CH 12: "Ooh...that's gonna leave a mark."

Their swords met with a powerful clank, neither backing away, as their arms absorbed the shock of the blades meeting. Hunter and Vampire drew away from one another dragging their blades against the other; creating small sparks. Yoshi rolled her neck to one side and brought her blade to her side as she sized up Lucien. She watched him take a deep breath as he slowly closed and opened and his eyes. Gone were the chrome eyes and in their place were the gray eyes of a human. Yoshi snorted.

"You gonna fight fair I see?"

Lucien shrugged and swung his blade out in the same motion. Yoshi caught his blade with an upswing and reversed the arc to come across his body. He blocked her blow and shoved her off without much effort. This would not to be a test of power, but of skill. In this, Yoshima still had the upper hand and they both knew it. They traded blows and a few well placed kicks and punches as they moved across the concrete floor with all the elegance of ballroom dancers. It was the Hunter that drew first blood, sidestepping Lucien's advance and running up the wall, propelling herself into a tight half-twist. When her feet hit the ground, Lucien fell to one knee holding his shoulder. He ignored the pain of the wound to his shoulder and brought a wicked smile to his face.

"I see some skill remains with you Hunter." Yoshi stood her ground, with her sword at her side, ready to strike the next blow. "But that's not all I see." He let out a wild grunt as he exploded out of his kneeling position towards Yoshi. Their blades slammed together as they stood toe to toe and pressed hard into each other. Neither Hunter nor Vampire showed fear, as they peered at each other. Lucien gripped the pommel of his sword with both hands and used his body to drive Yoshi back to the wall.

Yoshi readjusted her grip and planted her feet. Lucien pushed hard enough to make the Hunter rock back on her heels, but it was only for a moment. She sneered at him in defiance. "That all you got freak?" The fact that she spoke through clenched teeth, was the only indication that she was putting effort into holding him off.

Lucien let out a faint chuckle. "Too bad you can't see what I got Hunter." Silver-gray eyes dropped to the ground and blue eyes followed. Yoshi knew it was a bluff the moment his eyes moved, but it was they excuse they both needed to regroup. The moment Yoshi took her eyes off of Lucien, he threw all his weight into her body. The fact that she was forced three feet through the air told the Hunter that Lucien had stopped fighting fair. The thin armor that she wore absorbed most of the impact as she hit the stone wall, causing her to be only slightly winded. She closed her eyes to the dizziness. She could hear his heavy footsteps coming towards her as she shook the dark of her hair from her eyes. It was when she wiped at her hair again, that she realized her hair did not create the dark.

Yoshima had no time to panic as she heard a rush of air above her head and to the right. The Hunter held her katana to her body and rolled to the left. She rolled up her to her knees and swung her blade over her head, so that blade was parallel to her spine and pointing to the ground. As she had anticipated, Lucien's blade slammed into hers. The Hunter pressed backwards, shoving him and then rolled forward and to her feet. As she stood she blinked her eyes rapidly, hoping against hope that her sight would return. Lucien watched her blink and chuckled lightly. Yoshima picked up the sound and sidestepped his advance meeting his blade. She took a chance and lashed at him with her tanto, hoping to connect with his gut.

A booted foot slamming into her wrist not only took away her chance but, left her wide open. The dark woman steeled herself for the blow that was to come. It felt as if a tree trunk slammed into her chest, as Lucien's foot connected with her rib cage. She felt the snap of her ribs even before she hit the ground. She landed with a heavy thud that she swore shook the ground. It was all she could do to hold onto her weapons as she did her best to crawl forward. She spat out blood and Clarion's name as she inched forward, trying to create some distance between her and Lucien.

The red head in question was ending her own battle when she heard her name fall from Yoshi's lips in a strained manner. With a quick twist of her shoulders, the head she held in her in her hands twisted too far to the right and snapped. The vampire that slumped to the ground wasn't dead, but a broken neck would slow him down long enough to pick up her bag and focus her attention on Yoshi. Clarion's small legs ate up the hundred yards that separated her from the fallen Hunter. She caught the flailing hands at her shins and dropped to her knees.

"It's me, it's me." She stilled Yoshi's hands. "I've got you." She felt the Hunter calm. Clarion stood as the Hunter rose up to a kneeling a position. Green eyes blazed a path to a smiling Lucien. "You're a maggot you know that." She spit in his direction, causing him to laugh.

"A maggot, Claire? Come now cher, you can do better than that. We were doing that trick in 12th..." His words died in his throat as he felt the first movement of maggots in the most clever of places: under his skin. Lucien looked down at his forearms and he couldn't help raise his brow in surprise. He sucked his teeth and looked at a smirking Clarion. "On the inside. Real cute."

Clarion watched from her spot as the skin of his forearms bulged and moved with the creatures that were under his epidermis and making their way through his body. She heard him let out a small grunt and she turned her attention to Yoshi. "You ready?"

