Chapter 8

He swoops down again. This time from behind. I slide to the left and snatch at his cape with my free hand slamming him down to the ground. I’ll never understand why vampires still wear capes. Been out of style for centuries and guarantees I’ll kick your ass. I slam my foot on the cape to prevent escape and lift my foot to slam a boot to his face. He takes the moment the moment to sweep the leg. Leaving me on my ass.

He flies back into the darkness and prepares his next attack to be launched. I don’t move from my standing guard. Arms up, ready to punch or stab with whichever arm he comes closest too. I hear him swoop down behind me. I spin around ready to launch an elbow directly into his skull. He diverts his attack at the last moment and flees back to the shadows.

That’s the thing about the Primeval breed of vampire. They haven’t gotten their hands dirty in a long time. They know they can’t go toe to toe with today’s hunters. They usually send out thanes to do the dirty work. I’m thinking this guy doesn’t have thanes. If he did they’d be attacking me.

Another swooping attack. I don’t aim at the cape this time, I stab him right in the shoulder and watch him crash and burn. I follow as his momentum rolls him across the floor. I finally get a good look at him. Primeval for sure, broach, tuxedo, bad hairdo and all. I grab my knife from his shoulder and go in for the kill.

He splits blood in my face. It doesn’t hurt but it blurs my vision for a moment as I wipe my eyes. When I open them, he’s freed himself from his cape and punches me in the chest. The punch sends me flying backwards. I’m glad I wear the vest beneath my robes. If I didn’t that would have caved my chest for sure. He doesn’t capitalize, instead he flees back into the shoulder.

My ears slowly start to ring out. That’s when my theory is confirmed. He’s one of the Primeval vamps with the ability to control minds. That’s how he was controlling the Strigoi earlier. Another one of the few magic abilities I gained. The passive ones are the ones I can do, in this case, preventing mind control. Not really magic, more like a practical way to combat magic. Still he won’t get me. The ringing continues to get louder. Coupled with the darkness of the room, and the blood in my eyes he’s really taking me off my game here.

One of my fears is realized, he did have thanes. I realize it as a punch lands on the back of my head. I turn to retaliate and see the woman I freed first. He’s using the people he had here as thanes. That’s how they were staying alive, it wasn’t some magic shots. Thanes lifeforce is tied to that of the vampire they are in service of until that vampire dies or they’re set free. It can be a great way to fight off aging if you’re working for a benevolent vampire. That’s not the case for most, but I guess they don’t lose years of their lives either. Thanes hit harder than regular humans but nothing crazy. I just need to be careful not to overdo it and kill them.

I land a punch on the woman only for her to return a kick to my chest. Nothing to stagger me. Before I can retaliate I swing an elbow around to hit the man approaching from behind me. He falls but she lands another strike before I can get my guard up. I finally get the chance to focus on her. A quick combination topples her but another dives at my ankle knocking me to a single knee. Several begin landing punches. I sweep the leg and watch them tumble.

One jumps my leg and remains standing. We throw a few jabs back and forth before I land a body blow and watch him fall over. I saved all these people just moments ago and now they’re trying to put me down for the count. Somewhere in all this chaos there’s a vampire waiting to strike. I spot him from the corner of my eye. He isn’t hiding anymore, he’s cocky. He’ll get his in just a moment.

Eight, I’ve taken out eight. Time to get serious, at this rate they’ll outnumber and over power me. The next one that rushes in gets a kick directly to the skull. He’ll have to live with a concussion. An arm flip to the next directly into his buddy behind him. One approaches from the back and I launch an elbow to his rib cage.

Slowly I’m making my way over to the vampire. He doesn’t look panicked, but he should be. Standing there licking his fangs as if he’s ready for a meal. Slowly the thanes start to slow down and I’m making ground. He launches another mental attack, throwing me off balance. I had been dealing with it before but this was enough to bring me to my knees.

The thanes quickly pile on and grab me. I can’t overpower so many of them at once. I’m powerless as they drag me over to him. I expect some long-winded monologue like the movies. I’ve been on a lot of mission but this is the first time I’ve had to go toe to toe with the circus master. Instead his cold fingers stroke my face before he palms my chin standing me up as if he’s trying to remember my face.

“I shall remember you, as you were a worthy advisory. Not many would last as long as you did, but in the end they all fall,” there’s the monologue. An arrogant fake French accent. I can’t take this.

