Drenched in Moonlight, Chapter Two

Drenched in Moonlight, Chapter Two

She tracked Talia with ease, first to her parent’s house and then into the town centre. It felt liberating to finally be using her powers again, to be out on the streets searching and hunting, having a purpose. In all honesty there was nothing truly exciting about tracking a teenager around town, but the last six months had been filled with so much infuriating nothingness that it was a relief to simply have a goal.

Life in Marleigh was dull; monotonous days strolled by agonisingly slow, each one a repeat of the last. She went to school, she taught maths, she came home. There were plenty of Guardian establishments in the surrounding area, specifically a family run pub restaurant called ‘Tiger’s Den’ which was owned by one of the rare Tiger Guardian family units; it would have been perfect company for Alyona. But because of the secret nature of her mission, she was forbidden from mingling with other Guardians if she could help it, and she refused to mix with the local humans any more than she needed to. The most exciting part of her day would be watching the students in her classes trying to figure out which one of them was her mission.

The evening air carried a chill, still damp with fresh rain she took a deep breath of it into her lungs and sighed, it felt so sweet on her feverish skin. Alyona wore a dark shirt and jeans – no jacket or sweater needed when you had the hot blood of the Tiger running through your veins. As she walked, she noticed that familiar itch in her fingers and that tingle in her toes that reminded her it had been months since she last Changed. The Tiger’s magic was thrumming through her veins deliciously again, igniting her nerve endings as she heightened her own senses, she was tricking her own body into thinking she might Change soon which was dangerous; she couldn’t afford to lose control in the middle of the shopping mall she had to calm the magic down. She promised herself she would find time to Change soon, once the mission was secure and the fledgling prepped, it had been too long. After the initial bone-crunching pain of Changing forms passed there really was nothing like it.

Alyona came to a halt just outside the Randell Centre, Marleigh’s excuse for a shopping mall. This time of the evening it was crawling with young people and stunk of lust, laughter and fizzy drinks. The feline in her arched luxuriously against the confines of her skin, scenting the perfect prey; already excited and pumped up with oxytocin their fear would be heightened, the adrenaline hot and salty between her teeth.

Oh, sweet chase, she thought longingly.

Memories swept unbidden through her mind as she ached for a proper hunt. Her mind drifted remembering those days of leaping through the forest on four legs with the long dark Wolf at her side, there was a flash of antlers through the trees ahead and he would catch her eye letting her know she could have the kill this time. They would lay together after as man and woman, sated from the hunt, the kill and the sex.

She shuddered, shoving those memories aside with as much brute force as she could muster. She wished she could conjure an iron box in her mind, stuff him and all his memories inside and be rid of them forever. For so long now she had simply refused to think about him, had convinced herself that she was almost ready to return home and face him on her own terms with no chinks in her armour. How wrong she had been. His sudden, unexpected presence here shattered in an instant the meagre defences she spent months stitching together. She was as broken as the day she left, angry too. How could she move on if he insisted on showing up and ruining her like this? It was cruel.

The temptation to track him down instead of Talia was almost overpowering. She fancied she would do more than confront him if she did, she would probably go as far as murdering him for this. Only her loyalty to the Prophetess kept her focussed on her task, just barely. She had never let her leader down and did not intend to start now.

Forcing herself to focus, Alyona singled out Talia’s scent from the crowd and homed in on that before she could enter the mall; the absolute stench of the place was almost overwhelming to her heightened senses but while she narrowed her focus on Talia she could ignore the influx of other smells.

Talia’s scent led her to the second floor up a furry set of escalators and then into the dingy cinema complex there. After confirming that the girl had not come back out again yet, Alyona parked herself on a bench opposite the entrance and considered her next move. She could hardly comprehend the girl’s actions; having suddenly been Marked and gifted with a great power she had chosen to simply ignore it and come to the movies instead? Bizarre.

