Old, rough, yet flowing voices.
Come, Live One.
A knock on the door. What does the clock say? 2:14. Fuck. Slowly, groggily, he stood, shambled over like the living dead through the two rooms of his cramped, dark apartment to the front door. More knocking.
“What is it now, West? It’s two in the–”
At the door was a middle aged man, probably in his 50’s or 60’s, grey hair slicked back and a white Van Dyke beard. He was thin, with pronounced cheekbones and an aquiline nose. Despite the LA heat he wore a long, light grey wool coat with the collar popped up to his ears, beneath which he was dressed all in black with a red tie. “Who are you?”
“Are you Aaron Murray?” said the man, in a deep voice, an American accent that seemed trained.
“Are you? I asked first.”
“True, but I may be able to help you. May I come in?”
“Not interested,” Aaron said quickly and shut the door in his face. Too damn early. He began shuffling back to his bed, but stopped briefly, as on considering the man’s features, his voice, there seemed something darkly familiar about him. He rubbed his tired eyes and was about to resume his stride when there was another knock on the door. “What now, old man,” he said under his breath, but opened the door to see a young Asian man in a T-shirt and a newsboy cap. “Oh, hi West.”
“That was quick, were you up already?”
“The old guy woke me up.”
“What old guy?”
“He was here 30 seconds ago, you had to have passed him.”
“There was no old guy, Aaron, you’re dreaming.”
“…What are you doing here, West?”
“Party. Ten minute drive away. Now.”
“You’re kidding me.”
“Oh, come on, you ginger buzzkill, it’s Saturday night!”
“Saturday night ended two hours ago, dude, it’s Sunday morning now.”
“Which is why the party’s in an abandoned church!”
“Go away, West.”
“Lucy’s gonna be there.”
“I like Lucy.”
“So let’s go!” he gestured frantically down the hall.
“Y’know, you used to at least pretend these were about my breakups.”
“I know. I’m sorry about you and Sadie.”
“Now, let’s get out of here.”
Aaron sighed. “Fine, I’ll help you nail Lucy, but don’t expect me to stay too long. Just let me get dressed. Come in.” Aaron shuffled back toward his room as West stepped inside the apartment and flicked on the lights, making Aaron cringe under the sudden brightness and illuminating his red hair, his pale skin, and the red T-shirt and pajama bottoms he’d been sleeping in. He entered his bedroom and shut the door behind him.
West stood alone in his friend’s small apartment living room, occupied by little more than an old couch he’d helped him move up here months earlier, a short coffee table, a small TV, and a dying houseplant.
“Karen’s not doing to well,” West said, in reference to the plant.
“That’s not Karen, it’s Belle.” Aaron yelled from the other room.
“What happened to Karen?” West said, but rolled his eyes for knowing the answer.
“Same thing that’s happening to Belle,” came Aaron’s reply as he stepped out of his room, now wearing jeans, a light jacket, and shoes, but the same red shirt.
“You are watering these things, right?”
“Constantly. I’ve tried everything but they never last more than a week or two.”
“Well, I guess some people have a green thumb, and others have…the exact opposite of that. A red thumb? Never mind. Let’s go, I’ll drive.” The two of them left the apartment and Aaron locked it behind them.
“Hey, what was Sadie’s reason for breaking it off with you, anyway?” West asked. “No, no, wait, let me guess:
“‘It’s like you’re sucking the life out of me’” they said together.
Aaron shrugged. “It’s like there was a meeting,” he said as they entered the building’s elevator, which seemed to have a strange excess presence in it.
Churches had always made Aaron uneasy. Adding strobing lights, pumping music, a swarm of gyrating twenty-somethings and the constant threat that the old building could collapse over them at any moment slightly alleviated that discomfort, oddly enough. The old Methodist church had been condemned for years, now covered in consecutive layers of grime, graffiti, and dry rot. What was once a house of worship was now inhabited by dozens of scantily clad college students and graduates, dancing on the pews and in the isles to music blasted by a DJ standing like a pastor, all of them covered in colorful glowing objects and drinking alcohol that was by no means sacramental.
Aaron wandered this Bacchanal cacophony out of sync with the pulsations of the music. He gave West crap over dragging him to these things, but really he enjoyed being in such company; he simply didn’t like participating in it. He’d dance here and there, take what was offered to him, but for the most part he just liked being there. Something about the swarm of people locked in such inebriated roisterous fugue was pleasing to him in ways that did not require him to interact with it directly. To call him a voyeuristic partygoer would not be off the mark: entranced, enlightened by the presence and observation of gayety, rather than inclusion in it.
