Druid Vampire PG-13 Version by KuroKoneko Kamen

Tattoo artist Derek Dearg was finishing up a memorial tattoo for a burly biker whose nickname was Mad Dog. The tattoo was of the man’s dead wife who’d gotten into a traffic accident on her Harley Davidson. The tattoo depicted the man’s blonde bombshell of a wife on her Harley. The bike’s tires were on fire, and a pair of angel wings was outstretched behind her.
Druid Vampire PG-13 Version
Druid Vampire PG-13 Version by KuroKoneko Kamen
As Derek worked on the tattoo he couldn’t help but remember his own dead wife. Cinnia. He shook his head to clear it of such morose thoughts. Derek liked doing memorial tattoos best because they had meaning, spirit, and soul. Unlike some of the random tattoos people had him doing from fandom like Looney Tunes, Star Wars, or Lord of the Rings. Women were even worse. They’d come from the beach in their skimpy bikinis and want a new ‘tramp stamp’ on their lower backs, four-leaf clover on their inner thigh, a group of stars, a rose, a heart, or a butterfly somewhere indecent. The drunken beach bunnies could barely handle the pain and would leave his tattoo parlor Voodoo Tattoo in tears. Voodoo Tattoo was located in sunny San Francisco, California, and just a few blocks away from the beach. The four-story townhouse he’d recently purchased had his business on the first floor while he lived in the upper levels. All of the windows were covered with thick, heavy drapes to keep out the sunlight, which was a must since Derek happened to be a vampire. Derek was able to get away with the odd, dreary, dark décor because his shop was a tattoo parlor. And tattoo parlors tended to attract lots of Goths, punks, hipsters, and bikers. California probably wasn’t the most ideal place for a vampire to live, but Derek didn’t care. He liked to live dangerously. And even if he were exposed to sunlight it would take a few minutes for his skin to catch on fire, and for him to burn away to a pile of ashes. And that was looking on the ‘bright side’ of his curse. Derek also had a very good reason for being in California. He’d pursued his Archenemy; a vampire named Slaine Morvyn, across the globe and had ended up there. Slaine had killed his wife Cinnia more than two thousand years ago. When Derek had first arrived in San Francisco a little more than three years ago, he hadn’t expected to stay in the city for very long. His only real skill besides hunting vampires was tattooing, and so he’d opened up a tattoo parlor. Unfortunately, he’d had an incident where he’d been unable to control his bloodlust, and had bitten one of his customers. This had landed his butt in prison where he ended up meeting three nonhumans who were now his best friends - merman, Levi Devlin, Hellcat shifter, Garth Mackenzie, and plant alien, Malakye Sterling. Levi had really saved his butt in prison by letting him drink his blood. Derek hadn’t planned on making ‘friends’ in San Francisco, but he’d ended up making new allies anyways. In prison, Derek had learned how to cook and how to be a grill chef or rotisseur. Levi, Garth and Malakye had also taken cooking lessons. Levi’s plan was to open up a seafood restaurant named Poseidon’s Trident as soon as he got out. The merman offered Derek the position of grill chef. Derek had been unable to refuse because he owed Levi. And Derek always repaid his debts. Unfortunately, their peaceful lives as chefs didn’t last for very long because Levi had some very powerful enemies. One day, the ADTF (Anti-Demonic Terrorism Force) came for Levi and blew up his restaurant. To make a long story short, Derek, Garth, Malakye, and Levi’s girlfriend, Vivien Tempest, had stormed the secret underwater base of the ADTF, and had rescued the merman before he could be vivisected. In order to thank his friends for their daring rescue, Levi had done a little deep-sea diving and managed to salvage four treasure chests full of gold doubloons from sunken ships. The merman had managed to rebuild his restaurant, but instead of asking Derek, Garth and Malakye if they wanted to work for him again, Levi had given each male their own treasure chest full of gold. Levi had then told them to pursue their own dreams and had suggested they open up their own businesses. As a result, Derek reopened his tattoo parlor, Voodoo Tattoo. Malakye opened up a flower shop named Out Of This World Flowers, and Garth opened up a candy shop named Helltastic Confectionary. Levi also opened up a new Poseidon’s Trident that was right on the beach this time, which made the merman extremely happy. The split saddened Derek, but in the end it was for the best. Now he could concentrate on finding Slaine and avenging his dead wife Cinnia. At night, Derek prowled the streets, dark alleys, and rooftops of San Francisco searching for vampires who sought to prey on innocent humans. And when Derek found them, he killed them without mercy. The city of San Francisco was currently under his protection. Each city in America had a Druid Vampire Hunter that was charged with its protection. When a vampire had killed the Hunter, who was in charge of protecting San Francisco, Derek had simply taken over his identity and duties. Because of this a replacement Hunter hadn’t been sent to the city, which was incredibly convenient for Derek. As Derek did the finishing touches to the face of Mad Dog’s wife, he couldn’t help but think about Cinnia again. Cinnia had been so beautiful with her long, crimson hair and sparkling, forest-green eyes. Her skin had been pale, and blue, Celtic, animal tattoos had adorned her arms. She’d been so brave and was always the first to charge into battle, especially if it meant saving a friend. Cinnia had also been kind, intelligent, nurturing and understanding. She’d had this fiery, unbreakable spirit. It’d taken proposing to Cinnia two hundred and forty-five times before she’d finally said ‘yes’. Aw crap. Derek mentally cursed. The woman was beginning to look more and more like Cinnia. He decided he’d better stop before he screwed up this poor guy’s memorial tattoo. Derek set his tattoo gun down on a stainless steel table, and with a clean towel lightly dabbed the blood off the man’s skin. His pupils dilated slightly at the smell of blood, but other than that he had no visible reaction. He had his bloodlust completely under control these days. “There. All done. Take a look in the mirror.” Mad Dog sat up on the padded table, looked at his back in the mirror on the wall, and grinned. “This looks frigin awesome, man. Thanks. Anna would love it, for sure. You made her look smoking hot!” Derek checked his reflection in the mirror to make sure it looked okay. Vampires didn’t cast reflections because they had no souls, but since Derek possessed magic he was able to will his reflection to appear in mirrors. It was a pretty handy trick. Especially when a vampire was trying his best to blend into human society. The bell above the door jingled as a new customer stepped inside the shop. For a moment, Derek’s breath caught in his throat at the sight of the stunning female and her long, red hair. It was like seeing a ghost from his past. But then he shook his head to clear it of the image of his dead wife, and focused on the young woman before him. He recognized her instantly - it was Rebecca ‘Becca’ Thorn. Becca was a cyber socialite and power blogger. She was also a writer for Epic Taste Magazine. Becca was an…acquaintance of him and his friends. She’d written an article about Poseidon’s Trident to help them out, and when Levi had needed help during his kidnapping Becca had spread the word online that a top-secret, government organization was about to dissect the last merman on Earth. As a result, the President had been forced to make Levi a citizen. Derek had always admired Becca from afar because of her sexy red hair, and had even shared a dance with her at a friend’s wedding recently. But that was as far as he’d let things go between them. Derek had promised to love Cinnia forever and he took that promise very seriously. Even though she was dead and he was immortal. For more than two thousand years, he’d kept that promise to his dead wife, and hadn’t looked at another woman in a romantic way, or slept with one either. Derek only lived to avenge Cinnia and kill Slaine. And once he’d gotten vengeance he would let the sun have him, and then he’d finally be reunited with Cinnia on the other side. This was his plan. A surprised but pleased look came to Becca’s face as she caught sight of Derek. “Derek? You work here?” Derek gave her a chagrined look in return. “I’m the owner.” Becca frowned slightly at this revelation. “You don’t work at Poseidon’s Trident anymore? What about Levi and the guys? What happened? Did you guys have a falling out or something?” Her expression turned concerned. Derek chuckled and felt touched by her worry. “No, it was nothing so serious. Levi gave us the money to open up our own businesses. I opened up this tattoo parlor, Malakye opened up a florist and Garth opened up a candy shop.” Becca’s expression turned relieved. “Oh, I see. That was really nice of Levi.” She looked around the tattoo parlor curiously as if to take notes. Dark purple drapes covered the front windows, white pages with examples of blue tattoo designs covered one entire wall of the shop, and she spotted a stainless steel table covered with tattooing tools. Her eyes were drawn next to a stand that contained bellybutton rings and earrings for those who got piercings at the shop. Becca had expected rock music to be playing and was surprised that relaxing Celtic music was playing instead. “Your place is very…Goth.” Derek smirked. “It’s supposed to be.” “It’s so dark in here…how do you see what you’re doing?” Becca whipped out her smart phone. “Mind if I take some pictures?” Derek scratched the back of his neck, beginning to feel a little uneasy about her presence there. “Uh…sure, I guess. What’s this for?” Becca began to snap photos of the interior of the shop, and walked over to the wall covered in pages of tattoo designs and began to take pictures of them next. “I’m starting a new blog. It’s going to be all about tattoos and about all the tattoo parlors in San Francisco. I’m going to give them ranks and reviews.” Derek raised an eyebrow at the southern belle. “Tattoos? What happened to your dessert blog?” Becca frowned at the mere remembrance of her dessert blog. “I’ve decided to stop writing it. I’m sick of having to go to the gym all the time just so I can keep my figure.” Derek chuckled and raked his eyes over Becca’s curvy physique. “I think you look great. I like a woman with a little meat on her bones.” He winked and couldn’t believe that he was flirting with her. Becca blushed at the unexpected compliment. “Uh…thanks. I was getting sick of having to eat lettuce like a rabbit when I wasn’t eating desserts.” She glanced away since staring directly into Derek’s eyes was just too intense. “So why tattoos?” “I’ve always had a thing for guys with tattoos.” Her blush deepened at the words coming out of her mouth. “I mean, tattoos. I think they’re very interesting…like works of art that last forever. I’ve always been drawn to them. I wanted to get a tattoo actually, but my conservative, old-fashioned mother would have had a cow! But she’s all the way back in Arlington, Iowa so I’m free to do as I please now!” Becca’s lime-green eyes were sparkling with mischief. Derek gawked at her. “What are you saying? That you want me to give you your very first tattoo?” Becca nodded. “That’s exactly what I’m saying, sugar.” She reached into her cleavage, pulled out a small folded piece of paper, and handed it to Derek. “I want this tattoo done on my lower back.” Derek unfolded the paper and looked at the image of a Celtic, Tribal butterfly tattoo. A tattoo that looked exactly like the one his wife Cinnia had had on her arm! What the hell? Derek reached out and grabbed Becca’s arms in a tight grip. “Where did you get this design?” He demanded. Becca blinked up at Derek in confusion and her brow furrowed. “I…a friend gave it to me. Why? Does it have some sort of special significance?” “A friend, you say?” Derek let Becca go when he realized what a paranoid idiot he was being. A Celtic butterfly tattoo was a popular design. It was just a coincidence that the design Becca wanted looked just like Cinnia’s old tattoo. He scrubbed a hand down his face. Fool. “No…it’s a pretty design. That’s all. I’m impressed.” Becca’s expression shifted to relief and she beamed at him. “I’m glad you think so. So where should I lay down?” Mad Dog had finished gingerly putting his leather jacket back on, and stood up from the padded table. He walked over to Derek and handed him four hundred and fifty dollars. Derek charged one hundred dollars per hour, and it had taken him four hours to do the memorial tattoo. “Thanks again, man. Keep the change.” Derek grinned. “No problem. Don’t forget to recommend me to your friends.” Mad Dog chuckled. “Oh yeah, I’ll tell the gang alright. They’ll all want tattoos after they see mine.” The biker left the shop with a skip to his step. Derek motioned towards the padded table. “Please, lay down over here.” “Alright.” Becca made her way over to the table, sat down, and began to take her shirt off. Derek watched her, transfixed. Becca blushed when she noticed that Derek was staring at her. “Uh, Derek, would you mind turning around?” “Oh, yeah. Sorry, babe.” Derek quickly turned around and wondered what the hell was wrong with him. With his acute hearing he could hear Becca taking off her shirt, and then her bra. Derek gulped. Becca was shirtless and sitting right behind him. Becca lay down on the table on her stomach, and rested her chin on her hands. “You can turn around now.” Derek turned around and tried not to stare or drool. But it was hard when he could see the way her curves were pressing into the padded tabletop. Her bare back was exposed and her skin looked extremely soft and inviting. Her long red hair was cascading down her back and his heart clenched inside of his chest at the sight. Cinnia. He shook his head to clear it of such thoughts. Becca was not Cinnia. Derek approached the table, and set the butterfly design down on the small stainless steel table that had his tools on it. Not that he needed it. He would be able to tattoo the design into Becca’s skin from memory. Derek gathered a new single-use needle, his tattoo gun, a new bottle of blue ink, a bottle of black ink, some other thicker single-use needles, a clean towel, and some cotton balls and rubbing alcohol. “What color would you like the tattoo to be?” “Blue. Like yours. If that’s okay.” Derek swallowed again, his throat feeling dry. “Yeah, that’s okay.” He cleaned and disinfected Becca’s lower back. “This is going to hurt a little bit…but I’ll try to be as gentle as possible.” “Don’t worry. I know. And I trust you. That’s why I decided to do this now and with you. The other tattoo parlors I’ve visited so far…just weren’t the one. As soon as I walked in here and saw you…I knew I’d come to the right place for my first time.” Becca admitted softly. Derek was touched by Becca’s words and also slightly amused. I knew I’d come to the right place for my first time. Heh. “I’m honored that you would trust me with your first time.” He said in a deep, husky voice. Becca giggled at his suggestive words. Derek attached a new needle to his tattoo gun and began drawing an outline of the butterfly tattoo under her skin. She flinched at the feeling at first but then seemed to get used to it. She didn’t complain and didn’t cry. Derek was very impressed, and discovered a newfound respect for her. She was a real trooper. Once the outline was completed he cleaned it with antiseptic soap and water. It was going to look gorgeous and sexy when he was done, and not only that. As a gift to her, Derek was going to use his magical powers to make this tattoo very special. Next Derek installed a thicker needle into his tattoo machine, and began shading the butterfly design. After cleaning the area again, he began to inject color. Periodically, he dabbed a clean towel against Becca’s skin to remove her delicious smelling blood. Derek couldn’t help but breathe in her delectable scent. She had a very clean, citrusy scent…like lemons or limes. He reached out and moved her long, silky hair out of the way revealing her neck. His pupils dilated and his fangs lengthened inside of his mouth at the sight of her bare neck. Derek could hear her heart beating loudly in his ears, could hear her blood rushing through her veins. He eyed the throbbing pulse on her neck. He jerked backwards in shock at how his body was reacting to her. What the? What the hell was wrong with him? He usually had such good control over his bloodlust, but right then, in that moment he craved biting Becca. Derek growled low in his throat, wondering what Becca’s blood would taste like. He bet it would be delicious. His black leather pants were feeling too tight. “Is something wrong?” Becca asked in her lilting, southern drawl. Derek realized that he’d stopped moving. He cleared his throat. “No, sorry. I zoned out for a minute there.” “That’s okay.” Derek resumed tattooing her. “I have to say, I’m impressed. Most girls would be in tears by now. You’re tougher than you look.” Becca smiled wryly. “It hurt at first, but now it just feels numb. And I feel like I’ve…” She trailed off and nibbled at her lower lip as if embarrassed. “Feel like you’ve…?” Derek prompted. “No, never mind.” By the time Derek finally finished with Becca’s tattoo he was incredibly aroused. He wanted to take her right there on the table. What the hell was wrong with him? He hadn’t been this attracted to a female since…Cinnia. Derek grabbed a towel, gently dabbed the blood off her lower back, and cleaned her tattoo. “Are you finished? Because I really have to pee.” Becca admitted. Derek put a hand over his mouth to hide his elongated fangs. “Yeah.” Becca began to sit up and Derek quickly turned around to give her some privacy as she pulled on her shirt without her bra. “Where’s the bathroom?” “Straight back and to your left.” “Okay. Thanks.” Becca hopped off the table and ran for the bathroom. “Phew.” Derek let out a breath of relief. If Becca hadn’t said anything…he may have attacked her! This was so not good. He had to get Becca the hell out of here as soon as she came back. He sighed and ran his hand over his mouth in a worried gesture. The bell above the front door jingled as a customer stepped inside and closed the door behind him. Derek turned to face the doorway and his eyes widened in horror. “You!” He snarled. Standing in front of the closed door was a male who was the same height as Derek at six-four. He had spiked-up white hair, and a pair of silver sunglasses on his face. The man was wearing a black, Gothic T-shirt with a silver design of the Grim Reaper on it, a long, white leather trench coat, black and white leather pants, a belt with a skull on it, and biker boots. Diamond earrings sparkled in his ears, a diamond and gold Rolex was on his wrist, and a few golden chains dangled around his neck. Slaine smiled amusedly at Derek. “Oh, look it’s Derek Dearg. What a coincidence-” Sarcasm was dripping from his voice. Derek attacked Slaine before he could finish his sentence, and punched him hard across the face. “What the hell are you doing here, you punk?” Derek couldn’t help but think about how Becca was in the bathroom while this psycho murderer was here in his shop! Slaine wiped the blood from his mouth with the back of his hand. “Now that wasn’t very nice. Is that any way to greet an old friend after a century of not having seen each other?” He pouted. “You’re no friend of mine, Slaine!” Derek moved to punch Slaine again, but Slaine caught his fist, twisted Derek’s arm behind his back and shoved Derek over to the front desk. He then pushed Derek against the desk and bent him over it. Slaine leaned over to breathe in Derek’s ear. “Now where are your manners, Derek?” Derek’s face flamed and he struggled against Slaine’s iron hold. But it was no use. Slaine’s vampire strength was far superior to his own. Slaine fed from humans whereas Derek fed off of rats. Because of this Derek was physically weak when compared to the supernatural strength of a true vampire. Derek could fight Slaine using his Druid magic but…Becca was still in the building and so until she left he was at Slaine’s mercy. Slaine seemed to realize Derek’s predicament as well. “You’ve gotten so weak, Derek. Haven’t you been feeding properly? Let me guess, you’re still feeding off of rats like a pathetic pet cat?” “Curse you, Slaine! I’ll kill you!” Derek growled and struggled against him. “Bull’s eye.” Slaine chuckled and pressed Derek’s face into the desk’s countertop, just to be a jerk. “I could kill you right here and now, you know? Or use you as a snack. I wonder how your blood would taste, Derek?” He purred. “Sick freak…” “But you can’t do anything to me because of your…guest, can you? Ah, she’s coming back. Now, play nice, Derek. We wouldn’t want to make a scene in front of the lovely lady.” Slaine let go of Derek, and backed away from him. Derek quickly straightened, spun around, and glared at Slaine heatedly. What he wouldn’t give to rip the man’s head off. Becca entered the main room and it was obvious she wasn’t wearing her bra. She caught sight of Slaine, smiled brightly, and ran over to him. “Hey honey, you’re right on time.” Becca kissed Slaine right on the lips and pulled back. Derek’s jaw dropped as he watched Becca’s casual greeting kiss. What the hell was going on? Slaine smirked at Derek’s slack-jawed expression. “Hey babe, so did you get your new tattoo?” Becca nodded, a gleam of excitement in her lime-green eyes. “Yep. Take a look.” She turned around and raised her shirt to reveal her lower back to Slaine. Slaine bent over, peered at it closely, and his pupils dilated slightly because of the scent of her blood. His sunglasses hid that though. He licked his lips. “It looks great. Very sexy. I can’t wait until it’s healed so I can run my tongue all over it.” Becca dropped her shirt, spun around and whacked Slaine playfully on the arm. “Geez, don’t be such a perv in front of my friend, honey.” Friend? Derek frowned. Had he just been friend-zoned? “Becca, I don’t understand. Who is this man to you?” Becca flushed. “Uh, he’s…my new boyfriend.” Slaine strolled over to Becca and draped his arm over her shoulders in a possessive gesture. “We’re lovers, actually.” He breathed into her ear, and Becca shuddered with delight. What the hell was going on? Please let this be some kind of nightmare. “Lovers? How the hell did this happen?” Derek’s voice was tinged with anger and he clenched his hands into fists at his sides. Becca blinked, not understanding where Derek’s sudden anger was coming from. “I met him at Tristan and Issy’s wedding. After our dance when you just…disappeared. Slaine kept me company and we just hit it off.” She explained casually. “You know, it’s funny, he has the same allergy to the sun that you do, Derek.” “I think for me it was love at first sight.” Slaine teased. Becca whacked his arm. “Geez, you’re such a joker, Slaine.” Derek felt like the ground was crumbling beneath his feet. He couldn’t believe that Slaine had somehow managed to become Becca’s boyfriend! And judging from how they were interacting so intimately with each other, they’d even slept together. He felt like ripping Slaine’s head off. Both of them. How dare he sleep with Becca Thorn. Becca was in grave danger. Slaine was going to kill her. It was only a matter of time. “How much do I owe you for the tattoo?” Becca’s voice pulled Derek from his grim thoughts. “Uh…it took two hours so two hundred.” Derek said distractedly. “I got it, babe.” Slaine whipped out a white leather wallet with a black skull on it, and handed Derek two hundred and fifty bucks. “Keep the change, friend. Shall we go, Becca? We have a dinner reservation for eight o’clock at Gary Danko.” Becca’s green eyes sparkled as Slaine reminded her of their dinner date. “Ooo, that’s right! I still can’t believe we’re going there. It’s so hard to get a reservation for that place sometimes. How did you do it, Slaine?” “Money talks, babe. Shall we?” Slaine offered Becca his arm in a gentlemanly manner. Becca readily looped her arm around Slaine’s. “Yep.” She glanced over at Derek. “Thanks again for the lovely tattoo, Derek.” “Uh, yeah, no problem. Have a nice evening.” Derek found himself saying. “Oh, we will. We’re going to have a very good time tonight.” Slaine assured, his voice dripping with innuendo. Becca and Slaine left the tattoo parlor, and as soon as the door was closed Derek sunk to his knees in shock. What the hell should he do? Just what was Slaine up to by dating Becca Thorn? Was this just some plot to hurt him? Had Slaine known of their acquaintance? He’d tried so hard to stay away from her for this very reason, and it appeared that his efforts had been in vain. Derek stood up, rushed to the front door, flung it open, and ran outside. He was just in time to see Slaine drive off with Becca in his flashy, white and black Lamborghini Aventador. That was a three hundred and seventy thousand dollar car! He looked at his old, gray ’59 Rover and noticed a small dent in its fender. That punk! Derek went back inside his shop, grabbed one of his hooded leather jackets (this one with long sleeves) put it on, and went back outside. He flipped the sign on his door to ‘closed’ and locked up his shop. Derek fished out his car keys, got in the Rover, started the engine, pulled out of his parking spot, and smoothly merged into traffic. He headed in the direction Slaine and Becca had gone. They were already way ahead of him because of Slaine’s fast car, but Derek didn’t need to see them to follow them. Because he’d decided to imbue magic in Becca’s butterfly tattoo he could now use it to track her. And use it he did. He followed them to Gary Danko. He parked his car about a block away, got out, and headed for the restaurant. With his acute eyesight he was actually able to see Becca inside the restaurant through the front windows. He entered and approached the hostess. “Table for one, please.” The hostess was still looking at the reservation list in front of her when she began to respond. “I’m sorry you’re going to have to-” The hostess looked up and blushed at Derek’s handsomeness. His black T-shirt clung to his muscular chest, and his tight black leather pants left little to the imagination. The braids in his dark brown, wavy hair were exotic. His sky-blue eyes seductive. “You know what? You’re in luck. We’ve just had an opening. Right this way, please.” Derek smirked. Sometimes it paid off to be good looking. Not that he used this card often. The hostess led Derek through the restaurant, and he spotted Becca and Slaine already seated together at one of the tables. The hostess led Derek to a table towards the back - it was in the perfect spot to spy on his Archenemy and Becca. “A waitress will be right with you.” The hostess assured him. “Thanks.” Derek smiled at her and returned his attention to Slaine and Becca. He watched as the couple - gah - ordered wine and decided on a five-course meal. The three-course meal started at eighty-one dollars, and each additional course was eighteen dollars. Ordering a five-course meal was pretty standard at Gary Danko. The hostess let out a dreamy sigh as she walked off in the direction of her podium. A few minutes later, a waitress arrived and handed Derek a menu. “Hello, my name is Lila. And I will be your server this evening. May I get you something to drink?” “A glass of Merlot.” Derek ordered a glass of red wine. “Right away, Sir.” The waitress skipped off to place his order. Derek sighed. This was going to be a long night. When his waitress returned with his glass of wine he went ahead and ordered a three-course meal. Foie gras for his appetizer, seared beef filet (extra rare) for his main dish, and a coconut parfait for dessert. He continued to watch as Slaine and Becca dined and chatted together. It was surreal. He watched as Becca laughed and smiled at something Slaine had said, and then Derek saw Slaine’s face. The vampire was smiling and it wasn’t his usual sinister smile or cocky smirk either. It was a genuinely happy smile. An almost warm, fond smile. In the past two millennia Derek had never seen Slaine look at a human woman like that before…except for Cinnia. But that was more than two thousand years ago. Something strange was going on here. Very strange. But Derek couldn’t put his finger on it. He found himself wondering if perhaps Slaine could have actual feelings for Becca. Feeling like a stalker and a fool, Derek continued to spy on Becca and Slaine’s romantic date. Once a beautiful, Latina pianist named Carmen began to play Feelings, Slaine stood up and offered his hand to Becca. Becca giggled, took Slaine’s hand, and he led her over to the dance floor. Derek watched as Slaine and Becca danced together, and Slaine spun her around. Derek’s gut clenched painfully at the sight. That should have been him on that dance floor with Becca. But…he’d pushed Becca away that night at Issy and Tristan’s wedding and into the arms of another man. This was all his fault. The evening continued uneventfully until Derek followed Slaine and Becca back to Slaine’s apartment building. Derek parked his Rover a few blocks away from the building so that Slaine wouldn’t sense his presence, and watched as the couple exited the Lamborghini. Derek turned his car’s engine off and reached out his senses. He felt Slaine and Becca ascending in an elevator, and it felt like they stopped on the top floor. Apparently, Slaine had a penthouse apartment in this swanky apartment building. Lucky punk. Derek got out of his Rover, and decided to go up the fire escape of the apartment building that was directly across from Slaine’s. Once he got to the top, he could actually see into Slaine’s apartment with his superior eyesight. Through the windows, he watched as Slaine and Becca entered and crossed the living room. Slaine turned around and Becca stepped into his arms for a kiss. Derek watched Slaine and Becca kissing, and clenched his hands into fists. His nails drew blood. He wanted to kill Slaine right then and there. But he couldn’t attack Slaine while Becca was there. “Slaine, you creep. How dare you taste Becca’s sweet lips.” Derek grumbled. Derek couldn’t believe what he was seeing as the couple began to take their clothes off, right there in the living room. Slaine removed his jacket and his shirt to reveal his muscular chest, but also that he had horrible burn scars on his arms. The sight of those scars made Derek feel a twinge of guilt. More than two millennia ago, Slaine had been his best friend, but he’d failed to protect him from his father High Priest Corann. Maybe if he’d protected Slaine from Corann things would be different now. Becca took off her shirt revealing her lush curves. She eyed Slaine’s chest hungrily and didn’t seem surprised or bothered by his scars. In fact, Becca approached Slaine and ran her hands over his arms in a sweet gesture. Slaine looked down at Becca with a tender expression on his face. And Derek still couldn’t get over how bizarre all this was. Becca wrapped her arms around Slaine’s neck and kissed him deeply. Slaine put his hands on Becca’s behind and pulled her up his body. Becca wrapped her legs around Slaine’s waist, and Slaine walked them towards the bedroom. It took all of Derek’s strength of will not to go busting into Slaine’s apartment and taking that vampire’s head right then and there. Slaine wasn’t like him. The vampire that was in that apartment with Becca fed on humans, drained them dry, and killed them. Derek had known Slaine to do this for centuries. He was a murderer. So what the hell was he doing with Becca? Derek reached out with his acute senses and could hear Slaine and Becca…having sex. “Slaine…deeper…” Becca breathed. It was so freakin weird. They seemed to be in a relationship. And Becca appeared to trust Slaine. Derek waited, expecting Slaine to lose control of his bloodlust and bite Becca, but he never did. Derek had to commend Slaine on his strength of will. He probably would have bitten Becca by now, especially while in the throes of sex. Derek continued to listen to them having sex like a pathetic, masochistic loser until he heard Slaine reach his peak of pleasure. After that, Derek could hear them panting as they lay together side by side while speaking to each other in low tones. It was almost…normal. Except for the fact that Becca was lying beside a red-eyed vampire who regularly fed on humans! Derek scrubbed a hand down his face. “What the hell are you up to Slaine?” The entire situation gave him an awful sense of déjà vu. And then it hit him. Did Slaine plan to try and turn Becca? Just like he had Cinnia? Did Slaine actually think he cared for Becca Thorn? Crap… This entire situation was so screwed up. But it made sense. Slaine planned to turn Becca. And all Derek could do was wait until then and stop Slaine from accomplishing his sinister goal. The butterfly tattoo would let Derek know if Becca was in danger. He really had no choice but to wait until then. After all, he was an outsider in Becca’s life. Her relationships were none of his business. Feeling sick to his stomach, Derek forced himself to leave Becca behind and go back ‘home’. Less than half an hour later he was entering his tattoo shop. He headed towards the back, passed the kitchen and climbed the stairs. Man, he needed a drink. Derek headed to his wine cellar, and grabbed a bottle of red wine and a wine glass. He then headed for his art studio, which was on the second floor. He opened the door to his studio and entered. Derek’s art studio was filled with canvases - some that had already been painted on and others that were still blank. All of the paintings were similar and depicted a beautiful, red-haired woman with blue tattoos on her arms. She wore a red leather vest with hood, tight leather pants, and boots. In some of the paintings she was doing archery, in others riding a horse through the forest, and in one she was dancing under the moonlight at Stone Henge. In all the paintings Cinnia was faceless. Derek couldn’t bear to remember her face…it was just way too painful. Derek opened the bottle of wine and poured himself a glass. He set the bottle down, and taking his glass with him, went over to his stereo and pressed play. Celtic music began to fill the room. When Derek listened to Celtic music he could see Cinnia more clearly in his mind. Why did leaving Becca behind with Slaine feel like he’d left his heart behind? He wondered. He’d promised Cinnia he would always love her. He was only alive to avenge her death. Once Slaine was dead - he’d die too. So why now after more than two millennia was his heart swaying towards Becca Thorn? Derek set his glass of wine down, and grabbed a blank canvas, which he set on his easel. He began to paint a new portrait of Cinnia. Her beautiful, long, red hair, and the butterfly tattoo on her arm began to come to life on the canvas with each stroke of his brush. As he painted he drank more wine and continued to listen to the nostalgic Celtic music. Hours later, he looked at his finished piece. And stared. Tonight, Cinnia had a face but…it wasn’t Cinnia’s. The face belonged to Becca Thorn. “What the hell?” Derek angrily threw his glass at the wall where it shattered and left a red stain. Painting Becca’s face felt like a betrayal to his Cinnia. Derek sunk to his knees and gripped his head with his hands. “Why? Cinnia? Why can’t I remember your face? Why?” He ended up passing out on the floor, and then he dreamed. Dreamed of the past, and of his Cinnia. His one true love. FLASHBACK Dearg had requested a very special kind of binding ceremony for him and Cinnia of his father, High Priest Corann. He’d explained to his father that he didn’t want to be married to Cinnia just in this life, but wanted to be married to her in the next as well. He wanted their souls to be bound together by the red string of fate so that they would be able to find each other again in their next lives. Dearg loved Cinnia, and was positive that he would always love her and no other. On the day Dearg and Cinnia were to be married, the sky was clear and the birds were singing merrily. It was truly a blessed day. The wedding ceremony was to take place in the forest just beyond the Blood Oak Village. High Priest Corann had contacted three fairies that lived in the nearby woods, and requested their presence at the wedding in order to bestow their blessings upon his son and Cinnia. The fairies had readily agreed to attend. When Dearg entered the forest clearing where the ceremony was going to take place and laid his eyes upon Cinnia, she literally took his breath away. He couldn’t get over how beautiful she looked wearing a dress. Cinnia had always been a bit of a tomboy and this was actually the first time Dearg had ever seen her wearing a dress. He made sure to burn this sight into his memories. The gown Cinnia was wearing was sleeveless in order to show off her blue animal tattoos, and floor-length. Golden knotwork decorated the front of the emerald green gown. Her hair, which was as red as apples, was loose in curls about her shoulders, and her dark forest-green eyes were glittering in the sunlight. A wreath of flowers adorned her head. He walked up to her, and stood beside her in front of Corann. “You look beautiful.” He whispered, hoping that he wouldn’t make his father too angry for speaking. Cinnia flashed Dearg a brilliant smile. She also couldn’t help but look him over, her green eyes raking his form hungrily. Dearg was wearing a sleeveless dark blue tunic with golden knotwork, black pants and boots. He had a sword strapped to his side, because that was a part of the clan’s tradition. “And you look handsome.” She whispered back. “Lords, ladies, children, and Hunters, today we shall join my son, Dearg, and Huntress Cinnia in the bond of marriage and family. While we do not have power over all the elements of our lives by our acts we have power to decide their meaning. Therefore marriage like life itself shall become what we make it by our actions. Marriage begins with love but to flourish must be sustained by honor, duty, kindness and strength of purpose. These things sustain love beyond mere attraction and make marriage a sacred ground. Hear my words and take heed. Dearg, are you prepared to follow this course?” Dearg nodded. “I am.” “Cinnia, are you prepared to follow this course?” High Priest Corann asked her. “I am.” She replied. “So be it. Dearg, you have come bearing your battle tattoos and the sword, which is fitting for this occasion. The sword represents the strength and protection, which a husband offers to his bride and family. The sword is also a symbol of unyielding intent and the banishment of fear and doubt. It is by removing all fear and doubt that our acts and desires have their rightful power. Like the steel of the sword let your commitments to each other be strong and enduring. Dearg, present the sword to your bride.” Dearg got down on one knee and unsheathed his sword in one fluid motion. He then presented it to Cinnia. “I offer this sword and my battle tattoos unto your service. That our life together may be protected. I will stand by your side unto death, and beyond. My love for you is eternal. This I promise you.” Cinnia took the sword. “I honor this gift and commit to you in kind.” “So be it.” Corann said reading from the holy book he held in his hands. “Then the two of you and the family you make shall be protected. Your commitments to each other shall be held steadfast.” Cinnia gave the sword back to Dearg, and he sheathed it before standing. “Will the mother of the bride please pass the cup to your daughter.” Corann directed. Cinnia’s mother looked a lot like Cinnia, just an older version. She approached and handed Cinnia a golden cup. “With this cup I give you my blessing.” Cinnia took the cup with a serene smile and faced Dearg. “The cup is a symbol of sustenance and of love.” Corann began. “It is fitting that the cup is passed from mother to daughter for as the mother once gave sustenance, kindness and love to the daughter so shall the daughter pass on the same to her husband and children. The water held by this cup represents the life giving essence to those who partake of it. The sharing of the cup binds you to the giving of love and kindness, which creates more than its measure in return. Cinnia, share this cup as a sign of your promise to share that which is good and kind between you.” “Please accept this cup as my promise of goodness and eternal love.” Cinnia handed Dearg the cup. Dearg took the cup and drank from it. “I return it to you with my promise to show you goodness and love for the rest of my days and beyond.” He handed the cup back to Cinnia. Cinnia took the cup, drank from it, and then handed the cup back to her mother. “So be it.” Corann nodded, looking pleased. “Ring Fairy, bring forth the rings.” A fairy fluttered over and hovered in front of Dearg and Cinnia holding a tiny pillow in front of her upon which sat two golden rings. The fairy was about a foot tall with long, golden hair, green eyes, a green dress, and translucent, shimmery wings. “These rings of gold are engraved with an unending, interwoven knot that expresses two paths woven together as one.” Corann explained. “The rings shall remind you in physical form of your connection with each other. The gold from which they are made is the noblest element of the Earth and represents the best of the Earth’s natural beauty. May your life together be rich and bountiful and may you always be found worthy of receiving it. Ring Fairy, in presenting these rings do you lend your blessing to this marriage?” “With these rings I give you my blessings.” The fairy declared in her tiny, musical voice. Cinnia and Dearg took the rings from the fairy. Cinnia began to recite the vows, which she had memorized: “I promise you the first cut of my meat. I promise you the first sip of my wine. From this day it shall only be your name. I cry out in the night and into your eyes I smile each morning. I shall be a shield for your back as you are for mine. I will cherish and honor you throughout this life, and the next. With this ring I seal my vow.” Cinnia put the ring on Dearg’s finger. Dearg made similar vows and placed the ring on Cinnia’s finger. “Flower Fairy, please bring forth the red cord, which symbolizes the red string of fate.” Corann directed in a solemn tone. A second fairy, this one with short red hair, blue eyes, and a bright blue dress, fluttered over while carrying a length of red cord that appeared to be too heavy for her. The little fairy bobbed up and down as she flew over and then hovered directly in front of Cinnia and Dearg. “We shall now bind your hands with this red cord, which is like your love, and your vows shall join you fast together in this life, and the next. As your hands are joined so are your lives joined, and so are your souls. You two shall become soul mates, the red string of fate shall bind your souls together, and you will be able to find each other in your next lives. Flower Fairy, do you give your blessing to this eternal binding?” Corann asked. “I give my blessing to this eternal binding.” The little fairy said in her tinkling voice. “Flower Fairy, please bind their hands.” Corann directed. The fairy began to wrap the red cord around Cinnia and Dearg’s hands and then tied it into a knot. “The Fairy of the Woods carries the staff which symbolizes youthful energy, passion and creative power. In order to bring forth the best of ourselves or find a worthy task we must engage our full measure of energy and passion. May your lives together be filled with both. Fairy of the Woods, with the staff please give your blessing to this binding.” The Fairy of the Woods approached and hovered before Cinnia and Dearg. This fairy had long curly brown hair, hazel eyes, and was wearing a green and brown dress. She had a flower wreath around her head and the magical staff she carried was also adorned with fresh flowers. “With this staff I lend my blessing to this binding.” She waved the staff over their joined hands and the red cord glowed momentarily with magical power. “As we have bound together this Hunter and this Huntress, let their fate and future be so bound for all eternity. May they hold fast to each other even as they are now held fast. Ring Fairy, please bring forth the bell.” Corann said. The Ring Fairy approached and hovered before Cinnia and Dearg, and rang a golden bell loudly. “Dearg and Cinnia, hear the toll of this bell. From this day forward let its sound forever remind you of those promises you make today. And so shall it be. As you have not spoken these words idly nor have you made these declarations in vain, may they bind you in thought, word and deed from this moment forward to the end of your days, and beyond into your next lives. For if you are faithful in these promises your love and devotion shall be fulfilled and will bear the fruit of joy and happiness. With this ceremony now complete, I hereby declare you to be husband and wife. You may seal your vows with a kiss.” Cinnia and Dearg moved forward and kissed. Cinnia pulled back but Dearg leaned forward to capture those sweet lips again. The villagers and Hunters present all cheered in response. The Ring Fairy rang her bell, and one of the other fairies blew a horn. It was a magical moment, and one that Dearg would never forget. Dearg’s heart swelled with happiness. He could hardly believe that Cinnia had finally agreed to marry him, and that she was now his wife, his love. It was a miracle. A gift. After the ceremony the villagers threw rice and flowers over the couple to bestow their blessings of happiness and fertility. Cinnia beamed at Dearg and he smiled back at her. They were like a mirror, each reflecting the other’s happiness. Dearg took Cinnia by her hand and led her to the small house in the village where they would now be living together as a married couple. Once they reached the front door, Dearg swooped Cinnia up into his arms, kicked the door open, and crossed the threshold with Cinnia in his arms. He deposited Cinnia on the bed, and went to close and lock the door. Dearg walked back to the bed and his brave Cinnia wouldn’t meet his eyes. Dearg sat on the bed next to her, reached out, cupped her cheek and turned her face to look at him. “What’s wrong, my love?” Cinnia’s face was flushed, her eyes bright, and she nibbled on her lower lip out of nervousness and fear. “I…I’m afraid.” Dearg’s eyes widened in surprise. His Cinnia, who would not cower before a group of blood-sucking vampires, was afraid. “Why? You know I would never hurt you.” “I know that, but…I overheard the village women speaking and overheard…things. Horrible things. I’m afraid it will hurt.” Cinnia wrapped her arms around her chest in a subconscious protective gesture. His brave Cinnia was afraid, and all Dearg wanted to do was comfort her. He brushed his thumb over her cheek, and then over her lips. “Do you trust me?” Dearg asked sincerely. Cinnia didn’t hesitate with her response as she nodded. “Yes.” Dearg leaned forward and captured Cinnia’s lips with his own. She eagerly kissed him back. Dearg ran his tongue over Cinnia’s lower lip seeking entrance. She complied and he plunged his tongue into her mouth. Cinnia gasped in response at the sensation. This was the first time he’d done something like this to her. Cinnia tasted so sweet. By the time Dearg pulled back from Cinnia, they were both flushed and panting for breath. Dearg offered her a reassuring smile. “Did that feel good?” Cinnia nodded eagerly. “I only want you to feel pleasure. I won’t do anything that you don’t like. Understand?” Dearg gave her a serious look. “Yes.” Dearg lay Cinnia down on the bed and continued to kiss her. While he had her distracted, he began to undo the front laces of her gown’s bodice. He pulled her dress down and bared her flesh. Cinnia blushed and covered her chest with her hands shyly. Dearg covered Cinnia’s hands with his own. “Don’t shield yourself from me, Cinnia. I want to see you so badly. Please, let me gaze upon you.” Cinnia gave Dearg a worried look. “What if…I’m not to your liking, my husband?” “That….would be impossible.” Dearg slowly removed Cinnia’s hands from her flesh. Her skin was so pale, flushed, and delectable. “Beautiful.” Dearg breathed as he leaned over and kissed her flesh. Cinnia gasped at the feeling. Dearg liked her reaction and continued to kiss her all over. Cinnia moaned. Dearg’s hot, wet mouth on her bare flesh felt so good. Tingles of pleasure were running up and down her spine. Her toes were curling from the pleasure. She could feel the whiskers of Dearg’s goatee brushing against her sensitive skin, and she shivered and shuddered in response as his whiskers tickled her. As Cinnia writhed beneath him, Dearg pulled her gown down and tossed it to the floor. He removed her underclothes and tossed them to the floor next. Once again out of shyness Cinnia tried to cover herself from Dearg’s sight with her hands. “My love.” Dearg’s voice was chiding. “Will you withhold such a wonderful sight? Let me see you…all of you. That very special place that belongs only to me. That very special place where you and I will become one.” Cinnia sighed at his tender words and removed her hands. Dearg swallowed as his throat suddenly felt dry. He spread her legs to admire her. Dearg couldn’t wait to unite their bodies. His pants were so tight, but he knew he had to bring Cinnia great pleasure first since that would ease their first time together. At least, this is what the other young men of the village had told him. He hoped they were right. “Let me touch you, Cinnia.” “Oh, yes.” She readily agreed. Dearg captured Cinnia’s lips again and lowered his hand to caress her intimately. Delicious heat began to pool in Cinnia’s lower abdomen. A strange kind of tension was coiling in her body, ready to spring and release. As Dearg continued to caress her - her body felt like it was on fire. She was beginning to feel strangely restless. She needed something. “Dearg, I feel strange. I need…” “Trust me.” Dearg leaned over to whisper in her ear. “And let go, Cinnia. Just feel.” Cinnia did. She let go, and when she did a wave of pleasure crashed into her that left her body trembling in its wake. “Dearg…oh…feels so good!” His wife’s body was putty in his hands. And he wasn’t through with her yet. Dearg crawled down Cinnia’s body and spread her legs. Cinnia looked down at him and gave him a quizzical look. She was still panting for breath, flushed and sated. “My husband, what are you doing?” “I’m going to kiss your most special place.” Dearg explained before he pressed his lips to her. “Oh my Goddess…that feels…wonderful.” She cried out in bliss. “I want more, Dearg. Give me more.” Dearg rubbed his face against her and she felt his goatee tickling her most intimate place. This sensation sent her over the edge again. “Dearg!” Cinnia cried out. Dearg utterly devoured her. She tasted so good, like honeyed apples. Dearg pulled back and licked his lips. Cinnia sat up and had a hungry look on her face as she looked at his clothes. Her fear seemed to have fled her. “Dearg, I want to see you too. Feel you too.” “As you wish, my ladylove.” Dearg stripped off his shirt and tossed it aside. “Mmm.” Cinnia purred at the sight. Her husband was so handsome with his tanned muscular chest and torso. Cinnia reached out and experimentally ran her hands over his firm pecs, and down over his lean, hard abs. There was such strength within him and power. Dearg gasped at the feeling of his wife’s hands on his body. Oh Goddess, that feels amazing. At this rate he wouldn’t last for her. Dearg grabbed Cinnia’s hands and pulled them away. She frowned. “What’s wrong?” “Nothing, my love. I just want to last for you. Tell me, do you want to see my special place?” Dearg glanced down at his crotch. Cinnia glanced down as well, and eyed the bulge in Dearg’s pants. She licked her lips. She was curious to see what it looked like. She nodded. “Yes, I want to see you.” Dearg grinned and quickly stripped off his boots and pants, and tossed them to the floor. He crawled back onto the bed and straddled Cinnia. Cinnia’s burning gaze was focused on him. She reached down and tentatively took him into her hand. Dearg grunted from the mind-numbing pleasure his wife was giving him. “It’s so big…and it’s also soft and yet hard at the same time. It’s…amazing.” Cinnia breathed with wonder. Dearg chuckled happily at her innocent reaction. “I’m glad you think so, my love.” “Are they all as big as yours?” Dearg smirked. “Heh, I wonder? But did you know, bigger is supposed to be better. So you’re a very lucky woman to have me as your husband.” “Why is bigger better?” “Because when our bodies unite you’ll feel more pleasure from the act of our lovemaking.” Cinnia gave him a skeptical look. “I doubt it will fit inside of me. It’s going to hurt.” Dearg cupped her face in his hands and peered into her eyes. “We don’t have to make love until you’re ready, Cinnia.” Cinnia shook her head, touched by Dearg’s consideration, kindness, and patience. “No. I want to make love to you, Dearg. Unite our bodies and make me yours, Dearg. Make me a real woman.” “As you wish.” Dearg positioned himself and slowly began to unite their bodies. Sweat poured down his back and his body trembled as he held himself back from taking her hard. Cinnia gasped at the feeling of their bodies becoming one. “Breathe, Cinnia.” Dearg told her. Cinnia wrapped her arms around Dearg’s neck and willed herself to relax. Dearg felt Cinnia’s virginity and paused. He claimed her lips with his before he united with her fully and took her virginity. Cinnia cried out at the sudden pain which overrode her pleasure and tears sprang to her eyes. “Cinnia, my Cinnia. You’re all mine now. You belong to me and no one else.” Dearg said proudly as he kissed the tears from Cinnia’s face and waited for her to get used to the feeling of their bodies being one. “I love you so much, Cinnia. I promise to love only you for eternity.” “And I love you too, Dearg.” Cinnia breathed and the pain began to fade. “It doesn’t hurt so much now. I think you can move.” Dearg nodded and began to surge over her. Cinnia saw stars. All her pain transformed into mind-numbing pleasure. So this is what lovemaking is like. Cinnia thought dazedly to herself. Their bodies and souls had become one. It felt so good. Cinnia ran her hands down Dearg’s back and felt his muscles flexing as he made love to her. She moved her hands down his body until they were resting on his powerful hips. Her husband Dearg was so powerful, so incredibly male. And he smelled divine, like sandalwood. A woodsy, earthy, spicy scent. All Dearg. Dearg reached down and caressed her body skillfully so that she was shattering in his arms again. The feeling of her reaching her peak of pleasure sent Dearg over the edge too. If he were lucky Cinnia would get pregnant and give him a strong son who could inherit the Blood Oak Clan. He was looking forward to starting a family with Cinnia. Dearg rolled off of Cinnia and stared up at the ceiling, panting for breath, and feeling utterly sated. He felt like the happiest man in the world. Dearg felt Cinnia move beside him and turned to see her getting out of bed. He watched as she put on a robe, tied it shut, and walked over to the pitcher of water that was sitting on their small kitchen table. Cinnia frowned and began to head towards the door. “My love, where are you going?” Derek sat up tiredly, but with a pleased, sated expression on his face. “Come back to bed.” “I’m going to go to the well and fetch some water. Our lovemaking has made me very thirsty.” There was a mischievous twinkle in her eyes as she said these words. “I’ll be right back, husband mine.” “No, I’ll go.” Derek began to get out of bed. Cinnia shot him a stern look and raised her hand. “Ah, ah, ah. Just because I agreed to marry you, doesn’t mean I agreed to become your obedient, little wife that needs protecting, Dearg. Don’t forget I’m a Druid Vampire Hunter too. I can take care of myself.” Dearg hesitated, but then