DATE: Sat 26 Jun 2021 14:02 By: HexDSL@Posteo.net

A Hunter’s Garden part 6. The Final part.

Part 1.

Part 2.

Part 3.

Part 4.

Part 5.

One of the things you may want or need to know about this entry is that it was written last night. I have literally not even so much as re-read it and that means you shouldnt read it either

There is a version of the whole work coming soon that’s being edited by someone else and there will no doubt major changes and corrections. If you have not read any of this series yet then you should not start now. While this leaved the whole thing finished its all about as raw as it gets.

The only reason I’m even posting this is because the rest got posted and it seems like a strange omission to not post the end. If you DO choose to read it remember its rawer than anything has been to this point. It didn’t seem worth me taking a second pass on it when the person who is editing it will be doing that anyway.

There are a lot of moving parts in this portion of the story and at times it seems like its all unrelated but I think I nailed it. I think its good 😀

In summery, wait for the epub if your can, if not, then I present for your consideration the final part of A Hunters Garden

Home.

We arrived outside the night-club. It was almost dawn and the glow of morning was upon us. The pain of travelling across the portal was intense but I let it flow through me. Last time I had stepped through the portal I had no idea what would await me. This time, my city was going to be there to greet me.

We all arrived together, emerging from the portal like we had been carried with an avalanche but there was not water around us, only the quickly fading electrical energies and strange purple glow. “Everyone here?” I yelled as I tried to stand. “Here!” Howard called as he used my shoulder as a support. We were both disoriented and stumbling. “I literally cant believe we made it back.” said the Gardener as she lay on her back looking at the dawn sky. “Charles!?” I called? A gust of wind lifted and a disembodied voice echoed around us. “Thank you for your concern.” Howard scurried to the shadow of the building, unsure if the dawning light would burn him. I smiled and looked at my two friends. Then around the air where I knew Charles to be. “Fuck. We actually made it!” I exhaled.

The power I had wielded the daemon realm was far less potent here, this reality obeyed different rules but the guiding voices of the wraiths were still inside me. It wasn’t like they spoke with me or were inside my thoughts, it was more like an inner knowing. Their power was also still there but it wasn’t an infinite well like it was in the daemon realm. That’s the only way I could really understand it. I felt Charles breezing past me. He was exploring this new place.

Howard spoke loudly from his shade “Guys, I hate to be a pain in the arse but from the feeling that the sunrise is giving me I think I maybe ‘that-kind-of-vampire’ I looked over at him and I felt the Wraiths that were with me chatter like a bee inside my head for a moment then a surge of information filled me.”You’ll be fine, you’ve fed on a lot of daemons recently you should be able to withstand the sun for a good few days” I said with a commanding certainty “How do you know?” he snapped. “The Wraiths have been watching vampires since the dawn of time, they know a little bit about them.” I answered. Everyone looked a little puzzled at me for a moment. The Gardener smiled “You’re different now. You have become who you are were meant to be.” she said as she put a hand on my cheek. “I’m still me, I think” I answered “Yes, but you don’t have that doubt in you any more” she said, and he looked into my now flickering blue eyes.

The three of us walked back towards the garage, the Gardener was too weak to take us to the Garden directly so we had to rely on Howard’s usual methods for now. I could feel Charles never too far away, excited to see so many new things. He was spread out like a field of energy, in some ways so was I.

As we walked my friends asked me about my new found power. “I’m still trying to understand it myself.” I told them honestly. “Its like my mind is quiet now. I just know things. I don’t have to think things though, the information is in my head as I need it. When we were in the daemon realm I could literally see that ancient magic that Howard always talks about. Could see it working and nudge it, touch it. Made some pretty incredible things seem sort of obvious.” I realised how far fetched it sounded but they had seen it in action. “That’s when the Wraiths lend you their power” Charles said as if he were just walking behind me. Not that we could see him. “They could do it easier there than they can here, but whatever power they have here they can give to you.” Charles continued. “May take them, a while to understand how the this worlds magics work but whatever they can lend to you, you have it all.”

Howard grumbled to himself for a moment. I asked what was on his mind “So, an entire race of ghosts just live in your head now? Are you still really you?” he asked with some concern. The buzzing, the knowing of the Wraiths filled me for the briefest moment before I answered. “As much as you are still you, now you are a vampire. I suppose its not dissimilar.” Howard accepted this. As well as the implication that we were both different people now.

Howard was uncomfortable. The sun had risen and he felt a now instinctual animosity towards it, he could feel it burning him but his recent feed was enough to counter the effects. “So how powerful are you now?” he asked. I thought about it and the Wraiths again filed me with answers “I don’t have control over the energy around me any more, so I can’t wave my hand and make things happen like I did back there but I have a lot of knowledge available to me, as well as… An awareness that wasn’t there before.” This meant nothing to Howard so I continued “You know how, when your in a fight with a Vampire and you get that clarity that training and experience give you?” Howard nodded he knew this feeling well, it was what made him such a great hunter “well I have that all the time now” this meant something to Howard and he hummed in contemplation “I also have the memory’s of an entire species of immortals available to me, there’s probably more but I haven’t figured it out yet.” Howard approved of all this and patted my back “So you know how to keep me on the straight and narrow now I’m a Vampire?” he asked, “yes” I said, with genuine certainty.

A combination of the time of day and good route planning meant that we hadn’t actually encountered anyone who gave us a second glance on the way back to Howards garage, I knew on some level that the force we had called the wind was doing us a solid. I felt in touch with it now in ways that I never realised I could be.

“Vampires can’t get into the garden” Howard said sadly as he stood in front of the place the portal would be called. The Gardener, sighed “That’s not entirely true” she said. “The garden is built on energy, you haven’t fed on a human so it really can’t tell the difference” Howard smiled and opened the door, The garden, as usual was bright and inviting with a sense of home, I felt Charles behind me, he was captivated by the Gardens beauty. We stood for a moment in the glow of the light. Finally home.

Some one in the garden was walking towards us. After a moment we could see that it was Tom. We stepped through to meet him. “The sun here, it doesn’t burn me” Howard muttered. “It’s not real. Nothing here is real. Its all made of idea’s and energy” replied the Gardener. “I should know I created it” she added. Howard and I looked at her surprised “I’m called The Gardener” she said. “Still with us Charley?” asked Howard as the portal closed behind us. “Where else would I Be?” came the disembodied reply. Howard made a noise of agreement and we strolled towards Tom.

Tom got close enough to call out “Welcome back” to us as he walked “Fuck you!” The Gardener called back. “What?” he replied indignantly. “You never sent anyone to rescue me? Really?” she spat filled with rage. “I thought you were dead” he said apologetically. The Gardener slapped him the moment we was within range. She did it more to let him know she was angry than to hurt him, she could have put enough force in a slap to knock him into intensive care but it was symbolic more than anything else.

“Guys. Please fill him in, I have to get some more appropriate clothes for Charles and I” and with that she stormed off, Charles followed her, or at least an energy that I was now beginning to be aware of did.

Tom looked at my eyes and was nervous, he looked at Howard and stepped back a little in shock “Howard is a Vampire now” I said, in-case he had any doubt. Howard nodded in agreement “Mikes been possessed by the ghost of a dead race of immortals” I nodded. “That everything?” I asked Howard, “Oh we brought a Wraith back with us, he’s a hunter now!” We felt that we had explained everything we needed to and walked towards the house. Tom was awestruck by our new demeanour “Who’s Charles?” we heard him ask as we walked away. As Howard and I walked through the Main garden that lead to the house and every hunter stared at us. We left hunters but we had returned something new.

“What’s the plan?” Howard asked “I’m going to take a bath and get some sleep” I replied, warmed by the prospect of a good nights sleep but dreading the thought of the conversation with Tom that would come after. “Doesn’t feel very welcoming here for me now you now.” Howard laughed “No, things are different now, no more following orders, as soon as I wake up I’m going to shake things up a little” Howard nodded in approval “Yeah, I’m going to find Charles, smoke a pack of cigarette’s and hang out in the DoJo, see what my fellow Hunters think of the new me” I smiled “Don’t bite them” I added as we parted “Hey Howard” I said, he turned to look at me “I’m Sorry about your soul, I just wanted to say it, you know?” He nodded and looked saddened for a moment “You know what, I had been done with all of this for a while now” he gestures around him to the house, the garden, a shrug that encompassed it all and added “Whatever happens, I’m glad that that things are going to be more interesting for a while.” I nodded, I hadn’t realised that Howard was so unhappy with his life but I thought it best not to pry any further.

I opened the door to my room and slipped in, a little surprised to find that it wasn’t flooded with light from the perpetual mid-day sun. The curtains were closed about half way. In my arm chair was a figure, the contract between light and dark made it seem pitch black in the room, my new abilities instinctualy took over and a pulse of light filled my mind in a way that I could see with my eyes. The purple light left me like a ripple and I knew exactly who was in my chair “Gardener?” I asked as if unsure. “First I took a shower, then I had a good nights sleep. Then it occurred to me. You never told me WHY you came after me.” I took off my jacked and sat on my bed. “That was quick.” I said dryly. “Time doesn’t work how anyone expects here, but it works in my favour.” She said with a friendly tone. I shook my boots off and put my daggers on the night stand. My eyes, were beginning to adjust to the light and the some sort of switch over happened, the purple light faded and my own vision took over. “Are you really asking me?” I sighed as I leaned forward and rested by arms on my knees. I was not feeling great, I was pretty sure I smelled terrible and I needed to sleep. She knew all that. She was looking fresh as a summers morning. “I wanted to know what you would say.”

