Last Hunt

a short story

Luc spectated memories; he observed the flow of spacetime and the passage of those sanguine rushes of life within him. He bore witness to the river of life’s progression, the swells of love’s embrace and the ebbing tides of entropy atop peaks of ageless Time. Sitting in the chasms of mind, he could freely relive his own moments of triumph and of sorrow. His mind raced alongside dusk’s turn to eventide falling through the towers of his keep. Rising hearts and falling blades resided in the reminiscence; most of his best memories were full of blood. This troubled him from time to time. Until he evoked the duty of his profession. He pulled himself from the chaos of his reverie and back to reality. No, it was his vocation. He opened his eyes wide to view the space of his Keep. He found himself drawn to the Sun’s light finding its way onto the simple stone flooring where he sat in a peaceless repose. He waited, staring, until the time came for the light to warm his presence. Upon it reaching him, he stood with speed and turned to his work.

He looked upon the scene of his desk before him. Tomes, parchment, maps, sketches, theories, knowledge. Pathways to justice. It was the intel he had gathered for his latest venture. Perhaps, one of true finality. Luc sat down behind the compilation, placing his feet firmly on the floor in preparation. Back in comfort, he steepled his fingers and considered the implications, as he recounted the words of their meeting in his mind.

~

The old man spoke with resolve:
“Luc, you know I would never come to you with this unless-”

“You were sure. I know. I’ve always trusted you Olivar, no reason to change now. We’ve been through hell, you and I. It’s just…” Luc averted his eyes from the old man.

“I know. This is it. It’s been a long journey. To be here now, at the end of their line, the end of this darkness. It’s unfathomable, a dream,” Olivar reached out towards Luc.

Leaning back, Luc responded, “You’re right of course, it is too good to be true.”

“This Source was recovered in three entirely separate broods, can’t be a coincidence. They all lead to Fortress, the chances of -”

“It’s not the location Olivar. It’s the last one. It cannot be,” Luc explained.

“Well, it is true, we haven’t identified a true Master in some time. We’ve toiled with the last bastions of their consanguinity and hounded broodmothers, meddled with ghasts, hawked the last of the spectres. Undoubtedly, you are the most prolific slayer in modern history. You have earned a rest from this brutality, a retirement, if you asked me. But now we come to this, what we have worked so hard for. And we both know you are the only one that can end it.” Olivar reasoned.

“… It cannot be.” Luc breathed coolly. He looked down at his own hands.

Olivar stared at him for a spell, scrutinizing his apprentice that had long since surpassed him. He slowly nodded. “I understand son. It’s difficult to comprehend. When you devote yourself to something, it becomes your identity, the action becomes a part of you. And this part of you, well, doesn’t want it to end because then it cannot itself go on existing. I don’t doubt your commitment to the righteous path, and this type of feeling is entirely logical now. I simply ask you to follow your heart, let it flow you towards this destiny.”

Olivar ended his speech with his right elbow on the center of the table, his hand up and outstretched before him. He grinned and his silver eyes met Luc’s own.
Luc closed his eyes, turning his head, he breathed out and half-smiled. He swung his right hand to clasp Olivar’s embrace and met him with his own silver gaze.
“Let’s get started old man.”

~

He looked down at the sketch in his hands one more time. It outlined the general exterior and interior of the Fortress. He knew it would be treacherous, there were any number of ways for a person to die in a place like this. And there was no telling how much it had changed since its new occupation. Years of royal usage now roiling in the darkened passages of blood feasts and unfathomed plots. The cruelty and arrogance of rulership was replaced with an only slightly different kind. But there was no doubt, a part of him dreaded what awaited within the shadow of the Fortress.

His role as the hunter in this situation was a stark reversal of their species’ respective evolutionary fates. The odds would always be stacked against him. Preparation was everything. When darkness fell, it became their world. You were the invader; life was the outsider. A career of effectiveness, a warrior of countless battles, years of training before that under the harshest conditions – these were the only tools he could parry and riposte with in the fight against this lightless realm, death’s latest hearth. He hoped it to be its final.

Luc looked up at the paintings on his walls, the scores of historical texts on his library he had memorized, the armory of blades in his practice circle. Each aspect was integral. An experiential singularity. If he wanted to keep his Source, the blood flowing in his own frame, Luc would need to spectate every single memory, every bit of knowledge, every lesson and failure. Victory hinged on him witnessing and reliving every battle, every victory, every loss, every drop of blood, every moment of his life. Olivar would never allow this, he would rage against the decision and speak of dire consequence, of mania and of conscience. But he wasn’t here and Luc no longer needed his counsel. Before God, he intended to master himself. Luc would leave nothing to chance. His body remembered, it was his mind which required the anamnesis.

~

He awoke to a long forgotten but familiar feeling. He used to suffer from bouts of it, this feeling, in his young childhood. It even creeped into his adolescence before being relinquished with the help of some guidance at the hands of OIivar, in the earliest days. Those days felt like an eternity ago. But now, here in his keep, he touched the ground but couldn’t stand. After hours amidst his own meditative reality, it returned with impact. It only lasted what felt like a moment, but the memory burned and bored into his consciousness. It hurt worse than any blood letted within his reveries from decades of mortal contest. It was a fleeting perception of injustice within his own mind. An unconscionable invasion of self. He could sense an outsider, a shadow on the wall of his mind which scrutinized and judged, with heinous perspective, from an unobtainable place. It was something outside of reach and infinitely damnable to his psyche. He saw it standing, watching, understanding. Every single moment from his life he had viewed and learned from, with clarion intention, was now its own to wield.

After overcoming it, Luc stood with resolve. He turned his head with effort, looked to the break of dawn. He walked slowly over to the lone skylighted aperture in the highest tower of his keep. Gazing at the prominence of the rays peaking through the cloudform, he considered the trek before him. The finality of it energizes me. The last of them will fall. Smiling in new solace, he was ready.

~

His strides swept along the well worn path. Luc proceeded to his destination with a vigor now awoken from a long dormancy. He was hunting but it was impossible not to reminisce. Despite its used appearance, Luc knew he was likely the first living soul to take this route in centuries. In a former era, it represented the mobility of progress. This road was The Road. A bastion for commerce in the last dynasties of Korneiman & Loris. After Three Wars, the Golden Age fell away to become a lost kingdom. He was headed now to the remnants, to the Fortress, in the heartland of the sinewy locus of the darkest power. The hands of benevolence formerly reaching to the Outland communities, to the least of the world, to bring them up and to save those they could. Reading about King Xavier as a boy, Luc truly believed in Man. Growing up, those stories guided him. And now, he was crossing the threshold into his dream turned nightmare. The realm of blood sprawled to where no Man ever ventured.

