By Willow Taylor
Chapter One: First Whispers
It was night. Medren Thalymor, hunter class two, inspected the tack on his horse, then inspected the horse again. A gelding of gently dappled dark gray, its forehead was broad, its eyes large and almost as dark as his own, and its legs almost gangly. It was a new breed, and he would have guessed it too young to bear weight, but the guild official who'd sold it to him swore it was not only old enough, it was partially trained. It whuffled at him, and he sighed, shaking his head.
As Hunters went, Medren was old. He'd been a hunter since his late teens, and that was decades gone. There were hunters that hadn't been born when he began wielding the stake and sword. He should have had an apprentice by now, but he vaguely hoped that someone from the next district over would come and take over. The Hunter's Haven district was admittedly twice the size of his, but unusually rich in Class one hunters. A second and third had been added just a few months ago. They had a full complement, Van Helsing, Taylor and Richards. Some of the other Guildsmen grumbled about it, but to Med it sounded like a pronouncement of doom, that three class one Hunters - well two and a Slayer, in honesty, had to work as a seamless team.
Medren had met the last Van Helsing from the Hunter's Haven district, a wry man of middle years with broad white stripes threading through a mahogany braid as thick as his wrist and longer than his torso. The hunter had suggested, calmly, that if a name made people so comfortable, then all hunters and Slayers should be given that name upon swearing to the guild. The smile that danced around under his beard invited the other hunter to share in a joke at his own expense.
Not what Medren would have expected from a Hunter of Name. But later that night, he'd seen him pick a vampire up by her belt and fling her across the room like she was made of straw. Admittedly, the infestation was dusters, but even still it showed a deep seated strength that surprised him. Even more surprising was the prayer that Abraham, his name had been Abraham, had said when the hunting was done. Then he had turned to Med and smiled again. "You didn't really need me," he said pleasantly. "I wouldn't tell you how to hunt. You've been at this longer than I have." He smiled wryly. "You remember before this silly style came in to hunting them at night." Medren had barked a laugh. He did remember that, he'd been just a sprout, and just become a hunter. He remembered that he himself had thought that it sounded so much more heroic to hunt the vampires at night, when they fought back more.
It had felt good for a hunter of name to compliment him - and now, things were changing again. Medren couldn't help but wish that they were changing back to hunting during the day. He really was getting too old for this. But horses bred to run at night was a marvelous idea. Deciding that the night wasn't getting any longer as he stood there inspecting a horse, that in all appearances, was inspecting him right back, Medren mounted up. His district had been fairly quiet of late, of which he was glad. But there had been reports of an attack near Broton. He would probably get there before everyone went to bed, which would give him an idea of where to look for the vampires. The horse's gait was agreeable enough, even to his sore joints. Medren grimaced to himself, it would be raining before morning, he was sure of it.
The elderly hunter had to wonder if there was even a vampire. These townspeople seemed so very panicked, describing a ten foot tall creature shadowed by a fearsome kiss. It seemed unlikely that they'd appear out of nowhere. But there were bite marks on the cattle's leg, and on the farm hand's wrists. He carried on like he was going to immediately become a bloodthirsty monster when Med confirmed the bites were from a vampire. The hunter spent far too long explaining that he wasn't going to die from it, and he would in fact be no danger from even mundane infection if he took care. "For example," he said dryly. "Stop picking at it, and wear some gloves for a few days. Or at least change the bandages before every meal."
"Really." Medren gave the young man his most commanding look, which he was rather sure came out more fatherly than anything else. That done, the villagers all headed to bed, while he went to woods.
The villagers of Broton had told him there was an old house, abandoned in the woods. None of them would take it, even if it was a decent place, too chancy, being that far from town. Not even a real farm. No, none of them would mess with it. Was it something about being a farmer that made them small minded, Med wondered, or was it just that town? The forest was well lit by the smaller moon, and the larger one was beginning to rise above the horizon. And the horse - it seemed to see better than he did, keeping to the narrow path, and not even scraping him against trees, as horses had done to him in daylight before. A half hour ride found him in a slight clearing around a worn down cabin. With a sigh, Med dismounted, and ground tethered the horse with its scarlet reins. A brief inspection showed that someone had been in it recently, but no more than one person. It could have just as easily been a traveler as a vampire. The light from the door was blocked as the horse stepped up to it, wuffling at the ground.
