Chapter 1: Of Vampires
There was a foul scent in the air that night. The station was dark and ridden with fog, and as I stepped off the train I got a good whiff of something I assumed was coal exhaust and ungodly hour.
I had left America four days ago, in pursuit of a long time friend. Her name was Jane Withermoore, and I knew her ever since, well... ever since there were things worth remembering. She was my best friend, and the ocean between our homes had no effect on our relationship whatsoever. I confess I was half-expecting to see her in the crowd, but I knew it was wishful thinking. She wasn't the type to be caught in a large group of people, and certainly not at night. It wasn't her way. I was more than shocked when I did spot her, sitting down with a mailbag in her lap, probably used as a purse. She spotted me too, got up to greet me. She had dressed up to see me, I noticed that first off. Gone were her usual masculine clothes that were custom to people in our kind of business. In their place a green dress that brought out her bright emerald eyes. Her chocolate hair used to be forever in a single ponytail, trailing deep down her back, but today was formed into a graceful attempt at a pinup, with a few escaping curls on the edges of her face.
Jane was a naturally beautiful girl, more beautiful than I would ever dream to be. She was obscenely curvy, while I myself had a few pounds to spare, with short, stumpy legs, and flat of chest. I had given up trying to wear nice clothes a long time ago, while anything she put on seemed like it was made for her.
But Jane didn't even try to be beautiful most of the time. She just had that way about her, and it brought the men pouring in from all corners of the earth. She had all the features that any superficial man would find attractive: lush, large lips, cat-like slanted eyes, broad chest, hourglass hips, long legs. I remember being jealous of her in our youth, but the feeling soon passed. It was annoying to be that attractive, and she's had to deal with lustful, horrible men her entire life. Poor Jane always did have the worst luck.
We embraced, I complained about the trip, while she did what she was good at: listening.
Then we ventured to her house. She lived in a small, starter apartment, alone. She liked being alone. That was also her way. She offered me dinner, I declined, but gladly accepted some hot tea.
As she scurried to the kitchen to make it, I entertained myself by looking at the pictures of her wall of various family members. While I was up, I spotted something sticking out from under a coat thrown on a nearby armchair. A gentle lift up the edge of the coat to see what was hidden underneath, and I was amused to find a bullwhip hiding beneath.
"She still has it..." I chuckled to myself, shaking my head. Many months ago she had sworn off our line of 'work', but I had always had my doubts. Her still keeping her trademark whip around was only confirmation of my understandable skepticism.
When she returned, we chatted for a while, reminiscing about the past. I also liked to listen, especially to her. She was terribly English, and her accent was fun for me to hear.
Then the real conversation started. She asked why I had come, and I wasn't entirely certain on how to answer her. I had practiced on the boat over repeatedly, but it was as if I forgot how to use my own voice, a sudden wave of nervousness sweeping over me. I knew too well that I needed her expertise. She was good at what she did, not to mention was my biggest moral support. I took a deep breath, then put aside whatever mental block was hindering my speech.
"Jane," I said bluntly. "I need you for another hunt."
She seemed unfazed, which was a good sign.
"What kind of hunt?" she asked, sipping her own tea, and looking into her cup instead of me.
"The usual kind…"
I wasn't going to elaborate just yet, I had to figure out where her thought process was going first.
"Sounds fun," she retorted. Another good sign. "Who or what are we talking about here?"
I sat up a bit straighter, letting her see my serous expression.
"The big one," I replied boldly.
Jane coughed into her glass a bit, then I realized it was only a laugh.
"And you think you're just going to waltz out and catch him, then? Oh yes, I agree, you are going to need me. But who else are you going to need, Liz?"
I leaned back in my chair, afraid to go that far. I needed her more than the rest, and I was timid about mentioning the others in case she decided to decline because of them. She would have to find out sooner or later, though, so I thought I might as well get it over with now.
"I would need someone who knows how they think, so I'm going to have Gwendolyn."
Jane raised her eyebrows, surprised. She knew my distaste and distrust for Gwen, and perhaps harbored the same feelings herself.
"Catch a monster with a monster. Nice… And?" she pressed, trying to make me say what I didn't want to say. She took another sip of tea. I considered for a moment if I should just tell her the truth about my last team member, but decided it best not to.
"Do you accept or not?" I insisted. I was tired and didn't want to discuss this further.
"I'll tell you in the morning."
She got up.
"You know where the guest room is," she added, as she took her cup to the kitchen. I took the hint and gathered my things. Perhaps I had been too rude, or too forward, but I was desperate. Without her, I might as well call the whole expedition off.
The next morning, I awoke to loud sounds of bustling around. I entered an empty living room, and followed the sound to her bedroom. I knocked on the door, heard a voice telling me to come in. Once I peeked through, I found Jane going through her closet. It seemed as though her drawers had erupted, and their contents had spattered everywhere.
"I'm taking this as an acceptance to my proposal?" I guessed, spotting a suitcase in the midst of the hurricane.
"I am not bound by any oath besides duty to you," Jane replied, emerging from her closet and stuffing a few pairs of pants inside her suitcase. "I will abort whenever I wish."
"Fair enough," I said agreeably, relieved that she had decided to join me. "Any breakfast?"
"We'll get something on the way. Let's just go."
I nodded and left to grab my things. I put my belt on, put my gun in its place, and put on my familiar long brown trench coat to cover it. I forced my wavy rat's nest of light brown hair into a bun, and tied it with a leather string. Time to get Gwendolyn.
