DATE: Fri 16 Apr 2021 By: HexDSL@Posteo.net
It’s been a while since I posted one of these, so here are the links to the first two parts if you want a refresher.
As usual, feedback welcome. Please remember I am dyslexic and because of this there are often some odd errors and often comical misspellings. When I finish it, will be re-editing it all and offering it as a nice little epub for those who want it.
My life was fractured now. All this time in the Garden. Then to return to the same evening in the city. For all practical purpose I was a always in the city, I would be there constantly going from the exit to a mission and back again. I would not be able to form attachments or keep friends in this world. To the city, Hunters had not a moments down time. To our enemies it would appear that injuries would be gone in moments and we would never seem to sleep. Maybe that was the point.
There was an address on the back of the photo that Tom gave us. We walked there. It was a large shopping centre and it was open for business. It looked like one of the big ones that only closed for a few hours just before dawn. The note on the back of the photo said the word ‘Office’ at the top.
We approached the building from the font. There were a lot of cars. The thing had a massive neon sign and was lit up from all sides. The street lights were a little brighter than they needed to be and as we entered the noise of capitalism in action hit us. Jingly pop-music quietly going on in the distant speakers and the hum of shoppers. It wasn’t busy but certainly more active than I would have liked.
We ignored all the shoppers and neither of us had any interest in the stores. We went on without speaking, or even glancing at each other. I was trained now, I was at last on the hunt. Eyeing up every passer by, seeing if they gave our weapons a double take, an obvious sign of someone who wasn’t what they appeared. Making sure no one was watching us and keeping an eye out for potential traps or cameras. We followed the map signs and headed for the shopping complex offices on the top floor. The layout was an open area like an indoor courtyard. The shops in rings around the edge of each floor. There was a fountain in the middle and elevators at each side. I had been here a few weeks ago in the time-line of my old life. If I recall I was looking for a vacuum cleaner. How childish that memory seamed now.
“What are we going to do, walk in and cut her down?” I asked. Howard was in the mood for work, “No, we aren’t assassins. We were told to take care of the situation not go in and kill her.” At the time I failed to see a difference. I was a little naive still, and very eager. “What do we do?” Howard was taking a good look around as we walked. “We go into the office, if she is human we talk to her, if she’s not human then we kill her, at some point in the middle of this we figure out how she’s helping the enemy. And why; if we can.”
In my training I had discovered that there were many degree’s of Vampire, some were still human but on the path to becoming a vampire. Some where a different breed than the one I had fought. They where human in appearance but just as deadly. There were and still are so many different degrees of vampire that it’s impossible to catalogue. That’s how they stay so populate. They diversify with every generation. The way to identify them was simple though. If it took souls for power it was a vampire of one type or another and it was our enemy.
To Howard however there were only two categories that he cared about. There were Vampire’s and not-vampire’s. I wasn’t even sure if he recognised humans as people any more. Maybe to him they were just cattle to be ignored. He was an exceptional hunter. Even though I was still fresh to all this I knew how good Howard was just from the way the other hunters in the Garden treated him. They were all deeply respectful and a little jumpy around him. The ‘almost’ friendship he had forged with Tom was another sign. Tom was not the sort of man who would waste time with anyone but the best.
We entered the shopping centre and wondered about the shops for a few minutes more. Before I was trained I would have wondered what purpose this served, would a hunter need to buy things or even want to? In fact what we were doing was looking at the security guards and cameras, seeing what supernatural trinkets the new age shops were selling. We were hunters and this time we were hunting for anything out of place. Would a security guard be able to see our weapons or would the old man on the bench be a vampire in wait? We needed to know what we were up against but this time it looked like we would be standing against nothing more than one enlightened woman. Or, at least that’s what the evidence was telling us.
The shops were dying down, probably due to the time of night. Not that I actually had any concept of time now. It was a broken part of my mind. We took our chance and began to seek out our target. We found an entrance to the offices, they where up a flight of stairs behind a very subtle but purposeful door next to a shoe store.
With my new training and Howard’s veteran expertise we strolled up the staircase feeling almost invisible. No security guard stopped us and not camera could see us. We were aware of every blind spot and trick of body language to pass both unchallenged. As for locks, Howard made short work of the few we passed with a well placed dagger, not subtle but it was very effective.
We went down a hall following the only sounds of activity we could hear in the offices, it was subtle and mixed in with the faint rumbles in the background coming from the shoppers in the stores on the ground floor below us. There was a receptionist behind a little desk in front of the back office. I checked the name on the back of the photo in my pocket. I also took another look at it so I would be sure to recognise our target. I approached the receptionist and asked if Miss Penn was available, the receptionist told us it was late and began to ask if we had an appointment but got side tracked by a phone call. Howard leaned over the desk and pulled the wire from her headset out of the phone, his voice changed, as it did in the police station all that time ago, “We are going into her office now” she nodded. I still wasn’t sure how Howard did that, but assumed it would be revealed to me eventually.
We entered the office to see the woman from the picture sitting at her desk, she was well dressed and very attractive. We stood in front of her, waiting for her to say something. “Hello gentlemen. You both are Hunters I assume?” She could obviously see our weapons but she wasn’t phased by our presence. She had been expecting us. I noted to myself that this could not be good, not at all. Howard pulled his sword from the lip of his satchel, “What are you?” he demanded. The woman smiled at him with an almost magical confidence “Human, all the way, I assure you.” I could tell that Howard believed her. He lowered his sword, just a little, “If you know who we are, you know why we are here” he said softly. The woman didn’t seem to like Howard’s directness, she began to show signs of stress. “He’ll kill you if you don’t answer him” I added as if playing the classic ‘good’ cop. The woman slowly opened a drawer in her desk, she was careful not aggravate Howard’s paranoia. She reached in and carefully pulled out a folder.
Howard gestured to me to get the folder. He just stood there with his sword drawn watching every movement the woman made. I stepped forwards and grabbed the folder from the desk. I quickly backed away. Part of my training was to never under estimate an enemy and I followed my training always.
I flicked through the folder, holding it up making sure that Howard could see too. It was pages of address’s and numbers, some of the numbers looked like radio frequency’s and the next column was more of a mystery, every page was laid out the same. “What is this?” asked Howard. Miss Penn looked at him with confusion “Oh, they really do keep you front liners in the dark don’t they!” She smiled, she was amused by our ignorance. I couldn’t work out what Howard planned to do next, it looked to me that we had what we came for. Even if we didn’t know what it was. But had we completed or task? It became obvious that Miss Penn had the same question in mind. She backed away from her desk and slowly began to stand up “What now hunter?” she asked.
She began to stand from her chair. It began to become clear that she was not being entirely honest when she claimed to be human. The desk was pushed away and Miss Penn kept rising, from the waste down she was made of, something I can only describe to you as ‘shadow,’ tentacles of shadow. Howard stepped back and raised his sword, “Great!” He exclaimed with a genuine thrill. “What’s great about this?” I asked as I drew my Daggers. Howard suddenly appeared younger and more focused, his voice became more gravelly “Now we can kill her!” As the last word left his lips he lunged forwards into the tentacle of shadow. I noticed how strange it was to see a well dressed and attractive woman’s body sat on top of a monstrous unreal knot of black indescribable energy. Its was like a video game, or horror movie.
I ran towards the mess of darkness and jabbed wildly with my weapons, they passed right through my target, Howard was having the same problem, we looked at each other, it became clear that this was new territory to Howard too. Taking our eyes off the tentacles was a mistake though, the shadow cleared around one section of the monster, it was like great tail had left the darkness and it swiped with incredible strength at us. Howard responded instantly and jumped over it as it came with its incredible speed. I tried to do the same, I had the training. I had the knowledge of how to move like that in my mind but my body was not there yet. It hadn’t quite become an instinct for me yet. I was too slow. The tail, the tentacle hit me and I was swept into it and out through the wall, the rubble and brick fell beneath me into the shopping centre halls. I was hurt but aware. I could hear people shouting and running.
The next few minutes where a blur, and I am not exaggerating. I had no idea how things got to the next stage. I opened my eyes and I was in that fountain in the open area below. I was soaking wet and looking up at the monstrous Miss Pen climbing across the roof above me, she looked like a spider, a huge black spider with patches of more clear reptilian green flickering in and out of the darkness. As my vision cleared and my senses came back I realised how badly hurt I was. My rib’s where throbbing, and not in a gentle bruised kind of way. My rib’s were broken and I could really feel it. My back was just as messed up, just trying to sit up felt like being electrocuted, there was so much pain that my mind couldn’t process it. I lay there, as I watched Miss Penn crawl across the ceiling above me I noticed that in those great flickering patches of lizard green was Howard hanging from is sword, he was alive and for the most part still fighting, or at least waiting for a chance to fight.
I thought I was going to die right there, how could we win? This was no vampire. This was something different. I think I lost conciousness again for a moment. That’s when salvation arrived. Just at the last possible moment, as salvation often does. A woman appeared above me leaning over to look at me. I couldn’t see too well with the water running into my eyes still. She was attractive but rugged. She wore the strangest outfit, like ranger from a trashy fantasy novel. She looked down at me and smiled. She knelt down and took my hand, “Get up!” She ordered in a soft tone. The pain left me and the woman pulled me to my feet, my body was healed. “How?” I asked as I watched the cuts on my wrists and arms heal and fade in moments. The woman pulled out a small knife from her belt and stared up at Miss Penn. She was sizing up her target. “I’m the Gardener” she said as if that explained everything. With that said, she leaped into the air as if she was being rejected by gravity. She rocketed towards the monster above me. She moved with precision that I had not seen even Howard match. She crawled along the shadow portions of the beast and up to it’s human torso. I heard Miss Penn scream for a moment as this new woman, cut her throat. Howard took her hand and they fell to the ground like two cats arriving on their feet. Behind them fell Miss Penn in a plume of dust and blood.
The shadow was fading and for the first time her entire reptile like body lay visible. Visible and dead. Her body from the waist down was simply made of the tentacles, she was the size of an elephant lying there. The people in the building had all fled and we could hear the sounds of fire trucks and police cars outside. “Who the hell are you?” Howard asked, the woman responded again as she did to me “I’m the Gardener.” This meant more to Howard than it had to me “Oh shit!” He said. I picked up the folder from the floor, it hand flew out of the side of the office with me. For the most part it was intact, if a little wet and caked in drywall. We began to walk towards the exit of the building. I glanced back to the carnage and corpse behind us. Pieces of the building were crumbled and the rest dented. I must have been unconscious for quite a while judging my the fallout. It looked like a bomb had gone off. Maybe that’s what the police and the fire officers would believe had happened but how was the magical force called ‘The Wind’ going to explain away the dead monster?
