She knows the moment she sees her; silver hair and eyes hidden behind sunglasses, suit a deep shade of red. She moves like a predator, all feline grace with a promise of violence if crossed. A dog trots alongside her -- or what looks like a dog to the untrained, she knows it's anything but -- large and she taps the appearance as a husky. She wonders which of the Vampire's guards it is distantly, her fingers drumming against her steering wheel.
"Edelgard von Hresvelg." Her father had said that morning, taping a picture up on their board. Byleth looked up from where she was pouring her coffee, squinting through the sleep still weighing on her. "Our new target." He turned, propping his hip up on the counter. "Known also as 'The Flame Emperor,' entrepreneur, dangerously cunning and deceptively charming. Master of the Adrestia coven, an offshoot of the Garreg Mach coven."
She blinked slow, thoughtful, absorbing all of the information that had just been dropped on her. "How close are they related to the Garreg Mach coven?" She asked finally, rubbing her eyes with the hand not holding her mug.
"Direct. Hresvelg was sired by Seiros, rumor has it she was one of the first Seiros ever turned."
Byleth frowned, lifting her mug to take a careful sip and consider the picture on the board. Edelgard wasn't smiling in the picture, her expression neutral and stance polite. Caught in the middle of a meeting. She was pretty, looked to be in her mid twenties. "Why do they call her The Flame Emperor?"
"Because of her relation to Seiros she's capable of using the old vampire magics that have since died out of the bloodlines. Pyrokenesis to be exact, leaving her immune to fire itself. She earned the nickname during a few coven wars when she mercilessly burned swaths through her enemies."
"Huh." Another sip. "Why are we after her? She doesn't seem to be causing trouble lately, else I would have heard of her before now."
"You're right, she's been doing nothing but good lately. Runs a business that helps out a lot of the local hospitals and shelters. Makes sure all the local vampires get fed so they don't have to resort to breaking laws. But someone still wants her dead, for a pretty hefty fee too. I want to find out why before we decide if we're going to take the job or not."
It wasn't like they were short on money anyway, the last few hunts having paid well enough for them to live comfortably for the next few months easily. So they could take their time with this one, watch their target and learn even more about her. Find out what it is she was doing that had painted a target bold enough to get her and her father involved.
They didn't take just any odd job, their targets were always ones that deserved it, the big ones less experienced hunters couldn't take care of. Edelgard absolutely fit the bill of 'too dangerous for the newbies' but she still hadn't done anything that made her seem like a problem.
Byleth also hadn't seen her do more than walk with her werewolf companion and get a coffee she very clearly added blood to before she bothered to even do more than look at it.
Across the street from her Edelgard pauses at the corner, leaning her elbow into the cross light button, coffee cup still held in one hand. She looks bored, or tired, or a mixture of both as she waits, watching the light and standing among the gathering crowd like she was just an average everyday businesswoman. The werewolf sits beside her and yawns, ears shifting to listen to the likely drone of conversation rolling around them. Someone says something that catches the Vampire's attention, her smile is slight but sly, and Byleth wishes she could hear what she was saying.
From the look she casts at the werewolf beside her it must have been about them. Probably about the fact that they weren't on a leash. She wonders if Edelgard told them that her dog wasn't at all a dog. Or if she lied and just said they were well trained.
The light changes, and for a moment Byleth loses sight of Edelgard and her werewolf among the crowd crossing the street. "Dammit," she mutters, leaning on her steering wheel like it would give her a better vantage, squinting into the flurry of movement. She finds the werewolf first, bounding up onto the crosswalk and turning to wait until Edelgard emerges from the crowd and stops, reaching down with her free hand to pat the wolf, lips moving on words she assumes are a mockery of their curious passerby. Either that or she was talking about something completely unrelated.
Maybe it really was time for her to learn to read lips.
She gets out of her car as soon as Edelgard starts to walk again, phone in one hand, keys in the other. Thumbing a text to her father while she shuts the door with her hip, hitting the lock button on her keys before she clips them to a belt loop. Jeralt texts her back when she's halfway down the sidewalk, and she half glances at her phone.
