01 2.0 The Light Who Binds2Bluebell Kildare

July 9, 2022, Red Ages

As Jack drives us home, I reflect on all I’ve learned over the past two days. I feel a fool for not calling my knife while struggling with Blackwater, but I had no idea it would come.

I lean against the window, and the cool glass presses against my forehead as I watch downtown Crimson Hollow pass us by. There are no protests to be seen, thank goodness. The Dilectus Deo are a religious hate group who believe that Norms are the true Beloved of God and are known for protesting anything to do with Gifted people or Vampires. In fact, it’s become far too commonplace to see them waving their hate signs every day of the week.

The dark streets are alight with firefly lamp posts, and glow stones illuminate the scattered benches. Banners hang across intersections, announcing the upcoming Sun Flare Celebration. A balloon vendor situated outside Comet Park packs up his truck. They’ve been handing them out to children to build excitement for the festival, I suppose.

It’s become so commercial now. When I was younger, artists, street performers, and the Gifted filled the area with mischievous tricks, dazzling spectacles, and exuberant laughter, but I don’t recall this level of build-up. It seems they’re trying to draw a large crowd to make as much money as possible.

It used to be a more relaxed affair, put on solely for the enjoyment of the residents and most of the talent was volunteered by the residents themselves. I remember street mimes, jugglers, acrobats, fire performers, and even stilt walkers. My favorite was an artist who used his gift to fashion colored smoke into the shape of different animals, making children squeal with delight. The dragon was the best; it even breathed fire. Now the whole event seems to be a money-making scheme with everything designed to make a profit for the city businesses. I must remember to check with the Internal Investigations Officer for city corruption.

My memories are interrupted by the sound of Jack’s phone ringing. He answers it quickly, never hesitating in his driving.

I hear some mumbling on the other side, but I can’t quite make it out. It seems my heightened senses don’t extend to the original five everyone is born with. The voice sounds like Ernesto, but I can’t be sure. I wish I could hear the conversation because Jack exudes so much tension and worry that my heart starts to race.

“I’ll be right there.” He clicks his phone shut, curt as always.

“Is there a problem?”

He frowns, “That was Ernesto. He’s tracking four Dark Vampires in a dense residential area, and the other exterminators are otherwise occupied. His oak stake fell down a sewer grate, and he can’t retrieve it without tearing apart the sidewalk. Do you have holy water on you?”

“Of course. Three vials.”

His frown deepens. “From now on, carry no less than ten vials, but three will have to do for today. I’m going to assist him, and you’re going to stay in the car.”

“I can certainly help, and don’t you think you should just commission a Hallowed Hazer for me if you think I need that much holy water?”

A Hallowed Hazer is a gun that shoots a mist of holy water. I cringe at the thought of carrying one around, though I know I can’t depend on the other Holy elements to kill Dark Vampires. The sun’s destructive rays are on their own schedule, and Holy ground isn’t always in close proximity—and I’m certainly not fast enough to kill them with an oak stake. Holy water is the only reliable way I have to ensure their death.

Jack tightens his jaw and commands through tight lips, “You are in no way a match for Dark Vampires. Your only defense is holy water, and it should be used as just that: defense. If you have any issues with following this order—and make no mistake, it is an order—then I won’t bring you to the scene, and Ernesto will be fighting four Dark Vampires on his own without an oak stake. So what will it be?”

Livid, both at him and the truth of my limitations, I respond through clenched teeth. “I’ll stay in the car.”

His anxiety eases, which mollifies me slightly, and I do mean slightly.

I soften a little more as he explains himself further. “There’s a reason that Ernesto is our exterminator at the Supernatural Investigation Bureau. If you recall, Norms and the Gifted were near extinction before the Great Pact was made, and Daylight Vampires agreed to exterminate Dark Vampires. Only Daylight Vampires can match a Dark Vampire’s speed and strength. If I allow you to hunt them, it would be like signing your death warrant.”

His concern is touching, but never one to let an opportunity go, I prompt, “And the Hallowed Hazer? It would be far more accurate than throwing a vial of holy water on them. If I were in a defensive situation, I mean.”