As we got closer to the exit of the building. The Gardener stopped. She looked with a keen eye out of the glass door in the distance. “We can’t go that way, there’s a news crew.” Howard was confused “So? They’ll just think we are survivors of the… Whatever they think happened” he said. “Don’t be stupid hunter, The Wind will mask our identity from the masses but do you really want every vampire in the city to see you on the news?” The woman’s tone was patronising, she knew best and she knew it.
We walked back the way we had come, out of the way of the doors, the woman knelt down and took a stone from her bag. “Give me your void key” she ordered, “It won’t work here, its keyed to this car garage a few miles away.” Howard said as he passed her his key anyway. The woman thrust the key into her stone, it went in like the stone was made of water. She turned the key and we felt as if the floor had fallen away, or had we suddenly been turned upside down. It was like being folded but inside your whole body.
Whatever had happened we soon found ourselves flat on the floor of the garden, and not at the edge like we would usually enter but right next to Toms table. The Gardener was the only one of us who had kept any dignity she was still kneeling, holding a small rock and a key, she tossed the key to Howard and sat herself at the table next to Tom. She passed him our prize folder. He never even opened it, he just slid it under some other papers that he had.
We regained our senses and dusted our selves off. We sat at the table. There were enough seats, I assumed that this meant that Tom was expecting us. The other hunters were looking at us interestedly. We soon learned that Tom had contacted the Gardener and asked her to come and help us when he had found out more information. Apparently Miss Penn had already killed another hunter. The hunter was named Elaine. I had met her, she was the woman that gave me my first charm and picked my weapons. She was good warrior, a veteran. Apparently she had been left at her travel location hanging like meat with no skin. As Tom told us how she was found I imagined for a second how scared she must have been. Facing something like Miss Penn, but alone with no one coming to save her. I felt sick, sick and ashamed that not one other hunter could help her or even knew she needed help.
Tom Broke the tension by pouring tea, it seamed as appropriate as anything else I suppose. “As you know, vampires don’t skin people, they drain them or just take what they want and leave the victim for dead with all its skin, traditionally. This was different, it was a message and only a daemon would be so bold” said Tom softly. “All the daemons are dead, that was the deal wasn’t it?” Asked Howard, with a grave tone. “No vampire or even a pack of them could have done this to Elaine, not when she was so close to the Gardens entrance. The garden would have opened a portal its self and we would have flooded out in moments. From their perspective that is.” Tom spoke in the dry tone of a man filled with regret. Howard slapped the table in frustration “But a daemon Tom?”
I had no idea what they where talking about, the Gardener must have realised, she decided to explain it to me, as she spoke it was like he became the only thing in existence. Like a light at the end of a tunnel. Her voice was soft and exacting. Every word being perfectly spoken and perfectly timed. “The original generation of hunters lived thousands of years ago.” She began “They where more powerful but not as well trained as the ones we have today. It wasn’t like now, they had no Sanctuary. They would hunt in packs across the earth and one by one in epic battles they hunted and killed every daemon alive. Their number’s dwindled, they killed daemons but few survived each encounter. The packs got smaller and smaller. Only the best and smartest hunters were left when they faced the last daemon on earth.” The Gardeners story was intense. She sipped some tea and told of how the final pack of the greatest hunters who ever lived faced off against the most deadly daemon of all time, the last daemon. She told of how something went wrong, the ancient magic weapons of the hunters. There was too much hate and pain in them. They all expelled energy in the battle coupled with the pure shadow power of the last daemon, a tall and wild woman. Somehow it merged and opened a hole in reality it fractured the world, quickly the fight stopped and it was apparent that all of creation would be sucked into the void. Even the last daemon had no desire to see all thing’s die. Without a world there would be no more hope for either race. The last daemon expelled all of her shadow energy into the void and closed it. With its shadow energy went its evil and its need to kill. The daemon almost died in the process.
The story was captivating, in no small part because of the storyteller. It was like the plot to a movie but it was actual history. The story went on. “One hunter convinced he rest to allow the daemon to live. The daemon had saved reality after all. The hunter nursed the daemon back to health. They fell in love, the daemon’s shadow energy was replaced by the energy of light and of love. It was that light that created the gardens inside pockets of what was left of the void that almost took reality.”
I looked around the Garden and at the big white house. It was strange to think that something so clean and so pure could have been created by a daemon. Howard had been right, it really was strange and ancient magic. “What happened to them?” I asked. The Gardener smiled and looked at the house. She glanced back at me as she took another delicate sip of tea.
Tom, took a deep and thoughtful breathe before taking over the story “With the death of all the daemons, and the last one turning its back on evil, the universe needed balance. Somehow in the battle one of the hunters had been tainted by the shadow energy, he became dark and sickened, the other hunters thought that he would die but strangely he began to recover, at least his body did. His soul passed away. A lot more happened in the middle of all this but eventually he began to hate the other hunters. As you can no doubt guess, soon enough he became the first vampire was in the world.” There was a sadness in Tom’s eyes that I had not seen before.
Tom took a moment and then went on to tell about me about how the first vampire tried to kill the last daemon, and how he failed but wounded her greatly. She and her lover hid in one of he gardens and sealed it from the world of men. They watched as the vampires spread across the world first like a shadow then like an army. The last daemon and the last few hunters used all the power and skill they had and they slowly made a new pack of hunters. The war had began and they swore that they would not let evil win not when they had tasted victory. That’s where the charms came from, they are the experience’s of those hunters, the life long training that they had some how bottled, their skills trained all hunters to come.
Tom took a break for thought. This story wasn’t something that we enjoyed telling but I needed to hear it. The Gardener spoke again “A lot happened. I do mean a lot, but the result is what we have now. New hunters are just told that humans and pure daemons created the Garden. That’s the important part of this. It’s the facts without the romancing effect of time and legend making it all seem more than it was. It was not a good time for the human race.”
Howard raised his cup to the Gardener “Thank you for coming out of retirement. I think Mike and I would have been, well; dead as fuck without you.” The Gardener smiled at Howard’s choice of words but she appreciated the sentiment none the less. “Yes, I was just glad I managed to get there before it did any real damage to you both.” “Real damage!” I found myself exclaiming, “I was pretty messed up when you got there, how did you fix me up anyway?” The Gardener laughed, lightening the tone a little “I am not a hunter Mike, I’m The Gardener. I can do many things.” Howard snorted as he added a little extra “Many things like basically one-shotting a daemon and strolling off like it was squashing a spider. Yeah, Many fucking things.”
Tom rubbed his chin, “This Miss Penn, there’s no doubt, she was a daemon then? I wonder how are they back after so long? It’s one problem I didn’t think our generation would have to face.”
Howard stretched, he was tired from the fight “And now Mike, you know everything I know. Can we continue this tomorrow?” Tom nodded to him and the two of us took our leave.
I lay in my room, the curtains closed tightly. I knew it was a sunny day outside. At least I finally understood that it was actual magic that powered this place. There was something comforting about knowing that I literally could not apply logic to it. It made me smile a little that Howard had summed it up the first time I asked when he had told me that it was just best not to think about it.
I wasn’t sure how long I had lay there but I was sure that it didn’t matter. No matter how long I was going to be in my room, it would be just about the right time when I left. Once you realise that you can sleep for as long as you like you suddenly don’t want to. I lay there thinking about the story I had been told. It was crazy to think that all this had been going on for so long. It bothered me that some how, I had gone from a depressed guy who lived alone to a supernaturally powered defender of mankind. Thinking back, maybe I should have just enjoyed it for what it was. Most people spend their entire lives wishing for something interesting to happen to them and here I was wishing it was better at being special.
I lay there. I wasn’t sure when I went to sleep, you never remember falling asleep do you? Waking up however I remember that well. I felt good, I felt rested. I always felt rested when I slept in the big white house in the Garden, I am pretty sure that everyone did. One thing that I had noticed though was the food, it tasted good but it was always the same, fruits and teacakes, sandwiches and rolls. There was never pizza or Mexican or anything new. I suppose it was to give you a reason to leave. It was a close to perfect as a place could be, and this morning I wanted bacon for breakfast.
I took a shower and left my room, as usual, as expected, I was just in time to meet Howard in the hall. Howard lit a cigarette the moment we were through the patio door. There was something happening in the garden today, something different.
There was a great white marquee, we wondered in. Inside there were hunters and support people all busy, Tom standing by a large table. It was a real operations room. Just like those old war movies. “Hello gentlemen” Said Tom. We greeted him back and had a good look at the table, it was a map of the city. There were lots of little pins in it. “What is all this?” I asked. Tom pointed to an area of the map “This one here is Howard’s exit point, the err, garage I’m told. The pins mark every hunters access point to the garden.” This was the fist time I had seen it all mapped out, the access points where not random they where evenly distributed across every major area of the city, parks, highways, churches, there must have been more hunters than I knew about to make use of all these exits.
“What about the rest of the country or the world? Are vampires just in the city or everywhere?” I knew my question was basic stuff but I had never thought to ask. Tom was flicking through a folder he answered me without a thought “The vampires are everywhere. So are we, but here we just deal with this city” it made sense. I suppose no single hunter was ever to know the whole operation, for obvious reasons.
Tom showed us the folder we had secured from Miss Penn. “The information you retrieved turned out to be rather interesting. Its the exact location of every portal in the city, as well the energy frequency that opens it.” What Howard said next pretty much summed up what I was thinking “Oh shit!” “Indeed” replied Tom, without looking away form his paperwork.
Tom went on to say that he had no idea how this information had gotten out but it was what he called “An issue.” He also said that there was no way a vampire could cross the portal into the garden, apparently there was some protection in place, that’s all he said about it, “Some protection.” As Howard and Tom talked it was said that no one was certain that the “protection” actually extended to daemons. It had only actually been tested with vampires.
Howard didn’t seem as concerned as I was. “What do you want us to look into today?” He asked as if it was a forgone conclusion that there would be mission for us. Tom passed him a yellow note square that had been stuck to the side of the table, he then moved a little chess piece on his map to the area of the map where a pin was, I leaned over a little, it was the address of Howard’s garage. Howard read the note and passed it to me. It was a hand written scrawl “Simon Clementine. 32 St Claire Avenue.” I put the square of paper in my pocket. “Is this all we have to go on?” I asked. Tom smiled at me, “yes, I’m afraid even with all this going in its still business as usual for now.” With that his attention shifted to a young woman who was organising paperwork for him. She was a Hunter, like me. I wondered how a hunter ended up helping with office work but I suppose it was essential work.