It was a bittersweet feeling, yet another melding of memory and reality for Luc. He quickened the pace and calmly palmed his long sword as biting winds and colder tidings coursed into the seams of his armor. The resulting chill was unnaturally predatory. Despite a world of experience, Luc had a hard time imagining the abominations lurking in the surrounding woodlands. He was on foot because no horse could carry itself through this place. Luc was tired but not exhausted, despite the considerable bulk of his armor. He wore his signature silver masterwork, hand crafted and runed by The Great Pangon Pavex himself. The plates provided heavy aegis but were magically lightened and spaced for maximum maneuverability. Luc carried his favored long sword, Feint, a red dagger and small crossbow. This mission called for it. Despite his armory, Olivar had long ago trained him to be “fully armed” carrying just himself into danger. The silver blades weren’t his only weapon. He had been out of practice for a while now, but the endurance and muscle memory of this work never left him.

The fading sun glow on the horizon provided his final reminder of the day’s providence. Might it be my final sunset, Luc mused philosophically. Thoughts of his own mortality were unavoidable. He believed part of what made him so effective in all these years, outside of his insatiable competitiveness driving him to greater and greater feats, was his sincere fear. He held fear of his own life course in the highest regard, in bearing witness to horror and atrocity at the hands of unnameable monstrosities, it wracked him to consider the effects on his psyche. The fear of his own inevitably violent death drove him to find ways to survive ordeals that would fell lesser men. Without his fear, complacency, and likely an untimely end, would have landed upon him years ago.

In the earliest days, before he truly cared for his own wellbeing or respected the audacity of an opponent’s courage, he had felled 22 men and 1 spectre on the killing fields of Ulduin. He led the vanguard at Ywenvec’s Pass. Smashed through the walls of Brigand’s Keep in the bloodiest siege in recorded history. He dueled Wawrick Wrendelmar to the death at the impossible precipice of Mount Gorgun. In The Court of Muusid, he had tricked a Blood Lord into granting him a final ‘harmless’ request, and with it he had forged a device that could kill with a flick, allowing him to narrowly escape. He led the coup to overthrow the secret council of broodmothers waging their shadow war in Caelafon. He was the one responsible for quietly assassinating “The King Of Madness”; he had never told anyone, not even Olivar and no one had ever tried to find the arrow’s bow. He was there when the blood flowed into The Temple Horax, a coincidence; yet it was there he witnessed the birth of fate. He lost his baby sister in his first encounter with one. He lost his town to the Source not long after he returned from a war he no longer believed in. The brood murdered and assumed his enclave and he had only lived from the sleights of a nuanced cowardice. After the traumas & tribulations shook the civilized world into newfound awareness, he and Olivar had sacrificed everything to learn about them. They had forged alliances, brokered peaces in the name of ‘greater good’ among Nere settlements and Outlanders and the Shining Forces of the North to combat their spreading darkness. They had only taken their existential threat to Mankind seriously after the masses of blood were already flowing. Most of their followers had paid the ultimate price to further the cause, and he felt their loss. Until he didn’t anymore, because he had to forget to go on. Luc liked to believe only his innate ability and intelligence and willpower had granted him this history, still breathing and reflecting. But he knew the truth likely lay somewhere between extreme luck and something like a benevolent Godhand reaching down and directing his blade’s course, time and time again.

The truth was he discovered the method for killing them; he invented the art of the hunt. He had killed the last Broodmother, his sister, at the Tower of Consanct, in the twilight of the Final War. And now, he would be the hand to rid the world of the last of these soulless blood demons. His commitment to this path encompassed the whole of his life. More often than he would admit, Luc’s deliberations fell to his motivation. Why do I strive so ardently for the extinction of an entire species, however monstrous they are, by my hand? Are they any more monstrous than we are? Who can be the arbiter here? The answer was never clear. He put the thoughts away once again.

Luc halted his strides. He gazed at the star’s falling path behind the structure. The rays were soon engulfed by the black crenellations making up the final bastion of singular evil. The Fortress backdropped against the dusk of Luc’s journey and the dawn of his last hunt. A castle, seemingly afloat in an ocean of air, made up the destination for a bridge extending out before him. The end of The Road, untraveled and untested, full of something like unlife. At the edges of the surrounding cliff side making up the parameters of the Fortress’ edges, were the dark woodland spectators to the central obscenity, the trees. Incredibly, they stretched up and out into the open spaces, looming over the canyon’s moat of air. Luc respected the will of life in a place like this. A place of its opposite.

Luc surveyed the scene minutely, taking in the geography and the nature of this place. It would become the site for the awakening of a new destiny for him, and for Man. The dark reflection of the Fortress’ material welled into his silver eyes and he lost himself for a moment in the awe of the architecture and moment. Behind him, forms appeared. Luc slowly turned, drawing Feint from its scabbard.

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~

In the clearing to his back, wolves encroached. Four dires, large and on the defensive. Grey coats of fur shimmered in the wind from the treepaths in their wake. One led the way with steel determination, the other three just behind and bearing teeth. Luc closed his eyes with a silent curse, he sincerely wished to be rid of any violence on creatures such as this. He opened his eyes wide from the sound and instinct of a death-charge. The wolf leapt with open maw. Like a flash, Luc drew his long sword for the first time in years. It cleanly severs the wolf in two as it collides into his space. With his sword extended now behind him, soaked in wolf’s blood and his left hand still gripping the sheath with a certain degree of regret, he stands unharmed but not unwavering. The silver blade’s effectiveness extending to the dire breed, it is felled with ease. The body lands on the earth before him.

Gripping the hilt of the sword with decided determination, Luc looks from the lifeless form to the live ones still half circling his position. He spins the blade on the axis of his capable hands and widens his stance, inviting his beastly combatants to the fray. Just before they resolve themselves, an even greater form emerges from the trees. A great white direwolf, the alpha. Almost doubly sized, with scars covering its hardened body, it steps directly into the space between himself and its pack. Walking back and forth, it stares directly into him. Luc looks on its face and single eye. The other eye is hollow, a gaping silver scar crossing over its path. The other wolves no longer mill about behind it, and instead sit in silence.The beast’s face is stoic. No teeth, no predatory intention emanating from its gaze, only movement. Luc measures its dance and after a moment takes note of a change. There appears to be an invisible line the white one wishes not to cross. It doesn’t look upon me, it’s looks upon the threat of the Fortress at my back. After some time, still holding his sword out before him awaiting, the beasts dissipate back into their realm until only the white wolf remains. It no longer moves and simply stands. The wind whips through its fur and from it Luc can sense an ancient, tremendous willpower. Stepping back with a sigh, Luc detects its wish.

Replacing his blade, Luc confidently turned his back and started across the long bridgeway to the dark crimson thresholds of The Fortress. The white wolf carried his movement all along the pathway with its one good eye, foretelling a hopeful fate. It watched his proceeding until the completed setting of the sun, when it gathered its great form back into its forest.