Jack’s jaw clenches. “I’ll see about getting one for you, but only if you promise to use it just as a defense weapon.” With that said, he takes a hard and fast turn. The next few blocks speed past, and then we pull over to the side of the road. We’re in a residential area adjacent to the city center, crowded by apartment buildings.

Jack’s phone rings again. “Yes,” he answers.

Relief and a sense of perplexity coils off him as he listens intently. “They just gave up the hunt and took off?”

He listens for a second. “We’re at the corner of Boss Hardy and Hog Mountain Road. Which direction did they go?”

Jack stays on the phone this time and pulls back onto the street. He turns his attention to me and explains, “They’re moving away from us. We’ll swing around west and try to intercept them from the north.”

He takes a hard left, drives a few blocks, then makes a quick right. He moves as fast as is safe in such a populated area, quickly maneuvering through downtown.

Ernesto says something again, and Jack mutters, “Shit.”

He speaks over the phone to me. “Now that we’re heading east, they’re heading east too, at a dead run.”

This puzzles me. Dark Vampires are more than a bit crazy, what with being soulless and, well, dead. For them to operate in such an organized manner is unheard of.

He speaks into his phone as he takes a hard left again. “We’ll head a few blocks, go east until we pass them, and then try to cut them off by heading south.”

He makes a quick right, turning so hard that I have to put my hand down to keep my balance. Jack’s jaw tenses and the steering wheel groans at the force of his grip. Oh! I realize I’m holding onto his thigh. I pull my arm back like I’ve been burned. But it’s a good burn.

After a minute he says to the phone, “We’ve reached Soul View Drive. Have we passed you yet?”

A pause, then he spits, “By how much?”

He jerks the wheel in frustration. “Okay, we just turned right. For Christ’s sake!”

He speaks to me again. “They just turned south.”

“Jack,” I say, “That’s three times they’ve turned when we turned. Twice might be chance, but three times? They know where we are, and they’re trying to get away from us. If you want to catch them, you have to trap them.”

Jack scowls but must agree with me as he shares my theory with Ernesto, and a string of curses sounds through the phone.

Jack says, “I’ll corral them toward Eagles Point and try to trap them at the cliff. Stick with them until the junction of Heavenly Heights and Demon’s Pass. Then take Demon’s Pass and situate yourself at the bottom of the cliff.”

A feeling of savagery grows behind me. I check Varg in the back seat. He’s sitting erect, his nostrils and ears working feverishly.

Jack whips us left again, and we move into the suburbs at an astounding speed. The odometer climbs past eighty when I finally turn away from it to save my sanity. I hold on to the safety strap so I don’t end up in Jack’s lap on the next turn. Soon the suburbs become small farms, and still we race on. While it’s entirely possible for Vampires to go this fast, they can usually only do so for short periods of time. Ernesto will be starving when he’s done.

Both Varg’s and Jack’s excitement increases. It seems Jack’s anticipation of the hunt has eclipsed his tension, but he’s keeping it under tight rein. His jaw is clenched, and his brows furrow in concentration. He keeps up an occasional monosyllabic conversation with Ernesto. I imagine it must be difficult for Ernesto to talk at this pace.

I suggest, “Slow down before we get to the cliff to give Ernesto a chance to recover a bit.”

I settle back in my seat and try to relax until he says to Ernesto, “I’ve just passed the fork of Heavenly Heights and Demon’s Pass. Why don’t we disconnect. There’s nowhere for them to go now but up.” A pause, and then he snaps his phone shut.

Jack says, “Get your vials ready. I’m driving to the lookout now.”

Good thinking, considering it’s going to be Jack against four. That’s worrying, but I know Ernesto has to stay at the bottom to finish them off. I unsnap the cover of the vial case I keep on my holster.

The road has turned to dirt, a sign that we’ve almost arrived at our destination. Suddenly I can see only what is in the path of his headlights since this road has no street lamps. Jack takes a jog in the road at top speed and the car fishtails slightly. When he gets it under control, it’s a straight shot up to the top.

