Like the lead on a SWAT team, Marcy kicked in the front door of the suburban house, and she, Richie and Aaron burst inside wielding guns and crossbows and blades. They ran through the entryway into the living room, where the monster was illuminated only by the dim, silver moonlight streaming in through one window. Leathery, browned skin like that of a mummy covered it, stretched thin across misshapen bat-like wings sprouting from its back, beating at the air, ruffling its long, dark, seemingly weightless hair around a face that might have been beautiful if not for the dead skin and the proboscis, the bony, tubular, mosquito-like protrusion that erupted from its throat and stretched out nearly two feet in search of blood. It had no legs, was cut in half at the waist, its entrails drooping out of its severed torso onto the ground where at several points they had been nailed to the hardwood with crossbow arrows, presumably by Clive who stood literal inches away from being caught by its clawed hands.
“Hey, fellas,” said the tall Irishman as he admired the manananggal’s frantic but feeble attempts to reach him, to taste his blood, despite being caught by the guts.
Richie stepped forward and glared at Clive. Then, in the most southern voice Aaron could remember him using, he said “You were s’posed to be gettin’ the pizza!”
Clive shrugged at him. “What do ye want from me? I was walking down to get it when this bloody thing practically jumps in me face! What was I supposed to say? ‘Welp, I’ve dedicated me life to hunting and killing vampires so that they don’t come to overthrow humanity and bring about an age of darkness, but that’s a paltry duty next to delivering poor Richie’s pepperoni and olives.’ For that matter, you guys were just gonna go after it without me?”
“What?” Aaron said. “We had a lead, we had to act fast and you weren’t answering your cell.”
“I wasn’t answering my cell because I was busy trapping this thing,” Clive said, nonchalantly reloading his crossbow.
“I got it,” Marcy said and with a casual motion shot the manananggal through the chest, making it seize up and drop to the floor, where Clive grabbed the feathered end of the arrow and dug it into the floorboards. Aaron could see a faint, red aura wash over the body, and the wings and proboscis slowly crumbled into dust.
“How far out’s the nearest coroner?” Clive asked.
“I called as soon as we got the lead.” Marcy said. “Doc Richmond should be here in about twenty minutes.”
“Lovely, it’ll be good to see him again,” Clive said. “We should keep watch until he gets here. This is not a body we want the cops to see.”
“I think any body is a body you don’t want the cops to see,” Aaron said. He looked at the half of a corpse. “But I see your point.”
“You all do that,” Richie said. “I’m goin’ to go get the pizza. It’s already gonna be cold,” he grumbled. He headed back out of the house.
“Make sure they remember my breadsticks.” Aaron called after him.
“Not the garlicky kind!”
“I get it!” He walked out, knocking the “For Sale” sign on the front lawn to make it swing.
Clive went to stand by the door, keeping an eye out for Richmond, or for any nosey police officers.
Aaron looked over the corpse. “You mentioned one of these to me once,” he said to Marcy.
“Yeah, when we were in china town, I asked about the––”
“The weirdest thing I’d ever hunted, that’s right. Then the jiangshi tackled me before I could explain.”
“Coincidentally this is the first thing I’ve seen that out-grossed that case. And I’m including the lamia that got shot to pieces. After you mentioned it, I looked it up on that hunter site. Didn’t mention the entrails.”
“You didn’t just assume?”
“No. No when I read about something that can split its body in half at will, my mind does not instantly go to the most disgusting possibility imaginable.”
“Eh, you’re young.”
“You’re like a year or two older than me.”
“Believe me, every year as a hunter feels like ten. I’ve been going on dog years for so long I’m basically fifty.”
“Well, you look damn good for your a-aaaaaaaaaaagh!”
“What the hell is wrong with you?”
“I think I’m being summoned again. I don’t know, I think this one feels different.”
“I haven’t seen you answer one of those in weeks. You’re afraid to sleep. What ever happened to feeding us information on them?”
“Don’t worry about it. I just need to let things cool off on that side of things for a while.”
“Why?” she asked.
Because, Aaron thought, I killed three of their major assets to keep my cover with you guys and now I’m afraid Gregor with rip me apart.
“They don’t know I’m with you guys remember? They think I’m hiding out in some cabin. When we were hunting the estries they very nearly pulled me out of the game while I was in the middle of it. If I don’t let them think that sometimes I just don’t want to show up, I’ll have no excuse for when I need to keep my soul and body in one place.”
“So they think you’re a stubborn asshole instead of a traitorous spy?”
“And Bingo was his name-o.”
“Well, seems a bit complicated––”
“You have no fucking idea.”