Howard and I checked our weapons were secure. Now that the vampires knew where to find us there was no telling what would be in our little garage when we entered the city, not that any time would have passed, not really. Howard performed his ritual and with an unsettling burst of life we went from the quiet and safe garden with its eternal summer to the road outside the derelict garage in the middle of a city where so many oblivious people may die in the coming battles. I shivered. The thought of their ignorance terrified me.
It was cold. I fastened my jacket. Howard lit a cigarette and shot me serious look. “We need to be on our ‘A’ game for this one buddy. Lets make sure we know we got a vampire before we piss it off. I don’t want to risk getting daemon tanked again. I should have been better prepared for that fucker Penn.” I smiled We began to walk “So you have trained to fight daemons?” I asked. Howard’s brutally honest reply made me smile “Fuck no! I thought they were all dead. Everyone did. Do you really think I would have chosen now to train a new hunter if I thought there was borderline immortal demi-gods looking for us!?” Howard did have a point there I suppose.
As we walked down the road we passed an electronics store with TV’s on in the window, the news was showing pictures of the Shopping centre that we has fought in. It was at least a day ago for us but the news was talking about how the fire crew was still arriving at the scene. We stopped to watch for a moment “I don’t get this you know, its so strange that the world stops when we are in the Garden.” I said, almost rhetorically. Howard flicked his cigarette at the window and began to walk away “Yeah, its our blessing I suppose. For us its all real and we fight, battle, win and die. Whenever we have a mission, we do whatever it takes because some-one has to. To the city we are always there, go down an ally, into a garage, maybe a phone box or a van, pop out healed from pretty much anything a second later. We are always here wondering the city. If anyone really even notices us.” I watched the cigarettes lit tip fade in a puddle of water on the floor and then I followed Howard “Think about it Mike” he continued. “To an outsider it was just a day or two ago when I walked you out of that police station. Then a few hours later you fought the Vampire. Then you had a massive fight in a shopping centre.Now the police and fire crews are arriving at the shopping centre. And your here, for you its been weeks, maybe more since all this started” I was starting to see why all the Hunters I had met were a little odd. I could even see how you could lose sight of the consequences of your actions. When I kept thinking about it though, I could only see how this gave us a massive advantage and helped us keep our city safe.
We walked on.
We eventually arrived at St Claire road, it was still raining. It was a nice area, nice cars, nice houses and a police car parked outside number 32. “Should we wait for the police to go?” I asked. “No, if there’s a vampire problem we are more qualified than them to sort it out.” Howard, as usual, had more experience in these matters than me, the correct cause of action was always obvious once you viewed it through his lens. We walked towards the house careful to make sure that nothing was waiting to jump us, the police car was empty and no one was looking out of any windows.
We knocked the front door, seemed unimaginative to me at first but it wasn’t like we needed the element of surprise, we were hunters and whatever was inside this house was our prey. A lady answered the door, she looked scared “Hello, can I help you?” She said. Howard looked past her, he could see a police officer in the room at the end of the hall “Good evening, my name is Howard and this is Mike, can we speak with Mr Clementine?” The woman was hiding her feelings badly, more than a few tears were running down her cheeks and she was shaking “I don’t think so.” she said as she began to close the door. Howard stepped back. “That was short and sweet” I observed. Howard drew his sword. “There’s something in there, that cop I could see was just as scared as the woman.” Howard held is sword at arms length with a flick, he looked younger again, he looked ready to fight.
We both hit the door with the butts of our weapons, the weapons always hit things harder than you would expect but even I was surprised when the door flew off its hinges, it almost exploded into the house. Howard and I strolled in feeling like walking tanks and ready for work.
In the room there was a dead police officer on the floor, the woman, and an obviously out of his depth police officer shaking in a chair. There was a man, a tall pale man with rippling muscles and a long grey beard. His eyes a pale red. He was one of the more human vampires and he was at his peak. He had just fed, but he was still only a vampire, no daemon or other unknown thing, he was a vampire and we were going to kill him. It knew hunters when he saw them and it knew enough to want to run. It looked around for an exit, there wasn’t one. It would have to fight us. It stepped back, ready to pounce.
It looked me, then at Howard, it would attack the one that it thought was weakest. It leaped like cat towards Howard, a compliment to my confidence no doubt, but a very bad selection on his behalf. Howard cut at it as it came into rage of his sword. It moved in the air the way only vampires can, not quite in line with what I knew about physics. Changing direction without effort, defying all our learned expectations of the way things move. It’s face was bleeding, Howard had cut it but missed it’s neck. It was coming for me now. I let it come, as it hit me in the chest I calmly buried one of my daggers into its chest. We both hit the wall. Howard was already in position. As it stood fighting back the pain in its chest Howard effortlessly took its head from its body with a mighty slash of his sword. The beasts body fell towards me, I pushed it away without a thought.
The woman began to cry and scream. The police office finally regaining some composure had started trying to see if there was life left inside his dead friend. We knew there wouldn’t be. The vampire had consumed his soul, even if the body was unmarked there would be no life in it. “Who are you people?” barked police officer as he closed his fallen friends eyes. Howard sheathed his sword and gestured me me. “We are from the, err, terrorism division!?” I knew that the actual lie didn’t matter as long as it was grounded in something real. This place was not a window, not a void. The civilians would be in a mess when it came to recalling facts, they would believe anything that made sense for their reality. The strange power of ‘The Wind’ would settle the rest. The police officer got up and hugged the woman. “I’m Simon Clementine and this is my wife Ali, how did you know that we were in trouble?” He asked. Howard was already losing interest in this cover story and just said “Surveillance” and shrugged. “This your partner?” I asked, honestly not sure if police have partners out side of TV shows. He wiped a tier from his face. “Yeah, Darren, That fucking Monster was as suspect in some gang killings, He came here to kill us. Ali called me. When we got here he just jumped out at us. Was waiting round back. He did this to Darren, only a few minutes before you knocked the door. Told Ali that he was going to kill me if she didn’t get rid of you.” He sobbed a little as he spoke. I assumed he was close with Darren. “Where was the gang trouble?” Howard asked without any sympathy “That old club by City park. Something-loft its called” he muttered as he held his wife. “Okay, well. You’re safe now. I would call this in if I were you.” I said. Not really sure how to finalise this conversation. “That is sound advice” Howard said as he cleaned his sword off. “What division did you say you worked with again?” Simon asked. “Don’t worry about it, The people up stairs know all about it” Howard lied as if it was the most natural thing in the world. “Yeah, Okay” Simon said as he went glassy eyed, His wife and him seemed to stop for a moment. Howard gestured towards the door.
We left quickly without saying another word leaving both of them and the corpses. We strolled down the street a little, as soon as I thought we had gone far enough I stopped “What the fuck was that Howard? Did they snap or something? They both froze up.” Howard nodded to me, “Our mission was over, when the mission is over things sort of have to unpack. It can’t unpack while we are there, so it waits for us to leave.” I shook my head in confusion and a little frustration. “come on! Aren’t we past riddles yet?” Howard actually laughed at me “Mike pal, I’m not dodging the question. That’s literally the only explanation I have. We did our mission. And now The universe takes over. If we can’t get out smoothly it does that shit to give us a chance to not get mixed up in the outcome. I know you don’t want to hear it but its literally magic at work.” I signed in confusion and frustration, accepting the explanation. What else could I do? In the end it felt good that we had protected some people but I was unhappy that we had not gotten there soon enough to save some people.
“What about the vampires body?” I asked. Howard lit his victory cigarette and exclaimed “No fucking idea. But its the last we will hear about it, unless you want to go torch the house? Just to be sure.” I was fairly certain that Howard was joking, I ignored him. “I still got a credit card, you want to get Chinese food?” I asked. Howard nodded excitedly and we strolled away from another successful mission. I felt like a super hero in that moment. Trying my best to reconcile that we might have saved everyone if he had arrived a little sooner. Maybe we shouldn’t have stopped at that TV store on our way here. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered. My relationship with time was not what it once was.
Within an hour we was enjoying a truly human meal. It was not the best Chinese food I had ever had. In fact it was pretty shitty but that’s why it was so great. It was food with imperfections, something that was not on offer in the Garden.
The little restaurant was unremarkable in every way. It was on the corner of the first street we saw with shops on. It was so incredibly average as restaurants go that I quite honestly had no idea what it was called, I bet the locals just called it “that Chinese place down the road.” Still, it was exactly what I wanted, what we needed.
As we finished our meal I tried to probe Howard for a little more information “What happens now then? Do we just go back to the Garden and wait for another mission?” Howard lit a cigarette, no one in the restaurant seemed to mind, oddly “yeah, we go back and sit on our asses for a few hours, days, whatever, then Tom sends us out again. When we finish our mission, we go back and do it all again.” Howard seamed to have fallen out of love with the hunters lifestyle “Is that it? No reward or fun?” I asked naively. Howard looked me straight in the eye “No, no fun, no friends, no life, no escape, we hunt and we wait, because that’s how people stay alive.” I ordered some more beers from the waiter. “So, when we go out we enjoy it while we can?” I don’t really recall what I expected as a response but Howard, as usual new just what not to say, and then said it. “Not really. No matter what we do, when we are out of the Garden trouble will find us, it’s just the way it works” With that he finished his beer and reached for the fresh one. As he raised his glass I saw movement reflected in it, I turned around and saw a large well built man arguing with the waiter.
“Not our problem right?” I asked. Howard laughed a little, “No not him, but the waiter is.” I looked on. I was desperately trying to see what Howard could see, what was the telling sign that he had noticed since we walked into the restaurant? I saw the sign over the bar, the restaurant was called ‘The Red Sword’ I took some small victory in finally having that question answered.
The larger man was drunk and irate about something, he pushed the waiter with all his force, the waiter never even budged, it was like the man had just shoved a wall. Howard leaned forward and put one hand on his sword and in a whispering tone he said to me “The angry idiot is no threat at all to him but Vampires have a violent temperament. You shove a Vampire and they break you, eat you or just keep it simple and murder your family.” The waiter, changed the way he was standing only enough for a trained hunter would see but he was no longer pretending to be a man, he was a little more like a snake now, bending rather than moving, he pulled his arm back as if to tear his enemy’s head from his body and as his arm shot forward. Something hit his face and distracted him. Howard was standing next to me, with a basket of bread rolls. The thing that hit the vampire was now clear.