sighed while giving Cinnia a chagrined look. “Alright, as you wish, my love. You know I trust and respect your strength as a warrior. Just…hurry back. I’m not quite through with you just yet, wife.” He leered at her and let his eyes linger on her curves. “You are incorrigible!” Cinnia chided, hands on her hips, but then she smiled teasingly. “I’ll be sure to hurry back.” She winked. Cinnia tightened her robe and left the house. Dearg watched her go with a smile tugging at his lips. “What a woman.” He put his hands behind his head and waited for Cinnia to return. END OF FLASHBACK Derek awoke with a start and sat up in bed calling out his dead wife’s name. “Cinnia!” He was panting for breath and covered in sweat. His boxers were sticky. Crap. He put his burning face in his hands. If only he hadn’t let Cinnia go to the well that night, then… Derek shook his head to clear it of such morbid thoughts, got out of bed, and headed for the bathroom. He needed a very cold shower. To be continued in…Tattoo 2: Hawk Chapter 2: Hawk Cyber socialite, power blogger, Becca Thorn, was taking a shower. She’d just had sex with Slaine Morvyn, and it had been incredibly pleasurable, but…she hadn’t reached her peak of pleasure. “Pfft.” She never had before either. There was something wrong with her, probably. But maybe it was due to a lack of emotional connection or feelings of love for her sex partner that hindered her from reaching her peak. She mused. And it wasn’t that Slaine was unattractive or anything. Oh no, he was quite scrumptious. Well, all the guys Becca had ever been attracted to had had a gorgeous face. Unfortunately, their pretty faces had hidden selfish monsters. That was just her bad luck when it came to love and romance. She sighed. Yeah, she’d slept around and been promiscuous, and some might even call her a slut. But she was just trying to find love - like everybody else. And Becca totally believed in true love and soul mates and Blue Princes and finding her Prince Charming. That’s probably why she fell in love too easily. She tended to trust the wrong guys too soon, and ended up getting her heart hurt in the end when the guys she was with showed their true colors and that they were toads - not princes. Each and every time they’d cheat on her or break up with her, she’d feel so blindsided. She’d always thought they were on the same page, and that the guy she was currently dating had been taking their relationship seriously. She’d thought he’d been looking forward to a future together just as she was. But in the end she’d been horribly wrong. Why did guys do that? She wondered. Why did they lie and lead a girl on when they had no sincere feelings for her? It just…hurt. Becca thought back to how she’d met Slaine. She’d taken a trip to San Francisco from her permanent residence in New York City in order to attend the wedding of her friends chocolatier, Tristan Savant, and patissiere, Issy Sweet. Back when chocolatier Tristan Savant had had a chocolate shop in New York City called Dark Heaven, Becca had gotten to know Tristan and had even gone on a date with him. They’d had a steamy one-night stand. And when Tristan had broken up with her the very next day, she’d taken it pretty badly. She ended up defaming his shop all over the Internet and on her blog Gourmet Dessert Trends. However, Issy Sweet, who’d been working as a patissiere at the shop, had shown Becca another side to Tristan - one that made Becca forgive him. Anyways, Becca knew that Tristan had needed someone to save him from his dark past, and that she just wasn’t that person. She’d remained friends with Tristan and Issy, and had rooted for their love. She’d been a little surprised but greatly honored to be invited to their wedding here in San Francisco. At the wedding, she’d run into an acquaintance of hers - Derek Dearg, who used to work at a seafood restaurant called Poseidon’s Trident as the grill chef there, but who now owned his own tattoo parlor, Voodoo Tattoo. From the very first moment Becca had laid eyes on Derek he’d utterly captivated her. She could still remember exactly what he’d looked like that day cooking in the open kitchen with his gleaming cleaver in hand. She’d been fascinated by the exotic, scattered braids in his dark hazelnut-brown hair, and had yearned to run her hands through it. His sky-blue eyes had seemed to contain much wisdom and knowledge far beyond his apparent years. But she’d also seen loneliness in their depths. Becca remembered how she’d wanted to taste his golden-brown skin. His white chef coat’s sleeves had been rolled up to his elbows showing off the blue, Celtic, animal tattoos on his arms. Becca had been sure his upside down T-shaped goatee would tickle when he kissed her. And as she mused about kissing him, she figured she’d have to wear heels since he was six-four. Derek had also been in great shape, but sometimes he’d look strangely worn-out. He usually wore black leather pants and biker boots like a Goth. If she were a braver woman, Becca would have said it was love at first sight. She’d felt a zing when their eyes had finally met across that restaurant floor. Her heart had pounded inside of her chest, as if trying to tell her something. She’d also had this strange feeling of déjà vu, like she’d met Derek somewhere before. Becca had immediately tried to approach him to talk, but he’d remained aloof and pretty much blown her off. She’d somehow managed to grab his phone and had programmed her cell phone number into it. Sadly, he’d never called her for a date. Later, she’d encountered Derek at Tristan and Issy’s wedding. She’d been so surprised when he’d asked her to share a dance. His movements had been so graceful and smooth. The feeling of being in his arms had been strangely familiar. Déjà vu again. She’d sensed that they had a ‘connection’, a bond, but then…he’d blown her off again. Just. Like. That. Disheartened, Becca had drowned her sorrows with a couple of flavored martinis, and that’s when Slaine had approached her. FLASHBACK “Mind if I sit here?” Came a deep, drawling voice tinged with amusement. “It’s a free country.” Becca had shrugged and waved her empty martini glass at the bartender in an impatient gesture. “Give me another and make it a chocolate martini this time, would you, sugar?” “Yes, Mam.” The bartender replied as he took her glass. “Mam?” Becca’s eyebrow twitched in irritation. “Do I really look that old? I’m only twenty-something!” “Twenty-something. That’s a good age.” The man chuckled as he took a seat next to Becca on a barstool. Becca glanced at him and her eyes widened. The man had unusual snow-white hair, which he had slicked back. A pair of dark sunglasses was on his face, which was odd since he was indoors, but added an air of mystery about him. Becca then studied his face. He had good bone structure, a square chin, thin lips, and a Roman nose. Perfect. Becca thought. She always loved a good face. It made for good photo ops. As she raked her eyes over his form she judged his height to be very close to Derek’s, around six-four. He was wearing a gray and white pinstriped suit. Wowzers. And his shoes…Becca just knew they had to be Ferragamos. Becca loves shoes. “Are those Ferragamos?” The handsome stranger grinned lazily at her. “You have a good eye, Miss…?” He trailed off expectantly. “Rebecca Thorn. But everyone just calls me ‘Becca’.” Becca stuck out her hand for the man to take. He did and they shook hands. “Blogger and writer at Epic Taste Magazine.” “Slaine Morvyn. Manager at Iron Casket. That new dance club in town.” Slaine introduced himself, whipped out a business card, and handed it to Becca. Becca took it and stared down at the black business card with the image of a silver coffin on it with its lid rising and a skeletal hand emerging. A vampire, maybe? It made Becca smile even though she hated everything and anything that had to do with ‘horror’, ‘scary stuff’, or ‘Goth stuff’. “I’ve heard of that club.” “Have you ever been?” Becca shook her head. “No, it’s not really my scene. I don’t really like…Goth stuff.” “A pity. But probably to be expected from an intellectual such as yourself. Brains and beauty - you’re the complete package, aren’t you?” Slaine teased. The bartender set a martini down in front of Becca. She toyed with the glass’s stem. “I don’t think so…” Derek’s rejection still stung. She took a sip of her martini. “Perhaps, I shouldn’t have phrased that as a question. Because I already know the answer. You are the total package, Rebecca Thorn.” Slaine purred in that sexy voice of his. Becca glanced at Slaine. “Pfft. You barely know me.” Slaine gave her an intense look. She could feel his eyes boring into her from behind his sunglasses. “I’d like to get to know you more.” His voice was dripping with sexual innuendo. What a player! “Why don’t you take your sunglasses off, bud?” Slaine stiffened in his seat. “My eyes…are very sensitive to light. I know it’s considered rude to be talking to someone with my sunglasses still on like this. I do hope you don’t mind.” His vulnerability and obvious insecurity was what sealed the deal for Becca. This handsome man obviously had it all - looks, a good job, money. But for some reason Becca felt like…this was all bravado. She felt like reaching out and placing her hand on his arm to comfort him. Déjà vu. There it was again. She felt like she knew Slaine too. And for some reason she felt that he wouldn’t hurt her. Becca reached out, placed her hand on Slaine’s bicep, and smiled flirtatiously. “I don’t mind.” Slaine visibly relaxed and smiled back at her. His smile was so innocent and boyish, so at odds with his bravado and flashy appearance. “Good.” “In fact, I think I’d like to get to know you better too, Slaine.” Becca slurred slightly because she was pretty drunk, and stroked Slaine’s arm boldly. Becca watched as Slaine’s eyebrows rose up over his sunglasses. “Y-You would….?” “Mmhmm, what do you say we go back to your place?” Becca suggested boldly. “My place? You mean…right now?” Slaine appeared stunned by this sudden turn of events. Becca giggled at his surprised tone and expression. “For someone who came on to me so strong…you’re almost acting like you’re changing your mind-” “No!” Slaine burst out, cleared his throat, and then continued. “I would be honored if you’d accompany me back to my place…so we can get to know each other better.” Becca grinned. “Such a gentleman. Okay. Let’s go.” She hopped off the barstool and sashayed towards the exit with Slaine following close behind. “Wait here.” Slaine said once they’d exited the hotel building. “I’ll go get my car.” “Okayyy.” Becca slurred. A few minutes later, Slaine was pulling a white and black Lamborghini in front of her. “Oh man, is that your car? Can you really call that a car? It’s like the freakin batmobile!” Becca giggled and it took a moment before she could stop. This guy must be loaded. Slaine reached over and opened the passenger side door for Becca so that she could get inside. “Get inside, babe. It’s even nicer on the inside. I’ve got a CD player, heated seats…” “Honey, you had me at ‘hello’.” Becca quickly got into the car and began to fiddle around with all the gadgets and settings on everything. Slaine chuckled at her antics and began to drive her back to his penthouse apartment. In less than twenty minutes, they were standing in front of Slaine’s apartment door. He opened the door and ushered Becca inside. As soon as the door was closed Becca pushed Slaine up against the door. At first he thought she was mad about something and opened his mouth to apologize. But that’s when she stepped up on her tiptoes and kissed him. Slaine’s eyes widened in shock and he didn’t respond for several minutes. But when he did respond he kissed her back with a passion that quickly matched and then went beyond her own. END OF FLASHBACK With a blush, Becca recalled how she’d led Slaine to his bedroom. Really, she’d been the one to seduce him that night. And even though Slaine had been a gentle lover…she still hadn’t been able to reach her peak. What the hell was wrong with her? After that, Becca had decided to stay with Slaine for a few days when he offered that she could stay for ‘as long as she wanted’. Somehow Slaine had managed to convince her to stay longer, and days had turned into weeks. Every time Becca said she had to get back to New York, Slaine arrived ‘home’ with an extravagant gift for her - a new designer outfit, a pair of shoes, a designer handbag, or even an authentic Japanese kimono. And now they’d been going out for a month! Time flies when you’re having fun, and banging a hot, loaded man. Slaine had made it very easy for her to stay too since he’d purchased her plenty of designer outfits and shoes. And Becca loved shoes. Slaine’s apartment was also pretty cool, fun to hangout in, and explore. It had a Japanese theme to it. There were sliding shoji doors, and an assortment of Japanese wall scrolls featuring: mysterious bamboo forests, majestic cranes, peaceful mountain scenes, and exciting ninja battles. A lot of scrolls appeared to be authentic and ancient with their yellowing edges. But then there was a funny Japanese wall scroll that depicted the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Raphael battling the Shredder. Slaine apparently had a thing for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and had a lot of memorabilia from the franchise all around his apartment. He even had some of the original comics, and they were in plastic slips to protect them. When Becca had asked Slaine: “Why do you like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles so much?” His reply had been: “Because…they’re monsters.” In a large glass case in Slaine’s living room there was an authentic suit of samurai armor. And on a table nearby were two samurai swords on display. Becca had been incredibly surprised when one morning she’d woken up early and gone into the kitchen to see Slaine doing a Japanese flower arrangement. He was actually pretty good too and watching him work had been an oddly serene experience. But the most surprising thing Becca had discovered about Slaine was probably the horrible burns scars that covered his arms. When Becca had taken his shirt off for the very first time, Slaine had frozen up as if awaiting her judgment. But Becca hadn’t said anything - instead she’d kissed his scars and Slaine had immediately relaxed. He’d been so gentle afterwards, as if he thought she were a virgin! Ha! But she didn’t bother to correct his assumption. It was rare to find such a gentle, considerate lover. However- Becca didn’t think she was in love with Slaine. At least, not yet. If she had to decide on the spot she would say she was at the point where she was ‘falling in love’. For the moment, this ‘thing’ between them was mostly lust. Slaine was a good boyfriend and lover, but… She still had erotic dreams every night of her ‘perfect lover’. A mysterious, dark-haired man with blue tattoos on his arms and who smelled like sandalwood. A man who could bring her the greatest pleasure with his skillful, burning touches. Sounded a lot like Derek Dearg, huh? That’s exactly why Becca had been so shocked when she’d seen Derek for the very first time. His resemblance to her ‘dream lover’ had been uncanny. It’d been like seeing her imaginary lover come to life. But… Derek had rejected her. Sometimes dreams just didn’t come true. And instead she’d ended up in this strange relationship with Slaine Morvyn. A relationship that almost felt too easy because of Slaine’s money and good looks. The shower door slid open and Becca glanced over her shoulder to see a naked Slaine standing behind her. “Mmm. Yum.” Her eyes raked over his hard, lean body and lingered on his rippling abs. She watched Slaine swallow almost nervously as Becca appraised him. She saw the vulnerability in his eyes that was so unlike him. That’s right, his red eyes. Apparently, he had some kind of genetic defect. She smiled coyly. “Aren’t you going to join me?” Slaine grinned. “Oh, hell yes.” He entered the shower and stood under the spray with her. Slaine cupped her face almost lovingly and kissed her with great passion. Becca eagerly kissed him back. They ended up having sex in the shower. Afterwards, they had a late breakfast together in Slaine’s kitchen. While seated at the kitchen island, Slaine spoke: “What would you like to do together tonight?” Slaine asked, even though it was only one in the afternoon. Slaine was allergic to the sun and so could only go out on dates with Becca a night. He never removed his sunglasses outside of his apartment either. If Becca didn’t know better she’d say she was going out with a vampire! Ha! A vampire, yeah right. She giggled at the outlandish thought. “What’s so funny?” Slaine arched an eyebrow at her. “Just the fact that it’s almost like I’m dating a vampire.” “And what if I were a vampire?” Slaine teased as he kissed her neck. “I’d run the other way.” Becca responded honestly. Slaine frowned at her answer and pulled back from her. “I see.” “I think we should go see a movie together. It would be a nice change of pace, I think. We barely leave your apartment. Even though there is so much cool stuff in here.” Becca glanced over at that suit of samurai armor. Slaine also didn’t seem to mind her taking pictures of just about everything. It was a nice change of pace. Most of her other boyfriends had gotten on her case that she couldn’t seem to set her phone down for five minutes. “You say that like it’s a bad thing, babe.” Slaine drawled in that sexy voice of his. Becca smiled. “I want to go on a date with you, Slaine.” Slaine covered his mouth with his hand as he tried to get his emotions under control. “And I want to go on one with you.” His voice was husky. At seven o’clock, Becca and Slaine began to get ready for their date. Becca entered the walk-in closet that Slaine had filled with designer clothes for her. She decided on a black lace, knee-length dress, and sophisticated, white and black jacket. Becca accessorized her outfit with a string of black pearls and a string of white pearls. She finished her perfect outfit off with a pair of black Jimmy Choos. Becca admired her outfit in the full-length mirror. She’d never known a man to have such good taste in clothes before. Well, the kimonos he bought her were a little weird, but she liked them too. She looked like a spoiled, rich heiress or celebrity. He dressed her like a princess and the pearls were even real. It was crazy. Becca fingered the pearls with her hand and wondered why Slaine was being so nice to her. It was almost suspicious. A guy this nice and good looking…had to have a fatal flaw. Like maybe he was a serial killer or something? She mused and then shook her head of the outlandish thought. Slaine acted as if he’d known her for much longer than a month though, and the gifts…they almost felt like an apology for something. So odd. Slaine came up behind her, wrapped his arms around her, and kissed her head. “You look gorgeous. It makes me want to stay in tonight.” He purred against her hair. “Although I’d like to make one change.” Slaine removed the clip that was holding her hair up. Becca’s fiery red hair cascaded around her shoulders in waves. “There. Much better. Such beautiful hair as this should be on display.” Becca blushed as she watched Slaine kiss a lock of her hair in the mirror. She studied his reflection. His reflection looked weird…almost as if it were blurrier than her own. Whatever. She was just seeing things. Maybe she needed to buy some Windex or something. Slaine was dressed in a black, silk, button-down shirt, black leather pants, biker boots, and his signature white and black trench coat. His usually spiked-up, white hair had been slicked back, and he had his usual wraparound, silver sunglasses on his face. Slaine usually dressed much more Goth or punk, so it was a nice change of pace seeing him look more clean-cut. “You don’t look so bad yourself, Handsome.” Slaine frowned at her wording. “I told you not to call me that.” “What? Handsome?” She raised a red eyebrow at him. “But you are.” “I don’t think so.” “Is that because of your scars?” She asked softly. Slaine stiffened. “Can we please not talk about this?” Becca pouted and placed her hands on Slaine’s arms. “I don’t mind them at all. In fact, I think it makes you seem wild and dangerous.” Slaine let go of Becca and exited the closet. “Let’s go. We don’t want to be late for the movie.” Becca sighed. There he went again, putting his guard up. She hated when Slaine did that. When would the man open up to her? She wondered. They took Slaine’s Lamborghini and arrived at the movie theater in record time. Becca glanced at Slaine, sitting there behind the wheel, and looking all hot and mysterious. She wondered if she was making a mistake again, and falling for a monster with a pretty face. But her gut told her to trust Slaine, and she didn’t know why. “Is there something on my face?” Slaine asked as he looked around for a parking spot. Becca blushed. “N-No. Nothing.” Slaine’s expression turned amused and he finally found a parking spot. He parked and they exited the car. Becca could feel people’s eyes on her and Slaine. She knew the girls were probably jealous she was with a heartbreaker like Slaine. Becca suddenly wished she knew more people in San Francisco. She could talk to Issy Sweet about Slaine but…she’d recently gotten married and Becca didn’t want to intrude on the newlyweds. Her friends Issy and Tristan didn’t even know she was still in San Francisco. Only Derek now knew she was still here, and writing a new blog about tattoo parlors in San Francisco in order to keep her bills paid back home in New York. Becca took Slaine’s arm and they made their way to the movie theater. Only a few movies were playing, and Becca hadn’t heard anything about any of them. Slaine pointed out a movie that looked like an action flick. “That one looks good.” Becca frowned at the name Yakuza Apocalypse and the poster of an Asian man with a tattoo on his back holding a samurai sword. As long as it wasn’t a horror film she didn’t really care. “Men and their action flicks. Well, sure, whatever. I don’t mind.” “Awesome. Two tickets for Yakuza Apocalypse, please.” Slaine told the man at the ticket counter. Once they had their tickets, Slaine purchased them some drinks and popcorn, and they made their way into the theater. They found some seats in the back and sat down to wait for the movie to start. The lights dimmed, went out, and the movie started. The movie started out normally enough…but then began to descend into horror. Oh no. Becca clenched the arms of her chair. She’d accidentally willingly come in there to watch a horror film! This totally sucks. Why did that guy have to turn into a vampire? Becca was bad with anything ‘scary’, ‘horror’, or ‘Goth’. To top it all off she also had a blood phobia. She couldn’t stand the sight of blood and would faint at the sight of it or have a panic attack. Becca could only hope the movie wouldn’t be that bloody…and crossed her fingers. However, today was not Becca’s lucky day, the movie turned out to be incredibly bloody. Becca paled when a guy lost his head with a samurai sword in a spray of blood. She stood up from her seat. “What’s wrong?” Slaine asked her. “I have to go to the bathroom.” Becca lied as she left the theater with her hand over her mouth. She felt sick, nauseous. Her head felt pinched and was throbbing. She couldn’t decide if she wanted to throw up or pass out. And then she couldn’t breathe. She needed air. Becca rushed through the lobby and exited the theater. This was bad. She couldn’t breathe. She was having a panic attack. Oh crap! “Here. Breathe into this.” A soothing male voice said as he handed Becca a brown paper bag. Becca took it gratefully and began to use it to breathe into. The carbon dioxide began to calm her down instantly. She felt herself being guided over towards a bench where she sat down. Tears of humiliation burned her eyes. The stranger patted her on the back in a comforting way, and spoke: “What happened?” Becca turned to look at her mysterious rescuer and her eyes widened when she saw Derek. She lowered the paper bag so she could speak. “Derek, what are you doing here?” Derek scratched the back of his neck and gave her an oddly bashful look. “Ah, I was stood up on a date.” Becca’s eyebrows rose up to her hairline. “You were stood up? I don’t know if I should be more surprised that you’re actually on a date, or that you got stood up.” She looked his outfit over. He was wearing a long-sleeved, light-blue, silk shirt, black leather pants, and boots. Hotness. Incarnate. The shirt really made his sky-blue eyes pop. “You look good. I wouldn’t have stood you up.” Derek ran his hand over his mouth. He turned to look at her with an emotional look on his face. “So what happened?” His blue eyes were blazing, and there was a strange, dangerous edge to his voice. “Oh, it’s embarrassing.” Becca hedged. “Tell me.” Derek insisted. “I accidentally went to see a horror film. I…have a phobia to blood, you see. If I see blood…I have a panic attack or even faint. And Yakuza Apocalypse was particularly bloody.” Derek’s brow furrowed at her words and he looked upset. “I see.” Becca gave him a sheepish look. “It’s pretty pathetic, huh?” Derek offered her a reassuring smile and stroked her back in a comforting gesture. “I could never think you were pathetic. And besides, who isn’t afraid of death?” “Yeah…I can’t get over the fact that you’re here. It’s almost like fa-” Becca was saying, when- “Becca!” Slaine’s concerned sounding voice had Becca and Derek turning their heads to see Slaine exiting the movie theater. He looked at the two of them and glared at the hand Derek still had on Becca’s back. With swift, purposeful strides Slaine closed the distance between them in seconds. “What happened? What is this?” He glared fiercely at Derek. “Ah…” Becca stood up and approached Slaine. “I was having a panic attack and my friend Derek helped me out.” Slaine narrowed his eyes at Derek before turning his questioning gaze back to Becca. “A panic attack?” He reached out and cupped her face, his expression turning concerned. “Are you alright?” “Yes, I-” Becca began. “Then let’s jet.” Slaine took her hand and began to pull her down the sidewalk towards where his Lamborghini was parked. “Uh, bye, Derek! Thanks!” Becca called over her shoulder as Slaine dragged her away. Derek watched them go and clenched his hands into fists. Dang it. It took all his willpower not to go after them, pull Slaine away from Becca, and beat the crap out of that flashy vampire. Luckily, his cell phone decided to ring at that moment. Derek answered the call without bothering to see who it was and put the phone up to his ear. “What?” “Someone sounds pissed.” Garth’s voice came over the phone. “You got plans for tonight, bro?” “Tonight?” Derek continued to watch Slaine and Becca as they got into Slaine’s Lamborghini. “Probably drinking myself into oblivion and cursing my life. Why?” “I want to pop Malakye’s club cherry. That kid needs to get out of his room for like more than two seconds to take a piss. I’m planning on taking Malakye to that new Goth club that’s opened up. You know, the one called Iron Casket? Everyone’s been raving about it. Also, Roman is going to be performing there tonight.” Even though Derek was in a sour mood his lip twitched as he heard his friend’s voice over the phone. He missed his friends, and it was sad that his time working for the merman had come to an end. Now that he lived alone, nothing was holding him back from hunting down Slaine, and avenging Cinnia. Also, now that his friends wouldn’t be put in danger, he was out every night hunting vampires and protecting the city. His life was pretty lonely these days. But his friend Garth made sure to stop by periodically to spar, or drag him out for drinks. Garth was a bit of a meathead but a really good guy. When the shifter wasn’t at his candy shop he was at the gym. Garth had a sweet tooth and enjoyed making candy. Ever since Garth had managed to escape from an underground fight club where shifters trapped in their animal forms were forced to fight human exorcists in brutal, bloody battles, he’d been trying to find the place again so that he could rescue his friends. Unfortunately, Garth had yet to remember where exactly the club was located. Malakye Sterling was a plant alien from the planet Flos Luna, which had been destroyed eons ago. He had glowing, silver skin that he kept covered with white makeup at all times, and looked like a Goth because of it. Malakye was a little different from the rest of the crew - kind, sweet, and a pacifist. He was really smart, computer savvy, and created video games in his spare time. However, Malakye rarely left his room as a result. They were an odd bunch, but Derek figured that nonhumans should all stick together. “Iron Casket?” Derek had heard of the new club in San Francisco. He stroked his chin in thought. “Oh, what the hell. Beats drinking alone. What time you guys gonna be there?” “Ten o’clock.” Garth informed him. “Alright. I’ll see you guys then.” Derek replied and ended the call. *** Slaine Morvyn was pissed. Becca had had a panic attack and had immediately run into Derek’s arms for comfort. They had this…inescapable connection. This invisible bond. Those two are connected by the red string of fate. Slaine knew that if he let things progress the way they currently were that he’d end up losing Becca to Derek all over again. And he couldn’t allow that. Slaine was still one step ahead of Derek though. Poor Derek still hadn’t figured out that Becca was the reincarnation of his dead wife, Cinnia. But Slaine had. That’s why he had to turn Becca into a vampire that very night. Enough procrastinating. No more waiting. And no more wooing Becca. It was time. A plan began to form in Slaine’s mind. First, he’d take her to the Goth club where he worked. There he’d get her very drunk, and on their way back to his place he’d buy a dozen cans of whipped cream. Yes, this plan will do nicely. Then we’ll go back to my place and continue our little pleasure party there. Becca would be so out of it by the end of the evening that she’d be very easy to turn. It was the perfect plan. “Becca, how would you like to go clubbing tonight? I can show you where I work?” Slaine asked casually. Becca glanced at Slaine and nibbled her lower lip. “Iron Casket…?” Becca had had enough horror for one night but…she didn’t want to hurt Slaine’s feelings. “Sure. Sounds good.” Slaine beamed at her. “Great. You won’t regret this, babe. Tonight is going to be the night of your life.” *** Twenty minutes to ten, Derek headed to Iron Casket in his ’59 Rover. He arrived and parked a few blocks away. He got out of the car and approached the impressive club. Iron Casket was a square-shaped, five-story building that had been painted black and had random pieces of gray, rusted metal stuck to its exterior. Even the windows had been painted black. The overall effect was that the club looked sinister and foreboding. Perfect for a Goth club. The club’s name Iron Casket had been crafted out of metal and attached to the building directly above the front entrance. Also attached to the building and directly below the club’s name was a piece of metal that had been shaped to resemble a casket. A skeletal hand could be seen emerging from the casket’s half open lid. Derek approached the club and spotted a few vampire wannabes with fake fangs in the line to get in. He thought it was ironic that a real vampire was about to pass through the club’s front door. Standing close to the front of the line, Derek spotted Garth and Malakye. Garth was hard to miss at his towering height of six-eight. He was also really beefy these days and looked like he could snap a tree trunk in half with his bare hands. He was wearing a simple black, T-shirt, faded jeans, and sneakers. Garth had spiked-up orange hair and gold eyes. Malakye was in full Goth mode. He was the shortest of the group at six-three. Malakye had long black hair, bright emerald green eyes and all of his skin was covered with white makeup. He was lithely muscular, but less so than Derek. Malakye was wearing a black shirt, black leather trench coat, black leather pants and biker boots with lots of straps and buckles. Those who didn’t know Malakye personally would have been intimidated by his appearance. For this ‘Goth’ occasion Derek had decided to just change his shirt, and so was wearing his black, long-sleeved, silk shirt. He also had on a leather jacket with a hood, just in case he had any Druid Vampire Hunter stuff to do later that night and didn’t want his face being seen if there were too many human witnesses around. Especially the cops. Derek raised his hand in greeting. “Hey, guys. You do realize the line starts all the way back there.” He pointed to the end of the line. “Hey, bro. We’re in luck because Roman got us on the VIP List.” Garth explained as he shot a pitying look at the poor souls who still needed to have their IDs checked and pay the cover charge. “Ah.” Derek nodded and looked at Malakye, who was looking very uncomfortable and unhappy. He raised an eyebrow at the kid. “What’s doing, Mal?” Malakye frowned. “I don’t want to be here.” He looked around nervously and lowered his voice. “There are too many humans here. I don’t trust them.” Derek chuckled. “It’s called ‘living on planet earth’. Unfortunately.” He clapped Malakye on the shoulder. “But don’t worry, you’ll fit right in.” Malakye let out a heavy sigh. “Yeah, right.” He shuddered, just thinking about what had happened the last time some humans had gotten their hands on him. They’d beaten the crap out of him when they’d caught a glimpse of his freakish, glowing skin. He wrung his hands together, still looking nervous. Garth slung his huge arms around their shoulders, and guided them through the front door. “Come on, guys. The club’s inside.” Garth, Derek and Malakye walked past the bouncer and entered Iron Casket. The interior of the club was spacious with tall ceilings, and the walls were also painted black. The lights inside of the club were pretty dim, and oddly enough the tables had lit candelabra on them. The flickering candlelight cast spooky shadows on the club’s walls for an interesting effect. Strobe lights also added a nice effect to the dance floor that had artificially generated mist crawling across it. Derek couldn’t help but think that Becca Thorn would probably consider this place a great photo op. She’d probably want to film an entire movie there. The tables were made out of metal and shaped to resemble caskets. Simple metal chairs were positioned around the tables. Strange props like skulls, roses, and fake snakes decorated the club here and there. Derek noticed a sitting area with antique furniture. Red, velvet drapes hung from the windows, and the glass panes had been painted black. This was all very convenient for him in case he ever got stuck there during the day. It was as if the club had been decorated for Halloween, but it always looked like that. Everyone inside of the club was dressed like a Goth, punk, vampire, witch or demon. It was slightly bizarre to see all of the ‘humans’ looking ‘nonhuman’ for once. However, as Derek observed the crowd, he noticed that a few of the ‘vampires’ were actually real vampires. What the hell? Derek stared. They weren’t even wearing sunglasses to hide their red eyes. The humans must have thought they were wearing colored contacts, but still. They were being incredibly audacious, walking around in plain sight like that. Garth immediately picked up on Derek’s unease and put a hand on his shoulder. “What is it?” Derek shook his head, “Nothing.” His friends didn’t know about his ‘side job’ as a Druid Vampire Hunter and that at night he prowled the San Francisco streets and kept the city safe from vampiric threat. His friends had enough problems, to add his own to their plates. It was a good thing Derek had decided to wear long-sleeves that night or else the vampires would have recognized him for what he was and would have attacked him right then and there. He’d have to keep an eye on those vampires tonight and make sure they didn’t attack any humans. So not on my watch, suckers. “Eeee! It’s Roman Rune!” “Look! It’s Roman!” “Roman, we love you!” The sound of a bunch of females going crazy was heard next. Derek, Garth and Mal’s attention was drawn to the stage towards the back of the establishment where their friend Roman was walking up on stage. Roman was an incredibly handsome and flashy guy with his blood-red hair, and sparkling golden eyes. He was wearing a red silk shirt, tight brown leather pants, and brown boots. A shiny golden chain dangled around his neck, and one diamond earring glittered in his right ear. He also had a fedora on top of his head to hide his curling gold horns. Roman approached the guitar stand, picked up a red and black electric guitar, slipped the strap over his shoulder, and strummed the guitar loudly. The females present all cried out in response and he hadn’t even said anything yet. “Hello ladies and gentlemen! Who’s ready to rock?” Roman strummed his guitar again. “Whoo, we are!” “Eeee! Roman!” The crowd cheered. Roman began to sing and play guitar, and the normally quiet, subdued Goth girls were going wild. As Roman continued to sing the girls appeared to become mesmerized by his deep, melodious singing voice. But this was only to be expected since Roman was a satyr. He had a natural way with women. The trio headed over to one of the free casket tables and sat down. “So Derek is this what your new bed looks like?” Garth teased. “Shut up, dude.” Derek grumbled. He’d heard enough vampire jokes to last him several lifetimes. A Goth waitress approached them and in a droning voice spoke: “What can I get you guys?” “Vodka on the rocks.” Malakye said. “Scotch on the rocks.” Garth put in. “A glass of Merlot, please.” Derek requested politely. Garth and Malakye gave Derek an incredulous look. “What? Alright, fine. A vodka on the rocks.” Derek caved to peer pressure. He missed the days when drinking wine was ‘cool’. Now people just looked at him like he was an old fuddy-duddy. Garth slapped his back happily. “Now, we’re talking!” “Well, lookie what we have here.” Came a familiar husky female voice that oozed sex. “An eye-candy buffet.” Derek looked up to see none other than Nerezza Cruso - famous actress and succubus demon. She was an acquaintance of theirs. Nerezza was wearing a tight, sheer dress that resembled spider’s web. Her glorious curves were on display, and as she leaned over the table all three males couldn’t help but stare. Nerezza let her pheromones ooze out of her skin and the scent of jasmine wafted through the air. Derek could feel himself getting slightly aroused. Garth shifted uncomfortably on his chair. “Hey, Nerezza.” His voice was gruff, his Scottish accent prevalent. And Derek was positive Malakye was blushing beneath his white makeup. Nerezza’s attention shifted to Malakye and she stared at him intently. She reached out, and stroked Malakye’s cheek. The alien trembled at her touch. “I’m surprised to see you here, Malakye. Aren’t you usually holed up in your room?” Malakye’s eyes widened that Nerezza was actually talking to him. He was bad at dealing with females! “I-I-I-!” “We’re popping his clubbing cherry tonight.” Garth rumbled as he took a sip of his Scotch and admired Nerezza’s assets. He found Nerezza incredibly attractive. But she was also ‘off limits’ in a way since she was a ‘friend’ of theirs. Nerezza’s eyes glittered with mischief. “Oh, goodie. Why don’t I pop another of his cherries tonight too? Like sex.” Nerezza put her finger under Malakye’s chin and tilted his head so she could lean forward and kiss him. Derek shoved her back, away from Malakye. “Get away from him, succubus.” Malakye was like a little brother to him. And he didn’t want Malakye getting hurt. Nerezza trembled with delight at Derek’s rough treatment of her and turned her attention towards him next. “Ooo, so forceful. I love that in a man. Why don’t we have some fun together instead, Derek? I’m ravenous tonight.” She licked her lips as she eyed Derek from head to toe. Derek rubbed his nose at the overwhelming scent of jasmine. It had never bothered him before…but tonight he just wasn’t feeling it. Derek let go of Nerezza’s arm. “No, thanks. And if you’re not going to behave…you should just go.” He said coldly. Nerezza pouted and looked putout. Usually, these three males were eating out of the palm of her hand. They were her friends, and so she was just teasing them a little, as usual. She’d never actually use one of them for sex - just to steal their sexual energies. Yep, Nerezza was a succubus, a sex demon, and needed to have sex in order to survive. But that didn’t mean she was an evil witch who would use her friends. It was strange though. Derek didn’t seem to be affected by her pheromones that night, which could only mean one thing. A cat’s paw smile formed on Nerezza’s lips as she stared at Derek. “Well, now isn’t this interesting? You’re in love.” She sat down on the chair next to Derek and gave him an intense look. Derek flinched guiltily, and frowned at the succubus. “What the hell are you talking about, Nerezza?” Nerezza gestured at Garth and Malakye, who were both staring at Nerezza with adoring looks on their faces. Poor Garth was even drooling at this point. “Just take a look at your friends. My pheromones are still working on them…but they aren’t working on you tonight. Which can only mean one thing - you’re in love. My pheromones don’t work on people who are I love - truly in love, you see.” Derek’s eyes widened at her revelation, but he shook his head in denial. “That’s preposterous.” Nerezza tapped her bottom lip with her index finger. “I wonder.” Nerezza sniffed the air. “Hmm…the woman you’re in love with is here actually. I can smell your scent on her. You’ve subconsciously marked her, Derek.” “What!” Derek burst out. Nerezza searched the crowd of swaying bodies dressed in black, and then she spotted a beautiful, red-haired woman dressed in a black lace dress and four-inch stilettos. The man who was dancing next to her was incredibly handsome with his spiked-up white hair, black T-shirt, long white and black leather jacket, leather pants and boots. He was wearing a belt with a skull on it, and had matching skull earrings. The succubus pointed at Becca and Slaine triumphantly. “She’s right over there. It’s that redhead, isn’t it? Dancing with that delectable morsel. Mmm. I’d like to sample him.” Derek followed Nerezza’s line of sight and spotted Becca and Slaine dancing together in a very sensual manner. “Becca!” Becca had left her white jacket behind and so now her outfit looked more Goth. The only thing Slaine had changed about his outfit from earlier was the addition of the skull belt, matching earrings, and the fact that he’d spiked up his hair. “Ah, so her name is Becca. Who is she?” Nerezza leaned closer to Derek, a note of curiosity to her voice. “Rebecca Thorn. Cyber socialite. Blogger. Writer. She’s also an…acquaintance of ours.” Derek reluctantly explained. Nerezza snorted at that. “Acquaintance? She’s much more than an acquaintance to you, Derek. Like I said - you’re in love with her.” At this point, Garth and Malakye had sobered up enough from Nerezza’s pheromones that they were now listening intently to what Nerezza was saying, and looking at Becca and Slaine dancing together with equal curiosity. “Shut up, succubus.” Derek snapped. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. Besides, even if it were true, it’s really none of your business. So keep your nose out of it.” Nerezza ignored Derek and plowed on with her questions. “And the white-haired man…who is he? He smells like a vam-” She was saying but Derek cut her off. “His name is Slaine Morvyn. And he’s dangerous. That’s all you need to know about him. So stay away from him.” Derek said firmly. Nerezza tilted her head at Derek thoughtfully. “Why don’t you go over there and cut in for a dance with Becca?” Derek gave Becca a longing look, but shook his head vehemently. He clenched his hands into fists. “No, I can’t.” “Well, I can. Coward.” Nerezza declared before she stood up from the table and began to approach Slaine and Becca. “Crap…what the hell does that succubus think she’s doing!” Derek swore as he watched Nerezza reach Slaine and Becca, and then she released her pheromones towards Slaine. Slaine’s eyes grew hooded and his expression turned dopey and adoring for Nerezza! Nerezza asked Slaine to dance with her and Slaine said ‘yes’. Derek watched as Slaine and Nerezza began to move across the dance floor together. Crap. Derek finished his drink, stood up, and made his way through the crowd towards Slaine and Nerezza. Slaine was dangerous. He had to protect Nerezza from him. He’d almost reached them when he felt a hand on his shoulder. “Derek?” A sexy, Southern drawl reached his ears. Derek turned around to see Becca. She looked gorgeous with her flushed cheeks and bright green eyes. “Becca.” Becca gave Derek a suspicious and slightly teasing look. “We’ve really got to stop meeting like this. If I didn’t know any better I’d say you were stalking me. Really, Derek is your love for me that great?” Derek’s eyes burned as he looked down at her. He was almost tempted to say ‘yes’. He pulled Becca into his arms. “Dance with me.” Becca’s eyes popped at Derek’s bold move. This was a strange change of pace. Derek was the one who was always pushing her away. And now, he was the one pulling her close. “S-Sure.” Becca agreed breathlessly. She was slightly buzzed from all the alcohol she’d drunk earlier. It was hard drinking to keep up with Slaine. Derek led Becca across the dance floor and began to dance with her. Everyone else was freak dancing, but Derek decided to dance a bit different. He began to take Becca through the steps of an ancient Celtic dance. Derek spun her and Becca flawlessly followed his movements. She surprised him by starting the next set of steps in the ancient dance. Derek was about to ask her how she knew the dance when something caught his attention out of the corner of his eyes. His eyes widened in disbelief and horror. It can’t be…Dracula and his zombie bride Neena? What the hell are they doing here? And in this country for that matter. Dracula had once again changed his image, and in Derek’s humble opinion the ancient vampire now looked like a pimp. He was wearing an expensive designer suit, Ferragamos, and a dramatic, floor-length, black, mink coat that billowed behind him as he strode across the dance floor. The vampire towered over most of the people inside of the club at six-six. He still wore his black, wavy hair long, and his red eyes were hidden behind a pair of round sunglasses with purple-tinted lenses. Dracula held a massive black cane with a silver, dragon-shaped knob that he was swinging back and forth as he walked. Derek was pretty sure it concealed a sword - the vampires’ weapon of choice. Next to Dracula was Neena, his zombie bride. Her powder-blue skin had been covered with white makeup. She was wearing a low-cut, black, medieval gown with belled sleeves. Her long, blue-black hair was braided down her back. And her ice-blue eyes were as creepy as ever. “It can’t be…crap.” Derek let go of Becca. “I…I gotta go. Sorry.” He took off through the crowd in pursuit of Dracula and Neena, shoving people out of his way as he went. Around this time, Slaine began to come back to his senses. He shook his head as if to clear his muddled mind and glared at the woman he was currently dancing with. What the hell was she? “Who the hell are you, woman?” He snarled at her. Slaine was pretty pissed off that he’d somehow been separated from Becca. Nerezza’s eyes widened, and then she smiled. “You broke my spell too. Could it be you’re in love with her too? I wonder.” “Get off me, slut.” Slaine pushed Nerezza away from him and she fell to the dance floor in a heap. Nerezza looked up at Slaine and licked her lips. “Mmm, so forceful.” Slaine curled his lip in disgust at Nerezza before searching the crowd for Becca. Where the hell is Becca? And then he spotted her dancing with Derek Dearg! The hell? Son of a gun. Slaine pushed his way through the crowd towards Becca. By the time he reached her Derek had already left her in pursuit of Dracula and Neena. Becca was watching Derek go. “Becca.” Slaine reached out, grabbed her arm, and spun her around to face him. “What were you just doing?” Becca faced Slaine and a guilty look crossed her face. So guilty. “I, er…I was dancing with a friend.” At least she didn’t lie to him, but still…Derek and Becca’s connection was only growing stronger by the second. It wouldn’t take Derek long to figure out that Becca was Cinnia reincarnated. “I see. Let’s go home. I’m bored.” Slaine drawled as he began to drag her through the crowd. “Hey, Slaine, wait.” Becca stopped walking. “I want to know something.” Slaine let out an impatient huff and looked back at Becca. “Yes?” “Do you know who the man in the black mink coat was? He looked like a pimp.” Becca asked casually. Slaine chuckled at her words. Dracula the Pimp. Next time he pisses me off I’m so using that. “Yeah, I know who he is. He’s my boss. Mr. Vlad Tepes.” “Oh, I see.” I wonder how Derek knows him. And seriously, he must have gotten his name changed to that. Goths. Slaine and Becca exited the club and went to find his parked Lamborghini. After that Slaine headed to the closest supermarket so that he could pick up a few bottles of whipped cream. Becca giggled having an idea what Slaine might have in mind. *** Derek followed Dracula and Neena up a flight of stairs and down a long hallway. He watched as Dracula punched a code into the keypad that was next to the door that they’d stopped in front of. The electric door lock unlocked, and the door opened. Dracula and Neena made their way inside and the door closed behind them. It suddenly became clear to Derek that Dracula was the owner of this new Goth club in San Francisco. Just what the hell is he up to? Clubs tended to attract tourists, which were ideal pickings for vampires. Crap. Was this club ‘bait’ for potential prey? Derek mused darkly. Derek peered down at the dance floor from the mezzanine and spotted Slaine dragging Becca through the crowd towards the exit. There was an odd sense of urgency around Slaine that Derek didn’t like one bit. It instantly put him on edge and made the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. Derek rushed down the stairs and exited the club. He spotted Slaine’s Lamborghini driving away and was about to head to his Rover when - he smelled blood. Human blood. You gotta be kidding me. Derek ran to the alleyway that was directly next to the club and entered. He ran down the alley until he reached the far end where it was pitch-black. His eyes cut through the darkness and what he saw was - two human girls with their arms wrapped around each other out of fear. Three vampire males stood in front of them, and one of the vampires already had a human female in his arms that he was feeding from while his buddies egged him on. Crap! “Hey! Let her go!” Derek called out as he took his jacket off and began to roll up his shirtsleeves to expose his battle tattoos. The vampires and girls all turned to look at Derek. The vampires leered at Derek menacingly until his blue Celtic animal tattoos were revealed. “Oh crap! It’s a Hunter!” “Crap…what’s a Hunter doing here?” The vampires burst out. The vampire who’d been feeding from the poor girl tossed her aside like a piece of garbage, and prepared to fight Derek. Derek hoped she was still alive. “Hey, girls. Look into my eyes.” Derek called out to the two frightened girls. They immediately looked into his eyes and he used hypnosis to knock them out cold so that he could use magic without any human witnesses. Derek raised his arms before him and summoned his magical power. He willed his wolf, panther and python tattoos to peel off his arms and materialize. The ink creatures were about the size of what the creatures would be out in the wild, but their bodies were translucent, blue-tinged and shimmery. Once the ink creatures had leapt down from his arms, they stood beside him, and Derek gave them an order. “Attack!” The ink creatures attacked the vampires, who quickly fought back. The ink panther wasted no time in leaping at one vampire, pushing him to the ground, and biting into his neck. “No! Get him off of me! Get him off!” The vampire cried out as he struggled against the panther, but to no avail. The panther ripped the vampire’s head off and he disintegrated into dust. The python slithered across the dirty ground towards one of the vampires and began to coil around its body. It swiftly slithered up the vampire’s body until it was coiling around the vampire’s neck. “No! Curses!” The vampire cried out as his head was severed from his shoulders and he disintegrated. One left. “Get him!” Derek told the wolf. This last vampire was a little stronger than the others, and fought back with his fangs and claws. But in the end the wolf grabbed his neck and bit down hard. “No! You punk! Dracula will kill you for this!” The vampire cried out as he was decapitated and disintegrated into a pile of dust to join his fellows. “Derek?” Came a tentative sounding male voice. Derek spun around to see Garth and Malakye standing in entrance to the alley. Garth looked at the piles of dust on the ground quizzically. “What the hell happened here?” “Oh my God…that poor woman!” Malakye rushed to the side of the fallen woman with the bite wound on her neck. He took her pulse by pressing his fingers to her throat. “She’s still alive. Derek…did you do this?” He asked in a hesitant manner. Derek let out a frustrated huff. “Of course, I didn’t. I already told you guys. I don’t feed from humans. There were three vampires here…I killed them.” “Vampires.” Garth spoke up and his brow furrowed. “You mean, these piles of dust were…?” Derek nodded, his expression bleak. “Yeah. When you decapitate a vampire they turn to dust.” Garth’s golden eyes widened and he scratched the back of his neck. “Uh, let me get this straight. You just killed those of your own kind?” His voice was tinged with surprise. Derek’s eyes narrowed dangerously at Garth. “They are not my kind! I’m nothing like them. I don’t feed from humans and so my eyes aren’t red like theirs. Also, I happen to be a Druid Vampire Hunter. I’ve been a Hunter for more than two thousand years!” “You’re a Vampire Hunter?” Garth frowned at this new revelation. “Why didn’t you ever tell us about this?” Derek sighed and ran a hand back through his hair. “And put you guys in danger? No way. This is my fight.” Garth stalked towards Derek and punched him hard across the face. “Idiot! We’re your friends. We got your back. Whether you like it or not. And just so you know. You’re really making me angry with all this crap.” The shifter’s eyes flashed red. “Crap.” Derek wiped the blood from his mouth with the back of his hand. Garth hit hard! “You’re right. I’m sorry, bro. It’s just…I’m used to being alone. For two millennia I’ve hunted vampires and without anyone’s help.” Garth seemed to calm down considerably at Derek’s words. He let out a deep breath and the orange fur that had started to appear disappeared from his face. “Naw, it’s okay. I forgive you.” “Hey guys…this girl needs immediate medical attention. Should we call an ambulance?” Malakye asked and began to wring his hands together. “What if she dies?” Derek was about to open his mouth when there was a great flash of light and then a tinkling female voice spoke. “There’s no need for that, gentlemen.” The guys turned around to see what could only be an angel. The woman had a bob of short, curly, white-blonde hair, and wide, blue eyes with long, dark lashes. She had a heart-shaped face, and pink pouty lips. The angel was wearing silver armor - a breast plate, a metal skirt with spikes on it, greaves and gauntlets. She had a broadsword strapped to her side. A pair of white, feathery wings was outstretched behind her. She would have looked majestic…if not for the fact that she was sucking on a lollipop. “An angel?” Garth asked. “An Archangel maybe.” Malakye eyed her sword and wings with a wary look on his face. It the was the