“––but you’re the spy. But seriously, it’s been over a month since the estries. We don’t want to lose track of the bad guys. If they start hatching a plan to massacre a kindergarten and you’re not there to hear it…”
“Yeah, I see your point,” Aaron said, realizing that was a distinct possibility. “I’ll give in as soon as we’re back at the––” He cringed at another wave of summons wash over him, again slightly strange. It reminded him of the first night he’d found out what he was, when he’d sensed the Motetz Dam being attacked by the very hunters he was now fighting alongside.
When he looked back at Marcy she raised her eyebrows knowingly. “Or right now,” he said. He called to Clive, “I’ll be comatose on the couch!”
“Have ye not been?” Clive replied with a chuckle.
“When Richmond gets here,” Aaron said to Marcy, “try to wake me up slowly, I wanna see if I can keep both ends active at once.”
Aaron skipped over the slowly rotting human torso and slumped down on the couch, blacking out before his head hit the cushion.
“Get ready!” Gregor bellowed to the others. The Strigoi stood poised for attack in an old auto garage. His three apostles Max, Ellen and Dick, his Baobhan Sith second in command Marigold, the three Lilin, the Strix, the Vampire Frank and a small army of his revenant followers stood with him, armed with a variety of swords and knives, and one longbow, facing the barricaded door of the building. What must have been several hundred pounds of metal scraps, chains, car parts, and whatever else the Motetz Dam could find sitting around sat on or against an already heavy metal worktable pressing closed the steel door the steel door. And it was buckling. The sounds of heavy banging, of clawing, of gnashing teeth and growling and howling could be heard beyond it. “They are nearly through!”
“Oh, fuck no,” Aaron said, more to the scene as a whole that to anyone particular in it.
Everyone turned to look bewilderedly at him. “What,” Gregor said, “are you doing here?”
“You summoned me. Into the Zombie apocalypse, apparently.”
“I most certainly did not. That would have been highly inadvisable of me.”
“Well then––wait…you mean summoning me, or summoning me into the Zombie Apocalypse?”
“Either! Firstly I had no part in your appearance here. In an ideal scenario none of us would be here, so why would I go to the trouble of sending for you? Secondly––”
“Gregor!” yelled Marigold.
“Yes, I know that this is not the time, direct your complaints to our unexpected guest.”
The door burst open, knocking the heavy table onto its side and scattering the craps across the room. And the chaos began.
Wolves slightly too big to be real that had no tails ran in two by two, their fur black and brown and blond and tawny like red hair, pouncing on the Motetz Dam ravenously. Blade and fist met tooth and claw in a blur of superhuman motion. That was the first wave.
In the second, each wolf had a human by its side. Wearing chainmail armor, wielding swords and guns and grenades, men fought alongside wolves, each matching its partner in appearance, dark hair for dark hair, thick build for thick build, scar for scar. But not all those wolves were quite there. Flickers of light seemed to pass through some of them at times. At others they seemed to dissolve and reform out of the mist. They tore into the Motetz Dam just the same, though.
Lastly there came a single figure. This man had no wolf. He made very clear, by only standing, that he had no need of one. Nor of the weapons held by the other men. A gargantuan figure, a hair under seven feet, so broad he had to shoulder his way through the door, wrapped in enough muscle to rip a man apart without thinking twice. And that was the least frightening thing about him. Canine claws tipped his fingers and bare feet, the human nails either torn away to make room or hanging by a thread. Black hair, or rather fur covered his arms and chest and cheeks in greater quantities than any human should claim, but seemed to undulate, to grow and retract with the pulse of each fast, fierce heartbeat. He stood on his toes, his feet elongated slightly, the stretch marks showing, his calves similarly shortened. Black lips were pulled far back over teeth elongated crookedly into a caricature of a canine’s. And his eyes, blue as a nordic sea, glowed with fiery fury that would make gods waver in their courage. On entering, he roared, and joined the fray.
All of this, Aaron noticed as he was avoiding wolves and men over the course of some half a minute. All told, there were over thirty of them, against less than half as many Motetz Dam.
A wolf leapt onto Aaron. As he fell on his back with the beast atop him he felt a wave of rage push itself out through his hands. The wolf bounced off of him and went tumbling to the ground on the other side of the room.
As Aaron stood back up a machete swung at him. He dodged with the speed of a breeze, but the iron blade grazed across his chest, sending stinging numbness through his body as the flesh in its path seemed to dissolve briefly into smoke. In his shock Aaron lunged at the man and drove his phantasmal hands into his chest, sending cold though his veins. The man screamed.
Aaron heard a dog’s whimper behind him, then a growl as another wolf, this one with the same blond hair as the man who’d attacked him, lunged onto his back, driving its teeth into his arm. Aaron released the man in attempt to shake off the hound.