“You know your food is pretty shitty right?” Howard yelled. “Mine was okay actually” I said with a grin. The Vampire pushed the man who shoved him. The man responded like he had been hit with a car, hitting a wall and leaving a dent. Our waiter strutted towards us. “Bread rolls are the natural enemy of Vampires” Howard said as if actually having fun, while preparing another bread roll for action “Well that’s just silly” I muttered while drawing my daggers.
As I stood up Howard leaned towards me a little and whispered “We need to get him some place a little quieter, I don’t want to do this in public, unless I have to.” He was right, I could see a couple of options from where we were stood. I pointed out the kitchen door. The other diners looking at us nervously. Howard grunted in agreement. We backed up, letting the vampire think we were frightened of him, they like fear.
We backed into the kitchen and as he followed us we drew our weapons and dropped the bread basket. The cooks began to shout at us to leave, until Howard gestured to his drawn sword. I had learned that civilians could see our weapons if we pointed them out. Good to know I assumed. They began screaming at each other in a language that neither of us understood. The vampire followed slowly moving towards us with a grin. His arms went limp for a moment then curved up again, like two ropes or snakes. It looked like they had no bones in them at all. He lunged towards us with unsettling speed covering the space between us in a blink. Howard took hold of one his arms and was pulled over in an instant. I pushed a dagger out and as he moved to avoid it I brought the other up as fast as I was able. Howard had found a pan of bubbling soup as he righted himself, he pushed it over the vampire with out shielding his hands. He winced as he tipped it. He hit the waiter who screamed and took a few steps back disappearing in the mist of the steam. The steam was rising in ways that didn’t seem natural, more than just the result of the soup attack. There was noise all around us. We could hear movement underneath the sounds of burning food and extractor fans, the clattering of the staff leaving out of a door that we couldn’t see.
We stood in the steam cloud, adjusting our position to be back-to-back cautiously tracing every sound and shadow. I was afraid but my training was ruling my actions now and I had Howard with me. I felt how I thought hunters should. I was wielding my fear like any other weapon at my disposal, it was to keep me sharp. I was confidant that I was going to kill my prey. The fog began to clear from the room as the last cook ran out of an open door and we could see once more. Three angry vampires stood in front of us and our friend with the arms was rising from the ground, looking pretty good for a man that should have been suffering from scalds over most his body.
“What’s the game plan?” I asked, Howard spun his sword around in a single hand to showcase his expertise, “Well, looks like we don’t have to pay for the meal, so that’s good.” He laughed and then threw his sword like a javelin into our waiters neck. For a moment he looked confused then fell in a boneless heap on the floor. Howard leaned into me and took a dagger from my hand. I was happy to release my grip for my partner. If anyone else had have tried that I would have taken their hand. A vampire attacked each of us as if executing a carefully rehearsed dance while the third checked on the waiter. I grabbed my attackers wrist and with the most vicious blow that I had been trained to use I buried my weapon deep within the joint of his elbow. I felt it separate and I pulled, he screamed with a shriek that no human could have produced and I set him to the floor with a well placed knee, not entirely sure that his arm was still attached. Howard had been even more direct and was using the but of my other dagger on his targets face like a hammer to a nail. I dashed for his sword and freed it from the waiters corpse, I was not very adept with swords, not compared to Howard. Still, I had been trained in the basics of all weapons that a hunter may use and I had no reason to hesitate. With a powerful slice I missed our third prey and fell forward. By the time I had regained my balance Howard had already pulled his gun. He shot, the vampire head basically exploded. Howard spun his pistol as he slid it back into his holster. We stood surveying our work in the now silent kitchen. This was a bloodbath. We were truly skilled hunters, brutal butchers. I was not actually proud of our accomplishment but four vampires dead and us only a little bruised was a win. We had saved many lives by removing these killers. Howard grinned at the death in the room. I was never sure if it was the thought of the lives we had saved that made him so happy or just the glee of the fight. Howard nursed his burned hand. “I couldn’t throw this curved blade, had to waste a bullet.” he said remorsefully has he handed my dagger back, I gave him his sword and gestured to his hand “You okay?” He nodded, and wrapped it in a less than pristine kitchen rag he found on the side “Nothing an hour in the Garden wont solve.”
We took a moment to clean the mess off our weapons before stowing them away again. Howard looked around the little office just to the side of the kitchen while I used a large towel to tie off the main door between us and the main restaurant. I could see people eating and laughing just a few feet away. How strange that we had finished such a battle while people just the other side of a door were so happily oblivious. Howard came wondering out the little office with a pile of papers and some cracker’s. He stood above a corpse of a Vampire eating his cracker and telling me about his find. The reality of this brutality dawned on me as I watched a few crumbs gently fall on Howard’s shoe, then they slid into a pool of blood. I traced the blood back to a vampires corpse. Howard had been the one to strike all the final blows, but I knew that I would have killed them all myself if I had got there first. I looked for a second at the massacre and Howard’s excited voice faded into the background. I felt a little dizzy and sorrowful. The smell of death finally made its self known over the cooling food odours. The smell of death travelled into me and uprooted my recent feast. I threw up with vigorous intent. My vomit landed straight on a corpse. I looked on and lost more feast. This time I turned away shamed by the murder that I was so happy to be a part of. I dashed out the back door to an ally for air.
A few minutes later we stood in that ally at the back of the building. Howard had shoved a selection of papers into a rucksack he took from the locker room next to the kitchen, it had probably belonged to one our our victims. I was trying to apologise to Howard for my moment of weakness but became distracted by a smell. “Is that Gas?” I asked. Howard pulled the fire alarm by the door, waited a few seconds and then threw a lit cigarette into the doorway. We dashed a little to get out of the way as the explosion smashed a few windows.
“What the fuck Howard! There’s civilians in there, you could have killed some-one” Howard just started walking away from the scene of his crime and explained his actions as if it was the most natural thing in the world, “I gave them a few seconds to start leaving, The fire door from the kitchen would have shielded the blast, they were perfectly safe, probably. More importantly we cleaned up the mess” I was confused “What? I thought those kinds of things just took care of themselves” Howard was very calm “They do, I helped. More importantly I sent a clear message to any support network they may have had.”
I had learned something new, I had learned that Howard was being honest when he said that trouble would always follow me now I was a hunter. I would never be free as long as I could spot a vampire. Even if I quit, they universe would stalk me, present these situations to me.
When we eventually got back to the Garden we sat and told Tom our whole story, about the boneless waiter and the three human like vampires we killed. He was not as attentive as usual and was preoccupied by the stash of papers that Howard had brought back with him. It appeared that Howard had found a few snippet’s of information that showed that this operation had been in place for years, they would get peoples addressed from credit cards that they used to pay for their food and then put a slow acting drug in the meal and puck up the victims later at home. Easy kills. Always making it look like a suicide. In a city as large as this one there were probably dozens of suicides every night and if one or two a week was vampire related who would know the difference. Tom told us how well we had done and was adamant that we should rest as long as we wanted before going out again. Considering how little time actually meant to anyone in the Garden this was not much of a reward at all. Howard’s Hand had healed within a few moments of arriving at the Garden. If nothing else, this re-enforced something inside me. It didn’t matter how much I got beaten or broken, as long as I got back to the Garden I would be fine.
I took some time in my room to wash every drop of blood off me, then I sat in the bathtub, making sure the water was clean, I did not want to be reminded of this the next day. I wanted nothing to remind me of my own brutality. I hung my Daggers and belt in the wardrobe and pushed my clothes into the laundry basket, the garden would make sure that they got clean for when I needed them. I felt safe in my room. I was way from anything that could harm me. I thought back to my day, then of the dead police officer. Then of my fight in the shopping centre. And now in my arsenal of horrific memories was the meal that ended in a slaughter. My mind turned to the mysterious Gardener as I fell asleep.
I awoke from my sleep with a stretch, I wondered to the little bathroom and looked into the huge mirror behind the sink. I decided not to shave. I also decided that I needed a hair cut. Without so much as a comb through my hair or a brush across my teeth I wondered on to the wardrobe. Simple shirt and jeans today. With my weapons hanging from my belt I decided not to follow the usual protocols today, I wanted to know what happened if I did different things. I wondered towards the DoJo without first looking for Howard by the patio.
There was always some one in the DoJo, all having various reasons to be there. Some sparing. Some hitting training dummies, some would just sit and meditate in the corner but today I wanted something specific. I ignored everyone and opened a weapons chest. The one that Elaine had fished my original daggers from when I had first been given them. I searched through the various bundles of weapon and then found a selection of knives in a tray, I looked in a cupboard just next to the chest and found a selection of harnesses, I wore my new knives across my arm upper like a tribal warrior I had once seen on television. I missed television. I had no idea how to use the knives effectively but was sure that there would be a charm to aid me.
I put my hand on the large wicker stack of drawers where the charms was kept when a voice came from behind me “So you like knives?” it was the voice of the Gardener. I turned “No, not really” I responded, as I slowly turned around. No one else was in the DoJo now apart from me and her. I had not heard the rest of the occupants leave. The Gardener was not dressed like a fantasy ranger any more. This time she was in more contemporary wear that would be fitting of a city street not a mystical forest. She was still a flawless beauty though.
“Am I not supposed to be taking new weapons? I’m sorry, I just…” I stumbled over my words. She smiled at me and then brushed past and opened the drawer with the charms in. I waited as she browsed through them and softly spoke to me “As is always the rule, take from the Garden whatever you require.” I adjusted by new knives “When we were in the fight with Miss Penn, I realised I had nothing ranged. Not that a throwing knife would have stopped her. Just seemed like an oversight.” The Gardener, smiled at me and for a moment the world seemed to get dimmer against her brightness and out of nowhere she said softly “I can see the future you know?”
She turned around and handed me one of four charms she held. I wasn’t sure if the last thing she said was a question or a statement. I couldn’t not follow up on that though. “What do you see?” I asked. “I see change. Nothing has changed in so long that I was beginning to think that this place was eternal.” I gripped the single charm tightly in my hand and let it’s wisdom flow into me. The thoughts and memory’s, the knowledge filled my mind. I was like taking a drug that lasted moments but left you better than it fund you. I knew how to use my band of knives now. The charm was white and drained. It seemed the usual methods of draining charm by first sparing and generating adrenaline was not required when The Gardener was there. One of her abilities I assumed.
