To say it was cold was a damned understatement. The cold was cold, but this was to a whole other degree.
He couldn't help smile at the lame pun.
Outside the boarded up window, the snow fell so thick it conquered the black of the night into a forever white he could have turned on his dark vision to attempt to see the building just across the road but there was no point, he had tried switching it on and off over and over; it was all a part of getting used to his new abilities. That inexperience was the reason why he was here guarding a family and not out on patrol like his master, Telric. No human could survive out there for long, but Telric was no longer human, and neither was Alathis.
Alathis held his hands over the heater; he was wrapped in three layers of jackets and a wool blanket. It was the middle of winter of the Antarctic region of Sartarth and right in the middle of the 50 days of night.
The young Hunter sighed and looked over his shoulder, through the lit living room, past the roaring fire and into the darkened hallway and the staircase.
The Orrell family, made up of a mother, father, two daughters and a son were sleeping soundly on the second floor, oh how Alathis envied them. They had adapted to this shitty hellscape having lived here for generation after generation. Alathis was from a country called Isstarrsia which was mostly classed as being “sub-tropical” except for the far north which bordered Sartarth. Alathis had lived most of his childhood in the north-east of Isstarrsia which while wasn’t the warmest, especially during the winter but it was like heaven compared to here. That and Alathis had spent a lot of his teenage years in Amartis which was further south and properly tropical, but most of those years he’d live underground.
Both of the girls one being about two years younger than him the other about a year younger than her, had crushes on him, even if he didn’t have extensive training on how to read body language and microexpressions he could've figured that out.
To most young men like him, it would've been neat, despite how plain of face and slightly overweight they were, feed their ego, but it happened so often to Alathis even at his twenty years of age he’d become desensitised to it. And after what he went through, after what he had to do, Alathis wasn’t sure he could be with another girl or even appreciate the attention of another beautiful girl.
Alathis wiped away the welling tears and pulled the blanket from his wrist to check his watch. It was quarter past midnight, time to search the house again.
He sighed again summoned his DT-235 shotgun into his hands and as he stepped into the darkness switched on his low-light vision, engulfing the corridor and the stairs in a green haze. The strange wallpaper was covered in patterns which seem to transform into different faces every time he’d look at it, in the green they seemed sinister; their eyes made up of kaleidoscopic petals stared at him with malice and hatred which was hard not to think was imagined.
Alathis shook himself back into reality.
Moving in the instinctive silence drilled into him since he was a child, Alathis first checked the kitchen, which was just left to the lounge; a small two metre by three metre room, with a long bench which took up most of the length of the left side wall with a sink, an electric oven and a large electric fridge. Alathis couldn't help smirk; they needed a refrigerator like he needed a hole in the head. It was more of a social status thing, he supposed, the husband owned a local company which produced ice cubes, they were quite well off, but they would be more well off if there weren’t at least a few dozen other companies producing ice cubes all over Sartarth.
Alathis approached the boarded-up window at the end of the kitchen and stared outside. He reached out with his senses for a sign, any sign of a magical aura. He knew there wouldn’t be; they too can hide their auras as Alathis did now. But perhaps, just perhaps they might've forgotten.
He left the kitchen to check his and his master’s room. It was only a little larger than the kitchen, with a single, nicely made bed, a bedside table with an electrical lamp light and Alathis’ sleeping bag on the floor on the bed’s right side. At first, Alathis had whined about having to sleep on the floor, but he stopped when he found out Telric had to go and patrol through the cold snow storms outside. He more than deserved the bed then.
Alathis checked beneath the bed; shotgun raised and nothing. He opened the small closet in the right side wall, and it was empty too.
He sighed yet again; there was no way they could get inside without him knowing with his newly enhanced senses, he could’ve even heard if they tried to pick the double door’s lock. He could make out the father snoring softly upstairs; he tried to block it out, that was yet another thing he needed to get used too, and by the avatar, it was the hardest, especially his enhanced hearing.
Then he gave a quick look into the small bathroom and the lock on the only door. Over the centuries this town has been attacked the houses were designed to be easily defensible, so most had one entrance in and out, reinforced walls, few windows. Alathis knew it wouldn’t make any difference, but A for effort.
Still silent as can be, he began ascending the stairs. Despite the cold, the family had agreed to keep their doors open, so Alathis could slip in and check on them. Again Alathis looked under their beds and the closets. He hated doing it, he felt like such a creep, but if needs must he just hoped to hell, he wouldn’t wake anyone up, especially one of the girls.