"Smell something?" Med suggested calmly, raising an eyebrow. The horse snorted and moved away from the door, still wuffling. Then the graying hunter remembered that one of the commands that this horse had been taught was to track; it beat trying to follow a trail on his own, or waiting until morning to see if whoever had been here returned. He trotted briefly to catch up with the equine and put a hand on its reins. The gelding looked at him patiently, as if waiting for a command.
"Trace it. Track it. Find it," he intoned, as he'd been told to, and swung up into the saddle. The dappled gray horse tossed its head, and moved off at a fast walk, that changed to gentle trot, to a surprisingly quiet canter. Another ten minutes and they came out on a small clearing, more of a break in the trees than anything else. There the gelding stopped shrouded in both the shadows of the trees, and in the night as clouds passed over the moons. Medren stood in the stirrups, and looked across the clearing. There he spotted his quarry.
It was hardly the blood thirsty coven described. It was one vampire, wearing worn but clean breaches and vest, over a shirt that had more than one patch on it. As appearances go, his best feature was a flow of hair thick and dark as the night, which was mostly contained in a queue down his back. The vampire seemed to be involved in getting a stone out of his boot. Suddenly he stiffened, and drew the scuffed leather back on, buckling its single (broken) strap on the side.
"Come out," he said, eyes shifting back and forth. "I can hear you, smell your horse. Just come out."
Medren slid his blade out of its sheathe and tapped his heels on the horse's side. The horse moved forward into the clearing. The vampire's dark eyes narrowed and it settled its weight onto both legs.
"Damn. A hunter." He pushed hair out of his eyes and bared his fangs in disdain. "I suppose I shouldn't be surprised."
"Do not run," cautioned Med. "I will follow you to dawn and beyond, to send your soul to the Judge."
"I have no soul," mocked the vampire bitterly. "I'm a vampire, remember, hunter?"
"That doesn't mean you have no soul." Medren adjusted his grip on the hilt of his weapon. "Any wheel can be stilled, and any wheel stilled can be spun again." With no further prequel, he urged the horse forward, clinging as he leaned to strike the vampire. Those hard dark eyes stared at him, and long pale fingers reached up towards him. Time slowed, and Medren watched them wrap around his wrist and pull him from the horse, flinging him hard into the ground.
"You sounded like you really believed that. Hypocrite. Not even Icannu gives a fuck anymore."
Med had managed to soften his impact, but not nearly enough. It was a struggle to get air into his lungs. As he struggled with that, he climbed to his feet. The vampire looked torn between trying to grab the horse, who was turning to look at both of them, having come to a halt, fleeing on foot, or attacking further. In that moment of indecision, Medren struck lunging across the distance between them, and drawing his blade across his opponent's skull in a savage down strike, it connected send a spurt of cold blood out across him. Lurching backwards, the vampire swore, holding one hand to his head casting about for some sort of weapon. The up slash missed, and Medren had to redistribute his weight. The vampire backhanded him blindly into a tree.
This was what was wrong with the equation of going after vampires at night, Medren thought to himself. The basic vampire was stronger, and faster than a human.
"I've really got to get a partner," groaned Medren, trying to lever himself up.
"Let me help you," said the bitter voiced vampire grasping the front of Medren's leather tunic. "Bastard hunters the lot of you," he growled, bloody face inches from Medren's. The blade strike had taken away a good section of the vampire's face, including the eye, at this close range, Med could see the flesh struggling to pull itself together and mend. The hunter panicked and grabbed the blunt edge of his blade hauling it upward with both hands - severing the hand that grasped his tunic. He dropped back to the ground and scudded backward.