I return his favor from earlier and spit into his face and smile licking my own teeth this time. If he’s going to kill me, I’m going to earn it. He doesn’t take kindly to me returning his disrespect. He quickly begins landing punches across my body as I remain defenseless. Vest or not, I felt a few ribs crack. Maybe the old guy can still go if he wants to. The strikes stop when he grabs me by the throat.

Vampires are strong, and it doesn’t take long for me to start struggling to breathe. He’s saying something but I’m fading in and out. I can’t understand what he’s saying but I see his mouth moving. I reach for one of my guns, hopefully I can just shoot him and be done with it. I grab my gun and he tights his grip. I feel it drop from hand, past my feet and to the ground as I hang in the air. One last chance. I feel around my belt or try to, looking for a grenade.

I find one and pull the pin and wait. It takes a few seconds but slowly it begins to glow. A sunlight grenade. All the power of the sun packed into a grenade. Super expensive and hard to find and alchemist to make it, but worth it. The eremites always suggest having a spell to save your ass, but my magic ability starts and stops with passive enhancement magic. This is my ace in the hole. I begin to black out as the room turns white from the grenade.

I’m brought back from the brinks as I feel my body flop to the ground and everyone in the room screams out. I put my sunglasses on to protect my eyes. The screams let me know the grenade works. As everything burns and I struggle to stay awake something Mother Dalia told me once comes to mind; I chuckle to myself. It’s better to light a candle than curse in the darkness. She used to tell me that all the time. This probably isn’t what she meant. It hurts to laugh.

Chapter 7

A chill sets over me almost instantly as I stare down the corridor realizing I’m in another secret passage of this trick house. I start making my way down the hall. The decor has changed from the rest of the house for sure. Dark stone walls, in a hall lined with torches. Not electric torches for show, but actual flaming torches. Someone has a flair for the dramatic. The screaming has stopped but, that just makes me more nervous. Someone was in pain here just a few minutes ago. Were they put down? I pause at the end before the hallway makes a right turn.

Peeking around the corner the scent of copper wafts through the air. I slide around and stay low. Another staircase leading down. No door this time, I walk right into the next area. I recognize what kind of operation is going on right away. Suddenly everything makes sense, from the abductions to the cold room.

Dozens of people strapped into chairs with tubes stretching from their veins. This is an underground blood bank. This isn’t the kind where people donate blood to vampires for some quick cash. This is one where they just drain the people until there’s nothing left. Still, they had to be down here for ages. I make my way to the first person and cut the leather straps from her angles and arm. I press my finger down where the needle is in her vein and remove it slowly. She’ll bleed for a few minutes, but it’s better than being held captive.

“Are you able to walk,” I ask her, looking into her sunken eyes. She’s been here for a while.

“I think so,” she mumbles through a dry voice making it clear they haven’t been taking care of these people.

“How long have you been here,” I ask trying to gather some information.

“What’s the date,” she responds palming the arms of the chair and lifting herself up.

“June ninth 2019,” I respond.

“Then I’ve been here for four months, but some of the people in the back have been here way longer. He keeps us alive with some kind of shots.”

“Alright, I’ll get them out. You just make your way to the surface. Take your time, just follow the hallway. It’s a straight shot,” I say making my way to the next chair.

I make my way to the next chair, this time an older man. Again, I try to get as much information as I can. He doesn’t have much for me that I don’t already know. I repeat the process another three times before moving to the next room. More of the same. More people, different ages, races and genders. Everyone bleeds.

This is the work of one of the vampires from The Primeval breed of vampires. They’re said to be the first of the vampire kind. At least they believe it and act that way. In my opinion they’ve been watching too many old films. Many of them are around 150 years old and think they’re carrying on Dracula’s legacy or something. Dracula was is a myth, used to spread panic among humans. It kept us away from places vampires were likely to be hiding way back then. Now, not so much. Still they all maintain those 1800s mannerisms. After 100 years it isn’t strange that some of them can develop special abilities that other vampires don’t have. A survival trait I suppose, when others can do things they can’t. I imagine whoever is in charge of this has some kind of mind control ability. They all turn humans to thanes but Strigoi? No, that would take some kind of mind control.