Pained, infuriated, the man regained himself while Aaron fought with the wolf. He lifted his machete again and charged. Aaron noticed by mere moments and with one great swing of his body put the wolf in between himself and the path of the blade.
As the machete struck canine flesh above the shoulder blades the man and wolf spasmed in unison. After a moment of hesitation both slumped over to the ground. A red stain formed in on the back of the man’s shirt, just below the neckline. And the wolf seemed to melt away in an aura not unlike the death flashes Aaron could see around dying vampires, except instead of red it was gray, and black, and pale silver like the light of the moon, Slowly wasting away and leaving behind only bits of yellow fur, and traces of a clear, slimy residue.
Within a second the first wolf was on him again. Without time to think Aaron batted it away in a burst of flame, singing its black fur as it rocketed to the ground. As it, still ablaze, regained its footing, Aaron blasted it with another inferno, this one more concentrated. Hotter. Deadlier.
When the blaze dimmed the smoking body of a human woman lay where the wolf had stood. Aaron didn’t have time to care. Another would be on him in a second.
Gregor’s voice, despite being only a whisper, cut through straight to Aaron, as though he had a speaker in his ear.
“Drain them. Drain them all.”
Suddenly Aaron could feel them. He could feel them all. The wolves. The men. Shared between them. Energy. Raw. Brutal. Animal. Like the feral beast, mad with mange and hunger. Like the man driven to base instinct by torment and isolation and utter, cruel hardship. It was not at all like the Motetz Dam he had not even realized he’d been perceiving in this way. That was blood. This was flesh. This was meat, and tendon, and bone, and marrow. This was a thing being ripped apart and the thing doing the ripping all at once. Black and grey and silver and pink like raw flesh. And yet not unlike man. No, in fact there was nothing there that was not in man. Nothing that could not be found in a human soul. Nothing had been given, or exchanged. Only twisted. Reshaped like clay and carved like meat. Re-formed into something else entirely. Something brutal. Something wild and yet organized. Something that lived to hunt and hunted to live.
Aaron felt himself drawing in this twisted, animal energy. It flowed into his lungs like mist. It spilled into his stomach like a drink. It worked its way into his veins like a drug. He could feel it. Clawing at his insides. The wolf. The apex predator. The pack animal wanting to hunt. To kill. To feed.
The attackers shuttered as though cold. Wolves without human partners twitched and cringed as though their bones ached, and their fur seemed to undulate as the leader’s had. Those with partners began to lose themselves, becoming less opaque, less solid briefly before regaining control. And the leader, with his blazing eyes, turned and looked at Aaron with a gaze that somehow contained more fury than man had ever known, and yet also, the faintest shimmer of, not sympathy, but perhaps, fellowship. “You feel it, don’t you?” the look said. “You can feel what it is to be what I am. It feels good doesn’t it?” it mocked.
In another instant the leader roared, and the message in that was clear as well: “Retreat.”
As if in a single motion, the wolves and men left out the same door they’d come in through, two by two, until only the Motetz Dam remained.
Aaron looked around. Everyone was injured. Several revenants, just vampires they would be called here, were dead, their heads cut or torn from their bodies, and their leader Frank was nursing a variety of scratches. Of the three lilin, the two elders, Carmen and Stella, were scratched and clawed across their throats and hands, their leather clothing having protected most of their bodies, and the younger, little Lizzie, a clone of Carmen, hadn’t a scratch, apparently having been defended by the other two. Nikolas, the strix, appeared in dire condition, his throat slashed open, though barely bleeding, and one of his legs torn to ribbons. Marigold looked over him with concern, but not enough to indicate he wouldn’t live. She herself showed a variety of bites and scratches that had torn her green dress to shreds, and her barely clothed form was absolutely covered in blood, though Aaron suspected that very little of it was hers. Of the strigoi apostles, Ellen had a variety of bite marks but seemed more concerned about the damage to her clothing, Dick had had a serious bite taken out of his shoulder, the arm hanging limply, and was consoling Max, who’d had an arm ripped off in its entirety, and was holding it in his other hand, looking it over as if searching for any other signs of damage. Gregor, a set of claw marks dragging across his cheek, walked up to Aaron as he wiped the blood on his ataghan sword off on his new, now shredded long grey coat.
“Secondly,” Gregor said to Aaron, “those were most certainly not zombies.”
Awakened by a slight nudge to the shoulder, Aaron found himself entirely back in the suburban house with the Hunters, and the rotting manananggal, and now Doctor Richmond. It took him a moment to notice that he was breathing heavily, like an animal, and that everyone was staring at him.
“Aaron?” Marcy said beside him. He was gripping her arm tightly. He made himself let go and she rubbed the spot where he’d grabbed, as if it’d hurt.
