Happy Halloween! As promised this is a bonus short story. You get two this week. And this one’s a doozy: It wraps up the five part story of Nell and Culvir, the Association’s superstars.
Two Hunters, Part 5
The first steps into the vampire lair revealed it to be a long established one. A permeated stench of blood hung in the air, a tell-tale sign vampires were near. Culvir walked mere paces behind Nell, his silver dagger pointed at the small of her back.
Nell didn’t have to mask her concern; she acted as a captive. She was an offering for the vampire lord by one of his enthralled human minions. Even if Culvir hadn’t planned on this approach it had been what Okiir had planned from the start. She shut her eyes tightly when someone approached, bracing for the worst.
According to the smell, it had been a vampire. Some of them hated their permanent stench, the young ones, but it had been easy to tell the older ones from the way they wore it with pride. She let her eyes open and faced them. A woman, likely around Nell’s age when she turned, stared at her intently.
“What have we here? Ambrosia?”
Nell bit her lip, she knew very well being defiant would be dangerous, if not deadly. To a vampire, she was food albeit a delicacy.
Culvir nodded. “Yeah. Things worked out better than we expected.”
“Where did you find her? Who do you serve?” The woman placed a hand on Nell’s chin and inspected her choker.
“Lord Grecier,” Culvir said, “She’s his property, so hands off. We had to kill a hunter protecting her. They was snoopin’ around the inn above.”
The woman frowned, Culvir had been right to be flippant. Vampires were extremely territorial about their toys. She smirked. “I don’t think he’d mind if I verified her authenticity though. I’ll just—“
Culvir drove his dagger into the vampire’s side she let out a howl of pain that echoed through the hallway. He yanked the blade free and offered her an almost bored look. “What part of hands off do you not understand?”
Nell paled as the lady vampire retreated a step. She clutched her side reeling from the blades enchantment against her kind. “W…where did you get that knife?”
“Off the hunter we had to kill.” He held up his arm, a convincing looking gash displayed clearly on the middle of his forearm. “…don’t do much to me.”
A few others had gathered from the commotion, a male vampire with human cattle in tow, a few enthralled servants and two more vampires that had been training directed their glare at the woman.
“You should know better than that.” The one leading the cattle spoke. “Lord Grecier doesn’t make habit of personally gifting humans unless he has a specific motive. You’re lucky he didn’t kill you. He still might.”
The other two vampires laughed and went back into their room.
The woman straightened. “Please ask Lord Grecier my forgiveness. I’m young yet, and haven’t had the honor of feasting on Ambrosia.”
Culvir shrugged as he shook off blackened blood from his dagger. His impudence, thankfully, had been well justified; while enthralled humans were controlled, it was an indirect method, especially when it came to powerful vampires. Weaker vampires felt the need to control their victims completely, leaving them far less effective.
The woman skulked away, cradling her wound, the male with his cattle smiled at them.
“I can take her to him, or I can lead you. Either way works for me. My name is Helos.” He bowed to them politely.
Nell’s senses prickled. This man while doing such a remedial task, had been very powerful. Culvir stiffened; he must have felt it too.
“Why? Did Lord Grecier relocate? I know where he is.” Cuvir jabbed a thumb in the center of his chest.
“Oh… haha… of course you do. You’re his man right? How silly of me.”
Nell squirmed. Even the cattle-master would know that; a question to weed out lies. They suspected Culvir.
“I must insist, I am closely responsible for his lord’s health and well-being. A plague has swept through Terra in the past weeks so I have to ensure our stock doesn’t spoil.” He tapped his cheek with a slender finger. “We would rather not have to convert talented fighters such as yourself to the lowly take of cattle. You would make a fine Vampire if I do say so myself.”
“Thank you my, lord,” Culvir said.
“Follow me,” Helos tossed aside the leather leading reigns haphazardly. The three humans looked confused.
When Helos took a few steps out of the room Culvir grabbed Nell’s shoulder. He made a show of her offering resistance without her so much as budging. His eyes, greyed by the mask on his face settled on the human ‘cattle’. “We’re going to get you out of here, all of you. Run back to the others and tell them to be ready.”
They exchanged looks, their vacant expressions lit if not for a moment. Hope, something they hadn’t seen in ages. They were pale, but well fed. The vampires had common sense enough to keep them healthy.
“Thank you,” one of the men spoke. “…but don’t worry about us. You’re just going to die.”
Culvir tensed. His anger flared, and gave Nell’s arm a shake. His gaze turned to the doorway Helos had vanished through. “Ready or not, you’re getting out of here.”