The Gardener passed me another charm and spoke softly again “You don’t like to kill do you?” she asked, or observed. I shook my head. I was a little ashamed of my guilt “Why not?” she asked. I looked into her eyes, she was so beautiful that I actually doubted she was human. “Because I don’t think it’s up to me to take the lives of anyone, not even vampires. But I know I have to.” I spoke sheepishly. She smiled and asked “So you kill because that is what is expected of you?” I protested a little too quickly because I didn’t want her to think I was so shallow “No, I do it because its the right thing to do.” She nodded at me in agreement and I drained the little charm in my hand, this one filled me with the training to defend against knives like the ones that I now had. It made sense to know how to counter a weapon that you carry. I opened my eyes, and felt a new sense of confidence about my new weapon choice.
The Gardener asked me another question as she passed me the third charm “Do you think Howard is a good teacher?” I knew there was no point lying to her “No, he’s a terrible teacher but he’s a remarkable mentor and that makes up for it.” I gripped the charm, this one was different to the last, it was not filling me with information about knives or battle it was filling me with symbols and idea’s, I felt my eyes open with a startling jolt. I opened my mouth to speak and a jumble of words came out, none of them made any sense. They were like the half words of a drunk. I shook my head to clear my mind. The Gardener chuckled at me playfully “Relax, that charm held a new language, you can speak in ‘Demti’ now” she said softly, “That’s my language.” she added. My mind was clearing and it was true, I was now so fluent in this new language that it was taking a moment to choose what tongue to think in. I took another few seconds and chose the first words to speak in ‘Demti’ “Why have you given me this?” I asked. ‘Demti’ sounded soft and delicate. The Gardener replied in the same language “Because you will need it.” I was still trying to sort out the languages in my head but managed to ask in a hybrid of words “What do you mean? Your language?” She closed the drawer of charms and almost apologetically said “It’s the language of daemons.” I took a quick shot of air. “Don’t worry, things are not that tripe. I’m not a Daemon. Relax.” I was a little stumped, not sure how much more to ask. “But your native language is the Daemons one?” I realised as I spoke that I had began to sound suspicious. I had no right to be. The Gardener seemed to be a revered figure. I was lucky she bothered speaking to me at all. She grinned at me “It’s way more boring than you would think, and I’m sure there’s a better time to tell you the story. I can see the future after all.”
She pushed the fourth charm into my hand, but this time she didn’t let go. The charm activated in my hand. This time it was not a pleasant injection of new information or a sudden knowing like it usual way. This time it was a roller coaster ride of feelings and power. I was not receiving a new memory or gaining new knowledge. I was being given a gift of sorts. I was being given clarity. I opened my eyes and the Gardener was still holding my hand and the charm pressed into our palms. Not even a moment had passed. But the room seemed somehow less magical, as I thought about all the things I had done it all seemed a little more real now, more grounded.
“What did you give me?” I whispered as I reluctantly released her hand. She smiled widely “I have given you yourself back. The charms take a piece of you. You become a hunter and the person you was tends to fall away. I have given you back what you have lost.” I wasn’t sure what that meant and I had a feeling that this was the only explanation I would get.
The Gardener looked at me. Right into my eyes. “You will feel better soon” she said happily. Then as I blinked she was gone, I was left standing alone in the Dojo holding four drained charms and for all she said she had given me I still felt like I had lost something.
I wondered out and headed towards the patio just in time to see Howard stroll into view. Had The Gardener made sure that I had arrived just on time or was this just the Gardens usual work? Howard looked at me, “Nice knives, trying something new?” he asked. “I spoke with the Gardener” I told him. Howard nodded and lit as cigarette as we walked towards the marquee “Okay then” he said.
We stood outside of the marquee while I waited for Howard to finish his smoke. This was becoming a ritual for me but today for the first time it was an irritation. “You smoke too much” I said in a bursting sigh. “You talk too much” he replied. I took my few minutes of waiting to take a real look around at the other hunters. Some were leaving the marquee with little scraps of paper on the way to a mission. Some were coming into view from afar tired and a little banged up. Then I noticed something; every hunter came back tired. They all went straight to their rooms after speaking with Tom or another one of the people I had come to think of as ‘Advisers.’ I though back to my own experiences. I was rarely out of the garden for more than a few hours but when I returned I went straight to sleep.
Howard finished his cigarette and we went into the marquee. Tom was there, as expected looking at his paperwork and maps. “Good morning Hunters” he said warmly. Howard kept looking straight at Tom waiting for orders. I looked around the war room as I had become to think of it. There were many people in here again today. All busy reading papers and making charts. I wondered where all this information came from.
Tom eventually looked up and announced that he had a mission for us. He passed us one of his little squares of paper, Howard looked at it for a moment, then he passed it to me. Again, something I was noticing was a ritual. It read ‘Under-Loft, Central West, City-Park’ I knew the place it was referring too, it was the one that our police-man had talked about. Was it our information that led to this mission or was it unrelated? Was we following up on a lead or did Tom have this planned before. How much time had he had to check up on things?
Howard turned and left the marques. Usually I would follow without a second thought but today I was feeling more like my old rebellious self “Who go you this information? Was it our information?” I asked boldly. “A hunter brought back some photo’s indicating that its a vampire hunting ground” replied Tom casually. “Yes, and we told you that our cop had said something about it” I added. Tom raised an eyebrow “Yes.” I nodded and left quickly to catch up with Howard. Not really sure what I expected to gain from grilling Tom. Maybe I just wanted to make clear that I wouldn’t be blindly following his post-it notes.
Howard and I stood at the edge of the patio area. Howard struck his sticks together and we found ourselves outside the old garage in the middle of the city. It was night time. The rain was drizzling. Howard and I began to walk in the direction of the park. The bar was not too far.
“Howard”, I enquired “What’s with the Gardener? How come you don’t know her? Where has she been?” Howard grunted “You saw that thing in the shopping centre, the daemons have returned, we need her now.” I considered this for a moment “Yeah, I suppose that is true but, why now? What’s so special about now? Daemons could have waited for another hundred years to show themselves, so why now?” I stopped myself babbling before Howard lost interest. He considered my point for a moment as we walked “It’s random chance.” “No, there’s a reason behind all of this” I mused with a defiant tone. Howard told me that it was not our place to worry about this kind of thing. As hunters it was our job to kill the bad guys nothing more. I wondered who’s job it was to worry.
We eventually reached our destination as the rain started coming down faster.
The Bar I that I had expected to see turned out to be more of a Nightclub had a massive queue out front. From the looks of the queue it was a place that appealed to the more Gothic, pale faced and black clad clientèle. There was a large well-build man at the door deciding who got to come in and who didn’t. We stood across the road watching for a while as the excited party seekers got selected or rejected based on first impressions and social proof.
“Are you going to use your voice thing on him?” I enquired to Howard, “What?” He replied. “You know, like you did with Miss Penn’s receptionist and that cop in the police station” silence fell for a moment. “That’s not a ‘thing’ Mike, its people respecting my confidence is all” Howard knelt down on one knee and studied the building across the street. I considered his words. Could it be that Howard was unaware of his own abilities. Finally, Howard spoke again “We go in the back” and with that we strode with definite purpose across the road and into the ally at the side of the ‘under-loft’
The building had few features at the side but soon enough we reached the end of the alleyway and hit a large steel gate. Obviously we were not the only ones who had tried to find alternative access to the club. Howard pointed to to the large padlock that kept the gate secure. I shoved the tip of a dagger deep into the lock and felt the mechanisms fall away. Our weapons were far more destructive than they ought to be. I tossed the lock away.
We walked around the back of the building casually paying little attention to the security camera that watched the gate so diligently. There was a large door and bin. Just what you would expect to find. Howard and I rarely spoke in these situations. It was an understanding that had emerged. Howard made short and quiet work of the door lock and we stepped in.
We entered into a store room, mostly bottles of beer and spirits but also a few boxes of typical bar snacks decorated the walls in stacks. Howard put a bottle of whiskey and some beers into his satchel. I looked at him judgementally. “What?” He responded indignantly. He was not above taking a prize when the opportunity presented its self.
We checked through an open doorway at the side of the room, there was a corridor and various doors. We could also hear deafeningly loud music leaking from the direction of the bar/dance-floor area. We headed up the corridor investigating every room, there were crates of drinks in stacks all the way up the corridor. The first few doors were various store rooms, one filled with boxes of promotional shirts with the clubs name on them. Another filled with more beers. Another with seemed to be the barrels that attached to the bar.
We came to a door that was open, we could see (and hear) that this lead to the back of the bar. We left it for now. The next door was further up the corridor, it lead to a larger room. This one was not as aged or dilapidated as the rest, it was an office of sorts with an untidy desk and a nice carpet. There was a sofa and TV in there too.
We walked in and Howard began to dig though paperwork looking for anything that would lead to evidence of vampire activity, anything that was not of use would get thrown on the floor. I sat on the sofa, I was beginning to see pattern in the way Howard worked. Luck was his guide for the most part. I watched him dig through draws and discard anything that didn’t instantly look important. “What about the computer?” I eventually pointed out gesturing to the little lap top in the middle of the desk. Howard stopped and looked at it. “Do you know how to make them work?” He asked as if I was offering the Holy Grail. “Yeah” I said and I stood up to turn the thing on. “Assuming there are no passwords on it” I added. Howard watched in awe of the thing “How long, exactly have you been hunting Howard?” I asked casually. He sighed and lit another cigarette. “Long time, before you were born and then some” He answered solemnly. I waited while the ageing computer flickered to life up. I thought about what Howard had said. If he had been hunting longer than I had been alive and time does not pass in the garden then he had been at this for lifetimes. This was why Howard was so detached from society. He really didn’t understand it. To him the years must have crawled by while he hunted day after day. Eventually the world in the city must have become a mess to him, time must literally mean nothing to him.
The laptop had started up. I seared about the files, recent documents and delete files. I found little of interest, I kept looking, I was hoping to find at least something on some level just to appease Howard. “So what did you do before you where a hunter?” I asked. Howard kept digging through draws in a large filling cabinet “I was a Carpenter” he said. He mumbled at the cabinet he was searching and then added “Carved the wood for churches. Pews, crosses, lecterns.” “Really? Churches?” I pressed. “Yeah, I did the lords work, or some shit. Until he showed me a better way to help” I considered his words. “What happened?” I asked, Howard ignored the question. “There’s nothing vampire related on this computer, its all accounts and e-mails about cheap beer” I said thinking it best not to push Howard for any more information.