-Got it. Be careful.
The phone goes back in her pocket.
She follows her for an hour, having to turn into the crowd once and pretend to look at something on her phone when Edelgard stops to look over her shoulder. Byleth watches her out of the corner of her eye as the other woman scans the crowd behind her, gaze passing right over where she stands. She blends more in with the crowd walking on their side of the street after Edelgard decides to move on again. Byleth types out another text, finding irony in looking like every other twenty something or younger on the street with a phone.
-She's attentive, caught on to the fact that someone is tailing her.
-Did she see you?
-Yea, but she didn't realize it was me following her.
When she looks up again Edelgard has vanished into one of the countless restaurant, bar and lounge hybrids that litter the city. Just upscale, meant for the type of people Byleth usually liked to stay a ten foot pole and change away from.
Usually. It unfortunately wasn't an option this time and as under-dressed as she was she knew she was about to stick out like a sore thumb, but in she went anyway. In all her leather jacket, band t-shirt, torn jeans, boots and ball-cap glory.
Fortunately, no one really pays her any mind beyond a few mildly offended glances as she passes by. No one says anything, no one stops her so she wanders through like she belongs, through the restaurant and bar to the lounge. Only once does one of the staff stop her to ask her if she wanted anything. Her refusal is polite.
She finds Edelgard right where she suspected she would, lounged out casually on one of the couches like she owned the place (and she very well could, Byleth didn't know).
There's some horror movie playing on the TV that Byleth can place from the sound alone, memories of late night Halloween movie binging with her father, Leonie and Alois filtering in.
Edelgard isn't impressed, arms flung over the back of the couch and expression one of graceful boredom bordering on dozing, what Byleth assumes is a piece of blood laced licorice hanging out of the corner of her mouth. The werewolf from earlier lays on the couch beside her, head against her thigh and a brunette woman sits off to her other side, looking far more entertained by the movie then the vampire beside her.
Byleth watches for a moment, noticing the stillness of age in the other woman. Old enough that she has to think to breathe, to move like a human would instead of staying still for hours like some kind of incredibly lifelike statue. But she doesn't need to pretend here, so she doesn't bother, the only motion she makes is her slow chew of the licorice that's more than half gone now.
"You're not supposed to be back here."
She tenses, turning slowly to face the man behind her. Tall, dark and with enough edge to cut. She had no idea they made upper-class goths, and her smile freezes on her face at the look he pins her with. "I...uh took a wrong turn on my way to the ladies room." His eyes narrow as he leans over her, forcing her a step back.
"Hubert," someone drawls behind her, and she wants to assume it's Edelgard, the faint accent in her voice curling on the 'r' in his name. "Don't terrorize customers." The sound of her voice sends a shiver up her spine and throughout her, making her fingers tingle and things low in her body tighten.
It's not a good thing. It's not a good thing at all.
"She was staring at you, Lady Edelgard. It's natural for me to be suspicious."
"Oh. Let her look, there's no harm in it."
Byleth turns, just slightly, angling her head to keep Hubert in her peripheral. Edelgard is watching her and so is everyone else in the room, movie forgotten about despite the shrill screaming coming from the speakers. Edelgard smiles, slight, just a flash of teeth without giving away the tips of her fangs.
Oh. She was so fucked.
"Sorry, I-uh-I didn't meant to stare," she stammers, rubbing the back of her neck. Seasoned hunter, right here everyone. "You're just...your presence is very captivating." So. So very fucked.
Edelgard moves, recrossing her legs at the ankles. "Could it be that perhaps you aren't lost at all?" Her hand lifts, fingers splaying against her jaw to support the lean of her head. "Though I understand if you couldn't help yourself, people often do stare." The brunette beside her laughs, leaning into her side, head rested against her shoulder.