“Y’know,” said West, having snuck up behind him, “most people, when they come to these things, they dance, drink too much, do drugs, rub their groins against each other, basic stuff. You on the other hand seem content to stand in the corner and jack off.”
“Fuck off, West.”
“I’m just saying! Y’know Lucy’s got a friend over there, real cute?”
“Do you not remember what happened last time your date set me up?”
“Oh right, uh, the Hispanic girl who kept talking about all her sisters, uh––”
“Right! Eva! She was cute.”
“She tried to stab me.”
“Isolated incident. Come on, at the very least, you could meet her.” Aaron allowed himself to be pushed along by the shoulder through the vibrating church.
A wave of nausea. A tremor through the spine. Danger. A distant ringing in the ears, like after a deafening bang. Aaron found himself hunched over, staring at the feet of dancing people. He shoved his way through the crowd and out the church doors. The streets were dark and muggy and he stumbled down one of them on some impulse.
“Dude!” West cried from behind him. “What the hell was that? Where are you going?”
“I don’t––I just––I can’t––” he stammered through the growing throbbing in his skull, as if his brain had suddenly become unaccustomed to the beating of his heart.
“Did you take something back there? What did they––What the fuck was that?!”
“What?” but he realized he had heard it too, and again.
“They’re coming from above us. Man, we gotta get out of here, we gotta call the cops.”
“No, I––I can’t, I just––” he was interrupted by the dull thud of a falling corpse on the sidewalk between them.
“Oh, fuck!” West screeched. “Is he dead?” The body seemed rotten, covered in dark splotches and its skin a decrepit shade of red. It’s lips were tinged with blood, its simple clothes were ragged and dirty. A wound on its chest seemed to smoke with heat but wasn’t bleeding.
“No,” said Aaron on impulse.
“You think?” West said as he inched towards the corpse to get a closer look.
The body reared up in seeming defiance of gravity and grabbed West where he stood, reaching out with it’s maw to clasp around West’s shoulder as he screamed.
“No!” Aaron screamed at the thing. Its grip on West released and it turned with inhuman speed and fluidity to face Aaron. West stumbled back and ran, clutching his bloodied shoulder. Aaron’s eyes met those of the creature before him and everything seemed to stop. It stared at him with bloodshot eyes in sunken, dark sockets centered in a ruddy, rotted face. Blood stained its chin from West’s wound, but it was more than that: it seemed to ooze blood, from its mouth, its nose, its tear ducts. Even its skin seemed to have, over the rotted reddish complexion, a sheen of sweated blood. It stared at Aaron with a kind of feral awareness, of the kind that an apex predator might look at an armed human with. The two seemed locked in an endless standoff, neither willing to move, as though the other might attack.
An arrow appeared through the creature’s neck. It collapsed onto he pavement like a corpse. Aaron remained still. Someone ran past him toward it on his right.
A girl, thin but muscular, black, her bushy hair tied back into a big broom-end, dressed in what looked like police riot armor and holding something like a fusion between a machine gun and a crossbow.
“You alright, buddy?” the girl said as she lifted the creature up by the arrow in its neck and jabbed the pointy end into a crack in the pavement. A black-red aura seemed to wash over the body like a release and Aaron stumbled back at the sight. “Hey!” said the girl. “Did he attack you?”
“It––no,” he stammered.
“Well, you’re lucky, then. These things can be––”
“Incoming!” came a cry from above.
Aaron and the girl looked up and saw a figure falling from the building towards them, but as it passed through the shadows, it vanished, and under the lights down the street passed a massive horned owl, its wings spread in flight. A loud bang made Aaron fall over as the girl fired bullets at it in it’s retreat.
When it was out of sight she muttered “Damn,” and lowered her weapon. A moment later two men came out of the building, one tall and wearing a wide-brimmed brown-green hat, the other shorter, with messy black hair and a loping stride that indicated a difficulty walking, both wearing the same armor.
“You get it?” said the short one to the girl, with a notable Southern accent.
“No,” she replied. “It went avian and was too fast for me.”
“We lost most of ‘em, too,” said the tall one with an Irish brogue. “Got a couple Revs, but other than that they slipped us. Not even sure how many there were.”
