Disclaimers: I guess see the first Part. But for a brief summary…blood and sex do lie ahead-and yes, sometimes in that order and at the same time. A few of these chapters are not for the squeamish, but I don't think you've made it this far without being tough.
Grovelling Pit: To Mikee, to Jennis (sorry I never wrote you back last time, I know I'm an ass), to Jain for giving me some landscaping tips and to the countless others who kept loading my inbox…massive love to you all.
Survey Says: As always feel free to bitch-constructively of course. Tell me you loved it, tell me you hated it, tell me you think I'm a sappy sucka'-just tell me something. Catch me if you can at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Peace and soul grease.
Peace and soul grease.
I will hold the candle till it burns up my arm
I'll keep taking punches until their will grows tired
I will stare the sun down until my eyes go blind,
And, I won't change direction
And, I won't change my mind
How much difference will it make?
- "Untitled", Pearl Jam
Fat Tuesday. Mardi Gras.
If nothing else was apparent on this night, it was that this could happen in no other place and at no other time. Night after night they sat atop rooftops, legs dangling over the edges, eyes affixed to the mass of bodies below. From above, whether drunk or sober, they reminded those down below of Gargoyles perched at the ready, none of them realizing that it was for their preservation they were fighting. None of the Hunters were aware of exactly when they would know and they had responded to a few false alarms earlier in the week on account of being too tense. But this night, the air crackled with so much energy it was almost too much, because it seemed to be contained all on one street. Clarion would never know how the Hunters sat there and blocked out the catcalls and hollers of chaotic joy. The sea of flesh was sweaty and mobile and it all glistened. Whether it was from sweat, necks adorned with beads or the glossiness of their eyes, Bourbon Street was too bright and too loud. On the other hand, the sign the heralded the beginning of their night was far from loud or bright.
Ten Hunters and one Vampire, all night creatures in their own way, were alerted in their own way. Some of them felt the air around them grow still. Others could smell the stale air that the undead often brought with them. It was Yoshi and Hamish that heard him and it was Clarion who saw the ribbon of black silk move through the crowd. Of course, it wasn't actually a ribbon, but just the quick movement of a Vampire slipping through the crowd with ease, moving with unnatural speed. Before a second had passed they were all on their feet and moving in different directions. Most moved about the rooftops, while Clarion and Makeet took to the ground, soon to be followed by Joaquim and Colin. If those around them noticed the dark shadows zipping through the crowd, they were all too wrapped up in the spirit of the night to take heed to the small band of men and women cloaked in black tearing down Bourbon street.
The impromptu chase led Clarion and the Hunters to a run-down church, a long ten blocks from the lights and sounds of Mardi Gras. Eleven pairs of eyes watched as their so-called guide burst through the sturdy doors of the church and slammed them hard before they could follow. It was only Clarion that had to be stopped from running into the church with a hand to her arm. She turned with raised brow to Yoshi, who gently relinquished her hold on the smaller woman. Yoshi glanced down at Clarion only for a brief moment as she shook her head. Clarion looked into blue eyes that had grown darker in concentration.
"A trap?" Her question came out as more of a statement. Yoshi only nodded and then pointed two fingers in Hamish's direction and waved him off. She repeated the action four more times, until each Hunter had moved to a different place surrounding the front of the building. Clarion remained by Yoshi's side, where Colin soon joined her.
"You don't have x-ray vision do ya' lass?" Colin whispered the question into Clarion's small ear.
The redhead smirked. "I missed out on that part of the package."
Colin began to chuckle, but sobered quickly as Yoshi shot him a quick glare. "We need to make a decision Yosh. In or out? They're not going to wait."
Clarion could see the dark woman clench her jaw in thought. Blue eyes turned to O'Hai with a silent request. The large man raised his right arm and looked at his wrist. "We've got a little more than four hours before dawn." She nodded and looked back to Colin. She was silent for a long moment as she glanced at Clarion and tried to remove the worry she felt in her gut. A small hand reached out to touch her in support. She managed a smile and then looked to Colin as he spoke in soft tones.
"We've got no choice and we've got no time." The Irishman sighed and stood up straight. "I'll take point." Yoshi was all set to stare down her friend, but she knew he was right. It was better for one of the oldest to take point; at least they had a better chance of surviving what ever lay in wait behind the heavy wooden doors. Yoshi nodded and watched as Colin moved out from behind Clarion and walked towards the door. Joaquim fell into step behind Colin, as the Irishman unsheathed the six feet of his Claymore and proceeded with caution and the instinct borne of eight centuries.
It was a trap not so much because none of them could see what lay beyond the door, but because of the limited space. To the Vampires that waited inside the building, they were corralling the Hunters into a tunnel of sorts, built out of fallen columns, wood, pews strewn about the floor, and the cover of the dark.
Colin took a deep breath and then rammed the door with his shoulder, not because it was easier, but because it allowed him to tuck and roll on the floor. He rose to a kneeling position with one knee planted on the ground, and his blade parallel to the ground and raised high, the hilt at his eye level. Colin hesitated to wave the others forward as he adjusted to the onslaught of energy pulsing around him. He spit on the ground as he calmed himself. It had indeed been a long time since he had been in a battle of this magnitude. Colin's hesitation caused Joaquim to move forward into the building a moment quicker than he should have. The sound of the wood slicing through the air was familiar to Colin as he rose up on instinct, thrusting his blade up. The Claymore caught the tail end of the shaft, deflecting its path, but not causing it to veer. Colin knew without looking that the large spear had found a home in Joaquim's chest even before the Spaniard hissed in pain.
Yoshi's voice boomed through the building as a modified boomerang sailed through the air. The tempered steel of the weapon's edges whizzed through the air only to come back to Yoshi's hand unstained. Hugh ignored Yoshi's command of staying down, as he crawled towards the entrance and towards Joaquim. The Spaniard held both hands around the shaft of the spear that protruded from his chest. The pain was unbearable if for no other reason than the sight of his own blood frightened him. Hugh turned worried eyes towards Yoshi who could only look down at Joaquim in silence.
"Merde!" He spat. "I fucked myself, eh, hermana?" Dark eyes found Yoshi's.