Yoshi held fast to Clarion's smaller hands and she got to her feet. "I can't see Clarion, I-I still."

Clarion sshed the stuttering Hunter and cradled her face in her hands. "Hey, hey," Yoshi focused her attention on Clarion's voice. ",You love me?" With a furrowed brow, the Hunter nodded her head. "Then look at me."

By the look on the Hunter's face, it seemed that she had discovered electricity. The pupils of her eyes dilated to cover most of her cornea, as she took in Clarion's face like it was sunshine. Yoshi did not fight the smile that came to her lips and Clarion didn't hesitate to return the gesture. The moment was broken as Lucien emitted a small squeal of triumph. "We gotta go Yoshi." Blue eyes cut to Lucien who was shaking out his arms and about to pick up his sword. "Forget about him, do you hear that?"

Yoshi felt the rumble and turned her eyes gaze towards the ceiling. "Jesus Christ."

"Ya' know I'm thinking it's not him, but more like thirty of his worst admirers." The seriousness of the situation was not lost in her sarcasm.

Yoshi nodded and they started to move. "You missing something Hunter?" Both women turned in Lucien's direction to see his foot steeping on the handle of her dagger. Clarion cursed under breath and Yoshi grumbled. Yoshi held out her tanto. "Take it."

"We don't have time." Concern was heavy in her voice.

"He can't hurt me with that blade and I have to get my dagger."

"Yoshi." Clarion was doing her best not to question the Hunter's priorities. A raised eyebrow made her quickly lose interest in her train of thought. "I'm walking down that hall. Be there by the time I get to the end of it." Clarion grabbed the tanto and turned to the right.

Yoshi turned to face Lucien before the red head was even out of sight. His cheeks were raised high, with a smile that belonged to a Cheshire cat. "Up for a game of keep away, Hunter." He punctuated his statement by kicking the dagger to the corner and lunging at Yoshi. The Hunter blocked his sword with such force, that it sent Lucien to the floor. He was quick to his feet and wasted no time in lashing out with his sword. Yoshi easily dodged the blow and proceeded to anticipate and compensate for his next flurry of movements. She parried with almost no effort, as she spun out of his reach and found herself waving her coattail as if she were a matador. Lucien charged her much like a bull and found himself smothered in the black of her coat for a brief moment. When his eyes saw light again, a combat boot connected with his back, sending him sprawling to the floor as if he were boneless. Yoshima, fueled by her brand of cockiness more than hate, kicked him once more for good measure and then went the corner to retrieve her dagger.

Perhaps it was out of arrogance or simply out of routine that she did not move as his blade sliced through her shoulder. The wound was not that deep, nor was its twin that was carved into her other shoulder. Surprisingly though, the Hunter stumbled back in pain, but it wasn't as if she didn't feel pain, but it had indeed been a long time. Yoshi seethed with anger, more at the fact that her coat had been damaged than her body. She twirled the blade in her hands and raised it high, waiting for Lucien's next move. He snorted at the warrior. "Hurts doesn't it?" She made no move to answer him, but merely stood in the ready position.

Her feet formed an L', as one pointed north and the other east. She bent a bit at the knees and raised the blade high, so that her hands barely rose above her forehead. The blade was pointed in Lucien's direction, poised to strike. Lucien smirked in the Hunter's direction and twirled the sword in his hand, so that the blade rested on his shoulder. Lucien smiled as if he had been dealt all the aces in a game of poker. The Hunter's heart raced and her brow became moist with sweat. The fact that she felt physically drained in that moment had nothing do to with magic. There was no sorcery involved in this turn of events. Impossibly blue eyes latched onto the pommel of his sword and with great alarm, she took in the Hunters' insignia. No matter how unique the etchings on the blades were, one thing remained constant on a Hunters' sword: the seal of Hetsi. The eyes of the Khoikhoi god of hunt stared out at Yoshi and she had no choice but to cower.

Yoshima caught the reflection of her own eyes in her blade and snapped herself back into reality. It was no longer a question of simply retrieving her dagger, but she needed to retrieve the sword as well. The dark warrior tucked away what fears she had and did something that surprised both herself and Lucien: she smiled. The eerie grin that spread across her features was enough to throw off Lucien's downswing. Yoshi met his blade with her own and then drove her shoulder into his chest. Lucien stumbled back into a bookcase and could only growl as he watched the Hunter toss her blade from hand to hand as if it were a baton.

Yoshi flared out her coattails and stared hard at the torrid Vampire. "C'mon you freak...let's play." They moved towards one another as if they were an approaching crescendo of sound. The expected climax of their blades slamming together never happened, as Yoshi dropped to her knees and rolled underneath Lucien's wide swing. She was up on her feet in a matter of moments, facing Lucien with outstretched arms. Her left hand held her sword and her right held the dagger that she had picked up while on the ground. They came at one another once again both filled with fury, but one harboring an edge of control. Yoshi was obviously relying on skill to keep Lucien at bay, but it was the Vampire that held the control.

