So, between the last installation and this one, BloodDreams was accepted over at JukePop, something a bit like WattPad, but with crowdfunding built in, and the work has to be accepted to post there. I will continue to post here & at WattPad as I said I would, but it would mean an awful lot to me if you would go to JukePop, read, and +vote there if you're so inclined: http://jukepop.com/home/read/7429
As soon as I get my bearings, I will start to post at JukePop a few days or a week before they show up here or at WattPad. For now, all locations have the same sections. Though I may have caught a few typos before posting at JukePop. :D
Anyway, thank you for reading, and I appreciate your interest!
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Viper strode down the hall to the briefing on Marion, and loosened his tie as he went. He was half tempted to toss the thing in a trash can. The dress code of the real world aggravated him under the best of circumstances, and today he’d place solidly among the worst.
Bricks had offered to start the meeting for him, as Viper and his twin sister Lauren went to settle the last of their father's affairs. But, as team lead and eager to get elbows-deep back into the work, Viper still wanted to get there as soon as possible.
Viper’s father had just died, or more accurately, had just been found dead. He'd gone missing several weeks ago, trying to extend their information network into Boston. But Boston was a bloodsucker stronghold, and they must've been onto him from the start. His body had finally turned up in a river only last week, clearly dead for a while, his throat cut to the bone.
It hadn’t surprised Viper, and he didn’t feel much loss. He expected it in this line of work. Rather than grieve, he just poured his emotion into their mission. Maybe he felt a bit more wear and tear on his nerves, but nothing he’d admit. The upcoming hunt would need all his focus.
By now, Bricks would have shown the latest intelligence to the team, but would wait for Viper to reveal the details of the hunt for Marion, New York’s deadliest bloodrunner.
If Viper had to guess, he’d say Boston’s deadliest bloodrunner, Henry, had killed his father. Like Marion, Henry actively stalked vampire hunters like Viper. While Viper had no room for revenge or personal vendetta in his life, he would welcome the chance to stake Henry when that time came. But first Viper had a lot more to do right in front of him, many more bloodsuckers to kill between now and then. Like Marion.
He stifled a yawn. The coffee had better be fresh when he got there.
Before they’d signed the final signatures on their father’s estate, he'd been up all day finalizing the details with Lauren, or Thorn as she would be known when she resumed active duty again. He'd have preferred to have her on the core team for this mission, and she’d’ve preferred that, too. But with her just past eight months pregnant, they’d all have to settle for her strategic expertise on this one.
They’d finally found enough on Marion to launch an active hunt, and they had to act while they had the chance. Viper would've felt more comfortable if the recent findings had come just a few months later, when Thorn could again be part of the strike team.
With blond shaggy hair and sideburns, Viper didn’t look much like someone whose family tree had been killing bloodsuckers for thousands of years. But his distant ancestors ranked among the first vampire hunters, even high among those most successful. He was very good at what he did, like his sister, like their parents before them, all their grandparents, and those before them. At twenty-nine, he himself had already staked more than any other at his age, with more bloodrunners on his kill-list than any other operative would likely ever boast.
But Viper didn't boast. He was part of a team and a mission, and none of this could get done by one person alone. Only when the last vampire had turned to ash could they pat themselves on the back.
"Victor. Walk with me a moment."
Viper turned, knowing it would be Carrios, the leader of their large, global organization. Few people knew or would use Viper's real name in this building, Carrios being one of them, and only with nobody else within earshot. Carrios had a number of secret passages and doors throughout these headquarters, and ambushed high-ranking members on a regular basis.
Viper paused to let Carrios catch up, then resumed a slower pace to accommodate the old man. Carrios’ crooked frame leaned heavily on a cane as he joined Viper. Several pairs of fangs adorned the cane's sculpted golden handle, artifacts of bygone hunts of their predecessors, the largest reputedly those of Vlad the Impaler. In his other hand, he carried a styrofoam cup of coffee. He handed it to Viper as he drew near.
Viper and his associates were part of a large, ancient order of vampire hunters called the Salierant, with Carrios at its head. Few members knew where the name had come from and fewer cared, but it was thought to have been mutated, twisted and mispronounced through numerous languages over thousands of years, from ancient Egyptian words meaning "custodians of life." The trivia meant little to Vic. Historical details only mattered when directly relevant to their goal – eradicating vampires from the face of the earth for all time.
"Please pass my regrets along to Lauren that I was unable to attend the service," Carrios said.
"Your responsibilities are more important than appearances, Carrios. My sister and I both know that,” Viper replied. The coffee was strong, fresh and black with a hint of sugar. Perfect.
"Your father achieved great things for our cause, and died honorably for it. I have great faith in your ability to pick up where he left off. And in Lauren's as well, when the time comes for her to hunt again."
Lauren would be back in the game soon, but not soon enough as far as anyone was concerned. She and Victor, along with Bricks, her husband, made for an unstoppable force in their pursuit of vampires.
“She and I have worked out most of the plan for Marion, Bricks is going over the files with the core team now."
