Blood. It's the central holding of life. It runs through every part of our body. It connects family and loyalty. It is lost in love and in war. It is life and energy. Eternal.
Dustan sighed picking at the plastic at the end of his shoe. The sun was hot and dry above him but he showed no signs of abandoning his perch even despite the way the heat seeped through his shirt and made the skin on his shoulders feel tight. He sat atop a building his legs dangling over the edge his pail freckled arms resting on a small safety rail. The chipped black paint dug into his skin and the rusted metal that peaked through was itchy. He took in a breath feeling the air rush into his lungs and he held it for a moment as he stared blankly ahead.
He was hungry. The grumpy old man who owned Pickles and Egg's was out for the day. Sick maybe, whatever the reason, his Wednesday handout was scrapped. The woman manager who was filling in that day practically chased him out. As if his very existence was a hindrance to her. He snorted at the thought.
The world was cruel and unforgiving. Dustan knew this more than most. Still, he saw hope. He believed that there was a force of good out there. In people like the old man who slipped him food- to the druggy who always asked him if he was keeping warm. Dustan wasn't an idiot. He knew he had to watch his back. Kindness wasn't as dead as some people made it out to be but people were still monsters. No one did anything without some motive and everyone put themselves before anything else. He knew the old man could choose not to feed him for whatever reason from thinking it would "help him" to thinking of him as nothing more than a burden.
It didn't matter too much, as long as Dustan could keep moving. He himself was only out for himself. There was only one thing Dustan cared about.
Movement pulled his attention from his thoughts back to the real world. Two figures were walking through the alley just below his feet. One female and one male. They wore hoodies and the young man carried a beat up navy-blue duffle bag. "This would be so much easier if we could just kill them." The male said dragging a hand through his black hair as the two stopped just three stories under his feet.
"We can't gather intelligence if you keep killing all our leads." The woman hissed.
"Well -and this might be hard to believe but- most of these guys don't really want to talk to me."
"Gee- I wonder why." The woman sassed her hands on her hips as she wiggled her whole torso to show her sarcasm.
"Really?" Came the dry response. "You're going to blame this on my people skills? I am the king of dance. You know I can throw down with the best of them."
"Yeah, but you can't negotiate your way out of a paper bag."
"Chh." The noise that came from her partner was distinctly irritated. "I get that he's new to this whole thing but why would he even come to this cesspool?"
"Maybe they came to him."
"Or maybe he just bought a burger at the local diner and you're jumping to conclusions!"
"Look, either we find him or we rid the world of one more group of monsters. Either way, we win, so what's the harm?"
"What's the harm?" The man mocked rolling his eyes. He froze his dark eyes locked on the wide hazel of the boy staring down at him. "HEY!"
The sharp word sent a jolt through Dustan's body and he found himself on his feet running. "What the hell?" The woman sounded shocked but he wasn't going to stick around to find out what they'd do to him for overhearing such a conversation.
He had no idea what the two strangers were talking about but it sure as hell didn't sound kosher. He shook his head and jumped a small but deep gap. It wasn't anything to do with him. He decided as he slipped down the fire escape on an adjacent building deciding implicitly that he'd just put the whole thing out of his mind. It didn't concern him and it wasn't like he'd ever see the two strangers again.
Still, his heart was racing a mile a minute as he tried to calm down from the adrenaline rush. It wasn't long before he found his hidey-hole. A literal hole on the underside of an old bridge that went over an old canal. Dustan knew the location wasn't going to last more than a few months at best. It would be compromised when they opened the waterways. His temporary home was at risk of going underwater. It worked for the time being though. Besides, Dustan didn't plan on being in Lodie for more than a couple more weeks. He was just collecting what he could to buy a bus ticket to Chance where he could find his Aunt.
He sat on his ragged blanket and just breath until he was calm enough to feel the gnawing in his stomach again. "Damn, I'm hungry." He flopped to the side watching a dragonfly dance outside his front door. He licked his lips. "I guess I'll try begging." He mumbled crawling out. The insect's wings kissed his ear before it zipped off into the grey city sky.
As the evening drew closer he slowed as he neared the Pickle and Eggs store. Seeing the old man outside locking up. "So you're still kicking." Dustan joked as he walked up to the man.
Turning the older gentlemen harrumphed. "Oh, hello stray. Come for some scraps. I heard Jen was utterly rude to you this morn'."
Dustan shrugged. "Just passing by… but if you're offering I won't say no."
Frowning the old man scratched his head turning to face Dustan full on. "Well, now I can probably do you one better. I'll feed you a full meal tonight- and-" The man threw in quickly already seeing the conflicted protest rising on Dustan's face. "I'll throw in a job. You can consider it an advancement. Just a busboy job. Nothing too special. But you get one free meal a day and whatever tips you can pull in. How's that sound?"
