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They started to awaken.
As they once again became cognizant, the chaos that engulfed this realm screamed in their minds with the voices of millions of anguished souls. It had been steadily growing over the eons, but now the roar was deafening and they could no longer turn a blind eye. The howl in their minds was pure torture, leaving them in shivering agony. It reverberated through flesh, bones, muscles, and feathers threatening to tear them down.
It had somehow completely fallen apart, and they had failed. Pride had been their undoing; pride in their flock, and pride in their abilities, but now they understood the true nature of this realm. They could no longer guide with a gentle hand or whispered persuasion, instead they would be forced to take an active role.
From thousands of places across the globe, buried in the sand, locked frozen in ice, under deep, vast oceans, and beneath mighty mountain ranges, they began to stir. Old flesh began to rejuvenate and take form, and bones began to solidify. Anger consumed their thoughts, directed at themselves and those they had vowed to protect. They had done so much for this place and people. Why had they been spurned?
For too long this realm had been without its shepherds, its guardians, but that oversight would now be corrected.
No matter the cost.
A hail of bullets exploded against the wall behind them, some ricocheting into the night with a shrill whine. Grabbing the pregnant woman at her side, Emily St. Louise, Saint, dove into the double doors of a grocery store and slid across the floor. Skittering over the floor like animals, they made it to the snackaisle before the next volley of bullets shattered the windows. Shards of potato chips, now unhappy campers, and jet-puffed corpses, rained haphazardly around them. After pausing for a moment to check on the pregnant woman, Saint whipped the tail of her leather jacket back and drew her scythe.
They were pinned down.
She could hear the clerk shouting somewhere in the background. He was alerting the authorities. Gritting her teeth, she shot an angry glance toward the man's voice. Police would only complicate matters.
It had been her idea to venture this deep into Prague. The need for food had outweighed the necessity to remain unnoticed. Saint knew there was a possibility they would run into trouble, but hadn't expected the Kryll to mobilize so quickly, if at all. One of the oldest demon clans still left in Europe, they had supposedly been here before Prague Castle was founded in 850 A.D. Once a very mystical and peaceful order, something had changed. In the past two decades, they had become militant and hostile toward other species. The overwhelming question wasn't why the Kryll had changed, but how Saint and the pregnant woman at her side had ended up on their radar. More importantly, why did the Kryll want them dead?
Keeping low to the ground, Saint moved toward the mouth of the aisle. The sound of footfalls caught her ear. The troops were coming in after them. The sharp crack of breaking glass beneath heavy boots was growing louder. They were very near now. Controlling her breathing and heart rate just as she had been instructed, the Wraith peered through the bullet holes in the shelves and caught sight of the first Kryll. Clad in muddy brown, handmade leather, it was clutching a black semiautomatic weapon that seemed inappropriate for its garb. Its mottled, pale green skin seemed to shimmer as if wet, but Saint knew that was the Kryll's natural oils which could be poisonous if ingested. The noseless face had several long, squid-like tentacles stretching down from its upper lip and chin creating a slithering beard that stretched to the center of its chest. These tendrils were prehensile, but lacked the strength to do any serious damage. The Kryll's eyes were large and solid black like a shark's. It seemed like this demon would be more at home in the Black Lagoon than in the center of the Czech Republic.
The soldier sniffed the air and scanned for his target with his coal black eyes. The three, thick fingers of its hand wrapped tightly around its weapon. It was tall and imposing, but it was merely a soldier. It was born and bred for war, nothing more. It didn't think; it followed orders and killed. That was its only purpose; its only reason to exist.
And Saint could hear at least four more.
Glancing back over her shoulder, she looked at the pregnant vampire sitting uncomfortably on the hard floor. Saint could see the fear in Kat's eyes as she cradled her arms around her bulging belly. The fear was not for herself, but for her unborn child. Saint felt a sudden and deep sadness well up in her throat. She had promised to watch after Kat and the baby. This was her final gift to her friend, the baby's father. Saint turned her attention back to the Kryll. It would not end here. Kat and Thomas' baby would be born, even if she had to move Heaven and Hell to ensure it.
Activating her scythe, the weapon instantly quadrupled in length. Thumbing the activation stud a second time, a long, curved blade snapped open from the tip. The weapon hummed in her hands almost as if asking to be loosed on the Kryll. Saint rolled up onto the balls of her feet. Carefully taking a step forward, she inched closer to the soldier. She reached out with her senses locating the other four. If she misjudged her attack, the others could easily gun her down and then take Kat. She had only seconds, and one shot. It had to be a death strike.
She heard another crunch of glass.
Shooting up from her hiding place, Saint whipped her blade horizontally out and across in one smooth strike. Before the Kryll had a chance to react, she was gone.