I make out four Vampires, barely discernible in the darkness, heading toward the cliff. Jack slows the car and shines the headlights on the figures. I suck my breath in, they’re near the edge. Three of the Vampires stop in time, but the fourth one jumps right over.

I hope Ernesto finishes him at the bottom. Even a drop that far won’t kill a Vampire, but it may crush its bones. Vampires can regenerate limbs and even survive decapitation if they manage to find their head and place it back on their neck. They’re virtually immortal until they turn Dark. Even then it takes one of the Holy elements to destroy them.

Jack pulls the car to a stop, leaving it running, and hops out in a flash. I unroll the window so I can hear what’s happening. A wave of ferocious anger comes from the back seat, followed shortly by a fierce howl. Varg’s not at all happy with Dark Vampires being this close.

Jack takes off and I watch, breathless, as he rushes toward the edge. My fear that he’s going to fly right over the cliff drives deep into my gut. I lean forward, my knuckles turning white as I grip the dash. At the last second, Jack jumps up and dropkicks one of the Dark Vampires off the cliff. An unearthly scream shatters the peace of the mountains as the creature tumbles three hundred feet to the ground.

With a roll and a jump, Jack is on his feet again in an instant. The two remaining vile creatures come at him, one from each side, but curiously, they keep glancing back at the car and snarling. Varg snarls right back.

While one of them is fixated on the car, Jack gives it a roundhouse kick off the cliff. The Night-Crawler moans as it flies through the air, but the sounds stop abruptly as soon as it’s out of view.

The last Dark Vampire jumps on Jack’s back and sinks its fangs into Jack’s neck. Jack reaches behind his head and grabs the Night-Crawler’s chin. He squeezes it in his hand, crushing the beast’s jaw beneath his grasp and mangling its face into a bloody pulp. A shrill scream cuts the night. The creature releases its teeth, and a spout of blood shoots out of Jack’s neck.

Jack grabs the monster’s head, and with a quick jerk and a sharp crunch, he breaks its neck. Relentless, it clings to Jack like a tick on a hound. He rolls with the creature, getting dangerously close to the cliff’s edge.

“Please don’t go over. Please don’t go over,” I whisper.

They spin round and round to the very brink of the drop-off. My heart thunders in my breast. Just inches away, they come to a stop. Jack grabs its hands and pulverizes the fingers that grasp him.

The windshield fogs from my heavy breath. I wipe frantically at it to clear the view.

The head of the soulless beast lolls uselessly, but it manages to hang on to Jack with one arm and both legs. Jack clutches one of its legs and throws himself flat on the ground, slamming the beast’s knee into a rock. Jack’s soft grunt of exertion is eclipsed by the creature’s shrill whine. It now hangs by just one hand like a limp marionette. Jack twists around and releases the final hand.

The Dark Vampire, scrabbling in the dirt, still reaches for Jack, but it can’t get leverage with its broken knee and hand. Planting his foot against the Night-Crawler’s side, Jack shoves it over the brink. He turns around and starts heading back to the car, a bloody mess.

Tension leaves my body, and I collapse back in my seat. Jack pauses on the way to the car to rip off his destroyed shirt and use it to put pressure on his neck wound. The blood has already slowed. I’m entranced by the broad expanse of Jack’s chest, golden muscles rippling in rays of moonlight. It’s such a gorgeous display, and my breath catches for a different reason this time.

Then something catches my attention from beyond my hunky muscle-bound warrior, and Varg growls savagely yet again. Behind Jack, the silhouette of an arm and head appear over the edge of the cliff. Then a leg, and the Vampire that Jack had drop-kicked, stands. It starts limping toward Jack.

I jump out of the car. “Behind you!”

Jack spins around and promptly closes the distance between himself and the last Dark Vampire. With a great leap, he latches his legs around the vile creature’s waist. The Night-Crawler grasps Jack’s head as though to twist it. My heart stops in horror and I instinctively step forward.