Archangels who’d destroyed his home planet of Flos Luna eons ago. “Someone give the boy a prize.” Uriel strolled over to the fallen woman, knelt by her side, and reached out to place her hand over the bite wound. She summoned her power and her hand was bathed in a golden light. Right before their eyes the woman’s wound began to heal. “Don’t worry about her. I’ll heal her.” “Who the hell are you?” Derek demanded while giving her a suspicious look. Uriel’s lip twitched with amusement. “I am Archangel Uriel. I’ve been assigned to be your guardian angel, Derek Dearg. Congratulations.” Her voice was dripping with sarcasm. She was definitely an odd angel. Derek gawked at her. “My guardian angel? Are you sure you guys haven’t screwed up some paperwork in Heaven?” Uriel snorted. “You wish. But enough about that. There’s no time. Rebecca Thorn is in grave danger, Derek. Slaine plans to turn her into a vampire this very night. You must go to her and take your friends with you. You won’t stand a chance against Slaine on your own. He’s gotten incredibly powerful over the last few centuries. You must not underestimate him.” She waved her pink lollipop at him to punctuate her words. “Becca.” Derek turned to give Garth and Malakye a questioning look. “Will-?” “Don’t even finish that sentence, man.” Garth interrupted with a fierce look on his face. “Of course we’ll help you.” Malakye stood up and nodded. “Yeah. Let’s go.” Derek gave his friends an emotional look. “Thanks, guys. The trio piled into the Rover, and Derek headed for Slaine’s apartment building as fast at the hunk of junk would go, hoping that he wasn’t already too late. To be continued in…Tattoo 3: Python Chapter 3: Python Nerezza pouted as she watched Slaine walk away from her. She got up and went to sit at one of the tables. In mere seconds she was surrounded by a group of young human males that began to vie for her attention. But there were only three empty chairs at the table. Nerezza tapped her lower lip in consideration while she looked them over with a critical eye. “Why don’t you, you, and definitely you, join me?” Nerezza pointed to three of the young men. “The rest of you are dismissed.” She waved her hand at them. “Awww man.” The men groaned in disappointment. “For now.” Nerezza added teasingly. “Yay!” The men all cheered with renewed hope before walking off. Nerezza then turned her attention to the three men who were joining her at the table. “Why don’t you tell me a little about yourselves?” “Oh, well, I’m a financial advisor-” One young man began. Nerezza raised her hand to stop him. “Uh, I meant…why don’t you tell me a little about your sexual kinks.” She placed her chin on her hand and leaned over the table. “What really gets you off?” The man gulped, his throat suddenly dry. He’d never encountered a woman who was so beautiful and bold about sex at the same time. “Ah, well…” He looked away, blushing. “Handcuffs.” Nerezza grinned wolfishly. “I totally approve. What do you say we-?” “Excuse me, Miss Nerezza Cruso?” A male voice drew her attention. Nerezza looked up to see one of the waiters. “Yes?” “The owner Mr. Tepes would like to speak to you.” The waiter informed her. Nerezza frowned. Mr. Tepes? She didn’t know anyone by that name. “Did he say why?” The waiter shook his head. “No.” Nerezza sighed. “Sorry, guys. I’ll be right back. I promise.” She told the three young men and blew a kiss to each of them. “Alright, Nerezza.” The young men chimed at the same time. Nerezza got up from her seat, followed the waiter through the club, and up the stairs, which led to the second floor. The waiter led her down the hallway and stopped in front of one of the doors. He knocked on the door. “Mr. Tepes, I’ve brought her.” The door opened. “Please, go inside.” The waiter waved his hand at the open doorway. Nerezza entered the office and the door closed of its own accord behind her. “Welcome, Nerezza Cruso, it’s an honor to have one such as you in my club. Please, have a seat.” Seated behind a huge black desk was a man with an incredible presence. His clothes screamed money. He was wearing a dark gray and white pinstriped suit, and an incredible black mink coat. Nerezza studied his chiseled European facial features and the round sunglasses that were perched on his nose. This guy definitely comes in 3-D. Deadly, dangerous and desirable. Nerezza longed to run her hands through his long, wavy, midnight hair that fell past his shoulders. Nerezza reached out her senses to see if he was a demon too but…she didn’t sense anything. Is he shielding my senses? This guy can’t be human. Standing next to Mr. Tepes was a beautiful woman who unsettled Nerezza. There was something off about her. She was too still. It was almost like she wasn’t breathing. The woman had her skin painted white, and her lips black. Her long, blue-black hair was braided down her back and she had cold blue eyes. She was wearing a medieval-style gown with belled sleeves. Mr. Tepes waved his hand at one of the two leather chairs that sat in front of his desk. Nerezza walked over and took a seat. “So you know my work? Are you a fan?” This wasn’t the first time the owner of a club or restaurant had requested Nerezza’s presence. And each encounter had pretty much ended with sex. Mr. Tepes blinked. “Ah, when I said ‘one such as you’ I wasn’t referring to your being an actress. I was referring to the fact that you’re a succubus demon.” Nerezza’s eyes narrowed. “But…how do you know that? Are you a demon?” She demanded. Mr. Tepes smiled eerily. “Of a sort.” He removed his glasses to reveal his red eyes and smiled to reveal his fangs. “I’m a fallen angel, just like you, my dear.” And then it clicked. Mr. Tepes was a vampire. And not just any vampire but the vampire. Vlad Tepes a.k.a Count Dracula. “You’re…Dracula? The Dracula?” Nerezza’s tone was incredulous. Dracula nodded. “Indeed.” Nerezza frowned. “What are you doing in San Francisco of all places? And what do you want with me?” Dracula steepled his fingers before him. “I’ll cut right to the chase. I’m looking for powerful new allies. I’d like you to join me, Nerezza.” “Join you…?” She frowned. “I would turn you into a vampire and grant you even more power than you currently have. As a vampire you would no longer need sexual energy in order to survive. Although, you will of course need blood in order to survive. But I think that would be a preferable existence to the one you currently have…having to give your body to filthy humans night after night. Humans are nothing but livestock.” Dracula’s lip curled in disgust. Nerezza’s mind was reeling. Dracula wanted to turn her into a vampire? No way. Sure, she’d no longer need to feed off of a male’s sexual energy, but…she’d need blood to survive and would have to kill humans to get it. She’d also lose her chance for redemption. According to her friend Levi Devlin she needed to find a very special human, a Judge, have him fall in love with her, and then she’d be redeemed in the eyes of God. No, she wouldn’t give up on finding true love. Nerezza stood up from her seat. “I’m sorry, Dracula. But I’m going to have to refuse your offer. I have no interest in becoming a vampire. Good day.” She turned to leave. “Pity. I’d hoped we’d be able to do things the easy way. Why is it always the hard way? Perhaps, after you spend some time without sex you’ll reconsider my offer.” Dracula drawled before he opened his drawer, pulled out a syringe, and tossed it at Nerezza. Nerezza felt a prick in her neck as she was heading for the door, and then she collapsed to the floor. Darkness consumed her. *** Becca was drunk. Very drunk. And having a very good time. For some reason she couldn’t stop giggling. Slaine had stopped at the supermarket on their way back to his place and had purchased several cans of whipped cream for some reason. She suspected that he wanted to make her wear a whipped cream bikini or something. He probably planned to lick it off and Becca was so on board with this kinky plan. Slaine opened the door to his apartment and helped Becca inside. They made their way to the bedroom and Becca collapsed onto the bed still giggling. Slaine watched her with heat in his gaze as he took his jacket off and tossed it on the floor. He put the shopping bag full of whipped cream cans on the bed, reached into the bag, and pulled out a can to show Becca. “Do you have any ideas what I want to do with this?” He waggled his white brows at her. Becca flipped onto her back, blinked owlishly at Slaine, and smiled languidly. “Oh, I have a few ideas.” Slaine opened his mouth and sprayed whipped cream inside. He swallowed, and his Adam’s apple bobbed sexily. “Mmm, you gotta try this, babe.” Slaine crawled onto the bed with predatory grace and moved over her until he was straddling her. “Open that pretty mouth of yours for me.” Becca did as she was told and Slaine poured whipped cream into her mouth. She savored its sweet taste and smiled up at Slaine dazedly. “Mmm, yeah. That’s good. Sweet.” Slaine smiled and poured another shot of whipped cream into his mouth. He then neared the can next to Becca’s mouth and she eagerly opened her mouth to get another taste of whipped cream again. Slaine poured shot after shot of whipped cream into her mouth until she lost track of how much he’d fed her. They finished an entire can of whipped cream together, and Slaine tossed the empty can of whipped cream to the floor. At this point Becca was feeling strangely lightheaded. Slaine pulled out another can of Reddi Wip and held it up to her. “I want to decorate your body with this and lick it off, baby. What do you say?” Becca giggled and then snorted. “Sure.” She reached behind her back for her dress’s zipper and struggled to find it. “Help me with my zipper.” “It would be my pleasure, my sweet.” Slaine reached behind Becca and pulled her zipper down. He then began to slide her dress off her body until Becca was left in a black and red bra and matching silk panties. And her stilettos. Dang, that’s hot. Slaine squirted whipped cream on Becca’s chest and began to lick it off. Becca moaned in pleasure. She felt high for some reason, like she’d smoked pot or something, and Slaine kept pouring whipped cream shots into her mouth over and over again as he licked whipped cream from her body. Slaine removed Becca’s bra and panties, and admired her bare flesh for a moment before he began to create a new bra and panties made out of whipped cream for her. “Maybe I missed my calling and should have become an artist? What do you think, my sweet?” Becca giggled. “Looks like you’ve got some skill.” Slaine tossed the empty Reddi Wip can aside when he was finished and wasted no time in laving his tongue all over her flesh. Becca cried out and arched her back in pleasure. Slaine cleaned up all of the whipped cream hungrily. Her natural lime flavor and the whipped cream combined were quite delicious. Once her flesh was mostly clean, he laved his tongue down her body and headed towards the apex of her thighs. Slaine began to lick her there. Becca gasped. “Oh my God…oh! Wow…I’m so glad you’re not the shy type.” Slaine pleasured her with his mouth as he cleaned the whipped cream from her. It didn’t take long before Becca was close to reaching her peak. She was so close. But she knew that for whatever reason she wouldn’t reach it. So she had to pretend. “Oh, Slaine! Yes!” Becca cried out. Slaine pulled back and looked up at her with a devilish grin on his face. He licked his lips and spread her legs. He captured her lips and while she was distracted united their bodies. Becca cried out into his mouth at the sensation. Slaine began to surge over her until she was feeling dizzy from the pleasure. Becca made mewling noises as Slaine increased his pace, and raked her nails down his back. He was still fully dressed for some reason, and she could feel his leather pants rubbing against her thighs. So frigin hot. She thought. Slaine moved from her mouth to begin licking and nibbling at her collarbone. Becca loved it when Slaine did that and eagerly turned her head to give Slaine more access. Slaine licked at the pulse in her throat, and then sunk his fangs into her flesh. Becca gasped at the sudden pain in her neck. But she still felt numbed to what was going on around her for some reason. Did Slaine just bite my neck? Really? No way. Slaine sucked Becca’s sweet blood into his mouth and the delectable taste had him finishing inside of her. Becca’s pain shifted to mind-numbing pleasure and her toes curled. She’d never felt anything quite like this before. She and Slaine felt so…connected. It was like he was inside of her mind, reading her thoughts. Slaine removed his fangs from her neck and licked his lips. Becca stared up at Slaine and her heart stopped in her chest at the sight of Slaine licking her blood from his lips. Blood… A chill crawled up her spine. She watched as Slaine bit into his wrist and then held his bleeding wrist out towards Becca. “Drink, my sweet.” Becca cringed as Slaine shoved his bloody wrist in her face. What the hell? Is he crazy? This can’t be for real. Blood…he wants me to drink blood! Not blood! A few drops of blood fell onto Becca’s face. Drip…drip…drip… She began to tremble in fear. And then she had a strange, overwhelming sensation of déjà vu crash over her. She’d been through this before. She couldn’t open her mouth, because if she did…she’d become a vampire! Somehow she knew this to be true. No, no, no! Help! Someone, please help me! Becca cried out frantically in her mind. This can’t really be happening to me. There was a strange burning sensation on her lower back, and she sat up, flinching from the pain. Something was happening. A large, glowing, blue butterfly appeared and hovered directly in front of her, placing itself between her and Slaine in an almost protective manner. “What is that?” The butterfly was so beautiful. It seemed out of odds with what was happening. “What the hell…a battle tattoo?” Slaine murmured as he looked at it in disbelief. “How is that possible?” The butterfly opened its mouth to reveal sharp pointy teeth. It hissed at Slaine then flew at the vampire and bit him right on the nose. Slaine howled in pain. “Son of a gun…get it off of me! Get it off!” Becca quickly got off the bed and grabbed a red, Japanese-style robe Slaine had given her. She put the robe on and tied the belt. Becca knew she had to get the hell out of there. That’s all she was sure of at that point. She wouldn’t even dare to think about how her tattoo had suddenly come to life. She’d think about that later. Or else she’d go crazy. Becca ran to the sliding glass doors, which led to the balcony. She opened the doors, rushed out onto the balcony, and began to head for the fire escape. She stepped over the balcony railing and landed on the fire escape. Becca began to run down the fire escape’s steel steps. “REBECCA!” Slaine howled after her. Crap! Becca looked behind her, saw Slaine chasing her down the fire escape, and he was carrying a freakin samurai sword! No, no, no…! What had happened to the butterfly? Had it been killed? She wondered, frantically. When Becca reached the bottom of the fire escape she kept running and ended up running straight into someone. “Ugh.” Becca looked up to see what wall of muscle she’d run into and was startled to see none other than Derek. “Derek?” “Derek!” Slaine called out as he unsheathed his samurai sword. “Are you getting in my way again? Die!” Slaine jumped off the fire escape to get to the ground quicker. He had jumped down more than ten stories. Becca couldn’t believe it. He landed with a thud on the ground and charged Derek. “Crap! Get behind me!” Derek swiftly pushed Becca behind him and shoved her towards Garth and Malakye. “Guys, get her out of here!” “You got it.” Garth said as he caught Becca in his brawny arms. “What? No! I won’t leave Derek behind! Slaine’s not human…he’s a vampire!” Becca argued as she struggled against Garth’s iron hold. “He’ll be killed!” “Derek can handle himself.” Garth assured. Derek was forced to dodge the deadly downward slash of Slaine’s sword. And Slaine just kept on coming. “Don’t get in my way, Derek. Becca needs to drink my blood in order for the ritual to be completed! She must be turned into a vampire!” “Like hell!” Derek raised his arms. “I summon you - wolf, panther!” Derek’s wolf and panther tattoos peeled off his skin, materialized, and attacked Slaine in seconds. Slaine moved fast and slashed his samurai sword through the air quickly decapitating the wolf. The ink creature exploded into a shower of blue ink. Slaine dodged sideways to avoid the panther’s attack next, and then spun and brought his sword down upon the panther’s neck in a finishing move. The panther also exploded into blue ink. Blue ink dripped down from Slaine’s katana as he approached Derek with slow, menacing steps. “Derek, get out of my way. Becca belongs to me now.” Slaine charged Derek. Derek raised his arm and quickly summoned his python tattoo to block the oncoming sword swing. However- Slaine’s katana cut through the python with ease and then Slaine’s sword was slicing into the front of Derek’s chest. Derek fell back onto the ground where he lay twitching and bleeding. “Derek!” Garth growled lowly. “Now you’ve made me angry!” The shifter shoved Becca aside and charged Slaine with heavy, loping steps. Slaine arched an eyebrow at the meathead human that was charging towards him. “Pfft, what an idiot. A mere human is no match for me.” Garth reached Slaine and slammed his fist into Slaine’s face. Slaine’s nose broke upon impact, and Slaine was sent flying back through the air. He tumbled head over heels and ended up falling on a pile of garbage towards the back of the alleyway. Slaine chuckled darkly even as blood poured down his face from his broken nose. “What the hell? You’re not human are you? I won’t underestimate you again, you punk.” Garth charged down the alleyway and attacked Slaine with his fists. Slaine stood up and lithely dodged Garth’s punches using his superhuman speed. Garth growled low in his throat out of frustration. He looked around the alleyway wildly and spotted a dumpster. He picked up the heavy dumpster, held it up high over his head, and launched it at Slaine. “Dodge this, vampire!” “Oh bother.” Slaine grumbled as the dumpster flew towards him. He got into a fighting stance, awaited the dumpster, and sliced his sword down through the air at the last second - neatly slicing through the dumpster and trash that was inside. Unfortunately, the foul smelling garbage fell on top of Slaine as a result. “Beautiful.” Slaine grabbed a banana peel that had been sitting on his head and threw it aside. He began to tremble with rage. “Oh, you’ll pay for that, meathead.” The vampire attacked. Garth tried to dodge but Slaine was just too fast. Garth threw a punch anyways and only succeeded in knocking Slaine’s sunglasses off his face to reveal his glowing red eyes. “Those were expensive.” Slaine complained as he moved forward so fast that in one blink Slaine was right in front of Garth, and then biting into the side of Garth’s neck. Garth howled in pain. “Garth!” Malakye called out concernedly. “Crap…what do I do? What do I do?” Garth grabbed Slaine by his shoulder and threw him back. Slaine hit the sidewall with a crack. Garth put a hand over his bleeding neck wound and swayed on his feet. Crap. That jerk had managed to suck up so much of his blood and in mere seconds! He felt faint already and staggered backwards as Slaine approached Garth with menacing intent. Malakye rushed forward. “I may be a pacifist, but I won’t let you hurt my friends!” The alien raised his hand and a telekinetic blast of energy shot out and hit Slaine knocking him off his feet. In seconds, Slaine was back on his feet, however, and stalking forward towards Malakye. “Oh crap!” Malakye began to back away. “You’ll pay for that, boy.” Slaine snarled before he charged forward, and then disappeared. “Ack!” Malakye raised his hand. “Time stop!” He summoned his powers and stopped time. And not a second too soon. As soon as time was stopped it was to reveal that Slaine had been right in front of him and the tip of Slaine’s sword was touching the very tip of Malakye’s nose. Malakye gulped and backed away several steps. “Holy crap, that was close! I never said anything about wanting a new nose piercing!” The alien stared at Slaine who was a fearsome sight with his glowing red eyes and gleaming samurai sword. “That guy is one scary dude.” Malakye rushed over to Garth and put Garth’s arm around his shoulders. “Come on, we’ve got to get out of here! We only have two minutes before that scary dude will be moving again! Becca, get Derek!” Becca struggled to help the wounded Derek to his feet. Derek put his arm around Becca’s shoulders and allowed her to help him up. With Malakye leading the way, the group made their way to Derek’s Rover. Malakye got in behind the wheel, Garth got in the front passenger seat, and Becca got in the back with Derek. “We need to take Derek to a hospital. He’s lost a lot of blood.” Becca said as she looked down at Derek concernedly. Malakye’s lips thinned as he wondered what he should tell Becca. “He’ll be fine. He just needs to sleep it off.” Garth waved his massive hand dismissively through the air. Becca gawked at Garth. “You can’t be serious?” “You saw him, didn’t you? How his tattoos are…magical.” Malakye spoke up tentatively. Telling humans beings these sorts of things was never easy. They rarely believed you, and when they did they usually went crazy. Oh, and there was usually a lot of screaming and running involved too. Becca recalled how Derek had somehow brought his tattoos to life. “Yeah. What is he?” “He’s a va-” Garth was saying, when- “Druid.” Malakye said loudly before Garth could put his giant foot in his mouth. “A Druid? What’s a Druid?” Becca tilted her head. “It’s like a wizard.” Malakye said cagily. “Oh, you mean like Harry Potter?” Becca asked. “Uh, something like that.” Malakye agreed with a bemused expression on his face. “Look, I’m going to take you to Derek’s place. I know he’ll want to protect you from that guy back there.” Becca frowned as she looked down at Derek who was unconscious and had his head on her lap. “How can you be so sure of that? I don’t want to impose.” “He’s been protecting you all along. Derek is a Druid Vampire Hunter. Let him protect you. It’s his job.” Malakye explained firmly. “Apparently. We actually just found out about this tonight ourselves.” Becca came to a sudden realization. This was the reason why Derek had been following her. He was a Hunter and he was just doing his job protecting her. Doing his job. “I see. Good to know.” Becca said in a slightly agitated tone. Malakye’s expression turned confused, and he shot Garth a questioning look. He had no idea what Becca was suddenly angry about. “Was it something I said?” Garth shrugged, looking just as confused and befuddled. “Women.” He muttered under his breath. It wasn’t long before the group was entering the first floor of Derek’s townhouse, and walking through the tattoo parlor. They then headed towards the stairs, which led to the second floor. Malakye helped Garth, who was still a little unsteady on his feet, and Becca was helping to support Derek. They were about to take a second flight of stairs to the third floor when Becca spotted the interior of Derek’s studio through an open door. “Whoa, hang on a second.” Becca handed Derek over to Malakye and Garth, who had no choice but to put Derek’s arms around their shoulders in order to keep Derek in an upright position as he drifted in and out of consciousness. In a daze, Becca entered the candlelit studio, which was filled with paintings of a red-haired woman. But the painting Becca was immediately drawn to was the one that was currently sitting on the easel. It was the portrait of a young, red-haired woman with blue Celtic tattoos on her arms but…she had Becca’s face! “This woman…looks just like me.” Becca breathed as she reached her hand out towards the painting. Garth and Malakye entered the studio with Derek supported between them and stared at the painting too. “It does look like her.” Garth pointed out the obvious, in a surprised sounding voice. “Why does it look like her?” Malakye frowned. “That’s very strange. He’s been painting the mysterious red-haired woman for years. Even before he met you, Becca. I think the woman in these paintings is his dead wife.” “Derek’s dead wife…?” Becca looked at the other paintings curiously. She was also mysteriously drawn to them. But these paintings were all fantasy. A red-haired woman in a medieval gown dancing at Stone Henge under the light of a full moon. A red-haired woman riding a horse, and using a bow and arrow. A red-haired woman bathing in a river. “Becca?” Malakye began in a concerned tone. “Yes?” Becca replied. “We’re going to take Derek up to his room so that he can rest. He needs to sleep in order to heal.” Malakye explained. “Okay. I want to stay here and admire these paintings for a little while longer. If that’s alright?” Becca requested. “That’s fine.” Malakye and Garth took Derek out of the studio and headed upstairs. Becca looked at the painting of Stone Henge…and something stirred within her. Her heart pounded, and her temples began to throb. Déjà vu. Becca didn’t know for how long she’d been gazing at the painting when Malakye entered and put a hand on her shoulder. “Becca?” “Sorry, zoned out. What is it?” Becca turned towards the man. “Garth and I…are going to leave now. When you get tired feel free to use any of the spare bedrooms on the forth floor, okay?” Malakye said. “I’m sure it’s what Derek would have wanted.” Becca nodded, still not taking her eyes off the painting. “Sure.” Malakye frowned as he watched her. He didn’t want to leave, but he had his own responsibilities, like caring for his dangerous alien plants. If they got too hungry while he was away…well. Malakye also knew Garth had his hands full lately because he’d gotten into the habit of adopting stray cats. Garth’s house was full of stray cats that probably wanted food. Malakye and Garth left Becca alone in the studio. As Becca stared at the painting of the woman at Stone Henge…she couldn’t help but feel like she’d been there before. “I’ve been there before…but that’s impossible. I must be going crazy after everything that’s happened tonight. Slaine turned out to be a vampire. Derek is some kind of wizard. Garth…has superhuman strength. And Malakye can stop time or something.” She shook her head. “This has been one hell of a day. I still can’t believe that vampires are real. Although I guess since I know about how Tristan is half-incubus I shouldn’t be all that surprised by the supernatural. But still.” Becca admired the painting of the red-haired woman bathing and could almost hear the sound of the river flowing over the rocks, smell the scent of the forest - sandalwood, moss, cedar, wet earth. Her imaginings felt so real…like a memory. Becca’s family wasn’t the most glamorous. In fact, they were simple farmers living in Arlington, Iowa. Becca had never been on a vacation outside of the United States, so she’d definitely never been somewhere like Stone Henge, or a forest with a river that looked like that. Becca sunk to her knees as her head pounded. “My head hurts.” She ended up passing out on the floor. And then she dreamed. Upstairs, in his bedroom, Derek had fallen into an uneasy sleep where he too dreamed and remembered the past. FLASHBACK Dearg was the son of the Druid High Priest, Corann. Corann was the leader of the Blood Oak Clan - an ancient Druid clan that specialized in blood magic and hunting vampires. Like the other Druid Vampire Hunters, Corann, was usually dressed in a sleeveless, leather vest with hood, leather pants and boots. Hunters made sure that their battle tattoos were visible in order to incite fear into the hearts of vampires who dared to cross their path. The hood was necessary to keep the Hunters’ identities a secret. During the day the Druids lived in the village with everyone else, and only hunted vampires at night. Keeping their faces hidden protected their families from vengeful vampires. Dearg both respected and feared his father. Corann had a commanding presence, and his appearance only added to that. He had long black hair with scattered braids, sharp gray-blue eyes, heavy eyebrows, and a beard. Derek had inherited his father’s blue eyes but his hair was closer to his mother’s in color. His mother, Aleena, had hazelnut-brown hair and kind brown eyes. His mother was soft-spoken and obedient. In their home, Corann’s word was law. It was the duty of the Blood Oak Clan to protect the villages and tribes of Gaul from the immortal vampires. The Druids practiced a unique kind of magic called ‘blood magic’. Blood magic was a very rare gift. Those who were born with the ability to imbue their blood with magical power were immediately chosen to become Druid Vampire Hunters. It was considered to be their destiny. The Druids would tattoo animals onto their bodies along with complex knotwork, and symbols that served as defensive and offensive spells. When a Druid summoned their magical power they would then will their tattoos to come to life. The tattoo would peel off their skin and materialize. The creatures would usually be about the same size as the creature would normally exist out in the wild, but if a Druid willed for the creature to grow in size all they would have to do is feed more of their magical energy into the creature’s body. The ink creatures had a very unique, unusual appearance. Their bodies were translucent, blue-tinged and shimmery. The Druids could control their ink creatures with vocal commands but also with their thoughts. The more powerful the Druid the easier it was for them to control their ink creatures with their will alone. Because the ink creatures were magical they were able to keep up with a vampire’s superhuman speed. This was very important since no man alive could keep up with a vampire’s speed or strength under normal circumstances. Once a tribesman or clansman was discovered to have blood magic as soon as he turned eleven he would be taken to Corann to begin his training. Only men were permitted to become Druid Vampire Hunters. This was the clan’s tradition. Because Hunters had a high mortality rate, their families were provided for in return for giving up one of their sons to the Blood Oak Clan. At the age of eleven, Dearg along with several other boys from the village began their training as Druid Vampire Hunters. During their first year of training they mostly read books. The trainees learned as much as possible about their enemies - vampires. Corann lectured the students about vampires’ strengths and weaknesses, and battle tactics. They also learned things like astrology and philosophy in the school. Dearg remembered his first lecture about vampires as if it were only yesterday. Corann had stood in front of the class with an ancient tome in hand that he began to read from. “Vampires have no reflection because they have no soul. A good way to identify a vampire is by checking to see if they have a reflection in a mirror.” A boy named Aengus raised his hand. “Why don’t vampires have souls?” “They don’t have souls because when one is turned into a vampire one is granted immortality, but this goes against the will of the gods. They are nothing but monsters.” Corann explained in a tone that was dripping with hatred for vampires. “How does someone become a vampire?” Dearg asked. “A person who is bitten by a vampire and then drinks the vampire’s blood will become a vampire. A person who is bitten by a vampire, but who does not drink the vampire’s blood will turn into a flesh-eating ghoul. So you all must be very careful not to be bitten by a vampire…and if one of your comrades is bitten - you must kill him.” The trainees paled at this news and swallowed. “What are some of the vampires’ weaknesses?” A redheaded boy asked. “Vampires are weak against sunlight. They will catch on fire and burn to ashes if out in the sun for longer than a few minutes. Also, vampires need human blood in order to survive.” “What happens if a vampire chooses not to drink human blood?” Dearg asked curiously. “Then they shall surely perish.” Corann smiled at the thought. “Vampires are immortal and can only be killed by decapitation, which is why once you learn to control your ink creatures you will command them to attack and decapitate vampires.” “What powers do vampires have?” The redheaded boy asked. “Vampires possess mind control, telepathy, hypnosis and telekinesis. Some of the more ancient vampires even possess the ability to shape shift into the form of a bat or even a flock of bats. Vampires possess supernatural strength and speed, and must only be confronted with your battle tattoos. To face a vampire without using your tattoos is suicide.” Corann declared grimly. At the age of twelve, a Druid Vampire Hunter trainee would get their first battle tattoo. There were different levels of battle tattoos and each level needed a different amount of magical power and skill to control. Level one battle tattoos were usually small creatures that could be used for spying on vampires. The ink creatures would gather information about the location of the vampires’ cave lairs, and how many vampires lived therein. These tattoos were usually: birds, fish, and insects. Level two battle tattoos were small creatures that could be used for spying, but also attacking. This was the first real attack tattoo that the trainees got. These tattoos were usually: snakes or rats. Snakes were small enough to spy on vampires, but also a good attack tattoo because a snake could constrict around a vampire’s neck and decapitate it. Level three battle tattoo were medium-sized creatures such as: cats, dogs, stags, and foxes. These creatures could be used as diversions to help one escape from vampires, or paired with larger ink creatures in coordinated attacks. Level four battle tattoos were large-sized creatures such as wolves and panthers. These creatures could easily bite into the neck of a vampire and rip their head off. Level five battle tattoos were animals used for transportation and riding such as: horses, unicorns, bulls and bears. Level six battle tattoos were dragon tattoos. Dragon tattoos were the most powerful tattoos in one’s arsenal. It took the most magical power to control this tattoo. Usually, the dragon was placed on the entire back of the Druid, and with lots of Celtic knots and spells in the design for protection. Corann was an extremely strict teacher and adherent follower of the clan’s tradition. He could be cruel and overbearing at times with Dearg, but that was because Corann had high expectations for his son. He wanted Dearg to inherit the Blood Oak Clan one day. Even though the next clan leader would be chosen through single combat, Corann wanted the clan leadership to stay in the family in order to make sure that things stayed the way they were. Instead of going easy on Dearg because he was his son, if Dearg failed to remember a passage about vampire lore correctly, the High Priest would beat Dearg’s hands in front of the class to make an example out of him. Corann could sense that Dearg’s heart was soft and tried to beat the softness out of him. In secret, Corann tried to get Dearg to sacrifice animals to the clan’s patron god - Crom Cruach, but Derek continually refused and took his father’s beating instead. No one in the clan envied Dearg’s position. All of the trainees except for one redheaded boy stayed away from Dearg like the plague. The other boys were so afraid of Corann that they didn’t want to risk angering him by talking to Dearg and maybe doing something wrong. Dearg, for the most part, acted like he didn’t care that no one spoke to him. But he valued his friendship with the redheaded boy named Cinn more than he’d care to admit. Cinn was the only one brave enough to talk to Dearg and didn’t seem to care that Corann was his father. They became best friends. Another boy who hung out with them was a troublemaker and joker named Baird. The classmate, who hated Dearg the most and considered himself to be Dearg’s rival, was named Aengus. Aengus was very jealous of Dearg and that he was the High Priest’s son. Dearg would never forget the day he turned twelve and got his very first battle tattoo. His friend Cinn got a butterfly tattoo, which of course all of the other boys teased him about since it was pretty girlie. Baird got a salmon tattoo, which could be used to swim down the river for long distances in order to find vampires that lived far away. Aengus got a rat, and Dearg thought it was fitting since it matched his snively personality perfectly. Dearg’s father had tattooed his tattoo himself and Corann had given him a large hawk tattoo on his upper arm that had hurt a lot. The Woad plant (Isatis tinctoria) was used to perform the ceremonial tattooing. Woad was the source of a blue chemical called indigotin. The leaves of the Woad plant were harvested, and then dried in order to be used in the tattooing process. The dried leaves were then boiled and strained, and boiled again creating a viscous end product. The Woad paste was then tapped into the skin with needle like implements - forcing the indigo stain under the skin layers, and creating the indelible design. The finished result was a magical battle tattoo. Dearg had grit his teeth and had refused to cry out from the pain. By the time his father had finished with him, his arm felt like it was on fire! Dearg had run off into the forest, and headed straight for the river. He planned to dive in, and cool off his burning flesh. Once Dearg arrived at the river, he was surprised to see that his best friend Cinn was already in the river. Cinn’s butterfly tattoo had been quite elaborate, and had probably hurt a lot. Just Cinn’s head was visible above the water. A grin broke out across Dearg’s face at the sight of his best friend and he waved at Cinn enthusiastically. “Hey, Cinn! Great minds think alike, huh?” Cinn whipped around to face Dearg. His eyes got big, and he paled considerably. “D-Dearg? What are you doing here!” “I’m going to cool off my tattoo. Just like you.” Dearg removed his hooded vest and pants, leaving him in only his undergarments. “Here I come!” Dearg raced towards the river’s edge. Cinn wrapped his arms around his chest under the water. “Don’t you dare! Don’t come in here, Dearg! I’m warning you. If you do…I’ll never forgive you!” Too late. Dearg dove into the river. It was freezing cold and immediately numbed his throbbing, burning arm. Ah, Goddess that feels good. Dearg came up for air a few minutes later and saw Cinn swimming towards the shore. “Hey Cinn, where you going?” “I, uh, my tattoo no longer hurts, so I’m just going to head home.” Cinn called over his shoulder. Dearg frowned. “But your clothes are over there.” He pointed towards the riverbank. Cinn flushed. “Would you just mind your own business, Dearg!” Dearg blinked and narrowed his eyes at his best friend, who was acting very weird. “You’re hiding something. But what…?” “I-I’m not hiding anything.” Cinn squeaked and couldn’t seem to meet Dearg’s gaze. “Oh, yes you are. Get your butt over here, Cinn. Are you injured or something? Is that it? Did someone hurt you?” Dearg asked concernedly. If anyone had harmed Cinn - there would be hell to pay. “No! I’m not injured! Stay back!” There was a note of panic in Cinn’s voice. The obvious panic Dearg heard in Cinn’s voice worried him immensely, and he began to swim after Cinn. “No! Stay away!” Cinn cried out frantically. Dearg reached Cinn and grabbed his arms. They struggled in the water for a moment before Dearg pulled Cinn up against his chest. He blinked at the strange feeling of her being pressed up against him. What the? Dearg looked down through the water at her bared curves. “But you’re a guy…? Right?” Dearg furrowed his brow in confusion. Cinn slapped Dearg hard across the face. “I’m a girl! You idiot! Now you know my secret. Happy?” Her voice was laced with anger and her green eyes were flashing. “You’re a girl?” It took a moment for Dearg to mentally process this new information. “Holy Morrigan! You’re a girl!” He shouted. Cinn slapped a hand over Dearg’s mouth to shut him up. “Shhhh!” She looked around nervously. “Do you want the entire clan to know?” Dearg quickly shook his head. Cinn removed her hand. “Crap…if my father finds out about this he’ll have you put to death or sacrificed to Crom Cruach. It is forbidden for a girl to become a Vampire Hunter. It would be an insult to Crom Cruach!” Cinn frowned. “Are you going to tell your father?” “What? Are you crazy?” Dearg gave Cinn an incredulous look. “You’re my best friend. That hasn’t changed. I would never betray you. In truth, you may be my only friend. The others are too afraid of my father to even talk to me.” “Don’t forget about Baird.” Cinn said, sounding amused. “Baird is a fool and too stupid to be afraid of my father. But yeah, I guess he’s our friend.” Dearg conceded. They both laughed. “We should head back to shore before someone comes here. We have a lot to discus, Cinn.” His tone of voice was stern. “Alright.” Cinn sighed. “I’ll go back first and change. I want you to keep your eyes closed, Mister.” She ordered. “I’ll let you know when you can open your eyes and return to shore.” Dearg nodded agreeably. “Sure.” Now that he knew Cinn was a girl, he didn’t really mind her bossing him around. Cinn swam back to shore and dressed quickly. As she wrapped a long cloth bandage around her chest she felt self-conscious even though Dearg still had his eyes closed. “You can open your eyes now.” She called out, once she was fully dressed. Dearg opened his eyes to see Cinn standing on the riverbank, looking like a boy again. That is so weird. What had happened to those nice curves of hers? He wondered and had to hide a lecherous smile behind his hand. She must bind them. He realized with a frown. That couldn’t have been very comfortable. Dearg swam back to shore, and Cinn closed her eyes as Dearg stepped out of the water in his wet underclothes. Once Dearg was dressed, he and Cinn made a fire and the two sat down in front of it together so that they could dry off. As they watched the flickering orange and red flames, Dearg spoke: “Why? You know it’s forbidden, right? That it’s a crime punishable by death…so why?” Dearg’s voice was thick with emotion and worry for his only friend. Cinn released a heavy sigh. “When I was born…my father could sense that I had blood magic. He decided to raise me like a son in secret, just in case our family ever fell upon hard times. My father is a simple farmer, and when that drought hit twelve years ago, we had no money and no food. My mother and younger sister fell ill…and we were starving to death. That’s when my father decided to tell Corann about me. My family gets all the food and medicine they need as long as I’m a Hunter. Don’t you see, Dearg? I’m doing this for my family.” Dearg nodded in understanding. “I get it. You had no choice. But…tradition is tradition-” “I bet your father told you that. But what is tradition, really? It’s just a bunch of rules our ancestors came up with for whatever reason. How do we know for sure that my being a Hunter will offend Crom Cruach? Maybe he doesn’t even care! If he cared then why hasn’t he done anything about it? What say you, Crom Cruach?” Cinn threw her arms up into the air and began to yell at the sky at the top of her lungs. “Do I offend you? Do you want me dead? Or do you want me to kill vampires in your name!” Dearg looked scandalized by what Cinn was doing. “Holy Goddess! Cinn! What are you doing? Quiet! You’ll offend Crom Cruach!” Cinn lowered her arms and stared at Dearg, her deep forest-green eyes blazing. “You see, I’m still in one piece. I didn’t get struck by lightning or anything.” Dearg ran a hand back through his shoulder-length brown hair. “Crap…you’re amazing, you know that?” Cinn blushed at Dearg’s unexpected praise. “No, you’re amazing…for not turning me in, for breaking the rules, going against tradition, and seeing another way. If your father finds out you hid this from him…you’ll be punished.” She nibbled on her lower lip nervously. “This isn’t the first time I’ve gone against my father. I still refuse to sacrifice animals to Crom Cruach. I just don’t see the point.” Dearg admitted with a shrug. Cinn gave Dearg a disbelieving look. “You really don’t get it, do you? What your father is trying to prepare you for?” Dearg raised an eyebrow at his friend. “What do you mean?” “You know about the Unknowables, right?” Cinn began tentatively. Dearg nodded. “They are the village outcasts. Those who are made to do the most undesirable jobs like tanning. They were born deformed.” Cinn nodded. “Yes. But did you know that the Unknowables are sacrificed to Crom Cruach as payment for our gift of blood magic? Once a year, an Unknowable is chosen and sacrificed as a form of payment. The sacrifice is also said to bestow the god’s blessing on our war against the vampires.” The blood drained from Dearg’s face at this horrifying revelation. “Sacrificed? But father told me only animals are sacrificed to Crom Cruach.” “The Unknowables are not considered to be human by our clansmen. That is why it is forbidden to talk to or even get near them. They are walking, live sacrifices. They were ‘marked’ for sacrifice by their deformity. Or at least, this is what our clan believes.” Cinn explained in a grim tone. No, no, no. Dearg was in a state of disbelief. The Unknowables were sacrificed to Crom Cruach? There had to be some kind of mistake. Dearg decided that as soon as he got home he would ask his father all about this, and learn the truth. *** One year passed, and the secret that Dearg and Cinn shared seemed to strengthen their friendship instead of driving them apart. Dearg was incredibly glad for this. He would always appreciate how Cinn had bravely approached him and befriended him. She’d saved him from his loneliness. And for this very reason Dearg would protect Cinn’s secret with his life. When Dearg, Cinn and the other Druid Vampire Hunter trainees turned thirteen they got their level two tattoos. Dearg decided to get a python tattoo that could be used to spy on the vampires, but could also be used to kill them by willing the python to coil around the vampire’s neck and constrict until the vampire was decapitated. Cinn had also gotten a type of snake for her level two battle tattoo. After the Hunters-in-training finished learning how to summon and use their new snake tattoos in a fight, High Priest Corann gave them their very first mission - a scouting mission. The trainees were divided into groups of two, and given different parts of the forest to scout. First, the trainees would use their level one tattoos to search the area of the woods they were assigned to and search for vampire lairs. If the trainees found a lair they were not supposed to engage the vampires, but head directly back to the village and report the lair’s whereabouts to Corann, so that he and the adult Druid Vampire Hunters could go and destroy the lair themselves. The day of the scouting mission, Dearg and Cinn had been paired up and assigned to search the western woods. Once Dearg and Cinn arrived at the woods they summoned their magical powers, and their tattoos began to glow with a blue-tinged light. Dearg held his arm out in front of him and his hawk tattoo began to peel off his skin. Once the hawk was free it was the size of a real live hawk. Its body was a translucent blue color. Cinn quickly followed suit and her butterfly tattoo began to peel off her arm and solidify. Dearg and Cinn then willed their ink creatures to fly off into the forest and search for vampire lairs. Because the tattoos were made of Dearg and Cinn’s magical energy they could sense where the ink creatures were at all times. Dearg and Cinn sat down on a fallen log and waited. An hour passed when their Druid sense began to tingle. Dearg and Cinn’s eyes snapped open and they looked at each other, wide-eyed. “Looks like they found something.” Dearg hopped to his feet. “Yeah.” Cinn stood. “Let’s go check it out.” Dearg smirked at her fearlessness. “Definitely.” Even though Dearg had discovered that Cinn was really a girl, it hadn’t changed the fact that out of all of the trainees Cinn was still the bravest and smartest of the bunch. The two Hunters-in-training took off into the forest, heading in the direction of their ink creatures. Ten minutes later, they exited the forest onto a sandy bank next to a shallow stream, and spotted a cave directly across from them on the other side of the stream. They sensed movement and quickly ducked down behind some bushes. The two Hunters peered out at the stream that was lazily flowing past over hundreds of round, gray pebbles. Crouched directly in front of the cave was a young boy that appeared to be around the same age as Dearg and Cinn. He had shaggy brown hair and wide brown eyes. He was wearing something that looked like a burlap sack and he had no shoes. However, he was no normal boy…but a hunchback. A deformed one. An Unknowable. Dearg had asked his father Corann about the Unknowables, and his father had explained to him that they had committed heinous crimes in their past lives like murder and rape, and so Crom Cruach had punished them in this life with their deformities. This was also the god’s way of letting his people know that the Unknowables had been marked for sacrifice and would serve as payment for the clan’s blood magic gifts. Corann had assured Dearg that the Unknowables were evil monsters and that they deserved death. It went against the traditions of the Blood Oak Clan for an Unknowable to live in secret. And if a clansman encountered an Unknowable outside of the village one was supposed to either report the Unknowable, or try to capture him or her, and bring he or she back to the village to face judgment. But in Dearg’s case, Corann had told him that if Dearg ever encountered an Unknowable outside of the village that Dearg was to kill him or her. The ink hawk and butterfly flew over and joined Dearg and Cinn. Their jobs completed the tattoos returned to their rightful places on Dearg and Cinn’s arms. “An Unknowable.” Dearg began while giving the hunchbacked boy a wary look. “What does he think he’s doing all the way out here? Do you think he could be in league with the vampires?” Cinn gave Dearg a look of sheer disbelief. “That’s ridiculous. The reason he lives out here is so that he can keep on living and won’t be sacrificed to Crom Cruach. Out here in the middle of nowhere…he’s free.” She smiled slightly at the thought of living out in the forest without having to worry about her secret ever being discovered. “It’s forbidden for them to live in secret like this. My father told me that the Unknowables are evil monsters. We should kill him.” Dearg began to stand. “No, wait!” Cinn grabbed Dearg’s arm and pulled him back down behind the bush. “Why don’t you observe him for a little while longer before you pass judgment on him so quickly, Dearg. Tradition isn’t always right. If tradition had its way I would already be dead. Don’t forget that, Dearg.” Dearg ground his back molars in frustration, but finally sighed. “Alright, fine. Let’s watch him for a few minutes. It won’t change anything though.” He huffed and crossed his arms over his chest. Dearg and Cinn watched the hunchback as he fiddled around with a small box in front of him. Hunchback reached inside of the box, started to do something, and pulled out a long white bandage before tossing it aside. Hunchback then reached into the box and pulled out a small bird, which he held carefully cupped in his two hands. “Your wing is all healed now, little one. It’s time for you to leave me. It’s time for you to be free.” Hunchback said before releasing the bird into the air. It flapped its wings and took off into the sky. He watched the bird soar away and leave him behind with a sad look on his face. “If only I had wings, I could escape this place…my life.” The sound of a branch breaking had Hunchback turning around to see an injured doe approaching him. She had an arrow stuck in her hind leg and the wound was bleeding profusely. Hunchback smiled warmly at the doe and opened his arms wide in an inviting gesture. “Come, little one, don’t be afraid. I will help you.” The doe cautiously approached, her ears flicking back and forth. Hunchback reached out and began to pet the creature in order to soothe her while his free hand moved towards the arrow. He gripped the base of the arrow and yanked the arrow out with one firm yank. The doe startled, but Hunchback held her, and soothed the creature until she calmed down. “Stay here, girl. I’ll go get you some bandages and hot water.” He limped into the cave and returned a few minutes later with a bowl of streaming hot water, a towel, and a roll of cloth bandages. Dearg and Cinn watched as Hunchback tended to the doe’s wound and bandaged the creature. As Hunchback worked the strangest thing happened. Several forest creatures - birds, squirrels, a small fox, rabbits - began to appear and surround the boy as if to keep him company. “Well, I’ll be.” Dearg scratched the back of his neck. He felt like a fool for believing his father’s poisonous words. “What the hell is going on? I’ve never seen anything like that before. It’s like he can communicate with them.” Cinn was smiling knowingly. “They’re his friends. They can sense that he won’t harm them. Well, there you have it, Dearg. He doesn’t seem like an evil monster to me. Quite the contrary, he seems like a very kind, sweet boy.” Dearg sighed and ran a hand back through his wavy brown hair. “Yeah, I guess you’re right, Cinn. It’s getting late.” Dearg looked at the sinking orange sun. “Let’s hurry and get out of here before someone wonders where we went. Listen, we can’t breathe a word of this to anyone, got it?” Cinn readily nodded. “Agreed.” Dearg and Cinn were just about to leave when the sound of a branch breaking was heard. “I smell bloooood.” Came a giddy sounding male voice. Dearg and Cinn watched as a handsome man emerged from the woods beside the cave. He was definitely no ordinary man, and appeared to be a knight or mercenary. He was dressed in black leather from head to toe, and wearing expensive looking, steel armor. A large sword was strapped to his side. The man had pale skin, dark hair, and his eyes were a dirty red color. But when the man smiled at Hunchback he revealed his gleaming white fangs. A vampire! Dearg thought wildly. Crap! Hunchback’s eyes widened in fear, but his first concern was for the animals that had been giving him company. He stood up and began to shoo them away from him. “Go on! Get out of here! Hurry! It’s not safe! It’s a vampire!” The vampire quirked his head at Hunchback and chuckled at his antics. “How very admirable of you, boy. Trying to save your little forest friends.” Hunchback then began to push the doe that had frozen out of fear. “Go on! Get out of here! Go!” The vampire became distracted by the smell of blood, and the blood that was on Hunchback’s hands and on the ground. “Blood…so much blood…” His pupils dilated. “Smells so delicious.” He strolled forward with menacing intent. Hunchback moved to stand directly in front of the doe and stretched his arms out at his sides. “Stay away from her, vampire!” The vampire chuckled darkly. “No one tells me what to do, boy.” The vampire raised his hand and backhanded Hunchback hard across the face, sending the boy flying into the shallow stream and close to where Dearg and Cinn were still hidden behind the bushes. Hunchback sat up and his eyes widened in horror as he watched the vampire grab the doe’s neck and bite into her. “No!” He cried out, his brown eyes filling with tears. The vampire drank hungrily from the doe’s neck as her body convulsed and then finally stilled. Once the vampire had his fill he tossed the dead carcass aside coldly. Cinn covered her mouth as she looked into the doe’s lifeless eyes that had been so bright and full of life only a minute ago. She’d been such a beautiful creature while she’d been alive. But at the hands of a madman beauty could be destroyed in the blink of an eye. “He’s the real monster here.” Dearg muttered under his breath as he eyed the vampire and the blood