"Don't talk Joaquim, we'll get you out of this." These words came from Clarion as she knelt by his head and wiped sweat from his brow. He smiled at the redhead prepared to answer her with some off-hand remark. His words were swallowed in a gurgle of pain, as spasms rocked his body. Clarion could feel herself growing angry, but she bit back her anger and fear if only for the sake of those around her. "What do we do?"
Blue eyes looked from both Clarion to Hugh and down to Joaquim. She said nothing as she placed her hands on the shaft and broke the wood so that only a foot jutted out from Joaquim's chest. Hands encased in leather touched Joaquim's chest as she put her face close to his chest. Clarion looked to Hugh in the hopes that the worried man could explain to her what was happening, but he could give her no answer. Yoshi rose back up and looked to Hugh. It was easy to read the finality in Yoshi's eyes. Clarion gave Joaquim a weak smile. "It's tainted." Yoshi's voice was low, but steady. "The weapons are spoiled." She called out into the dark. Clarion creased her brow in question. "They've been sealed with blood…probably Stolov's."
Yoshi sat back and tried to get her eyes to adjust to the dark, relying mostly on her sense of smell and hearing to place their adversaries about the room. She didn't move an inch when Hamish's voice wafted into her ear from nearby. "We've got to move soon. There's one in the balcony and four here on the floor with us. The rest-"
She finished the statement for him, "below." She cleared her throat. "We'll set up and if we're not out of here by dawn," she paused as she looked down at the Spaniard. "Joaquim becomes the detonator." He nodded.
Hugh looked to Yoshi. "I'll stay." He looked to his friend and then back to Yoshi. "Just in case."
Yoshi looked at Hugh as if she wanted to argue with him, but her features relaxed and she grasped the man's forearm. She looked down at Joaquim and placed a quick kiss to his forehead. The Spaniard would have laughed if he hadn't been so shocked. "Peace and blessings." She nodded at the men and looked to the small woman who was doing a hard job at fighting her tears. "Clarion if he doesn't bleed out, Stolov's blood will rot him out from the inside, if it doesn't turn him." The redhead nibbled on her lip searching for some answer, but the truth was evident in blue eyes.
The redhead nodded and kissed Joaquim chastely on the lips. "Thank you for trying."
Joaquim stopped Clarion with a weak grin. "Make sure she takes a vacation." The redhead smiled fully as a tear ran down her cheek. "Vamoose."
Yoshi pulled out her katana in her crouched position. "Everybody in and close the door." The Hunters moved with speed as they all moved inside the doors and then closed them. The moment dark ascended in the church simultaneous attacks began. Yoshi loosed her boomerang again, but this time she threw it hard to the right, removing the hand of the spear thrower. Bullets rang out from overhead only to be silenced as Colin sent a well-timed cross bolt to the shooters neck. Hamish aimed his throwing axe toward the left, only to pull back quickly. The rapid rush of nails clicking against the ground had stopped his throw. Zibu bellowed into the dark, "wolves!"
Neither O'hai nor Zibu needed to wait for Yoshi's command as they unholstered their guns. While O'hai's Uzis showered the church with sound, it was Zibu's .45s that seemed to shake the ground they stood on. An odd percussion composition played out as cartridges hit the floor with speed. Less than a minute passed, until the only sound that remained was the faint echo of spent rounds showering the floor. On silent command the remaining Hunters moved one by one, forming a single file as they followed the path of the wolves to an entrance in the wall. No words were exchanged as Yoshi walked through the opening first with Clarion at her back and Colin right behind her.
"The child is what matters." Yoshi's words rang out loud and clear as the Hunters broke away from each other, making their way down different tunnels and paths.
Of all the things that change through the centuries for the Hunter, the lust of battle always remains the same. It was not hard to discern why all these creatures had lasted for so long-the will to survive can turn the most inept and incapable into tactical masters if the drive is enough.
Colin and Clarion walked beside each other, each searching the dark with the eyes, ears, and noses. Clarion moved the small blade from her left hand to her right for the third time in a matter of seconds. Colin picked up on the noise and rolled his eyes.
"Just don't drop that thing on my toe." His voice was just above a whisper.
The redhead grinned. "I'm afraid of dropping it on my own toe."
"Why should you worry, I'll be the one getting my ass kicked." They both snickered and quickly stopped.
"You smell that?"
Colin let out puff of air as if was annoyed by the whole situation. "All right, let's go kill things."
Clarion was about to laugh when a large mace was swung in her direction. She ducked out of range as Colin swung his Claymore where her head had been and sliced through the wood. Colin was a firm believer in follow-through, which he did, slicing the attackers head off cleanly. He searched behind him for Clarion only to hear her calling out ahead of him. He met her at the mouth of the tunnel, where five fresh-faced assailants quickly greeted them. Colin tossed her a crossbow and headed straight for the two largest men.
The redhead made a clean catch and quickly pulled the trigger as she was rushed by the remaining three. The moment the bolt left the shaft Clarion dropped out of the line of sight as she tucked her knees and rolled forward. She was back on her feet in time to see her arrow embed itself in the forehead of a Vampire. The unexpected explosion scared her as well as the two advancing on her. A wide-eyed Clarion dropped the crossbow to the floor as if it was on fire and then looked back up at the scowling faces.
"Who knew?" She shrugged and smiled as if it was the most natural thing to do as she found herself being backed into the corner. She raised the fingertips of her freehand to her lips and proceeded to blow her attackers a kiss. While the gesture was surprising enough in itself, the large ball of fire searing their faces proved to hold more shock value. She ended their howling with two clean stabs to the heart. She stepped away from the dying fire and found a smirking Colin watching her every move.
"So that's what they teach you out here in the country."
She chuckled. "Yeah like you don't have to explain the exploding arrows." Green eyes looked to the crossbow at her feet and she stepped back causing Colin to laugh.
"It's the arrow, not the bow." He bent over and scooped up the offending weapon. "I promise no more bow for you."
Clarion nodded as they started walking again. "And next time, you can take on three."
Colin feigned innocence. "But my guys were huge, I thought that was fair."
Clarion laughed as they moved down a torch-lit corridor. "I hear them coming, so we can try again." Her comment had been made playfully, but they both lost their smiles, as the pounding grew greater. They stood back-to-back and listened. Clarion held out her hand as the sound grew closer. "Gimme the crossbow."