“Guys,” murmured the short one, trying to get the others attention. He was staring at Aaron.
“You don’t see diverse groups like that often,” said the girl. “They normally stick to their own breed.”
“You’re right, something’s goin’ on here. Now let’s get before the fuzz shows. I got a Coroner comin’ to clean this up.”
“Guys,” the short one said. “Where’d he come from?” He indicated Aaron with his weapon.
“He was just walking by,” said the girl. “His friend got bit, but I think he’ll be fine.”
“Except, he’s––” the short one broke off.
“He’s what?” said the Irishman.
After a beat the short one said, shaking his head, almost in a whisper “He’s something.”
The three of them looked Aaron over, almost mournfully. He was too shocked to speak. “Bag ‘im,” said the Irishman, and the girl put a sack over Aaron’s head that threw him into darkness.
A series of bright lights attacked him as the veil was lifted. Something had rendered him only vaguely conscious and his head hurt like a hangover from the Gods themselves. Silhouetted against the onslaught of lights were the three seated figures of the people with guns who had taken him, now in common dress, though the tall one still wore his oversized green hat. Aaron was tied to a chair.
“Mornin’” said the Irishman. “What are you?”
“Pissed off for one,” Aaron replied. “Hung over for another. What the hell did you dose me with?”
“The bag’s made of mistletoe fiber,” said the girl. She turned to the short one. “You’re sure he’s a V, Richie?”
“The bag wouldn’t affect him like this if he wasn’t,” the short one replied in his Southern drawl.
“So now it’s just a matter a’ figuring out his breed,” said the Irishman. “He’s got a pulse, so that narrows things down. So,” he leaned forward until his face was nearly touching Aaron’s, “what are you?”
Aaron shook out his head a bit. “Listen closely: I don’t know…what you’re talking about. I don’t know what happened back there, I don’t know who you are, I don’t know why you’ve kidnapped me. In fact, I’m gonna pull a full Socrates here and say that the only thing I know is that I don’t know anything, so you might as well just let me go now.”
The three stared at him for a moment. He fought the retinal pain the lights were causing him and looked each of them over. The Irishman was tall, well over six feet and broad. Somewhere in his forties, his curly brown hair was beginning to turn gray. The hat he wore was wide-brimmed, made of green-brown felt, with a drawstring. Where the girl’s hair had been tied back before, it was now in a bushy, messy afro. She was thin, but that only served to accentuate her toned, lean muscle. Very pretty, with an intensity about her. The short, Southern one was a mess. His hair was a dirty black rat’s nest and his skin had an anemic greenishness to it. He had poor posture and bags under his eyes. His nose and ears seemed to protrude oddly, as if the cartilage was overgrown. It was hard to tell how old he was.
The Irishman turned back to the others, “He’s got a pulse, he’s a live one, he could really not know.”
“Could he be a Dhampir like you, Richie?” said the girl.
“I don’t think so,” said Richie, the short one. “It’s different from the normal bloodsuckers, but it’s definitely stronger than one of us half-breeds.”
“What the fuck are you people talking about?”
“You know your parents, kid?” the Irishman asked.
“Yeah,” Aaron said, “they’re living down in Palm Springs.”
“Your real parents?”
Aaron held for a moment, looked over the man’s intensely curious face, his sharp, freckled features. “I suppose technically he’s my stepfather.”
That seemed to get their attention. “Alrighty then,” said the Irishman. “Somethin’ that breeds through humans.”
“Does all this really matter, Clive?” said Richie. “They all tend to die the same.”
“True,” said Clive the Irishman. “But like Marcy said, we’re dealin’ with something unusual here, an’ I think it’s better to know what we’re dealing with.”
“Fine,” said Richie as he walked off, “I’ll check the lists, see if anything jumps out.”
“Tlahuelpuchi can breed through people,” Marcy said to Clive.
“Rarely,” he replied. “Certainly not this far north. And does he look Hispanic to you?”
“No, laddy,” she said, mocking his brogue, “Ah dare see he looks leek one a yer’ folk, then.”
After a pause he said, “Don’t do that, never do that.”
“She’s not Irish,” Aaron mumbled, almost to himself, still feeling the effects of whatever drug it was they’d given him. What did they say? Mistletoe? That’s poisonous isn’t it?
“What?” said Clive.
“Uh, my mother’s Czech, mostly, not Irish. We don’t know where the hair comes from. If that helps at all, you band of crazy psychopaths.”
