by Amir Lane
Even for the worlds greatest vampire hunter, there are things that go bump in the night that you pray you never have to face. Follow Laurentz Geiger in this gritty fantasy as he faces more than he can handle.
Laurentz Geiger grimaced at the sharp pain that ran up his side and through his chest. Bruised ribs screamed in protest as he removed his heavy coat. He hadn’t realized just how hard he’d been hit. Not that it was much of a surprise, as he’d yet to cross a vampire who didn’t put up a fight.
There was blood on his face and clothes, most of it not his own. He blotted at the wound on his face with an already-bloody cloth and peeled off his blouse to get a better look at the damage. The silver cross hanging from the chain around his neck was warm from his skin. Old scars, some were from his days in an asylum but most from hunting, littered his body. Bruises were beginning to darken the left side of his body, and shallow cuts crossed the base of his ribs. There was nothing that wouldn’t heal within a few days. All in all, he was in much better shape than he could have been. He used what few medical supplies he had stocked in the unused hunting cabin to dress the wounds and put on clean clothes.
He had enough salted meat to for a meal — though it was nearly morning — but he would need to venture into town later for more. It was a decent dinner, more than he could usually expect. His stomach ached, though he couldn’t say if it was from a lack of food, bad food, or another injury he would notice later.
Beuthen, a large thoroughbred, moved around outside the cabin, eating loud enough for Laurentz to hear. Laurentz would have preferred being out there with him, and he did sleep outside most of the time, but he wasn’t interested in freezing to death. There was a bottle of Meschkinnes vodka behind the table but before he had enough to have any effect, the horse began to whine and stomp his feet. Laurentz would have dismissed it, except Beuthen did not agitate easily. It was why Laurentz kept him. Most horses spooked too easily to be any use in vampire hunting. Not him, though. He was the toughest damn horse on the planet.
He left the bottle on the table and pulled his jacket and boots back on. His sword and dagger were still at his hip. He slung his quiver over his shoulder and grabbed his bow from the kitchen table before leaving the cabin. If there was something out there — a wolf or a boar, most likely – he didn’t want it getting closer than necessary. His gun was still holstered, too, but he preferred the bow. Guns had a nasty habit of misfiring and jamming, and most vampires would hear it before he could get a shot off.
Beuthen squealed and moved as far from the woods as the length of rope allowed.
“Who’s out there?” Laurentz shouted.
At first, Laurentz thought he must have been seeing things. Even at a good 20 feet away, the animal looked well over twice his height. It looked like a wolf, but it was so much larger than any wolf he had ever seen before. Its eyes glowed red and, even in the new moon darkness, its massive teeth were bright. Its growling seemed to vibrate through the ground, all the way to the soles of Laurentz’s shoes and up his spine.
Laurentz tried to calm the horse, keeping his eyes on the animal approaching them in a slow, deliberate manner.
He drew an arrow from his quiver, moving as slowly as he could justify, and knocked it against the bow. He could feel his heart pounding in the back of his throat.
A fear he hadn’t felt in years, not since his first encounter with a vampire, locked his muscles. Granted, that had been a special circumstance; the vampire had been his twin brother. There had been something especially horrifying about seeing his own face twisted in animalistic rage and covered in their father’s blood. The image of bared fangs and the feel of sharp claws against his neck had left him in bad shape. He needed to wait for the right shot. He could do this, he just needed a shot.
The animal lunged. Laurentz let out a sharp exhale and released the arrow. It hit flesh. The throat, if his aim was right. It was difficult to tell in the dark, but Laurentz rarely missed his mark. The animal fell to the ground with a high whine, the last sound it would make.
Laurentz let out a relieved sigh and slung the bow over his shoulder. He had to laugh at his own fear. He reached up to stroke Beuthen’s neck.
“It’s fine,” he said, though he couldn’t say that he wasn’t also talking to himself. “You’re okay. It can’t hurt you. It’s dead and —”
The sound of leaves crunching from his left hit Laurentz’s ear. Beuthen rose up on his hind legs, all but shrieking in terror. Laurentz couldn’t blame him.
The animal wasn’t dead.
The arrow stuck out of the back of its neck, but still, it stood, growling through the wood shaft. It crouched down, lips pulling back even farther over the daggers it had for teeth. Its breath came out in choked, gurgled wheezes.
“By the blood of the Holy Mother…”
He stumbled back, pulling his dagger from its sheath and cutting the rope tying Beuthen to the post without a second thought before hoisting himself onto his back. He squeezed his thighs tight together, only just managing to stay on without a saddle.