~

Luc approached the structure head on, walking up to the grand entrance. He looked up at the high walls encircling the doorways, ramparts atop ramparts leading to the highest levels. The Fortress was built to be unassailable, defensible from all sides. The circling walls, surrounded by a moat of open air, faded into a single spire, rising to a peak from which the Empreror could foresee all threats. One could see the vanguard of the enemy warriors at siege no matter their chosen position, but at the same time suffer to detect the cloak and dagger right at his back. The stories he was told as a child said as much, but Luc understood the truth. A building was only ever as strong as its protectors. And so he swelled his breathing before the intimidation of this darkened tower of kings. Despite this, the fading light of the day diminished his confidence more than a little. For the first time in his life, he felt his age, and the mortality of all those advancing years. He couldn’t help it. What he could help was his focus, his memory of decades of trainings, his resolve to complete his mission, and his duty soon to be carried out.

Luc reviewed the knowns: the last of the monstrous kind resided within the Fortress; gender unknown; likely a Master; potentially a Broodmother; it was traced here from ghasts carrying a Source, which happened to be the final Source. Olivar had ensured the ghasts were killed, burned and so this was it. Luc walked across the threshold of Fortress’ grand entrance. The doors hadn’t been closed in likely hundreds of years. The significance of his passage into the place was not lost on him. To Luc, it felt like a dream.

Cognizant of defenses, he made his way carefully. The darkness of the passage into the main hall was impenetrable. Something in the back of his mind itched for his descent into the place, as if he headed towards truth and should sprint with spirit. Blinking away the feeling, he kept his hand close to his crossbow handle, understanding the importance of the opening salvo in a battle against one of them. All of his weaponry needed to be at his disposal if he wanted to survive a potential strike from the shadows. Stalking through the hallway leading into the grand entrance, he used his other senses to feel for evidence of any presence. He smelled the rich fragrance of age, in the walls and the earth he walked on. Running his hand along the walls, along the flooring, there was no significant marring or depreciation in the interior, the Fortress was undoubtedly built to last. He came upon another threshold, leading into the entrance, and the throne room. The lighting in the room improved due to a small beam of the Sun’s finality peaking in through the roof.

Luc stopped and crouched on the grand carpet leading up to the stairs of the throne. His eyes were drawn to the seat of ancient power, empty, and then above it to the Sigil of Xavier. The holy symbol from the old king’s reign centuries before. It stood the test of time, it had survived further dynasties and reigns of lesser men because of what it represented: the best Man had to offer. A paragon, Luc thought. He said a quick prayer before rising to continue his trek. Before his exit to the stairwells leading up to the right of the throne, a clear sound sourced from the balcony to his right, a slight disturbance. Luc looked out, while stepping slowly in the direction and gripping the crucifix making up the hilt of Feint. Out of the opening arches from the throne room, there was a courtyard made up of formerly sprawling gardens. The roof gave way to the open air of an extended landing where the king could walk from duties into the fresh air of the sun’s embrace. Luc continued cautiously, but considered the beauty of the place in its heyday inside a fleeting daydream. Walking in the dead grass, among the fresh night air, his vision steadily improved as his eyes adjusted. The moon peaked through the cloud cover to reveal a point of interest before him. The wind whipped his cloak and he could feel it sift again through the plates on his arms and torso. A chill led up his spine. Looking to the far edge of the courtyard, he made out a silhouette, a humanoid. It stood on the edge of the courtyard’s landing, open air at its back, unmoving. He approached, slowly drawing his blade. This is no demon of the night..

Before he could finish his thought, the woman opened her eyes, white glowing menace stared at him through two orbs. It can see through those eyes! Luc rushed forward flourishing his blade to put down the servant as quickly as possible. The thrall raised its arms in an apparent attack. Luc whipped Feint right to left with both hands, cleanly severing its head from shoulders. In the same motion, he crouched and kicked out his left leg into the creature’s gut, forcefully launching it off the courtyard balcony and into the falling air of the Fortress’ immediate exterior. The head returned from its launch high above, down into Luc’s awaiting grasp. He looked upon the grotesque grey skin, pupiless eyes, and shriveled mouth of the thrall’s skull. It was unnaturally lightweight. Despite its grotesquery and danger, he wanted to keep the head, so as to use it to lure the bloodsucker or at the very least confuse it, if it continued to try to use the Source within the thrall as an extension of its own senses. Well, it knows I am here now.

When Luc turned back around from his kill, he cursed the failure of his instincts. Behind him stood more than a dozen pairs of eyes, white menacing orbs of unconscious hate. Luc’s own silver orbs widened as he gripped his crucifix hilt tighter in a sudden panic. How could- The regiment of thralls charged with shrill otherworldly screams. Luc focused his mental capacity on efficiency, stepping back for a moment. His boot heel connected with nothing but gravity before he quickly regained his balance. His back was against the perilous night air alone, from whence the landing of the courtyard ended. The first wave approached in a sprint. Quickly, he threw the severed head in their mix to stun at least one of them, giving him time to raise his left free hand and fire bolts from the gauntlet round his forearm. A small projectile launcher was stitched into the lining of his gauntlets. Each one he fired was doused with an oil before releasing. The bolts exploded in a fiery blaze on contact. Luc tracked his arm across the length of all five of the closest approaching thralls. Their bodies, if unbroken from the force of the strikes, lit full ablaze, violently immobilizing them. The momentary reprieve of the strike gifted Luc with a confidence to wade into a melee with the rest of them. He counted at least a dozen of their forms in the assault.

The flaming bodies of the opening thralls prevented the others from approaching full force, perhaps on remote command from their Master. If it’s watching, I might as well put on a show. Luc moved past them, emboldened by the flames emanating from their flailing forms. Wielding Feint in right and red dagger in his left, he worked quickly. Slashing broad strokes across the upper bodies of the thralls before him, he worked the dagger to defend his weak side against any assaults on his flank. One, two, three were taken apart with the silver blade before they any hit the ground of the garden. Luc turned to face the remaining onslaught and retreated by jumping backwards onto a raised platform, formerly of orchids and black roses. He could see their long dead remains crushed under his feet. The thralls, using only their clawed and fearless bodies as weapons lurched onto his cloak and legs with abandon, biting and scratching their own skin to bone. Luc rotated his two blades to defend against their attacks, but eight different pairs of hands soon pulled him down from his vantage into the rabble.

