"How did you and Herr Fluffyhosen meet, anyway?" Claire lounged next to Lucien on a divan at the Cathédrale Noire, toying idly with a cocktail umbrella. She lounged very naturally and expansively, as though lounging was her usual state. Lucien knew perfectly well that it wasn't - that would be rabble-rousing - but then, Claire seemed to take to any new situation with unexpected ease, and being a vampire required an ability to lounge dramatically. She undermined the effect slightly by picking her fangs with the pointy end of the umbrella.
"Luther and I are old friends," Lucien told her. "He's saved my skin more times than I care to dwell on."
"Well, I bet you've rescued his pelt a few times yourself," Claire teased, flicking him on the nose with her improvised weapon.
"That's true," Lucien admitted. "In fact, the first time we met, I prevented him from becoming a rug."
Claire perked up - her innate enthusiasm for violence and a good story overcoming her efforts to appear languidly undead. "Okay, spill - you can't just say something like that and not follow through."
"It was twenty-five years ago," began Lucien. "Audric and Ginevra wanted to get away from Paris for a little while - Ginevra said the city's stink was giving her hives, and besides, the Cathédrale's roof was leaking."
"Say, that's a good question," Claire interrupted the burgeoning flashback. "How do you get a handyman to pop round after dark? Or do you have to do all the repairs yourself? Do you guys ever turn someone into a vampire just because they're a bricklayer or a carpenter or something, you know, useful?"
Lucien shot her an arched eyebrow. "Does it seem like they pick based on how useful someone is?"
"Maybe Batfang is good with a hammer...?" Claire's brow furrowed. "Say, didn't Audric choose you because you knew your way around horses?"
"No, it was the cheekbones," Audric said as he wafted by.
Lucien sighed. "Anyway, as I was saying, we decided to get out of the city for a time. Audric has a villa in Languedoc, and he suggested we retire there for our little getaway."
"Did you have to do the ride-ride-ride-then-hide-in-a-grave thing?" asked Claire. "Because there have got to be better ways to travel."
"Well, yes - as it was a better-planned journey than the one we recently took, we were able to make arrangements to travel in style."
"Let me guess," Claire said, grin threatening to overtake her face. "Ginevra got everyone a swanky satin-lined coffin?"
Lucien could only nod in agreement. "Mine was purple."
"Suits you." Claire ran her fingers through his raven locks, smirking.
"Mm, well, quite. We arrived safely and got unpacked..."
"Who unpacked you? Does Audric have a family of loyal retainers who keep the villa ever ready for his return?"
"He has a little old lady named Clotilde who looks like she's a thousand years old. Maybe she is. Anyway, she made sure we were, ah, stored safely until dark, and had everything ready for us to settle in for a nice, relaxing stay in the countryside."
"Lemme guess," Claire said. "It wasn't relaxing."
"What makes you say that?"
"Well, Ginevra and Audric were there..." Claire replied, shrugging as if that explained everything.
Lucien sighed. "I can only imagine what it would have been like if you'd been there too, ma chèrie. As it turned out, we learned once we'd been there a short while that the people of the local area were being troubled by a ferocious..."
"Badger?" Claire interjected, looking intrigued.
"Wolf. Or so they thought, anyway."
"That was going to be my second guess."
"In fact, the king had sent some of his best hunters to try and kill or capture the beast, which was said to be a large, vicious, unusually intelligent creature..."
"... with a Bavarian accent?" Claire looked apologetic. "Sorry, I'll stop interrupting."
"No you won't," Lucien told her, and gave her a kiss. "But I don't mind."
"So tell me about the wolf. How did you get roped into it?"
"Ginevra wanted to go hunting," Lucien said with a shrug. "Audric wanted to give Ginevra what she wanted, which in this case was a new rug for her to roll around on in front of the fireplace."
"And you went along to take care of the horses?"
Lucien drew himself up. "I was a valued member of the group - the fact that I also took care of the horses was just one of my many important contributions."
"Uh huh." Claire patted him on the shoulder. "Did you bring your sword too?"
"Of course," Lucien said, as though that was self-evident. "The king's hunters brought guns, but that's rather unsporting."
Claire smiled at his adorably old-fashioned outlook. "Well, so is having claws and fangs and being able to run really fast. I'd say a gun is just evening the odds."
"Having fangs is unsporting?" Lucien asked, smiling to reveal his.
"Wolves have more," Claire pointed out, running her tongue along her own pointed canines. "Thtill unthporting."
"Even less sporting is putting out traps, which was what the farmers and shepherds were doing."
"Lucien, you're cute, but you're such an aristo sometimes," Claire said affectionately. "What were they supposed to do, fight it off with pitchforks?"