I looked at her, the wraiths inside me began to buzz, with a force of will I silenced them. I didn’t want or need them for this question. “The person that I was when I decided to risk everything did it because he had irrational feelings of attraction for a girl who was well out of his league.” I began. She gestured as if she was about to say something, I gestured for her to hold it back and continued “Then I got the wisdom of these Wraiths and the power to match. And I know realise how absolutely absurd that was.”

The Gardener looked to the crack in the curtains, the light lit her cheek like in an old movie. “Yeah, that’s what I thought.” She said quietly, almost embarrassed. “Gardener. You don’t owe me a damned thing. I made some bad choices and was lucky enough that it mostly went well. I’m suddenly self aware enough to know exactly how fucked up all of this actually is.” I thought for a moment about the very real prices that Howard had paid for my decisions.

“You don’t have an attraction for me now?” she asked, with genuine sincerity.

“Of course I do, you’re beautiful and you’re caring. Interesting and elegant. But you are also magical and purposeful. I have no doubt what so ever that you have more important things to do than pander to my childish feelings.” I lay back on my bed feet still planted on the floor.

The Gardener didn’t glance back from the curtain. I wasn’t hurt. I was being honest with myself and her. She was worldly enough to know exactly why I would risk it all for her. I also knew she was a lot older than she looked and I had no doubt that new Hunters has risked themselves for her before. “There are some things that you should know then Mike.” I lifted my head to see her properly. “Hu?” I exclaimed.

She stood up with a start and took a loaded breathe. “Your right. I knew. And while it’s always flattering it’s rarely fair on the maiden in distress.” She paced to the window and back. I lay on my bed. The old me was half hoping she would tell me how she wanted me and we could live happily ever after, the new Wraith-wise me knowing better. “Mike. I came here to tell you all the reasons why it could never work.” I grunted in agreement. “But I wasn’t being honest” I lifted my head and raised an eyebrow. She tilted her head at me “Oh, don’t look at me like that! I just… I don’t know. Your different now and I DO want to get to know you better.”

I sat up on my elbows. “What?”

“Micheal. I’m saying I would like to spend time with you in a non-combat scenario.”

I nodded.”Okay” I said with as much enthusiasm as I could muster while in such shock.

“But I want to say some things first.” she said nervously. I nodded again.

“I’m very old and I have lived a very unusual life. Other than in recent events, I’m not someone who needs saving. I demand to be treated as such.” She said boldly as if rehearsed. I realised that it wasn’t the first time she had delivered that line.

I sat up with my honest reply “I have no idea what or who I am right now. But if you don’t mind how messed up that is then I would like to spend time in a non-combat scenario with you too.” She smiled and nodded at me as if a deal had been struck. “Then I would like to invite you to have lunch with me when you wake up. My room is the top floor of the house.” With that she left my room hurriedly. It lay there for a little while longer before the Wraiths buzzes again. They to make sure that I realised that this was a date.

Names.

As I slept that night I was stalked and harassed but not by my own nightmares and the shadows of the battles I had fought like you would expect but instead I was trapped inside the nightmares of the Wraiths that now walked with me. I wasn’t sure if it was a side effect of the pact I had made, or their way of maximising my time but I was strangely aware that I was dreaming. I walked around the frozen images of the wraiths world when it was a utopia. It was not as vivid as other dreams I have had since but it was strange to be so aware of my own slumber. I watched frame by frame the fall of the Wraith world and how one mind fractured into that would become individuals desperate to be one again. It was terrifying, even though what I was experiencing was little more than a broken memory. It was when the mind I was watching realised that it was alone and the perfection was over that the sense of fear and loss forced me out of my dream.

The light streamed into my eyes as they opened like a switch had been flipped. I felt instantly awake and wanted nothing more than to see what changed this first new day would bring. I closed me eyes to make sure it want tall an imagined dream. The buzzing on knowing was there and the things that travelled with me seemed as excited as me to see what was in store for us. Then I remembered by first task and grinned with warmth and nervousness. Maybe I was still very much human after all.

I took a bath and shaved the whole time posing silent questions to my Wraiths. Learning little things about my new self. I very much thought of ‘them’ as separate to myself but was beginning to realise that it wasn’t really true. While there was a separation between ‘Mike’ and ‘Wraiths’ there was also a connectedness that I didn’t quite understand. It was clear to me that I needed to stop thinking of them as a resource or tool and simply accept them as an extension of myself.

I realised that I had taken forever to just get dressed. No longer trying to look like my old self. The Garden had presented me, with the exact selection that I required. As always. I wore jeans and a lose shirt. Nothing fancy or unusual but functional as I could get given that I had no idea how my day would plan out. A meal with the Gardener would be the most predictable portion of the day oddly. It was how Tom would respond to Howard and I that really concerned me.

I left my room, daggers handing from my belt and headed to the first staircase I could find. The Gardens usual habit of revealing thing as you needed them was as reliable as ever but it wouldn’t work as well in the future. The part of my mind that was the Wraiths was sending out that Purple ‘energy’ and mapping the whole place for me and it was happening with barely a thought. Given the vastness of the house I wondered how I would find the Gardeners room on the top floor.

I got to a staircase that led to large double doors going up. I took a subconscious look at my map, It was the top floor. I climbed the staircase and the doors opened as I got close. Theatrical as ever. “Gardener?” I said with a moderate call. “Over here” came her voice. I stopped for a moment stunned by her ‘room’ that was a studio apartment that was the entire top floor of the house.

It was a mess of different furniture and designs. With shelves and chests dotted about barely blending in. The windows each side of the massive room were taller than I was and seemed to be the entire length of the building in single panes of glass. It looked like the celling was floating. There was a mezzanine at the back of the room that appeared to be a bedroom with a kitchen area underneath it. I glanced around and while at first it seemed like one massive space, I could see how each area was themed. There was a training dummy and a weapons rack in one area, some sofas and old books in another, using shelves to define the area. There was also a busy looking desk with books and notes all over it, a chalkboard at its side and the most striking thing was that there were books literally everywhere.

The Gardener came out from the behind one of the shelves. Beaming with a smile, she was dressed in a lose t-shirt and shorts. Looking the least combat ready that I had seen anyone in the Garden. “Come on, I have toast.” She led me the not insignificant way to the back of the room I looked at the strange collections of antiques and weapons that where all about the place along with so many books, some piled and used and shelf supports. “Wait, did you say toast?” I asked as her words finally registered. “Yeah, Toast is the best.” she said. We sad down at a larger rustic wooden table that looked like it should be in an old farm house, she quickly started clearing the books and papers from the table and brought over a large platter of cheese, butter and jam. Then she lit the grill on an old range cooker. She lit it with a touch not a match.

I didn’t say anything while she grilled enough bread for an army and then sat down at the other side of the table to the left of me. “So toast?” I said as if it were a question. She smiled as she began buttering a stack. “Well, where else can we go to get to know each other? The moment we both leave our rooms at the same time we will some how find our selves in the company of Howard and Charles, and then the moment we step into the garden we will be ushered into Tom’s tent.” She pulled the rust from her slice and chewed on it with glee. I smiled “So our choice for a Date was literally your room or mine?” She nodded. “And because all the food is down in the buffet in the garden, all I have here is bread. Its not like I can pop out and get supplies without the Gardens time ‘stuff’ making things happen.” She ate more toast. Looking less like a regal warrior than I knew it was possible for her to be. I ate some toast. It was actually great toast.

We talked for hours, we ate toast with every topping we could find in her kitchen. We laughed and grilled things and she showed me around her home that she still referred to as ‘her room.’ She told me about how she hit herself away in her room for what could have been months at at time in-between her missions and tasks. She said that a lot of the more long term people who lived in the house embarrassed the strange flow of time basking in their own company for unhealthy amounts of time.

Her books had become an obsession for her. She had read every thing in the library many times and her own vast collection of books was materials that the library didn’t want because they were all in Demti. She and Tom were the only people who could read them, And tom was far more interested in the grand plan than the true history of the world.

We sat on the sofas in what felt like the evening and drank wine. She asked me about my life before the Garden, interested in what ‘normal’ life was like. I asked her about how the Garden and the hunters had changed over the years. We were both fascinated by what the other thought of as mundane. Once the wine bottle was empty we shared a kiss or two and sat in each others arms for a little while.

“Well Mike, this has been wonderful but its time to venture into what awaits us” She said with a sadness. There was no reason that we couldn’t stay here for ever but the stress of what to come loomed over both of us. This day had been the calm in the eye of the storm and we needed to get out of the storm before we could really relax.

“Before we go,” I asked, “Do you have a name? It feels kind of strange still thinking of you as ‘The Gardener’ after today.” She laughed, a genuine and heartfelt laugh. “Ohhhhhh.. My name!” she said “Its Sophia. We have been sitting here all day and it didn’t occur to me that I hadn’t told you.” I sighed “I thought it was some kind of big secret!” “No, not at all. ‘Gardener’ has become like a rank, or codename over the years and no-one seems to think much more about it than that.” she said, still very amused by it. “I expected some big reveal or to be sworn to secrecy!” I told her. She just shook her head and beamed that entertained smile.