Aaron took another moment to catch his breath. He could still feel it, slowly waning inside him. The call of that terrible beastliness that he’d absorbed from those attackers. The quality of them that he’d taken when he’d sucked away at their life force. He said to Marcy, “Tell me everything that you know about werewolves.”
“And you’re sure he was the leader?” Marcy said after Aaron had told his tale.
“Well he was the only one with that form. And the others acted when he roared. And he was the scariest fucking thing in the room which includes a bunch of fucking revenants. So yeah, I’m pretty sure.”
She sat back and thought for a moment. The RV went over a bump and Clive apologized form the driver’s seat. “Wolves and Vamps fighting each other,” she said. “Clive, you ever heard of anything like this.”
“Not outside a’ the movies. On the other hand it’s not exactly the kind of thing that’d ping on our radar.”
“Well, I wish them all the best,” Richie said from the bunk at the back of the RV. “The more monsters killing each other, the fewer we have to deal with.”
Yeah, that’s all good to hear,” Aaron said, “but would anyone mind actually telling me what the hell the deal was with what I just saw? I mean they weren’t all…’werewolves.’ Most looked full-on wolf, the one guy was like the old Wolfman movies, and I don’t even know what the whole wolf-slash-person twin thing was.”
“Those were werewolves,” Marcy said. “All of them. Just different kinds.”
“No. Not at all,” Marcy said. “First thing you have to know is that the only thing werewolves have in common with vampires is that they’re nothing like in the movies. A lot of fiction these days likes to portray vamps and wolves as different versions of the same thing, or at least related in some way or another. They’re not. A vampire is a being of magic, it’s body and soul mixed into one where normally they’re two parallel entities. Wolves are users of magic, more like witches, or…well––“
“Me,” Aaron said.
“Exactly. Actually you’re pretty damn close now that I think about it. You’re a human body with a…corrupted soul. A soul tainted in such a way that you can use it to interact with the physical world. Wolves are similar: a human body with a soul that’s been…changed. Butchered and carved into the shape of a wolf.”
“By a bite.”
“Wrong again,” she said. “It’s not rabies we’re dealing with here, it’s not a disease. It’s a cult. That leader, the Alpha, he was born with it or cursed with it or was turned and split off from his pack or maybe he just tore away at his own soul until it got him somewhere. And he took that power, and he recruited more people into it. He convinced people to choose to corrupt themselves, to be torn away at until a beast was formed.”
“So if those different types weren’t different species––”
“More like different skill sets,” Marcy said. “Once they’re turned, the wolf spirit can manifest in a few different ways. The most common is the basic bodily transformation, the flesh reforming itself into the shape of the soul: a wolf, but bigger, usually, and without a tail, but other wise indistinguishable from a normal wolf. That’s always how you can tell, there’s no tail, goes for almost any shapeshifter, apparently.”
“And what, they change whenever the moon is full?”
“What did I say about the fucking movies?” she snapped. Aaron could see the seething hate in her eyes, the long-ago trauma bubbling to the surface. “Lunar cycle has nothing to do with it, transformation always happens at will.”
“Well not always,” Clive interrupted. “There’re some accounts of people who didn’t know they were turned who changed at specific times, but it didn’t have to be the full moon. Depends on the psychology, could be the new moon, whenever the rent’s due, every other Tuesday. The mind’s a mysterious…” he trailed off as he noticed Marcy glaring at him in the rear-view mirror. “Sorry. Your area of expertise. I’ll be shuttin’ up now.”
“As I was saying,” Marcy continued, “that’s the most common form. In another the body doesn’t take the form of the wolf, but the wolf manifests somewhere else, as a doppelgänger, a sort of bilocational other.”
“Like my astral projections.”
“Exactly, except they’re not always non-physical. They can be, but other times they’ll manifest tangible.”
“That can happen?”
“When we’re dealing with magic, there’s a pretty short list of things that can’t happen.”
“So that’s why when that one wolf got hit with the blade––”
“The human it was part of died. The two are connected: body and soul.”
“And the slime that the wolf left behind?”
“It’s a side effect of will enforcing itself on reality. You leave traces of it behind whenever you use your powers.”
“Trust me,” Richie said, “you do. This place reeks of the stuff.”
“Uh, sorry.” Aaron turned back to Marcy. “And the Alpha?”
She took a breath through her nose. “The berserker. The animal spirit exerts itself without altering the body drastically. It provides all the strength, and the power of the beast, or more, but leaves them with opposable thumbs. Ancient warriors in several cultures would use charms and potions to take that sort of form in battle.”
“Charms and potions?”
“These shapeshifting tricks, they’re just magic, at their core. Any witch can change shape, so long as they have the right fetish, usually an enchanted pelt of the animal, or a potion to drink or use as a salve. The difference with true lycanthropes is that they don’t need any of that. They just…are the beast.”