He felt blood flow from a half dozen minor wounds, growing steadily in number. In a moment of odd silence within the chaos of the battle, he looked out and through the furious motion of his blades and up into the crescent moon filling the sky around the cloud forms. His body worked autonomously, defending himself in a flow of survival. The stars in the night sky were enlightened, transcending anything his dreams ever offered. The scene was soon interrupted by the face of one of the grey daemons coming to his own, trying its damndest to rip through the mithral of his armor, burning itself on its warded edges, yet unceasing in its mission. Gritting his teeth and whipping his unmarred cloak about him to finally create space from the others, Luc reversed the grip on his dagger and drove it with malice into the bottom jaw of the monster at his face. He stared it in the face as he raised its body into a forced standing position. Luc used the restorative powers of the dagger against his better judgment and despite the clear lack of blood in its withered form. He felt his wounds begin to heal and his blood quicken with energized motion. With a newfound battle cry, Luc threw the body, twisting its weight and using the dagger as the point of leverage to cast it onto the remaining crowd of the thralls. He jumped in soon behind using Feint like a warhammer in a renewed fury.

The remainder of thralls fell apart from the silver death on the edges of his spiraling movements. Luc spun slicing the neck of a thrall with his dagger while driving Feint through the back of another. Flames licked around the blades as they cut the flesh of the undead beasts. He retracted both weapons, misting himself in an unearthly ash, as the final thrall rushed straight towards him from the edge of the balcony where all of it started. Sheathing his blades quickly, Luc channeled his body’s ancient energies. Feeling the power of a millennia passed down, knees bent in a balance, he brought his fists to his waist, elbows cocked back with potential. At the moment of contact, Luc brought both palms out and into the mass of the thrall, blasting it backwards. Its feet never touched the ground again. He paused and took in the silence of the night. Luc didn’t open his eyes again until they were already staring up and into the glowing crescent once more.

~

Luc returned to the throne room shortly to get on with it. The battle had wearied him, if only due to its unexpectedness. But he had surprised even himself how quickly it all came back to him. The muscle memory, the dance of the blades, the inexorable will to survive. He’d been out of practice long enough for doubts about his abilities to surface. The anamnesis certainly helped. It will take much more to bring you down, Olivar would likely say.

Inspecting the stairwell up to the towers of the Fortress once more, he pondered the significance of his encounter. He knew if there were that many thralls, then it was certainly a Master, one of significant power. Where had they all come from? Humans, this far out. How far into the Outlands was he ranging to attain them? The situation puzzled him. A harsh groan sounded from somewhere behind the throne. Turning to a screech, it continued as Luc approached a hidden stairwell leading down behind the throne, to its left. He had not noticed this before. He drew his blade once more as he slowly walked down a steep stairwell. The chasm was darkened to the point of no visibility, so he called on Feint’s light to ignite. It’s luminescent glow served as his torch as he ventured into through a passageway with no door. It smelled of blood and the fetid air repressed his psyche. The triumph from his fight waned in his mind. This has just begun. His steps however slight, echoed off of what he could now see was a small room, and he damned the sounds. There were seats, pews, on the right and left sides. A chapel. After mostly silence since his entry, the screech resurfaced and Luc could pinpoint its location. It came from the back of the room. He shined the light from his blade in the predicted direction. The altar. It was covered in something red, blood. Explains the smell. Raising his blade, he witnessed on the wall above the true source of the pained sounds. It was him.

Up on the wall a full six feet above his head, hanging and bleeding, was a humanoid. But Luc could tell almost immediately it was not human. The blood flowed from its form from wounds on its hands and feet, and chest. Crucified on a cross. Red eyes opened wide and looked down upon him. A wild cackle sourced from his maw, from which painful death cries had just released. Luc felt blood splatter slightly on his shoulders. Sizzling sounds and steam emanated from his mithral in its defiance of the wicked liquid. Luc clenched his jaw as the thing continued to howl with appalling laughter. This is the last. Luc considered with unexpected incredulity, even rage. What a spitefully absurd end to their legend, a helpless, bleeding fool. Finishing his thought, he fired the grapple just above the beast’s head, puncturing the wall and used the mechanism within his gauntlet to pull himself up. Face to face with the red eyed dying blood demon, he brought his blade to bear hovering just an inch away from its chest, pointing into it and holding it back with a trembling hand. He spit with earnest malice:

“You are the last.”

The red eyes squinted, examining his own. It understood his language he knew. They knew more languages than most men. Luc noticed the spectral light coming from the runes in Feint did nothing to illuminate its form. The stone walls and the blood on the wooden cross behind him became visible with his proximity. Using the light, he could see what kind of wood the cross originated from. Mahogany. Luc could also make out a seam in the stone wall, a slight stream of air pressed out of it. Returning to the demon, he could make out no features from its face. Save for its eyes, it was as black as the void of the cosmos above and just as terrifying. Luc had never noticed such an effect in one of their kind. A true form, yet it features aspects of a spectre. Perhaps it’s neither.

“Fool,” the demon said weakly. After a moment, it offered nothing more.

“I will send you to burn will all of your unholy brethren. But I have one question. Where did you take them from?”

Laughing, the response followed a chuckle: “Fool.”

Luc responded by spinning and sheathing Feint with his right, his left still holding the grapple in the wall above. Darkness returned and he let his eyes adjust. The only thing he focused on was the blazing red glow of the creature’s eyes. He drew his red dagger. Its own slight glow brought new visibility to the demon’s face. It was young. He doubted it was a Master. And yet, the existence of the dozen thralls demanded his status.

After slowly examining its face using the dagger’s faint red glow, he whipped it across the crucified one’s extended right arm. From the bicep to its wrist, slicing a thin line. It cried out in pain. Luc didn’t retract the blade but instead kept it pierced along its right wrist. He activated the dagger’s own power, sucking the life force of the thing in small increments. He smiled, knowing exactly how painful this was. The creature writhed, the staked blades in its own hands holding it in place. Luc watched the blood from the cut flow into the red blade.

The demon screamed in laughter born of attempted resilience.

“How does it feel to have your own soul slowly extracted from your body? I know exactly the limits of what one of you can endure. This is the beginning. Now answer me.”

Surprisingly, it responded soon after: “They are not mine.”

“Were. They have been destroyed. So you are not the last, how many are here?” Luc felt a renewed adrenaline flow. Disappointment mixed with the requisite excitement of the senses for what it meant.

Smiling, the dark face remained serene until it savagely bellowed into his face: “Why do you hesitate! End it!”

“Why the crucifixion? Are you being punished? Where are the others!” Luc barked in a frenzy, upping the rate of the dagger’s sanguine transference.

No new cry generated in response. Instead the demon’s bloody eyes bore into his own with renewed intensity. Luc felt his mind wander for just a moment, before implementing the mental aegis. The mantra’s opening stanza touched his lips just before the beast’s right claw ripped free of its stake and slapped against his throat. Gripping with murderous intent, the sickles on the ends of its fingers began to sink into his neck. Even in its weakened state, Luc knew he didn’t have much time. Releasing the grapple from the wall, he let his weight fall backwards and drew the dagger in his right across the neck of the creature now screaming in his face. The blade cut deeply and perhaps in the shock of the strike, the thing released his own neck. He fell the distance, landing on the altar below directly on his back. The pain was considerable, but Luc knew it could’ve been worse without the insulation from his armor. Trying to regain his composure, Luc heard lurching movements from above. Looking up in the darkness, he saw the silhouette of the cross begin to topple from the creature forcing it free. It’s right arm still free and reaching with ferocity, the demon fell towards him with a shriek.