The Gardener, Sophia, got changed into trousers and one of her green leather jackets that I now new she had many of. The went to her weapons rack and selected a large bow and a quiver. She wore both across her shoulder and pulled a short-sword, or long dagger from the other rack, as she flipped the blade over a scabbard seemed to pop into existence strapped to her leg. My Wraith senses took careful note of how the energy of the swords power flowed out of it like a living smoke and formed the scabbard in moments “So that’s how that works!” I said absently. Sophia looked at me puzzled “You can see that now?” She asked. “Yeah.” I had already told her about how the Wraith senses worked, as far as I understood them. “Useful ability.” she said, getting more professional and cold each moment as she prepared herself for taking with Tom.

Leadership.

We walked through the mostly empty house towards the patio doors where we found both Howard and Charles standing in wait for us. Charles had a very solid and physical form now. He was wearing some new pristine black robes with silver trim, he looked less like the scuffed monk that we first met and more like a pilgrim of modern times.

Sophia and I were holding hands. We both let go as we saw our friends, our perfect day was over. “Charles! You look GREAT!” I said with excitement. “Yes. Its taken me a little time but I seem to have figured out the way your worlds energies work. This Garden you have is so calm, its easy to be a solid form here. No distractions or noise.” I clapped him on the shoulder and took a good look at his face not I finally could. He look like a man in his early fifties. Clean shaven with neat long black hair that seemed to be tied back into a pony tail. I turned and shoot Howard’s hand. “You still good?” I asked. Howard nodded “Charles and I have spent some time together. He’s helping me though this.” I was pleased that they had bonded but I did wonder how much time had passed for them both.

As I had that thought the chatter if the Wraiths filled my mind. This was something I would have to get used to. It was like I in a crowed for a moment but everyone was talking to me at once. Then the knowledge would simply manifest inside me. I didn’t have to actually consider it, I just knew it. I had new information now. “The Gardens healing power has effected you, like it heals the Hunters. But for you it supplies you with energy. You have never been given more energy before. So it allows your form to come though with less effort” I said, I pointed towards my head and added “I’m told.” Charles bowed to me a little. It dawned on me in that moment that Charles was like family to me now. I squirrelled that idea away to consider later.

“Well. Time to talk to the big guy I reckon.” Said Howard though a plume of recently ignited cigarette smoke.

We stepped out of the patio doors, there were many hunters in the garden today, more than usual, all pretending to drink tea and talk about their missions but all watching us, every one of them armed. Sophia whispered in my ear “We can take them it if comes to it.” I hadn’t realised that it could come to that.

We walked to Tom’s marquee, his war room that was still erected at the edge of the patio area. There were two well built hunters guarding the door. One had a war hammer, an interesting choice for a weapon, the other simply had a whip, these were the more heavy duty of hunters. We had seen them around before, they were always sent on missions that involved direct combat, no information gathering or protection for these two. We ignored them and walked past, Tom must have been nervous to have these two so close.

Tom was sitting behind the map table, we were alone with him. I looked at the table, I wasn’t sure how much time had passed in the garden since we entered the Daemon realm but things where going badly, the city map showed many area’s that were marked with red pins to denote ‘enemy.’ Many of the blue pins that had symbolised Hunter entrances to the Garden were now replaced with black ones, I assumed that it meant they were either no longer working, or daemon held locations.

The four of us stood in front of the table. The Gardener, Sophia was first to speak “I know we have an agreement that you wont bother me but really? You actually told them not to come and rescue me?” She was angry. Tom was his usual self, very calm and calculated “It was a suicide mission. Look at the facts. One has come back tainted by evil and the other has been possessed by ghosts”, “Wraiths” I corrected. The Gardener continued “Maybe if you had have organised a proper team it would have gone better.” Tom leaned forward in his seat “Your right. But, I’m not sure it would have done much better. Look at the map. We may have gotten you out smoother but there would have been less hunters guarding the city. If I had have sent a full team we would have lost even more ground.” He wasn’t proud of his decisions but he stood by them. “How long had passed in the city?” Howard asked sternly. Tim rubbed his chin and said “two weeks since your disappearance.” Howard whistled, “damn, we have been gone a good while in Garden time then!” Tom nodded.

“look at this map, lesser daemons have started working along side the vampires. This city is almost lost to us. I told it’s the same all over the world, every hunter sect is reporting the same losses. How could I risk my best soldier and his very talented student to a suicide mission?”, “Best soldier” Howard grinned and nudged me in the side “Best.”

“Fuck you Tom! They came alone with no aid or exit plan, no backup at all and still here we are. If you had have sent two or three more hunters with them and a properly enchanted key, they could have just strolled in and out of there” The Gardener spat the words like bullets at Tom. He looked angry “No! I was not going to risk good hunters for you not for a…” He slapped the desk. Silence filled the room for longer that it should have “For a what?” Sophia said. Tom shook his head “I’m sorry, I spoke out of turn.” He was obviously under at lot of pressure. “For a Daemon?” said Sophia with genuine hurt. “Daemon” she said again. “I’m not a daemon Tom.” She added with a sadness.

Silence filled the room again. “I know, I’m sorry.” Tom said sincerely. I instinctualy reached out with my Wraith abilities, I looked at Sophia’s biology. She wasn’t human that was for sure, but a daemon? “Look, I made a call. It wasn’t a good one. I’m sorry.”

I had expected the Gardener to leap over the table and rip his head from his body, I would have stood with her and fought off every Hunter that came to avenge their leader but it would have been the wrong thing to do.

Instead the Gardener stayed calm, I could feel the power and rage emanate from her like heat from a fire but she controlled her anger, she was no wild daemon she was the Gardener. “Fine.” she said “But when all this is over, the Garden won’t support you as a leader any more.”

“I know, it was a bad call. But be reasonable.” Tom looked threatened in a way I hadn’t seen before. “No Tom. The control you’re exhorting over the Hunters isn’t right. If I hadn’t seen a glimpse of something in my own future, I wouldn’t have removed your control from Mike and I would be dead now. How many others have died because of your will?”

“What?” exclaimed Howard. “You do push back out free will?” He said angrily. Sophia turned to him “Yes Howard. All the doubts that every hunter has had in the filed is totally correct. His will changes you. That’s why he makes a point to personally meet every new recruit.” Howard gave tom a snarl that was accompanied by some suddenly quite visible teeth that Tom new well enough to be wary of. “What?” exclaimed Howard. “You do push back out free will?” He said angrily. Sophia turned to him “Yes Howard. All the doubts that every hunter has had in the filed is totally correct. His will changes you. That’s why he makes a point to personally meet every new recruit.” Howard gave tom a snarl that was accompanied by some suddenly quite visible teeth that Tom new well enough to be wary of.

“You’re still in charge Tom. What’s the Plan?” Sophia said sternly as she put one pointed finger on the map. “I haven’t got one.” said Tom with shame and defeat. “We did everything we could. They took out every team we sent. We lost hunters with every mission, every victory we had came with more losses than I have ever seen before. I ordered everyone back to the garden.” Tom slouched in his chair he was at the end of his tether and almost out of hope. “When you came back through the portal, I hoped you would have something we could use against them. Instead you have brought a Vampire, a possessed Hunter and a ghost.” Tom allowed his true feelings for us to show though in a way that I didn’t like.

“I may have something you can use.” Charles said sheepishly. All eyes were instantly on him. “Go on…” encouraged Sophia. Charles looked nervous and stepped forward to Toms desk. “The daemons are using my realm as a staging ground. If you remove it then the flow of daemons will stop.” “What?” asked Tom with a dubious tone. “The reason they need my realm is to be staging ground for portals. You cant open a portal to an opposing charge directly.” added Charles. “What does that mean” Tom pressed impatiently. Charles messed with the cuffs of his robes nervously and continued “You can open a portal to here from the City because that realm is human, neutral energy. And you can open a portal to my, err, the daemon realm to the city but if you tried to open a portal from here, your Garden directly to the Daemon realm it would be mixing light and dark energy. It would ignite.”

The room went silent.

“Can that be done?” Asked Howard decisively.

“The garden has infinite energy, Juice to open the portal is easy but I have no idea how the mechanics would work” said Sophia deep in thought.

“I know the spell.” Said Charles sheepishly, finding all eyes on him once again. “But I you need a form to work the energies. I can’t do it and it would take a long time to teach.” Charles didn’t enjoy being the centre of attention. It probably came from a life of being invisible most the time.

My Wraiths buzzed for a moment, the did not know to do this. It concerned me that they had gaps in their knowledge. “The Charms!” Sophia said with excitement. “The charms are provided by the Garden, but the original hunters had people with the ability to turn to energy. That’s how the imparted their training on the Charms. CHARLES! You can put the spell into charms. We can all learn it in moments.” she added.

Then we realised the price we were to pay. We would destroy the daemons route to us, but at the cost of our own home. The room was silent again but this time because we all realising the same thing.

Tom broke our silence “We still have all the daemons in the human realm to deal with, they are powerful, them alone may be enough to defeat us, especially without the Garden.”

I thought on it and was about to support the plan but Sophia spoke before me. “We know there are more hunters out there. Different sects, gardens, sanctuaries, whatever we are currently calling them. We maybe done but they will have a chance to carry on.”

