Chapter 8: Pursuit

The park is just as wild as it looked. The vampires have left no traces to follow, but I keep pushing through the wild foliage anyway. The scent of trampled weeds, rotting leaves, and wet cigarette butts greets me when I leave the remains of a path and break through the greenery itself— and almost run head-first into a concrete wall. It stretches along the perimeter of the park, too high for me to climb. It’s not a building, more like a divider, riddled with traces of past ivy growth.

On the other side, I hear the sounds of a fight.

It has to be them. There’s nobody else around, or if they are, they would use guns, taunts, baseball bats, not this quiet mix of grunts, slaps of fists against meat, and… is that a cattle prod I hear? The feeling of urgency increases and I run along the wall, looking for a door of some kind. There is none. The more powerful vampires don’t need doors, not when they can simply climb over. Given that, it’s not reassuring that none of them was deterred by the wall.
An elm tree close to the wall catches my eye, big and old enough that one branch reaches the wall. It’s a stupid idea to climb a tree in a rainstorm, but I’m beyond caring.

The bark is rough and slippery from the rain. My hands start to bleed halfway up the trunk, but I keep going. Keep clawing at the slightest ridges and gaps to pull myself higher. Once I reach a branch high enough to perk over the wall, I balance along it, painfully slow and very aware of the drop I’m in for if I slip. Up here, the gusts of wind are stronger, unpredictable, and I have to focus on each step not to lose my balance.

It’s only when I drop down onto the wall that I realize this is a one-way-maneuver. The wall is higher than expected, and jumping back down into the park would most likely sprain or break something. Not that I pay much thought to my escape route; the fight in the courtyard before me captures every last bit of attention I have.

Three vampires surround my savior, whaling at him with fists, kicks and, yes, one of them has a cattle prod. I would have thought a fight between supes would be a lot more dynamic, have cinematic scenes, but this fight is stationary. And it’s not much of a fight. I didn’t imagine the sizzling and smoke around my saviors neck before. It has increased since I lost sight of him, and now there is no way to misinterpret the tiny plumes of smoke. Or the way his body reddens and swells, skin breaking when they hit him as if he were one giant bruise. The stink of sizzling flesh hangs thickly in the air. He can’t even stand, stumbling and falling as he tries to retaliate or block their attacks.

Not a fight. An execution, more vicious than anything I’ve ever seen.

It fills me with rage.

White spots dance through the periphery as I whip out my gun, point, and pull the trigger twice. I don’t think this through, but I don’t have to. This is wrong on a level I don’t care to comprehend. The bullets hit the vampire with the cattle prod in the head, going right through his skull, splattering his brains everywhere, and ricocheting on the concrete. The second vampire doesn’t stay conveniently still, but I still hit his neck and send him to the ground, gurgling and spitting blood as he tries to breathe with a shredded throat. He doesn’t need air, but instincts are strong, so he tries and tries as he thrashes around. He will heal, probably faster than I’d like, but for now he’s out of the picture.

Which leaves me with vampire number three. He charges me, his fingers grinding as they shift into pale claws. I struggle to keep up with him as he jumps and climbs the wall directly beneath me, growling enraged. My heart pumps blood into my head so quickly that I get dizzy, but my training holds. The thunder of my last shot echoes through the abandoned apartment complex and I stare wide-eyed as my attacker twitches and falls off the wall. He crashes into the ground and stays down, eyes still wide open, a gaping hole in his forehead.

I relearn to breathe when my heartbeat slows down, gasping in air I didn’t notice I missed. I’m alive. And the vampires are down. Not dead, I think, except for the one I shot first, but down. Normal vampires who don’t take twenty bullets to at least slow down, thank god. This day couldn’t have gotten any weirder if they’d just shrugged off my shots.

A groan draws my eyes to my savior. He blinks at me, kneeling in a pool of both blood and shreds of clothing, then falls over. I wait for him to move, crouching on the wall and hoping very much I don’t have to hop down into the courtyard. He doesn’t.

The sense of urgency in my chest hasn’t eased. He’s a mess, obviously on the verge of death, and I know somewhere deep down in my mind that I’ll regret it forever if I don’t help him.

The courtyard floor is closer than the ground behind me, but I still look for a slight dip in the concrete before I shuffle around and slip down. As I hurry towards my savior, the throat-less vampire vaults up and my hand raises the gun to blast him again before I can think about shooting him. He falls back over and I find myself kneeling beside the sizzling mess that is the vampire-in-a-box, shuffling through his clothes as he tries to slap me off with bleeding arms he can barely raise.

A shiny amulet rests in blackened flesh on his chest, burrowing deeper and deeper as his body reacts as if it is both burning and having an allergic reaction. I’ve never seen anything like it, never heard of any magical item doing something like this, but it doesn’t matter. If this is the amulet’s doing, it’s an easy fix.

I grab the chain and yank hard. It breaks with a tinkling sound and the sizzling, the swelling, the dying stops.
The amulet feels light in my hand, light and hot but cooling fast. I frown down at it, then at the motionless vampire in front of me. Rescue mission: check. Vampire still alive: check.

What now?