All though one might never imagine it, immortality is the first thing a Hunter takes for granted. The expectancy of death does not hold the same truth for them as it would a mortal. For the Hunter, death is a faraway dream that is only rooted in the tomes of fiction found on the commune walls. For the Hunter, death was an action that they chose, but here in the bowels of a catacomb, death seemed to be seeking out Yoshima. She attacked Lucien hard and fast, not necessarily in the hopes of killing him, but in keeping him at bay. The chrome-eyed Vampire soon found himself backed into a corner. He lashed out with his leg at the Hunter and connected with her ribs. Yoshi flinched at the pain and could do nothing but roll with his momentum, as he shoved her back.

She resheathed her dagger and wrapped both hands around the pommel of her sword. When they separated Lucien thrusted his sword in her direction in the hopes of connecting with her gut. Yoshi used the opportunity to grab hold of his wrist and spin into his body, so that her back met his chest. She drove a sharp elbow into Lucien's chin while she slammed her pommel down on his wrist. A blow that effectively shattered the bones also knocked loosed the blade from his hand. She felt him draw away from her body in pain. With her free hand, she reached behind her and used what was left of her strength to flip Lucien over her head. The sound of wood breaking like dead branches echoed through the room as his lanky form slammed into a row of bookcases.

Yoshi reached for the blade at her feet only to have her attention snatched by a blur of motion in the hallway. The distraction was a frantic vampire holding a bag out in front of him as he tore down the hallway, as if the very devil were at his back. Yoshi reached for a throwing dagger only to be stopped by Clarion's image. In truth, she only knew it was Clarion because of the red hair, but she too was a blur of motion as she ran after the vampire with her bag. Before Clarion turned the corner, Yoshi could see her feet leave the ground in surge of motion. Yoshi could only wince as she heard the tumble of their bodies as they hit the floor.

In all the years of her life, the only thing Clarion Larieux ever lingered over was beautiful women, sex, and a good drink--preferably in that order. She wrenched the bookbag from the Vampires' hands, who's back she still sat astride, and stood up as she felt her teeth recede back to their normal position. She took a small breath and pulled out the length of the tanto, where she had buried it into his chest. She moved away quickly, as his body made a hissing sound, as it begin to dissolve.

Yoshi was in the process of sheathing her sword as she walked out of the room. "Larieux?"

"I'm coming." Was the reply from around the corner. She sounded annoyed and slightly winded.

Clarion held up the bag and strapped it on as she walked into Yoshi's view. Yoshi's comment was cut short by the voice behind her. "You forget something Hunter?" It took Yoshi less than a second to track Lucien's gaze to Clarion. It took even less than that to realize that the sword he hurled through the air was headed straight for the red head. Dark hair whipped about as she moved without hesitation towards Clarion. Blue eyes held no fear and her heart held only the promise of a noble death.

Clarion didn't even have time to blink in shock as she saw the dark warrior move between herself and the path of the sword. The sword caught Yoshi in the lower abdomen and drove her to the ground with a thud. It was not so much the shock of pain that caused Yoshi's senses to reel, but the absence of pain. Clarion dropped to her knees beside the Hunter. She managed to break into a nervous smile. "What did you do that for knuckled head." She pushed back the sweaty bangs from Yoshi's forehead and looked at the impalement in her gut with watery eyes. "Tell me what to do here. Just yank it out or what?" She ran a hand through her head. "I don't care what you say, but I know this hurts."

Yoshi was on the verge of hysterical laughter but she used her breath to form words. "The sword."

Clarion looked to her side and picked up Yoshi's blade, just as she noticed footsteps behind her. She stood up quickly and thrusted the blade out almost making contact with Lucien's neck. Lucien held up his hands and backed away from the green-eyed woman. "Hey, I just wanted to see."

She lunged at him. "I won't hesitate to finish the job that I should have." She held the blade taut.

"Why worry about the past Claire, when the present looks so dark." He wiggled his eyebrows and gestured towards Yoshi.

Clarion cut her eyes a bit and glanced at the Hunter who still remained on the floor. She seethed with anger and turned to fully face Lucien again. There was only space where he once stood. Clarion spit on the ground and turned her attention to the Hunter, who appeared to be growing pale. "Yosh? Yoshi, you okay?" Genuine concern was in her voice. The Hunter gave no answer as she wrapped her hands around the hilt of the sword and began to push on it, so that it slowly pulled out of her body. Clarion turned her head as Yoshi drew the blade out of her body. She only turned back when she heard the metal hit the ground. "Oh, that's gross." She went down to her knees beside Yoshi. "That's gonna heal right?" She scowled at the gaping wound that Yoshi covered with her hand. Blue eyes rolled in all directions as the pain finally registered in her stomach and began to spread through her body. It was at that moment that Clarion could tell something was very wrong. "Yoshi what's wrong?"