Tom stood up with a new energy “Start preparations for the mission. I’ll start arranging to evacuate what’s left of our people to the warehouse. Anne won’t like it but she’ll have to take our people.”

We all nodded in agreement. “Make enough charms for the people in this room and no more.” Tom added “The ability to open portals isn’t something I want to arm everyone with, especially not if it can destroy entire realms.”

With the plan made we left the tent.

“Charles and I will prepare the Charms.” Sophia said with a regretful resolve. This place was her home more so than ours. “I need to talk to Anne before Tom gets there. I need to make sure she is aware of my new situation.” Howard said, gesturing to his teeth. “I just hope she doesn’t shoot me on sight.” he said with a half joke. He cared about Anne and If we were to be evacuated to her Warehouse it was only fair that she knew of Howard’s situation.

“I have some things I need to work out with the Wraiths” I said. “I need a quiet place and a little time.” As the group began to go our separate ways. “Sophia, can I talk to you a second?” I asked. “SOPHIA!” Howard added with glee “Your name is Sophia!” We all glared daggers at him for a moment. “Sure.”

Charles and Howard walked towards the house. “You want to know why Tom said I was a daemon don’t you?” she said the moment it seemed like they were out of listening distance. I nodded. “I don’t know what I am Mike. Honestly.” I must have looked disbelieving because she sighed and continued without me saying another word “When I said I was old. I was being honest. But I’m probably older than you think.” I raised an eyebrow and nodded “I figured.” She smiled and stepped a little closer to me. “Mike, I’m as old as the Garden.” I recalled the story she told me about the way the garden was created, she had said that it was thousands of years ago. “Sophia, what are you saying?” I asked intently. “When the Garden was created. The first hunters entered and The house was still forming. They found me there.” she said. “A baby?” I asked? “No. I have not aged a day since the first moment I remember.” She looked nervous and looked deep into my flickering blue eyes “I have told many lies about who I am over the years but The truth is, I was there. In the Garden when the first hunters arrived. Naked and confused. I have no memories and the only thing that I know is that when then came in, I spoke in Demti.” She stopped for a moment and then continued “As far as I know, I was born with the Garden.” I was lost for words. She looked human, she ate toast and read books how could she be anything other than human? The Wraiths buzzed at me again. I pushed them back. I didn’t want them interfering with my feelings. “What happens to you if we destroy the Garden?” I asked. “I don’t know…” she replied. “But we don’t have a choice.”

With that said, she smiled and walked away from me. I sat down right there next to Toms tent and closed my eyes. The wraiths began to chatter and buzz, this time I wanted everything they had to offer, including some answers about the things they didn’t know.

Omissions.

I began my conversation with the Wraiths. While they had delivered information to me a few times now, closing my eyes and actually focusing on them as something separate from me resulted in something new to me. I was in that black place again where I had talked with Charles and been offered the deal. But there was only a single ball of light there now, the ball represented the single whole, unfractured mind of the Wraiths, all of them, it didn’t speak or communicate with me it simple showed me feelings and deposited information to me.

“The deal. You promised to help me.” I barked. The Wraiths filled me with love and hope. They confirmed. I instantly felt bad for assuming they were being dishonest with me. I didn’t trust them yet and I was worryingly aware of them being literally inside my thoughts. No

“Show me how to make portals” I asked. They filled me with a nothingness. A confirmation that they didn’t know. Even thought on the surface their communication was simple there was a complexity to in my mind that I can’t quite express in words.

“Charles knows.” I both stated and asked at the same time…

And then something unexpected happened.

Its a funny thing the way that time works in the Garden. When your in your room, or someone else’s room you have all the time in the world. But when you are in the Garden everything can happen in moments. I opened my eyes as Sophia and Charles were leaving the house. Howard was sitting next to me and Tom was sitting at a table talking with high ranking Hunters. In the few moments I was inside my mind with my Wraiths they had completed their missions and the wheels were turning on the plan.

I stood up and strolled over to Charles and Sophia, then with all the energy and force I could muster with the power of every Wraith in side me I swung a right hook. I swung it with as much physical force as I could muster, Hunter training, raw muscles, a will of stone and on top of that with all the psychic energy that was inside me, the full support of the entire Wraith mind. It maybe the single most righteous punch in the history of this whole damned war. For what I believe the first time in the history of his race Charles was hit. He was hit so hard he burst. Not to avoid the contact but because of it. His robes floated genitally down to the floor. Sophia looked at me stunned. Howard came running over and every hunter in the garden switched instantly to a combat stance, weapons drawn. Charles reformed in a flickering mess of smoke and electric. It took him literally minutes to reform fully his robes slowly filling and taking form again. The whole time every hunter stood ready and didn’t flinch. Tiers ran down my cheeks. Eventually Charles said “They told you then?” I nodded. “Michael. I, I wanted to tell you. But… I didn’t know how.” I looked him in his eyes that were still not quite solid. Then I waved for the hunters to stand down. They were suspicious but after a moment Tom backed me up with a wave of his own hand and returned to his talks.

“What was that?” Sophia asked. “How was that even possible?” Howard added. “I was a little confused when Charles seemed to know something that his entire species was unable to tell me. Given that they literally know everything it was a concern for me.” I stepped closer to Charles, he flinched but stood his ground. “I asked them about it. And about portals.” Charles looked at the floor. I grabbed his face and forced him to look at me. He tried to disappear but the Wraiths gave me the power to hold his form. “You know why the daemons discovered his world?” Charles stopped trying to escape me. “Because he opened the first portal. Invited them in.” I let go of him. He didn’t run, or fade away. “What the fuck?” Howard eloquently asked, or exclaimed. “He discovered portal magic. He was the one who actually invented the damned spells. Opened a few. Found the human realm. Found a few more nice places. Then he stumbled across the daemons home world.” Sophia snapped her head towards Charles and fired a cutting glare. I continued “He decided to try and communicate with the Daemons. Told them all about the things he had seen.” Charles interrupted me “They were at peace in their realm. I had no idea what they were. They were children compared to what they are now.” Sophia gasped a little. Howard put his hand on his sword. I continued “The daemons were at peace because they had nothing left to consume. They were like children because their realm was out of energy, they were dying.” Charles couldn’t cry but I’m sure he would have if he could “I wanted to save them. I could see they were close to dying out. They had nothing and we had so much.” Howard actually growled at him. “So they convinced him to give them portals, and the maps he had made” Charles spluttered an apology and began to ramble about how he couldn’t have known. “They consumed his world. Just like he said.”

Howard bent down taking deep breaths. At first it looked like he was emotional but I quickly realised from the grip he had on his sword handle that he was desperately suppressing is Vampire instincts as well as his human rage. I patted him on the back to silently support his effort.

Sophia was as pale as the crisp white clouds in the sky. Her eyes glazed, after a moment she spoke “Tell me more” the worlds were like spit.

I continued telling them what I knew, Charles not so much as blinking, totally frozen in shame, or fear or something else. “Most of the rest of what he told us was true. With a few omissions. The Churches we saw in his realm were built to honour him. Him personally. The rest of the Wraiths threw everything they had at the daemons to try and hold them back. They ran out of energy. That’s why they couldn’t take a form like he can. What’s why they the Wraith attacks amused the daemons so much, it was nothing compared to what they once faced from them.”

Charles opened and closed his mouth for a few moments before eventually committing to actually making a sound “I won’t insult you with trying to apologise. It was the greatest mistake of my existence and everyone paid for that mistake.” He looked down with the most pure shame I had ever seen in someone. “I was exiled from the one mind. The single thing that united all of my people. When they removed me from the ‘whole’ your people were still living in caves. The wraiths never gave up the fight to push back the daemons. It went on for a thousand years at least. I have been alone for as long as human civilization has existed. I wanted nothing more than to make it all right again.” As much as he sounded sincere this was the individual, the man who opened the door to the Daemons, and as such allowed vampires to exist. Every death at their hands was blood on his. It was even possible that ours wasn’t the first world that the Daemons had waged war on. How many lives had been extinguished because of Charles?

Sophia wiped her eyes, Howard wiped his too even though I’m pretty sure vampires cant cry. “This doesn’t change anything.” commanded Sophia. “The plan is a good one.” she added. Howard spoke over her with venom “And old Chuck here just gets away with crating this whole mess? Is that it? Is that all?” If Charles had have been something that Howard could have killed I have no doubt in that moment he wouldn’t have hesitated. I tried to put a comforting hand on his shoulder but he batted it away. “Howard!” I demanded, grabbing his attention. “He was tried and convicted by his people. He has been alone for a thousand years.” I tried to explain. “Alone! ALONE! Why the fuck is he even alive?” Howard shouted in Charles’s face. “Why are you alive?”

Charles sat down on the grass. Partly because there was nothing else he could do. “I agree.” He said calmly. “I wish nothing more than to pay the price for what I did. It was a mistake and I never once sided with them but I’m still the reason they escaped their world. I did a lot of stupid things. I want to die. I deserve it.” He said quietly. Howard stopped yelling and posturing. “Why don’t you?” He said with a menacing calm. “There exists no force that I know of that can actually do any real harm to my kind. I’ve searched, I can’t so much as feel pain.” He said, again with pure regret and hopelessness in his voice. “Hit him again Mike!” He said. I shook my head “Everything I had in me was in the first one and all it did was turn him into a cloud for a moment.”