She stared off in thought for a moment. “I’m sorry,” Aaron said. “I know this can’t be easy for you to talk about.” She waved him off. A group of werewolves was how she got into this business. “So. Now that I know all that. How do I kill them?”
Aaron could see the touch of a grin on her lips. “Sound to me like you already have. Like I said, the body isn’t magic like with vamps. They heal a little faster than normal, but that doesn’t really help them when they’ve been shot through the heart. Or the head. Or had their head cut off. Or,” she gestured toward him, “they’ve been burnt to a crisp.”
“I think I get it.”
“They’re just animals. Kill them appropriately.”
“Will do.” Aaron sat back. “I don’t know if I should go back now or wait for a––” he blinked from the sudden mental pressure of the familiar telepathic summons. “I swear, it’s like he’s reading the script.” He stood and headed for the bunks in the back.
“How you gonna explain knowing all that to the vamps?” Richie asked him as he climbed into the top bunk.
Aaron almost said he’d tell them the Hunters taught him. Instead he shrugged. “Tell them it’s intuition. I’ve gotten by on flimsier excuses.”
“Hey,” Richie grabbed him by the sleeve. He whispered, “Be careful, alright?” He glanced at Marcy. “Despite my better judgement, she’s taken to not despising you. And if you went off after wolves and didn’t wake up…it’d be familiar in a bad sorta way for her.”
Aaron looked back at Marcy. She was still sitting where he’d left her, not moving, not cleaning her weapons like she usually did in her free time, just sitting there, staring off into space.
He turned back to Richie and gave him a reassuring pat on the shoulder before continuing up to the top bunk. “I wouldn’t lose any sleep over you, mind you,” Richie added, “but I worry she might be a tad distraught.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Aaron said. he slid onto the bunk and let his mind drift away, far away.
“There, wolf,” Aaron said in his best Marty Feldman impression as he arrived. “Here, vampires.”
Gregor eyed him suspiciously. “Why are you talking that way?”
Aaron smiled. “I thought you wanted to?” Dick was the only one who laughed. Max thew his severed arm at him, which made Ellen and Frank laugh. “I couldn’t think of any quotes from werewolf movies. Sue me.”
Gregor approached him with superhuman speed. “These vlkodlaci are no laughing matter, Aaron.”
Aaron bowed his head and raised his hands in deference, stepping back from Gregor. He took a moment to look around. They stood on the flat end of a large rock that loomed over them in the desert. Aaron was vaguely reminded of several episodes of Star Trek. A small, sleepy looking town, the kind that had a population of a couple hundred at the most and didn’t even register on a map, was dimly alight some half mile away. Aaron could see the neon sign for a bar: a cowboy hat with a bull’s horns. A pile of garbage bags sat on the rocks beside them. There were six Motetz Dam there besides Aaron, each with the wounds from the previous fight still present, open but unbleeding: Gregor and his three apostles, Frank, without the slightest hint of an entourage, and Nikolas, his throat and leg visibly held together with cloth bandages. From what Aaron understood none of them would heal until the next sunset, when they were most powerful.
“What do you know about the creatures we are up against, Aaron?” Gregor said.
“I convinced the Scavengers I was curious and they spilled a few things. That they’re nothing like us. That they’re a cult mentality. And that they die like any organism.”
“Good. That is a good start. A good use of your infiltration. You should also know that, though we are not fond of each other, under most circumstances a pack of them would not give a hoot about us. Nor vice versa. Most simply go about their day, acquiring new members, acting like any cult, blending into society, enacting their animal urges by eating cattle and corpses. Despicable things. But this group. This one we had heard rumors of which we had dismissed.”
“This one has a purpose,” Gregor continued, ignoring him. “Our annihilation. We had believed the rumors about them were exaggerated accounts of magically-equipped Scavengers. But that has proven false. Which brings us here.”
“Why are we here?” Aaron said, indicating the desert.
“With the vlkodlaci,” Gregor corrected calmly.
“That’s what I said,” Frank mumbled.
“You want to sit down for tea with the monster-cult out to kill you––us? Did one of them bite you in the head?”
“That’s…also what I said,” Frank said. “You been watching us?”
“Shut up Orlok,” Aaron snapped. “Gregor, what the hell are you thinking?”
“It is not for you,” Gregor snarled, silencing Aaron effortlessly, “to question my motives. Negotiation is, at its core, the notion I founded this organization on. My goal is essentially this: to bring about unity.”
“Between the Motetz Dam,” Aaron said quietly.
“Yes. But why not these poor creatures as well. You have said that they are nothing like us, but we are all children of magic, are we not? Our natures are all fed by the same great wellspring of cosmic energy.”
