The Vampire Hunter: Return of the Prodigal by JP

The Vampire Hunter: Return of the Prodigal
by Jp

Summary: Our unlikely duo of Hunter and Vampire are on the lam and on the search for a certain Master with special plans for the human race. As always a little love and romance, some fearsome fighting, and lots of help from things that go bump in the night.
It Has Begun…..

Book II……

CH I: The Big Easy

December 27, 1999, side of a road, 60 miles from New Orleans

Yoshima Miakoda’s sinewy six foot frame was technically in the most uncomfortable position known to man, just short of having a gear shift up her ass. One long bare leg was wedged between the back window of the Mustang and the headrest of the seat. Her expansive back was pressed up against the side door with such pressure that it was only her arms locked around the headrest and braced against the roof of the car that kept her from falling out of the door. As for her other leg and the rest of her body they were somewhere in the void of the backseat. Actually, they were sort of hovering, not quite on the seat itself, she would have known but her eyes were squeezed so tightly shut that they were probably going to pop. However, she had no intention of opening her eyes any time soon, since that would mean she’d have to look down. And if she looked down she would have seen a crown of fiery red hair buried deep between her legs, and then she’d fall over the precipice that she’d been trying hard to hold onto for the last 7 minutes. If she could just hold out for another three minutes without busting out the back windows with her head or howling out a release to shatter the rest, she would prove the salacious demon between her legs how wrong she was.

On the other hand, the salacious demon in question, was not one to be proven wrong. She knew when Yoshi finally broke that her tongue was going to be in need of repair, but sometimes pain was a good thing, and Clarion was definitely in a good place. She nodded her acknowledgement as she changed the direction of her attack from inside to outside. The powerful thighs squeezed tighter around her round head and Clarion smiled against the dark woman’s center. Clarion wrapped her arms around Yoshi’s thighs and with a gently pull returned them to their open position. She could hear the groan resting in Yoshi’s throat. She could feel the tremors making their way up her sweat covered body. So close. So close.

Yoshi bit down hard on her lip as Clarion’s tongue lapped up every drop of arousal just as fast as the woman was making it. Yoshi braced her head against the window and bit down on her lip. This was it, she could feel it. It wasn’t like this wasn’t a win-win situation, but damn she’d never hear the end of it, but if she didn’t stop this soon, she might not be able to walk. Full lips parted slowly ready to concede to defeat, her hormones were on their feet, and the flood gates were waiting for the signal. And then….nothing. Apparently, Clarion’s head had been nestled between her legs so long it felt extremely foreign when it was removed.

Glazed over blue eyes met with emeralds aglow with desire. Yoshi let her head loll back against the steamy window as she searched for her voice. Clarion rose up on her knees and leaned into Yoshi. She smiled wickedly as the tall woman tried desperately to catch her breath. Clarion placed feathery kisses on Yoshi’s damp face and neck. Clarion smiled harder as one blue eye opened. “You think you made it don’t you?” Clarion spoke with her lips barely touching Yoshi’s heated skin, but the dark woman could feel the promise in her words as the light husk of her voice traveled through her insides. Yoshi at least wanted to nod, but it seemed all her body parts were ready to betray her. Clarion licked her lips and then without hesitation, hungrily latched onto the pulsing vein in Yoshi’s neck. Clarion waited until Yoshi’s pulse got slowed to where she wanted it, and then without any warning she thrust three fingers deep within the woman beneath her.

Thirty seconds was all it took. Well, thirty-seconds, three fingers, and arm that was pumping like a piston in a V-6 engine. Clarion didn’t slow her pace as Yoshi released a guttural keening noise and tensed every muscle in her body. The small woman didn’t falter as strong arms wrapped around her and pulled her into a crushing embrace, growling out Japanese phrases. Clarion couldn’t help but smile, since it didn’t take a lover of languages to know when someone’s howling out “fuck me”. Clarion obliged the tall woman as she finally slowed her pace and drew her fingers out to the edge only to plunge them back into the deep warmth. Clarion finally stopped as Yoshi rasped out, “Kugiri…juubun.” Stop…enough. She removed her fingers slowly and allowed herself to be swallowed up in Yoshi’s embrace as the last tremors of climax passed through her body. They lay together for some time, as Yoshi’s body relaxed and she made herself more comfortable along the length of the backseat. Clarion just nuzzled her neck as she listened to Yoshi’s heart pound in her chest.

After a silent ten minutes of combing through Clarions short hair did Yoshi finally speak. “You can stop smiling now.” Yoshi’s body shook as the woman on top of her began to laugh. “Don’t gloat…or we can’t play this game any more.” Yoshi didn’t have to open her eyes to see pink lips form a pout.

Clarion folded her arms across Yoshi’s chest and lifted her head so she could look at the woman. “If I would have known Samurai were such sore losers I wouldn’t have suggested it.”

Blue eyes opened lazily as Yoshi chuckled. “But you know what, I did lose and I guarantee you I’m going to be sore.” Yoshi was all ready to laugh at her own joke until she noticed that Clarion wasn’t laughing or smiling. “Clarion?”

“I think I can guarantee one other thing.” Clarion affixed her eyes overtop of Yoshi’s head and out of the window.”

A black eyebrow rose. “And what’s that?”

“You’re going to be arrested.”

“What!-

Clarion clamped her small hand over Yoshi’s mouth and sshed her. “Be quiet now, I need to think.”

Blue eyes went wide as she saw a flashlight bounce off of the rearview mirror. She gently removed Clarion’s hand from her mouth. “Don’t you know some magic or something,” she whispered.

Clarion grinned and looked down. “Well now, there ain’t too much magic for two naked sweaty women in the backseat of Mustang.”

Yoshi rolled her eyes. “Thanks colonel. Ugh, I left my blade in the trunk.”

Clarion squeaked. “What the hell are you thinking!” Clarion looked completely shocked.

Yoshi shook her head vigorously. “No, if I had the keys I could probably reach the ignition to turn the keys, and then you know….get the car rolling.”

“Oh.” Alabaster cheeks filled with red. “Heh, heh, sorry.”

“So what’s the plan?”

Before Clarion could answer there was a tapping on the window outside. “We’re screwed.”

Clarion mumbled to herself as she moved off of Yoshi and crawled over the front seat. Yoshi sat up in the back as she watched the small woman smooth down her hair and then begin to roll down the front window. Clarion made a big enough crack that her fingers dangled over the edge and her eyes looked over the edge. Yoshi instinctively scrunched down in the back seat out of view as she waited. The dark woman worried her lip as the deep twang of the officers’ voice reached her ears.

“I’m gonna have to ask you to roll down your window, please.”

Clarion sighed and ever so slowly, like some twisted strip tease she rolled down the window. Clarion let out a yelp that sent Yoshi reaching for her tanto under the seat. Although Yoshi was poised to whip out her blade and leap over the seat, she was stopped as she heard Clarion burst into laughter. Yoshi’s head raised from the back seat to see a topless Clarion hanging out of the window giving a hug to the officer.

The red head rested her elbows on the sill as she sat back down. “Holy shit! Tibby how the hell are you?”

The man outside laughed. “Bien, chér, ça va?”

“Alive, mon ami, alive.” They both laughed.

He crooked a finger into the car. “Does your missy speak or have we sunk to new lows.”

Clarion sucked in air and then giggled. “Why Tibby, I ought to come out there and beat your fat little ass.”

The fair-skinned officer just chuckled. “Somehow I don’t think that would be bad.”

Clarion stuck out her tongue and turned around to face a thoroughly perplexed yet slightly amused Yoshi. Clarion only smiled and waved the woman forward. “Lean up and meet my friend.”

Yoshi hesitantly lean forward until she was flush with the front seat. She cocked her head to the side as she looked out of the window and got a full glimpse of Tibby. He was about 6’1″, fair-skinned, with an athletic build all though he had the beginnings of a potbelly. He looked to be in his mid thirties. He leaned down into the window and gave Yoshi a heavenly smile that she clearly understood as his trump card. You couldn’t be mad at a handsome man in a uniform that smiled like that.

Clarion beamed with pride. “Tibby, this is Yoshi.”

“Yoshi, this Tibby. Short for Thibedeaux Thurston Millieu, the third.”

A long olive-colored arm reached out and to meet Tibby’s hand. He tipped his cap. “Evenin’ belle.”

Clarion rolled her eyes. “Don’t go hittin’ on my lady or I’ll tell your maman.”

“That excuse don’t work no more, ” He grinned. “Look, you two should be moving along now, or I will not hesitate to haul your hind parts down to the jail. I know some dirty old men who would love to see you.” He wiggled his eyebrows and Clarion laughed.

“Sure thing, Tibby, we’re gone. You still at your old place.”

“Qui.”

“Good.” Clarion started the car and Tibby leaned down into the window.

He spoke into Clarion’s ear. “Ta fille a intéressants les seins” Your girlfriend has nice breasts.

Before Clarion could speak, Yoshi leaned forward and spoke. “Merci, l’officier. Et eux sont les miens.” Thank you officer. And, yes they are mine. She grinned wickedly.

Tibby laughed nervously as he caught the glare in blue eyes and stepped back. “Pardon ma’am and I would never think such a thing.”

Clarion held in her laugh as she watched her friend shift nervously from foot to foot. “Go home Tibby, I’ll call you in a few days.”

With welcome relief Tibby focused on Clarion’s words as she revved the engine. He watched her put the car in gear and spoke before she pulled off. “Almost forgot,” he gave Clarion a blazing smile, “welcome home, mon dour, welcome home.” Clarion blew him a kiss as she pulled back onto the highway and sped away with a large grin on her face. She felt long arms wrap around her from the backseat as she drove into the night wistfully rolling the words around in her head: Welcome Home.

CH 2: “You do know how to whistle don’t you…..

“I can’t believe I forgot about Christmas.” The red head let out a huff as she fell backwards on to the large bed.

Yoshi grinned as she dropped their bags at the door way and plopped down in a chair in the corner. “I think we were all a little busy.”

Clarion laughed and sat up on her elbows as she regarded the woman in the corner untying her shoes. “Don’t worry we’ll make up for it on New Years. Shityah!” They both laughed as Clarion made a face and broke into a large smile.

“Is that why we’re in a hotel?”

Clarion looked hurt for a split second. “You no like?”

Dark hair swung freely as Yoshi shook her head. “How could I not love this view.” At that she stood up and opened the French doors that led to the balcony. Clarion watched in appreciation as the woman strode to the balcony and leaned down on the railing. Yoshi didn’t bother to turn as she heard Clarion get up from the bed. Small arms wrapped around her waist from behind and gave the tall woman a gentle squeeze. Yoshi smiled contently and rubbed the arms about her waist. “This is one fine city you have here my dear.”

Clarion chuckled as she released Yoshi and stood at her side. Both women were silent for a moment as they took in Bourbon street as dawn woke its denizens. Clarion placed her hand on Yoshi’s and tugged the woman away from the balcony. “C’mon Samurai, we need to rest.”

Yoshi allowed herself to be led away as she arched a brow. “And why is that?” The dark woman could tell by the way Clarion tossed her head that she was smiling devilishly.

“It’s four days till the start of the millennium, we missed Christmas, and Mardi Gras is three months away…we’ve got a lot to get done.”

Yoshi sat down on the edge of the bed with a laugh as she watched Clarion remove her clothes. “Should I be armed.” She asked with innocence.

Clarion’s sweet laughter filled the room. The small woman, clad in boxer shorts and a t-shirt straddled the still clothed Yoshi on the bed. She wrapped her arms around the dark woman’s neck and ducked her head to give her a kiss on the lips. She pulled away with nip to Yoshi’s nose. “You’re so cute you know that.” The dark woman growled which made Clarion laugh even more. “Even when you growl.” Yoshi let her stone face crease into a sly little grin that was rewarded with a kiss. “No, I’m afraid you won’t be needing weapons where we’re going. Arms up.” Yoshi raised her arms and let Clarion remove her shirt. The tall woman blushed as she saw Clarion’s eyes glaze over in want as she took in her breasts. Clarion shook her head and focused her attention on crisp blue eyes. “Woo! Anyway, oh yeah, no weapons…but you will need your dancing shoes.”

Blue eyes grew bright in delight. “More Salsa?”

Clarion shook her head slowly as she removed her own shirt. “Something even better.” Her voice hummed with seduction as she bent her head and began placing wet kisses along Yoshi’s collar bone, causing the tall woman to jump and hitch her breathing.

“B-better than salsa?” Yoshi bit back a moan.

Clarion’s lips smiled around the flesh of Yoshi’s shoulder. She lifted her head to meet Yoshi’s eyes. “We can practice right now.” Clarion traced Yoshi’s jaw and then slid her tongue across full lips that were slightly parted in anticipation.

“We can?” Yoshi’s voice cracked as a spasm of ecstasy shot through her groin. Clarion smirked as she buried her head in Yoshi’s neck and began a slow grind with her hips, keeping time with a rhythm that only she could hear. This time the moan made its presence known as Yoshi’s own hips began to match Clarion’s rhythm. Yoshi leaned back and braced herself on her arms as the small woman atop her buried small hands in her hair and attacked her ear lobes. As Clarion drew her attention to the other ear lobe Yoshi managed to find her voice. “You do this, unhh…on a dance floor?” Clarion groaned her hips harder into Yoshi’s as the tall woman felt herself falling backwards, on account of her arms being too shaky to support her. Clarion stilled her movement for a brief second as she straddled Yoshi’s denim clad thigh and brought her own leg up to meet the dark woman’s throbbing center. Yoshi could feel herself getting close to the edge all ready as the small woman on top of her continued her grinding rhythm. Yoshi let out a groan of pleasure as fingertips pulled at her nipples. “Oh God,” she panted “, I’m gonna…mmm…need lots of p-practice. Clarion laughed deeply as she captured Yoshi’s lips and began riding the woman beneath her in earnest. Yoshi did the only thing she could, as she gripped Clarion’s firm bottom and held on for dear life.

————

As Clarion began to stir form her sex-induced coma like state of sleep, she added a third way to her short list of best ways to wake up. Her ears picked up the rush of melodies floating in from the clubs and the lone musicians on the sidewalks. Her nostrils filled with aroma of Cajun spices and seafood from Desire only a quick stride away. But most fulfilling was the warm cocoon she had made of Yoshi’s body. Clarion’s body hummed with life as she nuzzled her head deep into the strong arms of the woman she was falling in love with.

Yoshi opened her eyes from her silent meditation as she felt Clarion move. Full lips pressed into Clarion’s temple before she spoke with a voice still husky from sleep. “Hey you.” Clarion smiled as she continued to burrow herself within the woman’s embrace, causing Yoshi to giggle from all the wiggling. “Can you breathe in there?” A nod of the head in response. Yoshi grinned. “Are we going to stay in bed all night, because I haven’t been here in ages and you’ve been making lots of promises.” Yoshi let her words drawl out as she drew lazy circles on Clarion’s bare back.

Finally, with a groan Clarion removed herself from the warmth of Yoshi’s arms and raised her head. She let out a huff of air and then stretched her arms above her head, garnering an audible pop when her back aligned. A satisfied smirk crossed her face as she let out a yawn and brought her arms back to her side. She smiled at Yoshi and then pulled the sheet up over her as she turned on her side. Yoshi couldn’t help but laugh at the sleepy antics of the red-head. The tall woman shifted in the bed as she spooned the smaller woman and gave her a squeeze. “C’mon lazy bones, I thought we had sights to see.”

“They’ll be there tomorrow.”

“Larieux.”

Clarion groaned. “Fine, fine…in an hour.”

Yoshi shook her head, gave Clarion a kiss on a cheek and left the bed. When Yoshi returned to the bedroom and hour later, Clarion’s small frame was spread eagle on the bed and the red-head held the most content of grins on her face. Yoshi just smiled as she propped her sword in the corner and walked to the bed. She called the woman’s name several times and even shook the bed in response. Finally, the tall woman clapped her hands together and strolled into the bathroom where she retrieved the ice bucket. “Guess I’ll show her some magic of my own.” Yoshi chuckled to herself and then shoved her hands deep into the melting ice until her hands were tinted with blue. She stood over the half naked woman and whispered her name once more, and still no movement other than a grunt. Yoshi shrugged an then simultaneously placed one hand on Clarion’s toned stomach and another on her chest right between her breast.

—-

Yoshi’s ears were still ringing almost a half and hour later when the two emerged from the hotel room and greeted Bourbon street. A still sleepy Clarion was walking a few steps ahead of the dark woman, who uncharacteristically was all smiles as they walked down the street. Yoshi widened her stride and caught up to the small woman as the crossed the street.

“You’re not mad…are you?” Soft blue eyes looked down at Clarion.

When they reached the other side of the street, Clarion stood on the curb and gave Yoshi a smoldering kiss as the early evening crowd passed by. She smiled to herself as she left the woozy woman standing in the street and walked jauntily into Desire. It took the dark woman a moment to pull herself together and realize that Clarion had disappeared into the restaurant. She blushed deeply at a woman who winked at her and hurried inside. She found the red head seated in the corner with two drinks all ready on the table. Yoshi was still florid as she took a seat across from the smirking woman.

“I take it you just need to eat, eh?” Clarion laughed out loud and blew the tall woman a kiss. Yoshi just smiled and looked down at the blue colored drink in front of her. “What might this be?” She raised a brow skeptically. “I was taught never to drink or eat things that don’t match the colors God created.”

Clarion grinned. “I thought you didn’t believe in God.”

“We may not be on a first name basis, but I’ve got my beliefs.”

“Oh yeah.” Clarion was sincerely intrigued as she sipped from her own drink. A warm smile spread across her face as she ingested the drink. “Ahh, it’s good to be home.”

Yoshi sniffed at her drink and decided it wasn’t fatally toxic and took a sip. A wisp of a smile crossed her face. “Not bad, Larieux, not bad at all.”

“See what happens when you trust me.”

“I’m learning.” Yoshi winked at the woman across from her. “So what’s on the agenda?”

“Well I’m gonna get you fed, then I’m going to get you crazy drunk, feed you some more, and we’re going to go and party the night away till morning comes.”

“I think I’m too old for partying all day.”

“How the hell old are you anyway.”

Yoshi squinted an eye as she looked up to the ceiling. “Um, eight-hundred and forty.”

Clarion whistled. “My sweet has been around the block a time or time, no?”

Yoshi shrugged. “Hey with age comes wisdom.” She took a drink as they shared knowing looks. “So, is this a stop on a cross country tour or what? You weren’t exactly forthcoming and I might need to get in touch with Colin.”

“I’d rather not discuss it now.”

A black brow raised. “Are you being watched or something?”

Clarion looked down at her drink and played with the straw. “I just don’t want you to get mad.” She spoke into the table.

Yoshi leaned forward and creased her brow in concern. “Why would I get mad?”

Clarion sighed as she sat back in the seat and ruffled her hair. “You know how we had that whole talk about lying and withholding information.” Yoshi nodded. “Well this isn’t lying, and it’s not really withholding information….it’s more like a need to know basis.” Clarion didn’t need to look at the woman to see the perplexed look on her face. “It’s not bad I swear, actually it’s phenomenally good, but there were things that I needed to know before…uh I mean look, I just needed to be sure.” Clarion shrugged and flopped her hands on the table as she looked up at the silent woman.

Yoshi let out a breath as she contemplated Clarion’s words and then took a sip of a drink just to calm her nerves. “You still think I’m trying to kill you?”

Clarion leaned forward with a jolt and grabbed Yoshi’s hand. “Oh god no!” She shook her head and blew out a breath. She smiled lovingly at the dark woman and kissed her hand. “Look, when I disappeared Stolova said something to me about being ‘special’ and I don’t mean in that I’m trying to get you in to bed kind of way.” She winked and the tall woman cracked a smile. “None of this is bad I promise, but he got me thinking about a lot of stuff. A lot about the things I’ve felt all my life and the things Mama D told me. Lots of confusing things are starting to make a lot of sense of well, as if I’m not being cryptic enough, let’s just say that two millennia of prophecy and wives tales are starting to have some merit.”

Yoshi squeezed the hand she was holding and pursed her lips. “So, this is good, right?”

“Yes, yes! In a few days all of this will make sense.”

“Is the sky going to open up on January 1st or something?”

“No, chér, I’m afraid we’re all still going to be here. But after a few hard days of unadulterated partying I’m taking you home with me and I think you’ll be able to help sort out this mess.”

Yoshi grinned. “You in fear of never being able to party again.”

Clarion released Yoshi’s hand with a laugh. “Oh heck no, woman. I got a few decades left in me and I plan to enjoy them all.” She smiled wide. “Whenever I come home I party like it’s 1999.” Clarion hummed the chorus to the song and then took a sip of her drink. “Anyway, can we just enjoy the next few days with no stress and no questions, not even what’s in my drink questions.” She winked at the woman across from her. She raised her drink. “So let’s eat drink and be merry….for tomorrow…we’ll wake up and do it all again.” Yoshi laughed and touched her glass to Clarion’s. The red head beamed. “Now let’s eat. Hoo yah!”

————–

“It’s called Zydeco!” Clarion had to yell into the tall woman’s ear over the music. Yoshi just nodded her head as she sat in her chair and watched the small red head dance. It wasn’t that she wasn’t willing to dance, in fact she already had, but she was too busy being mesmerized by Clarion dancing. Yoshi reclined back in her chair, lifting the two front legs off the floor as she anchored herself with one long leg. She knew she must have looked like a complete idiot, smiling from ear to ear as she sipped from whatever concoction of alcohol Clarion had brought her.

Eyelids heavy with want drooped low as Yoshi licked her lips and watched as Clarion resumed her dance with a local man. Yoshi didn’t know if she knew the guy or not, but it didn’t matter and there was no cause for jealousy on her part since it was clear that the redhead was putting on a show just for Yoshi. The music throbbed with the steady bass from the tuba but it sang with life as the trumpet and trombones worked magic. The percussion, which consisted of a snare drum, a washer board, and make shift maracas breathed a quick pace into the music. This was not music to sway to in some back corner, this was meant for movement and for sweat.

Yoshi felt a faint blush reach her cheeks as Clarion raised her arms over her head, lifting her breasts. She and the local continued to dance circles around one another moving in time to the music. Yoshi had to pull her eyes away from Clarion to pull herself together as she watched the other people on the dance floor. They were all sweaty and vibrant and none of them seemed like they were ready to sit down anytime soon. The crowd answered back as the singer shouted out to them in a call and answer. Yoshi couldn’t help, but smile at the warm sensation she felt course through her body. It had nothing to do with arousal or even desire for Clarion . . clearly her break was over.

—-

The rest of the week continued in the same hazy rush of heated dancing and welcomed laughter for both women. It culminated in leaning over a balcony howling and screaming along with the throng of people that flooded Bourbon Street for New Years’. Yoshi stood behind Clarion, arms wrapped around the small woman’s waist as they ushered in the new millennium. Amidst the wonderful chaos Yoshi took a quiet moment just to close her eyes and take in all that surrounded her. Clarion squeezed the arms around her as if she could read the dark woman’s thoughts. If she had, they would have been filled with her own image as Yoshi took time to thank whatever god existed for what she had. She didn’t know where the road would end, perhaps in death, or even in failure, but in this one moment where the whole of the world took time to celebrate its past, its present, and its future—there was no other person who could have been more satiated and more at ease than Yoshima Miakoda. She had witnessed a millennium come and go, and as she turned the red head around for a smoldering kiss, she quietly realized that it had all been for this….for her.

CH 3: ‘I Never did mind about the little things.’

The satiated smile that Yoshima Miakoda fell to sleep with was the same she wore the next morning, January 1, 2000. The world did not explode and she did not disintegrate nor did Clarion disappear. The woman in question was sprawled across her body wearing the same smirk of satisfaction. Yoshi gave Clarion a gentle squeeze as the urge to wake up became greater than sleeping. Clarion groaned and buried herself in the cover causing Yoshi to giggle as she wiggled down her body.

“Are we going to have go through this today?” The covers rippled. “I don’t understand the language of the comforter.” She got a slap to her midsection. “I understood that.” She mumbled. “Clarion, it’s uh..2:00 in the afternoon.” Yoshi was about to reach down and pull up the red-head, but it wasn’t necessary since the covers flew away from the bed as Clarion sat up straight.

“Holy shit!” She grabbed tufts of red hair and looked down at the woman she was straddling.

“Problem?”

Clarion whined and fell forward onto Yoshi’s chest, causing the woman to expel a breath of air. “I didn’t mean to sleep this late that’s all. Damn!”

“We have some place to be?”

Clarion sat up and stretched. “Yes we do and I wanted to make it before it rained.” Clarion sighed and removed herself from the bed.

Yoshi propped herself up in the bed on her elbows and admired the red-head’s shapely form as she walked to the bathroom. “That’s not until at least 5 or 6 I thought.”

“Yeah, but we got a drive.”

Yoshi clapped her hands together and sat up. “Ooh, where are going?”

Clarion just shook her head as we she started the shower. “You’re such a kid, you know that?” Her voice was playful and matched the comical grin that the dark woman was wearing.

“Only because you’re spoiling me.”

Clarion laughed as she stepped into the shower and then let out a yelp as she felt a hand on her shoulder. Green eyes widened in shock and then returned to normal as Yoshi winked and got in the shower. “Would you stop doing that?”

“Not my fault if you can’t hear.” Yoshi took a newly wet finger and stuck it in Clarion’s ear. “Maybe if you cleaned these out.” All Clarion could do was squirm since the shower stall didn’t provide her enough space to get away. She pushed back against Yoshi’s tall frame until the woman let go.

“If you don’t behave you have to get out.”

“I thought I was saving time.” Yoshi was trying to sound sincere, but she was lathering her hands up and trying to decided which part of Clarion she wanted to wash first.

Sensing the Samurai’s lusty thoughts Clarion turned the cold water hard to the right and stepped out of the spray so that it hit Yoshi full in the face. She turned it back to the left when she was satisfied the woman was exorcised of her demons. Clarion turned her back on Yoshi and started to soap up her towel, all the while humming to herself, silently daring the still slack jawed woman to say something.

She could only wear an expression of shock that became a look of dejection complete with pouty lips. A long arm reached over Clarion’s head as she grabbed the soap and she mumbled. “I was just trying to help.”

Clarion only smiled as she managed to hold in her laugh. “Just be a good girl and we can play later.” Clarion’s smile grew larger as the woman behind her huffed. Yoshi rolled her eyes and just as a pink tongue began to poke out from behind her lips Clarion spoke. “Stop rolling your eyes and put your tongue back in your mouth.”

Yoshi sucked her teeth and looked down at Clarion. “How the hell are you doing that? You got eyes in the back of your head?” Yoshi swirled a finger in Clarion’s short hair just to be sure.

“It’s magic.”

“Yeah right…or perhaps I’m just horribly predictable.” She sounded a little hurt.

“Don’t be so hard on yourself Yoshi, besides, I can see your reflection in the knobs.” Blue eyes tracked to the chrome faucet and saw her own eyes grow wide.

“I’ll show you reflections.” At that she took advantage of her height and lack of space as she cornered Clarion and tickled her senseless. Only when Clarion was sliding to the floor in side aching laughter did Yoshi stop. “Now, I say we play now…and if you’re a good girl,” she pointed a tapered finger down at he teary-eyed woman. “, we can play later.”

Clarion wanted to be mad or at least pouty, but she knew it was pointless so she held up her hand. “You drive a hard bargain lady, but I’ll accept.”

Yoshi barely let her finish the sentence as she pulled the smaller woman to her and proceeded to show Clarion the finer points of showering together.

————

Clarion knew they were going to get rained on, but she didn’t care. They had been driving for a half an hour and we’re a good 20 minutes away from the Parish just outside of Baton Rouge. Yoshi refrained from asking where they were going since she was more occupied with the scenery that blazed by them. Clarion pulled off the main road and pulled onto a gravel filled road. She looked over at Yoshi who was putting her shoes back on.

“Almost here.”

“So do I get to know where we are?” She drew her hair into a ponytail as she waited for Clarion to answer.

Clarion looked out of the window and smiled wistfully as she pulled the car to a stop under a bank of trees. “Home.” She said the word more for herself, but that was what it was. Yoshi felt it unnecessary to respond with words so just rubbed the back of her hand down Clarion’s cheek and grinned at her. Clarion kissed her knuckles and squeezed the hand. “Let’s go before I get all misty eyed.” She adjusted her cowboy hat and got out of the car. She stretched her arms out and let out an elated holler. She drew in a big breath of air and released it. “Damn I love it here.” She turned around to get her bag and saw Yoshi watching her with admiration and perhaps a hint of envy. Clarion could only smile as she felt a faint blush reach her cheeks. She just shrugged. “You ready to go Samurai?”

“Whenever you are?”

Yoshi shouldered both duffel bags and in her hand and carried the new canvas carrying case that Clarion insisted on buying her for her sword. “You want me to carry something? You look like you’re about to topple over.”

“Nah,” she grunted and adjusted the bags. “I’m trying to impress you.”

Clarion laughed and took the carrying case from Yoshi. “I’ll just help you here.”

Yohsi rolled her eyes and followed the smaller woman up the path. “Nice of you to take the heavy stuff.”

“Not a problem.”

Yoshi was searching for some biting comment to make, but as she followed Clarion up the gravel path, she became more and more intrigued by the scenery. The path itself was lined with Weeping Willows and Magnolia’s that were no doubt older than Clarion herself. The sweeping leaves of the Willows made for a lush entrance way that promised wonders if not mystery at what lay ahead down the road. Just as they were about to exit the canopy of trees and Yoshi was prepared to make some crack about ‘Welcome to Tara’ Clarion turned left and left the gravel path.

“Hey, fearless leader what’s the deal?”

Clarion slowed her walk and waited for Yoshi to join her, at which she removed one of the duffel bags and strapped it on her shoulder. “I said we were going home, not to The Big House.” She wiggled her eyebrows and started walking again. “Besides, that place is a death trap.”

Yoshi looked ahead of them and cleared her throat. “If the other place is a death trap, then is this the training ground?” Yoshi dropped the bag to the ground and scratched her head as she looked at the house a hundred yards away. It was one level and raised off the ground, which had probably served as an interesting little fortress for small children.

It had once been a startling white, but now was faded to a worn yellow and decaying with black in some places. The wood was beaten in the places where termites had not eaten through it, but the porch still remained. The steps leading to the porch looked shaky at best, but a well placed foot would surely collapse the entire structure. Yoshi watched Clarion drop the bags to the ground and wander up to the house as if being pulled along on a conveyer belt. Yoshi followed suit and stayed behind Clarion, never taking her eyes off the woman except to glance down at the canvas bag with her sword in it, wondering if she needed it. When Clarion stopped at the foot of the stairs and raised her hat so that it sat back on her head and exposed her brow, Yoshi came and stood beside her. Yoshi closed her eyes, less to mirror Clarion’s gesture and more to get her bearings straight. There was life in that house, but it none of it had less than four legs.

Yoshi was slightly hesitant as she reached out to put a hand on Clarion’s shoulder, but she became more confident as she saw no tension in Clarion. A warm hand rested on Clarion’s shoulder and the red-head turned to look at Yoshi. “You okay in there?” She asked quietly.

“Yep.” She pushed her hat back down. “Just looking.”

“I was going to ask, if we had to fix it up before we got in it.”

Clarion chuckled and turned away from the house. “No crazy. I just like to look at.”

“This was her house.”

Clarion smiled slyly and picked the bags back up as she gave one last glance to the house. “It still is.”

“Ooh, I’m shaking.” Yoshi smiled and picked up the bags as she followed Clarion.

The smaller woman smirked at Yoshi. “You can be smart all you want, sugar. But, this ain’t the city.”

Yoshi scoffed. She didn’t mean to sound condescending, but Clarion seemed to be pushing the spooky issue. “You trying to scare me Larieux? I remind you I’m nearly a thousand years old, I think I’ve seen and fought all the things you can dream up.”

Clarion stopped and turned towards the tall woman, hands on her hips, eyebrow arched to it’s highest altitude. She got as close to Yoshi as she could without stepping through her and craned her neck up. Yoshi looked down into green eyes and did her best not to let her grin get any larger. Clarion spoke softly, but firmly. “Yoshima, I am not suggesting that you are not privy to what exists down here. I am only saying that perhaps you forget yourself. Perhaps, you’ve forgotten about the things that go bump in the night.”

“Au contraire-

Clarion stopped Yoshi with a finger pressed to her lips. “Yoshi, you may indeed kill the monsters…but I believe in them.” Clarion didn’t let the silence hang too long between them before she removed her finger from Yoshi’s lips and placed a sweet kiss there. “Come on.”

Yoshi watched the small woman turn away and shivered less on account of Clarion’s words, but more at the eerie sensation that she was being watched. ‘I need a drink.’ She shook her head and started walking. “Hey, do I need to sleep with a garlic wreath tonight?”

Clarion laughed as she cut through the trees. “Not if you expect me to sleep with you.”

“That stuff works on you?” She asked the question with a smile.

Clarion laughed louder. “Not in the least, but it stinks to high heaven.”

“Yeah well, it keeps you healthy.” Yoshi grumbled and then laughed. “Hey are we going to get somewhere soon, cause these mosquitoes are eating me alive, and I don’t know if it’s my hearing or what, but the snakes down here are huge.”

Clarion smiled and started digging her foot into the ground. “Those aren’t snakes.” Yoshi scowled and groaned and then watched as Yoshi pulled up a strip of grass and then lifted a handle. She looked up at Yoshi and grinned. “Those are gators.” She winked and then disappeared down the hole she exposed.

With ginger steps Yoshi stepped towards the small hole and peered into it. “Clarion?” A small hand shot up and Yoshi jumped.

“Down here. Wait…let me…just.” With a grunt and a squeak, metal grinded against metal and heavy door was raised. “You can see now.”

Yoshi just nodded, as she saw the steps that led down. “What is it with you and being underground?”

“Lots more space down here. Be careful, it’s kind of damp and wet here. Basically we’re pretty much under water at this point, but nature and a little bit of science and technology has provided for a nice little cavern of sorts. Close that hatch behind you.”

Yoshi just shrugged as she entered the stairwell and closed the top. “Can I get some light here?”

“You mean your eyes don’t glow in the dark?”

“Ha ha. Just because I can’t see you doesn’t mean I can’t find you.” To prove her point, Yoshi reached out and pinched Clarion on her butt.

“Hey!” She laughed and then stopped walking as she came to a door. “Just a second, it’s kind of rusted.”

Yoshi could hear Clarion throwing herself into the door. “Want some help there little lady?”

“Sure thing.” She gasped out. Yoshi blindly moved past Clarion and gave the door a hard kick causing it to open. “I just knew you’d come in handy.”

Before Yoshi could ask about a light switch torches and lanterns seemed to blaze to life on their own. She dropped her bags as she took in the sight of the large room before her. “This is definitely more like it.” The room they were standing in was a large circle in design. When Yoshi took a step forward she could have sworn she was stepping into a tuft of down feathers, so plush was the carpet beneath her feet. The walls were covered in art, and where there was space the walls were filled with tapestries and Curios. For all intense purposes the room itself was a sitting room. A large coffee table was surrounded by a Recamier, a chaise, and two high-backed chairs that looked like they walked out of Louis XIV castle. Yoshi found herself walking up to a few of the paintings and squinting to read the signatures.

“They’re real.”

Yoshi flinched at the sound of Clarion’s voice breaking the quiet. “Never doubted it.” She turned towards Clarion. “You’ve been busy haven’t you.”

She shrugged. “Come on there’s plenty more.”

Yoshi nodded and followed. Each room was connected by one tunnel or another, seven all together. A bedroom or two, a kitchen, what appeared to be a sauna, a dining room, a large room that held an alter, and one that she they hadn’t entered yet. They found themselves back in the bedroom, where Yoshi collapsed onto the large bed.

“Did we walk a few miles?”

Clarion laughed and sat on the bed. “Not quite.”

Yoshi sat up. “So what about the last room?”

Clarion rubbed the back of her neck and focused on the end table by the bed. “How about we eat first.”

Her statement was hesitant and Yoshi raised an eyebrow as she looked at the woman who was clearly avoiding her. She decided to make light of the situation. “That’s where you keep the dead bodies?”

Clarion chuckled nervously and whispered to herself. “I wish.”

Yoshi’s expression became serious. “I heard that. Clarion what’s wrong?”

She sighed. “Nothing.”

Yoshi sighed as well. “Is this the conversation we didn’t have in Desire.” Clarion nodded and continued to look anywhere but at the woman next to her. “Hey, talk to me.” Yoshi gently used her hand to guide Clarion’s face in her direction. “What’s up?”

Clarion touched the hand and stood. “Well,” she clapped her hands and spoke louder. “, it’s not that bad. And in my defense, I really didn’t know…well not really, but, whatever.” She shook her hands and started pacing. “Things happened quickly and I’m not complaining…but I left out some stuff in explanation of my life and so on.”

Yoshi was listening to the red-head with intensity, but she was mostly just concentrating on breathing and keeping her face devoid of any emotion. “What did you leave out?” Her voice was even and controlled.

Clarion grimaced and dropped to her knees in front of Yoshi and took her hands. “It’s best if you see, um, I could explain, but you need to see.”

“You’re scaring me?”

“I’m scaring me and you know what,” she hopped up and clapped her hands together as her face warmed with a smile. “, It’s not that big of a deal. You’re going to have some questions and be a little miffed, but it’s not that bad, I’m just being crazy, and silly, and paranoid, and worried for no reason.” Yoshi could only nod as she tried to grin. “Up with you let’s go.”

Yoshi stood and looked down at the bag at her feet. “Do I need my sword?”

Clarion just chuckled and started to lead Yoshi from the room. “It’s best your unarmed, wouldn’t want you lashing out in anger.”

“Clarion?” She spoke through clenched teeth.

They walked down a tunnel until they stood before the doubled doored room. Clarion stood in front of the doors and held onto the knobs. She looked up at Yoshi’s furrowed brow and gave her a weak smile. “Promise me you’ll let me explain?”

Yoshi tousled her hair and blew out a breath in frustration that was bordering on anger. “Good grief Clarion, just open the door, this isn’t cute any more. I’m sure you’ve probably got the Hope Diamond in there or the Jesus scriptures or something, so just let me see.”

“Okay.” Clarion closed her eyes and opened the doors as she backed into the room.

Like all the other the rooms, this too was round. However, it was much cooler in this room and it was not carpeted nor were its walls filled with art. Instead its walls were covered with bookshelves. Yoshi’s immediate attention was drawn to the bookcases at her side and not the center of the room Some books were so old they know longer had spines, but the ones that did had archaic languages embossed on the worn leather. The entire room smelled of age and wisdom if possible. Yoshi did a quick spin and shrugged.

“Okay, you’ve got a great library. I see you’ve got some books I was looking for.” She winked. “But what’s the problem. So, you’ve probably got the complete set of Aramis books, maybe a dead sea scrolls. That looks like a book I had in school and,” she arched her brow as she focused on the large alter of marble in the middle of the room . “And you’ve got an arsenal. Hmm?” Yoshi stepped closer to the marble, unaware that Clarion stepped back to the door. “Nice swords. 12th century, 18th, even older.” She leaned down as she got closer and then drew in a breath. “These are Hunters swords?” It came out as a question and then she repeated the words as a statement. She reached a finger out and dragged it along the handle of one. “I knew this guy.”

Black hair whipped around as Yoshi looked for Clarion and found her behind her near the door. Her scowl was so deep her eyebrows almost touched. “Why do you have these? How do you have these?” She didn’t let Clarion answer as she stepped towards her. “What do you need to say?” Yoshi clenched and unclenched her fist and took a breath.

Clarion rubbed her hand down her face and walked towards the alter careful to avoid the rigid woman. “There’s more.” Yoshi could make no comment as she watched Clarion touch the side of the altar and pressed a button. There was the deep rumble of movement inside the marble as the top raised automatically. Yoshi couldn’t even speak as the large broad sword was revealed. She wasn’t sure if it was out of respect, fear, or plain disbelief that made her step back.

“That’s…that’s…holy shit!” Yoshi turned to Clarion for confirmation.

The head nodded solemnly as she bit her lip and then sighed. “It’s the sword of Magnus.”

Yoshi shut her eyes tightly and took three deep breaths. She focused on the weapon and not Clarion, who stood to the right and off to the side. “That’s Magnus’s sword. That’s impossible Clarion, it doesn’t exist. It was destroyed in 80 A.D. when Magnus descended back into the sea from which he came. It does not exist.” Her tone was full of conviction that was more for herself than Clarion.

“It’s real.”

“Jesus. Explain. How, why.” She sighed and then held up her hand as she took a step back and retreated towards one of the bookcases. “Nevermind, a question.” She took Clarion’s silence as agreement. Blue eyes opened and she focused the ice chips at Clarion. “Was I looking for or were you looking for me?”

Clarion sighed and ran her hands through her hair. She gave Yoshi the faintest of smiles, but lost it when she was sure it would not be returned. “Technically, I was supposed to be looking for you. I stress technically. Technically, I’m supposed to be plotting and planning to get rid of Stolova or what have you, but I’ve been avoiding that for some time.”

Yoshi groaned and raised her hands like she was about to start yelling, but she blinked slowly and put her hands at her sides. “So, you’ve let us run around searching for needles in the haystacks for all this time and you’ve known all along how to kill to Stolova. You know he’s been looking for you, you know what the scrolls say. What don’t you know, huh? All this time, my god, I can’t believe you.”

“Yoshi, it’s not like that. It’s not! Would you stop fuming and look at me.” Yoshi folded her arms across her chest and stood still as she focused on Clarion. “Yes, I’ve known how to kill Stolova. I practically came with an instruction when I was born. When I say that technically I was supposed to be looking for you that’s a half truth. I wasn’t looking for you specifically, but just a certain hunter. Those scrolls are cryptic and convoluted. So when I say I didn’t know, I didn’t, but when I started to think about it, I had to be sure. Shit, I couldn’t just tell you. You tried separate my head from my body when you found out I was Vamp. You saying if I would have just walked up to you, and said, hey man I’m the Daywalker and I need your help to kill the Master, you would been all like ‘oh okay sure let me get my bag.” Yoshi made no comment.

Clarion sighed and stepped towards the woman. When she made no gesture to move, Clarion stepped a bit closer. “Point is, I’ve been trying to avoid all this because I still really don’t understand it all. There’s so much that I’m unsure about and I just took the path of avoidance than facing it. It’s selfish it’s stupid, but I figured you guys were smart enough to find a way to kill or stop Stolova without my help.”

“Clarion,” Yoshi’s tone was softer. “Stolova is the most powerful of all Masters. Even if we are able to stop him this time, he will rise again in a hundred years or so. By then, no Hunters may exist. This just isn’t about getting rid of Stolova, this about replenishing the council, setting things right. You have no right to take that away from any of us, because you’re scared.” Clarion hung in head in remorse. Yoshi reached out her hand as if to run it through her hair but then pulled back with a small groan. “Clarion?” She paused and Clarion raised her head. “Uh, I love you.”

Green eyes grew big as saucers and Clarion let out a sound that was as much a laugh as it was a gasp. “Wh-what!”

Yoshi nodded, but still wore a small frown. “I love you.” She was serious and sincere. But she said it as if she was saying the sky is blue. There was emotion behind it but perhaps it was clouded by the fact that she was trying not to be angry even in the wake of this admission.

Clarion was just mortified with glee. Words she’d been afraid to say herself, spilled from Yoshi’s lips like she was cracking her knuckles. “What did you just say?”

“Yea, but I need to take a walk.” Yoshi turned to the door.

“Whoa! You tell me you love me and then you need to go take a walk?!” Clarion cleared her throat, fearful she would squeal.

“I, I can’t talk to you right now, I mean I can, but, I just want to clear my head you know.”