We went a little further down the corridor to a doorway that was missing its door. There were stairs going down and a rickety old light dimly showing us our way. Howard and I considered this for a moment then drew our weapons and started cautiously down. The stairs led to a basement. It was dark and smelled terrible. I searched about the wall for a light-switch, all I could find was a large handle attached to an electric box on the wall, it was dark and there was nothing else so I pulled the handle down. With a thundering crack the lights came on. There were fluorescent tubes hanging from the ceiling by chains,they stretched across the vast room, it was like a warehouse in size. There were desks with computers and drawers that stretched far down one side of the room and the far side was covered in guns, swords and other weaponry. In the middle were large tables that ran the length of the room. There were boxes filling every desk. Howard walked straight to the wall of weapons. He admired the guns, ignored the blades. He could get blades anywhere but guns were a little rarer to him.
I opened one of the boxes on the tables in the centre strip of the room. What I found startled me “Howard! You need to see this.”
I had not been sure what I expected to find in the box. Drugs? Money? Bullets or Bibles? Anything would have made more sense to me than what I had found. I checked every box within reach they were all the same, every box was filled with clothes. There where boxes of shirts, boxes of socks, hats, jeans, shoes. One box even had spectacles inside, the lenses where just glass though. “I don’t get it!” proclaimed Howard. We walked down the long room periodically checking the boxes. It was the same the whole way. “Is this vampire stuff?” I asked. Howard made no attempt to reply, he was just walking and checking boxes, looking for a clue. Eventually I turned my attention to the desks.
The desks were just as much of a confusion, each desk was a self contained station that had a strange printer, assorted papers and strangest of all the drawers above each desk were filled with money, I turned a computer on while Howard opened one of his beers.
The computer started up quickly, there was no log-in or other security. It started up directly into some strange art related software that I had not seen before. I rummaged about in the desk drawers trying to figure out the purpose of all this equipment. Howard suddenly squealed with excitement, “Worth the trip!” showing me a box of money he had found. He took a large handful of notes out of the box and put it into his satchel “Smoke money” he grinned.
This was amusing Howard a great deal. I assumed it had been a long time since hunting had offered him any surprises. I tried to ignore this out of character elevated mood and continued looking for clues. Then I found one inside the big drawer under the printer. There were passports and drivers licenses, all without a name or picture attached. They were perfectly new and each seemed packaged legitimately. I showed Howard my find. His mood changed back to his usual stoic self. “So, this is it. They come in one person and leave another” he said in a moment of revelation.
“Good work!” Said a voice that boomed in from the front of the room by the entrance. It was the Gardener. “Not very cleaver though, if I hadn’t already killed the guards in the security room you would have been knee deep in vampires by now” she announced smugly as she walked towards us. She was wearing a green leather jacket and jeans and somehow made it look mysterious.
I was pleased to see her. “Did you know about this?” I asked. She smiled at me warmly as she approached the desk “Your speaking Demti you know?” she said softly in the daemons tongue. I must have slipped into my new language when I saw her. Howard finished his beer and looked at the two of us almost suspiciously. “Right” he said as if he had solved a puzzle.
“You aren’t the type to waste time on lowly vampires so what brought you here?” I asked. She smiled at me and answered as she began looking through the boxes of clothes “I think this place is more than it seems, even now.” With that she dropped the clothes back into the box and rubbed her fingers together with disdain as if they were unclean.
“What are you talking about?” asked Howard snipishly. I wasn’t sure if he was annoyed with the Gardeners cryptic lines or if we had been speaking in Demti again. The Gardener looked around the room some more as she explained to us, in English “I saw the reports that some hunters brought back about this place, There are too many Vampires and not enough missing person reports. I Think it maybe some kind of safe house.”
Howard, checked his weapons, more out of reflex than anything else. This place suddenly seemed a lot more dangerous to him. “Vampires don’t have safe houses.” He said as if it demanded answer. The Gardener nodded “I know, that’s why I came straight here.” I knew what that meant. Daemons. I realised I was checking my weapons too.
The Gardener looked through the computer with me. We realised that the software was for printing details onto the documents. It was a literal forgery station. One press ID for all. Just enter the details, load the printer and it would generate all the id, passports and drivers licenses you could ever need. The computers also seemed to have a serious network set-up. I was starting to wonder if these documents may even check-out if they were tested by the authorities.
“There’s a reason that this is a nightclub. I’m sure of it.” Said The Gardener as we finished our assessment. “Why?” I asked. “They can generate documents, have enough street clothes to outfit a small army, why have all this in the same place as masses of civilians? That’s not a mistake, that’s purposeful.” Howard and I both saw the logic. It was worrying. There were not many conclusions that could be drawn.
We carefully made our way back to the door that led to the bar, this time treating the place like an enemy stronghold not a stroll in the park. We watched the bar staff through the door, serving drinks, checking their phones and generally acting like regular people. None of us saw any telling signs that they were anything other than regular people. We turned our eyes to the stage. We saw an opportunity when all the staff were checking something on a pump at the far side of the bar and slipped out into the main room.
The music was modern and intense. It was easy slip into the sea of people, all dancing, kissing or fighting. The tables where mostly empty even though the venue was packed. Everyone wanted to be dancing and moving. I could feel a crispness in the air an electric clarity that made we want to be part of the music more than anything, an out of character desire for me. I reminded myself that I was a hunter now and I was working. We sat stoically and watched, waiting for something out of the ordinary. After a while we relaxed a little and began to talk talk with each other.
The music was loud and deafening but lip reading was one of the basic skills that a hunter is given and The Gardener seamed to have no problems hearing us, even when she wasn’t looking at us. She was captivating even in this lighting with the flashes of neon and shadows, as we spoke I was glad that she knew I needed to read her lips, it gave me the excuse I wanted to look at her a little closer. What was she?
As we talked we began to forget about the busy dance floor and it became just three people talking about work. Everything else faded to the background. It was when I was telling her about my first vampire kill that our attention shifted. We could hear a rumbling that was a far deeper tone than the music. Howard was already standing at the edge of the dance floor, sword drawn, looking across the room. The civilians didn’t/couldn’t see his weapon. The Gardener an I quickly glanced across the room, wanting to see if anyone was reacting to him. Howard was waiting for the rumble to evolve into an event. No-one was looking at his weapon, all human, nothing new yet.
The rumbling turned from a deep vibration of sound into an earth quake, the floor shook and the dancers screamed with joy and excitement, to them this was part of the clubs experience. The music got louder as if to mask the sound, it didn’t work.
The Light in the room dimmed and the sounds became muffled, the dancers seamed unconcerned. The three of us seemed to be the only ones aware that this was happening. Was it ‘The Wind’ at work? Suddenly a strange light appeared in the air in the middle of the crowed, not dull and dim like the rest had become but vibrant and bright. The dancers all moved away from the centre of the room but didn’t respond at all to the strange glow. The light shone even brighter until Howard and I had to turn away. The Gardener looked on.
I struggled to look at the light but there was a defined shadow within it, the shadow became more defined to the outline of a man. He was writhing in pain, I could see him fall to his knees and then as if a switch had been flipped the light and the rumbling were gone and the music came back into clarity, the crowed whooped as if on some level aware that something had gone on.
The crowed began to slowly spread back across the dance floor, the man was on his knees in the middle of the floor. Dressed in dirty rags. I knew he was a daemon and was waiting for him to attack. Howard was just as ready as me, his eyes were fixed on the enemy and his hand tight around his sword. It was The Gardener who took the job of dispatching our new enemy, she strolled forward and knelt down next to the man. Her hand stroked his hair as is she was tending to a sick dog, They spoke for a few moments in Demti, I could see the words oh their lips. “Who is supposed to meet you here?” she asked “I don’t know” he said, some blood dripped from his mouth. The gardener took a blade from her pocket “I can not let you leave this place” she said, and with that she slit is neck. I swear I saw a tear on her cheek as that tender touch took his life, her other hand began to smoke as if it was on fire and she placed it over his wound, the man exploded in a burst of smoke that looked like it was made of darkness its self. I walked over to her and helped her to her feet not that she needed me but I wanted to show her that I understood that it was a hard thing to do, offer symbolic support.
The Gardener straightened her green jacket and looked around at the dancers, “Can we go now?” I asked. We turned towards the exit when we realised our companion was missing. Howard had gone.
We frantically scanned the room but we could see no sign of him. The Gardener closed her eyes and tilted her head from side to side, as if sorting out through the layers of sound. She opened her eyes and darted to the edge of the dance floor where we could see Howard behind the bar, with a tall lady bartender holding his chest. “what’s happening?” I asked, guessing that the Gardener could see more than me in this light. “It’s some breed of daemon, she is filling him with her shadow.” With that she dashed towards Howard, I could see that he was moments from death. My new skills came to the front of my mind and suddenly I felt like I knew what to do. I took a knife from my arm and with a twitch of my wrist I fired it across the room, a throw that the finest marksman would be proud of. The knife gracefully cut its way through the air, as it approached Howard’s attacker she turned gracefully. She knew it was coming, he had actually turned to let me see it go into her chest. She smiled. It was nothing to her.
She pulled it from her skin with her free hand and licked the sharpened edge with a grin. She wanted to intimidate me. It was working. I realised that I was the distraction, The Gardeners small blade was upon her. She batted the gardener away as if she was an irritating wasp. She dropped Howard leaving him for dead and leaped over the bar towards me ignoring the confused patrons. He was tall but built like a brawler, short hair, good for fighting, tight trousers and a fitted shirt. If she were human I would have said he spent a good portion of her life in a gym. This wasn’t the case. Another bar tender began to serve customers, ignoring all of this strangeness, this was not The Wind at work this was something else that masked us even more expertly.
I could see the Gardener getting to her feet, she was heading to Howard now. I had experienced her healing skills. I had no doubt that my mentor was going to be fine if she could get to him.