Dustan blinked. His heart raced. "I… I don't…" The old man actually had a slight smile on his face as he waited patiently for the boy's response. "I don't know what to say. That would be amazing."
Nodding the old man unlocked the door he just closed ushering the boy inside. "Now I expect you to work professionally." His stern tone returned as they disappeared into the building.
It was two days later that Dustan found himself kicking empty aluminum cans as he walked the back alleys hungry. His new job was nice but one meal was just that one meal and he wasn't going to ask the old man for anything else. So instead he decided he would look elsewhere. He was looking for Wiz to see if he was willing or able to share something. The guy may be shit faced 90% of the time but that made him lax. If Dustan played his cards right he might be able to trick the man into thinking he owed him one. At the very least he might know where he could grab some extra blankets. It had been cold the last few nights and Dustan's provisions were grossly inadequate.
As he stumbled around a corner his heart froze as his eyes took in a downed form- two figures standing over the man he recognized as Wiz. Dustan barely let out a gasp of surprise as the taller of the two rushed him pinning him to a brick wall by his throat. Dustan let out a scream.
"Looky 'ere Jerry. Looks like dessert's come waltzin' in." The deep voice of his captor rumbled through the air vibrating through his bones. The man's hand pressed forward cutting off his air and Dustan stared wide-eyed into honey brown irises. They glinted in a nearby street lamp and Dustan knew he was in deep trouble.
Desperately thoughts raced through his mind his eyes taking in every little detail. From the mole on the guy's shoulder to his cracked lips. The man leaned forward opening his mouth and Dustan could see four sharp fangs. 'Vampire wannabe?' His mind supplied as he thought. 'Is this how I go? Killed by a freak in the back alleys of Lodie? This sucks.' Black spots started to fill his vision just as he heard a somewhat familiar sound.
Air rushed into his lungs as he fell in a heap into the garbage below him. Gasping the boy looked up to see a man with messy black hair standing under the street lamp. He held a silver ax hanging limply in his right hand. A pure black Great Dane was standing next to him."Fuck." The smaller guy squeaked. "It's that hunter." Dustan recognized him too, as the stranger from before.
"Prey is more like it." The bigger guy said stepping forward in a threatening manner, His hands clawed and his shoulders hunched.
"There's only two way's this'll go." The ax wielder said lifting and examining his blade lightly. "You answer my questions and I kill you quickly or- I make the last few moments of your time on this earth a living hell."
"I'd like to see you try-" Dustan blinked and most of Jerry's arm hit the ground the thin man let out a high pitched scream. "Jesus fucking Christ!"
"Don't sass me." The stranger with the ax said glaring at the man who was cradling his stub of an arm before his gaze snapped back to the bigger threat. "We tried to do things the nice way. Following your ridiculous laws and added rhetoric. I'm sick and tired of playing games. I'm not going to sit back and watch you take whatever you want."
"Like this wasn't yer endgame to begin with." The massive man growled. "We knew you were plannin' to dispatch us whether we cooperated or no."
The ax man smirked. "Of course. We can't have you-
His words were cut off as the larger man rushed him. "I've heard enough! Time to die!"
"Chh, you immortals are alway's in such a rush to die." The ax wilder sidestepped slightly taking hold of the man and threw him into the wall. Jerry squeaked "Tom!"
The man pushed off of the wall an insane glint in his eye. "I'm gonna eat you alive!"
The ax wielder tossed the hulking man again, like a bag of rice, and his dog stood like a statue at the side watching with glistening dark eyes. Dustan was too shell-shocked to move. He just watched in fascination, then horror as Jerry moved forward to try and jump the so-called hunter from behind. Like a fluid and graceful dance move, the ax-wielding stranger pivoted on his foot slicing through Jerry's thin neck like it wasn't even there. The dismembered body part bounced once and rolled before both the body, arm, and head fell apart into dust. Leaving behind dusty clothes. Heart thudding in his chest Dustan's mind struggled to process what he was seeing.
Standing on Tom's groin the now ax murderer snarled. "I don't like sicko's who prey on children." He placed the sharpened handle to the man's chest, leveraging the back of the ax with one hand. "Now tell me what you know."
"I know what you're looking for." The man chuckled. "A lost pup. Tryin' to save 'is soul? Won't do ya any good. Still cursed 'e'll be." The stranger just pursed his lips dark brown eyes glaring down at the man. "Here's what I'll give ya." The man said just before spitting in the other's face. "On the house."
Baring his teeth the hunter forced the handle through the man's chest. Flames licked up around it as Tom weakly gripped at it. "The damned go first." The ax fighter said as there was a crack as he twisted the ax and the larger man went limp. Straitening he wiped the spit from his face and pulled the ax from the dead man. As his eyes lifted to meet Dustan's the boy's whole body stiffened.