Colin handed her a loaded crossbow with a smile as he held his sword at the ready. Luckily, neither Clarion nor Colin were trigger-happy, so it was with a welcome relief that Hamish came bounding down the corridor, straight past them. His voice boomed down the corridor as he disappeared. "Move, boyle!" Neither doubted him as they both took off behind Hamish.
Whether one is trying to outrun the devil or trying to outrun the past, the same rule always applies-never look back. The sound of the feet behind them was almost deafening in its volume. Clarion swore they'd never make it down the corridor, not with the heat at her back, and at some point she made the decision to just stop, at least this way she knew she'd give Colin a chance. Clarion drew in a deep breath as she began to feel the energy gather in her body. In her mind's eye she saw her power as a small ball of light gathering in her gut until it reached the point of bursting, upon which the feeling spread throughout her body. There were no small crevices for her to disappear into and the ceiling was too low for her to jump, leaving her with only the choice of standing still-hoping the tide of people carried her forward instead of ripping her in two.
Colin picked up speed as he saw the large room ahead of him. He looked to his side as he ran and nearly stopped in his tracks when he didn't see Clarion. He violated his own rule as he looked back and as expected he was sorry that he did. It wasn't so much the bloody fangs on the wolves that bothered him or the ten or so runners behind him, but it was the small redhead that was swallowed up in the moving mass. Colin couldn't tell if she had merely been swept up in the rush or if she had been trampled. He swallowed his fear for a moment as he made it into the large room quickly diving off to his left.
Colin made it to his feet just as the first set of paws crossed the threshold. He was swift in putting the beast out of its misery and readied himself for the ones he could reach. On cue, Hamish's axes sailed through the air with pinpoint accuracy, each burying themselves in the chests of two of the runners sending them backwards. Hamish grabbed the axes at his side, only throwing one and using the second to fend off the wolf that leapt towards his head. Colin on the other hand still stood near the door and slashed at what ever came through it, gratefully, except for two, the wolves had been disposed of. He now filled his hands with both his broadsword and a short sword taking on the armed humans and Vampires that began to come through the door two or three at a time.
The Irishman dropped to one knee as a blade sliced into his shoulder. He swung the length of the Claymore at the ankles in front of him, spraying the ground with blood and muscle as the now hobbled men wailed. Colin steeled himself for an attack by the wolves only to watch with wide eyes as they leapt over him and ran towards one of the two stairwells that led out of the room.
"Hamish! Kill those damn dogs and find out what they're protecting."
He heard Hamish grunt something that sounded like 'sure', but it was probably just the sound of his axe cutting through flesh. "Where's Clarion!" He growled out as he blocked a kick to his head, grabbing the ankle, and then snapping the bone.
"I think she's hurt, boyle, help me clear this hallway."
Hamish smiled. "Let's let them in then."
Colin flexed his right wrist and sent out a crossbow bolt from the mechanism on his gauntlet. The subsequent cover of the explosion allowed him to back up and stand beside Hamish in the middle of the large room. Both men stood poised for an onslaught that never came. An eerie three seconds went by and they both relaxed their stances holding their weapons at their sides. Hamish wiped away blood on his brow and then turned to a confused Colin.
Colin looked to Hamish and back towards the empty doorway. "Do you know how many there were?"
The large man gave a half-shrug. "When I started running earlier, I thought I counted at least 25 and the six wolves."
Both men looked around them. Stained blood, ashes and body parts littered the area. Colin tried to count, but it was hard to tell what head belonged to whom, or whose blood spatter matched to a pattern of ashes. Colin opened his mouth to answer, just as they were both drawn to the entrance. The man's neck was clearly broken, from the way the forehead touched his chest, but he moved, and he spoke.
"It was more like thirty-five."
Colin let out a holler of happiness as Clarion's voice carried to his ears. "You can come out now." The body dropped to the ground and in its place stood a slightly winded and bloody Clarion. The redhead took her time moving forward as she wiped at the smeared blood on her face and neck. "You hurt?" The concern was evident as he held out a hand to her.
Clarion shook her head and then slapped the pommel of the tanto into Colin's hand. "You can keep that thing." She rolled her neck until the vertebrae aligned.
Colin looked down at the offending weapon and smiled. "You didn't lose a toe did you?"
Clarion met his eyes and smiled. "No, but I'm going to have a scratch on my ass about two inches long." She winced as she touched a hand to the back pocket of her jeans."
Colin grinned. "It'll heal promise."
Both Hamish and Colin burst into loud giggles that they quickly stifled when the smaller woman glared at them with humorless green eyes, but a smirk playing at the corner of her mouth.
Clarion winked at both men and then clapped her hands together. "Allright boys, there's a baby behind one of these doors."
Hamish turned towards the stairwell where the wolves lay dead. "I pick that one."
They moved towards the stairwell. "You managed to get information in all of that?"
"When their dying words are 'get the baby' it's pretty easy."
Colin stuck out his tongue and they took the stairs in a single file, with Clarion sandwiched in between the two men.
They all heard the breathing. It wasn't a gasping for air nor was it the whisper of a person's last breaths. The sound was steady and the pace consistent. It was the sound of a peaceful sleep. At first glance she appeared to be crucified-arms out parallel to the ground, head hanging to the left, as if she had been forsaken. It was on this first glance that Clarion reacted to the woman's state. She paid no mind to the men who searched the room; her eyes were only for the woman with the dried blood at her neck. Clarion approached the woman with quiet steps, even though she was almost sure the woman was near death anyway.
Her steps carried her towards the woman where she stopped and held up her hand as if to touch the woman's face. Clarion drew back her hand and instead went to untie the ropes at her wrists. When she had untied both arms, the woman fell forward lifelessly onto Clarion's shoulder. She gently laid the woman down on a pallet that was near her. A lump formed in her throat as she thought of the pain this woman must have suffered at the hands of Stolov. Clarion swallowed her hurt and anger as she stood up and searched the room for Colin and Hamish. She found them huddled in the corner. "What's up?"
Colin looked up and pointed a finger at the basket on the table. "Sleeping." He whispered and grinned. "The woman?"
Clarion shook her head. Understanding passed between them and Clarion turned back to the woman on the table. She jumped back from the empty table. "Where is she?" Green eyes searched the pallet and the far side of the room, discovering nothing except the stone of the walls. She turned her head towards Colin and Hamish who still remained in the corner. "Where?"