So, they had to use the Strigoi to clear out the werewolves. The Primeval don’t usually work in groups, so there’s just one behind this for sure. Probably used some of the people who have been here the longest to build the tunnels below the house. The cold temperature was to keep the blood down here refrigerated. The only question left is why they got so sloppy with the abductions all of a sudden. I make my way to final room and free a few more.

I arrive at the last chair. I’ve seen some young people in here, but this one is younger than the others. They really had to be panicking to start taking teenagers. He doesn’t wakeup when I cut his straps or remove the needle from his vein. He doesn’t even bleed when the needle comes out, he’s almost empty. I check his neck for a pulse. It’s weak, but it’s there. He’s got a chance if we can get him some medical attention right away. I pick the kid up and place him on my shoulders in a fireman’s carry. He can’t weigh much of anything at this point. I wonder how long he’s been here. Some of the other people have been here two or three years, but judging by his clothes he’s been here for a while.

I make my way out of the room still being cautious. I haven’t seen anyone down here that wasn’t strapped down, but there has to be someone close by. Someone has to be around to take care of the equipment and some of the bags looked almost full so they’d have to be here to switch bags sometime soon. I just hope I didn’t miss a trap door somewhere.

Almost on cue someone drops down from the ceiling and smashes directly into my chest. I fall to my back and drop the boy. He rolls lifelessly across the stone floor like a child’s discarded play thing. If he wasn’t near death before, he is now. I clutch my knife and slide my fingers into my brass knuckles. It was too much to wish this night could end without another fight. That’s just my luck. I rise to my feet and brace myself for another attack from my unseen opponent. I got caught slipping before, but it won’t happen again.

Chapter 6

I cover up and defend my vitals as I think up a plan to get out of this. I bit off way more than I could chew here. I struggle to reload both my guns under pressure. Still, I’m loaded and just need an opening. I’ll be able to take a few out. If I die, well it’ll be in a blaze of glory. Live fast, die young and leave a mangled corpse. A bright red light creeps into my vision bringing heat with it. I can’t help but close my eyes tight as it grows closer.

The heat from the light is intense but doesn’t harm me. I hear the Strigoi start to scream out in pain. No doubt the light is the cause of this. As the light fades from my vision the sounds of more hissing starts. I guess there were more Strigoi waiting in the woods than I thought. I open my eyes and come up ready to fire. Instead I see Elsar standing off in the distance. His stance says he’s the one who just fired off a beam of magic. I have no doubt he’s the one that saved my ass. I’ll forever be grateful for that.

Before I can thank him the Strigoi attack and I begin firing. I’m not alone this time. Elsar blasts monster after monster with his red magic blasts. There’s a reason he’s well respected as a hunter. He does more with magic than most can do with an entire arsenal. Maybe the reason we never got along is because we take the opposite approach to the same job.

He sticks with magic. Some of the oldest and most dangerous spells. But, still he’s mastered them, and they’re reliable. I on the other hand, choose to embrace the new world. Others stick to old weapons. Swords, stakes, and even bows but I don’t mind a gun for the job. It’s efficient. Sure it makes anyone a killer and every psychopath can get one. But, if you’re as good as I am with one it won’t let you down in a tough situation. You get multiple shots off and take out a few enemies. Still, you can’t rely on just the guns, which is why I have everything else.

The rest of our party joins the fight. Many of this class are using bow and arrows. Something else I never got the hang of. They huddle in groups and fire in mass taking out a few at a time. The blonde kid seemed like all talk but I see he’s out there with a spiked mace, a rare weapon choice. I think I’ve seen one once before. He gets up close and just smashes in their heads. It must be blessed or have some kind of runes because their heads cave in and they drop. The girl from earlier is blasting away with some spells. Not as good as Elsar but she’s still holding her ground and providing support for those with the bows. They all work well as a team. I clearly don’t belong alongside them.

We’re still out numbered, but we’re taking control of the battle field. Strigoi rely on the numbers game but they don’t necessarily take on other large groups. We’ve got them on the ropes. Still I need to get into that farm house. Whole they’ve got this under control it might be my chance to get in there. I reload and start making my way to the house. I reach the front door and through all the chaos I still here the screams from inside.

I attempt to open the door but it’s locked. I jam my shoulder into the door and it doesn’t budge. Good locks. I use my gun to shoot right through the doorknob. This time the door gives behind the force of my shoulder and I stumble into the home.