“Not really. America’s a land of immigrants, after all,” Clive said like it was an inside joke. “In any case, can ye tell me anything about what those Vamps on that roof were up to?”
“The…the thing that fell off the roof? I don’t know, I was just walking by. I was at this party a couple blocks away––”
“The rave in that church?” asked Marcy.
“Yeah, and I got hit with this wave of…nausea and dread. And I walked out with West behind me and then…” he trailed off.
“Like I said,” said Clive, “he’s a live one. You were right, Marcy, he didn’t know. Just a coincidence he walked by while we were out.”
“What did you just say?” Aaron said under his breath.
“What? I said it was just a coincidence that––”
“No, no, before that, you…you called me Live One. I’ve heard that before. Somewhere. Like…like whispered to me. Ever since––”
“Ever since you started craving human blood,” Clive interjected.
“What?” said Aaron suddenly. “Wh––I don––what the fuck is wro––I don’t crave blood! What the fuck is wrong with you?”
Marcy scoffed as though he was lying, but Clive seemed to be confused. “You don’t drink blood?” he said, almost shocked.
Clive sat in front of Aaron and looked him in the eye. “I wanna be perfectly clear here. You have never, in your life, drunk the life blood from a living being?”
“Not even unknowingly, when you were sleeping?”
“No. Have you?” Aaron said, getting annoyed.
“You’re sure? No one around you seems to whither and weaken overnight? Mysterious disappearances in your life?”
Aaron shrugged. “I don’t know what to tell you, man. My girlfriends all say I’m sucking the life out of them, but generally that’s a metaphor, and you could say the same for my houseplants that keep dying. I’m just a normal guy, man. I just got out of college, I’m working at a bookstore, I get dragged to midnight parties with my idiot friend, and I stand in the background. I’m not a cannibal, or a damper or a tlalapaluchy or whatever the hell it is you’ve said. I’m just a guy!”
Clive seemed thoughtful and after a moment murmured under his breath “Psychic Vampirism.” He stood and yelled into the darkness “Richie, bring me the tablet.”
The sickly southerner stepped into the light and handed Clive a tablet computer. The Irishman scrolled along with his finger in thoughtful focus, eventually landing on something that stuck out to him. He showed the tablet to Marcy who briefly looked it over.
“You’re kidding me,” she said quietly.
“What?” Richie said and grabbed the tablet to see for himself
Quietly Clive said to Marcy, “Check ‘im.”
Marcy walked behind Aaron and he felt her pull down the back of his pants. “Hey!”
“There’s a definite mark,” she said and walked back over to Clive’s side.
“What, the birth mark on my ass?” Aaron said. “What’s that got to do with anything?”
“You ever seen one of these guys before?” Marcy asked Clive to the side.
“Nope. They’re usually subtle enough that they can slide under our radar until they start walkin’ around dead.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” said Aaron, his headache starting to clear.
“Alright then, boy,” he said as he sat in front of Aaron. “I’ve got some news for you. One, you are a Strigoi Viu, a kind of Vampire––and yes, I do mean Vampire––originating in Romania. According to legend you should have the ability to––” he checked the tablet, “absorb the life force of living things around you and, possibly, use various forms of telekinesis. Jeez, we really don’t know a lot about these guys. Two, as you’re innocent for now, we might just spare you, but, should you ever use these powers for malevolent purposes, we, or a similar body of Vampire Hunters like us, will feel no remorse in killing you. Three, if you die, and are not killed properly by us, then you shall rise from your grave as an evil, bloodsucking, undead Strigoi Mort, come to feed on the blood of your friends and loved ones, a creature which we will feel no remorse in killing.”
Aaron stared at the three of them in turn, each looking down at him with somber severity. “You guys are all just one disk short of a Buffy box set, aren’t you?”
Clive chuckled. “Think we’re mad, then? But give it a good thought. Didn’t you just say things seem to whither and die around you for no reason? Maybe you like being around people, around lots of people, even if you’re not part of the group? Like ‘going to a party and standing in the background’? Hell, maybe strange things seem to happen to you, objects moving when they shouldn’t and the like? Probably have strange, vivid dreams where you seem to really be somewhere else? Hm?”
Despite all logic, Aaron thought about it. He thought about his houseplants that always died. He thought about his girlfriends who always said he was “sucking the life” out of them. He thought about how and why he liked the parties that West dragged him to. He thought about the odd voices he heard in dreams, the ones he was remembering that called him Live One. He thought about the daily occurrences that didn’t quite make sense to him. And for some reason he thought about the man who had been at his door earlier that night.