that was dripping down the creature’s chin. The vampire turned to focus his ruby-red eyes on the hunchback. Tears filled the hunchback’s eyes. “How could you? She was just an innocent creature. You should have taken me instead.” “Oh, I will take you too. You’ll be my dessert.” The vampire strolled towards the hunchback, who was still sitting in the stream, with predatory steps. Hunchback was trembling in fear, unable to move. The vampire crouched before Hunchback, bared his fangs, and prepared to bite the boy. “I can’t watch this.” Dearg objected as he stood up. “Cinn, stay here.” “What? Wait, Dearg-!” Cinn began to object. Dearg leapt over the bush and extended his arm. He summoned his magical power and his hawk tattoo peeled off his skin, materialized, and attacked the vampire with a screech. “What the?” The vampire leapt backwards as the hawk tried to claw his eyes out. Dearg concentrated on controlling the ink hawk to attack the vampire again. The vampire batted his hand at the hawk. “Tsk. I grow tired of this.” His hand shot out, gripped the neck of the hawk and squeezed. The hawk was destroyed in an explosion of blue ink and ink ran down the vampire’s hand and arm. “Crap.” Dearg swore before running over to the hunchback and offering a hand up. Hunchback looked up at Dearg in bewilderment. He hesitated before he took Dearg’s hand and let himself be helped up. “Run. Get out of here!” Dearg told the hunchback as he stood in front of the boy protectively. Hunchback shook his head. “I can’t run very fast. Leave me instead.” The vampire licked his lips as he approached and eyed Dearg. “Stay away from them, vampire!” Came Cinn’s voice as she leapt over the hedge, and landed beside Dearg in the stream with a splash. She raised her hand and summoned her ink snake. The snake tattoo began to peel off of Cinn’s lower arm and materialized. “Get him!” Cinn launched the snake at the vampire and it coiled around the vampire’s throat. “I can do this.” Cinn concentrated her magical power and clenched her hand into a fist - the snake began to constrict around the vampire’s throat. The vampire gasped and sunk to one knee. Cinn smiled. She could do it! She could kill him. “Just kidding.” The vampire stood, gripped the snake with his two hands, and ripped the snake from around his neck. The vampire then pulled the snake apart. Blue ink splattered through the air and onto the vampire’s armor. “Oh no.” Cinn breathed in horror. “He’s too powerful.” The vampire eyed the trio curiously, and took in Dearg and Cinn’s hooded leather vests. “Druid Vampire Hunters…? Pfft. They send kids to fight us now? Your clan must be truly desperate.” The vampire continued his approach. “You all look so yummy…I don’t know who to start with.” “Jerk!” Dearg charged towards the vampire and punched him hard in the chest. He managed to make a dent in the vampire’s armor but it still felt as though he’d just punched a stone wall. “Crap…” Dearg shook his red, throbbing hand. The vampire looked down at Dearg’s red fist and chuckled. “Is that the best you’ve got, kid? I’ll show you a real punch!” The vampire sent a right hook into the side of Dearg’s face that sent him flying downstream. “Dearg! You’ll pay for that, vampire!” Cinn took down her bow and nocked an arrow to it, which she aimed at the vampire. She let her arrow fly and it struck the vampire in the center of his breastplate. The arrow had managed to pierce the armor and had even imbedded itself in the creature’s chest. The vampire looked down at the arrow protruding from his chest, smiled, and began to approach Cinn as if he couldn’t feel the wound. Cinn released arrow after arrow at the vampire, and they all hit their marks until the vampire had five arrows protruding from his chest in various locations and gaps in his armor, but he did not slow down. Cinn’s eyes were wide. “Impossible. I pierced his armor…he should be in excruciating pain.” The vampire reached out, grabbed Cinn’s bow out of her hands, snapped it in half, and tossed it aside. The vampire stood in front of Cinn and took a deep breath. “Mmm, you smell delicious. Wait, what’s this…?” The vampire leaned closer and sniffed at Cinn’s neck. A leer spread across his face and he licked his lips with anticipation. “Are you perhaps-?” Dearg leapt to his feet and charged the vampire. “Get away from him, vampire!” Dearg attacked the vampire and unleashed a series of punches and kicks the vampire’s way. He sent a particularly fierce roundhouse kick right to the vampire’s head. The vampire turned his attention towards Dearg. “I grow tired of you, boy. Perhaps, I’ll start with you.” His hand snapped out and wrapped around Dearg’s throat. The vampire lifted Dearg high off the ground and began to strangle him. Dearg clawed at the vampire’s hands futilely as black spots swam in his vision. I need to concentrate and summon my python. I must stay conscious. Crap. Dearg thought as his vision began to darken. However- A strange wind began to pick up all around them. “Let him go!” Hunchback walked forward, glared at the vampire, and his eyes flashed gold. A blast of magical energy hit the vampire, who was blasted back off his feet. The vampire let go of Dearg in the process. Dearg fell to the pebbled ground on his knees in the water, and coughed and gasped for breath. “Dearg, hurry! Now’s our chance! Let’s get out of here! Let’s escape!” Cinn called out to him. Dearg struggled to a stand and shook his head. “No.” He turned to face the fallen vampire. “I won’t let him live. He’s a vampire…and I am a Hunter!” Dearg stretched his arm out in front of him and summoned his magical power. His new python tattoo began to peel off his arm and materialize. “Go get him.” Dearg commanded in a low tone. The ink python slithered off Dearg’s arm, fell to the stream, and swam towards the fallen vampire. The python leapt for the vampire’s neck, wrapped itself around it, and as Dearg clenched his hand into a fist, it began to constrict. The vampire’s red eyes snapped open. “Oh no you don’t, boy!” He began to tug at the python. Sweat dripped down Dearg’s brow as he concentrated all of his magic power into the attack. “Die, vampire!” “No…impossible…how can you be overpowering me? You’re just a kid. Just who are you…?” The vampire’s eyes widened with the realization that he was about to get decapitated. “My brethren will avenge me, boy…count on it! Arghh!” The vampire’s head was severed from his body, and his body began to disintegrate into dust. The vampire was dead. Dearg had defeated a vampire! Dearg sunk to his knees, panting for breath. “Crap…I can’t believe it. It’s over. And we’re still alive.” “Dearg!” Cinn rushed to Dearg’s side and crouched down beside him. “You okay?” Dearg grinned. “Hell yeah, did you see that? I just killed a vampire!” He puffed his chest out proudly. “Yeah, I saw.” Cinn’s green eyes were sparkling with admiration. “You were amazing. Your father will be proud.” “I didn’t do it alone.” Dearg glanced over at the hunchback. “Hunchback, come over here.” “Y-Yes, S-Sir.” Hunchback limped over to them. Dearg gave the boy a searching look. “You used magic, didn’t you?” Hunchback hesitated and a fearful look crossed his face before he eventually nodded. “Y-Yes, Sir.” Cinn gasped. “A hunchback with blood magic? Do you know what this means, Dearg?” “That Crom Cruach has given the gift of blood magic to an Unknowable. This means that tradition has been mistaken about them or maybe the will of Crom Cruach has changed.” Dearg shook his head ruefully. “I don’t know what to believe anymore.” “I think it’s obvious - this hunchback is not evil. Nor is he a monster. How else could he be blessed with blood magic?” Cinn insisted. “Yeah.” Dearg looked at the hunchback. Hunchback trembled as he looked at Dearg and Cinn wide-eyed. “You two are Druid Vampire Hunters? Of the Blood Oak Clan?” Dearg nodded. “What do you intend to do with me?” Hunchback questioned as he began to tremble in fear. “Are you going to kill me?” Dearg sighed and scratched his head. “Hell if I know. Let you go, I guess.” Hunchback’s eyes widened like saucers. “You’ll let me live? But…I broke the rules. I live out here to avoid getting sacrificed…” “And you also have blood magic. That changes everything. Cinn, maybe we could bring Hunchback back to the village with us?” Dearg suggested. “Are you crazy? Your father will kill him. Especially to hide his secret that an Unknowable has been born with blood magic.” Cinn argued. “Why do you say that?” Dearg angrily narrowed his eyes at Cinn. “Look, Dearg, I hate to tell you this. But your father…enjoys sacrificing Unknowables to Crom Cruach.” Cinn reached out and placed her hand on Dearg’s shoulder in a consoling way. “I’m sorry, Dearg, but it’s the truth. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.” “My father simply upholds the tradition of the clan to the best of his abilities.” But then Dearg let out a heavy sigh and his shoulders slumped. “But you’re right. We must keep Hunchback a secret. For now.” One day I will be powerful enough to protect Cinn and Hunchback from my father. One day I will have the power to change the traditions of our clan. To be continued in…Tattoo 4: Cat Chapter 4: Cat Slaine entered his apartment and tossed his car keys onto the table that was right next to the door. “Dang it…and I was so close to turning her.” He flipped on a light switch to reveal that Dracula was sitting on his living room couch and his eyes were glowing red. “Dracula! Holy crap!” Slaine stumbled backwards a few steps. “Good evening, Slaine.” Dracula’s deep voice rumbled. “Why is it that you don’t seem happy to see me, I wonder? Is there something you need to tell me?” His red eyes narrowed dangerously. “Crap.” Slaine knew he had this guilty look on his face and he couldn’t get rid of it. “You tried to turn someone without my permission again, didn’t you?” Dracula drawled nonchalantly. “Who was it this time?” Slaine wisely kept his mouth shut. If Dracula found out he was trying to turn the reincarnation of Cinnia into a vampire…there’d be hell to pay. Dracula had had prophesizing dreams that a Druid Vampire Hunter would kill him one day and if Slaine’s suspicions about Becca were correct, chances were she possessed magic. Knowing Dracula and his paranoia he’d see Becca as an enemy and the last thing Dracula would want was to make a potential enemy stronger. “Not telling.” Slaine said in a snarky manner. A muscle in Dracula’s jaw ticked in annoyance. Dracula stood up and waved his hand through the air and a black hole appeared. He reached into the pocket dimension and pulled out a strange looking whip that resembled a gigantic, red, five-foot-long, centipede. No, wait. Slaine looked at it more closely. It was a real live hell centipede! “You disappoint me, Slaine. You do realize you’ll have to be punished.” Slaine gulped as he looked at the wriggling hell centipede whip, and nodded. “Yes, Master.” Slaine removed his jacket and tossed it aside. He pulled his shirt over his head and tossed it to the floor next. “Good boy. Hands on the wall, Slaine.” Dracula ordered in a chill tone. Slaine did as he was told and placed his hands on the wall, ready to receive his punishment. Vampires were ‘undead’ but they could still feel pleasure…or in this case pain. Dracula approached with a murderous aura flaring up around him. The ancient vampire raised the whip and brought it down on Slaine’s back. Slaine flinched at the pain but did not cry out. Dracula raised the whip and brought it down on Slaine’s back repeatedly until his red flesh burst and blood began to pour down Slaine’s back. Slaine gasped at the pain. It was much more painful once his skin had broken and the whip began to hit his open wounds. “I will not tolerate your continued defiance much longer, Slaine. You need to remember your place. You would be nothing if not for me.” Dracula drawled conversationally. Slaine nodded. “I know, Master.” Dracula raised the whip and caused the head of the centipede to latch onto Slaine’s back and bite him. The creature began to inject Slaine with its poison. Slaine shuddered at the feeling, and then no longer able to remain silent, cried out as excruciating pain wracked his body. Slaine’s legs turned to jelly and he sunk to his knees. His body began to twitch and convulse and he fell over onto the floor. “I hope you’ve learned your lesson, Slaine. Do not act without my permission again…” The threat there was obvious. Slaine was in so much pain he couldn’t even respond. He vaguely heard Dracula leave his apartment and then he passed out. Slaine awoke several hours later to find himself sprawled on the floor of his apartment. His back felt like someone had poured gasoline on it and lit a match. And then did it again. He was in so much pain he could barely move. Somehow he managed to fish out his cell phone and called one of the twins. Koko picked up on the second ring. “Hello, Slaine? Is that you?” Came Koko’s voice. “Koko…I need you and Yoko - now. I’m at my apartment…” Slaine explained in a weak voice. “We’ll be right there, sensei.” Koko assured. Slaine let out a relieved, shuddering breath. “G-Good.” He ended the call and waited for the twins to arrive. Less than twenty minutes later, Slaine heard the sound of a key in his apartment door’s lock. He turned his head so he could watch the door open, and watch as the twins entered his apartment. The first to enter was Koko. Like her twin sister Yoko she was Japanese. Koko had long, black hair with red highlights that made her red eyes really pop. She was wearing a black kimono with red flowers on it, and a pair of knee boots. Koko had a samurai sword stuck into her obi sash belt. Yoko entered the apartment after her sister. Yoko was the quieter, calmer, more levelheaded of the twins. Her long black hair had white highlights and she was wearing a black kimono with white flowers on it. She was also wearing a pair of knee boots like her sister and had two short swords stuck into her obi sash. Back in Feudal Japan, when Slaine had been an Iga ninja he’d been on a mission to kill Koga ninja, and had come across two little girls who were ninjas in training. He should have killed them but found that he was unable to. Instead, he’d saved the girls and raised them as his own daughters. They’d been happy together for a time, and Slaine had considered them his family. However, several years later when Slaine’s daughters had become young women, Dracula had found out about Slaine’s secret. The ancient vampire then sent a group of vampires to kill the girls. Slaine had gone to their rescue when he’d discovered the plot, but had arrived too late. As the girls had lain there dying in pools of their own blood…the only way Slaine could save them was by turning them into vampires. And so he did. Dracula had punished him for this severely…but Slaine didn’t regret it. Because he’d saved their lives the twins were completely loyal to Slaine. And they were also in love with him. A fact that Slaine purposefully ignored. He saw the girls as his daughters while they saw him as their guardian, but also their protector and savior. After he’d turned the twins into vampires, he began to only feed from them and stopped feeding from humans. Although to keep face in front of Dracula he had to kill the occasional human. Dracula was unaware of Slaine’s new aversion to feeding from and killing humans, and if Dracula discovered it Slaine knew that his days would be numbered. Even Derek would be surprised to discover Slaine no longer fed from humans. But the twins had changed him. As soon as Koko saw Slaine on the floor she rushed to his side. She was the louder, more aggressive of the twins. “Slaine-sensei!” She crouched by his side and stared at his back in horror. “What happened? Who did this?” Her red eyes glowed with hatred, and her fangs lengthened. “I’ll kill them! No, I’ll dismember them first…slowly.” Slaine smiled up at Koko. His brave Koko. “That would be impossible, my dear. This is Dracula’s punishment.” Yoko crouched by Slaine’s side next. “What did you do, sensei? Did you try to turn someone again without his permission?” Her tone was calm, but held a dark edge to it. “You always see through me, Yoko. You’re right. I did.” Slaine admitted. “Who?” Koko snapped. “Why would you need to turn someone when you already have us!” She demanded. This is what Slaine had been afraid of…the twins’ jealousy. It could put Becca in danger. “That is none of your concern, Koko.” Koko glared down at Slaine heatedly for a moment before she let out a defeated sigh. “Yoko, let’s get this stubborn guy to the bedroom.” “Alright.” Yoko agreed. Together the two girls lifted Slaine up and put his arms around their shoulders before heading towards Slaine’s bedroom. They entered Slaine’s bedroom and the girls deposited him on the bed on his stomach. Koko went to the bathroom to fetch a first-aid kit. She flipped on the light switch and headed over to the sink. She noticed a second toothbrush in the cup on the sink and her heart stopped. Koko looked around the bathroom and noticed extra towels, a pink kimono robe hanging on the back of the door, and a woman’s hairbrush with red hairs in it. Koko snatched up the brush and sniffed it, inhaling the woman’s scent. “She’s a human.” Koko muttered darkly to herself. Koko looked around the bathroom and realized that for the last month Slaine had been entertaining a human female in his apartment. And he’d obviously tried to turn her, but something had happened and things hadn’t gone as Slaine had planned. Koko gripped the hairbrush until she accidentally snapped it in half. She tossed the pieces across the bathroom angrily. “Who is she? I’ll kill her. Slaine belongs to Yoko and I! How dare she lay her filthy hands on Slaine!” Koko had to take deep breaths to calm herself down before she opened the cabinet and pulled out the first-aid kit. She returned to the bedroom, approached the bed and stared down at the mess that was Slaine’s back. If he weren’t already looking so pathetic she would have kicked the crap out of him. With Yoko’s help, Koko cleaned and sterilized Slaine’s wounds, and then dressed them by wrapping white bandages around his torso. She’d seen the purple poison in his wounds. “You were poisoned…was it centipede venom?” “Dracula had one of those hell centipedes stored in a pocket dimension.” Slaine groused. “You won’t be able to move for a day or two.” Koko said. “And the pain-” “I can handle the pain.” Slaine interrupted her. “Pain and I are well acquainted. But what I need now is…you girls.” Slaine’s red eyes glowed with hunger and bloodlust. “Of course, and you shall have us.” Koko purred before crawling onto the bed on Slaine’s right side while Yoko crawled onto the bed on Slaine’s left side. Koko scooted over closer to Slaine, turned on her side, and moved her hair out of the way before offering her neck to Slaine. “Here. Drink, sensei.” Slaine’s fangs punched out of his mouth and he somehow found the strength to move closer enough to Koko so that he could sink his fangs into the side of her neck. Koko gasped out in pleasure. “Slaine.” She moaned, as her cheeks flushed and her blood felt like it was setting on fire. Slaine removed his fangs and turned to face Yoko next. “Drink.” Yoko said as she moved her hair aside. Slaine sunk his fangs into Yoko’s neck and she gasped softly. Slaine savored the taste of Yoko’s blood. He could already feel the wounds on his back closing. Pity it wouldn’t help with the centipede venom, but that’s why Dracula had used the centipede whip to punish vampires who defied him, in the first place. After Slaine had had enough he lay on his stomach and the twins snuggled up closer to his sides. They were his girls, his precious ones. Heaven help anyone who tried to harm them, even though divine protection wouldn’t be enough to save them from Slaine. *** The following morning, Derek awoke with the images of his dream still fresh in his mind. He remembered how he and Cinn had met Hunchback in the forest, and how after that the three of them had become best friends. Derek had even tattooed Hunchback with his own battle tattoos - a seahorse, sea serpent, griffin and chimera. The trio had trained together. Dearg had taught Hunchback hand-to-hand combat while Cinn had taught him archery. Hunchback would also secretly follow them on missions, and would help out in secret. He was always there with them in the shadows. Derek tried to remember Cinn’s face again, but the more he tried to visualize her the fuzzier the image in his mind became. Dang it…why can’t I remember her face? Derek sat up in bed and looked down at his chest. The sword wound had healed, but he felt weak from blood loss. He’d lost a lot of blood, and needed to feed. Derek scowled at the thought. He got out of bed and headed over to a table where he had two large pet tanks. In one of the tanks were several live rats. In the second tank was a large pet python with brown and yellow scales that Derek had named Nagini - after Voldemort’s pet snake. Cheesy, yes, he knew. Derek removed the lid of the tank with the mice inside of it. He reached inside and grabbed a rat. He could feel the rat’s frantic heartbeat against his hand and hear it with his sensitive hearing. He sunk his fangs into the poor creature and drank its blood. Once Derek had drained it dry he removed the lid from his python’s tank and tossed the dead rat inside. Nagini quickly swooped up the rat into her maw, and swallowed it whole. Nagini was perfect for cleaning up his disgusting vampiric tendencies. Derek knew that he needed several more rats in order to get back to normal, but he couldn’t get the image of Becca running into him out of his head. She’d looked up at him with fear shinning in her lime green eyes, and had a bleeding bite mark on her neck. She’d been utterly terrified….of a vampire. A being just like him. Derek’s vampiric nature still disgusted him, even after two millennia. “Tch.” Derek made a sound of disgust as he replaced the screen lids on the tanks and decided to take a quick shower. After his shower, Derek dressed in a long-sleeved, blue, silk shirt, dark blue tie, black vest, black silk pants, and dress shoes. He wanted to look good for his ‘guest’. Derek could smell Becca’s unique lime scent and so knew that she was still somewhere in his townhouse. Derek went in search of Becca and entered the studio to see her on the floor fast asleep on her side. The blogger was in front of his favorite painting of Cinnia - the one of her dancing at Stone Henge. Becca was still dressed in that Japanese-style robe that Slaine must have given her. The bite mark wasn’t visible since it was on the other side of her neck. Derek went over to Becca, crouched by her side, put a hand on her shoulder, and gently shook her awake. “Becca.” “Mmm?” Becca stirred, stretched her arms over her head as she awakened, sat up, and blinked at Derek. “Derek…where am I?” Derek’s lip twitched in amusement, Becca was freakin cute when she just woke up. Her hair was a complete tousled mess. “My townhouse - where Voodoo Tattoo is.” The events of the previous night crashed into Becca and she remembered how Slaine had turned out to be a real live vampire! Somehow she’d managed to escape, and then she’d run into Derek. Derek had fought Slaine but had been defeated. Slaine had nearly cut Derek in half with a samurai sword. “Your wound!” Becca exclaimed as she placed her hands on Derek’s chest. “Are you all healed?” Derek nodded, touched that she would be worried about him after what had happened to her. “Yes.” And you can feel free to keep feeling up my chest, babe. Becca narrowed her eyes at Derek. “Because you’re a wizard?” Derek blinked, and his brow furrowed. “What?” “Malakye told me that you’re like a Druid Vampire Hunter or something.” Becca revealed. A muscle beneath Derek’s eye ticked in irritation. “He told you that? Those guys…” He shook his head. He’d kick their butts later. “Would you like to take a bath? Or perhaps a shower? Or I could cook something for you if you’re hungry?” He offered Becca a hand up. Becca took his hand and let him help her up. “A shower would be great, actually.” Derek led Becca up the stairs to the fourth floor, and to a spare bedroom. He hesitated about letting Becca use this particular room, but then shook his head, deciding that he was being silly and selfish. Derek opened the door to the spare bedroom and ushered Becca inside. “Feel free to use this room as your own. There are clothes in the closet that you can use too.” Becca looked around the room curiously. It had obviously been decorated for a woman. “Um, whose room is this?” A dark shadow fell over Derek’s face. “No one’s.” He said simply before exiting the room and shutting the door behind him. “O-kay. That was weird.” Becca said out loud as she looked around the luxurious room that had been furnished with expensive antiques and Oriental rugs. The four-poster bed that took up most of the room had a fluffy, beige comforter with a beautiful, red rose pattern on it. There were lots of pillows on the bed with red pillowcases. Thick red velvet drapes covered the windows. There was an antique dresser, dressing table and a chair with a velvet cushion on it. It was the kind of furniture that Becca was afraid to sit in since she was afraid she’d damage it somehow. Becca was drawn to the strange assortment of items that decorated the top of the dresser next. There was a metal rose that looked so lifelike that Becca had to reach out and touch it. “Ouch.” The rose’s thorns were sharp. It was an incredible piece of art and it was also oddly familiar. She spotted a woodcarving of a horse next and picked it up in order to inspect it. The horse looked just like the one in the painting that Becca had seen in the studio. There was also a necklace with a crescent moon on it. The cord looked ancient… As Becca ran her hand over the items her heart beat a little faster inside of her chest and tingles went up and down her arms. It was as if these items spoke to her. It was almost like she’d seen these items before…but that was impossible. Besides, Becca knew the truth…these items must have belonged to Derek’s dead wife. The one Malakye had mentioned. This room was like a shrine to her. Becca realized, as she looked around. “And yep, I feel really weird about being here.” Becca entered the bathroom and flipped on the light switch. “Ooo.” The bathroom was also very fancy with its pink marble sink, and pink and white tiled floor. A large oval mirror had been hung over the sink and Becca went over to peer at her reflection and frowned. Her hair was a mess! And Derek hadn’t told her anything either. She blushed. There was a fluffy, pink rug on the floor and the bathtub with a combined shower had a pink shower curtain. “Wow. That’s a lot of pink.” Becca removed the kimono Slaine had given her and tossed it aside. She looked at herself in the mirror again and saw that she looked incredibly pale. It was probably from lack of blood. She could also still see the bite mark on the side of her neck although it looked like it was already healing. Becca prodded the wound with her finger. She could hardly believe the events of last night. She felt…betrayed more than anything else. Becca had trusted Slaine and he’d broken that trust. That hurt more than anything. Her worst nightmare had been brought to life - blood dripping down onto her face. Becca shuddered and wrapped her trembling arms around herself as she remembered it. “Don’t think about it, Becca. You’ll just freak yourself out.” She headed over to the bathtub, stepped inside, and turned on the shower. Becca turned the knob all the way to hot. She let the hot water cascade down over her and as she did so - flashes of her dreams from the previous night filled her mind. She’d dreamed of living in a village where there were magical tattoos. There was a rakish young boy with hazelnut hair and wide sky-blue eyes. He had the brightest smile. And then…there was a boy with a hunchback. He had shaggy brown hair and brown eyes…that held so much sadness in their depths. She recalled how the hunchback had been living alone in the woods. It’d been like a fairytale. Becca figured she must have dreamed something like that because of Derek’s paintings, and after having watched his tattoos come to life last night. She found shampoo and conditioner, and used it. Afterwards, her hair smelled like Derek’s, and the soap smelled like sandalwood. Derek’s scent. Her mind was inevitably filled with thoughts of Derek. Derek…he’d rescued her. Risked his life to save her. But…this was because he was some kind of ‘Hunter’. And Garth…had superhuman strength and Malakye could stop time or something. Her head hurt. Maybe she was still dreaming. If I am dreaming, can I please wake up now? After Becca finished her shower she stepped out of the tub and grabbed a towel. As she dried herself off she noticed the butterfly tattoo on her lower back! “Holy crap!” Becca turned around to look over her shoulder and see the tattoo better. “It’s still…there. Weird. I thought Slaine killed it…or something?” She shrugged. “Whatever.” Becca wrapped a towel around her body and grabbed another towel to start drying her hair. She made her way into the bedroom and over to the closet before opening the door. She flipped on a light switch to reveal a large walk-in closet filled with random women’s clothing. A lot of the clothes were brand-new and still had tags on them. Becca frowned, wondering if Derek let all of his lovers use these clothes or what? She entered the closet and began to peruse the racks. There was the oddest assortment of clothes: medieval and Gothic gowns with belled sleeves, lace-up corsets, and long skirts with fishtails like something Morticia Addams would wear. Several pairs of leather pants were hung on hangers, and several pairs of boots were on the floor. “That’s a lot of leather.” There was also a collection of belts, some with medieval crosses and others with crescent moon symbols. Celtic symbols and knots were everywhere and on everything. “These clothes are super ‘witchy’.” Becca crinkled her nose at the clothes. “So Derek’s into Goth girls and witches. I get it now.” She pouted because she was so not Goth. She loved the latest high fashion. Her closet in New York City was filled with trendy clothes, silk blouses, and flower print skirts. She rarely wore the color black. Most of her clothes were designer. And don’t forget shoes. She had over a hundred pairs of shoes from Jimmy Choo, Prada, Chanel, and Christian Louboutin. “And Slaine is into Japanese girls. I should really stop thinking about that guy. And talking out loud.” Becca selected a red shirt with belled sleeves, and a black, knee-length skirt. She was forced to pair the outfit off with a pair of black ankle boots when really the outfit would have looked better with a nice pair of high heels. Becca eyed a chain belt with a crystal medieval cross on it and shrugged. “Oh, what the hell.” She put the chain belt on and gazed at her reflection in the full-length mirror. “I look like some Goth girl or Twilight fan girl now.” Becca spotted a thick, black velvet choker and decided to wear it in order to cover the bite mark on her neck. After she was done dressing, Becca left the bedroom and headed downstairs. She could smell something delicious cooking. Becca headed for the kitchen, which was on the first floor, and behind Derek’s tattoo parlor. The sight that met her was Derek cooking up a storm. There were several dishes of food already laid out on the breakfast counter. Becca tried not to drool as she looked at the breakfast burritos, cheesy sausage loaf, maple-bacon grits, sausages, and a fluffy sausage omelet. Everything seemed to have meat in it. Becca took a seat at the kitchen island and smiled. Derek looked so handsome in the outfit he was wearing. It was almost like a suit. “Hey.” Derek spun around and flashed Becca a grin while making sure not to show his fangs. “Hey. Good morning, gorgeous. I made breakfast.” Way to go, Captain Obvious. Gorgeous? “I can see that. Are we expecting company?” “Company?” Derek arched a brow at her. Becca waved her hand at the assortment of dishes. “You can’t expect me to eat all this, can you? We having a party?” Derek rubbed a hand over his mouth in a nervous gesture as he suddenly realized just how many dishes he’d made. “I, er, I didn’t know what you would like so I just…” Good move, genius. Becca’s eyebrows rose. “You really cooked all this for me?” “Yes.” Derek admitted. “You’ve been through a lot, so I just wanted to cheer you up.” Becca blushed. “Oh…but that doesn’t explain why you’re all dressed up. Are you going somewhere later?” Derek flushed. “I…er, I always dress like this?” He offered. So he dressed up like that because I’m here? “I’m flattered.” Becca reached out and tore off a piece of the cheesy sausage loaf, and plopped it into her mouth. “Mmm.” She moaned. “Dang, that’s good.” “Those clothes…” Derek raked his eyes over her form. “Look good on you.” Becca quickly chewed and swallowed another bite of bread so that she could answer. “Thanks. Um…who are those clothes for? Your lovers?” Derek turned around and concentrated on the omelet he was working on. “No.” He just put his guard up. Becca began sampling Derek’s other dishes. “So good.” Becca just couldn’t stop eating. She rubbed her thighs together. Derek’s cooking was simply orgasmic. “Here, try this.” Derek held out a fork with a bite of sausage omelet on it. “This one has spicy sausage.” “Oh no, I can’t eat another bite.” Becca shook her head and waved her hands before her. “You’re going to turn me into Miss Piggy!” “You know you want to put this succulent meat in your mouth.” Derek teased suggestively as he waved the fork in front of her. Blushing furiously, Becca gave in and opened her mouth. Derek fed her the sausage omelet. “Mmm, spicy. Do you mind if I take a picture?” Becca began to search her skirt for a pocket and then she came to a horrifying realization. “Oh my God.” The blood began to drain out of her face. Derek’s expression turned concerned. “What? What is it?” “I…don’t have my cell phone.” Derek’s brow furrowed. “What do you need it for? Do you need to make a phone call? If so, I have a phone you can use in the main shop area.” Becca shook her head. “No, you don’t understand…I need my phone. I take pictures with it, and upload them to my blog, Twitter, facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. My followers are waiting for updates. It’s what I do. I’m a cyber socialite and writer, remember? Not having my phone is like…getting my arm chopped off or something. I think…I’m going to hyperventilate…” Becca began to gasp for breath. Derek grew alarmed. Becca was acting more freaked out by the loss of her cell phone than she had to finding out Slaine was actually a real vampire last night. He rushed to Becca’s side, and placed a hand on her arm in a comforting gesture. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll have my friend Malakye bring you a new phone. He has hundreds of them.” Becca let out a breath of relief, and gave Derek a grateful look. “Really?” “Really.” Derek whipped out his cell phone and began to dial Malakye’s number. Becca wrinkled her nose at Derek’s cell phone. “Is that your cell phone? That can’t even take pictures, can it? How do you function in this world?” Derek chuckled at Becca’s words. “I get by somehow.” His friend picked up after only two rings. “Hey, Derek. What’s up?” “I need a spare smart phone - like now. It’s an emergency.” The line went dead. “Uh, hello? Malakye?” Becca screamed and Derek spun around to see what had frightened her. Malakye had teleported into the kitchen, and just…materialized. “M-M-Malakye? How did you just…?” Becca trailed off. Malakye’s eyes widened like saucers when he spotted Becca sitting at Derek’s breakfast counter. “Oh, hi, Becca. I didn’t know you were next to Derek. Oops.” He scratched the back of his neck in a sheepish gesture and held up the smart phone. “Uh, who’s this phone for?” Becca swallowed and raised her hand. “Uh, me.” Malakye handed her the smart phone. “Sorry I scared you. I do that a lot.” Becca laughed nervously. “So you can teleport? No big.” There was an obvious tremor to her voice. “And vampires and wizards exist too.” Her laughter began to turn a little crazed. “I can totally handle this.” Malakye and Derek shared a worried look. “I should probably go. Sorry to disturb your breakfast-” Malakye was saying when his stomach rumbled loudly. Becca reached out and grabbed Malakye’s arm before he could go poof. “Wait! Don’t go poof yet.” She gave the man an apologetic look. “Stay and have breakfast with us. Derek made more than enough to share. I think he’s trying to get me fat or something.” Malakye gave her a grateful look. “Oh…okay. Thanks.” He sat down at the breakfast counter and Becca began to take pictures of the food Derek had cooked. Malakye smiled at her antics. “You putting those on Twitter?” “Oh, they’ll be up everywhere.” Becca’s tone was giddy. She seemed to have recovered quickly from her shock of Malakye having teleported in front of her. “I always enjoy your witty tweets.” Malakye said softly. Becca whipped her head in Malakye’s direction and stared at him. “You follow me?” Malakye offered her a shy nod. “I’m @PLANTMAN. All caps.” “Ooo, I follow you too! You’re the one who puts up the most amazing photos of plants…plants I’ve never seen before in my entire life! They’re amazing!” Becca gushed. “Thanks.” Malakye said knowing that the tips of his ears were probably bright red and feeling grateful for the white makeup he had on that was covering his glowing, silver skin. Derek was looking back and forth between Malakye and Becca and feeling strangely left out. Derek wasn’t into the ‘Internet’. He knew Becca was a blogger and wrote articles about various topics that captured her interest, but the only article of hers he’d ever read had been the article Becca had written about Poseidon’s Trident. Becca glanced at Derek. “You should really think about getting your artwork up on the net.” Derek frowned. “Ah, those paintings…are not for showing people. They’re personal.” “Because they’re of your dead wife?” Becca asked tentatively. Derek choked on a bite of omelet and had to pound on his chest. “Who told you that?” Malakye raised his hand and gave Derek a sheepish look. “Guilty.” Derek narrowed his eyes at Malakye. “And what else did you tell her, Malakye?” “N-Nothing…much.” Malakye glanced away, unable to meet Derek’s eyes. Derek ground his back molars. “You should learn to keep your mouth shut about things that don’t concern you, Malakye.” Malakye swallowed nervously. “I-I’m sorry…I didn’t mean to. It just slipped out. Besides, it’s Becca…so I thought it would be okay.” Derek raised an eyebrow at the plant alien. “Because it was Becca?” “Well, because you have feelings for-” Malakye was saying when Derek cut him off by putting his hand over Malakye’s mouth. Derek laughed nervously as he shot Becca a worried look. “I think it’s time for Malakye to go home. Isn’t that right, Malakye? I bet you need to go and water your plants or something.” Malakye nodded fearfully, and swallowed. Derek could be really scary when he wanted to be. Derek removed his hand and Malakye looked relieved. “Uh…bye, Becca. I’ll catch you later.” “Bye Malakye. I’ll hit you up on facebook and Twitter.” Becca assured. Malakye gave her a tremulous smile. “O-Okay.” Poof. Becca rubbed her eyes. “He really did go poof, didn’t he? I didn’t just imagine that. Did I-?” Becca turned to discover Derek was suddenly beside her. He cupped her cheek with his hand and kissed her. Becca’s eyes widened in surprise at first, but then she closed her eyes and melted into the kiss. Derek smelled like sandalwood. Mmm. So musky and manly. His scent filled her senses and kept them captive. His kiss was tentative, soft, and tender. He pulled back and stared at Becca with an emotional look in his eyes. “What was that for?” Becca asked, somewhat breathless. “I just…felt like kissing you.” Derek pulled back and rubbed the back of his neck in a nervous gesture. Becca was slightly irked by Derek’s nonchalant response. “I see.” But really, what did she expect? For him to suddenly confess his undying love for her or something? They barely knew each other. And Derek was just protecting her because it was his job, right? “Er, Derek…how long am I going to be staying here?” “Until I kill Slaine.” Derek instantly replied. “Until then…I will protect you.” Becca frowned at the fierce look on his face. “I don’t want to be a burden.” “You’re no burden. And besides you’re…a friend.” Derek explained cagily. A friend. Wow. Did he just friend-zone me? He totally just put his guard up too. “Tell me about your wife.” Becca wasn’t about to let Derek off the hook that easily. Derek blinked and glanced away. “She’s…dead.” “I already know that. Malakye told me, remember?” Derek’s head snapped around to look at her. “Why that little-” His anger about that was back in full force. “Don’t be mad. He told me about her when I saw the paintings. One had my face. Why?” Becca held her breath as she awaited his response. “I’ve been painting portraits of my wife for years…” Derek began. Centuries really, but she doesn’t really need to know that. “But for some reason I can’t remember her face. I know it was lovely but…I can’t remember it. It might have to do with the fact that her death was traumatic. She was mudered.” Becca gasped. “Murdered?” “Yes…by Slaine Morvyn.” Derek revealed grimly. “No way.” Becca shook her head, not wanting to believe it. Derek nodded, his expression bleak. “Slaine is my Archenemy. He’s a dangerous monster. And I will kill him and avenge my wife.” Becca frowned at the thought of Derek committing murder. “But…why don’t you just tell the cops?” Derek chuckled. “Slaine is a vampire, Becca. Do you really think it wise to get the cops involved in this? They’d just be a midnight snack for Slaine. Vampires and Druids…exist outside of human law. Outside of your world. I have to take justice into my own hands.” Outside of your world. “Wow. I see.” “My wife…was an incredible woman.” A wistful look crossed Derek’s face as memories he usually kept buried came to the forefront of his mind. “I knew her since she was eleven…and she was a total tomboy. She eventually grew into the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. I loved her kind heart, her bravery and her sense of justice. I asked her two hundred and forty times to marry me before finally on the two hundred and forty-fifth time she finally said ‘yes’. Like you she had the most amazing red hair. I think that’s why I painted her portrait but with your face. You…remind me of her.” Derek admitted guiltily. Ouch. Becca reminded Derek of his dead wife? It was like she was his wife’s replacement. “Is that why you rejected me before?” She asked, in a voice that was barely above a whisper. Derek sighed and ran a hand back through his hair. “It’s more complex than that. I really like you Becca…but in the end you and I can’t be together.” Becca frowned. “But…why not?” “We’re from two different worlds. You’re human and I….I’m a Druid Vampire Hunter.” “That’s just an excuse.” “Look, Becca, I still love my wife. And I always will. I promised her I would love her forever.” Derek’s blue eyes were filled with passion. “And I don’t plan to break that promise. You’re probably wondering about that bedroom upstairs. I decorated it for my wife as if she were still alive. And those clothes in the closet? When I see something in a store that I think Cinnia would have liked…I buy it. Pretty creepy, huh?” Becca shook her head. “No, not at all. In fact, that’s incredibly romantic, Derek. Your wife was lucky to be loved so much by you. Well, she is lucky to be so loved by you.” Surprise flashed across Derek’s blue eyes. “I just don’t want to forget about her…even though she’s dead.” Derek exhaled a breath of relief. “I’m glad you understand, Becca.” Yeah, I understand alright. I’m jealous of a dead woman that I even dream about! Becca’s temples began to throb as she recalled flashes of her dream from last night. A knock abruptly sounded on the front door. “W-Who’s that?” “Ah, probably a customer. I’m supposed to be open now. You don’t mind if I open shop, do you?” Derek asked. “No, of course not, sugar.” Becca waved her hand through the air. Derek headed for the front door and let in two customers. The biker he’d tattooed the memorial tattoo on had returned along with a younger female in tow. “Hey Derek.” Mad Dog greeted with a wave of his large hand. “Hey Mad Dog, welcome back.” Derek greeted with an amiable smile. “I’d like you to meet my sister Delia.” Mad Dog waved his hand at the teenaged girl that was standing beside him. Derek turned his attention to Delia and offered her a charming smile. Delia had short black hair that had been cut into a punky style. Her face had been painted white and her lips in black. She was wearing a black tank top, and a black and red plaid skirt. Delia had accessorized her outfit with a spiked choker and platform knee boots. Derek deduced that she was probably still in high school. Overall, Derek thought she was incredibly cute. “Hi there, I’m Derek Dearg. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Delia.” He put his hand out for her to take. Delia blushed, but this was hidden by her white makeup. She took Derek’s hand and shook it. “Hey.” “So Delia loved my tattoo and now she wants to get one on her upper arm.” Mad Dog explained. “Do you have something you want in particular?” Derek asked the teen. Delia shook her head and spotted the wall that was covered with pages that had tattoo designs on them. “Wow.” Delia approached the wall and began to admire the different designs. “All of these designs are incredible. Did you come up with these designs yourself?” “As a matter of fact, yes. Art is a hobby of mine.” Derek admitted. “I want a symbol or animal that protects a person from negative energies or the ‘evil eye’.” Delia explained. “And maybe some evil spirits.” “Ah, then may I recommend getting a black cat. In Japan black cats are known as being protectors against evil spirits. They’re also considered to be lucky in Japan.” Derek pointed out an Asian design of a black cat with one of its paws raised in a cute manner. “That’s perfect.” Delia agreed, her eyes sparkling. “Where do I go?” Derek nodded his head in the direction of the padded table. “Please lie down over there.” “Okay.” Delia made her way over to the padded table and lay down on it. “What color ink would you like me to use?” Derek asked as he went to fetch a new bottle of ink from the cupboard. “Black.” Delia replied. Derek nodded, opened the cupboard, and took out a new bottle of black ink. He also retrieved some new disposable needles, his tattoo gun, clean towels, and disinfectant supplies. He carried the supplies over to the table that was directly next to the padded bed. “Where would you like the tattoo, Delia?” Delia pointed to an area on her upper arm and Derek cleaned and disinfected that area. “Um.” Becca spoke up as she entered the room fully. “Would you mind if I take pictures of the tattooing process, Delia? I’m a blogger.” Delia sat up and offered Becca a smile. “Sure, I don’t mind.” “Great! Thanks!” Becca dragged a foldable chair over close to the bed and took a seat. Derek attached the appropriate needle to the tattoo machine and began the initial outline of the cat. Delia flinched at the feeling at first, but then grew still and was a real trooper. It wasn’t long before Derek was injecting color into the design and the tattoo was really coming to life. Derek was as gentle as possible throughout the entire process. Becca snapped photos during the procedure, and put them up on her blog and other social media sites. Just as Derek was doing the finishing touches to the cat’s eyes…the strangest thing happened. Derek’s tattoo gun was bathed in a blue-tinged light and the cat’s eyes glowed. Becca stifled a gasp. Was Derek performing magic? She wondered. Mad Dog and Delia didn’t seem to notice anything amiss though. So why could Becca see what was going on when they couldn’t? She wondered. “There. All finished.” Derek declared as he grabbed a clean towel and gently cleaned the blood off Delia’s arm. He held up a mirror so Delia could see it. Delia’s eyes sparkled. “It’s awesome. So badass. Thank you so much, Derek.” “No problem.” Derek grinned. “How much do we owe you?” Mad Dog asked. Derek checked his watch. “Well, it took two and a half hours so two hundred and fifty bucks.” Mad Dog handed Derek three hundred. “Keep the change.” Mad Dog and Delia said their goodbyes and headed for the door. Just as Mad Dog was exiting he glanced over his shoulder at Derek and gave him a thumbs-up. “It’s good to see you…with someone.” “Uh, er, thanks.” Derek rubbed the back of his neck, feeling embarassed. Becca was totally oblivious - thank God - since she was texting rapidly on her smart phone. Derek gave her an amused look. “Still tweeting photos?” “Ah, no, I’m chatting on facebook with Malakye right now actually.” Becca explained. “Malakye?” Derek raised an eyebrow at this strange development. That kid was so antisocial it was strange for him to be chatting with Becca. “Yep, I didn’t even realize we’re friends on facebook too! I add everyone on facebook since I just assume they’re followers of my blog.” Becca set her phone down. “Oh…now that they’re gone. What was that?” She gave Derek an intent look. “What was what?” Derek furrowed his brow in confusion. “I saw you…using magic. The tattoo gun was glowing…and the cat’s eyes glowed.” Becca explained. Derek was stunned by her revelation. “You saw that?” Becca nodded. “Yep. Why? Is that not normal?” Derek frowned and rubbed a hand over his mouth. “To tell you the truth I don’t know…a human has never been able to see me using magic before. But anyways, you’re right. I was using magic. If that girl is ever in trouble…her tattoo will come to life and protect her.” Becca’s eyes widened. “Really?” Derek nodded. “That’s a hell of a deal for three hundred bucks! That’s just like my tattoo, isn’t it? You saved me that night, Derek. Slaine wanted me to drink his blood. I was so scared. I was crying out for someone to help me with my mind…and then your tattoo came to life and saved me. Thank you.” Becca gave Derek an emotional look. “I’m only glad it was able to protect you…and stop you from becoming a vampire. It’s a horrible fate.” Derek’s tone of voice was grim. “Maybe. Doesn’t everyone want to become a vampire because then they become immortal?” Becca pointed out. “You gain immortality sure, but the cost is steep. When you’re turned your soul is cursed to Hell. It’s a demon’s curse. You also have to drink blood in order to survive.” “Human blood?” Becca shuddered at the thought because of her blood phobia. “Not always…I’ve heard of vampires surviving on animal blood before. But they’re not as strong as normal bloodsucking vampires.” Derek explained. “Drinking animal blood? Ewwww.” Becca laughed but stopped when Derek didn’t join in with her. He was strangely silent. “Derek? Something wrong?” “Ah, no, it’s nothing.” Derek rubbed his goatee nervously. The bell above the front entrance jingled and another customer entered. “Welcome to Voodoo Tattoo. How may I help you?” Derek greeted a Goth teen boy who was dressed all in black leather and had piercings everywhere. The workday at Voodoo Tattoo continued peacefully. Becca was surprised by how many customers Derek had. And they weren’t just San Francisco residents. Some had traveled from other states to get one of Derek’s legendary tattoos. Becca was able to take lots of wonderful photos for her blog. That day the tattoos Derek did were: an incredible Maori tattoo for the Goth teen, a guardian angel with huge wings on the back of a woman, and a bunch of cute stars around a beach bunny’s ankle. “Hey Derek, what are the meanings of those tattoos you did today?” Becca asked curiously. “Well, Maori tattoos are probably the most famous of all the Tribal tattoos out there. According to Maori mythology, tattooing started with a love affair between a young man named Mataora and a young princess of the Underworld named Niwareka. Would you like to hear the story?” Becca nodded eagerly. “Definitely. I’m a sucker for romance.” “Mataora was a young warrior and his wife Niwareka was a beautiful woman that came from the Underworld. They were happy until Mataora struck his wife during a fit of jealousy. Angered by his brash actions, Niwareka fled back to the Underworld. Mataora immediately regretted his actions, and set out to find her. Before he left he put on his finest garments and painted his face with elaborate war paint designs. “After overcoming many obstacles during his journey to the Underworld, he finally arrived there. However, his war paint was all messed up from his trials and his appearance was a mess. Niwareka’s family mocked his slovenly appearance since their bodies had been permanently beautified with Tā Mako. In his humble state, and on his hands and knees, Mataora begged for forgiveness from Niwareka and her family. “When Niwareka eventually accepted his apology, Mataora immediately asked her father if he could learn the art of Tā Mako since he’d been highly impressed by the exquisite tattooed body patterns everyone wore in the Underworld. Niwareka’s father agreed to teach Mataora this art. Meanwhile, Niwareka learned how to do the art of fine weaving. When Niwareka and Mataora returned to the human world they brought with them these arts. The Maori style started in New Zealand, and you know Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson?” “You mean the Scorpion King?” “His tattoo is a Maroi design.” Derek informed her. Becca texted everything that Derek was telling her right to her blog. “What about guardian angels? Although that does seem a little self explanatory.” “Angels symbolize devotion, spirituality, faith and also signify a relationship with God. They also serve as a figure of guidance and protection.” Derek smiled as he thought about Uriel. She was such a strange angel with her sassy attitude, spiked armor, short hair and lollipop fetish. Definitely not your typical angel. “What about stars? A lot of girls seem to be getting those these days.” Becca said. “Stars are the symbols of truth and hope as they are the light which shines in the darkness.” Derek explained. “A light that shines in the darkness.” Becca said aloud as she texted. “I like the sound of that. What about the butterfly tattoo you gave me?” “Butterflies represent beauty, metamorphosis, freedom, happiness and fragility.” Derek explained with an odd look on his face. Becca found herself blushing at that strange, intense look Derek was giving her. “I see…well, I think I have enough information for now. Thank you.” “No problem.” At sunset Derek closed the shop. Now he was free to devote his spare time to Becca. “What would you like for dinner, gorgeous?” Becca smiled. “Oh, whatever you cook…I’m sure it will be delicious.” “Filet mignon and au gratin potatoes it is then.” Derek said. Derek cooked Becca an extravagant steak dinner, and made sure to use an extravagant garnish since he knew she’d most likely be taking photos of the dish. He set the plate down in front of Becca with a flourish. “Bon appetit, mademoiselle.” Becca was drooling and not just at the sight of the food. “May I take a picture of you too?” “NO!” Derek burst out. Becca flinched at his loud tone of voice. “Ah, sorry…” Derek rubbed the back of his neck. “It’s just…given my profession it’s dangerous to have my photos up online.” That and my image doesn’t show up in photos. That would totally freak Becca out. “Oh, I see. Don’t worry about it then. No big. My followers will just have to take my word for it that you’re frigin hot.” She offered Derek a sheepish smile. Derek flushed at her flirty words. As they dined together, Becca found herself trying to stifle her moans while she ate and Derek ended up getting aroused. Watching Becca eat his cooking…and reacting the way she was was a total turn-on. Like watching soft porn. He wished he were the one pulling those sounds from Becca’s mouth and not just his cooking. By the end of dinner, Derek was a wreck. He was so turned on. He clenched his hands into fists, as he had to resist pouncing Becca. She