"Edie is very captivating. That's what drew me to her, everything else just kept me around." Human, Byleth thinks, rocking back on her heels. Could be any number of things given her perceived closeness with the vampire. Edelgard didn't seem like the type of person to just let anyone hang off her the way that woman did, the line of her body relaxed instead of tense. "Oh, Edie she's shy. Hubie stop looming you're clearly making her uncomfortable."
Her eyes skip back to him in full, hands lifting slightly to play deeply into the uncomfortable angle. She wasn't, not entirely, concerned maybe, knowing she probably couldn't get to her gun before he decided to rip her throat out. She smiles sheepishly.
He glares, staring her down for another minute before finally relenting, stalking off to another corner of the room and taking a seat by another man whose attention was fixated on her like everyone else's. Byleth relaxes, hands lowering back to her sides, turning to face the room proper.
It puts her attention fully on Edelgard, her eyes accidentally meeting the other woman's. It's the biggest mistake she's made all afternoon (and there's been a list of them. Really, she's a professional she swears). Edelgard smiles again, the hand closest to the brunette shifting to curl across her shoulders and twirl a lock of her hair around a finger. Byleth forgets her voice, mind slowing to a crawl.
She's in a room with probably one of the most dangerous Vampires she's ever faced and she made the rookie mistake of meeting her eyes. "You don't have to make up any excuses," Edelgard says over the horror strings on the TV. "Are you interested in being a donor?"
At least her performance as an idiot off the street is convincing. "Um. Yea..." A donor, sure she could just keep making bigger mistakes if it meant getting Edelgard alone for five minutes. To talk, just to talk.
She shouldn't have come here alone.
"Lovely, Dorothea here already fed someone today and I don't want to drain her more." The brunette -- Dorothea -- hanging off her laughs, shoving at her shoulder.
"Oh Edie, it's been long enough I'm fine."
When Edelgard smiles next it's all teeth, the edges of her fangs hooking on her bottom lip. "I know-"
"I understand, she is very pretty."
Byleth's face heats and she coughs once to remind them all she was still very much within earshot. Dorothea breaks out into more laughter, sliding off the edge of the couch. "I guess I'll go find where it is Ingrid ran off to. Come on Petra." There werewolf hops off the edge of the couch and trails her, looking up at Byleth as they pass. Okay, so, now only the guy in the corner by Hubert didn't have a name yet.
The sudden lack of sound from the TV brings her back into focus, eyes cutting back to Edelgard as she sets the remote back down on the table in front of her. She's on her feet when Byleth blinks next, then in her space with a few steps. She's shorter then she expected, by a few inches, but she knows that her height meant absolutely fuck all when it came down to a fight. And Byleth really wasn't in the market for getting cremated today, or...at all, ever.
"This way," Edelgard says, slender eyebrow raised. Byleth is staring again and that look just says Edelgard is acutely aware of where her attention has decided to slide. Her lips look soft...
In highly over her head.
She texts her father as she follows Edelgard.
-I may have made a mistake.
-What do you mean, mistake?
-I'm about to play blood donor.
-You're WHAT??? Kid, you can't actually be serious!
-Hahaha....I'll text you later!
Jeralt was going to give her an earful for that, and by the near constant buzz of her phone he already was. She silences it completely and puts it back in her pocket, trailing Edelgard to a smaller, but just as comfortable looking, room. "Have a seat," Edelgard murmurs, gesturing to one of the few chairs set up around the space. She does, perching on the edge of an armchair to slip out of her coat.
Edelgard's gloves are black leather, she realizes, finally even registering she had been wearing them the entire time. She focuses on her hands as she slides out of her own coat, her eyes sliding up the pale expanse of the neck she exposes with it. Twin scars sit as perfect mirrors on her jugular veins, a memory of an almost decapitation. She can see more where her dress shirt hangs open at the base of her throat and she wonders what sort of life the other woman had lived up until now.
It clearly hadn't been kind.
They don't take away from her beauty, and as Edelgard closes the distance between them Byleth shifts to sit properly, watching her approach.
"Am I really so captivating?" she asks, looking down at her. Her head tilts, violet eyes studying her face.