Sophia put out a hand for Charles, gesturing for him to stand. “Howard, Mike, It doesn’t matter. The war is over. Win or lose. This is the end one way or the other.”

“So we just forgive him?” Howard asked.

“Howard, were literally planning on blowing up the garden, and their entire realm. It… It doesn’t matter” Sophia said with a tone that was simply too complicated for me to understand. “Howard, Mike. Let this go for now. And I’m saying that as The Gardener, not as your friend.” we both nodded. I was relieved. I was furious but Charles made his mistake so long ago, and his people, while they couldn’t forgive him, they no longer had any anger held in them. By extension neither did I. But as a Hunter I lusted for retribution. Perhaps I was starting to understand Sophia’s tone a little more now.

We stood silent for a moment, I tried to let go of my rage, to shake off the emotions. “You made the charms?” I asked. “Yeah, Lets go learn to make portals.” Sophia replied. “Tom!” she called and gestured inside. Tom nodded and we went into the house. Charles walked behind us. Howard began to whisper something to me “Let it go!” I barked and kept walking.

It appeared that while for me only a few moments had passed that wasn’t how things had gone for Sophia and Charles. The Library was a mess. Some of the shelves had been moved away and there were some magical looking symbols burned into the ancient stone floor. There were piles and piles of paper and scrawled notes. They had obviously worked hard on whatever it was that they had done. In the middle of the room was a small table and on it were two charms glowing a little with power.

“Only two?” I asked. “I can’t use Charms” Said Sophia with a shrug. Never could. Have to learn everything the old fashioned way.” Her books made more sense to me suddenly. “No matter how hard I try and stay on the straight and narrow there is no way they were ever going to offer a vampire the ability to open portals to different realms Mike.” Howard smiled. He had seen this coming. I still wasn’t thinking of him as a potential time bomb the way that Sophia and Tom seemed to. It made sense from their point of view I suppose. “Was it hard to make them?” I asked. “Took a few days, for us. Mostly understanding the Original hunters notes. They were some odd middle English dialect with Demti words thrown in. I assume they wanted to make sure that daemons wouldn’t be able to instantly recognise it if they got in to the Garden.” I studied the charms. They seemed to resonate power. There was a huge amount of training stored in them. “Do you remember the first hunters?” I asked her. “Not really. They were distrustful of me at first and I had to learn everything literally everything. I only had he most basic skills. Wasn’t very useful to them.” She seemed a little bitter. “Wasn’t a fan?” I asked casually. “They were the warriors of legend. Not socialites. They knew how to kill things that needed killing but teaching me things, or even talking to me wasn’t high on their list of things to do.” I was filled with a feeling of sadness at how lonely she must have been, how confused. I glanced at Charles and that feeling of sadness stayed.

Tom entered the room, he had changed clothes. The Gardens time trickery still confused me occasionally and trying to coordinate all the things that were happening was getting tiresome, I decided I would stop thinking about it as best as I could. Then flashed back to a conversation with Howard that I had when I first arrived and he had told me that “its easier to just not think about it” and smiled to myself. At the time I had thought him to be avoiding my questions, now I had learned enough to understand him.

“How was it accomplished?” Tom asked “We have never needed to make them before.” he added. Sophia pointed to her massive piles of paper and books “At its most basic, we use the magic circle” she pointed at the burns on the stone floor “That summons a raw crystal, then you have to use some meditation techniques to get your mind in a very specific place, after that it just happens. The charms absorb your information and the circle is broken. In literal flames.” She pointed at the burn marks around the library. “I’m over simplifying of course. And Honestly it was Charles who had to get into the meditative state. For him that was the easy part.”

Tom and I took a charm each. He looked at Sophia, “and there is absolutely no way you can use one? Even after you read all this?” he asked. She shook her head. “I tried. I tried a lot.” she said with a defeated tone.

“Okay, Mike. I guess your officially fully trained, welcome to the inner circle.” Tom said with a big charming smile and tightened his grip around the charm. He had obviously done this many times before. No need for the ritual of the event for him. A flickering rainbow of light came from the gaps in his fisted hand and as he took a quick breathe and his eyes sparkled. It was done. He stumbled and had down on one of the library armchairs, a now burned armchair. “Okay! That was a lot to take in. I can see why its not a well known skill.” He was breathing deeply and trying to regain his composure.

AHe nodded to me to absorb mine. I gripped the charm and pushed my force of will into it to activate it. I had gotten pretty good at it, and with the massive amount of will that the Wraiths came me it was easy to summon the required focus. The charm began to activate and I started to receive the impression of the information. Suddenly my mind began to burn and scream. I dropped the charm and fell backwards. Howard caught me. “What happened” asked Tom with concern. I shook of the pain and looked at my hand, it was burned and smoking. “The Wraiths, they won’t let me have this knowledge!” I said. While my mind was being filled with the Wraiths scorn. “Why!?” asked Tom. “I was afraid of this” Said Charles. “It is forbidden knowledge. You are bound by their rules.” He said. “You can’t use charms any more?” Asked Howard. “I can’t use this charm” I replied. “Are you sure?” Tom asked me. I nodded. With a purposefulness I didn’t expect Tom picked up the charm, and talked to the Chair he had been sitting on. He lifted the chair and slid the charm under its leg. He let go and it smashed into shards, the pieces glowed and smoked for a moment. “That was absolutely the correct thing to do” said Charles sternly. Tom sat on the chair. “I understand this now. It’s too much power.” Tom was staring into space absorbing him knew information now it was bedding into his mind. “Charles is it true that You and I are the only people you know of with this knowledge?” Tom asked earnestly. Charles considered his words for am moment “There are two types of portals. The ones that take you from one energy to another are not uncommon in the realms I have seen. But the ability to force open new paths is ours alone.” Tom sighed almost relieved. “You present yourself as a holy man. You know what could happen if this power was abused?” Tom asked. Howard went to say something and Sophia shot him a glare that would silence an army. “I know very well Tom” Charles replied. “Will you swear to me, and to whatever gods it is that you worship that you will never share this information again? Its the ability to destroy worlds!” asked Tom with desperation and fear in his eyes. Charles smiled with an understanding that was deeper than Tom knew “Sir, I swear that I know better than you can imagine how dangerous this power can be. If it weren’t that you want it to destroy the daemons, I wouldn’t have even let you know that it existed.” Tom nodded hoping that he could trust the words that Charles had said so sincerely. “is there a way to remove this knowledge from me once the mission is done?” He asked Sophia and Charles. Charles simply bowed and Sophia shook her head.

An hour or so later we were in the garden and the plan was in motion. Hunters were packing up equipment and taking it through the door to the warehouse. The place was being stripped and evacuated with precision and purpose. Tom was overseeing the work but the rest of us sat in the garden at one of the little tables that no one seemed to think was important enough to take with them. “How did it go with Anne?” I asked Howard. “She literally threw me out of her Warehouse. Banged some Void sticks together and the next thing I knew I was in the middle of a Snow storm, Arctic or somewhere I guess.” He said. “How you get back?” I asked, he showed me his own void sticks. “Do they even work outside of your garage?” I asked. “They work at any entrance, that’s my assigned one is all. And if Anne can open an exit from the Warehouse, I can return to the Garden through the same way.” He said juggling his Void stick as he talked. “I wonder is Anne knew that when she dropped you there?” Sophia asked. “Vampire or not, no way she would really hurt me. We go back to far.” He said. “Given the evacuation it went better for Tom I assume.” I observed.

“It seems strange that we are all being so relaxed when according to Toms map the city is on the brink of a Vampire apocalypse” Howard noted. “You know how time works here Howard” replied Sophia. “No, I don’t. I never did. Think just sort of speed up and slow down as required.” He said. She laughed “And that’s how things work.” Charles was quiet. I understood.He didn’t want to give Howard a reason to scream at him again. I suppose with his exile and the time he spent alone being a little quiet around people who knew your dark secrets was as as good as friendly conversation. I was lying to my self with this thought but I couldn’t bring myself to include him right now.

“what about your things Sophia? Are they being packed and taken to the Warehouse?” I asked. “No” She replied. I waited for more information but nothing came. I pressed for a little more “You want me to help you get it organised? There are a lot of books to get sorted.” She looked at me and here eyes thinned a little “I am going to have a fresh start. Assuming we all get through this” There was something else in her voice. It didn’t take the wisdom of my Wraiths to tell me that she was worried about what would happen to her if the Garden did get destroyed as we planned. I didn’t know what I could say to help her, in part because I had already been thinking about it. She could leave the Garden for as long as she wanted and she had never had an ill effect. I assumed what although it created her, she wasn’t tied to it. I hoped.

Tom walked over to us. “I have asked everyone to write a letter to future hunters. To leave them here. So if something of this place survives then something of us will last too. Its pointless I expect; but I think it will give them all some closure. Some hope. This has been our home for a long time. Some more than others, I think your all should do it too.” He said. “I told everyone to Leave the letters in their rooms.” He added. I was beginning to realize that even though Tom had some strange ways, he was a good man who cared about his hunters. “I like this idea” Said Sophia. “We should do this. And by going back to our rooms we will no doubt emerge when its time to act.” She added. We all agreed. “Mike” Sophia asked. “Come visit me before we leave.” I nodded. I was glad that whatever bond we were forming hadn’t been shattered by the day we had had.

Here I am in my room for what feels like days. Looking at the pile of paper that’s in front of me, perhaps it has been days. Tom said to write a letter and I wrote a book.