Yoshi's reply was a sputter of laughter. Clarion felt her heart rate speed up with anxiety. In between a giggle, Yoshi choked out, "I'm dead." Her head lolled back and she laughed.

Clarion was growing angry with frustration and worry. She tried to help sit Yoshi up, but the dark woman wasn't much help. "You're not dead Samurai, you just got the wind knocked out of you."

Yoshi shook her head. "It's a Hunter's sword." The sentence came out between laughs. Clarion furrowed her brow in confusion. Understanding crossed her features when a bloody hand slapped at the blade on the ground. Green eyes went wide with understanding and the words I'm dead' quickly began to make sense. The only thing that could possibly hurt or kill a Hunter was their own sword or another Hunter's sword. Clarion watched in horror as Yoshi clutched at her stomach and her eyes rolled back into her head. She was delirious with pain.

"Yoshi! You gotta hang in here!" Clarion cupped the Hunter's sweaty face. "Fuck!" She punched at the wall and grabbed Yoshi by the collar, pulling her forward. Clarion could feel the pull in her teeth and she let it come. She could hear Yoshi's thready pulse and it was just as well that the Hunter was passed out, least she see the green--eyed demon that was picking her up from the ground like she was a bag of flour. Clarion grimaced a bit as she held onto the Hunter with one arm and strapped the blades to her back. She readjusted her arms, one under Yoshi's legs and the other around her back and moved with inhuman speed through the catacombs and back to where they started. Clarion placed the Hunter in the back seat of the Mustang with as much care as time allowed her. She glanced back at Yoshi's still form only once and then kept her eyes on the dark road as she sped down the road towards safety, praying all the while that time was on her side.

* * *

 

CH 13: The Last time i had Nightmares"

No matter the age, one is often amazed at the sight of an ant hurrying along with a bundle twice its size. The ant, weaves along its set path back to the mound- never faltering, as it carries a large morsel, a twig or perhaps a dead ant. From far away, the red head resembled an ant-- as she moved through the clearing with her arms full. Clarion was damp with the sweat of fear as she dropped down into the dark hole, without so much as a jolt to the limp woman in her arms. Even if her eyes had not been luminous she would have moved through the dark passage with the same swiftness. She made her way towards an empty room, only taking a stutter-step as a cheerful voice penetrated the dark.

"Where the hell have you two shits been?" Colin's voice was playful.

Clarion made no effort to retract her vampyric features as she moved past him with Yoshi in her arms. Brown eyes that drew to slits as he took in Clarion's features grew wide in alarm as he noticed who was in her arms. The room she entered served as a place of storage for pieces of art she had yet to place. She deftly avoided boxes and tubes to make it to the large marble top table in the room. She spoke gruffly as she prepared to place Yoshi. "Clear it." The Irishman was two steps ahead of her as he tossed satchels and papers aside without care. They both moved in the silence of concentration as they placed Yoshi on the table and began to divest her of her garments.

It was only when they had cleared the Hunter of her upper trappings that Clarion took a deep cleansing breath. She drew her eyes open slowly and gazed at Colin with warm green eyes. He smiled and breathed out a "hi". She returned the weak grin as she dropped the weight of the blades from her back. "You got medical training?" she asked in a breath.

Colin shredded his t-shirt for a temporary cloth and spoke without looking up at Clarion. "Well, between fighting at Falkirk and storming the beaches, I think I'll be fine."

She smiled and stripped down to her tank top. "It's a sword wound-- all the way through."

"I got that much." He rolled Yoshi on to her side and placed the cloth over the bloody wound. "I don't understand the dilemma."

Clarion spoke before his mind could wander. "It was a Hunter's sword."

Brown eyes met green with the same serious that her voice carried. "Shit." He mumbled. He let out a puff of air and readied herself for the task at hand. "O.k., then we treat this like a real wound." He peered at the wound from both sides. "We're gonna need needles, thread, scalpels, forceps...uh, some light."

"I'm on it." Clarion began to move and looked back as Colin spoke.

"Do you have the sword?" Clarion bent down and picked up the sword, which she tossed to Colin. He caught it with one hand and began to examine the blade. Clarion was making her way down the hall, when his whistle stopped her. "I need to make a change in supplies."

A confused Clarion stood in the doorway with her hands on her hips. "We're wasting time Colin."

He grinned with mirth and chuckled as he removed his hand from Yoshi's back and wiped the blood on his jeans. "No worries, that wound's not going to kill her." Clarion furrowed her brow as she awaited his explanation. Colin wiggled his eyebrows and sniffed the blade. "But, the poison's going to make her feel like shit."

"Poison!" It was only Colin's calm demeanor that kept the red-head from lashing out at him.

"Yeah, you got a little herb garden." Green eyes rolled in annoyance. "I take it you didn't take a tour."

He shrugged. "Why don't you point me towards the apothecary and you go get some gauze and thread."