Clive said, “It’s all coming together, isn––” He was interrupted by the sound of something falling in the distance. “We’ve been breached.” He stood and stepped behind the lights in Aaron’s eyes.
“How’s that possible,” said Richie, “this place is warded to the teeth.”
“No wards are perfect, especially not to powerful ones,” Clive said.
“Well, that’s encouraging,” said Marcy.
They were all scrambling behind the lights for their weapons when Aaron felt something cut through the ropes that held him to the chair, sensed a presence beside him.
Run, Live One.
“There!” came the voice of Richie from somewhere. Aaron ducked down as a flurry of bangs rang out and the sonic whooshes of bullets passed by him. He ran, and soon found himself at a wall. He shuffled down it in the dark, found a door and kicked it open, but for some reason he was reluctant to pass through it, like there was something blocking him from exiting, a wall he could see wasn’t there but distinctly felt the presence of.
He ran out of what he soon found to be an old warehouse not far from where he had been captured and ran out into the street away from the popping of guns.
He turned right down another street and kept running like hell, the gunshots now far in the distance.
Down there, Live One.
He stopped at an open manhole and climbed down the ladder into the dark, dank sewer. He ran through the tunnel in the same direction he had been running, now in near total darkness, sloshing through the ovoid tunnel. Then he stopped. He couldn’t see, he didn’t know where he was, but he stopped. He sensed he was at an intersection of the tunnels. He also sensed that there were a number of figures in the tunnel beside him.
An electric lantern was turned on, illuminating an odd cast of characters just down the tunnel to his left. The man holding the lantern, the man in front, the same man in the coat who had showed up at his door earlier and disappeared said, “Hello, Aaron. Glad you could make it.”
The eclectic group at hand was a mixture of the mundane, the beautiful, and the monstrous. To the man’s side was a beautiful woman, a thin waif of a thing with long red hair and a long green dress that hung low into the slush. On his other side was a man out of a nightmare, dark, ruddy, rotten-seeming skin, a thin whiff of coarse hair, protruding nose and ears and feral bloodshot eyes. It was like the thing he’d seen on the street on overdrive. A thin, swarthy man in an oversized tan pinstripe suit stood by them. Behind them was a group of normal looking, if mostly attractive young men and women, including one child with dark hair who looked identical to the woman she stood with.
Aaron said between bouts of panting, “What…the fuck…is going on?”
“I figured the Scavengers wouldn’t have explained much of this too you,” said the man. “They’re rarely very talkative people, all stoic and brooding, git the job done, blah blah blah.”
“Those assholes with the guns and the big personalities and the questionable mental states?”
“Fits the bill.”
“They said I was a soul-sucking Vampire from Romania.”
“More or less, yes.”
“Okay, you’re sticking to that story too. Good to know. Are there any sane people around I can talk to?”
“You don’t believe it.”
“Of course I fucking don’t believe it!” Aaron screamed at them. “You’re telling me I’m fucking Dracula! That Vampires are real! Goddamn Vampires! What are you then? Pixies and Leprechauns?”
“We are each of the Motetz Dam.”
“Well, now you’re just making up words!”
“Drinkers of Blood,” he explained.
“Okay, then. You’re all Vampires. Good. Good. Alright, then, let’s bring out the fangs and drink some girls. Who’s in?” Aaron’s voice was getting frantic. “Say, do you guys burn in the sunlight or just twinkle?”
The group showed a combination of ashamed and amused reactions, while the man who had been at Aaron’s door remained neutral. “Your perception of us has been unfortunately polluted by the inaccuracies of modern fiction. Firstly, we are not ‘Vampires.’ Though it has been popularized by a variety of modern fiction as an all-encompassing term for blood drinkers, that term refers only to one among many clans of Motetz Dam, to which my associate, Frank, belongs,” he indicated the monstrous, ruddy man to his side, “as did the younger being you encountered previously. You can see why many of us might not like to be mistaken for them.”
“Hey,” said Frank in a gravelly, hoarse, offended voice.
“I, on the other hand, am a Strigoi. As are you.”
“Yeah, that’s what the Van Helsings back there said. I’m a ‘Strigoi Voo.’”