Whatever happens when this ‘letter’ is done I’ll know that I wrote it all. I left a chronicle of it in the Garden for when it all burns.

What ever may happens in the future, I’m glad I did this. Sorting it all out in my head has been good for me. I felt like I was telling The story to the Wraiths and the Garden has given me this time as one last gift.

I’m scared and I’m sad. I’m pretty sure I’m not making out of this next part. But I’m also grateful that for a brief part of my life, I lived like I never imagined I would. I fought for my own reasons and it was everything I ever wanted.

Goodbye.

Howard and Tom.

Howard was in his room there were piles of screwed up paper around him. But this time he was sure he had written his feelings and emotions in a way that he was finally satisfied with. The note had been screwed into a ball a few times and then flattened out as Howard changed his mind about it being his letter. He argued with himself about weather or not it was actually worth doing one of these things.

He looked at his note, his letter and read it back to himself aloud “Fuck Vampires. Fuck Daemons.” It was signed with a cigarette burn at the bottom. It really did sum up his feelings at the moment. He stuffed it in an envelope and tossed it to his bed. His feet were up on the desk and his curtains were closed, he had even put a blanked over the curtain rail to try and suppress some of that mid day glow from the Garden. Because of his ‘condition’ he could see clearly even without light. Actually he could see better without it. The light made his vision over saturated and hazy. He thought to himself how he would have to find a pair of dark glasses. He then started to think about how stupid he would look in dark glasses all the time.

“Fuck it!” He said to himself. With that said, he found some clean clothes and washed his face. He checked his weapons and stood in front of the door. He stood there thinking about all the times he had left before. How many lives he might have saved, how many vampires he had killed and the things he had done in the name of the war.

Since he had given up is soul to save Mikes life he had felt so different. He had bounced between rage and hatred and fought with his desire to feed and kill. He wasn’t sure if it was all the daemons he had ‘fed-on’ or being back in the Garden healing him but right now he felt oddly happy. They had a plan to blow up the Garden. Whatever that meant the result would be a return to the human world, no more ancient magic fracturing his life. He felt like he was on the edge of freedom. At the same time he knew he was a vampire now and this sense of freedom and levity scared the shit out of him. He had become the thing he always feared he might and he didn’t care. Was that part of having no soul? How long before the hunters would need to kill HIM? He knew it would have to happen eventually.

“Fuck it!” he said again and opened the door. The light streamed in, he left and closed the door without looking back at the room he had called his for so long.

He went down the long hall and passed Mikes room. He put the palm of his hand on the door and thought about his friend. I decided not to bother him and hurried off to the Patio area. The evacuation was almost done, there were only one or two hunters around now talking with each other and moving papers around Toms desk. Toms war desk was simply in the Garden now and his tent was gone. All the tents were gone and the furniture was disorganised for the what may have been the first time. Tom waved Howard over.

“What do you need from me?” He asked. Tom walked around the table and took Howard a few steps away from the remaining hunters. “Howard, I need to know. Honestly. Can I still trust you?” Howard was surprised that Tom didn’t already consider him an enemy. “You can trust me Tom. I’m not sure if that will always be the case, but at the moment, I’m still more hunter than Vampire.” he answered. “That’s great.” Tom said. “Hunter, I have a final mission for you then.” Tom put his hand on Howard’s shoulder and continued “I have to get to the Daemon run night club, get into the daemon realm. I need you to keep me alive while I open the portal from there back to the Garden.”

It seemed that Tom had refined the plan somewhat. “Why can’t you just open it from here?” Howard asked. “wasn’t that the plan?” Tom nodded. “That was the plan yes. Now I have the knowledge of portals I understand it all better. The daemon realm is out of energy. Charles tells me that the daemons use some sort of Shaman to open portals, they use their own energy.”

“Why does that matter? Doesn’t the Garden have lots of energy?” Howard asked. Tom nodded in agreement “Yes! thats the problems. The Garden is the bomb and the Daemon realm is the target. We need to angle the ‘blast.’ Directing the energy towards the daemon realm.” Howard rubbed his chin and thought about this for a moment. “both sides go boom when the energy mixes what difference will it make?” Tom again nodded in agreement but added “About a hundred and ninety seconds.” Then Howard understood. “Enough time for the daemon’s to open a portal and escape to the human realm.”

“Any more details I need to know?” Howard asked. “No. You cover the club to make sure I’m not followed, Charles and I go into the daemon realm. I cast the spell and its all over.” Howard instantly saw the hole on the plan “Your soul will start to burn the moment you enter that realm.” Tom smiled with a deep resolve “Yes. And you showed me how to conquer that issue Howard” Howard was instantly terrified for Tom. “You cant!” he said in an almost panic. “Whoever opened the portal was NEVER coming back Howard. This is the only way.”

“There’s something you should know about Charles.” Howard said. He didn’t want Tom to sacrifice himself without all the information. “He opened the first portal which allowed the daemon’s into his realm. And that was how they were able to come to the human realm.” Tom said with a calm tone. “You already know?” Howard exclaimed. “yes. The charm, it wasn’t just the raw information it was a LOT of his memories.”

Howard was stunned “So why take him with you?” he asked. “I’m not taking him. He’s just coming with me.” replied Tom. It took Howard a few moments to realize “Because the realm and everything in it will be destroyed!” Charles wanted to die and there was an excellent chance that destroying an entire realm would do the trick. “I’m in” Howard replied.

Anne and the Warehouse.

Anne has accepted the operatives from the ‘Garden’ sanctuary. There was no protocol for this and to her knowledge no other hunters had had to try and blow up there base of operations before. There was a certain poetry to the first sanctuary to be inhabited by Hunters also being the first to get blown up. Anne was stunned when the hunters came through the doorway. Stunned because there was so few. She knew the war was going badly for many of the sanctuaries but there were no more than twenty hunters coming though. The Garden had housed over a hundred last time she had asked about it.

The logistics of taking all the Gardens equipment and supplies turned out to be the hard part. She had expected the people to be main problem. In the void realm that the Warehouse existed inside it ways always raining outside and the Hunters had sat themselves by the delivery entrance and was watching the rain with great interest. While most of them had been to the Warehouse many times a lot of them hadn’t really realised that it was a sanctuary, like their Garden.

The perpetual rain in this place never quite began to flood things, it was just always wet and annoying. For a great many years Anne had enjoyed the sound of the rain but now it was a noise she was so familiar with that it he didn’t even hear it any more, never mind notice it.

She asked a few of the Hunters who else was left and how long before their plan was to take place. It was imperative that that door be closed when the new portal was opened or the warehouse could be destroyed too. One of the older hunters she had met a few time passed her a note as she came through the door.

Anne opened it and began to read

“Anne,

When The Gardener come though sever the connection, DO NOT WAIT and do not ask her.

Thank you for everything.

Tom”

Anne was suddenly overwhelmed with the reality of the situation. This wasn’t a back up plan or a ‘just in case’ this WAS happening. She ran to her desk and asked some of her people to being the work to sever the Garden from the network or doorways,

There was just one or two more things to do and she would be ready.

Mike and Sophia.

Mike entered Sophia’s room. The door was left open for him. He looked out of the window and down to the patio are below. There wasn’t any sign that the tents had ever been there. When he went into his room there were yellowed patches of grass and signs of wear where the hunters has walked so often but the Garden had already healed its self.

“Hello, I didn’t hear you come in.” Said Sophia as looked up from her raised bedroom area. “I’ll be down in a second.” She came down the stairs with a large backpack and an old looking suitcase. She had changed clothes again. She was wearing a leather and silver buckled tight armoured shirt that looked like something from a fantasy movie. Her legs were covered in a modern looking cut of jeans and she wore ornate boots. Her hair was tied up into a functional pony tail with a length of leather lace. “Battle ready?” Mike asked. She smiled at him. “Its the armour that the first hunters wore. Not something that I usually wear but it has some hidden tricks.” She looked like an action hero, but she always did to Mike. “And the first hunters wore jeans?” he observed. She laughed at his comment “Yeah, they made great armour but if I’m going into the city even the wind cant mask leather trousers and sandals in the modern era. Also, They never figured out pockets.”

She placed the bags on the floor by the doors. “You decided to pack some things after all then?” Mike asked. “I really wasn’t going to. But there are a few bits I figured wouldn’t hurt to have around.” Mike decided not to ask what ‘bits’ she had packed. It seemed private.

Sophia walked over to the window where Mike was still standing. “You know, this window isn’t visible form the other side?” He noted. She laughed again, “You know every room in this house has a window? Even the ones that cant possibly have walls facing the outside?” “yeah, I did notice that. AND the whole place smells like fresh laundry. I have no idea how else to describe it. Fresh laundry. Never seen anyone do any laundry but he damned smell is everywhere.” Mike wasn’t very good at small talk. There were many things he wanted to say. Things he wanted to do. But he knew that the rooms doors were open. Sophias room was being exposed to the passage of time within the Garden. This was not an accident.

Sophia lent against Mikes shoulder for a moment. “Mike. If I, we live through this can we spend another morning eating toast and talking about things that don’t involve vampires and daemons?” Mike wanted to comfort her, he wanted nothing more than to tell her that this was their future but he had one last thing he didn’t know. “I thought you could see the future?” he asked. It was a little while before she spoke again. “Sometimes. Every so often I see a big event. Or a moment that may eventually make sense to me. I don’t usually tell people.” She said a little defensively. He knew why. His wraiths has already informed him that Future-sight was a well utilised daemon skill. “You really see my future that day you came to me in the dojo?” She sighed “Yeah. I had a vision before I walked in there that day.”