"Point - ow - taken," Lucien admitted as Claire jabbed him in the chest with outstretched fingers. "Obviously we had to do our hunting at night - which did give us something of an advantage over the officials dispatched to take care of the problem."
"Now who's being unsporting?" Claire teased.
Lucien ignored her. "One night, I was out riding in the woods near Audric's villa, when I heard this terrible howl. It was the cry of a creature in pain. I followed the sounds, and came upon a large wolf, its leg caught in a trap. I dismounted and drew my sword, thinking I could put the beast out of its misery at least. Imagine my surprise when as I raised the blade, the animal spoke."
"No, in French."
"With a German accent?"
Lucien sighed. "Yes, Claire, with a German accent."
Claire clapped her hands, gloating. "Hah, I knew it!"
"It said it would be most grateful if I could help it out of the trap."
"I'm sure it would be. Typical wolf rhetoric. How did you know it wasn't going to just pounce on you and devour you when you let it loose?"
"Well, it was a very polite and well-spoken wolf..."
"Haven't you read Perrault?" When Lucien looked blank, she continued, "Fairy tales? Little Red Riding Hood? ... oh fine, past your time. Go on."
"It did occur to me that I could be in danger. But the creature stayed still and allowed me to loosen the jaws of the trap so that it could withdraw its wounded paw. Imagine my surprise when, once freed, it turned into a young man."
"Oooh, plot twist!" Claire waggled her eyebrows suggestively. "A naked man, am I right?"
"Yes," Lucien told her, rolling his eyes. "I gave him my cloak - it was chilly."
"And shrinkage is a serious problem."
Lucien cleared his throat in a genteel fashion. "He told me his name was Luther, and that he was a scholar of theology who had travelled from Bavaria to examine certain rare texts held at the local monastery."
"And who just happened to enjoy taking night-time walks in the woods dressed in a fur bodysuit."
"I could tell what he was," Lucien said with a disdainful sniff. "I did have some knowledge of folk tales. It just seemed rude to bring it up first. So instead I asked him what the volumes were at the monastery that he was so interested in. He told me that they had a unique variant of Aquinas' commentary on Aristotle's De Anima, which contained an otherwise-lost section in which he elaborated on his views on the immateriality of the mind..."
"And then you gazed into one another's eyes longingly, and you fell into his naked, hairy arms..." Lucien gave Claire a pointed look. "What?" she protested. "You tell the story your way, and I'll tell it mine."
"Actually, I helped him back to Audric's villa."
"Was that before or after your make-out session?"
"Before. No, I mean..." Lucien grew ever more adorably flustered. "There's no right answer to that question, Claire."
"Oh, there definitely is," Claire said with a leer.
"... I helped him back to the villa, where Clotilde tended his injuries and didn't ask questions, or make lewd insinuations."
"She's probably seen Audric show up in the middle of the night with naked people dozens of times."
From somewhere across the great nave of the cathedral, Audric's voice drifted. "Hundreds!"
"So when did you bring up the raaar I'm a scary werewolf stuff?" Claire asked, miming talons with her hands.
"Ginevra and Audric would be back before sunrise. I decided that I needed to know where things stood with our guest before then. But before I could broach the subject, he said, 'I can tell by your scent that you're a vampire, monsieur, but rest assured I have no intention of revealing your true nature. I hope my secret is likewise safe with you.'"
"So romantic," Claire swooned.
Lucien proceeded with as much poise as he could muster. "I told him that I had two companions who shared my, ah, nature, but that aside from telling them, what happened next would depend on whether he was the one responsible for the numerous attacks on the peasants in the area."
"Harsh. I hope he asked how many peasants you and your pals had eaten lately."
"Ginevra doesn't like drinking from peasants, she says they taste icky."
"Pffftt, of course she does. Snob."
"Wait, are you pro- or anti-peasant-eating now?" Lucien asked, puzzled.
"I just think everyone should have an equal opportunity to be dinner," Claire said with a shrug. "Liberté, égalité, canapé."
"Désolé," Lucien told her. "Ginevra can't help having a refined palate, it's her curse."
Claire fluttered her eyelashes innocently. "I thought her curse was 'Sacré diable, Claire, put that down!'"
"That too." Lucien wrapped his arm around Claire affectionately. "In any case, speaking of swearing, Luther swore that he wasn't the one responsible for the attacks, apart from a few of the stolen sheep. Instead he told me a dark and terrible tale. The abbé at the monastery which Luther had journeyed from Bavaria to visit had a secret of his own."
"Ooh, let me guess - taking an extra tipple from the Communion wine? Wearing women's underwear? Secretly hating brie?"