Clarion sucked her teeth. "Are you going to tell me what's happening?"

He patted her shoulder. "I'll explain when we're done. Let's just patch her up and put her to bed."

The pair moved quickly, gathering their needs and attending to the slumbering Hunter. Her pulse was slow, but steady, as if she were hibernating. They worked quietly as Colin concocted a foul smelling ointment and applied it inside and outside of the wound. The two made neat stitches on both sides of the wound and put fresh gauze over the wound. Clarion was more than happy to let Colin carry Yoshi to the bedroom, where they dressed her in a pair of shorts and tucked her under the sheet. It was nearly an hour later when they found themselves in the den, both exhausted for different reasons and both in need of a drink or two.

Colin dried his still wet hands on the clean towel that Clarion had tossed him and joined her on the floor. Neither spoke until he raised his snifter full of Cognac in the air. "Nice work Doc."

Clarion nodded. "Back at ya'." They touched glasses and they took deep drinks.

"Yow!" Colin shook as the liquid burned down his throat. "That's good stuff there."

"Better be." She tousled her hair and let her hand drop limply in her lap. "So are you going to explain to me what all that was?"

Colin chuckled. "Yeah, I am." He leaned to his right an grabbed the scabbard by the couch. Out of it, he drew the sword and cleaned the blade of the invisible poison. "Ratbane." He smiled at his own private joke and looked to the scowling Clarion. "It's Ratbane, the poison. In large doses it can cripple a Hunter. In small ones, it's the equivalent of having the thin shits." Colin made a sour face and Clarion groaned.

"What about the sword though-- I thought you guys could only be harmed by a Hunter's sword?"

He nodded. "True indeed... and the suckhead that popped her was smart. It would have taken her well over a day to realize she wasn't going to die, but by then she would have been in so much pain-- she would have wanted to fall on her sword."

Clarion nibbled on her lip. "I still don't get it."

Colin stretched a bit and made himself comfortable on the floor. He crossed his legs, put down and his glass and picked up the blade. He balanced the sword, so that the blade rested on her fingertips. He looked at the genuinely curious Clarion and smiled. "Ya see, basically your sword is an extension of your body. It's your arm or simply a muscle that you control."

"In the commune where we grew up, the day after you get your weapon-- it never left your side. Granted you learn other weapons...but the one you first handle is yours for life." Clarion nodded in understanding, but she still wore a look of confusion. He put down the sword and picked up his glass. "I'm getting to it," he drank from his glass, "let me see if I can explain this. Um, it's like a muscle, your weapon that is. K. Say you take a young kid and teach him to throw a ball. All technical crap aside, the ball doesn't go that far because the kid's only six--he doesn't have a lot of power. But, you take a bloke who's been throwing a ball everyday for six years for an hour, and he can probably throw the ball from centerfield to home plate."

Clarion furrowed her brow at the statement. "That's a damn good arm Colin."

He rolled his eyes at her statement. "Point is smartass, he's strong. And, I bet if you got hit with that ball, you'd be wishing the six year old had thrown it."

Clarion nodded and waved her hand through the air. "So that explains the sword how?"

Colin traded his glass for the sword and picked it by the pommel so that the insignia faced Clarion. "See the symbol on the bottom. I know who this belonged to." Clarion raised an eyebrow as she listened. "His name was Oster. He was a Swede- pretty boy- but a great disposition. He was barely 50 when he died. He was one of the first to go when Exodus came about."

"Exodus?" Colin nodded and stared at the deep maroon of the rug for a brief moment. "Colin?"

His head snapped up and he grinned. "Yeah, yeah, um-- I'll get to that. But, he died young and basically that means he had no power.

"We usually didn't leave Athens until we hit the century mark. Golden girl in there got out at 80, but she was good for it--that she was." He smiled like a proud father. "So, the point is, the stronger the Hunter, the stronger the weapon. Most importantly, the stronger the bond. Knowing you sword, your piece...should be like knowing your own body. Hell, like knowing a lover." Brown and green eyes met in a quiet moment of agreement. "Oster was no more harmful than a kid with a water pistol."

"Hmm," Clarion sipped at her drink. ", except when the kid puts piss in the gun."

They met each others eyes and giggled. "True enough, but ya know what?" He leaned forward and patted Clarion's knee, "she'll live." Clarion covered Colin's hand and smiled. He gripped her hand and released it as he winked at her. "She's going to be hurting in a few days, but she'll live." He laughed out loud and sat up straight.

"What's so funny?"

"That poor girl, I wish I could have seen her face when she got stuck."

Clarion swatted him on the shoulder. "That's a shitty thing to say Colin."

He held up his hands as if defending an onslaught of hits. "Seriously, it's been so long since she's been hurt-- I would have paid to see her face. I'm sure she thought she was dying. Hell, that woman thought she was invincible for the longest time." Colin shook his head in amusement at the memory. He tousled his hair and leaned back on his elbows "Shit, for a while there, we all believed it."