Jack’s neck strains with the effort of keeping the Dark Vampire from twisting his head off. At the same time, he tightens his leg hold on the Night-Crawler and pushes its head backwards with one hand. The monster bends back at the waist under the force of Jack’s strength. It flails wildly, trying to keep hold of Jack’s head as Jack pushes it out of reach. The Night-Crawler’s hands eventually release their grasp. A whoosh of relief escapes my lips.

Jack grasps the creature’s head firmly. He pushes down on it with his thighs and simultaneously pulls up and twists the Dark Vampire’s head. A sickening crunch fills the air as skin and sinew shred. Jack leaps back from the Vampire with its head still in his hands. Blood gushes. He drops the head, and it lands with a soft thud and a small roll. The body teeters over on its side, squirming and reaching. The earth is drenched with scarlet.

Jack turns to me, and I stumble back, startled. I’ve never seen him like this before, fangs extended and face twisted in a murderous rage. Fear, no matter how irrational, churns in my gut. Jack must see it in my eyes because he flinches and turns his head away from me.

I smash the fear down. This is Jack, I remind myself. I won’t let myself be afraid of him.

With that, I rush forward to hand him my vial of holy water, but the Dark Vampire’s body has already started smoking. Then its flesh blisters. It blackens.

Jack steps back. He looks at me strangely and positions himself between me and the creature. “Come here, slowly.”

I creep up to Jack, and with every step forward, the Vampire’s loathsome body chars even more. Suddenly it catches fire and poofs into ash.

Jack and I stand, stunned. “You really can kill Vampires with your light.”

I shake my head. “No, the other one didn’t die in Shroud Valley until I threw holy water on it. Something else must have caused this.”

“But the spell wasn’t lifted then.” He grabs my hand and pulls me to the car. “Let’s go see if any are alive at the bottom.”

Jack floors it down to the fork, then takes a hairpin left. A few minutes later we’re at the foot of the cliff, and Jack parks the car with the headlights shining directly on Ernesto Ramos-Delgado. He sits on a boulder surrounded by three headless Vampire bodies and three small piles of ash that I can only assume are the heads.

Ernesto stands as soon as we arrive, ever the gentleman. He was turned in his fifties several hundred years ago, and he holds fast to traditional etiquette. He wears his typical hunting outfit, a loose black linen pant-suit that looks dashing with his sweeping mustache. The sprinkling of grey in his dark brown hair frames his face, accenting his light brown skin

The beheaded bodies thrash around weakly as the blood drains from their necks. I rush out of the car to hand Ernesto my vials of holy water. As I near him, these bodies also start to smoke and burn. Ernesto studies the Vampire carnage as it smolders, then catches fire. He looks at Jack, who is looking at me. I cover my mouth in dismay. The flames surge, blasting the night air with their heat. Then one after the other, the Dark Vampire bodies puff into piles of ash.

Ernesto dusts off his pants and grins, appearing quite amused by the exploding Vampires. Then with a formal bow, he says “Señor and Señorita. So good of you to come and help me clean up this mess.” His eyes drop hungrily to my neck for a brief moment, and I give a little shudder. He’s never done that before, but then again, I’ve never been near him after such an exertion.

Jack immediately places himself between Ernesto and I, remaining calm but deliberate about his intentions. His bare back in front of me ripples with tension.

Ernesto turns away, embarrassed, then says, “Perhaps you can fill me in on the way back.”

Jack replies smoothly, “Of course, my friend. But first, let me share some of the blood from the cooler in my trunk.”

Ernesto smiles gratefully and precedes Jack to the back of the car. Meanwhile, I stand awkwardly in the beam of the headlights, between the car and the Vampire dust, waiting until they’ve slaked their thirst.

A few minutes later we’re headed back to town, and Jack is trying to explain the unexplainable. “It appears Blue had a spell cast on her when she was young that subdued the effect of her light. Dragomira unraveled the enchantment today, and we seem to have found another of her gifts. Her light shines so strongly that it repels Dark Vampires, and that’s how they knew to run from us. Somehow her light acts like one of the Holy elements that will burn them.”

Ernesto is silent for a moment, then says simply, “So the circle of light that surrounds her is also a circle of fire.”

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