Part 3 of 5. Moving right along. Remember parts 4 and five will be back to back. 5 will come out on Halloween. Enjoy!
Two Hunters Part 3
Nell had only gotten an hour of restless sleep before the nightmares came. They appeared the same as always: A blindingly white room with walls closing in from all directions. Blood drained from her body leaving her an empty shell. Yet still she lived. Nothing left of her, she shouldn’t be alive.
She endured the visions, they weren’t real. The memory of pain might have been, but the moment and the phantom fangs that clawed at her were not. Another hour and she snapped wake. She had drawn too close to real death. No matter how tired she felt, she had to keep living; giving up had not been an option.
Nehl sat up in the large luxurious bed, alone. Culvir had been a better sport about the room than she had anticipated. He did not so much as give Batreese a hard time for the misunderstanding. The room had been paid for in advance for two weeks, and Culvir seemed to have taken responsibility. She shuffled out of the bed and into the main room where he had opted to sleep.
“Culvir… You can have the bed if you—“
A meaty hand clasped over her mouth, another across her chest that pinned her arms down. Alarm sobered her and shook the haze of sleeplessness from her thoughts. Her eyes darted to the side of the room where her short-staff leaned against the wall. “Please don’t struggle lovely; I don’t want my master to be angry with me for hurting you.”
The voice remained calm and clear, she didn’t recognize it. He stood a large man that effortlessly lifted her feet away from the ground. His strong arms could easily snap her uncovered neck if he wished.
Something cold and round touched her lips, the mouth of a flask. She struggled against him in vain as he tipped her head back, forcing a foul liquid into her mouth.
It burned her nose and numbed her mouth. A foul alcohol, polluted with some sort of foreign substance. Nell made no move to resist; instead she calmly let the flask drain.
The liquid slid down her throat, her body relaxed, and her thoughts swam. Powerful stuff. He tilted back the flask further, but it had already been empty. Nell hadn’t fought it, she welcomed it.
“Good then, with this much—“ The air ignited around them and the man fell backwards in alarm. He slammed hard into the door frame and had been stunned from the impact, Nell fared much better. His body caught her fall and allowed her to roll away from him safely.
Nell’s eyes were sharp, focused, and cold. “You really should do your research better. You just made the biggest mistake of your life.”
The man groaned and righted himself. “You just had to make this difficult.”
“What did you do with Culvir?” Nell flexed her hands and caused them to ignite into white hot flame. “If you hurt him…”
“Relax lady, we just kept him busy.” The big man titled his head to relieve a crick in his neck. “If you want him to stay alive I suggest you give up quietly.”
“I suggest you start talking now…” Nell took a step closer. “…or you can die screaming.”
The man merely glared and pointed to his face. “It’s pointless; your fire can’t hurt me girlie. The master knows all about you and what you can do. He has granted me a boon so you cannot burn me, even if you wanted to.”
Nehl didn’t want to. Enthralled people were done so against their will. Those that submit willingly following romantic dreams of becoming a vampire were blatantly obvious. She frowned in realization. “So I suppose you’re just trying to take me hostage then? That’s not going to work.”
“Without your fire to protect you, what can you do?”
“I can’t burn you. But I can hurt you.” Nell straightened, closed her hands together and formed her familiar. She gestured and Wisp flew at the man’s face igniting around him.
He smirked; the fire did nothing to him merely giving him a surreal wreath of flame around his head. He lunged at her, wisps flames trailed behind him giving his motions a destructive tail. Nell dodged narrowly; she felt sure footed now but still slow and inexperienced with close quarters combat.
“Cat and mouse eh? The door’s locked.” The man turned slowly and grinned at her. “With master’s power I can’t be stopped.”
“Can’t we settle this in… another way?” She tugged on the collar of her night-gown, his eyes scanned over her, still marred by wisps flame.
He put a hand to his head; the sleeve of his shirt caught fire. “N…No. Master says to catch you. I’m not interested in that…”
“You don’t like women?” Nell said with a sly smile. “I’m pretty talented.”
He lunged again. Nell, too slow to evade, failed to evade his grasp. His calloused hand caught the back of her nightgown and dragged her close enough to grab her throat. She let out a cry of pain as his rough fingers kneaded at her scars. His brute force brought her to the tips of her toes held aloft by his a noose-like grasp.
“Give up. I’ll be scolded if I hurt you.” He grinned, beads of sweat rolled down his face behind the mask of fire. Wisp’s flame flickered as Nell’s consciousness started to fade.
Nell clung to consciousness and desperately thrust her hands out towards Wisp increasing his intensity. The top of the man’s leather jerkin started to scorch and melt.
“You’re dense… I can’t be…” His words fell short and his voice faded to nothingness. His mouth moved but no noise came out. His free hand went to his throat and his eyes widened. He let go of Nell, she crumpled to the ground and sputtered.
He desperately tried to shoo wisp, but that only fueled the flame. He lashed out, and toppled a nearby vase. Nell caught her breath and calmly put distance between his desperate flailing. She watched quietly as he slumped over into unconsciousness.