I knew that I would need to buy a few more seconds so I began tossing knives as fast as I could, The daemon didn’t even flinch as my knives met with her flesh but I did have her attention. I was backing up as fast as I could but the moment my armband was empty of knives I turned and ran towards the entrance to the club. It felt like the woman was playing with me. I had seen the Gardener move unnaturally fast in the past, I was sure she would have got to Howard but I wanted to give her time to heal him. I burst through the door at the front of the building and fell into ground in the street. There were still people queueing to get into the club and a bouncer at the door. I could tell at a glance from this distance that he was a vampire. His stance was too bold and his movements too slick for a human but I had bigger fish to fry, or at least run from.
The daemon woman strolled after me, she pulled the blades from her skin and dropped them on the floor as she walked. She was in control of this situation. I knew this feeling. She was as hunting me just as I would have hunted a vampire. This was a fight that I could not even engage in, never mind survive.
I pulled my daggers from my belt and rolled backwards on the floor then with a snap I pulled myself to my feet. I may not have stood a chance in this fight but at least I could try to hold my own until The Gardener could aid me. The doorman pulled a rope across the queueing patrons and announced that the club was closed, the crowed screamed abuse at him but most began to disperse. He turned to watch me get slaughtered. He smiled and leaned against the wall, he was settling in for the show.
I thought that gaining time was still my best bet so I spoke to her in her own language “Who are you? What do you want?” I asked in Demti. She grinned and stopped her approach for a moment “Who taught you to speak in this tongue?” She asked. “I picked it up from hearing your kind beg” I said proudly. I was going to get slaughtered, there was no point begging for mercy. I may as well try a bluff. She began to walk in circles around me, I kept turning to face her but I knew she could take me at any moment “You speak it well” she commented, “Who are you?” I demanded “Who taught you?” she fired back. She was losing interest in me rapidly. My time was running out. She moved as if her limbs teleported and snapped my left arm. She slapped me as if I were a fly while holding my broken arm. I screamed. I was just pleased she didn’t snap my neck, but at least that would have hurt less. I screamed ans waved my one good arm at her, my dagger cut at her, she didn’t respond at all. I could see the deep cuts healing as I struggled.
The voice of my champion interrupted my execution like the sound of the cavalry’s horns. “I taught him” yelled the Gardener. She was standing at the door of the club, Howard was standing next to her, sword drawn and cigarette alight, he was back on form and ready for revenge. “You okay buddy?” he called, I nodded. Somewhere in my soul I switched from prey to hunter again.
“And who are you?” asked the daemon to the Gardener. She never bothered to reply, the Gardener was ready to work and she knew that this daemon was more powerful than her. She simply whipped out the blade of her little knife and walked towards her adversary. Howard engaged the Vampire bouncer at the door and I looked on waiting for a moment to be of use.
I will remember that fight for the rest of my life. It was the first time I had seen the Gardener really fight. I had seen her kill in the shopping centre when we had met but that was a simple murder, she was far superior to that prey. This time she was facing a skilled enemy. She moved with a liquid quality that I had never witnessed before, not even in the most elaborate science fiction or the most imaginative martial arts movies. This was something beyond all of that, she was moving like every muscle was perfection. Her opponent was just as fast but not as graceful. The Gardener was like liquid the daemon was like smoke, her body would turn to darkness as the Gardeners blade touched her and allowed it to pass right through her, then as she retaliated with a blow the Gardner’s reflexes would prove too much and she would dodge or block every blow.
Howard had quietly silenced his prey in the backdrop of the moment, we both watched the fight unfold in front of us, unable to help in any way, we could see that we would be no real adversary or even distraction to this daemon. Especially since my one arm was smashed and I was already half beaten.
The fight was mostly blocked or dodged by both sides but on the occasions that one did land a blow on the other the force was mighty, the Gardener had blocked a blow that had so much force the pavement beneath her had cracked in two. All we could do was look on and hope that the Gardener would win.
Howard made his way around the fight and put his hand on my shoulder “We should go? If she loses we are dead if we’re still here” he whispered. I knew he was right but I couldn’t leave her, not yet. Howard pointed out a few people over the road watching the fight. Within moments a crowed was starting to build. I don’t know what they thought they where seeing probably a street brawl but even the wind could not hide two people blatantly battling it the death in the street.
The Daemon woman finally struck a lucky blow in the Gardeners face. She was knocked back with the force. The Daemon knew this was her best chance and struck once more. The Gardener was again knocked back. With a mighty kick the Daemon spun with the force of a truck into the Gardeners stomach. She slid across the floor, Howard whispered his advice to me again “We need to be leaving NOW” he said sternly. I turned to run, then I saw the Gardener stand. Her arm was bent out of shape and there was a gash across her stomach. She flicked her arm and it snapped back into position. She looked down at the blood on her body and her skin glowed with dark light I had seen before, the wound sealed its self in a web of shadows and within moments it was gone, her eyes blackened and she straitened her jacket. The daemon woman starred on as if entertained. Confident in her own looming victory. The Gardener stretched a again, this time like a martial artist before a match every muscle in her body began to swell, her skin tightened and stretched as she suddenly seemed a little more muscular. While the changes were subtle I could sense them all with my hunters eyes. There was more power circulating around body her body now and her eyes seemed sharper. It like like she had flipped a switch and gone from an elegant ranger of fantasy to a brutal barbarian. “You seeing this Howard?” I asked with a head tilted to the side so I didn’t have to take my eyes off the fight. I was still nursing my arm. Howard was silent for a moment “Well, it looks the stories are true. She’s a legend for a reason I guess.” I made a mental note to ask about ‘the stories’ if we got out of this alive.
For whatever reason the crowed had began to disperse. Maybe the stakes just got high enough for The Wind to make them leave. Or maybe another bar had just opened and they all got the call. Either way, it was clearing out.
Howard called my name and pointed towards the roof of the club, there were more figures moving between the shadows and the lights. We saw one of them turn to smoke and dissipate into the air. “That’s a lot of problems!” I agreed. We took this as our time to leave. This time all I could do was hope the Gardener knew what she was doing and what was going to happen, I caught her eye, she smiled and nodded to me. I felt that this was her way of telling me it was okay. She knew that Howard and I were out of our depth. I was pretty sure she was out of hers.
We made a hasty exit as quietly as possible. Turned a few corners and disappeared into an ally, stopping for a moment so I could turn my jacket into a sling for my arm, it hurt like hell but it would make it easier to run. Howard took his chance to berate me. “What the fuck was that about Mike? We should have left the moment we had chance. We can’t help her, this above our level now” I knew he was right “I wasn’t stopping you from leaving!” I replied as we jogged to the main road, he shot me a look. We didn’t speak another word as we made our way to the garage.
We entered the Garden and was greeted by Tom. “Hello gentlemen. I hear we know know the location of a Daemon void gate” Tom was excited. “How did you know?” I whispered almost to my self as I my arm went from feeling like it was on fire to feeling like it had been put out. Howard and Tom got into deep conversation about the events of the Club. I wanted to part of the this talk “The Gardener was in some serious trouble when we left.” I injected my statement into their conversation. I could feel my fingers again. Tom sat down on one of the little chairs by a table, Tea was delivered within moments “Yes, I know” he said, as if that is the end of the topic. I stretched my arm out, it was mechanically working again, still hurt. “We should group up and go back with more hunter, there may still be time to help her.” I suggested. “The Gardener does not need our help, she will be back with us soon enough I’m sure.” Answered Tom as he poured as all a delicate cup of tea. “You’ve heard from her? Already?” I asked excitedly “No, but the Gardener comes and goes as she sees fit” I didn’t think Tom was grasping what I was telling him “She could be dead damn it! When we left we was fighting a daemon who was at least as powerful as her! We saw more of them coming from the roof of the club” I was speaking too fast. Tom became stern “We do not get involved in the affairs of the Gardener! Now, I suggest you get some sleep” and with that Tom left. He showed genuine anger towards me, I had not questioned him before, not really. I don’t think anyone had.
Howard would not talk to me about returning to help her. I knew that time was a thing that meant nothing in the Garden so I returned to my room. I think on some level I was hoping that she would be waiting for me in there. Magically there with no explanation that made sense. I opened the door with my how throbbing hand and of course, there was nothing. I looked up and down the long corridor for some sign of her but there were just one or two hunters scurrying about the halls of the house.
I was not tired this time. I did not get some sleep as Tom instructed. I had a shave and finally brushed my teeth. My arm was healed now. I noticed that an old scar on my shoulder from when I was a kid was also gone. I changed my clothes. I could see my backpack at the bottom of the wardrobe. It was all that I still had from my old life. It had only been a few months to me since all this had started. That life was a distant memory to me now.
I thought about the Gardener. She must have known what she was getting in to. I couldn’t understand why she would put herself on the line like that. I hadn’t yet been given my own method for exiting the garden so I decided to talk to the one person that I trusted.
I didn’t take me long to find Howard’s room. There were no door signs in the house, I had been to his door a few times but it was easy to get lost in the house. Some other hunters where happy to point me in the right direction. I was fortunate even though hunters didn’t socialise much beyond the occasional shared lunch Howard was something of a legend himself and everyone knew where his room was. I wondered why paying him a visit had not occurred to me before.
I politely knocked his door and waited. His door was just like mine, I wondered how any of us ever found our rooms. There was no answer so I knocked again. Soon enough I found myself pounding at his door for attention. Eventually a pissed off looking Howard opened the door wearing little more than a pair of shorts he peered through a gap enough to talk but not enough for me to step in. “What do you want?” He asked groggily “The Gardener, she taught me her language”, “So” he responded, “Why would she do that?” I said sharply. Howard opened the door as to invite me in, and then collapsed back onto his bed. I strolled into his room and opened the curtains. His room was almost identical to mine except for the window being on the other wall. Howard had lived here a long time though so even though the furniture was what I assumed to be the standard issue he had decorated his room, his home, with trophies and trinkets from his adventures. There were all sorts of strange things dotted about the room, Vampire teeth, weapons, a wolf rug, that looked a little too human shaped. Even a gas mask that looked like it was from world war two. I looked about the collection thinking that Howard would object but he seemed more focused on waking himself up, he was perched at the end of his bed searching a pile of washing for a clean shirt, cigarette lit as usual.
I could not help myself, I had to ask about his laundry situation. “You know, the laundry kinda works mystically well.” I pointed out. “I’ve been here for a while now Mike, I know how the laundry basket works, I just don’t bother using it” he said while breathing out smoke. He was right, he had his own way of doing things and it was none of my business. “All these things from your kills?” I asked as I looked at a collection of rings stacked on a large claw that he had apparently glued down to use as a stand. “Yeah, I like to keep reminders.” He said, finally locating some Jeans. “Reminders?” I asked. “Yeah, reminders that there’s always some one who can kick my arse” I smiled, he really was was macabre, wise and a little crazy.