“Okay.” Clarion’s voice was filled with question, but she was still too dazed to be worried. “Um, should I go?”

Yoshi turned to Clarion looked at her. “I’ll find my way. I’ll come back, but I just need to work out some kinks, you know.”

Clarion smiled loosely. “I know.”

“Yoshi, I am so ö

Yoshi covered Clarion’s lips with her hand. “I’m trying to be mad right now, so don’t say that or I’ll just forgive you without thinking.” She held her hand on her lips for a moment and then removed her hand. “Where’s my blade.”

“It’s in the room, I’ll go, I’ll go.”

Yoshi couldn’t have stopped her even if she wanted to. They met each in the large sitting room. Yoshi standing with her hands in her pockets trying not to laugh as Clarion carefully approached holding the blade away from her body by the handle with two fingers. Clarion stopped in front of Yoshi and then after a moment of contemplation decided to hold the blade horizontally so she could hand the handle to Yoshi.

Yoshi took the blade and nodded, as she ducked her head under the strap so that the blade in its sheath rested on her back. She tightened the leather and let it go with a snap. Yoshi ran a hand through her hair and looked at doe-eyed Clarion. ‘You’re going to get me killed aren’t you?’ “When I come back I want an entire history lesson, you got it.” Clarion nodded. “I mean complete and unabridged.”

“Got it.” Yoshi started to move and then Clarion stopped her with a shout. “Wait, wait.” Yoshi turned to Clarion as she moved to one of the curios and grabbed something off the shelf. “Here take this with you.”

Yoshi looked oddly at the little hemp-woven pouch that fit neatly into the palm of her hand. “What is it?”

“Gris-Gris.”

“What, what?” She fingered the top like she was going to open it.

“Don’t open it whatever you do.”

“Why not?”

“Bad luck.”

“Clarion, I don’t believe in this stuff.”

“I know, but humor me.” She patted the woman on the shoulder and headed her towards the heavy door. “You get into trouble wave it around you in a circle and repeat the word ‘return’ until its safe.”

Yoshi rolled her eyes at the absurdity of it all. “Clarion, I happy you’re concerned but I think I can handle it.” She tweaked the red head’s nose.

Clarion smirked. “Yeah and I know you don’t believe me, but this isn’t D.C., you might find that some things don’t always stay dead when you kill them. And sometimes it takes more than a well placed strike to the heart to stop something. Yoshi, all jokes and indiscretions aside, I know you don’t believe in much, but down here it is that small amount of belief that is often tested.”

Yoshi let out a breath and managed a grin. “Okay, Clarion, I’ll take the uh, what’s this stuff?”

“Gris-Gris.”

“Yeah, gris-gris and I’ll keep my sword real handy. I’ll also try to be really quiet okay.”

“I know you think I’m nuts.”

“Larieux that’s the least of what I’m thinking right now.” Clarion grimaced. “Hey, if I’m not back in an hour…just wait longer.” Yoshi turned and headed down the hallway, smiling to herself as she heard Clarion call after her, “That’s not funny!”

Yoshi crawled out into the early evening air and felt a faint cold wind pass by her as she rose from the hole. She gave the perimeter a once over and shook off the butterflies in her stomach. “Buck up, Yoshi. Go beat up a tree for a while and this will all be better.” She reach behind her and snapped the clasp on her sheath. “All though I get the feeling I might beating something else tonight.” Yoshi sniffed at the warm air and smelled the impending rain as she tied the little pouch to her belt and tapped it. She smiled devilishly as she took off through the thick trees toward the swamp humming to herself and thinking, ‘Bring it on.’

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.

“Problem Hunter?”

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.

“Something wrong?”

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?”

“Sure.”

“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 onto?well 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.

CH 6: “…All this and more, Tonight, on 60 minutes.”

Colin was all breath when he blew through the door of ‘The Orchid.’ “Boys!” He bellowed with open arms to the two wide eyed young men behind the counter.

“Hey there Colin.” They both said in unison.

Colin walked up to the counter and blew out a breath as if he had been running. “What’s happening fine gentlemen?”

The newly pink-haired Nate shook his head at the smiling Colin. “Nothing much Colin, how’s things with you?”

“Well I’ll tell you there Nate my boy, not that damn good.” He looked at both boys.

“Do you want to speak with Gregor?” Tully leaned down on the counter as he spoke.

Colin entwined his fingers and shrugged. “Well boys if Gregor can help me then I’m all for it.” Nate just nodded as he went into the back to find Gregor.

Gregor emerged with Nate moments later and the four men stood in an understanding silence for a brief moment until Colin spoke.

“Okay guys I’m hoping one of you can help me out here.”

“Sure, what do you need Colin?” Gregor sat down on the stool and folded his arms across his chest.

“Well for starters boyle, I need to know where the fuck that amazon is.” He roughly ran a hand through his hair.

“Have some tea Colin and sit.” Nate pushed a small cup towards Colin.

He raised both brow mischievously. “Got anything to go in it?”

“Once a lush always a lush.” Gregor’s comment elicited laughter from the four. “So what’s up?”

Colin took a sip of the tea and made a face. “Don’t know how she drinks this shit.” He mumbled and then pushed the cup away. “Anyway, so what’s up. That’s precisely the question or maybe the answer and I know you guys are well aware.”

Tully grinned knowingly. “You mean how quiet it is?”

“No shit. It’s too fucking quiet. In fact it’s quiet everywhere.”

Gregor sat forward. “What do you mean?”

Colin sighed with nervous energy and shrugged out of his jacket. “I’m saying they’re fucking gone is what. Just gone, like vanished….all of them.” Three “whats?” rang out and Colin nodded. “I went home the other week just to check in and all the dens are empty. I mean like ghost towns. There’s one or two lowly stragglers, but all the lieutenants and all the big boys and such are gone. Everybody that matters has cleared out.”

“No foolin?”

“None. I called Hamish and he said the same. I Got in touch with Zibu in Soweto, Tristan in Australia…nothing. Same thing with all the others I could find. Something’s wrong.”

“Are you serious?” Gregor stood.

“Fucking shit yeah I’m serious. This is not good and I haven’t a clue what’s going on, so I was hoping our stoic warrior cum leader had an answer or two.”

Nate and Tully looked at one another. “She’s probably got no clue.” Nate replied.

“Am I to assume you talked to her?”

“Uh, yeah, yeah. She sent an email about two days ago wishing us happy new year and all that, didn’t say a thing.”

“So you know where she is?” Both boys shrugged. “You think you can find her?”

“Maybe. But she sent it from a library or something, um she’ll probably get back in touch though as soon as she realizes.”

“Shit.” Colin groaned and ruffled his hair. “Is she with Clarion?”

Nate answered. “Guess so, but she didn’t say.”

“Fuck me.” Colin huffed. “All right look here’s the deal, Gregor go through some of your books and see what you can find. You two,” he pointed at Nate and Tully. “, see if you can get in touch with her and find her. I got to get to her and fast.”

They all nodded. “We’re on it.” Nate replied.

“Okay.” Colin tapped his hands on the counter. “I’m going to go to her place for a day or so, so I’ll be there. After that, I’ll check in with you guys. Please, guys we got to get on this cause I can feel it…something ain’t right and whatever it is it’s bad.”

“You think they got Clarion?” Tully asked the unwanted question.

Colin sighed. “I hope the hell not, but if Yoshi is with her then you can bet they don’t have her… at least as long as she’s alive.” He paused less for dramatic effect and more for hoping he wasn’t willing something to happen. “Look, I know she’s still alive, that I know for sure, but we need to find them both for all our goods.”

Gregor patted Colin on the shoulder. “We’ll find her don’t worry.”

Colin nodded and smiled. “All right boys,” he touched fists with the three of them “, let’s get this done.”

He left in the same rushed breeze of motion that he entered with leaving the three remaining men to their own private musings. None of them spoke a word as they each retreated to their respective corners of the store and began the search to find Yoshi and figure out what was going on.

——

Yoshi was calling out Clarion’s name as she dropped her sword in the bedroom. Yoshi leaned her tall frame into the dark openings and called Clarion’s name repeatedly. A moment before anxiety got the best of her Yoshi made her way to the kitchen and found the redhead. All though as Yoshi stood wide eyed in the archway, it seemed that Clarion had found her. A sly smile graced her features and green eyes were hooded in want, as Clarion stood in the middle of the kitchen in a silk purple robe that barely closed. Yoshi was doing her best to focus on the fact that she had come back in a frantic state, but her heart seemed to be pounding for a very different reason. The dark warrior could only swallow as she watched Clarion lick her lips.

“Hungry, Samurai?” The way she asked the question they both knew she wasn’t talking about food.

Yoshi blinked her eyes rapidly, open and closed her mouth, and shook her head in a desperate attempt to say something, but nothing came out. As if her feet were welded to the concrete, she could do nothing but stand with her arms braced against the archway, and watch as Clarion sauntered towards her. She looked to be carrying a handful of grapes, but blue eyes were holding fast to the flesh that was revealed as Clarion glided towards her. The length of the robe trailed behind her as Clarion grew near, giving a regal air to her person. Blue eyes followed the path of flesh up until she was locked in Clarion’s vermilion gaze. The red head came to a stop in front of Yoshi leaving barely an inch of space between their bodies.

“You have a nice walk?” Yoshi could only nod. “I was worried.” Clarion took hold of grape and bit down on it before letting the purple orb disappear behind white teeth. “I wanted to say that I was really sorry.”

Yoshi felt like her heart was going to explode and her insides were going to melt. She blinked rapidly and heard her voice crack as she tried to talk. She cleared her throat and began again. “I…I was getting that impression.”

Clarion let the small grin work its way onto her face as she watched the tall woman struggle. With a deliberate slowness she spoke, as she raised a grape to Yoshi’s full lips. “So, do you think,” with gentle pressure Yoshi’s lips parted to accept the grape and Clarion’s finger as well. “, we can kiss and make up?” Clarion removed her finger only after she felt the warmth of Yoshi’s tongue wrap around it.

The warrior swayed and blinked slowly as Clarion removed her finger. She swallowed hard before she sputtered out, “I think we can do that.” Clarion’s features rose as she smiled with lascivious intent. She raised up on her tiptoes to give Yoshi a kiss only to watch Yoshi take a step back. Clarion raised an eyebrow and Yoshi shook her head and held up her hands. “I- I, um yeah,” she shook her head as she gathered her thoughts and tried not to look at the smoldering green eyes of Clarion. “, kiss and make up is great.” She took another step back as Clarion began to take a step forward. “But…first we need to talk.”

Clarion smiled. “Fine we can talk and then make up.”

Yoshi nodded and then realized she was backing herself into a corner as Clarion moved towards her again. Yoshi shut her eyes tightly and fought the urge to just tear the flimsy robe from Clarion’s body and devour her on the floor. Finally, with strength she had long forgotten about, she placed her hands under Clarion’s armpits and lifted the woman off the floor as she walked into the kitchen with her. Clarion could only gasp at the sudden movement and what was excitement on her part turned to confusion as Yoshi put her down next to the stove and then proceeded to walk all the across the room back to the arch way.

Yoshi squeezed the bridge of her nose and sighed. “You just stay over there.”

Clarion managed to curtail the wide grin that was threatening to break across her face. She even tried to remove some of the seductive tone from her voice as she spoke. “I thought we were talking Yoshi.”

Blue eyes darted everywhere around the kitchen except on Clarion. “We are talking.”

“But you’re all the way over there.”

“I know, I know. Can you um, uh..” She trailed off and closed the gap between her Clarion as she took a moment to close her robe and then she retreated back to her side of the room.

Clarion didn’t hold back the smile this time. “You want me to put on some baggy pants or something.”

Yoshi smiled weakly and looked at Clarion sheepishly. “I doubt if that will help.”

Clarion chuckled. “Well at least you’re not mad.”

“I want to be mad.” Yoshi leaned back against the wall and shoved her hands in her pockets. “But I’m more curious than anything.”

“About what?” Clarion leaned down on the counter.”

Blue eyes rolled as Yoshi contemplated her answers. “For starters, I had a ten minute conversation with a dead woman.”

Clarion’s eyes went wide with glee as she clapped her hands together. “How is Mama D?”

Yoshi let out a sigh and mumbled, “Of course you’re not surprised.”

“Whenever I come home she always pops up, I would have thought she would just retired and go sit on a cloud somewhere.” She smiled. “So how is she?”

Yoshi shrugged and kept telling herself to go with the flow. “She’s great gave me some good advice and all that.”

“She’s always doing that. So, anyway what’s the big deal?” She wagged her finger at the Samurai. “It still amazes me that you get freaked out about this stuff, I mean I know you’ve probably seen a dragon or Warlocks and witches and things. Sometimes, I think you forget how old you are.”

Yoshi rubbed her back. “My body doesn’t all the time.”

Clarion arched a brow. “What did you do out there tonight?”

Yoshi seemed to perk up at the question as she moved away from the wall and walked towards the counter. “That’s what I want to talk to you about. What do you know about the Vampires around here?”

Clarion groaned. “Nothing I care to remember really.”

“Seriously.”

“I am being serious. I left here so I wouldn’t have to remember any of them and no matter how many times I come back I do my best to stay out of their way.” Clarion hopped onto the counter. “Why?”

“I ran into a couple tonight.”

“What!” Clarion raised her head with such a quickness that she banged it into the cabinet behind her. “Son of a bitch!”

Yoshi stifled her laugh when she knew Clarion was okay. “You all right?”

Clarion mumbled and hopped off the counter. “Yeah, yeah,” she said while rubbing the spot on her head, “but how bout we go somewhere where the walls won’t attack me.”

Yoshi stood up right and thrust her finger at Clarion. “No bedroom!”

Clarion put her hands on her hips and managed to glare at Yoshi instead of bursting into giggles. “Get your mind out of the gutter, I thought we were talking.”

Yoshi let out a relieved breath. “After you then.” Clarion nodded and walked out of the kitchen with such a sway, that Yoshi had to fan herself and concentrate on her walking. They made there way into the sitting room, where Clarion stretched out on the couch and Yoshi relaxed in cushy arm chair. She slumped down in the chair and her back thanked her for it, as she caught Clarion’s gaze. “All right Larieux, spill it.”

CH 7: “Not going anywhere for a while?”

Clarion made herself comfortable as she sat back on the throw pillows and rested her arm on the back of the sofa. “Where do you want me to start?” Clarion was trying to sound enthusiastic but this was not how she had planned to be spending time with Yoshi once she returned.

“I want to know about the sword, about Magnus, about the Vampires around here, why I went blind tonight, and mostly what kind of Vampires have zombies for friends.” Yoshi finished ticking off her list on her fingers and raised her eyes to see a wide eyed Clarion who was sitting on the edge of the couch.

“Please tell me that’s the script you just sent in for an episode of Buffy?”

A black eyebrow lifted at the absurdity of the question. “That show is so not realistic.” She was completely serious.

Clarion physically closed her gaping jaw with her hand and shook her head. She opened her mouth to say something and then shook her head again. “Okay, well that’s a conversation best left for naked time, so let’s just ignore that and attend to the seriousness of the issue.” Yoshi just nodded. “What do you mean you were blind?”

Yoshi sat up in the chair and leaned forward as she tugged at the laces of her boots. “Just that. One second, I was fine, my eyesight was perfect, and the next thing I know I wiping dust out of my eyes and then everything was gone.”

Clarion furrowed her brow and nibbled on her lip as she thought of her next question. “You mean the dust made everything blurry so you closed your eyes or your retinas detached?”

“The second one.”

Clarion huffed and tousled her hair. “You sure it was a Vampire?”

“Absolutely. I know a Vampire when I come in to contact with one and I’m not that easily fooled…” She clipped her words as she looked in Clarion’s direction and saw the redhead fighting a smirk. Yoshi started to stick out her bottom lip, but then realized that the action would probably cause Clarion to get all sappy and Yoshi was working on being focused and angered. “Anyway, I know it was a Vampire and he practically admitted it. So what are you thinking?”

“Ya’ see, Voodoo, Santeria, whatever you want to call it, it doesn’t mix well with Vampires.” Clarion crossed her legs underneath her. “It’s things like Voodoo that have been used to void off Vampires. Generally, it’s considered a curse for the dead to walk to earth especially when somebody causes it. Contrary to popular belief real Voodoo isn’t evil and amoral. It’s religion plain and simple…it’s faith. Take a heaping handful of Catholicism and mix it up with all the religious practices that the Slaves left Africa with and you have Voodoo. ”

Yoshi raised a skeptical eyebrow. “But Clarion, this is N’awlins.” She mimicked the woman’s accent perfectly, which elicited a grin from Clarion.

“True, true cher. But I’m just wondering what’s changed around here to allow for that to happen. Some things just are the way they are.”

“But you practice.”

“But I was human for the first 16 years of my life. I had no clue I was dead woman walking until it became painfully obvious.”

“But you still practiced.”

Green eyes met blue. “Because I had no want to become a monster.” They were silent for a moment as Clarion’s words hung thickly in the room. She patted her thighs and winked at Yoshi. “How about a drink?”

Yoshi nodded. “That probably wouldn’t be bad.” Clarion walked to a cabinet on the far side of the room and sat in front of it as she removed two snifters and bottle of Cognac. Yoshi eyed the bottle and grinned. “1827?”

Clarion chuckled and sat the bottle down on the coffee table that sat between the two arms chairs. She sat down in the other chair with a chuckle. “Nah, 1932. But it was still a good year.” A wicked grin cut across Clarion’s face and Yoshi just shook her head. “All right, so you said your Vampire had zombies with him?”

“That’s what they seemed to be and I had a time getting rid of them.”

“Did you use the gris-gris?” After a moment of swirling the snifter Yoshi grunted in the affirmative. Clarion held back her smile. “If it is a Vampire, he’s very good. When you couldn’t see did he say anything to you?”

“Uh, he just said something about seeing what I couldn’t and then the next thing I knew, it was dark.”

Clarion nodded. “What about when it came back?”

“He told me to believe what I wanted.”

Clarion tugged at her lip. “Whoever he is or whatever, he’s very good, very powerful. He’s practiced is what. Hmm.”

“What?” Yoshi turned in her chair and looked at Clarion’s profile as she contemplated her last statement.

“I just don’t remember anybody like that?”

“Perhaps a human that was turned?”

“Yeah that makes sense.” Clarion sipped at her drink. “Okay, okay, I can deal with this. All though my question to you is how did they find us so fast?”

“I’ve been thinking that for a while, but I didn’t get the feeling he knew about you or more over why I might be here. It seemed like a test, like he was sizing me up.” She stretched her legs out over the arm of the chair. “And that’s the other thing, the vamp I fought used a sword.”

Clarion didn’t flinch as she sipped casually from her glass. She sensed the question in Yoshi’s voice and turned towards her. “Is that unusual or something?”

Yoshi grinned. “Pretty rare these days. Hasn’t really been in practice for about two centuries.”

“Well, well. So, we’ve got Voodoo practicing Vampires, who have zombies for lackeys, and they are partial to traditional warfare.”

Yoshi shrugged. “Sounds like a fair synopsis.”

Clarion smiled. “Well good, cause that’s all I got pahtna’.”

Yoshi shared her smile. “So now that we’ve done the hard stuff, why don’t you tell me about the easy stuff.”

Clarion groaned and slouched in her chair. “Can’t we go get naked now?”

Yoshi refused to be baited by Clarion’s whining. She sat up in the chair and shook her head at Clarion. “That’s not working, you promised me the whole story, and I want to know about the blade.”

“What’s to know?”

“Larieux.” Yoshi glared at Clarion, causing the smaller woman to look away. “I’ll pout.”

Green eyes twinkled. “Will you really?”

“Never mind. Come on Clarion, tell me about Magnus’s sword.”

Clarion blew out a breath that lifted her bangs and refreshed her drink. “I’ll spare you the David Copperfield version because I haven’t got the patience nor do I remember all the details.”

“Just get on with it.” Yoshi flicked a droplet of Cognac at Clarion.

Green eyes bored into blue with an amused disbelief. “Hey that’s rare stuff.” Yoshi just rolled her eyes and stuck out her tongue. “Do that one more time and this information session will have to wait.” Yoshi held Clarion’s gaze for a moment until she conceded defeat with a slight bowing of her head.

Clarion ran both her hands through her hair and then picked up her glass. “Now I don’t know if you heard a different story about Magnus, but the one I heard is this huge epic about a full grown man being berthed by the sea.” Yoshi nodded. “So whatever, he makes this kick ass sword and lives his life only to one day have to face down the very first Master. The way it was explained in the text, when Magnus was created, it was with the purity of angels or some such crap. But in all things the opposite took place as well, thus Pilas was too created. Pilas was pure as well, but he was evil.”

Yoshi had stopped sipping from her glass and turned her full attention the woman next to her as she followed the words of the story like she had never heard them before. In truth, she knew the story inside and out, but as the words fell from Clarion’s lips, the dark woman found herself closing her eyes and watching the pictures that her words made play out before her.

“As the story goes, they battled for years away from each other, cutting apart each other’s legions until finally they had to fight each other. The battle they waged created valleys and cracked the continents and so forth in the way of epic storytelling. Regardless of all the that, it came down to two simultaneous blows. Blades that had clashed against one another and created sparks so bright that they illuminated the sky, plunged into torsos of both men. It was Pilas who first collapsed to the ground, dissolving into the earth. Magnus withdrew his own blade from his body, that had ripped through his chest and stared at the swirling pattern of blood that was his blood mixed with Pilas. Magnus only sighed at his possible fate of becoming like Pilas and wished for death as he walked to the waters edge. There he held his blade at his side and descended into the waters from which he came, letting it wash over him and swallow him whole. Supposedly Magnus never died, but he submitted his essence and body to waters and it is out of that water that every Hunter is formed in some way, shape, or form.”

Clarion finished her narrative and smiled with warmth and immense love for the woman at her side, who sat with her eyes closed. Clarion did not need to wonder at what Yoshi was imagining behind her eyes. With a smile she reached out towards Yoshi and pushed away wayward tendrils of blue-black hair that had no intention of staying behind her ear. Yoshi still kept her eyes closed as she leaned into Clarion’s touch and allowed her to caress her cheek. “You okay in there Samurai?”

Blue eyes opened and met Clarion’s gaze. She removed Clarion’s hand from her cheek after kissing the palm and held onto it as she answered. “You know if they would have told us the story like that in school I might not have failed those tests.”

The room filled with the warmth of Clarion’s laugh and Yoshi joined her. A squeeze to Yoshi’s hand caught her attention and she found herself caught in the vortex of Clarion’s heated green gaze. “Kiss me?” The statement came out as a question.

Yoshi gave her a lopsided grin. “Only if you finish the story.”

“I’ll give you the details.” Both women smiled and leaned over the arms of the chairs to meet each other in the middle. The pace at which they began the kiss could almost be considered hesitant, but it seemed that the women knew very well where it would lead to if they threw caution out of the window. It was Clarion that pulled away first, taking in that much needed breath of air. She stayed focused on hazy blue eyes as she traced a finger down Yoshi’s jaw. “You really do love me don’t you?” It was an odd thing to ask at the moment, but Clarion felt the need reassure herself.

Yoshi ducked her head in a moment of embarrassment, but she did managed to nod a the grinning redhead and hold her gaze once again. “I do.” She blinked slowly and looked down at their hands before the whisper of her voice broke the comfortable quiet. “D-Do–

Clarion finished her thought with a wide smile and a nod of her head a second before she leaned in and proceeded to show Yoshi what she couldn’t find the voice to say. It was only the betrayal of their lungs that prompted the women to part from one another.

Yoshi licked at her lips that still lingered with the taste of Clarion and Cognac. With a deep husk enveloping her normal alto she said, “can we do naked time now.”

Clarion nuzzled her nose against Yoshi’s cheek as she burst into laughter. Innocent blue eyes looked at the laughing Clarion. “I thought you wanted me to spill the beans?”

“Is the story going to change in hour or so?”

Clarion wiggled her eyebrows. “It hasn’t changed in hundred years or so, so I know it won’t.” Yoshi leaned in happily towards Clarion only to be stopped with a hand to her chest. “But!” Clarion removed her hand when it seemed Yoshi was going to stay put. “, If we don’t get through this I may never make it, so suck it up and I’ll try to make this fast.” With more thought than she cared to admit, Yoshi let her bottom lip poke out. Clarion just shook her head. “Put that lip away and just get comfy so I can finish this please.”

Yoshi frowned slightly and then held out her glass for a refill. “So tell me how you got the sword.”

Clarion chuckled as she thought on how she had ended up with the sword. “I was getting there.” She grinned at Yoshi and took a healthy swig out of her glass. “It’s really quite odd how I found this sword, or really how it found me, and I mean that. The first time I came across the sword was in 1814. I had hitched a ride on a boat leaving France headed to the New World.” Clarion wiggled her eyebrows mischievously. “Yes, I was stowed away, but that was only because my real reason for being on the ship was in the cargo hold. Some or Earl or Duke or whatever had a really nice collection of paintings and a few jewels that caught my eye when I saw them on his wife.” Green eyes glazed over at the memory. “I decided that I should have a matching set.”

Yoshi coughed. “She gave them to you I’m sure.”

“She just couldn’t bear for me to leave without having a little something of her.” She looked at Yoshi knowingly. “Anyway, I was in the hull looking at what I was going to take and I fell over this long wooden case. The case itself was probably worth a lot by itself and actually looked like it would make a good carrying case, so I opened it. As soon as I opened it, I slammed the case closed on account of how bright the blade was. I mean there was no sun for it too catch, but apparently this thing had been shined to a glaze. I eventually eased it back open and at the time I was getting into this weaponry kick so I figured I’d take it too. I touched the blade and lost fingerprints due to the searing heat it emitted.”

“Yes, I was scared out my mind and also doing my best not to howl out in pain at my singed flesh. I remember reading some of the etchings on the blade and while the words looked a little familiar I hadn’t translated enough of the Aramis books to know what they hell it said, so I closed the case back and decided to leave it be. Three months later, I’m out in California swindling some fat cat s.o.b. for his gold and come to find out he’s sitting on a shitload of literature, and not your classics of the day. I remember wondering for a brief moment if this guy wasn’t who I thought he was, but when I saw how the two tomes were wedged in between the dime stories and dirty letters, I figured this guy didn’t know what they hell he had. Needless to say, I took off with the gold and the two books.

“I hopped another boat across the Atlantic, and yes this time I paid.” She grinned at Yoshi and continued. “I did a lot of reading and that’s where I learned about Magnus and Pilas and all about the sword. Suddenly, I realized that the reason why the blade burned and all, was because it belonged to a Hunter. Unbeknownst to the gentlemen in question, I had befriended a couple of Hunters and we got into this animated and drunken conversation about Magnus and Hunters.” Blue eyes grew large. “Go ahead and ask?”

“Colin?” Clarion shook her head. “A guy named Hamish?”

“Nah. Actually some dude name Sergei.”

Yoshi nodded her head in understanding. “Ahh yes, Golgo. He didn’t last very long I’m afraid.”

“Yeah well, he had a tendency not to pay attention to his surroundings a lot and he was cocky.”

“That he was.”

“I went with him to Russia and lost him somewhere in Siberia.” She waved a hand through the air. “Two months later I’m standing in the grand ballroom of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, charming the pants of Alexander I, so I can go take a walk through the palace.” Clarion touched a hand to her chest as she spoke. “Now, I assure you I had no intention of stealing anything, because honestly, the corset I was wearing was too tight for me to even breathe let alone slide anything up under it.” Yoshi smiled and Clarion chuckled. “I wandered into what I thought was his library but it turned out to be this magnificent armory. I remembering being awed by all the swords and armor and weaponry, when my eye caught the impossibly bright glint of steel. The damn thing was in the middle of the room on a pedestal and it was absolutely magnificent. I forgot that this was Magnus’s sword and thought of it as just simply a masterpiece….that I had to have.”

Green eyes twinkled at the memory and Clarion just let out a small breath. “Needless to say, it took a little work, but security was nothing in those days and I had a few tricks up my sleeve, but I got the sword. I caught the next boat back to Louisiana dropped the thing off and it’s been sitting in the library ever since then.”

Yoshi ran a hand through her hair as the story settled. “So, when did you find out what its purpose was?”

Clarion shrugged. “Well the more I read, the more it became obvious, and yeah it became obvious to me that I personally figured into everything.”

Yoshi grimaced and then found her words. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but how come you didn’t do anything about it. I mean you knew what the sword meant and you knew what your role was, so why not stop the master before he got started.”

Clarion guffawed. “Now be honest Yoshi, but when’s the last time you put stock into anything you were taught in Athens?” The dark woman could only furrow her brow in lieu of an answer. “Yeah, that’s what I thought. But the difference is, at one point you cared and maybe that makes you better person than me, because you lost your way and all. But the truth is, I never gave a rat’s ass about all that prophecy and ritual crap.” Yoshi’s furrowed brow became a deep scowl as she regarded Clarion. Clarion nodded as she sensed Yoshi’s disapproval. “I know, I know I’m an asshole but I’ve worked for more than 200 hundred years to get this way.”

Clarion sat forward in her chair and locked eyes with Yoshi. “I’m not going to lie to you, I’m a thief Yoshi. Always have been, probably always will be in some respect. I’m selfish and yes I’m a big kid.” Yoshi couldn’t help but smirk as she remembered her conversation with Mama D. Clarion smiled, immediately knowing why Yoshi grinned. “I know she told you that and it’s true. I do not profess to be a saint and I have never had the desire to be one. I like what I do, I like what I’ve done with my life, and I’m not ashamed of a thing. A few regrets maybe, but for the most part I’ve done my best to enjoy my life and I won’t apologize for that.”

Yoshi eased the tension in her face. “I’m not asking you to.”

“Good, I’m glad.” Clarion gave Yoshi a small smile. “At the turn of the 20th century I was very well aware of how important I was or am. I threw myself into reading and research. I wanted to at least know the signs and know what to look out for, in case I needed to be prepared. Every time I felt like I was ready to make a breakthrough and go seek out whomever I was supposed to find, I got caught up with life.” Clarion raised her hands in the air and sighed wistfully. “I mean there were the twenties, and there was Harlem and there was Europe, the birth of jazz and the end of World War I. I was riding shotgun with gangsters and spending my nights listening to Bessie Smith.” Clarion shook her head lost in her own memories barely registering the wide smile of remembrance that was plastered on Yoshi’s face.

“I went back to living as a man and joined the war.” She only grinned as Yoshi arched a sculpted eyebrow. “I spent the fifties over-seas and thought I was going to have some down time and then before I knew it, it was 1961 and I was hitchhiking to the West Coast from the East Coast and back. I was insane back then and loving every minute. Before I knew it, flower power was gone, disco was dead, the ME era was over, and I still looked young enough to be considered a part of Generation-X. What can I say…saving the world slipped my mind.” Clarion gave Yoshi a weak smile, that became a larger one as the quiet woman leaned over the arm of her chair and kissed her forehead.

“I almost wished you would have found me sooner.”

Clarion’s breath hitched as the sentiment of Yoshi’s words pounded into her chest. She ran a small hand down Yoshi’s cheek. “Baby, I’m not going any where.”

Yoshi pressed her lips into Clarion’s palm and they sat quietly for a small while simply appreciating each other’s presence. It was Yoshi’s voice that broke the stillness. “Are you really willing to do this Clarion?”

Clarion combed her fingers through Yoshi’s hair and grinned. “Disregarding the fact that I no longer seem to have a choice in the matter, I’m not resigned to losing you over something I can possibly stop. At heart, it’s really quite selfish so I’m still being true to form.” She gave Yoshi a cheesy smile that made the dark woman laugh. “Seriously though, I’ve put this off and look where it’s gotten me. All though if you take into consideration that I’m hopelessly in love with an Amazon goddess who makes my toes curl up when she looks at me–I think I managed to luck out.”

Yoshi just laughed. Once she quieted, warm blues eyes met with grin that were beginning to darken with desire. “You think you can teach me how to be selfish?”

With a giggle Clarion left her seat and sat down in Yoshi’s lap. “Mon dour, selfish is my middle name.”

“I thought it was Giselle?”

“Oh yeah, but in between Giselle and Olathe is Selfish.” Clarion glowed with mirth. “You sure you can handle this Samurai?”

Clarion’s voice teased at Yoshi’s insides like it was her tongue. The tall woman stood up with Clarion in her arms. “Am I doing okay?” Clarion’s warm lips on her neck were answer enough. “Slow down there or I might not make it to the bed.”

“I could live with that.”

Yoshi chuckled as she walked down the corridor. “Can I ask you one favor?”

Clarion removed her lips from Yoshi’s neck and pursed her lips. “No I will not play farmer and the milk maid.”

Yoshi almost dropped her package as she laughed. “No, goober, I want to give Colin a call.”

Clarion sighed. “Must you always think of Colin when we’re about to do the naked tango?”

Yoshi made a sour face as she entered the bedroom. “I promise you I do my best not to think of Colin…seeing as how I’ve buried those memories some…” Yoshi was cut off by a swat to her shoulder.

“Eww, please don’t tell me you and Colin did the forbidden dance?”

Blue eyes looked to the ceiling and full lips creased into a grin “As long as you don’t ask then I won’t tell.”

Clarion squirmed in the strong arms that held her. “You don’t ever have to tell me that story.”

“So, you can seduce rich women and tell me about it, but I can’t talk about a friendly experience?”

Clarion covered her ears and waited until Yoshi stopped talking. “I just assume you were a virgin until you met me.”

Yoshi let out a healthy laugh as she dropped Clarion onto the bed a little harder than she intended. “I’m sorry, but uh, that was too funny. I hate to say this Larieux but you’re doing a lot of wishful thinking.”

Clarion stuck out her tongue at the smiling woman. “Perhaps, but I did mention that I was extremely selfish and that does extend to you.”

Yoshi leaned down onto the bed and gave Clarion a soft kiss. “How about you let me make this phone call and then we can take turns seeing who makes a better virgin.”

Clarion’s eyebrows raised high and green eyes burned anew with desire. “You got five minutes chick.”

Yoshi nipped at Clarion’s nose. “I’ll make it two minutes.”

“Is that enough time?” Clarion was genuinely curious.

Yoshi shrugged as she stood in the doorway. “Colin was always pretty quick.” She wiggled her eyebrows as Clarion collapsed onto the bed in a fit of laughter and then disappeared into the corridor in search of the phone.
Clarion had barely gotten comfortable under the covers when she heard Yoshi bellowing down the hallway. “Don’t you fucking get mad at me! How the hell was I supposed to know!” Clarion was out of the bed and down the tunnel towards the den in a matter of seconds. Her dark lover was all shadows and anger as she yelled into the cell phone. Without hesitation Clarion found a small opening in her wandering arms and snatched the phone from Yoshi’s hand.

She twirled away from the stunned Hunter and plopped down on the sofa. “Well hey there sugar, long time no hear from.” She was as chipper as morning sunshine.

Colin clipped off his rant when he realized who it was. “H-hey, hey! It’s the wee fireball, how are you girl?”

“Quite fine, but having trouble sleeping on account of all this yelling.” She stood up as she saw a still scowling Yoshi standing in front of her with her hands on her hips breathing hard. Clarion bit her lip to keep from laughing. “Oh you should see her Colin, she’s all huffy and puffy and red…and so cute!” She poked at Yoshi’s side, causing the taller woman to flinch and eventually smirk. Clarion found herself getting a little carried away as her jabs became caresses and both of them let out small growls. Colin cleared his throat. “Oh, sorry anyway.” She chuckled. “If I give her back the phone do you two think you could talk in a civilized manner.” They both grunted and Clarion handed the phone back to the grinning woman.

Yoshi allowed Clarion to push her down into a seat, where the red head proceeded to sit down in her lap. Yoshi wrapped her arm around Clarion and rested her hand on the firm thigh. “Okay Colin, we’re listening.” She adjusted the phone so that the speaker faced out between them.

Colin took a breath. “So like I was saying, they’re all gone, the lot of them, vanished.” His cadence was metered and clinical.

Yoshi mimicked his tone as she spoke. “I got that. Now who are they and what’s the problem?”

His voice was natural now. “Problem is that from the tips of Canada to the Great Barrier reef the Vampires are clearing out.” He didn’t wait for Yoshi to respond. “I’ve talked to Hamish, to Zibu, Chandler– all of them. Aside from a few scrappers, the dens are empty and they’re on the move.”

“What!” Clarion managed to get up before Yoshi displaced her as the tall woman shot out of the chair. Clarion had heard exactly what Colin said and had no clue what to say or do except wait and watch. “What the hell do you mean gone!”

“Like ghost.”

Yoshi sighed and ruffled her hair in desperation. “Okay, okay. Uh, uh…” Wide blue eyes met concerned green and Yoshi held out her hand. Clarion took the hand and they both sat down on the couch, not releasing their hands. “Tell me what you know.”

Colin laughed. “Not much of anything, really. I mean after you left, I figured Clarion had gotten away and you ran off to nurse your wounds, so I wasn’t worried. I went home just to say hello and places were deserted. It was unreal. It was like after the Exodus, only this time it was them cleared out.”

Yoshi sighed and pressed her fingertips into her temple. She readjusted the phone and then spoke. “Do we know how long?”

“No. I’ve got the boys working and Gregor and everybody else as well, but nobody’s really sure. All though, I’m one to believe that this has been happening for a while.”

“Out of the loop again are we?”

“Let’s be honest Yosh, we’ve been out of the loop for some time now, things are just coming to head.”

“I know, I know. What’s next?”

“Well, we all need to meet, but I know we couldn’t do that without locating you. Other than that, we need to figure out what we’re looking for. Do you think Clarion knows?”

Yoshi turned to Clarion and shrugged. “Ask her?”

Clarion took the phone in her free hand. “Talk to me.”

“Do you know any reason why the Vamps would gather?”

“All of them you say?”

“Uh-huh.”

“The only thing I ever read about involved me. I mean, I know there used to be festivals and gathering times of the year, but nothing specific.”

“Something about the millenium maybe? Some holidays we don’t know about?”

“Feast of Aramis is in March around All Souls Day. Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday and the Holy week thing leading into Easter.”

“This isn’t a gathering for the bunny hop.”

Clarion chuckled uneasily. “Um, I think it’s Jubilee though, maybe that.”

“Jubilee? Jubilee? Sounds familiar what is it?”

“Well my Catholicism is rusty, but I think this year is like the Jubilee year.”

“What’s it mean?”

“Man, I can’t remember the Ten Commandments that well, even considering I’ve broken them all, but I’m afraid I’ve no clue, but I can find out.”

“Do you think he’s found another way?”

“To become Master you mean?”

“Yeah.”

Clarion sighed and looked at Yoshi who was in deep thought. “I can’t imagine how or what he would need for it, all though I might have a way of finding out.”

“Good, good. We’re over here reading till our eyeballs start bleeding.” He chuckled. “Let me talk to my fearless leader.” His tone was light.

Yoshi’s voice was dry. “I’ll want you all here.”

“That’s cool, but look this line is crap and I’m on my way to the airport to get to Athens. Meeting Porthos in the library. I’ll call from the air and you tell me where you are and I’ll be there.”

Yoshi nodded. “Done. Blessings to you Hunter.”

Colin sighed. “Aye, so it’s come back down to that.”

“I fear the worst here.”

“As do I.” He paused and cleared his throat. “Blessings to you and yours and I pray that Khoikhoi kisses us all tonight.”

Yoshi hung up the phone and regripped Clarion’s hand as she laid her head down in the small woman’s lap. Clarion took her free hand and drew her fingers through the sable locks fanned out across her thighs. Yoshi took a deep breath and breathed in the woman she loved, the good and the bad, and surprisingly she felt warm and calm. “Clarion?” She whispered.

Clarion removed her fingers from Yoshi’s hair and made the woman sit up as she stood from the couch. “We won’t talk about it tonight.” As much as Clarion’s words were a command they were a request for trust. As much as Yoshi saw desire behind green eyes she saw the need to surrender in this moment. Normally she would have flogged herself into submission with searching for blame and strategizing, but as she took hold of the small hand held out to her, she knew that now was not the time. Once again, Yoshima found herself sloughing off her hard exterior in exchange for the warm cover of light that was Clarion.

CH 8: Dysfunctional families 101

Green eyes rimmed with an iridescent red, opened with a snap as Clarion awoke. She squeezed her eyes shut tight and opened them slowly as she slowed her breathing. She turned her head to the right slightly and came face to face with the relaxed features of Yoshi’s face. She couldn’t help but grin as she began to ease herself out of the Hunter’s embrace. With less lifting of Yoshi’s arm and more sliding on Clarion’s part, she managed to extract herself from beneath Yoshi without so much as a grunt of protest from the still slumbering woman. Clarion, wrapped in one of the sheets that had been torn from the bed in the heat of their frenzied love making, walked to the corner of the room. Upon which, she just stood, letting her eyes adjust to the dim light of burning candles and watched the rise and fall of Yoshi’s chest.

It was not a fluke of Clarion’s internal clock that awoke her or even some spastic nightmare, but it was an urge. It was not the urge of hunger pains or even the urge to relieve herself, but like several nights before it was an urge that she cursed. Clarion wrapped her arms about herself and squeezed as she let out a deep breath. She let her head loll back as she felt the familiar tingle in her teeth. Clarion was beginning to sweat as she fought hard not to grimace at the small cramps gathering in her stomach. She drew her eyes up and down the tall frame of Yoshi’s body and she felt her knees grow weak as she could hear her lover’s steady pulse fill her ears. Clarion bit back a growl of frustration and left the room in a flurry of motion. After a pit stop at the bar Clarion made her way through the tunnels to the shower.

The shower was actually a large room that served as a sauna when she turned on all the heads and let the tiled room fill with steam. When she had first put this place together the large shower room seemed practical because her home often served as a haven for wayward vampires, demons, and the other undesirables that often found themselves on the run. Clarion dropped the sheet onto a tiled bench and walked to the right wall where she turned on three of the shower heads. She stood under the spray of the middle one and braced her arms against the wall, as she let the near scalding water rush down her back. The redhead shook her head in disbelief and discomfort at her actions. She was confused by the messages her body was sending her–seeing how it was no where near time for her to feed. And in truth she knew it had nothing to do with feeding and everything to do with feasting. Clarion knew she had the tendency to be a dilettante, a spoiled brat, and even a hedonist, but unlike everything else in her life, she had never fed for pleasure.

The thought of draining the life out of a human just to watch the calm of death overtake their frantic eyes was repulsive to her. She had had her fill of the Vampires who thought themselves superior to humans and only looked to them as chattel. It wasn’t that they didn’t accept her into their world; she just wanted no part of it. She shook her head as she pushed back from the wall and let the heated water race down her upturned face. She rested her hands on her neck as she felt the urge began to subside. She was sure her eyes were back to normal and the tingle in her teeth was gone. She touched her tongue to her upper canines just to make sure that they had not lengthened. She let out a sigh as she smoothed back her hair. She was unsure of why she was having the urge to bite the Hunter, but the yen was becoming monstrous as the days went on.

At first it had just started as a small pinprick in her mind when they would wrap themselves around each other in a warm embrace meant for nothing other than comfort or even a hello. Clarion would stand on her tiptoes and bury her head in Yoshi’s neck causing the taller woman to giggle at the sensation of Clarion’s hair tickling her throat. As the days passed Clarion found herself drawn to Yoshi if only to hear her the strong rhythm of her heart. She could close her eyes and follow the flow of blood through the woman’s body. That was how she hunted. Latching on to the sound of a steady heartbeat and following it, only to stop the sound. But now Clarion often found herself wrestling her instincts when she and Yoshi were in the most intimate of embraces.