"Claire!" Colin shouted and the redhead snapped her head forward just in time to meet with an uppercut to her chin.
Clarion sailed through the air, landing with a hard thud at the feet of Colin and Hamish ten feet away. A hand flew to her chin as she shook her head and began to sit up. To no one in particular, she dryly commented, "Clearly, she's far from dead" Clarion got to her feet and threw her shoulder into the advancing woman who was all fangs and wild hair. They tumbled to the ground and Clarion rolled away from her. "Get the baby out!" She didn't wait for a reply from either of the men as she began to use her forearms to block the wild punches being thrown her way.
Clarion caught the spastic woman's fist and snapped it back as she punched her in the gut. The woman barely doubled over as she absorbed the blow and proceeded to head butt the smaller woman, causing the redhead to fall to the floor. Hamish saw Clarion go down and he made a move towards her. Colin held the baby with one arm as he stopped Hamish with his free hand. "She can take her."
Hamish raised a brow at Colin and then relented as a decidedly stronger Clarion rose from the floor and began to fight with woman. "I'll just wait on her, you go." Colin nodded and tore down the steps. Colin's departure got the attention of the woman who attempted to run past Clarion.
Clarion caught the woman about the throat in a strong grip and drove her back towards the wall. With fangs bared, Clarion slammed the woman repeatedly into the wall, shaking loose the dust from the crevices. The redhead spotted the rusted edge of a spike that jutted from the wall, which at one time had probably supported a shelf. It took minimal effort on Clarion's part to hoist the flailing woman in the air and slam her into the spike with one hand. It was clear that the spike didn't pierce the heart as the woman continued to snarl and spit at Clarion with renewed vigor. It was evident to Clarion that this woman had just 'woken up' so she had no understanding that she was beaten, with her only goal being to feed and in her special case-- protect her child. The woman opened her mouth and began to screech in a high pitch that was used to alarm those protecting her.
Clarion acted quickly placing her hand over the woman's mouth. She hissed in pain as teeth bit into the flesh of her palm. She called to Hamish as she withdrew her hand. The Scotsman reacted, as she knew he would, so that when she turned towards him it was to reach out and catch the axe he tossed her way. Clarion caught the weapon by the handle and in the same motion turned back around-embedding the axe in the gut of the woman. As if the subsequent hiss of disintegration wasn't enough for Clarion, she flipped the axe in her hand and drove the pick through the heart of the smoldering woman.
Clarion stepped away from the ashes and spit on the ground as her chest heaved from exertion. She looked down at the ground angrily as her eyes still glowed bright green. She took a calming breath and felt her teeth recede. She turned towards Hamish and tossed him his axe. "Thanks."
He nodded as he began to follow her out. "Glad to help." They began to make their way down the steps only to be stopped by Colin running up the stairs past them.
"Up and out!" He yelled as he ran back into the room and towards the far wall. Both Clarion and Hamish looked at each other in confusion, but upon hearing the rush of footfalls decided it was best to merely follow Colin even though he seemed to make no sense. They turned to find Colin banging on the stone with the hilt of his sword. Both were amazed to watch a piece of stone fall out. Colin reached his hand into the dark and just as quickly the wall opened. "Up and out gang." No words were needed as all three scrambled up the newly revealed stairwell. "It leads to the altar room, so be ready for anything." Colin's words rang out as the light of the altar room filled the stair well before the sounds of battle reached their ears.
CH 18: O, HOW THE MIGHTY HAVE FALLEN
Colin reflexively covered the baby's face as the spray of warm blood colored his cheeks and forehead. He was the first to ascend the stairs and the first to see the carnage laid out in the room. Indeed a lot had gone on in their search for the child. In a word it was chaos. The stone of the floor was stained red and brown with blood and ashes. Body parts lay haphazardly about the room some still twitching with the last signs of life.
Colin tried to take a count of those fighting the Hunters, but Clarion's pushing urged him up the stairs and into the room. Colin drew his sword and drove the blade into the body that moved towards him. He watched the Vampire decompose in a matter of moments as he withdrew his sword and backed away. He could give no warning to the two behind him as he was immediately drawn into one-armed battle.
Clarion surged forward next, slashing at the shins of those assembled before her. She made her way out of the hole and instantly came to Colin's aide. Hamish burst forth from the stairwell like an explosion, cleaving those unfortunate enough to be in his path. Hamish didn't bother waiting for Clarion's request as he tossed one of his axes towards the small woman. A small hand snatched the weapon out of the air as Clarion found herself fending off four vampires in order to give Colin time to do something with the baby. Something turned out to be strapping the small child to his chest with the aid of his armor.
Clarion flinched at the sight and got hit with a kick to the chest for her troubles. She regrouped as she buried her axe in one attacker's head and ran the other Vampire through with the foot-long dagger. Colin caught her look as he fought off three sword-wielding men. "It's not the best idea I know, but they'll not hurt the child." If she was perhaps disgusted for a split second, Clarion quickly understood that his choice was indeed the best one. Accordingly, that meant that Colin was an easy target and in need of her undivided attention. Clarion easily joined the fray of fighting, handling both a small axe and the tanto with more skill than she remembered having.
For a moment Clarion lost herself to her memories as she slashed and kicked with the kind of calculated fury that is borne out of the want to survive. Perhaps her wars were not as bloody or as numbered as the Hunters that fought around her, but the inclination to live ran strong in them all. Clarion was shocked back into reality as she watched Colin go down on knee aided by a large mace slamming into him. The redhead was quick in her reaction, sending a roundhouse kick to his attacker's head and following through with a side kick. She wasted no time in driving her blade through his heart once he had fallen to the ground. Clarion grabbed the grimacing Colin by the collar and helped him to his feet as they attempted to find a safe place to stand.
Clarion held out her hands. "You want me to take the baby?"
"Nah." He shook out his arm. "We need to regroup and get moving."
She nodded and began to look around the large altar room, taking in for the first time what they hadn't the time to see. "Colin, I don't know what's left to regroup."
