It must be the smell, Daniil concluded as he watched his apprentice double over and wretch.
The pup had an extra keen sense of smell which would have made the stench within that house, particularly the cellar, almost unbearable.
“Jesus Christ!” Zach exclaimed, leaning on his own knees for support.
“Jesus had nothing to do with that.” Daniil grunted.
Zach cast him an irritated look but was careful not to bite back. He sucked in a few calming breaths before standing back up straight and eyeing the house in the dark, “That was gruesome.” He said dryly.
Daniil’s beard twitched, “Do they not teach you what to expect in a Vampires lair at the academy, boy?”
Zach pulled a face, “Nope, that’s actually your job. I don’t know if you were aware, but you are actually supposed to be teaching me things here instead of just terrorising me all the time. That’s sort of what it means to take on an apprentice. In case you didn’t know.”
Daniil made a noise low in his throat, a rumbling warning growl. The sound of it reverberated through the night air, stalling the crickets and the bugs. Even the trees grew suddenly still, not a rustle or a creak to be heard.
Zach cowed instantly, dropping his head and exposing his neck in the way of the Wolf. It was a sign of submission, an instinct that came naturally to Zach’s animal half because Daniil was the superior Wolf. Zach’s human half was clearly peeved at the submission however, it was written in the angry twist of his features. Daniil knew the pup was fresh out of the academy, but he was learned enough in the ways of the Wolf to know an alpha when he stood before one.
“What’s the plan then?” Zach asked eventually when the hostile atmosphere had somewhat cooled.
“I’m going to Hunt the fucker that killed those people in there.” Daniil declared casually, as if that were the obvious answer.
“You – you’re going to?” Zach asked. “What about me? Don’t I get to help?”
Daniil’s smile was cruel, “Nobody else is going to clean that mess in there.” He nodded at the house.
Zach’s jaw dropped slowly as he realised the sheer extent of what Daniil was asking him to do, “Call in a clean-up crew.” He whined. “That’s what they’re there for.”
“Not this time.” Daniil grunted, “We need to keep a low profile. No clean-up crews.”
Zach gaped, “What the hell do you expect me to do exactly.”
Daniil stared him down, his piercing black expression left no room for refusal, “I expect you to clean it up.”
He kept his gaze locked on to his apprentice for a long moment, making it very clear that he would tolerate no argument on this subject. When Zach responded with nothing but a glare of hatred, he considered his point made and turned to leave, “Consider this a lesson in domesticity,” he grunted as his farewell.
Daniil had a feeling that if he turned back around, he would find the apprentice giving him the finger behind his back. If he turned around and spotted that, he’d have to beat the ever-loving shit out of the kid, so he kept walking, and let the dark forest swallow him whole.
They had stumbled across the Vampires lair by pure chance while scouring the local woodland for a place to lay low. It was a fairly isolated property along a dirt track in the forest, the nearest neighbour a two- or three-minute walk away which made it the perfect location for a Vampire lair. More than likely, it was the Vampires human home, and the remains strewn across the basement were his human family. The vast majority of Guardians turned Vampire early on, in their first days as a fledgling; with little or no guidance they were quickly consumed by their magic and left to wander the earth a soulless, hungry thing.
Daniil could smell the organic, rotting trail of the Vampire but there was no scent of magic accompanying it which was a sure sign of a fledgling turned. It would be an easy kill. The kind of kill he might ordinarily have let his apprentice make for some field practise, if he hadn’t been so snarky before that is.
The trail was not fresh, and the rain had all but erased it as he moved along the forest path back towards town. Another sign that the Vampire was a fledgling; not once did it veer into the woods, it must have been wildly out of touch with its animal nature and trod a very human path on its hunt for food.
Daniil was wholly unfamiliar with this town and the territory, but the forest path told him that he was approaching an open space. It was a well-used track in the woods, and he could sense very few wildlife habitats nearby. It was a dark night, lots of residual cloud cover above the trees so very little moonlight could filter through. Daniil relied mostly on his other senses to navigate the path. He was an old, experienced Guardian of the Wolf and he didn’t need his sight to navigate the forest.
Soon enough the trees started to thin out, as he’d predicted, and the ground became flatter and more even with every step. He scented magic up ahead and slowed his pace to crawl, wondering if another Guardian had already dealt with the Vampire.
He sensed her before he saw her. Alyona. Her aura like a humid summer heatwave, somehow both luxurious and unbearable all at once. It made him pause, like he had suddenly stuck in quicksand, her nearness was almost overwhelming, he had to catch his breath to saver the moment.
She was with someone else, he deduced; the scent of magic in the air was too sweet, too fresh and unfamiliar to be Alyona’s. Daniil progressed with caution.
They were talking, Alyona and an unknown male. The lilt of her voice started a shudder within him, a lust coupled with his fury that she had somehow eluded him for this long. He had to pause again to still the tremble that demanded he rush straight to her. Would he embrace her, or choke her, he wondered?