She crossed her ankles and lay her hands in her lap, with no idea how long she was going to be waiting here she decided to try and come up with some conversation tactics. She needed the girl to trust her, actually just to talk to her first. Not only did the girl need to know and understand what she had now become, she also needed to know about the threats that would very soon be on her trail – especially if she continued to flaunt her newly Marked scent all over town. Marleigh was not a huge Vampire or Rogue scene, but they would soon come from miles around. As her powers blossomed, the girl would be a homing beacon for nasties and without Alyona as a companion she would soon be eaten alive. Literally.

Alyona refused to think about Daniil as she waited. Once the fledgling was secure and on her way to California then she would deal with him. God help him if he dared to cross her path in the meantime; her fingers were already itching to throttle him.

She decided after a little while that she was a bit too conspicuous directly opposite the cinema. It was probably best that she didn’t get caught following the girl here, Talia was full of enough fury already without the added rage of realising she was being stalked by her maths teacher. Alyona moved further into the complex and found another bench out of direct view but still close enough that she could watch the entrance. It was here that she first caught the faint whiff of a problem.

So intent on blocking out all scents other than Talia’s she had missed it before; the bitter, cloying scent of a Vampire. She was irritated at her own mistake and singled out the scent to analyse it. It was a couple of hours old at least which hopefully meant Talia had not yet been noticed. Unfortunately, the scent had been trampled and trodden over so much in the last few hours that it would be impossible to track or follow around the mall. It was possible there would be a fresh trail outside, but there was also a huge chance the rain had washed it away already. She didn’t have the keenest nose of the Wolf and the Vampire was really nothing to do with her mission unless she encountered it in Talia’s path, it was clear she would have to call this one in and palm it off on someone else to deal with.

She whipped out her cell phone and dialled a number she had burned into her own memory years ago when Guardian’s embraced the new age. There was an extended silence as the call connected overseas.

A bright American voice suddenly chirped down the line, “Animal Rescue! How may I direct your call?”

“I need the number for the UK headquarters.” Alyona said.

The voice dropped an octave and was suddenly very brusque and business-like, “Name and Animal first please?”

Alyona hesitated, realising she may have just made a huge mistake in calling HQ. Technically she could demand all traces of this call be erased when the call ended, but if anyone was trying to track her phone number the call would already have raised a red flag above her head. Too late now, she thought with a sigh, “Alyona Ivanov, of the Tiger.” She said at last.

She could hear the clicking of a keyboard in the background while the operator pulled up her information, “There’s no mission data for you, please state your business in the UK?”

Not a great start, Alyona clenched her jaw, praying she hadn’t just screwed this mission completely by making this call, “My business is beyond your paygrade.” Alyona replied coolly. “I need that number, so if you value your job, I suggest you give it to me.”

There was a long silence on the other end of the line while the operator considered what to say next. Alyona bit down on the inside of her cheeks to keep from spewing abuse at the woman who was hopefully not a spy for Marco Cortez and simply just trying to do her job.

“Click through to my personnel file,” Alyona suggested. “You will find what you need there.”

Annoying as this bureaucracy bullshit was, the simple fact was that in the twenty first century there were so many Guardians now that it was impossible to keep track of them without a computer system. It was also a handy way of keeping track of any of those at risk of going dark side.

“Ah, I see!” The operator said suddenly sounded flustered. “My apologies.”

Alyona’s rank in the Guardian world was second only to their lord and leader, the Prophetess. She was a member of the Elite Guard, exempt from all the usual rules and regulations which meant she definitely did not need to explain herself to a phone monkey. The operator quickly relayed the phone number for the UK office and asked if there was anything else she could help with today?

“Erase all traces of this call.” Alyona demanded, before hanging up the line. She considered following her demand with a threat but didn’t want to draw any more attention to herself than she already had done. If the operator was a spy, the mission was already in tatters. If she wasn’t? Then she would do as she was ordered and Alyona would continue on undetected by that wretched Council Leader, Cortez.

The next call connected much quicker than the last, but this time she was greeted by an automated recorded message, “Thank you for calling Animal Rescue,” The monotonous British voice cooed. “We are currently experiencing a high volume of calls. If your call is about a pet, please dial one. If you’re calling about a stray animal, or if you feel a pet may be at risk, please dial two. For anything else please hold the line.”

