By the By: I was informed that Stolov should be Stolov. Thanx.
CH 4: "Scooby, Scooby Doo, where are you…."
The tall warrior felt like she was a million miles away, as she walked aimlessly through the open field. In truth, she was enjoying the rainfall, which was beginning to subside from the earlier downpour. Long legs carried her near the dense tree line, close to the swamp; it's canopy of lush leaves giving her cover from the rain. Yoshi stopped next to a large Weeping Willow and stood within its long limbs and just breathed. A small smile crept to her face as she closed her eyes and listened to the swamp come to life. A chorus of frogs rang out a melody that was echoed from all directions. The water moved behind her as the gators made their presence known. The crickets only grew louder as the cicadas added a crescendo to the evening composition. It was not hard to see what Clarion loved about this place. It was not hard for her to love this place, but it was a love tinged with fear.
There was still so much she didn't know. She opened her eyes and began to walk again, this time drawing her sword and twirling it in lazy arcs and figure eight's as she pondered her situation. She wasn't really mad at Clarion, but more at herself for getting caught up in feelings that she hadn't allowed herself to feel in centuries. She knew it wouldn't be fair to Clarion to be angry, since at best, Clarion seemed sincere in her ignorance of the situation. Yoshi laughed at her own thoughts. Ignorance was a nice way of putting it, but Clarion was being selfish and they both knew it, but Yoshi felt she didn't have the right to judge. How long had she been selfish and devoid of feeling for anyone. This was actually the first time in a long time that she did have to care about someone else. She lowered her blade to her side and let its point drag through the grass, cutting the blades without effort. She turned sharp blue eyes towards the moon that was hedging out from behind the clouds.
"So you've got Magnus' sword." Yoshi spoke the words out loud. She continued to look up at the three-quarter moon. "So what does this all mean now?" If the moon could have answered she was sure it would say, 'beats me.' The sword of Magnus made things easier now or so she assumed. Supposedly, one blow from the blade would turn Stolov to ashes, but that was only if the sword was real. She shook her head as she thought about the possibility. She didn't want to believe that the sword existed, but she was beginning to realize that almost anything was possible with Clarion. If Clarion could have survived this long without becoming a full-fledged Vampire, then of course she could have a sword that belonged to the first Hunter. A man so old, that it is thought that he had been formed in the primordial soup. That of course was just a joke they all had at the commune, but the stories they did learn about Magnus certainly came just as close.
He was not birthed, but formed in the sea. He washed ashore fully grown and full of purpose. He dug his hands within the earth and found the metal for his blade, which he smelted in the lava of a volcano. His blade was like no other, folded well over a thousand times, sharp enough to split an atom, no doubt. Yoshi smiled as she remembered the stories they all made up. Colin said Magnus was really the son of Izanami, the sun goddess, or maybe it was Isis, but he couldn't decide since they both sounded plausible to him. Her smile of nostalgia, became a slight grimace as she thought on easier days, when her faith was firm and she believed in dragons and warlocks and immortal men that were born of the sea.
Yoshi found herself ready to turn back when her hearing picked up a footfall. It was a whisper of movement and she knew Clarion knew better than to sneak up on her. Besides, she was so in tuned to the redhead her heart would have started to beat faster if Clarion was a mile away from her. Without hesitation, Yoshi left the ground in an easy jump and found herself perched in the arms of a Weeping Willow. She closed her eyes and listened. The air was dead and the earth seemed to go still. Except for the slow slither of a snake across her shoulder there was no movement. Yoshi opened her eyes and kept them forward as she gently removed the medium sized constrictor from her shoulder. She wagged her finger at the snake as if to say, "we can't play right now" and then placed him on a branch below her. Yoshi sniffed at the air and couldn't quite pick up the scent she was looking for. She definitely smelled death and while that normally led to Vampire, this smell was devoid of energy. There was no energy and the revelation ruffled Yoshi somewhat.