“The way I see it,” Gregor said, “if we can turn them over to our side, we can turn anyone over. And they were willing to talk, once we contacted them through the blood they left behind and offered to return to them the bodies of their fallen,” he nudged at the pile of stuffed garbage bags. He stepped away and looked out over the desert, evidently waiting for them to arrive.
Aaron looked around at the others. Each stood or sat with their head down. Max twiddled with his severed arm. He looked at Frank, who’s bloated, ruddy face staring into the distance. “You’re okay with this? Those wolves killed what, five of your guys?”
“Sacrifices must be made,” the revenant mumbled.
Aaron turned back to Gregor. “So why am I here?” he said.
“Ah!” Gregor said. “It seems I was mistaken about your lack of purpose at the previous battle. Your accidental reaction to our sense of danger was a blessing in disguise, it seems. Your power over them was the only thing they feared, had you not been there the tide would likely have––”
“I’m not doing that again.”
“The way I drained them back there. I’m not doing that again. I didn’t just take away their life force I…absorbed…something from them. Something dark. Something brutal. Something I don’t want to feel inside of me again.”
Gregor started at him for a moment, sucking on his teeth. “Well that is perfectly alright Aaron. In fact that is why I was reluctant to allow you to interact with them in the first place, their overwhelming numbers simply forced my hand. However I have one stipulation to this generous allowance.” He grabbed Aaron roughly by the shirt collar and dragged his spectral form up close until their faces were inches apart. “Do not tell them that that.” He dropped him and walked back to the spot where he looked over the desert. “You’re just a threat, Aaron, whether it is genuine or a bluff is irrelevant, so long as it is one of the two.”
Aaron looked at him. “You have a plan, don’t you?”
“A plan?” Gregor replied amicably.
“That’s how you work. You’ve set this up, somehow, someway, so that no matter what happens, you come out on top.”
Gregor turned as if to say something, hesitated, rolled his eyes and went back to staring at the desert.
Suddenly there was the sound of howling. A faint movement could be spotted in the distance, just east of the town. A dark, shifting undulation in the sand. And then they were on them. Just shy of thirty wolves, all a bit too large, all without a tail, all with eyes that shone with intelligence and fury, surrounded the rock. They simply stood there for a moment, waiting, watching the Motetz Dam like the predators that they were. At last the largest stepped forward, a great black hound, along with a small group of others. As they stepped forward their muscles rippled, their bones shifted, the fur coving their skin seemed to be pulled back into it. And in a moment, standing before them were a group of nude humans. The leader, still just shy of seven feet, still with blue eyes blazing with hatred, but now lacking the secondary lupine qualities he’d had before presented himself to the Motetz Dam. The other wolves, in human form, could only be described as a harem. A variety of women, all stunningly attractive, all currently nude, stood by the Alpha, striking poses around him that were equal parts sexual and threatening. They seemed intent to stay as close to their leader as possible, two of them rubbing their hands over his back and sides while glaring protectively at the Motetz Dam. Little imagination had to go into why he had initiated them into his pack.
“Leech,” said the Alpha, addressing Gregor. “Contact us with magic through our shed blood, but don’t hurt us, and invite us to talk. A bold move.”
“I live for bold moves,” said Gregor.
“You call what you do living?”
“Touché. I am glad you accepted the offer. Even if it was only to reclaim the bodies of your heroic fallen.”
The Alpha glanced at the garbage bags. “Yes. That was…courteous, Leech.”
“I hope sincerely it was not presumptuous,” Gregor said. “We took the precaution of beheading them.”
Aaron almost fell on his ass.
The Alpha seemed to be caught by surprise. “That was wise,” he said. “But why would you––”
“Not all creatures of our ilk are created equal,” Gregor said. “Much like yourselves, we have no sympathy for what can become of you.”
Aaron whispered to Ellen, “What the hell are they talking about?”
She shushed him.
“As per what we agreed,” Gregor continued, “myself and my present associates have come to this location unarmed.”
“Your kind is armed by its very nature,” the Alpha spat.
“As is yours,” Gregor said, making a grand gesture at the surrounding wolves.
“Yes. We are,” said the Alpha. Aaron heard a growling behind him and slowly turned to see standing there, staring at him with bared teeth, the same wolf which he’d seen transform into the man standing before him. That made the Alpha officially capable of all three forms Marcy told him about. The guy knew what he was doing. “And so is he,” the Alpha continued from his human manifestation. Aaron wondered if this was how Richie felt whenever he astral projected around him, but decided that the texan dhampir simply couldn’t be capable of the kind of fear he was feeling right now. “What is this vagabond soul you’ve acquired? Hm? He doesn’t seem to be a vampire. Not a ghost either, there’s something more substantial to him than that. He can’t be a witch, he seems far to ignorant of the true nature of things for that. And he certainly isn’t one of us. So what is it that you have recruited, Leech?”
