Chapter Three

With unexpected ease, the group of vampires had the Hunter trapped. Regardless of the hopeless scenario, the man quickly ran through his options. No escape revealed itself to him as his tired, steely gray eyes surveyed the situation beneath the brim of the fedora. The Hunter realized this and let his blades drop to his hands from within the sleeves of his long black coat, ready to fight and make a final stand. A rapid snap of his wrists and the blades locked together at their full length. His feet ground into the dirt and grime of the gravel alleyway, establishing his footing. The six vampires approached him slowly, circling like the predatory animals they were. He raised the two yard-length blades into a ready position. They glistened into the night rain.

Hello Zac,” the lead vampire said with a grisly and heavy voice. Immediately the Hunter recognized the creature before him. The vampire had a large jaw and curly black hair, a Grecian look about him. He was a tall, muscular vampire dressed in black leather. “It’s been way too long.”

Why hasn’t someone killed this fucker yet? the Hunter wondered.

Argyle,” the Hunter hissed in a gruff and gravelly tone. One of the older vampires out there, he was really known as little more than a thug, far from the most graceful or beautiful of the vampires. Encountering him several times in the past, Zac had failed in those events to end him—usually as a result of their being greater concerns to handle. As a result of one of those encounters, Argyle had a grudge against Zac. “I’ve got a silver bullet with your name on it. Literally.”

The vampires did not leave a window open for further banter as they charged at the Hunter. Two coming in at an angle from the sides, weapons raised above their heads. They were fast, but the Hunter had been well trained. With one swing of the blade in his left hand he took off the first creature’s head. The body burst into flames behind the Hunter as he spun and took down the second vampire—the magic silver blades enabling the quick disposal of the body. He moved on to face his other attackers.

Then the other four vampires drew their swords. Now the Hunter knew the chances of him walking away from this encounter were down to nearly nothing. A typical vampire could move faster than a man could see and he was facing four, armed vampires. They were much too close for guns. Blades were the only practical option at that range. No Hunter had defeated more than two vampires at one time in any kind of fight without considerably stronger advantages in his favor thoset the Hunter had. But Hunters knew no fear, and on many times this one had accepted his death as certain. He swung his blades in his hands and stood ready for the oncoming attack.

I offer you this one chance,” Argyle said. He snapped his fingers and the vampires formed up around him. Their swords were steady, the glimmer in their eyes focused on their prey. “Give up now and it will be a quick, painless death.”

Bullshit, the Hunter thought. We’ve done this dance too many times before. I know how much you want me to suffer. We had some spectacular tussles in the past. Your brother was an accident. He had desire to keep fighting us. But that’s not important anymore. Neither us really want it to end without a real great throw down. You don’t need telepathy to know that.

No Hunter has ever been taken alive,” the Hunter answered. His main goal in that moment was to sound cool, have the best last words he could. He raised his sword a bit more, his shoulder aching as he did so. He was getting tired, feeling old. “And none will be.”

As soon as he finished speaking, the three vampires charged at the Hunter. He parried the advancing blows with skill, artfully avoiding being struck by their weapons. They were so engaged in their battle that they did not notice that they were being watched.

Should we intervene now?” Lucca asked. They both had their long coats tied tight to conceal the weapons they carried. The elf’s violet eyes were focused on the battle before them. He could not sense Lucca’s feelings in regards to the Hunter—but Marc had given him a quick overview on that before they left. Lucca had met this Hunter several years ago and even saved his life a couple of times. Despite her plea that he give up being a Hunter, he still went about this task. As they watched the battle, she wondered why she had even bothered. Now he could sense her tension as they watched, the appearance parlayed by her strict bun and black lipstick.

Just a moment Lucca,” Zane responded with a twitch of his pointed ear. “Wait for the right moment.” The Hunter managed to knock one of his attackers away. The vampire landed at Zane’s feet. “Now. Go.” Zane drew a dagger and sliced off the vampire’s head with one swipe of his blade as it attempted to rise. The body burst into flames on the elf’s command, burning the vampire to ash.

Now the fighters noticed the two observers. Recognition flashed in the Hunter’s eyes as Lucca moved forward. Lucca walked quickly through the flames towards the combatants. She seemed unarmed and untouched by the fire, simply continuing to move forward. Argyle threw the Hunter into a nearby pile of trashcans as he gave her his full attention.

Go home little girl,” he said. “This matter doesn’t concern you.”