“Viu. You are a Strigoi Viu. The Living Strigoi. The Live One. A rare and marvelous condition among mortals. I was like you once, long ago. Then I died. And I became a Strigoi Mort. A true Motetz Dam. As will happen to you one day.”
“Okay, so I’m not Dracula yet, I’m just regular old Vlad the Impaler. Good to know.”
“You still don’t believe. But how else do you explain him?” he indicated the monstrous man, “Frank,” again.
“Rubber mask?” Frank seemed offended again.
“How do you explain the words I’ve whispered into your mind? Who’s blade cut the ropes that held you down if not mine? And building off that,” he handed the lantern to a tall black man behind him, “explain this.”
He vanished into thin air. Aaron stumbled back in surprise, looking back and forth to ascertain what was going on. The man appeared next to him as suddenly as he had vanished. “You can…teleport,” said Aaron quietly.
“Nothing so extreme. Invisibility, and walking quietly and quickly. I understand the confusion. A nice little parlor trick isn’t it?”
“This is real,” Aaron whispered. “Either I’m crazy or this is all real. All of this. They were right. You’re telling the truth. And you are––” he poked the man, “dead.”
“Gregor,” he said, introducing himself, holding out a hand with a smile, “corpse.”
Aaron limply allowed his hand to be shaken. “So,” Aaron said, “how did I become––”
“It occasionally happens spontaneously, though it is much more likely that one of your birth parents was a Strigoi Mort.” After a moment of thought he added “I’d like to clarify that it wasn’t me.”
“So I was born this way.”
“As were you.”
“Well, I was born that way,” he indicated Aaron, then himself. “I died this way.”
“And if I die––”
“I think it’s best that we cross that bridge when we come to it, shall we?”
“Good idea. Only so much a guy can take in one night. So that was you? Calling me Live One? You can…enter my head.”
“Way to put it like that. Yes, we of the Motetz Dam do share a telepathy, especially within the same clan. You’ve likely been hearing the whispers of our brethren for some time now, my apostles and I included. That’s how I knew your name when I came to your door earlier. That’s why you came stumbling out of the party when you did, so close by you felt my alarm when the Scavengers attacked. I am sorry for that, I’d have liked to have approached you first, I’m sure that would have been much less traumatic.”
“Oh, I’m fine, it’s not like I was kidnapped by psychopaths who said they’d kill me or anything. You keep calling them scavengers?”
Gregor laughed, a soft, throaty chuckle that seemed friendly and paternal over just a subtle hint of menace. “They like to call themselves Hunters, the humans who dedicate their lives to tracking and killing us. But really, aren’t they only preying on the dead?”
“Of course we haven’t all died,” said one of the group, the girl with the black hair who stood by the child who looked like her.
“Don’t nitpick, Carmen, I’m trying to make a point,” said Gregor.
“So how did those guys, the Hunters or Scavengers or whatever, know what I was?”
“The short one was a Dhampir.”
“That’s what they said, and I still don’t know what that means.”
“A child born of a human and many of the Motetz Dam, Vampires especially, is called a Dhampir, a hybrid with certain abilities, such as the power to see our true nature. You and I have an aura about us that only someone like him can see under normal circumstances.”
“Hybrid? But you said I––”
“Different clans, different effects. Like I said, we’re not all the same. It’s difficult to make generalizations on the whole of the Motetz Dam.”
Aaron turned slightly to address Gregor as well as the rest of the group. “So you’re all different––”
“Not all, though we do represent a good deal of diversity here.”
“What are you all doing here? The Scavengers thought it was odd that you would all be together. Why all meet up like this? Why bring me here?”
Gregor looked at the others briefly, and Aaron got the sense that the telepathy he’d mentioned was in effect outside his own cognition. “We have plans. Each of us shares a goal to the benefit of all of us. You included. It’s best if we leave it at that for now.” Aaron looked into the eyes of the Strigoi, the creature he had only just learned was real. There was an emptiness to those eyes. As if there was nothing behind them where something, some quality or presence usually was. In humans. Instead it was just Aaron’s own reflection…upside down. “Speaking of which, introductions are in order.”
“They are, but not now,” said the monstrous Vampire Frank, his voice coarse and raspy. “My apostles. The Scavengers are headed our way.” Aaron could hear footsteps down the sewer from where he’d come from. He remembered the words of Clive: Should you ever have malevolent purposes, we will feel no remorse in killing you.