The vampire is heavy in my arms, slippery, his limbs dangling as I drag him up rickety stairs. The building close to us seemed like the safest bet to hide out in, but I didn’t feel safe on the ground floor. My monkey instincts told me to go up, so I’ve gone up. With a little over two-hundred pounds of passed out immortal in my grip. I’m sweat soaked from the exertion, the nerves, the adrenaline tapering off, knees shaking as I pull the vampire up the last few stairs. I tried carrying him, but that was a bust. Couldn’t even lift him to waist height. Dragging him up the stairs like a sack of coals was my only option, and he doesn’t look worse for wear. Not that I could tell if I’ve done more harm; he looks like raw meat with all the wounds and the coat of blood.

Dropping him as carefully as I can, I turn in a tight circle. The floor I’m on has three doors, one of which is actual steel. The other two look like they’ve been the victims of break-ins at some point, but since the building has been condemed for years, it’s been that way for a while. Water damage has warped the floors and probably done its part in weakening the stairwell, but the floor looks stable enough and structurally intact, thank you Hunter’s handbook. I’ll have to keep the vampire in check until I can find out what the heck is going on. The broken doors won’t help one bit with that, but the steel door might at least slow him down if he makes a run for it. He writhes a little, groaning as I hoist him up, but he does nothing to help me get him into the room. I drop him once more and turn to close the door.

And when I turn back, he’s up. Very up. Not even a stagger, no sway, just a murderous glare as he squares off with me.

This close, he is tall. Imposing. The tiger visual comes back and I can’t help myself, I flinch back. Not that there is a lot of space behind me. I push my back against the door and raise my hands soothingly. “Hey there, remember me? I’m the guy you saved back in the hospital, just repaying the favor. Let’s stay calm and collected here, no need for rash actions.”

Something flashes through his eyes and he growls, steady and warningly.

I swallow dryly and stay exactly how and where I am. I have no idea if he understands or remembers what happened, but I’m pretty sure it would be a bad idea to move. “So, those vampires, huh? Pretty harsh attack if you ask me. Any idea why they went at you like that? I mean, they could have killed you like that, but they didn’t,” I say, keeping my voice calm and friendly. Even if he doesn’t understand what I’m saying, he has to see that I’m not threatening him.

He cocks his head, a puzzled expression appearing on his face, then widens his eyes and grabs at his chest. The last tatters of his shirt rip when he tugs it open and he bears them no mind. His hands fly over his chest, his neck, searching for something that isn’t there anymore. The amulet.

I pull it out of my pocket and hold it up, wincing. Now he’ll think I’m a thief on top of everything else. “Here. I’m sorry I took it, but it was hurting you and—”

He’s on me in a flash, the smell of blood and pain and fear encompassing me. I yelp and flinch again, hitting my head against the steel door that stops me from getting away as I wait for the pain to come.

It doesn’t. The amulet’s weight lifts from my hand and the vampire turns, roaring as he throws the metal disk against the wall. It cuts into the plaster and gets stuck there. That doesn’t seem to be enough for him, though. He stalks over and smashes his fist into it, twisting and breaking it into tiny pieces. Then he turns again, breath heaving, and glowers at me. Another guttural growl fills the room as he sizes me up, his eyes lingering on my neck.

This may still end badly. I can’t run, it will only make him want to chase me. And I can’t lock him in this room, it has too many windows. I can’t talk to him because he doesn’t understand, and it would be a waste of a perfectly fine rescue mission to shoot him now. I’m officially out of options. I need help from someone who speaks vampire, and Aschure is god knows where, doing god knows what. Probably throwing my stuff into some river to wipe all traces that I’ve ever been here. Fucking Hunter code.

Then it hits me. Stanley. I have his number, he’s a vampire, and he owes me. What better way to repay my kindness than to come save me from being eaten again?

Now I only have to get out my phone without setting the wild beast in front of me off.

I move slowly, carefully, let him watch my wandering hand intently while I keep the other one up and far away from my gun. “I’m just taking out my phone to call a friend,” I explain in a soothing voice. “We need help with this mess and he’s just the person we need. You’ll like him.” At least I hope so, or we’re both fucked. Stanley and me, that is, the vampire in front of me will be just fine.

He lets me pull out the phone. He even lets me dial, although the beep-boop accompanying the dialing makes him cock his head like a dog. I take a deep breath of relief when he just watches on as I press the phone to my ear, very aware of the fact that he will hear every word of the conversation.

Stanley picks up at the fourth ring, sounding both hesitant and breathless. “Hello?”

Thank you baby Jesus. “Stanley, it’s Gideon. Remember how you said you’d do almost anything to make the whole biting thing up to me? Well, almost anything is just what I need right now.”

I give him the rough address and even mention a fight between vampires, but leave out the specifics. I can’t be sure he isn’t part of this, can’t know if he’s giving Loreley a blow-by-blow retelling of what we’ve been doing or are about to do. I’ll have to surprise him and just hope he’ll be able to do something about this mess.

When I’m done, I pocket my phone again and take a furtive glance at the vampire. He’s still standing there, still focusing on me, still glowering. Hasn’t moved a muscle, perfectly happy to stay where he is, that weirdo. His neck and chest look raw, swollen with the deep acid burns the amulet caused. The other wounds, all the bruises and gashes, don’t look any better either, almost as if he’s not healing at all. At least he isn’t bleeding to death. We’ve still got time to fix this.

I sigh deeply and settle in for the wait. Him and me, we’re not going anywhere for the foreseeable future.

And here I thought the night couldn’t possibly get any longer.