“The fuck is this bullshit?” Alyona barked into the phone.

She waited, subjected now to what sounded like old fashioned elevator music. Just as she was ready to hang up – Vampire be damned! – the line clicked, “You’re through to discreet services, my name is Jenny, how can I help you today?”

Alyona hesitated, she was well aware of the ‘Animal Rescue’ cover that HQ used worldwide but she honestly questioned then if she had the right phone number.

“I need to report a target.” She said, at last.

“Could I please take your name and animal?”

She clicked her tongue, it was less likely that Cortez would have agents in the UK specifically tracking her, but it was always a possibility. “Alyona of the Tiger.” She said after a beat.

“And where is the target?”

Alyona relayed her current location, gritting her teeth the whole time. She could easily have dealt with the Vampire herself, but she didn’t dare leave Talia’s trail especially while the girl was unaware of the dangers. “There are only traces of a scent here,” She told the operator, “It has likely moved on by now, but I can’t track it myself just now.”

“I’ll dispatch a Hunter.” The operator assured her. “Is there anything else I can help you with today?”

She hesitated, heart suddenly fluttering in her throat as an idea occurred to her. “I need current mission statements for Daniil Vankin of the Wolf.” She said, pulse racing. Saying his name out loud for the first time in months summoned a panicked ecstasy within her that had her looking around nervously in case he suddenly appeared, drawn by the magic of his name on her lips again.

“Please hold while I do a quick search.”

Alyona had her status to thank again, being a member of the Elite Guard gave her unrestricted access to files and information as and when she needed it. She did feel a small pang of guilt at using her position for personal means, but she would never have needed to do this if Daniil hadn’t meddled first by coming here. He was putting her mission at risk, she reasoned she needed to know his plans in order to better protect the girl.

“Vankin is currently in Toronto, Canada. Apprentice training mission. Forecast; two weeks.”

“Apprentice?” Alyona repeated, startled. Taking an apprentice was the last thing she ever expected of him. Not only had he never had the inclination – in fact he despised fledglings and inexperienced Guardians more than Alyona did – he also had other duties that required his attention right now. Curious.

“Ah, bear with me. Zacharias David of the Wolf. Thirty-two years old, first mission out of the academy.”

“Send me all recent files.” Alyona demanded, feeling, if possible, even more confused than before. What was Daniil playing at?

“How recent?”

Alyona bit her lip and closed her eyes for a beat, “The last six months.” She breathed. This whole time she had blocked him from her mind, not always successful she had to admit but she ran away deliberately so she wouldn’t have to know any of the gory details of his… arrangement, and here she was about to know all of it. Dread twisted with bitter disappointment in her gut and her chest felt suddenly tight.

“All files have been forwarded to your personal email. Do you need an amber alert issued?”

“No!” Alyona blurted. “Not yet.” An amber alert would notify certain officials that Daniil was at risk or suspected of turning Vampire or Rogue. The operator must have connected Alyona’s two requests and assumed the target here was Daniil. As tempting as it was to send hordes of Guardian Hunters after him, it was clear he was off mission and alerting anyone to his presence here would be catastrophic. After all, he would only have come for one thing.

“Do not add any notes to his file and erase all evidence of your search.” She ordered.

“You’ll be needing this call erased as well?” The operator asked.

Alyona hesitated, “Enter it as an anonymous tip, we still need that Hunter dispatched.”

“Never spoke to you, ma’am.” The operator confirmed.

Alyona ended the call and stared into the empty space before her, wondering what the hell she was doing. The phone buzzed in her hand alerting her that the promised email had arrived. She had to clench her hands into fists to keep her traitorous fingers from opening it immediately.

Talia first, she warned herself. Daniil later.

It was a while later that the cinema finally started to empty out. Drawn from her silent reverie, Alyona scanned the crowd as they emerged. Talia was one of the last few out, easy to spot with her signature sheet of ebony hair. She was with two friends that Alyona recognised from school, all of them happy and chatty with their arms looped through one another. Talia was still wearing the thin satin gloves from earlier, incorporating them into a gothic style outfit so as not to draw too much attention to herself.

