The shuttered windows and abandoned streets were what met him when he emerged from the forest that night, the inhabitants of the tiny village on the forest’s edge cowering in their beds in fear of the darkness and what might lurk within its shadows; it was an all too familiar sight to him now, and one that he paid no mind to as he slithered down the paved streets on silent footsteps. Passed modest houses that he’d hit before and those that he had not, following the scent of horse and man in search of his chosen prey.
The trail eventually lead to the smaller of the village’s two inns, the closed door and countless darkened windows portraying no signs of life from the sleeping inhabitants sheltering inside, the sun-bleached sign creaking as it swung slightly left and right on the rusted chains from which it hung.
The floorboards of the stoop outside protested to their awakening by the weight of his footsteps, but the door swung silently inwards on well-oiled hinges to allow the predator in from the night outside. As in most every inn in most every town the room on the lower floor doubled as both a reception area and a tavern, frequented much more often by the crowd of local laborers than by the rare traveler who happened by on their way to somewhere else.
The stubs of extinguished candles, their white wax bodies melted down to almost nothing by too much use and two little replacement, lined the ledges of the walls and perched atop the curved branches of the chandelier that hung overhead. A stone hearth, cold and dark, stood on the far end of the room from him across a sea of empty wooden tables, the shadows sifting through the soot and ashes left behind by the vanquished fire like miners searching a caverns detris for gold and jewels.
Here the scents were a badly tangled mass of color, some stale and faded dull and others fresh and vibrant, and the confusion of it was enough to force Aser to crouch in the darkness for a few moments as he sorted through them before moving up the stairs to the second, and then the third floor before winding up outside yet another closed door.
“There you are.” Again it swung open quietly on tended hinges, revealing the room on the other side; a dresser, a desk and chair and a bed positioned just perfectly enough for a sliver of silver moonlight to filter through the open window between the thick curtains to illuminate the Hunter’s sleeping form.
He was a handsome man, as far as Humans went. Young and fit, with a thin but powerful frame and a presence to match it. His hair was splain about him in a spun-gold halo against the white cotton fabric of the pillow propped beneath his head and his resting pulse was just visible beneath the black etched lines of the Light Rune on his neck. Definitely a far cry from his usual fare, but mouth-wateringly decadent regardless.
Still, even hungry as he was with the temptation of the sweet smelling blood so close, he couldn’t resist a few moments of playing with his food.
Reaching out with a touch so gentle that it wouldn’t wake even the lightest sleeper, he wound his clawed fingers in the soft gilded tresses and turned his head to the side so that he was facing him.
“Say ‘Vampire Hunter’.”
“Vampire Hunter!” Eros sprang upright into a cat-like crouch, bringing the dagger that he’d had hidden beneath the pillow up over his head and plunging it into the Dhampir’s eye. Aser released him with a pained screech, reeling backwards and retreating across the room while the Slayer pounced off of the bed with his eyes locked on his opponent and taking stock of even the slightest involuntary twitch.
“Hunter bastard!” Snarling furiously at him Aser reached up with one hand and ripped the blade out of the now mutilated socket, tossing it into the far corner of the room with a clatter. Dark blood spilled down his face in a ghoulish display as his one remaining eye shifted from human to slit-pupiled. “You think that you can fight me on even ground and stand a chance? I’ve killed countless numbers of your hounds who happened to be unlucky enough to stumble into my path, so what makes you think you’ll come out any different?”
“Your attempts to frighten me aren’t going to work, Bleak Heart. Unlike those of my men that you claim you’ve killed I have a power that a Demon like you cannot hope to stand against!” Raising a hand towards him with palm facing outwards, Eros smiled almost viciously. “Dagaz: Eicio!”
A blinding flash of white light accompanied by a concussive force exploded outwards from his hand, knocking the Vampire Lord to the ground and obliterating the wall of the inn that had been standing behind him.
With a furious howl Aser threw himself out of the resultant hole and into the night, transforming mid-fall into a mass of black scales and razor spines leaving a titanic shadowed beast with hellish red eyes to take his place.
“Come, AshHand! If you so desire a fight with me than you shall have it!” The dragon roared as it circled the village before banking off towards the forest.
Whistling for his horse as he grabbed his sword from where it had been lying beside the desk, Eros clambered quickly down the side of the ravaged building before dropping into the saddle as the steed ran by. Driving his heels sharply into Glory’s sides to urge his mount faster he pursued the fleeing monster as best he could from the ground, plunging into the dark treeline and quickly becoming swallowed up by the forest.
Eros wasn’t one to believe in ghosts but he knew intimately of the reality of Demons and this was quite the place for them. The Hoia Baciu was dark, darker than any forest had a right to be even in the dead of night, its paths overgrown with thick roots and vines that pulled at Glory’s hooves and the trunks of the trees twisted into the bowed shape of the end of a question.
The gigantic dragon was blacker than darkness, carved against the night sky like an image out of hell as it cut through the air just above the treetops at break neck speed until, suddenly, it disappeared from his view. Ero’s eyes scanned the night sky above him in search of it but found nothing. Muttering a curse, he continued onwards in the direction that the beast had been going in hopes that it might reappear.