was just so…irresistible though. She was like a magnet - he was utterly drawn to her. Becca picked up her phone and started texting rapidly. She then set her phone down. “I’ll be right back.” Becca exited the kitchen and entered the parlor. “Wait, what?” Derek called after her. He sensed another presence suddenly and rushed into the tattoo parlor just in time to see Malakye disappear. “Malakye was here? What did he want?” Becca turned around and held something up in her hands. “He brought us - dessert. Edible paints.” Derek’s jaw dropped. “Malakye brought you that? Where the hell did he get those from?” “A sex shop.” Becca replied nonchalantly. “A sex shop? You’re telling me that Malakye went inside of a sex shop? I would have paid good money to see that.” Derek chuckled. “I can’t believe he agreed to get you those.” “Well, I said it was for you and that you would be very happy.” Becca’s lime green eyes were sparkling with mischief. “I was thinking…you could paint things on my body and then-” “Whoa, hold up.” Derek raised his hand to stop her from continuing. “Becca.” His tone of voice was stern. “I already told you that this.” He waved his hand between the two of them. “Is impossible.” Becca huffed in an irritated way. “I’m not asking for a relationship, Derek. I’m just asking for a little fun - kinky fun.” Becca took her shirt off and flung it side. “Or are you telling me you don’t want to paint on my bare flesh…?” “Holy crap.” Derek stared at Becca. She hadn’t been wearing a bra! He stared at her bare flesh. She had such beautiful, golden-hued skin - the perfect canvas. Becca was right. How could he resist? He couldn’t. The reins on Derek’s control snapped. Crap. Becca was just too frigin sexy! Derek walked towards Becca, scooped her up into his arms, and headed for the stairs. “Bedroom.” He explained. Becca giggled and didn’t seem to mind his forcefulness one bit. He briefly wondered how she’d gotten that strange scar on her shoulder but decided that asking about it might ruin the mood. I’ll ask her about it later. Derek took Becca to the spare bedroom she was staying in, and somehow managed to open the door and make his way inside with Becca still in his arms. He carried Becca over to the bed and gently placed her upon it. Derek crawled onto the bed next to Becca and held his hand out to her. “Give me those paints, my muse. I’m suddenly feeling inspired.” Becca happily obliged and handed him the edible paint set, which had ten little jars of different colored paint and came with a brush. Derek opened up all of the little jars of colored edible paint, and set them on the bed. He picked up the brush, dipped it into the blue paint, and hovered over Becca. Derek wasn’t sure why he did it but…he began to paint the Celtic animal tattoos that his wife Cinnia had had on her arms - a snake, cat, fox, and unicorn. He also added color to the tattoos to make them appear more real. If he wanted to he could imbue even these temporary tattoos with magic, but there was no real need. He planned on licking them off anyways. “Wow, those are looking amazing.” Becca said as she looked down at her arms. “It’s almost a shame these are just temporary.” Derek’s heart clenched inside of his chest as he stared down at Becca with those precious tattoos on her arms. Derek’s blue eyes were filled with such hunger and longing. “What?” Becca asked him breathlessly. “I feel like kissing you again.” Derek admitted as he leaned over and pressed his lips against hers. Becca eagerly kissed him back. Derek deepened their kiss by thrusting his tongue into Becca’s mouth. Becca’s head spun as Derek skillfully swirled his tongue around her own. Just his kissing was causing heat to pool between her legs. She rubbed her thighs together, wanting more. Derek pulled back and a string of saliva connected their tongues for a second. It should have been disgusting, but it was strangely hot. Derek was looking at her with a burning desire. He eyed the side of her neck where the choker she was wearing covered her bite mark. For a minute, Becca became worried, but then Derek was kissing her collarbone in a tender gesture. He laved his tongue down her collarbone and headed down. Becca’s skin flushed with anticipation. “Put your mouth on me, Derek.” Derek pulled back and raised an eyebrow at Becca. “You’re not shy are you? You sure know how to talk dirty. First, I’m going to decorate that beautiful flesh of yours.” Derek sat back, picked up the brush, and dipped it in red paint. He brought the brush over to Becca’s chest and began to paint a rose. Derek painted a second red flower and set the paintbrush aside. “Now I’m going to clean you off-” Becca sat up. “Oh, wait a sec.” She whipped out her phone and took a picture of her chest…and then of the tattoos on her arms before Derek could ‘ruin’ them. A muscle ticked beneath Derek’s eye. “Please don’t tell me you’re going to put topless photos of yourself up on the Internet.” Becca blushed. “No! What kind of woman do you think I am? Wait, don’t answer that. Anyways, these are for my private collection. But the tattoos you did on my arms…I may post online later.” She gave Derek a scrutinizing look when his anger didn’t seem to leave him. “Feeling jealous of my Twitter followers?” Derek straddled Becca and looked down into her eyes. “Maybe.” He said before he leaned over her and placed a kiss against her flesh. Becca gasped and arched her back. Derek was making her feel so good. It was like he knew all of her sensitive spots. Derek began to trace the flower petals with his tongue. The red paint tasted like strawberries. “Mmm. You taste so good.” Strawberries mixed with Becca’s unique lime taste. “Now who’s talking dirty?” Becca teased. Derek had fun laving his tongue along the flower design he’d drawn. As his tongue cleaned up the paint more of her golden-hued skin was revealed. Becca’s skin was so soft and blemish free. He could tell that she took care of it. She had no scars. And Derek wanted to keep it that way. Once her flesh was clean, he began to lick the designs he’d painted on her arms. Derek paused as he looked at the blue Celtic unicorn he’d painted. Don’t think about my dead wife. Derek’s tongue on her arms should not have been as erotic as it was. But Becca needed more. “Derek.” She said, her voice a plea. Derek sat back and looked at her. Dang, she looked sexy with her red, disheveled hair. I have to remember to thank Malakye for these paints later. “Yes?” Becca spread her legs beneath her skirt. “I need you. I need more. Please.” Derek’s throat went dry at the invitation. He hadn’t really been expecting things to move so fast between them. The reins on his control were fraying. Becca was so irresistible. He wanted her so bad. His leather pants were so tight. He imagined spreading her legs, ripping her panties off, and uniting their bodies. Derek could only imagine what she would feel like. He imagined taking her, and then sinking his fangs into the side of her neck, marking her, claiming her, tasting her. He bet her blood would be so delicious. Derek felt his fangs lengthen inside of his mouth at the lewd thought. Crap! He could hear Becca’s heartbeat. Hear the blood rushing through her veins. She was so full of life - whereas he was undead. A vampire. Derek realized that he was losing control. If he took her, he would bite her. No! I can’t! I can’t take her…I can’t hurt her. Derek warred within himself. He covered his mouth with his hand so that Becca wouldn’t see his fangs. He vaguely wondered how Slaine had been able to control himself in this sort of an erotic situation. “Derek?” Becca asked concernedly upon seeing his tortured expression. She sat up and reached her hand out to him. “What’s wrong?” “No! Don’t touch me!” Derek batted her hand away. There was a wild look in his blue eyes. “Derek, what-?” Becca began, however- “Hey Derek! Becca! Where are you guys?” Came Garth’s booming voice from downstairs. Derek leapt off the bed and straightened his clothes. He ran a trembling hand back through his hair. Holy crap. He’d almost lost control around Becca. He definitely couldn’t have sex with her. If he did, he’d most assuredly lose control and bite her. “We’re up here! Just a second!” Derek called down. He looked at Becca. “Put a shirt on and join us downstairs. I’ll go see what he wants.” Saved by the bell! Or rather Garth. “O-Okay.” Becca said with a confused and slightly hurt expression on her face. Derek all but fled the bedroom and ran downstairs. He found Garth in the main tattoo parlor area. “What’s up, man?” Garth grinned. “I thought you and Becca might be bored since you’re stuck here waiting to see if Slaine will attack, so I brought movies.” He held up several DVDs. “Martial arts films!” Bored? He’d been anything but that. “Ah…thanks, man. We can watch them in the living room upstairs.” Derek headed for the stairs. Garth followed. As they were entering the living room, Garth caught sight of Becca coming down the stairs. She was wearing a red tank top and he noticed the temporary tattoos on her arms. Garth took a deep breath and smelled…sex. Becca’s arousal and Derek’s scent was all over her. His eyes widened in shock and surprise. He may have been a little slow sometimes, but he wasn’t stupid. He’d totally interrupted something. I’m the biggest jerk ever! He shot Derek an apologetic look. “Crap, man, I didn’t know. I’m sorry, I should go-” Derek grabbed Garth’s shoulder in an iron grip. “You’re not going anywhere, buddy. I can’t be left alone with her right now. I’m losing control.” Garth raised an eyebrow at his friend. “Is that such a bad thing?” “I don’t want to hurt her.” Derek explained. Garth gave Derek a knowing look. “I feel you.” He still had trouble controlling his monstrous strength. “Don’t worry. I’ll stay.” “Thanks, man. I owe you one.” Derek said. “Hey, guys.” Becca greeted them cheerfully, oblivious to what was going on. “Garth brought some movies for us to watch in case we were bored.” Derek informed her. “As long as they’re not horror movies. I’m game.” Becca said. “They’re martial arts movies - Jackie Chan, Tony Jaa, Jet Li.” Garth explained with a proud note to his voice. Becca giggled. Garth was obviously a hardcore martial arts fan. “Sounds fun.” The trio headed into Derek’s living room and Garth popped the first movie, Jet Li’s The One, into the DVD player. They began a martial arts film marathon while they waited to see if Slaine would decide to attack. To be continued…in Tattoo 5: Stag Chapter 5: Stag The wounds on Slaine’s back had healed thanks to the blood Koko and Yoko had given him, but his body was still being ravaged and tortured by the hell centipede’s venom. He was sweating profusely, had a very high fever, and was writhing on the bed in pain as the twins took care of him and dabbed a cool, wet towel against his feverish brow. Even if Slaine had wanted to go in search of Becca he would have been unable to in his current condition. “Becca…I’m sorry…” Slaine murmured in his feverish state. “Becca?” Koko snapped, “Who the hell is Becca?” “She’s probably the human female Slaine tried to turn.” Yoko suggested in a low voice. Koko shot Yoko an incredulous look. “How can you be so calm about this? You love Slaine too don’t you, dear sister? What if this Becca steals him from us?” Yoko looked down at Slaine, her expression stoic. “I do love him…but what can we do? It is his will.” Although I will try to protect my sister’s heart to the best of my abilities. An evil smile curled Koko’s lips. “Oh, I’ll tell you what we can do. We can find this little human and kill her.” Yoko frowned at her sister’s idea. “This would make Slaine angry with us.” Koko huffed. “I don’t care. I won’t share Slaine with anyone! He belongs to us!” Yoko smiled slightly. “Yes, indeed he does.” Twenty minutes later, Slaine came awake with a start and sat up in bed. He was feeling slightly better, but still very weak. The smell of smoke…had awoken him. Something was burning! His immediate concern was for the twins. Slaine leapt out of bed and stumbled on his feet. “Koko! Yoko!” He called out and following the smoke entered the bathroom. The sight that met him was Koko tossing Becca’s clothes into the bathtub, which had a roaring fire inside of it. “Koko! What are you doing?” Slaine demanded. Koko turned around and smiled psychotically at Slaine. “I’m burning Becca’s clothes. That’s her name isn’t it? Becccccaaaa?” Slaine swallowed nervously. “How do you know about Becca?” “You were calling out her name in your sleep.” Yoko revealed. “Crap.” Slaine swore and ran a hand back through his sweaty hair. “Koko, stop that this instant. I paid a lot of money for those clothes!” He strode into the bathroom. Yoko gasped, her red eyes widened, and she pointed a trembling finger at the bathroom mirror. “Slaine, your reflection!” Slaine let out an exasperated sound. “What about it?” He said as he glanced at the bathroom mirror - only to discover that he had a reflection and he wasn’t willing one to appear. “What the hell?” Koko screamed at the sight. “Slaine, you have your reflection back. But why?” “Slaine’s soul has obviously returned to him, dear sister.” Yoko said in a calm tone. Slaine put his hand on the mirror. “My soul has returned?” What does this mean? “But how? How and why did Slaine get his soul back?” Koko screamed out of fear and frustration. Yoko shook her head. “That I do not know, sister.” But somehow Slaine knew - deep down he had the feeling this had to do with Becca Thorn and his feelings for her. When Slaine had bitten Becca he’d made sure not to inject any of his saliva into her so that if he failed in turning her into a vampire she wouldn’t become a zombie. His extra caution had worked out for the best. Becca was still okay, and Derek would protect her with his life, so she was in good hands. “Koko. Yoko. You can’t tell Dracula about any of this.” He warned them. Koko huffed and flipped her long red and black hair over her shoulder. “No duh. That goes without saying.” “He would kill you. Slowly and painfully.” Yoko said in a dreary tone. “Thanks, Yoko.” Slaine said sarcastically. Now he knew what this heavy weight inside of his chest was - his God-given soul, and the voice of his conscience had also returned. Crap, this is so not good. Slaine was already having a hard time keeping up the whole ‘I’m an evil bloodsucking vampire’ persona in front of Dracula. Maybe it was for the best that he’d failed to turn Becca. He would have cursed her soul to Hell after all - out of a selfish desire to always have her with him. Slaine rubbed at his chest, feeling conflicted about where his true loyalties lay now. Dracula was a direct enemy of God - if Dracula found out that Slaine now possessed his God-given soul…there would be hell to pay. *** As soon as Yoko and Koko left Slaine’s apartment, Archangel Uriel walked back into Slaine’s bedroom to see that he’d gone back to bed and was fast asleep. And who could really blame the poor guy? Hell centipede poisoning was excruciatingly painful, but there was really nothing he could do except wait for the poison to leave his system. Archangel Uriel was at Slaine’s apartment because she’d grown curious about her Derek’s Archenemy and the evil vampire who’d killed his wife Cinnia more than two millennia ago. One of Uriel’s powers was that she could turn invisible, and so she’d seen the whole thing. She’d seen Dracula interrogate Slaine about the human female he’d tried to turn and watched how he hadn’t said a word about Becca Thorn. She’d watched Slaine get whipped with the hell centipede and become poisoned. When Uriel had watched Slaine collapse to the floor in a heap and Dracula leave him there twitching on the floor - something had stirred within Uriel and she’d actually been tempted to heal him. But that was ludicrous! Crazy! Why would she want to help Derek’s Archenemy? If anything, Uriel should have been rooting for Slaine’s destruction. He was an evil vampire, a murderer who fed from humans and killed them. But…there was something about Slaine that called to her. Uriel had watched Slaine call for help and a few minutes later two stunningly gorgeous vampire twin girls had arrived to nurse Slaine back to health in his poisoned state. An unexpected wave of jealousy had swept through her. Are those girls his lovers? She’d wondered hotly. But most interesting of all had been when Uriel had followed Slaine into the bathroom where Koko was burning Becca’s clothes and had caught sight of Slaine’s reflection in the mirror. She’d barely been able to stifle her surprised gasp when she’d seen it and had almost blown her cover. Her mind had whirled with thoughts and possibilites. Slain has a reflection…then his soul has returned. But how is that possible? Unless…Becca had been in love with Slaine when they’d made love. Yes, if that’s true, then his soul would have been returned to him since Becca is a Judge but…what about Derek? God informed me that Derek and Becca are ‘soul mates’ and that the red string of fate connects them…but then where does that leave Slaine? Nowhere and with no one. Uriel had felt a sympathetic pang for Slaine at the thought. After the chaos in the bathroom, Yoko and Koko had left the apartment and Slaine had gone back to bed. Uriel had stayed behind while invisible to watch Slaine a little longer. Slaine was currently tossing and turning on the bed, still feverish, and in the troughs of a nightmare. “Becca…Becca…I’m sorry…” He kept saying over and over again like he had before. Uriel reached out and brushed his sweaty hair away from his face in a tender gesture. “He really loves her…in his own twisted way. But…it’s an unrequited love, isn’t it, Slaine? Because Becca is destined to be with Derek.” Unrequited love. Her heart went out to him. After all, she could relate. She’d been mindlessly in love with Levi Devlin…and rejected by him. She’d grown jaded and bitter about ‘love’, and had cut her long, curly, platinum blonde hair off, deciding it was time for a change. Her over-protective brother Gabriel had had a cow when he’d seen what she’d done to her beautiful hair. “I really shouldn’t be doing this but…” As Uriel stroked Slaine’s head a golden-tinged light surrounded her hand and she began to heal him of the poison. I hope I’m not making a mistake saving him like this…please don’t let me down, Slaine. *** The following day at Voodoo Tattoo was much like the day before. Derek cooked Becca an orgasmic breakfast, only Garth was there too since he’d fallen asleep while watching a Tony Jaa movie. Becca’s jaw dropped slightly as she watched Garth shoveling food into his mouth at a rapid pace. She’d never seen someone eat so much. “Whoa.” She whipped out her smart phone and took a picture. “When do you open your shop?” Derek asked Garth conversationally. Garth paused in shoveling food into his mouth. A sad, dejected expression came to his face. “The sign on my door says nine o’clock but it doesn’t really matter…no one is going to come.” “Why’s that?” Becca asked curiously. Garth sighed, and his shoulders sagged in defeat. He scratched his head. “Anytime someone enters the shop and I greet them - they take one look at me and run away.” Garth scowled as he remembered the last group of girls who’d entered and looked at him like he was some kind of monster…and he’d been in his human form, dang it! “Ah…” Becca looked at Garth. She’d gotten to know him through work and so had never really been too intimidated by him, but…she suspected that as a stranger he would be a pretty intimidating guy at six-eight, all bulging muscles, spiky orange hair, unusual gold eyes, and with that the scar over his nose. Garth usually wore muscle shirts, jeans, and sneakers. He looked a little like a UFC Champion…and not the owner of a candy shop! Becca’s heart went out to Garth but she didn’t know how she could really help him. “Hang in there, Garth. You never know when you’ll get a customer.” “Yeah, I better get going then. Like you said - you never know.” Garth got up from the stool and headed for the exit. “Bye Garth, take care.” Derek called after him. “You guys too.” Garth called back and raised his hand. After Garth had left Becca was ready to enjoy some alone time with Derek, but the front door opened and Derek’s first customers of the day entered. It was a lovey-dovey couple and they wanted ‘couple tattoos’. Their idea was for the girl to get an antique, heart-shaped locket with keyhole on her forearm, and her boyfriend would get a gold, antique looking key. Derek got to work tattooing the heart-shaped locket on the girl first and a new workday at Voodoo Tattoo began. Becca took a few pictures with her smart phone, but then…she began to get bored. Today, she’d selected a pretty green dress with gold Celtic symbols on it to wear, and boots. She was so sick of boots, but this was the only kind of shoe Derek had in the closet. Becca pouted. She missed the shoe collection Slaine had gifted her with. She needed shoes. She had to go shoe shopping A-SAP. Usually, she bought at least one new pair of shoes a day. It was like an addiction. Boots do not go well with a dress. She needed some high heels, cute strappy sandals, or platform shoes. “Yeah.” Becca said wistfully as she imagined all the different kinds of shoes that would look great with what she was wearing. Derek was busy tattooing a portrait tattoo onto the back of some beefy guy, and was in deep concentration mode. The tattoo design looked very complex and would take a least another hour or so to finish. Becca could go out to the shoe store, and get back before Derek even noticed she was gone. Alright! Sounds like a plan. Becca sneakily borrowed Derek’s credit card and snuck out the front door of Voodoo Tattoo. She hailed a cab and told the cabbie to take her to Jimmy Choo. Less than half an hour later the cab was pulling up right in front of the classy, modern boutique. Becca paid the cabbie and exited the car. She looked up at the store’s black awning, which had the words: JIMMY CHOO on it in white. Purple lights were shinning artfully against the white exterior of the shop. Jimmy Choo was so funky, classy, trendy, and modern. Becca entered the shoe store and smiled from ear-to-ear. “Time to do some shoe shopping!” She rubbed her hands together excitedly. Becca pursued the store’s selection with a critical eye and a store clerk approached. “Hello, welcome to Jimmy Choo, how may I be of assistance? Are you looking for anything in particular today?” The peppy young woman asked Becca. “Well, let’s see…I’d like to try on these, these, these, and definitely these.” Becca pointed to all of the shoes she wanted to try on. “In a size seven, please.” The salesclerk blinked but then smiled. “Yes, of course, right away, Miss!” A few minutes later, the salesclerk emerged from the back with a stack of four boxes in her arms and stumbled her way over to Becca before setting the boxes down at Becca’s feet. Becca proceeded to have fun trying each pair of shoes on. She loved shoes! She left a pair of green platform shoes with straps on her feet that went rather well with the dress she was wearing. “I’ll wear these out.” She told the clerk. “And the others…?” The salesclerk asked. “I could put any of them on hold, if you’d like?” “I’ll be taking them all too, of course.” Becca said and fished into her purse for Derek’s credit card. “Charge it.” A wide gin spread across the salesclerk’s face. “Yes, Miss!” She charged three thousand five hundred dollars to Derek’s credit card, boxed the shoes, and put them into a large shopping bag. The salesclerk handed Becca her card and then her shopping bag. “Thank you for shopping at Jimmy Choo. Please, come again.” “No problem. It was definitely my pleasure.” Becca said as she put the credit card back inside of her purse and took the shopping bag. She checked her watch. She’d taken forty-five minutes. Perfect. If she caught a cab quickly she’d make it back to Voodoo Tattoo before Derek even noticed she was missing. And besides, vampires couldn’t go out in the daylight so she was perfectly safe. Becca left Jimmy Choo, walked down the sidewalk, and searched around for a cab. However, as she passed an alleyway she heard the sound of someone crying. Becca paused and peered into the dark alley, but she couldn’t see anyone. “Hello?” The sound of a woman sobbing loudly reached Becca’s ears again. Becca couldn’t just ignore it. Someone could be hurt and needed her help. She entered the alleyway and made her way down it. “Hello? Is anyone there?” At the end of the alleyway, she saw a woman crouched on the ground and crying into her hands. She was wearing a dark blue gown, and her hair was braided down her back. “Hello…are you alright, Miss? Can I help you?” Becca reached her hand out towards the sobbing woman. However- The woman’s crying turned into maddening giggling. “Teeheehee. What a stupid human girl you are. I don’t see what Slaine sees in you. Koko and Yoko are right to be worried.” The woman turned around to reveal a face that had been painted white, and cold, pale blue eyes. The woman smiled eerily at Becca and tilted her head. “You look tasty.” There was an odd, hungry gleam in her eyes. Becca took a step back. “E-Excuse me?” The woman launched herself at Becca, grabbed her arms, and sunk her teeth into Becca’s shoulder. Becca cried out in pain. The woman literally took a bite out of her, and Becca was so freaked out by this that she passed out on the spot. Neena let go of Becca and she fell to the ground in a heap. Neena noticed that Becca hadn’t let go of her shopping bag even though she’d passed out. She opened her mouth, reached inside and pulled out a piece of green dress that had gotten stuck between her teeth. “Mmm, her flesh tastes good. Pity, I can’t eat her. Yoko and Koko want her alive so that they can play with her. But maybe if I’m a good little girl they’ll give her to me after they’re done…yippee!” Neena picked Becca up and slung her over her shoulder as if she didn’t weigh a thing. She exited the alleyway, skipped down the sidewalk and headed for Iron Casket. *** Becca awoke to a bucket of cold water being thrown into her face. “Wakie, wakie, little human.” Came a husky sounding sneer. Becca opened her eyes, which had to adjust to the dimly lit room. The only light was coming from two lit candelabra that were sitting on the floor close to the chair Becca was seated in. Only Becca’s immediate surroundings were illuminated. Standing directly in front of her were two women who looked identical to each other…like twins. They also looked Oriental, had long black hair, red eyes, and were wearing kimono. The woman from earlier was skipping around the room and looking bored. When Becca tried to stand she realized she’d been tied to the chair. Thick ropes were around her wrists and ankles. She was trapped. “Who the hell are you witches?” Koko smiled as she approached Becca and leaned in close. “I believe that the right question to be asking is: what are you witches?” The woman’s smile widened revealing her abnormally sharp canines. Fangs. “Vampires.” Becca gasped. “Oh! Oh! And I’m a zombie!” The woman with black braided hair said excitedly. “And my name is Neena. And I’m Dracula’s favorite!” The woman was full-grown and yet she acted like a child. Becca raised a red eyebrow at Neena. “Dracula? You can’t be serious. You people are crazy.” “Oh, we’re dead serious.” Yoko said calmly. “I can’t believe Slaine wants to turn this weird girl into one of us. She’s so…lowly. Common. And she talks funny.” Koko’s lip curled back in disgust. “She has an accent. She must be from the south.” Yoko explained. “Well, are you from the south, lowly human?” Koko asked sharply. Becca raised her chin. “Yes.” Of course there was no way she would tell these freaks where in the south she’d lived. The last thing she wanted was to involve her parents in all this craziness her life seemed to be surrounded by lately. Her shoulder was throbbing in pain, but she didn’t dare to look at the wound. If she did she’d probably throw up or faint. This whole scenario was like out of a bad horror film, and Becca hated horror films. She’d definitely never wanted to be in one. This is like that movie…Scream…or I Know What You Did Last Summer. It was probably better not to think about that. She realized. Koko made a noise of disgust and waved her hand dismissively through the air. “She’s one of those…hicks or hillbillies. How pitiful. I suppose her only redeeming quality would be her pretty face.” Koko reached out, grabbed Becca’s chin, and turned her head from side-to-side as she appraised her. Becca flinched as Koko’s long, red nails dug into her flesh, but she glared back at the woman. “What do you want with me? Why am I here?” Koko ignored Becca’s questions. “Yoko, fetch the table, would you, dear sister.” “Yes, my sister.” Yoko moved out of the pool of light and returned pushing a metal table on wheels. On top of the stainless steel table were what could only be described as torture instruments. Becca swallowed as she looked at the scalpels and what looked like a pair of pliers. She didn’t like where this was going one bit. Koko let go of Becca’s face and sashayed over to the table. She picked up a scalpel and looked at it thoughtfully. “Do you think Slaine will still want her if we scar her beautiful face, dear sister?” Yoko smiled eerily. “We should cut her ears off first. She wouldn’t be able to hear Slaine’s sexy voice anymore.” “What an excellent idea, sister mine. Or maybe we should start with her cute little sloping nose. That way she wouldn’t be able to smell Slaine’s delectable scent.” “No, I have a better idea. Let’s take out one of her eyes.” Yoko suggested. “And then we can make her watch as we squeeze it and it explodes.” Koko cackled at the idea. “Oh, that’s good! Why didn’t I think of that?” Becca felt bile rise up inside of her throat. These two vampire chicks were sick…and jealous of her and Slaine, she realized. “Why are you doing this to me? I don’t want to be a vampire, and I’m not in love with Slaine like you two obviously are!” Why do I feel like I just told a lie? Had I been falling for Slaine? But now…forget it! I definitely don’t love him any more after what he pulled! That vampire jerk! Koko’s eyes glowed red like burning coals with her anger. She stalked towards Becca and backhanded her hard across the face. “Silence, lowly human. Did I give you permission to speak?” Becca turned her head and glared at Koko, even as blood dripped down from her split lip. Drip…drip…drip… “Just for that I think I’m going to start by cutting your ears off.” Koko declared as she brought the scalpel close to Becca’s face. *** Derek completed the finishing touches to the portrait tattoo of the man’s dead son. It was one of his best yet and he was extremely proud of it. He dabbed a towel gently against the tattoo to get the blood. He set the towel aside and wiped the sweat from his brow with the back of his hand. “Whew. Done. What do you think, Becca?” Derek turned to get Becca’s opinion - only to discover that she wasn’t there! “If you’re looking for the sexy redhead she left the shop about an hour ago.” The biker said as he sat up and began to gingerly put his shirt back on. “You were so in the zone that you didn’t notice. Oh, I also saw her take your credit card.” He chuckled. “Women, they’re a handful, huh? She probably went shopping.” “She what?” A feeling of dread swept over Derek. Sure, Slaine couldn’t go out in daylight but…Neena could go out during the day and it was possible Slaine might try to enlist her help. Therefore, it wasn’t entirely safe out there during the day. Crap, crap, crap. I should have warned her about Neena. “How much do I owe you, buddy?” The biker asked. “Oh, er…three hundred and eighty five.” Derek replied. “Here ya go.” The biker handed Derek four hundred dollars. “Keep the change. You did a bang up job. It really looks just like him.” The man’s eyes teared up for a second but he quickly wiped the tears away with the back of his hand. “Thanks again.” He left the shop. Just like that, even though it was still daylight out. It was three o’clock in the afternoon. Derek envied the man. He could go out into the sun so easily. Derek closed his eyes and concentrated on the connection he had with Becca because of the magical tattoo he’d give her. She was a good forty-five minutes away. He had a bad feeling about this. Derek began to pace back and forth across his tattoo parlor floor. It was useless, he couldn’t just sit around and do nothing. It was incredibly foolhardy, reckless and dangerous, but he was going out there after Becca. Derek went upstairs to his room, and slathered SPF 70 onto his skin. Then he dressed in a black turtleneck, leather pants, and boots. He put on a long, black trench coat, and a fedora to shadow his face from the sun. Derek grabbed his black umbrella and headed back downstairs. He took a deep breath in front of the front door. It’s okay. I can do this. As long as his skin wasn’t exposed to the sun he wouldn’t catch on fire. Derek opened the door, opened the umbrella, and stepped out into the sun. Even with his sunglasses on his eyes still stung. Derek quickly made his way to his Rover and got inside. He closed the umbrella and tossed it into the backseat. Derek started the engine and began to drive in the direction he could sense Becca was located. The sunlight hit his hands and they started to burn. “Crap.” Derek opened the glove compartment with his left hand (the steering wheel in a ’59 Rover is on the right side), pulled out a pair of gloves, and quickly put them on. “I must be an idiot.” Or in love. A tiny voice whispered in his mind. Derek pressed down on the gas. He noticed a motorcycle that had been going the opposite direction do a U-turn. What the hell? The motorcycle began to approach the Rover and Derek wondered if it was someone he knew. He looked into his rearview mirror. What he saw made his eyes widen. A man in a black, leather hooded vest was behind him…a sleeveless vest. The man’s blue, Celtic animal tattoos were visible. The man behind him was no ordinary man at all but a Druid Vampire Hunter. “Holy crap! A Druid Vampire Hunter…what the hell is he doing here in San Francisco? The Hunters should know this area is covered. Unless this man knew the dead Hunter. He could be looking for him. Dang it…just my luck.” The man’s hood was raised and shadowing the features of his face, so Derek didn’t know who it was or if he’d encountered this particular Hunter before or not. Derek watched as the Hunter whipped out a gun and aimed it at Derek’s car. “He wouldn’t-” A bullet shot through Derek’s back windshield and shattered it. “He frigin shot at me! And in broad daylight and with all these normals around! What the hell is he thinking? Is he crazy?” The Hunter shot at Derek again. “Crap!” Derek was forced to try and dodge the shots by swerving left and right on the road. A bullet tore through a car’s windshield and Derek heard screams. “That jerk!” There were too many innocent people around for this. He had to get off the main road. Derek took the next exit ramp and floored it. The Hunter on the Harley was right behind him. The motorcycle increased his pace and shot at Derek again. One of Derek’s rear tires was blown out. “Son of a gun!” Derek was having trouble controlling the Rover now and was swerving haphazardly across the road. Derek glanced to his right where the ocean was visible. The street he was on was directly next to the beach. In fact, this area looked oddly familiar. And then he realized they were close to where his friend Levi had done most of the filming for the movie The Little Merman. Another bullet whizzed through the air and hit Derek’s rear right tire. “Crap!” Derek lost control of the Rover and it veered off the street. The Rover hit the curb and continued on. It began to roll down a slightly grassy and sandy incline that led to the beach. Derek tried to break the car before it hit the water, but the car wouldn’t stop. It ended up hitting a sand dune flipping up into the air and ended up landing in the ocean upside down. The Rover began to sink fast. Derek unbuckled his seatbelt, and he fell to the roof of the car. He flipped over, and began to punch his side window. Cracks formed in the glass. He punched the glass until it shattered and water rushed into the car. Derek pushed himself out of the car and swam into the ocean. He started to swim back up towards the surface; however, a sea creature began to approach him. No, wait. Its body was translucent, blue-tinged, and shimmery. The Hunter was using one of his battle tattoos against him. And he had a sea serpent in his arsenal. No frigin way? Who the hell is this guy? Derek barely managed to avoid getting chomped in half. He quickly summoned his magical powers and willed his python tattoo to peel off his arm. His python materialized and swam quickly for the sea creature and wrapped around its neck. That’s it…now constrict! Derek willed in his mind as he clenched his hand into a fist. The sea creature was defeated and exploded into blue ink, which created a blue cloud in the water. Derek’s hat fell off his head and he had to cover his face with his hands as it began to burn from the sunlight that was shinning down into the water from overhead. Crap. He was so screwed! And then he saw another sea creature swimming towards him rapidly through the water. Great, just his luck. However, as the creature neared Derek, he suddenly recognized his friend Levi Devlin - the merman chef! Levi grabbed Derek’s fedora before swimming back to Derek and putting it on his head. After that Levi put Derek’s arm around his shoulders and swam off like a bullet, heading to only God knew where. Levi swam them to an underwater cave and entered. Derek wanted to remind Levi that he couldn’t breathe underwater, when they were abruptly surfacing inside a strange cave. Derek was gasping for breath once he was finally able to surface. Derek looked up and could see the sky - this cave had once been a volcano. Levi swam Derek over to a shadowy corner of the cave. Derek pulled himself out of the water and huddled into the shadows. Levi swam close. “What the hell were you doing outside in the middle of the day? You’re a vampire for heaven’s sake. You’re lucky I decided to go for a swim! What happened?” Derek sighed. “To make a long story short…Becca Thorn is in danger. I need to go to her.” Levi raised an eyebrow at Derek. “Becca? She’s still in town?” Levi knew Becca had a huge crush on his ex-grill chef, but he didn’t know Becca and Derek were seeing each other. He smiled. “I don’t know what’s going on between you two, but I’ll swim back to the restaurant and call Mal. He can teleport to her location by picturing her in his mind, and rescue her if she’s in trouble.” “Take me with you.” Derek demanded. “No way. Are you crazy? You’re lucky you didn’t burn to a crisp out there! And you still didn’t tell me how you got into a car accident either.” Levi shook his head at his friend. “I thought you were supposed to be the responsible one?” “A Vampire Hunter was after me.” Derek explained in a nonchalant tone. “A Hunter? Man…I feel so out of the loop. But there’s no way I’m taking you with me. You need to stay here until nightfall. I will return for you with news of Becca then, my friend. I promise.” Derek let out a defeated sigh. “Alright…but Levi?” “Yes?” “Please hurry.” Levi smirked. “You got it, bud. I happen to be the fastest fish in this sea.” He dove down into the water, his enormous blue and green scaled tail visible for a moment, and then he disappeared. Derek sat down, put his face in his hands, and prepared to wait. He never hated his vampire nature so much as he did right then…dang it! He should have been the one rescuing Becca…not his friends. Levi didn’t even know what the hell was going on with his Archenemy Slaine and Becca, or that Dracula was in town too! It was a real crap storm in San Francisco all of a sudden. *** Neena clapped her hands together excitedly and jumped up and down. “Oh, goodie! Can I eat them? Please! Please! Pretty please! Pretty please with whipped cream and an eyeball on top!” Becca felt a scream of terror bubbling up her throat. At that moment, the door burst open and Slaine stalked inside. He used his powers to turn on all the lights inside of the room, and Becca noted she was in what appeared to be a storage room or basement somewhere. There were several cases of alcohol and wine, and glasses on the nearby shelves. She even caught sight of her Jimmy Choo shopping bag on the floor close by. My shoes… Slaine stopped dead in his tracks when he spotted Becca tied to a chair. His eyes widened in surprise, and then he noted the metal table piled with torture devices. A dark, furious expression crossed his face. He looked positively murderous, but when he caught sight of just who had captured Becca most of his anger left him to be replaced with mild irritation. “Girls, what is the meaning of this?” His tone of voice was chiding. “Slaine-sensei.” The twins greeted him simultaneously. “Slaine, you can’t really be thinking of turning this common woman into one of us, can you?” Koko questioned in a petulant tone. Slaine cast an emotionless look Becca’s way. “The woman…is of no importance. More importantly, when I awoke I didn’t find you both at my side and grew concerned. I immediately went in search of you girls and am glad to find that you are both safe.” Koko’s expression turned pleased and she blushed. “Truly, Slaine?” Slaine nodded. “I missed you, girls. I also hunger for you both…even now. Won’t you sate my desire?” His voice had gotten deep and alluring. Koko and Yoko latched themselves onto Slaine’s arms. “Oh, yes. Please Slaine, let us sate your hunger.” Koko purred. “Let us sate all of your dark desires.” “Yes, feed from us. Only us. We are yours.” Yoko said. Slaine glanced at Becca. “Not here. I wish to be somewhere more private with you both.” Koko cast a glare Becca’s way. “What of the human female? Shall we give her to Neena as a snack?” “No!” Slaine burst out but then coughed into his hand. “I mean, no…that would ruin the surprise Dracula has prepared for Neena, you see.” Neena immediately took the bait. “Ooo, Dracula has a surprise for Neena? Is it a present? Is it YumYums? I do hope it’s YumYums. I’m soooo hungry…!” Slaine shrugged carelessly. “I don’t know, Neena. Perhaps, you should go find Dracula and find out.” “Ohhhh good idea! I’m coming, Master!” Neena skipped out of the room, giddy with excitement and hunger. Becca shivered when she imagined just what YumYums might be. “What if the human escapes?” Yoko asked in a droning tone. Slaine chuckled. “She’s a lowly human. She won’t be able to. Even if there was a giant butterfly that could help her. She would still remain trapped here.” He joked. Koko frowned at Slaine’s odd words. “A giant butterfly?” “It’s a human expression.” Slaine slyly lied. “Ah, I see.” Koko readily agreed. “Well, let’s go somewhere more private, sensei.” “Yes, let’s.” Slaine agreed as he escorted the vampire females out of the basement and the door closed behind them, leaving Becca alone in the basement. Giant butterfly? Did he just give me a clue? Is Slaine trying to help me escape? He must mean that I should use my tattoo but I don’t know how. Crap. How did I get it to come to life the last time? Becca wondered and thought back to the night Slaine had tried to turn her. She remembered calling out for help in her mind with all her heart and soul. Becca took a deep breath and prepared to call for help once again. Please…help me. Please. Becca thought. The same stinging sensation was felt on her lower back, and a few seconds later a glowing, blue butterfly was hovering directly in front of her face. Becca’s green eyes widened at the sight of it. “It worked…quick! Get the ropes!” The butterfly opened its mouth to reveal its sharp, pointy teeth and then it swooped down and began to gnaw at the ropes around Becca’s wrists and then her ankles until she was free. Becca stood up and rubbed her red, sore wrists. There was a twinge of pain in her shoulder but she willed herself not to look at it. “Now I just need to find a way out of here. One where I won’t get caught.” The butterfly hovered in front of Becca’s face and instead of heading towards the door - headed towards the back of the basement and flew behind a pile of crates. Becca swallowed. She had no choice but to follow the butterfly though. But first she grabbed her shopping bag. What? She couldn’t leave the Jimmy Choos behind, now could she? Not after she’d spent more than three thousand dollars on them! The butterfly led Becca to a hatch that appeared to lead outside. Becca climbed up a short ladder, and pushed against the hatch. It opened and sunlight spilled into the basement. She’d never been so happy to see sunlight in all her life. It felt refreshing, warm, and safe. Ah, the sun! How I’ve missed you. Okay, so that was a little melodramatic. Becca pulled herself out of the hatch and saw that she was behind an enormous building that was painted black and that had pieces of metal stuck to its exterior. She realized that she’d been in the basement of Iron Casket! Becca took off running and hailed a cab. She had to get back to Voodoo Tattoo A-SAP. She wasn’t sure how many hours she’d been trapped in that basement, but knew that Derek was probably worried sick about her. Becca also couldn’t stop herself from thinking about how Slaine had saved her life. Why? Why did he decide to save me? She wondered. *** The hours crawled by painfully slow until finally Levi returned at sunset. And he wasn’t alone. Becca also emerged from the water with Levi when he surfaced. She’s alive! Derek leapt to his feet. She was also wearing a sexy red bikini. And looking smoking hot! “Becca!” He rushed over to Becca and crouched in front of her. “Hey.” Becca pulled herself out of the water onto a rocky ledge, and Derek helped her to stand. “Levi told me all about how you got into a car accident while trying to find me and ended up getting stranded here because you can’t go out in the sun. Because of that allergy of yours.” She shoved his shoulder playfully. “If I didn’t already know you’re a Druid I’d suspect you were a vampire too! Is your allergy to the sun really that strong?” Derek was so happy to see her, her words barely registered. “Why did you leave?” A guilty look crossed her face. “I just went shoe shopping…I’m sorry. I didn’t know you would worry, so I-” Derek abruptly pulled Becca into his arms and hugged her close. He stroked her hair in a tender manner. “I’m just glad you’re safe.” Becca melted into his embrace and wrapped her arms around him. She felt so safe in his arms. “Me too.” I’m safe because of Slaine. But how can I tell Derek that? Slaine killed his wife Cinnia. He’d never believe me. He thinks Slaine is a monster. “You guys done with your romantic moment? Or should I go grab a beer or something and come back?” Levi asked in an amused tone. “Shut up, man.” Derek said and then all three of them laughed. Levi swam Derek and Becca back to shore, and they took a cab back to Voodoo Tattoo. “I can’t get over how fast your merman friend can swim!” Becca was saying as they approached the front door. Derek grinned. “He says he’s the fastest fish in the sea.” “When are you going to tell me what Garth and Malakye really are. I get this feeling they’re not human either.” Becca began casually. Derek’s expression darkened. “Becca, the less you know about us the better. I still don’t like how you’ve gotten involved in all this.” “Hey.” Becca put a hand on Derek’s arm. “You forget that I got myself involved by choosing to go out with Slaine. That was my choice.” “True. But I should have warned you about him sooner.” Derek said as he opened the front door and they entered the townhouse. “I’m going to go take a shower. I smell like fish!” Becca began to head for the stairs, planning to take a shower in her room and change. Derek followed behind her, also planning to head up to his room and take a shower. “Hey, don’t be so ungrateful to our savior. It’s not his fault he smells fishy.” Becca giggled. “Well, Vivien Tempest sure seems to like it.” “Vivien always liked seafood. She probably just wants to eat him all up.” Derek joked. “Do my ears deceive me?” Becca looked over her shoulder as she ascended the stairs. “Did you just try to make a joke? It was pretty bad, by the way.” “Hey.” Derek complained as they reached the forth floor and went their separate ways. He went to his room, took a quick shower and changed. Afterwards, he made his way into the living room that was on the third floor, and turned on the TV so that he could watch the news. “I’m reporting live from the site of what appears to be another gruesome animal attack!” A busty blonde female reporter was saying. Derek sat down on the couch and listened to the news report about how just last night ten people were killed in San Francisco in various different locations throughout the city. But all of the attacks had the same M.O. (method of operation) - they appeared to be some kind of fluke animal attack. All of the victims had a bite wound on their neck, and had been drained of blood. “Hey, what’s going on?” Becca questioned as she came into the living room with a towel wrapped around her head, and noticed Derek’s dour expression. She took a seat next to him on the couch and looked at the TV. “Last night…ten people were killed by vampires.” Derek explained solemnly. Becca gasped. “Last night…?” Last night, Derek had been distracted with using edible paints on Becca, and then with watching martial arts films with her and Garth. The vampires had taken advantage of his absence and had killed ten people in one night. Somehow they’d known that Derek had been stuck in the townhouse protecting Becca from Slaine. Crap! This was all his fault. Just how many vampires were currently in San Francisco? Derek wondered. This wasn’t normal. As a Druid Vampire Hunter, it was his duty to protect the city from vampiric threat. And he’d failed. The news switched to a commercial for a new candy for Halloween that was ironically called ‘Vampire Bites’. The candy was apparently made out of chocolate, shaped like lips with fangs, and covered in a colored red and white candy shell. The commercial explained that the candies would be released Halloween morning. “The name is a little freaky…and considering everything I’ve been through I shouldn’t be looking forward to trying those candies. But…the hype about them is real.” Becca told Derek. “Did you know they’re only going to be released here in San Francisco?” Derek shook his head. “No, I didn’t know that.” He replied distractedly, he wasn’t really paying attention to what Becca was saying. All he knew was that the vampires were on the move and he had to do something about it. Derek whipped out his cell phone and dialed Malakye. Malakye picked up after three rings. “Hey, Derek. What’s up?” “Malakye, I need you and Garth to come over and protect Becca while I go out tonight and hunt vampires. Ten people were killed yesterday in my city and I won’t allow another innocent person to die tonight.” Derek said firmly. “Will do…are you sure you don’t want one of us to come with you though?” “Naw…the regular run-of-the-mill vampires I can handle. But…if Slaine shows up to take Becca you will need back up.” Derek explained in a serious tone. “Understood. I’ll go get Garth now. He’ll probably be happy to have an excuse to leave his lonely shop.” Malakye ended the call. Derek put his phone back into his pants pocket. Becca was having mixed feelings about all this. Derek wanted to go hunt vampires…alone. And he wanted Garth and Malakye to protect her…from Slaine. “Do you really have to go out there tonight?” Should I tell him about what happened with Slaine? That way he could ask Garth and Malakye to go with him. It would be much safer that way. “Yes.” “Why does it have to be you?” “Because…I’m a Druid Vampire Hunter. It’s what I do. It’s…who I am.” “I feel bad needing a babysitter. I wish there was some way I could help you.” Becca said sincerely. Derek glanced over at Becca. She was wearing a red and gold, medieval-style dress with belled sleeves, and a pair of gold, strappy high heels he’d never seen before. She was so feminine and delicate. She needed to be protected, and he would protect her unlike how he’d failed to protect Cinnia. “Women…are supposed to be protected by men.” “You know I’m a feminist, right?” Becca joked, and when Derek’s expression remained serious she changed tactics. “Derek, there’s something I think you should know-” Becca was saying, intending to tell Derek about what had happened with Neena, Koko, Yoko, and Slaine back at club Iron Casket and how Slaine had saved her. However- Malakye and Garth suddenly materialized in the center of the living room. “Hey, thanks for coming, guys.” Derek offered them a half-smile. “I leave Becca in your capable hands.” Garth clapped Derek on the shoulder. “You can count on us, man. We’ll protect her with our lives.” “I don’t doubt it. I’m going to go get ready.” Derek left the living room and headed for his bedroom. He entered and shut the door. He made his way over to his closet and opened the door. There were several black leather, sleeveless, hooded vests, and Derek selected one. He took his shirt off and put the vest on. He already had on a pair of leather pants and boots. He raised the hood to shadow his face and looked at his reflection in the mirror that he had to will to appear. He looked like a true Druid Vampire Hunter. No one would know he was a vampire just by his appearance, but of course Hunters could sense what he really was. He let out a heavy sigh and hoped that the other Druid Vampire Hunter wasn’t out there tonight. The last thing he wanted was to run into that trigger-happy jerk again! Derek headed down the stairs and popped into the living room to say ‘goodbye’. Garth and Malakye were seated on the couch on either side of Becca. “Well, guys, I’m headed out. Wish me luck?” He felt awkward. He’d never had to say ‘goodbye’ to anyone before. “Good luck!” Malakye said. “Give them hell!” Garth rumbled and punched his open palm with his fist. Becca was sitting on the couch with her hands clenched into fists on her lap. She had her head bent down, and wouldn’t meet Derek’s gaze. He didn’t have time for female drama though. Whatever was bothering Becca, would have to wait. He had a city to protect. Derek made his way downstairs, went through his shop, and exited out into the night to begin his patrol. To be continued in…Tattoo 6: Panther Chapter 6: Panther Derek made his way to a rooftop and held out his arms before him. He summoned his magical power and willed his hawk tattoo to peel off his skin and materialize. It took flight. “Go! Find the vampires!” Derek ordered. The hawk soared high overhead and took off in search of vampires. Derek took off running across the roof and when he reached the edge, he leapt onto the next roof, and kept on running. Derek went from rooftop to rooftop in this manner, and reached out his senses to see if there were any vampires nearby. His senses tingled as the hawk discovered a group of vampires. Derek took off in the hawk’s direction, jumping from roof to roof. He reached the location where the hawk was soaring in circles directly above a dark alleyway. Derek peered down into the darkness and his vampire eyes cut through the darkness to reveal a human couple hugging each other out of fear, and five vampires who were jeering and leering at them while closing in with menacing steps. Derek summoned his dragon tattoo’s wings and they sprouted out of his back. The wings were translucent, blue-tinged, glowing and shimmery. The Druid leapt off the roof and used his wings to slow his descent. He landed directly behind the vampires with a heavy thud. The sound drew the vampires’ attention and they spun around to regard Derek. “Yo.” Derek greeted them nonchalantly. “Holy crap, it’s a Hunter!” “What the hell is a Hunter doing here? Dracula promised us he was occupied.” The vampires began to make random exclamations. “Hey, you two lovebirds.” Derek called out to the frightened human couple. “Get the hell out of here.” The couple glanced at each other questioningly before the man took his woman’s hand and began to run with her out of the alleyway. “Aw man, there goes dinner.” A