Alyona would hang back, remain unseen and follow her home tonight where she would keep watch. She would have to approach the girl again tomorrow at school, but in the meantime, she needed protection, especially now with the presence of a Vampire she would be easy prey if she was discovered alone. No Vampire could resist the sweetness of a fledgling.

Talia and her companions headed back down to the mall exit, still chatting and completely oblivious to their undercover maths teacher following them. She was well versed in the art of following unseen and stayed back far enough that she wouldn’t be spotted, she used her other senses, her nose and her ears, to stay on their trail; she learned long ago that even humans had an uncanny ability to sense when one person’s eyes lingered on them for too long.

Instead of turning back to the residential side of town the teens turned right when they made it outside. Alyona smiled to herself, grateful for anything that delayed a long night sitting outside a teenager’s house on guard duty suited her fine. She still hung back, using the darkness and the shadows to remain hidden now. It was at times like these that she felt a little tinge of frustration that she hadn’t been Marked by an animal a little less conspicuous; a Wolf Guardian for instance could Change now and follow in Wolf form. If seen, he could be mistaken for a large dog and would have the benefit of being disguised and in full use of his animal senses. There was no way Alyona could safely turn into the Tiger now. Within hours there would be circulating hysteria about an escapee from the nearest zoo.

The teens strolled with very little urgency, their conversation droll. So far there had been no trace of the Vampire scent, not very reassuring considering all she could smell was the damp layer of fresh rain, all other scents had been wiped out by it. She rolled her shoulders as she walked, if she was honest, she could do with a good fight; she was itching to kill something.

She soon realised that they were heading towards Marleigh Town Park and rolled her eyes at the cliché; if ever there was a good time for a Vampire attack, she thought ironically. While the trio of young girls entered the park Alyona stayed outside, following the path adjacent to the gate. She could still track them easily from out here, the inside was far too open to follow as an open field with very little tree cover. There was a small children’s playground followed by another huge expanse of grassland for picnics and ballgames. The area slowly thickened with trees after that and the park backed directly onto Marleigh’s entrance to Epping Forest, a huge expanse of ancient woodland that spilled through areas of Essex and Greater London.

There was always a faint aroma of Vampire about the park, they were drawn here by the residual heat and scent of sweaty, adrenaline filled bodies. Sweeter still was the delicate aroma of the small humans that frequented the park during the day. Even through the rain the Tiger in Alyona could detect the hint of children in the air, not that she was tempted to eat them, at least not in the same way a Vampire was. She might eat them to shut them up.

When the tremor of a nearby Vampire shuddered down her spine, she grinned.

She doubled her pace along the fringes of the park. Having hunted her fair share of Vampires here, while waiting for mission to truly start, she knew the Vampire would most likely be taking cover in the trees ahead waiting for just such an opportunity that presented itself right now – easy victims walking themselves to their deaths in the dark. Alyona wanted to admonish Talia for being so predictable. She was almost starting to look forward to training the fledgling, if only to beat some sense into her.

At the next gate Alyona peered through the thicket of bushes that lined the fringe of the park, she judged that she was about fifty yards from the teens, and they were veering away from her now towards the forest. There was a skate park up and to the left, but they seemed to be heading to one of the various picnic benches dotted about up the back before the forest truly took hold. There were various Victorian looking lamps dotted about evenly though the park but the forest at the back was just a mass of gnarled black shadows, waiting back there gave the Vampire the advantage of sight, but that was all. Alyona sensed rather than saw movement in the distance, she knew that whatever waiting back there was impatient, dripping saliva and aching with a hunger that could never truly be sated. It would never use its positional advantage properly, the instinct to kill and to eat was too great to wait.

She knew she had to be quick, it was moving and intent on its prey, more motivated to kill them than she was to kill it. She leapt into the park, knowing she would have no other option than to show herself to the teens at this point. She moved silently across the dewy grass, glad for the grip of her trainers on the damp, rain-clotted earth. She was quick, but the Vampire was quicker. One teen was already on the ground, and it was about to snatch a fistful of Talia’s hair to get at her throat when Alyona barrelled into it from the side. She sent it squealing into the mud, hissing in frustration.

