ONE HOUR until sunset and I had yet to find the vampire’s lair. With the evening sun reflecting from the skyscraper’s windows, I strolled by the National Museum of the American Indian in Lower Manhattan.
The trail I followed splashed all over the surrounding buildings. Marks of gray, leftovers of aether, were splattered on the walls, snaking up by the lightning conductors, dripping on the streets. Aether was invisible to common men, but I had my way around that. Though what worried me was the sheer amount of the magical energy I could see, because there was no way this was caused by one lesser vampire. Another nest, great.
Focusing my magical sight, I sought a pattern among the stains. I roamed through the street, searching for the origin. The hot, summer wind was fresh, coming from the sea and the streets were full of both cars and people.
I brushed past a group of Japanese tourists and noticed the aether marks were more intense around the Museum’s northeastern corner. This one was the closest to the next building, so reasonably concealed from prying eyes.
And the skyscraper across the narrow street was also heavily stained with the gray aether. Were they climbing up the skyscraper and then jumping onto the museum?
Possibly. I didn’t feel like doing that myself though, so I chose a more traditional route, entering the museum through the main entrance. Tourists swarmed inside the entry hall, trying to get the last tickets of the day.
I passed among them, spotting two security guards. One stood by the largest door though which the tourists entered the museum’s expositions, watching the tourists keenly. The other one was near the entrance, holding a phone in his hand while leaning against the wall.
Lowering my cowboy hat into my face, I looked for personnel-only doors. There were two, a maintenance door near the entrance and a staff-only door by the cashiers.
I chose the former and headed there. Unceremoniously, I approached the door, and pressed the handle. Locked. I fuelled aether into my hand, and the lock with two fingers. The lock shattered, door opening. Since the tourist crowd’s chatter drowned the noise I made, no one even looked my way.
With a smile, I entered, closing the door behind me. I passed through a short corridor and found the stairs. Since the dusk was approaching, I chose to save a few seconds and fueled the magical power through my entire body. I ran up the stairs, holding my hat not to fall. A few seconds later, I arrived at the top floor.
And standing before a large, wooden door, I already sensed them. After almost a year of hunting vampires, I never missed the subtle but foul feeling of unnaturalness in the air.
Shame that the stench didn’t tell me how many they were. I powered up my defenses, readied my muscles and shattered the door’s lock with a strike. I blitzed inside.
Eight coffins were scattered around the museum’s attic, mostly hidden among old exhibits of figurines in traditional, native clothing and displays with art. By the far wall stood a stand with shotguns, sniper rifles, and next to it lay a pile of explosives. The moment I entered all coffins flipped open.
This was the first problem with vampires. Sure, they died under sunlight, and thus slept during the day, but the dying part took a few minutes to start and until then, they were in a survival frenzy. While I ran across the room to stand between them and the heavy weaponry, they all jumped out of their coffins, looking like ordinary people.
The second problem with vampires was that there were no obvious telling signs. One looked like a businessman, another like a construction worker, a woman in Gotham Florist uniform, all appearing indistinguishable to normal sight.
Yet with my magical sight, I saw the gray aether bubbling through them. And, as usual, they slept with weapons in their coffins. Guns, pistols, knives, fire axes, the usual collection.
But I needed information, so I looked at the closest one—the man in the suit—and asked, “You’ve come all this way to die. Quite a waste, isn’t it?”
He scoffed, grabbing a fire axe from his coffin. “There is no price we wouldn’t pay for your death.”
His speech had a thick French accent, too thick for Canadian. Great, they were now sailing here all the way from mainland Europe. “Over the past year, I’ve killed over a thousand of you. Why do you think you won’t meet the same end?”
“We know the risk,” the woman in a florist uniform said, raising her pistol with a silencer. “You killed one of our Gods. Whoever avenges him will ascend.” She fired.
The bullet bounced off my shield. She needed a shotgun or a sniper rifle to get through those. I sighed. I needed more information, but they were apparently done talking.
The man in suit blitzed toward me, swinging the axe while two other vampires tried to slip past me to reach the shotguns.
Ah, well. I stepped in and jabbed the suited man’s head. His skull exploded from the impact, blood and bones splashing around. I grabbed the axe from his hands and whirled, slashing the other two. The axe crushed their chests, passing through the bones like a hot knife through the butter. Barely any blood sprayed from these two.
They were starved. But that didn’t make the four vampires converging on me any slower. I waited for them to get closer, and then stepped in. The axe swished as I slashed the air, hacking apart all four of them in an instant.
Another slid through the carnage, and leapt at me, grabbing me by the waist while the girl in the florist uniform was already grabbing a shotgun.
I spun and threw the axe. At the same time, the axe hit the woman in the head and the vampire holding me sank two long fangs that sprung out of his gums into my thigh, piercing my shields.
That hurt. I grabbed his head and crushed the skull between my fingers. Carefully, I pulled the teeth out from my thigh and tossed the corpse away. From my inner pocket, I withdrew spray bandage, half pulled down my bloodying pants, and sprayed the wound with that. The bleeding stopped.