Alathis breathed a long, silent sigh of relief as he left the last bedroom which was the parents’.
He checked over the upstairs bathroom and when he was about halfway toward the stairs it happened.
A knocking on the door.
It was a very light knocking that only he or another Hunter could hear, it could've been the wind on the door, but his instincts seemed to scream it wasn’t.
He checked his watch; it was only 12:45 his master wasn’t due back from patrol for another two hours and fifteen minutes.
Was it one of them trying the oldest trick in the book? Or perhaps it was his master, and something had gone wrong, the knocking seemed to reverberate only halfway up the door. Then he managed to decipher a tune.
Alathis straightened and fought the urge to yell out before he burst into a sprint, he was down the stairs and opening the doors in a split-second, shotgun raised.
A dwarf wrapped in so much clothing he seemed almost as wide as Alathis was tall and his face utterly hidden burst inside along with the screeching torrent of wind and snow.
Despite their enhanced strength it took both of them to push the doors closed and all of their weights.
‘Karetil!’ Alathis hissed then shook his head. ‘Daviksar.’
His friend’s new name was yet another thing he had to get used to.
‘What in hell are you doing here?’
The young dwarf peeled off the scarf around his mouth pulled the goggles from his eyes, revealing a glare of surprising intensity which sent a freezing dread through Alathis somehow colder than the wind. What did he do to invite a look like that?
‘I came to speak to you,’ said Daviksar each syllable uttered through chattering teeth.
Before Alathis could reply the dwarf turned and stormed toward the lounge.
‘What? Why?’ said Alathis as he followed the dwarf-Hunter. Daviksar didn’t bother to answer, he just approached the fire, and raised his hands over it, and Alathis sensed a subtle burst of magic before Daviksar made the flames erupt stronger.
‘Shouldn’t you be with the family you and you master were assigned to?’ said Alathis.
‘My master let me leave,’ said Daviksar. ‘There is still over two hours before he is due to take over patrolling-’
‘What? All by yourself?’
‘Yes, Alathis,’ said the dwarf as he fixed Alathis another glare. ‘All by myself, anyway...’
Daviksar looked back to the fire. ‘He was interested in what I might find out.’
Alathis sighed and rolled his eyes. ‘This again-’
‘Yes, “this again”,’ snarled Daviksar. ‘I was told you woke up from you Ritual screaming: “It’s its hand!”
‘Yeah, so what?’
‘Then you said something about something living in the red sea,’ said Daviksar. ‘You remembered something; no one remembers anything-’
‘K-Daviksar, keep your damned voice down, you’ll wake up the family. Anyway, why in hell are you making a big deal about that? Isn’t it far stranger that all of us survived our Rituals? The Ritual only one in five survive? Isn’t that something to make a far bigger deal of?’
‘We were lucky.’
‘Lucky? Lucky? If four or five of us lived that’d be lucky, but all of us. No way. No way in all the hells.’
‘Alright then, what other explanation do you have?’
The image of that horrifically gigantic hand reaching for him from that orange drenched abyss of water flashed through Alathis’ mind.
Alathis flinched. ‘N-none.’
‘You lie. You are a terrible liar, Alathis you always have been. You do have an idea. You never tell me anything. Anything.’
‘I-I don’t, I told you about how I felt about...Silette.’
‘Yeah, but nothing that matters. What happened to Silette during the...attack, Alathis?’
‘I...I can’t tell you that.’
‘Can’t or won’t? I know the attack just so happened to happen when you and she went on your walk-’
‘Karetil, please don’t.’
‘It’s Daviksar now, Alathis. Not all of us had the privilege to keep our original names.’
Alathis left hand clenched into a fist, and his right gripped his shotgun. ‘Well, if you knew what I went through what I had to do, you wouldn't think I’m privileged.’
‘But I don’t know, do I?’
‘You can guess, though, can’t you?’
Daviksar grimaced and turned his attention back to the fire, silence hung.
‘How did you get that scar, Alathis?’
With a sharp intake of air, instinct made Alathis’ hand shoot to cover the huge scar on his cheek, forgetting his fringe still hid it. ‘You can guess that too, damn you.’
‘Why don’t you get it healed? It’s a simple magical procedure.’
‘You know what. What’s up with you?’
‘Me? This isn’t-’
‘Well, I’m making it about you now, since your Ritual, you’ve changed. You used to be friendly, happy all the time. Now you’re just...’