They were not the smartest of creatures, Vampires. All instinct and very minimal brain power, after twenty or so years in the field they lost their fear factor. With two hundred years in Alyona’s pocket, this fight was already decided before it had even begun.

It was a new Vampire; the eyes weren’t dull yet and there was a distinct lack of magic in use. Vampires were once Guardians, like Alyona, but they had lost their souls. This one was just a fledgling when it turned, perhaps as fresh as Talia, it was untrained and sloppy. It ignored its animal senses and dove at Alyona as a man would, snarling and spitting. Alyona sidestepped it with ease and pivoted to watch it fall face first into the grass again.

Around her the teens were shrieking and clinging to each other, their reaction was so delayed that they would have made easy prey had Alyona not been there. Alyona ignored them for now. She let the Vampire rise to his feet again, so he might die more dignified than a rat in the mud. He turned and roared at her, his teeth white and sharp against the bloodstained gash of his lips. It still did not listen to its instincts, which after one sniff of Alyona would have told the thing to turn and run.

Knocking aside his swiping arms, she took a firm hold of his neck in both hands and summoned the brute strength of the Tiger. Magic ignited in the centre of her palm and sparkled towards her fingertips. Warmth and strength and magic pulsed there, she snapped his neck in an instant and caught the body in her arms as it slumped. A disappointingly predictable finish.

The bitterness came then, as it always did. A life wasted; a Guardian unfulfilled. Cradling the dead man, she gently lowered him into the grass and closed his glaring eyes. This was what a Hunter did, this was her real job. She sought out and killed former brethren who had lost their souls and become monsters. She had killed thousands in her lifetime, and she regretted every single one. With every kill came the same cold question of whether it would be her turn next; would something tip her over the edge? It was always possible, no matter how old the Guardian became. Tapping into the Animal magic was a risk each and every time because that magic was dark, and it was lethal, and it would burn you up as soon as it would help you out if you let it. Even now as the Tiger magic crept back up her arms and tucked itself neatly back into the Mark on her palm she could sense it, a shadow in her heart, a sticky, sucking shadow that wanted to pinch the fringes of her soul and drag it away with it as it departed.

“M-m-miss Reynolds?” Came a quiet voice from behind her.

Alyona squared her shoulders and turned to face the youngsters. Two were staring at her, aghast and clinging to one another like frightened children. Talia was harder to read, with eyes like ice and an expression so still and controlled she could be a sculpture standing there instead of a person.

Alyona held up a finger to signal silence and pulled her cell phone from her back pocket. She dialled the UK office she had called earlier and after short wait, during which the teens eyes bulged with panic and confusion, she barked quickly, “Alyona Ivanov, Tiger. Clean-up required urgently. Marleigh Town Park.” She ended the call and eyed the trio before her, wondering how best to deal with the situation.

“Go home, girls.” She said at last, to the two extras. “You were never here.”

They simply stared at her bug-eyed and gaping.

“Do you value your life?” She looked down at the corpse at her feet then back up at the girls, smirking. “I will kill you where you stand. Leave. Now. Never tell a soul you were here.”

They didn’t even spare a glance at Talia before taking off at full speed towards the gate, “Faster than they’ve run in years, I bet.” Alyona commented.

“You have a Russian name.” Talia observed. “But an American accent?”

“I have lived a long life.”

They eyed each other for a long moment.

“That was a Vampire.” Alyona said at last.

Talia glanced down at the dead man on the ground. “I guess it was.” She said.

“You aren’t shocked?” Alyona cocked her head.

The girl twitched uncomfortably, “I know some things.”

“You had a vision?”

“A what?”

“The power of the Eagle is vast,” Alyona explained. “Visions come as standard. Did you have a dream? Pass out? Hear a voice in your head?”

Talia blinked, “I spoke to an old lady.” She admitted, “It was a bit like a dream.”