The tiredness and lack of strength from being bitten already hit me. Vampire saliva had two substances – one that stopped blood coagulation and a second one that knocked the person out. I’ve had a bite history so long that I’ve I built a solid resistance to the latter, but I still felt the effect.
After I returned the spray to its spot and re-fastened my belt, I glanced over the corpses. Little, if any, blood was present, so they hadn’t drunk in weeks. Apparently, even New York had a limit to how many vampires could feed there without raising suspicion. And I constantly had four to five hunting parties like this one trying to kill me.
I walked to the window to roll up a blinder. The sun was already setting. Damn it. I had no time to investigate the bloodsuckers for clues. So, instead, I took out my phone, and sent the address to my clean-up crew.
They would resolve the mess while I had to get to safety. Once the sun set, the other hunting parties would come after me and outside, I had no good way of stopping them from shooting me with a sniper rifle.
Before leaving, I spread my aether through the room, reaching everywhere in thousands of tendrils of darkness. I blended my power with all the remaining vampire aether inside the attic, and then drew in the mixture. Devouring the aether together with whatever was left of the vampires’ souls gave me a good kick of strength.
I left the attic, ran down the stairs, snuck out of the building using a maintenance exit, and jumped into nearest cab. Seeing the how dirty the seats were, I was going to have to clean my coat later.
“Where to?” the driver asked with an Arabic accent.
Over the time I’ve been hunted, I’ve tried many ways to secure my apartment. After wasting tens of thousands of dollars on protections that ended up being overcome, I gave up and started living at my workplace.
I exited the cab, our headquarters looming in front of us. I paid the man and entered the lobby. Everything was fashioned in black and white, and large letters above reception read: Lucielle Legal Inc.
I tipped my hat to the receptionist, a high school girl working part time after school, and walked to the elevators. On the way, I passed a suit-wearing group who I remembered to be from the law department. We exchanged nods, and afterward, I rode the elevator the thirteenth floor, where my department lay.
The floor was vacant, my wonderful employees long gone since it was past their working hours. Not that they worked much when present, anyway. I went straight to the armory, which was pretty much my home now.
I beeped the access card by the door, waited for the foot-thick door to slide open, entered and pressed the switch. The windowless room was a mess. Originally, the walls served as holders for equipment, mostly an assortment of weapons and magical artifacts I had collected over the time I’ve worked here. But since I moved in, those were put in a big pile in the far corner, making space for a bed, a shower corner, a table with a laptop, and a bookshelf.
The door closed behind me and I finally unclenched my muscles. This place was effectively a tomb, but also happened to be one among the most secure places on the American continent. I took off my hat and my coat, and sat on the chair, booting the laptop.
The machine started soon, and I went straight to my local map of New York. Next to the many colorful markers, I added the vampire lair location from today. I have wiped out almost three hundred of them over the past year, but this whack-a-vampire led nowhere.
In the world, there used to live four high vampires, all thousands of years old. The rest were the lesser ones, thralls created by the high ones. And unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be a practical limit to how many thralls a high vampire could create, so this hunt was going to be endless unless I found which high vampire was hunting me. Or well, eventually, it would end with my death since, one day, I was bound to get caught off-guard and killed.
The electricity went off, lights shutting down, laptop turning to battery. Great. I fuelled aether into my eyes and closed the laptop, the world’s colors flipping in front of my eyes. A slight chill ran down my spine.
I remembered a moment like this, from way before, from before I first met Lucielle and everyone else I worked with in the supernatural world.
I got up, rushed to the weapons pile, and pulled out my sword. I haven’t seen her in a year, and her shutting down power before entering wasn’t a good sign. I stepped to a free spot by the wall, pressed my back against the metal, and held the sword in front of me, fuelling the blade and my body with aether to the limit.
“Come on, Lucas,” a slow, melodic voice said somewhere in front of me. “Where is your sense for romance?”
Since I couldn’t see anyone in the room, this was indeed Vivian. Of course she could sneak in. She was a high vampire, one of the last three that existed, and she happened to be perfectly invisible to any means of magical detection. And in the absolute darkness of the room, my normal vision wouldn’t work either. “What’s with you showing up after being gone for over a year?”
She sighed theatrically. “Lucielle kept me busy. But I have come as soon as I could. Though… where is Evelyn? I was expecting your pet to be with you.”
That made blood shoot into my face. “She’s not a pet.”
“Then what is she?” she asked with a mocking undertone. “Because I heard you were planning to marry her, but I heard that a year ago and I see no ring on your fingers.”
“That didn’t work out. Not yet at least. What do you want?”
“Stop being so rude. It does not suit you and I need to catch up on the latest gossip before we move onto business. So, where is the pet?”
I sighed. “On a tour. She wants to become a pop star and formed a band.”