vampire complained as he watched them go. “The woman looked like her blood was going to be particularly delicious too.” Another vampire said with a pout. “Nice and sweet.” “Oh, you’ll pay for that, Hunter.” A vampire challenged. Derek raised his arms, and his wolf and panther tattoos peeled off his skin, materialized, and attacked the vampires at the same time they attacked him. Three vampires came at Derek while the wolf and panther handled two of the vampires. Derek summoned his python tattoo to protect himself from the vampires’ attacks - the swipes of their sharp claws and their deadly bites. The vampires cried out in pain and fear as the wolf and panther managed to decapitate the two vampires they’d been fighting. Derek’s python was wrapped around his body in a protective coil. Once the ink panther and wolf were done with their prey they began to attack the remaining three vampires, who had Derek surrounded. Meanwhile, on the rooftop on the other side of the alley, Slaine stood and watched the bloody carnage unfolding below. Yoko was snuggled up to his right side while Koko was snuggled up to his left side. “That Hunter is powerful.” Koko noted with a frown on her pretty face. Slaine nodded as he watched Derek fight. “Indeed he is.” “Are you going to kill him?” Yoko asked curiously. Slaine remained silent, and watched as the three vampires were decapitated and disintegrated into dust. Derek sensed a presence behind him and spun around, ready to attack, only to come face-to-face with the Hunter from before. Oh crap! “A Druid…?” The Hunter questioned as he looked at the ink panther and wolf that were standing on either side of Derek, and the python that was coiled around Derek’s body. “Who the hell are you, boy?” He demanded, in a thick, gruff British accent. “I could be asking you the same thing, Mister. This is my turf.” Derek said with a wave of his hand. “Like hell it is.” The man growled, and lowered his hood to reveal his appearance. The man was middle-aged with short brown hair with a stripe of white running through it. He had fierce blue eyes with crinkle lines around them. He was probably somewhere in his late fifties, but appeared to be in good shape. “Allow me to introduce myself, my name is Vortigern Stokes.” “Stokes.” Derek recalled that the previous Hunter had also been named Stokes, and had looked like a younger version of the man standing in front of him now. “You’re Stoke’s father?” “Indeed, so who the hell are you? You’re not my son.” Vortigern crossed his arms over his chest. Next to Vortigern stood a massive ink bull that the Hunter must have summoned earlier. Its horns were enormous. “No, I’m not.” Derek lowered his hood. “I’m Derek Dearg.” Vortigern looked at Derek curiously and reached out his senses…Derek was a Druid but also a vampire. Impossible. “You…you’re a Druid, but also a vampire. How is this possible?” “That isn’t important. What is important is that this city is under my protection now-” Derek was saying. However- “What a load of crap. Vampires are not to be trusted. Did you kill my son, you filthy vampire?” Vortigern raised his arm. “Attack!” He commanded the ink bull that had been standing next to him. “Aw crap! Attack!” Derek commanded his wolf and panther. The creatures collided. The bull fell to the ground, and the wolf and panther continued to attack it. Vortigern raised his arm and a python peeled off his skin and attacked Derek’s own python. The two snakes began to fight each other on the ground. Vortigern smiled smugly and charged Derek. Derek stood his ground and got into a fighting stance. Vortigern swung a punch at Derek, which he blocked with his forearm. Derek and Vortigern began to exchange blocks and blows. Vortigern wiped blood from his lips with the back of his hand. “Not bad, boy. But it’s time to die. You’ll pay for what you did to my son!” Vortigern raised his left arm and a griffin began to peel off his shoulder, and materialize. The creature was enormous. It attacked Derek. Bloody hell! Derek dodged and rolled out of the way. He tried to summon another ink creature to come to his defense…but he was low on magical energy. His panther and wolf were still fighting the bull, which had gotten back on its feet. And the two pythons were still fighting each other. Going out into the sun had weakened Derek considerably. Crap, crap, crap. The griffin managed to tackle Derek to the ground and Derek struggled to keep the ink creature from biting his head off with its enormous, lethal, eagle beak. Derek’s strength was waning. The other Hunter seemed to sense this as well and smiled cryptically. “This is the end of the line for you, vampire.” Slaine, who’d been watching the interesting fight, decided to act. He summoned his wings, and two enormous, white, bat-like wings sprouted from his back. He spread his wings. “Stay here, girls.” Slaine told the twins before jumping off the building. He used his wings to slow his descent and landed right beside Derek and the griffin. “I’m the only one who gets to kill Derek Dearg!” Slaine declared before he grabbed the griffin by its neck and hauled the creature off of Derek using his superhuman strength. Slaine threw the creature into the brick wall. The creature hit the wall and slid down it. But it quickly recovered, shook its head, and attacked Slaine. Slaine unsheathed his samurai sword and slashed it through the air. The griffin’s head was severed from its body and it exploded into blue ink. Derek gawked at Slaine. What the hell is he doing here? Why isn’t he going after Becca? Why didn’t he just let me die? Multiple questions whirled around in Derek’s mind. Slaine was dressed in a white kimono with a red chrysanthemum pattern on it, and a red obi sash belt was tied around his waist. Slaine turned to face Vortigern fearlessly, blue ink dripping from his samurai sword. He approached the Hunter with menacing steps and stood in front of Derek. Derek’s jaw dropped open slightly. What the hell is he doing? Is he actually protecting me? “A vampire just saved you, boy. That says it all.” Vortigern tsked. “I’ll kill you both.” The Hunter raised his arm, prepared to summon another battle tattoo. But Slaine charged forward and in the blink of an eye he was in front of Vortigern and had his sword pressed against the Hunter’s throat. “Do you have a death wish, Hunter? Do you wish to die tonight so badly?” Vortigern lowered his arm. “Kill me…you filthy vampire. Just like you did my son.” “If that is your wish, I am happy to oblige you with it.” Slaine swung his sword- “No!” Derek cried out. Slaine’s sword moved forward but instead of piercing Vortigern through his heart Slaine stabbed Vortigern’s shoulder instead. Blood spurted through the air. Slaine removed his katana and Vortigern fell back to the ground. Slaine slashed his sword through the air in order to remove the blood from his katana’s blade before sheathing his sword in a fluid motion. Slaine turned around and began to walk past Derek. “Wait.” Derek called out and Slaine paused. “Why did you help me back there?” Slaine glanced over his shoulder at Derek. “It’s like I told the old man - the only one who can kill you - is me. And should you really be leaving Becca alone?” Derek stiffened at Slaine’s words. Slaine gave Derek a pitying look. “Poor Derek, you’re so blind to what you have right in front of you. Try not to make the same mistake twice. Protect what is precious to you with your life.” He summoned his wings, spread them, and took off for the rooftop where Koko and Yoko were waiting for him. “Hey, wait!” Derek called after him, but Slaine didn’t stop. Derek considered going after him, but he was still feeling conflicted about how Slaine had just saved his life. It would be a bit ungrateful to try to kill Slaine now, he decided. “This doesn’t change anything, Slaine!” Derek yelled up at his Archenemy. “I’m still going to try and kill you!” “I’m looking forward to it.” Slaine called back. Derek approached the fallen Druid. “Hey, you still alive, old man?” Vortigern glared up at Derek. “Curse you, vampire. Have you come to finish me off - like you did my son?” Derek’s eyes narrowed. “I didn’t kill your son. And I am not your enemy - whether you choose to believe me is up to you though.” Derek summoned his dragon tattoo’s gossamer wings and they flared behind him. “W-Wait, you p-punk…get back here so I can kill you!” Vortigern coughed up blood as he tried to speak. Derek felt bad leaving the man alone, but he had no choice. The man was a fanatical Hunter that would stop at nothing to have his head. Derek flapped his wings, took off into the night sky, and headed back to Voodoo Tattoo. Derek entered his townhouse and made his way up the stairs. He found his friends - Garth, Malakye, and Becca - asleep on the couch. They’d obviously been trying to wait up for him while a martial arts movie was playing. The sight made Derek smile. He turned off the TV and grabbed a blanket to put over them so they wouldn’t be cold. Fall was upon them, and the weather was getting progressively colder as they approached October. Derek stared at his three friends for a moment longer. Friends. It was so strange to have friends again after having been alone for almost two millennia. For those two millennia he had tracked Slaine and Dracula across the globe…and had tried to kill Slaine countless times, but each time he’d failed. Failed to avenge his wife Cinnia. Derek went up to his room, stripped off his clothes, took a quick shower, and just as he was leaving the bathroom he felt bile rise up his throat. He rushed for the toilet, sunk to his knees, and began to throw up into the toilet. Ugh. He realized that he was probably suffering from sun poisoning from having gone out after Becca in broad daylight, which was incredibly stupid for any vampire. His body felt chilled and feverish at the same time. Derek flushed the toilet, rinsed his mouth out with Listerine, and staggered over to his bed. He collapsed upon it and barely found the strength to pull the covers over himself. As he tried to fall asleep he tossed and turned, and when he finally did fall asleep he dreamed of the past and of his old friends. FLASHBACK Dearg and Cinn had just turned fifteen, and so had gotten their level four battle tattoos. Derek had gotten a wolf and a panther while Cinn had decided to get a fox. The year before at the age of fourteen, they’d gotten their level three tattoos. Cinn had gotten a cat and Dearg had gotten a stag. Dearg and Cinn were currently in their favorite stream together cooling off their new tattoos. They had their backs to each other because Cinn was naked and Dearg was being respectful. But he was sick of being ‘respectful’. It was getting harder for Cinn to hide the fact that she was a young woman. Especially, since she was growing into some rather fine assets. It must have been hard for Cinn to breathe with her bandaged chest. Dearg mused. He wasn’t exactly sure when he’d begun to see his best friend Cinn as more than a friend. But all he was sure of was that he’d fallen in love with her. And he was beginning to think that his feelings were reciprocated. He’d caught Cinn staring at him a time or two. Things were definitely starting to change between them. Even the tension between them at that moment was supercharged. “Don’t you get tired of it?” Dearg asked softly. “Of what?” “Of pretending you’re a man?” Cinn let out a heavy sigh. “It’s not like I have much of a choice. If your father discovers that I’m female he will have me killed.” Dearg shrugged noncommittally. “Perhaps. But what if…you were my wife? That status would protect you.” Cinn’s pale cheeks reddened at Dearg’s words and her freckles really stood out. “W-What? What are you saying? Are you proposing to me?” “Yes.” Dearg’s voice was suddenly right next to Cinn’s ear. Cinn gasped and turned her head. “Marry me, Cinn.” Dearg said before leaning in and kissing her. Cinn’s eyes widened in surprise and then narrowed fiercely. She shoved Dearg away from her and slapped him hard across the face. Dearg raised a hand to his red, throbbing cheek, and gave Cinn a confused look. “Cinn…?” Cinn glared at Dearg heatedly and her eyes filled with angry tears. “Dearg…you idiot!” Cinn declared before swimming towards the shore. Dearg scratched his head as he watched her go. He didn’t understand why Cinn was mad at him. Most of the young women in the village would have been thrilled to get a proposal - especially from him since he’d become quite handsome. He’d had a growth spurt, and was now six-four. He had a muscular body from all of his training. He’d let his dark brown hair grow even longer and now it was shoulder length. He’d even decided to grow a goatee, which he thought was dashing. He was a catch. Or at least he’d thought he was….until Cinn’s rejection. What Dearg didn’t realize is that Cinn was angry because she wanted Dearg to acknowledge and respect her as a fellow Hunter even though she was female. She didn’t want Dearg to protect her by giving her the status of being his wife. Cinn wanted him to realize that she didn’t need protecting because she was a fellow warrior, who could protect herself. Cinn reached the riverbank, grabbed her clothes, and ran off into the bushes to change in privacy. Little did Cinn and Dearg know, but they were not alone. A fellow Druid Vampire Hunter trainee named Aengus was hiding in the bushes, and had seen the entire thing. A positively evil smile curled his lips at his discovery. “Cinn…is a woman. And women are forbidden from being Hunters. Oh, this is just too good. Finally, I have a way to destroy Dearg. And everyone knows a man’s weakness is his heart.” Aengus had always been jealous of Dearg. All the other trainees feared and respected Dearg because he was Corann’s son. They were so intimidated they didn’t dare to even talk to Dearg, and Dearg acted accordingly - like he didn’t care about them, like he was above them, and like he thought he was better than everyone else. But Aengus knew the truth - that Dearg was just misunderstood. Dearg was hurt by the fact his fellow trainees never spoke to him. Dearg felt hated and ignored. Alone. Except for his best friend Cinn. Cinn was Dearg’s only solace. Aengus was also jealous of Dearg’s strength. The next Head Priest and leader of the Blood Oak Clan would be decided through single combat, and everyone knew Dearg would most likely win. Aengus wished he could be the next Head Priest. He craved what Dearg seemed to have: power, respect and even the companionship of a beautiful woman. His jealousy and envy for Dearg consumed him until he began to hate Dearg and wish for his downfall, suffering, and destruction. And now…he knew that Dearg was in love with Cinn, who was actually a woman! It was like the gods had given Aengus a gift. During the next sparring match, Aengus decided that he would reveal the truth about Cinn to everyone, and destroy Dearg in the process. Aengus watched as Dearg headed towards the village, and once he was out of earshot he began to laugh maniacally. *** To increase their hand-to-hand combat skills the Druid Vampire Hunter trainees were oftentimes taken to an open amphitheater where trainees would fight each other one-on-one while the villagers would act as spectators. High Priest Corann would assign the pairings usually, but today Aengus had requested that he fight Cinn specifically. “It’ll be worth your while, High Priest.” Corann had raised an eyebrow at the nasty look on Aengus’s face but in the end had agreed. “As you wish, Aengus.” Corann had readily replied. “End match!” Corann called out when Dearg’s opponent hit the ground and lay there unmoving. “Victor - Dearg!” The villagers, who were seated in the tiered seats of the amphitheater, cheered and clapped wildly in response. Corann and the adult Druid Vampire Hunters had their own special sitting area in the stands. The village women were shooting admiring glances the Elite Hunters’ way when they thought no one was looking. The Elite Hunters were dressed in the standard Hunter garb - black, hooded vest, leather pants and boots. They all wore their hair long with scattered braids and their blue animal tattoos were on display. The Hunters had intimidating presences, which they had gained through surviving countless battles against vampires. “Next match - Aengus versus Cinn.” Corann called out in his authoritative voice. “Hunters - enter the arena!” Cinn and Aengus entered the arena, and faced each other. “Let the match begin!” Corann yelled out. “Hunters, fight!” He waved his hand down through the air. Aengus leered at Cinn. “You’re going down, Cinn.” Cinn raised a red eyebrow at the usually cowardly Aengus. “We’ll see about that, Aengus.” Aengus raised his arm in front of him and summoned his magical power. His level three battle tattoo of a hound began to rise off his skin, and solidify until it hopped off his arm and to the sandy arena floor. Cinn quickly followed suit, summoned her magical power, and willed her cat tattoo to peel off her skin. In seconds, her ink cat was leaping down from her arm and to the arena floor. Both ink creatures were level three tattoos, but Cinn’s was larger. “Attack!” Cinn commanded and willed her cat to attack the puppy. “A-Attack!” Aengus ordered his puppy-sized hound. The ink hound took one look at the cat before it took off running across the arena floor! The villagers laughed and jeered in response, and as the sound of it reached Aengus the tips of his ears turned red out of embarrassment. Luckily, his long, oily black hair hid this. Dang it. Let them laugh now. They won’t be laughing much longer! Cinn smiled confidently. “Is that all you got, Aengus? Maybe you should forfeit.” Aengus ground his teeth together. “Hell no…I’ll show you, Cinn!” Aengus roared and began to summon all of his magical power. He planned to pour all of his power into his new wolf tattoo. “Argh!” Aengus’s wolf tattoo began to peel off his skin, and leapt down onto the pit floor, having solidified. Its body a translucent blue color. The villagers fell silent at the sight of the impressive ink wolf. “Not bad.” Cinn praised as she too concentrated her magical power. Her new fox tattoo peeled off her arm and leapt to the pit floor. This time her ink fox and his ink wolf were about the same size. “Attack!” Aengus commanded his wolf, spit flying out of his mouth. The wolf lunged forward in attack. “I have one thing to say first: Ew. Attack!” Cinn called out to her ink fox. The fox swiftly darted into action. The two ink creatures met in the center of the fighting arena and began to attack each other ferociously. The fox and wolf snapped their maws filled with sharp teeth, and attacked with their deadly claws. Meanwhile, the ink cat had reached the ink puppy, and sunk its teeth into the puppy’s neck. The puppy yelped and exploded into blue ink. When an ink creature was defeated it lost its magical power, and the ink slid across the ground and would return to the Druid. This is what the defeated puppy did now as a puddle of blue ink slid across the arena floor and then leapt back up onto Aengus’s arm. As soon as the ink cat had defeated the puppy it ran towards the wolf and began to help the fox in its attacks. Suddenly, it appeared Cinn was gaining the upper hand. The fox was a little smaller than the wolf but much faster, and was able to attack and then dart away before the wolf could retaliate. “I won’t be defeated by the likes of you, Cinn. After all…you’re nothing but a liar.” A chill went down Cinn’s spine and she frowned. “What are you talking about?” “I know your secret, Cinn. I know you’re really a girl.” Aengus announced loudly. Cinn froze in shock. That moment was all Aengus needed. “Get her!” He commanded his wolf, which leapt over the fox and cat, and charged towards the paralyzed Cinn. Cinn snapped out of her stupor a second too late. The wolf swiped its claws at Cinn’s chest as she leapt backwards. The wolf’s claws shredded the front of her leather vest and it opened to reveal Cinn’s bandaged chest. A loud gasp rose up from all of the gathered villagers. Cinn wrapped her arms over her chest self-consciously. Crap. Her secret had been exposed. Not like this. I didn’t want it to happen like this. She was so doomed. What do I do? Aengus laughed nastily at Cinn. “You see everyone! Cinn is a girl! She’s been lying to you all along! She’s broken the clan’s tradition! She’s spit in the faces of the gods!” The wolf pounced on the ink fox and began to go for its neck. And Cinn was losing control over her ink creatures due to her current emotional instability. “I’ve won! I’ve won!” Aengus shouted happily. Someone stood up from the stands. “Cinn! What are you doing? Fight! Defeat him! You’re better than him!” “Dearg?” Cinn looked up into the stands and their gazes locked. What she saw in his gaze surprised her - faith. He had faith in her ability to defeat Aengus. Alright! I can do this! Cinn lowered her arm, and then raised both her arms out before her. “Come!” She summoned her magic power, and her snake and butterfly tattoos began to peel off her skin next. The snake slithered off Cinn’s arm and began to make its way across the arena floor towards the wolf, which was still on top of the fox. “Go! Attack!” Cinn commanded her ink creatures. Her cat, snake, and butterfly attacked the wolf that was forced to open its maw and release the fox so that it could attack and defend itself from the other creatures. The wily fox pushed the wolf off of it, and sprang to its feet. All four ink creatures began to attack the wolf at once. The ink butterfly blinded the wolf, the snake wrapped around the wolf’s neck and began to constrict. The cat and fox tag-teamed the wolf, attacking one after the other. “I won’t be defeated by the likes of you! A tattletale and a snitch!” Cinn declared loudly and summoned all of her magical power, which she poured into the ink fox. The ink fox’s blue, translucent body began to glow and increase in size. The fox sprouted a second tail and then it renewed its attack on the wolf. The fox saw an opening and took it. The fox bit into the wolf’s neck and then the wolf exploded into blue ink. “I did it…I won.” Cinn smiled as she panted for breath. Her body was trembling slightly from all of the magical energy she had to use in order to defeat Aengus. A heavy silence descended upon the stands. The villagers didn’t know how to react to Cinn’s unexpected victory. Corann stood up. “Cinn has broken our clan’s Hunter tradition! She will be executed for her crime! Seize her immediately!” He commanded the adult Hunters, who were standing beside him, and waved his hand forward. “Over my dead body!” Dearg announced before he ran down the steps of the stands, and leapt into the fighting arena. He ran over to Cinn and stood before her protectively. The adult Vampire Hunters leapt down into the arena and surrounded them. Dearg raised his arms before him and summoned his magical power. His wolf and panther tattoos began to rise off his skin, materialized, and leapt down from his arms to land upon the sandy pit floor. The panther and wolf started out the same size as Cinn’s and Aengus’s ink creatures, but then Dearg continued to pour his magical power into their bodies so that they doubled in size. They made an impressive, intimidating sight standing on either side of Dearg. Cinn’s snake, butterfly and cat returned to their places on Cinn’s arms because she no longer had the power to control them. The Hunters hesitated upon attacking Dearg. They had respect for Corann’s undefeated son. “What are you fools waiting for? Kill her!” Corann shouted angrily, his blue eyes blazing. The Druids raised their arms, summoned their magical power, and their tattoos began to peel off their skin, solidify, and leap down to the pit floor. A myriad of different kinds of ink creatures surrounded Dearg and Cinn: wolves, wildcats, bears, and foxes. “Attack!” The Hunters commanded their ink creatures. “Attack!” Dearg and Cinn ordered their own ink creatures to attack too. The ink creatures clashed and fought. Cinn and Dearg stood back-to-back. “They’re too many of them, Dearg!” Cinn shouted over the sounds of the melee. “Never give up. Even when it seems like all the odds are stacked against you. We can win, Cinn. I know we can. As long as we’re together.” Dearg winked roguishly at her. “Tch.” Aengus made a sound of disgust. Of course Dearg would rush to the aid of his fair ladylove. Disgusting. Despicable. So unfair. Why did Dearg always have to win? Aengus wondered angrily. Why? “Dang it…I won’t let you win, Dearg! Not this time! Wolf, attack, Cinn! Kill her!” Aengus commanded his wolf to attack Cinn. Cinn’s fox was busy fighting the Hunters’ ink creatures and so Cinn was wide open. Her eyes widened in shock as she saw the wolf charging towards her. “Oh crap.” Just as the wolf was upon her- There was a flash of light. A glowing arrow hit the wolf and it exploded into blue ink. Cinn whipped around and spotted a figure in the stands wearing a dark green hooded cloak. His hood was raised and shadowing the features of his face. “Who is that?” He had a bow in his hands and swiftly nocked another arrow to it, which he aimed at one of the other ink creatures. That’s when Cinn recognized the mysterious archer for who he was. Hunchback? Cinn had taught Hunchback how to do archery while Dearg had tattooed battle tattoos onto Hunchback’s arms and taught him how to summon them. This was forbidden of course, but Cinn and Dearg didn’t care because Hunchback was their friend. Hunchback summoned his magical power and his arrow was bathed in a blue light. He loosed the arrow upon another ink wolf and it exploded. Corann gawked at the mysterious archer and his brow furrowed. “An unknown Druid…how is that possible? Just who are you?” He shouted up towards the man. The archer ran through the stands releasing glowing magic arrow after arrow at the ink creatures. He ignored Corann’s question. Dearg grinned. Reinforcements kicked butt. Hell yeah. “You see, Cinn, you don’t have to be alone. You have us.” Cinn smiled back. “Yeah, I guess you’re right.” Dearg, Cinn and the mysterious archer fought against the Elite Hunters until all of the Hunters’ ink creatures had been defeated. The Hunters began to back away in fear from the gigantic wolf and panther that Dearg was controlling to stalk towards them with menacing steps. The creatures roared loudly in their faces, and the Elite Hunters trembled before Dearg’s power. “Your Elite Hunters have just been defeated by a girl, father. What do you think about that? Well, I’ll tell you what I think. I think that Cinn has more than proven her worth to the Clan and her value as a Hunter. Wouldn’t you agree?” Dearg called up to his father. A muscle ticked in Corann’s jaw. “Tch. Indeed…she might not be entirely useless. Fine. Let the girl stay a Hunter. If she dies in battle against the vampires…then that is the will of Crom Cruach!” Cinn’s eyes widened in surprise at Corann’s verdict. She was filled with such relief that her legs almost gave out from under her. But Dearg was there to place a hand on her arm to steady her. Right then she needed to remain standing in front of everyone. Dearg grinned and turned to face Cinn, jubilant. “Cinn, you’re one of us now. Officially. A Hunter.” Cinn gazed into Dearg’s blue eyes. “I can’t believe it. It’s like a dream.” Dearg couldn’t contain his happiness, and picked Cinn up and began to spin her around. Cinn giggled despite herself and laughed in delight. Dearg set her down on her feet and gazed into her beautiful, forest green eyes. “I love you, Cinn. Marry me.” This was the second time Dearg had proposed to Cinnia. Cinn’s happy expression faltered and she slapped Dearg hard across the face. “Way to ruin the moment, Dearg! And my answer is still ‘no’!” She stomped off angrily in order to find some clothes. Dearg rubbed his sore jaw. “What a woman. One day you’ll say ‘yes’, Cinn. And I don’t plan to give up.” The mysterious archer left the amphitheater unnoticed. Later, the three friends met up at their secret rendezvous place in the forest. A place that would later become known as ‘Stone Henge’. It was a magical place. Some Druids claimed that it was a portal to another realm. Others said it was situated upon magical lay lines and acted as a kind of faucet for the magic trapped within the Earth. These Druids also believed that it could aid in the casting of spells. Cinn was wearing a new, red, sleeveless, hooded vest, but without her chest bandages, so now her womanly curves were on display. Hunchback lowered his hood to greet his friends as they all arrived into the circle of stone monoliths. “Hey guys….er…guy and a girl…yeah…” Hunchback blushed as his gaze was inevitably drawn to Cinn’s chest. “Cinn.” He gulped. “Are you really a girl?” “It’s Cinnia now. And ‘yes’ I’m really a girl.” She laughed good-naturedly. “You’ve been a girl all this time? And you kept it a secret from Dearg and I? Why didn’t you trust us? We would have kept your secret.” Hunchback was saying until he saw Dearg and Cinnia share a secretive look. “Well, actually, Dearg already knew I was a girl. He’s known since I was twelve.” Cinnia explained. Several emotions hit Hunchback all at once: hurt, betrayal, anger, and disappointment. “Dearg, you knew?” Dearg scratched the back of his neck in an awkward gesture. “Uh…yeah…” Sadness shone in Hunchback’s brown eyes. “Why didn’t you guys tell me? I would have kept Cinnia’s secret with my life. After all, you two have kept mine.” Cinnia reached out and placed her hand on Hunchback’s shoulder. “It’s not that we didn’t trust you, Hunchback. It’s just…it’s forbidden for a woman to be a Hunter. It goes against the clan’s ancient Hunter tradition. If anyone found out I would have been killed on the spot. And if you were captured and tortured-” Hunchback interrupted her. “I never would have said anything. Even if I were tortured. I would have died to protect your secret, Cinnia. You mean so much to me…” Hunchback stepped back and gave Cinnia an urgent look, which he turned on Dearg. “You guys are my only friends in the entire world.” Tears of regret filled Cinnia’s eyes. “Oh Hunchback, you are a dear friend to me too.” She stepped forward and wrapped her arms around Hunchback before he could get away. Hunchback could feel Cinnia’s chest pressing up against his chest and he blushed even harder. “I love you too, buddy!” Dearg joined in and hugged them both. They all laughed. Little did they know, but Aengus had followed them into the forest…and was watching them from behind a bush. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing! Dearg and Cinnia had befriended an Unknowable. That was even worse than Cinnia being a female! The Unknowables were ‘marked’ by the god Crom Cruach for ritual sacrifice. And to top it all off, it appeared as though this Unknowable possessed blood magic. “Wait until High Priest Corann finds out about this!” Aengus happily rubbed his hands together. Dearg whipped out a flask of mead to show his friends. “Look what I managed to get my hands on! Cinnia is an official Hunter now! We have to celebrate.” Dearg took a swig of the mead and passed it to Cinnia. Cinnia took a swig and passed it to Hunchback. Hunchback took the flask and stared down at where Cinnia’s lips had been pressed against the mouth of the flask. Indirect kiss. He took a sip of the honey wine tentatively and began to cough. He’d never had mead before. Dearg chuckled and slapped Hunchback on the shoulder. “That will put hair on your chest!” “Ewww.” Cinnia complained. “What about my chest?” The two boys laughed at that. Dearg and Cinnia glanced at each other and smiled intimately. And Hunchback watched them closely. He’d never noticed it before but…Dearg and Cinnia were very close. They appeared to have a special ‘connection’. Perhaps, they were even in love with each other. He mused. For some reason Hunchback’s heart ached at the thought. He’d never noticed how beautiful Cinnia was until now. But what did his feelings for Cinnia matter? Even if he were to fall in love with her…he’d never have a chance with Cinnia. He was a deformed one, an Unknowable, a monster, a freak. His appearance was revolting, horrendous… Cinnia noticed the sad look on Hunchback’s face and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Hey, what’s wrong? You okay?” Hunchback looked up at Cinnia in surprise and at the hand on his shoulder. Cinnia was touching him - an Unknowable! “N-Nothing.” He lowered his head in an effort to hide his blush. Dearg frowned at Hunchback’s bashful behavior. “Cinnia is going to be my wife.” Hunchback’s head jerked up and his eyes bugled. “S-She is?” “Dearg!” Cinnia whipped around to face Dearg, hands on her hips. “I already said ‘no’.” A cocky smirk formed on Dearg’s face. “So? You’re just not being honest with yourself, Cinnia. I know you must love me too. In such dangerous times we should marry young and have many children. They will be the ones to inherit the Blood Oak Clan.” “Forget it!” Cinnia burst out. “Oh, come on. Why not? Marry me, Cinnia. Please?” Dearg gave her a puppy-dog eyes look. “Nope.” Cinna turned her face away. “I’ll never stop asking.” Dearg said firmly. “And my answer will always be the same.” Cinnia glanced at Hunchback briefly before returning her gaze to Dearg. Dearg scratched his head with a confused look on his face. “You see what I have to put up with, Hunchback?” Hunchback merely smiled. At least Cinnia had said ‘no’. And that strangely pleased him. END OF FLASHBACK The following day, Derek’s alarm clock went off at seven o’clock. Derek groaned as he came awake and reached out to hit the snooze button. He ended up knocking his alarm clock to the floor. Whatever. He sat up in bed. “Ugh.” His head was throbbing. He still had a fever and yet he felt chilled at the same time. He also felt a little nauseous and dizzy. Derek felt bile rise up his throat and scrambled out of the bed to get to the bathroom. Crap! He collapsed next to the toilet and threw up into it. Yep. He had sun poisoning alright. Just his luck. Derek flushed the toilet after he was finished, rinsed his mouth, and decided to take a cold shower to soothe his aching skin. After his shower he dressed in a long-sleeved black shirt, his usual leather pants, and a pair of lace-up combat boots. The vampire headed downstairs and checked on his friends in the living room. They were still fast asleep. He gave them a fond look. Those sleepyheads. Garth was snoring loudly and Malakye was drooling. He chuckled at that. And Becca…she looked like an enchanted, sleeping princess that needed a prince to wake her with a kiss. Her head was resting on Garth’s shoulder and Derek felt a thrill of jealousy go through him. Derek wanted to cook his friends breakfast and so headed to the kitchen. He began to make some sausage omelets, and the smell of the food roused Garth, Malakye and Becca, who made their way into the kitchen a few minutes later. When Becca entered the kitchen he got a strange feeling of déjà vu, and he remembered his dream last night about how he’d fallen in love with Cinnia. He recalled how he’d asked her to marry him and how at first she’d said ‘no’. He also recalled how Aengus had unveiled Cinn’s secret that she was a girl in the arena. His father Corann had wanted Cinnia dead, but Dearg along with Hunchback’s help had defeated the Elite Hunters and proven Cinnia’s worth. The three friends had been an unbeatable force. He really missed them. As Derek watched Becca entering the kitchen he couldn’t help but also remember Slaine’s strange words last night: You’re so blind you can’t see what is directly in front of you. Derek shook his head of such morbid thoughts. “Hey guys, I made you all break-” Derek was saying as he turned around the greet them. He must have turned around too fast, however, because a wave of dizziness washed over him and he collapsed to the floor. “Derek!” Becca’s voice. Crap. The last thing he wanted to do was worry her. His friends rushed to his side. “Look at his face…he’s injured.” Becca said noticing his black eye and split lip courtesy of Vortigern. The injuries should have already healed, but Derek needed to feed. “It doesn’t look like he’s hurt anywhere else though.” Malakye said as he inspected Derek for other injuries. He suspected that Derek’s weakened state also came from his lack of feeding. He was one stubborn vampire! “It’s nothing…just sun poisoning.” Derek explained in a weak voice. “Should we bury him in the ground or something?” Garth was saying before Malakye elbowed Garth in his stomach to shut him up. “Ow! What was that for?” “Let’s get him upstairs to his room. He just needs rest and to drink lots of liquids.” Malakye said. Preferably blood. “Got it.” Garth picked Derek up and slung him over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. As the group headed to Derek’s room, in Derek’s feverish state he began to call out to his friends from long ago: “Cinnia…Hunchback…don’t leave me…” “Who’s Cinnia?” Garth asked curiously. “Isn’t that the name of his dead wife?” Malakye put in. “What about Hunchback?” Becca asked with interest. “Think he’s talking about the Hunchback of Notre-Dame or something?” Malakye and Garth both shook their heads. “Dunno.” Malakye opened the door to Derek’s room, and they made their way inside. Garth headed over to Derek’s bed and dropped his friend down on it. Becca entered Derek’s bedroom and couldn’t help but look around curiously. So this is Derek’s room. But what ultimately drew her eyes was the table with two pet tanks on it. One was a large tank that contained an enormous, yellow and brown scaled python and the other tank contained a bunch of live rats. Becca could easily guess what those rats were for and swallowed. “Is that python real?” “You idiots let Becca into my room?” Derek murmured as he tried to stay conscious. “Oops.” Malakye said. Becca walked over and peered into the tank. “It’s okay…what’s his name?” “It’s a ‘she’. And her name is Nagini.” Derek informed her. Becca turned to raise an eyebrow at Derek. “Nagini? You’re kidding right? The same as Voldemort’s pet? You’re really into this whole wizard thing, aren’t you?” She laughed amusedly. “Yeah, I guess.” Derek agreed. “Who’s Voldemort?” Garth asked. “And do I need to beat him up?” Malakye elbowed Garth in the gut again. “Ow! Why do you keep doing that?” “You’re taking a day off today, Derek. You need rest. Becca, think you can make a sign and put it on the front door of the shop saying that it will be closed today?” Malakye asked. “You got it.” Becca started to leave the room when Derek called out to her. “Wait.” Becca stopped. “Please, don’t sneak out again. I can’t follow you out there during the day. And…I need to protect you.” Derek said and then quickly added. “From Slaine.” “Don’t worry. I won’t I-” “Oh, and if you need more shoes, you can do some online shopping using my credit card.” Derek offered. “They can deliver the shoes here. I think Amazon even has same-day delivery.” “Did you just say ‘online shopping’? Oh, yes, please. There’s no way I’m going anywhere today now.” Becca said teasingly in that sexy, southern drawl of hers. Derek’s eyebrow twitched. “Now? So there was the possibility you’d sneak out again.” Becca shrugged. “Hey, a girl’s got to have shoes, Derek. It’s like…oxygen.” Derek chuckled softly, still feeling weak. Garth and Malakye shared a knowing look and nodded. “Well, it looks like you two have everything under control. Becca, I leave Derek in your care - you’ll take good care of him, won’t you?” The alien asked. “You can count on me, Mal.” Becca assured. “Good to hear.” Malakye vanished. “Crap.” Garth swore. “I thought he was going to give me a lift. Looks like I’ll have to walk to work.” Becca giggled and Derek chuckled in response. “You should really get a car, man.” Garth frowned. “I don’t like cars. I don’t like small spaces. Maybe I’ll get some kind of bike like Levi. By the way, I heard your car got totaled?” “Aw man.” Derek groaned. “I’d forgotten. My beloved Rover…she’s gone.” His eyes teared up. “Now you can get a new car. A faster one. Like a sexy convertible or something. Slaine has this cool white and black Lamborghini-” Becca cut herself off when she realized just who she’d been talking about. She gave Derek a sheepish look. “Sorry.” Derek gave Becca a curious look. “When you speak of him…you don’t sound afraid.” Becca shrugged carelessly. “Maybe because…I’m not. I know I should be, but…it’s hard to explain. He was always kind to me before. I still think there’s good in him, deep down somewhere. Ugh, I’m sorry. I know he’s your enemy. He killed your wife…” “Naw, I feel you. Last night Slaine saved my life. I also sense there is good in him, but…I still can’t forgive him for what he did to Cinnia. Right now, I don’t get what game he’s playing at.” “Maybe Slaine’s working for someone. Someone powerful and whom he can’t disobey. Maybe…Slaine’s just a victim, or pawn in all of this.” Becca blurted out. A dark cloud fell over Derek’s face. “Oh, he’s working for someone powerful alright. But you shouldn’t worry about such things, Becca. I’ll protect you. I promise.” Becca looked at the bruises on Derek’s face. “I don’t doubt it.” Her heart went out to him. It was like he was fighting a one-man war all-alone. Becca wanted to console and soothe Derek. She wanted to make him forget his worries and responsibilities if only for a little while. And what better way to console a soul-battered warrior than to have sex with him? Her lips curled into a lascivious smile at the thought. However, the only problem with that idea was Derek still had his guard up around her. It would take something special to get past his defenses…like magic. Magic. That’s it! Becca realized she had to call in reinforcements a.k.a her friend - incubus chocolatier, Tristan Savant! Tristan was a sex demon who created chocolates, which contained a powerful aphrodisiac. One bite of Tristan’s chocolates and Derek would be overcome by a powerful lust for Becca. He’d be putty in her hands. It’s time for Derek to move on from Cinnia, I think. Becca thought with a mischievous gleam in her eyes. More than a year ago, Becca had had a one-night stand with Tristan back in New York City, but Derek really didn’t need to know about that. “Hey Derek, I’m going to go downstairs and use your computer, okay?” Becca questioned. “No problem. My credit cards are in the front drawer of the desk.” Derek called out weakly. “Okay, thanks.” Becca made her way downstairs and entered the main tattoo parlor area. The front desk was where Derek’s laptop was located. Becca took a seat at the desk, opened the front drawer, and found Derek’s credit cards. She selected his VISA Platinum and decided to do a little online shoe shopping on ebay and Amazon before calling Tristan. That way Derek wouldn’t get suspicious if she didn’t order any shoes. Becca proceeded to order a ton of shoes and once she was finished buying twenty new pairs she cracked her knuckles. “Now that was a job well done!” She whipped out her smart phone and dialed Tristan’s cell phone number, which she knew by heart. He picked up after five rings. “Hello?” Came Tristan’s deep, sexy voce. “Hey Tristan, it’s me, Becca. How are you?” “Hey Becca! I’m good, thanks. How about you?” “I’m good too. Only, I need a favor. Are you manning your mobile shop today?” “Yep. I’m currently parked over at 1st and Mission Street. The girls here are crazy for chocolate!” Tristan had a mobile chocolate shop named Dark Heaven that he ran out of a huge food truck. “That’s great. You’re close by. I need…some of your very special chocolates, if you know what I mean.” “Ah…who do you plan to use them on? If you don’t mind me asking.” “Oh…just Derek Dearg.” “Derek? No kidding. But Becca…I’ve seen the way he looks at you. I don’t think you really need my help or my chocolates. I can tell he’s already into you.” “Really? He used to look at me?” Becca shook her head. “Well, I’m staying at his place right now actually and…I just want to do something special for him. But he still has his guard up. I was so close to seducing him the other day but his friends interrupted us.” His dead wife’s memory is also haunting us… Tristan chuckled. “Man, bunch of jerks!” But then Tristan’s tone turned serious. “I’m glad that we can talk like this now, Becca. You’ll always have a special place in my heart, so of course I’ll help you. I hope he makes you happy. You deserve it. You’re an incredible person.” Becca was touched by Tristan’s kind words. “Thanks, Tristan. And…he’s the one who deserves to have a little happiness in his life. You have no idea what he’s been through.” “I can only imagine. I don’t know if I should be telling you this but…I sensed a darkness around Derek. I know he’s a good guy but…I just want you to be careful. He may not be all that he appears.” “Oh, I already know about him being a Druid Vampire Hunter, if that’s what you’re alluding to.” “He’s a what!” Tristan burst out over the line. “You didn’t know? Now I feel bad for spilling the beans.” “No, well, I knew he could use magic but…a vampire hunter too? That’s news to me. Perhaps, this is the darkness I sensed within him.” There was a note of doubt in Tristan’s voice though. “Anyways, I’ll work on the chocolates now and then deliver them. Where is Derek’s place?” “He lives above his new tattoo shop, Voodoo Tattoo.” Becca gave Tristan the address. “I’ll be there as soon as I can. Be safe, Becca.” Tristan ended the call. Tristan Savant…Becca couldn’t stop herself from thinking about that one-night stand they’d shared. He’d broken up with her afterwards, and Becca had been incredibly angry because of it. She’d wrongfully flamed his shop on her blog, but then she’d discovered the real reason why Tristan pushed women away. And that was that his ex-girlfriend Hazel Nuttingham had killed herself…and he’d been haunted by her death. Becca had realized Tristan needed someone to save him. She’d also realized at the time that she wasn’t strong enough to do that. The one who ended up saving him was Issy Sweet. And now there was Derek Dearg. His life was also shrouded in darkness and mystery, and Becca wondered if she was strong enough to save Derek this time. But this time for sure she didn’t want to give up. She and Derek had a special connection that could perhaps develop into something more long term. The more she learned about him, the more she felt like she was falling in love with him. I’m falling in love with this lonely Hunter. And this time I don’t want to run away when things get tough. I want to be strong enough to save him from the darkness that Tristan mentioned. Derek wants to protect me…but I want to protect him too. To be continued in…Tattoo 7: Wolf Chapter 7: Wolf An hour later, Becca went to check on Derek, who was still fast asleep. She placed a hand against his forehead and was pleased to discover that he no longer had a fever. She headed back downstairs and used Derek’s laptop to update her blog and other social media sites. She decided to order Derek his very own new smart phone and ordered a little present for Derek as well. It was with his money, but whatever. Then there was a knock on the door. Becca went to answer the front door, and opened it to reveal Tristan Savant holding a gold box of freshly made chocolates in his hands. There was a huge grin on his handsome face. Tristan Savant was a sight for sore eyes. He was a type of candy on his own - eye candy. He had long, blue-black hair that was pulled back into a ponytail, and exotic bi-colored eyes - one was gold, the other a sapphire blue. His skin porcelain white and he was wearing his chocolatier jacket, black pants and shiny dress shoes. Becca had fallen for his pretty face, but hadn’t been able to handle his baggage of being half-incubus and his guilt over his ex-girlfriend’s suicide. She’d been a coward. And she really regretted that. “Hey, babe. Here are some of my very special chocolates.” Tristan handed Becca the box. Becca took the box with a grateful look on her face. “Hey, Tristan. Thank you.” “I hope they work out for you. I really do.” Tristan said sincerely. “Thanks. I hope so too.” Becca said thinking that this was beginning to get a little bit awkward between them. “When you open your heart to love…love will find you, Rebecca.” Tristan said before turning around and heading towards his truck, which was parked right out front. The exterior of the food truck had been painted a sky-blue and had the design of fluffy clouds and voluptuous angels on it. Those angels looked oddly real somehow. Becca thought. It was like she could feel them watching her. “Hold up, Tristan. What’s the deal with those angels on your truck?” She called out. “Oh, these beauties? Derek painted them for me. They’re my guardian angels.” Tristan bragged. Becca smiled at that. “I’ll bet. Bye! Say ‘hi’ to Issy for me!” “Will do. I just hope she doesn’t get jealous.” Tristan smiled ruefully. “Issy can be really scary when she gets jealous.” “Playboy.” Becca teased. She closed the door behind him. It felt like she was closing the door to a certain part of her past and taking a step forward to her own future. Alright! It’s time to seduce a stubborn Druid! Becca headed to her room to take a quick shower and afterwards entered the walk-in closet to select a sexy outfit. She found a red leather corset and a matching mini skirt. A pair of red high heels had already arrived from Amazon, and she put them on. Becca checked out her reflection in the mirror - high heels changed everything! Becca grabbed the box of chocolates and headed to Derek’s room. Becca opened the door and made her way inside. She went to Derek’s bedside, and set the box down on the night table. She grabbed a bottle of Aloe vera and climbed onto the bed next to Derek. Time to do naughty things to celebrate his recovery. Becca thought. She leaned over to whisper in Derek’s ear, “Wake up, Derek.” Derek awoke, turned his head to see Becca, and her cleavage was right in his face. Whoa! “B-Becca…” Derek pushed himself up into a sitting position with his back against the headboard. “What’s up?” Becca showed Derek the bottle of Aloe vera with an innocent look on her face. “I read online that Aloe vera is good to use on someone with sun poisoning. It will help soothe and cool down your overly heated skin. I was thinking I could help put some on you.” “Uh…I don’t think that’s such a good idea, Becca.” Derek began to object. Becca rolled her eyes at Derek. “Oh, come on, we’re both adults here. Let me help you, Derek. Please.” She gave him a pleading look. It was the ‘please’ that undid him. He swallowed, and his throat felt dry at the thought of having Becca’s hands on his hot flesh. “Uh…okay.” Becca beamed at him. “Take off your shirt.” Her tone was giddy, excited. Derek did as he was told, took off his shirt, and tossed it aside. Becca squirted some Aloe vera into her hands, and scooted closer to Derek. She placed her hands on his pecs and began to rub the Aloe vera into his flesh gently. Derek let out a sigh of relief and pleasure. He had to admit that it felt really good and the Aloe vera was cooling down his skin. Becca ran her hands innocently over Derek’s tanned, muscular chest and torso, down his rippling abs, and then up and down his arms. His flesh felt so hot. Derek had closed his eyes in bliss at her ministrations. Becca squirted more Aloe vera onto her hands and returned to Derek’s chest. She rubbed Derek’s nipples with the palms of her hands gently and in a circular motion. Derek gasped at the erotic sensation and blood rushed to his cock. His hips bucked up of their own accord and his eyes flew open. “Becca, what are you…?” He gave her a suspicious look. Becca pulled back and gave Derek an angelic look. “What?” “Er…nothing, never mind.” Derek said, feeling embarrassed. Get your mind out of the gutter, Derek. Becca unbuttoned Derek’s pants and slid down the zipper. Derek reached out and grabbed her hands to stop her. “Becca!” He burst out in a scandalized tone. “What?” Becca continued to give him that beguiling look. “I’m just going to rub Aloe vera on your legs. It’s to lower your entire body temperature. Why? What did you think I was going to do? Perv.” This is total BS. I hope he falls for it though… Derek flushed. “Er…nothing. I…proceed.” He said in a husky voice. Becca pulled Derek’s pants off and tossed them to the floor. Now Derek was only in a pair of boxer briefs. “Mmm.” Becca could already see that his boxers had gotten tight. Derek looked down at his crotch and blushed. “Ah…sorry.” “Shhh…just relax…” Becca cooed as she squirted Aloe vera onto her hands and began to run her hands up and down Derek’s legs in a professional manner. Derek relaxed at her gentle touch, his eyes closed again, and he rested his head against his pillow. He felt so weak. He needed to feed badly, but…feeding while Becca lived under the same roof as him just felt wrong somehow. Becca waited until Derek had lowered his guard before she began to rub Aloe vera on his inner thighs. He became aroused. Before Derek could tell her to stop she had already pulled her hands away. Derek’s eyes flew open, and he sat up to see Becca grabbing a gold box from the night table. “I bought you a present.” Becca said as she opened the gold box to reveal the chocolates within. They looked amazingly delicious. They were all different shapes: hearts, circles, rectangles, and leaves. “They’re all different flavors.” “What did I do to deserve this?” Derek asked. Becca selected a chocolate and held it out to Derek. “You risked your life to protect me that night. Also, I think it’s high time someone rewarded you for protecting this city. You’re its secret hero…like Batman or something. You deserve a reward.” Batman? That’s hitting it a little close to the mark. “Rebecca.” Derek breathed in surprise, touched by her kind words. Becca took advantage of Derek’s open mouth and plopped the chocolate inside. Derek chewed and swallowed. “Mmm. Wow.” The chocolate bonbon tasted like it had a liqueur in it. “Was it good?” Becca asked with a hopeful expression on her face. “Very good.” Derek readily assured her. “I actually have another present for you. It arrived while you were sleeping.” Becca explained as she reached over to the night table and grabbed something. She then held it up to Dearg. It was a smart phone with a Batman cell phone strap. “Ta-dah! Your very own smart phone and cell phone strap. Actually…” Becca began with a blush and grabbed her own smart phone. “We have couple cell phone straps.” She held up her smart phone to show Dearg the Catwoman cell phone strap that was dangling from it. Derek’s lips twitched with amusement. “Batman and Catwoman, huh?” “I’ve always been a fan of that ship.” Becca set the phones back on the night table, selected another chocolate, and held it out to him. “Have another.” Derek leaned forward and took the chocolate from her fingers with his mouth. He chewed and swallowed. A strange warm, tingly feeling was forming in his lower stomach. Becca selected another chocolate. “My hero deserves this special treat.” Derek took the offered chocolate with his mouth again, but this time he let his tongue caress the very tips of Becca’s fingers as he took the chocolate into his mouth. Becca shivered at the feeling of Derek licking her fingers. She continued to feed Derek chocolates, and had a few of them herself. For some reason, Derek couldn’t stop eating them. They were probably the most delicious thing he’d ever eaten. And they were addicting somehow. Becca placed a chocolate between her lips and neared Derek’s face with it. He took the chocolate hungrily, and ended up kissing Becca passionately. Becca straddled Derek so she could deepen their kiss and placed her hands on his bare chest to steady herself. Derek groaned as he swirled his tongue around Becca’s, tasting chocolate, and also the sweet, tangy, lime flavor of Becca. Her leather skirt was riding up her thighs and revealing her long, lithe legs. His eyes were drawn to her golden-hued flesh. So darn sexy. Derek couldn’t resist placing his hands on her hips and running his hands down her thighs and over her legs. Becca pulled back to catch her breath. “We shouldn’t be doing this.” Derek groaned as he felt up her legs. Becca smiled devilishly at Derek. “Oh yes, we should. I think this city’s hero deserves a reward for a job