“Go!” He dug his heels into Beuthen’s side. “Go!”
Beuthen didn’t need any more prompting. They took off, faster than Laurentz had ever known him to move. The beast of an animal bolted after them, close enough that Laurentz could see it was the biggest goddamned wolf in Prussia. It was even larger than he’d originally thought. He nocked another arrow and fired. At this distance, he couldn’t miss. But the arrow went through it.
Oh, God… Oh, God. This was nothing like anything he had ever faced before. Even vampires would struggle after taking an arrow to the throat.
He crossed himself and kicked Beuthen again. He put some more distance between them, but not enough to make any difference.
There were no options here. Laurentz fired another arrow. Again, it passed through the animal as if it wasn’t there.
The animal was so close now, Laurentz could see each individual fang dripping dark blood. He twisted forward and pushed his hands into Beuthen’s mane with a desperate sound.
Beuthen screamed. The beast had caught its claws in his backside, sending him to the ground. Laurentz was thrown from his back, hitting the ground at a violent speed. The pain took a moment to catch up to him. It blinded him, radiating down his neck, and left him screaming soundlessly. It overpowered any other feeling and any rational thought. He ground his teeth together and forced himself to think through it. When he tried to push himself off the frozen ground, his arm wouldn’t respond properly.
Blood filled Laurentz’s throat. He coughed and sputtered and spat as much as he could, but it kept coming. There was a muffled pain in the left half of his chest that worsened as he struggled to breathe. A punctured lung? He had to move, now, while the animal was focused on Beuthen. He had to keep moving. He rolled over onto his side and pushed himself up with his good arm, and immediately collapsed under his own weight. His leg buckled and he hit the ground again. Crap, was that broken, too? It was difficult to tell when every inch of him hurt. His breath came quicker, and blood rushed into his throat. He doubled over, choking.
The wolf was looking at him now. He didn’t have to turn to know it; the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. He was going to die here, alone. In the middle of nowhere; broken and helpless against something he didn’t know how to take down.
No, he wasn’t going to die like this, not without a fight.
His dagger was still attached to his belt. He rolled over as he heard the wolf lunge, but not fast enough. Paws landed hard enough on his chest to break the rest of his ribs. Laurentz rammed the blade into the wolf’s neck. It howled in pain and threw its head back. He wrenched the dagger out, and hot blood spurted from the wound and landed on his face, burning his skin. Any other animal would have at least run off but not this one. Not this one. Instead, it dug its claws into Laurentz’s chest. He couldn’t scream, even as claws dragged down to his stomach. No sound came out, only breath. There was no resistance. His skin and muscles gave way beneath the animal’s weight. The first pierce was unbearable, but then, he felt nothing.
No, that wasn’t true.
He felt an odd, unpleasant sensation, the shift of his organs against his muscles, as the animal tore through them, the change in pressure against what was left of his muscles. Beyond that, he was numb. He couldn’t feel anything below his thighs, and he wasn’t entirely sure that his hand was moving the way he was trying to make it.
Everything to his left was a blur. Even his fingers stretched out beside him were difficult to see. Now, his right was closing in. He grabbed the arrow, or at least he thought he did, and stabbed it into the animal with as much force as he could manage. Not much, but enough to penetrate skin, at least. His hand was too slick with blood to have enough friction to cause any real damage. He couldn’t be sure where the scream came from.
Laurentz stared up, as much as he could, at the snow falling on his face. His body wouldn’t move anymore, and air wasn’t making it into his lungs. The night was dark, and it was growing darker with every slowing heartbeat. He was so c… so cold. He couldn’t feel the… feel anymore. His cold… His limbs were cold… heavy… so c…
Demomestere Silvera looked down at the hunter on the ground. Empty grey eyes stared back. A thin layer of red snow covered his body. Or rather, what was left of it. Most of his abdomen was gone, his organs half-eaten and strewn across the hard ground where her hell-hound, Aksalom, left them. No other animals dared venture near. Most living things were wise enough to stay away when an archdemon was present, and Silvera was most certainly one to be avoided.
“So this is the man the vampires are so determined to be rid of,” she mused in an old Irish Gaelic.
Aksalom’s only response was to keep tearing through the horse with his teeth.
Her eyes flickered over the hunter’s corpse.
He was handsome, as far as humans went, despite the scars on his face; familiar, too, somehow.
“What was his name again?” she asked the hound.