Colin looked at the redhead with a quizzical look on his face, not yet seeing what she saw. He turned his attention to the room and would have fallen to the floor if he had not been leaning on the wall. He could hear Hamish off to his side and he manage to catch sight of Tristan who was wielding Chalvi's Naginata. The long spear like weapon was not his weapon of choice, but he didn't appear to have much choice in the matter. Colin visually searched for Chalvi's body among the dead, but couldn't tell. He did however see what remained of O'hai's body. The large man had been quartered. Colin wanted to vomit. "My God…where's Yoshi?"
As if sensing her cue, the dark woman came tumbling in the room with several bodies attached to her. Colin readjusted the baby and drew his sword. "Hamish, the door!" He called out and then turned to Clarion. "Do what you can." He snatched a grenade from his buckle and handed it to the wide-eyed woman. "Wait for my signal." He then ran to assist Tristan and find the others.
Clarion wasted no time as she ran to help Hamish. The large man was down to one axe, since he had thrown the other two in Yoshi's direction, lodging them deep within the spines of her attackers. She recognized the wide sword that O'hai had carried and kicked the weapon towards Hamish. "At your feet!" She called to him as she relieved a vampire of his hand and then pieced his heart with her sword.
Hamish dropped to his knees and rolled forward, picking up the sword, and rising to his feet swinging the sword removing two heads in the same motion. He turned back towards Clarion in time to see her being slammed into the wall by a snarling Vampire. He made a move to help her, only to stop in his tracks as the lanky vampire was tossed through the air. Her eyes glowed bright as she hopped to her feet and lashed out at those standing around her, giving no care to the fact that she was weaponless. Hamish stood still for a brief moment as he watched the petite woman unleash what was primal in her. Long nails sliced into the neck of the woman who was gripping her axe. Clarion didn't even flinch as a jet of warm blood sprayed her face. She kicked the woman in the knee, crushing the patella and then focused her attention on the large man in front of her. She grabbed him by the collar and smashed her head into his face, decimating what was his nose. His hands flew to his face as he howled in pain. Small hands gripped the sides of his head and Clarion simply twisted. The crunch of bone was audible.
Hamish turned away, satisfied that she was safe and went to aid Yoshi who was slamming the pommel of her sword into the base of the altar. He ran towards the woman slashing at the arms that reached out towards him along the way. Only a few remained standing in the room. He easily identified Tristan and Colin and he was certain it was Makeet's wiry frame slumped against the wall. They were clearly out numbered, at least five to one, which was obviously better than what it was before they had entered the altar room. He sheathed the Falchion and picked up his axes, as came to stand beside Yoshi.
The tall woman was pounding away at the edges of the 7 by 7 marbled altar. "What are you doing?"
She kept on wailing away at the stone. "We need to get him out?"
Hamish said nothing and sidled one axe and then used the other on the edge of the altar. He caught movement behind him and whirled around, slicing through the sternum of a would-be attacker. The Vampire dissolved into ash before Hamish turned back. "How?"
"We got caught in a bottleneck. There were wolves, zombies, fucking everything." She growled in frustration. "We were late!" She slammed the large blade into the marble and stopped when she felt movement beneath her. They both stopped their attack and realized the rumble was emanating from the altar before them. They both stood with their eyes affixed to the rumbling. "I think we should move."
They backed away a few paces. Yoshi held her sword at the ready. "Where's Clarion?" She didn't take her eyes away.
Hamish reflexively looked to his right, relieved to see the woman holding her own along side Colin and Tristan. They were actually getting the remaining troops to back down. Either that or they understood that something was about to happen. "She's fine. No worse than you." He managed to grin at the woman who was drenched in sweat and blood. "Lost your coat?"
She chuckled and looked at Hamish out of the corner of her eye. "Acid." She spoke as if it had been nothing, clearly remembering Chalvi screaming to high heaven as the acid ate into his flesh. "Chalvi's dead." They moved further away as the trembling shook the foundation. "Zibu fell on his sword."
"The dogs got him. It was either that or…" She trailed off not needing to finish the sentence.
"Peace unto him then." They were quiet for a heartbeat. "We can't stay here."
She sighed and did not turn to look at him. "Do you have the child?"
"Take Clarion and all of you leave."
"Without you?" Ice blue eyes turned to him and Hamish swallowed his next words. "Done." Yoshi nodded and then turned back.
Hamish walked away towards Colin, Tristan, and Clarion who now stood alone in the room. "Ran them off didja'?"
Clarion ran a hand through her hair. "Where is she?"
"Where I left her." He jutted his head back to the right.
Green eyes that had returned to their normal hue grew wide in relief. She made a move to go to the woman, but Hamish's long arms stopped her. "I got orders lass, we're leaving here now."
Clarion furrowed her brow in protest. "Not without her." She pushed against Hamish's arm wondering for a second if she could handle him as a Vampire. The large man grinned at her not in condescension but in understanding and they both knew she didn't stand a chance.
"She promised me she would be behind us."
Clarion only stared at Hamish. She knew the Scotsman was lying, but he cared and that was enough for the moment. "Fine."
Hamish smiled fully. He touched Tristan on the shoulder. "Hey boy, you good?"
Hazel eyes turned to Hamish. He was frazzled to say the least. "I'll get there."
"Is that Makeet?" All eyes turned towards the man slumped against the wall.
Tristan opened his mouth to answer, but lost his words as the sound of an explosion drove them all to the floor.
Clarion was the first one to her feet immediately looking for Yoshi. She easily spotted the woman, standing tall as dust and rock sailed by her. The Hunter held both swords at her side and waited for the dust to settle, praying to what ever gods were left that it was only Stolov that emerged from the broken rock.
Hamish assumed that a giant would explode from the debris, one with a large mouth and Stolov's features determined to devour them all. Tristan was sure Stolov would become a monstrous Chimera too large for them to handle. Colin imagined the heads of the Hydra. Clarion had not the time to imagine the worst as her attention was on the dark woman standing at the ready. Yoshi on the other hand expected all of the above and then relaxed when she remembered that she had done this before. She had been in this spot so many lifetimes ago, young and afraid, but nothing short of confident and determined. She could feel Clarion's eyes on her and she knew she was the same Hunter she had been so long ago, only now she was no longer young and she had nothing to fear.
Yoshi tossed her katana to the floor and wrapped both her hands around the worn grip of Magnus' sword. She stood at the ready with her feet apart and her sword out as she waited. When Stolov emerged she did not flinch as she watched him rise above the crumbling altar. His magic was nothing new to her and she refused to react to his parlor tricks. When his feet touched the ground in front of her she attacked immediately. Stolov merely moved. To him it was simply stepping out of the way, but to those who watched he vanished into thin air. Yoshi held her ground as he reappeared in front of her and to the left.