Looking around it hasn’t been touched in ages. Dust covers every surface, but the screams are coming from here for sure. Now that I’m inside I can hear the difference between the screams. Some male some female but I hear them all. They’re coming from further inside the house so I make my way deeper inside. It looks to be a standard home. Living room, a vintage TV with knobs instead of buttons. Probably one of the old tube TVs. The wallpaper is peeling and each room I walk through is carpeted.

I make my way to the kitchen, just as dusty as the rest of the home. Nobody has cooked a meal in here for decades. Still the screaming is louder in this room than any other. I make my way over to a pantry. The only thing in the room that isn’t covered in dust. That shows whoever is in charge here didn’t plan to hide their wrong doing, the home was just a convenient choice. I open up the pantry and there’s another door behind it.

Turning the knob works for this one. A staircase into the basement is revealed. I hit the button to turn on the flashlight on my chest protector and make my way down. Down below the screams still grow louder. But this is just a basement nothing special here. A few wine barrels and some empty crates. Finally, I find what I’m looking for. I tap my foot as I walk along looking for a trap door. Eventually I find what I’m looking for tucked in the corner behind some boxes.

I lift it open and make my way down. This time a much longer stairway, I’m greeted by some fresh screams as I finally reach the base. Yet another door. Whoever is in charge here is really defensive. This one looks more classic. A large wooden log secures this door closed. I grip the log and lift it freeing the door. Still a padlock needs to be removed to get in.

I reload both my guns, a bullet in the chamber for each gun. I stretch getting ready for whatever awaits the other side of the door. I finally blast the padlock when another scream starts. I follow it up by kicking through the door taking cover behind the wall pointing my gun in. Nothing moves and I make my way into the room.

Chapter 5

I take off running towards the screams, I’ve made it back to the barn in no time flat. I pause and listen for the direction of the screams. There’s an echo out here, but I’m pretty sure they’re coming from the North. That’s the direction I run. Another scream confirms I chose to go in the right direction. They grow in frequency as I spot another clearing. A farm house in the middle of nowhere. The screams are coming inside.

I rush towards the house without hesitation. I didn’t bother to check my surroundings before rushing in. My robes are ripped away from my chest and I jump back. Standing face to face with me is a Strigoi vampire. Just as I had suspected earlier. The pale white body showed no signs of fatigue despite the fast attacked it launched on me. The crooked jaw hung open showing both rows of yellowish green teeth and a forked tongue on full display. Slowly it began to circle me, sharp claws digging into the ground. As it moved, I was able to spot three more from my peripheral vision. If I could see four that meant there were probably forty nearby. They don’t make themselves known unless they know for sure they have the numbers advantage.

As soon as it was behind me it leaped forward to attack, I was ready and stabbed my combat knife directly at it. I was rusty, I missed the heart, if it had been living, I would have pierced a lung. Still it backed off and circled plotting the next attack. At least I thought that was what it was doing. Instead it hissed and backed into the tree line, vanishing from my site. I knew what was next, they would come at me in waves. My only hope is there aren’t as many of them as I had hoped.

Still this was way too organized for just a group of Strigoi, almost as if they had a designated leader this time and weren’t attacking blindly. None of this makes sense, they were the obvious culprit, they’re at the scene of the crime. Still, they’ve never been known to take hostages for any reason. They don’t have the mental capacity. They’re like wild animals. I need to focus on the task at hand. I slide on my brass knuckles, dipped in silver, covered in runes. They won’t kill most creatures, but they level the playing field. I grip my combat knife harder and prepare to face them. I’d prefer my back to a wall, but in an open field, that just isn’t possible.

The first starts to hiss, a second and a third. They continue as the hissing grows louder as more join in, and they move closer. The first launches at me from the woods. A different one than who I stabbed earlier. I slam my fist right into it the cranium of the monster as it nears. It screeches in terror, shocked a punch would hurt it. Caught off guard I take the moment to stab my knife through the heart of the beast. No missing this time. It lets out another screech of terror as it falls to the ground dead. In the morning the body will turn to ash and it will be as if nothing ever happened. The hissing grows louder. No, another is approaching me. I turn just in time to avoid the sharp claws piercing my back. Instead it gets another piece of my robe tangled. I am sloppy, I should have expected an attack immediately after the first. I stab at the heart and it drops, this one made no sound as it died.