'I'm dead.' He thought. Whatever that ax was it could turn people to ash. He'd die here and no one would ever know-
"Are you alright?"
The question seemed to break the imaginary chain's around his heart and mind and he gasped. "You! You just killed them!" He felt his body moving backward the sound the trash made below him was like complaints of his fragile existence. Before the ax-wielding psycho could respond a dark-skinned woman came skidding into the alleyway. There was the girl ax man had been with before, Dustan realized. The dog let out a happy yip at her arrival. "Phoenix!" She took in the scene quickly. "Did you get any information from them?" She asked calmly as she walked up to Dustan. He flinched as she grabbed his head firmly tilting it one way than the other as she studied his neck. "Did they bite you?"
It took Dustan a moment to realize she was talking to him. As he opened his mouth to answer crazy person apparently known as Phoenix answered first. "He's fine." He kicked at the big lug with a barely contained pout. "They barely touched him. As for info… I didn't get anything."
"What happened?" Linda asked.
"I followed Chicote," Phoenix motioned to the dog who was sniffing at the still motionless Wiz. Dustan had almost forgotten about him in all the madness. "That guy was already dead, and they had the mutt over there pinned to the wall. I tried to play nice… but they weren't having it."
The woman gave Dustan a sideways glance before standing up and dusting off her pants. "I guess there was no helping it."
Dustan felt a laugh bubbling in his chest. His mind slow on the uptake he quipped. "If that was you playing nice I'd hate to see you mean."
Phoenix gave a wicked grin. "Just be thankful, I saved your life, punk."
Linda sighed shaking her head then held her hand up in offering to help him to his feet. "Don't worry. He's trained. I'm Linda, the impulsive one over there is Phoenix. Nice to meet you."
Dustan ignored her hand pushing himself up to his feet. His eyes fell on to the dead Tom. "You just killed two guys and you want me to shake your hand?"
Linda put her hands on her hips looking slightly offended. "I didn't kill them, Phoenix did. It's okay though, they were vampires. If we didn't step in you would have died, or at worse become one yourself."
Dustan was leaning against the wall his breathing ragged as he held his hand over his racing heart. That kind of made sense with the turning to dust thing- but vampires were not real- and it didn't explain why only one of the thugs did so. "I- that- there's no such thing…" He whispered and looked frantically back and forth between the two. "How would you even know the difference between a human and a vampire?"
Linda grinned as she shook her wrist and Chicote turned into a ball of red light and shot into the charm bracelet dangling there. "We have our way's." Dustan just gaped at her.
Phoenix was shuffling through the remains of the body's pocketing cash and tossing cards. "What should we do with the stray? You're homeless right?" He glanced at Dustan as he stood before focusing his attention on Linda. "Should we call the police?"
"NO!" Dustan gasped. "No police! I'm fine on my own, really."
"What are you, like, twelve?" Phoenix asked snorting slightly.
Linda looked thoughtful. "Something tells me…" She hesitated. "We should listen to him."
"Okay…" Phoenix looked as confused as Dustan felt.
"If you're worried about him, we could alway's bring him along with us." She suggested twirling her midnight locks and trying to look nonchalant. "I mean just for a bit. Until he feels comfortable explaining his situation or till he finds his place…"
Dustan stared at her surprised, though considering the shaky way he met the two stranger's her proposal shouldn't have felt so out of character. Phoenix's surprised and disgruntled face suggest that he felt it was though. "Are you feeling okay? We can't just pick up stray kids-"
Linda moved forward cupping her hand as she whispered to Phoenix. Dustan could still hear her though and wondered if she realized this. Not that it mattered. "It's a Cladi thing." didn't clear up anything for him. However, it drew all the emotion out of Phoenix's face.
"Wait- I just got a job- I mean- If you can get me to Chance I might consider it- but-
"Chance?" Phoenix perked up. "Isn't that on the other side of The Glades?"
Dustan nodded and Linda smiled. "We can do that. We travel a lot as it is so we could have made arrangements but we're headed in that direction anyway. We have to make a few stops along the way… but if you're willing?" She looked hopeful for some reason.
Dustan hesitated really it would help him reach his goal and as much as he liked the old man at the Pickle and Egg's there was just no telling how long it would take him working there before he could leave. There was only one thing he cared about."Let… let me go get my things…"
Okay... so I had this posted before but I forgot my password and by the time I figured it out I'd rehashed the chapter... I'm up to chapter 27 or so of this story... depending on whether or not rewrites change that number... so expect updates to come. I'm thinking... to give my self-time to edit... (Which I'm not the best at, sorry) I'll post one chapter a week... Or at least try to... I am a bit forgetful. Forgive me... or feel free to remind me through comments... Though I'd rather hear what you think of the story...
Thank you for reading. Don't forget that you're loved.