Another day, another hunt.
Today, though, Adonai faced a challenge finding his target. For nearly a week, he tried to locate the vampire terrorizing Fraemead, but people were so on edge they clammed up when asked about it. It made Adonai's job a lot more frustrating.
For now, he was at the local tavern, seated alone at a corner table with a map of the seaside town in front of him. For all he knew, the undead creature figured out it was being hunted and left. But he would stay here for a while to make sure. Keep a low profile and keep an eye on things. If he didn't find the vampire soon, he would move on as well.
After a while, Adonai decided where he would search next, so he folded the map and stuffed it in his pocket. As he left the table, he heard a rhythmic tapping somewhere nearby. He couldn't pinpoint the source, though, so he shrugged it off and continued out the front door.
The town was quiet, considering it was mid-afternoon. There were some vendors on the main road attempting to sell their wares, but the townsfolk mostly ignored them. It rained earlier that morning, and now the sun was out. The air was sticky, and nobody wanted to be outside. They were getting their work done as fast as possible so they could go home.
The heat didn't bother Adonai, though the humidity did make him uncomfortable. So he pulled his leather jacket over his shoulders to ward off the moisture. He stepped behind the tavern with plans of taking a shortcut, but almost immediately he was in terrible pain. In the scuffle that followed, it took a moment to realize what happened.
The rough-looking group of men had thrown buckets of cold water at him and jumped him, forcing him to his knees and holding him down. One of the fellows was particularly husky. Had it not been for him and the unwanted bath, Adonai could have broken loose. His jacket deflected much of the water, but enough hit him to leave his body feeling numb.
He lifted his head to see one of the men – presumably the ringleader – approaching him with a double-edged sword. The hunter attempted to move, but there was no feeling in his legs. Though he tried to mask his unease, his tone probably ratted him out. "The hell's your problem?" he spat.
The man laughed. "Birds of fire are rare these days. A person can collect a pretty penny for the head alone. Couldn't let you get away, could we?"
"You're delusional. They don't exist."
"No? Story goes they sport fiery orange eyes to match their hair. I'd say you fit that description. And now that you're watered down, you can't fight back, can you? Or use your fire."
Damn it. Someone did his homework. Adonai could deny having fire magic all he wanted, but there was no hiding his eye color.
As the ringleader raised his blade, Adonai tried again to break loose, but the burly man had a tight grip. If he could just find a bit of slack –
His eyes snapped shut when he saw the sword swing downward ... but the peaceful blackness of death never came. Instead, he heard what sounded like a fight breaking out.
When Adonai looked again, the ringleader was laid out in the grass, moaning in pain and clutching his stomach. And now another person was standing over the man. The newcomer was awfully slender and didn't look like anything special, but it was tough to miss that head of silver hair.
Adonai couldn't quite tell whether the person was male or female until the individual spoke. Then it became clear it was a man. Although, if the situation wasn't so serious, he'd have found amusement in the other's feminine appearance.
To his credit, the newcomer had an icy glare that could frighten the average street fighter. "Unless the man you're holding hostage is a criminal, I suggest you let him go."
Adonai paid little attention to whatever else was said. It was then that he felt the husky man's grip loosen just a little bit, and with some feeling returning to his legs, he could break loose now. So he took advantage of the guy's distraction and jerked free. His leg caught his captor by the ankles and knocked him off balance.
After that, all hell broke loose. Some of the thugs went after the stranger, and the others came after Adonai. During the melee, the hunter couldn't help noticing the other's abnormal speed. Perhaps he was seeing things, or it appeared he was moving fast because they were in a fight.
Regardless, his suspicions were raised. Speed alone didn't mean this silver-haired stranger was his target, but it definitely caught his attention.
At some point during the scuffle, Adonai heard a familiar animalistic growl that confirmed his earlier thoughts. Having scared off one of the men, he spun around in time to see the newcomer do the same. Only this time, the entire group was scattering at the sight of white eyes and elongated fangs.
Adonai wanted to vomit. The idea that a vampire had gotten him out of a tight spot didn't sit well with him.
While the vampire had his back to him, the hunter pulled a silver dagger from his belt. Adonai didn't give him a chance to see what was coming before pouncing and pinning the stranger to the ground.