Lucca continued to move forward at a deliberate pace. Her face was a blank, expressionless mask as she cleared her mind to do battle. The other two vampires moved to attack her. They both leapt up into the air towards her. One landed behind her and the other landed in front of her. She did not regard them with any kind of focus or glance. Believing there was an advantage for them, they attacked. One swung at her waist while the other swung at her neck. She jumped up and twisted her body and lay flat in the air between the two blades, not being touched by either of them as they went over and under her in opposite directions—catching only the tail end of her jacket. As the blades cleared, she sent a pair of razor-edged discs at her attackers from her sleeves. The discs severed their heads at the neck and embedded themselves in the brick walls of the alley. The two vampires bodies fell to the ground as she landed in a crouch. Picking up one of the swords on the ground, she rose to her full height and faced Argyle.

Nice move,” Zane said. “It’s a pleasure to watch a beautiful body at work.”

And you know a thing or two about beautiful bodies?” she mocked.

I like to think so.” He moved to her side, his daggers ready. “I have had some fun, back in the day. You’ve definitely got a fine pedigree.”

Argyle glanced at the Hunter, who had climbed out of the trashcans and was ready to continue the conflict. Realizing how badly outnumbered he was, he fled. He leapt high to the top of the building and ran.

Do I follow?” Lucca asked.

No,” Zane said. Quickly looking up, the elf spotted the shadowy blur drifting through the air. “Lark’s on the case. He’ll get him. Don’t worry about it. Just chill for now.”

They walked over to the Hunter, who had held his hat in hand while mopping his forehead with a sleeve. His graying dark brown hair was drenched from the perspiration of his exertion during the battle and the rain. He looked fairly youthful for forty-five, although he had a tired and ragged appearance to his movements. Lucca could not help but notice how much older he looked than the last time she saw him.

Lucca went to retrieve her discs from where they had been embedded in the wall as Zane approached the man.

You injured?” the elf asked.

I’m fine,” the Hunter said as he picked up his weapons. “Who are you?”

I’m Zane,” the elf answered. “Guardian of the Elvish Realm of the Lost, former bodyguard to Lord Pratch, a long list of titles and accomplishments you probably know nothing about… you get the idea. And my lovely companion here is Lucca, a vampire of some note. I didn’t catch her last name, so you’ll have to ask her. You’ve probably heard of her. You?”

Yeah,” the Hunter answered. He regarded Lucca coolly, not betraying any emotion. “We’ve met. Name’s Zac. Zac Baker. What were you doing here?”

We were tracking a vampire,” Lucca said. “The one you were just fighting. Your rescue was purely convenient for our purposes.”

I’d hate to put you out of your way,” Zac asked. He looked back to Zane. The elf merely shrugged at the exchange, detecting a familiar tension. “What do you want with Argyle? He’s a thug. He can’t possibly know anything of actual importance.”

We are more interested in who he’s working for,” Zane said.

Really?” Zac asked. “And who is that?”

We are not really sure we should be discussing that out in the open,” Zane said. “Probably said too much already. I tend to gab a bit, sorry. My character defect I guess. We actually do have a pretty good idea, we just don’t have a motive. And we’d like to avoid discussing it in the open, as I already said. Do you want to help us out? We could always use some more people.”

I’ll think about it,” Zac said. “But I’m going to lay low for a while and hope that I don’t meet up with anymore of the vampires.”

If you change your mind you can find us at this address,” Zane said. He gave Zac a small business card. Zac accepted it and walked off into the rain.

That was pointless,” Lucca said. “I could have told you that would happen.”

I think he might change his mind,” Zane replied. “His aura is highly agitated and I doubt Marc would have had us make the offer if he didn’t think there was some potential for him to actually help us. He tends to be smarter than me when it comes to this type of thing, so I usually follow his lead whenever possible. And could you have at least tried to be professional while we were talking to him? I have to say that I am shocked you did not try to stab him.”

I don’t trust him,” she said.

So you have made clear repeatedly,” he reminded her. The Hunters had hunted the vampires for the last few millennium, although they now focused more on damage control than any actual hunting. From what Zane had heard, Zac was little more than a wandering vagabond—like some kind of disgraced hero out of a legend. “Regardless, professionalism and manners can go a long way. Don’t worry about it. There are not many of his kind left anyway. He is the last real one. The last of his kind. He probably doesn’t even bother with it anymore.”

Lucca shrugged in acceptance. She still did not like it.