Alathis pursed his lips and shrugged.
Daviksar sighed and shook his head. ‘I don’t know, my friend, there’s just so much pressure now, y’know? We go straight from our cushy lives in the Coven and our Rituals, straight up to this hellhole, so we have to fight vampires. A lot potentially. Feels like we have been thrown in the deep end, y’know? And now I have to...’
The dwarf trailed off in his sentence, his eyes widening like he realised he’d said too much.
‘Have to what?’ said Alathis, fighting the urge to forget his trigger discipline.
‘Do you remember what happened to you in your Ritual, at least tell me that.’
‘...I do, I remember all of it. It was...beyond hell. I...I don’t know how I’m still sane after what I saw and did, in all honesty.’
Daviksar laughed, but it seemed to drip with sarcasm.
‘D-do you remember yours?’ said Alathis. ‘Is that why you’ve changed?’
The dwarf’s laughter descended into sobs.
‘W-what’s wrong? You do remember, then?’
‘C-can you get me a hot chocolate drink, please?’ said Daviksar. ‘I’m still so cold.’
‘Of course,’ said Alathis and he turned toward the kitchen.
Instinct made Alathis slide to the side, faster than he thought possible.
But not fast enough to keep the knife stabbing into his right shoulder and stick fast.
Alathis cried out as pain blasted through him, causing his fingers to go limp and let go of his shotgun, but his enhanced constitution allowed him to weather the shock and he spun into a round-house kick aimed for the side of Daviksar’s skull.
But the dwarf had already erected a small bubble of magical light around him, and Alathis leg smashed against that, making more pain.
Yelling out again, Alathis stumbled back.
‘W-what are you doing?’ Alathis shrieked, he continued to stumble away to the other side of the lounge, clutching at the knife in his back. The pain was unbearable, but if he hadn’t moved it would've pierced the base of his skull. ‘W-what hell, man.’
Daviksar didn’t reply, he just deactivated his shield and raised his hands.
‘No!’ said Alathis. ‘Please, don’t do this. Not this again!’
A huge fireball burst from the dwarf’s hands and flew straight for Alathis.
Having no room for him to manoeuvre, in the last split-second Alathis managed to raise a light-shield of his own. The world was a wall of flames, the shield prevented him from being cooked, but not from much of the explosive force, and Alathis was sent flying off his feet, smashing through the wall and outside into the cold. He still managed to keep his shield up, even as his whole world became a whirling of spinning, bashing, rolling and bouncing and pain so much pain. He was sure if it weren’t for his shield protecting him all of his bone structure would've been ground into dust, even with the reinforcement.
It seemed an age but must’ve only been a few seconds, before he finally stopped. His brain and vision a blur, Alathis began to climb to his feet. But still, he kept up his shield, as he tried to shake himself back into sanity.
A blast of light exploded out through the hole in the house and smashed against Alathis’ shield as he managed to get to his knees. He knew his magical radiation was running out, fast. He was never the best at retaining radiation or using the right amount at the right time, Daviksar was. That was because he was among the rare type of Hunter which chose to specialise in magic, as the Hunters don’t want the enemy, The Church of Jaroai to know they can use it. Most like Alathis specialised in more conventional means of combat.
Alathis reached around and grabbed the knife sticking from his back and with one tug pulled it out, in a spurt of crimson and he felt the blood flow down his skin.
He roared out the pain and stumbled, but he still kept up his shield long enough to prevent another light blast frying through him.
Then the shield blinked and died, so the horrific, well below zero and wind struck him he barely had to throw himself to the snow, and he suppressed his aura.
Another light blast passed where he’d stood a split-second before.
After Daviksar used so much magic another Hunter, allied vampire or even the local priest, someone must’ve sensed it and were heading here to see what’s going on!
Them, or a whole heap of rogue-vampires.
Alathis shuddered but it wasn’t from the cold, and he began to crawl to the right.
If Daviksar didn’t kill him or he didn’t freeze to death first.
As summoned by Alathis’ thoughts the dwarf stepped out of the hole in the house wreathed in a light bubble, visible even through the curtain of white.
Alathis managed to frown through his chattering teeth. What in hell was going on? Why was his friend trying to kill him? But most of all, besides the knife he was unarmed. He still had his sword and side-arm in cloaking-space to summon, but the flash of light would attract Daviksar’s attention.