Blue eyes tracked to a figure in the field, his back to her walking along the tree line. A sly smile came to Yoshi's face as she eased out of the tree and followed the figure. His clumsy steps made him easy to catch up to. Yoshi held her blade down and behind her as she reached out to the man, thinking that he was simply some drunken teenager. There was an immediate coldness that ran through her body as her hand made contact with his shoulder. While it was the coldness of death, it was not like the familiar ice that accompanied a Vampire. Whatever questions she may have had they were all thrown into a frenzy as she spun the young man around.
Yoshi shrank back from the ashen face and sunken white eyes, not out of fear but out of confusion. It was obvious this was no Vampire, but the vapid white eyes that fell upon her spoke of an abomination far more grotesque than any Vampire she had come across. The ashen face that greeted her was crusted with earth and signs of early decomposition were evident in the white of his lips and extremities. His mouth formed an O of surprise but no words came from his throat as he lunged towards Yoshi's still figure.
The tall warrior, perplexed or not, did what came naturally. With a swing of her blade that ended back at her side, she left a long diagonal cut that reached from his hip to his shoulder. Yoshi furrowed her brow as she stepped back and held her blade out horizontally at her waist with the blade facing out. She was breathing heavily through her nostrils as she watched the man take faltering steps towards her. Yoshi's thoughts were swimming. There was no blood, there were no fumes, no nothing. He made to raise his arms and with a low growl Yoshi swung up cutting the man across his chest, effectively branding him with a large X on his torso. Still, he would not go down. Yoshi backed away some more, aware of the banks of the swamp behind her, and wrapped both hands around the hilt of the sword. She waited until the man moved towards her again and then she plunged her blade into his heart.
It was with a wild grunt and the sound of sucking air that she pushed the man off her blade. His body fell to the ground and she stood over it, her heart pounding, and she waited. It was not rage but merely frustration that made Yoshi lash out at the man at her feet--that and the fact that he moved. She plunged the blade into his chest twice more. "Why won't you die?" She backed away from the still moving man at the sound of noise to her left. Yoshi moved out of the cover of trees and saw three more figures move towards her. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the man she had stabbed getting to his feet. With wild eyes and a strong arm, Yoshi spun around with her blade out and severed his head in one clean strike. Yoshi stood motionless for a brief moment with her sword still raised as she waited. There was no movement this time.
The sigh of relief she was ready to release was curtailed as her ears picked up movement behind her. She turned and soon found herself on the verge of being surrounded by five more men, each with the same sunken white eyed stare. Yoshi stood at the ready as she let the five advance towards her with lumbering steps. They were all unarmed, but if her previous encounter had proven anything these things were persistent. It was at that moment, that a word came to her consciousness, but she didn't dare speak all though she thought it: Zombie. Yoshi shook her head in disbelief, but quickly found herself slashing her way through the five advancing on her. As with her previous attacker, it was only the removal of the head that stopped them. While that was easy enough, it seemed that for everyone she downed, she heard another move out of the shadows.
Soon Yoshi found the advance of ten to be too many for her, as they formed a circle around her. Yoshi leapt into the air and back flipped over the closing circle. She found herself breaking into a light jog that she was hoping would carry her back to Clarion, even though she was beginning to realize that nothing looked familiar. Yoshi ran close to tree line and then stopped as a voice rang out to her.
"I think somebody lost their way." His accent was thickly southern and definitely Cajun.
Yoshi could hear the chuckle in the man's voice. She craned her neck to the tree tops as she checked her sides. "Show yourself."
"No can do Hunter, rather I stay where I am, and watch you have a little fun, no chér?"
Yoshi growled as her eyes darted from the trees to the advancement of more zombies. "What kind of Vampire gets these things to do his dirty work huh? Show yourself."
"Oh come now chÈr, who needs Renfield's when I got zombies for days. Besides, I want to watch you work."
Yoshi chuckled. "The view is much better down here."
"Perhaps, my dear, but I think you should be worried about your view more than mine."