Earlier in the night, she had found herself straddling the prone form of her lover as she lay on her stomach, drawing her blunt nails up and down the sculpted expanse of Yoshi’s back, leaving paths in the sticky sweet sweat. Clarion stretched, molding herself to Yoshi’s back, brandishing the strong shoulders with her kisses. Neither one cared who started it first, but they easily matched the movement of their hips. Their fingers entwined as Yoshi clutched the remaining sheet and they moved together at a feverish pace as a shared climax began to overtake them both. And there, at the height of their orgasm, Clarion felt the pull–she felt the urge. The rapid beating of Yoshi’s jugular vein was all Clarion could see or hear. The vein itself was mere millimeters from her lips and it was all she could do not to give into the want to sink her teeth into the strong neck beneath her. When Clarion’s orgasm tore through her body she screamed not in elation to the release, but at the horror of her impulses. Clarion didn’t know if Yoshi understood her shivering as just being spent, but she feigned sleep anyway just to avoid Yoshi’s inevitable questions of concern.

Clarion held back the tears that wanted to come as she turned off the water and stood in the steam that had enveloped her. She dragged her small hands down her face and sighed. “Ugh, I need to see Razelle.” She spoke the words out loud.

“Is she the only person that can join this little party?”

Clarion jumped at the sound of Yoshi’s voice, but was all smiles when she turned to the very naked woman who had entered. “Trust me, Razelle is not invited.” Clarion chuckled. “I thought you were sleeping?”

Yoshi shrugged. “Soundly. And then I sensed this absence, woke up, and decided to limp around until I found you.” She wiggled her eyebrows. “You okay?”

Clarion nodded as she moved towards Yoshi. “I’m cool. I just wanted a steam, I think.” Clarion grinned. “And why are you limping?”

Yoshi smiled fully. “You shouldn’t have to ask, since it’s your fault.”

Clarion touched a hand to her chest. “Why little ol’ me.” She batted her eyelashes and both women laughed. “Hobble yourself over here and we’ll get some nice hot water on those legs.”

Yoshi gladly walked to Clarion’s outstretched hand. “I guess a massage is out of the question?” Clarion laughed as she turned on the shower and walked to the bench. “Hey, if you don’t care about the use of your legs then I’ll give you a massage.” Clarion raised her eyebrows suggestively.

Yoshi shook her head and laughed. “I think I may move to the other side of the room, it’s getting kind of dangerous over here.”

Clarion just smiled. “I’ll leave you be Samurai, we need some towels anyway.” Yoshi just nodded as Clarion turned and left the room. Clarion shook her head as she tried to erase the image of Yoshi’s tall bronzed frame underneath the spray of the shower head. One hand in her ink black hair and the other just at the base of her throat as she let the water sluice down her body. Any other time Clarion would have just thrown the taller woman to the floor and ravaged her right there, but at the rate she was going she was becoming afraid that deep in the throes of passion blue eyes would search her out and find a neon green-eyed fanged monster hovering over her. Clarion groaned and hoped a quick shot of Cognac and fixing a massive brunch would keep them occupied long enough to get them out of the house. It was going to be a long day and she could feel it.

————–

Yoshi kept her eyes shut tight as she emerged from the underground home. She fished for her sunglasses and only opened her eyes when the dark glasses were firmly in place. Clarion stood with her hands on her hips and a faint grin on her face as she watched the tall woman get herself together. “You sure you’re not a Vampire?” Yoshi looked up with raised eyebrows at the grinning red head and smiled.

“I’ve been in a hole for two days in the dark, I was beginning to forget what the outside world looked like.” Yoshi flailed her arms out as if she were a blind man searching for a wall. Clarion snorted in amusement and started walking towards the house to the car. “So where are we headed?” Yoshi caught up to the smaller woman in two quick strides.

Clarion looped her arm through Yoshi’s. “Going to see Razelle.”

“An old friend?”

Clarion shrugged as they reached the car. “When she wants to be.” Yoshi only raised her brow in comment, but she gave a pat to the dagger in the small of her back as she got in the car.

The comfortable silence of ten minutes that they had been driving in was broken as Clarion stopped the car at the gated entrance of graveyard. Yoshi sighed. “Do you all just like to live in mausoleums and crypts?”

Clarion giggled as they exited the car. “No.” She rolled her eyes playfully at Yoshi as they stepped through the wide bars of the gate. “Razelle lives in a house on the other side. I just felt like walking through here.” Green eyes regarded Yoshi seriously. “That okay?”

Yoshi stopped walking and regarded Clarion just as seriously with bowed her head. “I’m at your beck and call.”

Clarion’s cheeks rose in a smile as her face flushed red. She bumped Yoshi with her hip and grabbed the taller woman’s hand as they started walking. “Anyway, it’s beautiful here.” She swung out her free arm to encompass the landscape. Yoshi nodded. It was a beautiful graveyard. The high water levels of Louisiana prompted the majority of burials to be above ground, so the headstones and crypts were usually a testament to a person’s life. “We’ll have to go back to New Orleans and I’ll take you to the graveyards there.” Yoshi just nodded as she took in the angelic sculptures and polished columns that adorned several tombs.

They made their way through the graveyard at a leisurely pace with Clarion stopping every so often to point out interesting things. “That guy there…had no concept of hygiene.”

Yoshi laughed as she read the tombstone. “He was born in 1760 what do you expect.”

“A bath, god!” Both women laughed and kept walking. “Now she….she was a cutie.”

Yoshi gave Clarion a small growl as she read the tombstone. “Vallaria. Hmm.”

“What?”

“Isn’t that a disease…she was all deformed wasn’t she?”

Clarion chuckled and swatted Yoshi in the stomach. “She was not deformed.” Clarion sucked her teeth and arched an eyebrow as she stared at nothing in particular. “In fact, she was pretty well formed.” Clarion clicked her tongue against the roof of her mouth and smirked at the memory.

Yoshi removed her hand from Clarion’s as she regarded the still smirking red head. “You’re going to talk about some other woman and hold my hand?” As hurt as she sounded her voice held just the right hint of amusement.

Clarion stuck out her bottom lip slightly and turned big green eyes on the scowling woman. “Did I hurt your little feelings?” Clarion was about to finish teasing the taller woman when she found her lips captured between Yoshi’s forefinger and thumb. Green eyes were wide in surprise.

Yoshi glared at Clarion wickedly. “I’ll snatch them off.” Clarion tried to talk but she could barely pucker her lips. Yoshi gave in when she thought green eyes were about to tear up. “You gonna behave?” Clarion nodded and Yoshi released her lips.

Clarion licked her lips. “And that girl over there, man…she had breasts…oh wow!” Yoshi stopped and smiled as she watched Clarion weave her way past tombs. “And that guy. He was hung like an elephant.” Yoshi burst into laughter and Clarion stopped. “What?” She asked innocently.

“Why would you want to have sex with a guy that was hung like an elephant?”

Clarion shrugged. “It seemed like the thing to do.” She stuck out her tongue and Yoshi rumbled with laughter as she caught up to the smaller woman.

“Should I even ask what you’ve been doing for the last 200 years.”

Clarion rolled her eyes. “Oh you know,” she waved a hand through the air, “a little thievery, some debauchery…deflowering young virgins.” She wiggled her eyebrows.

Yoshi was all smiles. “So do I get a prize if I get to pick out one of your mysterious lovers?”

“I’ll give you a prize anyway.”

“Aww, but I wanted to guess.”

“C’mon you big baby.” Clarion held out her hand. “Besides, other than the one girl the rest are just some people I knew.”

“So the woman with the big breasts doesn’t exist.”

“I wouldn’t say that.”

Yoshi just shook her head as she caught a glimpse of the sly grin that Clarion wore. “Okay tour guide anything else of interest?”

“Yup.” Clarion made no attempt to say anything more until they walked a few feet and stopped. She looked down at the raised tombs. “Yoshima, meet my family.”

Blue eyes cut towards the woman to her side and then down at the tombs. “But those say nineteen ninety- She trailed off as Clarion nodded. “Are they the reason why you left here?” Yoshi drew her eyes across the six tombstones. Clarion sighed a bit as she squatted down, still holding onto Yoshi’s hand. She cleared a couple of weeds and ran her hand across the name on the tombstone in front of her. ‘Lucien Pough‘ She sighed and stood.

Yoshi understood that sometimes silence was the best comfort you could offer, so she remained so, only giving a light squeeze to Clarions small fingers. Clarion smiled weakly and regripped Yoshi’s larger hand so that their fingers overlap “Come on let’s walk.”

“You want to talk about it?” Clarion turned to look at Yoshi. “You don’t have to.” She added quickly.

“It’s okay and honestly you should know.” Blue eyes looked to green and asked the unspoken question. “I took my brother’s life.”

Yoshi didn’t flinch she only held to Clarion tighter. “Lucien?”

“Qui.”

“Why?”

“He told me to” was her glib answer. Yoshi couldn’t help raising her brow. Clarion smiled. “Yes there’s a better explanation. Don’t worry though, I’ve come to terms with his death…really I have.” She grinned. “It was the lesser of two evils and the greater good and all that crap, but I’m okay with it.”

The Hunter regarded her young lover with a serious eye, and could only find truth in her words. “What about the rest of them?”

Even without excellent hearing and keen eyesight, it was evident that Clarion tensed. Her back was to Yoshi as she answered but Yoshi did not need to see her face to know that she fought tears and anger. “There is nothing that can make that ache go away.”

Yoshi breathed deeply as she drew Clarion’s hand to her lips for a brief kiss. They remained silent as they exited the graveyard onto a small dirt road. Yoshi itched to know the rest of the story and she knew Clarion wanted to tell her, but since the business of the day was a welcome reprieve from painful memories–they moved on.

———-

The Hunter ducked her head as she entered the foyer of Razelle’s home, passing through the beaded curtain. Yoshi arched a brow at Clarion as they walked into the home and the smaller woman just shrugged. Yoshi’s obvious skepticism was plain as day and embedded in her features, but even Clarion couldn’t blame her. After all, Razelle’s home reminded her of every other stereotypical curio shop that touted of a prognosticator’s power–sucking in the tourist. Yoshi was about to make some comment about the kitsch tapestries hanging on the back wall when Clarion stopped walking.

“You have to stay here.” Yoshi’s response to Clarion was a raised eyebrow. Clarion rolled her eyes and gave the taller woman a kiss on the cheek. “I know what it looks like in here, but I promise you, Razelle is the real thing. And the real thing isn’t too partial to Hunters.”

Yoshi sucked her teeth silently. “What ever did I do?” She wasn’t serious about her question and Clarion knew it as well.

“Don’t be funny. Look, I’ll be back in about ten minutes or so. I just need some information and then we can leave, okay?” Yoshi nodded and put her hands in her pockets as she took in the provincial décor. “You behave.” Clarion wagged a finger at the dark woman, who was failing miserably at looking innocent. Clarion smiled fully and Yoshi shooed her off with a wave of a hand. The Hunter let out a quiet chuckle as Clarion blew her a kiss and disappeared around the corner.

Razelle was seated in her high backed chair smoking on a pipe like she had been waiting on Clarion for days. She was comfortable but she was clearly annoyed. Razelle was the epitome of a Creole woman. From far away she was fair enough to pass for white, but up close the flare of her nostrils and the fullness of her lips gave way to the African in her blood. She wore her sandy brown hair in dreadlocks that were concealed beneath the colorful scarf she wore on her head. Razelle cracked her knuckles with the flexing of her hand as she eyed Clarion.

“Larieux! To what do I owe the displeasure.” Her Cajun accent was heavy and almost indiscernible at times, but Clarion had dealt with the old woman for too long not to understand her. Clarion just nodded at the jab and took a seat at the small table. Razelle chuckled at the red heads gumption. “What ya’ want naw’?”

Clarion gave the old woman the sincerest smile she could muster. She would have loved to reach across the table and ring the old lady’s neck, but dealing with Razelle and women like her had a certain protocol that Clarion knew she had to adhere to. “I need your help Razelle.”

“Course you do?” She paused as she eyed the woman warily. “Maybe I no help you, demon.”

“Come now, Razelle. I’m no more a demon than you are witch.”

Razelle grinned and steeled her watery brown eyes. “I thought you was a witch.”

Clarion shrugged. “And fuzzy wuzzy was a woman, what’s your point?”

Razelle sat up straight and slapped her palm down on the table. “You g’wan make fun now? You can leave, demon, I got no time for your games.”

Clarion avoided eye contact with Razelle out of respect and held up her hands. “I apologize. Really, I do need your help.” She raised her eyes so that she met Razelle’s glare.

Razelle snorted and smoked on her pipe. “You trust the Hunter?”

Clarion couldn’t help but hesitate as the question surprised her. “W-well yeah.”

Razelle chuckled and leaned back in her chair, so that the front two legs raised off the floor. “You want to change your answer girl?”

Clarion wanted to roll her eyes, but she stifled the urge and just inhaled deeply. “I do trust her Razelle.”

“She trust you?”

Clarion sighed. This was not what she was here for, regardless of how legitimate the questions were, they could be dealt with later. However, she couldn’t help but answer honestly. “She trusts me enough.”

Razelle sat forward, obviously intrigued with Clarion’s candor. “It’s going to take more than ‘enough’ to get you through this.”

Blonde eyebrows reached for the ceiling. “What’s that supposed to mean?” Razelle just shrugged and grinned. Clarion leaned forward on the table, doing her best to curb her anger. “Razelle?”

The old woman laughed. “Oh calm down child. Is that the question you come here to ask?”

Clarion shook her head. “I’m beginning to wonder if it should be.”

Razelle waved a hand through the air. “I only answer one question. You so worried about who trust who, you need to take that up with the Hunter.” Clarion nodded. “So what’s it going to be?”

Clarion and Razelle eyed each other for a brief moment and Clarion let out a breath of air, knowing what her decision had to be, regardless of what she was contemplating. “I’m in need of some information.” Razelle nodded. “I won’t bore you with the background that I’m sure you’re aware of, but the point is I need to know, if there is another way for Stolov to become Master.”

“Do you think Stolov simply wants to become a Master?”

Clarion shrugged. “That’s why he needs me. As Master he is practically unstoppable and on top of that he could create a race at the blink of an eye.” Clarion took Razelle’s silence as a small conformation. “This is beyond becoming Master isn’t it?” Razelle nodded. “Can you tell me what I’m looking for?”

“It’s a book and no you don’t have it.”

Internally, Clarion leapt for joy but she kept her face impassive. “Where can I get it and what’s it for?”

“I don’t know what it says or what it’s called.” The woman stopped and Clarion waited for her to finish. When Razelle only bared what remained of her teeth in a crooked smile Clarion rolled her eyes. She chuckled. “Oh calm yourself, demon. How would you like that Hunter to come in here and see you all bright-eyed and snarling. Has she ever seen you?”

Clarion sucked her teeth and knew she should have just gotten up to leave, but she still needed information. “Once, sort of.” She mumbled.

Razelle cackled. “You ‘fraid she leave you no, when she see you for what you are.” Razelle wagged a crooked finger at Clarion and the red head seriously contemplated swatting it away.

Clarion sighed and calmed herself. “Razelle would you please tell me where to find the book, that’s all I ask.”

“Word of advice little girl, tell the truth. It’ll uh, set you free, so to speak.” Her face creased into a near toothless smile.

“Razelle, please.”

“I’m serious demon, you tell her the truth or she’ll die.”

Clarion pushed away from the table and stood. “Razelle I’ve no time for your half ass superstition and wives tales.”

Razelle thumped her fist on the table, causing the deck of tarot cards to shake. “Mon petit demon! This be no magic, fille! C’est la verite. This is the truth. You will find your book in the city near the theatre.” Clarion started to turn. “Wait!” Clarion turned reluctantly. “This is not a warning only what I see.” Clarion nodded. “Your past waits for you there and if it doesn’t kill her, then eventually what you will become will do the job. Don’t fight what it is you are, accept it, and she may live.”

Clarion just glared. “Merci, vieille femme, merci.” Thank you old woman, thank you.

* * *

CH 9: Fere Jacques, (fere jacques) Duerme vous, (Duerme vous)…..

Clarion entered the sitting room wearing what appeared to be the wait of the world on her shoulders. However, she was prompted to curve her downcast lips into a grin as she caught the tall warrior twirling her tanto like a baton. Clarion cleared her throat softly, jolting Yoshi. The Hunter bobbled the weapon but swift hands managed to keep the blade from falling on the floor, but not without a small nick to her finger. Yoshi hadn’t meant to hiss, but it was a reflex as she sheathed the long knife and put it in the waistband of her pants.

Clarion looked from the hand that Yoshi was putting in her pocket to the floor and then timidly met blue eyes. “You okay?” she asked quietly.

Yoshi nodded. “Yeah, sure. It’s nothing.”

” I’spose kissing it and making it feel better is out of the question.” Clarion managed to keep her tone light, even though her being filled with dread and guilt.

Yoshi just shrugged and held out her other hand to the redhead. She didn’t say a word as she tugged her out of the house. The walked along the street with Yoshi guiding them back the way the came up towards the cemetery. The silence was anything but comfortable, neither woman wanting to acknowledge what had passed between them. Even in all that they had said and done with one another and no matter how much both of them seemed willing to sacrifice for the other–a small chasm lay between them. The Hunter was growing angry at herself for the fear she felt. She knew she loved the woman at her side. She knew it and she felt it as sure as the near thousand year old blood coursing through her veins. However, it did not erase one small fact. In the end, they were still worlds apart. In the end she was still a Hunter and Clarion was still a Vampire.

It seemed as if they were going to walk all the way back to the car in silence until Clarion stopped. Yoshi stopped a moment later as their hands stretched between them. Dark hair swung about her shoulders as she turned around. Green eyes were rimmed with tears and without hesitation, Yoshi closed the gap between them drawing Clarion into a loose embrace. “Tell me.”

Clarion chuckled softly as she took a step back an wiped her eyes. “It’s silly really.” Green eyes met blue that were focused with concern. “Just something Razelle said to me.” Clarion answered the unasked questions. “She said if I didn’t tell you the truth you’d die.”

Yoshi couldn’t help but grin. “What haven’t you told me?”

Clarion gave a half shrug. “I thought I had divulged all the important and trivial information…except perhaps this.” She looked down and Yoshi followed her gaze.

Blue eyes rested on the raised letters of the tomb and nodded. “Lucien.” Clarion nodded. “Then tell me.”

Clarion held out her arm which Yoshi took and they continued walking. “You know of all the shitty things I’ve done, this was probably the most horrible, but still the most noble.” Understanding blue eyes caught green and Clarion started to talk..

“I had learned a long time ago that enrolling in highschool over and over was definitely a bad thing and not just because some of the teachers never left or the students for that matter,” she chuckled, “but it’s damn hard to fake aging.” She and the Hunter shared a knowing smile. Anyway, I was down in the parish, headed for the local highschool, not to enroll or anything, but they had the best library. The school was run by the Jesuits so they had all these neat books on medieval religion and what not. I would stroll in to school around lunch time, blending right in with the rest of the teenagers and while away the hours in the corner of the library. I did this for about a week until this curly headed boy stopped at the fountain and then followed me out to the parking lot. I was trying to shake him, but he kept waving and smiling at me with the goofiest look.” Clarion smiled at the memory.

“Finally I stopped and asked the kid what he wanted. It took everything I had not to laugh at him, because he was a bowl of stutters. I think it took him a full minute to say his name. I extended my hand and saved him the horror of being gentlemanly and asking my name. I winked at him, he just smiled, and before I knew it we were both laughing our heads off. We had this great conversation, that seemed one sided because I was doing most of the talking, but he had a gesture for everything. We met like that for a whole week and finally he asked me why he never saw me in class. For the first time in my life I was stumped for a lie, but he made up one for and suggested that I hadn’t quite enrolled seeing as how I was probably living on my own. I wanted to take offense, but then it made sense, so before I knew it, I bought into his story. In five minutes I concocted some story about how I was orphaned, and ran away from shelter and how I was living out in some shack in the bayou.”

“He bought it and those big grey eyes of his danced like he had found a new toy. About ten years later, he told me that he always suspected I just lied to appease him and at the time I couldn’t deny him, but I certainly didn’t tell him the whole truth.” She let out a light laugh. “God, Lucien was such an ass, but he had a nice ass.”

“I see, I see.” Yoshi let out a deep growl.

Clarion shook her head. “Nah, we settled that after that first week. Don’t get me wrong Lucien was a looker, hell all the boys were, with the light brown hair, light eyes, strong jaws, and full lips. A roll in the hay would have been great probably, but I knew I needed a friend more than anything…and I got a family instead.” The women stopped at the car and sat on the hood. “So, in 1983, I became a freshman…again. Ugh.” Green eyes rolled as if irritated, but Clarion smiled at the irony of it all.

“Was it that bad?”

Green eyes opened wide and Clarion shook her head as she giggled. “I take it you had the pleasure of avoiding highschool?”

Yoshi shrugged. “What was the point, life seemed to offer enough schooling.”

“That may be so Samurai, but until you steal the quarterback from the head cheerleader you haven’t lived. Of course, once you’ve stolen the head cheerleader from the captain of the basketball team, you’re flying high.” Clarion smirked devilishly.

“Larieux, you’re a cad you know that.” Yoshi gave the smaller woman a poke in the side.

“Perhaps, but cad is such an ugly word. I much rather prefer, to be called a connoisseur of women.” She waved her hand through the air and smiled. Both women laughed. “But you’ve got to admit– I’ve got good taste.”

A dark eyebrow arched. “Without being too vain, I must agree.”

They bumped shoulders and smiled. “Anyway, we went to highschool together, to college, and even grad school. I swore to his parents that I had a place to go, but they made me my own special room and everything. When we’d come home for the holidays I stayed there. It was amazing, we were this big family. Papa was Pough and mama was Mama. There was Marquis who was just as arrogant as his namesake, but he was a cutie. Renoir was hypersensitive. It was so bad it was funny. If you stepped on a twig he’d give us a lecture on how we ignored Mother Nature.” Her smile grew even larger as she continued to speak, almost oblivious to Yoshi’s presence.

“And Pierre. Oh Pierre. That was my boy. He was the baby and he milked it for all it was worth. God, he was adorable. Actually, he kind of reminds me of you.” A warm smile was Yoshi’s response to the smaller woman. “Thick black hair and these attentive eyes that were so grey they were almost silver.” She hummed quietly to herself. “He was beautiful and he went everywhere with me.” She paused for a moment and then began again. “I adored the boys and they worshipped me and I thought their parents were gods. I don’t know, I felt bad about it a lot, like I was leading them on, but it felt so good to be a part of a family again. Just felt good to know I had somewhere to go.” Clarion sighed and ruffled her hair. She turned to Yoshi. “How did you do it?”

The dark woman was surprised at the question. “Do what?”

“Be alone.”

Yoshi shrugged and looked at the shadow of her feet on the asphalt. “After a while it was what I wanted…what I needed…what I deserved.” Yoshi smiled at the small hand resting on her forearm and glanced up to meet the inviting warmth of Clarion’s eyes. “I used to brood a lot.” The Hunter’s dark comment made both women laugh.

“That’s something you’d never do now right?” The sarcasm in Clarion’s voice brought on another round of chuckles. “But yeah, it was eleven years of bliss. I mean we had our bad times, but in a family it’s okay, ya know. So anyway, about six years ago, me and Lucien were out and about. Drinking and acting crazy and casting little spells.” Clarion didn’t have to look at Yoshi to see the arched eyebrow. “At some point he got all into witchcraft and stuff after I showed his this neat trick of how to get rid of his stutters. He was pretty good too, he could do glamours and the little fire trick I showed you. Nothing major, but better than your average parlor tricks. Anyhow, we used to go to this clearing by one of the bogs that was about ten miles from the house. The road was crap and it was windy, but they were trying to pave it at a snails pace. He was driving only because he was slightly sober than I, but it probably wouldn’t have mattered even if we were both alert and hopped up on expresso.

“A big truck, a dip in the road, and no power steering were more than enough to send us over the embankment after we clipped a tree. I swear we rolled forever.” She shivered as a small chill ran through her body. “I don’t know how long I was out, but when I woke up I just wanted to pass back out. At first all I could make out was glass and blood. God there was so much blood. I focused myself and looked over to the driver seat. To this day, I have no idea how he was still breathing. I think the only thing holding his head on was the way the seat had jarred forward into the steering wheel. I just started sobbing because I thought he was dead and less at the fact that I was probably going to die. I was losing blood by the pint and I kind of hoped the car caught fire and just exploded before I bled out.

“I remember trying to move, just to assess what was wrong and heard him gurgle. Even in the dark of the car I could see his grey eyes cut towards me. I remember telling him to just take it easy and that I was right there for him. I didn’t want him to think he was going to die alone and you know what, he squeezed my hand as hard as he could and told me to “do it.” I had no idea what the hell he was talking about and I kept telling him to just be quiet. Finally, he said it to me again, and this time he added, ‘drink.’ I looked around like he was insane and then I met his eyes and it dawned on me what he was saying. I started to freak and he just grinned at me. I didn’t even have to ask how long he had know, because he whispered out ‘2 years’ before Icould even get my mind focused.

“I tried to argue with him, but he looked at me like he was going to strangle me if he had the strength. I told him I couldn’t take the risk of turning him into some monster, but he kept urging me. I remember saying to him that I wouldn’t take his life, no matter what, and he just looked at me with such hurt. He had never asked me for anything and he gave me everything without question. I convinced myself that it wasn’t about saving myself, but just putting him out of his misery.” Clarion sighed and cracked the bones in her neck. “I did it and I watched him expire. It was unreal to me then and for a long time after.” They sat quietly for a few moments until she continued.

“I got him out of the car and I torched it, so everyone would think I died in the fire. I said my goodbyes to him and ran off. I showed up for the funeral and hung in the background and watched them mourn us both. In all my life I had never felt so alone until right then, because I was the cause of everything. I left Louisiana and just sort of roamed for a couple of months until I got the urge to go home and get my stuff together. I knew I could never explain to the boys what happened, but that didn’t stop me from wanting to see them.” Clarion huffed and fought the tremble in her voice. “I don’t know why I walked up to the house, it wasn’t like I was going to go in, but I couldn’t seem to stop my feet. In hindsight, I could smell it.” Yoshi touched a hand to Clarion’s neck as an act of support. The redhead sighed. She closed her eyes to the memory that played like a film reel in her mind. “Maybe if we had lived in some mountain town I could have convinced myself that some wild animal had made its way to the house. Hell even broken out of the zoo, but this animal walked on two legs. God, it was like a feeding frenzy. Savage and rushed and frantic. It was a mess, just a mess.” Clarion’s voice hitched, but she didn’t cry.

“I just left.” She shrugged. “There was nothing I could do and I didn’t know what to do. Was I supposed to go and kill every vampire I knew? Should I have harassed all the vagrants and deviants? I didn’t know then and I don’t know now, but it seemed the only thing to do was leave and I did. That was six years ago and this is the only time I’ve been back.”

Yoshi continued to rub the smaller woman’s neck as they sat in silence. “We could go some place else.”

Watery green eyes looked at the dark woman and Clarion grinned. “Nah pahtna’, this is my home. The next time I leave it, if I leave it…will be on my terms. I’ve been running all my life for one reason or another and I think it’s high time I put my feet on the ground. Besides, I got good reason now.”

“Oh yeah,” the hunter smiled, “what’s that, saving the world?”

Clarion grinned. “You.” Clarion’s grin got wider as Yoshi’s cheeks filled with red. “Blushing becomes you.” Clarion laughed as Yoshi nervously looked at the ground. Clarion placed her hands on both sides of the dark woman’s face and turned her head so that they were face to face. She leaned in and gently kissed the Hunter.

“I’m supposed to say something here aren’t I?”

Clarion giggled and kissed the dark woman several times. “Actually I liked the perplexed look you get when you’re unsure of what to say.”

“Okay.”

Clarion burst into laughter as the taller woman made the face in question. “C’mon silly, we got work to do before the sun goes down.”

Yoshi allowed Clarion to get off the hood of the car and then pull her to her feet. Clarion tugged on her hand as she started for the car door only to be stopped as Yoshi pulled back. With the least amount of effort, Yoshi pulled the smaller woman to her and without warning or pretense silenced Clarion’s unasked question with a deep kiss. A weak kneed Clarion broke away a long moment later when she felt light headed. Yoshi’s strong arms held her up as she got her bearings. The red head shook her head and smiled as stood firmly. “You know something Samurai, you’ve certainly got a way with words.”

Yoshi shrugged and hit the smaller woman with an innocent lopsided smirk. “It’s in the handbook.”

Clarion burst into laughter and guided the taller woman to the car. “All right funny lady, we got shopping to do and a book to find before the sun goes down.”

Yoshi slid into the passenger seat and closed the door. “What happens when the sun goes down?”

Clarion started the car and put it in gear as she turned to the woman at her side. “Well Elmer, we’re going a’ huntin’…and it ain’t duck season or rabbit season.” They sped off down the road and the dark woman couldn’t hide the smirk that came to full lips out of habit.

CH 10: The Art of War

“I mean, I still don’t understand why we didn’t just get four laptops, heck maybe six.” The Hunter’s voice was heavy with sarcasm as she entered the library with her arms full. She smiled and Clarion rolled her eyes.

“Keep it up smartass. I just wanted the top of the line and those three were it….just be happy I paid for them.” She wiggled her eyebrows.

“I’m so proud.” She said dryly and then added, “honest.” The tall woman looked at the boxes scattered about the cement floor. “So what’s all this stuff for?”

Clarion nudged a box with her foot and looked at the small mess that had formed before them. “Well, once we find what we’re looking for, we may need help from the boys.”

Blue eyes cut to the red head as she stood in silence with a furrowed brow. “And..”, she prodded.

She drew in a short breath. “A book actually, not sure what kind, but I do have a clue where to find it.” She nibbled at her lip. “Of course that doesn’t mean it will be there.”

“Is it ever.” Yoshi mumbled the words. Clarion heard the whispered words and swatted the dark woman on the butt as she walked out of the library. White teeth were displayed as Yoshi grinned appreciatively at Clarion’s retreating frame. “Don’t try to distract me.”

Without missing a step and looking over her shoulder, Clarion responded as she walked to the bedroom. “Wouldn’t dream of it Samurai. Besides, we have to go see one-eyed Lou!” Green eyes danced with mirth as she let out a giggle and entered the bedroom.

The dark woman burst into laughter at the red heads antics as she followed. “One-eyed Lou, eh? Does he have a peg leg and silver teeth?”

“No, that’s Pirate Joe. One-eyed Lou is just a regular guy.”

Yoshi chuckled. “Yeah right. Larieux, nobody you know is ‘just a guy’, so what’s his deal. He lost his eye in the Crusades or something?” Yoshi asked her questions as she began to discard her clothing.

Clarion grinned as she exchanged her blue jeans for black chinos. “Nah, he lost it at Mardi Gras a few years back.”

Black eyebrows rose in curiosity. “Really?”

Clarion held in her laugh. “Yeah, really.” She was all smiles. “Do you know how fast those beads travel? Man, he got one right in the eye from some guy on a float.” She chuckled softly. “It was pretty funny.”

Yoshi frowned as she exchanged her tank top for a sports bra. “Where is the humor in a man losing an eye?”

Clarion couldn’t help but smile at the Hunter’s concern. “I’m not that callous, but trust me, when you meet him, it’ll all become clear.”

“Whatever.” Her shoulders rose with a shrug.

Yoshi slipped on a pair of black pants and bent over at the waist to tie the laces on her black workboots. She seemed oblivious to the Clarion, who sat down on the bed and watched as the dark woman transformed into the Hunter. Gone was the curious grin that always seemed to tickle the edges of her mouth. In its place was a mask of focus and ritual–Clarion watched as if bewitched.

What appeared to a lycra tank top, was actually made of a thin body armor that kept the Hunter cool when she overheated and warm when she was on the verge of freezing. A top this, she slid on a small vest that clipped together at her sternum and guarded her upper body. Clarion couldn’t help buy think that a few Vampires might like to get their hands on that piece of armor. Finally, the Hunter donned a simple cotton t-shirt that clung to her deltoids and did well to accentuate the cut of her biceps. The red head spoke not a word as green eyes followed the path of Yoshi’s hands as she strapped her tanto in to the small of her back and her knife to her hip.

Leather bracers covered the area from her wrist to a little more than a third of her forearm. Green eyes grew wide with excitement and fear, as the twitching of a muscle sent forth two silver spikes from the bracers. The spikes retreated without sound and Yoshi grabbed her long Trench coat from off the wall. The coat made a crisp snapping sound as the jet black material was whirled through the air, slipping her arms into the coat. Out of habit and ritual, the Hunter pulled out hair from inside the collar and smoothed down her lapels. Her movements were precise and practiced as she gave herself a once over without aid of a mirror and then turned around to retrieve her blade. As if taking in light, the pupils of her eyes dilated as she recognized Clarion’s presence in the room.

The dark woman gave the smaller woman a lopsided grin that Clarion was in no shape to return. The Hunter felt the faintest of blushes rising up her neck as the red-head gazed at her with no hint of shame. When Clarion sat there silent, Yoshi shifted from one foot to another and darted her eyes about the room for fear of meeting the wanton gaze of fair-skinned lover, and losing the focus that she had attained. Finally, Yoshi found a spot on the wall just to the right of Clarion and stared at it as she cleared her throat. “You okay in there?” Yoshi’s voice was like a low purr. She let out a cough as she realized what effect she was having on the smaller woman. “Larieux?”

A smile swept over the red head’s face as she sat up straight with a small shiver. “Yeah, yeah, I’m here.” She wet her lips and stood from the bed. “Just enjoying dress-up time.” She winked at the now grinning Hunter and reached across the bed to pick up the sword. Clarion was sure her heart stopped as the Hunter’s strong voice shook her body with the word, “No!”

At the sound of her own voice, Yoshi crossed in front of Clarion and picked up the blade in a blur of motion. The smaller woman wasn’t sure if she should be upset or simply scared, so she just backed up until the bed stopped her movement. She could feel blue eyes seeking her out, but Clarion cast her gaze elsewhere unsure again for the first time in so many weeks as to what the Hunter was about to do. Yoshi breathed deeply without a sound as she calmed herself, stilling the raging energy that flowed through her. She opened and closed her eyes slowly as she watched the woman before her look to the ground in order to avoid her. Yoshi wanted to kick herself at scaring the small woman, but it had been a reflex that was in their best interest. Her voice was just above a whisper, but the deep timbre of her voice carried to Clarion as if she were next to her ear.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to yell,” Clarion looked up at her instantly, clearly relieved. “It’s just that…this blade is very particular about who handles it. Kind of like a barometer of feelings, and I don’t want you to hurt yourself.” She managed a grin which the smaller woman returned.

“But why now?”, she asked with curiosity.

“You remember what happened with Magnus’s sword?” Clarion nodded, not even needing to conjure up the memory of the severe burn she got. “Exactly, but,” Yoshi tapped the red head on the nose, “if I give you permission you can handle it, okay?” Clarion smiled widely and drew the taller woman into an embrace. Yoshi just went with the actions of the younger woman, only being careful to avoid cutting her with the sword in her hand.

Clarion pulled away and brushed her lips against the Hunter’s. “C’mon let’s go.”

——–

Clarion followed the path of dark woman as they left One-eyed Lou’s. Clarion could only smile as she watched Yoshi’s broad shoulders shake with another round of laughter. Clarion met up with Yoshi at the car and just shook her head at the smiling woman. “So you agree with me right?”

Yoshi looked at Clarion and smiled. “He certainly is unique, but I was right…he’s definitely not just some guy.” Clarion shrugged. “In fact he seems to be suffering from a bit of lycanthropy.”

Clarion snorted. “Either that or he’s just one hairy son of a bitch.”

Both women laughed. “So what is he really?”

“Lou used to be a Guardian and now he’s a Watcher…unofficially.”

Yoshi furrowed her brow in thought. “Guardian? Guardian?”

“You ever heard of Edrigan?”

Understanding lifted Yoshi’s features. “Sure, Merlin’s creation, the beast and the man were one.”

Clarion nodded and lit a cigarette. She took a deep drag and exhaled thick smoke rings. “Man if only these things could kill me.” She winked at the scowling woman and continued talking. “Anyway, he had some weird fall out or accident and now he just sort of watches. He’s just your basic demon now. Not really good or really bad, just somewhere in between awaiting opportunity.”

“Hmm.”

Clarion arched an eyebrow at the woman. “What?”

She grinned. “Two hundred years ago, I would have killed him on the spot. A hundred, and I would have just beat him up. And now, now…I can’t even tell what the hell he is.” She shrugged.

Clarion eyed her with concern and tossed her cigarette. She stood between Yoshi’s legs as the taller woman leaned back onto the hood of the car. Clarion pushed the long coat aside as she wrapped her arms around Yoshi’s waist careful to avoid the dagger in the small of her back. “You second guessing yourself again Samurai?”

Yoshi let out a small chuckle as jade eyes bored into her own eyes, making her weak in the knees. “It was just a relapse, I promise.”

Clarion arched her eyebrow to comic proportions and gave the taller woman her own lopsided grin. “All right then, because you can’t be flaking out on me tonight.”

Yoshi smiled. “No flaking.” She leaned down a bit and kissed the red head on the forehead, the nose, and finally the lips. The gave each a small squeeze and moved apart. “So tell me about this Warlock book, so I’ll know what I’m looking for.”

Clarion chuckled as she picked up her still burning cigarette. “Still good.” she spoke to herself and then looked at the woman cloaked in black and her words finally registered. “Well, you don’t have to worry about what it looks like, we just need to get inside and I’ll take care of that.”

Yoshi folded her arms across her chest and stood to her full height. “We?”

Had Clarion been an inexperienced smoker or even fully human she might have choked on the amount of smoke she inhaled, but instead she only exhaled a plume of smoke. “You’ve lost your mind, if you thinking you’re walking into a den without me to pick up something you’ve never seen before nor can you read, so you should rethink this one.” Clarion’s voice was calm but was verging on being annoyed.

Yoshi sighed and took a step towards the simmering red head. “Larieux, would you let me do my job. There’s no need for us to both go down there and get hurt.”

Clarion spat out a laugh and flicked her cigarette to the ground. “So, it’s okay for you to go and get hurt?” She moved closer to the dark column of a woman and poked her in the chest. “You can’t do this without me and even if you could I wouldn’t let you. So get off your high horse or I’ll be forced to get nasty.”

Yoshi rolled her eyes and stifled the angry comment that she wanted to make. “Okay, Larieux, fine, you want this to be a two-man operation, show me what you got.”

The statement caught Clarion so off guard that she took a step back and regarded the slightly grinning woman with a confused look. “Wh-what, you want to fight or something?”

Yoshi chuckled and leaned back against the car. “No. I want you to explain to me why it is that you think you’re necessary for this part. I mean, all you need to do, is lead me to the den, give me the map, and wait for me.”

Green eyes drew to small slits as Clarion rested her hands on her hips. “You know Hunter, if I thought you’d feel it, I’d give you a mouth full of fist.” She huffed. “Of all the arrogant… and damn it, just plain chauvinistic things to say. I should wait. Ha! What do I look like, Scarlet fucking O’Hara?”

“I didn’t know Scarlet and O’Hara had a relationship.” Her face was blank as she spoke.

Clarion’s cheeks were almost as red as her hair. She let out a small growl and punched Yoshi in the arm out of frustration and amusement at herself. “You’re an ass Yoshi.” She rolled her eyes and stepped back as Yoshi shrugged and rubbed her arm. “Oh stop humoring me.”

Yoshi stopped rubbing her arm and regarded Clarion seriously. “Really now, I’d rather you not go,” she held up her hand as Clarion started to protest. “, because you’re too important in all this and I’m not running the risk of dropping you into a trap.” Blue eyes held fast to green in a moment of silence.

“I hear you Yoshi, but just trust that you will need me. You don’t know who or what’s down there and you’ve all but admitted that you don’t feel up to par, so I’m not running the risk of dropping you into a trap.” Clarion drew her the back of her hand across Yoshi’s cheek. “Besides, I can be of some help to you.”

Yoshi smiled and stood up straight. “Oh yeah. You got some cloves of garlic and wooden stakes in your back pocket?” Long arms reached for the pockets in question and the red head danced out of her reach.

Clarion giggled. “Who the hell decided that garlic was a Vampire deterrent? Garlic is only the staple of every good meal.” She scoffed. “Humans are so insensitive,” she added playfully and then retrieved a what looked like a compact from her pocket. “No wooden stakes, but I do have Gopher dust.” Clarion smiled like she had a secret.

“Gopher dust, huh?” Yoshi was far from convinced. Clarion opened the small case to reveal a heap of grayish-black powder and smiled harder. Yoshi had no idea how not to be sarcastic in the moment. “Uh, so you’re going to blow fairy dust in their eyes and I take them down in the commotion?”

Clarion’s proud smile turned into grin. She just nodded her head as the dark woman chuckled. She allowed the Hunter to get her chuckles, knowing she had the upper hand. “You finished Samurai?” She sucked her teeth and waited for Yoshi to gather herself. Clarion took a pinch of the powder in her hand and closed the case with her free hand and put it away. Green eyes, that held no mischief looked up at the grinning Hunter. “Give me your hand.” Clarion’s voice was calm and sweet without a hint of malevolence.

Yoshi eyed the smaller woman with suspicion. “You’re not going to spit in my hand are you?”

Clarion shook her head. “Your hand.” Her tone was still calm, if only slightly irritated.

Yoshi held out her hand, palm down hovering over Clarion’s hand. Clarion lifted her own her hand until their palms met and then she gripped Yoshi’s hand and Yoshi did the same. Clarion said nothing for a moment as Yoshi waited. “Well, you know, now that I think about it, this does feel like special dust. I mean this just isn’t sand from the ocean, oh no. It’s like super sand.” She smiled cheekily and Clarion continued to nod.

She turned their hands over three times and stopped when Yoshi’s hand was once again on top. She slowly pulled away making sure that she kept Yoshi’s attention with her eyes. Clarion clasped her hands behind her back and spoke matter of factly. “You know sand would probably be a lot better than that flesh-eating bacteria.”

Yoshi looked at her oddly and then followed the gaze of Clarion’s eyes to her hand. Yoshi slammed into the side of the car as she shook her hand wildly in an attempt to dislodge the microscopic creatures that were eating away at the flesh of her hand. Her movements were chaotic as she screamed in fear and what she thought was pain at seeing the bone of one of her fingers.

Clarion rocked back on her heels as she watched the Hunter shake out her hand hard enough to break her wrist. Finally, with the smuggest of looks Clarion spoke. “Something wrong with your hand puddin’?”

Blue eyes filled with fear, looked to Clarion. “M-m-m-my hand, fuck, my hand!” She was beyond panicked as her flesh disappeared.

“There’s nothing wrong with your hand.”

“Yes, my…” Yoshi trailed off as she looked to the hand in question and saw she could no more see the bone and muscles of her hand than she could see through walls. Disbelieving blue eyes darted from her hand to Clarion and back for several seconds. “My…but…I could see…what…holy crap.” She let out a sigh and finally looked up at the grinning red head, who was fighting hard not to burst into laughter. Yoshi hung her head in shame and mostly embarrassment. She cut her eyes toward Clarion and shrugged. “Do you want to rub it in now or later?”

Clarion let out a low snicker. “I was thinking…later.” She winked at the slouching woman. “You ready to go now?’

Yoshi stood up straight and nodded. “So, um uh, you want to tell me about the book we’re going to find.”

Clarion shook her head and opened the car door. “Just get in the car and I’ll tell you everything you need to know.” Clarion attempted to glare at the tall woman, but she ended up kissing the air in her direction and then getting into the car.

* * *

CH 11: ‘Smile Pretty and Watch Your Back.’

