There is a scream from upstairs. The vampire stands upright, he reveals his ancient face, and this is the one that ages, not the human disguise that was preserved at his death. His fangs come to bear. The elegance never fully leaves a vampire transformed, but the mysticism of their touch is broken and the absence of their soul is revealed. The door breaks open as one of his kin stumbles forward moaning in agony he removes the steel from his shoulder. “They’re everywhere!” At this moment a second volley of daggers collides with the creature at the door. His screams are renewed. Steel won’t kill them, but it doesn’t make for a pleasant day. Pain is still very much a factor in a vampire’s life, many grow a tolerance to it and they certainly don’t bruise easy, but given the right stimulus everyone falls. There is no dread in his mind as he watches his comrade slip out of consciousness. He fears nothing, not even death. This is why he has led this coven for half a century and provided he survived this night perhaps another half century more. Whoever besieged his home could not sustain it for long. They were not as secluded as one might expect a vampire family to be. They lived close to their haunts and with the advent of cosmetics they even held up appearances. Dracula had magic, the modern vampire has sunscreen. Eventually the police would arrive and irony would take its course. Protect the “innocent” vampire, and potentially kill the hunter, your secret ally. Stupid humans.
Just as he was admiring the coming fate of his would be assailants he sensed something from within the house. Kneeling low to catch a scent he flares his nostrils, relying on the precision of a hound like nose he catches something. He spins around on his heal and roars at the direction of his victim who was now joined by a man. He had bandaged her wrist and slowly removed the shackles. All of this was impossible, no other entrance but the one he watched diligently existed. Worst still was this figure smelled human. Another impossibility. He howls “Reveal yourself trickster. I know not what you are.” The vampire remained ignored. He wouldn’t attack an unknown opponent, even if he was not afraid that did not prevent him from being cautious. This human cared only for the girl. When he was finished examining her he stood up and turned to face the master of this home. His was in fact a mortal face, and one that many vampires knew. “The Impaler… You are a fool to come before me. I know what you are.”
Eliot rolled his eyes. “Are you trying to tell me you guys hold a grudge?” No fear emanates from either foe. Eliot is cool and calculating. Even the vampire manages to put a lid on his anger. “You culled an entire coven in a single day. No one will forget your name. It is an honor really; you will persist in our legends. We will tell our young of your fall.”
“But I killed a lot of you already, how do you figure I’m going to fall?”
“Because ours is an old culture. We have seen every magic man has ever possessed. Would you believe that much of it we too can wield? It turns out for some magics a soul is not required.” Then he laughed, the vampire, he realized he was on the verge of gloating. “Forgive me. I lost myself in theatrics. We are not in a movie; I need not explain myself to the audience.” And with that, he charged. The space was small but it wouldn’t have to be for a vampire to swiftly pounce towards his prey. They were quick, not the quickest thing with two legs but the strength of live blood made them one of the most formidable of opponents. Just before impact he raises his claws forming a single wedge with his fingers and aims directly for Eliot’s heart. The vampire misses. Not just a miss but he also puts his hand through drywall. Ripping free, and only slightly flustered he swings his arms like a windmill trying to slice at Eliot, who offers in turn only another side step. The aftermath of gravity off balances the vampire who now crouches low like a wild beast having caught himself from a botched landing. He is too experienced to fall into rage, not that some wouldn’t bleed through, but there was a cool logic to this. Eliot could not be quicker than a vampire. But he might be a skilled fighter, able to see his opponent’s moves before they are made. Now was the time for emotions to be freed. Let us see how the human fights a beast as unpredictable and wild as any before.
The roar of the vampire is chilling to the bone. He now seemed to discard whatever humanity he may have possessed before. The lunge forward is flawless, he is certain to make contact. Yet he doesn’t. Hands flailing so that dagger like claws might make their mark are met in turn by quick redirection. Eliot was making short decisive moves of his own, arms slapping away the vampire’s attacks. His momentum used against him, he was merely a rag doll for Eliot’s amusement. Rather than hit him directly Eliot knew the walls were stronger than his fist so with every chance he sent the fool slamming into one. This was stopped quickly, for a brief moment the vision of the house collapsing halted Eliot, so he would resort to his own fists after all. Brass knuckles cracked bone and tore pale flesh. This was not a fair fight. The vampire had a moment of clarity. He looked towards the woman he had savored not long before. She was still there but did not react to the fighting, and the door was open so it isn’t like she couldn’t see them. His kin just above them was still face down by the railing of the stairwell. Eliot’s fist knocked him to the ground. It was painful, but that didn’t make it real.