The three men panicked and scurried away leaving Culvir with a disgusted scowl. When he went to follow, he realized Helos had gotten far ahead.
Nell squirmed in place, “Did you notice that—“
“Don’t talk.” Cuvir glared at her. “…and yeah I did.”
“What do we do?” Nell said, “Kill him?”
“We might have to.” He frowned.
The rooms ahead housed the equipment they drew blood from cattle. Crude mechanisms made of steel and glass lay dormant in the unlit rooms. They pushed on and found Helos waiting paitently in a doorway.
“That’s far enough. We need to chat… Culvir.” The vampire lowered his gaze.
Culvir kept his face blank. “That was the guy I killed. You have it wrong.”
“Do I?” Helos tapped his cheek. “Or is that only skin deep.”
Culvir spun his dagger into his hand, ready.
“Easy now… I’m a friend.” Helos had a firm hand around Culvir’s wrist. “Nell’s life is in my hands. I’d advise you to stay calm.”
“How did you…” Nell narrowed her eyes.
“Okiir. I’m his inside.” Helos shrugged and let Culvir go.
“Bullshit. He wouldn’t let some neck biter in on any information… Let alone side with one.” Culvir backed away slowly.
“Running is useless you know. By now every vampire in this den should know who you are… and your intentions, except one.”
“Then why didn’t they stop us?”
“They want you to succeed. Grecier isn’t exactly popular.” Helos gestured to the door. “Go on. Try not to disappoint me.”
Culvir tightened his jaw.
“If you fail, you’ll be torn to shreds and Grecier will have a lovely new toy.” Helos sighed. “I’m quite jealous. She’s a pretty little thing isn’t she.”
“Culvir. This makes it easy. Give me my staff.”
He reached into his thieves closet, the distortion of pace generated by a relic armband, and pulled free her arch-wand. He handed it to her with the Anhk facing her.
The steel ropes binding her melted away on touching it. Nell’s grey eyes turned cold and she offered Culvir a grim nod. He smirked, tore away his false face and retrived his sunglasses.
“You might want to send one more message to your colleagues Helos.” Nell said calmly.
“Oh?” Helos seemed amused.
“If they value their undead lives. They’ll be gone by the time Grecier is little more than a smoldering heap of ash. If I find one human dead, hurt, or bitten in these halls. Every one of your kind will burn.” Nell raised a hand, Wisp erupted into being. He burned hot and eager, settling into a focused sphere of white hot rage.
Helos frowned. “Didn’t you hear me? He still doesn’t know—”
Nell pointed at the door ahead of her and wisp pounced forward. The tiny flame lodged into the door and pulsed. She focused, tensed her arm, and squeezed her hand into a fist. Wisp exploded into a controlled blast vaporizing the door in a localized vortex of flame. Nell marched forward into the Maelstrom and through.
The room had been lavishly decorated but to a point of tackiness. Her eyes fixed on her target, a visibly irritated vampire, lips stained red with fresh blood and bearing the presence of a vampire lord. Nell’s body urged her to flee, but she ignored it. She sauntered lazily into the room, her archwand at her side, and her hand held out open and upwards.
Wisp closed back into his condensed form and rocketed through Nell, hitting the vampire square in the chest. Nell’s hand tightened and the vortex of flame swirled with greater intensity and swallowed the Vampire lord whole.
Smoke billowed upward and out. Liquified steel, the remnants of the Lord’s throne, oozed from it and dribbled down the stairs of a short platform. Wisp condensed, burned brighter than ever, and returned to hover by her side.
“You really are simple…” The vampire lord stepped from the smoke, unscathed. “The first ambrosia I have seen in two decades… and you did not think I would be prepared? Your flames are useless.”
“Useless.” Nell raised a brow. “My flames are useless?”
“This is your last chance. Surrender now, I will treat you well enough. You are a treasure and will be valued as such.” He offered a hand.
“Flames do not just destroy. They create. They sculpt.” Nell started to pace. “You will find my flames do not need to burn to kill you.”
The vampire lord tensed, Culvir dove at him with his dagger aimed clean in his back. A twisted shadow erupted from the ground and caught his hand, limiting the pierce to only the first layer of the Lord’s skin.
Nell reached upwards summoning fire at his feet and drawing up the melted steel around Grecier’s feet. He reached out, a shadowy extension of his hand aimed for Nell’s throat and connected. The steel halted and cooled, binding the vampire’s legs.
A glint of steel above and a spark of impact hit the ceiling. A throwing dagger sunk into the shadowy arm before it could close around Nell’s neck and burst into harmless smoke. Culvir freed himself in the small distraction of pain. Grecier still winced from the demise of his false hand.