“With you being the main sponsor, right?” Vivian laughed shortly. “She strings you along the relationship so she can keep milking your bank account. How poetic.”
“Have you really come all this way to mock me?”
“No, that would be a waste.” She chuckled. “I have come to do much more entertaining things with you. But before that, did you really kill Sayf Al-Din?”
“He kidnapped Evelyn.” And he was the high vampire over whom I was being hunted.
“Yes or no, Lucifer.”
“Good.” She took a short pause and I could feel her gaze measuring me. “Now, the question is, what do I do with you? Killing one my kindred is not the nicest thing you have ever done to me.”
“If you wanted to kill me in return, you wouldn’t have taken over a year to show up.” I smiled and lowered the sword. And she wouldn’t have announced her presence in the first place. “So, what do you want from me?”
“Many things.” Her heels clicked as she slowly walked to me. “Though before that, I need to know how things went between you and Evelyn. I have heard like a thousand rumors about it and it keeps bugging me.”
“Not much happened. I proposed, she kissed me, said she loved me, but quickly added that she needed to think about the whole marriage thing. That was nine months ago.”
“It was not that hard to tell me, was it?” She stopped right in front of me, close enough for me to smell her rose perfume and to feel the heat emanating from her. A vampire’s body heat depended on the amount of blood they had drunk. The more blood they magically compressed into their veins, the faster it had to circulate, and so the higher their body temperature. “And now, to business. I can stop the blood-hunt on you.”
Could she? That got my attention. “How?”
“Our kind exists in an infinite loop. We have a thousand essences that make the thousand vampires, which exist across all worlds in all universes. The thralls think that if they kill you, they will earn the right for the essence you made free by killing Sayf, and thus that whoever kills you will become a high vampire, receiving Sayf’s essence. And that’s partially true. There are certain conditions under which a high vampire can be sired. And if someone, like me, for example, would do that, they would lose their reason to hunt you.”
I narrowed my eyes, removing aether from them, trying to catch a glimpse of her. All I could see in front of me was absolute darkness. “What are those conditions?”
“For me, there is just one really. The font of our souls lies in what you call the Mirrorrealm, which I cannot access since the pathways in-between our realms is shut. I need an artifact-tier magical amplifier, one strong enough to allow me to circumvent the barriers between our realities.”
“You are easily among the ten most powerful beings in the world, so where exactly is that amplifier that you cannot take it yourself?”
“In Lucielle’s personal vault.”
Awesome. So, in summary, the hunted one was motivated by something impossible, so it would never stop by itself. And me robbing the Devil, who happened to be both mine and Vivian’s boss, was a very bad idea. “There have to be more than of these.”
“I don’t know of any. You see, the artifact isn’t made in this world. In fact, I brought that amplifier with me when I entered this existence. But I gave the artifact to Lucielle during one of our past deals and she sealed it in her vault. There is no replacement.”
“Do the other high vampires know about the amplifier?”
“No. And they think that you devoured Sayf’s essence together with his soul, so they think that by killing you, they can recover the essence, and sire a new high vampire themselves.”
Well, shit. If that was true, Vivian spawning a new high vampire would be the only way to stop the hunt on me. “What all do you know about Lucielle’s vault?”
“That it exists and that it contains my beloved amplifier. I am sure you can figure out the minor details yourself.” Her eyes started shining with inner light, appearing in front of me, both sapphire blue. The little light they produced lit up most of her milky white, perfectly beautiful face. She smiled, gaze sliding to the sword I still held. “That’s not a bad toy, but I was hoping we could play with the other one. We literally have a year to make up for.”
We did. And I missed her. I tossed the sword on the weapons pile and put on a broad grin. “Like what things?”
She stepped to me, pressing her silk-dressed body against mine, her blazing-hot arms weaving around my neck, her face an inch from mine. Her breath seared my lips, hotter than the air in a running oven. “I am not sure. I remember us having to stop mid-something, but I cannot recall what that something was.”
“I will remind you.” My hands caught her by the lower back, I pulled her even closer, and I kissed her.
Light momentarily blinded me when I finally stepped out of the armory. We spent three days there, and Vivian now slept in my bed, naked.
I gave her perfect curves one more glance, smiled, and let the door close behind me. Yes, technically speaking, I just spent three days shagging with my boss, but we did that long before I was forced to start working here to begin with.
At six in the morning, the offices were vacated, so I peacefully sat behind my work PC. There, I logged in, filed in a three-week vacation starting today, and turned the machine off. From the top drawer of the table, I took a stack of fake passports. I tucked my hat lower over my face and walked out of the offices. The elevator took me to the garages.
There, I quickly checked my car for bombs. I have removed so many of those, I knew precisely where to look. I found two, both glued to the bottom of the car, wires connected to the brake system in wheels. Carefully, I removed both of them, and threw them in the trash bin by the elevator. I contemplated spending another day or two with Vivian.
Tempting, but I had a vault to rob. And if there was any information to be found about the Devil’s vault, it was in the archives of Vatican.