Luc quickly threw the dagger into his left hand, reversing its grip to point upwards, while drawing Feint from the scabbard and pointing it up into the place of the beast’s dark, unbeating heart. The long sword plunged into the chest, protruding through the wood of the cross with ease. The red dagger in his left then stuck into the thing’s skull, stopping its scream instantly. It took most of his strength to keep the demon and the weight of the cross from crushing him. The red eyes remained glowing in the thing’s second, and final, period of unlife. Holding the ensemble up with adrenaline-infused muscles, his blades serving as skewers in the head and torso, he heaved the thing off of him and to his right. It crashed across the floor, the wooden cross breaking apart. The light from his blade returned and Luc watched the form of the blood demon burn with crimson flames and crumble into something resembling ash. Sheathing his blades, he said a prayer and turned to leave the chapel with new haste.

~

Luc began to scale the massive spiraling staircase to the right of the throne, leading up into the highest reaches of the Fortress. Whatever there was to find, he would find it at the top. Luc considered the meaning of the crucifixion. In previous encounters with them, searching their locales, committing interrogations, reading their own biographies, he knew it was not an uncommon to be punished in such a way, often for the most serious crimes. Even within their bloody and savage society, there was some measure of law and order. Such a fate would befall one mating with a human, he knew. Even given the highest severity for a crime, for a Master to commit one of its few remaining broodmates to die in such a way was unthinkable. Something is certainly amiss. Luc felt the conscious intrigue of it all and found himself speeding up his pace to whatever fated awaited above.

After rising along the stairs for some time, he found he no longer needed the light from his drawn blade. The stairwell widened and the walls of this tower now featured windows peaking in moonlight. The glow of the moonlit stone as well as the changing atmosphere of the open air altered the aura of his steps along the steep tower’s stairwell. Luc stopped to look out one of the stone frames, resting for a moment. Outside, he faced opposite the moon’s presence. In the cloudform the other way, he could see darkness edging in from the horizon. In the overcast before him, there was housed an oncoming storm. The winds portended its direction towards the Fortress.

~

Luc reached the final landing. Before him was a hallway leading to a wide open room. He sheathed his blade once more and crouched, moving slowly along the hallway leading up to it. It appeared to be something of a lab. There were bright lights, glassware, humanoid figures in vats. This might answer some questions. Along the hallway, Luc passed steel doors, one after another, a dozen of them. Pausing to look into each one as he advanced towards the lab, he viewed into small holes on the doors, just the size of an eye. Inside were people, wolves, elves, other animals and humanoids he couldn’t make out. Some alive, some dead or unconscious, shackled to the walls. Considering the laboratory, subjects awaiting testing.

Luc came upon the threshold of the lab and at the forefront of the room, standing before a vat of blue liquid was a man. A human. He stared into the vat with his arms behind his back. He wore a long white cloak and appeared to be of advanced age. The room was massive, and intricately designed. The ceiling raised to a considerable height, and every inch of it was utilized with cages of various creatures. He made out spectres and wolfmen. Human children and the bones of large lizards. Some were moving, most were not. In the other, smaller vats lining the edges of the room there were similar brands of animal and man floated in blue and green bubbling waters.

Having gathered the room’s every characteristic in his mind, he now crouched within the striking distance of the cloaked man. Luc heard the man make a slight sound, almost imperceptible. A whistle. From out of the corner of his eyes, Luc saw figures high on the ceiling. He smirked, readying his body and mind. “Unassailable Audacity.” He repeated the mantra in his mind three times, playing things out, before silently drawing his small red blade.

“The work is just getting underway, it’s true. But even if you kill me, he will find another to take my place. Our mindmeld ensures the complete transference of everything I have learned in my own time of experimentation.”

The old man’s voice resounded with power throughout the room. He spoke with a reserved calm. He was ready to die.

“Why would you betray humanity in this way,” Luc practically whispered to him from the shadows a few feet behind.

“It was simple enough. The promise of immortality. And besides, I never much liked humanity anyway.”

Luc rose to his full height and moved with the grace of a ghast himself. Still facing his work, he appeared to the scientist in the reflection of the glass vat before him. The red dagger moved to rest against his neck with anticipation. The man whispered.

“I will tell you everything. Just let me live. I know what you are, I even know who you are. You are here to kill him.”

“You fear me more than him?”

“It’s a matter of circumstance,” the man said while peeking down at the blade pressed at his throat.

Luc averted his gaze to their positions, the beasts attempting to hide in the shadows around them now. He had them marked and didn’t want to tip them off. Part of the trap was in the acting. He looked up into the glass reflection and made sure to meet the scientist’s eyes.

“I’m sorry doc, but I already know. There’s nothing for you to tell me.”

“Please,” the man’s voice now trembled disappointingly.

“I only slay the wicked,” Luc finished his sentence by prompting the dagger across his throat. He then pulled his head back and shoved him forward into the table, taking two steps back and crouching.

The first lurker plunged down at him to his right, gliding on fibrous, amateur wings. Throwing his dagger down, he drew his crossbow from his belt at his back. Left eye closed, he pulled the trigger and fired a single shot. It’s guttural battle cry was cut short halfway into his dive. Heart sought, the mantras continued.

The second attacker was some kind of spectre-wolf hybrid. It awaited in the left corner behind a cage with a massive bird inside. It lept down with a more precise fury, moving like a fast-falling shadow on the earth. Luc turned and drew Feint with his left, still holding the crossbow with his other hand. Gripping the blade like a dagger, he dove underneath the beast’s lunge and brought the sword’s full glowing length against its slight torso. The two halves of the creature fell away around him. No blood released from within its frame, in its place ashy residue fell onto Luc’s cloak. Split the divide.

The third creature swung down on a rope it had fixed atop the ceiling somehow. It fell from directly behind him, above the threshold of the entrance into the room. Luc recognized the creature as almost indistinguishable from a human being. The primary difference being the crimson flames emanating from a maw double the size of what a human mouth should entail. Remaining crouched and turning to face his third, and final, assaulter, he brought his left wrist around. Still holding feint in his grasp, he opted for another method. Closing his right eye, he took aim. Waiting for his target to come in line, Luc fired right as the fire-mouthed bandit released from his rope, leaping into the air over the chemical section of the lab. The doused bolt from his gauntlet entered into the heat of the thing’s open mouth and exploded in the greatest fury Luc had seen the weapon emit. To guard against it, he hit the deck pulling his cloak tight around his body. He felt the intense blast of heat through it, and flames bit at his exposed legs. When he looked out from underneath its folds, he saw scattered plumes of red ash falling throughout the room, landing to rest on the various beakers, heaters, and other equipment. A meteoric rise and fall.