"Even worse than not liking brie? Because I'm pretty sure they'll kick you out of France for that."
"He had brought a ferocious creature back from his travels in Africa, and trained it to hunt peasants for sport."
"Okay," Claire admitted grudgingly, "that's pretty bad. Badass, I mean!"
Lucien looked stern. "Claire, hunting humans for sport is fairly morally dubious. It's not the same as hunting them for food."
"Did he let the monster eat them?"
"Well... there were some chunks missing."
"Then it sounds like someone was hunting for food. Don't get all up on your high horse," she said with a grin. Lucien stared at her blankly, so she continued. "Because you like horses, and when you're on a really high one, it's easier to look down at people, see, and..."
"In any case," Lucien continued, "I was convinced that Luther wasn't the one responsible, but we both knew that if he was discovered, he was likely to be blamed for the attacks unless the real culprit was found. He had been out tracking the scent of the creature, trying to find its lair, when he was caught in the trap. Right around that time, Audric and Ginevra returned, and introductions were made all around. Audric was fascinated to meet a real werewolf, while Ginevra mostly complained about wet dog smell."
Claire put up a finger to interject. "I have one very important question."
"Did or did not Luther have pants on at this point?"
Lucien sighed. "No, Claire, he did not."
Claire smiled, closing her eyes to better visualize the situation. "Excellent, carry on."
"It was almost dawn, and we needed to take shelter for the day. Clotilde got Luther some more suitable clothing..."
"Aw," Claire sighed.
"... and when sunset came at last, we all set out together to find the beast. Luther was able to shift his form just enough to enhance his sense of smell and pick up the trail. While still wearing pants, Claire."
"Fine, fine. Go on." Claire leaned forward, resting her chin on her hands.
"He led us to a series of caves outside the town, where even we could pick up the strange smell. Clearly this was where the creature made its lair. We crept stealthily into the tunnel, and found that it was littered with the bones of its victims."
Claire made an 'ew' face, but didn't interrupt.
"The creature was out hunting, it seemed, so we laid in wait for it to return. Which it did, eventually, with its prey for the night..." Lucien stopped with a shudder.
"A poor, innocent peasant girl?"
"A large chicken," he snarled. "Which was still alive, and immediately started squawking and flew into my face when the beast opened its jaws."
"You poor thing," Claire said, stroking his arm. "It must have been horrible for you."
"The creature saw us there and lunged towards us, but Luther shifted into his wolf form again, and leapt to defend us."
"Pantsless and heroic."
"Pantsless and heroic and foolish - the thing was at least twice his height and had teeth like razors. But he was able to distract it long enough for me to draw my sword, and for Ginevra to kick him in the face as she ran, and for Audric to scream a lot."
"Sounds about right," Claire nodded.
"I stabbed the beast, but it was as if it had an armored hide. Nothing I did seemed to hurt it. Luther struggled with it, keeping it from charging me, but we wouldn't be able to hold it off for much longer. We were barely able to avoid its talons."
"Barely, you say," Claire said suggestively, smirking.
"He was a wolf at the time, Claire."
"He must go through so many outfits..."
"I believe his wife does complain about that, yes."
"Someday, I need to meet her," Claire said idly.
"Whenever we next go to Bavaria," said Lucien, with considerable trepidation at the idea of Claire and Luther's wife in the same room. "The huge creature snapped at us, flapping its huge wings..."
"Wait, wait," Claire interrupted. "Are you still going on about the chicken?"
"The chicken had, prudently, flown the coop. No, I mean the wings of the beast itself."
Claire narrowed her eyes. "I thought it was a wolf, or a lion, or at least a hyena."
"No," Lucien admitted. "The abbé had brought back from his African travels a mighty ostrich, which he had outfitted with armor, and a set of steel fangs... Claire, it would be polite if you stopped laughing."
Claire shook her head. "Can't. Killer ostrich." Lucien sighed and waited for her to recover her composure. At last she wiped her eyes, nodding. "Go on, please. How did you finally defeat the ferocious feathered fiend?"
"Audric eventually stopped screaming and noticed that it was mostly neck," Lucien said with a pained dignity. Then he waited for Claire to stop laughing again.
"Sorry," she said at last. "You were very brave. After all, you stood up to it even though it was basically a bigger, angrier chicken."
"That's what Audric said it tasted like," Lucien sighed. "So Luther was safe to pursue his studies, the beast was vanquished, and while Ginevra didn't get her wolfskin rug, she did get a lovely ostrich feather hat and fan."
"And this!" Audric interjected, appearing again as if out of nowhere, draped in a magnificent feather boa. He struck a dramatic pose, and Claire applauded.