So do we head back now?” she asked.

That’s the idea,” Zane said. “Unless you have other plans.” He turned and she was already gone. Smiling, he leapt to the top of the building beside them and followed her.

Well, Paris is disappointing.”

Zac smirked at his partner’s sudden proclamation. They had been in Paris for a week, searching for the sire of a pack of werewolves. The city was feeling the pressure of being under siege from the creatures—the tourist industry starting to take a major hit as a result of the mysterious deaths and disappearances that were plaguing the city. Spotting the tell-tale signs of events requiring their attention, Zac and Craig made their way straight to France. All the arrangements were in place for them to hunt down the creatures without any interference. The two were waiting for nightfall in their hotel room, double-checking their weaponry as they prepared to go on the hunt. They myriad of silver blades on the bed glistened beside the rifles and handguns—all loaded with silver bullets.

As Zac stared out at the cityscape, Craig sat in the chair looking anxious. His buzzed head and thin beard made him look tougher, a recent adjustment he had made to be more intimidating. Spending considerable more time in the weight room than his current superior, Craig made up for his lack of experience in physical power. Each of them wore black mesh armor that had been lined with silver.

How do you mean?” Zac asked. He leaned against the wall and looked at his partner. “We’ve only been here for six hours. That’s barely enough time for anything to happen.”

Yeah,” Craig said. “But I was expecting girls to be falling all over us when we arrived. Isn’t that what Paris is normally like?”

Zac smirked again.

I usually expect Pepé Le Pew to be popping out of the bushes at me when I’m here,” he replied. “It’s Paris. You really want to go looking for whores, just walk down the street and you’ll find a few. And get a fascinating array of sexual transmitted diseases in the process.”

Craig cocked his head to the side and laughed at the comment. After a long moment he stopped.

So what’s the plan boss?” he asked.

Pretty straight forward operation,” Zac explained. “Locate the alpha wolf of the pack, and take it down. If we’re in time, we might be able to save some of the other people he’s infected. They should all be gathered in one place before they go out hunting for the night, so we’ll try to hit them there.” He reached into his back pack and pulled out a map, laying it out on the bed between them. It was covered in a scattered series of red marks, designating locations where people were attacked. He pointed to a specific area in the south, on the outskirts of the city. “From the pattern of the attacks, I’ve established they’re somewhere in this area. We’re just north of there now. We’ll concentrate around there to begin, and work out from there.”

Sounds good. We on our own, or do we have some help?”

I called Le Favre for some help here. He’s going to send seven or eight guns to help us out here. All with monster buster experience. Should be more than enough to take care of this pack.”

We meet them after sunset?”

Yeah. Try to be polite when you meet them. They’re some of the more well established mercenaries in Europe, world-class really. If we impress them, they might hire us on or join up with the Hunters. And we need all the help we can get.”

Okay, I get that. Speaking of help, you hear from Nicolae lately?”

No. Why?”

He’s being made a bishop. The youngest in centuries.”

Interesting.”

Yeah. He seemed surprised by it.”

I would imagine so. I wonder if—“

A loud crash outside got their attention. In their conversation, they had lost track of time and night had begun to fall. The moon was low in the sky as the sun finished setting—the sky still a mess of colors. Running to the window, they saw what looked like seven werewolves down in the parking lot—they were wild and wreaking havoc with the valets and guests standing there. More were running towards the hotel.

Looks like they’re coming to us,” Zac said. “Go time.”

Going to the bed, he and Craig promptly began gearing up—loading up guns and sheathing swords for battle. Putting on their jackets, they left the room and proceeded downstairs. As they descended the stairs to the lobby, beset on all sides by fleeing civilians. The people slowed their progress considerably as they went. They did not complain or get forceful, they just kept moving towards the threat with a slow and steady pace.

Can you get in touch with Le Favre’s people?” Craig asked.

No time to do that right now,” Zac said. “I would hope they’re en route at this point. Stay sharp, I counted fifteen wolves out there. Until we get backup, it’s all on us. Nothing we can’t handle. And we better fucking handle it.”

Yes sir.”

They left the stairwell and entered the lobby, spotting a set of werewolves running into the hotel through the revolving doors. Six of them. Charging at the two Hunters. They gave off no hints of veering or turning away in their blood rage.

Watch the sides,” Zac said.