A third rushes in, this time a body shot, the flesh burns in reaction to the silver. It gives me enough time to steak this one as well. Usually Strigoi attack all at once. This is strange, almost as if they’re trying to get a feel for my movements and searching for some kind of weakness. Still, it doesn’t take long before I’ve killed five of them. I’ve had time to catch my breath but I still expect them to rush at any moment. There’s too many to count, but I don’t hesitate when the screeching stops and they rush in.

I keep calm and focus on one at a time. My first move is firing a flare directly into the face of one. It doesn’t kill him. The plan was to use the light from the flare to make seeing harder for them, they aren’t used to bright lights. Using the momentary shock, I manage to take out three of them before they can regroup. Again, they attempt to retreat but I follow and manage to take out another before they reach the tree line. Still I back into position; if they get me into the forest it’s a wrap for me.

They rush again, this time it seems as if they’ve added more to their numbers. Someone is pulling the strings for sure. They aren’t this smart. They’re not trying to kill me; they’re trying to wear me down. I make an effort to conserve energy this time around. More dodging less unnecessary movements. I only move with the intention to dodge or kill at this point. It becomes a cycle now.

I’m unable to catch my breath this time around as there is no retreat. There seems to be no end to their numbers. A claw barely misses my face as another claws at my protective vest. I feel a sting as one claws into my arm. I manage to free one of my guns from the holster and fire. It recoils in pain as the bullet burns through. Each gun and each bullet is engraved with various magic wounds, additionally the bullets are blessed. It may take a few, but they’ll kill just about anything. Vampire, werewolf or even demon. They get the job done. In this case, the Strigoi will die to just about any prayer or rune. I manage to fire off a few more shots and gain some breathing room from the pack.

I take the moment to move in. Gun in my left hand, knife in my right. I make a few kills before they start to close in around me. Out of bullets, I switch guns, no time to reload. The chaos seems to make them more energetic. They seemed lethargic at first but now they’re hungry for blood. They’ve been whipped into a frenzy. I’ve only got a few bullets left so I conserve ammunition for the moment. It doesn’t last long as they make another big push to take me down. I feel my leg being bitten into. The padding means they won’t penetrate my pants but the pressure is enough to make my leg want to quit. I fire a shot downwards into the beast’s head before I’m brought to my knees.

There doesn’t seem to be an end to them. They aren’t giving me enough time to grab for anything heavier and I haven’t gotten a chance to reload. I resort to pistol-whipping them to keep back. Still they move closer, sensing that I’m at the end of my road. I hate to admit Elsar was right, maybe we should have waited for backup, no fuck him.

Chapter 4

“Everyone come in, a discovery has been made that alters the entire mission,” Elser ushers everyone into the barn as if he’s putting on a show.

The more experienced of the bunch look, nod and move out of the way. They act as if they’ve seen it all and done it all before. Almost as if it doesn’t bother them to look at the way this Werewolf was killed. The newer kids are the opposite. Some stare in disbelief, others uncertainty of what they’re looking at. A few of them leave the barn to vomit. They won’t be doing this kind of work long. The monastery always needs cooks, and builders.

“Okay, now can anyone tell me what we have here,” Elser starts sensing a teaching moment.

“A dead dog,” a young redheaded boy jokes. Several laugh.

“Do not disrespect the dead child. In life they may be enemies, but in death they only seek inner peace,” Elser always killed first, but he always had an odd respect, if not fascination for the dead.

“It is a werewolf, the boy answers again with his head down this time.”

“Correct, now, can anyone tell me the cause of death? Step closer if you need to,” Elser steps aside ushering anyone to look closer.

“A wound to the abdomen,” a girl with thick glasses from the back says averting her gaze.

“Good, now what kind of creatures attack the abdomen,” he continues his impromptu lecture.

“Werewolves,” a girl shouts her answer.

“Yes, but werewolves do not kill other werewolves unless there is a dispute between tribes. Nor would they kill another before transforming fully.”

“Vampires,” the blonde boy from the bus smiles smugly.

“Yes, but what kind of vampire? There are six types so be specific; it could mean life or death,” Elser wipes the smug grin from his face.

None of the students answer. They all look to one another for the answer or stare off into space. Elser walks back in forth losing his patience. Even if they are new in the field, they should know this already. This is basic knowledge for students after finishing their primary schooling.