“With any luck,” Gregor said, “a pack of wolves.”
The Alpha shot him a glance.
“Allow me to clarify,” Gregor said. “I do not ask of you any loyalty, any fealty, any obedience. Only apathy. All that I ask is that you not care about us.”
“You want me to ignore you? To let you pass unscathed under my crusade? To simply allow you to continue your profane existence unmolested?”
“And why the fuck should I do that?”
Gregor sighed. “Despite appearances to the contrary, the groups which the two of us have formed have in common a single goal: to limit the damage done by the Motetz Dam. Each of us wishes peace, but in different forms. You wish for peace the way a mass grave is peaceful. We wish for organization. For harmony. To end the raging barbarian chaos that makes our kind such a plague upon the human race. Were either of our adverse methods to go about their way, the end result would appear externally much the same: a human race far less burdened by the weight of a chaotic population of Motetz Dam.”
“I ask again,” said the Alpha. “Why the fuck does that mean I should let you go on?”
“This way is easier for you, as well as far more efficient. How are you currently tracking our kind? Following news of unexplained deaths? Simple tracking spells? Bloodhound tactics? All terribly inefficient, you’ll never find us all that way. Yes, you’ll manage to encounter an occasional crypt of vampires, the off rogue strix, and maybe, every so often, something faintly more exotic that the Scavengers haven’t gotten to first. Your crusade is grasping at straws, my friend. There are thousands of Motetz Dam in America alone. You have thirty vlkodlaci. And our numbers grow faster than yours.”
The Alpha leaned forward. “Futility is no excuse for fatalism.”
“Well said,” Gregor replied. “But idealism is no excuse for inefficiency. Much like you, until now I have been willing to largely overlook a fatal flaw in my goals for peace. I can act as though utopianism will reign as soon as my people are easily united. But in truth, I will need a threat to hold over them. A stick to get them together to match the carrot of peace, and a police force to keep everything in line once all is gained. You may be that force. The hounds of hell to be set upon the sinners of the new world. You have been…hunting, searching frantically for evil Motetz Dam to prey on. Under this agreement I can give you exact locations, times, names, numbers of those who rebel against peace. I can make you an assassin. A true warrior, slaughterer of evil armies. You, you and no one else will purge the world of evil and chaos among the Motetz Dam. But this can only be done with my help.”
The Alpha inhaled through his nose. The gears were spinning. Slowly he turned to look each of his legion in the eye. When he had turned fully around he glared down at Gregor once again, and shook off the woman stroking his arm. “The leeches you would have us kill,” he said, “they would be only the most evil? The ones who betrayed this ‘governing body’ you wish to establish and return to their ‘chaotic’ current ways.”
“Hm. Or would they be simply the dissidents? The rebels against your cause, regardless of their intentions for humanity, or of yours? You claim to want to bring evil under law. But I can’t trust that it will be a law of good. You claim to be a good-natured monster, but I can’t trust that. You claim I’ll do more good in your service than outside of it but I can’t trust that for a second. I’d say I couldn’t trust you as far as I could throw you, leech. But we both know I could throw you a good long distance.”
Gregor did little more than cock an eyebrow.
“No, leech. Our campaigns won’t be intertwining. I used to be a…what was it you called them? Scavengers? Before I was cursed with this. Before I was corrupted. And when we realized what had happened, my own people tried to kill me.” Aaron gulped. “Men and women I had lived with, shared meals and talks and battles. People I called friends, and even lovers, tried their very best to put bullets in my head. And they were right to do so. My reaction to defend myself was instinctive, but it was wrong. Because in the only way that counts, you and I are exactly alike. We are monsters. And when my goals are finished, neither of us will be here. Starting with you. But I am not an animal. You’ve shown me good faith by returning our glorious fallen to us. For that, I’ll pay you the same courtesy. I won’t command my legion to attack you right now. But in one hour, the hunt begins anew. If you start running now, and the dead do in fact move fast, a small number of you may survive for a time.”
Gregor sighed deeply, and calmly. “That is very courteous of you.”
“Although,” said the Alpha, “I said I wouldn’t order them to attack. I never said I wouldn’t order them not to.”
The wolves around them began to growl, and to paw at the ground beneath them.
“Run while you still can,” said the Alpha.
Aaron prepared himself to get out of there as quickly as possible. Should he just vanish back to the RV? Or should he try to help the Motetz Dam in any way he could? He was in the desert, which meant there was almost no life around to absorb except for, well, the wolves.
“There is truly nothing I can say to change your mind?” Gregor asked calmly.
“I will not work for any pitiful mosquito,” snarled the Alpha. “Fifty nine minutes.”