Looking again about the room at the creatures in the cages and vats, and thinking of the other prisoners in the waiting rooms in the hall, Luc turned to another stairwell leading up from the lab. This place needs to be destroyed, these abominations should be put out of their misery. Luc looked about the room, searching his mind’s repository for the best combination to serve the needs of his objective. Expeditiously, he surveyed through the room and gathered the right chemicals, in the right amounts. A fire to shake the Fortress. He placed it in the center of the room and rose to the top of the stairs leading up and out of the lab. Looking out over the balcony, he aimed his crossbow and fired. The culminating explosion lived up to his name. Enduring the rumble, Luc dashed up through the final set of stairs leading to the seat of power and his destiny.

~

Luc understood this pathway led to the King’s Tower, the final resting place of Xavier’s idealism and the seat of power in the Fortress. It was the watchtower for this Master’s dark eyes and a blight on the surrounding forest and Outland communities. All the unexplained disappearances, the failure of farmland, the increasing violence within the Darkwood – all of it could be sourced back to here. Olivar knew this, he had done the heavy lifting gathering the evidence. The breakthrough had been the last broodmates his few contingent slayers had uncovered and tracked here. However, little was known of the details of what he would find here in the highest stages of the Fortress, the schematic broke down no more beyond this point. Luc would have to determine his course on his own. The scientist mentioned the mindmeld, so the Master, he or she, likely already knew of his exploits tonight and the imminent danger of its position. The crucified one, Luc had determined was the chosen Source for the experiments. Its blood could provide Source material for the hybrids being created in the lab. There was some mechanism behind the cross which served the transfusion. There was no telling what it’s relation was to the Master previously. Likely it wasn’t of its brood, but instead was a deserter from some dead clan long ago forgotten. One of the few surviving that had persisted for years in wilderness or hiding out in untraveled human communities. The Master had sought him out and brought him back here to serve the task of being a constant bloodletter for the sake experimental reproduction. Utilizing the trueborn blood within him while also punishing him for turning his back completely on the kind. The extinction of their species had called upon the Master to perform desperate measures for the sake of continuation. As much as it disturbed Luc to learn of this, it shouldn’t surprise him. The advancing march of scientific pursuit was something they had always been on the cutting edge of, before any of mankind.

The steps ended, Luc rose to a new landing. Before him was a circular room. Spaced apart all around the room were thresholds of different styles and sizes. Intricate steel doors, simple wooden ones, crystalline window-like passages. At the head of the room was something like you’d see in on a captain’s navigation table. And in the center of the room was a well, and above it steps. They appeared illusory, as if there was no supporting foundation leading them up. Each apparently floated on its own, there was no connecting stone between each step. They led up into an oppressive darkness.

Luc glided over to the head of the room first. He looked upon the wall, there was a map. Specific locations along it were marked in red. There was a compass affixed to the center of the table and two small orbs to the right and left. Navigation, steering. The Fortress has its secrets yet. He looked around to the portals lining the walls. Luc counted thirteen in total.

He moved over to the first one on his left, a steel wall with no apparent handle. When he brought his hand to the obvious location for one, it slid open. Sunlight breached over a mountain. Impossibly, Luc found himself standing on a precipice looking down into the Blackroot Mountains. The city of Wargen lied in the center of a clearing in modest daylight. This is half a world away.Could it be a vision? Undoubtedly he stood at an opening within the Fortress itself, in another location along its walls. He stepped back in awe and the steel door slid shut. He walked over to the next two thresholds to similar results. He gazed out into the plains of Bluudmare, the canopies of the Deepwood, the Temple of Hate in the Vixian Desert, and an unnamed city of ice. The vistas were from all over the world. Unless his eyes were deceived by some magic, the room was nothing short of teleportation. Luc understood some soothseers and wizards could accomplish such a feat. But for the Fortress itself to be a vehicle was incredible. This meant the current location was relatively meaningless. This Master could be wherever he wanted.

Having wasted enough time here, Luc approached the steps into darkness and ascended. He held no reservations about their spectral nature. Nothing could stop him now.

~

After a score of steps, Luc crossed the threshold where the light from the room below no longer reached his sight. He drew Feint, but the light of the runes offered no reprieve in the darkness. Raising his hand to his eyes, he could no longer see inches before them. He continued taking the unseen steps slowly, eventually resorting to crawling along them with hands and feet. The higher he went the more he realized the scene around him changed. There were visions sourcing all around him, enveloping him, from the outer darkness. Luc couldn’t tell if his mind was creating it from his subconscious to fill in the absence or if it was another example of the Master’s powers. Either way, it was a vivid and complete picture of an immense city. A bustling metropolis, of size and scale that the well-traveled slayer had never witnessed. It featured the same architecture as the Fortress, across hundreds of buildings, cathedrals, castles. The manifolds of progression and grandeur were on full display in the night city. A shining beacon of prosperity, it appears as a vision from a distant age, or else a prescient glimpse into what might be in Man’s distant future. The structure of the city operated as if it was all one organism. Looking up and into the expectant sky, Luc understood the truth of the city. It was built entirely inside, closed off. Perhaps within a mountain or all one within a castle itself. No sunlight. He soon realized the denizens were all of a singular nature.

Castlemap

Luc stopped himself. Instinctively he reached for his crucifix, drawing Feint in a flash. The spectral ascent was at an end and blade’s light revealed the way before him. The dream images of the bestirring megalopolis faded from view.

The steps gave way to a stone walkway. The darkness continued to press in on the surroundings. Now the way was lighted by hundreds, thousands of candles suspended in air. Their flames were the familiar crimson. This must be a dream. Luc continued with blade drawn. The sound of his heartbeat echoed through his body. Its cadence moved forward over the steps. He could see the end of the passage. Two figures at the end of the line.

~

Coffins. The walkway opened to a small clearing where two coffins stood up vertically. One white and one black. The crimson candles encircled the area in a reverence. Playing the part of the dreamer, Luc walked towards the coffins in a somnambulistic revelry, hoping to find what he sought. Drawn to the white coffin, he reached out with conviction to throw it wide with his left while his right white-knuckled his blade. The remnants of his mission faded away upon witnessing the form inside.

Ana.

“We were going to rule together, the exemplars for a new world.”