It seemed the weapon-cloak ability could be a detriment.
‘Alathis!’ Daviksar screamed. ‘Alathis, I know you’re out there.’
Trying to keep from breathing too hard, Alathis dropped even closer to the snow. He was unarmed, but did he want to be armed? Did he want to fight another...friend? Could he? Why? Why in hell was this happening to him ?
‘I have always hated you,’ said Daviksar. ‘This is what you deserve this, damn you. You were always better than me. All the girls liked you more than me!’
Alathis frowned, he couldn’t see Daviksar through the light, but he could see the exclamation was fake, that it seemed like the d was trying to bolster himself, convince himself this was how he honestly felt so he could gain the courage to kill Alathis.
‘Even at magic! The teachers would almost beg you to specialise in magic, always go on about how much potential you had.’
I’m not better at magic than you! Alathis thought, his brow furrowed. Don’t be ridiculous!
‘The only reason I’m better than you at magic is because I have spent countless hours practising.’
Alathis rolled his eyes, and the only reason why I’m a better swordsman, and the best swordsman in our coven is the countless hours I dedicated to the blade too.
‘Where are you? Damn you!’
The began dwarf prowled out further his shield dissipated, and he stopped as though a thought seemed to hit him.
‘You killed her, didn’t you?’ said Daviksar. ‘You were right; I can guess and did. I saw what happened to those who...lost control. I heard their agonised shrieks; you put her out of her misery right? How good of you, how noble. No wonder you do not wish to talk about it.’
Alathis couldn't guess where Daviksar was going with this; he knew the Dwarf-Hunter was trying to goad him out of hiding.
‘I wouldn’t have,’ said the dwarf. ‘I would have let her die in agony. Agony she more than deserved.’
Rage made Alathis grip the snow, and he fought the urge to summon his pistol. No one deserved such a horrific death. No one!
‘That’s right, Alathis, she deserved it, more than deserved it. If I was with her, I would have stood and watched it, all of it and I would laugh. I...would...laugh.’
That was it, with tears in his eyes Alathis summoned his pistol and opened fire.
The flash of light was subtle, but it was enough to warn Daviksar as he raised his shield again just in time, so the shot sprang off. Alathis’ leapt to his feet and continued to shoot as he advanced on his former friend, he could only thank goodness that most mages, including Daviksar, could use one spell at a time.
As he came close and his pistol clicked dry, Alathis summoned his sword and slashed it across the bubble of light. In a few seconds Alathis rained down dozens of slashes, he ignored the pain which shivered through his muscles and the aching the rapid movement blasted from the stab wound in his back.
Daviksar reeled from the ferociousness of Alathis’ attacks, as he blanched and backed away.
When the shield seemed to flicker and die the dwarf summoned a shotgun and jumped back, deactivated his shield and fired a desperate barking blast.
Alathis weaved aside of it and darted diagonally left when he was mortal Alathis could average a sprint of ten metres in 0.86 of a second, after The Ritual he moved ten times that. Not even Daviksar with his enhanced reflexes and the spread of the shotgun rounds could the dwarf-hunter could draw a bead on Alathis. Daviksar only managed two more desperate shots before Alathis sliced his shotgun in two, then slashed diagonally for the dwarf’s torso.
Daviksar threw himself back, just out the arcing blade and summoned his pistol. Then firing off a fervent flurry.
Alathis weaved and darted through it, then summoned and threw Daviksar’s knife.
The dwarf seemed taken by surprise, but still managed to duck it. The pause in the shooting allowed Alathis to burst forwards into close combat again and cut through the pistol as well as reliving the Hunter-Mage of two of his fingers. Daviksar cried out in pain, but that didn’t prevent him from opening his hand right in Alathis’ face.
Alathis froze and clenched his teeth, he’d thought Daviksar had used up all of his radiation! He’d never been the best at judging the level of radiation use of others, and now Daviksar was exploiting that.
He threw himself aside from the blast of light in the very last split second and exploded into another sprint. The beam followed his wake, melting the snow into waves of up-rushing water.
Alathis couldn’t outrun it, so just before it sliced him in two, he dropped his sword and jumped into the air. The beam passed beneath his feet by a mere millimetre, and he brought into being another clip of ammunition for his pistol, slammed it home and spun to shoot.
Daviksar cancelled the beam to bring up another shield just in time.
Alathis got off two shots before he landed, picked up his sword and continued the withering hail as he began to advance.