They calmly moved behind the front desk, taking positions where they could easily get out. Drawing his gun, Zac took aim and fired three quick shots. The bullets sent silver traces rocketing into their bodies, leaving them on the floor squirming and spasming. As if on cue, three more wolves broke through the walls and and charged at them.

Shit!” Craig shouted.

Fall back,” Zac said. “Split up and thin them out.”

They each took a different door, going into the first floor offices and utility rooms of the hotel. Proceeding down the narrow hallway, Zac walked away backwards—firing on the oncoming monsters. As his back hit the wall, he ran out of bullets. Drawing the sword secured on his back, he continued around the corner. Bolting towards the door to another hallway, he could hear the beasts crashing behind him.

A turn and short distance later his loop was complete. Skidding to a halt in the lobby, the Hunter spun and decapitated the werewolf coming up behind him.

BANG! BANG! BANG!

The shots taking down the next three were surprising, almost out of thin air. Looking towards the doors, he saw the lone figure standing there. A dark-haired woman holding a gun in each hand, wearing a white t-shirt and black jeans.

My name is Lucca,” she said. “If you value your life you’ll get down.”

Without any conscious thought, Zac hit the floor. The shooting above him was precise and methodical, the shots even taking down multiple werewolves on a couple of occasions. He looked up when her shooting stopped. Out of bullets, she dropped the guns and gave a moment’s thought to her next movie. It was a brief consideration, as she was quickly charging forward to face them directly. She did not even use a sword as she ripped one of her enemies’ head apart at the jaw.

Jumping to his feet, Zac got back into the fray. He cut through the werewolves almost as quickly as she tore them apart. It scared him, seeing the joy, blood-thirsty ferocity and efficiency that she worked with. Looking at her made the finer points of her nature clear—the fangs visible in her sneer confirmed it. Despite that and the savagery of her attacks, he saw a streamline beauty to her movements—an unwavering grace. Whoever she was, she was well trained and he was transfixed by her.

In a surprise change in the state of things, the werewolves shuddered and stumbled back—the hair covering their bodies beginning a rapid recession as their bodies shrank. After a moment a group of naked humans were scattered out on the ground before them.

Dad found the alpha wolf,” Lucca said. She turned to Zac and held out a hand. Blood dripped from it, clearing the pasty white flesh below. “You must be Zac Baker. Good to meet you.”

What are you doing here?” he asked.

Having a bit of fun. What does it look like?”

He could not be sure if she was joking or not, her tone was completely devoid of feeling. Raising the sword, he frowned as she licked the blood from her hand.

Vampire,” he hissed.

Got it in one,” she mocked. “Can’t get anything past you. Le Favre is an old friend of my Dad’s, and he asked us to come in and give a hand with this pack. Looks like we got involved just in time.”

Where’s Craig?”

Lucca merely shrugged as Zac bolted towards the door his friend had gone into. The kitchens were a scattered mess, the battle having totally demolished the entire room. He spotted Craig laid out on the cutting board and counter, torn to pieces. With heavy steps, Zac walked over to his friend and closed his eyelids. He set his jaw and and closed his eyes.

Fuck. They sure made a mess of him.”

Turning, he saw Lucca leaning against the door frame.

Get the fuck out of here,” he hissed.

I’m sorry about your friend,” she said. She stepped closer to him, blood squishing beneath her feet. “In your line of work, you do die fast though. Fast and young. You know the Hunters are a dying Order. Why don’t you give it up? I could help you disappear and live out your days in peace.”

No. There is no peace for this world as long as creatures as you exist.”

She laughed at him.

How would you know?” she taunted. “There’s never been such a world. You haven’t seen it. Listen to me. The Hunters are done. You and Craig were the last two worth anything. The Society is nearly gone. You’re alone now. Give it up.”

You keep talking and I’ll have to kill you.”

Giving a bemused smirk—almost as though she were taunting and daring him to make good on that threat—she departed. He stared down at his fallen comrade, wondering about his last moments.

In the dim light of a random bar called the Foggy Goggle, Zac raised his glass and made a silent toast to Craig. Seeing Lucca had got him thinking about Craig and the night he died. From the scene around the body, he guessed that his friend had killed five of them before they finally tore him apart. An impressive number for any Hunter. Seeing the vampire bothered him as if she was a preserved image of that day, a timeless portrait of pain.

You were the best,” he whispered. “Here’s to you Craig, my brother. With every step I manage to take, I will sing a song of praise to you and all those departed of my friends. Each one is only because of you and the strength you give me.”

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