The voice came to his right. It resonated with an absorptive quality, as if the mouth producing the words was a vortex for all life. Luc could not abide the sound. The reverie slowly pulled back from his consciousness as he looked over to his sister’s infector, this revenant, the final Master. His silver eyes met the Vampyr’s. The demon was a full head taller, skin the natural pale of the kind, eyes crimson, short black hair on his head and face. The fiend’s black and blue regalia featured a full set of armor and ended in a flowing cape shrouding his body. The black door of his own coffin slammed shut and his hand shot out to meet Luc’s face.

Luc responded with Feint in a flash, intercepting his lethal reach on its silver edge. Vampyr’s hand and claws connected with the blade of light, and his fingers soon enveloped the whole of its surface. Blood and smoke began to emanate from the hand’s presence on the divine silver. Luc kept his gaze on the beast’s grimace. Vampyr’s imposing countenance shifted from bloodlust to consternation.

“Your kind annihilated us like vermin, when in fact, we are the superior species. Your evolution ends with us, your omega predator.”

Vampyr gripping the sword now covered in his own Source, threw the blade open to his left. Luc kept his grip on the hilt, just barely, and Vampyr drove his right hand straight to his heart. Luc felt into his mind, instantly bringing forth the muscle memory to bring the dagger hilt out and press it to his chest in line with the beast’s destructive hand, with the instincts of his own ancestors. The hand plunged directly into the blade and Vampyr roared. His claws reached long enough through the blade’s severance to dig into Luc’s mithral chest plate. It held, but he began to feel the Vampyr’s own silver blades on the tips of his fingers making their way through. In the struggle, Luc tried to turn to look upon his sister’s resting form, but found himself unable to turn from the monster’s gaze.

Bleeding from both hands, seething with visible pain, Vampyr proclaimed: “Perhaps you deserve your own ascension.”

Upon these words, Luc’s mindspace returned to the stage of childhood. He had wandered from his father on a hunt. Early morning sunlight began to peer through the trees in an unfamiliar wooded realm. He heard barking, snapping jaws, howling. The wolves had cornered something and were about to kill it. He ran through the brush towards the sounds, his curiosity and admiration for the creatures overruling any fear. He came upon a man, his back was against a tree. He held no weapons, wore nothing but bloodied rags. The new rays of sunlight from the morning reached his body and he began to holler, “C’mon!” coaxing the beasts on. The man made no more sound when they descended on him. His skin turned red, burning with accelerated speed as more sunlight streamed into the clearing where it was playing out. There were four wolves. He moved with a calculated ferocity. His arms became battering rams, swords, deadly weaponry. His eyes never blinked, and Luc followed their movements in awe. He tore the wolves to pieces, even as his arms began to fall off, turning to ash, he shredded them with his maw like a dragon. He howled into the sun as his body eventually crumbled into red ash moments after the bloody conflict’s end. Luc went over to survey the scene, looking upon the wolves scattered remains and the pile of soot from which the daemon man formerly stood. He climbed a tree and spotted his father. He returned to his side and when his father asked him what he had seen out on his ranging, he responded with nothing.

From the confines of unlocked memory, Luc returned to the present, to the malignant face of his foe. Vampyr smiled before speaking.

“Look at her,” motioning his red eyes onto Ana’s dormant features. She lay in the coffin with her arms by her side, her skin a nearly translucent hue of porcelain. Luc looked. Her body was intact, other than her pallor she looked just as perfect as she did in life. Luc longed to stare into her vivacious eyes one last time.

“I have come to forgive you for what you did to my wife,” Vampyr said with impossible candor.

Luc breathed out, “I will never forgive you.”

Vampyr’s hands remained in a mortal struggle with Luc’s two blades, he could feel him vying to overtake him in strength. Luc’s own suit and gauntlets had evened the playing field, providing him with strength to match. He tried to restore his energy using the dagger’s severance, but found he could not. The Master’s Source was likely too much for it to take in.

“I have a certain mutual respect for you, slayer. I have watched you from the start, studied your work, developed counter-actions to your own. You are fascinating in your commitment. Perhaps it is the modesty of your lifespans which makes you so ambitious. You have so much work to do, in so little time,” finishing his words he pressed both blades back in a surge of strength and rushed his crimson maw forward into the fray of Luc’s headspace.

Luc drew both blades out of their punctures and brought his knee up to meet the diving chin of Vampyr. He completed the action by continuing the arc of the knee, fully flipping backwards. The uppercut exposed the demon’s neck, stunning him from the force of the mithral connection with his chin. Luc hastily sheathed his dagger and shot a silver bolt from his left gauntlet towards his neck. Vampyr responded by batting it away with inhuman speed, the bolt detonating in the distance behind the coffins, in the shadows surrounding the candles. In an instant, the ethereal darkness surrounding the small clearing where the two were engaged is expelled and the full grandeur of the room revealed.

Luc looked about and saw a vast ballroom. A stage lay at the forefront. Brightly lit torches lined the walls, seats surrounded the various platforms in semi-circles. There were no performances ongoing, but Luc noticed the intricate orderliness and cleanliness of the entire picturesque expanse.

Luc, in his confusion of the room’s full revealing light, had lost track of Vampyr. Feeling his neck hairs stand on end, he spiraled around blades at the ready. The full stature of the black cloaked demon was already there, his hand soon around his throat. He lifted him off the ground with ease. Luc plunged his dagger into his forearm in a meek defense. The beast didn’t flinch. Luc could feel his consciousness fading under the strength of his grip. Blackness edged in.

“Let’s see how worthy you are slayer.”

Vampyr declared the words to him just before he felt himself flying through the air. Luc’s body soon collapsed in contact with the great stained-glass window above the stage. His body somersaulted in the cool of the night for several rotations before he regained his wits.

I am going to die now.

Luc saw two things in his violent spinning descent: Vampyr, the final master standing as if awaiting at the shattered window, and the full length of the Fortress tower, in quick descent. He fell without the grace of any orientation, so he couldn’t find the balance for him to slow his fall using his cloak. He was soon beyond the structure itself and could only see the rocky foundation of the Fortress’ floating base. Before falling into its full hearted darkness, Luc finally managed to fire his grapple from his left gauntlet into the stone of the base. Swinging around on the leverage, he flew feet first into an opening in the stone. Luc knew he was lucky to find it, at the speed he passed into the cavernous opening, there was no room to maneuver. He released the rope entirely, leaving it in the stone. As soon as his legs connected with the ground, he dropped into a roll, using his body and cloak to slow his speed and land him safely onto the crags of the stone. Full stop, with only minor bruises, Luc takes a moment to breath and appreciate another contention with the cool hands of death. He takes a quick inventory of his weaponry, noting the absence of his dagger, and of his crossbow now broken into several pieces. He gets up to find his way.