Alyona bit back her sarcastic retort, “When was this?” She asked instead.

“Last night.” She said, almost grudgingly and gestured to her gloved hand. “After this appeared. She told me that I was a… Guardian? She told me to find you. She told me to watch out for Vampires.” A snort of laugher burst free, “But this is all just a joke, right? Right!”

Alyona considered her darkly, “Far from it.”

The laughter died on her lips as quickly as it sprung forth, “What am I?” She asked breathlessly. “What is this Mark, and what the hell is a Guardian?”

“Not now. We need to get away from here first.”

“Yes, now!” Talia snapped, her eyes blazing. “What are we supposed to do with the dead guy, anyway?”

“Well, ordinarily we would burn him, but I’ve called in reinforcements to deal with this so that I can deal with you.”

The girl glared at Alyona, fury, curiosity and defiance flashed across her face in quick succession, “tell me everything. Now. Right now, or I will never speak to you again. I swear, I’ll even tell the police that you killed this guy.”

It was Alyona’s turn to snort, “As if I care about the human police.”

She could see in the girl’s eyes that she was deadly serious. She would turn her back on Alyona, or at least make this process as difficult as she possibly could if she did not answer her questions right now. The entitled bullshit attitude made Alyona’s hackles rise, she hated being manipulated, she was used to the mind battles and politics with the superior minds of her people it just hit different knowing she was about to give in to the demands of a snot nosed little brat. Respect was a concept that was quickly being lost to these new generations.

“Tell me!” The girl demanded.

With no other option, a dead body to deal with and a fledgling that needed protecting Alyona took a deep breath and tried to boil the great truth of her people down to a few short sentences.

“You are a Guardian. You have been chosen by the Eagle to carry its Mark and share its powers. There are other animals, like me. I Guard the Tiger. Powers vary between Guardians, it can depend on age, status and willingness. Generally speaking, you will live for hundreds of years, you will be able to transform your body into that of the Eagle and attain other skills specific to your animal.”

Talia remained perfectly still with her arms folded across her breast. She stared steadily at Alyona, silently digesting what she was being told, her eyes alight with intelligence as she ticked over and made sense of this information. Alyona was pleased to see this most of all, it meant acceptance was not far off.

“It is not all sunshine and magical powers.” Alyona warned. “You will be constantly plagued by the threat of turning into a Vampire. When you use your magic, you will open a gateway between our world and the Realm of the Ancient Animal. That gateway is in your palm, your Mark. That realm is where our souls go when we die, like human heaven. When you access magic, the gate is open, but be warned magic can be very overwhelming. If you cannot control it properly then there is a chance your soul will be sucked through into the other realm, if that happens then your body will live on. The soul is then lost and cannot ever return. Without a soul, the body becomes a hungry, empty savage. That is what we call the Vampire. It does not simply drink blood, it drinks souls, trying to fill that void. It can never be filled. Forever wandering, forever hungry. That is the fate for the poorly controlled Guardian. Then, it becomes another Guardians job to put that creature out of its misery, as I have just done here.”

Alyona stopped there, wondering if she had perhaps said too much too quickly.

“You’re telling me I’m a Vampire hunter?” Talia asked eventually.

“Not you.” She replied delicately. “You are of the Eagle. The Eagle leads us all. The Eagle sees all the Eagle knows all and one day, you will lead all Guardians if you choose to come with me and train.”

***

High above Alyona and Talia, an Eagle circled the heavens. It was sure to stay high and keep its scent to itself which meant it could not hear what the pair were saying down below, but its vision was impeccable. It instantly recognised the Tigress and if it could have, it would have grinned.

Keeping its distance to stay hidden it could not scent if the young person with her was a fledgling, but it already had a rising suspicion. No sign of the Tigress for all these months, not a hint or a whisper. A mission so secret only the Prophetess herself knew what it was. There was no Guardian the Prophetess trusted more than Alyona, the infamous Tigress of the Elite Guard. The only Guardian she would trust with the life of her very own protegee, the most important fledgling in a thousand years.

They had suspected, of course.