"I'm not impressed you know."
Silver eyes glowed as if the sun were behind them. His silver-gray hair pooled down around his shoulders. He wasn't any taller than he had been or any wider. He was still a spry man. Still refined. Still elegant and ever the aristocrat. His dark slacks were unwrinkled and the collar of his shirt was crisp and flat. He lifted his hand slowly and this time Yoshi did react inwardly as she saw her katana rise from the floor and be drawn to his hand. She kept her surprise in check as she scowled at him.
"I guess we should fight fair."
Stolov grinned, baring straight white teeth, book ended by two sharp fangs. "Yoshima you have always amused me." He sighed. "Give me my daughter and this can all be over quickly."
Yoshi seethed with anger, but she would not strike out. "You can't kill us all Stolov." He only chuckled and began to back away as he twirled the weapon in his hand. Yoshi could only watch him, not wanting to follow, sensing a trap. "Larieux!"
The redhead reached into her back pocket grabbing a hand full of the gopher dust and smearing her hands with it. "Gimme room boys." The men around her stood off to her side as she began to rattle off a stream of sentences in a language that none of them had the time to make sense of.
Clarion could see no visible change in Stolov as she began to cast the spell that would hopefully not only slow down his transformation, but give the Hunter enough time to kill him. They both knew it was a one shot deal and the outcome relied heavily on Yoshi and herself. In this they had to be together. In this they needed to be in the same mind-set and on the same page. She could easily see Yoshi's lips as she formed the memorized words.
The silver-haired man turned his silver gaze towards Clarion. "I admire your efforts Clarion, but this won't make a difference."
Clarion ignored his words and kept right on through the spell. He was stalling and they both knew it. A faint tremor passed through the room and they all felt it. Colin unstrapped the crying baby and looked from the chanting Clarion to Stolov's scowling face. "Keep it going girl, you're pissing him off for sure." Both Clarion and Yoshi reacted to Colin's cheering, by speaking louder. Stolov tried hard not to react, but it was as if he had taken a blow to the stomach. He let out a grunt as he tightened his stomach muscles absorbing the pain he felt. Stolov dropped the Hunter's katana like he had mistakenly grabbed a hot iron. He seethed with anger and Yoshi swung her sword at his head. She only connected with air, as once again he disappeared from view. Dark hair swung about her face as she turned around, expecting to find the grinning Stolov there. There was only the sound of pounding footsteps.
"We gotta move now!" Just as the words spilled from her lips the occupants of the room grew from four to twenty-four, as a throng of fresh-faced Vampires and humans filled the room. "Just get out!"
No one disagreed with Yoshi's decision as they begin to fight simply to find an exit. Tristan, who was running on nothing but adrenaline, grabbed both the Naginata and a pole axe as he took the point and began clearing a path.
Hamish started to hand the baby back to Colin when he was tackled to the ground. Colin let go of his sword and caught the falling baby. Hamish kicked the body off of him and began to scramble towards Colin's fallen sword at his right. Before he could grab the weapon he was forced to react to the bloodied hatchet swung on his left side. He rolled onto his back and broke his assailants wrist with a well placed kick. Clarion came to his aide allowing him to roll over and reach for the blade again. As fast as the Scotsman was, he could only retract his outstretched arm so fast.
Disbelief was Hamish's first thought, quickly followed by the searing pain of reality as his right hand was cleaved cleanly from his arm. He jerked his arm back in horror and jumped to his feet as he shut the pain off and channeled it into rage. "He took my hand! The fucker took my hand!" He bellowed. With his left hand he unhooked the axe at his side and swung it every head in his path. He finally stopped when the pain became too much, sending him to his knees, cradling the bleeding limb.
Colin handed the baby to Clarion. He grabbed Hamish by the arm and pulled him to his feet. "Yoshi we're moving." He cast a look towards the tall woman who was helping Tristan clear the doorway. She nodded and they both tossed grenades throughout the room. Clarion followed suit as they all began to file out of the altar room. "Come on man!" He hastily ripped at his t-shirt grabbing enough cloth to cover the wound. "Let's move!"
Colin bumbled along side Colin. He stopped as they made it towards an exit. "What about my hand?"
Colin wanted to laugh, but he knew he was serious. "No time!" They ran alongside each other squeezing into the hallway and close behind the footsteps ahead of them. It was not the sound of the explosion that worried them, but it was hoping they were fast enough to clear the tunnel before the fire came barreling down the enclosed space. Colin felt the heat of the fire burn up the leather of his coat as he dove through the mouth of the tunnel to the stone ground of the Church floor. He kicked out of the jacket and rolled as far away from the entrance as he could. He kept his eyes shut tight as the heat subsided and he waited.
Five distinct rhythms could be heard as they found themselves gasping for air in the dark. "I can't see a thing." Yoshi spoke through a breath. She heard Clarion draw in a breath of surprise. "I didn't mean like that." She reached out blindly and grabbed Clarion's hand. "You guys get out of here now, I'm going to go back and finish this."
"He's too strong Yoshi." Tristan let out a deep breath.
"Forget that, can you do it in time?" Colin asked.
She squeezed the smaller hand in hers. "You know I'm going to damn well try."
"Are you sure you don't need me in there?" A warm hand touched her face.
Yoshi caressed the soft flesh of Clarion's lips. "You've done your job, I got it all in my head now. I just need to get rid of him."
Clarion pressed a kiss against the finger at her mouth. "You've got five minutes."
They all chuckled. "I appreciate the bolt of confidence and I'll do what I can." She took a breath. "Go on, go. I'll meet you guys up top as soon as I can." Yoshi turned away first and only started running when she heard Clarion and Colin running in the opposite direction.
Yoshi stood at the entrance to the altar room and held Magnus' sword in front of her, touching the blade to her forehead. The steel was cool to touch. She closed her eyes and willed herself to gain the strength to fight. Like a true warrior, it was in the space of seven breaths that she would walk into the altar room and meet her fate. Nearly a thousand years of life came down to this space of time and neither she nor Stolov could predict the outcome. Focused blue eyes opened quickly as Yoshi stepped out of the dark. Her face bore no surprise as she saw Stolov leaning casually against the broken altar flourishing her katana like a baton. She made her way towards him, until only a few feet of space separated them.