Another few steps and the trees parted enough for him to see the forest making way for a town park. And there she was, in the distance.
Daniil watched her from the shelter of the trees. He slid himself up onto a low branch, making sure to stay downwind so neither Alyona nor the other Guardian could catch his scent.
He thought quickly of Zach, glad the apprentice wasn’t with him. He felt a sick kind of glee flit through him as he suddenly pictured the apprentice with a sponge and bucket, scrubbing blood and gore from the floor of that cellar. What a wonderful way to break in the new kid, and to shatter his illusions of heroism and grandeur. Theirs was not an elegant job.
Through his hooded gaze he noted that Alyona was slimmer than he remembered. Her hair was pulled back in a tidy clip, she was so unlike the wild Amazonian he had loved for so long. Perhaps it was her cover, but he sensed an attitude of defeat in her, even from this distance. She moved a little slower, she spoke a little softer. He was watching a broken woman and it enraged him. How dare she suffer like some kind of common human! She was better than that, she was greater. Did she not think he would come for her? Did she think that it was truly over between them? No. He would not let it be so. Damn her for wallowing in self-pity while he fought hand, tooth and nail to get back to her. Damn her for giving up.
He clenched his fists so tight his nails drew blood.
Daniil could not help the anger that swelled as he watched her talk to this other Guardian. It was a jealousy, but not the kind one would expect from an ex-lover; he had no fear of her taking another bed mate. She talked to this man of her troubles, however guarded she was being, the soft rise and fall of her lips, the way her eyes grazed him as she listened and then spoke. He would never be satisfied watching her from a distance, he needed to be where that Guardian was – at her side, listening, helping, touching her. He needed to brush his thumb across her cheekbone, drag her against the hard length of his body and kiss her with all the passion and all the anger and all the longing he had gathered these long months apart.
So desperate was he to reunite by her side that he almost moved to follow her as she made her leave into the distance. He realised his hand was actually reaching to pull her back and let it drop limply to his side again.
He had been so intent and so focussed on Alyona that he noticed Zach’s approach much later than he would usually have. The Wolf pup stepped up next to the tree where he perched and peered out at the now lone Guardian in the park.
“I guess he took care of it.” He whispered.
“You didn’t clean that house.” Daniil said darkly, warning the pup that he was not about to suffer a failed order.
“Hey, relax.” Zach said, holding his hands up in mock submission. He shrugged one shoulder guiltily, “I set fire to the whole place.”
The air was so still between them, so tense that a knife couldn’t have cut through it.
Eventually Daniil conceded, “I probably would have done the same.”
Zach visibly deflated, letting out a long breath of air, “Finally a gamble that paid off.” He grinned.
Daniil curled his lip, “do not get cocky.” He warned.
“So, shall we go and introduce ourselves?” Zach asked, nodding at the Guardian in the field who was prepping his own fire.
“No.” Daniil snapped.
“Well, do you know him?”
“Do I know all the Guardians on planet Earth?”
Zach rolled his eyes at his mentor and, before Daniil could think to stop him, he pulled out his cell phone, flicked open the SGN app and snapped a picture of the Guardian in the field.
Daniil slapped the phone out of the kid’s hand and then slapped him hard in the jaw for good measure, “What the fuck do you think you are doing?!” He snarled.
Reeling, Zach shook his head as if to clear it and snatched his phone up out of the mud. His clear eyes were suddenly snapping and popping with barely contained magic. The Wolf was trying to bust out of him, triggered by adrenaline but contained by instinct.
He showed Daniil the phone, “Facial recognition software.” He spat, spraying blood from his split lip into the earth. “I was just trying to be useful.”
“What did I say about the phone, the SGN, about anything with a fucking connection to headquarters?” Daniil asked, rounding on the kid again.
“This technology was invented to help us.” Zach argued.
“This technology was invented to monitor us.” Daniil corrected. “Give me the phone.”
“You’ve lost your phone privileges, hand it over.”
Zach sniggered, “You can’t just confiscate my phone, I’m not a kid.”
Daniil punched Zach once in the face and once in the gut, the phone went flying and Daniil plucked it out of the air in one smooth motion.
“Is there a problem, gentlemen?”
Daniil turned to face the Guardian Alyona had left behind minutes before, “Just teaching my pup a lesson.”
The Guardian looked from Zach doubled over and panting to Daniil who had slid the accosted phone into his pocket. “I’d heard there were two Wolves in town.” He said meeting Daniil’s gaze with a knowing twinkle. “What brings you to Marleigh Park?”
“We were tracking your dead friend out there.” Daniil replied. “The lair is taken care of.”
The Guardian inclined his head, “For that you have my thanks.”
“We’ll leave you to it, then.” Zach said after a long uncomfortable silence during which the two older men eyed each other for weaknesses.