With a startling suddenness the forest parted from around him, opening up into a large clearing of grass which stretched before him; perfectly circular as if cleared by human hands and inside of which no trees would dare grow. It was an astounding sight but he had little time to wonder on the matter of what curse might have been placed upon the land to make it this way.
How something so big could both vanish and reappear with such speed he had no way of knowing, but only moments after he’d left the trees the dragon’s rending talons had torn into his shoulders and back and knocked him from the saddle. Glory screamed in fright and bolted off into the trees as Eros hit the ground with punishing force, rolling head over heels before managing to plunge Cenuşă into the ground and stop his tumble.
A jet of white-hot flames slammed into the ground where he had landed, flooding across the ground like a wicked viscous liquid and incinerating the grass and soil as Eros, bleeding badly from his wounds, just managed to leap clear. Though he escaped the flames themselves the heat was without mercy, sending blisters bubbling up the skin of his neck and arms.
Managing to again regain his footing he swung his sword in a vicious arc at the beast only to have the razor sharp edge ricochet off the creature’s scales in a shower of sparks. Aser hissed at him in furious response, his powerful muscular tail slamming into his chest and throwing him across the clearing.
The monster was back in the air before he’d even hit the ground, driving him into the earth from above and crushing him beneath its weight. A second invocation of the spell from before freed him before any bones could be severely broken and when it acted to pounce again he lashed out at it. Once. Twice. Three times all to the same ineffectual result, his blade unable to break through the rock-hard scales.
“Stop that! The blessed metal burns!” Eros nearly lost his footing yet again to the powerful downdraft kicked up by the wings of his foes as he retreated back to the other side of the circular clearing. Smoke curled from the dragon’s thin muzzle as it leered at him, maw heating up for another blast. “Mortal worm! I’m through with playing games; it’s time for you to die!”
He could feel the fatigue attempting to strangle him as he stood there, hand clenched tight around the hilt of his sword, vision beginning to haze from blood loss as he stared down the specter of death. Dodging the coming attack would only delay the inevitable, though not for very long, and as long as his opponent remained in that form he had little hope of winning.
But maybe there was some way he could get him to shift out of it.
“Bleak Heart!” The Dhampir Lord pulled up short at the harsh shout, echoing without fear off the trunks of the trees forming the ancient crowd that had gathered to watch their battle play out the flames dying down with a hiss and a flare of smoke. “If I really am such a ‘mortal worm’, such a ‘lesser being’, than why do you need that form to kill me?” A last minute shot in the dark to either provide him with at least the ghost of a chance at survival or to infuriate his attacker even further.
Aser glared at him for what felt like an eternity in feuding silence before he finally spoke.
“Killing you in this form is simply easier AshHand. Though, I suppose,” the dragon began to shrink, the tail and wings disappearing as the black scales faded into pale skin, “killing you in this one would be much more satisfying.”
With a speed that he’d long ago come to expect of the Dhampir, Aser closed the distance between them and lashed out with his long claws. Eros brought up his sword to block, the metal ringing through the forest in response to the blow sending painful vibrations jaring through his chest.
“I can tell that you’re getting tired, Hunter.” He cackled, swinging again and again and forcing the blonde back a step each time. “Just give it up. Put down that sword and I’ll make it so that you can sleep forever!”
A particularly brutal blow knocked the weapon from his hands, leaving Eros entirely defenseless. He lunged from the dropped blade but Aser grabbed him by the hair and threw him to the ground. Black dots exploded before his vision as a pair of long fangs sank deep into his throat.
The pain was indescribable as the Vampire ripped at tore at his flesh, sharpened tongue gouging at the open wound as he gourged on the hot blood that poured from it; desperate to save himself, Eros reached blindly in the direction that he knew his sword had fallen only to find that it had been knocked just out of his reach. In a last ditch effort he dug his fingers into the soil beneath him and tossed a handful of sand into his eyes.
The Slayer’s hope that been to blind him, but the result he got was the furthest thing from what he’d expected. The moment that the sand struck his face the Dhampir tore away from his prey, falling to all fours in a compulsive desperation and furiously beginning to attempt to count the individual grains.
His moment of stunned shock didn’t last long; rolling up onto all fours and crawling to his weapon, Eros grabbed hold of his sword and swung. As the head came free of his shoulders the Vampire exploded into ash.
The front of his chest was drenched in blood, the weapon that he carrier-suddenly so unspeakably heavy-dropping to the forest floor as he stumbled, clutching at the wet tear in his throat with one hand, blindly towards the trees. He was cold. So very cold. Shaking and covered in sweat as pain wracked through his frame. Tired. Tired didn’t even begin to describe the way that he felt; he couldn’t even think anymore. Darkness was collapsing in on him from all sides as his frozen mind struggled to comprehend what was happening.
His ankles locked up and his knees buckled, and as the forest floor rushed up to meet him everything went black.
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