The vampire corralled his emotions and grounded himself by sitting on the floor. He shook his head. “This should not be possible.” Eliot joined him on the floor.
“Guess you don’t know as much as you think.”
“That coven, you killed them the same way. An illusion.” Eliot did not respond. “The power you wield. It is in reflections. I have seen it all before. The shaman that would bring water to their enemies, and as they took a drink they could see themselves. As soon as they stared long into that water they would be trapped in the cages of their own mind. They would be helpless. You forced that entire coven to kill themselves by some illusion. Even though we have no reflection, somehow you have figured out how to entrap our kind. Right now my body lies elsewhere but my mind is forever stuck here with you.”
“Yeah, that’s pretty good.”
“Won’t you tell me how?”
“Well what it was, was an accident. Or more of a joke I guess. Either way we figured out that the reflection was not the key to the curse but the only defense from it. You have no reflection so you and yours are always in my reach.” The vampire nodded. He was bested, what else could he do?
“Your aim then, is to kill another coven?”
“No. Not today. Your people do jobs for the wealthy in exchange for blood dens and other kinds of gifts. Well I have a job for you.”
“You seek to employ us but you mean not to pay.”
“No, I have a gift for you. Everyone you know is being targeted by humans as of late. I could stop that if you work for me.” The vampire waited a long moment before speaking. “These humans are led by the champions. They mean to exterminate us for trying to fool humanity into throwing their chances of winning the contest.”
“And for that I would say that you deserve to be destroyed. You had no right to leave us out.”
“You were cattle to us. All of us only require your presence to sustain ourselves. Why would we risk our dinner becoming more powerful than any one of us?”
“Because you are human, you just figure you’re not. Only humans can rise to heaven or fall to hell and any other level between the two. Without us you don’t exist, and if you could there would be no new vampires to follow. I mean I have never heard of a vampire turning a cow or a mule. It requires potential in order to fall, and only man’s soul has enough potential for you.” The vampire was not in the mood to debate and so he asked, “What’s the job?”
“I have recently been targeted by local demons. I would like your coven to face them, and relieve them of certain assets, to include their lives.”
“How does demon killing free us of the purge?”
“Because what I can do to you I can do to them. I can form an illusion that will fool them into thinking they’ve already killed you. You’re off their radar. In anticipation of your cooperation I’ve already taken care of that. No one will be the wiser, champion or otherwise.” The vampire nodded. These were becoming agreeable terms. A lesser creature would contemplate a way to double cross Eliot in the wake of their new found freedom from the purge, but this vampire was smart. Why kill the best ally you have ever made, the only trick now was to remain useful. “Very well. You have a deal. Give me the names of these demons I will raze them. This coven shall be your arm.” A vampire pact cannot be broken. This was more than law, it was old world magic. Because their lives were on the line for the duration of the contract they would use it like collateral for otherworldly strength. This is a necessity when facing demons, as they were essentially the top of the baddie food chain. “One more thing,” says Eliot. “While you’re working for me you will not drink innocent human blood.” The vampire looked over his shoulder and saw the girl. “When you wake up, you’ll be standing over her just as you were before I intervened. Bandage her up as I have and let her go.”
“I’m assuming you have an alternative means for our gathering of food?”
“You set off ripples in the water when you moved here. There is a serial killer on the loose but the cops don’t know because they can’t distinguish his kills from your feeding pattern. I took a look at the crime in the area and they chop it up to random acts of violence. You have my permission to harvest the murderer.” This put a smile on the vampire’s face. “You are an interesting man Mr. Impaler. You understand what it means to harvest someone?”
“You will be protected. And there will always be another murderer for you to keep on ice. Just one last thing; I want you to understand what it would mean if you find a loophole out of our pact.”
In that instant the walls caved in and the entire floor collapsed on the creature. The rubble cleared itself before him and he lay a broken husk on the floor. The blood left in droves, he was being drained. Nothing was more dangerous to a vampire than this. Before long, enough living blood would have exited his system that his muscles would have no power on their own. His heart did not beat, and his lungs need no air, so the lack of control would not be the end of him. He would be awake and frozen in time, with no one aware that there was something in that body. “William,” said Eliot. “You’re already familiar with the price of failure; I just wanted you to see the price of betrayal.” The vampire screamed but only internally, he lost the ability to move.