“Isaias, tell the class what kind of vampire did this,” Elser demands putting me on the spot.

“Most likely from the Strigoi breed of vampire, judging by attacks on the abdomen and the multitude of wounds,” I answer with ease.

“Excellent, tell me how the Strigoi come to be, their behavior and hunting habits,” he shoots back.

“No one is for sure how they come back, but in the realm of vampires they are the only ones truly undead. No pulse, internal organs are of no use. There are no bodily fluids, no saliva when they bite you, no blood when you cut them,” I go into detail, driving home the danger of the situation. “Many speculate that they are those who had vengeful, jealous, lustful, suicidal or homicidal. It doesn’t matter which one, or how, the fact is that they literally awaken from death and claw their way to the surface. They’re ruthless. They don’t drink the blood of a living victim, they tear them apart, and drink blood from the corpse. They are not solitary hunters and rove in packs up to twenty at a time. It isn’t unheard of to hear of hundreds of them in an abandoned building or sewer. They are the ugly fuckers that go bump in the night and if you don’t hear them bump first, you’re already dead. That cover it Elser,” I ask turning to him. We’ve never liked each other, but we respect each other.

“That’s why I called on you, perfect description,” he says with a smile as the group looks on in fear. “Don’t worry they’re easy to kill. Stick to your basics. Stab them in the heart. Blessed weapons. Watch for the claws. They can’t turn you, but they can kill you,” Elsar says with a smile leading the group out of the barn.

It’s getting dark but we’ve finally found some kind of clue. Like clockwork Elsar starts talking about the importance of knowing when to back down. He plans to return us all to the bus tonight and call in an expert team tomorrow. But that’s a terrible idea, we can find them and surprise them tonight. They’ve cleared out the werewolves that were here. They probably don’t expect anyone.

“We could surprise them tonight. There probably isn’t a large amount of them if they’re keeping hostages and haven’t been spotted,” I speak up.

“After your perfect lesson on the Strigoi in the barn, it is surprising that you would say something so stupid,” Elsar says without missing a step. A few of the kids that were terrified moments ago giggle.

“How about you send the new kids to the bus, and we take a small team to comb the forest? They don’t expect us, Strigoi aren’t organized and when vampires have hostages, there’s only so long they’ll last. We need to hit them hard and fast if we want to get any survivors,” I stand my ground.

“Just go to the bus,” Elsar says leading the others away from the barn.

“Are you serious? We’re just going to call it quits for the day?”

“Isaias, you are good. One of the best students to ever rise through the ranks here. Without a doubt you are the best one here, behind me. The reason you will never reach one of our elite squads, reach the rank of abbot or even prior is because you don’t think with your head. You put to much emphasis on emotion and that causes you to be sloppy and unpredictable. When you finally know calm, then you will be able to make the correct choices. It is not wise to question a superior, a field leader when you are just returning from probation,” Elsar raises his voice at me.

I think about my promise to Mother Dalia and I don’t retort. I fall in line and follow the group back towards the bus. I can almost see the smile through the back of Elsar’s head. We’re going to doom these people to death. All because he wants to show that he’s in control here.

A scream pierces through the forest from the direction of the barn. We all turn in unison and stare off as if we can see where the scream had come from.

“Remain calm, and continue towards the bus. I know you may want to react, but you have your orders,” that last part was for me specifically.

Still, I keep walking towards the bus. Yet another scream, this one yells for help. The others keep walking unsure about what is happening. Emotionless animals is what they’ve been taught to be. Mother Dalia, I’m sorry.

Chapter 3

I make my way through the brush on the ground level as people dart above me around the trees. That’s probably the worst way to search for living beings. If what you’re looking for is dead, then sure, go for it. You’ll get a great view of everything down below you from something beyond eye level. But, any living creature, human, Vampire, Werewolf or whatever will hear you and flee before you know it. I get the feeling we aren’t really here to solve anything. This is more of a chance for the new graduates to run wild.

Still I’m interested in solving this case, because there is a case here. I read the news reports about the missing people in the area. The thing is, I don’t think it’s Werewolves. This doesn’t seem like their thing at all. What would a Werewolf even do with a hostage? Werewolves aren’t shy about attacking people. Any time they attack a person, they just leave them there. Why would they ever start hiding the bodies or taking people somewhere else. There’s more going on here.