What a beautiful blow it would be to the Prophetess, the Great Guardian of the Eagle, to lose her most skilled protector and her only chance at a successor all at once. It was an opportunity not to be missed.

The dark Eagle resisted the urge to drop down and slaughter them both in one swift move. Instead, it swooped into the distance with its news, riding the wind. It was consoled in the knowledge that soon it would return with an army of death for them both.

***

“You are a Vampire Hunter then?” The girl asked.

“Usually, yes.” Alyona admitted. She scanned the dark field expectantly, knowing the clean-up team she had ordered would be arriving shortly. She needed to get Talia and her Mark safely away, at some point the Guardian world would know about the fledgling, but right now the Prophetess wanted absolute secrecy.

“Right now, though, I am acting as a Tracker.” She added.

Talia cocked a brow, “You track Vampires?”

“Trackers are sent to find fledglings, new Guardians like you.” She explained. “I am here to explain you, train you and protect you on your journey.”

“What journey?” The defiance was back, Talia lifted her chin and her eyes flashed with it.

Alyona felt her control spiralling, she had not even intended to speak to the girl tonight and here she was trying to explain it all haphazardly in the middle of a dark field with a dead body at her feet. There were handbooks and relevant scripts for this sort of thing that Alyona had not even looked at yet. She was not experienced in talking to fledglings, but she knew already that Talia was going to refuse to leave for California. It was too late, but she also knew that if she stopped now she would lose the small amount of trust she had found in being honest on the spot, “Fledglings are trained in the academy. It’s like a school but with weapons training and magic lessons. After they graduate, the fledgling finishes their training by becoming an apprentice to a Guardian.”

 Talia scoffed, “Do you really think I’m going to go with you? Be your apprentice or whatever?”

Alyona shook her head, “Not my apprentice. I’m only here to guide you.”

“Fantastic job you’re doing!” She snarled angrily. “I won’t go with you.”

“Talia…”

The girl took a step back, Alyona could see that she had gone too far but couldn’t quite figure out where she should have stopped. This was why there were manuals and scripts for Trackers. Convincing a sixteen-year-old girl to leave her human life and become a magical Vampire Hunter was harder than Alyona had ever really considered.

“Don’t you come anywhere near me, you fucking freak, I am not like you!” She snarled, panic rising now, confusion and denial.  

Alyona hesitated, “Be calm, child.” She warned, “Unless you wish to end up like the dead guy.”

Cold fury radiated from the girl, she was about to snarl some vicious reply, but she suddenly flinched and looked down at her hand with rising horror. Alyona felt a cold pit of dread drop into her gut as she realised what was about to happen.

Talia ripped off her glove and stared at her own palm, aghast. Her magic was trembling, the pale pink lines of the Mark of the Eagle were glowing with an ethereal light as if a small star had just blinked into existence beneath her skin. The smell of magic was all at once radiating from her in thick strawberry waves.

“What’s happening to me?” Talia cried.

“Control it,” Alyona urged. If the girl refused then it would consume her at once, and Alyona would have another Vampire to kill tonight. “Push it back, you aren’t ready for this. Put it back and close the door.”

Talia stared at her with wild eyes, panic had all but erased the clarity that Alyona had been so pleased to see minutes before. This could not be how it ended, Alyona thought angrily. The Ancient Animals were supposed to Mark the worthy, the ones who could control the magic and yet it seemed more and more these days the fledglings were too weak or too scared to grab the proverbial bull by the horns and tussle with it.

Alyona moved to grab the girl and ground her, shake some sense into her if she had to but Talia flinched back and shrieked, “Don’t touch me!”

The magic rolling off of the girl narrowed to a point and aimed itself at the perceived threat, it hit Alyona like a tidal wave and sent her tumbling through the air. She hit the ground hard, feeling breathless and electrified.

Talia shrieked again, turned and ran in the same direction her friends escaped.

Alyona tried to rise at once but was bolted to the ground by the weight of the foreign magic still roiling through her. She shuddered, waiting impatiently for it to fizzle out before she could move again.