The blade was in the air and coming down towards the vampire's heart, but it stopped when the undead creature caught hold of his wrist. To his surprise, Adonai didn't feel as much resistance as he expected. Just enough to keep the dagger from reaching its target.
What surprised him more was that the vampire wasn't trying to fight back. Not really. In all his years of hunting, not once did his target refuse to put up a struggle. And something about the look in the other's eyes seemed ... off.
Without realizing, Adonai loosened his grip on the vampire's neck, and he lowered the dagger. This would get him killed on any other job. Yet somehow, he knew that wouldn't happen this time.
The stranger appeared to relax a bit when he figured out Adonai was no longer trying to kill him. He kept his hand up, though, as if ready to fend off another blow. "You're a hunter, right?"
He didn't answer. The vampire took that as his cue to keep talking.
"I know it's your job to eliminate threats like me. So I won't stop you. Trust me, you'll be doing me a favor. I only ask for one thing first."
Adonai's suspicions rose again. The dagger stayed level, but he tensed in preparation for a sneak attack. "What's that?"
"I want to see my family one more time. I need to know if they're all right. After that, you can have my head."
Something about the lack of emotion in those words made him hesitate again. A vampire was trying to bargain with him. He wasn't sure what to think about that.
The stranger must have taken his silence as a refusal. He lowered his hand to undo the top buttons of his shirt and expose his chest. "Might as well keep it clean."
Before Adonai could process anything, the vampire's eyes suddenly glowed white, and his fangs slid from his gums. Expecting an ambush, the hunter readied his dagger and aimed for the heart. But instead of attacking him ... the other man shoved him away and sprinted in the opposite direction.
A little stunned, it took a second for Adonai to realize he heard the stranger say something to the effect of, "I won't be blamed again." Who knew what the hell that meant, but he couldn't let the vampire out of his sight. If it killed someone, it would be on his head. So he took off after the silver-haired man. By now most of the numbness had faded, so he had little trouble keeping up.
As he weaved between buildings hot on the vampire's trail, he noticed an increasingly strong coppery stench. Blood. There was a fresh vampire kill somewhere. Too fresh, in fact. The one he was chasing couldn't have done it.
There was another monster in the area.
The stranger disappeared behind a storage building by the pier. Before Adonai could do the same, he heard a loud snap and a god-awful shriek. It was a sound he recognized as a dying vampire.
Sure enough, once he rounded the corner and the two creatures were in view, the silver-haired one was standing over the other. The second had clearly suffered a broken neck.
Adonai was sure his expression ratted out his confusion. Today was full of firsts for him. Besides a vampire who was willing to be killed, the same one just took out one of its own kind.
This guy went against everything he knew about these monsters.
"If it's all right with you, I'll dump this waste of space in the lake and get him out of your hair."
His attention veered back to the situation at hand when the other spoke. Unsure how he was supposed to respond, he simply shrugged. Then he watched as the vampire dragged the dead one to the water and shoved it over the pier.
The stranger stood in silence for a moment, watching the body sink to the bottom of the lake, before turning back to the hunter. Though he didn't say anything, it was clear to Adonai that he just wanted to get his own execution over with. It would be an easy enough thing to accomplish, and a fireball engulfed the hunter's hand on a reflex.
Glancing at the flames, the vampire closed his eyes and stepped back to balance on the edge of the pier so he would fall in the water after being killed. "Make it quick."
Adonai caught himself hesitating yet again. On any other job, he would have wrapped it up by now and disposed of the evidence. So why in the hell couldn't he do it this time?
Finally, he sighed and extinguished the fire. He knew what was eating at him. But he was reluctant to acknowledge it.
Disgruntled, he at last spoke up. "All right, look. If you want some time to find your family, go ahead. But I'm keeping my eye on you. Step out of line, and I'll end you."
A look of transparent shock flashed across the other's face. No surprise there. Adonai was a bit flummoxed himself to hear those words leaving his mouth. But that cursed thing humans called a conscience would eat at him if he just killed the guy where he stood ... monster or not.