Gwendolyn was another key to the operation, though I didn't trust her as far as I could throw her. When it came to finding and killing one of her kind, I was wary. I wasn't planning on sleeping much anyway, but with her around, I wouldn't dream of it.
You see, Gwen was one of the very creatures I had made a living out of killing.
That's right: she was a vampire.
I knew her from an expedition where I hesitated to slay her, out of pity, after her uncontainable vampiric thirst had caused her to eat her own daughter. We agreed to a truce: I would let her live if she changed her ways for good. No more eating humans. From then on she lived in a quiet, abandoned house on a hill, that hadn't been touched for ages. It was, of course, presumed to be haunted.
It seemed dark there all the time, even in the daylight. The shutters hung for their dear life, and the windows were all either broken or cracked. It was a tall, ghastly, dark house, but thin, like straight out of a storybook, complete with towers and dark wooden shingles.
I walked up the winding path first, very confident. Jane trailed behind, gripping her bag and walking with her head down. Jane always seemed to be in deep thought, wherever she was. She was always in her own little world, and I constantly had to reel her back to reality. She had been that way for a long time… Ever since the incident in the forest…
"Come on, Jane," I said over my shoulder, then looked to see if she heard me. She glanced up and shook her head, as if out of a trance.
We made it to the front door by then. I took the liberty of knocking, then walked in before I got an answer.
"Gwendolyn!" I called through the empty house. My voice echoed up the stairs. "This is Elizabeth Dutton. Do you remember me? I am in need of your services, and you can't refuse me."
On the railing of the black wooden stairs, a single bat screeched. It flew down slowly, landing on the floor. I heard Jane step backward behind me. I had forgotten she didn't like bats.
The bat covered itself in its own wings, and grew in size and stature, until it wasn't a bat anymore at all. A woman now stood before me, clothed in black. She wore red lipstick, that was a deep contrast to her pale face. Her hair was a light blond, and her eyes a deep shade of brown, almost black.
"Hiya, Gwen," I said, trying hard to let her know I wasn't afraid.
"Good morning, Eliza," Gwen said in a light-hearted English voice. She hissed in my direction, baring her fangs a bit through her smile to try and make me afraid. "What brings you to my modest residence?"
"I need your help."
She didn't offer us a seat, and we didn't ask for one. Jane and I just stayed in the foyer.
"Hello again, Miss Withermoore," Gwen said, her eyes looking past me to Jane and scanning her down with suspicious eyes. "You're different from last I saw you… what could it be?"
"Hello, Gwen," Jane seemed to be forcing the words out unwillingly, her gaze falling downward in dire hopes for a change of subject.
"Well," Gwen asked cynically as she pulled out red lipstick from nowhere and put some more of it on in a small handheld mirror. "What kind of fiend are you after today?"
"Your kind," I said, silently putting my hand on my gun.
"And its name?" she pressed me onward.
"It's your kind, that's all you need to know."
She sighed impatiently and turned to head for the parlor, assuming we would follow.
"There's a lot of my kind out there, Eliza. How do I know which one to track?"
"You'll know when we find him," I shot back coldly.
"Him, eh? A name, Eliza, a name and my services are yours."
She stopped in the sitting room and took a seat on a red velvet couch, motioning for us to do the same in the chairs opposite her. Jane helped herself to an armchair, but I insisted on remaining standing. I refused to be comfortable in a vampire's presence.
"You want a name?" I said with annoyance. "Fine. Here's one: Vladimir Tepes."
She, like Jane, was unfazed.
"Finally going after the big fish, eh?"
"That's the idea."
"When do we start?"
"As soon as you're ready."
"Good." She rose from her seat. "I do hate waiting. Who else are we getting?"
Why did everyone keep asking me that? I didn't always need help for my expeditions. In fact, I liked going solo. Made things faster.
"No one you know," I gave in. "I don't even know him, or what he looks like. I only have a name: Jack Knight."
"Then how are we supposed to find this 'Jack'?" Jane asked.
"Well, I know a few things," I explained reluctantly. "He's rumored to have an invisibility talent, he works at a gun shop, and he's incredibly... lustful."
"So how are we supposed to get this invisible, horny gun expert to agree then?" Jane wondered. "Does he want money?"
"Well," I replied. "I have the money, but I hear he's bound to the shop with a ball and chain now because of his father's death. I think he may respond better to a… gentler type of persuasion."
I smiled at Jane. She was horrified.
"Oh no, you are not making me..."
"I can't believe you're making me do this!"
"Com'on, Jane," I said, trying to reason with her. "I can't do it, I couldn't keep a straight face and I'm trigger happy, and Gwen's…" I didn't give my reason for her; just let Jane figure it out for herself at the sight of Gwen's evil smile.
"No, Jane insisted, crossing her lanky arms. "I refuse."
"Com'on, Jane, it's really not that hard to put the move on a-"
"Invisible pervert?" Gwendolyn offered. I gave her a hard look to warn her. She was not helping.
"Look," I said. "Just go in there, flirt a little, and make him the offer."
"Easy for you to say," Jane mumbled.
"Jane, please," I coaxed more direly. Maybe if she knew how serious I was about this... "Please, I need you to do this."
I could almost feel her caving. Her face slowly fell into a look of compassion, probably thinking of how long I had waited for the chance to do this expedition.
"Fine," she surrendered finally, sounding utterly annoyed. "But I'll do it my own way."
"You got it," I gladly agreed.