Her eyes really are so pretty-
The look that crosses Edelgard's features speaks of a blush that might have colored her cheeks if she were well fed or human. The quirk of her lips and the way her eyes avert to the space right beside Byleth's head.
"Honesty. I like that," Edelgard murmurs, eyes flicking back to her face as she perches against the arm of the chair. "I know that you didn't just come to play blood donor, but I won't pry into your reasoning," she adds as she leans closer, the leather of her glove cool as she pushes Byleth's hair away from her neck, tucking it behind her ear with a care that makes her heart pound.
Gentle. Kind. Patient. Intelligent. Charming.
Ruthless. Cunning. Predator. She can read you like a book and kill you in a second flat-
Her mind wars with itself as Edelgard leans in, as she tips her head back and willingly bares her throat to the other woman. "Do you consent to this?" Edelgard's fingers curl against the opposite side of her neck and around the back of it, index finger teasing at her hairline. It's a rare question to hear from a Vampire, a desire to affirm that Byleth did, indeed want this.
"I don't even know your name," Edelgard says after another moment, close enough her words tickle against her skin and raise goosebumps over her arms. "But there's something about you..."
"Byleth," she breathes, swallowing. "My name is Byleth."
She feels cool lips against her skin seconds before the prick of fangs follows, the spark of pain dulled immediately by the toxin hidden there. Numbing and if held too long, pleasurable. Her eyes close and she listens as Edelgard swallows, her fingers tightening where her hand still rests. Her own hand lifts to curl around Edelgard's neck in response, thumb resting against her throat, feeling it as it bobs with each drink she takes. It's exceptionally intimate for a first meeting with someone.
But that's how it was with Vampires. Just she didn't think it was normal for Edelgard.
It makes her wonder if they were both playing their own hand of cards against one another, running blind and hoping for the best. It also makes her wonder if she was reading the situation entirely wrong. Makes her wonder if Edelgard recognized her from earlier on the street. Makes her wonder too late if maybe the other woman was going to drain her dry and leave her for dead.
Edelgard pulls away just as the numbing had begun to burn at the edges of arousal, as her head had started to swim and her instincts kick up. She shudders at the sensation of a now hot tongue against her bite marks, her hand slipping away as Edelgard draws back. She's even prettier fed, she thinks, looking at the human like flush on her cheeks. How she can just barely see the beat of a pulse and the rise and fall of shoulders as she breathes.
Byleth blames it on the toxin, blames it on the natural vampire charm that comes with those Edelgard's age.
"So, Byleth, what really brings you here?"
The sound of her own name coming off Edelgard's lips makes her shiver, her eyes lowering to watch as the other woman licks her lips, chasing the excess blood off them. "I-uh." It's not the most intelligent answer she's given all day, lips pursing as her face heats in another wave of embarrassment.
Fortunately, her host is well fed and patient, settling with a supernatural grace in a position that would make anyone else uncomfortable. The chair arm isn't exactly thin, but she's sure with the way Edelgard folds herself across it, legs crossed and elbows at her knees, that it takes a balance not many possessed.
"You were following me. I saw you in the crowd and I'll admit I didn't think much of it until you walked into my lounge."
"Someone put a hit out on you." Time for more honesty, the hand she had smartly rested against her thigh inching back towards the gun at the small of her back. "I'm just trying to figure out why. Because from what I've seen so far you're not like some of the other Vampires I've hunted."
Those violet eyes cut down to the motion of her hand, but the other woman makes no move to stop her. Instead her attention flicks back up, fingers curling against her chin as she props it against her palm. The picture of nonchalant calm, something that could easily turn violent without a moment's notice. "So you're a hunter." She gives her a once over that makes her think she should be offended. "Not like any I've seen."
"I don't like to stick out. Kinda defeats the purpose if you stick out."
Edelgard laughs. Byleth likes her laugh.
Byleth thinks immediately afterwards that she's an idiot.