“Damn,” said Gregor. From inside his grey wool coat he pulled a sword, two feet long, thin and narrow, single edged with a forward curve and a slight backward curve at the tip. “I’m almost tempted to let them come.” Each of the group of undead unsheathed their own weapons, all knives and swords and other blades. The thin redheaded woman in a long dress actually grew long, sharp claws from her fingers.
“Just knives, no guns?” said Aaron.
“Simple psychology, really,” said Gregor. “We prefer to be up close to our opponents when we make them bleed.”
Aaron’s mind went into overdrive. He was among monsters. Literal monsters. Poorly armed monsters up against well-armed people trained specifically to kill them. Well-armed people who very plainly said they could and would kill him if he ever showed signs of being a bad guy. Signs like hanging around with a bunch of monsters. That’s a definite sign of malevolence. So Aaron had two choices, fight with the Motetz Dam against the guys intent on killing him with big guns, or…
“Nothing personal about this,” Aaron said to Gregor, drawing a confused look. As the three vampire hunters came into view, automatic weapons in hand, Aaron grabbed Gregor’s sword, jerked it out of his hand, and punched him in the face. The Srigoi Mort stumbled back in confusion, shocked at the sudden betrayal.
“Back!” Aaron yelled, holding out the sword in front of him. He glanced back to be sure that the humans, the Hunters, the Scavengers could see him. They could, and they stared with their weapons ready, apparently unsure of what to do. He looked back at Gregor, and whether it was a twitch or an instinct or a subconscious mark, winked. “Back! Get back, you––you freaks, you––undead monsters. I’m not afraid to use this thing.” The Motetz Dam began to step back.
Frank growled, a harsh, ugly sound that revealed white teeth and sunken gums. “I knew we couldn’t trust a human, not even a Viu.”
The redhead with the long dress and the claws spoke up in an English accent. “Don’t do anything mad, Frank, we don’t want––”
She was interrupted by monsters appearing suddenly around Aaron. Four of them, all ruddy and rotten, feral in look, with an aged and decrepit appearance, just like the thing Aaron had seen on the street.
“Frank!” Gregor yelled.
Aaron acted quickly. He slashed at one of them with the sword, and the gash across its chest seemed to smoke and burn. Another launched at him, but was deflected by a hail of bullets and arrows, landing on its side. Aaron turned briefly to look at the Hunters in silent thanks. As he turned back, he saw members of the group of undead lunge at them, the swarthy man in the tan suit becoming a massive deformed owl in flight, the one he had seen fall off the roof. One of the Vampires grabbed Gregor’s sword from Aaron’s hand, leaving him defenseless. It was shot in the shoulder and vanished as Gregor did. Invisibility. The third Vampire lunged at Aaron, knocking him down into the muck of the sewer and wrapping its cold hands around his neck. It kneeled on top of him and put it’s weight into strangling him, staring down with bloodshot eyes. Aaron heard gunshots as the Hunters and the Motetz Dam were all fighting each other. He stared up as the monstrous thing choked the life out of him.
The will to live is a powerful thing, even for a guy who has just found out that death is impermanent for him. And Aaron felt it flow through him. He could sense the will to live in him as a tangible force that moved within him, an energy, a power that he could feel, that was part of him, that he could control, that he could direct. He removed one of his own hands from the Vampire’s grip and held it out, pressed his palm agains the creature’s cold, unbeating chest, and he let the energy he felt in him, the tangible will, out, and with it a single thought.
Aaron felt himself pressed against the ground as the creature shot into the air and slammed against the ceiling of the tunnel, propelled in plain defiance of the laws of physics. It floated there with its back pressed against the sewer, its feral look cut by shock. Aaron held it there for a moment, his own body pressed to the floor by a metaphysical example of Newton’s laws before willing the force to cease. The Vampire fell for an instant before catching itself on the tunnel wall, its hands and feet sticking to the surface like a lizard. Aaron scuttled back and got to his feet as the Vampire crab walked upside down away before becoming invisible.
Another Vampire ran at him, and as before Aaron reached out his hand. The way he’d moved the last one, doing the same now would send him careening across the tunnel himself. His hand met the vampire’s chest and it stopped cold, and then it became cold. Aaron willed the energy in him out to the creature and felt its flesh become colder, ice cold, frost began to form on its clothes, spreading across its chest, its limbs becoming stiff, staring up at Aaron in distress. Before he could freeze the thing completely, other Vampires, yet more of Frank’s “apostles,” appeared and shoved Aaron out of the way, grabbing the frozen vampire and carrying it off into the sewers before vanishing.