"What the hell?" the vampire said, staring at the spurting stump where his hand was. "Andron's ass, I'm just not paying attention tonight!" Medren wasn't paying attention at that moment either, since the hand was still clamped tight onto his tunic. He wrenched it free, and stared at the still flexing fingers for a moment before flinging it away.
"Gods damn it," swore the vampire, surging forward, "I need that!" He didn't reach Medren, since the hunter's horse had come up behind him, grabbed the vampire by his braid and tossed him across the clearing, spraying blood across both itself and Medren.
"Good horsie," Medren said using the saddle girth to haul himself upwards. "Gotta name you."
"How about 'steak'?!" swore the vampire "'Cutlets'? I know, 'Mincemeat'!" His fangs flashed in the light. Behind Medren, the horse snorted, and pawed the earth. The vampire cradled his ruined arm to his chest, and his one remaining eye. Med saw what was coming and whipped his spear from the holster on the side of the horse's saddle.
A spear was not a traditional hunter's weapon. It smacked of combat hot, heavy, and brutal. Hunters were supposed to be swift, deadly, and assured. Medren had found that there was a great deal more brutality in hunting than the general populace thought. He braced the spear and as the vampire charged, he plunged the foot long blade into its stomach at an angle.
"Ah..." he choked, backing up as fast at he could. Medren fought to hold onto the spear, but failed. The vampire's remaining hand patted at the place where the spear entered his body, and looked up at Medren with a disturbed, awed expression.
"Who'd've thought it?" he burbled, and wrenched the spear free, flinging it aside - as opposed to at Med, who'd been expecting it. The dark haired creature fell back against a tree, and a strange sound, half laugh, half sob issued forth from its blood flecked mouth. The sound dissolved into choking burbles and Medren approached cautiously as the moons lit up the sky, illuminating the clouds above them. The vampire looked up as Medren approached, lips still moving in a sort of silent prayer.
"If I die, at least it's to you," spat the vampire, shadowy hair falling over his ruined eye. Blood trailed in a vicious stream down from his mouth, lips cut to ribbons by his own fangs when he'd fallen. He cradled his stump of an arm, collapsed against the tree. "An honest hunter."
Med steadied his weapon for the final blow, and then paused. "What?"
"You didn't hear?" The grimace was almost amused. "They're recruiting from our ranks, your precious guild. A 'vampire' hunter." He choked on more blood, and spat to one side. "Kill me. You've won. It'll be nice to spin the wheel again."
"Return, then." His hands shaking at the very concept, Medren raised his blade and struck the vampire's head from his shoulders. He was lucky, and the body swiftly began to rot, as if long dead. In a few moments, the bones were bare - and even they would start to decay come daylight. Med reached over and carefully lifted the fragile skull, examining the stroke his blade had made. The bone was weak now, he could, if he chose, crush it in his hand. Instead he put the head down on the lap of the desiccated body before him, shaking off a few errant strands of night black hair.
"A 'vampire' hunter?" Medren mumbled to himself, as his gelding - he'd decided he loved this horse - lipped his tunic, finding the only clean spot and covering it in slobber. "Next thing you know, they're going to be talking about finding life on the other side of the planet." He groaned and ran a cloth over his weapons, wiping the blood off. Every inch of him was sore and or covered in well, gore. He grimaced. When he started thinking in rhyme, it was definately time to get home. He cracked his neck, slowly and painfully, and climbed back into the saddle. The gelding looked back at him with a calm eye, and turned, heading back the way they'd come without further instruction, pausing only to kick dirt over the vampire's skeleton, still loosely clothed in its blood spattered, worn clothes. Wind shifted and it collapsed further, a small portrait fell out of the leather jerkin's pocket, a kiss of vampires, silvered by moonlight. In the front sat two youthful figures with curly blond hair, a young woman, and beside her, a youth, wearing red brown leather boots, but his face was scratched out. Across his chest was the scrawled word, 'bastard'.
Not all rumors are false.
design ©2001 by Cindy Rosenthal
Rumors ©2003 by Willow Taylor
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