“That looked painful.” Said a familiar voice from behind her.

Alyona glared at the Guardian approaching from the woods. He was short, for a man, with thick arms and broad shoulders. He wore the dark clothes of a Hunter and a friendly, dimpling smile.

“Shane Carter.” Alyona acknowledged with a groan as the magic finally released her. “I should have thought of you before I contacted HQ.”

Carter offered her his hand and pulled her smoothly to her feet, “Let me guess, that was your fledgling?” He said with a grin. He had a perpetually cheerful nature that Alyona found both amusing and irritating depending on what mood she was in.

He was a local Hunter, a Guardian of the Bear, and Alyona met him by accident during her first week here in Marleigh.             Shane was on a mission and confused Alyona’s scent with the Vampire he was tracking. The outcome of his mistake was an amusing battle in which both Alyona and Carter sustained serious injuries before realising they were on the same side. They then had to track and kill the actual enemy together because neither was fit for the fight alone.

“Correct.” Alyona muttered, massaging the new ache in her hip from her awkward landing. “I guess I should go after her.”

Carter considered the distance and pursed his lips, “Actually, it looks like she might need a break from you.”

Alyona shook her head in frustration, “I should not have taken this mission.”

Carter snorted, “No comment.” He bent down to examine the dead body on the ground. “I take it this was the target I was told about?”

“Do you recognise him?” She asked, still wondering what to do about Talia.

“No,” he said, closing the dead man’s fist over the Bear Mark on his palm. “There have been so many unknowns lately.”

Alyona grunted her agreement. In the distance, Talia wrenched open the gate and hurtled out of the park. Alyona knew she would have to follow soon, before another Vampire tracked the fledgling down, but with the known enemy dead at their feet she could probably spare a minute or two with Carter.

“Psychic powers.” He mused, following her gaze. “That would make her-”

“An Eagle.”

“Well, I was going to say an Eagle or a Dragon, but you do enjoy taking the fun out of things, don’t you lady?” He got to his feet using his thin shining cane to lean on. It was a beautiful, polished walking aid with a curved wooden handle carved into the shape of a bear. The cane was a weapon in its own right, Alyona had the scars on her ribs to prove its deadliness, but it housed a blade in the handle for that up close and personal finishing blow.

“There aren’t many Dragons left anymore.” She said with a small smile.

“Even less Eagles.”

“Touché.”

He grinned widely, showing off several gold teeth. He looked to be in his late forties, by human years, with a slightly receding hairline and more than a handful of stringy grey hairs zigzagging through the rest of his black wiry mane. He was actually in the middle of his fifth century. Alyona often wondered how he had managed to hold on to his good nature and sense of humour for so long a life. Her own two hundred years had not been kind to her, she felt robbed of much of her compassion and joy for life. Once upon a time she coveted her longevity, but time itself was teaching her a hard lesson; any being that lived a life so long was doomed to heartache and misery.

“Well, I look forward to seeing in her reign.” Carter said. “The old girl must be getting tired.”

Alyona’s hackles leapt up suddenly, “The Prophetess is devoted to her people, she will not step down to any fledgling for another century or two at the very least.” She snapped.

Carter’s smile grew thin and sad around the edges, like a withering flower desperately trying to stay open and alive, “We are all tired, lady. You especially, and you’re still a spring chicken.”

She looked away from his searching gaze, a stiff stuttering in her chest.

“Word has it there’s a couple of Wolves in town.” He added casually, casting her a sidelong look that suggested he knew more. “Sniffing about your backside. Any idea what that’s about?”

“I’ll know soon enough.”

“I can look into it for you, if you’re otherwise too occupied with that feisty baby bird of yours?”

“No.” She said sharply. “Thank you, but no. It’s my problem.”

He bobbed his head in agreement, “You best be off after her then. I’ve got some work to do here.”

They shook hands and parted ways. Carter got to work disposing of the Vampire corpse while Alyona set off after Talia. She could only hope that the girl had managed to close off her magic on her own without losing her soul.

© Emma Stead

One response to “Drenched in Moonlight, Chapter Two”

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