Aaron looked down the sewers and saw the various Motetz Dam retreating to the continuing tune of gunshots, the Strigoi Gregor last remaining in view in the light of the overturned lantern. For a silent moment the two looked in each other’s eyes. Gregor’s form seemed to melt away into a fine dark mist which reshaped itself into a lower, wider form, condensing into a gray wolf in mid stride, running down the sewer far faster than a man could. They had left him.
Aaron turned to see the Hunters. Richie was on the ground, a claw mark across his thigh. Clive was tending to the wound, and the girl, Marcy, was still firing bullets and arrows down the tunnel the Motetz Dam had escaped through from her massive combination weapon, sending deafening echoes through the small stone walled area.
“Marcy!” Clive yelled over the sound of gunshots.
She stopped firing and lowered her weapon. “We can go after them. We have them cornered.”
“They’re faster than us, and they undoubtably know the tunnels better,” said Clive. “That means there’s no way we can catch them unless they want us to. Besides, we have a man down.” He turned back to the injured dhampir.
“Will he be alright?” Aaron asked.
“I’ll be fine,” Richie said. “And don’t talk about me like I’m not here.”
“He’ll live,” Clive clarified. “Nothing important’s nicked, and Richie’s quick to heal.” He wrapped the wound in clean gauze and stood to face Aaron. “Those were some tricks of yours.”
Aaron let out a nervous laugh. “Not bad for my first time, eh? Never done that before. Not really sure how I did it. Magic, I guess. Can he do anything like that?” he pointed to Richie, “Because those guys said we were sort of the same thing.”
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Richie mumbled. “And no, I can’t do anything like that.”
Aaron found himself laughing. “I’m one of the fucking X-Men.”
“Yeah, yeah,” said Clive, “come on, Jean Grey, let’s get you out of here.”
They walked back the way they’d all come through the sewers, Richie limping, using Marcy as a crutch. Aaron found the silence slightly uncomfortable. They climbed the ladder to the surface and the Hunters offered Aaron a ride home. They showed him to a beat-up old RV that apparently served as their base of operations. Aaron gave Clive directions as he drove back to Aaron’s apartment and Marcy tended to Richie’s wounds at the table behind them, all of them still smelling of sewage.
“That was impressive what you did to those Revenants back there,” said Clive as they neared Aaron’s place. “And without any training. Or idea what you were doing.”
“You mean the Vampires?”
“They’re all Vampires.”
“Heh, they call you Scavengers.”
Clive looked briefly at him. “Really?”
“Yeah. Say you only prey on the dead. Get it? Pull over here.”
Clive pulled over at Aaron’s command. “Thanks,” he said and got out.
“Hold on, then,” Clive said after him and followed him out of the RV. Marcy and Richie looked out the window in confusion. “You showed some useful skills out there.”
“So you’ve said. Not really sure how ‘useful’ they’ll be in my day to day, but––”
“How’d you like to put ‘em to good use?”
Aaron blinked at him. “What are you asking?”
“I believe I’m offering you a job.”
“What?” Marcy said, and stepped out of the RV.
“You saw what he could do. Tell me that wouldn’t be useful in our trade.”
“Woah, woah, woah,” Aaron said, “you want me to join you?”
“Yep,” said Clive.
“You want me to just pack up, and start traveling around with you in that RV, hunting Vampires. To leave my apartment, my friends, limited in number though they may be, my family––who I do rarely see. Leave my job––working at a bookstore for minimum wage, the prospects of the degree I just got last year in…philosophy––Can I stop in my apartment and get some stuff first? And, y’know, change out of these sewage stained clothes.”
“Thanks, I’ll be right back.” He left to his go to apartment building and got the sense that the other hunters would be protesting behind him.
Up in his apartment Aaron began stuffing clothes and any cash he had into an old backpack. He wrote a note for his landlord, with whom he was luckily on good terms, to transfer him his deposit along with whatever he could get for selling the furniture.
Abruptly, he got a sense of something, a message in his mind, like ones he’d had before, only now he understood it. It seemed more refined, more clear, and yet more nebulous because he was aware that it was thought instead of words, an abstract idea of the mind rather than the refined items that make up language. He shook it off, gathered his things and left, taping the note to the door on his way out. But the mental message remained with him, marked his mind like a branding, a reminder of what he was.
Clever, Live One