Carrios paused as they approached the door to the briefing room. Carrios would not go in, he only granted audience to his highest-ranking members. "We destroyed eleven vampires in Philadelphia last night. Among them Adrianna, their last Keeper, and two Bloodrunners. Primarily using the strategies your father developed."
"We'll do the same here, once Marion's out of the picture, and Boston, soon enough."
“Indeed, Victor.” Carrios turned to walk away. "Maybe, just maybe, I'll see these vermin finished off in my lifetime."
Viper watched in silence as Carrios turned a corner and disappeared into a secret passage.
Viper took a another swig of coffee, mentally switched from Victor back to Viper, and opened the door.
Fourteen agents sat around a long table, at its head stood Bricks, so nicknamed for his large, wall-like stature as well as his heavy punch. With a thick mustache & dark curls, Bricks looked somewhat more the part of an ancestors-hunted-vampires-in-ancient-Egypt guy than Viper did, and his family stretched back as far and claimed almost as much success as Viper's. Viper had to think of him as Bricks here, his second-in-command and ex-mentor, and not as Walter, his brother-in-law, Lauren's husband and father to her imminent child, Victor's imminent nephew.
Viper opened the door.
Pictures of Marion lay scattered across the table, mixed in with files and notes and lists. Disbelief hung in the air, a disbelief that they could have missed such a hideous beast for so long.
Marion had a grotesque, misshapen face, her red eyes different sizes and positioned at different heights and angles to either side of a long, blunt, crooked nose. The monster appeared to stand six and a half feet tall. Her build was massive, even masculine. Dark, greasy, matted hair clumped around a face so pale it was nearly blue. She sported a tattoo across her chest, back and shoulders, a spider and web design of some sort – a detail worth noting. Important bloodsuckers often had a personal sigil, and the spider correlated with their earlier leads on Marion.
The pictures showed her hiding in an alley, viciously slaying a young vandal with a green mohawk and a leather jacket, one of these kids from the new punk scene. It had not been a quick, neat kill, which is what enabled them to take the photos in the first place.
She’d taken her time, which was both a good sign and bad.
Vampires that toyed with their prey did so to stimulate the victim’s fear, something a vampire could get heavily addicted to. She would take longer with her kills, then, to raise that terror level. Her hunting patterns would get sloppier, and make her easier to track.
But addicted bloodsuckers fed and killed much more often, which made it imperative that Viper and his team act quickly, effectively, and soon. Not just for the public good, but before the city’s vampire leadership shut her down and took their own disciplinary measures.
Bricks was explaining why Marion may have been able to evade them for so long.
"She could be a shapeshifter, or, more likely, she could have a sunshade doing some of her hunting for her. She's a bloodrunner, she'd have the status."
“Yeah, she’s hideous,” Viper said from the doorway. “A mug like that would have got her burned at the stake a few hundred years ago. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, so it’s down to us to get the job done here and now, 1977.”
Bricks turned as Viper approached the table, ready to turn the meeting over. Their eyes met for a moment in acknowledgement, Viper blinked his gratitude, they’d have time to talk later. He put his coffee down, and pulled a map to the top of the pile on the table.
He didn’t waste time getting to the point.
"Ok, you've seen the files," Viper said as he took over the briefing. "There's a punk rally at DeeDee's next week, they’re bringing in bands and attracting fans from all over, trying to make something of this toilet of a scene. Marion's apparently a sucker for the crap, so she's sure to be there. She’ll likely hunt all around the area, we’ll put it under a microscope for several days.
“We expect the primary hunt to go down Saturday night, the finale. But we will be there and ready all three nights. The main crews will cover the club, six inside and three at the front door, two at the back door, and three rotating between the three positions, that’s all of us, plus additional surveillance-only and support teams in the surrounding blocks … "
He looked at the team. They’d each killed at least one bloodrunner, but none like Marion. He had to make sure they understood this hunt. Only he and Bricks could fully appreciate what they faced, and it would likely take the two of them to drive it home.
“But let’s talk about her.” Viper reached into the pile and put the biggest photo on top. “This mission will test you like no other. This organization has been looking for a concrete lead on this bloodsucker for nearly two centuries. Marion is a powerful, cunning and near invisible beast.”
“It’s a miracle we even got these pictures,” Bricks added, “with her feeding out in the open like that.”
Bricks was right on that, but Viper thought they could have got even more photos, after she was done feeding. A sunshade might have shown up to clean-up and dispose of the body, in which case they’d have another lead.
But the photographer had been a recruit, and got too excited over what he’d seen. He’d stopped shooting pictures as soon as Marion was done, and then run back to report. Good thing he hadn’t been closer, he might’ve tried shooting more than pictures. Then his blood would’ve been all over that alley, too, and the film destroyed. When Viper and his sister were young, their mother had teased that Marion could hear your synapses passing along the decision to shoot her from three hundred yards away, and react before your trigger finger even twitched.
“Too bad they didn’t take the ugly bitch out right then and there.”
Viper squinted at the speaker. A muscle-bound man in his mid-twenties, buzz-cut. Ripper. A recruit.
“It takes a team of the most capable agents to bring down a bloodrunner, and even more for one like Marion. Why do you think there’s so many of you here?”
