The heavy darkness in the
He was an impressive figure in his solitary stance against the world. Tall, and straight, alert to all that drew breath in the sprawling city. If anyone had been permitted to venture close, they would have been surprised by the guardian who held vigil against the unseen evils that plagued their safe existence. He was a handsome man, with dark, aged eyes that saw everything and gave back very little. Despite the ancient wisdom that resided in him, his face was young; smooth, contoured planes striking in quality. He was dressed in the colours of the stormy night, and a wide-brimmed hat shaded his features further. His muscular form was given disguise by the fluttering, full length cape that added to the aura of mystery and danger that emanated from him.
It had been a night much like this, less than a season past, when his life had been altered in the most painful of ways. The woman he’d grown to love had died, in his arms, after a savage attack–by him. Gabriel Lucienne felt the anger and the agony searing his soul yet again when the ethereal face of Naenia Velarian swam into focus before his mind’s eye, blotting out the turbulent sky with her stunning beauty. As always, tears rose to make the image shimmer and glow, until it shattered with the falling of a single salt-tanged droplet of moisture, then he swallowed the rest of the endless swell of loss that wanted to pour forth in the wake of this tiny concession to grief.
Lucienne pushed aside the weakness that threatened to consume and paralyze him, turning his attention outward. To the night, and the evil that darkness spawned with such careless abandon. He could feel the presence of his latest assignment, an ancient warlock who preyed on the idle rich of
The Hunter’s steps echoed on the cobblestones as he strode through the heavy night air, his passing ruffling the dense churning of white mist that coiled and writhed on the ground. As he moved, steady, graceful, and lethal, Lucienne tugged his hat a little further down on his forehead, obscuring his features in shades of deep grey and black shadow. It hadn’t been so long ago that he’d walked these streets in search of a demon who had penetrated the echelons of the
Lucienne stopped suddenly, a new scent reaching him amid the potent mix that was uniquely
A scream ripped the low-level drone of night sounds in the
A red haze of blood-drenched fury tinted Lucienne’s vision and he lifted the gun and fired at the creature bent over the dying girl. He absorbed the shock and the vision as he moved toward the vampire; for he was in no doubt that what he had interrupted was a feeding creature of the night. He’d thought them all dead when Vladius was destroyed, but now realized it had been an uncharacteristically naive belief to assume that one vampire had spawned all who might walk the earth. The silver-haired head of this creature rose, and Lucienne stopped moving for an instant when he was transfixed by the hypnotic power of the vampire’s blazing eyes. They shone with preternatural brightness in the shadows, one minute molten gold fire, then the ice of winter-blue skies.
With an effort of will, Lucienne shook off the mental hold and advanced swiftly. The creature was startled just enough to slow his reflexes, and Lucienne’s gun fired again in a quick volley of bullets. The vampire was flung back against the wall by the impact of the attack and the Hunter delved into his coat a second time. This time he produced a heavy silver stake and triggered the lethal point as he leaped toward the creature.
Lucienne was airborne when he was slammed hard into the nearest stone wall by a new arrival. Stunned, he shook his head and tried to discern what was happening around him.
“Not before I finish this, Paien.”
Lucienne trembled inside at the malevolence in that rich, cultured voice. His eyes adjusted to the darkness and he was finally able to see the semblance of forms in the narrow space of the alley. He was being held against the building, one-handed, by a fair haired man. At the mouth of the alley, blocking any exit, stood a woman who was equal to Naenia Velarian in her beauty and stature. She looked every bit as fierce and formidable, as well.
Lucienne reacted on instinct and flung the stake toward the man who had been his first target. A roar of fury rose in the night and he was slammed harder into the brickwork at his back. For several beats of time, Lucienne held onto consciousness, then he lost his battle and the gaping abyss of true blackness swallowed him.
Soren was at her master’s side before the last echoes of his scream of pain had faded into the night. She pulled the stake free of his chest and flung it aside, then turned to look at the man who now lay at Paien’s feet. Her fangs elongated and her eyes shimmered, their enhanced vision sharpening further in the space of time it took for her true nature to emerge. She walked to the nobleman’s side and was reaching for Lucienne when she was pushed away.
“Get deVillier to safety,” Paien ordered harshly. “I’ll take care of this.”
“I want him dead, Paien!” She snarled in contempt. “And I want to savour the pleasure myself.”