"Don't flirt with the mark." Her father's words hit her after her thought, and begrudgingly she admits to herself that it's...far too late for that one. She fed the mark.
Which was also a pretty big 'do not do this.'
"Well," Edelgard begins, pulling her from her thoughts. "You almost had me fooled."
"I'll admit I wasn't trying as hard as I could have. Like I said I'm trying to figure out why someone wants you dead...dead. I know about everything you've done for the local weres and vampires and even just the general populace. I'm not here to kill you, Edelgard, I'm just here to get information."
For a long moment Edelgard considers her, index finger tapping against her lips in thought. It stretches on until Byleth grows anxious, shifting awkwardly in her chair and feeling like a butterfly stuck to a pin-board. In the face of this woman she was prey, even if she could put up a good fight.
She was prey.
"I assumed as much, or else I likely would have had a bullet in my head already." Edelgard blinks, slow, her breath leaving her in a long sigh. "I appreciate your boldness and your honesty. It makes sense why you took this risk, baring your throat to me. I don't know why anyone would want me dead. Hubert doesn't often leave our enemies alive."
Well that's terrifying.
"Doesn't change the fact that there's someone out there gunning for you, and they tried to hire me to do it. For a lot of money."
Edelgard stands with that, sliding off the arm and rising in such a fluid set of motions Byleth can't tell one from the other. "I will have my people look into this, I appreciate you bringing it to my attention. Even though it will make it exceedingly more complicated if you do decide to come for my head."
Yea her father was going to lose it.
"I think you're dangerous," Byleth risks, leaning her elbows against her knees. "But for the right reasons. You're trying to improve life for weres and Vampires, trying to help us all live equally instead of crushing one everyone but your own under your heel in some campaign of arrogance." She hopes what she says is true, hopes that while Edelgard had the potential to tear a bloody swath through the city and every hunter that is probably out to get her now, she won't unless pushed to her absolute limit.
"You have an impressive ability to read people," Edelgard comments as she pulls her suit jacket back on, pausing momentarily to consider her again. It feels less like she's about to die and more like Edelgard sees her as a potential ally...
Or a useful tool.
"How about this," the vampire says after another moment, buttons done up and arms folded over her chest. "We work together. You continue to conduct your own investigation and I'll conduct mine...then we can share our results."
It's a good deal, she thinks, tapping her fingers against her knees. And it benefited them both in the sense that Byleth and her father could get into places Edelgard's people might not be able to and vice versa. Every inch covered. With the colossal downside of putting her at a severe disadvantage if things do go sour. Her, but not her father.
She could take that bullet.
"Alright. I accept."
Edelgard returns to her, extending her hand. "We have a deal, then." Byleth nods as she takes her hand, noting how firm the other woman's grip was. Short, professional, withdrawing after the brief shake. "You're welcome to come back to the lounge any time you need to talk, then," Edelgard adds as she heads back across the room. "I'm here most days and if I'm not someone will get the message to me."
Byleth leaves the lounge without further incident, Edelgard at her side as she checks her phone for the half a dozen messages her father had left her. She texts him back, frowning as she sticks closer to the vampire's side to keep from getting underfoot.
-I'm fine, dad.
-It's been nearly two hours, kid. I've been going out of my mind with worry, where are you?
-Black Eagle Lounge. I'm just leaving now. I'll be heading home soon.
-Good, you and I have a lot to talk about.
She cringes. Of course they did.
"You look troubled."
Her eyes flick to where Edelgard stands beside her on the sidewalk, laughing sheepishly as she pockets her phone again. "It's..nothing really important, just my dad."
The other woman hums low in her throat, turning her attention back to the road and the people around them. "I see." Byleth watches as she heads to the waiting car, putting a hand on the door.
Something's not right-
"I'll see you around then, hunter."
The engine turns over and Byleth hears the delay, moving on instinct. "Get down!" Her body hits Edelgard's just as the car explodes and the world goes white, throwing them both to the sidewalk with enough force Byleth's head ricochets off the cement.
She blacks out.