Viper let that sink in a moment and looked to Bricks. Since Lauren had gone on leave, they’d each traveled around to lend their expertise and support to other teams. This would be the first time they’d worked together in months, and the first time ever without Lauren. It felt good to have him here, to punctuate the unique aspects of this hunt. Viper needed something familiar in the wake of losing his father. Carrios had probably thought of that when he assigned them to this mission.
“Think about it,” Bricks challenged them. “We got these photos because she took her time with this kill, out in the open, without thinking, without self-awareness. Bloodsuckers don’t usually do that, not even the dumb ones. And for a bloodrunner to do that? Something’s changed.”
“Something big,” Viper picked up again. “She’s completely off her game, for a very specific reason. She toyed with him to stimulate his fear. Any of you ever dealt with a fear junkie bloodsucker?”
They stared back at him. The thought hadn’t occurred to any of them. No surprise, it was a rare thing in the vampire world, it led to recklessness too fast, and they all knew it. ”She’s on the road to addiction if she’s not there already. Because of that, she’ll hunt sloppy and kill slow, and that gives us an advantage.”
Viper drained the last of his coffee while Bricks filled in some more gaps. “Addicts also feed more often, which means we have to act fast.”
“Before she kills anyone else.” This time it was Feather who’d asked the question, a young black woman who’d single-handedly tracked and killed the vampire who’d killed her brother. Also, a recruit. Viper let Bricks answer this one and refilled his cup with the old and stale coffee from the maker in the corner.
“Yes. But also because the vampire community will want to stop her. She’s left a lot of evidence around, making it harder for them to cover for her. We’ve got to get her before they do.”
The room fell silent again. They were starting to get it, even though it had already been spread out before them, in the pictures and the files. No words on paper could get through near as deep as two top agents telling them the real deal.
“She’s important, otherwise they would have shut her down by now. Even addicted, Marion isn’t just any vampire, nor just any bloodrunner.” Viper paused. He wasn’t sure how they would respond to the next thing he had to say, but they all had to know. Bricks filled the silence while Viper worked out the words in his head.
"She’s one of the worst bloodrunners, the most unpredictable, in all our history."
Viper exchanged a glance with Bricks. Bricks knew what would come next, but didn’t worry much about their reaction. Bricks took everything in stride, and didn't worry about much of anything. Viper took a long look around the table before continuing.
“Not only is she a vicious, bloodthirsty and unstable killer, intelligence indicates she uses sorcery as well.”
Two of the recruits scoffed. At least it was only two. How could that shit be any harder to swallow than the existence of vampires? Once you made the leap to knowing some horror stories were in fact real, everything else should come easy. You'd think.
Viper and others like him learned about it starting around the same time as they started learning about vampires. Not many members could wield it, but the occult offered many of their best weapons against vampires.
“We won’t get another chance like this. And you won’t ever see a hunt quite like this one. So brush up on your knowledge about bloodrunners, fear junkies and witchcraft these next few days. Make sure you know that section of the city like the back of your hand. Marion's a top bloodrunner, she’s hunted and killed our kind for two hundred years. She will eat you up and shit out your bones if given half a chance.”
He flipped another part of the file to the top – photocopied diary entries, the originals from 1802.
The frightened handwriting offered a detailed account of a tall shadowy night-thing, strange symbols appearing carved into trees and buildings throughout the town, followed by horrific events and unthinkable ill-fate. Viper pulled out more copies of similar accounts from different towns and different times, and put them on top next to it. One of them specifically described a large, red-eyed woman-man-beast. Another how even a musket blast in the gut hadn’t stopped her.
A hell of a lot of their work started in the Salierant library.
The team would now pour over the files, deeper than the photos, well beyond the recent kill and modern news. Viper could see it in their eyes now. They got it.
“But she’s made a mistake. She’s as vulnerable as she is unpredictable right now. If we stay sharp, and don’t give her that chance, we get to stop her. We get to stake this bitch.”
Viper stopped. They hadn’t got to the plan yet, but suddenly, he’d reached the limits of the coffee’s effects. He looked at his watch. Two in the afternoon. He’d been going for nearly forty hours straight, and needed some fucking sleep.
There was no good reason to step up to something stronger than caffeine, not now. The team wouldn't get much further today, anyway, not until all of it had a chance to sink in. It was time to call it.
“So take today to chew on all that. I’ll meet you back here tomorrow, same time, and we’ll talk strategy.”
Viper left the room and Bricks followed him, pausing at the door.
“Thanks for getting things started.”
“No problem. Great team, once they know what they’re up against."
"Listen, Lauren and I fleshed out the plan a bit while you were teaching your class. They weren’t ready in there, they've got enough to wrap their heads around. What are you doing tonight?”
“Same as usual, anything she needs me to do.”
“She’ll probably want your eyes on the plan as soon as you get in the door. Then the dishes. Let's plan on finalizing it before tomorrow's meeting?”
“Sure. Just promise me you’ll sleep, and just sleep, until tomorrow. You look like shit.”
“I always look like shit. I can’t promise anything these days. But I’ll definitely get more in me than some coffee.”
• • • •
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