well done. A very special reward. Let me take care of you, Derek. Let me cherish you.” Becca purred in that southern drawl of hers before kissing her way down Derek’s neck to his chest. She then started to kiss his arm tattoos. Déjà vu. Cinnia had done that to him during their wedding night. She’d kissed Derek’s tattoos and traced their designs with her wicked tongue. And Rebecca Thorn was doing it now. Her skillful, hot, wet tongue was tracing the designs of his tattoos almost lovingly. It touched something deep inside of Derek. Something that he’d had locked up tight for more than two millennia. Derek felt like he was in a dream. He was still feeling a bit lightheaded because of his need to feed and the sun poisoning. If this is a dream, I don’t want to wake up. Becca kissed her way back up Derek’s body and captured his lips hungrily with hers. Derek eagerly kissed her back. He couldn’t get enough of this woman in his arms. She was so irresistible. Addicting. Just like the chocolates. While Becca distracted Derek with her kissing, she removed her panties and flung them aside. She reached down and used her hand to guide him to her. Derek startled and pushed her back while giving her a questioning look. “Becca…?” “Please, Derek. I need you.” Becca gave him a pleading look. Please. There was that word again. Derek nodded dazedly. He had no willpower left to resist this fiery temptress in his arms. Becca united their bodies. The vampire gasped at the sensation. Becca gasped too as they became one. It felt so good to be one with him. It felt like…coming home for some reason. Tears sprang to her eyes for a reason she couldn’t explain. Derek looked up at Becca concernedly, and reached up to brush her tears away with his thumbs. “Are you okay, lo-er, Becca?” I almost called her ‘love’. “Ah, yes. I don’t know why I’m crying. I feel so good. It’s just…I feel strange.” Becca shook her head confusedly. She couldn’t explain it in words. That she felt like she’d done this before with him. She almost felt like a virgin in his embrace. Everything about this moment felt so intense and different from any other time she’d made love with a man before. No, she was beginning to realize that those times she thought she was ‘making love’ were just ‘having sex’. Right now in that moment, she was truly ‘making love’ to someone. “I’m going to move now.” Becca breathed before she started to surge over him. Derek grabbed onto her hips and groaned. Having her in his arms felt wonderful. Becca leaned over Derek and kissed him as they made love. The feeling was extraordinary. Derek could feel himself getting close. “Becca…I’m going to…!” “Yes…claim me.” Becca readily agreed. “Ladies first.” Derek said as he reached between their bodies and began to caress her. Becca was so stunned by Derek’s ministrations that she stopped moving. “What are you…?” “Let me give you mind-numbing pleasure, Becca.” Derek urged in his deep, husky voice as he continued to caress her skillfully. Becca grabbed onto his shoulders. “Wait, stop. I feel strange. What is this…?” She could feel the heat building within her, and then a wave of pleasure crashed into her. She cried out Derek’s name. “Derek!” Her blood felt like it was on fire, her body was tingling all over, and she trembled against Derek in sheer ecstasy. When it finally stopped, she collapsed on top of Derek, panting for breath. “What…what was that?” Derek’s eyes popped. “You mean your…?” “That’s the first time that’s happened.” Becca admitted shyly with a slight blush to her cheeks. The freckles on her nose were really standing out all of a sudden. Becca’s startling revelation had Derek joining her with a shout. “Becca!” He claimed her fully. Mine. He thought dazedly. Becca was still collapsed on top of him. He turned his head and could see the throbbing pulse on Becca’s neck. Derek’s fangs lengthened inside of his mouth of their own accord. He could see the blood rushing through her veins next. He hissed and neared his fangs to her neck. He was about to bite her when he pulled back sharply, suddenly realizing what he had almost done. Crap! What the hell is wrong with me? I’m loosing control. Derek moved Becca off of him, sprang off the bed and rushed for the bathroom. He entered, shut the door and locked it behind him. “Derek? What the hell?” Becca grabbed the bed sheet, wrapped it around her, got off the bed, and headed towards the bathroom door. She tried the knob and was surprised to find that Derek had locked the door. “Hey. What’s wrong? Let me in.” “No! Go away! Leave me alone!” Derek shouted through the door. Becca’s brow furrowed in confusion. “Derek…?” “Go!” He yelled back loudly. Becca’s temper snapped and she pounded on the door angrily. “Let me in, you jerk! Don’t do this! Don’t push me away!” Becca pounded on the door until her hand hurt. “Dang it.” She shook her red, throbbing hand. After all that, he still wouldn’t let her in. Just when she thought they were getting closer, that’s when he’d pull away from her. He was always putting up walls that she kept trying to take down. And she was sick of it! It was like Derek didn’t trust her. And that hurt. “Alright…fine! Be that way! Keep putting your guard up!” Becca stomped angrily out of the bedroom and Derek listened to her go. Derek leaned his back against the bathroom door, and slid down the door to sit on the floor. He put his face in his hands. His fangs were still elongated. He was so thirsty. Thirsty for blood. He was craving blood so badly that he couldn’t trust himself around Becca right then, and wouldn’t open up that door regardless of what she said. He had to protect her, from himself. Derek was so weak, he ended up falling asleep, right there on the cold, tiled floor. He awoke the next day and reached out his dulled senses to make sure Becca wasn’t in his bedroom. He realized that regardless of what he wanted, he had to feed. If he continued to be stubborn and didn’t, he’d only become a danger to Becca. Derek stood up, opened the bathroom door, and entered his bedroom. He made his way over to the pet tank that was filled with rats. He removed the screen lid, reached in and pulled out a rat. He sunk his fangs into the creature and drank its blood. He moaned in pleasure, and was immediately disgusted with himself. Derek drained it dry and then opened his python’s tank to toss the dead rat inside. One rat wasn’t nearly enough though, and Derek grabbed another. He sunk his fangs into the rat and drank its blood. He could feel blood dripping down his chin but he didn’t care. He was so thirsty. I must have more…more blood! A gasp was heard and Derek looked up to see Becca standing in the doorway to his bedroom with a horrified look on her face. “You…you’re a vampire! You lied to me. You…monster!” Becca turned and fled from the room. Derek tossed the rat into his python’s tank and took off after Becca. “Becca, wait, let me explain!” Becca ran down the stairs. “What is there to explain? You’re a vampire! I can’t believe you kept that from me!” “I had to. It was for your own safety! I have powerful enemies, Becca. I didn’t want you to get involved in my life. The less you knew the better!” Derek argued. “I just wanted to keep you safe.” Becca began to walk through the tattoo parlor and headed for the front door of the townhouse. “Oh, you mean enemies like Dracula and Neena? Well, you know what? I’ve already met them! Well, I met Neena and the creepy twin vampire girls. They were going to torture me, but Slaine rescued me!” “Wait! What? When did this happen?” Derek demanded as he followed her across his tattoo parlor. “When I went shoe shopping Neena kidnapped me. How do you think I got that disgusting scar on my shoulder? Neena tried to take a bite out of me. Then she took me to the basement of Iron Casket. These vampire twin girls were there. I think their names were Yoko and Koko. They wanted to hurt me, but Slaine distracted them and I was able to escape. Is that what you tried to protect me from? Well, you failed, vampire!” Becca grabbed the doorknob. “Becca, please, wait. You know I can’t go out there in broad daylight. We need to talk about this. About us.” Derek pleaded, his voice thick with emotion. “There is no ‘us’. You’ve made that pretty clear, Derek.” Becca stated coldly before opening the door and heading outside into the light of day. She closed the door behind her. “Dang it!” Derek swore and kicked the door. It felt like Becca had just ripped his heart out - like she’d taken a piece of him with her. It was in that moment that Derek realized that he was falling for Becca Thorn, despite his promise to Cinnia to love her forever. He may have been in love with her already… And he had to find out the truth about that. He couldn’t let Becca go this way. He had to protect her. He…loved her! I frigin love her. I can’t let her go out there on her own. I have to protect her. She’s mine! Derek grabbed the doorknob, took a deep breath, and opened the door. He was dressed in only a pair of boxer shorts, but he didn’t care. He had to speak to Becca and tell her how he felt about her. The vampire ran out of his shop and into the sun. His eyes stung and he could feel his skin burning. He looked around for Becca and spotted her speed walking down the sidewalk. “Becca! Wait!” Derek called after her as he ran towards her. She was already a couple blocks away. Becca spun around at the sound of his voice, and her eyes widened at the sight of him coming towards her in the sunlight. His exposed skin was turning red right before her eyes, then blistering, and then most shocking of all Derek’s skin began to catch on fire. Becca gasped. “Derek! You idiot! Get back inside! You’ll kill yourself!” She shouted. “No! There’s something I need to tell you first!” Derek stubbornly continued forward. Becca hesitated, but only for a moment. The sight of Derek on fire and walking towards her, stirred something very profound deep within her. Her heart broke at the sight of him hurting for her. “Derek!” Becca began to run towards him. However- Someone stood in her path and she ran right into them. Becca looked up to see a middle-aged man in a black, hooded, leather vest, leather pants, and boots. He had blue Celtic tattoos on his arms just like Derek’s. “A Hunter?” The Hunter smiled before putting a rag doused with chloroform up against Becca’s face. Becca’s eyes bulged and she was knocked out cold. The Hunter caught Becca as she collapsed and carried her over to a black Mercedes with tinted windows that was waiting for him. The rear door opened and he got inside of the car with Becca. The Hunter closed the door behind them. It all happened so fast. In seconds, and there was nothing Derek could do about it! “BECCA!” Derek roared as he ran after her and the car. But it was too late…they were already driving off. “No…Becca…!” “What the hell are you doing, idiot!” Came an angry, booming voice. A pair of big, brawny arms reached out, grabbed Derek, and pulled him into the darkness of a nearby alleyway. As soon as Derek was out of the sun the small fires on his exposed flesh went out. Derek didn’t even care who’d saved him. He just continued to gaze forlornly in the direction the car with Becca had gone. Garth slammed Derek into the brick wall to get his attention. “If you’d stayed out there a second longer you’d be dust!” Derek looked up at Garth with a desolate look on his face. “What would it matter, Garth? I failed to protect Becca. They’ve taken her.” Garth frowned. “Who? The vampires?” Derek shook his head. “No, the Hunters.” Garth scratched his head and a confused look came over his face. “What would the Hunters want with Becca?” Derek shrugged. “I’m not sure. Maybe they plan to use her against me somehow? Maybe she’s bait to lure me out? Whatever the reason - it can’t be good.” He let out a defeated sigh. “Why are you even here, Garth?” “I was on my way to check on you guys, when I saw you on fire. Crap. I hope no one saw that. You’re crazy, you know?” Garth peered out at the sidewalk. “I gotta get you home somehow.” The shifter looked around the alley and spotted a large dumpster. A glint game to his golden eyes. He picked Derek up and carried him over to the open dumpster. “Hey, what the hell are you doing, Garth?” Derek demanded. “Saving your butt.” Garth stated before tossing Derek into the dumpster and closing the lid. “Garth, let me out of here!” Derek shouted. “No can do. Not until we get back to your place anyways.” Garth said as he began to push the dumpster out of the alleyway and down the street. “You jerk! I’m so going to kill you! There’s…disgusting stuff in here!” The vampire complained. Garth chuckled darkly. “Yeah, yeah.” He pushed the dumpster down the street and headed to Voodoo Tattoo. He opened the door of the shop and pushed the dumpster over so Derek along with a bunch of garbage rolled into the shop. “Garth!” Derek sprang to his feet, covered in foul-smelling garbage. “Look at the mess you’ve made!” “Your welcome. Have fun cleaning that up. Maybe next time you’ll think twice before going out in the sun because I’d just do this again to save you.” Garth crossed his arms over his chest and gave Derek a stern look. Derek ran a hand back through his hair and found a banana peel. “Ugh.” He tossed the peel aside. “Alright, I get it. I’ll try not to be so stupid next time. I promise.” Garth put a hand on Derek’s shoulder. “Don’t worry, man. We’ll get her back.” “Garth?” “Yeah?” “Get your hand off my shoulder - it frigin hurts!” Derek complained and made a beeline for the stairs. He was going to cover his entire body with Aloe vera A-SAP. *** Becca was terrified as she regained consciousness to find herself in a car with four other people whom she didn’t know. The man who’d grabbed her off the street had lowered his hood to reveal a real hard-boiled man with brown hair with a stripe running through it. He was currently smoking a Cuban cigar. Driving the car was a young man. His hood was down revealing a black Mohawk and his entire face had been tattooed to resemble a snake’s face with green scales. Freaky. Becca thought. A large green, yellow, and red snake tattoo coiled around his entire right arm and shoulder, and on his other arm there was a Chinese dragon tattoo. This guy was definitely into reptiles. Could this guy get any scarier? Sitting in the passenger side seat was a young woman. Her hood was raised and so Becca couldn’t see much of her face, but she had long, black hair with scattered braids. Her vest was unzipped low to reveal her cleavage, and the black antlers tattooed on her chest. The antlers probably belonged to a stag tattoo. She also had various other tattoos on her arms in black ink - a fox, owl, and butterfly among them. “Vortigern, are you sure she’s the one my grandmother wants?” The raven-haired girl asked. “You saw it for yourself, didn’t you, Fiadh? That vampire was running after her in broad daylight. She’s the one we want alright. Derek Dearg’s…love.” The hard-boiled man sneered the word ‘love’. “And you’re sure Derek is the one who killed Keane?” Fia asked. “He denied it, of course. But vampires are not to be trusted. You know that better than most. They cannot escape their true nature. He dared to take my son’s place as the Hunter for this city and that I won’t ever forgive.” Vortigern rumbled in his thick British accent. “She’s just so…American. Did you see the shoes she’s wearing? She wouldn’t be able to fight in those, or run.” Fia scoffed. “The vampires would kill her in less than a second. I really don’t know what my grandmother is thinking.” Vortigern shrugged. “Dealande saw a possible future where this girl is useful somehow. I trust Dealande’s judgment, for the most part.” He puffed on his cigar and released a perfect smoke ring. Becca had had enough of eavesdropping on their conversation, which wasn’t making any sense at all. “Who the hell are you weirdos? Where do you think you’re taking me! Why did you kidnap me?” “Ah, Sleeping Beauty is awake.” Vortigern drawled in an amused tone. “Kidnap, she says. Ungrateful woman.” The young man with the snake tattoo on his face snarled nastily. “We just saved your life, woman. Did you not notice the vampire on fire that was chasing after you?” Becca frowned. “I wasn’t in any danger from him. He’s my…friend. Not that it’s any of your business.” “Friend?” Fia sneered. “Don’t you mean ‘lover’? I can still see the bite mark on your neck. You’re lucky he didn’t inject his saliva into your veins, or else you’d be a flesh-eating zombie right about now.” Becca raised her hand to cover the bite mark on her neck from Slaine and frowned. She wanted to correct their assumption that Derek had bitten her…but why bring up Slaine? Becca dropped her hand. “Again, it’s really none of your business.” “Stupid girl.” Fia groused. “In love with a vampire.” “Don’t worry, Fia. I’m sure Dealande will set her straight.” Vortigern assured. Fia sighed. “I hope so. Step on it, Nathair.” “You got it.” Nathair drove the group to a four-story, brick townhouse. All of its windows were covered by thick drapes. Nathair and Fia exited the car first. Vortigern exited the car next, and grabbed Becca’s arm before dragging her out of the car. “Don’t I get a say in any of this?” Becca demanded. “You’re coming with us. It’s for your own good, girl.” Vortigern said firmly. Becca looked up at the sinister looking townhouse. It looked haunted. She shuddered. “What is this place?” It looks like the perfect setting for a horror film. A dark shadow fell over Vortigern’s face. “My son Keane used to live here. He was the Hunter in charge of protecting San Francisco from vampiric threat.” “Your son? Was?” Becca prodded. “He was killed…by a vampire. And your ‘friend’ Derek has taken his place. I have reason to believe Derek killed my son.” Vortigern explained darkly. Becca shook her head, and an adamant expression formed on her face. “Derek wouldn’t do something like that. It was probably some other vampire. Derek told me he is a Hunter.” “A Hunter…who is a vampire? Don’t be ridiculous. No vampire can control their thirst for blood. It will ultimately control them.” Fia insisted. “Derek doesn’t feed from humans he…feeds from rats.” Becca guessed. Now the pet tanks in Derek’s room were making a whole lot of sense. He probably fed from the rats and then gave the dead rats to his pet python, Nagini. Vortigern, Fia and Nathair gave Becca curious looks. “I’ve never heard of a vampire managing to survive on animal blood alone.” Nathair said. “It’s just more of his lies.” Fia huffed. “He probably told her that…but I wouldn’t believe it.” Vortigern dragged Becca to the front door and opened it. He ushered her inside, and Fia and Nathair followed. Nathair shut the door behind them. “Grandma! We’re back! Where are you?” Fia called out. “I’m in the living room, Fia.” A raspy voice called out. Vortigern dragged Becca through the foyer and into the living room while Fia and Nathair followed close behind. The living room had purple, velvet drapes on the windows, and scented candles were lit and burning everywhere. They had to pass through a beaded curtain as they entered the room. Becca’s attention was drawn to the dream catchers on the walls, and shelves that were filled with lots of New Age knickknacks and accessories. The furniture looked comfortable but threadbare. Seated on one of the couches was a teen female Druid. She was wearing a dark purple, leather vest with hood, which was down, revealing her short, purple hair. The Druidess was wearing purple, leopard print pants with black spots on them, and boots. She had a lit cigarette sticking out of her mouth, and was currently reading a magazine. Her arms were covered with purple wildcat tattoos: a panther, a tiger, a leopard, and a house cat among them. Okay. Someone has a purple fetish. Becca thought. Seated beside the girl with purple hair was a young man that appeared to be around the same age as the Druidess and who looked related. He also looked like a total, Goth punk with spiked-up blonde hair, and a spiked leather collar around his neck. He was wearing a black, hooded, vest, but his hood was down revealing the tattoos on his face that resembled black wings. The black wings extended down from his eyes in an arc, and almost looked like black tear tracks until one moved closer and saw the feathers. On his arms were lots of crow tattoos, and his shoulders to his elbows had been tattooed with feathers, making it look like he had wings. Lastly, Becca’s eyes were drawn to a round table that had a purple tablecloth and a crystal ball sitting in the center of it. Seated at this table was an old woman with long white hair with scattered braids. Her eyes were milky white. A blue butterfly had been tattooed across her face. She was wearing a dark blue, medieval gown with belled sleeves. Although Becca suspected that she was hiding more tattoos beneath those sleeves. Becca noticed that the woman was wearing a necklace with a crescent moon on it that resembled the necklace she’d seen in the room Derek had made like a shrine for Cinnia. The Druid with the bird tattoos looked up and grinned excitedly. “Hey, look who’s back!” In his excitement he accidentally dropped his magazine revealing that he’d been using it to conceal the Playboy magazine he’d really been looking at. He looked down at his fallen magazine and blushed. “Oops.” Fia gave the young man a disgusted look. “Feannag, you are disgusting.” Fean grabbed his porn magazine and slid it behind one of the pillows on the couch. “What? You’re imagining things, Fia.” His gaze shifted to Becca and he raked his eyes over her as he checked her out. “Who’s the babe? And is she single?” He waggled his eyebrows at Becca. “This is vampire Derek Dearg’s lover.” Fia sneered. “So yeah, she’s tainted.” Fean looked crestfallen by the news and sat back on the couch. “Oh…it’s her.” Becca was irked by his disappointed tone. “I’ve been expecting you, Rebecca Thorn.” The old woman spoke out in her raspy voice. “Come, sit here, child.” She waved her hand to the chair in front of her. Becca hesitated but Vortigern gave her a little shove in the old woman’s direction. “Go on, girl. She won’t bite.” Becca frowned at Vortigern and went to take a seat in front of Dealande. Dealande waved her hand over her crystal ball and smoke appeared to swirl within. “I’ve been waiting a long time to meet you. I’ve had visions of you since I was a little girl. Visions of possible futures, and in one of my visions I saw you defeat a great evil that not only threatened the peace and safety of this city, but the entire world.” Becca looked over her shoulder, expecting someone to be standing behind her. She pointed to herself. “You mean me? You can’t be serious.” Dealande reached out and put her hand on Becca’s. “Dead serious. You are one of us, Becca. You just don’t remember your past life.” “Excuse me? Past life?” Becca questioned, feeling like she’d fallen into some kind of weird dream. Definitely falling down the rabbit hole here. “Yes. In your past life you were a Druid Vampire Hunter…it is also why you were able to control the magical tattoo on your lower back without it having to activate on its own to protect you.” Dealande explained while giving Becca a knowing look. Becca narrowed her eyes suspiciously at Dealande. “How do you know about that?” Dealande chuckled. “I see a lot…and I don’t see at all. These visions of mine have cost me my sight. One cannot peer into the future without consequence.” Dealande pulled her hand back, removed her necklace, and held it up before Becca. “Watch the pendant, child.” Unbidden, Becca’s eyes began to follow the swing of Dealande’s pendant as it swung back and forth, back and forth. “Fia, light the incense.” Dealande directed her granddaughter. “Yes, Grandmother.” Fia moved around the room and lit incense in various holders. The smell of sandalwood filled the room. “It is time for you to remember your past. To remember who you once were…in order to become one of us and the heroine we need to save this city.” Dealande said as she swung the pendant back and forth. “Now…remember more than two millennia ago when you lived in the Blood Oak Village. Dream and remember, child.” Becca’s eyes drifted shut and she fell into a deep sleep, where she began to remember memories of her past life. More than two millennia ago, her name had been Cinnia. Becca realized that the red-haired woman she’d been dreaming about lately was…her. And that that woman was Cinnia. Becca began to recall and dream about her life as Cinnia in the Blood Oak Village. She remembered how her parents had raised her as a boy so that she could become a ‘Hunter’ because she possessed blood magic. She remembered how she’d befriended a fellow Hunter-in-training named Dearg. They had been best friends, and then they’d met Hunchback and had befriended him too. The trio had been inseparable and undefeatable. And when Cinnia’s secret that she was female had been revealed she recalled how Dearg had stood up for her and protected her. And Hunchback had protected her too. FLASHBACK Time passed and at the age of sixteen the Druid Vampire Hunter trainees got their level five tattoos. These were usually animals that could be used for transportation or attack such as: horses, unicorns, bulls and bears. At the age of seventeen the trainees got their final battle tattoos - dragon tattoos. The Druids usually got these tattoos done on their backs, and were quite large and elaborate. For the better part of the year the trainees learned to control their dragon tattoos. These battle tattoos were big enough to enable a Hunter to pour all of their magical energy into it. Dragon tattoos were also the most powerful tattoos in a Druid’s arsenal, and took the most energy to control. At the end of the year, Corann came up with one final graduation challenge or test that the trainees would have to pass in order to become an official Hunter. That year, the trainees were assigned to take out an entire lair of vampires on their own and without help from the Elite Hunters. When the day of their final test arrived, the trainees headed through the forest towards the vampire lair that the adult Elite Vampire Hunters had discovered beforehand for the test. Dearg and Cinn walked side by side, leading the group of terrified trainees while Aengus was looking strangely smug. Even though most of the trainees were terrified out of their minds, Dearg still caught some of the young men sneaking glances Cinnia’s way. Cinnia had grown out her long red hair, which fell to her shoulders now in waves. She was wearing a red, hooded vest that was tight enough to show off her feminine curves, tight, black leather pants and high-heeled boots. Cinnia had become the most beautiful woman in their village, and all of the young men envied Dearg’s relationship with her. It was during the day, but the trainees carried lit torches in their hands for when they reached the cave. It wasn’t long before they reached the cave and entered, using their torches to see by. They walked through the cave and down its dark narrow passageway until they reached a large, open chamber. There in the chamber were ten closed wooden coffins. “Here. Hold this.” Dearg handed Cinnia his torch and approached the first coffin. He picked up a crowbar, pried the lid off, picked up the lid, and tossed it aside to reveal that inside of the coffin a vampire was sound asleep with his arms crossed over his chest. Vampire Fact: Vampires were incredibly sound sleepers during the day, and this was the best time to attack them when they were most vulnerable. One by one, Dearg used the crowbar to pry off the coffin lids and tossed them aside. Dearg tossed the crowbar to the cave floor, and wiped his hands off. He cautiously backed up several steps and motioned for the other Druid Vampire Hunter trainees to approach. “Alright, everyone. Let’s do this. Summon your battle tattoos.” Dearg directed them before summoning his magical power and holding his arms out before him. His wolf and panther tattoos began to peel off his skin and solidified as they leapt off his arms and landed on the cave floor. The other trainees followed suit, held out their arms, summoned their magical power, and willed their battle tattoos to materialize. Once every Druid had one or two battle tattoos at the ready Dearg gave the order. “Now! Attack!” Dearg commanded his wolf and panther tattoos to attack the sleeping vampires. “Attack!” The voices of the other Hunters rang out as they too commanded their ink creatures to attack the unsuspecting vampires. The ink creatures attacked and went for the vampires’ throats. The vampires came awake screaming and screeching to find ink creatures trying to rip their heads off. But it was too late. The ink creatures decapitated the vampires one by one, and the vampires disintegrated into dust. However, the sound of the vampires being murdered alerted the other vampires that were living in the lair to the presences of the Druid Vampire Hunters. These vampires who’d been sleeping in their coffins in other chambers, came awake and headed for the chamber where the Hunters were. A hissing sound filled the air as vampires began to rush into the chamber baring their fangs and claws. Their eyes were glowing red. “There are more of them!” A Druid cried out fearfully. “Don’t panic! Remember your training. We can handle them - as long as we stick together!” Dearg called out, rallying the Hunters. “Aye!” Everyone shouted back and prepared for battle. *** Meanwhile, deep in the forest, Hunchback was entering his cave dwelling, and carrying a bundle of firewood. Winter was almost upon them, and it was getting colder in the evenings. Hunchback dropped his bundle of firewood next to his hearth, and wiped his hands off. The hair on the back of his neck prickled in warning. He was not alone. Hunchback spun around to come face to face with High Priest Corann, and his band of Elite Druid Vampire Hunters. Dressed in their hooded leather vests, they entered the cave side by side blocking any escape route possible. High Priest Corann stepped forward and lowered his hood to reveal his face to the Unknowable. “High Priest Corann.” Hunchback murmured. Corann didn’t look at him. Instead he glanced around the cave dwelling with a sneer on his face, and caught sight of the dark green, hooded cloak the mysterious Archer always wore when he went to the aid of Dearg and Cinnia. He also spotted a bow and quiver of arrows leaning against the cave wall. “So it’s true then…you’re the Archer. I can’t believe my son dared to ally himself with the likes of you - an Unknowable. Seize him!” Corann ordered his Elite. The Elite sprang into action and attacked Hunchback. “No! Stay away!” Hunchback cried out, his eyes flashed gold, and a burst of telekinetic energy hit the Elite and knocked them off their feet. “Fools!” Corann snapped angrily. “Use your battle tattoos! Subdue him! Now!” The Elites hopped to their feet, stretched their arms out before them, summoned their magical power, and willed their battle tattoos to rise off their arms, materialize and attack Hunchback. “Two can play at that game.” Hunchback said solemnly as he raised his own arm, summoned his magical power, and willed his griffin tattoo to peel off his arm and attack the other ink creatures. Corann watched this happening in sheer disbelief. “He summoned an ink creature…impossible. You dare make a mockery of Crom Cruach, you monster! Oh, you will pay for that! And you will tell me who dared to give you those tattoos!” Corann stealthily made his way over to the bow and quiver of arrows. He slung the quiver over his shoulder, raised the bow, nocked an arrow to it, and aimed at Hunchback’s back. Fwoosh. An arrow embedded itself in Hunchback’s hump and he cried out in pain. But Corann wasn’t through with Hunchback just yet, and shot another arrow at the back of Hunchback’s leg. Hunchback stumbled forward to one knee. Corann sent another arrow into the back of Hunchback’s other leg. Then an arrow to Hunchback’s shoulder. Hunchback fell forward to the cave floor, bleeding and trembling in pain. Corann approached Hunchback with slow, purposeful steps. He stood next to Hunchback and aimed another arrow at Hunchback’s back. Fwoosh. Hunchback cried out as another arrow pierced his hump, and then another and another, until he lost track of how many arrows had been sent into him. “You have broken the Blood Oak Clan’s tradition, Unknowable. And that I will never forgive. Our traditions are everything. Without our traditions we would be no different from livestock and at the mercy of the vampires. Unknowables are forbidden from using blood magic and for good reason. Crom Cruach marked you as a sacrifice to serve as payment for the blood magic gifts he has bestowed upon the Hunters. This knowledge has been passed down to us from our ancestors. For your crime you shall be sacrificed. But first…you shall be punished for your insolence.” Corann laughed happily. He always did enjoy a good human sacrifice. Cinnia. Dearg. Where are you guys? Were Hunchback’s last thoughts as he sunk into unconsciousness. To be continued in…Tattoo 8: Fox Chapter 8: Fox When Hunchback awoke it was to a bucket of water being thrown in his face, or rather thrown at the burlap sack that was tied over his head. His arm muscles felt stretched, and even though he couldn’t see anything he could tell that his arms had been tied over his head somehow, and he’d been suspended from something. Also his shirt was missing. Hunchback sniffed the air and smelled dirt, dew, moss, and decomposing leaves. He deduced he was still somewhere in the forest and was probably hanging from a tree. “Awaken, monster. It is time for you to face divine judgment. You will not only be offering your life to Crom Cruach in repentance of your sin, but also making amends to the gods Taranis, Teutates and Esus as well. May the gods have mercy on your soul.” Corann’s deep voice boomed. Hunchback swallowed. He knew that Corann meant that he was to undergo the three-fold death. Those were who sacrificed to Taranis were burned alive. Those sacrificed to Teutates were drowned. And those sacrificed to Esus were suspended from a tree like he had already been, and stabbed. Hunchback could smell burning coals. A chill of fear crawled up his spine. He could only imagine the horrors the Hunters had in store for him. But he was resigned to his fate. This was inevitable - it had always been inevitable. Ever since his parents had snuck him out of the Blood Oak Village and into the forest to live on his own he’d been living on borrowed time. He’d been ‘marked’ by Crom Cruach for sacrifice as payment for the Blood Oak Clan’s blood magic gifts. One could try to escape their fate in life, but it always caught up to them in the end. Hunchback’s thoughts went to his friends Cinnia and Dearg. Meeting them, getting to know them, and spending time with them had been the best thing to have ever happen to him. I’ll miss them…my friends. “Let the three-fold death commence.” Corann ordered cruelly as he waved one of the Elite forward. The sound of a poker stoking coals was heard and then Hunchback could smell something hot and burning approaching the flesh on his arm. “No Unknowable is to ever wear battle tattoos and so they shall be removed from your flesh by burning. Repent now of thy sins to Taranis.” Corann said. The Druid placed the burning, hot poker upon the griffin tattoo that had taken Dearg hours to create. The pain was excruciating, and Hunchback couldn’t help but cry out. The Hunter used the poker to burn the entire tattoo of the griffin off before he set the poker back into the coals. “Repent now of thy sin to Teutates.” The Druid said before throwing a bucket of ice-cold water onto Hunchback’s head. Hunchback coughed and sputtered as he struggled to breathe beneath the soaked burlap sack. “Repent now of thy sin to Esus.” The Druid declared before stabbing his athame into Hunchback’s hump. Hunchback screamed. The Druid removed his dagger and stepped aside. “Again.” Corann ordered. “Rid this foul monster of his next tattoo, Dwayne.” The High Priest commanded one of his Elite. Dwayne stepped forward next and picked up the red-hot poker. He approached Hunchback, and began to burn off Hunchback’s chimera tattoo. As Hunchback screamed he wished he had the strength to use his magic and fight back, but the arrows Corann had used had been poisoned. Ironic to have his own weapon used against him. After Dwayne was finished ridding him of his tattoo he poured a bucket of water on Hunchback’s head. Once again, Hunchback struggled to breathe, and wondered if perhaps his friends would come and rescue him. Dearg…Cinnia…help me. A cruel smile twisted Corann’s lips. “I know what you’re thinking, monster. You’re wondering if your friends will come and save you. But they will not. And do you want to know why? They are currently fighting for their lives as we speak. For their graduation test the trainees must take out a vampire lair all on their own. Those that make it out alive - pass. Those who die - fail. For that is our clan’s tradition!” The High Priest laughed maniacally. Hunchback’s eyes widened in surprise and he struggled against his bonds. “Dearg is your son…! How could you?” Corann snorted in disgust. “He is…a disappointment. He continues to defy the Blood Oak Clan’s traditions. First with Cinnia…and then you. But I will allow his trespasses no longer. After I have finished with you…perhaps I will deal with Cinnia myself.” The High Priest jeered. Cinnia! “You jerk…don’t you dare hurt her!” Hunchback growled. “I’ll kill you! I’ll kill you!” “Dwayne.” Corann ordered. “Repent now of thy sin to Esus.” Dwayne said before plunging the dagger into Hunchback’s hump. Hunchback screamed. He still had a seahorse tattoo, sea serpent and others. He morbidly wondered how much more blood he could lose before he just died. The torture continued as one by one, the Druids performed the ritual three-fold death upon Hunchback. The torture seemed endless, never-ending. And Hunchback lost track of time. Hours later, his throat was raw and sore from his screams. He wished he could just die already. “Please…just kill me…” Hunchback croaked out. Corann chuckled, delighting in his pain and that he’d finally broken the Archer. “A quick death would be too good for you, monster. Remember what you are and never forget - you are a hideous monster, a disgusting freak. I don’t understand how my son and Cinnia could stand to be around you without throwing up.” Hideous. Monster. Disgusting. Freak. Over and over again those cruel words were flung at Hunchback, and those words cut more deeply than any athame. Hunchback threw his head back and screamed in soul-deep agony. His scream echoed through the forest and caused a nearby flock of crows to take flight. *** In a miraculous turn of events, with Dearg acting as their leader the Druid Vampire Hunter trainees had been able to defeat all of the vampires in the lair. Dearg’s strategy had been to use a combination of defense and offense. Half of the summoned ink creatures were ordered to stay behind to protect them while the other half were ordered to attack the vampires. Only the ink creatures could keep up with the vampires’ superhuman speed and so it was essential to have some of the ink creatures protect them. Dearg’s plan worked flawlessly and none of the trainees died. It was a first. Dearg watched with satisfaction as his ink wolf bit the head off the remaining vampire and it disintegrated into dust. “You did it, Dearg!” Cinnia praised. “We did it.” Dearg corrected her with a smile. “I wish Hunch, er, Archer could have been here too.” “Yeah, he should be here fighting along side us.” Cinnia pouted. Aengus snorted as he tried to hold back his laughter. His face was turning red from the effort. Dearg shot Aengus a questioning look. “What’s so funny, Aengus?” “I’m laughing because you’re never going to be seeing your friend again.” Aengus jeered. A feeling of dread washed over Dearg. He stalked over to Aengus, grabbed the front of his vest, and pulled Aengus forward to glare into his face. “What are you talking about Aengus? Tell me!” He demanded. “I’ve known about your Hunchback friend for a long time now…but I was waiting for just the right moment to tell your father what I’d discovered. As we speak your friend.” He sneered the word ‘friend’. “Is probably being tortured to death!” Aengus began to cackle gleefully. Cinnia gasped at this revelation, raised a hand in front of her mouth, and shook her head in a disbelieving manner. “Aengus…how could you? Hunchback…no.” “Aengus, you snake!” Dearg shoved Aengus back and punched him hard across the face. One of Aengus’s teeth was sent flying into the air. “You’ll pay for this betrayal, Aengus. You’d better pray Hunchback is still alive…because if he isn’t, you’ll be joining him in death very soon.” Aengus wiped the blood from his split lip with the back of his hand. “I’d like to see you try! Your father would never allow it!” But Aengus was trembling slightly now out of fear of Dearg. “I think it might be time to confront my father once and for all. I’m an adult now. If he stands in my way…I just may have to kill him. The Blood Oak Clan needs a new leader! And deciding this clan’s leader through single combat is one tradition I don’t mind upholding.” Dearg held his arm out before him, and willed his bear tattoo to peel off his arm and materialize. The bear was enormous. Dearg hopped up onto the bear’s back and rode it over to Cinnia. Dearg held his hand down to her. “Come, let’s go save our friend.” Cinnia nodded. “Yes, let’s.” On the back of the ink bear Dearg and Cinnia traveled swiftly through the forest. Dearg summoned his ink hawk, and the tattoo peeled off his arm and took flight. “Hawk! Find Hunchback!” The hawk let out a screech before it soared high overhead and over the treetops. They continued blindly through the forest until Dearg felt something - a tingle on his arm where hawk usually was. “Hawk found him. It’s this way!” Dearg pointed left. The ink bear swerved left and headed off in that direction. It wasn’t long before the bear broke through the trees into a clearing where a gigantic oak tree stood. Suspended from the tree was a figure with his head covered by a sack. Hunchback. Cinnia sucked in a breath as she saw the blistering burns on Hunchback’s arms and his entire body seemed to be covered in blood. Bright red blood. She’d never hated the color red as much as she did in that moment. “His arms. There’s so much blood. What did they do to him? How could they be this cruel?” Her voice quavered. Dearg noted the bucket of burning coals, large bucket of water, and the bloody athame. “They’ve put him through the three-fold death.” “Then he’s…” Cinnia couldn’t finish her statement. “I don’t know.” Dearg said. Dearg and Cinnia quickly dismounted from the ink bear, and approached Hunchback and the Elite Hunters. “Son, what brings you here?” Corann questioned casually as he stood between Dearg and Hunchback. “Are you here to finish the ritual sacrifice?” He held a dagger out to Dearg by the blade. This was a test. Dearg realized. A way out. If he killed Hunchback his father wouldn’t punish or try to beat him. Dearg took the dagger, and then handed it to Cinnia. “Cut him down.” Corann’s eyes widened in surprise. “On it.” Cinnia ran for the tree. A muscle beneath Corann’s eye ticked in irritation. “Just what do you think you’re doing, son?” Dearg was sick and tired of being afraid of his father, sick of taking his beatings when he failed to sacrifice innocent creatures to gods he wasn’t even sure existed and sick of being a coward. “Father, you can’t continue to ignore the truth.” “And what truth is that?” The High Priest snarled. “The traditions of the Blood Oak Clan must evolve with the times, Father. You are just a barbaric relic of the past. Hunchback possesses blood magic - Crom Cruach’s gift. He wasn’t marked for sacrifice but marked to become a Hunter - just like me - us.” Dearg placed his hand over his chest. “He is one of us. The Unknowables are no different from you or I. They too can be chosen to serve Crom Cruach as a Hunter and protect this land from the vampires. It is no longer right to sacrifice the Unknowables…and you know it. How can you ignore this sign from the gods?” Corann scowled. “It…is our clan’s tradition. The Unknowables are less than human. They-” He argued. “No, Father, you’re wrong.” Dearg shook his head. “They are human - just like you and me. And Hunchback…is my friend. I will no longer hide that. I am not ashamed to be his friend…but honored! The time of sacrificing our own people to the gods has ended, Father. As humans gain more knowledge they become more civilized. We should know better by now, Father. I will no longer condone ritual sacrifice in our clan!” Meanwhile, Cinnia had managed to cut Hunchback down, and quickly untied and removed the bag from Hunchback’s head. When she removed the sack it was to reveal that Hunchback’s hair had turned snow-white. His teeth were chattering, his eyes wide and wild. His pupils dilated from fear and pain. Hunchback’s entire body was trembling. And Cinnia couldn’t get over how much blood there was…it was covering his entire back. Cinnia held Hunchback in her arms and as she peered down at him she realized that he wasn’t really looking at her. He couldn’t see her. He was still trapped in a nightmare. Tears filled Cinnia’s eyes as she looked down at the state her friend was in. “Hunchback…it’s me, Cinnia. You’re safe now. I won’t let anyone hurt you ever again. I promise. Come back to me, Hunchback. I’m here…look at me.” She urged. Hunchback blinked up at Cinnia and then his eyes began to focus on her face. “Cin…nia…?” Corann laughed cruelly. “What are you saying, son? You’re acting as if you were the leader of this clan. But last time I checked - I was the leader. And all obey me - not you. Elite, kill the Hunchback! Now!” The High Priest shouted, spit flying out of his mouth. “No!” Dearg countered in an authoritative voice. “I challenge Corann to single combat! The winner will be High Priest!” The Elite bowed their heads and backed away from Corann and Dearg to give them space to fight. Corann gawked at his Elite in astonishment. “Elite…? How dare you disobey me, you disloyal idiots?” He growled angrily. “Fine. I just have to put my wayward son in his place, and show you all who is the true leader of this clan.” Dearg began to undo the front laces of his vest. “It’s time we settled this, Father. Once and for all.” He removed his hooded vest and tossed it aside to the forest floor. Dearg’s latest tattoo - the dragon tattoo his father had recently given him - was revealed. “So be it.” Corann removed his hooded vest and tossed it aside next, revealing the elaborate dragon tattoo on his back too. Dearg summoned his magical power and willed his dragon tattoo to materialize. It peeled off Dearg’s back and began to increase in size exponentially. Corann did the same and summoned his own ink dragon. The ink dragons began to loom over those present until they were eighty-feet-long. Dearg’s ink dragon had large wings, a serpentine body, and a long wicked tail with spikes on it. Corann’s dragon was thicker and slower looking, but equally menacing. “Attack!” Dearg ordered his ink dragon. “Attack!” Corann followed suit. The two ink dragons attacked each other and as the enormous creatures battled, Cinnia and the Elite had to get out of the way. Cinnia slung Hunchback’s arm over her shoulders and tried to help him up, but he was too heavy for her. “Elite! Quick! Help me with him!” Cinnia called out to the Elites for help. The Elite glanced at each other and hesitated, unsure of what they should do. “Oh, for heaven’s sake! You guys are idiots! He’s one of us! A Hunter! He has blood magic! He’s been chosen. Now, hurry!” Cinnia argued passionately. “We Hunters never leave one of our own behind!” The Elite came to her aid then, and began to help Cinnia drag Hunchback out of harm’s way. The ink dragons attacked each other with their maws full of sharp teeth and their long, razor-sharp claws. Dearg’s ink dragon took off into the air and Corann’s dragon pursued it. The dragons continued their battle in the sky directly over the oak tree. Dearg’s dragon lashed out with its tail, hitting the other dragon hard across the face. Corann’s dragon was injured by the spikes and began to leak magical energy. “Those spikes…” Corann frowned darkly as he stared up at them. “I didn’t tattoo those spikes on your dragon, son.” Dearg smirked. “I had Cinnia make a few changes for me to your design, Father. I hope you don’t mind.” “No!” Corann watched in horror as Dearg’s dragon whipped its deadly tail out again, and hit the other dragon in its chest. Corann’s dragon began to fall through the sky and when it hit the ground it exploded into blue ink that showered down upon everyone present. “No…curses. Return dragon!” Corann commanded and the puddles of blue ink began to slide across the forest floor. Once the ink reached Corann it slid up his body and returned to his back. In seconds, the dragon tattoo had returned to Corann’s back. Dearg’s dragon landed beside Dearg with a thundering thud, its wings were throwing dust and leaves up into the air. Dearg approached his father and willed his dragon to fold its wings and then loom over Corann. “Do you yield, Father?” “Tch.” Corann was panting for breath. “Darn it.” He sunk to his knees. “I yield…you are now High Priest and the leader of the Blood Oak Clan.” Dearg grinned triumphantly and turned to look at Cinnia and Hunchback. Finally, he would have the power to protect his friends. Now nothing could harm them. Or at least, so Dearg thought. END OF FLASHBACK Becca awoke hours later with hot tears streaming down her face. Hunchback! Becca sat up in bed and clutched at her head with her hands. Images from the dream were still fresh in her mind and she remembered her graduation test. Images of fighting vampires in a cave filled her mind. She recalled riding an ink bear with Dearg as they went to save their friend Hunchback. Only…they’d arrived too late. Hunchback had already been tortured by Dearg’s father. Blood. There’d been so much blood. Hunchback had been literally drenched in it. Becca wrapped her arms around her body as she trembled on the bed. She felt nauseous. And then the truth slammed into her. She was Cinnia. Reincarnated. Becca used to be the woman who Derek was still in love with, and who he’d loved for centuries. Also, Dearg was none other than Derek. And Hunchback…what had become of him? Becca wondered sadly. Had he survived the torture? Or had he ended up dying? She wished that the dream had continued so that she could find out. Flashes of Cinnia battling vampires in the lair with her battle tattoos filled her mind again. She’d been an incredible warrior. A true Druid Vampire Hunter. But even if she had been Cinnia in her past life, she wasn’t Cinnia now. Becca didn’t know how to fight. She wasn’t as tough, brave or courageous as Cinnia. She was just a blogger for Heaven’s sake! Cinnia had been a truly amazing person. It was no wonder Dearg had fallen in love with her, and had promised to love her forever. On the other hand, Becca…wasn’t so amazing. She was a poser. Her parents were humble farmers from Iowa. She’d left home to try and make it big in New York City and had become a blogger. She’d wanted so hard to become a ‘somebody’, and so had always dressed the part, blowing all of her hard-earned money on designer clothes. But the reality was that Becca was still a ‘nobody’. She was really no one important. At least, not in reality. Online she was a cyber socialite and popular blogger with thousands of followers. But if Becca’s computer was taken away from her, she lost her identity. Also Becca had a feeling that Cinnia had been a pure virgin when her and Dearg had ended up together. And Becca…was a bit of a slut. She’d slept around a lot in college, and had used match.com to get dates and had had several one-night stands. Sure, it was all in the name of looking for love, but…maybe she should have done things differently. Now she felt dirty and impure when compared to Cinnia. What would Derek think of her if he knew the truth about her? And that she was nothing but a whore. I’m not Cinnia. I’m no one special. The door opened to the bedroom and in stepped Fia. “You’re awake. So have you remembered what you truly are?” Becca frowned at the Huntress. “I remembered some of my past, yes. But that doesn’t change who I am now.” “Sure it does.” Fia waved her hand dismissively through the air. “Now you know the truth - your true destiny. You need to become a Hunter…and kill Derek Dearg!” “You want me to what?” Becca burst out and shook her head. “That’s crazy. And impossible. Besides, why would I want to kill Derek? He’s never hurt me.” Becca demanded hotly. A man who would risk everything to save his friend…can’t be so bad. “Why?” Fia arched a dark eyebrow at Becca. “Because he’s a vampire, of course. If you’ve remembered your training as a Hunter then surely you know what he truly is. He’s a soulless monster. When he was turned by the vampiric curse his soul was cursed to Hell. The man you know now isn’t the real Derek Dearg at all, but a shadow of his former self…a living memory. Truly, a disgrace to the memory of the man he once was, I’m sure. The human man. The man you loved. If you truly loved Derek Dearg then…you’d want to save him, right?” Becca frowned. “Save him? How?” “There is a way to free his cursed soul from Hell and that is destroying his vampiric body. If he was a good man while human - his soul will go to Heaven. By killing Derek - you would be saving the man you love. Don’t you see? Don’t you wish to honor his memory?” “If I kill him…I’d be saving his soul?” Becca’s mind whirled at the possibility. A sly smile curled Fia’s lips as she took a seat on the edge of the bed. “You have a choice to make, Becca. Will you continue to have others protect you so that you can live your ‘normal’ life, or will you cease to be a coward, a spectator, and a burden by learning to fight? Will you gain the weapons you need in order to protect yourself and this city? And of course, Derek. Think about it. If you decide you wish to fight, we will show you how.” Fia promised before she left the room and closed the door behind her. Will I continue to have others protect me…or will I learn to fight? Becca pondered. *** Derek lay in bed covered in bandages. He was a mess and his burn wounds weren’t healing because he was being a stubborn moron - Garth’s words - and not feeding. Anytime he thought about feeding he’d remember Becca’s horrified look when she saw him drinking blood from a rat. Garth and Malakye had given up on trying to get Derek to feed, and were currently in the living room watching TV. That commercial was playing again for the highly anticipated Halloween candy ‘Vampire Bites’. Derek could hear the catchy little jingle all the way in his room on the forth floor. There was a bright flash of light in Derek’s room, and then Archangel Uriel materialized next to Derek’s bed. She looked down at him, and the state he was in and tsked. “Just look at the sorry state you’re in. Stop being so stubborn and feed, vampire.” The angel placed her hands on her hips and shook her head at him. “Screw you.” Derek grumbled. “Is that any way to treat your beautiful guardian angel? Ungrateful jerk.” Uriel complained as she whipped out a lollipop and began to suck on it. “I can’t believe I got stuck with this babysitting job.” Derek scowled. “I never asked to have a guardian angel.” “Well, you have one whether you like it or not!” Uriel huffed and waved her lollipop at him. “Besides, it’s not really up to us. God has taken an interest in you and that’s why I’m here.” “I still don’t really get why you’re here.” Derek spoke up, suddenly curious. Uriel rolled her eyes at him. “Isn’t that obvious? I’m here to save your soul. True love can free your soul from Hell and return it to your body. Well, the girl who loves you would have to be a Judge for it to work, but lucky for you it appears Becca Thorn is a Judge. So you have a chance.” Uriel declared as she approached Derek and placed her hand on his chest. She summoned her angelic powers and began to heal him. Hope flooded Derek, lending Uriel strength in her healing. “My