~

After wandering for nearly an hour in winding, cavernous pathways, Luc finds an open area. Light sources from above a pile of rubble in the center of the room. Rocky chasms lead in and out of the area. To Luc, it appears to be a central hub for what this place truly is – a catacomb. All around him are the bones of countless creatures, humans, vampyr, and all else. There is no organization or order to the remains. It’s a dumping ground and they look as if they have been rooted through. The scientist needed trueborn Vampyr bones, Luc reasoned. His inspection of the new venue was soon interrupted by the return of his foe.

“I am also a slayer,” the booming voice reverberated all around him. Luc didn’t respond, he began to move on his predicted position.

“I brought an end to twelve other Master’s, their entire clans converted or killed under my directive. In truth, I am much more prolific than you at your own occupation,” Vampyr continued. His voice moved like a stream of water through the stones. Luc couldn’t place him.

“Why?” Vampyr repeated an unasked question. “Because they diluted our Source, they represented half-measures in a world driving us into extinction. Inter-breeding, freely spreading the Source to the uninitiated, the unworthy. Living amongst humans, forming community with psychopaths bent on genocide. Mentally, physically, evolutionarily beneath us. I judge who is worthy among us, and these were lesser, no more salient than spectres and ghasts. Make no mistake, you are the vermin!”

Luc heard a slight sound echo through the walls around him, he turned and his own red blade drove straight into his shoulder. He groaned in agony. Thrown with superhuman velocity, it punctured to the hilt, straight through the mithral. His right sword arm. Before thinking, he grabbed it and pulled it out, grumbling through the immense pain.

“Let it flow friend, I can feel you much more clearly now,” the ethereal voice echoed closer now.

Luc switched hands, now wielding his sword in his left. His right, dagger hand trembled. Enough waiting, I need to strike. I need to end this before I lose too much blood.

Staying in one place, breathing shallowly, Luc waited. The dripping of water backdropped his patience. His eyes remained drilled on his surroundings, ears awaiting any lead. A shadow passed over the wall near him. He lunged out to meet where it stood in relation, but there was nothing. He swung Feint around the area, spinning around in confusion and increasing dizziness. Slowly from the wall out of the corner of his eye, he saw the Vampyr fade out of its own fixed shadow. The demon lurched forward, en garde with his own masterworked sword in hand. A long thin blade, crimson in coloration. Caught off guard, the Vampyr’s red blade sought an opening in Luc’s defenses. Moving his body but not his blade, the sword scored a glancing blow. At the same moment, Luc brought his own red blade against the Vampyr’s own face. Moving his head back in time, the dagger only sliced a thin line. But for Luc’s purposes it was enough, the blade was able to absorb some of the life in him. Luc feeling recuperated, pushed forward into his final fray. Perhaps the blood of his countenance is richest of all.

Their duel commenced. Luc served as the aggressor, his dual blades working their way around the full gamut of Vampyr’s considerable defenses. A skilled swordsman, shouldn’t have expected anything less, Luc mulled in the heat of steel meeting silver. He jabbed with the dagger, working it at speed, for the purposes of setting up Feint to score greater damaging blows. But Vampyr’s own sword moved at superior speeds, often ringing one continuous sound in defiance of Luc’s own. For much of the fight he kept his off hand, the right, behind his back or in the open air free and serving to balance. Luc didn’t give in to the revenant’s seemingly perfect defense, and nor did he tire. He held renewed vigor in his heart’s fast beating tremors. This was the end, Olivar! I just have to find a way.

Their duel continued. Vampyr spoke with incessant arrogance. His words of legacy and evolutionary guile rang hollow to Luc. He spoke of the women he had killed, bedded, transformed. The children he had sired, and each of the ones he knew Luc had personally ended. There was no rise in him hearing these goading words, his focus clearly on the task at hand. The crimson demon spoke of his thousands of years of existence, walking among the plains of the proto-humanoids. His persona was unlike any others he had ever encountered. Luc marked that he was less angry, more inquisitive. He hunted the ancient humanoid as he does now, proclaiming that, in fact, he himself created the primal fear of his ilk, genetically encoding the responses in the brains of humanity by his absolutely sterling work in the primordial times of Man’s elevation from savagery on through to industrialized savagery.

Luc responded with a snarling move of the dagger towards his throat. Vampyr resorted to using his offhand to catch the dagger once more. He grabbed Luc’s own hand and the hilt of the dagger through the blade cutting his own hand apart and his own blood flowing over it, jerking him off-balance. Luc instantly brought Feint down in a feint, as if he intended to bring the blade to bear upon the monster’s arm trapping his own dagger hand now. Vampyr readied himself to defend there, moving his crimson sword down, but Feint instead entered his chest in an audacious piercing move, straight through his ornate chest armor. The runes across the surface of the sword shone brighter than ever, tasting the flesh of the Master. Luc’s inner exultation came to a swift end as he recognized the beast was not quite dead, infernal red eyes glowering, the battle not over. How could I have missed the heart.. It roared with savagery in the denial of its wound, dropping the sword and bringing its right arm up to violently snag his left hand, still holding the crucifix hilt of Feint and pulled him forward with giant’s power, furthering the blade into his own form but also pulling Luc’s own body into striking distance. His maw opened, red misted from within a pandemonium upon which the predation of an entire species rested. Using all his might, Luc was not able to break free from grip on the hilt. The demon’s hell-mouth featured a final utterance, grating on Luc’s sanity as he realized the despair of his incapacitation in the critical moment. Luc hears the finality of thunder striking outside, reverberating through the cavernous catacombs of his life.

“It is time to consummate our dance,” the Master bays in bloody animus.

Vampyric jaws enveloped Luc’s throat in merciless vengeance.

~

The sanguine rushes of his life course faded from view. He witnessed the moments, the pathways, the flows of his progress. They all went by him, like they had before. He missed some of them, but received on the whole. He was in the forest again, with the dead wolves. He was in the war again, fighting for blood against blood. He was there in the final minutes with Ana. Luc riding alongside Olivar at the vanguard’s emergence, contending at the first and last kills, his hand holding the blade in Ana’s chest.

He had lived enough. Luc said an instant prayer and readied himself to depart the coil.

The warmth of his lifeblood flowed down from his neck all over his body. The grey spaces between his eyes, in his vision, grew by the second. He fell back from his immortal embrace with Vampyr, the final Master. His enemy sat unmoving. A hilt of a dagger extruded from within his left eye. The right one remained open, blood seeped down his tear duct and along the right and left sides of his face. He was no more. Luc viewed his visage with a smile and an ever collapsing lense of consciousness. The muscles had remembered the movement, the killing stroke. They were all gone now.
and so am I.

As the curtains of darkness closed on his weary frame, the final image Luc witnessed was one of impossible clarion awakening. Something in the deepest reaches of his soul opens with provocation here and now, at the end. With stark lucidity, in the trifling reflection of the Vampyr’s unseeing eye, he regarded his own grinning mouth, and newly crimson orbs staring back in euphoria.

~