Yoshi knew he was up in the trees and near by, but her time had been cut short but the ten bodies that stalked towards her. Yoshi gave a grunt and then began the dance. It was quite easy and nothing more than a cursory work out. She sliced and cut through the air with ease, hacking at limbs and kicking and punching. Yoshi put the two remaining zombies on their backs with well-placed kicks and looked back to the tree line. "Enough, show yourself!"
He called back to her. "In a minute, I just want to see something."
"And what's that you freak!"
He rumbled with laughter that echoed through the clearing. "What you can't."
Yoshi snorted with disgust at being toyed with and turned back to finish off the downed men. As she swung back around, she met with a thin film of white powder that flooded her eyes. Yoshi gnashed her teeth not in pain, but in her ability to let her guard down. Yoshi backed away as she rubbed at her eyes. She used the sleeve of her shirt to wipe at the powder. When she felt like her wiping and involuntary tears had wiped the dust away, she called out to the hiding Vampire. "This won't slow me down."
"I would hope not, since that would ruin the show."
Yoshi removed her hands from her eyes and stood still as she heard the faint sound of a sword being unsheathed. A feral grin came to Yoshi's lips as she thought of what could possibly could be coming her way and then she opened her eyes. The attacker that she expected to see was not there, in fact nothing was there. It was black. She was blind. Yoshi blinked her eyes frantically as she took wobbly steps backward, her blade held out before her. She turned towards the sound of laughter behind her.
She did not respond right away as she steady herself and allowed her other senses to take over. She hadn't walked around the commune in Athens blindfolded for a month to end up in this spot and be worried. Yoshi craned her neck up and gave her own laugh. "Piece of cake." At that instant Yoshi lifted her sword above her head to block the down swing of her attacker. Yoshi gave him no time to readjust as she took notice of the tree in front of her and ran up its strong trunk and catapulted herself over the head of her attacker. She heard him take in a gasp of surprise and admiration and then the torrid ballet began.
When their blades first slammed together, Yoshi knew she was fighting a Vampire. Maybe it was the strength evident in the upswings or just the stink of him, whatever the case, her blood pumped with vigor. Admittedly, the dark warrior couldn't see a thing, but she could hear, she could feel, and she could definitely anticipate. Whomever her attacker was, he was young, and while admirably skilled, not skilled enough to handle the tall woman. She realized she was taller than he, she swung at his head and connected only with air. She could almost feel the boy smile as he saw an opening. As she expected, he turned his blade into her body only to have it stopped by the 15" tanto she always carried. Yoshi shoved the boy back with force and heard him hit the ground.
"Come boy, you can do better than that!" She taunted the young Vampire hopping to his feet. Yoshi didn't need to see, to see the frustration on his face. Nor did she need eyes to watch concern cross his features as the dark woman bared straight white teeth in a menacing smile. He lunged at her wildly and it took everything she had not to giggle as she parried and spun out his reach, only to wind up behind him. She booted him in the back just for fun. His whiny groans of frustration only fueled Yoshi's fire. It was rare that she battled Vampires who used swords. That practice seemed to go out of style with the 18th century. Yoshi found herself leading the boy through the trees in the swamp, as she ran atop the limbs, or just swung from them in a playful manner. All the while their swords clashed and she continued to nick him with her blade whenever she felt the need.
It was odd and the warrior would acknowledge it later, but she was actually feeling challenged. If not by the boy's skill than the simple impairment of being blind. Yoshi came crashing down out of the tree tops and used the boy as a mat. He could only groan as she drove him into the ground. Yoshi spit on the ground and stepped away, chest heaving and waiting for the boy to get to his feet. Her back was to him as she craned her neck up to the trees once again, in the hopes of locating the owner of the voice. Her attacker's quick footsteps prompted her to end their dance. With a speed and flair that was borne out of nearly a millennia of practice, she moved out of his rushing path and with the least effort possible she moved her blade backwards. The word precision seem to cut through the air as the boys head left his neck. There was a faint odor of sulfur but mostly it was the sizzling sound his body made as he disintegrated that assured Yoshi of her kill.
Light and far away hand-clapping caught her attention. "I'm impressed."
Yoshi turned towards the noise. "I wish you would come and see for yourself."