The soldier felt his neck tingle. Dropping its weapon to its side, it lifted a clammy hand and quickly felt its throat. Pulling its stubby fingers away, it found them smeared with thick, black blood. Looking down, the Kryll watched its life ooze down its chest. As it tried to lift its head to report to the others, the tingle grew into searing pain. Dropping to its knees, the Kryll's head tumbled from its perch revealing Saint's perfect cut. The soldier's body quickly followed its head to the ground.
Saint pressed her back to the aisle. She placed her free hand on Kat's shoulder. She wouldn't let that happen.
"We only want the mother," a voice gurgled as if there was water in its lungs. "Release her and we'll let you live, Vampire Hunter," the Kryll added. "Defy us further," it paused letting the words drown in its throat, "and you will be destroyed."
Kat wrapped her fingers around Saint's hand. Lifting her face, she looked into Saint's icy blue eyes. Please, she said without saying a word, don't let it end this way.
The Wraith nodded and offered Kat a reassuring smile. Deactivating her scythe, Saint lifted her hands above her head and slowly stood. Kat's eyes were wide with fear and confusion. Reaching up, the vampire mother grabbed Saint's leather coat and tried to pull her back. The vampire hunter pushed Kat's hand away without looking at her face. Above the shoulder-high aisles Saint immediately felt eight coal black eyes settle on her. The click, snap of weapons ready to fire immediately accompanied her rise. Her expression was grim, yet stern.
"We want the vampire," one of the Kryll gurgled.
Saint furrowed her brow. "Why?"
"That isn't your concern," another Kryll spat.
Saint flashed her fangs allowing the soldiers to see them. She felt a shimmer of confusion pass through them for a moment. Her eyes became a colder hue of blue as her stillness became unnatural, vampiric. Focusing her emotions, fear began to roll off her in waves. It was a trick she had honed over the past nine months on the run. She found she could broadcast fear, keeping most predators away. This, however, was her first attempt at close range. It was psychological warfare in its purest form.
The nearest Kryll ran his stubby fingers over his facial tentacles tentatively feeling the brunt of the pushed emotion. Cocking his head slightly, the demon blinked his lower eyelids unsure of what it was experiencing. "What are you?" it breathed.
Saint remained motionless, her icy eyes fixed on the soldiers. She refused to reply.
The Kryll closest to the window tightened the grip on his weapon. Uncertain as to exactly why, the Kryll became unsure of its actions. It took a step away, but forcefully stopped itself. It was one woman, it assured itself. The four of them could easily open fire and gun her down ... yet, it couldn't. Fear began to collect in its throat like a thick, chewy ball of bile. It burned as it grew, threatening to choke the demon. Its muscles tensed and twitched threatening flight. It wanted to run.
Saint felt a twinge of pain behind her eyes. This was taking too long, expending too much energy. She couldn't keep this up for much longer, but she held her ground. Her gaze was unwavering. She had to protect Kat.
The furthest Kryll's eye twitched.
Then it snapped.
Clamping its clammy fingers around the weapon it mashed down on the trigger and fired wildly. The spray of bullets tore through another of the Kryll sending its body to the ground in a heap. The remaining two soldiers turned and fled, gurgling angrily.
Saint dove to her right and rolled past Kat. As she came to her feet, she activated her scythe and was on the attack. Her blade tore through the retreating Kryll sending halves of him in opposite directions.
Without hesitating, Saint cocked her weapon back and released it. The spinning scythe sang as it sliced through the air. Hitting the shooting Kryll in the side of the head, the blade dug deep into its skull and burst through the opposite side. The firing stopped. Before the Kryll could fully register that it was dead, Saint had pulled her blade free, knocked the demon to the ground, and was charging the final soldier.
Its black eyes widened. The fear it felt this time was its own.
With a quick swish snap, it was over. Saint stood calmly over the Kryll as it fell to the floor. Reaching out with her senses, she could detect no other threats. For now, anyway.
She thumbed the activation button on her scythe and carefully deposited it back into her pocket. Saint lifted her gaze to find both barrels of the shopkeeper's shotgun leveled directly at her head. She let out a long sigh. "Be calm," she advised him.
The shopkeeper shouted something unintelligible at her. She wasn't sure what language he was speaking, if any at all. Looking past the imposing black barrels, she locked eyes with the man behind them. He was quivering like a leaf, while his eyes were wide with anger and fear. She understood in that moment that he wasn't merely the shopkeeper, he was the owner and this was his entire life. His past, present, and future were entwined unchangeably to this store. If it went down, so did he.
"I'm sorry," Saint said slowly. She wasn't sure if he understood English, but it really didn't matter. Coming into the city was a bad idea in the first place, and it was quickly getting worse. She had had enough. Whipping her hand up, she snatched the shotgun easily from the owner. Thumbing the latch, the barrels dropped forward. After yanking the shells free, Saint dropped them into her jacket pocket and handed back the weapon. "I'm sorry this happened," she repeated, "but don't ever point a weapon at me."