She suddenly stepped away from him towards the impossibly clean glass of the massive window. She lent against it. It didn’t look safe to Mike but he knew how The garden worked now and assumed his worry was a left over reflex from his old life. Sophia pressed her head back against the glass and looked at the celling for a moment in thought before she continued. “The visions never made sense until after the events. I saw you in the rain. There was energy and darkness. And you spoke to me, in demti.” “What did I say?” Mike asked. She smiled widely and he could see the concious effort he took not dwell on her vision “That’s not for you to know yet Mike.” Sophia went to the doorway and picked up her bags. Mike knew better than to bother offering to carry them she was far stronger than him an it would have been insulting to pretend otherwise. “At the time” she continued “I was very confused by how confident and controlled you seemed.” They walked down the stairs of towards the main house. “When I met you, you were filled with self doubt, a fledging hunter with very little natural talent.” Mike was a little hurt by that comment. “Then when you burst into my cell in the daemon realm there was a fire inside you and I could see how you was to go from what you was to what I saw.” they walked down the long corridor to the Warehouse entrance. “I only taught you Demit because I knew at some point you would know it, sort of self fulfilling I suppose.” The got to the Warehouse door. “Anyway, I look at you now, after the wraiths joined with you and I can see that person. Its sort of amazing how fast it all happened, even here.” Mike and Sophia stepped through the doorway and closed it behind them.

The best laid plans…

Tom, Charles and Howard were just arriving at the Nightclub that they had originally crossed over to the Daemon realm from. Empty and boarded up. When they had left just a little while ago it had need just a few hours after they had entered there. Howard looked puzzled at it. He had been expecting a fight to get in. “How the fuck is this empty now?” he asked aloud. “Whatever time magic the Garden does became a little less predicable when the Daemons started winning. A few weeks ago. Hunters were entering and exiting as usual but some times days would pass not moments” Howard explained. “I assume this is one such occasion.” Tom said happy that he wouldn’t he battling hordes of daemons and vampires ,yet.

The whole city seemed like a ticking bomb. There were sirens of police cars and shouting almost constantly since they had entered the city. They had heard more than a few gunshots and there was a tension on the air that you feel all round you. This was the early signs of the scales tipping in favour of the darkness.

“I wonder why the abandoned it” asked the detached and ethereal voice of Charles. Who still couldn’t quite form himself in the human realm. Howard sneered at the air. He had accepted Charles into the group but wasn’t happy about it. “Because they knew that this place would be a priority target for us as soon as we got the information.” Tom answered. “But they know its a natural access area to their realm” Howard noted. “They also have no idea that we know how to make portals on out own” Tom replied. “We?” Howard said with a raised eyebrow. “Fine, me.” Tom rebutted.

They carefully went around the back of the building where they had entered before. Howard had one hand on his sword and the other on his revolver he was ready for anything at this point. Tom didn’t carry any weapon. He was a specialist in hand to hand and gorilla combat. As far as Howard knew he hadn’t been on a mission for years. He couldn’t even recall once since he had been a hunter and he had been a hunter for a very long time. “The building is empty” came the eerie voice of Charles echoing on the empty walls. Howard didn’t release his grip on his weapons. Tom stood a little straighter and began walking around in a less guarded manner.

“This way” The voice called, Tom looked to Howard for confirmation. Howard nodded. They soon found themselves in the very dark nightclub dance floor. Howard found it quite easy to see everything. “It’s clear” he confirmed. Howard opened his bag and pulled out some fist sized rocks. He mumbled something to the rocks and rolled them out across the floor in different directions. As the moved the began to glow an amber light. They got brighter and the room lit up. “Magic balls?” Howard observed. “Rocks from the Garden. They store light.” Tom replied casually. “Of cause they do!” Howard said with a sarcastic tone.

Tom pulled out a large staff from out of the air. “How did I not see that?” Howard asked. “I’ve been at this for a lot longer than you Howard.” Tom replied. “It feels wrong being here without Mike, Or even the Gardener.” Observed Howard. “As far as they know we are waiting for them in the Warehouse, as soon as they go in the warehouse the door is getting closed. No sense them risking it all too.” Tom replied as he waved his staff around.

“The plan is very simple and very easy. I have to go, Charles wants to go and we can’t risk daemons escaping through this place if they realise what’s happening. So you stay here until its done. Simple plan.” Tom stated. More to convince himself than anyone else. “And after you blow yourself up?” Howard asked. “I have no idea but I’m pretty sure Anne knows what she’s doing. Probably more so than I. And once the mission is done, the fight will be a lot easier.” He added.

Tom began to Mutter some inaudible words and started spinning his big stick around like baton. At first rhythmically and then faster and faster. The chanting got louder and louder but Howard still couldn’t make out what was actually being said. The glowing rocks began to spark and pop. A wind began to rise in the room and a humming began to rise. Then in flash a rip opened in the air. A blue and purple electric tear. It widened and little and the red glow of the daemon realm shone in through it. Tom stopped the staff spinning in a single direct motion of his arm and it vanished from sight. Tom turned with the portal to his back. “Howard. He a hunter for as long as you can. I believe you may be a special kind of vampire.” With that said is turned and vanished into the portal. Then a shadowy figure appeared in front of the opening. It was the silhouette of Charles “Good bye Howard. I enjoyed your friendship for the moment I had it.” Howard took as step towards the portal and it blinked out of existence like and old TV being turned off. The amber rocks that had been so bright just moments ago flickered for a moment and then were again simple rocks and Howard stood alone in the darkness with a feeling of dread that he had no had in a long time.

Sophia was revered by the Hunters from both the Garden and the Warehouse. She was treated like a visiting general by the warehouse staff but no-one seemed to be able to tell her where Tom or Howard was. They had called for Charles but he didn’t seem to be around either. Anne came into the main hanger soaked through form being outside the main building. “What happened to you?” Mike asked. “The perks of leadership.” she said with a thoroughly pissed off tone. One of her people passed her a grey Towel as she got to the large desk that seemed to function as her office. “We have a few compounds here. Travelling between them can be a chore.” she said as she tried to dry her hair. “Had to go over to the housing hanger, make sure there were enough beds for your people” she added.

“Anne, thank you for taking us in. Where is Tom?” Sophia asked. “You’re welcome. He’s in the housing complex, he’ll be over shortly.” she said. Mike watched Sophia, she was scanning the room and taking note of its layout. He then noticed that Anne had noticed too. “Put your bags down Gardener. You’re safe here.” Sophia did so. She lay her bags on the ground and took the bow from across her back, laying it on the table with its quiver. “Gardener. I’ve never seen you fight. You as good as they say?” Anne asked. Sophia glanced to her and then to me. “Yes.” she said. “That may be interesting.” replied Anne as the sounds of many footsteps came from the direction of the entrance. Sophias demeanour went form nervous visitor to warrior so fast that the change happened between moments. Her bow was drawn and pointing at the sound of boots on contrite. Her weapon being drawn was enough to prompt Mike to do the same. The footsteps stopped. “Weapons!” Called Sophia to her Hunters. They all drew and took defensive positions. The Warehouse stuff were all frozen in place, none of them really trained past the basics. The Warehouse was a logistical institution not a barracks. The silence was thick and tense for those few seconds before a truck came through the air and landed in its roof sliding into the Hunters at the front of the building. The gardener started releasing arrows and strafing her self to get a better view of what was coming. Mike couldn’t see anything from his side of the table. He ran around to the other side and positioned himself behind Sophia to get a look. He instantly went pale. There was an army out there. The moment Mike realised how screwed they were the army moved. It was daemons, the army that they stood against was entirely daemons!

In the first few moments of the battle many of the Gardens hunters were smashed, not just beaten, stabbed or but, but smashed. At least a few of the daemons was the size of trucks and they moved like bears with training. Sophia burned through her arrows before they arms got past the threshold of the Hanger door, she then simply dropped her bow and quiver and pulled out a knife. In a few moments that seemed like an eternity the army was upon us, The noise was incredible it was like an ocean of screams and roars. The warehouse stuff were being ripped limb from limb, in quite a literal sense. Within a few more moments Mike and Sophia ended up back to back fighting both sides. Mikes Wraiths powered him up as well as they were able but he wasn’t the godlike killer he was back in the daemon realm. He was however going toe to toe with three or four daemons at at time. Sophia was doing the same on his other side.

Mikes wraiths usually gave him information as he required it but this time they had simply dumped everything they knew about violence into his mind at once. The result was that Mike was able to counter pretty much everything the daemons threw at him. He changed fighting style to mirror each opponent as he switched between them. His blood red edged blades moving like a dance. When he pushed back his wave of aggressors he spun around the see Sophia kick a lizard looking humanoid daemon in the chest sending him flying into three more of the same type. It game them a moment to think. “where is Anne?” Sophia barked and she sliced at a small goblin looking thing that was running towards her. Mike looked around frantically for a moment. “I lost track of her.” she barked back. Sophia screamed a battle cry into the mêlée. “SHE IS BEHIND THIS!” she screamed, this time in anger. “Cover me a second, I can do a think!” Mike exclaimed, Sophia nodded and batted away attackers as they got close. Mike closed his eyes and stretched out with his wraith mind. He was able to see everything in the area for a just a moment. He found what he was looking for and it eyes popped open as he reacted to a thrown knife that Sophia had missed, he batted it away with this blade as it flew through the air towards his head. “She just left, into the Garden!” he said. They both sprinted towards the doorway and as they got there they saw the door close. “What do we do?” Mike asked. “If she has a way out she could end up in anywhere in the city. We have to follow!” she said without hesitating. The followed through the doorway.