The corners of Stolov's mouth crinkled as he smirked at the Hunter. Her obvious fortitude amused him only because he understood her to be formidable. His old eyes had seen many fall to their deaths at the hands of the woman before him. He had seen her cut down old and young alike, men and women and beast without even a second glance. It was easy to recognize her strength and respect it as well, but 1500 years of life had given Stolov the smallest advantage. No matter the era, the century or even the present moment, one constant would always remain; knowledge is power.
Stolov raised his arm so that it was the blade of the katana that separated him from the dark woman. Yoshi deliberately stepped forward so that the very tip of the blade was only a whisper away from the hollow of her throat-covered only by the thin material of the form-fitting shirt she wore. His smile grew wider as he thought to himself, "perhaps ignorance is bliss." He tilted his head to the left less than an inch, acknowledging the Hunter with a subtle bow.
A strong hand gripped the pommel of Magnus' sword as Yoshi stepped toward the outstretched blade. It was the oddest game of trust she had ever played, but it was a risk she was willing to take if only to prove to herself that she could end this here and now. She couldn't help but be unnerved by the wide grin Stolov gave her. It was enough that the expression was too wide for his face, but in his eyes she could read his strategy. Her mind quickly dismissed the possibility of their being another wave of Vampires about to attack or even the thought that Clarion and the others had been captured, but she was fully aware that Stolov had an edge. She pursed her lips and acknowledged Stolov with the raising of an eyebrow.
Yoshi's initial movements were fast and furious. She knocked the blade away with her sword and immediately executed a spinning back kick that landed squarely against Stolov's jaw. She held the sword with both hands as she immediately swung down towards neck. She was not surprised as her sword made contact with the air and instead sliced cleanly into a slab of marble, snagging for a moment. Stolov used that moment to punch the Hunter in the spine, causing her to drop to her knees. The Hunter felt no pain as she absorbed the blow and quickly sank to her knees. She touched her chin to her chest and rolled backwards pushing up with her hands as her head touched the concrete. She propelled herself into a handstand, her booted feet connecting with Stolov's chin and sending him backwards.
Yoshi got to her feet quickly and ran towards the sword sticking out of the marble. She could feel Stolov at her back with her katana raised to strike. With her left hand she gripped the pommel of the large sword and somersaulted over the rubble, dislodging the sword and landing gracefully on the other side. The dark woman did not restrain the grin that came to her lips. She pulsed with strength and they both knew it as she walked from behind the broken stone.
"You want to fight now or would you like to run some more tests?" Her words were clipped.
The silver-haired Vampire chuckled, baring his fangs that never seemed to recede. "I thought perhaps you'd like to see what I could do first."
She held out her blade. "There's only one thing you can do for me, Stolov." She bent her neck from side to side eliciting the loud popping sound of her bones shifting into place. "Die." She spit at his feet and attacked. This time Stolov did not disappear on her or hover above her. Instead he held the katana firmly and met the steel of Magnus' sword head on. They put on a display of strength as they both stood their ground, letting the vibration of the swords slamming together move through them.
Stolov chuckled and went on the attack, but the Hunter was ready for him. They fought each other in earnest, trading punches and kicks, parries and lunges. They fought one another for a long five minutes. Stolov swung down at her head at a sharp angle. Yoshi found her wrists bent back in an awkward position as she met his blade. Stolov used his slight height advantage to press down upon Yoshi, causing the Hunter to bend at the knees. Yoshi paid no mind to the grin Stolov wore as the katana pushed closer and closer towards her shoulder. Instead, her vision was focused on the steel of Magnus' blade that was inches away from her shoulder.
Yoshi gritted her teeth as she felt one hand begin to slip from the pommel of the sword. She pushed up with all the strength she had and tried to move clear of the blade. As she stood up straight her wrist finally gave way under the immense pressure and she could no longer hold on to the sword with both hands. She gripped the sword with her left hand and left herself wide open. Stolov did not disappoint the Hunter as he cut a lazy gash curving from her deltoid to her bicep. Yoshi flinched in pain, but she did not drop the sword. She quickly tossed the sword to her left hand and swung up meeting Stolov's attack. She lowered her shoulder and powered it into his sternum. Stolov brought the hilt of the sword down on her back repeatedly, but Yoshi only drove him back towards the wall, her mind numb to the blows raining down on her spine. The lanky Vampire released a huff of air as he was driven into the stone wall. Yoshi stood up with force, making sure her head connected with Stolov's chin.
Whether it was the pain of his teeth cutting into his tongue or the stone digging into his skull, Stolov was dazed. Yoshi quickly stepped back and smashed Stolov across the temple with the pommel of the sword. The Hunter knew Stolov would not remain dazed for long, so she acted quickly. Yoshi reached across her body and gripped the sword with her right hand intending to draw the length of the blade across Stolov's neck. Silver-gray eyes opened with a snap and Stolov vanished before Yoshi could even lift the large sword.
Counting on his disappearing act, Yoshi held fast to the sword as cold hands gripped her about the neck and pulled. Yoshi relaxed into the throw, not resisting Stolov's strength. She guided her descent to the ground and rolled onto her stomach as she came to a stop. The Hunter anticipated Stolov's enraged attack and was there to greet him with the tip of her sword as she rolled over and held the sword out. Stolov's lunge was stopped cold as the sword eased through his flesh. The Vampire held a look of confusion and surprise as he let the katana drop to the floor and gripped himself about the stomach. Yoshi quickly got to her feet, held the sword with both hands, and swung it across her body never rising above her waist. Her own eyes grew wide as the blade passed smoothly through Stolov's left side to his right. Silver-gray eyes looked directly at Yoshi and it was then that she registered something was very wrong.
Yoshi took a step back and regripped her sword completely prepared to finish what she started even if she had to hack Stolov into tiny pieces. She raised the blade above her head to begin doing just that, when her attention was drawn to the white light that was beginning to seep out from behind Stolov's fingers. Yoshi's arm went slack and the blade hung down behind her as she watched Stolov slowly remove his hand from his stomach. What should have been a gaping wound was nothing more than thin line of light that was becoming fainter as the wound healed itself. Blue eyes grew wide in shock as the same light that spilled from his sides was swallowed up as his body healed.