“Why ain’t you asleep?” Howard asked. “Because I’ve only been up a few hours, why ARE you asleep?” Howard rubbed his chin, he needed a shave. “Don’t know, mission, sleep, shower that’s life I suppose.” He made his way to his bathroom and pissed away his beer from the club. He left the door open and called through “What do you want anyway?” For me this was the moment where I had to choose how much I trusted this crazy chain smoking old warrior. I decided that honesty was best. At worst he could kick me back to my own room with a good telling off. “I think Tom is hiding something. I want to know what he’s up to. He seems to always know too much about everything.” Howard wondered back into the room. “What do you mean? Tom is THE big boss here. It’s literally his job to know things” I thought back to the conversation with the gardener, I decided that Howard and I were friends, as unlikely as this seamed when we first met so I told him about the talk that the Gardener and I had shared in the Dojo a few hours ago. I told him about how she had given me some clarity to whatever effect that the charms have on us. I told him about how she had told me she could see the future and how she had given me her language.
I was waiting for Howard to tell me I was imagining things or something and march me to Tom but he sat on his bed and rubbed his stubbly chin. “I don’t understand” he began “Tom is our leader and I have been working with him for… Well, for as long as I can remember. But he has always told me that the Gardener is our best hope for an end to the war” He seamed almost trance like. The clarity that I had been given was like a veil being lifted and suddenly I wanted to question everything. Howard seemed desperate to not question anything. Maybe without the same gift Howard would not be unable to see the sinister undertone of the Garden. Maybe I was imagining it.
His dubious trance was becoming deeper after a few seconds he shook his head as if he was trying to wake himself up “No, you’re just being a wanker” he said and ordered me to leave so he could get some sleep. I did as I was asked and left without arguing, there seamed no point in pushing this matter any more.
I wondered the halls of the house for a while exploring the area’s that I had not been before. None of the other hunters seamed to move off their usual beaten path. All going from the Garden to their rooms and occasionally to the Dojo when needed. It seamed amazing to me that I hadn’t noticed how robotic it all was. The strange thing is that I never considered myself to be like this. I was certain that there was something not right.
I eventually found myself sitting in the Garden. There were the usual mix of hunters around but no Tom. I looked over at his marquee and considered it a symbol of my mistrust. I was lost in this moment. I was sure nothing would change here until I went to sleep. I wondered if whatever magic was at work would not move along the day for anyone until I slept. But how could I think of sleep when I knew the Gardener was still out there. I needed Howard. I needed him to act like the hero I knew he was. I needed the Howard that killed vampires and smoked too much not the man that lay sleeping in his room. I needed him because I had no way of leaving on my own. He was my only real friend. I got sick of my own thoughts and accepted defeat. I went back to my room. I lay in my bed and wished for sleep feeling as helpless as the day I arrived at the Garden.
My eyes opened, slowly at first then the memory’s of the previous day flooded my mind. I jumped out of bed. I picked up my weapons and smiled to myself as I noticed that my arm band of knives was somehow full again. I opened the door of my room and headed toward the patio. Sure enough the Garden had done it’s work and there was a fresh looking Howard standing in the doorway. “We need to go back to the Club, check for more vampires.” I said to him expectantly. “We need to see Tom first” he replied defiantly “No, we don’t, I’ve already spoken to him.” I lied. I could see that Howard didn’t believe me for a moment but something within him was fighting his domesticated spirit and he nodded in dubious agreement. We wondered to the edge of the garden and Howard raised his sticks in the air. Within a blink of the eye we where standing at that familiar garage, I looked up at the nights sky, as expected it was still a dark, still evening and no more than a moment had passed since we were last here. We set off towards the club in something of a run.
I could see that Howard was having issues with his decision to believe my lie. “This is about The Gardener isn’t it?” He asked as we made our way. “Yes” I replied with no remorse “I need to at least try and help her Howard. I can’t live with myself if I do nothing.” Howard slowed down our pace a little to catch some breathe “We were outnumbered and by daemons no less. How are you going to help her this time? What changed?” His point was valid but I had a plan. “Were not going to get ambushed this time. We know what to expect. Were going to get into the club and instead of poking abut like idiots we are going to use your love of setting fires and raise it to the ground. Kill every Vampire we can find, then grab The Gardener, she can open a portal to the Garden while the whole place burns” I explained, as if it was sensible. Howard grinned at me. “That’s the Stupidest thing I have ever heard. You want to set fire to a building your inside so everyone leaves and then find a magic woman who is probably already dead in the hopes she can magic us out of there!?” I was about to reply and he hushed me with a wave of his hand “If she is dead, we die. If she’s alive and out of magical gas, we die. If daemons spot us before we find her we die.” He laughed aloud “Sure, fuck it. Let’s go save your crush or die. If we manage to pull it off I may retire!” Waved down a taxi and handed the driver a handful of cash from Howard’s satchel. “Were in a rush” I said.
We reached the club literally five minutes later. It looked different now, there were no people queueing to get in but a lot coming out. It was late in the night, or early in the morning. Just as we did before we went in through the back door. No way they would have been able to fix the cameras yet. And we planned on killing everything we could anyway. Less to face on the way out.
We searched every room on the ground floor. I looked up the stairs this time. Sure enough there was a lot of blood and some broken camera equipment. The Gardener had done a good job of breaking it all. There were a few people, or vampires at least in the room with the clothes and printing equipment. Seemed like they were worried we had done something. They also seemed to be layout out clothes and had a few computers on.
We could hear the sound of people, or worse, in the other side rooms, we quietly peaked in to see if we would find The Gardener. We avoided attention and headed towards the bar. There was no way they would expect hunters to return not so soon. Not to a place that was this packed with daemons. Their assumptions that we were sensible was the very reason that we got back in so easily.
“She’s not here Mike.” Whispered Howard as we ducked back into the security room. “Even if she is dead, where’s the body? Where’s that daemon woman?” I whispered back. “I have no idea but from the way they are working in that room back there they are looking to outfit a non-trivial amount of daemons for city life. So we need to do something before were knee deep in scary.” Howard’s tone was grave. That’s when I had a moment of inspiration. “Your right Howard. They ARE expecting some one to come through that portal right? Maybe That’s where she is!” I was quite sure, there was no where they could be hiding her. We had searched the whole place. Our least conservative estimation of the time that had passed gave them no more than half an hour since our fight. There should still be fallout even if she lost. “Well fuck. Okay then. Yeah. Let’s go meet new people.” Howard said manically.
We carefully made our way to the back of the bar and then slid out into the crowed much like last time. The difference was that we were not assuming The Wind would protect our identity. This time we knew what we were facing. We were careful that the bar tender staff didn’t spot us and careful not to highlight our presence by standing around and watching the patrons with swords out like last time. This time we stayed in the crowed.
We waited. It wasn’t long before we felt the rumbling again. This time we knew what to expect. As the crowed danced it’s way subtly away from the centre of the room Howard and I held our ground dead centre of the floor. “What’s your plan then?” asked Howard as our presence was being noticed. “When the daemon came through the portal it was helpless and weak” Howard nodded in agreement, “Well, when another one arrives I’m going to ask it some questions.” Howard sighed, “I suppose you need me to keep you alive while you have your little conversation?” Howard was not confidant about this at all but he was the best, if anyone could do this it was him.
The rumbling began to hit its peak and as expected we were standing in a ball of light. We could see that some people where coming in through the doorway behind the bar, we couldn’t tell yet what they where though, Vampire or daemon, it was unlikely they where human.
The light was blinding and we were in the middle of it. The whole room was lit like daytime to us. It was starting to get hot like we were standing next to a fire. The light vanished suddenly and I pulled my daggers from my belt. Sure enough there was a daemon slowly appearing as a shadow next to us. This one looked like a young man, dressed in rags and as weak as I expected. He looked hardly even an adult but he was a daemon and given enough time to compose himself she could kill both of us in mere moments. I knelt behind him and put my arm around his neck as firmly as I could, I didn’t know if daemons needed to breathe but at the very least a neck could be broken. With my other hand I pushed my dagger into his back firmly enough to break his skin, I wanted no doubt that I was serious.
Howard drew his sword and waited to engage the figures dashing towards us from the bar, as they got closer I could tell with a single look that they where vampires nothing more. “Make it quick” demanded Howard. As he readied his sword. I put my lips close to the daemons ear, his hair was long and blond, it smelled like burnt wood. In slow and soft Demti I asked him a question “Your kind took a friend of mine, I need to know where she is.” The daemon was confused and still trying to get his bearings, I pushed my dagger a little deeper into his back, he wriggled with pain and moaned, I squeezed his neck a little more “Where is The Gardener” I asked. He stopped wriggling for a moment and smiled “She is inside our void” He spat the words with hatred “She’s well known to us. We were please to have her back.” I was filled with rage, Howard was locked in battle with at least five vampires. He was impressive and in trouble. He needed help “How do I get to your void then?” I asked “Release me and I’ll open a gate for you here and now” He said it with a smile. “If I release you, you’ll turn on me” I pointed out “No, I’ll open the gate for you. Why would I not? If you are stepping into it I don’t need it kill you. It’s suicide” I believed him. “Do it!” and with that I pulled my dagger from his flesh, I released his neck and stepped back, “STOP” he commanded in English. The vampires scuttled back from Howard they were in the prescience of a superior power now. “What the fuck Mike?” Exclaimed Howard when he saw he help the daemon to his feet. “It’s okay Howard, we have come to an arrangement”
He muttered something that sounded like Demti but I couldn’t quite understand it, his hands began to steam with darkness, he finished his mutterings and stretched out one arm, the darkness changed from smoke to ball around his hand. He blew it and as if it had its own mind it travelled slowly towards us. Then with a single word that I again could not catch he commanded it to open and it stretched itself out like a floating hole that lead into the source of darkness.
“You’re actually mad you know that right?” Muttered Howard from behind me. He was probably right. I looked at the gateway, just like our garage it was a simple entrance. “You don’t have to come” I said to Howard. “Yeah, I’ll just stay here and have a little dance shell I?” And with that we stepped forward into the swirling hole. As we entered it, Howard turned and drew his pistol he let a single bullet leave the barrel. He couldn’t have had any idea as to if it would kill the daemon or not but he couldn’t help giving it ago as he left.
To be continued…