Neither of them had much time to ponder the situation. Screaming kids farther down the pier caught their attention, and the stranger took off in that direction. Adonai followed, hoping he wouldn't have to off this guy in front of the young ones.
To his surprise, the vampire stopped when he reached the children and made no move to hurt any of them. Rather, he stood at the edge of the dock and peered into the water. "What happened?"
One of the younger boys was pointing toward the water and screaming frantically, "My sissy! She can't swim!"
By the time Adonai caught up, the other man was already in the lake. The hunter still had a hand on his dagger, but he couldn't follow into the water. He would have to stand back and wait this time.
It couldn't have been more than a few seconds, but it felt like an eternity before the stranger surfaced with the little girl. Soon as she could get air, she started coughing her lungs out and could barely hang onto the vampire. He helped her back onto the dock and sat with her while she caught her breath.
Adonai continued to hang back and watch, both confused and curious. The other man's self-defacing attitude could have been a front, but this kind of behavior couldn't be faked. He'd been around long enough to realize that much.
The girl's brother eventually approached the vampire and thanked him for saving his sister. Adonai also heard something about his mother owning the inn down the road and offering the guy a chance to dry off and stay for the night.
The stranger offered what appeared to be a warm - albeit weary - smile. "I appreciate that, but why don't you make sure it's okay with your mom before I intrude? I'll watch your sister if you like."
"Okay!" The boy disappeared between the buildings in the direction of the inn. He returned within a few minutes, and it was clear he'd run the entire way. The kid was very out of breath and had trouble spitting out that his mother was more than happy to give him a room for the night.
Since he had to stay close enough to watch the guy, Adonai spent the evening seated on the inn's roof. He listened quietly to the goings on inside as he debated how he was going to handle this situation he'd found himself in. He'd agreed to let the vampire find his family, but that meant he had to follow the man wherever he went - and for however long it would take.
Besides the hunter being uncertain of his own personal willingness to put up with that, he wasn't sure how the Guild would react if they caught wind of this. Vampires were to be killed on sight. No exceptions. He could only imagine how the news would be received.
"Lukiel, would you mind watching Johnny and Alli a little longer? I need to visit the shops before they close."
Adonai knew that voice belonged to the children's mother. A thought flashed through his mind how, if she knew what the stranger was, she wouldn't be so quick to leave her kids with him.
"I'd be - Oof! - more than happy to, ma'am."
Alli shrieked in delight. "Yay! Luki's gonna stay with us!"
The hunter waited until he heard the mother leave before leaning over the edge of the roof to peek in the window. He'd been hearing all the horseplay in there, and curiosity was getting the better of him.
When he saw the kids using the vampire as a trampoline, he just rolled his eyes and pulled himself back up.
After a moment, he heard something about the kids wanting snacks and then little Alli breaking down into a sobbing fit. He couldn't make out everything, but he heard her yelling about losing Daddy's locket at the pier.
"Perhaps what's-his-nuts could help you go look for it."
That raised his hackles. Had the children not been around, he would have some choice words for the vampire. Rather, he reeled in his agitation and hopped down to the grass to lean on the window sill. "Watch yourself," was all he said to Lukiel.
Turning his attention to Alli, he hoisted the little girl through the window and let her lead him to the docks. When they reached the water's edge, she wandered to where she was playing and peeked between the planks. "There it is," she said, pointing. "It's on a nail."
Someone had left a broken fishing pole nearby, so Adonai used the hook and line to reach the missing locket. With a little time and patience, he hooked the chain and lifted it out. It didn't look like anything was broken, so he undid the latch and clipped it around Alli's neck. "There ya go."
He was glad the vampire wasn't around to see it when the kid dropped a quick kiss on his cheek. "Thank you, sir."
Try as he might, he couldn't keep a grin off his face as he mussed up the little one's hair. "No problem, kiddo. Let's get you home, huh?"
Alli beamed and took a hold of his hand while they walked back towards the inn. "Will you be staying with us for a while? I'd like it if you did."
Technically, he would be. He had to watch the vampire, after all. Unsure how to respond, though, he hoisted her up to sit on his shoulders. "We'll see."
Alli chatted his ears off the entire walk back. As the inn came into sight, a blood-curdling scream echoed through the streets.