The soles of their shoes made no sound as the unlikely pair of Hunter and Vampire traversed the gravel road leading to the crumbled ruins of a church. Yoshi let out a snort as they crouched beside the dilapidated head of what was once a gargoyle. Her voice barely carried on the air, but she knew the red head at her side would pick up her words. “They do have a sense of humor don’t they.” Even in the dark, Clarion’s smile was blazing as she turned towards Yoshi and winked.

“I was taught to do the opposite of what was expected, and when Mama D said hide in plain sight I took it to heart.” Yoshi just nodded and followed Clarion as they edged their way forward and stepped through the ruined archway of the church. What remained of the altar covered the entrance to the crypt, with its fallen legs and broken body. Yoshima swept her coat tails back from her body as she squatted down next to Clarion. “Once we’re down it’ll just be getting from point A to point B. We might get lucky and it’ll be clear, but-

Yoshi nodded. “You just get the book and let me deal, okay.” She gave her shorter partner a small grin.

Clarion smiled as well and placed a quick kiss on the Hunter’s lips. “No showing off Samurai.” She wagged her finger at a barely grinning Yoshi.

“I’m not in any shape to showboat. In and out, trust me.” She took a breath of restlessness.

Clarion just nodded. “Ready?” As Yoshi nodded Clarion took a small breath and swung open the hatch with ease. Clarion shrugged her shoulders as if to say, ‘here goes nothing’ and dropped into the dark.

Just as the dark material of her coat cloak shrouded the Hunter, Yoshima draped Clarion with her presence. It was only breath that separated them as they walked in the dark. Yoshi held her drawn blade at her side ready for whatever might spring from the dark. She adjusted her eyes to gather the bare minimum of light there was in the tunnel and could sense nothing ahead of them. Of course this didn’t put her at ease, because most often, the walking dead did not give off energy. Their short walk came to a stop as Clarion stood before a sliver of light at her feet. There was no time for second guessing or hesitation as Clarion eased open the door and let the false light spill onto their forms.

If someone had been in their immediate area they would have made quite a picture. Clarion’s green eyes glowed fiercely iridescent as she summoned demon strength and stood poised to strike, with flaming red hair. Behind her, merely a shadow that stood more than six feet tall was a dark vision, with the only source of light glinting off the steel of a blade held high above her head ready to attack. Clarion calmed herself as she realized there was no immediate threat. When she turned towards Yoshi her eyes gave off no iridescent light.

“We got about a 200 yards to go. They’re here.” She sniffed the air. “I don’t know how many.”

Yoshi seemed to look past Clarion as regripped her blade. “About 12.” Her voice was low.

Clarion couldn’t stop the arching of her brow at the Hunter’s words. “You can tell?” She didn’t mean to sound surprised.

Yoshi barely shrugged. “They smell.”

A wisp of a smile reached Clarion’s lips. “And you say you’re out of practice.”

Yoshi only grinned as they continued forward side by side. Both Hunter and Vampire sensed the presence of another in the hallway, bringing them both to a quiet stop. “Qui marche mes couloir cette nuit? Who walks my halls this night?

Clarion stepped out into a small pool of amber light given off by a torch. “The devil I say.”

“Montrez-vous le demon!” Show yourself demon. His footsteps took him closer to her position but his eyes had yet to find her.

“I’m right behind you.” With the correct strain in her voice, her words echoed off the wall behind the man and caused him to turn away. Yoshi was more than impressed as she took the moment to stand in front of Clarion ,in plain view.

Fangs and nails had yet to show themselves when the steel of a blade, folded more than 200 times. sliced through the man’s chest. He fell onto his back with a thud and surely wished the ground could have swallowed him whole, as his position forced him to take in the sight of the Hunter standing above him. To him, her eyes seemed as coal black as the hair that surrounded her face. In the moment that he should have used to warn his brethren, he could only whisper words of damnation and disbelief. “To hell with you, Hunter.” His words were punctuated with the hissing sound his heart made as the sword pierced the organ. Yoshi removed her sword in the same quick motion that she had struck with and pressed a finger to her lips as if to quiet the dying vampire. Her crooked smile would be the last thing he saw and the last words he heard were, “you first.”

Clarion made no comment as she moved past the limp form on the ground and took the lead again. She stopped short 10 yards away at the next torch, half expecting Yoshi to collide into her, but she didn’t. “Um, Yoshi,” Clarion turned so that she was facing the taller woman, “do you think we could not kill everything we see.” Her tone was light and undemanding. Black eyebrows furrowed as Yoshi searched for words that made sense of her confusion. Clarion shook her head at her obvious bewilderment. “What I mean is… I mean… I’m not telling you how to do your job.” She grinned at Yoshi’s arched eyebrow. “Just saying, the less people that know we’re here, the better. You understand?”

Slowly but surely Yoshi’s eyebrow lowered and she nodded. “I see what you’re saying–okay.” She nodded again.

Clarion tried unsuccessfully not to look surprised. “You understand?”

A small grin played over full lips. “In and out right. Nice and quiet.”

Clarion smiled fully. “Exactly.” Both women nodded at their agreement and began walking through the cavern. The moved quietly towards the mouth of the tunnel that emptied out into the catacombs. Neither knew who heard it first, but it was as if their footfalls had tripped an imaginary wire and set off an alarm. The high pitched wail tore through the stone walls and rumbled their insides. It was the cry of a sentry who was alerting the others to a Hunter’s presence. Clarion and Yoshi turned to one another as they held their ears.

Yoshi couldn’t hide the smirk that came to her lips. “You were saying?”

Green eyes rolled. “Apparently, nothing.” Clarion reached for her back pocket and motioned for Yoshi to go forward. “Stay to the right and move fast.”

The dark hunter ignored her want to protest and did as Clarion asked; moving to the right and fast. She believed Clarion capable, and even if she wasn’t, Yoshi wasn’t about to go too far ahead. The wailing of the sentry died down as he and another advanced upon the two women. Yoshi checked her blindsides and pulled out her tanto so that her hands held both weapons. She continued to watch the slow advance of the sentries as she listened to the heavy footsteps around her of advancing vampires. She furrowed her brow as she watched Clarion fumble with the contraption in her pocket and nearly had to bite her tongue to keep from questioning the smaller woman’s tactics. Her worries were laid to rest as Clarion turned around so that she faced the advancing sentries. “Hope you guys are flame retardant.” As she muttered the words, a stream of fire exploded from her hand and burned a quick trail to the two sentries. A second stream shot out, aided by Clarions’s breath and soon the two sentries were engulfed in a wall of fire.

There was no time to admire the work, as Clarion quickly turned and urged Yoshi forward. “All the way down, take the steps at the end and keep moving until you can’t any longer.” The words came just as fast as their feet were carrying them. It was only a brief moment that carried them to the steps, but it was fueled by a rush of motion as wails grew louder and threatened to shake the core of the catacombs. It sounded as if an army had surrounded them and Yoshi was sure that nothing short of that awaited them at the bottom of the steps. If she had been hesitant before or skeptical of her abilities all was lost to her as more important matters pressed on her psyche: staying alive.

Yoshima barely heard Clarion call her name but the sound was lost in the ground swell of her feet and the snap of the air as her coat billowed out behind her and she leapt down the stairs. Green eyes were wild with anticipation and Clarion was filled with a rush of adrenaline that could only be best described as excitement, as she watched the shadow come to life. Whatever her words of warning had been moments before died on her lips just as easily as the steel of Yoshi’s blade sliced through her unworthy opponents. Clarion found herself frozen on the bottom step as she watched the dark warrior cut her way through the room that had no exits. It did not seem to matter to the Hunter that she could see no visible means of escape, but only that she cut down everything within her path.

A room that had been filled with stagnate air moments before was charged with life as Yoshi’s blade carved through the air. As solid as she appeared to be, her movements gave her the appearance of an oil slick. Her movements were precise and measured but not without flair. It was like watching a mad conductor as he beat out time to ‘Symphonie Fantastic’. The warrior herself made no sound, but the room was filled with the hiss of burning flesh, gasps of disbelief, and the howls of inevitable death. It was only when Yoshi remained standing that Clarion moved from her perch. The broken bodies of 10 were splayed across the floor in such a fashion that it seemed as though their had been three times as many. Black hair, heavy with moisture whipped around as Yoshi faced Clarion who still remained by the stairwell.

In the time it takes a human to blink, Clarion was fearful of what she would see when she looked the Hunter in the eye. Where she expected to see a wild beast, she saw nothing but calm. Where she expected to see feral pleasure, she found only soft concern. Where she expected to find hate–she could only discern love. Blue eyes held to green and the moment faded. “You got a way out of this one hot shot?” Her grin was small, but the words made Clarion laugh from her gut. The spell was broken and suddenly she remembered where she was and why.

“You know chick, I don’t know whether I should throw you to the floor and have my way with you or wait till we get outside.”

The small tension that Yoshi had left her as quickly as it came. “I’d prefer later…I gotta thing about public sex.”

Clarion laughed as she moved along the wall. “We’ll talk about that later.” Clarion placed her palm on a rise in the wall and pushed. A large rectangle fell away and she winked at Yoshi. “Shortcut.”

Clarion stepped through the hole and stood on the small landing facing Yoshi. “We need to make this fast, ya know.”

“After you, Larieux.” Clarion smiled as dark eyebrows wiggled and the Hunter that had always seemed so formidable became adorable. She let out a small chuckle. “What’s so funny?” Yoshi put her hands on the sides of the wall as if she was ready to step through.

Clarion gave her a half shrug. “I never thought I’d say this,” she paused and waved her hand through the air, “hell, I never thought I’d be in this position….but you are so cute right now.”

A black eyebrow reached for the sky as Yoshi emitted a soft growl. What probably should have been a menacing look, became nothing short of a sexy smirk as Yoshi regarded the deep green eyes of Clarion. Yoshi leaned forward just a bit so that their noses almost touched. “You know this is neither the time nor the place young lady.”

Clarion rolled her eyes and smiled. “I know, I know. But there’s something about all that black and the sword and that sweat!” She fanned herself. “Woo! I don’t know about you but I’m warm and fuzzy all over.”

Yoshi was trying to keep a straight face. “Warm and fuzzy, eh?” Clarion nodded vigorously. Yoshi was silent for a second as she drew her tongue across her top teeth in contemplation. “One kiss…and we’re gone.” Clarion’s face lit up like a six year old who had just been let loose in a toy store. The red head wasted no time, as she placed her small hands on the dark woman’s face and pulled her into a forceful kiss. It was the kind of kiss that didn’t necessarily have any love behind it, but it wasn’t missed on account of being fueled with raw energy.

Admittedly, the world seemed hazy to Yoshi, but not so that she didn’t sense movement behind her. A blonde eyebrow rose as they kiss ended, but Clarion didn’t take her eyes off Yoshi. “Um, Yosh…behind you.” A wisp of a smile came to the Hunter’s lips as she nodded and proceeded to bury her sword into the advancing Vampire without so much as a look in his direction. No air left his body as he slid of the sword and collapsed into a heap of ash. Clarion just shook her head and quickly nipped the Hunter’s nose. “We definitely gotta talk about public sex.” Both women laughed as Clarion disappeared into the wall with Yoshi right behind her.

The short drop deposited the two women into a wide hallway that was well lit with electricity. The two women moved as if they had done this a thousand times with one another. Clarion checked their blindsides, while Yoshi stood tall, staring down both ends of the hallway. Clarion took a small breath before she spoke. “The library’s off to the right, about 50 yards.”

Yoshi nodded without looking at Clarion and pulled out her dagger from the holster on her ankle. “Take this with you.” Green eyes were wide as Clarion held out a shaky hand. Yoshi couldn’t help but smile at the smaller woman’s hesitation. “It’s okay, I promise.”

Clarion grinned and grabbed the dagger. She squeezed the handle a few times just to get a could grip and test the fact that the handle wasn’t searing her flesh. “Where are you going to be?”

Blue eyes scanned the ceiling and the floors. “Waiting on the rest of them.”

Clarion groaned inwardly. “More?” Yoshi shrugged. “You don’t know?” She touched Yoshi’s arm, so the Hunter would look at her.

“Not yet, but this place is too large to just house ten suckheads.” Clarion groaned at Yoshi’s choice of words causing the dark woman to blush slightly. “Sorry.”

“It’s okay.” She waved a hand through the air. “You going to be okay?”

Blue eyes rolled. “I’ll live…but hey, I’m only one woman here–so make it fast.” She plucked Clarion lightly on the nose.

The red head smiled. “I’m on it.”

Before Clarion even reached the corner she heard the sound of metal slamming together. She very nearly turned around, but her purpose lay behind the doors in front of her. She visualized the book she was looking for and called up the image of the handwriting in her head. She knew she could waste no time searching the stacks. Clarion blew through the heavy wooden doors and went to the left where the stacks began. The top row ended just at her fingertips but that didn’t stop her from seeing, as she touched the spine of each book with her fingertips. Green eyes moved with blazing speed as she read through the titles. There seemed to be no real order, not even language let alone subject matter. She blew passed a Gaelic tome on the nature of dragons, wasted no time on Latin articles about the Apostles, and didn’t even flinch as she skimmed over Romany tales of Vampires. Clarion found herself bending at the waist to read the second to last row and suddenly she stopped. She couldn’t tell if it was the large hole in between two books that caught her attention or the smell. Whatever the case, it all fell to the way side as a disembodied voice filled the room.

“Looking for this?”

At his words, Clarion pulled out the dagger and swung around to face the speaker. His smile was bright, his teeth pearly and straight. His hair reached his shoulders and was just as bright as his smile. His skin was smooth and clear and appeared to have a hint of color. He could have been an angel or in Clarion’s hopes merely a ghost, but he was neither. Where his eyes should have been a soft gray, his sockets held two orbs colored chrome.

Clarion shook as if the ground was collapsing beneath her. She stumbled back as if shoved and only remained standing for fear of falling. The awful silence of the moment was shattered as the dagger spilled from Clarion’s hand and fell to the concrete floor. Her small hands flew to her mouth, lest she scream out in disbelief. The red head was speechless as her eyes rimmed with tears. She watched as his mouth formed words, but the sound never reached her ears. A dull hum of shock filled her ears and barely registered his words let alone Yoshi’s voice behind her.

“Clarion. Clarion?” Yoshi called from the hallway. “Larieux? You ready?” She came closer to the doorway. “Clarion…you hear me? We gotta go. Clarion?” It was only discipline that kept Yoshi from charging into the library. She took deliberate steps into the room with her sword at her side. While her heartbeat calmed at the sight of Clarion standing, she went to the attack as she saw the smiling man before her. She was at Clarion’s back as she raised her sword and made ready for the downswing. However she was halted by a familiar voice.

“No.” Clarion’s voice was quiet but firm. Without looking, she reached back and placed her hand on Yoshi’s wrist, effectively stopping her attack. “Leave him.”

All though the Hunter couldn’t see Clarion’s face, her tone offered no room for argument. Blue eyes steeled as she took in the form of the man across from her. She lowered her blade, but did not resheath the blade. Yoshi placed her hand on Clarion’s shoulder, but kept her eyes forward. “Clarion, we need to go.”

“I sure wish I had a camera for this kodak moment.” His words were crisp and his smile was eerily radiant.

Yoshi kept in her snarl. “Let’s get the book and go.” Clarion only nodded.

If possible his smile grew wider. “Hunter, I was just telling Clarion here that the book really can’t help you now.”

Both Yoshi and Clarion bristled at his words. “That’s for us to decide.” Yoshi’s voice was deep with rage.

The silver eyed man chuckled. “I was telling Claire here, how you guys are really out of time and there’s nothing you can do.”

Yoshi felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end as a bolt of recognition coursed through her body. “I know you don’t I?”

The man merely smiled. “Anyway, what I wanted to say to Claire, was thank you.” At his words, Clarion visibly left her stupor and stood up straight. He took a step forward and Yoshi began to raise her sword. It was only at Clarion’s raised hand that she stopped. The silver eyed man broke his gaze with the Hunter and locked eyes with Clarion. “Claire I just wanted say thank you, thank you.” He took a deep breath. “I know you feared this and I feared it too, but oh honey, it’s so much more. For a while there I was angry with you, ya know. Cause I couldn’t understand why you’d want to keep this from me, but in time I understood. But oh, Claire you were wrong. Pahtna, this isn’t bad…this is power. And you know that.” He wagged a finger at her in a chiding manner, but smiled to convey the playfullness of his statement.

Yoshi stood stock still and took everything in around her. Her mind churned to place this man and moreover to place him in Clarion’s life. It was with wild blue eyes that she watched him and did her best to listen.

“I was so scared at first, but things work out always in the end.” He drew in a breath of air and let out a chuckle. “Ya’ know I’ve never felt bad about going home after it all happened. I mean as a human I would have never dreamed it, but like this– it made perfect sense.” His eyes rolled to the ceiling and he smiled wistfully. Even though Yoshi couldn’t see Clarion’s face she could sense a change come over the small woman. The silver eyed man purposefully avoided Clarion’s eyes as he spoke, waiting for the right time to hammer home his point. “Claire, I can’t quite explain the feeling they gave me. It was odd, but it was exactly what I needed at the time. I was so scared and so in awe of what I had become that home seemed so right. And it was so right. Of course, it was sloppy, and messy by my standards now…but at the time the rush was what I was feeling.”

The Hunter’s eyes glazed over with hate as she understood what was being admitted. Here before her stood the life that Clarion took. Here before them both stood Lucien in all his glory. What was more, was that she realized what she was sure Clarion realized…it was Lucien that had killed the remaining members of her family. It was her own flesh and blood that had torn apart her dreams. It was only on instinct that Yoshi dropped her free hand to Clarion’s arm. Yoshi kept her attention focused on Clarion as she tried to drown out the man’s words. She pulled on Clarion’s arm, trying to pull her away and only met a wall of resistance. Clarion didn’t even budge as Yoshi tugged on her arm. The Hunter might as well have been pulling on a vault door. Clarion was like steel in her stance.

Clarion could feel Yoshi tugging on her arm, but she could only register his words. He had Lucien’s face and his beautiful smile and his body–but that was not Lucien that stood before her. Anger coursed through her at his words and she was helpless to stop the energy that pulsed through her being. She did nothing to stop the tingle in her teeth or to calm the power that surged through her. Glowing green eyes bored daggers into the silver eyed beast that stood before her. Lucien chuckled as he watched the change pass through Clarion.

“You can feel it can’t you Claire.” He was goading her.

“Clarion–please.” Yoshi’s words were soft and pleading.

The Hunter’s words seem to tap into the last bits of self-preservation that Clarion had and the Daywalker began to calm herself as best she could. Her visible fight only excited Lucien. “Stop fighting Clarion. Come on. Let me see you.”

Clarion snatched her arm away from Yoshi’s grasp and the Hunter was sure the red head was about to attack, but she was pleasantly surprised. Clarion kept her arms at her side and made no move to go anywhere. Lucien gave the barest hint of a frown. “You won’t win Claire. You two are out of time, it’s done.” At that he sucked his teeth and hurled the book into the air. The leather bound book sailed out of the doorway into the corridor where it skidded to a dark corner. Clarion didn’t even flinch. Lucien rolled his eyes once again. “Claire there’s so much more you can do than this. And you’re a fool if you believe what the Hunter says. She’ll kill you in the end….it’s law.” He mockingly drawled out the words

The room was quiet as both Yoshi and Lucien seemed to wait on Clarion’s answer. The response began as she took a small step back. and then she spoke. She spit on the ground and drew her eyes up to meet Lucien’s. “Die like the dog you’ve become. Lucien is dead…you’re just the thing in his place.” Lucien only snorted. “Yoshi, take his arms and his hands.” Her voice was heavy with ire but smooth in elocution. “Sever his head,” she paused, “and save his heart for last.” Clarion managed to make the minimal amount of contact with Yoshi as she passed by, but it was enough for the Hunter, who was rendered speechless by what had transpired.

Lucien chuckled and revealed the sword he held behind his back. “A Hunter taking orders from a Vampire. I say, what is the world coming to?” His eyes danced with glee as Clarion left the room.

Yoshi regripped the handle of her sword and grinned. “You’re never going to find out.”

Lucien chuckled genuinely and raised his sword. “Shall we?” His answer came not in the sound of the Hunter’s voice but in the sound of steel slicing through the air.

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 I‘ll 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.

CH 14: Balancing Acts

“I think we just set a Guinness record for the fastest computer set-up.” Colin’s comment garnered a chuckle from the red-head. “Hey, you got a DSL on this thing?” Clarion arched her eyebrow to the sky. Colin held up his hands as he was properly scolded. “Forgive me, forgive me.” He bowed his head and they both laughed.

Clarion looked right into the camera as she typed. “Hey you folks, wake up.’ “Call them on the phone.”

Colin hit the one-touch dialing on his cell phone and waited while he booted the other computers. “Wake the hell up you wankers!” He smiled at Clarion.

“Good grief man, what the hell time is it?” Gregor’s voice was deep with sleep.

“We’ll bull shit later. Get your ass to the computer and call the boys, we need everybody up.” He could hear Gregor connecting with random things in his bedroom as he rushed out of the bedroom into his dining room slash living room. “We got a chat room set up on a secure line.”

“I take it the “we’ is Yoshi.”

“And Clarion as well.” He looked to the redhead and then rattled off the address to Gregor.

“Hey, tell her to send an I.M. to Nate and he should hear it.”

Colin turned to Clarion who was smiling. “I got him all ready, he’s setting up his camera.”

“Ya’ hear that, G?”

“All right hang up, I’ll see you guys.”

The room hummed with energy as they waited in silence for the screens to come to life. In a matter of moments the 17″ flat screen was filled with two boxes. If it weren’t for the seriousness of the situation Colin and Clarion both would have been rolling on the floor with laughter at the images of the sleepy men.

“Hi ya Nate. Hey Tully.” Clarion was genuinely happy to see the two boys.

They said hello in unison. “You’re alive.” Nate rubbed sleep from his eyes. “I told you she was alive.”

Tully just shrugged. “Fool, I told you she was alive.” He rolled his eyes and waved to Clarion.

“Nice hair Nate. Is that purple?”

He ran a hand through his hair. “For a party.”

Clarion just nodded. “Can we dispense with the chit chat gang?” Colin grimaced.

Gregor added his sentiments. “Yeah, what’s up, it’s three in the morning?”

“Break out the coffee, because it’s going to be a long day.” Clarion moved out of the camera view to pick up the book. “I think we figured out what Stolov’s got up his sleeve.” She held up the book in question. “This is a Warlock book.”

“A what?” Nate asked.

“Don’t worry bout that right now, point is, we think Stolov is looking for a baby.” Wide eyes and incredulous “whats’ were her replies. “Exactly. Thing is we don’t exactly know what’s involved or anything.”

“So baby is our keyword, is what you’re saying?” Gregor spoke through a yawn.

“Precisely.” Clarion put the book down. “So here’s the plan– I want to fax you guys the pages and then we’re going to scan them in because I want to make a program.”

“How many languages is it in?” Gregor piped up.

“You’ve heard of these?” Colin said with amazement.

Gregor just nodded. “It’s my job.” Colin smiled.

“It’s in six.” There were audible groans all around. “I’m thinking we can do this by hand, but that’s going to take like six months and we don’t have that kind of time.”

“We got a program for Aramis.” Tully was all smiles.

Clarion snapped her fingers. “I was counting on that. But, the question is can you make another program.”

Nate sighed. “For six languages?”

“Nah, I’d give you specific words and sentences that we’re looking for. Is there a way to make it specific?”

The boys looked at each and silently contemplated the question. Nate nodded and Tully answered. “Sure, might take a little time, but it can be done.”

Clarion clapped her hands. “I figure with the three of us,” she gestured to herself, Colin and Gregor, “we can translate by hand, since we know the words a bit better. I’m guessing you guys can run the programs and try to develop another.” She watched as Nate disappeared from view. “Is he going to jump out of a window?”

Tully chuckled. “Nah, he’s just booting the other computer and getting the stuff in order. So, go ahead and send the pages and we’ll get to work. I’m telling you know, depending on the words and phrases it may take a little time. How many pages are we looking at?”

“Uh, about 400.” She smiled as she heard Nate say, “Good God!” in the background. “Yeah, it’s thick, but hopefully we can weed out the useless stuff.”

Tully sighed and scratched at the stubble on his chin. “All right send the stuff.” He paused and took a breath. “Hey how’s tall dark and grumpy?” They all chuckled.

“She’s going to be grumpy in the morn, I’ll tell ya.” Colin just smiled. “She got in a bit of a fight last night, so she’s sleeping it off.” Clarion just rolled her eyes at the man next to her. “I’ll tell her you guys send her big kisses.”

Tully chuckled. “Whatever dude.” He yawned. “All right, I’ll talk back when we got something.”

“You ready to burn the midnight oil boss?” Colin directed his comment to Gregor.

“Man, I’m getting too old for this shit.” Colin laughed. “Clarion, it was good to meet ya.” The redhead nodded. “Colin, as always, it’s been a displeasure.” Colin flipped him the bird. “Chat later.” The screens went black.

Colin leaned back and stretched out his legs. “You ready?”

Clarion groaned and stood. “Sure.” Her tone was less than enthusiastic. “I’m going to go check on our patient first.”

Colin rolled his eyes at the grinning woman. “I’m giving you two minutes lass. No hanky panky.”

“Colin!” She touched a hand to her chest. “I am shocked and appalled.”

“Great! And I’m sober.” She laughed. “Go before I have to chaperone ya.” She was out of the door before he even finished his sentence.

—–

Clarion returned minutes later to find Colin surrounded by papers, several books, and a pencil in his teeth. She tried to suppress her chuckle, but it came out in a cough. He waved off the redhead and spoke without looking her. “I am old you know and the eyes are the first to go.” He adjusted the wire rims of his glasses and kept on reading.

“I just think it’s cute, that’s all.”

“Whatever, you’ll be beggin’ me for a pair later, when your eyes are on the verge of bleeding.” Clarion chuckled and carved out her space on the floor so she could began the search. “How’s the patient?”

“Sleeping like a rock. She didn’t even stir when I kissed her.” Clarion sounded slightly disappointed.

Colin smiled. “I’m sure your kisses are gold Claire, but she’s recuperating, she can’t feel a damn thing.”

Clarion frowned. “Well what’s the fun in being passed out?”

Colin stared at a random bookcase. “No memory I guess.” They both burst into laughter. “Enough fun, let’s get this done. I’ll take the Gaelic and the Germanic. Gregor’s going to work on the Russian and what looks like Hebrew. We gave you the Aramis and the Latin.”

Clarion nodded. “Aye, aye, captain.” She saluted Colin and dove into the papers at her feet.

——

It was reaching early afternoon when Clarion collapsed onto her back in a huff of frustration. Angry air expelled from her lips as she pounded the stone floor with the palms of her hands. Colin removed his glasses and rubbed the space between his eyebrows. “Break time?”

Clarion chuckled miserably. “I think I’ve gone blind. God, this is so ridiculous.”

“Yes, but we have an idea.”

“Do we?” She sat up and began to stretch her arms and legs.

“Think we’re barking up the wrong tree here?” he asked seriously.

” “Baby’ is too logical. Why not vessel? Maybe, pod person.” She groaned. Tired green eyes looked to Colin expecting him to make a joke. Instead she found the Irishman’s face set in thought.

“Perhaps child,” he said. “Or knowing the smug bastard– “future master’.” He made little quote marks with his fingers. Clarion looked at him with a tilted head and a crooked smile. “We’ve been looking for the right words, but he’s thinking of the future. Would he use a code?”

She shook her head as she began to see Colin’s point of view. “No,” she paused, “it’s in here and it’s obvious.” They sat quietly for a moment until the shrill ringing of the computer alerted them. Clarion scrambled to the laptop to see Nate’s face staring back at her.

He spoke when he saw her. “All right, the program’s up and running. It’s probably going to spit out some errors just because of the characters, but the Latin should be done in an hour. Then we’ll run the Russian and so on.”

She nodded. “So, six hours tops for the whole thing?”

“Assuming we don’t hit it before then….yeah.”

Clarion sighed contently. “All right then. Let’s hope we hit this shit before sundown.”

“Hey guys,” Colin called from the other side of the room, “you think you can handle something else, since you’ve got the program up?” Colin sat down in front of the lap top and saw both Nate and Tully nod. “I got a list of stuff we need to find. I know Gregor’s got some of the manuscripts, but I need some blueprints and I need you to track a guy named Grimladi Sandovar.” Clarion’s ears picked up at the familiar name.

“Grimaldi huh? What am I looking for?” Nate asked.

“A sword.” Colin was so involved in his conversation that he failed to notice the small woman at his side get up and walk to the center of the room. She listened as Colin rattled of his instructions for finding Grimaldi and what the sword looked like– all the while she began removing books and papers from atop the marble altar.

The redhead nervously tapped her nail against her front tooth as she looked at Colin. “It’s called the sword of Magnus or Magnus’ sword. You may find it in reference to Pilas.” Clarion cleared her throat loudly. Colin practically broke his neck as he did a double take–looking from the screen to Clarion. His eyes stayed affixed to the sight of the huge broadsword and he was nearly on the verge of drooling. Larger than his Claymore, at 7 feet, the blade itself was shined to dramatic proportions. Three inches across and even from his spot on the floor he could see the grooves on the steel. His eyes were traveling down the gilded hilt and pommel, taking in the intricacy of the craftwork. He was completely oblivious to Nate.

“Uh Nate, we’re going to call you back.” Clarion spoke into the air, keeping her eyes on the wide-eyed Colin, as he rose from the floor and began to walk towards the altar. They passed each other without Colin so much as sniffing in her direction. Clarion waved at Nate and cut the connection.

“By Nuada’s balls! Woman, is this what I think?” Colin tiptoed around the altar and stared at the sword as if it hovered in midair. Like a nervous father, he held out a shaky hand and reached for the pommel. He touched his fingertips to the leather grip as if he was snuffing out a flame. Once, twice, and then a third time. Finally, when he was satisfied that the blade was real, and his fingers were real, and that this was all real– he let his hand rest fully on the grip. He readjusted his hand hold several times until a child-like smile spread across his face and he began to laugh.

“Holy shit! I can’t believe this!” He spoke through a laugh. Eyes that were wide with excitement and awe looked to a grinning Clarion. “How the? When, where, how?” His voiced cracked. Clarion laughed, then asked, “you’re not mad at me?” Her tone was soft with worry.

“Mad? Mad!” He squealed with surprise as he released his grip from the blade. “Lass, if I wasn’t afraid grumpy would wake up and kill me, I’d come over there and kiss you.” Clarion blushed slightly and then smiled as she moved towards Colin. “How did you come by this?” He followed her with his eyes as she came to stand beside him.

She shrugged. “I stole it from the Winter Palace in 1827.”

He nodded his head in a gesture of being impressed by her tactics. “Not too shabby.” He poked her in the shoulder gently. “I checked up on you Claire…or should I say, Countess.”

Clarion managed a small smile. “Hey, you have to survive any way you know how.”

Colin rolled his eyes a bit. “Yeah sure. Anyway, does Yoshi know you have this?” She nodded and cringed. “Oh. I take it she was she wasn’t enthused?”

“Sort of. I mean, technically, this means I knew all of this was going to occur.” Clarion nibbled at her lip.

Colin put his hand on her shoulder and squeezed. “Know what…even if you would have walked up to her and given her the blade, she wouldn’t have believed you.” Clarion nodded as they shared a smile. “Or been strong enough for that matter.” His words were quiet.

“She can’t pick it up.” It was a statement that was on the verge of being a question.

Colin was stunned. “What?” Disbelief colored his features as he gripped the blade and lifted. His shoulder jerked as he met with resistance. Colin blinked. He gripped the sword with both hands and pulled. Brown eyes looked to green as Clarion just stood and watched. “Hmph. Is this Excalibur or something?” The sword budged a bit, but it was obvious Colin was straining. He staggered back as he let go. Clearly, a little winded, Colin hunched over and let his hands rest on his knees as he took a couple of breaths. “Whoo! That’s freaking weird.” He stood up straight and smiled as he added quickly, “but expected.”

Clarion eyed him with question. “Why expected?”

He ran a hand through his hair and then leaned on the altar. “Think about it? This sword is pure. It is ancient and it is pure–the last of its kind and the only of its kind. Wielding a sword like this takes a purity of spirit, strength and wisdom, that I know I don’t have.”

Clarion crossed her arms across her chest. “Is Yoshi that pure?” Colin guffawed and the small redhead was just about to jump to the warrior’s defense, when the truth of the statement settled. “I guess that is true.”

“You know it’s true, but I was thinking we could find a way to remedy that.” He winked at Clarion.

She smiled and then ran a hand across her cheek. “What possible way would that be?”

Colin stood with his hands on his hips and contemplated the quietly asked question. “If you want, how about I keep at this Warlock thingy and you check out the Aramis books for anything about the sword?”

“Hmm.” She sucked her teeth. “It would be there wouldn’t it?”

“It’s as much a book of Magnus as it is Pilas.”

“True.” She clapped her hands together. “Fine, I will see what I can find and then I’ll help you some more. Colin smiled and they both returned to their respective corners to began work anew.

———–

Seven close calls, five almosts, and nine not even closes– 3 ½ hours had passed, and they appeared worse for the wear. Colin ambled through the entrance of the library after a short bathroom break and stepped nonchalantly over the prostrate from of Clarion. She lay on her stomach with her face down in a pile of papers with a book covering her head, moaning softly. The Hunter barely paid any mind to her antics as he made his way back to his chair. Finally, after a full minute of her moaning he caved.

“Trying osmosis are we?” A smile crept to his lips. The book began to move as she raised her head, turned her face towards Colin, and stuck out her tongue, before returning to her former position. He grinned. “I’ll take that as a yes.”

The book fell with a whap to the floor as she raised up and supported her upper body on her forearms. “This is like reading really really really good poety–but you can’t enjoy it because it’s for Freshman English.”

Colin chuckled. “I went to one of those classes.” He waved his hand through the air. “A sea of 200 weary pimpled little faces…” He trailed off into a giggle.

Clarion groaned. “Yeah well, this is awful. I no more understand Magnus’ sword than what the hell is actually going on. She sighed and hung her head until her forehead touched the ground. She then let out a strangled yell and looked back up at Colin. “You want to eat?” She didn’t wait for his answer. “I think I’m starved.” She rolled over and stretched.

“You look like a little cat.”

“I think a cat would have a better time with this stuff.” She flipped the edge of the book. “How are you doing?”

He rubbed his eyes. “Honestly, I think I’m close. I’ve got to some entries about Exodus. I think it may be in there.”

Clarion smiled weakly. “Sounds probable.” She stood up and stared at the sword, being careful not to touch it. “I’m going to figure you out.” She snarled at the blade, then jumped as Colin appeared behind her and touched her on the shoulders.

“Be careful, it might bite “cha.” He made chomping noises.

“It’s that anal, huh.” She was half-serious.

Colin smiled and pulled at the sword once more with no luck. “This sword is responsible for my life–hell, even yours.” He shrugged. “I guess I’d be pissed if any bloke could pick this up and start lopping off heads, ya know. I want a well-balanced chap personally.” He grinned. “Pure, I guess.” He squeezed her shoulders. “C’mon let’s eat.” He moved to the door and then realized that Clarion had not moved with him. “Your feet asleep?”

She jerked her head at his voice. “No.” She paused and stared intently at the sword. Clarion held her hand over top of the blade, her palm down. She drew her hand as close to the blade as she could go, before the heat became too intense and stopped–letting her hand hover. Her hand continued to move down the length of the blade.

“You holding a séance, kiddo?” Colin looked at her with a mix of amusement and confusion.

“I’m an idiot.” She finally breathed out.

Colin was at a loss. “The blade told you that?” He wanted to be serious, but he wasn’t sure what else to say.

She whirled around to face Colin and slapped him in the shoulder. “Well balanced Colin, you get it?”

Colin arched his eyebrow and watched the redhead as she walked from the altar to look at the books on the floor. “I don’t have a clue.” He eyed her warily, thinking the small woman had finally snapped.

“Damn it! We’ve had the answer all the time.” She slapped her palm against her forehead. “Man, it’s so obvious.” She smiled. “Be right back.”

“Clarion, what the hell’s gotten into you?” He watched her bound by him, practically skipping.

“Prophecy mon frer, prophecy.”

Her words seemed to echo in his ears and he could make no sense of it–even as he stared down at the pages she had been looking at. To him, prophecy was so broad–it might as well have been crossing the Mississippi in a raft. He had made no firm conclusions to anything until he sensed her presence and turned towards the entrance. There, next to her in all her groggy glory was Yoshima. Hair mussed, shorts twisted at the waist, shirt wrinkled, and her hand firmly ensconced in Clarion’s. Brown eyes took in the sight of the Hunter and the Daywalker and the words filled his thoughts. “The Hunter is unto the Daywalker as the Daywalker is to the Hunter. Balance must reign in the houses of East and West for there to be life.’

There it was in black and white, and now in front of him in flesh and blood. Dark and light, yin and yang. Perfection. Solidarity. Balance. He smiled and Clarion smiled with him. Yoshi put a hand to her mouth and yawned, still not yet fully awake. Together they moved towards the altar and Colin.

“How’s the grumpy gus?” Colin asked with a smile.

Yoshi groaned and rubbed the sleep from her eyes like a small child. “I feel like somebody ran me through.” She paused and cocked her head to the side. “Oh yeah, somebody did.” Clarion chuckled a bit at Yoshi’s dry humor. “I see you found the place okay.” Colin nodded and held out his hand to meet Yoshi. They clasped each other’s forearms and gave each other a short hug. “Thank you for patching me up.”

Colin nodded and gestured toward Clarion as they moved away from each other. “It was all her, I just followed her lead.”

A faint blush reached Clarion’s cheeks and then became a robust red as Yoshi pressed warm lips to her cheek and whispered a thank you in her ear. “Thank you both then, she took deep breath and began to peruse the room.” The scattered papers and books strewn about the floor caused Yoshi to raise her eyebrow in a curious manner. She said nothing and only pursed her lips as she watched the printer/fax machine spew papers like an erupting volcano. She gingerly placed her hands on her hips as she looked about the room and then her eyes finally came to rest on Colin and Clarion who now stood near each other. “Do I need to be informed of something?”

Colin spoke up. “Well mon amie, I think we got something.” Clarion could only shake her head at his attempt at a Cajun accent. Yoshi folded her arms across her chest, which Colin understood as her universal sign for him to continue. “Stolov doesn’t want to kill Clarion…he wants her ovaries.” Clarion tried to stifle her giggle with not much success. Yoshi’s brow creased and she opened her mouth to say something, but it was clear she was confused and a bit shocked. Colin just nodded his head and held up his hand indicating that Yoshi not even try to form a thought. “He’s looking for a baby.”

Her voice finally came to her. “What!”

“He’s not necessarily concerned about becoming Master– I mean that’s part of the package, but he wants little kids.”

Yoshi gathered her hair in her hands, squeezed, and then released. “Why not just turn humans?”

“It’s not the same.” Clarion answered. “Turning humans doesn’t give you all the benefits of breeding Vampires.” Clarion took notice of Yoshi’s arched eyebrow and continued. “Think about it, you get a Vampires’ strength, all the amenities, plus you can walk in the day. To us it seems like a form of extermination, but to Stolov…it’s evolution.”

Yoshi said the word with Clarion as she shook her head in thought. “How does this work without you? Can he just go and pick up some random child and be done?”

“Doubtful,” Colin replied with a shrug.

“Doubtful or no?” Even though Yoshi’s voice was soft, her words boomed through the room with intensity. Gone were the remnants of sleep, to be replaced by an authority that only she could wield.

Colin swallowed the small lump in his throat and spoke. “No.” He met and held Yoshi’s gaze. “We’re sure it’s not some random child–but we’re not sure where to look.”

The corners of Yoshi’s mouth creased as a small frown formed. Clarion watched the woman and began to pace in the small distance from one end of the altar to the other as she spoke. “Our best bet is the Warlock book. I figure he came across something in almost 1500 years. He’ll become a Master with or without or help, it’s his time. But, how powerful is up to him.” She stopped and began to lightly rap her knuckles against the palm of her left hand. “For Stolov, power is the difference between being able to implode someone’s mind at will and knowing that you’ve created a race of beings who can do the same.”

All three were silent as Clarion stopped her pacing and leaned back against the alter, keeping attentive green eyes affixed to the dark woman who was lost in thought. Clarion found herself trapped in the strong gaze and felt herself being examined. She fidgeted a bit under the almost palpable weight of Yoshi’s indigo gaze and couldn’t help but chuckle nervously. “I got a piece of spinach on my forehead or something?” Clarion’s question was meant to break the tension, but her question elicited no response.

Finally, a slender finger pointed in the redhead’s direction. “He’s looking for another Daywalker.” Yoshi ran her tongue across white teeth and made a clicking noise against the roof of her mouth as her own words settled in her psyche. “Another, like you. It doesn’t have to be a Vampire but definitely a hybrid. Fifty- fifty, no more one way or the other. That’s who he’s looking for or it won’t work.” Clarion shook her head in obvious confusion. “The ritual won’t work.”

Colin snapped his fingers loudly drawing Clarion’s attention. “Goran!”

Yoshi nodded, glad the Hunter was following her train of thought. “Exactly.”

“Who the hell’s Goran?”

“Stolov’s predecessor.” He looked to Yoshi. “What year was that?”

Without hesitation she answered, “1260.”

“What happened to him?”

“She happened.” Colin patted Yoshi on the shoulder.

Dark hair swung as shook her head and rolled her eyes. “Anyway, he tried to become Master before his time and it didn’t work.”

Clarion nodded and stood up straight, clearly bored with the path of the current conversation. “That’s great and all and we can add a new item into the search, but that’s not why I woke you up.”

Yoshi was amused as she turned towards Clarion. “You were just going to let me sleep through all this excitement?”

Colin scoffed. “Hell, I wanted to wake you hours ago, but she said, “no let her sleep.'” He huffed causing them all to smile. “So go on then and tell her why you woke her, cause this I want to see.” He smirked.

Clarion ignored the Irishman, grabbed Yoshi’s hand, and pulled her towards the altar. She let out a small breath and looked up at the tall woman who was beginning to eye her with a small amount of suspicion. “I want you to pick it up.” She didn’t bother to cut her eyes towards the sword, since Yoshi’s eyes automatically fixed on the sword.

The Hunter shook her head vigorously. “We’ve tried this.” She sighed and spoke quietly, “I can’t.”

Colin coughed loudly. “Oh, come on, it’s not like you can’t get your dick up– just pick it up.”

Two sets of evil eyes sliced in Colin’s direction, but the man stood his ground. Yoshi gritted her teeth and Clarion just sneered. “Not another word now, or I’m kicking you out.”

Colin barely nodded. “I’m just giving encouragement.”

Yoshi hissed at him as Clarion spoke with a slightly pronounced Cajun accent. “Much obliged, but no thank you.” She turned her attention back to Yoshi and began to calm herself. “Like I said, I want you to pick up the sword.” Yoshi began to protest, but Clarion cut her off with a wave of her hand. “No bull pahtna’, just pick it up.” She smiled warmly at Yoshi and let go of her hands as she moved to the side.

Yoshi stood before the altar and pinched the bridge of her nose as she sighed. She turned her head to the right and looked at the silent encouragement of Clarion’s smile. “Clarion, we’ve done this…I, I can’t.” She let out a breath of dejected air.

Clarion was still all smiles. “Please–

“But Claire–

“Please, just pick it up for me, just try.” She caught Yoshi’s gaze, before blue eyes could focus on the floor, and held her there.

“What purpose does this serve? What for?” She moved her hands as she spoke.