“Wouldn’t you like to get a better view from the sky,” Else calls down to me from a tree. Next to him stands the blonde boy from the bus. I guess he’s teacher’s pet.

“No, I’d rather be down here, someone has to check for tracks,” I respond.

“Suit yourself, don’t work to hard,” something about Elser has always seemed sinister to me.

“I’ll make sure to conserve energy,” I say with a sarcastic thumbs up before continuing on.

Elser just wants the new kids to tire themselves out. He has no concern for the mission. If he did he would be giving them instruction about signs to look for. Instead he’s just jumping from tree to tree alongside them. Probably trying to live some old part of his life again. For as ruthless as he can be with non-human creatures, the man isn’t taking this seriously.

I come across my first sign of Werewolves having been in the area. Claw markings on a cluster of trees. That means one has claimed this area for himself. I must be about fifty yards from the entrance of the forest. Makes sense that they wouldn’t want to be right at the entrance. The land around here looks to be flattened. Someone has been sleeping around here for sure. A few traces of fur shedding and the carcass of some small animals. Typically, Werewolves hunt bigger game than rabbits and squirrels.

I don’t have any doubt that Werewolves did use this place as a hunting ground before, but it couldn’t have been recently. There’s no meat left on these bones at all. It had to be a few months since they were killed. Even these claw markings look old. Perhaps they could have moved further into the forest.

I make it a little deeper into the forest and there are more claw marks for sure. More makeshift resting grounds for Werewolves. However, these are even older. The bones here are actually starting to break down. Leaves have started to cover the ground. These places haven’t been used in months. It seems like the Werewolves were forced further and further out until they just left the area. I wasn’t sure Werewolves were behind the abductions at first. But, now, I’m certain they didn’t have anything to do with it. The only question is who is behind it? I’m guessing my answer is still deeper into the forest.

Eventually, I make my way to a large clearing. An abandoned barn sits in the middle of an overgrown field. The scent of blood is in the air around here. The barn is old for sure, but it looks like there’s been a lot of damage done to it. Damage from a fight. Claw marks and broken boards decorate the outside of the barn.

It isn’t locked so I make my way inside and grab the flashlight from my belt beneath my robes. The inside smells more like blood than the outside. I flash the light around and there’s blood stains everywhere. I’m not sure this is done by a Werewolf, as there’s no bodies left around. I flash the light a little more and catch a glimpse of something behind a bale of hay. A brown paw, belonging to a werewolf. It isn’t moving at all, so I make my way over. It’s a dead wolf. It looks like he was killed halfway through their transformation. The lower body is all Werewolf, thick brown fur, clawed paws and muscular calves. But everything from the waist up is still human. I didn’t even know you could kill a Werewolf halfway through a transformation. I don’t see a cause of death from the back, so I flip the body over. The abdomen has been ripped completely open. Organs hang out, almost as if someone took time with this and played around. Other wounds are visible, small individual cuts around the arms and face. This wasn’t another Werewolf that killed the victim. Werewolves don’t play around when they kill.

My guess is Vampires, and a lot of them. Some of them tend to play around with their victims. It also wouldn’t be strange for them to be behind the kidnappings. I make another lap of the barn, searching for hidden entrances or anything else that could lead me to where the victims would be, but nothing. A broken fang confirms my hunch that this was Vampires for sure.

I make my way out of the barn and fire off a flair. This is the hot zone, it would make sense if we all regrouped here and came up with a new plan based on the information that we have here. Slowly people start to arrive. The new kids look confused and afraid, expecting a fight.

Elser makes his way over to me and before he can ask why I called everyone here, I pull him into the barn alone.

“Werewolves aren’t behind this,” I say.

“What makes you so confident in that,” Elser asks

“That,” I say pointing at the corpse.

“Well, that’s a sight to see. You certainly might be right this time. Good discovery,” he responds staring at the half-transformed werewolf with his abdomen ripped open.

Chapter 2

I’m up three hours before we’re supposed to meet at the bus. I double check all of my equipment. New gloves broken in so my fingers slide easily into the brass knuckles I favor. I’ve cleaned them for the occasion. Before today that had been gathering dust in my closet for almost a year. I suit up in my protective gear. Guns are generally forbidden unless special permission has been granted. Still I favor the weapon no matter how brutish the eremites may consider them. I keep them hidden unless I really need them, but the twin pistols are here tucked neatly in their holsters. More weapons they consider brutish, grenades and the like. Above that I throw on my bright red robes.