The door was closed, it was only closed for a moment but it was closed. Mike and Sophia knew what that meant. The Gardens time power meant that Anne had a head start and they had no idea how much of a head start. They slowed at the end of the first corridor. “Where would she go?” Mike asked “She’s never been into the garden. She will be looking for an exit I assume” replied Sophia.

They explored the ground floor quickly and efficiently. As they got to the patio exit they heard a static sound. Like electric sparks. They dashed outside to see Anne brandishing two void keys in the form of who small stone. Her hair was dry and her hands were burned. She had been at this a while. “Anne! Stop it!” Mike called to her. She looked up and began backing way. “What have you done Anne?” asked Sophia. “You know how many new hunters I arm each day?” she croaked through tears. “The sanctuaries. The recruit new hunters every day and its not enough! IT WILL NEVER BE ENOUGH!” She didn’t stop backing up, Howard and Sophia edged towards her. “I contacted the daemons, I made a plan, I armed them and integrated them. The whole thing!” she screamed at the top of her voice “IT WAS ALL ME!” Then turned and ran for the edge of the patio area. “But why?” called Sophia. Anne stopped running and turned “Because hunters cant stop the vampires Gardener! They can’t stop them! But the daemons can control them! I let daemons into the world to take control of the vampires and less people will die!” Anne was sobbing and screaming all this with pure spiteful rage.

“Anne, that’s like calling in the devil to stop the sunrise. There are no winners with that!” Sophia said with pity in her voice. “No, the daemons don’t care about souls, they wont kill humans, they just want control” Anne screamed back.. She backed away a little more and screamed again “And then Tom had to fucking ruin it all! Blow up their hub world! Well NO! I have worked too hard! I called them! I let them in to the warehouse to wipe you all out. The human realm can be their hub now!” and with that she was over the threshold of the patio and the next time she frantically smacked the void keys together she vanished.

Tom had managed to stay lucid long enough to release is soul. Much as Howard had told him it wasn’t actually hard to do once you acknowledged the intent of the thing. The burning had stopped instantly and he was regaining his composure. Charles had a form and was helping him to his feet. “Are you aright? How do you feel?” asked Charles with genuine concern. “I feel fine Charles. I’m not going to snap just yet.” replied Tom with a new found sense of power running though him. Charles was concerned that he may change his mind about his mission once he had released his soul. Tom was single minded enough that the hadn’t even considered that.

Tom stood tall and began the chant to open the new portal directly into the Garden. Then another portal opened behind them. With a buzz, out fell Anne. She scrambled to her feet and started to run away. “That was unexpected.” said Charles as the portal began to blaze and grow behind him. Tom and Charles both looked into it as the last image of the other side began to be covered by flames. “The Garden!” Tom exclaimed. “TOM DO IT NOW! Before anything here escapes!” Charles pleaded. “Yes, of course!” replied Tom as they backed way from the quickly growing portal.

Howard was sitting on the Darkness of the nightclub wondering how he would know when the mission was complete. He was also wondering if anyone was going to come and get him or was this the end of his involvement with the war? He considered this while he drank a bottle of whiskey that he found still left in the store room.

The amber rocks flickered into life again and a portal opened with an electric fizz. A figure ran through and it instantly blinked out of existence. The amber rocks flickered for a moment and then went out. Howard’s eyes adjusted to the darkness gain very quickly. “Anne?” he called from his seat at the abandoned bar. “Anne how are you here?” He asked. “YOU!” she screamed. “Get way from me vampire!” she said and she headed for the door. Howard blocked her exit quickly by standing in the way. “Anne the only portals that open here are from the daemon realm!” Anne tried to push Howard aside. He smelled the blood on her hands. He knew it was her own. “Anne, you seem in good shape for someone who’s just come back from a daemon realm! How did you stop your soul burning?” Howard asked. “What soul burning?” she replied.

Howard pushed her back and took one a last stolen look at his oldest friend. “Anne. I’m so sorry.” he said as he drew his sword and in a single fluid motion separated her head from her body. He threw his sword across the room and took a long draught from his bottle. A tier made of blood trickled down his cheek. “I’m a Hunter. Not a Vampire.” He corrected as he slid down the doorway finally knowing what it would take to break him.

“What do we do?” asked Mike. The spot where the portal had blinked out had left a hole, a rip of some kind, red sparks were coming off it and it was growing fast. “we leave!” replied Sophia as they ran back to the house. They ran down the corridors of the house as fast as they could to the Warehouse door. The door was closed, Sophia pulled on it with all of her incredible might and it didn’t budge. “Try the Wraith thing!” asked Sophia frantically. Mike stood in front of it and with the combined efforts of the wraiths he tried to use his mind to rip open the door. The walls around the door cracked and bend but the door stayed fixed in place. “City exit?” asked Mike. Sophia nodded and they ran back to the garden. The slid to a stop as they got to the outside door. It was raining. It was raining in the Garden. “that cant be good” said Sophia. “we can lock ourselves in one of the rooms, may buy us some time if the magical lights are still on.” said Mike with panic in his voice. Sophia stepped into the rain and looked at the now massive tear that was covering most the sky with rain all around. “Mike, Its raining! It’s raining in the Garden. The magic is gone.” Mike ran out into the patio area and looked up at the electric fire in the sky and it covered the sun and for the first time the garden was visited by night. He looked back as Sophia and in Demit he said said to her “Sophia. I don’t want to die yet. I’ve only just started living. We are at the start of our adventure not the end.” They stood their in the rain and shared a kiss. “I don’t think I can see any more futures.” Sophia whispered to him.

A force hit Mike in the mind, in the soul and in the chest all at the same time. He was thrown away from Sophia like he had been hit by a tank. “MIKE!” Sophia called as she ran to him. She slid in the mud and rain and lifted his head. “Mike are you okay!” she cried. “What happened?”

As Mike opened his eyes the rain stopped. The daylight returned. “Sorry about that.” He said calmly as his mind was distracted and a buzz with Wraiths. Sophia looked around the floor was wet but the garden was fine again. No rain, no fire in the sky. “Tom did it.” Mike said with a regretful smile. “He cant have done. We are still here.” she replied. “No” said mike. He saw Anne, She was in the daemon realm. She wasn’t burning. He realised that she was the one behind it. He gambled that we was the reason she was running. He opened the portal as planned but to the warehouse.”

Sophia, simply lay on the grass next to Mike. “How do you know?” she said already having a pretty good idea. “Turns our Wraiths really cant be killed. Charles just joined the Wraith mind in my head. His exile is over.”

They lay on the wet grass for a while before they tried to move.

denouement and Dreams.

When Mike and Sophia left the garden to retrieve Howard some changes happened. It was empty and the flow of time was its own for the first time in forever. The garden underwent some changes. Upon their return the most striking change being that it was no longer an infinitely large field but now it was sporting an orchard and a forest to one side. When they went inside the Door to the Warehouse had completely vanished, like it never there. There were more subtle changes to the layout of the house that she discovered as time went on.

It took Mike, Sophia and Howard a while to really piece together all the events and their order as the Gardens flow of time muddied it. It seemed that by opening a portal into the Warehouse it had instantly exploded ceasing the progress of the one in The Garden. No one was quite why the Garden portal was so slow to spread but the prevailing theory was that it was because of Gerdener’s link to it. She was there and didn’t want to die. So the garden fought back as best as it could. Mike’s Wraiths weren’t convinced.

Sophia couldn’t bring herself to forgive Tom. Even though he had destroyed all the daemons from the human realm to who flooded into the Warehouse. She was convinced that she and Mike could have got the remaining hunters out of there. Mike and Howard knew she was wrong but it helped her cope with the loss so they never challenged her on it. Mike and Howard knew that it was a gamble. Tom had no way of knowing that opening a portal to the Warehouse would stop the one in the Garden. He had assumed he was destroying both placed they thought.

“What will we do now?” asked Howard asked after a few days of quiet and calm. “We rebuild. The Daemons are gone, lost their way in to the Human realm but there are still vampires and stragglers.” said Sophia as they sat in the new, more natural patio area. “We recruit?” Mike asked. “I don’t know, that’s up to you Mike.” Sophia answered. “Why?” Mike asked. “There are three of us. One is a sort-of Vampire. One is a Sort-of Daemon an one is mostly a Human with the wisdom an entire race of magical experts. Who do you think should be our new leader?” said Sophia with a laugh. Mikes wraiths buzzed with their wisdom in agreement, Mike smiled to himself more than anyone else. “Tell you what Sophia, I’ll take the job on the condition that I answer to you.” He said. All three of them agreed.

“Whatever happens now, we all need to figure out what we are.” said Howard thoughtfully. Sophia looked at them both the two last Hunters and said “come on guys, stop being so serious. Were only just at the start of our adventures.”

THE END.

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