Another night, chér, but thanks for the offer."
Yoshi chuckled. "Coward, I see."
"No, no, just a man with priorities."
"You're no man, creature."
"I'd love to prove you otherwise, but not now."
She turned her head from left to right as she heard footfalls cut through the grass. "Oh come on, I'm handicapped here, you could have the advantage."
"Didn't help my friend and who says I'm as skilled?"
"I know you are."
"How sweet, you flatter me. But another night." He dropped from the trees and Yoshi turned her head from side to side in a panic. "No worries Hunter. I mean you no harm this night. But you might want to take a look at those who do."
"I can't see in case you forgot."
His answer was a smooth chuckle. "Believe what you will Hunter."
Yoshi opened her eyes on reflex and to her wild surprise her vision was restored and suddenly filled with more zombies than she could count. The warrior hoped her vision was just blurry as she backed up and tried to formulate a plan. It was when she went to withdraw her tanto from its place on her hip that she saw the gris-gris. Yoshi just shrugged as if to say, 'what the hell' and reached for the small pouch. She looped the string handle carefully around her blade and held her sword above her head with both hands. She backed away into the clearing as she moved the blade in large circles. It was with wide blue eyes that Yoshi watched the crowd of lifeless beings disperse.
When the clearing seemed to empty Yoshi dropped to her knees and imbedded the blade in the ground. She wrapped both hand around the hilt of the sword and just rested her sweaty forehead against the handle and breathed. Her meditative moment was disturbed by an echoing voice.
"Parlor tricks will not save you in the end Hunter."
Yoshi shivered at his words and opened her mouth to yell an obscenity to the sky, when another voice spoke. "He's right, you know."
Yoshi was on her feet and holding her blade against the neck of the woman that had uttered the words. Yoshi took in the gentle features of the old woman and stepped back with raised brow. She lowered her sword to her side hesitantly as she regarded the smirking woman. There was nothing peculiar about her besides her presence. She appeared to be fifty years old, but time had been kind to her caramel-toned skin. Braids hung loose about her head and reached down to her shoulders to touch the fabric of the robe she wore. She continued to grin at the retreating warrior. When she was convinced that Yoshi's eyebrow was going to get stuck in its arched position she spoke.
In a breathless whisper she uttered, "Bourei. Ghost."
The old woman chuckled deeply. "Chile, if that's a fancy word for ghost, then you are right." It was all the dark warrior could do not to pass out at the woman's words. Instead, Yoshi sat down in the wet grass, legs askew, blade laying carelessly across her thighs and cradled her head in her hands.
* * *
CH 5: "Jinkies!"
"Oh come on now, it ain't that bad." The old woman's voice was thick and filled with mirth. "Ya act like you've neva' seen a ghost."
"Only in my head." Yoshi spoke the words into her hands.
"Come now girl, up withcha', got no time for ya ta sit and be wonderin' if I'm real."
Yoshi looked up at the grinning woman and sighed. "Can you please just tell me this is all some nightmare." Her hands dropped to her lap. "In a few minutes I'm going to wake up in bed naked and satiated by too much alcohol, too much food, and too much sex."
The old woman smiled as she held out her hand to Yoshi. "Dat sounds nice, but I'm sure Clarion will eat all the food." Yoshi was up on feet in an instant and gripping her blade tightly. The old woman laughed and turned her back to Yoshi and started walking. "Why don't ya put dat thing down, before ya cut yourself and come on."
Yoshi didn't know why, but she felt like she had been scolded by her instructor and worse than that she had no desire to make the robust woman walking ahead of her angry. Yoshi sheathed her sword in with a few quick strides she was walking beside the old woman. "Are you going to help me wake up?"
"Chile, ya are far from sleep, all though ya could stand TA open your eyes."
Yoshi groaned and tousled her hair. "Look if you're going to give me a lecture, then I don't want to hear it."
The old woman turned to Yoshi with a raised eyebrow and Yoshi shrunk about two feet under the weight of her glare. "I see they don't teach you all manners where ya from."