I never understood why they chose tow wear bright red robes, almost neon. It draws the attention of whatever we are hunting. It doesn’t matter if we’re after vampires or werewolves. We stand out like sore thumbs. I much prefer black, as I can blend in better. But, it isn’t my call today, so I wear the robe. I sure I’m probably a bit rusty, but I didn’t have time to get back into fighting shape. They may be hoping that I slip up, but I won’t. I’ll rely on my training. Nothing flashy and everything will work out fine. I won’t be briefed on the mission until we get on the bus, but I’m sure they wouldn’t throw me back in with anything to wild. I have a cup of yogurt and an apple, something small before the mission. Leaving my apartment, I make my way through the monastery and towards the bus.

I pass Mother Dalia’s office and peak in. She hasn’t arrived yet which is odd of her. She always told me it was best to be early not late. Still, I may have done a number on her yesterday. I’ll be sure to apologize next time I see her. Still, this early in the day, the monastery is quiet. You almost forget how much goes on around here every day.

It’s like a small city inside. A school, medical facilities, apartment complexes for families and individuals. I used to wonder how people could spend their entire lives here. That’s why I would sneak out so much growing up. Now that I’m over eighteen I can just fill out a pass to take leave for the city nearby, but with my record they get rejected all the time.

I’m the first one to the bus, so I knock on the door for the driver to open.

“Really? They’re going to let your loose on the world, again,” the driver laughs as he opens the door.

I don’t respond, I’m not looking for trouble today. I take my seat somewhere in the middle and wait for more to arrive. Slowly the bus fills. Father Elser makes his way onto the bus last. I suppose he will be leading today’s hunting. He gives the driver instructions and we begin to drive away. Once we’ve been in motion for nearly half an hour Elser stands to give us the briefing of what we’ll be doing today.

“I see a lot of fresh faces here today, and an old face returning as well,” he pauses his monologue to lock eyes with me. I nod back showing there’s not much more that needs to be said. He continues, “Usually we don’t bring this many new people to a mission. But, this is a search and rescue mission. There has been a string of abductions in the area lately. Can anyone tell me which nuisances abduct people? “

“Vampires, Changelings and Hobgoblins although their abductions are for less nefarious reasons,” a young blonde boy answers with a smile. Trying to earn brownie points with Elser, anyone could have answered that question.

“Yes, that is correct. However, these abductions have all been linked to a forest that Werewolves use as a hunting ground. The Rimbury Woods are named after the family who originally owned the land. It became a hunting ground for Werewolves as several of their family had been turned. That is where we will be heading today. Our goal is simply search and rescue. We’re going to arrive during midday. While it is not strange for Werewolves to be active during the day, many prefer the night. Still, remain on guard. Any questions,” Elser concludes.

“What if we encounter a Werewolf,” a mousy red-haired girl asks. The shaky voice lets me know this is her first time out.

“If you encounter a Werewolf, you are to fire off your flair and avoid engaging at any cost. The rest of us will arrive and exterminate the beast,” Elser says with a smile.

I never got the exterminate first, ask questions later, style that Elser favors. I’ve met creatures of all kinds that are friendly, many are enrolled here at Sparington. Sometimes talking can work just as well as fighting. That’s one of the things I learned here. Still, I bite my tongue, wanting to avoid any trouble today.

The rest of the ride is uneventful. We slowly file out of the bus and await our orders. We’re ordered to pair up and I’m left unselected. I hadn’t noticed we had an odd number of people before.

“Oh, Isaias, it looks like you’re the odd man out. No worries, you’ve got more experience than most of today’s group put together. You’ll be fine,” Elser says with a smile before wandering off.

Many of the new recruits enter the forest by taking to the trees. I never had much affinity for magic. Some of the basics, I understand. I can’t do the more advance things like casting spells or firing off blasts. I certainly can’t transmute objects. Still, I can walk up walls and trees like the rest of them; I’m great at using magic to mask my tracks. That’s almost second nature for me at this point, masking my scent, making my steps silent and keeping a bubble of silence around me. I do that even when I’m not on a mission these days. I slip on my gloves then head in on foot.