Clarion sighed and Colin answered to her dismay. “Look you lug, regardless of rituals and babies, Stolov needs to be stopped…killed. And we all know, no toothpick of a sword’s gonna do it, we need this…so fucking stop being a baby and pick it up.”

The words seemed odd coming from Colin and Clarion wanted to go on the defensive, but perhaps there was method in his madness. Surprisingly, Yoshi didn’t fly into the expected rage and only stood there facing the sword. Hair, the color of a starless night, lay across the span of her shoulder blades, as she looked down at the sword. She kept her hands at her sides, not yet having the mental strength to even reach for the sword of Magnus. The Hunter stood quietly for a full minute with the eyes of her friends upon her. With a heavy heart and what she deemed a weak spirit she reached for the pommel of the sword. To her enemies it would have been a moment of triumph to see the great Yoshima struggle to even grip the blade of the sword; and that she did. Small beads of perspiration gathered at her temples as she closed her hands around the pommel and began to pull up.

Clarion watched until the pain became too great for her. She touched a gentle hand to the small of Yoshi’s back. “It’s okay.” Yoshi let go and only remained in place because she felt Clarion’s hand at her back. She hung her head. Colin ached to give Yoshi an earful of his own wisdom, but perhaps it was not his belligerent off-color remarks that she needed. He met the green eyes that were searching for his own eyes and waited. “Colin, can you give us a minute?” He nodded. “Grab the lap and tell boys what’s up.”

“Sure.” He picked up one of the lap tops and began to move towards the door. He turned to Clarion and mouthed the words, “she can pick it up.”

Clarion nodded and added just as silently, “I know.”

When Colin exited the room Clarion situated herself in between the altar and Yoshi. She placed her hands on Yoshi’s cheeks, effectively cupping her face. “Hey, look at me.” Her tone wasn’t forceful, but careful. Slowly, the dark head raised just enough so that she could meet her eyes. “You okay in there?”

Yoshi sighed and grabbed Clarion’s hands at the wrists and took them away from her face. She let go of the wrists and held Clarion’s hands. “I’ve been better, but what do you want me say, I can’t do the one thing we need.”

Clarion shook her arms causing Yoshi’s to shake as well. “Look, will you just listen to me for a second.”

Yoshi’s ears picked up on the faint sound of annoyance in Clarion’s voice. “Of course I will.”

“Good, just clear your mind of all the bullshit and just trust me.” She made sure she had Yoshi’s attention. “You trust me right?” The Hunter grinned as if the question was ludicrous and nodded. Clarion was mindful of not raising her eyebrow in skepticism. “You trust me? I mean really.” Yoshi tried to pull back, but Clarion held on. “Really, I mean you’re not afraid that one night I’m just going to roll over and rip out your jugular?” Yoshi looked at the redhead oddly. She wasn’t fearful of the woman in front of her, but she didn’t know how to answer, so she could only shrug. “What’s that supposed to mean, either you do or you don’t Yoshi.” She allowed the barest hint of anger to filter into her voice in the hopes of goading the Hunter.

Again, Yoshi tried to pull away but the small hands held tight. She blinked rapidly in confusion at the situation, but managed to gather her thoughts. “Of course I trust you…I love you.”

Clarion kept a straight face. “You love me?” She spat out the words like they were a bad joke. “And that’s supposed to make everything all right?” On the inside she cringed at pushing so hard, but she kept her face void of emotion.

Yoshi matched the strong grip that Clarion had on her hands and stood her ground. She let out a breath and answered, “yes.” It sounded like a question the first time she said it, but the second yes came with more authority, and then the third was tempered with finality. “The only thing that matters is that I love you, there is nothing else, and it does make it all right.”

On the inside she was jumping for joy. “And this is what you want– me…us, this is it?”

Nostrils flared as she answered. “What?” She breathed and calmed herself and pulled Clarion to her so that there was no space between their lower halves. “What do you mean is this what I want? How can you ask me that? Do you know where I’ve been?” She sighed realizing that she was getting off topic. “Never mind, you listen to me.” Blue eyes mirrored the intensity that was in green. “I love you and that’s all that matters. If you just want to pick and run away, well then f-f-fuck it, let’s go.” Clarion couldn’t keep in the grin that pulled at the corners of her mouth. “I won’t lie, I don’t know if I trust you all the time, but that’s only because I don’t know if I trust myself all the time. But what ever I may be scared of, what ever freaks me out, I’m not that worried because I have you. I do have you don’t I? I mean you’re with me as much as I am with you? Am I wrong?”

Clarion just shook her head and let a full smile come to her face as she let her forehead rest on Yoshi’s chest. “Are the answers on my shirt?” Clarion pulled back and then immediately raised her head and planted a thorough kiss on Yoshi’s lips. “The answer isn’t there either smart ass, so don’t say it.” Clarion said as ended the kiss. “I am with you, just like I should be and just like I want to be. There are things about us that make my hair stand on end, but where I come from, you just go with it ya know.” Yoshi nodded. “I just want to be sure. You know I’m not big on responsibility. I’m like a 16-year-old with a new license, who just got the keys to the brand new Porsche. I may not know what the hell I’m doing, but that’s not going to stop me from going 125mph.” They both chuckled. “Look we both know the same thing. The difference is, I believe it. You and I both know you can pick that sword up, it’s completely within you. You just have to want it.”

She kissed the top of Clarion’s forehead. “I know it is and I do want. I want badly, but I’m just—” Her words ended in a sigh.

“I know what you mean, you’re just kind of used up. Not really empty, but so very tired.” Yoshi could only nod at the truth of the statement. “Will you let me be that for you then. Just open up enough to let me be that for you. I know you love me and you trust me, at least as far as you could throw me. And that is pretty far.” She stopped to laugh. “Have faith in me that I have the strength to handle your burdens. Hell, have faith that I have the strength to carry my own. What you don’t have, I do, and vice versa. I’m so sick and tired of hearing about who used to be and what you used to be…this is all I know of you. I know the woman rescued me time and time again. I know Yoshima who opened up just enough to believe my bullshit, because I was pretty shady in the beginning.” They both laughed.

“Yeah you were, but I so wanted to believe you.”

“Then believe me now. If you can muster the strength I’m not going let you down or go.”

Yoshi didn’t quite have the words to say what she felt in that moment, but the wide smile she wore was filled only with love and awe at the woman before her. “You’re really sure about this aren’t you?”

Clarion nodded deeply. “Did I mention I wouldn’t be wearing any seatbelts when driving that car.”

“Not an airbag in sight, huh?”

“Defeats the purpose, baby. I’d rather explode into the cosmos then fizzle in pool of stagnate water.”

Yoshi cocked her eyebrow. “That’s odd statement, but it works.”

“Good, so reach that hand out and just pick it up.”

Yoshi took a deep breath and one last look at Clarion and then turned her attention to the sword. With her left hand she held onto Clarion’s right and using her right hand, she gripped the handle without effort and let out a breath. Without looking at Clarion she spoke. “You know, if this doesn’t work you owe me twenty bucks or something?”

“I’ll double that if you do it girlie.” Colin stood in the doorway and grinned.

“You’re on.” And with that she pulled up on the handle.

There were no bells or whistles as the blade left its stand. Light did not break forth from the heavens and the winds didn’t swirl with might. But, there was a rumbling. There was a deep, charismatic and wonderful rumbling. The Hunter laughed. She chuckled as the blade cleared the stand and as she held the massive sword in her hand. She raised and lowered the blade in disbelief of her actions, but all the while she shook with laughter. She squared the blade, the hilt even with her sternum and breathed in the metal. She carved lazy eight’s through the air not once, but twice and then squared the blade again. This time she caught the reflection of her eyes in the three inch expanse of steel and for a moment her breath caught. She saw what Colin idolized, what Clarion always believed, and what she had forgotten: she was magnificent. Blue eyes that were no longer weary with self-doubt, or lack luster with self-disgust, were once again a determined blue that wavered between cobalt and the blue of the sky right before dusk.

Now, the blade cut through air with more force. She made sweeping arcs and fierce downward strokes that were all controlled with turn of her wrists and the movement of her fingers. She wrote her name in the air just for the hell of it and the blade moved as if it had no weight. Clarion watched in awe from her side and began to ease her hand out of Yoshi’s. In the doorway, Colin could only smile as he saw the warrior come to life. Without even batting an eye, Yoshi raised her other hand to the sword and gripped the pommel with both hands. What she could do with one hand paled in comparison to the show she put on with two. Like a schoolgirl, Clarion shivered with excitement, backed up to a spot next to Colin, and watched. The air became audible as Yoshi sliced through imaginary attackers as she ran through several forms. The blade moved over her head, around her body, tossed from hand to hand, drawn across her body, pushed out and back, and repeated all over again. All at once she came to a stop, squaring the blade once more and catching her reflection once again– not to marvel at a relic of the past, but to say hello to the awesome sight of a Hunter’s future.

She breathed deeply as she opened and closed her eyes slowly. The blade, she held to her side as she turned in the direction of Clarion and Colin, who stood in their spots by the entrance. She smirked. “I guess I figured it out.” She shrugged and then flipped the blade by its pommel, inadvertently bobbling the heavy sword, nearly dropping it. She grimaced but still chuckled and then placed the sword carefully on its stand. “We’ll just leave that there.” All three burst into laughter.

“I’m proud of you, buggar. Glad you listen to her.” He squeezed Yoshi’s shoulder and winked at Clarion.

“So am I.” She put her arm around Clarion and pulled the shorter woman to her.

“Now we can call the boys and tell them some good news.” Colin nodded.

“That’s not the only people we should be calling.”

Colin grinned like the Devil at Yoshi’s statement. “Ready to send up the bat signal are we?”

She nodded. “Yeah, let’s do this. I got a feeling time’s a wastin’.”

Colin pounded his fist into his open palm. “Great, I was beginning to think I was the only one.”

Clarion smiled as she watched Colin bound out of the room like a teenager just set free from punishment. “He’s awfully happy.” She wrapped her arms around Yoshi’s waist and looked up at her.

Yoshi kissed the small nose before her and grinned. She sobered quickly as she spoke. “He’s always happy when we go to war.”

“War, eh?”

She shrugged. “I thought that might sound less cheesy than saying ” saving the world.'”

Clarion laughed out loud. “You’re horrible, but okay. To war!” She raised her fist in the air.

Yoshi chuckled at the shorter woman pumping her fist. “Actually, it’s more like, to arms.”

Clarion furrowed her brow. “What about my arms?”

Yoshi sighed and let go of Clarion. “How about you stay in the car while this all happens?” The dark woman, could barely hold in her laugh as she watched the redhead scowl.

“You tell me to stay in the car one more time, I’m gonna put my foot in your ass.” She pointed her finger at the retreating woman. “What do I look like to you, huh? Huh?”

“You look like a beautiful creature of–

“Creature! What!” Clarion wanted to laugh as the taller woman stumbled over her words and backed herself into a corner both literally and figuratively.

“Woman! Woman! That was what I was trying to say. What a creature of womanhood you, my God you’re gorgeous!” She held up her hands as Clarion encroached on her space. “Please don’t hurt me.”

Clarion burst into laughter. “I believed you right up until then.” She stood on her toes and kissed Yoshi. She tugged on her hand pulling her from the wall. “Let’s get this show on the road and maybe we can have a little quiet time to ourselves.”

“It doesn’t have to be quiet, ya know. I’m real partial to loud.”

Clarion stopped, not believing her ears. Gone was the stoic Hunter of three words and here was this cocky warrior with bright eyes and more smirks than Clarion could count. “Have you been hiding this cock-sure punk all this time? Shit yea! I’m shocked and appalled but I love it. And you know what, if we don’t save the world, I think we might just destroy it.” She smiled and got a kiss on the cheek as they left the library.

“Hey, no air bags right?”

Clarion could only smile as she felt the surge of energy pass between them, and as much as it scared her it made her feel whole in a way that she would never be able to explain. She gave Yoshi’s hand a squeeze as they walked down the hall and then threw her fist in the air, yelling, “To Arms!”

Yoshi rang out the words with her until their voices seemed to fill every room and every passageway. Colin stood over the computer in the kitchen typing away and smiling as he listened to the women howl with laughter and shout the words into the air. Colin nodded his head as he typed and felt himself fill with the hope that he had been clawing at for months. Finally, he thought to himself, finally….to arms.

CH 15: To Arms

They had been underground for two days when the phone began to ring and the computer chirped repeatedly.

“We got it!” Nate yelled before his face appeared on the screen. His smile grew wider as he took in the sight of Yoshi. “Hey Tully, look who it is.”

“Que pasa lady!” Tully was exuberant.

White teeth appeared as Yoshi smiled warmly. “How are you guys doing?”

“Well, we’re jacked up on too much caffeine and Chai, but we’re good.”

She chuckled. “Good to hear. So you found it?”

“Yes ma’am, and we’re sending it to you.”

Nate added, “you should be getting the blueprints too and the other stuff Colin asked for.”

She nodded. “And uh, Gregor said there will be a package waiting for you at St. Ignatius. As for Father Seamus.”

“You boys are a god-send you know that.”

Tully chuckled. “You’re welcome and hey, we’ve always known we were gods.”

“She said god-send freak-boy.” Clarion spoke up through a smile.

The boys shrugged. “Call us when this is cleared up, okay?”

“It’ll be my personal pleasure.” They all waved to one another and powered down the computers.

Colin entered the room as they were ordering the papers. “Good news?”

Yoshi nodded and Clarion answered. “Seems so. Did you get your stuff done?”

He yawned and stretched. “All set. Did Gregor call?”

“We got a pick up to make.” He and Yoshi looked at one another and grinned.

“Yes!” He pumped his fist in the air. “So, somebody tell me what that damn thing says.”

Clarion smirked as she found a spot on the floor and sat down. Both Hunters waited patiently as green eyes scanned the pages before her. Finally, she looked up at them both and then glanced back at the pages as she began to talk. “We were right about the girl. It doesn’t get very specific though.”

Colin groaned. “What no, ‘when the moon hangs high on the third day’.” He rolled his eyes as the room filled with laughter.

” ‘Fraid not, but I can tell you this, he’s not looking for some random chick.”

Yoshi raised an inquisitive eyebrow. “He knows her.”

Clarion gave a half shrug and nodded a bit. “He may not know how many cavities she has, but he knows her well enough.” They all nodded. “I cringe saying it, but he’s looking for good stock.”

“Probably not going to start a new race out of pimply-faced geeks, huh?” Colin grinned.

Clarion stood up. “They’re not going to be Greek gods, I mean look at him.” They paused to giggle.

“That fucker’s smart though.” Colin sucked at his tooth.

Yoshi leaned against the wall and pushed at her cuticle. “She’s going to be smart as well, refined even, but clearly a lady.” She cut her eyes towards a smirking Clarion.

“Then what the hell does he want with me?” They all laughed as Clarion voiced what they were all dying to say.

“Perhaps he thought his genes would be more aggressive.” Colin almost sounded serious in his query.

They were silent for a brief moment until Yoshi broke it with a laugh. “He wouldn’t stand a chance.” They all laughed. “But seriously, how do we find her?”

Clarion stood next to Yoshi and wrapped her arm around the woman’s waist. “Well, we could do this one of two ways.” She grinned at Colin. “We could do this your way, and find out after time has run out.” She winked. “Or, we could do this my way and find out right on time.”

Blue eyes rolled as Yoshi looked down at a grinning Clarion. “And why may I ask is your way quicker?”

She playfully swatted the Hunter’s stomach. ” Cause they’re going to know you’re coming pahtna’.”

“And you’re a welcome mat?” Colin’s question got a high five from Yoshi.

Clarion stuck out her tongue. “No, I’m not…but I’ve got a few favors coming to me, so there.”

Light laughter passed between them all, with Colin sobering first. “Say we don’t find her in time, what then?”

Clarion pulled away from Yohsi and tapped the papers. “This is the weird part, only because I’m a little confused. The baby is his kid, but,” she paused dramatically, “its not endowed with any powers or what have you, until Stolov makes it so. Remember, he is still trying to become Master in all this.”

“That’s why he wanted you– less procedure.”

“Worst case scenario: he gets the kid and he performs the ritual.”

“Bend over and kiss your ass goodbye.”

Yoshi shook her head at the redhead. “Seriously.”

“Seriously…you pick up that sword and chop him in two.”

“Just like that?” Yoshi arched an eyebrow.

“Is it ever that easy.” They all sighed. “There must be a balance of purity, meaning equal power.”

Yoshi guffawed. “What am I supposed to do, call up Magnus’ ghost.” She and Colin shared a laugh as Clarion remained silent. Wide blue eyes caught green. “What?”

“Don’t worry it’s not like we need to hold a séance or something, but it’s more like asking a blessing.”

“A blessing?” Her tone was less than enthusiastic.

She answered matter of factly. “Basically, you want and need to be surrounded by the same strength and energy that created that blade, otherwise you’ll just be thrusting a piece of plastic at him. You’ll be calling upon something so strong that it will touch everything around you and ultimately weaken him.”

“Ah, only that.” Colin huffed.

She grinned. “Don’t even worry, we’ll practice so much it’ll be like you can hear me in your head.” Clarion regarded Yoshi and smiled warmly.

Yoshi grasped Clarion’s hand and lifted to kiss the palm. “I trust you.” She winked at the smiling woman.

Colin watched them hugged and averted his eyes, sensing he was privy to a private matter. “Um, well, why don’t I head over to see Father Seamus and you girls take a load off.”

Clarion smiled as the embrace ended. She swept a lock of her hair behind her ear and regarded Colin. “You both can go, I need to make some house calls anyway.”

“By yourself?” Yoshi’s voice was full of concern.

She squeezed her arms as she spoke. “I want to talk to a few folks, not beat them senseless. Yoshi’s jaw dropped open as if in shock. “Oh, don’t even give me that look. This is a sensitive issue. Hell, I’ll be lucky if I get any information, and they’re damn sure not going to tell you.”

They all attended to their tasks in terse manners, none of them wanting to be caught out in the night for too long. While Clarion searched for information, the Hunters gathered their provisions via the church. Regardless of the information gathered, it had been decided that an inventory of sorts needed to be taken. And while Clarion may have preferred word of mouth, the Hunters knew one way to take inventory, and that usually boiled down to whomever remained standing after the battle.

—–

Clarion resembled an adoring six-year old, as she sat on the bed, with her legs folded, elbows resting on her knees, hand supporting her chin. Green eyes never left Yoshi as she waited for the freshly showered Hunter to get dressed. She popped the gum in her mouth and then spoke. “You know, I bet Lois never got over watching Clark change into Superman.” Yoshi looked at the small woman oddly and Colin chuckled as he entered the room, fastening the belt to his leather pants.

Clarion didn’t want to take her eyes away from Yoshi, but she couldn’t help it. “Leather, Colin?” She perused the man who was smoothing his hair back as she spoke.

He snickered. “Blood rolls off of this a lot easier than denim.”

Clarion nodded. “True, true.” Clarion turned her attention back to Yoshi and watched as she pulled up the black cotton pants that hugged her legs and zipped them up. The red head tilted her head as she watched Yoshi smooth down what appeared to be her skin. “What is that?”

Yoshi looked up at the perplexed Clarion and smirked. “It’s stickies.”

“Huh?”

“Simplest way to explain it, is to call it saran wrap.” Colin spoke and then, ran his hands down what appeared to be his bare chest. “When we have cuts and such, this is the last line of defense. It’s like a second skin that we can peel off.” He wiggled his eyebrows.

Clarion popped her gum loudly. “Wicked!” They all laughed. Yoshi pulled on her ‘cooler’ shirt and zipped it at the neck. “Does that keep the vamps from biting you?”

Yoshi looked at Clarion with mirth in her eyes. “Nah, it just looks good.”

“Ha, ha, smartass.”

Clarion remained quiet as both Yoshi and Colin donned similar outfits right down to the leather trench coats that they both put on with a flourish. She still said nothing as they moved towards the bags and began removing items. Clarion watched as throwing knives and stars disappeared underneath gauntlets and shin guards. Daggers were placed behind breastplates and darts were sheathed in shoe compartments. The over all look was foreboding and extremely intimidating, if not quite sexy for Clarion. Unabashedly, she winked at Yoshi and blew a kiss in her direction. The dark woman poorly fought a blush and continued to rummage through the bags.

“Well you two certainly look like you’re about to kick some ass.”

Colin chuckled. “Might happen.” He bumped shoulders with Yoshi.

“So do I need to explain the rules here?”

Colin looked at Clarion with a furrowed brow. “Rules?”

“Yeah, you know, about the spooky things you might run into.” She wiggled her fingers and raised her eyebrows up and down.

Yoshi laughed and Colin rolled his eyes. “I’ll have you know, that unlike some people,” he cut his eyes to Yoshi, “I do read up on the places I’m visiting.” Clarion smiled, clearly impressed. “Between us, I’m hoping to see some werewolves.” He winked at Clarion. “I’ve got a big hand cannon in that bag full of silver bullets.”

Clarion shook her head and smirked. “Good to hear it.”

“Can’t this just be a nice outing for us?” Yoshi sounded serious.

Colin looked aghast as he looked at his friend. “Woman, I did not come all this way for a walk in the freakin’ park. You can call fairy-boy for that one, no offense, but come on now.”

Neither Clarion nor Yoshi could hold in their laughs as Colin ranted with conviction. Yoshi touched Colin’s shoulder, calming the wild eyed man. “I’m just playing.”

He pouted for a moment and then nodded. “I should hope so.” He smiled a bit as he himself settled into the joke. “If not, I was going to take your girl here and head for the Quarter.”

Yoshi snarled at him. “I’ll take you the Quarter.” She bared her teeth at him and he mirrored the action causing them all to laugh.

——-

New Yorkers may never sleep, but in New Orleans the party is constant. Yoshi attributed the chaotic wonder to the coming of Mardi Gras, and in a sense she was probably right, but Colin assured her that it wouldn’t have mattered if it was a Saturday in the middle of August. It was nearing three a.m. when they walked side by side down Bourbon street, their heavy footfalls blending in with the catcalls and the music pouring out from the bars. In another town, they might have stood out in their black on black attire, leather and chrome bleeding together to create a picture that was both chic and menacing. Most people paid them no mind and if their eyes did linger it was to get a glimpse of the power that they clearly felt but couldn’t place. They walked about a block until they made a turn down a darker side street and began to do what they had planned.

In their hey day Hunters wouldn’t bother calling out Vampires, they’d simply kick in their doors and lay the place to waste. However, in this present, Vampires seemed to have a reverence for their own lives that rivaled that of the Hunter’s. Colin and Yoshi worked on opposite sides of the street with cans of spraypaint. To human eyes the white graffiti was simply a pair of ill drawn eyes that weren’t worthy of being spraypainted anywhere. To the eyes of a Vampire, they saw Hetsi’s eyes and took it as both a warning and a promise that their time was up. It took them a good ten minutes to finish painting the doorways and dumpsters down the street, after that they moved to the nearest rooftop and waited. Colin’s whetstone against his blade was the only noise that either emitted as they waited. One hour would go by, before the night air was broken by whispers.

Yoshi’s eyes peered down into the dark below and fixed on the caliginous figures near the end of the street. The language was Aramis and the sentences were short. “They’ve come.” “The park.” “Get Lucien and gather.” Yoshi nodded towards Colin and they took off together headed east along the rooftops as the figures below them took to the streets and headed west.

Why she chose to sit down in the swings, Yoshi couldn’t answer, but Colin certainly didn’t question her demeanor. Granted it was cocky and aloof, but more than that she acted with a confidence that he had long forgotten about. He leaned against the pole of the swing set and watched as she carved circles in the sand with the toe of her booth. “You’re not prepared to die are you?” In another time and place his question would have been accusatory and hurtful, but tonight his words were supportive.

Blue eyes that were beginning to darken to a cool Indigo cut to a smirking Colin. “Not this night Hunter.” She returned his smug smile.

He winked at her and they touched fists. “Good, cause I didn’t want to carry you home tonight.”

She begin to chuckle softly and then stopped abruptly as the far off sound off leaves being walked upon tickled her ears. She rose slowly from the swing set with her hand on the pommel of her katana. Colin stood beside her and they watched the shadows begin to move. What was at once a group of four, quickly morphed into a gang of ten, and eventually shaped into more than twenty. They were too old to gather lumps in their throats and too young not to feel a surge of adrenaline. “Freaks come out at night, eh?” Colin’s voice was low.

Yoshi cracked a smile. “Anything that isn’t a Vamp, you take the head.”

“All ready on it.” With that, Colin drew his sword and begin to walk forward.

Yoshi unsheathed her katana and begin to walk forward and towards the left. “No showing off. Short and sweet.” He didn’t have to see the grin on her face to know that she was only half serious.

He nodded and then begin to run towards the advancing group. Yoshi only shook her head as she watched two of the group come out and move towards Colin with unnerving speed. Yoshi kept her one eye on the remaining groups that began to split off from each other and her other eye on Colin. They both saw the glint of steel before the swords were drawn. Colin reacted in agile fashion, with a full body-twisting somersault over his two opponents. When he landed he tossed his Claymore from his left hand to his right with a flip of his wrist and came back across his body with the blade, effectively removing their heads. The profuse splatter of blood caught him off guard for a split second as his eyes widen in a revelation. “Human!” He called out.

Yoshi turned her eyes from Colin and moved forward as they word made it to her ears. It was unfortunate, but she had expected as much. It was easy to promise mortals eternity if they could only live through the battle. As she set her sights on her first target, it made no difference if they were human or otherwise…this night they would perish at her hand. Yoshi ran along side the tree line and stopped at a random Oak, sword at her side, and then without any pretense, her right hand darted out into the dark. Long fingers connected with flesh and easily pierced a trachea. The sound of gurgling filled her ears as the Vampire dropped to the ground and within her sights. Even though she clearly sensed that someone was behind her, she still swung her sword down and lopped off his head. Her body twisted at such an angle that it left the left side of her body exposed. Full lips curved into a hint of a smile as she moved her head a millimeter to the right and let the good fortune of strategy play out.

It was not a second later that the left side of Yoshi’s face was sprayed with brain matter and blood, as the side of her attacker’s face was removed in an explosion of force. Moving on instinct and routine, a strong hand cut through the air and caught the end of the weapon that had been flung through the air. Yoshi twirled the body of the staff and sent the 8 foot Naginata back in the opposite direction. She stood her ground and waited for Chalvi to come to her. “Could that have been any closer?” Her tone was teasing. She turned her head and arched an eyebrow at the grinning Frenchman.

His voice was warm, but a bit smug. “Just wanted you to know I hadn’t lost my touch.” They both chuckled and then simultaneously ducked as arrows sailed over their heads. “Well, this group is certainly lively.” Chalvi’s coat whipped behind him as he rolled to his right and swung his weapon through the air, slicing through two arrows and the chest of the shooter. “Classic warfare, I see.” He spoke as if he was taking inventory.

“I think their leader has a sense of humor.” Yoshi shrugged and watched as he fended off two attackers with ease, removing their heads in one swift arc. “Well, we shall have to kill him soon then, won’t we?” He winked at the tall woman and ran off towards the growing group of adversaries.

She smiled as she watched him go and allowed herself to stop for a moment to sense the presence of the other hunters. Her moment of peace was interrupted as she threw a sharp elbow behind her, crushing the nose of the creature at her back. His eyes glowed bright red as he came at Yoshi with anger, teeth bared, and claws ready. She matched his growl with one of her own as she gripped him about the throat and began to squeeze. He tugged at her hands as she drove him back, his feet barely touching the ground as she lifted him with severe strength. Had he been human he would have expired moments ago, but they both knew he needed to be helped along. She bared white teeth and flexed her wrists. His eyes lost their glow immediately as the small knife encased in her gauntlet lodge itself in his throat. She nodded at him answering his unasked question, as she stopped squeezing his throat and jerked her hand to the right. Her blood pumped with a new found ferociousness as she watched him fall to his knees, pale hands clawing at the moist meat and muscle, as his head slowly peeled back from his neck. Yoshi drew her dagger and pierced his heart just to add insult to injury. As he began to disintegrate she wiped at a damp cheek with the sleeve of her coat, leaving a smear of blood along her face. If she could have seen herself she would have deemed it quite fitting.

Yoshi found herself howling with joy as she spied Joaquim spring from one of the trees, with his large butterfly knives moving through the air with skill. He called out to her with a guttural yell as he thrusted the 13″ blade through the torso in front of him. He jerked the large knife up and out, piercing the heart and dislodging it from the cavity of the advancing Vampire. The two Hunters acted as if they were in a schoolyard, as Yoshi effortlessly leapfrogged the Spaniard. When her feet hit the ground she tucked and rolled, barreling into the legs that threatened to surround them both. Those that fell to the ground met with the end of Joaquim’s knives, the one that remained standing, never even raised his weapon before his arm was sliced from his body. Human screams filled the air as the gaping wound bled. Yoshi showed swift mercy as she silenced him.

“Como estas chica?”

The dark woman grinned ferally, charged by the events taking place. “Bien, hermano, bien.” She nodded alerting him to the movement at his right. “Vaminos.” At that she left him to his work and moved through the park.

Yoshi was light on her feet as she attacked both human and Vampire alike, showing neither mercy as her katana carved seams of blood into flesh. She gathered the length of her coat in her left hand and used it as more of a distraction than a shield, as she cut down her attackers. A pinwheel of black passed through one man’s line of sight, making it the last thing he saw before his torso was split in two. Yoshi was a dark and formidable force that moved through the park, seemingly oblivious to the blood and matter that often sprayed back at her. She found herself stumbling back a bit as she met an overhead blow from a much larger opponent. Vampire or not, he was a large specimen, towering over her by at least three inches; his girth matching his height. He fought with a heavy sword that slammed down hard on Yoshi’s.

She grunted with force as she gripped her sword with both hands and pushed up. When she made it to her feet, she found herself staring into his massive chest. He swung his sword down again, and she blocked it, holding him at bay with raw energy. Yoshi let out a growl as she pushed against him and swung her foot at his kneecap. Her heavy boot connected with the bone, crushing it, and sending him to the ground. Blue eyes were wild and wide with lustful rage, as she sliced through his skull without the usual precision. Leaving jagged edges as one half of his skull left the other. The Hunter spat on the ground as she stalked off in another direction, her katana held out at her side, the sharp edge slicing through blades of grass, and silently daring anyone or anything to approach her.

Yards away, Colin was enthralled in his own skirmish. He caught sight of Yoshi out of the corner of his eye and he was invigorated at the sight of her. He made quick work of the task before him so he could watch her as she moved through the clearing. The wind seemed to rush up to greet her, only to pass around her– billowing out the black of her coat and the sable of her hair. He was so caught up that he didn’t register the bat until it slammed into his back. He fell to the ground on reflex and steeled himself for the coming blow. He heard the solid thwack of bones breaking and then realized that they weren’t his. He moved aside and could only smile at the large axe sticking out of his would be assailants back.

“Drunk on the job are we?” A heavy Scottish accent fell to Colin’s ears.

From his seat on the ground he held out his hand. “Didja’ expect anything less?”

The standing man reached down a large hand and helped Colin to his feet. “I expected you to save me some, you lush.”

Both Colin and the men laughed as the clasped forearms. “Hamish, you dog. Always on time.”

“Cause you’re an idiot.” Hamish sneered playfully and retrieved his throwing axe. He unsheathed the other and flourished both axes.

Colin took notice of the shine of the steel that was not dulled by the blood and bone. “Those new?” He took in the steel of the axes that spanned 8 inches across. The metal was fastened to the wooden arm with Titanium bolts, and appeared to be flush with the handle. Sprouting from the back were two flame-shaped tendrils of steel.

Hamish smiled at his weapons like proud father. “Not new…only waiting for a special occasion.” He grinned and looked down at Colin whom he towered over at nearly seven feet tall. “So, I’m kind of pissed this isn’t more exciting.” He rolled his eyes and swung an axe to his right side, embedding it deep into the gut of an approaching man. He removed the axe and kicked the man over, turning up his nose. “Human?” Colin could only nod, his heart slightly heavy with sadness, but more with disgust. The large man shrugged. “Pity.” With that he swung the axe down, cleaving the man’s face with force.

They were outnumbered ten to one, but the Hunters proved their worth and lived up to their own folklore. At 6’3″ and 240 pounds, Ohai’ resembled a linebacker–but he moved with all the grace of a dancer, as he brandished his broad sword and fended off the vapid creatures advancing on him. Just as he was about to be overtaken in a tumble of arms, the lanky African made his presence known. Zibu jumped from the trees, kama in his right hand, tonfa in his left. The onslaught the quick stabs and fierce jabs were enough of a distraction for Ohai’ to gather himself. “The head Ohai’!” The command rang out from somewhere behind him, but he didn’t question it as both he and Zibu attacked their aggressors. The two gave each other high fives and then ran off together to join the fray.

Silver eyes watched from the high perch of the arms of a Weeping Willow. Lucien spit time and time again, but he could not rid his mouth of the foul taste. He was disgusted by what he was seeing, but happy that he had not sent his best out tonight. He raised an arm in signal to his cohort across the way and waited. He heard the rushing of the feet before the Hunters. Makeet was reeling in the 16 feet of rope that made up his javelin when he saw them. “Lupo!” He yelled. Again he shouted, this time in English, “Wolf!” They had all heard him the first time, but they all notice the second. The pack of wolves numbered twelve and they moved hard and fast, rushing towards the Hunters. It was hard to tell from far away, but as the wolves came near, the metallic eyes and large fangs denoted that they had been tainted with Vampire blood.

Yoshi found herself very nearly performing a backbend as she avoided the leap of a wolf. She right herself quickly, tossing a throwing knife in the direction of a Vampire and then running the wolf through with her other hand. “They can’t be spared!” She called out to the others. What had been a model display of technique, quickly dissolved into chaos. Zibu found himself on his back with his forearms blocking his face from the gnashing teeth of a wolf. A fanged tooth pierced the leather of his gauntlet but sank no further as Ohai tackled the beast to the ground and swiftly snapped its neck. The Hunters quickly became aware that both man and beast alike surrounded them. “Can we kill the fuck who bled these dogs?” Ohai spit out the sentence with disgust as the Hunters began to gather together.

Yoshi glanced at the youngest of the Hunters and nodded. “I’ll point him out to you.” On instinct the Hunters moved as one and formed a tight circle, their backs and shoulders against one another. The ten stood strong as they had a 360 degree view of the clearing. “Everybody here?”

As usual, Tristan’s Aussie accent cut through the silence. “Nowhere else to be.” He flourished his Rapier and nudged Hibald. The smallest of all of them at a mere 5’5″, he carried a 50″ axe, which was the heaviest at five pounds. He twirled the Volgue and grunted his reply. They all followed suit until it was only Yoshi who remained. Technically it was her age that made her their general. The scribes would point out her flair for strategy and her confidence, but those that surrounded her and followed her, pledged their devotion because there seemed to be no other choice. She had once been and still was what they all aspired to be, and that was simply a warrior in the purest sense. Yoshi used her free hand to whip away the damp tendrils of her hair so she could take in everything around her.

“Okay boys, just like drill.”

“North.” Zibu called.

“South.” Tristan sang out.

“West.” Hamish bellowed.

“Makes me East.” Yoshi grinned wildly and slashed at a cocksure Vampire that moved towards her.

“You gonna use that thing or not?” Colin turned his head to the right and looked at Yoshi.

Her eyes grew wide with an almost girlish glee. “Almost forgot..” She sheathed her katana and then reached back to pull out Magnus’ sword. “Got a surprise boys.” The sword had the effect she wanted as their adversaries all began to step back a foot or two at recognizing the sword.

Tristan turned his head to get a look. “Well I’ll be a monkey’s uncle.”

“You are!” They all responded.

Yoshi chuckled. “Just like practice. Open the circle and the pull in the corners. Not a thing leaves this field unaided.”

“We got twenty minutes till first light.” Ohai being the time keeper added.

Yoshi curled up her lip as she mumbled out, “good.” She let out a low howl that gathered force as the other Hunters joined her. At the peak they opened the circle so that they were no longer shoulder to shoulder, but the form still remained. Lucien continued to watch from his perch and was more than impressed by the well-choreographed strategy. The Hunters moved as one unit– every side armed and protected. Together they moved to the corners, starting from the south moving north then west and finally east. The Hunters resembled a massive band saw as they sheared and sliced their way through the advancing Vampires and beasts.

Nothing was spared as body parts were removed with impunity. Jugulars were opened, eyes gouged, bowls split and heads sailed. The onslaught lasted for nearly five minutes with each Hunter painted red by the time the last of their opponents fell. Only a handful of humans and Vampires remained in the periphery, but none dared moved towards the Hunters. It was Yoshi who broke formation as she saw Lucien standing a 100 yards away, sword at his side and menace in his eyes.

“Finish the rest, I’ve got a debt to settle.” Blue eyes that appeared to be black stayed focused on the smiling demon as she marched off towards him. She wielded Magnus’ sword as if it were a baton–tossing it from her right hand to her left and swinging it through the face of a man to her left. She stopped when she was two body-lengths away from Lucien.

“My, my, my someone’s been eating their Wheaties.” Lucien remained cocky even as the threat of death entered his line of sight. “Cher, it would be my pleasure to take you down in all your glory. I must say, red is definitely your color.”

“You want to fight or write me a letter?” Her voice was deep with rage.

“I suppose we should make this quick– I’d like to pay my sister a visit.”

Yoshi smiled lasciviously. “Bet you would.”

He rolled his eyes and they both swung their swords. The impact of Magnus’ sword rang out loud as Lucien spun hard to his left from the force. Yoshi wasted no time in attacking — sending a heavy kick to his ribcage. The svelte man flew back a foot and quickly rolled to his feet. The hunter was upon him fast, swinging her sword down with both hands and knocking the sword from his grasp. She left him no time to react as she brought the blade back, removing his hand in the process. Lucien was all screams as he fell onto his back clutching the ragged stump that now ended his arm.

Yoshi raised her right leg and brought it down hard on his kneecap, crushing the bone. He hissed in pain as spittle began to gather at the corners of his mouth. It was all she could do to only smile as he begin to bargain for his life. His eyes returned to a human shade of gray as his features relax and his fangs receded.

“You can’t win Hunter.” He spoke through gasps. “It’s too far gone.” She stomped down on his other knee. “Fuck!” Yoshi gripped the sword with both hands and held the sword above his head so that it pointed towards him. “Wait, wait! What about Clarion?”

The dark woman paused for a moment as the scowl on her face disappeared and her eyes began to bleed blue again. “She has a message for you.” Her voice was warm like a mother with a newborn. Lucien grinned. “She wants you to be at peace.”

He chuckled. “Leave me be and I will.”

“That’s what I said.” She shrugged. “And then she said,” Yoshi paused as if she was recalling the exact words and then in a perfect imitation of Clarion’s light Louisiana accent she continued, “Nah– let ‘em rot in Hell.” Lucien’s eyes grew wide as he took in the massive blade and he could do nothing but follow its descent as it plunged into his heart. Yoshi forced the blade through his body until she pierced the earth two feet below him. She dropped to one knee and looked him straight in the eyes–watching as the life drained from his body.

Yoshi towered over his rapidly decaying body as she stood to her full her height and proceeded to yank the sword out of his chest. She pulled the sword in tight to her body as she held it with both hands and gave into the sweet tremors of battle lust. Her heart pounded against her chest cavity as if it was desperate to get out. Her nostrils filled with the scent of blood and death around her and her ears rang with the anguished calls of death. She did not shy away from the intensity of her rage or the elation of her triumph. Yoshi took a deep breath and let her head hang for a brief moment as she let herself be exhausted for moment and then she did the only thing she had right to do–and that was to be triumphant. She cried out not in pain, but in relief. The Hunters around her were not startled or surprised, but urged to expand their own lungs in acknowledgment of their feat.

Yoshi raised the large sword above her head and swung it in a large circle twice, before resheathing the weapon. First light was upon them and whatever remained alive would not make it to safety before dawn. One by one the Hunters began to disappear into the tree line, separating from one another for security purposes, but all knowing where to meet. Pink was beginning to fuse into orange as the Hunters all made it to the clearing near the swamp. Colin went and pulled at the hatch in the ground only to find it locked. He turned towards Yoshi in confusion.

She grinned. “There’s another.” Colin nodded and fell into line behind the others. Yoshi dropped into the hole first and they all followed suit. Upon their feet hitting the concrete it was quite obvious why they had entered this way—it led straight to the shower. Colin chuckled and looked to Yoshi as he beginning peeling off his clothes. “I think someone doesn’t want us to track up the house.”

Yoshi smiled. “Have you seen yourself lately?”

“You’re no designers dream either Yosh.” Joaquim added.

“I don’t know, I heard fall was going to be lots of red this year.” Tristan rolled his eyes as he put in his two cents. The Hunters filled the room with laughter and began to make their way into the all ready steamy shower.

Colin tried to hog two showerheads as he stretched out his arms and leaned against the wall. He let out an orgasmic sigh as the hot water streamed down his back. “Oh my god, I love that woman.”

Yoshi rolled her eyes and shoved the man out of the way. “Keep it to yourself boyle.” They both laughed and returned to the task of cleaning.

The white tiled floor quickly became a sea of red as body suits were peeled off and hair was washed clean. If possible, even the steam in the room seemed to be tinted a faint shade of red. Hamish crossed the room to stand next to Yoshi, clapping her on the back when he made it there. “Good to see you, girl.” He pinched her cheek and she shoved him off playfully.

“It’s good to see you too, you beast.” Her eyes were warm with sincerity.

“Can we please save the emotional chats for the dinner table,” Chalvi huffed. “I have no want to see naked people bonding in showers.”

“Unless it’s you and one of the boys from the GAP ad,” Tristan quipped with a raised eyebrow, “Oh, wait, that’s me.” His comment garnered a round of laughs from the lot of them. The laughter grew stronger as Chalvi lanced Tristan on the calves with a towel. They began to turn off the water as the horseplay became infectious and they all found themselves involved in pushing and shoving.

The light clearing of a throat alerted them all to someone else’s presence. “I take it you all are hungry then.” Whether she did it on purpose or not, Yoshi couldn’t help but stand up a bit straighter as she laid eyes on Clarion, who stood in the entrance to the room. She wore loose-fitting grey jersey pants that tumbled over her bare feet and a ribbed tank top. Clarion smiled politely, but there was nothing polite in her eyes as she took in the dark woman in the center of the room. “I got you a couple presents Colin.”

He clapped his hands. “Sweet Jesus it’s beer.”

Clarion smiled, but kept her eyes affixed to the Hunter. “You going to introduce me to your friends?”

Even though her mind was reeling with thoughts of herself and a certain woman, somehow Yoshi found her voice and spoke. “Everybody…this is everybody.” She shook her head. “I mean Clarion.”

The red head smiled. “Real smooth there Samurai.”

The taller woman shrugged and began to walk towards Clarion, oblivious to the confused and concerned but mostly amused looks on the others faces. Yoshi stopped abruptly an arms length away from Clarion as she registered the look on the smaller woman’s face more than the words that came from behind her. Yoshi tightened the towel around her waist and spun around to face Zibu.

He spoke again. “It is sacrilege to make your bed with a demon.” He spat out his words in Yoshi’s direction but steeled his gaze on the grinning Clarion.

“Don’t worry we usually never make the bed.” She answered him in the Greek they were taught in the commune.

Zibu scowled. “Yoshima you must answer, what is the meaning of this?” Zibu’s voice was amazingly strong as he looked in the dark woman’s direction. He understood it was a mistake to question her, but he only began to realize how severe, as she turned ice blue eyes in his direction. Even Ohai’ who always came to his side, had to stand aside this time.