The dwarf’s magic can’t last much longer! But even with that gone the fight wasn’t over, Alathis could feel exhaustion beginning to leaden his every movement. His lungs seemed like they were made from cold steel. His...enemy might soon be unable to use his magic, but he’d be fresher for the final, physical fight.
Again his pistol clicked dry, and he summoned another clip from cloak space and reloaded. That was the last one he had and-
Then Daviksar did something Alathis had no idea he could, with a roar which hurt Alathis’ ears he expanded his light shield. It erupted outward so fast it smashed him Alathis his off his feet so hard when his back against the snow, his pistol and sword flew from his grasp. The whiplash made the back of his head hit it. Agony blasted through him; it felt like his ribs and lungs had blasted from his chest and into the atmosphere, his spin seemed like it broke. His world a blur, he writhed and cried.
‘You didn’t see that coming, did you?’ said Daviksar as he approached. ‘Didn’t expect me being so talentless to be able to use such an advanced magical technique?’
‘Why?’ Alathis could only cry. ‘Why are you doing this to me? I...I thought we were friends!’
‘I do this because I have to.’
Alathis vision managed to clear somewhat, to find Daviksar standing over him, Alathis’ pistol aimed at him.
‘Of course, you had to be the only one!’ said the dwarf. ‘You just had to be the only one to escape Him.’
‘You know damned well who.’
A figure seemed to materialise behind the dwarf and before Alathis could cry out the sword tip burst through Daviksar’s breast.
The dwarf’s eyes widened, and his mouth gaped in abstract shock then the vampire plunged his teeth into the side of the dwarf’s neck, his glowing eyes fixed on Alathis.
It only took about half a minute to drain Daviksar dry, and the whole time the dwarf’s mouthed over and over “how?” “How?” Then the vampire chucked aside the dwarf like he was a piece of trash.
By that time Alathis had managed to climb into a crouch, despite the agony all through him and his pounding, spinning head.
Alathis expected the vampire to then rush at him and drain him dry too, but the vampire just stood; watching him with sickeningly blood caked teeth.
‘You are lucky, little boy,’ it said. ‘Someone is very keen that you live.’
‘W-why?’ Alathis managed.
The vampire shrugged. ‘Don’t know, don’t care. They paid me a good sum to keep an eye on you, but it was worth it to taste Hunter blood again. Good luck, I will be watching.’
Before Alathis could ask more the vampire was gone.
Alathis limped to his friend's side as he lay broken in the snow and much to his surprise the dwarf's chest was somehow still subtly rising and falling. His wide, agonised gaze fixed on Alathis.
'A-Alathis?' he whispered.
Alathis fell into a kneel beside the dying dwarf. 'Don't talk I'll get a healer-'
'I-I don't understand; no one was meant to be able to...'
'Be able to what?'
'Never mind. You were right to be suspicious, about all of us surviving the Ritual, we were meant to, allowed to...'
'I-I don't understand, Karetil,' said Alathis. 'Just stop-'
'No! No, I need to say this, they cannot be trusted, the remaining thirteen. Like me, they couldn't escape. They are...corrupted.'
'Yes...That-. I didn't mean what I said about Silette, Alathis. I didn't, I just needed-'
'I know you didn't, Karetil. I know,' said Alathis as he fought back his tears
'I'm sorry, I didn't want to do this but He...He...'
Then Daviksar's, once known as Karetil, eyes turned glassy, and he was no more.
About an hour later Alathis sat in one of the chairs and stared out the same boarded window of before, but he couldn't help give the wall where he had supposedly crashed through yet another glance. It was utterly untouched; he couldn't understand it. He also couldn't understand the fact that Telric and the others of the patrol had found him holding Karetil's corpse, but it had only taken them about a half minute for them to be found, while Alathis was sure the fight had lasted longer that. Not just that, but they had sensed nothing of the egregious level of the magic which used.
A stinging pain coursed through Alathis causing him to hiss. None of his bones was broken, and he was already healing nicely, although it would take about a day.
His master was on patrol inside the house, a house which was still full of contently sleeping people, who had never heard a thing. Karetil's master also had no idea his apprentice had slipped out of their house.
Alathis didn't know what to think, how this all happened, but he did know he was going to trust his friend's last words. So keep his eye on the remaining thirteen and that it had something to do with "Him". He wasn't sure if he could even trust Telric and the other senior Hunters.
Something terrible was going to happen, and that something was going to happen soon.