She felt Kat's presence behind her. Reaching back, she took the vampire's hand. "We're leaving," Saint breathed. Glass crunched under her feet as she slid outside. Turning quickly the vampire and hunter turned and melted into the darkness.
They had to get out of Prague.
The owner slowly let the shotgun fall to his side. Leaning against the counter, more for support, he looked around his store. With a shake of his head, he dropped the gun on the counter and reached over the opposite side. Snatching a yellow handled broom, he stood staring at the destruction before him for a long time.
Finally looking away from the four dead Kryll on the floor, he sighed and started cleaning up. "Damned Wraith."
He was old. Not quite as old as the pyramids that loomed on the edge of this city, but he had seen more centuries come and go than he cared to admit. Yet he remained unchanged. Looking the same as he did roughly three hundred years ago when he held his wife's and daughter's dead bodies in his arms, he found the past difficult to escape. Their killer, an ancient vampiress named Caitlin, had finally been vanquished, but he felt no release; he still felt haunted by the savageness of the kill. The battle raged on in some form or another, never ending. He was a man haunted, by the past and his own emotions. He was old, unchanged ... and tired.
Leaning back, he kicked his booted feet up on the balcony rails and slid a little further down in his chair. The sun rose above the western horizon casting orange and red hues off the land and sky. After pulling his pack of cigarettes from his pocket, he drew one and lit it. Taking a deep drag, he let it dangle from his fingertips as he stared out over the city. He hadn't left this place since Caitlin was destroyed almost four years ago; he hadn't taken up his scythe, and he hadn't wanted to fight. He wasn't sure what he wanted anymore. His life's goal, to destroy the vampire that killed his family, had been accomplished, yet he felt empty.
Marcus Specter had tried to live his life by the tenets of the Gwyliad Wriaeth, but knew now that revenge had consumed him. Every time he brought death to a vampire or demon, he saw Caitlin's sneering face. But when her end had finally come inside the Great Pyramid, something didn't feel right. The switch inside of Marcus' brain hadn't been shut off like he hoped, nor was there a deep sense of relief as he watched her burn. For three hundred years he wanted her dead ... now that she was, he didn't know what to do. She had risen from the depths of Hell before, and he knew it was possible again, so he stayed and watched this place. He lurked like a ghost in the background waiting for any sign or hint that Caitlin had been resurrected. Even though he knew that was a flimsy excuse to hold on to. He had destroyed her once before, or so he thought, and somehow found a way to go on and continue with his work. Why is this time different? Where is the sense of finality? Where is the resolution?
The months following his battle with Caitlin and her vampire minions had been hard on Specter, mentally and physically. The vampiress had taken great pleasure in torturing him, reviving him with her vampiric blood, and repeating the process. His body was scarred, his mind broken, yet he had escaped her clutches. The Wraith outpost here in Egypt had taken him in, and tried to heal his wounds. They had been successful in repairing his flesh, but his spirit, his soul, refused to mend.
Drawing another mouthful of smoke from the cigarette, he took a breath and pulled it into his lungs. The sunrise was casting long shadows off the pyramids in the Valley of the Kings deep into Cairo making them somehow seem all the more mysterious and awe-inspiring. Still Specter hated it here. It was hot, dusty, and generally miserable. He longed for the cool, damp weather of England, but wasn't sure he could return home. It had been so long...
Brushing errant ashes off his stained, white, sleeveless shirt, he took another drag off the cigarette then flicked it off the balcony. He watched the glowing red cherry spin in the predawn sky until it was swallowed by darkness. Standing, he lifted his arms over his head and stretched his body. Specter turned and faced the small, studio apartment. It wasn't his, but last night, it was home. He had been moving from place to place, sometimes sleeping in the streets like a common vagrant. He was the proverbial man in a suitcase, if he actually had one. The entirety of his belongings consisted of the clothes on his back, the brown knee-length leather jacket slung over the edge of the bed, and the scythe he wore on his belt. It wasn't much, but it was his. The order had taught him to live without and not be concerned with worldly possessions. In the old days, he would have been more akin to a Knight of the Holy Order, but now he was just a shell of a man.
Snatching his jacket off the bed, he slipped his arms into the sleeves and stared at the battered skin. Light brown patches showed through where the leather had cracked and peeled away. It's what he should look like, but instead he was perpetually twenty-five. He caught a glimpse of himself in a mirror that hung opposite the bed. His once short, dark hair hung past his shoulders, and a beard was quickly getting thicker on his face. Two dull, blue eyes stared out of the sockets, a painful reminder of who he used to be.
Lost in his own despair, he barely registered the click of the door handle.
Spinning on his toes, he sprinted to the balcony and dove over without a moment's hesitation. As his preternatural skill spun him in the air, he heard the door open and a man's voice shout angrily. Before he could fully register what had been said, Specter hit the concrete and rolled. He was back on his feet and sprinting away before the apartment's true owner even reached the balcony railing.