“You question me, Zibu?” Her tone was just short of mocking. He couldn’t seem to find his voice and she moved closer to him. “Answer me.”

Zibu straightened his shoulders and swallowed the lump in his throat. “This is not right, I think you’ve been gone too long. There are rules and law.”

Yoshi’s eyebrows raised in shock. She made to move towards him, but Makeet entered her path, not daring to touch her, but being visible. She kept her fists at her sides and sneered at Makeet. “Stand down, Makeet.”

“Move boy.” Hamish put his hand on Makeet’s shoulder.

Yoshi remained where she was and Colin let out a small whimper of relief as he kept an eye on Clarion. “Rules, Zibu? Rules.” Her voice grew louder with each word. “You want to talk to me about laws.”

The African set his jaw and stood his ground. “You mistake my youth for naivete. I know what the books say, this can not be done, you soil us all with her kind.”

Clarion rolled her eyes and looked to a groaning Colin. “Soil?” She spoke the word mostly to herself.

Zibu pointed towards the smirking woman. “She mocks me and you let it pass. Yoshi, we can’t have any part in this.” He pounded his fist into his hand. “There are rules and laws and you know it.”

They room grew deathly still as they all waited for Yoshi to explode, but instead she chuckled in disbelief. “Laws? Laws.” She shook her head and smiled. “I am the law!” The boom of her voice threatened to shake the walls. “Who are you to speak to me of rules and law! You know books and writings that were long dead before you even walked the earth. How dare you speak to me of law and councils. You want a council Zibu?” She waved her hand about the room. “This is the council! We’re all that’s left and I am the final word here…now and always.” She moved towards Zibu so that only an inch of space separated them and spoke through clenched teeth. “You will not ever presume to tell me how to live my life. You have no idea what is happening around us and you have no right to question me. And I promise you, you can sooner fall on your sword than disrespect her or me. Are we clear?”

Zibu swallowed and stepped back as Yoshi did the same, her hand immediately finding its way to Clarion’s hand. “I hear you…I do not agree, but I hear you.”

Yoshi opened her mouth to start a tirade but a hard tug on her hand pulled her back and gave Hamish room to move between Yoshi and Zibu. “All right, enough! Look, I don’t really give flying fuck who’s the law and who’s naive and who’s got bigger balls and what not. What I do know is that I’m hungry, I’m thirsty, and I’m tired.” Hamish looked towards Clarion and smiled. “Now I don’t care if this wee girl is the Queen of the Harpees, she’s cleaned me, probably going to clothe me and I know she’s going to fill my belly and give me a place to lay my head.” He winked and turned back to Zibu. “Z, I respect you, but there’s a lot you don’t know and if we don’t get through this you’re never going to know. And let’s be honest I don’t think we’re in a position to picky.” Hamish clamped a large hand down on Colin’s shoulder. “Now, I don’t know about the rest of ya’, but me and this one have got a fine date with a keg of beer. If you two want to spit on each other and see who can make the other cry, fine, but you do it at the dinner table like you’re supposed to.” Small chuckles rose from the group. “Seriously, Z, this is no time to pick a fight, so just let it be. Besides, I’m sure there’s a story here.” He turned towards the still scowling Yoshi and grinned at her. “C’mon let’s eat.”

Hamish began to move towards the entrance and he stopped where Clarion stood and looked down at the small woman. “I’d kiss your cheek but your guard dog here might rip my lips off.”

Clarion blushed profusely. “I’d kiss your cheek, but I don’t think I can reach that high.”

Hamish chuckled and then bent a bit at the waist. Clarion giggled and wasted no time at placing a chaste kiss on his cheek. Hamish stood and walked from the room with an added skip in his step. They all continued to file from the room, each stopping to tip imaginary hats or bow in her presence. Clarion had to fight to gather her composure as Zibu began to make his way from the room. He stopped in front of Clarion and ignored Yoshi’s hard stare. It was Clarion who spoke. “If you eat first, it will be easier to apologize.” Zibu could find no malice in her words, so he only nodded. “Besides, she’ll be too tired to want to fight you.” Clarion winked at the man and watched him exit the room slightly confused. Clarion stood still, holding Yoshi’s hand as she watched the woman visibly relax. “Just you and me again.”

The words were like cool rainwater to Yoshi’s ears. She turned around and faced the smaller woman, embracing her strongly. Clarion held on to dear life, realizing that Yoshi needed the contact more than anything. Clarion squirmed a bit as Yoshi nuzzled her hair sending a tickling sensation down her spine. Yoshi pulled back, concerned. “Did I hurt you?”

Clarion shook her head. “Just gave me butterflies that’s all.” She raised her head and brushed her lips against the Hunter’s. “You okay?”

“Almost perfect.” She hummed out.

“Well we need to get you to perfect.” The redhead wiggled her eyebrows and was swiftly rewarded for her suggestion as Yoshi leaned down and captured fleshy pink lips that been neglected too long. The Hunter’s kiss was all passion and force and it was pure pleasure for Clarion to give in. They pulled away from one another in need of air. “I suspect that’s a bit closer?”

Yoshi pursed her lips. “Not even close.”

Clarion laughed out loud and pushed the Hunter away. “Go change and eat, you tease.”

Yoshi rewrapped her towel as she walked to the door. “Coming?”

Clarion ran a hand through her hair and nodded. “Just want to make sure the drain is open and I’ll be up.” Yoshi smiled warmly and waved. Clarion was all smiles as she waved back and watched the woman go. When Yoshi was out of sight, the smile dropped from her face as Clarion clutched her side. It was all she could do to keep from screaming out in pain at the severe cramps rolling through her body. She staggered from the room and stood over a bin of bloody clothes. Clarion stood over the bin for nearly a minute and simply breathed. In and out, long and deep breaths. She was praying the scent was enough to calm the fever on her insides. She was counting on it to be enough. She took one last breath and stepped back, wiping the sweat from her brow. “Get it together Larieux. Let’s just get through this and we can deal with your appetite later.” She patted her cheeks. “You’re okay kiddo.” She let out a breath and moved down the hall as if she feared being chased–never once considering the fact that she was being watched.

“Hey!” Colin’s voice rang out through the dark. “You coming to eat or not?”

“Yeah, I just forgot something that’s all.” The woman’s voice was low and tight.

Colin looked to the woman with concern. “You okay Yosh?”

The dark woman managed a smile as she tousled her hair. “I’m cool, just tired I guess.”

He smiled as they began walking down the hall. “Well, come eat– that girl of yours has fixed us a fine meal. And gotten us some fine beer.” He wiggled his eyebrows.

She smiled. “My girl, huh. The words were almost inaudible.

“Put some clothes on you freak, and at least eat something.” She mustered a smile for her friend and watched him walk off.

Yoshi did as she was told– putting on her clothes and coming to the dinner table. She went so far as to put on a happy face and act as if nothing had happened. It was easy, so easy that she really did begin to forget what had happened. She laughed at the jokes made at her expense and shared her war stories freely. In the end, it turned out to be a good idea to just tuck away the nights’ events and worry about them later. Especially, when green eyes looked to her with love and need. She and Clarion disappeared from the table not worried if they would be missed and tended to themselves.

They made love that night filled with a silent need that neither felt ready to voice. Clarion was ravenous in her attack upon the dark woman, giving neither of them time to even breathe let alone feel emotions. This was purely about need–and Yoshima could do nothing but give into the will of the woman who lay atop her. They lay there for what seemed like hours, but may have only been minutes–wrapped in each other. Yoshi, held Clarion to her as she trembled with release for the last time. They lay as one– fused together by sweat and the rhythm of their heartbeats–not changing their positions.

Yoshi caressed Clarion’s back as she hugged the smaller woman to her, pretending not to notice the tear drop that cooled her neck. Yoshi’s lips rested just at Clarion’s ear and she spoke. “I love you, Clarion.” The red head made no movement, but Yoshi sensed the spill of her tears before she felt them. It was not a pouring out, but only the betrayal of tear ducts. Yoshi waited a beat and spoke softly once more, “Clarion Larieux, I lay down my blade.” Clarion’s heart too played traitor as it skipped a beat at Yoshi’s words. They both knew what was to come– as if it had been said yesterday, and not what seemed like a lifetime ago, in the catacombs of a graveyard, both angry and scared. Yoshi held fast to Clarion as the smaller woman squeezed back and then she continued. “I kneel at your feet to beg forgiveness an to beg of your mercy. In this as in all things my life is yours. I pledge you my honor, my skill, my duty, my core, all that I am, from whence I came to wherever you lead. As it is and as it should be, from beginning to end, alpha and omega: I give you my blade.”

A reverent silence pierced the air after Yoshi finished speaking and it would remain that way for the rest of the night. It wasn’t that they weren’t willing to speak or had not the power–it was merely irrelevant. Just as time and space had no meaning in the moment, their voices were cursory. They existed only for one another in that place. Their thoughts would be quiet this night, as what lay before them was as dark and treacherous as a starless mountain road at night.

CH 16: BEST LAID PLANS

Clarion awoke next to an empty space, underneath sheets that had long been cold. The inclination to worry never entered her mind as she heard the shuffling of feet around her and assumed that all was well. Well enough, so that she picked up her cell phone, dialing a familiar number, and lost herself in conversation for a good hour.

A good time later, when lunch seemed more important than phone calls, she was startled as Colin burst into the kitchen-hair matted with sweat, heaving with breath. Clarion raised her brow both in amusement and alarm as she watched the big man guzzle a bottle of water. “Where’s the fire man?”

He smiled at Clarion as he grabbed two liter bottles of water from the fridge. “Where have you been, sleepy head?”

“On the phone.” She tapped the object in question. “What’s going on?”

“Doing Roundabouts.” He said it as if she understood. Clarion shrugged. “C’mon. Grab some water and come outside with me.” Fearful that he would drag her to her feet, she rose on her own and followed the nearly giddy man outside.
The early afternoon sun beat down hard on the clearing and it was apparent both why Colin was sweating like a dog and what Roundabouts were. Without looking, Clarion found her way to a fallen log to sit down and watch. The basic principle of Roundabout boiled down to one Hunter in the middle, while the other Hunters circled-all the while they attempted to beat the stuffing out of the one in the center. The present game centered on Yoshi had been going on for quite some time.

“How long has she been in there?” Green eyes could not stray from the sight of the dark woman prodding her brethren with a cock-sure smirk. She winced only out of instinct, as she watched Yoshi bend back Joaquim’s arm and toss him off to the side.

“About twenty-minutes.”

At first it was if Clarion hadn’t heard Colin, but his words finally registered, as she whipped her head around in his direction. “What!” She turned wide green eyes back to the woman who looked like she was merely holding a demonstration. “Is she even sweating?”

Colin chuckled, but never got a chance to answer as Hamish called out. “Switch out!” At that Colin took Joaquim’s place on the outside of the circle. The Spaniard rotated his shoulders as he walked to where Clarion sat and plopped down beside her. “Enjoying the show?” Defined cheek bones raised as he smiled at the small woman.

She took in the warm smile of the man at her side and nodded. “If this is what you guys do when you get together, I can see why you stay apart.”

He laughed in between sips of water. “What can I say, we like to play.” He spoke with a soft tone accompanied by a rich accent.

Clarion visibly flinched as the sound of metal clashing together boomed though the clearing. She opened her eyes fully to the sight of Hamish swinging his axe towards Yoshi. Once again the sharp clang of steel meeting steel assaulted her ears as Yoshi met Hamish’s downswing with a broadsword. She held nothing back as she pushed up with a fierce determination in her gut. Hamish opened his stance as he was forced back and left himself open. He did not even wince as she dropped her shoulder and rammed it into his sternum nor did he let out a grunt as she rose up quickly, driving her head into his chin. The mammoth man did not fall down, but he staggered back. Yoshi did what most people would never do sane or otherwise, turning her back on the Scots man and tending to the eyes and advances of the eight others around her.

Clarion shook her head as she watched the woman taunt her attackers. “She’s so mean to you guys isn’t she?”

Joaquim laughed. “She’s good, that’s all.”

“So what. I bet she’s been hogging all the time.”

The sound of laughter came from the right. “Well if you can get her out of there, I’d appreciate it.” Clarion turned her head towards a pouting Makeet.

“Don’t be sore hermano, let her have her fun.”

“Fun.” He rolled his eyes. “I’m aging over here.”

All three laughed. Clarion eyed the woman in the middle and then turned towards the two men at her side. “I can get her out.” At that Clarion stood up.

Joaquim hopped to his feet. “I can’t let you go in there.”

She touched his shoulder and grinned. “I don’t have a death wish Joaquim, but I do need to be standing for this.”

A dark eyebrow raised in skepticism. “Am I going to get my ass kicked for this?” He could read the mischievousness in her eyes as clear as he could tell time by the sun.

The redhead licked her lips and winked. “She’ll be too busy being worried about my ass to even notice.” As the words fell from her lips she whistled high and long, gaining everyone’s attention, especially Yoshi’s. The moment blue eyes met green Clarion tangled small fingers in the hem of her t-shirt and pulled up. The exposure probably didn’t last more than a good second, but it was a second too long as every eye took in the sight of Clarion’s breasts: alabaster globes colored pink around the nipple. The unexpected revealing was more than enough to catch Yoshi off guard.

When the first punch met Yoshi’s jaw, Clarion let her shirt down and managed to watch with one eye open as the octet collapsed on the dark woman, shoving and kicking and punching until they had tossed her from the circle. She was still clearly in shock and perhaps even awe, as she sat on her butt, jaw agape, and confusion in her eyes. The eight let out a holler of triumph and then as if it was planned, Hamish went about his business as he bellowed, “Switch out!”

Joaquim patted Clarion on the shoulder as he began to walk away. “That was cruel you know.” He could not hide the smirk.

Clarion shrugged. “But it was worth it right?” Joaquim moistened his lips before speaking, prepared to make a lascivious comment, only to be stopped by the presence of a scowling Yoshi at his back. The Spaniard swallowed the lump in his throat and bowed his head towards Clarion. “Perhaps I’ll answer that some other time, querida.”

Yoshi eyed Joaquim as he moved to another part of the field. Quickly, she turned her eyes towards the grinning Clarion. “Why?”

Clarion didn’t mean to laugh, but Yoshi sounded so sad, she couldn’t help it. Her laughter grew, as Yoshi furrowed her brow in a child-like manner and began to pout slightly. “You gotta stop doing that or I’ll be here laughing all day. You’re just too cute.” Yoshi looked confused. Clarion just shook her head as she grabbed Yoshi’s hand and led her to the tree stump to sit. “Stop pouting will ya’ or I’ll be forced to really embarrass you.”

Yoshi sat up a little straighter as her eyebrow arched and the pout disappeared. “What makes you think I was embarrassed?” Challenge was in her voice.

Clarion drew her tongue across her teeth. “So maybe I think I’d like to let them watch.” Her tone was as serious as the look on her face.

Yoshi abandoned the game and look startled. “Are you for real?”

Clarion burst into laughter, ending in soft chuckles as she kissed Yoshi on the lips. “You’re a sure-fire idiot, yeah ya’ right.” Clarion chuckled. “Get your mind out of the gutter please.”

Yoshi began to sulk a bit, but soon found herself laughing along with Clarion. “I guess I was showing off, huh?”

“Other people want to play too Yoshi.”

She smiled. “True enough, but really, I’m good because they’re all afraid of me. Now, Makeet, he’s good.” She pointed a finger towards the man now in the middle of the ring.

Clarion watched Makeet for a moment and then turned to Yoshi. “Where are his weapons?”

Yoshi grinned like she had a secret. “Watch him.”

Clarion matched the dark woman’s grin and then turned her eyes toward the men in front of her. She was mesmerized by what she saw. For a brief moment Makeet fought with only his hands and then just as quickly he used his feet. He moved in and out of fighting styles as if he were a puppet on a string. He did not bother to disarm the other Hunters, but instead turned their weapons against them: grabbing Hugh’s staff and slamming it back against him; halting Tristan’s blades between his closed palms and kicking him in the gut; reliving Zibu of his chobos and handling them like mere drumsticks. It was Tristan who found himself being switched out as he gladly took a seat next to Yoshi and Clarion.

“These kids are trying to kill me.” He fanned himself and then guzzled water from a bottle.

Yoshi laughed. “How do you think I felt about you?”

Tristan scoffed and rolled hazel eyes. “Whatever chick, we weren’t nearly as bad a these guys.”

Clarion smiled as she watched the two friends interact. “What’s the division with you all?”

Hazel eyes regarded Clarion. “Me and her or the whole lot?”

“All of you?”

“This one, Colin and Hamish are the old farts.” Yoshi rolled her eyes and Tristan ignored her. “I’m the middle kid, well what’s left of the middle kids anyway.” He ran a slender hand through his hair. “I guess Joaquim comes next. He kind of ushers in the ‘babies’ of the bunch. After that, you’ve got Chalvi, Hugh, and Makeet. Zibu and O’hai are the last.”

Clarion nodded. “I gathered that from last night. Are Zibu and O’hai even a hundred?”

“Under a decade.” Yoshi answered as she cast her gaze upon the circle and then back. “Zibu is a few years older than O’hai.”

“That makes them the weakest of the bunch.”

“Well sure. A few well-placed wounds and they will bleed out. Why do you ask?” Tristan put down his bottle and Yoshi looked to Clarion awaiting her answer.

” I wish I had some plan to formulate, but really I was just curious.” Clarion was silent for a moment as she stared off into space. “So, it’s true there is no permanent death for you either.”

Tristan chuckled and then swatted Yoshi on the shoulder. “Didn’t you tell this girl anything?”

Yoshi redden a bit. “We were usually otherwise occupied.”

Tristan winked. “Yeah, I bet.” They all laughed. “I don’t know what tall, dark, and silent told you, but we can die Clarion. I mean it’s not as dramatic as losing one’s head or being stabbed through the heart, but it happens. To be honest, it boils down to how weak you are.” He pointed his finger towards Colin. “Colin for instance, could get shot with a double barreled shotgun in the head and get up and walk away. Yoshi here could probably take a cannonball to the chest at close range and not flinch. It’s all about time and experience.” Clarion took in the new information given to her and tucked it away as she focused her attention on the show of skill before her.
—————–

The clock indicated that it was twenty after one, as the ten Hunters and one Vampire sat down in the large living room. Hamish crushed the plastic bottle that once housed his water and laid it to the side before he spoke.

“All right, we got some stuff to discuss.” The customary head nods passed through the room. “I think it’s quite clear we’re out of time and hopefully Clarion here is going to shed some light on who it is we are looking for. We all know what’s at stake here Boyles,” he paused to clear his throat, “I want us all to make it through this one.” A round of ‘ayes’ and head nods moved through the room. “All right, Red, what ya’ got for us?” He turned his eyes towards Clarion.

“What I have it not necessarily much, but I think we can make something of it.” She ran a hand through her hair and tried to make eye contact with everyone around her. “For those who may not know, we’ve come to the conclusion that Stolov’s trying to create a new race. Essentially, he wants to breed everybody out, starting with him as ground zero. It seems he has gone beyond ideas of simply becoming a Master and has decided to make a race of Masters.” Audible sighs and groans moved through the room. “Obviously none of us are looking forward to that. As far as I can tell he’s found himself a woman to bear his child. Untouched by Stolov this is a pretty special kid, but with Stolov’s help this child will be the end of us all. For all intents and purposes the child will be a Master at birth.”

“Centuries of power without the wait, eh.” Makeet voiced his thoughts with a sigh.

Clarion nodded. “I’ve narrowed it to down to seven women, all of whom will be ready to give birth before the week is out.”

“So the kid’s not all ready born?” asked Tristan.

“The odds of that are slim to none.” Colin answered.

“Not that it couldn’t happen,” Clarion added, “but the blood of the mother is crucial at this point. It not only feeds Stolov but it’s going to feed the child. The blood is the ticket to immortality.”

“Where are we at finding her?” Hamish looked to Clarion as he spoke.

The redhead ran a hand through her hair. “Well on paper you’re looking at seven different locations.”

Grunts arose in the room as Hamish spoke again. “A trap no doubt.”

“More than likely, but we can use it to our advantage.” All eyes focused on Yoshi as she spoke. “I think he has her all ready or she’s within his reach. He’s interested in seeing how desperate we are, he wants to know if we’ll separate and seek her out.”

Clarion turned to Yoshi and furrowed her brow. “You knew that and you let me go?”

Yoshi nodded and held up her hand hoping that would began to quell Clarion’s annoyance. “If you didn’t go you’d tip our hand. I’ve been given the distinct impression that this has all been in the works for quite some time. So long in fact, that we basically have no defense. I intend to prove Stolov correct.” Yoshi paused and swept her eyes over those assembled.

“Well Yoshi, it’s not as if we can let him go through with it?” Zibu voiced the concern of those around him.

Dark hair swung as she shook her head and then a faint grin touched her lips. “It won’t happen, but while he thinks we’re out hunting for his girl we’ll be destroying his crops.”

“I don’t follow.” Zibu spoke again and those around nodded their heads in agreement.

“You’ve all said your towns are empty. The lieutenants have left and all the scum are left behind.” Nods moved through the room “They’re all there, but once again they’re being quiet.” Blue eyes cut to Hamish and Colin as she spoke. “Some of you are too young to know, but once before, they were all quiet.” Colin and Hamish nodded their heads in understanding and Clarion looked to Yoshi, as she too understood what was being formulated.

“We can’t take them all on by ourselves Yoshi. Some of those towns are too large.” Colin said.

“Which is precisely why we are simply going to lock them in their rooms so to speak.”

Small chuckles wafted through the room. “So fine we salt the earth, pack it with rotting flesh, erect some fences and bless the water. Eventually, they’ll get out, so what’s your point?”

“Makeet, that’s going to take time and before they crawl out of their holes Stolov will be dead and there will be no one to follow.”

“How can you be sure?”

She shrugged. “I’ll admit I’m not completely sure, but they’ve been following this man for centuries, hell I’ve been following him for centuries and I’ve learned the same thing they know. And it’s what we’ve known all along…you cut out the heart and the rest will wither and die.” Blue eyes moved over those around her and she watched as understanding seeped through the gathering. “He is the heart and soul of a nation that we have never understood.” She glanced to her side where Clarion sat and then back at her brethren.

“What is it that you’re saying Yoshi?” Joaquim raised his brow high as he regarded the dark woman.

She sighed. “I’m not really sure what I’m saying. Trust me, I’m making all this up as I go along. But what I do know, what I do sense, it’s that there is a change to come. I have no idea what the future holds, but I know in this present we are dying if we are not all ready dead.” Blue eyes looked to Clarion for support and understanding that she immediately found. “I have no idea how this will all end, but I am sure that our preservation lies in what occurs in the coming days. It may be very well that are breed is done-

Hugh interrupted her with the clearing of his throat. “I think you resign us to death too easily Yoshi.”

She held up her hand at the small man. “I’m not resigning us to death Hugh. I acknowledge that there is the possibility of death, but out of that there is the promise of rebirth. Now I don’t know about you all, but in nearly a millennia of life I have surely lost myself and my purpose. It has been too long since I have had the will to live.” She paused and took hold of Clarion’s hand that lay on the seat between them. “This is our beginning, not our ending.”
The room grew quiet as they all took in Yoshi’s words and ideas. It was a silence that was as peaceful as it was charged with energy. The calm was broken when Zibu stood and focused his attention on both Yoshi and Clarion. He bowed his head before he spoke and then met Yoshi’s gaze.

“I make my apologies to you Yoshima, and to you Clarion.” He bowed his head at Clarion and then looked back to Yoshi. “I won’t pretend to know where your strength comes from but it is something that I know we all aspire to. Perhaps this is the end of our chapter, but I will gladly follow you into the arms of death if it means our children will grow stronger.”

Yoshi did not fight the smile of pride that came to her lips as she stood. She clasped Zibu’s forearm and held fast. She had no words to voice the happiness that his words gave her and she could only nod at him and continue to smile. Zibu bowed under the weight of her obvious pride and felt it best to not speak. She let go of his arm and moved to take her seat again. She stopped as she gazed around her. The room was thick with emotion and normally she would have turned away from it, but instead she embraced the moment. “Thank you.” Her words were soft. “I don’t know why you all choose to follow…but thank you.” Yoshi met Clarion’s soft green eyes and found strength there. They stayed quiet for a moment as the intensity of the scene settled.

It was Colin’s voice that made its presence know first. “Ahem. Well while I don’t know whether I want to laugh or cry, I suggest we all have a beer and then sit down and figure out how we’re all getting out of this alive.” He grinned wildly as he spoke.

His words clearly shattered the moment and Clarion could only shake her head as she threw a throw pillow in his direction. Colin looked shocked as if he hadn’t said a word.

———

Yoshi paced the floor of the bedroom in nothing but her underwear as she repeated the words in her head. “Sullit, sullit. Kynera fore sholt.” The pillows began to move on the bed and then tumble to the floor as Clarion began to awaken. Disheveled red hair poked up through the mound of covers as still sleepy green eyes observed the Hunter pacing the floor.

“It’s, “sullit, sullit, kynera, fore-a, sholt.” She spoke through a yawn. Yoshi sighed and gracelessly fell onto the bed.

“Why is this so hard?” She growled and Clarion stifled a giggle.

“Because, Samurai you don’t know the language and you don’t know what you’re saying.”

Yoshi furrowed her brow as she turned on the bed and faced the impish woman ensconced between pillows and sheets. “Why don’t you tell me what I’m saying and teach me the language.” She focused her blue gaze on the smirking Clarion.

Clarion sucked her teeth and shrugged. “It’ll cost you.”

An eyebrow arched at the challenge. “What are you offering?”

“My unwavering gratitude and devotion.”

Yoshi pursed her lips as she feigned contemplation. “Got anything better than that?” She kept a straight face as she spoke.

Clarion fought the urge to roll her eyes. “Fine then, my unconditional love…but that’s all I’m offering.”

Dark hair moved about Yoshi’s shoulders as she bobbed her head. “I guess that’s okay, nothing else though?”

Clarion pressed her palm to the Hunter’s head and pushed. “Nothing else? I oughta give you a fat lip, pahtna’.” She shook a playful fist in the air. Clarion rolled her eyes as she sprang from the bed, being sure to toss the sheets onto to Yoshi’s giggling frame.

Yoshi cleared the sheets from her body as she sat up and admired the petite woman who was stepping into a pair of sweatpants. “Just jokes, Clarion, no need for clothes.”

Clarion emitted a low chuckle as she watched the dark woman pout. “Not this time Samurai, besides I got some reading to do and some studying.” She groaned and ruffled her hair as she searched for a shirt. She kicked through the strewn clothes about the floor not finding what she needed. A white spot in the corner of her eye prompted her to turn towards the bed, where Yoshi sat, legs askew twirling her t-shirt in the air. Clarion grinned at the woman and wiggled her fingers. “Give it up.”

Yoshi shook her head. “Come get it.” She batted her eyes and winked at the smaller woman.

Clarion felt her insides turn to mush. “Any other day , any other second, and you would calling me God right now.” She laughed as Yoshi raised her eyebrows up and down. “But, we’ve got work to do and you know it, so give it up.” She held out her hand and waited. If possible, Yoshi’s pout got more pronounced, as she stuck her lower lip out as she held onto the t-shirt. A minute passed and neither woman seemed to be moving. Clarion shrugged her shoulders. “Okay hot shot, I’ll just work topless.” Clarion turned her back to the woman and moved towards the door.

With speed akin to a tornado, Yoshi moved from the bed and stood between Clarion and the door, with the t-shirt clamped between her teeth. Clarion could not fight the laugh that rumbled in her throat, as she took in the taller woman with the puppy-dog eyes. “If you behave,” she paused as she pried the shirt from Yoshi’s mouth, “maybe I’ll work fast.” She planted a warm and wet kiss on the Hunter’s lips and then proceeded to put on her shirt, as Yoshi stood dazed. “Just think, the quicker we get everything in order, the sooner we can pull this off, and then we can just… disappear.” Small hands spread wide and Clarion smiled.

“You want to get lost with me, huh?” Yoshi tousled her hair and regarded the sincere smile Clarion wore.

Her smile grew larger. “Definitely.”

“I can completely arrange that.”

The smaller woman laughed and kissed Yoshi on the cheek. “I’m thinking at least 50 years.”

Yoshi winked and clicked her tongue against the roof of her mouth. “You’re on pahtna’.”

Clarion laughed out loud. “Yeah ya right!” She kissed the grinning Hunter once more and then disappeared down the hallway.
The loss of Lucien seemed to present no problems for Stolov as shadowy figures still managed to find their ways to the airports and docks to watch the Hunters, as they appeared to disperse in search of the girl. The first day of Mardi Gras was three days away as the seven Hunters caught their flights or met their ships. It would take an entire day at the most, but eventually the message would be relayed to Stolov and would indeed appear that the Hunters were desperate and scrambling. What would appear desperate to Stolov was in reality calculated and well thought out. While in Ireland, Joaquim would be packing burlap sacks with the hallowed earth from St. Patrick’s. Zibu would do the same in Sao Paola, and O’hai would repeat the process in Jerusalem. Tristan and Hugh would gather water from the Vatican and the Aborigines. Makeet would gather coal in Soweto and Chalvi would return to Athens and ask for a blessing.

One by one, each would return to the spacious cavern in New Orleans a day before Mardi Gras, full of confidence and hope for a promising end to all of this. If everything else failed from here on out, in less than a week’s time, the Hunters would not be the only one’s left with nothing. All though Yoshi’s plan would leave Stolov and his followers without homes and even without sanctuary, the dark Hunter was merciful in that she was leaving them with the ability to take their own lives-which was far less than her kind had received so many centuries ago.

CH 17: UNTITLED

I will hold the candle till it burns up my arm
I’ll keep taking punches until their will grows tired
I will stare the sun down until my eyes go blind,
And, I won’t change direction
And, I won’t change my mind
How much difference will it make?
– “Untitled”, Pearl Jam

Fat Tuesday. Mardi Gras.

If nothing else was apparent on this night, it was that this could happen in no other place and at no other time. Night after night they sat atop rooftops, legs dangling over the edges, eyes affixed to the mass of bodies below. From above, whether drunk or sober, they reminded those down below of Gargoyles perched at the ready, none of them realizing that it was for their preservation they were fighting. None of the Hunters were aware of exactly when they would know and they had responded to a few false alarms earlier in the week on account of being too tense. But this night, the air crackled with so much energy it was almost too much, because it seemed to be contained all on one street. Clarion would never know how the Hunters sat there and blocked out the catcalls and hollers of chaotic joy. The sea of flesh was sweaty and mobile and it all glistened. Whether it was from sweat, necks adorned with beads or the glossiness of their eyes, Bourbon Street was too bright and too loud. On the other hand, the sign the heralded the beginning of their night was far from loud or bright.

Ten Hunters and one Vampire, all night creatures in their own way, were alerted in their own way. Some of them felt the air around them grow still. Others could smell the stale air that the undead often brought with them. It was Yoshi and Hamish that heard him and it was Clarion who saw the ribbon of black silk move through the crowd. Of course, it wasn’t actually a ribbon, but just the quick movement of a Vampire slipping through the crowd with ease, moving with unnatural speed. Before a second had passed they were all on their feet and moving in different directions. Most moved about the rooftops, while Clarion and Makeet took to the ground, soon to be followed by Joaquim and Colin. If those around them noticed the dark shadows zipping through the crowd, they were all too wrapped up in the spirit of the night to take heed to the small band of men and women cloaked in black tearing down Bourbon street.

The impromptu chase led Clarion and the Hunters to a run-down church, a long ten blocks from the lights and sounds of Mardi Gras. Eleven pairs of eyes watched as their so-called guide burst through the sturdy doors of the church and slammed them hard before they could follow. It was only Clarion that had to be stopped from running into the church with a hand to her arm. She turned with raised brow to Yoshi, who gently relinquished her hold on the smaller woman. Yoshi glanced down at Clarion only for a brief moment as she shook her head. Clarion looked into blue eyes that had grown darker in concentration.

“A trap?” Her question came out as more of a statement. Yoshi only nodded and then pointed two fingers in Hamish’s direction and waved him off. She repeated the action four more times, until each Hunter had moved to a different place surrounding the front of the building. Clarion remained by Yoshi’s side, where Colin soon joined her.

“You don’t have x-ray vision do ya’ lass?” Colin whispered the question into Clarion’s small ear.

The redhead smirked. “I missed out on that part of the package.”

Colin began to chuckle, but sobered quickly as Yoshi shot him a quick glare. “We need to make a decision Yosh. In or out? They’re not going to wait.”

Clarion could see the dark woman clench her jaw in thought. Blue eyes turned to O’Hai with a silent request. The large man raised his right arm and looked at his wrist. “We’ve got a little more than four hours before dawn.” She nodded and looked back to Colin. She was silent for a long moment as she glanced at Clarion and tried to remove the worry she felt in her gut. A small hand reached out to touch her in support. She managed a smile and then looked to Colin as he spoke in soft tones.

“We’ve got no choice and we’ve got no time.” The Irishman sighed and stood up straight. “I’ll take point.” Yoshi was all set to stare down her friend, but she knew he was right. It was better for one of the oldest to take point; at least they had a better chance of surviving what ever lay in wait behind the heavy wooden doors. Yoshi nodded and watched as Colin moved out from behind Clarion and walked towards the door. Joaquim fell into step behind Colin, as the Irishman unsheathed the six feet of his Claymore and proceeded with caution and the instinct borne of eight centuries.

It was a trap not so much because none of them could see what lay beyond the door, but because of the limited space. To the Vampires that waited inside the building, they were corralling the Hunters into a tunnel of sorts, built out of fallen columns, wood, pews strewn about the floor, and the cover of the dark.

Colin took a deep breath and then rammed the door with his shoulder, not because it was easier, but because it allowed him to tuck and roll on the floor. He rose to a kneeling position with one knee planted on the ground, and his blade parallel to the ground and raised high, the hilt at his eye level. Colin hesitated to wave the others forward as he adjusted to the onslaught of energy pulsing around him. He spit on the ground as he calmed himself. It had indeed been a long time since he had been in a battle of this magnitude. Colin’s hesitation caused Joaquim to move forward into the building a moment quicker than he should have. The sound of the wood slicing through the air was familiar to Colin as he rose up on instinct, thrusting his blade up. The Claymore caught the tail end of the shaft, deflecting its path, but not causing it to veer. Colin knew without looking that the large spear had found a home in Joaquim’s chest even before the Spaniard hissed in pain.

Yoshi’s voice boomed through the building as a modified boomerang sailed through the air. The tempered steel of the weapon’s edges whizzed through the air only to come back to Yoshi’s hand unstained. Hugh ignored Yoshi’s command of staying down, as he crawled towards the entrance and towards Joaquim. The Spaniard held both hands around the shaft of the spear that protruded from his chest. The pain was unbearable if for no other reason than the sight of his own blood frightened him. Hugh turned worried eyes towards Yoshi who could only look down at Joaquim in silence.

“Merde!” He spat. “I fucked myself, eh, hermana?” Dark eyes found Yoshi’s.

“Don’t talk Joaquim, we’ll get you out of this.” These words came from Clarion as she knelt by his head and wiped sweat from his brow. He smiled at the redhead prepared to answer her with some off-hand remark. His words were swallowed in a gurgle of pain, as spasms rocked his body. Clarion could feel herself growing angry, but she bit back her anger and fear if only for the sake of those around her. “What do we do?”

Blue eyes looked from both Clarion to Hugh and down to Joaquim. She said nothing as she placed her hands on the shaft and broke the wood so that only a foot jutted out from Joaquim’s chest. Hands encased in leather touched Joaquim’s chest as she put her face close to his chest. Clarion looked to Hugh in the hopes that the worried man could explain to her what was happening, but he could give her no answer. Yoshi rose back up and looked to Hugh. It was easy to read the finality in Yoshi’s eyes. Clarion gave Joaquim a weak smile. “It’s tainted.” Yoshi’s voice was low, but steady. “The weapons are spoiled.” She called out into the dark. Clarion creased her brow in question. “They’ve been sealed with blood…probably Stolov’s.”

Yoshi sat back and tried to get her eyes to adjust to the dark, relying mostly on her sense of smell and hearing to place their adversaries about the room. She didn’t move an inch when Hamish’s voice wafted into her ear from nearby. “We’ve got to move soon. There’s one in the balcony and four here on the floor with us. The rest-”

She finished the statement for him, “below.” She cleared her throat. “We’ll set up and if we’re not out of here by dawn,” she paused as she looked down at the Spaniard. “Joaquim becomes the detonator.” He nodded.

Hugh looked to Yoshi. “I’ll stay.” He looked to his friend and then back to Yoshi. “Just in case.”

Yoshi looked at Hugh as if she wanted to argue with him, but her features relaxed and she grasped the man’s forearm. She looked down at Joaquim and placed a quick kiss to his forehead. The Spaniard would have laughed if he hadn’t been so shocked. “Peace and blessings.” She nodded at the men and looked to the small woman who was doing a hard job at fighting her tears. “Clarion if he doesn’t bleed out, Stolov’s blood will rot him out from the inside, if it doesn’t turn him.” The redhead nibbled on her lip searching for some answer, but the truth was evident in blue eyes.

The redhead nodded and kissed Joaquim chastely on the lips. “Thank you for trying.”

Joaquim stopped Clarion with a weak grin. “Make sure she takes a vacation.” The redhead smiled fully as a tear ran down her cheek. “Vamoose.”

Yoshi pulled out her katana in her crouched position. “Everybody in and close the door.” The Hunters moved with speed as they all moved inside the doors and then closed them. The moment dark ascended in the church simultaneous attacks began. Yoshi loosed her boomerang again, but this time she threw it hard to the right, removing the hand of the spear thrower. Bullets rang out from overhead only to be silenced as Colin sent a well-timed cross bolt to the shooters neck. Hamish aimed his throwing axe toward the left, only to pull back quickly. The rapid rush of nails clicking against the ground had stopped his throw. Zibu bellowed into the dark, “wolves!”

Neither O’hai nor Zibu needed to wait for Yoshi’s command as they unholstered their guns. While O’hai’s Uzis showered the church with sound, it was Zibu’s .45s that seemed to shake the ground they stood on. An odd percussion composition played out as cartridges hit the floor with speed. Less than a minute passed, until the only sound that remained was the faint echo of spent rounds showering the floor. On silent command the remaining Hunters moved one by one, forming a single file as they followed the path of the wolves to an entrance in the wall. No words were exchanged as Yoshi walked through the opening first with Clarion at her back and Colin right behind her.

“The child is what matters.” Yoshi’s words rang out loud and clear as the Hunters broke away from each other, making their way down different tunnels and paths.

———

Of all the things that change through the centuries for the Hunter, the lust of battle always remains the same. It was not hard to discern why all these creatures had lasted for so long-the will to survive can turn the most inept and incapable into tactical masters if the drive is enough.

Colin and Clarion walked beside each other, each searching the dark with the eyes, ears, and noses. Clarion moved the small blade from her left hand to her right for the third time in a matter of seconds. Colin picked up on the noise and rolled his eyes.

“Just don’t drop that thing on my toe.” His voice was just above a whisper.

The redhead grinned. “I’m afraid of dropping it on my own toe.”

“Why should you worry, I’ll be the one getting my ass kicked.” They both snickered and quickly stopped.

“You smell that?”

Colin let out puff of air as if was annoyed by the whole situation. “All right, let’s go kill things.”

Clarion was about to laugh when a large mace was swung in her direction. She ducked out of range as Colin swung his Claymore where her head had been and sliced through the wood. Colin was a firm believer in follow-through, which he did, slicing the attackers head off cleanly. He searched behind him for Clarion only to hear her calling out ahead of him. He met her at the mouth of the tunnel, where five fresh-faced assailants quickly greeted them. Colin tossed her a crossbow and headed straight for the two largest men.

The redhead made a clean catch and quickly pulled the trigger as she was rushed by the remaining three. The moment the bolt left the shaft Clarion dropped out of the line of sight as she tucked her knees and rolled forward. She was back on her feet in time to see her arrow embed itself in the forehead of a Vampire. The unexpected explosion scared her as well as the two advancing on her. A wide-eyed Clarion dropped the crossbow to the floor as if it was on fire and then looked back up at the scowling faces.

“Who knew?” She shrugged and smiled as if it was the most natural thing to do as she found herself being backed into the corner. She raised the fingertips of her freehand to her lips and proceeded to blow her attackers a kiss. While the gesture was surprising enough in itself, the large ball of fire searing their faces proved to hold more shock value. She ended their howling with two clean stabs to the heart. She stepped away from the dying fire and found a smirking Colin watching her every move.

“So that’s what they teach you out here in the country.”

She chuckled. “Yeah like you don’t have to explain the exploding arrows.” Green eyes looked to the crossbow at her feet and she stepped back causing Colin to laugh.

“It’s the arrow, not the bow.” He bent over and scooped up the offending weapon. “I promise no more bow for you.”

Clarion nodded as they started walking again. “And next time, you can take on three.”

Colin feigned innocence. “But my guys were huge, I thought that was fair.”

Clarion laughed as they moved down a torch-lit corridor. “I hear them coming, so we can try again.” Her comment had been made playfully, but they both lost their smiles, as the pounding grew greater. They stood back-to-back and listened. Clarion held out her hand as the sound grew closer. “Gimme the crossbow.”

Colin handed her a loaded crossbow with a smile as he held his sword at the ready. Luckily, neither Clarion nor Colin were trigger-happy, so it was with a welcome relief that Hamish came bounding down the corridor, straight past them. His voice boomed down the corridor as he disappeared. “Move, boyle!” Neither doubted him as they both took off behind Hamish.

Whether one is trying to outrun the devil or trying to outrun the past, the same rule always applies-never look back. The sound of the feet behind them was almost deafening in its volume. Clarion swore they’d never make it down the corridor, not with the heat at her back, and at some point she made the decision to just stop, at least this way she knew she’d give Colin a chance. Clarion drew in a deep breath as she began to feel the energy gather in her body. In her mind’s eye she saw her power as a small ball of light gathering in her gut until it reached the point of bursting, upon which the feeling spread throughout her body. There were no small crevices for her to disappear into and the ceiling was too low for her to jump, leaving her with only the choice of standing still-hoping the tide of people carried her forward instead of ripping her in two.

Colin picked up speed as he saw the large room ahead of him. He looked to his side as he ran and nearly stopped in his tracks when he didn’t see Clarion. He violated his own rule as he looked back and as expected he was sorry that he did. It wasn’t so much the bloody fangs on the wolves that bothered him or the ten or so runners behind him, but it was the small redhead that was swallowed up in the moving mass. Colin couldn’t tell if she had merely been swept up in the rush or if she had been trampled. He swallowed his fear for a moment as he made it into the large room quickly diving off to his left.

Colin made it to his feet just as the first set of paws crossed the threshold. He was swift in putting the beast out of its misery and readied himself for the ones he could reach. On cue, Hamish’s axes sailed through the air with pinpoint accuracy, each burying themselves in the chests of two of the runners sending them backwards. Hamish grabbed the axes at his side, only throwing one and using the second to fend off the wolf that leapt towards his head. Colin on the other hand still stood near the door and slashed at what ever came through it, gratefully, except for two, the wolves had been disposed of. He now filled his hands with both his broadsword and a short sword taking on the armed humans and Vampires that began to come through the door two or three at a time.

The Irishman dropped to one knee as a blade sliced into his shoulder. He swung the length of the Claymore at the ankles in front of him, spraying the ground with blood and muscle as the now hobbled men wailed. Colin steeled himself for an attack by the wolves only to watch with wide eyes as they leapt over him and ran towards one of the two stairwells that led out of the room.

“Hamish! Kill those damn dogs and find out what they’re protecting.”