It took everything the Hunter had not to tremble. She would have been a fool not to admit to being scared, but it was a fear that didn't become real until she forced herself to meet Stolov's eyes. Silver-gray eyes bored into her listless blue eyes and it was as if Stolov had cut out her heart without aid of a weapon. Stolov's face creased as he smiled a smile too large for his face and he bared his fangs, not to intimidate the Hunter, but simply because he could. Yoshi moved slowly as she lifted the sword high above her head and stood at the ready.
"I don't suppose I could get you to fall on it." Stolov's words sailed past Yoshi ears. Stolov only shook his head as he could see the resolve in the warrior's eyes. He tsked and shrugged a bit. "Very well."
Even with a precise downward swing Yoshi was well aware that she would contact air, and if she did happen to hit Stolov, her sword would do no damage. Whatever she and the others had hoped for had not occurred. Magnus' sword was as useless as she was. But Yoshi had made a promise and she would see this out even if she had to fall on her sword. Stolov attacked her with minimal effort. Sending her sprawling across the floor, tossing her from corner to corner, grinding her against the stone. Sometimes he used his fists, but mostly he just stood in one place and raised his hands guiding her around at his whim as if she were a marionette. He was amused for a while, but he lost his humor as she continued to get to her feet time and time again. No matter how long it took, she would eventually scramble to her feet and come at him. It was not long that all humor had left him and he was simply irritated by her audacity.
Stolov walked over to her and gripped her about the shirt, bunching the material at her shirt as he lifted her. "Why do you make this so hard for yourself?" He picked her up and slammed her into the rubble of the altar. He stepped away and began to push at his cuticles. He rolled his eyes and huffed as he heard her groan and watched the rubble begin to move. Stolov pounded his fist into his open hand and let out a guttural yell that shook the room. He turned back in Yoshi's direction as he heard her chuckle. "Something funny Yoshima, hmm?"
Yoshi spit out a loose tooth and wiped at the blood above her eyebrow. "We'll find a way you know."
Stolov scoffed and reached into the rubble, grabbing Yoshi by the hair and pulling her to her feet. "You mistake this for a happy ending Hunter. Your kind dies out tonight." He patted her cheek. "Think of it as evolution." He looked down at her hand in which she still held tightly to Magnus' sword. "I'll give you one last chance to do this on your own."
Yoshi held her head up and cracked the cockiest grin she could manage due to the fact that even twitching her eyelids seemed to hurt. "Bite me." She spit out blood with her words.
Stolov sighed as he took a step back. "Don't tempt me." He gave her one last glance and shook his head. "So be it." Yoshi let Stolov's words pass by her as she fought to keep her eyes open, but the weight was too much. She could feel herself being lifted off the ground, but she gave it no thought as her thoughts turned to Clarion and the light in her eyes that she would never see again. The Hunter welcomed the dark.
Clarion was light on her feet as she maneuvered through the dark hallways careful not to jostle her bundle. She could feel the fresh air of the outside, before the smell reached her nostrils. They were going to make it out of here alive and she could feel it-almost. For the second time in only a minute Clarion felt the urge to stop, and this time she did. It didn't take long for Colin to turn around and meet her. He looked at her with question in his eyes. Clarion gave him a smile and shrugged her shoulders. "Here," Clarion thrust the small bundle into Colin's arms. "Take her and go."
Colin shook his head forcefully as adjusted the baby in his arms. "I'm not leaving you Claire."
Clarion grinned. "I'm just going to get my girl."
Colin grimaced in a sign of protest, but knew it was of no use to argue. He called out to her retreating form. "We'll wait." He watched her turn the corner and then he himself ran towards the exit.
Clarion wasted no time as she ran down the tunnel to the altar room. She wasn't certain what she was going to find when she got there, but her gut told her that it wouldn't be a victorious Hunter. Small hands gripped the pommel of the dagger as she burst through the entrance, only to be spun around by a strong gust of wind. Clarion turned to face Stolov just in time to see Yoshi being hurled through the air, as if she had been thrown from a cannon. Clarion couldn't help but wince as the Hunter's body met with the solid rock of the wall. Green eyes looked from the still body of the Hunter towards Stolov, who stood 50 yards away.
Clarion found herself squinting her eyes a bit, to shield herself from the glow of Stolov's skin. The change made him paler than normal, but it was not the pasty pallor of death that clung to him, but rather the unmistakable gleam of life. With her lips, Clarion formed a small 'o' as she succumbed to the awe that Stolov's presence demanded. Perhaps, this was the true gift of becoming Master: life. The words passed through Clarion's conscience, and with lightning speed she threw the dagger directly at Stolov's heart. Green eyes grew wide, more in shock that she had actually hit Stolov than the fact that he didn't even flinch.
He bared straight white teeth that glistened with saliva. "You came back--I'm impressed."
Clarion didn't say a word as she began to ease her way towards Yoshi. She faced Stolov as she took small steps to the left, her eyes fixed on the smiling Stolov. She could hear the rustle of clothing as Yoshi begin to move and the clank of the sword against the wall as she made it to her feet.
Stolov removed the weapon from his chest and dropped it to floor. It was clean, as if it had passed through air. "Take another step and you'll suffer her fate." The redhead merely shrugged and grinned, as if to say, 'give it your best shot.' "Finish her off, and I'll give you the world." She wanted to be disgusted, she wanted to laugh, but there was something in his voice that gave her reason to pause. Clarion met Stolov's eyes and held his gaze. The moment lasted no longer than that of a chest rising and falling with breath, but therein lay the smallest of epiphanies.
Dazed by her revelations it took Clarion a second to realize that Stolov had driven his foot through the stone floor, producing a deep fissure in the floor. The floor resembled crumbling paint, as the crack spread wide and fast, heading straight for the barely lucid Hunter. If Yoshi noticed the floor crumbling beneath her, she made no attempt to move as the floor opened beneath her and she felt herself falling. It was Clarion that kept Yoshi from falling through the darkness, as she dove towards the woman and managed to get a hand on her wrist. But, her last-moment save, made no difference as the floor beneath her fell away and they both tumbled into the dark.
To Be Continued……
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