She heard a familiar crunch and grind of bone beneath muscle. From the corner of her eyes, she watched Aksalom’s body twist and shift and disfigure into an almost human shape. He pulled his fur off and dropped it, matted with blood not entirely his own, next to the his dinner. His mouth was still dripping blood and tissue. Holes and tears in his skin betrayed the spots where the hunter had struck him.
She had never seen such a thing. Hell hounds were nearly impossible to hurt.
“He calls himself Laurentz Geiger,” Aksalom said.
His voice was a rough drawl from a malformed jaw, not quite human.
A small smile spread across Silvera’s lips. Of course. No wonder the vampires wanted him dead.
Franz Laurentz Geiger was the most feared hunter this side of Misr. Most hunters could kill three, maybe four if they were lucky before they were outmatched. Laurentz had killed dozens, if the rumours were to be believed. Silvera never put much stock in rumours, but he’d managed to lay some blows to her prized hell hound. Such a feat was unheard of.
Silvera crouched down and brushed the snow from Laurentz’s face. Even though his soul was gone, she could feel a crackle of magic just beneath his skin. It was faint, untapped. He likely didn’t even know it was there. It explained his skills with weapons, and how he had hurt her hound. Her hand settled on the intact portion of his chest. It was a shame to lose this kind of fighter. And while vampires pretended to regulate themselves, they could do with some… external motivation. Laurentz certainly provided that. He kept them careful.
“I said I would have him killed. I never said he would stay dead.”
Aksalom laughed at her words, something between a cough and shriek.
Her eyes shifted towards the gaping hole in his body, to the ends where his organs and muscles regrew slowly. If Laurentz could have felt it, he would have been glad he was still dead. Only the damage done by Aksalom could be repaired by her hands, and only to some extent, but it seemed fair to assume that this was the damage he would be most interested in.
It was much more difficult to put a human back together than take it apart. If she had thought of bringing him back, she never would have let Aksalom eat so much. Still, the hunter had to die. A bargain was a bargain. That didn’t mean there were no loopholes. By the time Franz Laurentz Geiger was in functional shape, Silvera’s body was hunched over, tense enough that her muscles began to tremble. Her work was mostly done. It was Aksalom’s turn now.
Archdemon or not, she couldn’t touch his soul. Only hell hounds and maybe some of the Mesopotamian entities that still lingered had enough power for such a thing.
“Be ready,” she said.
Aksalom shifted to Laurentz’s other side.
Warmth flooded from her fingers into Laurentz’s face in a rush that quickly slowed to a trickle. He had only been dead a few hours. With no one to guide it, his soul couldn’t have gotten far. If she had a stomach, it would be twisting from exertion. She grit her teeth and looked up.
“Where is he?” she growled.
The air next to the body blurred into the shape of the man on the ground, pale and translucent. It looked down at its own blood-soaked body in horror.
Aksalom grabbed the spirit. It struggled against the hold, true to its own nature, but it was still no match for the hound. Aksalom slammed it back into the body, and the unearthly scream disappeared as quickly as it came. He held the body for a few moments, the spirit still struggling inside. The body convulsed and spasmed, trying to reject the thing being forced back into it. She could see the soul but she knew from experience that if she tried to touch it, her hand would simply pass through it. It seemed it was more jarring to be put back into a body than to leave it. After a long minute of struggle, Aksalom sat back on his heels.
“What do you think is going to happen to him?” he asked.
Her eyes shifted left, a half-smile tugging at the corners of her lips. She couldn’t be sure what would happen. She had heard stories of people being brought back as something not quite human, though not for some time. She was curious.
Silvera stood and turned away from the warming body.
“Make sure he’s found before he dies. Again.”
The bed that Laurentz awoke in was warm. He could hear someone moving around down the hall. His eyes opened to a room he didn’t recognize.
He bolted upright with a gasp. Where was he?
His skin was bare, covered in only bandages and a blanket. A throb between his temples kept him from remembering what the hell had happened and how the hell he’d gotten here. The more he tried to think, the more it hurt. He pushed himself out of bed. His body should have ached from whatever injuries the bandages covered but aside from headache… He felt fine. He unwrapped the bandages and found scars that must have been years old. Marks from claws and what must have been teeth stitched his skin together.
“What in God’s…?”
An attack like this seemed like something he would have remembered. He touched his fingers to the scars. They must have been new, no matter how healed they looked. They didn’t hurt.
There was something very wrong with him. He couldn’t begin to imagine what.