Yoshi ducked her head in remorse. "I apologize..but this night has not been conducive to politeness."
The old woman grinned and began to walk again. "All those fancy words just TA say ya don't know what the hell is going on." She chuckled. "I'll try not TA lecture, but I will get you back TA the house in one piece."
"Should I be expecting something else?" Yoshi raised a hand reaching for her sword.
Without turning around, the woman said, "Ya won't be needing dat, just walk." She waited until Yoshi was at her side again to talk. "Ya know I swear there's a vortex around here dat I still haven't found. Ya know the kind dat just suck you up!" She giggled and Yoshi eyed the woman quizzically. "No worries, Hunter, I'm not going TA drop ya in a hole or anything."
"Good to know. And my name's Yoshima."
"I thought it was Talon."
Yoshi stuttered stepped but kept walking. "How do you know that?"
The old woman clasped her hands behind her back and tried not to laugh. "Woman, your mind is like a neon sign, flash, flash, flash. And TA tell ya the truth you might want to curb dat while ya down here."
Yoshi huffed. "You know I've about had it with this 'down here' stuff." She mimicked the easy Louisiana cadence of Clarion. "Would you at least tell what's happening, since some people don't like to say certain things."
The old woman laughed heartily and patted Yoshi on the arm. "Come sit on the porch with me Yoshi."
The warrior had been so lost in her musings she failed to realize she had made it back to the clearing and to the old one story house. "I'm afraid that thing will break on contact."
The old woman descended the stairs and sat down on the top step. "If ya will it TA fall, it will fall."
Yoshi did her best not to roll her eyes. "Do you mind if I stand?"
She waved a dismissing hand at the tall woman. "Suit ya'self. So what is it dat ya want TA know?"
"You're the grandmother right, Deauchant?"
"At least in this life." She spoke the words with a soft laugh. "Anyway, is dat all?" Yoshi raised her hands and shrugged, causing the old woman to laugh. "You've got me at your disposal and all ya can do is shrug. I thought ya were itching for answers?"
"But I do want answers." Yoshi sighed and squatted as she played with blades of damp grass. "I just don't know what questions to ask."
"Vous faible chose. You poor thing. Why were ya out here, let's start there."
She scoffed and met the warm brown gaze of the woman, who seemed very much alive regardless of what they both felt. It was only the carefree energy that surrounded the woman that allowed Yoshi to relax and even entertain the woman with conversation. "I disagreed with the fact that Clarion lied, so I needed to take a walk."
"Ahh." A wide smile crossed her face, causing her eyes to crinkle. "Can I tell ya a secret?"
"She's a child, nothing more."
Yoshi laughed fully and shook her head. "So in another hundred years she'll be a full grown adult? Is that an excuse?"
"I don't mean it like dat. I just mean dat she would rather spend her days lazing at the beach than at a desk."
"Ha, I'd like to spend my days like that."
"Qui, but while you go because you are tired and in need of a vacation, she will go because the sun shone through her window the right way." The old woman rolled her eyes and both women quietly laughed.
"So tell me, what is she really?"
An ample bosom shook as the old woman laughed fully. "She is what she is and nothing more. What ya want me TA say--dat she was born with a funky birthmark or all the planets were aligned or something?"
Yoshi couldn't help the grin that came to her face as she watched the woman talk. "Maybe." she mumbled.
"I could say dat, but it would make no difference TA you."
Blue eyes regarded the woman coolly. "And what's that mean?"
She tsked. "It means ya got shit for brains, how bout dat."
Yoshi could only laugh at the woman's comment as she rose up only to sit down on the bottom step. "I can see where she gets her attitude."
"Dat ain't my fault, but sometimes around here quick words work better than dat steel ya got there."
Yoshi turned so that she could see the woman behind her. "Words better than my steel, huh?"
"You proved dat tonight."
Yoshi hung her head. "I proved no such thing tonight, except that I was ill prepared. Except that I let my guard down and I took my surroundings for granted."
The woman interrupted her before she went into a self loathing tirade. Her fingertips gently grazed Yoshi's cheek. "You were once a great warrior, weren't you?"
