up into a sitting position, her head spinning for a moment as gentle hands steadied her. He chuckled quietly and brushed a few stray hairs away from her face to study her, making sure she was okay.
"At least you didn't catch me breaking and entering again, huh?" Then his gaze slid past her, back towards the reservoir they had come from. "I must admit, I was surprised you were in the neighborhood. You have some sort of luck, I suppose."
Verun turned to see a cascade of red water infinitely crashing to a small lake below. It was… much taller than she thought it would be. With a nervous "huh" she turned back to him, only to have her eye catch on a magically glowing mark on his throat. The lines of it looked oddly familiar, but she couldn't remember where she would have seen something like it.
Julian saw her staring, giving a dark smile. "Ah, do you recognize your master's handiwork?" As he spoke, blood seeped into his clothing, making him clutch at his side as he grimaced. "This was his last… gift to me. A curse. I can take people's wounds, leave them good as new, but in return I get to experience them for myself. Interesting, yes?" He grunted in pain, leaning over himself as the other hand grabbed at his hair.
Then the blood started running freely down his torso, and he swayed forward with a troubled noise. Verun held out her hands to catch him if needed and he gave her a smile, gritting his teeth. "It's fine, it never lasts for long. Just gotta deal with it for a bit. A curse from a witch who fears commitment. But, I've never been bitten by a vampire eel, so this might be interesting."
Julian let her help peeling away his jacket and shirt to look at the bleeding wound. "Well, fate seems to enjoy coming up with new ways to test the limits of my body, you could say."
"That… does sound interesting."
"Oh, it certainly can be."
Almost a moment too late, they heard the footsteps of the guards once more and scrambled to their feet. Once more Julian took her hand and took off running, the wound not slowing him in the least. He pulled her into another alley, this one more secluded and hidden, pressing the two of them against the wall. His body crushed close with the smell of leather and musk and the tang of blood, and Verun's heart leapt straight up into her throat. The guards ran by, and she prayed that they would simply miss them in the darkness, shrouded by Julian's cloak.
His eyes fixated on the entrance to the alley, holding her close. Verun could see the pain on his face clearly as he grimaced. But then his eye slowly slid to meet hers, and it was like the two of them were caught in each other's gaze.
Just as he was about to talk, there was a thud at the entrance to the alley, startling both of them out of the moment. Julian huffed and took her hand, shaking his head. "Not the time. Let's go." And then they were running, again, taking twists and turns through the streets to avoid the guards that seemed to be everywhere now. Verun didn't even know why she was running, it wasn't as if she was the one wanted for murder. If she slowed down she could get a carriage ride back to the palace or even back home to her shop…
But glancing at Julian, her grip tightened on his hand even as he hurtled around a corner, almost shaking her off. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a garden with a thick rusted padlock on the gate, having gone decades without maintenance. Automatically she turned towards it, pulling on Julian's arm to lead him. He caught onto her intention quickly and helped her over the gate and into the garden, just in time to avoid the guards within the twisted vines.
The two of them retreated deeper into the garden, Verun interested in all the different kinds of plants she hadn't seen before as Julian inspected the statues that stood among the foliage, slowly being overtaken by vines and other various plants and mosses. It was quiet here, peaceful, almost like another world inside the city.
"Hah! That was some quick thinking, Verun. I like this place. Looks like you have a knack for discovering hidden beauty." He spread his arms wide with a sly smirk. "Makes you wonder how many places have fallen to neglect like this, huh?"
Then Julian grinned and swung his arm around the shoulders of a statue, a grotesque bull with sharp horns. "Why hello there handsome. Verun, what do you think? Dangerous looking creature, isn't it?"
She laughed quietly and stepped closer, shaking her head and putting off his question. "Let me see the bite."
"Ah, are you worried about me, Verun? There's no need, I'll be fine soon enough." He spread his arms a bit too quickly, nearly knocking over the statue. He cursed and quickly steadied it, looking quite embarrassed for a moment as he looked away from her. "But really, I'm fine. It's just a bite, I've come back from more grievous wounds."
Then his attention was broken as his eyes focused on something else, and he stepped forward. "Ah, Verun. Hold still a second…" And he plucked up a flower that had fallen onto her shoulder, leaning down with an irresistible smile to offer the flower to her properly. It glowed blue, delicate swirling designs patterning its petals.
As Verun reached to take it from him, he pulled back for just a moment. "Ah ah ah," he murmured. "You don't know what's in these petals."
Verun gave him a curious look and he smiled devilishly, continuing.
"Deadly starstrand. A drop of poison distilled from the petals could kill a baby in its crib. If used carelessly it could bring down entire kingdoms, kill tyrants and kings, no matter if they're innocent or not." And then he offered the flower again. "Do you still want it?"
"You said the poison had to be distilled, right? So it's alright to touch?" Verun carefully took it from his hand, lifting it to her nose, staring at him over the petals as Julian watched her with some sort of eagerness in his eye. There was something acrid about the smell, like it was a precursor to death already, with an underlying sweet scent of rot.
"Well yes, but I wouldn't advise eating it if I were you. Or licking it." Julian straightened up with a smirk, shrugging. "But you're right, it probably won't kill you like this."
Verun let it drop from her hands, taking a step forward. Julian leaned forward to catch it midair, deftly tucking it behind her ear as he smiled at her. His touched lingered near her cheek for a moment before his hand dropped to her shoulder.
"It sounds like you're not afraid of danger, are you?" Verun raised an eyebrow with a quiet smirk, and Julian chuckled.
"Afraid of danger? Why Verun, why would I be? I live for it… absolutely enchanted by it, honestly."
"So you don't fear pain, either?"
"Not in the least. In my line of work, you can't be afraid of a little pain. I have my limits, just as any other person does, but you could say that I have a rather… intimate knowledge of it."
He said it with such a smug, teasing look that Verun had to do something to tease him back, it made her curious. So she stepped closer and pressed a hand lightly over the wound. He swallowed nervously, then gave a shaky grin.
"Oh, are we dancing now? What uh, what's your poison? Tango, waltz? I've been known to lead a pretty great dance, if I do say so myself." He was rambling, his face slowly turning red as she stepped closer and fully pressed against the bite. It didn't seem lethal in the least, especially as he bit his lip and made a muffled noise in his throat. It almost sounded like a moan, so quiet and embarrassed it was a wonder he hadn't gone up in flames already.
"S-so is that a no to the dance?" He looked at her, desperately, hand sliding from her shoulder to her side as his fingers dug in through her shirt. Did he like the pain? The way he stepped back into the wall and started to slightly slip down with his bottom lip clenched between his teeth suggested yes. "Verun-"
She leaned forward with her lips hovering just above his for a moment before they heard it. Armored footsteps from the guard patrol, again passing by. They paused like that before Verun pushed herself away and Julian latched onto her hand, helping her back over the garden fence and once more leading the way through the streets.
He seemed to know this place well, much better than Verun at least. His footsteps were practiced, quiet as they could be at the speed they were going, until they found a little house with a fenced in yard, chickens wandering the grass. He hopped over the fence and in through the open window, hauling Verun in after him.