Culvir flicked his dagger upward, catching it in his teeth and tossed two throwing blades to both his sides. They ricocheted and flew back directly at him. They pierced his sides without producing blood, the blades merely vanished.
Grecier formed a shell of shadow, bracing for an attack that never came. Culvir calmly started to pace around him. With the steel formed boots pinning him to the floor he had no choice but to retreat to a cocoon of shadow.
“Fools. You are at the heart of my lair. It’s only a matter of time—“
“They sold you out. Even if it means they’re going to try and kill us afterwards… they let us walk right in.” Culvir said. He kept within arm’s reach of the vampire lord, his steely gaze leered behind his sunglasses. “A Dead Vampire Lord is worth the risk. That’s hundreds of years of corruption ended.”
Nell resumed her spell after regaining her composure, wrapping steel and flame around the vampire lord to his knees . Grecier lashed out at her but Culvir bound on top of him the instant his focus shifted. Culvir’s dagger halted, the tip of his blade prodded into Grecier’s forehead. A maniacal smile lined his face.
Culvir plucked away his dagger and resumed his circling calmly and deliberately.
“So you plan to seal me away if a coffin of steel? How unimaginative.” Grecier scoffed, the steel crept to his waist. “Your weak human bodies will need to rest. I will kill you then.”
“We could always take turns.” Nell smiled softly, undistracted from her work. “But you seem to be overlooking something important. We don’t plan on sealing you away. You are going to die.”
Culvir stopped his pacing and relaxed a sly smirk sat on his face. His lazily spun his dagger in his palm mockingly.
Grecier jumper at the opportunity. Shadows convalesced around Nell—
And a dagger drove into his shoulder, leaving him howling in pain. The threatening shadows around Nell, plummeted, shadow splashed on the ground, and dissipated into mist.
Culvir snapped his hand around his dagger and resumed his pacing. “You aren’t the only one with dirty tricks old man… The next one is going between your eyes.
Grecier tried to raise a hand to his shoulder but the steel approached his chest. “It will take more than a coffin of steel to end me.”
“It’s not a coffin. It’s an oven.” Nehl said firmly. “I’m curious to see how well your immunity holds out… ”
Wisp fluttered away from Nell and loomed near Lord Grecier. The wisp had retained its size illuminated entirely white.
“You’re just wasting your energy your flame will never kill me.”
“Oh… but I wonder… will it dispose of you?” Nell said.
Grecier’s eyes widened in realization, Culvir savored it.
“You get it now biter? We never planned on killing you with fire… I’m taking that honor. You already made it pretty damn clear you ain’t immune to my blades.
Grecier roared sending his shadows out in all directions. In engulfed the room in darkness and flung Nell and Culvir hard against opposite walls. The world spun, and the shadows pinned Nell up like a painting. A coccon enveloped her, clasped over her mouth, and deprived her of air. She could see Culvir struggled as well. His arm reached and pinned, splayed out to one side.
Wisp started to fly to Nell’s aid, but she shook her head. Not me. Him!
The little flame halted and launched towards Culvir. A tiny explosion on impact forced the shadows to retreat, Culvir’s arm broke free. He stretched out and closed his hand into a fist.
A Dagger erupted out of a tear in reality, the twin dagger he had thrown earlier. It drove downwards and landed in the middle of Grecier’s forehead with a sickening thunk. The Vampire’s eyes grew wide, It had been no way to end the life of a Lord, but it did the job of being distracting. The shadows around the room faltered and melted away. Nell had been set free and gasped in the stale air of the lair. Culvir hit the ground running and charged. His dagger sunk into the flesh of the Vampire lord, behind his heart but was stopped by a thin veil of shadow.
“Damn it.” Culvir growled. He yanked his dagger free in frustration.
Nell regained her composure and walked towards the Vampire lord, his gaze filled with hatred and spite. She approached, and extended her hands, coaxing the steel to finish her prison. Her expression was cold and serene up until the metal wrapped around Grecier’s head like a hood washing around the dagger in his brain.
“It’s better if he watches it happen,” Nell said. She placed a hand on his chest and focused. The metal caved inward to form a round shape. Blood oozed as his chest was torn open. Her steel grey eyes locked on Grecier’s filled with the purple corruption of the undead. “I told you, Milord, Fire can wound without burning… and unfortunately for you… your foul magic cannot hold a candle to mine even if your flesh can.
A trail of black blood spilled down the front of his prison. His undead heart lie exposed to the air and strengthened the scent of foul blood.
Nell gestured of Culvir. “I owe you one if I recall.”