“Yes.” The Guardian said thoughtfully. “Perhaps you might consider checking in with HQ at your earliest convenience. You see, after I heard of two unannounced Wolves in my territory today, I made some calls, and it seems we weren’t expecting visitors any time soon?”
“Perhaps our mission is above your paygrade.” Daniil countered.
The Guardian smiled indulgently and leaned forwards on his cane, “Perhaps that’s all it is.” He agreed happily. “It’s important to check these things nonetheless.”
Zach smiled nervously, he clearly did not like the expression in Daniil’s countenance, “Goodnight then, we’ll see you around.” He nodded to Daniil to turn and leave and for a moment it was unclear whether Daniil would. Zach’s relief was evident when Daniil finally did turn and slope off noiselessly into the forest.
Thankfully, the girl had gotten herself under control. Alyona followed her back to her home, pleased the scent of her magic faded quite abruptly not far from the park, which meant the episode hadn’t lasted long. The girl was angry, Alyona could smell that, and frightened but she still had her soul which was reassuring; it meant that she was tougher than the magic. Overcoming this was a good sign for her future as a Guardian, it meant that she would not turn over her soul so easily.
A huge emotional outburst was usually the trigger for turning Vampire, and not just for fledglings. Ancient Vampires were known to have turned after a great loss or some kind of emotional trauma. Those were the kinds of Vampire battles that made legend. Alyona had defeated her fair share of Greater Vampires in her time, her name was renowned amongst the Guardian people as one of the most ferocious Hunters of her time.
Yet here she sat, a ferocious warrior, getting a damp bottom from the dewy grass in Talia’s back garden. There was a tall fence at her back and musty, spider ridden shed to her left. She was completely invisible in the gloom to prying eyes and could keep watch for any further attack on Talia. Not that she expected it. Talia’s presence in their world was going to spark huge upheaval, that much was certain, and her life would be at risk daily from those who would seek to change the hierarchy. That was why it was imperative to keep her a secret for now, she needed to convince the girl to accept her Mark and her destiny and then transport her safely into the waiting arms of the Prophetess where she could not be harmed, and where she would be trained properly.
Alyona tracked the girls progress through her house by the flicker of light switches, each window of the house suddenly glowing as she passed through. She couldn’t help but notice how the girl left each bulb blazing as she moved from one room to the next, with no care for her parent’s electricity bill. She made a mental note to beat respect into the girl as soon as she got the chance.
With her magic senses alert, Alyona could hear snatches of conversation between the girl and her parents, she was as short and hot tempered with them as she was in the park. There was an entitled fury in her tone, and a hint of her fear lingering in the air around the house which was probably not helping her mood. Soon, Talia shut herself in her bedroom and after some more stomping and crashing about there came the sound of her quietly sobbing.
There it was, the humanity beneath the rage. A hundred years ago, Alyona would have wanted to comfort the girl; today, she wanted to slap her. What use were those tears? What use was the rage? The fact that Alyona had suffered both when she lay alone in the night did nothing to soften her irritation at the girl, it served only to strengthen it. What did she cry for? She hadn’t lost anyone yet. She hadn’t had to kill with her bare hands. These were wounds that would come in time, there was much more to be angry and sad about waiting for Talia in her future. This was supposed to be an exciting time, presented with magic and a life so far removed from the mundane human one she had expected.
Alyona’s marked palm throbbed in agreement. Yes, the magic could be dangerous, and being unable to control it could turn you into a Vampire but there was so much more to the Guardian life than that. The longevity, the strength, the ability to travel the world and experience everything it had to offer. The feel of the magic beneath your skin, like molten passion flowing in your veins. The Change. That moment when your body took its first shuddering breath as another creature… there really was nothing like it. She closed her eyes and tried to summon forth all of those gorgeous feelings, she had bathed in this life for so long, been drunk on the high of it all but now she was surprisingly numb. She had been this way since the day she turned her back on Daniil and walked away for good six months ago. Perhaps she wasn’t the best candidate to be trying to convince Talia to embrace this life while she herself was so miserable.
She picked at the ground and tried to remember how she had felt before the day she walked away, how it had felt when she stood tall and fierce as the most revered of the Elite Guard. She had lived and loved and laughed everyday back then. There had been times she and Daniil had been apart for months at a time, away on separate missions but she was always warmed by the expectation of their reunion, knowing there would be a day soon when she would climb back into his bed or that they would run free and hunt together as Wolf and Tiger. It was true that they could never officially be together, the sacred laws of their people forbade Guardians from Mating outside of their own species. Interspecies copulating was only frowned upon, not forbidden. A ghost of a smile crossed her lips, neither of them had ever cared about being frowned upon.
Somehow, she had to claw her way back to those feelings, past this fog of gloom and loneliness, so that she might convince the girl of the joys of their calling. She turned her head and listened for the sound of the girls sobbing and realised she was probably asleep.
© Emma Stead
New to Drenched in Moonlight? Find chapter one here …