William saw the face of the girl; his hand was very still in the air between them. He looked around to see no sign of Eliot. He took a deep breath with his lungs to savor the working condition of his body. He lit a few candles and wrapped her wrists with torn sheets of other victim’s clothing that had been left behind. She was confused to say the least. “I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s not you, it’s me.” And with that he carried her up the stairs and opened the door.
In the living room sat the remaining members of his coven. One of them read a celebrity gossip magazine at the kitchen counter. He looked up from the pages. “Done already boss? I can go out and get you another…”
“No, gather the herd. We have a new job.” He paused for a moment before continuing. “First send them out to catch some serial killer, check the places we order take out. He’s getting his victims from our stock. No snacks on this run. The employer is very specific.”
“Sure boss, what then?”
Eliot was up and drenched in sweat. “You shouldn’t have held on as long as you did Elizar,” said Kiara handing him water and helping Nick hold Eliot upright. “Had to make it count,” was Eliot’s reply before a fit of coughs escaped him. Kiara looked him over briefly and gave him a clean bill of health or rather a clean enough bill for now. “You need to rest Eliot,” and then after checking her watch “My gosh, we all do.” The house would be full today, but only for a short while. Everyone was taking a break from recent events to rest and clear their mind. No one had slept in quite some time so with the rest of the week promising even less calm they were wise to stock up now.
Sean and Marko were outside when Kay knocked on the window and gave them two thumbs up. Sean was speaking in between plumes of cigarette smoke. “That was brazen.”
“Whatever do you mean Sean?”
“Eliot can’t keep that up for more than fifteen minutes straight. If that vamp was smart he would have called Eliot’s bluff. After being released it gets harder for Eliot to put someone under again.”
“I know that. But perception is only reality within the confines of the mind. Eliot messes with the flow of time, he makes events seem longer than they are, and only we know there is a time limit because only we were there to test it. Besides, it’s not like anyone else knows the source of his illusions.”
“Yeah I don’t get that. First we get told, sorry only one champion allowed but they go ahead and give us two. Then after you and Ian got the bulk of it, somehow it trickles down to the rest of us so long as we fought that day.”
“I don’t know anything that you don’t Sean. Nothing about this whole game has been on the level. Things were much simpler when the best we could do was touch a single element. Now I got Ian folding through space, we still don’t know what happens when I black out. And then Eliot can tap your mind by making you see your reflection and you…”
“Yeah, I’m confused, but I’m not complaining.” Sean removes a throwing knife from his belt. “It still is one hell of a trick.” They both smirked. Sean continued, “Well I hope we played this hand right.”
“I think so. We chose a small coven, but we know their track record. With any luck they’ll recruit more covens by themselves so we don’t stick our necks out any further.”
“Yep, I do like the sound of making them do more work than we have to. Now what?”
“Now I send Ian to meet with Alex, and I have a plane to catch.”
“Alex? He’s going to see the blade master. Good call, maybe we can help them out too. I think I know where that planes heading,” Sean puts out his cigarette, “I won’t press the issue on that one. Just tell me where you need me.”
“I could use a ride to the airport.”
“Watch Alicia. With any luck the bad guys will try to use her again and I do like giving miss information.”
“Now that I can do happily.”
Marko nods, saying, “I’ll grab my stuff.” He was already packed, not to say that there was much to bring. Just a few days worth of clothes, some warding charms to prevent eves dropping, and a book for the thirteen hour flight. In another two days he would be standing on the exact grounds where he defeated his greatest enemy, the rolling hills outside of a small Eastern European town, whose name no one could pronounce. It is on these grounds that this enemy still lives today. Seeing him will be a costly maneuver but the knowledge he possess is unparalleled on the Earth. It was worth the risk. Boarding his flight Marko thought to himself, Has it been ten years already, Ben? Half way around the world a tall, broad man sits in meditation. He looks up at the open sky with eyes a shade just darker than crimson. He speaks aloud in a voice twice as deep and harsh as was ever heard. “Yes, almost ten years to the day…”