Clarion leaned back against the sofa and gazed at Colin in the hopes of not being too intrusive. She had no intention of breaking his moment of silence, as she could clearly see he was in a place he hadn't visited for a while. Even though her curiosity ate away at her like acid rain on vinyl-- she waited out Colin and only watched him. He stared deep into the woven lines of the rug and let his chin fall towards his chest, as his head drooped. His breathing stilled and for a moment Colin looked every bit the old man. Clarion swallowed the lump in her throat and fought the urge to reach out and touch him. It was only the faint and far away movement of a spider's legs scraping against the floor that brought Colin's attention back to the present. He lifted his head and smiled wearily at Clarion.

"I can be quite the old man, can't I." His accent was as thick as his memories and it made them both chuckle.

"You're a cute old man though." Clarion rose to her knees as she spoke and leaned forward to place a kiss on his cheek.

"Aw, you'll not make me blush woman." They laughed as he gently shooed her away. "How about you show me some of your culinary skills and we eat." He raised his eyebrows in excitement.

Clarion slapped her thighs and stood. "Bring the bottle bloke." Colin clapped his hands and followed the red-head down the hall. Peeking in on the dark woman, who still slept, was the only thing that slowed their rush to the kitchen.

------

The kitchen counter was littered with chopped vegetables and the shells of crustaceans. "So," Colin dropped a large diced onion into the pot. "Do I get story time or do you?"

Clarion rolled her eyes as she cleared the cutting board of the leftovers and began to cut up the seafood. "Well, mine is rather long and horrible, and best told when insanely high, so that the details can be forgotten." She chuckled lightly as she spoke.

Colin smirked. "I'm sure I've got you beat, but mine goes better with a large meal."

Clarion sighed like she was about to retell the Iliad verbatim, but smiled to lighten the mood. "I'll get into the gory stuff later, but I think Stolov found another way to become Master."

Colin slammed his hand down on the cutting board, making the parsley jump. "I fucking knew it. I talked to Gregor and the boys a day ago. They're still stumped."

"Well we got a jump on you guys. You ever heard of a Warlock book?"

Colin scrunched his brow. "Doesn't sound familiar. What's in it?"

She put the lid on her pot and poured wine into a saucepan and then into her glass. "It's like a journal, except the owners change every few centuries."

"Who owns the book?" He held out his own glass.

"Well it's not your bargain basement Vampire or demon for that matter. The owner keeps notes, maybe spells, important dates, discoveries...you name it. Where they buried bodies, hideouts, remedies and the lot."

"So Stolov's got one of these books."

"He had one." She winked. "Supposedly somewhere in it is the answer to our dilemma."

"Buggar! Show me the damn thing."

Clarion couldn't help but to smile at his tangible excitement. "I've got it, so calm down. Let's put this in the oven." She placed the dish in the oven and headed for the library with Colin in tow. She bent down to pick up her bag and smiled to herself as she heard Colin gasp.

"What the fuck? How in the hell?"

She was all smiles when she faced the wide-eyed Colin. "You like?"

He scratched his head and spun around in a small circle. "Christ woman, you've got a freakin' armory in here. I'm almost afraid to ask how you came by all this.

Clarion smiled coyly. "Most of it was legal."

He laughed from his gut. "And I'm the Queen's illegitimate son." He paused. "Then again, I might be her father.

He and Clarion traded looks and then laughed. "So anyway," she began as she placed the book on top of the altar. "Come look at this and see what you can make of it."

Colin eyed the leather-bound book and began flipping through its pages with care to the old paper. "Well, you've got some languages here I've never even seen, talking about crap I've never heard of, so I can make nothing of it."

She grinned and stood next to him as she rested her chin on her hands and leaned onto the altar with her elbow for support. "Not all of the languages are archaic. There's some Aramis, Gaelic, what looks like a form of Russian and a few others including a little Latin."

"Hmm," He looked at Clarion. "Is this Stolov's writing?"

"Most. Usually what they do is transcribe what ever's useful from another book and then add on."

"I get it. Like a playbook. You take the some of the old coaches plays and add new ones."

She nodded. "Pretty much."

"So, you think our answer is in here?"

Clarion ruffled her hair and yawned. "I sure as hell hope so. We'll need to get in touch with Gregor." She waved a hand at the computer equipment.

Colin nodded. "Good, good. Do we have any clue what we're looking for?"

"Ha! Just short of a neon sign flashing, three easy steps to become a Master'," she opened and closed her hands quickly. "We're screwed."

"Aye, indeed."

"Tell me what you know about Stolov."

Colin leaned forward onto the altar and closed the book. "For starters, he's a genius."

Clarion arched an eyebrow in an achingly familiar way. "Not an evil genius." There was sarcasm in her tone.

Colin smiled. "Well there is that, but of course that depends on your definition, but yeah..evil." Colin twisted his neck until the vertebrae realigned and stood. "Come, let's eat."