Yoshi's head snapped around and eyes that should have been angry were sullen. "Well, I thought I was still pretty good." Her tone was less than defensive.
"Oh, I'm sure you're pretty good, but uh, something's missing."
Yoshi laughed this time. "And how would you know, when's the last time you wielded a sword or fought a battle."
The old woman chuckled. "I'm going to laugh at ya because you're cute." She dropped her smile and leaned into Yoshi as she stared into twin orbs of blue. "But make no mistake warrior, I could knock ya on your ass without even touching you."
Yoshi watched the old woman sit back and it was only through stringent discipline that she was able to hide the shiver that ran through her. She believed this woman, ghost or not, and knew her words to be true. Yoshi bowed her head to the woman and spoke sincerely. "I apologize for offending you."
Warm fingers touched Yoshi's chin and lifted her head. "You are so lost. I'm not going TA hurt you. I'm here TA help ya."
"Help me do what?"
"Be a great warrior." Her voice was playful and made Yoshi laugh. "Really, I just want you TA survive."
"Do you know what's coming?"
"Evil is too easy a name for it, but it will do none of us any good and it must be stopped."
"Can you help me do that?" Her voice was soft and on the edge of pleading. "You got a potion or a spell anything?" She gave the woman a weak smile.
"I have no potion but I do have a word of advice."
"No offense, but I'm am chock full of advice."
The old woman laughed. "Perhaps if ya listened TA some of it ya could get rid of it."
"Ow." Yoshi winced to absorb the verbal assault.
"You know I'm telling you the truth." Warm brown eyes gazed at the nodding warrior. "So do you think you can make room for a little more?"
"I might be able to squeeze you in between eating my vegetables and remembering to floss."
The old woman chuckled. "Sense of humor, very good."
"Actually, I just got that back." Yoshi's smiled reached her eyes this time as her thoughts reached Clarion.
The old woman smiled and knew without asking who was on Yoshi's mind. "You must trust her." Blue eyes met soft brown and Yoshi could only listen. "You must trust yourself and above all else, you must let go."
"Let go of what?" A voice was a whisper.
"Everything." The old woman opened her arms and raised her head to sky for a moment. "Let it all go. What you know, what you think you know, what you don't know, all of it. Nothing here is what it seems, it always warrants a second look. All though sometimes the simplest answer is correct, most of the time the truth is wrapped in the unfathomable. You must let it go or you will die without trying. In the end no amount of steel will save you. In the end it will not come down TA who punches harder. You must let it go Hunter, or you will not triumph."
"But I've let everything go." Yoshi's voice was tinged with frustration and sadness. "I have nothing to hold ontowell almost nothing."
The old woman watched a faint blush spread up the precise and angular features of the dark woman's face and she grinned. "Hold onto dat. Everything else," she wiped her hand through the air, "let it go. Start with what you have and then go from there."
"What is it that I have?" Her words were barely audible.
"Ya know what you have and dat is all dat is important, because the rest will crush you." Yoshi looked up at the woman with weary blue eyes. "Every demon you have inside you, every evil you've never completely vanquished, all the dark corners you have failed to illuminate will come crashing down on you if you don't let go."
Yoshi furrowed her brow. "But that's what makes me who I am?" It was a question and not a statement.
Soft hands caressed Yoshi's face again, sending a feeling of warmth through the tall warrior. "Perhaps it is time for a rebirth." The air seemed to still around the two women as the force of the woman's words began to solidify in Yoshi's conscious and understanding spread through her body following the path of her blood. The old woman removed her hand and sat back as she watched the warrior comprehend her statement. "It's time for you to go Hunter or she will worry."
Yoshi jerked her head in the direction of the woman's voice and then stood. She was gone. Yoshi just smiled and knew it would be no use to search the house or even cast her gaze on the clearing, the old woman had disappeared just as quietly as she had appeared. With a breathless thank you to the woman, Yoshi bowed deeply at the waist and then ran off to the steel door that would lead her back to Clarion.
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