Nell rubbed her throat and beckoned wisp back to her. The living flame retracted into a much more manageable size and danced a few inches over her shoulder.
The front door rattled, Nell’s eyes snapped to the door handle. The lock gave way quickly and the door slid open slowly. The hall beyond stood bare.
Nell approached quietly and peered out. At one end two men were unconscious on the ground and one on the other. When she pulled back into the room she came face to face with Culvir. She smiled softly.
“Are you all right…? I had to lure them away, but I didn’t realize there were four of them.”
“You missed the biggest one.” Nell gestured back at him. The assailant snored lightly in response. “But I’m fine. Thanks.”
Culvir reached out and put two fingers against her throat in concern. “Did he do this to you?”
Nell waved it off calmly. “My neck has always been…”
“No. I mean this handprint. There’s bruising too. “ Culvir frowned pointedly and jabbed a finger at the fallen man. “Did he do that to you?”
“Yeah… I guess.” Nell said distantly. “I’m fine though it’s not like—“
“Damn it.” Culvir turned away and punched the wall with the base of his fist. “I couldn’t even do that right.”
“What do you mean?”
Culvir sighed and approached his pack. He pulled out a spool of wire as he spoke. “I was trying to take care of this without getting you involved. And you end up getting hurt anyway. We haven’t been partners but for a few hours and I’m already making stupid mistakes.”
“Look. It’s fine. There’s no way you could have known this was a nest.” Nell rubbed her neck idly.
Culvir shook his head and stood, testing the wire’s strength. “You’re wrong. Why do you think I paid two weeks’ worth of rent on an excessively elaborate room like this?”
“You mean you…”
“Yes. That’s why I had us walk around the city a few times. This seemed the most likely place. That isn’t the worst part though. This isn’t the only place that has enthralled humans.”
“How could you tell?”
Culvir pulled off his glasses and offered them to her. “See for yourself.”
Nell resisted the urge to stare and gently took them. She could tell they were a relic just by touching them. She turned to the fallen brute and held them near her face; through their lenses a dull blue glow clung to the man’s flesh.
Culvir had tied up the fallen man handily, and held out his hand. “So now you know.”
Nell looked at him coyly and dangled the sunglasses in front of him. “Handy. So did you want your reward now or later?”
“Reward?” Culvir snatched away his glasses and put them back on. “This is my job. I don’t need compensation for it.”
He glanced down at Nell and realized her state of dress. “…you should put some real clothes on. I understand you were taken by surprise but…”
Culvir glanced away and scratched his cheek. “What’s gotten into you anyway? You’re acting different.”
“I’m drunk.” Nell said calmly. “That one forced me to ingest poison.”
“Poison?” Culvir’s eyes widened behind his glasses, he took her arm. “We need to get you—”
“I’m fine.” Nell said. “I can’t be hurt by anything not intended to be deadly. Some of the deadly stuff doesn’t even work on me. They tried to use alcohol to sedate me…”
She walked over to the unconscious man and rifled through the pockets of his vest. There she found another flask, filled to the brim. She plucked off the cap and inhaled.
“This is the same as the other, strong bourbon.” Nell took a deep drink.
“What are you doing that could be—“
“I just told you.” She halved her eyes. “It wouldn’t matter. But this one isn’t poisoned. It’s actually good stuff, did you want some?”
“No, it’s all poison if you ask me.” Culvir folded his arms tightly. “Waste of money and it does nothing but dulls the senses…”
“Well this one was free. It’s the opposite for me.” Nell looked down at the flask. “Alcohol does nothing but calm me. If anyone can call it liquid courage, it’s me.”
Culvir snatched the flask away from her when she raised it for another drink. He slammed it on a nearby table, upright. “That’s bullshit. You don’t need this. I’ve seen you just fine without it. If you’re going to be my partner, you’re not relying on some drug to get your work done. Period.”
Nell stared at Culvir blankly. His conviction seemed rock solid. “You strike me as the type of person that is all about efficiency. I’m not making this up. I can only use my magic naturally when I’m like this. Otherwise I need my staff to conjure anything but Wisp.”
“You don’t need to worry about that.” Culvir frowned. “It just means I’ll need to pick up the slack. Go and get dressed. As much as I hate missing valuable sleep during daylight, we have work to do. If the problem is you need someone to protect you… Then I’ll do that.”
Nell’s heart fluttered in her chest and she could feel her cheeks redden. She took a step forward and grabbed his arm. When he turned to face her, she pressed her lips against his cheek. Culvir’s eyes widened behind his glasses, but he didn’t resist.
She pulled back from him with a soft smile. “That’s for thinking about me. If you had a different reward in mind—”
“You can thank me by staying sober,” he said. Culvir wiped his cheek with the sleeve of his free arm, let out a grunt, and turned to leave. She kept hold on his hand and he made no move to wrench it free. “Besides, I didn’t really help you. You shouldn’t thank me for doing nothing.”
He gave her hand a small squeeze and slipped free. “I’ll see you in the Lobby. We need to have a chat with Batreese.”