---------------

Dishes made miniature islands on the dark blue of the tablecloth as they reclined back in their chairs and digested. "So, yeah, I was saying-- Stolov was a different breed of Vampire. He wasn't the warrior that Vlad was and he's never been as romantic as Stoker made Dracula out to be. He's always been a thinker--a strategist. The wheels are always turning in his head and he's always had the big picture in mind." He swirled the dark liquid in his cordial glass and sighed at the sleepy eyed Clarion. "I guess the best way to explain Stolov is to explain what we once were."

"When Hunters make it to their third or fourth century it's like being thirty for a mortal." He drained his drink and leaned forward onto the table with a big smile. "You're not as impulsive as you are when you're 21, but you're not as naive either. You've survived some of the horrors and realize that you can be a grown up and still have fun. It's like realizing responsibility isn't such a horrible thing." Clarion could only smile, as she was just now beginning to understand the meaning of being accountable. "It's like you're strong Claire, you're so strong." He smiled wistfully. "I mean, I'm strong now--but now it's power, it's essence. At that age, it's raw fucking energy." His words were crisp. They nodded at one another both understanding their own experiences with power.

"When Yoshi and I were reaching our fourth century, the world was wide open--literally. The 16th century. So much of the world was knew, but a lot of it was rough around the edges as well. We were at our height then." He tapped his finger on the table. "My god we were magnificent." Clarion smiled as she could feel the passion in his voice. "And she," he nodded his head off to the corner, indicating Yoshi. ", oh she was awesome." He seemed to use all the air in the room to pronounce the word, sending a delightful shiver down Clarion's spine. "She was beautiful-

"Still." Clarion tipped her glass at the smirking Colin.

He nodded. "That she is, but she was once glorious." He sighed. "We could all stand to knock a little dust off ourselves and get a little shine. "I did not learn the meaning of trembling in someone's wake until I saw her at work." He touched his tongue to his teeth in a moment of thought. "Once, they cowered before us all."

Clarion focused jade colored eyes on the man before her and watched as he retreated into himself for a fraction of a moment. "What happened?"

Colin was silent for a moment as he traced his jaw line, and then looked to Clarion with startled eyes as he registered her voice. "Stolov happened." His words came out in a hush. "In the 16th century we were a thousand strong." Clarion whistled appropriately. "And, a thousand strong are the ones who were ready, so that means all those who had reached a century. It got to the point where we just seemed ubiquitous and so we moved out into the world. We carved out little towns and hamlets that we lived in and stayed there. Some of us went home others made new homes. We started families, we lived like brothers and sisters. There was a time when we knew where every vampire was and when they had been made. We could pick out demons in towns thirty miles away. We had a system, a plan even. We were just too good." He sighed and leaned back in his chair.

"Too big for your britches, huh?"

Colin looked to Clarion and nodded solemnly. "That's the light way of saying it. We were fucking high on ourselves. We were lazy, is the truth of it. I mean, for us, fighting one Hunter was like fighting ten. So what if you town was overrun with 5 Vampires, we'll just send two, hell maybe one."

"Did you just not care?"

"Ha! On the contrary, we did nothing but, but we were going at it all wrong. We weren't about prevention, it was just about cutting down what we saw. We moved out of the commune and forgot half the shit we learned. Who needed to warn people when you thought you could clean up the mess yourself-- we just--

He trailed off and shrugged. "To say Stolov took advantage is too easy. There wasn't anything to take advantage of, he just walked right in and did his thing. See, while we were busy smelling our own shit, he was organizing. Now vamps have had leaders and rabble-rousers before, but not like him. He just wasn't looking for a one-time militia; he was seeking permanence. When we got together and built towns, he encouraged them to do the same. He gathered all those that were hunted and told them to simply live their lives. Go out get jobs, go and learn, start families." The level of his voice changed as he spoke his last words.

"He encouraged them to just carve out their lives. If somebody asked you what you did during the day, say you went to school. Say you had another job whatever. If you could move about in the day, tell them whatever they needed to hear, but don't give anybody any reason to think you don't belong. They ate his words up and they lived, breathed, and multiplied. Why beat the hunters when you can breed them out. It was easy for us to think ourselves superior when there were barely 400 in the world, let alone ten in country. But suddenly, one day you wake up and there are 50 in a town, a hundred in a country, thousands in a continent." He nibbled at his lip and then poured himself a shot of whiskey.

Hazy brown eyes looked up at green. "We weren't prepared for anything that happened. Just one day it all...all went up in flames." He paused and rubbed his hands down his face. Colin focused his eyes on the reflection of the chandelier light on the vase and just stared. "Somehow they all knew when to set them. One by one, our little towns and places of rest when up in flames. Hunters were forced into the streets and the massacre began. We weren't prepared, we just weren't. So many of us had been to war, so many of us had survived, but we were supposed to be safe. We were supposed to be ready...prepared." He touched a finger to his lips and continued to speak, almost oblivious of Clarion's presence in the room. The red head just watched Colin with a heavy heart. She knew there were no words and all she could do was let him ride out the firestorm that he was reliving in his mind.