He heard Hamish grunt something that sounded like ‘sure’, but it was probably just the sound of his axe cutting through flesh. “Where’s Clarion!” He growled out as he blocked a kick to his head, grabbing the ankle, and then snapping the bone.

“I think she’s hurt, boyle, help me clear this hallway.”

Hamish smiled. “Let’s let them in then.”

Colin flexed his right wrist and sent out a crossbow bolt from the mechanism on his gauntlet. The subsequent cover of the explosion allowed him to back up and stand beside Hamish in the middle of the large room. Both men stood poised for an onslaught that never came. An eerie three seconds went by and they both relaxed their stances holding their weapons at their sides. Hamish wiped away blood on his brow and then turned to a confused Colin.

Colin looked to Hamish and back towards the empty doorway. “Do you know how many there were?”

The large man gave a half-shrug. “When I started running earlier, I thought I counted at least 25 and the six wolves.”

Both men looked around them. Stained blood, ashes and body parts littered the area. Colin tried to count, but it was hard to tell what head belonged to whom, or whose blood spatter matched to a pattern of ashes. Colin opened his mouth to answer, just as they were both drawn to the entrance. The man’s neck was clearly broken, from the way the forehead touched his chest, but he moved, and he spoke.

“It was more like thirty-five.”

Colin let out a holler of happiness as Clarion’s voice carried to his ears. “You can come out now.” The body dropped to the ground and in its place stood a slightly winded and bloody Clarion. The redhead took her time moving forward as she wiped at the smeared blood on her face and neck. “You hurt?” The concern was evident as he held out a hand to her.

Clarion shook her head and then slapped the pommel of the tanto into Colin’s hand. “You can keep that thing.” She rolled her neck until the vertebrae aligned.

Colin looked down at the offending weapon and smiled. “You didn’t lose a toe did you?”

Clarion met his eyes and smiled. “No, but I’m going to have a scratch on my ass about two inches long.” She winced as she touched a hand to the back pocket of her jeans.”

Colin grinned. “It’ll heal promise.”

Both Hamish and Colin burst into loud giggles that they quickly stifled when the smaller woman glared at them with humorless green eyes, but a smirk playing at the corner of her mouth.

Clarion winked at both men and then clapped her hands together. “Allright boys, there’s a baby behind one of these doors.”

Hamish turned towards the stairwell where the wolves lay dead. “I pick that one.”

They moved towards the stairwell. “You managed to get information in all of that?”

“When their dying words are ‘get the baby’ it’s pretty easy.”

Colin stuck out his tongue and they took the stairs in a single file, with Clarion sandwiched in between the two men.
They all heard the breathing. It wasn’t a gasping for air nor was it the whisper of a person’s last breaths. The sound was steady and the pace consistent. It was the sound of a peaceful sleep. At first glance she appeared to be crucified-arms out parallel to the ground, head hanging to the left, as if she had been forsaken. It was on this first glance that Clarion reacted to the woman’s state. She paid no mind to the men who searched the room; her eyes were only for the woman with the dried blood at her neck. Clarion approached the woman with quiet steps, even though she was almost sure the woman was near death anyway.

Her steps carried her towards the woman where she stopped and held up her hand as if to touch the woman’s face. Clarion drew back her hand and instead went to untie the ropes at her wrists. When she had untied both arms, the woman fell forward lifelessly onto Clarion’s shoulder. She gently laid the woman down on a pallet that was near her. A lump formed in her throat as she thought of the pain this woman must have suffered at the hands of Stolov. Clarion swallowed her hurt and anger as she stood up and searched the room for Colin and Hamish. She found them huddled in the corner. “What’s up?”

Colin looked up and pointed a finger at the basket on the table. “Sleeping.” He whispered and grinned. “The woman?”

Clarion shook her head. Understanding passed between them and Clarion turned back to the woman on the table. She jumped back from the empty table. “Where is she?” Green eyes searched the pallet and the far side of the room, discovering nothing except the stone of the walls. She turned her head towards Colin and Hamish who still remained in the corner. “Where?”

“Claire!” Colin shouted and the redhead snapped her head forward just in time to meet with an uppercut to her chin.

Clarion sailed through the air, landing with a hard thud at the feet of Colin and Hamish ten feet away. A hand flew to her chin as she shook her head and began to sit up. To no one in particular, she dryly commented, “Clearly, she’s far from dead” Clarion got to her feet and threw her shoulder into the advancing woman who was all fangs and wild hair. They tumbled to the ground and Clarion rolled away from her. “Get the baby out!” She didn’t wait for a reply from either of the men as she began to use her forearms to block the wild punches being thrown her way.

Clarion caught the spastic woman’s fist and snapped it back as she punched her in the gut. The woman barely doubled over as she absorbed the blow and proceeded to head butt the smaller woman, causing the redhead to fall to the floor. Hamish saw Clarion go down and he made a move towards her. Colin held the baby with one arm as he stopped Hamish with his free hand. “She can take her.”

Hamish raised a brow at Colin and then relented as a decidedly stronger Clarion rose from the floor and began to fight with woman. “I’ll just wait on her, you go.” Colin nodded and tore down the steps. Colin’s departure got the attention of the woman who attempted to run past Clarion.

Clarion caught the woman about the throat in a strong grip and drove her back towards the wall. With fangs bared, Clarion slammed the woman repeatedly into the wall, shaking loose the dust from the crevices. The redhead spotted the rusted edge of a spike that jutted from the wall, which at one time had probably supported a shelf. It took minimal effort on Clarion’s part to hoist the flailing woman in the air and slam her into the spike with one hand. It was clear that the spike didn’t pierce the heart as the woman continued to snarl and spit at Clarion with renewed vigor. It was evident to Clarion that this woman had just ‘woken up’ so she had no understanding that she was beaten, with her only goal being to feed and in her special case– protect her child. The woman opened her mouth and began to screech in a high pitch that was used to alarm those protecting her.

Clarion acted quickly placing her hand over the woman’s mouth. She hissed in pain as teeth bit into the flesh of her palm. She called to Hamish as she withdrew her hand. The Scotsman reacted, as she knew he would, so that when she turned towards him it was to reach out and catch the axe he tossed her way. Clarion caught the weapon by the handle and in the same motion turned back around-embedding the axe in the gut of the woman. As if the subsequent hiss of disintegration wasn’t enough for Clarion, she flipped the axe in her hand and drove the pick through the heart of the smoldering woman.

Clarion stepped away from the ashes and spit on the ground as her chest heaved from exertion. She looked down at the ground angrily as her eyes still glowed bright green. She took a calming breath and felt her teeth recede. She turned towards Hamish and tossed him his axe. “Thanks.”

He nodded as he began to follow her out. “Glad to help.” They began to make their way down the steps only to be stopped by Colin running up the stairs past them.

“Up and out!” He yelled as he ran back into the room and towards the far wall. Both Clarion and Hamish looked at each other in confusion, but upon hearing the rush of footfalls decided it was best to merely follow Colin even though he seemed to make no sense. They turned to find Colin banging on the stone with the hilt of his sword. Both were amazed to watch a piece of stone fall out. Colin reached his hand into the dark and just as quickly the wall opened. “Up and out gang.” No words were needed as all three scrambled up the newly revealed stairwell. “It leads to the altar room, so be ready for anything.” Colin’s words rang out as the light of the altar room filled the stair well before the sounds of battle reached their ears.

CH 18: O, HOW THE MIGHTY HAVE FALLEN

Colin reflexively covered the baby’s face as the spray of warm blood colored his cheeks and forehead. He was the first to ascend the stairs and the first to see the carnage laid out in the room. Indeed a lot had gone on in their search for the child. In a word it was chaos. The stone of the floor was stained red and brown with blood and ashes. Body parts lay haphazardly about the room some still twitching with the last signs of life.

Colin tried to take a count of those fighting the Hunters, but Clarion’s pushing urged him up the stairs and into the room. Colin drew his sword and drove the blade into the body that moved towards him. He watched the Vampire decompose in a matter of moments as he withdrew his sword and backed away. He could give no warning to the two behind him as he was immediately drawn into one-armed battle.

Clarion surged forward next, slashing at the shins of those assembled before her. She made her way out of the hole and instantly came to Colin’s aide. Hamish burst forth from the stairwell like an explosion, cleaving those unfortunate enough to be in his path. Hamish didn’t bother waiting for Clarion’s request as he tossed one of his axes towards the small woman. A small hand snatched the weapon out of the air as Clarion found herself fending off four vampires in order to give Colin time to do something with the baby. Something turned out to be strapping the small child to his chest with the aid of his armor.

Clarion flinched at the sight and got hit with a kick to the chest for her troubles. She regrouped as she buried her axe in one attacker’s head and ran the other Vampire through with the foot-long dagger. Colin caught her look as he fought off three sword-wielding men. “It’s not the best idea I know, but they’ll not hurt the child.” If she was perhaps disgusted for a split second, Clarion quickly understood that his choice was indeed the best one. Accordingly, that meant that Colin was an easy target and in need of her undivided attention. Clarion easily joined the fray of fighting, handling both a small axe and the tanto with more skill than she remembered having.

For a moment Clarion lost herself to her memories as she slashed and kicked with the kind of calculated fury that is borne out of the want to survive. Perhaps her wars were not as bloody or as numbered as the Hunters that fought around her, but the inclination to live ran strong in them all. Clarion was shocked back into reality as she watched Colin go down on knee aided by a large mace slamming into him. The redhead was quick in her reaction, sending a roundhouse kick to his attacker’s head and following through with a side kick. She wasted no time in driving her blade through his heart once he had fallen to the ground. Clarion grabbed the grimacing Colin by the collar and helped him to his feet as they attempted to find a safe place to stand.

Clarion held out her hands. “You want me to take the baby?”

“Nah.” He shook out his arm. “We need to regroup and get moving.”

She nodded and began to look around the large altar room, taking in for the first time what they hadn’t the time to see. “Colin, I don’t know what’s left to regroup.”

Colin looked at the redhead with a quizzical look on his face, not yet seeing what she saw. He turned his attention to the room and would have fallen to the floor if he had not been leaning on the wall. He could hear Hamish off to his side and he manage to catch sight of Tristan who was wielding Chalvi’s Naginata. The long spear like weapon was not his weapon of choice, but he didn’t appear to have much choice in the matter. Colin visually searched for Chalvi’s body among the dead, but couldn’t tell. He did however see what remained of O’hai’s body. The large man had been quartered. Colin wanted to vomit. “My God…where’s Yoshi?”

As if sensing her cue, the dark woman came tumbling in the room with several bodies attached to her. Colin readjusted the baby and drew his sword. “Hamish, the door!” He called out and then turned to Clarion. “Do what you can.” He snatched a grenade from his buckle and handed it to the wide-eyed woman. “Wait for my signal.” He then ran to assist Tristan and find the others.

Clarion wasted no time as she ran to help Hamish. The large man was down to one axe, since he had thrown the other two in Yoshi’s direction, lodging them deep within the spines of her attackers. She recognized the wide sword that O’hai had carried and kicked the weapon towards Hamish. “At your feet!” She called to him as she relieved a vampire of his hand and then pieced his heart with her sword.

Hamish dropped to his knees and rolled forward, picking up the sword, and rising to his feet swinging the sword removing two heads in the same motion. He turned back towards Clarion in time to see her being slammed into the wall by a snarling Vampire. He made a move to help her, only to stop in his tracks as the lanky vampire was tossed through the air. Her eyes glowed bright as she hopped to her feet and lashed out at those standing around her, giving no care to the fact that she was weaponless. Hamish stood still for a brief moment as he watched the petite woman unleash what was primal in her. Long nails sliced into the neck of the woman who was gripping her axe. Clarion didn’t even flinch as a jet of warm blood sprayed her face. She kicked the woman in the knee, crushing the patella and then focused her attention on the large man in front of her. She grabbed him by the collar and smashed her head into his face, decimating what was his nose. His hands flew to his face as he howled in pain. Small hands gripped the sides of his head and Clarion simply twisted. The crunch of bone was audible.
Hamish turned away, satisfied that she was safe and went to aid Yoshi who was slamming the pommel of her sword into the base of the altar. He ran towards the woman slashing at the arms that reached out towards him along the way. Only a few remained standing in the room. He easily identified Tristan and Colin and he was certain it was Makeet’s wiry frame slumped against the wall. They were clearly out numbered, at least five to one, which was obviously better than what it was before they had entered the altar room. He sheathed the Falchion and picked up his axes, as came to stand beside Yoshi.

The tall woman was pounding away at the edges of the 7 by 7 marbled altar. “What are you doing?”

She kept on wailing away at the stone. “We need to get him out?”

“Who?”

“Stolov!”

Hamish said nothing and sidled one axe and then used the other on the edge of the altar. He caught movement behind him and whirled around, slicing through the sternum of a would-be attacker. The Vampire dissolved into ash before Hamish turned back. “How?”

“We got caught in a bottleneck. There were wolves, zombies, fucking everything.” She growled in frustration. “We were late!” She slammed the large blade into the marble and stopped when she felt movement beneath her. They both stopped their attack and realized the rumble was emanating from the altar before them. They both stood with their eyes affixed to the rumbling. “I think we should move.”

They backed away a few paces. Yoshi held her sword at the ready. “Where’s Clarion?” She didn’t take her eyes away.

Hamish reflexively looked to his right, relieved to see the woman holding her own along side Colin and Tristan. They were actually getting the remaining troops to back down. Either that or they understood that something was about to happen. “She’s fine. No worse than you.” He managed to grin at the woman who was drenched in sweat and blood. “Lost your coat?”

She chuckled and looked at Hamish out of the corner of her eye. “Acid.” She spoke as if it had been nothing, clearly remembering Chalvi screaming to high heaven as the acid ate into his flesh. “Chalvi’s dead.” They moved further away as the trembling shook the foundation. “Zibu fell on his sword.”

“No, what!”

“The dogs got him. It was either that or…” She trailed off not needing to finish the sentence.

“Peace unto him then.” They were quiet for a heartbeat. “We can’t stay here.”

She sighed and did not turn to look at him. “Do you have the child?”

“Yup.”

“Take Clarion and all of you leave.”

“Without you?” Ice blue eyes turned to him and Hamish swallowed his next words. “Done.” Yoshi nodded and then turned back.

Hamish walked away towards Colin, Tristan, and Clarion who now stood alone in the room. “Ran them off didja’?”

Clarion ran a hand through her hair. “Where is she?”

“Where I left her.” He jutted his head back to the right.

Green eyes that had returned to their normal hue grew wide in relief. She made a move to go to the woman, but Hamish’s long arms stopped her. “I got orders lass, we’re leaving here now.”

Clarion furrowed her brow in protest. “Not without her.” She pushed against Hamish’s arm wondering for a second if she could handle him as a Vampire. The large man grinned at her not in condescension but in understanding and they both knew she didn’t stand a chance.

“She promised me she would be behind us.”

Clarion only stared at Hamish. She knew the Scotsman was lying, but he cared and that was enough for the moment. “Fine.”

Hamish smiled fully. He touched Tristan on the shoulder. “Hey boy, you good?”

Hazel eyes turned to Hamish. He was frazzled to say the least. “I’ll get there.”

“Is that Makeet?” All eyes turned towards the man slumped against the wall.

Tristan opened his mouth to answer, but lost his words as the sound of an explosion drove them all to the floor.

Clarion was the first one to her feet immediately looking for Yoshi. She easily spotted the woman, standing tall as dust and rock sailed by her. The Hunter held both swords at her side and waited for the dust to settle, praying to what ever gods were left that it was only Stolov that emerged from the broken rock.

Hamish assumed that a giant would explode from the debris, one with a large mouth and Stolov’s features determined to devour them all. Tristan was sure Stolov would become a monstrous Chimera too large for them to handle. Colin imagined the heads of the Hydra. Clarion had not the time to imagine the worst as her attention was on the dark woman standing at the ready. Yoshi on the other hand expected all of the above and then relaxed when she remembered that she had done this before. She had been in this spot so many lifetimes ago, young and afraid, but nothing short of confident and determined. She could feel Clarion’s eyes on her and she knew she was the same Hunter she had been so long ago, only now she was no longer young and she had nothing to fear.

Yoshi tossed her katana to the floor and wrapped both her hands around the worn grip of Magnus’ sword. She stood at the ready with her feet apart and her sword out as she waited. When Stolov emerged she did not flinch as she watched him rise above the crumbling altar. His magic was nothing new to her and she refused to react to his parlor tricks. When his feet touched the ground in front of her she attacked immediately. Stolov merely moved. To him it was simply stepping out of the way, but to those who watched he vanished into thin air. Yoshi held her ground as he reappeared in front of her and to the left.

“I’m not impressed you know.”

Silver eyes glowed as if the sun were behind them. His silver-gray hair pooled down around his shoulders. He wasn’t any taller than he had been or any wider. He was still a spry man. Still refined. Still elegant and ever the aristocrat. His dark slacks were unwrinkled and the collar of his shirt was crisp and flat. He lifted his hand slowly and this time Yoshi did react inwardly as she saw her katana rise from the floor and be drawn to his hand. She kept her surprise in check as she scowled at him.

“I guess we should fight fair.”

Stolov grinned, baring straight white teeth, book ended by two sharp fangs. “Yoshima you have always amused me.” He sighed. “Give me my daughter and this can all be over quickly.”

Yoshi seethed with anger, but she would not strike out. “You can’t kill us all Stolov.” He only chuckled and began to back away as he twirled the weapon in his hand. Yoshi could only watch him, not wanting to follow, sensing a trap. “Larieux!”

The redhead reached into her back pocket grabbing a hand full of the gopher dust and smearing her hands with it. “Gimme room boys.” The men around her stood off to her side as she began to rattle off a stream of sentences in a language that none of them had the time to make sense of.

Clarion could see no visible change in Stolov as she began to cast the spell that would hopefully not only slow down his transformation, but give the Hunter enough time to kill him. They both knew it was a one shot deal and the outcome relied heavily on Yoshi and herself. In this they had to be together. In this they needed to be in the same mind-set and on the same page. She could easily see Yoshi’s lips as she formed the memorized words.

The silver-haired man turned his silver gaze towards Clarion. “I admire your efforts Clarion, but this won’t make a difference.”

Clarion ignored his words and kept right on through the spell. He was stalling and they both knew it. A faint tremor passed through the room and they all felt it. Colin unstrapped the crying baby and looked from the chanting Clarion to Stolov’s scowling face. “Keep it going girl, you’re pissing him off for sure.” Both Clarion and Yoshi reacted to Colin’s cheering, by speaking louder. Stolov tried hard not to react, but it was as if he had taken a blow to the stomach. He let out a grunt as he tightened his stomach muscles absorbing the pain he felt. Stolov dropped the Hunter’s katana like he had mistakenly grabbed a hot iron. He seethed with anger and Yoshi swung her sword at his head. She only connected with air, as once again he disappeared from view. Dark hair swung about her face as she turned around, expecting to find the grinning Stolov there. There was only the sound of pounding footsteps.

“We gotta move now!” Just as the words spilled from her lips the occupants of the room grew from four to twenty-four, as a throng of fresh-faced Vampires and humans filled the room. “Just get out!”

No one disagreed with Yoshi’s decision as they begin to fight simply to find an exit. Tristan, who was running on nothing but adrenaline, grabbed both the Naginata and a pole axe as he took the point and began clearing a path.

Hamish started to hand the baby back to Colin when he was tackled to the ground. Colin let go of his sword and caught the falling baby. Hamish kicked the body off of him and began to scramble towards Colin’s fallen sword at his right. Before he could grab the weapon he was forced to react to the bloodied hatchet swung on his left side. He rolled onto his back and broke his assailants wrist with a well placed kick. Clarion came to his aide allowing him to roll over and reach for the blade again. As fast as the Scotsman was, he could only retract his outstretched arm so fast.

Disbelief was Hamish’s first thought, quickly followed by the searing pain of reality as his right hand was cleaved cleanly from his arm. He jerked his arm back in horror and jumped to his feet as he shut the pain off and channeled it into rage. “He took my hand! The fucker took my hand!” He bellowed. With his left hand he unhooked the axe at his side and swung it every head in his path. He finally stopped when the pain became too much, sending him to his knees, cradling the bleeding limb.

Colin handed the baby to Clarion. He grabbed Hamish by the arm and pulled him to his feet. “Yoshi we’re moving.” He cast a look towards the tall woman who was helping Tristan clear the doorway. She nodded and they both tossed grenades throughout the room. Clarion followed suit as they all began to file out of the altar room. “Come on man!” He hastily ripped at his t-shirt grabbing enough cloth to cover the wound. “Let’s move!”

Colin bumbled along side Colin. He stopped as they made it towards an exit. “What about my hand?”

Colin wanted to laugh, but he knew he was serious. “No time!” They ran alongside each other squeezing into the hallway and close behind the footsteps ahead of them. It was not the sound of the explosion that worried them, but it was hoping they were fast enough to clear the tunnel before the fire came barreling down the enclosed space. Colin felt the heat of the fire burn up the leather of his coat as he dove through the mouth of the tunnel to the stone ground of the Church floor. He kicked out of the jacket and rolled as far away from the entrance as he could. He kept his eyes shut tight as the heat subsided and he waited.
Five distinct rhythms could be heard as they found themselves gasping for air in the dark. “I can’t see a thing.” Yoshi spoke through a breath. She heard Clarion draw in a breath of surprise. “I didn’t mean like that.” She reached out blindly and grabbed Clarion’s hand. “You guys get out of here now, I’m going to go back and finish this.”

“He’s too strong Yoshi.” Tristan let out a deep breath.

“Forget that, can you do it in time?” Colin asked.

She squeezed the smaller hand in hers. “You know I’m going to damn well try.”

“Are you sure you don’t need me in there?” A warm hand touched her face.

Yoshi caressed the soft flesh of Clarion’s lips. “You’ve done your job, I got it all in my head now. I just need to get rid of him.”

Clarion pressed a kiss against the finger at her mouth. “You’ve got five minutes.”

They all chuckled. “I appreciate the bolt of confidence and I’ll do what I can.” She took a breath. “Go on, go. I’ll meet you guys up top as soon as I can.” Yoshi turned away first and only started running when she heard Clarion and Colin running in the opposite direction.
———

Yoshi stood at the entrance to the altar room and held Magnus’ sword in front of her, touching the blade to her forehead. The steel was cool to touch. She closed her eyes and willed herself to gain the strength to fight. Like a true warrior, it was in the space of seven breaths that she would walk into the altar room and meet her fate. Nearly a thousand years of life came down to this space of time and neither she nor Stolov could predict the outcome. Focused blue eyes opened quickly as Yoshi stepped out of the dark. Her face bore no surprise as she saw Stolov leaning casually against the broken altar flourishing her katana like a baton. She made her way towards him, until only a few feet of space separated them.

The corners of Stolov’s mouth crinkled as he smirked at the Hunter. Her obvious fortitude amused him only because he understood her to be formidable. His old eyes had seen many fall to their deaths at the hands of the woman before him. He had seen her cut down old and young alike, men and women and beast without even a second glance. It was easy to recognize her strength and respect it as well, but 1500 years of life had given Stolov the smallest advantage. No matter the era, the century or even the present moment, one constant would always remain; knowledge is power.

Stolov raised his arm so that it was the blade of the katana that separated him from the dark woman. Yoshi deliberately stepped forward so that the very tip of the blade was only a whisper away from the hollow of her throat-covered only by the thin material of the form-fitting shirt she wore. His smile grew wider as he thought to himself, “perhaps ignorance is bliss.” He tilted his head to the left less than an inch, acknowledging the Hunter with a subtle bow.

A strong hand gripped the pommel of Magnus’ sword as Yoshi stepped toward the outstretched blade. It was the oddest game of trust she had ever played, but it was a risk she was willing to take if only to prove to herself that she could end this here and now. She couldn’t help but be unnerved by the wide grin Stolov gave her. It was enough that the expression was too wide for his face, but in his eyes she could read his strategy. Her mind quickly dismissed the possibility of their being another wave of Vampires about to attack or even the thought that Clarion and the others had been captured, but she was fully aware that Stolov had an edge. She pursed her lips and acknowledged Stolov with the raising of an eyebrow.

Yoshi’s initial movements were fast and furious. She knocked the blade away with her sword and immediately executed a spinning back kick that landed squarely against Stolov’s jaw. She held the sword with both hands as she immediately swung down towards neck. She was not surprised as her sword made contact with the air and instead sliced cleanly into a slab of marble, snagging for a moment. Stolov used that moment to punch the Hunter in the spine, causing her to drop to her knees. The Hunter felt no pain as she absorbed the blow and quickly sank to her knees. She touched her chin to her chest and rolled backwards pushing up with her hands as her head touched the concrete. She propelled herself into a handstand, her booted feet connecting with Stolov’s chin and sending him backwards.

Yoshi got to her feet quickly and ran towards the sword sticking out of the marble. She could feel Stolov at her back with her katana raised to strike. With her left hand she gripped the pommel of the large sword and somersaulted over the rubble, dislodging the sword and landing gracefully on the other side. The dark woman did not restrain the grin that came to her lips. She pulsed with strength and they both knew it as she walked from behind the broken stone.

“You want to fight now or would you like to run some more tests?” Her words were clipped.

The silver-haired Vampire chuckled, baring his fangs that never seemed to recede. “I thought perhaps you’d like to see what I could do first.”

She held out her blade. “There’s only one thing you can do for me, Stolov.” She bent her neck from side to side eliciting the loud popping sound of her bones shifting into place. “Die.” She spit at his feet and attacked. This time Stolov did not disappear on her or hover above her. Instead he held the katana firmly and met the steel of Magnus’ sword head on. They put on a display of strength as they both stood their ground, letting the vibration of the swords slamming together move through them.

Stolov chuckled and went on the attack, but the Hunter was ready for him. They fought each other in earnest, trading punches and kicks, parries and lunges. They fought one another for a long five minutes. Stolov swung down at her head at a sharp angle. Yoshi found her wrists bent back in an awkward position as she met his blade. Stolov used his slight height advantage to press down upon Yoshi, causing the Hunter to bend at the knees. Yoshi paid no mind to the grin Stolov wore as the katana pushed closer and closer towards her shoulder. Instead, her vision was focused on the steel of Magnus’ blade that was inches away from her shoulder.

Yoshi gritted her teeth as she felt one hand begin to slip from the pommel of the sword. She pushed up with all the strength she had and tried to move clear of the blade. As she stood up straight her wrist finally gave way under the immense pressure and she could no longer hold on to the sword with both hands. She gripped the sword with her left hand and left herself wide open. Stolov did not disappoint the Hunter as he cut a lazy gash curving from her deltoid to her bicep. Yoshi flinched in pain, but she did not drop the sword. She quickly tossed the sword to her left hand and swung up meeting Stolov’s attack. She lowered her shoulder and powered it into his sternum. Stolov brought the hilt of the sword down on her back repeatedly, but Yoshi only drove him back towards the wall, her mind numb to the blows raining down on her spine. The lanky Vampire released a huff of air as he was driven into the stone wall. Yoshi stood up with force, making sure her head connected with Stolov’s chin.

Whether it was the pain of his teeth cutting into his tongue or the stone digging into his skull, Stolov was dazed. Yoshi quickly stepped back and smashed Stolov across the temple with the pommel of the sword. The Hunter knew Stolov would not remain dazed for long, so she acted quickly. Yoshi reached across her body and gripped the sword with her right hand intending to draw the length of the blade across Stolov’s neck. Silver-gray eyes opened with a snap and Stolov vanished before Yoshi could even lift the large sword.

Counting on his disappearing act, Yoshi held fast to the sword as cold hands gripped her about the neck and pulled. Yoshi relaxed into the throw, not resisting Stolov’s strength. She guided her descent to the ground and rolled onto her stomach as she came to a stop. The Hunter anticipated Stolov’s enraged attack and was there to greet him with the tip of her sword as she rolled over and held the sword out. Stolov’s lunge was stopped cold as the sword eased through his flesh. The Vampire held a look of confusion and surprise as he let the katana drop to the floor and gripped himself about the stomach. Yoshi quickly got to her feet, held the sword with both hands, and swung it across her body never rising above her waist. Her own eyes grew wide as the blade passed smoothly through Stolov’s left side to his right. Silver-gray eyes looked directly at Yoshi and it was then that she registered something was very wrong.

Yoshi took a step back and regripped her sword completely prepared to finish what she started even if she had to hack Stolov into tiny pieces. She raised the blade above her head to begin doing just that, when her attention was drawn to the white light that was beginning to seep out from behind Stolov’s fingers. Yoshi’s arm went slack and the blade hung down behind her as she watched Stolov slowly remove his hand from his stomach. What should have been a gaping wound was nothing more than thin line of light that was becoming fainter as the wound healed itself. Blue eyes grew wide in shock as the same light that spilled from his sides was swallowed up as his body healed.

It took everything the Hunter had not to tremble. She would have been a fool not to admit to being scared, but it was a fear that didn’t become real until she forced herself to meet Stolov’s eyes. Silver-gray eyes bored into her listless blue eyes and it was as if Stolov had cut out her heart without aid of a weapon. Stolov’s face creased as he smiled a smile too large for his face and he bared his fangs, not to intimidate the Hunter, but simply because he could. Yoshi moved slowly as she lifted the sword high above her head and stood at the ready.

“I don’t suppose I could get you to fall on it.” Stolov’s words sailed past Yoshi ears. Stolov only shook his head as he could see the resolve in the warrior’s eyes. He tsked and shrugged a bit. “Very well.”
Even with a precise downward swing Yoshi was well aware that she would contact air, and if she did happen to hit Stolov, her sword would do no damage. Whatever she and the others had hoped for had not occurred. Magnus’ sword was as useless as she was. But Yoshi had made a promise and she would see this out even if she had to fall on her sword. Stolov attacked her with minimal effort. Sending her sprawling across the floor, tossing her from corner to corner, grinding her against the stone. Sometimes he used his fists, but mostly he just stood in one place and raised his hands guiding her around at his whim as if she were a marionette. He was amused for a while, but he lost his humor as she continued to get to her feet time and time again. No matter how long it took, she would eventually scramble to her feet and come at him. It was not long that all humor had left him and he was simply irritated by her audacity.

Stolov walked over to her and gripped her about the shirt, bunching the material at her shirt as he lifted her. “Why do you make this so hard for yourself?” He picked her up and slammed her into the rubble of the altar. He stepped away and began to push at his cuticles. He rolled his eyes and huffed as he heard her groan and watched the rubble begin to move. Stolov pounded his fist into his open hand and let out a guttural yell that shook the room. He turned back in Yoshi’s direction as he heard her chuckle. “Something funny Yoshima, hmm?”

Yoshi spit out a loose tooth and wiped at the blood above her eyebrow. “We’ll find a way you know.”

Stolov scoffed and reached into the rubble, grabbing Yoshi by the hair and pulling her to her feet. “You mistake this for a happy ending Hunter. Your kind dies out tonight.” He patted her cheek. “Think of it as evolution.” He looked down at her hand in which she still held tightly to Magnus’ sword. “I’ll give you one last chance to do this on your own.”

Yoshi held her head up and cracked the cockiest grin she could manage due to the fact that even twitching her eyelids seemed to hurt. “Bite me.” She spit out blood with her words.

Stolov sighed as he took a step back. “Don’t tempt me.” He gave her one last glance and shook his head. “So be it.” Yoshi let Stolov’s words pass by her as she fought to keep her eyes open, but the weight was too much. She could feel herself being lifted off the ground, but she gave it no thought as her thoughts turned to Clarion and the light in her eyes that she would never see again. The Hunter welcomed the dark.
———
Clarion was light on her feet as she maneuvered through the dark hallways careful not to jostle her bundle. She could feel the fresh air of the outside, before the smell reached her nostrils. They were going to make it out of here alive and she could feel it-almost. For the second time in only a minute Clarion felt the urge to stop, and this time she did. It didn’t take long for Colin to turn around and meet her. He looked at her with question in his eyes. Clarion gave him a smile and shrugged her shoulders. “Here,” Clarion thrust the small bundle into Colin’s arms. “Take her and go.”

Colin shook his head forcefully as adjusted the baby in his arms. “I’m not leaving you Claire.”

Clarion grinned. “I’m just going to get my girl.”

Colin grimaced in a sign of protest, but knew it was of no use to argue. He called out to her retreating form. “We’ll wait.” He watched her turn the corner and then he himself ran towards the exit.

Clarion wasted no time as she ran down the tunnel to the altar room. She wasn’t certain what she was going to find when she got there, but her gut told her that it wouldn’t be a victorious Hunter. Small hands gripped the pommel of the dagger as she burst through the entrance, only to be spun around by a strong gust of wind. Clarion turned to face Stolov just in time to see Yoshi being hurled through the air, as if she had been thrown from a cannon. Clarion couldn’t help but wince as the Hunter’s body met with the solid rock of the wall. Green eyes looked from the still body of the Hunter towards Stolov, who stood 50 yards away.

Clarion found herself squinting her eyes a bit, to shield herself from the glow of Stolov’s skin. The change made him paler than normal, but it was not the pasty pallor of death that clung to him, but rather the unmistakable gleam of life. With her lips, Clarion formed a small ‘o’ as she succumbed to the awe that Stolov’s presence demanded. Perhaps, this was the true gift of becoming Master: life. The words passed through Clarion’s conscience, and with lightning speed she threw the dagger directly at Stolov’s heart. Green eyes grew wide, more in shock that she had actually hit Stolov than the fact that he didn’t even flinch.

He bared straight white teeth that glistened with saliva. “You came back–I’m impressed.”

Clarion didn’t say a word as she began to ease her way towards Yoshi. She faced Stolov as she took small steps to the left, her eyes fixed on the smiling Stolov. She could hear the rustle of clothing as Yoshi begin to move and the clank of the sword against the wall as she made it to her feet.

Stolov removed the weapon from his chest and dropped it to floor. It was clean, as if it had passed through air. “Take another step and you’ll suffer her fate.” The redhead merely shrugged and grinned, as if to say, ‘give it your best shot.’ “Finish her off, and I’ll give you the world.” She wanted to be disgusted, she wanted to laugh, but there was something in his voice that gave her reason to pause. Clarion met Stolov’s eyes and held his gaze. The moment lasted no longer than that of a chest rising and falling with breath, but therein lay the smallest of epiphanies.

Dazed by her revelations it took Clarion a second to realize that Stolov had driven his foot through the stone floor, producing a deep fissure in the floor. The floor resembled crumbling paint, as the crack spread wide and fast, heading straight for the barely lucid Hunter. If Yoshi noticed the floor crumbling beneath her, she made no attempt to move as the floor opened beneath her and she felt herself falling. It was Clarion that kept Yoshi from falling through the darkness, as she dove towards the woman and managed to get a hand on her wrist. But, her last-moment save, made no difference as the floor beneath her fell away and they both tumbled into the dark.

CH 19: BALANCE

Falling through the dark isn’t always dangerous–most times it’s down right fun, as long as you know where the rocks are. In this case the biggest rock of all was seven-foot sword that had the potential to kill both Hunter and Vampire, with impunity. The drop barely lasted two seconds and carried them only ten feet. Clarion was hoping to hear the sound of metal meeting the floor first, but they all met the floor simultaneously. There were two distinct thuds, a few cracks, and after a moment of prayer-filled silence, there were no lacerations, cuts, or impalements.

Clarion coughed and shook her hair of dust as she called into the dark. “Yoshi?” No answer. There was no light for her eyes to adjust to as she sat up slowly and began to reach out with her hand. “Yoshima.” Her voice was louder this time and hinted at worry. Clarion managed to get to her knees and was about to begin a hesitant crawl around the area.

“There’s a sword on your right.” Yoshi’s voice was monotone as it surged with hurt and disappointment.

Clarion wanted to jump for joy, but decided to celebrate further to left and with little to no movement as possible. “Where are you?”

“Dead ahead.”

Clarion swore she heard a chuckle, but before she could comment, the room was bathed in a red light as a small flare was lit and tossed to the corner. The red light grew brighter as two more flares were lit and tossed in opposite directions. Clarion sat back on her heels as she took in the form of the prone Hunter who lay in front of her awkwardly propped against large boulders. She was not concerned about the jagged cut across her forehead. Nor was her worry the bloody nose or the hundreds of nicks and bruises that Clarion could see and practically feel without even having to touch the Hunter. She may not have been impaled on a sword, but the dull blue eyes cast down at the floor cut through her worse than any steel. She knew the words that would spill unsolicited from Yoshi’s lips, by only having to catch a glimpse of the failure in her eyes.

Clarion spoke in a soft voice as she made her way towards the dark woman. “Yoshi?” She spoke her name as if she wasn’t there, if only because she may have been there physically, but the Hunter was clearly gone. “Hey in there.” A small hand cupped a bruised cheek as Clarion raised Yoshi’s head. Normally, vibrant blue eyes seemed gray with cataracts and the swell of tears. Clarion managed a crooked smile as she witnessed what probably no other person alive had witnessed. “Yoshi?” Clarion had hoped by starting a sentence she could complete one, but even in all her gregariousness she could not find the words to ebb the flow of the Hunter’s tears. Clarion fished futilely for words as she cupped Yoshi’s face in her hands and willed herself not to cry.

“I-,” Yoshi’s words spilled out with a sob. “I fa-” she stumbled over the letters until they formed fully in her mouth. “I failed.” When she finally got the words out she repeated them over and over, swatting away Clarion’s hands and hanging her head. Her own self-disgust filled her to the brim and she could do nothing but bubble over with disappointment. The dark woman drew her legs into her chest, wrapping her arms around her knees and bending her head so that her chin was supported on her fists. She refused to make eye contact with Clarion as she mumbled incoherently to herself.

Clarion ran a hand through her hair and just watched the woman before her-or what was left of her for the time being. She let out a small breath and once again reached a hand out to touch Yoshi. When she wasn’t pushed away, she laid a stronger claim to the Hunter by absently combing through the sable locks that fell haphazardly about her face and shoulders. “Yoshi, I need you to look at me.” Blue eyes remained downcast at Clarion’s request. “Yoshi, please-I want you here and I need you here.”

A heartbeat passed between them both before the disconsolate tenor of Yoshi’s voice broke the quiet hum. “There’s nothing left for me to do.”

Clarion bit down on her lip to hold back the smile of relief. Instead she placed a warm hand on Yoshi’s cheek and took her time as she raised Yoshi’s head. Green eyes sought out dour blue and hoped she could keep her attention long enough to make a connection. “Sugar, there’s so much left for you to do, but you gotta come back for me.” Clarion managed a grin as blue eyes met hers for a split second.

“I’m of no use to you Larieux.” She grabbed the hand on her cheek and attempted to push it away. “Leave me be.”

Clarion twisted her wrist out of Yoshi’s grasp and ended up entwining their fingers. She spoke with a smirk. “Oh come now chér, we back to using last names.” She chuckled. “And here I thought bathroom love counted for something.”

Yoshi shook her head and then she met Clarion’s eyes for a moment as she furrowed her brow. “What?”

Clarion hoped her grin wasn’t too large. “Bathroom love: you know, you use the to-to while I brush my teeth. We carry on conversations while the toilet’s flushing.” Clarion didn’t stop the wide grin that came to her lips as she watched Yoshi’s left eyebrow twitch in the faintest hint of an arch. “Hey in there, you want to come out to play?” Clarion released their hands as she combed dark hair away from the Hunter’s face and looked at the fresh cuts on her forehead and cheeks.

“How can you-” Yoshi’s words trailed off as she shrugged.

Clarion tore off a piece of her shirtsleeve and wiped away the blood on Yoshi’s forehead and nose. “How can I be so cheery? C’mon pahtna’ we can get out of this.”

Clarion was forced back on her heels as Yoshi sat up straight. Her brow creased deeply as life returned to her eyes. “Get out?” She continued to lean forward. “We’re dead. Dead. Dead.” She punctuated her words by invading Clarion’s personal space.

The redhead held her ground and touched a hand to Yoshi’s chest. “Ease off, Yoshi, ease off.” She pushed gently.

The Hunter exhaled through her nose and sat back, once again slumping against the jagged rock. She closed her eyes and sighed. “I’m sorry.” She ran both hands through her hair. “So sorry.” She sighed again, heavily. “I just-I’m sorry, so sorry.” She avoided eye contact with the woman in front of her.

“Hey,” she reached out to touch Yoshi, but the Hunter avoided the outstretched hand. “Stop saying you’re sorry.”

Blue eyes met green. “Clarion it’s over. I failed. Stolov…. it’s done.”

She shrugged. “Stolov what? So he’s got a few extra tricks up his sleeve.” Yoshi began to protest, but an arched eyebrow silenced her. “It’s not done. Colin has the baby and he got out. You know as well as I do that that counts for everything.”

“Does it really matter?”

Clarion slapped her thighs, showing frustrating for the first time. “Damn it Yoshima! If this is the way you’re going to be then I don’t want to be stuck down here for the rest of our lives.”

Yoshi didn’t know if the redhead was serious or not, but the look on her face proved just that. “Buried alive?” Clarion gave a half shrug as they both took in their surroundings. In some areas there was at least ten or eleven feet of headroom, in others barely inches where the rock had caved in. The area itself was probably 12 feet across, with the red-orange light of the flares giving it an eerie yet somber glow.

“I wouldn’t go for buried-more like, entombed.”

“Great.” Yoshi mumbled as she cracked her knuckles with a groan. “If the explosion doesn’t kill us than we’ll just sit here and rot until we kill each other.”

Clarion shrugged and took inventory of her own injuries as she got to her feet. She rolled her eyes. “In a few months I’ll be so hungry I’ll want to eat my own arm so I guess you’re right.” She wiggled her eyebrows hoping to get a laugh from the now brooding woman.

Yoshi sucked her teeth as she stretched out her legs. “I guess if I can keep you alive then I won’t feel like a complete and utter failure.”

The redhead turned wide green eyes towards Yoshi as she let out a huff of air. “Are you finished?” She stood with her hands on her hips and dared the Hunter to say a word. “Brooding I can accept, being upset and confused I can deal with, momentary lapses in sanity I can tolerate, but this self-loathing-oh-woe-is-me-I’m-worthless is really grating on my nerves.” She stood before the woman. “Now, I suggest you get up off your ass and pull it together so we can figure out if we’re getting out of here. Cause if we’re not, I have no intention of spending my last moments on this earth bickering with you about where it all went wrong-so put a sock in it and get up.” Her comments probably would have been meant for humor in some other situation, but in that moment, only the fires of hell burning behind her would have been the appropriate lighting.

As it was, the light from the flares cast a strange glow in the room and for a moment the still seated Yoshi thought for sure some Demon was rising to take her. Surprisingly, in her still remained one last vestige of self-preservation so she scrambled to her feet a lot quicker than she thought possible. When she felt her knees began to buckle, Clarion was quickly at her side and helping her to lean against the wall.

“I didn’t mean for you to break anything on the way up.” Green eyes softened with concern, as she looked the taller woman over.

Yoshi mustered a weak grin. “Just a few things out of sockets that’s all.” With that the dark woman, gnashed her teeth and proceed to pop her knee back into place as well as her shoulder. She rolled her neck from side to side just to add to the hollow echo of bones snapping into place.

Clarion groaned. “Feel better.” She touched a hand to Yoshi’s chest plate. The dark woman nodded and let her head rest against the wall as she closed her eyes and sighed. “You’re not going away on me again are you?” Clarion’s tone was soft.

Yoshi took a moment, but she eventually opened her eyes as she looked down at the woman at her side. “Just short of our slightly possible yet imminent deaths, I’ve decided to stay here.”

Clarion chuckled and hugged the taller woman, wrapping her arms around Yoshi’s waist and squeezing, eliciting a hiss of pain. “That sounds like a broken bone.” Yoshi nodded as Clarion let go and immediately began unbuckling the chest plate. “That a little better?” She asked as she dropped the body armor to the ground.