“I’ll take you up on that.” Culvir smirked and stepped around and idly twirled his dagger. “Amazing what a couple of pathetic humans can accomplish. Huh?”
Culvir drove his dagger into the heart of the Vampire Lord and gave it a good twist. Blood erupted from his exposed chest cavity and his jaw slackened in true death.
Nell waved over wisp. The little flame danced and flickered eager to burn.
Culvir nodded, retrieved his daggers and stepped back.
The wisp landed neatly in her palm, and Nell placed it where Grecier’s heart once sat. She closed her eyes, savored every moment. Wisp contracted then burst into brilliant flame, washing over Grecier’s corpse and reducing it to ash. The flame kissed the surface of Nell’s body, celebrated with her in their victory with a brutal dance of controlled chaos.
She relaxed and the flames dimmed with her rage. Grecier’s unlife had ended.
“Looks like we got to keep both our promises,” Culvir smirked. “Good job. “
“You too… we make a good team. And um… something more than that maybe?” Nell smiled sweetly.
“Maybe…” Culvir looked away blushing.
Nell approached him and draped her arms over his shoulders. “I know the smolder remains isn’t the best of atmospheres… but I could really go for another one of—“
Culvir winced in pain. She had hardly seen it because of his glasses. She looked around frantically. But saw no foes, the room stood empty.
“H…Helos.” Culvir said.
Culvir fell limp against her, the vampire known as Helos stood in the doorway with a bloodied dagger.
“How did you… What did you do to Culvir?”
“A contingency plan,” Helos said with a sweet smile. “I was so impressed by his little trick I just had to try it. Ironic. Emulating shadow magic to kill a vampire: How cute. ”
Nell extended her arms to ready a spell.
“I wouldn’t.” Helos shrugged. “He’s going to need immediate medical attention to save his life, and a wound like that isn’t something you can just cauterize.
Nell hesitated, pulled Culvir away and saw the vampire had been right.
“You have choices. I’m not a monster. You can fight me, and let him die… albeit you will likely avenge him. I have no doubt in your prowess…” Helos raised a finger, counting.
“You can let him embrace Vampirism, it would save him. But you would have to stay here, obviously. We can’t have one of our own working for the association.”
“G…go to hell.” Culvir winced. “I’m fine. I can fight, let’s just kill him…”
“Culvir,” Nell bit her lip. “I’m sorry I can’t do that.
“So which will it—“
“I’ll take the third option. I’ll get him help, and you’ll get out of my way… I helped you didn’t I? You’re the lord of this gathering now.” Nell narrowed her eyes. “It’s either that or a fourth option. You all die in flames.”
“You make… a compelling argument.” Helos tapped his cheek.
“Nell don’t…” Culvir struggled against her.
“Wisp. If anything happens to me. You know what to do.” Nell hoisted one of Culvir’s arms across her shoulder.
The flame turned an ominous blue.
“You wouldn’t dare… You’d take down the homes above us.” Helos shrugged.
“Do I look like I care about that? I’d destroy the whole city if I had to. At least then I’d have taken out a vampire nest as well. I hope you understand… Vampire… that this has only bought you time. I’ll be back to pay you back double what I did to Grecier.”
Culvir’s eyes widened, but settled to a smirk. “You heard the woman… enjoy it while it lasts…”
Helos stepped clear of the door and watched Nell lead Culvir. Even gravely wounded, Culvir managed to support most of his weight.
“I’m sorry. I messed up again…”
“Are you kidding… I’m the one that got stabbed.”
“Only because they want me intact, I’m so sorry…”
“Stop it.” Cuvir flinched. “…but you shouldn’t hold back because of me. I’m… probably not going to make it. He hit vitals.”
“Don’t talk like that I can just…”
“Listen to me. I’m dying,” Culvir said, “I’ve seen fatal wounds before. You think I can’t feel one…?”
“But…” Nell glanced back. “It’s not like I could take him up on—“
“I know. Thanks for that. I’d rather just die. But let me do it with a dagger in my hand… fighting.” Culvir pushed her away. “I’m going to take out as many of them as I can before I bleed out.”
Nell looked down at the floor, candle light made it clear. Culvir grew pale, he’d lost too much blood.
“If you’re with me… fine. We can do this partner. All I have to do is—“
The candlestick holder landed right between his eyes, knocked him clean out, and shattered his glasses. Nell clutched onto it desperately, her body had just reacted, moved on her own.
There had been no way. No way she could let him just throw his life away. She scooped up his dagger and put it on her belt next to her Arch-wand. With a flash of flame she seared flesh, sealing the wound. A dangerous and desperate act: she had no clear idea of the damage inside.