“No,” Paien positioned himself between his beautiful lover and the fallen hunter. He was shocked himself by his defense of the mortal, but something deep in his soul was demanding that he keep the man alive. He winced unconsciously when he heard the growl of his vampire father ripple the night air, and for an instant he looked in that direction. His stomach twitched in response to the sight of deVillier ripping the girl’s throat out and gorging on her blood. The ancient vampire’s healing would be rapid with the veritable feast he was indulging in at that moment.
In the distance, police whistles were blaring, and Paien knew they had only precious minutes to get away from the scene of this grisly murder.
“Take him back to the estate, Soren,” he ordered firmly. “I’ll follow you.”
She was still glaring at him, and Paien shuddered imperceptibly at the low, guttural rumble of her vampiric anger. He waited, unmoving, and finally she went to their vampire father and bent to touch his shoulder. deVillier’s head rose and he smiled at Paien for a moment, blood trickling from the corner of his mouth as he silently dared his knight to reproach him.
“Come, deVillier,” Soren murmured. “Paien will finish him for what he’s done to you.”
deVillier straightened, stumbled a little before he righted himself, then drew Soren close to his side. They rose in a graceful arc, and vanished into the cloud-strewn sky.
“Who are you?”
Paien turned to peer at the mortal, surprised to find the man was standing again and had a crossbow aimed at his heart. For an eternity that spanned centuries in the space of seconds, the two men stared at each other. Paien’s heart, inert for decades, perhaps centuries, suddenly surged to painful life in his chest, and the savage, pounding beat almost deafened him for timeless moments.
Lucienne looked into the unnaturally bright blue of the fair-haired man’s eyes and his breath caught in his throat. It was impossible, but he felt undeniable recognition as he stared into the fathomless depths of the vampire’s eyes. The night dropped away and he was standing on a battlefield, the armourment of the Templar Knights weighing on his body... and this man was at his side, sword drawn as they faced a common enemy...
“It’s not possible,” Lucienne breathed, shaken to the core of his spirit.
“Do you intend to use that?” Paien asked, his eyes flitting to the crossbow.
Again, the sense of drowning and flying assailed Lucienne. His own voice whispered a more recent memory to him: “My life is committed to the vanquishing of evil, in whatever shape it may take. My talent, if it may be called such, is that I can sense evil.” He let his mind focus, reaching into the presence beside him, and the answer murmured: “Evil does not rule this one. Evil may have made him, even left its mark on him. But evil does not rule him. So I cannot kill...” He’d been right each time he listened to this quiet voice within him, and he knew he was right now. The man/vampire before him, awaiting his judgement, was not truly a thing of pervading evil. Not as the other vampire he’d sensed and confronted in this alley. Lucienne didn’t know if he was relieved or disappointed, and refused to examine the paradox more closely. Trusting instinct, he shook his head and said very softly, “I can’t.”
Paien leaned closer, confusion evident on his features.
“Who are you?” He heard the dread that textured the soft query, but he ignored it and waited for an answer.
“Lucienne.” He paused, and with equal reluctance, asked the same question of the man before him.
“Paien deBrassaunt,” Paien whispered, the reply extracted from a part of his soul that he’d thought long gone.
Profound understanding passed between them, and went unacknowledged by words or reaction.
“Why are you here, Hunter?” Paien asked when Lucienne made no effort to say anything further.
“I’m hunting,” Lucienne’s smile reflected the irony in his tone and he shouldered his crossbow. “Have you ever heard of a man calling himself Mandrake?”
Paien’s smile was an echo of Lucienne’s sardonic humour. He nodded.
“Try the old Carfax Estate,” he suggested. “The owner died recently, and Lord Rupert Avondale is restoring it,” he informed Lucienne, knowing the hunter didn’t actually have a name for his prey, and that this would insure he pursued and eradicated the right man.
Paien nodded curtly, glanced over his shoulder, and pointed.
“You might want to leave before they find you here,” he commented.
Before the words did more than register, Lucienne felt the shift in the air that told him he was alone again. He pulled out his grappling gun and aimed at the roof. He was swinging over the edge as the alley began to fill with policemen.
“You dropped this.”
He turned in time to catch his wide-brimmed black hat as Paien tossed it and swirled away in a current of displaced air. Smiling grimly, Lucienne donned the hat and tugged it down on his forehead.
“Carfax it is,” he murmured to the darkness and turned his attention back to the man he’d been assigned to hunt down and destroy...
© 2010 Denysé Bridger