“It’ll do.” Yoshi rubbed a hand across her ribs. “It’s not that bad, and nothing a little rest won’t cure.”

“I promise you we can take a 30-year vacation as soon as we get out of here.”

Yoshi watched as Clarion moved away and began standing on some of the fallen rock and examining the new ceiling. “You telling me, you’re strong enough to get through all this rock?”

Green eyes turned to Yoshi. She took her fingers away from a crack and shrugged. “If you help me, we could do it.”

Yoshi smirked. “You think so?” She didn’t wait for an answer from Clarion, as she turned to her right and slammed her fist into the stone wall. Yoshi’s fist bounced off the wall as she let out a growl of pain.

Clarion was by her side in two quick strides. “What are you doing?” She tried to grab a hold of the Hunter’s fist, but Yoshi seemed content on shaking away the pain. “I don’t suppose you feel better?”

“That’s the point.” Yoshi leaned against the wall as she rubbed her now throbbing knuckles. “I’m about as weak as a school boy after making love for the first time.”

Clarion couldn’t fight the arch that crept into her eyebrow. “I ‘spose you’ve been a school boy a time or two, no?” Her cheeks rose with a deep grin.

Yoshi opened her mouth to say something self-effacing, but she found herself lost in a lush comfort that was the green of Clarion’s eyes and she lost her thought. She tilted her head as she regarded the woman who stood in front of her, still smiling, eyes bright and she too had her own epiphany as she smiled deeply.

“What are you smiling at?” She stepped on a piece of rock so that she and the Hunter were now the same height.

“You know, I’ve got no idea and I can’t quite put my finger on it-but I’m positive it had something to do with you.”

Even now, with all that had happened and all that had passed between them, Clarion still blushed like a school girl. A small shiver of nervous excitement moved down her spine as she held the strong gaze of the dark woman. “We’re not going to die down here are we?” It was both a question and a statement that they both had the answer to.

Yoshi opened her arms, welcoming Clarion into her arms, as she stepped off the fallen rock.

“In a little less than an hour this is all going to be rubble-so it’s not going to matter much.” She buried her face in Clarion’s hair as she kissed her head softly. “Neither of us is up to breaking rocks, so…” She shrugged as she trailed off.

“I would suggest some campfire stories, but I was never a good Girl Scout, or Boy Scout for that matter.”

Both women laughed. “Why do I get the feeling you were trying to earn badges in things they shouldn’t give out to little kids.”

Clarion rolled her eyes and grinned rakishly. The redhead was in no rush as she drew a finger across Yoshi’s dark eyebrows and traced her features. She stood on her tip-toes as she moved in to kiss the dark woman, stopping just short of their lips touching as Yoshi spoke in a voice deep with want. “Tell me again why we’re not clawing at the walls and screaming for help?”

Clarion threaded small fingers through thick black hair and gently grasped Yoshi’s neck. “Because I want you more than I need to get out,” Clarion drew her tongue across Yoshi’s top lip, garnering a quiet moan from the woman, “but mostly because-” she started to finish her sentence, but she saw the answer in the deep blue of Yoshi’s eyes: Need.

Clarion began to kiss the taller women about her face and neck, stopping to linger and nibble on her lips with each pass. Large hands cupped the smaller woman’s face as Yoshi took a moment to catch her breath. Clarion snaked out her tongue, reaching for Yoshi’s lips as if she had never tasted anything so divine. Yoshi blushed at the obvious show of desire and felt herself curling the corner of her mouth into a half smile. Hooded eyes found their magnificent blue color and swirled with want as she caught her reflection in jade irises. Yoshi teased Clarion with a small kiss as she continued to keep them inches apart from one another.

“How is it that in my darkest hour, you still crave me?” The quiet husk of the Hunter’s voice delighted Clarion’s ears.

Clarion grinned as she traced her fingers along the warm hands that framed her face. “First, this is ‘our’ hour. Us. Together…and it’s not dark Samurai, dawn is on its way.” She gently pried Yoshi’s hands away from her face and leaned in to kiss the dark woman, her tongue easily gaining entrance. She nipped at the still parted lips as she pulled away. “And besides, I know something you don’t?” Yoshi raised her eyebrow in question. “You need this just as much as I do.”

Yoshi chuckled and leaned in to kiss the smirking redhead only to be denied. “I do don’t I?” As she voiced the question, deep down she realized it did make sense, and this wasn’t just some last ditch effort at connecting before it all ended. She gazed at the woman before her openly and perhaps with real understanding for the first time. She wasn’t with this woman out of some sense of duty or archaic obligation. It had gone beyond simple want and need and had become simply, what had to be.

What existed between them was not something so surreal that you searched for it in fairytales and myths, but it was tangible and visceral-like blood. Yoshima instantly felt the ache of not being near this woman and she could only name that pain as hunger. She had lost count of the times she had gone without food and she could easily recall the feeling of being empty, but standing amidst the rubble, a hairsbreadth from the woman who could quell her ache–she realized that this was the emptying of her soul. As she pulled the smaller woman to her, kissing her forcefully, she knew she could only be filled with what Clarion had to give.
In the waning red light, hands found themselves tangled up in clothing that had before been protective and was now merely cumbersome. Each woman seemed to be fighting the other for control, as they grappled with one another in between kisses. Clarion lost the upper hand as she found herself pinned between a wall and a ravenous Hunter. Strong hands clawed at the cotton of Clarion’s black t-shirt and ripped it apart, leaving jagged edges down the center. Clarion grunted with approval as warm lips attached to the pulse point on her neck and sucked. It was all the redhead could do to grasp Yoshi’s biceps and hold tight as she proceeded to divest her of her top and bra with only the use of her teeth.

For her part, Clarion attempted to undo the belt on Yoshi’s waist, but her fingers betrayed her and became useless as shivers of pleasure passed through her compact frame. The sensations of ice and heat assailed her lithe frame as a warm mouth wrapped around her exposed nipple only to be cooled by a tongue. It was only the wall that held Clarion up as Yoshi lavished both breasts with much needed attention.

No words passed between them as grunts and groans and whimpers and moans served the process of communication. Clarion was none so gently lifted out of her sagging pants. A warm hand under her thigh guided her leg up so that it rested on the Hunter’s hip. Between the wall and Yoshi, the redhead was practically suspended in the air and at the mercy of the woman standing between her legs. Clarion’s underwear fell by the way side baring her skin to the cool air. It was a chill she never felt as tapered fingers covered her center and coursed a path through the warm wet flesh. Just as soon as Yoshi announced her presence with her fingers she dropped down to her knees and buried her face between Clarion’s trembling thighs.

Clarion had no words to express what she was feeling. She was all at once trapped between pain and pleasure. The cool tongue that lapped at her center negated the rough cement at her back. The aches and pains that had once before left her dazed and confused now melted away as her body was aching for all the right reasons. She tangled small fingers in thick black hair as the dark woman drank of her as if she had been starving all her life. Clarion attempted to find her voice, but could only manage to moan or take in a sharp breath. She eventually tugged at Yoshi’s shirt, bringing the taller woman from her nest. Their was nothing sweet or slow about their kisses-sloppy and rushed is what they were, as if each woman was hurrying to reach some other destination.

Yoshi once again lifted Clarion’s leg at the thigh opening the smaller woman to her ministrations. The dark woman wasted no time with teasing, as she entered Clarion with two strong fingers that quickly became three at the redhead’s insistence.

Green eyes that had once been squeezed shut opened wide as Clarion felt a familiar tug in her stomach. At first she assumed it to be simply the swell of her mounting orgasm, but the feel of her muscles bunching in her abdomen told her otherwise. Indeed there was a swell a feeling and indeed there was a mounting release growing inside the redhead, but this release was more than just the building of sensations.

The smaller woman felt as if she was on fire, smoldering from the inside, and being seared on the outside. Her climax was so near she could all ready hear her own screaming echoing in her ears as if the memory of the sound was reverberating off the walls. Clarion held fast to Yoshi’s arm with one hand, her blunt nails digging into the muscle there. Her other hand could find no purchase anywhere, as she made a fist, then released it only to claw at the wall, only to bury her fingers in dark hair.

With each thrust Yoshi could feel Clarion nearing the edge. She easily slipped in a fourth finger allowing her thumb to have free reign over the redheads’ most sensitive area. She was sure this would send Clarion over, or possibly herself. Small hands gripped her shoulders like talons, as Clarion arched her back and pressed her head hard against the wall. Yoshi looked up from the sweaty cocoon of Clarion’s neck and saw what she had never noticed before: resistance.

Even white teeth were displayed as Clarion bared down on her lip almost to the point of drawing blood. Her body was taut and green eyes were wild as they rolled in her head. Her body pulsed with the want of release and she shook with fear. Yoshi knew what was happening and she would not stop. She slowed her ministrations only to surge again, making Clarion cry out. Suddenly she could feel the nails of Clarion’s fingers where she knew they had not been there a moment before.

Clarion wanted to scream she wanted to come so bad. She could feel the Hunter everywhere and she knew she had nowhere to run this time. As excruciatingly good as she felt, she was still scared, and she couldn’t help but panic. Somehow she managed to find her voice as she pushed against the broad shoulders. “Stop.” It was barely rasped out and she tried again when Yoshi didn’t acknowledge her. “Oh god, st-stop.” She couldn’t stop the moan that came to her as a cool tongue lapped at her earlobe. “Please, shit…stop.”

Yoshi released the earlobe with a tug of teeth. “No.”

Clarion groaned in pleasure and anger. She pushed her head up so Yoshi couldn’t see her face. “You have to.”

Yoshi kissed a hardened nipple eliciting a sweet hissing noise from the woman writhing both in attempt to get away and to prolong the sensation. “Not until you come.”

Clarion pushed against her shoulders as she bit into her lip, drawing blood. “Fuck,”she growled out. “Please, Yoshi.”

The Hunter slowed her onslaught a bit as she lifted head. “Let me see you.” Clarion was so caught off guard she nearly looked down at the Hunter, knowing that would surely be her undoing. “Let me see you.” Clarion could only shake her head. Yoshi did not ask again, opting to snake out her tongue and lap at the thin line of blood trickling from Clarion’s lip. The action silenced Clarion’s moans and garnered her full attention. Green eyes glassy with want found a home in Yoshi’s cerulean gaze. Clarion wasn’t sure what scared her most in that instant, the fact that Yoshi wanted to see her or her own understanding that she felt the same.

Ever so gently, Yoshi drew her thumb across Clarion’s still pulsing clit and began to draw the length of her fingers out of Clarion’s warmth only to push into the warm wetness. “I want to see you.” She kissed Clarion’s trembling lips softly, once again removing the blood as she pulled back. Clarion felt the woman shiver and knew she no longer had the want to fight. This time as Yoshi’s fingers moved inside her, she did not strain against the power that gathered inside her. She felt the energy course through her fingertips down to her toes and fill her chest. Clarion let her head loll back as the tingling in her teeth faded with their growth. She closed her eyes to the sensation, as she rode the hand inside her.

Iridescent green eyes opened to meet Yoshi’s open gaze. Yoshi gazed upon the creature before her and remembered the thought that came to her the first time she had seen her: beautiful. She whispered the word out in reverence. Clarion cried out at the start of her release falling forward and hugging Yoshi to her. Yoshi continued to thrust inside of Clarion; her body responding to the way her muscles gripped her fingers and drew them in. She could feel the small woman in her arms commence to tremble not so much in a need to climax, but with an entirely different need. With her lips against Clarion’s ear, Yoshi spoke softly. “I’ve given you everything I am…I need the same from you.”

Clarion held tight, still shaking with release. “I don’t think I can.”

“I need to be with you Clarion, on the inside.”
Clarion was so quiet in her action that it was a wonder either one of them noticed. Two perfect points of white melted into the exposed span of flesh between the Hunter’s collar bone and trapezius muscle. For a moment Yoshi felt nothing and then-it was everything. Suddenly the world exploded behind her eyes. She felt herself falling to the ground, feeling no pain, as if she were a leaf drifting soundlessly to the grass.

Images. Images-pictures-slices of life-moments in time. Every moment that Clarion ever had. The first time she opened her eyes, to the first time steps she took, to the last time she had been to church-Yoshi was there for all of them. In reality, she hadn’t been privy to any of that, but now as she could feel the blood be drawn from her vein; her consciousness followed the path as well. Yoshima was like an exposed nerve, taut and sensitive to the touch. At the same time she was like porous rock, soaking up everything around her. What she absorbed was Clarion. What she gained was understanding.

The dark woman had always been taught that the Vampire drained its victims dry. Never once did she surmise that the Vampire gave as well. All the strength that Clarion had gathered in 200 plus years coursed through Yoshi as well. If she thought on it long enough she could recall the smells of Paris and the sounds of the Mississippi at night. But these were not her memories they were Clarion’s. The images that moved through her mind were so fast that she could not focus on only one image, but she understood the meaning of their sum: Life.
Clarion had been apprehensive at first, but as her teeth sank into the flesh of Yoshi’s neck, she knew all would be right in the end. In the end she knew she would pull back when she had had just enough. The redhead easily supported Yoshi’s head and upper body as she cradled the woman to her. Clarion took her time as she drank from the Hunter, wasting not a drop of blood that was nearly a thousand years old. The Hunter’s blood was just as warm as the blood of any human, but this blood carried with it the mysteries of warriors long dead. This blood brought with it the energy of the pyramids and the spirit of the Samurai. This blood brought with it the one thing all Vampires were forced to relinquish: Life.
———

The stone walls that once glowed red became as black as midnight as the last flare burnt out with a small whisper. This was the only sound made, but not the only one heard. Clarion lay still atop of Yoshi where she had collapsed moments before-a small ear lay pressed against the dark woman’s bosom-listening. Two beats resounded sounding very much like a timpani being struck. A second pair and then a third that would continue infinitely followed the first two beats. Clarion became aware of her own pulse that beat out the same steady rhythm of the woman beneath her. It was then that she felt her ribcage expand as she let out a breath. Her body moved with Yoshi’s as the Hunter took a breath of her own. They lay that way for many breaths, breathing in and out, becoming accustomed to the sounds of their own heartbeats as if neither had experienced the phenomenon before-perhaps in some ways it was just that.
Yoshi opened her eyes first, registering the dark and relaxing as her eyes adjusted to nothing. Long fingers found themselves tangled in Clarion’s short hair as a smile came to her lips. The small woman breathed in the aroma of sweat, sex, and strength that clung to the Hunter and found herself on the verge of purring like a kitten as long fingers scratched her scalp. Clarion wriggled her body with the pleasant sensation causing the woman beneath her to laugh.

“You trying to go somewhere little girl?” Yoshi’s voice was soft and low with just a hint of gravel to it as if she hadn’t a chance to clear her throat. The sound made Clarion wiggle with delight.

“Just getting comfy that’s all.” Both women laughed.

“Comfy, eh?” Yoshi ran a hand up Clarion’s bare back leaving a trail of goose bumps. “You got plans for sleeping?”

Clarion chuckled. “I don’t really think I can move and I’m definitely not ready to do that again, wow.”

“I can’t persuade you to move?” The redhead lifted her head and arched her eyebrow as high as it could go even though she figured Yoshi couldn’t see it. “Don’t give me that look.” Clarion huffed and put her head back down.

“Woman, why are you in such a hurry to move?”

Yoshi shrugged a shoulder. “I thought you might like to get out of here.”

Without thought to the fingers still nestled inside her, Clarion sat up. “Ahh.” She winced and chuckled. “Forgot about that.” Yoshi could only smile as she slowly removed her fingers from the woman still straddling her. “What happened to wallowing in misery for all eternity?” Clarion could see Yoshi roll her eyes and stick out her tongue. “You know I can see you smartass.”

Yoshi managed to keep a straight face and not show surprise at being caught. “And I thought you couldn’t move?”

Clarion smirked. “I just like to say that to make you feel better.”

Yoshi didn’t need light to see the toothy grin that graced Clarion’s features. The Hunter sat up quickly and hugged the smaller woman to her, causing her to squirm with laughter. “I got half a mind to make you eat those words.” Her words sounded serious but the cocky grin she wore revealed her true feelings.

Small fingers buried themselves in dark hair. “I’m always up for a meal.”

Yoshi sighed. “Normally I’d oblige but I got an idea and we might have just enough time to make it out of here before the ceiling collapses on top of us.”

Clarion rolled her eyes as if she was annoyed but began to move, searching the floor with her eyes to find her clothes. As she pulled her pants up the room once again glowed red. She squinted at the bright light and focused on Yoshi who still sat on the floor. The redhead smiled at the Hunter and walked towards her with the remains of her shirt in her hand.

“This was a nice shirt before you.” She smiled and crouched down.

“Sorry.” Yoshi’s eyes searched the floor for nothing in particular.

Clarion recognized it for the nervous action that it was touched her fingers to Yoshi’s chin. “You okay?” Green eyes that had returned to their normal color tracked to the collar of Yohsi’s shirt.

Yoshi’s put a hand to the zippered opening. “I’m fine.” She met Clarion’s eyes and smiled. “Perfect. Fine, I promise.” She rubbed her hands together. “In fact, I’m ready to go.” The Hunter smiled with mischievous intent in her eyes.

Clarion stood and stepped back reaching a hand down to help Yoshi from the floor. If Yoshi was afraid that her legs would give out she didn’t show it as she pulled her self to her feet in one move. “So what’s the plan?”

“Put this on.” Yoshi tossed Clarion her armor. Clarion caught the vest and looked down at her sports bra. Yoshi laughed at the redhead’s reaction.

Clarion strapped the armor on her torso and watched as Yoshi went from wall to wall peering up into the ceiling, pressing against the cracks in some places. Finally the Hunter stopped her assessment and grabbed the large sword from off the floor. She adjusted the scabbard on her back and sheathed the sword. She stood with her hands on her hips and craned her neck up, looking at nothing in particular. “You got the time?”

Clarion felt the side of pants pocket and removed the plastic watch. The small watch was bumped and bruised but it was still ticking. “It’s 5:17 a.m.” Green eyes focused on the determined Hunter.

“Sunrise is at 5:30 a.m.” Yoshi spoke the words more to herself than Clarion. “Less than fifteen minutes.”

Clarion furrowed her brow in concern. “You think we can dig out that fast? I mean you’re up and moving, but?”

Blue eyes full of color turned towards Clarion. Yoshi smiled with all the love she had in her heart and winked at the redhead. “You don’t get it Clarion.” She walked to the smaller woman and touched a hand to her cheek. “I know what you know, feel what you feel, I know how helpless you’ve been and I am very aware of h0w powerful you’ve become. I feel you in my veins as well as my soul.”

Clarion could only turn her head to kiss the palm that cradled her face. “I wasn’t sure you know. I thought, but I just didn’t know.”

“We can blame each other tomorrow.” She smiled at the smaller woman and stepped away. “Stay there.”

Clarion arched her brow as she watched the woman balance herself on a boulder and touch her hand to the stone above her. “Yoshi what the-

Clarion’s words were cut off as she watched Yoshi draw back her fist and slam it into the ceiling. The redhead wasn’t sure which gave her pause first, the crack she heard or the tremor she felt. The Hunter threw her fist into the ceiling two more times in a weird triangle of sorts and then leapt from the boulder as the ceiling started to collapse at the point. Clarion stood with her mouth agape as she watched a long arm reach through the dark and begin pulling down rock.

“It goes faster if you help.”

Clarion snapped from her stupor at Yoshi’s words and found herself standing on a boulder pulling at large slabs of rocks. In less than two minutes that had built themselves a stairway of stone that led up into the dark of the altar room. Yoshi wiped her brow and looked to her side. “When we get through I just want you to take off.” Clarion started to protest, but quieted at Yoshi’s look. “Just go, I won’t be taking any time to jump for joy or discuss tactics. Just start running and I’ll be behind you.”

“What if he’s not up there?”

“He’s up there waiting.” She looked up and sneered. “And I got him this time.” Yoshi eased up into the dark with Clarion snug against her.

“Why now?”

“Stolov’s pure in his evil…and between the both of us we’ve got just enough love and good to overpower him.”

“And enough of a mean streak to chop him into little bits.”

“Precisely.” Full lips curled into a smirk.

“‘The Houses of East and West must become one’.” They spoke the words simultaneously and shared a smile. Yoshi put her hand in the small of Clarion’s back as she guided the woman ahead of her. The Hunter held no doubt now, only confidence in her ability and the truth of what she felt for Clarion. Beyond that, there was nothing that mattered.

“I’ll meet you guys at the top.” Yoshi spoke the words to Clarion as she gave her a final push up into the altar room.

The inevitable had come.

* * *

CH 20: ASHES TO ASHES, DUST TO DUST

Clarion burst forth from the rubble with one thought on her mind-she had had enough of the dark. She did not falter in her steps, as she felt the smoldering intensity of a Hunter on her heels. For the first time in a long time, the redhead actually found herself following orders, as she ran for the exit, neither looking back or around her. Stolov would not have stopped her anyway. At the entrance Clarion didn’t waver as she turned her eyes to catch a glimpse, and it was enough for her to turn around and head for the exit wearing a smile of triumph.
Where Clarion was agile in her exit from below, Yoshima connected with every piece of falling stone she could, displacing the small and large chunks throughout the room. She tensed every muscle causing the dust and dirt to shake from her body and then she relaxed and stepped out of the debris. It took seconds for the dust to settle and then it was only Stolov that remained amid the waning light of the torches. However, he still glowed, he still shone bright like glass in the desert.

Deep blue eyes that coursed with life and energy focused on the silver spheres that were Stolov’s eyes. She could not see fear in his eyes, but she could see herself reflected in the mirrors of his eyes and she could not help the smile that rose to her lips. All though his countenance did not show it Stolov was unnerved enough to strike first.

He waved his right hand through the air lifting Yoshi’s katana from the floor where it had fallen, and sent it sailing through the air towards the Hunter. It was true that she had the time move. She was even quick enough to have drawn the sword at her back and shattered the katana if she wished. Instead, she made no attempt to move as the blade neared her heart. Steeling herself against the pain that she knew would not come, Yoshi reached out with her right hand and caught the blade. The force of Stolov’s throw caused the blade to slice into the flesh of her palm as it continued to move, only stopping as Yoshi applied pressure stopping the blade inches from her chest.

Stolov smiled in his small victory. Yoshi tossed the blade to the floor and raised her hand, palm out, showing her wound to Stolov. For a moment the Master Vampire swore he saw the bone of her hand, but in the same instant it was gone as her flesh healed itself. Stolov gasped like a swooning woman. His eyes darted about the room looking for a quick sanctuary and finding no solace in the fact the Hunter moved without haste, removing her sword. He bared his teeth as he grew frustrated with himself and decided he would simply have to out maneuver her.

Stolov growled from deep within his gut as he raised his foot and once again drove it into the floor. The fissure was as wide as it was long as it moved quickly towards Yoshi. Yoshi brought her knees up to her chest as she leapt into the air avoiding the crack. If Stolov lived to tell this story he would swear that the Hunter hovered a moment before landing. She came down hard and fast landing with her feet apart. The ground beneath her buckled as two separate gashes cut across the stone floor. Stolov fell to the ground as the floor moved beneath him. He rolled to his right only to be stopped by the wide span of Yoshi’s sword as she drove the blade into the ground. Stolov quickly rolled to his left in an attempt to get away, but met with the blade once again. The lanky man began to scurry backwards, glancing to his right and trying to grab hold of the katana that lay on the floor.

Just as his hand touched the pommel of the sword the steel of Magnus’s sword sliced through the metal of Yoshi’s katana. The movement was decisive, the break was clean. The Hunter took a step back giving Stolov room to move. He tossed the useless weapon away and scrambled to his feet. Iridescent silver eyes bored into Yoshi’s face as Stolov seethed with frustration.

“I should have known you’d kill me when I was defenseless.” Even in his obvious fear he still managed to sound casual.

Yoshi only rolled her eyes and passed the sword from her left hand to her right. In the moment it took her to take a breath she could have recalled all the battles that left her drained from victory. She could have remembered the glorious fights, the show of skills, and the tests of her ability. This was not to be an exhibition.

Stolov’s words had not quite finished echoing throughout the large room before the first blow was struck. Yoshi drew the seven feet of steel across her body entering the flesh just above Stolov’s pelvic bone. The cut was so smooth and fast that for a split second Yoshi thought that she had once again passed through air, but the stain of bone and cartilage on her sword upon its exit from his neck was proof enough. For the first time in her memory and perhaps even his, Yoshi saw Stolov’s teeth recede from the pain. With her sword still raised high, the dark warrior wasted no time as she slashed back to the left-the steel passing cleanly through his neck. A heartbeat went by as Yoshi stood still, both hands gripping the sword where it rested on her left side. She waited and she watched.

Stolov made an odd looking fish out of water, as he stood there opening and closing his mouth hoping to catch the air that would serve him no purpose. The Vampire that for a moment had been a master, returned to the man that was once so long ago. His hands opened and closed in the same manner as his mouth, grasping the last remnants of life that had so long ago left him. Yoshi raised her sword once more and drove the length of the blade through his heart. There was no hissing, no melting, nor an explosion of any kind. No fire ignited behind his eyes and his insides did not ooze out.

Yoshi began to pull back and she watched as he silently fell away. To the stone floor Stolov careened backwards, meeting the hard surface and breaking apart like a discarded jigsaw puzzle. Blue eyes focused on the three body parts waiting to see if somehow they pieced themselves together. After a long minute Yoshi kicked at his torso and was satisfied that this dismembered carcass was all that remained of Stolov. A small shiver ran through her long frame as she released a breath she was unaware of holding. Yoshi sighed as she sheathed her blade and began to turn to leave, when she found herself stumbling. She looked down at her feet as if she had grown another leg. Instead of finding the offending appendage she felt the room around her shake. Immediately, blue eyes tracked to Stolov’s body fearing the impossible. What she encountered was possibly worse.

To her great relief Stolov was still dead and moreover still in pieces, but he wasn’t quite extinguished. The energy that had been contained in Stolov for nearly 1500 years was desperately searching for somewhere to go. The power that he had once brandished so well was erratic and volatile without him. Yoshima gathered herself as she realized she was going to find herself caught between two explosions very soon. She turned on her heels and took off, avoiding the falling rock and the rolling floor like a championship hurdler-she only hoped that she could find her way to the finish line in time.
———

It wasn’t until she found herself sloshing through the mud that Clarion stopped running. Dawn was just beginning to seep into the bayou as she came to stand next to the large Magnolia tree, pressing her forehead against the bark and taking a deep breath. The redhead choked on her own breath when the ‘tree’ spoke.

“I was getting worried.”

Green eyes tracked up and Clarion smiled as she saw Colin grinning down at her from the tree limbs. “You scared the crap out of me.” She touched a hand to her chest. “Where are the others?”

“We all scattered when we heard movement.”

She looked back towards the crumbling church. “A few not so friendly people come out of there this morning?”

“A couple.” Colin jumped out of the tree and groaned. He rubbed his back and they both laughed.

“Don’t worry I think weeks in a spa is in order.”

“I’m asking for two months.” Hamish appeared from nowhere holding the stump of his wrist.

Clarion turned warm green eyes towards the large man and smiled. “Got something for you.” She held out the small bundle she had been carrying.

Hamish managed to grin as he accepted the mass of material. “You found it.” He trapped the bundle between his forearm and stomach and then untied the knot with his remaining hand. He just chuckled. “Guess I’ll have to bronze it now.”

Colin laughed at the man and looked to Clarion. “Can’t really do anything but that.”

“It won’t reattach?”

“We could do that but it won’t be of any use. If had been cut with some random sword we could put it back on and it would heal, but not now, it was his axe.”

Clarion frowned a bit. “Sorry Hamish.”

He shrugged. “Bound to happen at some point. At least I didn’t lose anything vital.”

“I didn’t realize you had anything vital to lose.” All eyes found Tristan leaning against another tree. They all laughed. Hamish smiled at the lanky man and tossed him the hand. Tristan caught the hand on reflex and then let it go when he saw what it was. “That’s gross Hamish.”

“Hey don’t throw it!” He picked it up and put it back in the tattered shirt that had been covering it.

Clarion watched the interaction with a smile and then furrowed her brow as she took in their surroundings. The clearing was empty except for them and the only sounds were their voices and the birds waking up. “Uh, does somebody want to tell me where the baby is?”

“Down there where I left her sleeping.” Hamish pointed to a spot near a dead tree a few yards from the creek. Clarion rolled her eyes. “She was nice on comfy on the log so I left her.”

Clarion wanted to give the Scotsman a lecture on infant care, but she decided she didn’t have the energy to do even that. Clarion waved her hand through the air and walked the few feet towards the creek. She peered down at the sleeping baby, wrapped in Tristan’s large coat nestled against a log. She couldn’t help but grin at the small tuft of dark hair that stuck out. That kid didn’t have a clue as to all that had transpired just to ensure her safety. Clarion chuckled to herself and bent to pick the baby up. She stopped her movement and focused on the large eye that was peering at her with great curiosity.

In life it is always the little things that matter. Regardless of the demons you slay or the mountains you topple, at the end of the day it can all be negated if you step off the curb and get hit by truck. Green eyes never left the yellow-brown eye as she touched her fingertips to the leather of Tristan’s coat. Clarion had never moved so slowly in her life as she gripped the small baby and prayed her movements were slow enough not to disturb it or the Gator beneath her. If Clarion came out of this with both hands and the baby she was going to beat Hamish senseless the first second she got.

As if he could hear her words Hamish turned towards the redhead and watched with raised brow as she lifted the baby from the ground in an excruciatingly slow manner. “What the hell is she doing?” He covered the few yards to Clarion in three swift strides. “Didja’ throw your back out lass?”

“Don’t move and don’t talk.” Hamish huffed. “Take a look at your log.”

Hamish was about to protest when he looked down at his feet and found the eye that held Clarion’s rapt attention. “Well isn’t this a pickle.”

“Just ease back.”

“We could just kill it.”

Clarion nearly dropped the baby. “No!” She said in a harsh whisper. “You don’t just walk into somebody’s back yard and then shoot them cause they looked at you cock-eyed.”

Hamish wanted to laugh, but he understood, so together they took small steps backwards to safety. Only when they were out from under the cover of trees and five feet away did Clarion breathe. She hugged the baby to her chest and glared at Hamish. The large man held up his one hand and grimaced. Colin and Tristan were stifling their laughter as they watched Clarion scold the large man with only her eyes for a moment. She ignored his silent plea and turned her attention to the baby now stretching in her arms.

She pulled back the leather and the covers and they all got a good look at Stolov’s sire. A little pink tongue stuck out as she yawned and her eyelids fluttered open before shutting close and she drifted back into sleep. Colin ran a finger through the soft hair on her head and they all breathed a collective sigh of relief as the same thought passed between them all; she looked nothing like her father. Tristan touched her small nose and was about to say something when the ground shook beneath them.

“What the?” Clarion cradled the baby to her.

“What time is it?” Colin looked towards the church.

“5:28.”

“Where’s Yoshi?”

“She was behind me.”

Colin looked from Clarion to the church and back. “She was behind you or she just said that.”

“She was on her way out.” Clarion was trying to be optimistic but the earth moved again and they found it hard to keep their feet.

“We need to move boyles. If she said she was behind you then she was. Let’s go.”

“She’s still got two minutes, so what is that?” Tristan looked towards the church asking a silent question.

Clarion shook her head. “Who knows, but she’s on her way, let’s just get going.” She held Tristan’s gaze and hoped he trusted her and moreover trusted Yoshi.

He nodded and they all began to quickly walk away. The earth rumbled as they moved causing them to be careful of their steps. It was avoiding a tumble to the ground that Tristan got a glimpse of the church. He stopped moving. “Jesus Christ!” They all stopped moving and turned in Tristan’s direction. To their complete horror they watched as the church sank deeper into the earth, seemingly collapsing into the ground. In fact the whole clearing appeared to be collapsing in on itself.

“We can’t leave her.” Green eyes frantically searched the landscape hoping to catch sight of Yoshi.

“We’ve no time, it’s going to explode.” Colin touched Clarion on the shoulder. Green eyes pleaded with him and Colin could only nod, knowing that he was going to have to come up with some way to find her in time. “You stay with the baby.” Clarion nodded as Colin’s hand fell away from her shoulder.

Colin had taken one full step when the sky shattered with sound.

———

Every turn the Hunter took turned out to be the wrong one only because it was no longer a way out. The church was sinking in on her and she was running out of room to run. Long legs carried Yoshi down what remained of a tunnel that was collapsing with every step. She stumbled on broken stone and could only raise her forearm to block the shower of dirt of stone. Yoshi spit dirt from her mouth as she began to crawl forward down the tunnel that was getting smaller and smaller with each labored movement she made. She shook the dirt from her hair and found herself with an idea. It was no longer an option of running out of here, but perhaps she could dig her way to the top. Yoshi shut her mouth and breathed through her nose as she used her sword and her hands to push out through the top. Her fingertips had yet to feel the morning sun when the clock reached 5:30.

———

Four bodies lay on the ground unmoving.

“Everybody got all their fingers and toes?” Colin asked through a cough. “Not counting Hamish.”

“Fuck you runt.” Hamish put a hand to his head and sat up.

“Watch your language.” Clarion groaned and sat up, immediately checking the baby for bumps and bruises from the fall. She smiled when the baby didn’t so much as yawn. “Wish I could sleep like that.” She tousled her hair and looked around her. “Where’s Tristan?”

Colin quickly got to his feet in search of the man. “There.” He pointed off to the left ahead of them.

Clarion remained seated and looked off to the left. A large smile came to her lips. “Holy sh- I mean crap. Is that what I think it is?” Tristan was blocking most of her view but she swore she saw Magnus’ sword protruding from the earth.

Colin didn’t bother to answer as he ran off to help Tristan who was now on his hands and knees clawing at the earth. Clarion and Hamish quickly followed. Clarion fell to her knees in relief when Tristan pulled Yoshi’s hand from the dirt. “Find her head man so we don’t split her in two.”

Clarion handed the one armed Hamish the baby and began digging in earnest. Piles of dirt surrounded them by the time the dark of Yoshi’s head was revealed. “I’ve got her head.” Clarion was all smiles as she removed the dirt around Yoshi’s head, slowly revealing her forehead and the bridge of her nose.

“I got a shoulder.” Tristan added.

“Claire, help me on this side.” Colin gestured for Clarion to join him. She moved quickly and the three found themselves tugging the unconscious Hunter from the dirt.

Clarion dropped to her knees beside Yoshi’s head and began to clear away the dirt trapped in her nostrils and smearing her face. “Come on baby open your eyes.” Small hands cupped the Hunter’s face as she waited for Yoshi to take a breath. Clarion leaned over the prone woman, her hands still cupping clammy cheeks, and their noses barely touching. “Come on Samurai, you owe me a vacation.”

Eyelids heavy with dirt fluttered for a moment before opening. “I thought I was on it.” Her voice was a dry whisper, but it was music to Clarion’s ears.

The redhead touched her forehead to Yoshi’s and chuckled. “In that case I can’t believe you left without me.”

Yoshi let out a cough and laugh. “I didn’t say I was enjoying it.” Clarion laughed out loud and hugged the taller woman to her. Yoshi did not mind the pain nor did she care who was watching them, as she hugged the smaller woman back content to indulge in the feel of her in her arms.

“I’m pretty sure this is a turn on for somebody, but I really want to take a long nap.” Colin let out a sigh as he finished his statement, causing them all to laugh.

Clarion sat up and gave Yoshi some room to stretch. Yoshi was hesitant in her movements as she sat up and tested her limbs. When she was satisfied that everything worked she tousled her hair with both hands, shaking the dirt from her hair. Yoshi let out a well deserved sigh and drew her hands down the length of her face as if that could get rid of the exhaustion she felt, if even for a moment. When blue eyes were finally revealed she scanned the clearing.

“Are we all that remain?” Her voice was quiet from the stress.

Tristan’s face was grave as he held out his hand and helped the tall woman to her feet. “All that remains, yes.”

The Hunter nodded and turned in the direction of the warm presence to her right. She gazed upon the small redhead with relief and gratitude. She smiled warmly at Clarion and then focused her attention on the sunken rubble of the church. The others all looked back as well, each mourning what was lost under the earth and each thankful that some things were lost to the earth. Silence ascended around the remaining five as they watched the sun burn orange into the pale blue sky with a peaceful hiss. Fingertips of orange cut languid grooves through small patches of white, creating pinks and purples along the way.

“We’ve lost so much.” Her words were almost spoken to herself.

“But we’ve gained much as well.” Clarion ran the back of her hand across Yoshi’s cheek as she spoke.

“Aye, we have.” Hamish adjusted the baby in his arms.

For the first time blue eyes swept over the babe swaddled in cotton. Yoshi cocked her head to the side and squinted her eyes as she took in the unusual portrait the Scotsman made standing with a baby. “Is that?” Her question trailed off as she pointed a finger towards the baby. She took a step as if to touch the child but drew her hand back.

Clarion followed Yoshi’s line of sight with mirth and reached out removing the baby from Hamish’s arms. “Oh yeah, this is her.” She smiled warmly at the still sleeping baby and then turned green eyes to Yoshi as she adjusted the small bundle comfortably in her arms. “Yoshima, I want you to meet, um,” she looked from the baby to Yoshi and back to the baby as she searched for a name. “Well, a name would be good.” Clarion furrowed her brow briefly and then her features brightened as she broke into a wide smile. “Yoshi, I want you to meet Gator.” Bright white teeth were revealed as Clarion smiled at her accomplishment.

“Gator?” The name echoed throughout the small group assembled.

Yoshi shook her head and held out her hand to Colin who helped her to her feet. “Gator?” Yoshi pronounced the name flatly void of the Cajun inflection that Clarion gave to the name. She looked at the red head and frowned a bit. Clarion was too busy making faces at the baby, whose eyelids were open and closing in a flurry of motion, to notice the disdain in Yoshi’s voice.

Colin rolled his eyes and stood next to Clarion peering at the baby over Clarion’s shoulder. “Well I like it.”

Yoshi raised a dark eyebrow. “You’re a moron.” She said dryly. “Clarion?”

The small woman looked up at the Hunter and shrugged. “There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that name.”

Dark brows met in the middle as Yoshi contemplated an argument, but she quickly relaxed her features knowing she didn’t have the strength to argue with Clarion. She sighed and waved a hand through the air. “Later. We should leave this place.”

They started to move forward, when Yoshi stopped, noticing that Tristan had not taken a step. The youngest Hunter showed his confusion visibly and Yoshi understood what he had yet to voice.

“Where do we go now? What is it that we’re supposed to do?”

Colin smiled trying to lighten the somber mood. “Those are questions we can worry about tomorrow Tristan and the day after that as well.”

He shook his head and creased his brow. “I want to worry now.” His demand was a quiet one, but a demand nonetheless.

“I’ll tell you what happens now,” Yoshi waited for Tristan to look at her to continue. “We say our prayers. We give thanks to those who sacrificed for us and we waste not the memory of their lives. You ask me where are we to go.” The Hunter grinned. “We go home is where.”

Tristan nibbled at his bottom lip before speaking. “What home?”

All eyes turned to Yoshi awaiting her answer. “The one we make of course.” Her words were confident. “Back to Athens I think, and start over.” She glanced at the baby in Clarion’s arms “There are things I still don’t understand, things we still need to learn, for our sake and for the sake of this child.” Yoshi drew her thumb softly across the baby’s forehead. Blue eyes met Tristan’s gaze. “You know I don’t have every answer, but I do know that we have endured for one reason.” She looked past his shoulder towards the ruins. “That this shall never come to pass again.”

Tristan let his shoulders sag with an unseen burden. “I want to believe, I just can’t feel it.”

“I think we’re all a bit numb. It’ll just take a bit of time.” Compassion and truth rang out in Colin’s sentiments.

“Tristan you’ve followed me before without question, I’m asking you to follow me now–follow me home. Down there in the dirt and dark I found something I lost. Hell,” she shook her head, “something I wasn’t sure I even had, but it is something we’ve have all longed for in some form our fashion. We all have so much blood on our hands.” She locked eyes with all of them. “The key to survival is protected by steel and the will to fight, but for us to survive, there must be within us the will to live and the want for life. And I don’t know about you Tristan,” she smiled and then turned soft blue eyes towards Clarion as she finished speaking. “, But I want to live.” Blue eyes held fast to the warm green eyes of the woman who understood her inside and out.

Yoshi looked back to Tristan and smiled. “But first I want to take a long nap– about 20 years.”

Her comment elicited chuckles from the group and a smirk from the bewildered Tristan. “I hear you, you know, I just,” He shrugged his slim shoulders and sighed. “So much is gone.” He ran a hand through his hair and took a step towards the group.

Yoshi placed a warm hand on the young Hunter’s shoulder as they all began walking again. “I can’t disagree with you, but I have to believe this is our beginning.” Yoshi grinned as she felt a small hand grasp her own and tangle their fingers.

He smiled at the dark woman. “I must say, you’re not the Yoshima I grew up afraid of-and I’m happy to say that.” He looked past the quizzical look on Yoshi’s face and winked at the grinning woman at her side. “Thank you.” Tristan laughed at Yoshi’s look and picked up his pace so that he caught up with Colin and Hamish.

The Hunter looked down at the smirking woman with a baby fast asleep against her breast. She lifted their hands and kissed the back of Clarion’s hand. “Thank you.”

Clarion turned her head and grinned. “What are you thanking me for?”

“For saving my life.”

“Ah, that. I didn’t know I was saving your life, I thought I was just motivating you.” She chuckled softly.

Yoshi laughed as well. “No that was just CPR, you saved my life a long time ago.”

Clarion felt herself blush. “When was that?”

“Back when I realized that I didn’t care what you were or had been, I just knew I needed to be with you.”

Clarion gazed at the Hunter, her green eyes rimmed with tears and chuckled. “You have never stopped amazing me Samurai. It’s a wonder I don’t just explode from all that I feel. You make me so proud even when you piss me off.” They both laughed. “And I want you to know that I always want you to look at me the way you’re looking now. A deep indigo caught between insatiable want and unadulterated worship.”

Yoshi blinked back her tears and pulled the smaller woman to her, wrapping her arm around her shoulders and feeling Clarion’s arm wrap around her waist. “It’s only because you leave me no choice,” she paused to take a breath, “that and you’d probably kick my ass.” Their bodies shuddered with laughter.

“I’d beat you from one end of the Americas to the other. Antarctica and every other continent to boot.”

“Don’t worry I’m never going anywhere that cold again.”

“Again, huh?”

“Ugh. Broken leg, Siberia, all Colin’s fault.”

Clarion laughed out loud. “Hey Irishman, I hear you broke Yoshi’s leg!”

Colin turned around laughing and walked backwards as he talked. “No such thing Claire, she did that all on her own. But I wish I had been the one to do it.” He clapped his hands together. “This is a fine walking story.” Yoshi groaned and they all laughed.

“It was some cold morning in the dead of winter when I received this frantic letter. No phones back then only slow ass mail………

The sound of his voice was lost in the distance as the March sun still rose in the sky. Warming the way as the small group walked through the clearing, away from the ruins of the church, away from the decay and death that had been left in their wake. They walked away from the sun, knowing they would meet its warm rays again, only on the other side of the earth. They left behind them their fears and their sadness, boldly walking out into a world with a sense of wonder at the things to come. Hunter and Vampire alike, neither knowing what lay just beyond the horizon, but all of them ready for whatever that was to come. They would wait without anxiousness and they would wait without worry. It would perhaps be decades or centuries before they would test their strength again. But as in this and all things, it is more than likely that they would endure.

THE END

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