“Yes, I can keep time,” said Gregor. “However, I am curious. Does your ‘legion’ know that you plan to slaughter them all come the completion of your stated goal?”
The Alpha snorted. “No such thing will be necessary. When your kind is destroyed, I’ll kill myself, and the curse that holds them will lack its source, and disappear. These aren’t unwilling victims, leech. They volunteered for––”
“That is not how it works,” Gregor said.
“The curse you have blessed your followers with will not vanish in the lack of you, its source. You are not a light which illuminates them. You are the first patient of a plague. You have mangled their souls permanently into the shape of beasts. Your death, your intentional death will only result in a power vacuum, in the sudden appearance of a pack of wild beasts with no master. Each will now be able to form its own cult, turn more vlkodlaci, driven by their animal instincts in the wake of your death to find their own pack, their own support, to fight for dominance and territory, among other beasts, and each other, and among humans. You of course can ask them, if their natures should remain after your death, to kill themselves as well, but how can you be certain they will all comply? You think them loyal now, but they are under your command, not only literally but in subtle, magical ways neither you nor they may completely realize.
“This leaves you two options: Rid the world of all kinds of monsters, only to unleash another upon it; or, prior to your own self-sacrifice, go to each of these people, these people you have lived with, and fed with, and talked with, and fought alongside, people you have called friends and, clearly, lovers,” Gregor paused to indicate the harem of women, and then in a grand gesture the pack as a whole, “and kill them all, with your own two hands.”
The silence bit like frigid cold. The wolves didn’t growl, didn’t paw, didn’t breathe. The Motetz Dam stood as still as statues. Aaron, no matter how closely he listened could not hear his own heartbeat, it being far, far away. And the Alpha, with those glowing blue eyes stared down at Gregor not with the fury he had always displayed, but, in the faintest ways of a man who’s trained himself over some years to appear as an untouchable god to those around him, with doubt. With the crippling fear that everything he had based his life on had been weighed and measured and found to be worth nothing.
And in that moment of doubt, Gregor raised his left hand, and snapped his fingers, and at the same instant Aaron could feel the shadowy touch of a telepathic command wash over him.
The Alpha’s left shoulder jerked back, and the sound of a gunshot followed so closely after Aaron doubted he’d even have been able to perceive it if he hadn’t what he was. The world slowed. The light of the stars, and of the city in the distance seemed to grow tinged with the color of blood. Blurs of copper like little rockets drifted by him, so slow he could have reached out and grabbed one if he could only move his arms. One by one they struck the sides of wolves, and like a pebble skipped across a lake a ripple ran through the fur and the flesh, and a few scant drops of blood jumped from their owners like it was a jailbreak. One by one, the great hounds toppled slowly like demolished buildings. As bullets passed around Aaron, and through him, the Alpha, faster than the world seemed, looked at Gregor. And Gregor, faster than the world was, shrugged.
The Alpha, as his eyes glanced over the slaughter of his pack, and as another bullet tore its merry way through the muscles of his right arm, turned to run away. The infinitely magnified beast within him was given the options of fight or flight, and promptly decided that bullets weren’t worth its time. And as he turned to run, Aaron saw the fur works its way out of his skin like worms from soil. He saw bones spasmodically reshaping themselves like glass giving way to pressure. He saw the wolf press its way out of that man like infant spiders clawing out of an egg sack to eat the mother. And for what seemed like hours, days, endless swaths of infinities, Aaron saw that beast run away in primal fear from the Vampire he’d allied himself with.
Marigold’s lightning fast approach snapped him out of it. Bullets were still flying at the few remaining, limping wolves. She held a high powered rifle that still smoked with recent use.
“Apologies, sir,” Marigold said, taking aim at the Alpha as he ran, now some two hundred yards away and moving fast.
“None are needed,” Gregor said. “Such a large specimen would hardly be easy to kill.”
“I thought––” Aaron started.
Gregor didn’t turn from the receding image of the Alpha.
“I thought you didn’t use guns,” Aaron said.
“Remember that, do you?” Gregor said. “From back in that foul sewer the first night we met? Well, you should recall I never said that exactly. I said we had a psychological imperative to be near our prey when we made it bleed.” He turned to Aaron, gesturing to the fallen wolves. “This is no hunt. These are not our prey.”
Marigold fired. In the distance a canine whimper could be heard along with the thump of meat against sand. The whimper dragged on.
“They are rivals. This is a battle for territory.” Gregor walked past Aaron, past the other vampires who still sat calmly behind him.
“Was––” Aaron started. “Was any of what you just said to him true?”
Gregor snickered. “I so very rarely need to lie. Marigold, shut up that whining. And someone here make certain that each and every one of these bastards’ heads come off.”
The sound of the gun startled Aaron awake.