"It was different when it was just us fighting for ourselves, but we found ourselves fighting for our families. Mortal wives, husbands, and children who had no clue of the monsters that lay just outside the door. For those who were killed, they died painfully: hacked into pieces strewn about to ultimate decay. Those who lived and fought suffered the most pain. They lived without being able to explain to their burning families why it was that they still lived. Why it was that they could stand the flames." He stopped speaking and sat back in his chair, his back straight and his palms flat on the table. His eyes still did not move from the vase. "For a fortnight it burned. Those that made it out, fled to the commune to discover it in ruins. The building itself stood, the books were still there, the temples were not defiled, but there was no life there. The bodies of the young hung from every entrance, every arch, and every window. It wasn't enough for him to destroy our present...Stolov erased our future." Colin took a well-needed breath and slowly he came back to himself and back into the room. He eyed a teary-eyed Clarion. "August 15, 1545."

A long reverent quiet swept over the room and they both let it move about them without question. Clarion wiped at her eyes and spoke a while later. "I don't know whether I should cry or scream."

Colin shrugged and poured himself another glass of whiskey. "My tear ducts are empty Claire and my throat is hoarse." He grunted. "We tried to rebuild and for a while, it seemed like things were possible, but Stolov appeared again and cut out our heart." He rubbed the back of his neck. "Rules number 1 through ten: we are your brothers and your sisters, honor each other always, lay down your life before you pick up your sword before the other."

Understanding passed through the red head. "Yoshi broke that rule didn't she."

"Aye." Clarion sighed and looked past Colin out into the hallway, silently deciding whether she should go check on the woman or not. "She had no choice, Claire."

A stray tear spilled onto Clarion's cheek as she drew her attention to Colin. "I believe that to be true, but she still bore the burden."

Colin couldn't help but smile at the woman across from him. She seemed to understand so much about the woman he had grown up with and it made him recognize the first signs of hope in himself. "Because, she would let none of us shoulder it."

Clarion seem to sense an inkling of what Colin was feeling and she mirrored his smile. "She loves you all."

He nodded. "We know that lass. But that stone wall in there refuses to believe that we love her and moreover she's afraid to tell us.

Clarion shrugged. "She doesn't want to lose you guys, and she thinks its easier to lose herself."

"True. True." He leaned forward a bit and grinned. "But I can see that you care, and I know that she loves you."

Clarion did not fight the blush that filled her cheeks. "I know she does as well."

Colin's face lit up with happy surprise. "She told you?" Clarion could only nod. "Well two points for the old fart, good for her."

Clarion chuckled. "Good for us, Colin. And good for you."

He smiled harder and reached across the table to clasp Clarion's hand. "Clarion, if you can bring her back...if you can give her that light that she so sorely misses..I, I.." he gave her hand a squeeze. "I don't know what Ill do, but if I had to fall to my knees and claim Vampires as a better race, then I'll donate my blood."

Clarion squeezed his hand back and laughed. "A better race, huh? You're a fool Colin." Colin laughed and stood up. He went to hold his hand out to Clarion and then stopped as he noticed the intense look of concentration on her face.

"What's up Clarion?" He spoke calmly, but every muscle in his body was tensed and ready to spring into action if necessary.

Clarion cocked her head to the side and looked up at him with a furrowed brow. "You said a better race?"

Colin looked at Clarion as if she sprouted horns. "A joke, what?"

"No, a better race. What did you say about Stolov...he told them to live, get jobs, go to school, start a family."

Colin leaned down on the table. "I'm not sure I'm following you."

Green eyes grew wide. "Breed." The word fell from her lips like a pin dropping in a library. "Breed, Colin, breed." She stared hard at the man, who was trying hard to grasp the concept. She stood and placed a hand on his shoulder as she encroached his personal space, so that they were nearly nose to nose. "Stolov doesn't want to kill me Colin." She stressed every word.

Brown eyes grew as large as green. "Oh my...he doesn't does he?"

Clarion shook her head slowly. She let out a small giggle and whispered to Colin as if they were school girls. "He wants to fuck me, Colin." Her words faded into the room and they both breathed at the same time. She backed away from the still wide -eyed Colin and began to move towards the hallway. "This is not just about Stolov becoming all powerful, this is about an entire legion of little Stolovs and Stolovas. Perhaps, a world."

"How's that for evolution." Colin added in the same quiet voice that Clarion used. "He's found himself a baby, hasn't he?"

She nodded. "Or a mama."

They both nodded. "You want the phone or the computer?"

With a large smile plastered to her face Clarion replied, "we'll alternate," as they both raced down the halls to the library.

* * *


To be continued...

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