soul can be saved…?” Uriel’s brow furrowed when she noticed something odd about Derek’s body. She frowned. “That can’t be right.” “What is it?” Derek’s stomach clenched with worry. “You…have you had sex with Rebecca Thorn?” Uriel asked bluntly. Derek flushed. “None of your business, Angel Cakes.” “I’ll take that as a ‘yes’. Well, Derek…it appears your soul has come back to you. Becca…is in love with you.” And Slaine too, apparently, but you reallyyy don’t need to know that. Derek’s eyes widened and he sat up in bed. “I got my soul back? Becca…loves me! I don’t understand.” “Now, wait just a second, vampire. Don’t go getting all excited. Becca may not yet realize that she’s in love with you. It could be subconscious.” Uriel hummed to herself as she resumed sucking on her lollipop. “What do you mean? How could she not know?” “Becca’s love for you is soul deep…a part of her loves you and that is her soul.” Uriel explained. “What are you trying to say?” Uriel gave Derek a pitying look. “All this time…are you really so blind that you can’t see the truth? Becca Thorn is Cinnia…reincarnated.” “She’s…what?” Derek’s mind was spinning. Uriel sighed. “Why do you think the Druids took her? They probably plan to turn her into one of them and then convince her to kill you. Becca is your greatest weakness and will be turned into your worst enemy. You can be sure of that!” Derek sank back down onto his pillows in shock. His emotions were in turmoil. Becca….was Cinnia. And he had his soul back. He sat up and began to get out of bed. “I must go to her.” My wife…she’s back! I’ve been waiting…so long. Uriel gave him a consoling look. “You won’t be able to find her.” “What? Of course I will. I tattooed her. All I have to do is reach out my senses and-” Derek frowned when he couldn’t sense Becca’s location. “I can’t feel her…what the hell?” “Nor can I. Powerful ancient magic is blocking us from finding Becca. This is the work of a Druid High Priestess. You won’t encounter Becca until the Druids want you to.” Uriel informed him. Derek sat down on the edge of the bed, and put his face in his hands. “Dang it all.” Uriel reached out and touched Derek’s shoulder in a sympathetic gesture. “But this city still needs you, Derek. Dracula is plotting something big…and the Druids are too distracted by seeing you as their enemy that they can’t see that their true enemy is Dracula.” Derek looked up and met Uriel’s gaze with a steely look in his blue eyes. “Understood. I’ll keep an eye on Dracula.” “I would recommend taking your friends with you. Dracula has called in some very powerful allies - vampires that are centuries old. You won’t be able to handle them on your own.” Uriel’s tone was grim. Derek scowled and rubbed his goatee thoughtfully. “I don’t like the idea of putting my friends in danger.” “If Dracula succeeds in his plan…your friends here in San Francisco will be in danger anyways.” Uriel wisely pointed out. Derek scrubbed a hand over his mouth. “Good point. Alright, Uriel, we’ll protect this city until the Druids realize who their true enemies are.” “My brother is trying to find Dracula’s…weakness as we speak.” Uriel added. “I only hope it’s not too late when he does.” *** Becca had made her decision. She left the bedroom, made her way down the hall, went downstairs, and entered the living room where everyone - Dealande, Fia, Nathair, Vortigern, Fean and Tigear - were all seated in various locations. Dealande was seated behind her round table, and gazing into her crystal ball with her blind eyes. Fean and Ti appeared to be reading magazines. Vortigern was reading a large book. Nathair was sharpening some kind of ancient looking weapon. And Fia was typing away at a computer. This reminded Becca that the Druids hadn’t confiscated her smart phone, which was in her skirt pocket. Becca cleared her throat to get everyone’s attention and then all eyes were upon her. “I’ve made my decision. I…want to learn how to fight. How to be a Druid Vampire Hunter.” So I can save Derek. Dealande stood up from her seat behind the round table and approached Becca directly, even though she was blind. The Druid High Priestess reached out and took Becca’s hands in hers before squeezing them affectionately. “Welcome to the Blood Oak Clan, Rebecca Thorn.” “Uh, thank you.” Becca said awkwardly. “First things first, you’ll need to get some battle tattoos. You can only be a real Hunter if you have magical tattoos. Only the ink creatures are able to keep up with a vampire’s superior speed and reflexes.” Dealande explained. “Ti, fetch the Book of Battle Tattoos.” “Sure, Dealande.” Ti hopped up from her seat on the couch and skipped over to the bookshelf. She stood on her tiptoes as she reached up to get a rather large, dusty book. “Oof.” She pulled it down, brought it over to Becca, and handed it to her. “Here ya go.” Becca almost dropped the book since she was surprised by how heavy it was. “Thanks.” Becca carried the book over to the round table and set it down. She took a seat at the table and opened the book. She coughed as a cloud of dust rose up into the air. Becca waved her hand through the air to dispel the dust and then looked down at the yellowed, aged and brittle pages. Each page had a different battle tattoo design as well as a list of the tattoo’s benefits, advantages, and uses. “Whoa.” Becca was impressed as she continued to flip through the ancient tome. The tattoo designs were incredible and really ornate. They were all blue animal tattoo designs with lots of Celtic knotwork incorporated into the designs. “These tattoos are amazing.” She whipped out her smart phone. “Mind if I take a couple of pictures?” Fia snatched Becca’s smart phone away from her, and put it into her pants pocket. “Are you stupid? These tattoo designs aren’t just regular ‘tattoos’ - they’re also defensive and offensive spells. We can’t have them falling into the wrong hands.” Becca pouted. “Sorry.” She continued to flip through the pages, and as she did so she had a sudden flash of something. A memory. Her head ached and she put a hand to her throbbing forehead. She pushed the book away from her. “Hey, someone bring me some paper and a pen.” “Fia, get Becca a pad of paper and a pen from my desk. Hurry.” Dealande instructed. “Yes, Grandmother.” Fia grated as she went over to a nearby antique desk, pulled open a drawer, and pulled out a pad of drawing paper and a pen. She made her way back over to Becca, and set the items down on the table in front of her. “Thanks.” Becca said absentmindedly as she picked up the pen, put it to the paper, and began to draw. Minutes passed…and the first tattoo design began to take shape on the page. It was a Celtic snake tattoo design with intricate knotwork. One she remembered having on her arm. Fia peered over Becca’s shoulder curiously and her eyes widened upon seeing the accuracy with which Becca was currently drawing the snake tattoo. She even recognized the spells. “How is she doing that?” She demanded. “Silence, Fia.” Dealande scolded. “She’s remembering.” Her tone was solemn. Becca completed the snake tattoo, ripped the page from the pad, and started drawing the next tattoo she recalled. This one was a cat. After the cat tattoo design was finished, Becca drew a majestic fox. After that a unicorn. The last tattoo Becca recalled was an elaborate dragon tattoo design. The dragon was serpentine, elegant, sleek, and deadly. All of the Druids had surrounded Becca at this point and had been watching her draw. “Not bad.” Nathair praised as he watched her working on the dragon tattoo. While Becca continued to draw it was like she was in a hypnotized or possessed state. Her body seemed to be moving on its own. Once Becca finished the final detail on the dragon tattoo design her pen suddenly stopped moving. Becca looked down at the extraordinary dragon tattoo design that apparently she’d drawn and blinked. “Whoa…did I really draw this? I’m good.” She looked up to see all of the Druid Vampire Hunters had surrounded the table and had been watching Becca draw her tattoo designs with interest. They all appeared to be as shocked and bewildered as she felt. Becca was surprised to note the admiring look Nathair was giving her drawings. He was even holding some of them and looking them over with a critical eye. “Indeed you did, child.” Dealande said in a pleased tone. Becca stared down at the dragon tattoo design. “It’s like these images were trapped inside of my head, shouting to be let out. I…remember them.” Her head started throbbing again. “Ugh.” “These are the battle tattoos you wore in your past life as a Hunter.” Dealande explained. “I think these are excellent choices. After all you should be familiar with them and how to use them in battle.” She said confidently. Becca frowned at Dealande’s words. Familiar with them? “Yeah.” Maybe. Her stomach was twisting in knots. No pressure or anything. “Nathair will be the one to give you your tattoos. He is our tattoo artist. Nathair will be able to recreate your designs flawlessly.” Dealande said proudly. Becca shot Nathair a wary look. The creepiest, nastiest Hunter was the one who would be giving her her tattoos? Aw man. Becca complained in her mind. He was probably going to make sure it hurt. She swallowed nervously at the thought. Nathair merely nodded in acquiescence. “As you wish, Dealande.” He gathered up Becca’s sketches and began to walk off. He glanced over his shoulder at Becca and gave her an impatient look. “Well, what are you waiting for, woman? Follow me.” Becca pouted. Yep, the nasty attitude was back. Becca followed Nathair up the stairs, down the hall, and to a door. Nathair opened the door, flipped on a light switch, and ushered Becca into his room. “Come on in.” Becca stepped inside of Nathair’s room and immediately wished she hadn’t. She screamed. If Becca had thought Derek’s pet python Nagini had been bad…this was much worse. Nathair’s room was filled with dozens of pet tanks, which all contained live snakes. And all of them appeared to be different species. They were different colors and sizes. There were so many snakes…it was like right out of a horror film. And Becca was so not good with horror. Becca backed away and her back hit the closed bedroom door. She covered her mouth with her hand, her eyes wide with fear. She heard Nathair let out a heavy, resigned sigh. Like he was used to this kind of reaction. Nathair set Becca’s sketches down on the night table that was directly next to his huge four-poster bed. He turned around and glared at Becca. “Are you done screaming like a girl?” He sneered. Becca’s sudden indignation cut through her fear and she lowered her hand to glare back at Nathair. “I am a girl. And besides any normal girl would scream upon seeing this many pet snakes. It’s a wonder you’re not still single!” She laughed. Nathair stiffened at her words and remained tellingly silent. Becca stopped laughing and her expression turned apologetic. “Oh…sorry…you are still single, aren’t you? Well, no big surprise there. There aren’t a lot of girls who could put up with this.” Becca looked at all the snakes. “And I thought Derek’s python was bad.” She shuddered upon remembering the gigantic python. Nathair’s interest was piqued. “Derek has a pet python?” Becca nodded. “Yep. And get this, he named her Nagini. Can you believe that?” Nathair had to stifle a laugh. Becca noticed and continued. “He feeds her rats. She has yellow and brown scales, and she must be at least five feet long!” “Really? I wonder what species she is. She’s probably a ball python…” Nathair wondered aloud, a twinkle in his dark eyes. Becca raised her eyebrows at the Druid. “Why don’t you try talking to him? I’m sure he’d be happy to tell you. In fact, I bet you two would have a lot to talk about since it seems like you guys have things in common.” Nathair let out a disgusted snort, and gave Becca a look of disbelief. “Keh, I don’t have anything to say to a vampire. Hurry up and get on the bed, woman. And take off your shirt.” Becca blinked at his words and her expression turned amused. “Are you always this domineering when it comes to women?” She teased mischievously as she looked Nathair in the eyes and took off her shirt without breaking eye contact. Nathair blushed as Becca’s black, lacy bra was revealed. He gulped nervously and his eyes widened slightly. She was beautiful…and her chest was huge. She was even bigger than Fia - not that he’d checked Fia out or anything. Becca tossed her shirt aside and sauntered over to the bed. She wasn’t shy or ashamed of her body. If you got it - flaunt it. That was her motto. She made sure to sway her hips teasingly and could feel Nathair’s burning gaze on her behind. Score one for Becca. Nathair shook his head in disbelief. “Are you always this slutty?” Becca got on the bed and lay down. “Yep.” She replied, unashamed. Nathair made a sound of disgust and went to get his tattooing tools. He picked up a stainless steel tray, and put his vials of ink, tattoo gun, disposable needles, disinfectant supplies, and a clean towel on the tray before approaching the bed. He set the tray down next to Becca and sat on the bed. “Where would you like the snake tattoo?” Becca pointed to the location on her arm where she recalled her original tattoo had been. “Right here.” “Got it.” Nathair cleaned and disinfected the spot on Becca’s arm. He attached a small needle to his tattoo machine and began drawing an outline of the snake tattoo under her skin. Once the outline was finished he washed it with antiseptic soap and water. “How’s that looking?” Nathair questioned. Becca sat up and looked down at the snake design on her arm. It was perfect. It looked just like the one she used to have…it was even the exact same size. “It’s perfect. You’re a really good artist.” But then she frowned. It felt wrong having someone other than Derek tattoo her body. “Is something wrong?” Nathair asked, sensing her unease. “If there’s anything you want to change now’s the time.” Becca shook her head, deciding against telling him the truth. “No. You can keep going.” She lay back down on the bed. Nathair installed a thicker needle into his tattoo gun and began shading the design. After cleaning the tattoo again he began to inject the blue ink. Periodically, he used the clean towel to dab the blood away from the tattoo. Becca couldn’t get over how gentle Nathair was being. She’d expected him to tattoo her hard and rough. “You okay?” The Druid asked as he used a clean towel to dab at the blood on her skin again. “Yeah, it doesn’t hurt so bad. I’m surprised. Thank you for being so gentle.” Becca smiled up at him. “I’m not being gentle.” Nathair objected as he continued to work. While Becca watched Nathair work she was surprised by how much he was reminding her of Derek in that moment. The two guys would probably get along really well. And they were both artists so would have a lot to talk about. It was a shame that the Druid Vampire Hunters viewed Derek as their enemy. Nathair seemed like such a scary guy at first, but…his hands were gentle. Maybe he wasn’t such a bad guy after all. Becca mused. Maybe he was the misunderstood type. Nathair finished tattooing Becca’s snake tattoo, and cleaned the area that now sported her finished tattoo. Next, he started on her cat tattoo. After that he tattooed her fox tattoo. Hours later, when the pain finally became too much for Becca, and tears had sprung to Becca’s eyes, Nathair stopped. He set his tattoo gun down and dabbed at the blood on Becca’s fox tattoo. “That’s all I’ll do for today. I’ll give you another tattoo tomorrow.” Becca sat up and was surprised to see a tissue being held up in front of her face. Becca gratefully took the tissue and dabbed at her teary eyes. “Thank you.” “Keh, just doing my job.” Nathair grumbled. Becca looked down at the tattoos on her arms. “They’re amazing.” She breathed. They were so beautiful - incredible works of art. Nathair blushed at her praise, and lowered his head to hide it. “Thank-” The door opened and in stepped Dealande and Fia. Dealande approached the bed and smiled. “Good job, Nathair. I can feel the power singing from these tattoos.” Dealande said as she let her hand hover over Becca’s tattoos. “They will be very powerful and useful in battle. I am going to heal you, Becca, so that you can begin your training with Fia immediately. There isn’t a moment to lose.” A golden light began to surround Dealande’s hand and then Becca’s tattoos began to heal. The slight pain she’d still felt faded away. “Wow.” Becca said when Dealande finished healing her and pulled her hand away. “Thanks.” She looked up and when she did she noted that Nathair had already left the room. Fia had her hands on her hips, and an impatient look on her face. “Let’s get this over with. I have important things to do. Hurry up and follow me, Becca.” The female Druid spun on her heel and stalked out of the room. “Ah, wait up!” Becca hopped off the bed, grabbed her shirt, put it on, and ran after Fia in her Jimmy Choos. Fia led Becca through the townhouse until they reached a door. Fia opened it, flipped on a few light switches, and ushered Becca inside. The room they entered was a spacious room with a polished, gleaming wood floor. One area of the floor was covered in blue exercise mats, and Becca could imagine the Druids sparring there. She also saw a rack with hand weights off to one side, and one wall was completely covered in mirrors. As Fia and Becca stood a few feet away from each other, Becca couldn’t help but look at her and Fia’s reflections in the mirrors. Fia was dressed in her sleeveless, hooded vest, black leather pants, and boots. Meanwhile, Becca was dressed in a red shirt, black skirt, and red high heels. She didn’t look like a warrior at all. In fact, she looked more like a curvy runway model. “Now, first you need to learn how to summon your battle tattoos. This part is easy. And I’m sure that this will be a piece of cake for the Savior. You summon your magical power and will the tattoo you want to rise off your skin and materialize. You also picture how big you want the creature to become in your mind. It’s all about your strength of will. You just will it to happen…like so.” Fia raised her right arm, summoned her magical power, and her owl tattoo began to peel off her skin and materialize. In seconds a large barn owl with a translucent, black, shimmery body was hovering directly in front of Fia, and flapping its wings. “Ooo.” Becca clapped, impressed. A muscle beneath Fia’s eye ticked. “Now, you try.” “If you say so.” Becca raised her arm and concentrated on trying to get her new snake tattoo to manifest. Becca closed her eyes, concentrated, and willed it to happen. She opened her eyes to see nothing had happened. Zip. Nada. Zilch. She closed her eyes, concentrated, and tried again. “Mmm! Nnngh!” She made constipated noises and opened her eyes, but still nothing. Fia’s eye twitched in irritation. “Hmm, maybe mine’s broken or something.” Becca said as she poked at the snake tattoo on her arm. “Hey you…come on…wake up. Yeah, maybe he’s asleep. Wakie wakie.” Fia clenched her hands into fists out of anger. “This isn’t a game, Rebecca. This is serious. Perhaps, what you need is a little incentive for summoning your battle tattoo.” “Incentive? Like cake?” Becca asked hopefully. Fia smiled evilly and waved her hand through the air in a regal manner. “Owl! Attack Rebecca!” The owl flew at Becca with its talons raised before it. “Eek!” Becca covered her head and ran. “What are you doing? Call it off! Call it off!” She squealed as she ran across the training room from the owl that was dive-bombing her. “No.” Fia said coldly with this air of superiority around her. “I want you to fight, Becca.” “But I can’t…!” Becca shouted as she continued to run and dodge the owl’s dive-bombing attacks. “I can’t do this! I’m not a fighter. I’m just…a writer!” “I thought you were a Hunter.” Fia countered as she stared down her nose at Becca. The owl swooped down at Becca and she raised her arms to protect her face. The owl clawed at Becca’s arms. “Ow!” Becca cried out in pain and looked down at her arm in disbelief to see the bleeding scratches there. “It hurt me!” Her tone was tinged with surprise. “That’s the idea, Becca.” Fia sighed in an irritated way. Becca looked down at her wound - the red blood. Drip, drip, drip… The owl swooped down to attack Becca again. Becca shielded her face and screamed. “No! Stay away!” She closed her eyes. Becca’s snake tattoo peeled off her skin, materialized, and leapt at the owl. The snake coiled itself around the owl’s body and one of its wings. Unable to remain airborne the owl and snake ended up crashing to the floor. Becca opened her eyes to see what had happened and was surprised to see her snake tattoo battling the owl tattoo. The snake wrapped around the owl’s neck and bit into the owl’s neck. The owl let out a screech before it exploded into a puddle of black ink. Becca watched dazedly as the ink slid over the floor and headed back to Fia. The snake remained close to Becca. Fia frowned as her owl tattoo returned to her arm. “Not bad. But you still didn’t mean for that to happen. That was just beginner’s luck.” Fia unzipped the front of her jacket to reveal an intricate stag tattoo with enormous antlers in black ink. “This is how you really summon a battle tattoo.” The stag tattoo began to peel off of Fia’s flesh and materialize. The stag was enormous, and so were its sharp, deadly antlers. If it were truly alive the creature would have weighed three hundred pounds. It had a translucent body made of black ink. Becca backed away until her back was pressing against the mirror. The stag was truly frightening, especially with its big, black liquid eyes staring right at her in an eerie manner. “Destroy the snake.” Fia commanded her stag. The stag charged the snake and the snake attacked in retaliation, rearing up and hissing. However, the stag stepped down on the snake’s back with its hoof and the snake exploded into blue ink. “So weak.” Fia sneered. The stag set it sights on Becca next as she eyed its sharp antlers warily. “Y-You wouldn’t. Right, Fia?” Fia smiled coldly. “Stag, attack!” The stag charged Becca, and ducked its head low, preparing to run Becca through with its antlers. Becca screamed as she dived out of the way. The stag’s antlers hit the mirror and it shattered. From her position on the floor, Becca covered her head with her arms as shards of glass showered down upon her. The stag wasn’t done yet and turned to attack Becca again. Becca scrambled across the floor and over the shards of glass that now covered the floor. They cut into her hands and knees. Fia’s lip curled in disgust as she watched Becca trying to escape her stag in such a cowardly manner. “I can’t believe you’re the one destined to save this city.” She sneered. “My Grandmother must be mistaken. I’m more powerful and skilled than you! Why can’t I be the Savior! Why can’t it be me! How could a vampire’s lover be the savior of this city?” She demanded. Becca pushed herself to her feet and spun around to face the stag. She raised her trembling arms and concentrated on her cat tattoo. Her cat tattoo rose from her arm, materialized, and leapt at the stag in attack. However, the stag moved its head and the cat ended up impaling itself on the stag’s antlers. Becca flinched at the gruesome sight and watched her cat tattoo explode into a shower of blue ink. The stag charged Becca again, and she screamed and ran from it. Fia yawned. This was so boring. Becca was barely putting up a fight. She was so pathetic. Becca continued to run, dodge and trip her way away from the stag. Then Becca’s heel broke and she fell to the floor flat on her face. She flipped onto her back and scrambled backwards as the stag approached her. Becca raised her arm and concentrated on her fox tattoo next. Come on, come on. “A-Attack!” Becca ordered the fox, which had quickly materialized. “Stay away from the antlers!” The fox attacked the stag and used its agility to avoid its antlers. However, the fox’s body was weak and flickering in and out of existence. “Weak, so weak.” Fia mocked. “Your magical power is so weak.” The fox leapt up at the stag and latched onto its neck. The stag let out a sound of distress and swung it neck while trying to get the fox to let go. Then the stag charged the wall and the fox was rammed into it. The fox exploded into blue ink. Becca stood up and backed away from the stag until her back hit a wall. “You’re all out of battle tattoos, Becca.” Fia drawled. “What will you do now? Beg for mercy?” She laughed. The stag approached Becca with purposeful steps. “M-M-Mercy.” Becca begged, her body trembling out of fear. She’d seen just what those antlers were capable of firsthand. Fia laughed, thoroughly enjoying herself. This is kind of fun. She looks so afraid. Becca shut her eyes, absolutely terrified. But then her lower back began to tingle, and Derek’s butterfly tattoo began to peel off her skin. The butterfly materialized and flew up to place itself between Becca and the stag. Becca opened her eyes. “The butterfly…!” Derek’s tattoo… The butterfly opened its mouth to reveal sharp, tiny, pointy teeth. It attacked the stag and bit it right on the nose. The stag reared its head and shrieked in pain. The butterfly didn’t budge and flapped its wings. A sparkling, shimmery powder came off the butterfly’s wings and blinded the stag. “What? What’s happening? How is it doing that? How is that possible? What spell is that?” Fia demanded angrily. “I’ve never seen anything like it before.” Blind, the stag panicked and took off running. “No! Stop!” Fia cried out. Too late. The stag ran right into a wall and exploded into a shower of black ink. “Nooo!” Fia shouted angrily. The butterfly flew back over to Becca and hovered protectively in front of her. Fia was furious and she glared at the butterfly with obvious disgust. “That’s the tattoo the vampire gave you, isn’t it? You’re so pathetic, Becca. Still being protected by him. You’re never going to be one of us. I don’t care what my Grandmother says. I’ll never accept you as a Hunter!” She sneered. “Hey, give me my phone back.” Becca held out her hand and tried not to show Fia that she was still trembling. Fia raised an eyebrow at Becca. “You can’t be serious?” “Dead serious.” Becca shot back and the butterfly opened its mouth to reveal its sharp teeth at Fia. Fia swallowed at the sight and reached into her pants pocket for Becca’s phone. “Alright, fine. Here.” The Huntress tossed Becca the phone. Becca caught it. “Thanks.” At that moment, Fean and Ti entered the training room and their eyes widened when they caught sight of the broken mirror, bloody shards on the floor, and the state Becca was in. “Oh my God. Fia! What did you do?” Ti demanded in an accusing tone. “Nothing.” Fia huffed and flipped her long hair over her shoulder. “Just a little training. That’s all.” “That’s a load of crap. She looks absolutely terrified.” Fean gave Becca a sympathetic look. Fia rolled her eyes. “If she can’t handle me…there’s no way she’ll be able to handle a vampire. I still don’t think this girl is the Savior we’re looking for.” She stalked out of the training room without a backward glance. As soon as Fia had left the room, Becca slid down the wall. Ti and Fean rushed to Becca’s side with concerned looks on their faces. “Fean, go grab a first-aid-kit.” Ti ordered her brother. “You got it, sis.” Fean ran out of the training room. Ti eyed the butterfly tattoo that was still protecting Becca. “Derek put a very powerful spell on that tattoo. He also put a little of his own blood magic into it…in order to protect you. He must really care about you. He may be a vampire but…maybe he’s not all bad. Don’t tell my bro I said that though.” Ti offered her a wry smile. Becca looked up, gave Ti a surprised look, and smiled tremulously back. “Don’t worry, I won’t.” “Don’t think too badly of Fia. Keane, the Hunter who was killed here in San Francisco, was her fiancé. So she’s been through a lot lately.” Ti explained. Becca’s eyes widened at this revelation. “Really? I’m sorry.” Ti nodded. “Fia’s parents were also Druid Vampire Hunters who were killed by vampires when she was very young, so she holds a lot of hatred in her heart for vampires or those who associate with them.” “What about you?” Becca asked curiously. “My parents were also Hunters…but they were killed by vampires when Fean and I were just babies. I don’t even remember them. I don’t know if that’s worse or better than Fia who can remember her parents. Dealande and Vortigern raised my brother and I, and trained us as Hunters. They’ve always gone pretty easy on us though.” Ti smiled at the thought. “Do you hate vampires too?” Becca asked. “Well…sure. They’re evil, aren’t they? But I’m also not the type to place the blame on someone without solid proof that they deserve it. You know?” Ti shrugged. “Well, at least I’ve always had my brother so I’ve never been truly alone like Fia.” “What about Dealande, Fia’s Grandmother.” Becca pointed out. “Sure, Fia has her Grandmother, but she was closest to Keane. Dealande has molded Fia into the ‘perfect’ Hunter. I think her Grandmother was hoping that the Savior she had visions about all her life was her Granddaughter, but it turned out to be you.” Ti gave Becca a sympathetic pat on her arm. That’s when Ti noticed the phone Becca was holding and the cell phone strap. “Is that Catwoman?” Becca looked down at the cell phone strap and smiled. “Yeah.” She thought about how Derek had a Batman cell phone strap. “I wish I could be more fearless like Catwoman.” Ti tapped her chin in thought. “Maybe we should try and find you a whip?” Becca laughed and Ti joined her. Fean returned a few minutes later with the first-aid-kit and the brother-sister duo tended to Becca’s wounds. Afterwards, Becca was all covered in bandages and she felt like a Mummy. She took off her high heels, and lamented her broken heel. She let out a heavy sigh. “My poor shoes…” Ti eyed Becca’s torn up outfit. “Hey, I have some clothes that might fit you. If you’d like you can borrow them?” Becca gave Ti a grateful look and set her high heels aside. “That would be great, thanks. I guess the time for high heels and skirts is over…for now. Got any pants and boots?” “Tons.” Ti assured. “I hope you like the color purple and leopard print stuff though because that’s all my sister ever wears.” Fean spoke up. “She’s weird.” “Shut up, Fean.” Ti shoved his arm. “You’re the weird one. Who pierces their lip…ewww!” Ti and Fean looked like a couple of Goth punks…but they were very friendly. Becca mused. Maybe her time there with the Druid Vampire Hunters wouldn’t be all bad. To be continued in…Tattoo 9: Unicorn Chapter 9: Unicorn Derek, Garth, Malakye, and Levi sat at a table inside Iron Casket watching the people on the dance floor moving to the music. The Goth metal song Covenant was playing. The club goers were all dressed up like medieval princesses or princes, or vampires. A lot of them even had fake fangs. Others were dressed in Goth, punk, or EMO clothing. Derek and the others were keeping a close eye on Dracula’s club and the vampires who were inside it. Unfortunately, the vampires blended right in with the Goth human crowd. But Derek was able to sniff them out, and of course his Archenemy Slaine sitting at a table full of them was a dead giveaway! Derek nodded his head in the direction of the table where Slaine and his posse of vampires were seated. “Check it out. Two o’clock. They’re all real vampires. The one in the kimono is my Archenemy Slaine - the one who killed my wife Cinnia more than two millennia ago.” Derek said in a low voice so that only his friends could hear. Garth, Malakye and Levi turned to look at the table filled with vampires. Slaine was dressed in a red and white male kimono. This was one mostly white with the design of red flames on the bottom. Koko and Yoko were seated on either side of him. Koko was dressed in a sexy red and black kimono, and black knee boots. Yoko was dressed in a white and black kimono with the pattern of black birds on it. Yoko was also wearing a pair of black knee boots. An enormous vampire seated at their table was taking up most of the room. He had long, messy, scraggly black hair, and a full black beard. The vampire was wearing a white, T-shirt, black leather jacket, jeans, and biker boots. His red eyes had a wild look to them. The male was even bigger than Garth at six-nine. He was cracking walnuts with his bare hands and there was this untamed aura about him. Seated next to the hulking vampire was a vampire who could only be described as a ‘gentleman’. He was dressed in a black Victorian-style suit, red cravat, and black top hat with a red ribbon around it. A large black cane with a silver knob shaped like a dragon was leaning against his chair. He had short, curly black hair, a roguish smile, and a cleft in his chin. Perched on his lap was a female vampire who looked like a ballerina. Her blonde hair was pulled back into a tight bun, and she wore a black leather corset and a ballerina skirt of black toile. The vampiress wore ballerina slippers that laced up to her knees. She played with a lock of hair that curled in front of the male’s forehead in a teasing manner before they both leaned in and began to make out with each other passionately. And they didn’t hold back either as their moans and groans could be heard even from where Derek and the others were seated. Also, seated at the table was a vampire dressed like a cowboy. He had shaggy blonde hair, and a black handkerchief was tied around the lower half of his face. The cowboy was wearing a long, black trench coat, leather pants, boots, and a black cowboy hat sat on his head. He wore a belt with a silver skull on it and there was also a skull on his cowboy hat. Next to him and leaning against the table was a black wooden coffin. None of the vampires were wearing sunglasses to hide their red eyes, which Derek thought was either really stupid or just incredibly ballsy. Derek recognized all of them as the usual suspects. These vampires were Dracula’s most trusted and loyal comrades. Some had been with Dracula for centuries. “The big guy’s name is Bergthor. He was a Viking Chief when he was turned sometime during the 10th Century. He’s been with Dracula since then. The one with the top hat is Romanian. He fought with Dracula against the Ottomans in 1462. When Andrei fell in battle Dracula decided to reward him for his loyal service, and turned him. The blonde on his lap is Abelle. She was a famous French ballerina who was turned sometime around 1880. I don’t know why she was turned…but it looks like it had something to do with Andrei. “The vampire who looks like an evil cowboy is named Undertaker. He’s an outlaw gunslinger. He was turned in 1881 after being gunned down by Wyatt Earp in retaliation for having killed Earp’s brother Morgan. The female twins are Koko and Yoko. They’ve been with Slaine since he turned them in Feudal Japan. Don’t let their pretty faces fool you. They’re highly skilled ninja assassins. They’re all bad news. I can’t believe they’re all here in San Francisco at the same place like this. Dracula is definitely up to something.” Derek explained. Levi took a thoughtful sip of his martini. “Now I can see why you called me. San Francisco is screwed.” Garth cracked his knuckles. “When can we take out the trash?” “It isn’t that simple, Garth. First off…there are too many humans around for us to make a move here.” Derek reminded. “We have to wait until they make the first move.” “Well, it looks like they’re busy drinking to me.” Malakye pointed out. “And smooching.” He blushed at the fervent way Andrei and Abelle were making out. “Those two should get a room.” Bergthor was chugging back a beer and laughing heartily at something Undertaker had said. He slapped one of the waitresses on her behind as she passed by too close. Undertaker was busy checking out the hot Goth girls on the dance floor and probably sizing up his dinner or dessert. Koko and Yoko were feeding Slaine pieces of fruit from a large fruit platter they must have ordered. A muscle in Derek’s jaw ticked. “That jerk looks like he’s forgotten all about Becca.” Derek’s eyes widened with a sudden realization. “Holy crap…Slaine knew that Becca was the reincarnation of Cinnia! That’s why he tried to turn her - again. That son of a gun! I’ll kill him!” Derek stood up from his chair, but Levi grabbed him by the arm and sat him back down. “Chill, man.” Levi scolded. “I know you have a bone to pick with him…but like you just said before we have to wait.” “Crap.” Derek ran a hand back through his hair. “This is killing me. I want to kick his butt so badly.” A couple of drunk human males took a seat at the table directly next to Dearg and the others. “Yeah, it totally sucks. I really thought she was into me.” One of the young men was saying loudly. “It’s weird how she said she’d be right back and then she just disappeared.” Another young man added. “You think something happened to her?” One said worriedly. “To Nerezza Cruso? Naw, man…she probably just went home with some other guy. She does it all the time. Hopefully, I’ll have better luck with her next time though.” “Yeah, that woman is hot.” “I know, right?” The conversation caught the interest of Derek and the others at the mention of their friend Nerezza Cruso. Levi turned his chair around to face the young men. “Sorry to disturb you gentlemen, but I happen to be a friend of Nerezza’s. What was that you were saying about how she just disappeared?” “It happened a few nights ago and she hasn’t been to the club since. She was about to tell me to leave the club with her, but then a waiter came up to her and said that the owner of the club Mr. Tepes wished to speak with her. She never came back.” The young man explained. “Hey, now that I think about it…what if she ended up hooking up with Mr. Tepes?” One of the young men suggested. “Thanks for the information, guys.” Levi nodded in thanks, and turned his chair back around to face Derek and the others. “Son of a gun.” Derek swore. He’d overheard everything. “I can’t believe Dracula is using that name again, Vlad Tepes.” “People probably think he legally changed his name to that for kicks and giggles. He is the owner of a Goth club.” Levi reminded. “So what’s the plan? If Dracula really has Nerezza…we can’t just sit here and do nothing.” Garth rumbled. “We have to save her.” “No kidding. Nerezza is our friend.” Levi stood up. “Let’s go pay Dracula a visit.” Derek stood up as well. “Indeed.” Garth stood up and cracked his neck from side-to-side. “Oh, hell yes.” The three gave Malakye an expectant look. Malakye pouted at them. “Are you guys sure this is such a good idea? I mean, this is Dracula we’re talking about here.” Garth pulled Malakye out of his seat. “Come on, kid.” Derek, Levi, Garth and Malakye headed towards the stairs, which led to the second floor. They went up the stairs and started down the hall towards Dracula’s office. However- Bergthor, Slaine, Andrei and Undertaker stood in their way. “And just where do you think you’re going, Derek?” Slaine drawled. “Get out of my way, Slaine. I have something I need to ask your Boss.” Derek snarled. Slaine’s eyes narrowed at the Druid. “Well, you won’t be getting past us, so I suggest asking me what it is you want to know.” “A friend of ours disappeared at this club a few days ago. Her name is Nerezza Cruso. I know Dracula has her. Where is she?” Derek demanded. “I don’t-” Slaine began. However, Undertaker cut him off. “What say you we make a deal? If one of your guys can defeat Bergthor in a fistfight we’ll tell you what you want to know. Whaddaya say?” He suggested in his southern drawl. “Garth, it looks like you’re up, buddy.” Levi patted Garth on his shoulder. “Let’s take this up to the roof. There are too many humans around here.” Undertaker said before strolling off and heading for the door at the end of the hall which led to a stairwell. Levi and the others followed the vampires into the stairwell, and up the stairs. Undertaker opened the door to the roof and everyone exited outside. A blast of chill wind hit all of them. Derek looked up to see a clear but depressing gray sky. “Garth, wait.” Derek grabbed Garth’s shoulders and pulled him aside. “Don’t get angry. Not yet anyways. We can’t reveal all our cards to these guys just yet.” Garth grinned, revealing his sharp canines. “Don’t worry, I feel you.” Derek, Levi, Malakye, Undertaker, Slaine and Andrei formed a circle around Garth and Bergthor, like a fighting ring. Garth got into a fighting stance and Bergthor just stood there. “Argh!” Garth charged the vampire Viking and delivered a fierce right hook to the side of Bergthor’s face, using all of his monstrous strength. However, Bergthor just smiled amusedly as his head was turned slightly to the side by the blow he’d taken. “No frigin way. He just took one of Garth’s punches and remained standing.” Malakye breathed in shock. Bergthor returned the punch and Garth took it in kind. Garth’s head turned slightly to the side as well, but he too remained standing. “Whoo wee.” Undertaker whistled through his teeth. “Their man ain’t no pushover. I’ve never seen a guy stay standing after getting punched by Bergthor!” “Derek has acquired some interesting friends, it appears.” Slaine sneered bitterly. “I thought you didn’t do the whole friend thing, Derek. Since you were too chicken that I’d kill them!” Derek clenched his fists angrily at his sides at Slaine’s words and was about to respond when Levi beat him too it. “I’d like to see you try killing us, vampire.” Levi let his eyes flash gold. “That guy can’t be human…but he’s not one of us either. Just what is he?” Andrei wondered aloud about Garth. Garth and Bergthor began to exchange incredibly powerful punches that had them skidding across the rooftop as they took the blows. Bergthor grabbed Garth by his shoulders, bent him over, and jammed his knee into Garth’s stomach. Garth gasped in pain as he saw stars, but acted fast and sent his elbow flying into Bergthor’s face in retaliation. They leapt away from each other and both males were panting for breath. Sweat was pouring off their bodies and both appeared to be tiring. It was only a matter of time before only one male remained standing. “Come on, Garth. Kick his butt!” Malakye blurted. Derek and Levi shot Malakye surprised looks since Malakye was a self-proclaimed pacifist. Malakye noticed their looks. “What? I don’t want Garth to lose.” Garth shook his head to clear it of the cobwebs. His head felt like a jar full of marbles that were rattling around. Oh, yeah, that was probably his brain rattling around in his skull. Dang, Bergthor hit hard! But he couldn’t get angry. Derek had told him not to get angry. But…he needed to end this fight before he passed out. Garth charged Bergthor and the Viking did the same. Their ensuing attacks were vicious. Bergthor headbutt Garth who stumbled back seeing stars. Garth roared out in anger, charged Bergthor, grabbed him around the waist, and tossed Bergthor over his head in a suplex move. As Bergthor landed hard on top of the roof floor he created a small crater there. Bergthor managed to wrestle away from Garth, and prepared to attack again. However- The air around everyone began to tingle as if electrically charged and then feel heavy. A strange animal sound filled the air, and a black cloud descended upon the roof. As the cloud got closer it was revealed to be a swarm of black bats. The bats descended upon the roof, coalesced, and materialized into none other than Dracula. Dracula was dressed in his usual slick suit and glossy mink coat, cane in hand. “What is the meaning of this?” “Master, I can explain. I-” Undertaker began. “Acted on your own again, didn’t you, Undertaker? You know how much I hate it when you do that. What is a man to do to earn a little respect around here?” Dracula drawled and suddenly his aura became even more intense, overwhelming and powerful. Derek and the others thought they could see the dark aura flaring around the vampire like black flames. Everyone on the roof began to be affected by the mere aura of Dracula’s presence. And were brought to their knees by it. “What’s happening?” Malakye asked as he sunk to his knees. “It’s Dracula…he’s unleashing his power. This is his battle aura.” Derek explained through gritted teeth as he finally ceded to the power pushing down on his body and sunk to his knees as well. “Crap…he’s strong. I can’t resist.” Levi grumbled as he sank to his knees. If only I had my trident with me. Dracula smiled at the sight of everyone on their knees before him. “Now that’s more like it. Down on your knees before your true Master.” “You’re not my Master!” Derek countered. Dracula strolled over and studied Levi and Garth curiously. “Derek, you’ve brought me some very interesting specimens. Two demons and…” He glanced at Malakye and gave him a dismissive look. “A house plant.” Malakye flushed. Dracula looked down at Garth with a calculating look on his face. “You are the first man who has been able to withstand Bergthor’s punches in centuries.” Garth just glared up at Dracula fearlessly. “And you show no fear of me. Fascinating. I’ve taken an interest in you, demon. I think I’ll take you with me back to my estate. We have much to discuss.” Dracula pulled out a syringe and flung it at Garth’s neck. The syringe imbedded itself in Garth’s neck, and Dracula used his telekinesis to press down on the plunger. Garth’s eyes rolled into the back of his head and he passed out cold. “Garth!” Derek and the others shouted in concern and anger. Dracula picked Garth up and slung him over his shoulder. “I’ll be taking this specimen with me. Slaine, Undertaker, Bergthor, Andrei. Kill the others - I have no use for them.” “Hey, I’m feeling insulted here.” Levi sneered. “What am I - chopped liver?” “Yes, Master.” Undertaker, Bergthor, and Andrei said. Slaine remained silent. Dracula summoned his wings and two enormous, black bat-like wings emerged from his body and spread behind him. The ancient vampire took off into the night with Garth. As soon as Dracula left the roof his hold over everyone faded, and the pause in battle was broken. All hell broke loose. “Dracula! You jerk! Get your butt back here!” Derek roared up at the night sky before summoning his magical power and willing his dragon tattoo’s wings to emerge from his back. The blue shimmery wings emerged and spread behind him. With a flap of his wings Derek began to ascend. However- Undertaker acted fast, grabbed his whip, and shot it out towards Derek so that it wrapped around Derek’s ankle. Undertaker then used all of his strength to slam Derek back down onto the roof floor with a loud thwack. Derek was so stunned and hurt by the sudden blow that the wings on his back disintegrated. Slaine unsheathed his samurai sword in one fluid motion, and held it at Undertaker’s throat. “I thought I already made myself clear earlier. The only one who can kill Derek Dearg - is I.” His eyes glowed red in warning. Undertaker put his hands up in surrender and loosened his hold on the whip. “Whoa, there. He’s all yours, partner.” Slaine pulled his sword away from Undertaker’s throat and attacked the fallen Derek. Derek rolled out of the way as Slaine slashed his sword down where Derek had been lying only seconds before. Slaine’s sword impacted with the roof’s floor, made a small crater there, and pieces of concrete flew up into the air. Derek leapt to his feet and willed his python tattoo to materialize to block Slaine’s next attack. Derek made sure to pour a lot of magical energy into the python so it wouldn’t just disintegrate when Slaine brought his sword down upon it. “What game are you playing at, Slaine?” Derek demanded. Slaine smirked in a cocky fashion. “No game.” “First you save me, then you try to kill me.” Derek countered. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. And I already told you. The only one who can kill you - is I!” Slaine argued as he attacked Derek with his katana again. Meanwhile, Bergthor, Undertaker, and Andrei had set their sights on Levi and Malakye. Bergthor let out a roar as he charged towards Levi. Levi braced himself for the attack. However, Malakye put his foot out and ended up tripping Bergthor on purpose. Bergthor stumbled forward and landed smack on his face. He was knocked out cold. “Thanks for that.” Levi smirked at Mal. “You little smart aleck!” Undertaker reached into his trench coat and whipped out two massive guns. “Oh, you’ll pay for that.” He fired at Malakye. “Look out!” Levi pushed Malakye to the roof floor. “I missed.” A muscle below Undertaker’s eye ticked in irritation. “I never miss.” He raised his guns again. “I’ll take Undertaker.” Levi said to Mal. “You handle Andrei.” “You got it.” Malakye quickly agreed. Levi stood up and charged Undertaker. Undertaker fired, and Levi dodged some of the bullets but not all of them. A bullet pierced his shoulder and another imbedded itself into his thigh. He was immortal and would heal eventually, so he didn’t really give a hoot about a little pain. Malakye, on the other hand, was tougher than he looked, but not immortal. “Son of a gun.” Undertaker swore as he continued to fire at Levi, who didn’t slow his approach, and ended up getting past the cowboy’s defenses. Levi grinned cockily as he punched Undertaker hard across the face. Andrei held his cane up before him and revealed that it concealed a sword. He unsheathed his sword and pointed it at Malakye. Malakye blinked. “A sword master? Well, two can play at that game.” Malakye whipped out a piece of wood that resembled a sword’s hilt. He held it out before him in a two-handed grip. Andrei looked at the sword hilt, which had no blade, snorted, and raised an eyebrow at Malakye. “You expect to fight me with that little stick, boy?” Malakye smiled and summoned his psychic powers. He let out a battle cry. A blue blade of psychic energy shot out of the sword hilt and solidified. Derek, Levi, and the vampires all gawked at Malakye in shock. “Holy crap. Since when does Malakye have a light saber?” Derek demanded. “It’s not a light saber. It’s an energy saber.” Malakye corrected. “It’s still really cool.” Levi praised. “Shall we?” Andrei got into a fighting stance. “Bring it.” Malakye got into a fighting stance of his own. The two sword masters charged each other and their swords clashed in a graceful and deadly dance. That’s when the sound of blaring police sirens was heard. “Oh crap, it’s the law!” Undertaker swore. “And whose fault do you think that is, genius?” Andrei chided the cowboy. “They must have heard the gunshots down below. And all of the humans carry cell phones with them these days.” Malakye used Andrei’s distraction to back away from him and approach Levi and Derek. “Hey guys.” Malakye waved them over. “What is it?” Derek questioned. Malakye put a hand on Derek and Levi’s shoulders. “Time to go!” Malakye teleported the three of them to the safety of Derek’s townhouse. The trio materialized in Derek’s living room. Malakye removed his hands from his friends’ shoulders and swayed on his feet. Teleporting multiple people at once was hard! “Let those jerks deal with the cops. I don’t know about you guys, but I have no interest in going to prison again.” Malakye shuddered as he remembered his brief two-year tenure at state prison. Levi ruffled Malakye’s hair. “Don’t worry, Mal. If you’re ever arrested for being The Mummy again we’ll just break you out.” “Dang it, guys.” Derek began, his expression bleak. “What are we going to do about Garth?” Levi grinned. “Dracula has no idea that the little kitty he just took home is actually a big, bad tiger. I wouldn’t worry about him too much. Garth can take care of himself. And…he’ll probably be able to find out where Nerezza is.” “Good deal.” Derek nodded in agreement. “Garth can save Nerezza.” *** That same evening, after Becca and Ti had finished having Becca try on different outfits, the blogger returned to her room. She showered, dried her hair, and got ready for bed. Becca then lit some incense that Dealande had given her so that she could continue her dreams about her past life. She hoped that she would get to find out what had become of poor Hunchback, and hoped that her memories had a happy ending. Becca set the ceramic, lotus-shaped incense burner down on the night table, and then lay down on the bed. She inspected her wounds and the Band Aids on her skinned knees. She was almost feeling sorry for herself when she remembered the horrible torture Hunchback had gone through. Compared to that, her tiny little cuts and bruises were nothing. That’s right, Becca. This is nothing compared to what poor Hunchback went through. As the smell of sandalwood filled the room, her eyes began to drift closed. In seconds, she was fast asleep and began to dream of the past. FLASHBACK Hunchback’s arms were covered in horrible, blistering burns, and his hump riddled with gruesome stab wounds. His back had been truly mutilated, and he’d lost a lot of blood. Dearg and Cinnia quickly took Hunchback back to his cave dwelling deep in the forest. Cinnia began to care for him there. She cleaned his wounds, stitched them closed, applied poultices and unguents, and bandaged his back. Cinnia also applied special salves to the burns on his arms, and bandaged them. By the time Cinnia had finished Hunchback was completely covered in bandages and looked like a Mummy. His feelings were a jumbled mess. At first, he couldn’t really hate the Elite Hunters for what they’d done to him because he felt they were right - he was nothing but a disgusting monster. Or was he? Cinnia cared for him gently, and touched his back and arms without disgust. She only looked upon him with compassion. Day after day, Cinnia would clean his wounds and redress them with fresh bandages. He was so weak from blood loss that he didn’t have the strength to move, and so lay on his side, staring around his cave, and staring at Cinnia when she was there, gracing him with her presence. He never got tired of looking at her. Cinnia really was so beautiful with her long, fiery red hair, and deep, forest-green eyes. Her touch was so soft and gentle on his skin, so innocent. Cinnia at least didn’t think of him as a monster. He was sure of it. Hunchback wasn’t sure when his feelings for Cinnia began to change, or when her touch started to make him burn and ache with need. As she rubbed slave onto the burns on his arms, Hunchback grew aroused. His feelings of friendship for Cinnia were changing into something else. Hunchback realized that he was falling in love with her and he’d begun to lust after her. Every time her gentle hands were on his skin he’d grow aroused. And then he’d feel ashamed and disgusted with himself. Luckily, because of his baggy pants Cinnia never noticed his lust for her. What would she think if she knew? He wondered uneasily. What would she think of his desire for her? His lust? His love? Would she be disgusted? Horrified? Undoubtedly. He was a disgusting monster. If he were to reveal his true feelings to Cinnia she would probably finally gaze upon him with disgust and then run away screaming. He was hideous and the beautiful, brave, courageous Cinnia deserved better. She deserved a man who was whole. Handsome. Powerful. Someone like…Dearg. Hunchback began to curse his existence. His fate. Dang it all! Why? Why did I have to be born this way? Why? He thought angrily. Even though Dearg and Cinnia had accepted him and befriended him, he wasn’t like them. He wasn’t normal. He was a monster. He began to see their friendship as pity. Yes, they pitied him. They didn’t care for him. He was a monster. Monster, Monster, Monster. The word seemed to echo over and over again in his mind relentlessly. Along with another word: Cinnia, Cinnia, Cinnia. Hunchback’s nights were filled with nightmares of the brutal torture he’d went through. The three-fold-death was supposed to kill him and in a way maybe it did. He hadn’t spoken a single word to Dearg or Cinnia since the incident. He would toss and turn all night long, and awake with a silent scream on his lips. He’d clutch his head in his hands and try to get Corann’s cold, merciless voice out of his head. Monster, monster, monster. No, no, no…no! He finally began to hate Corann and the Elite Hunters. He began to hate everyone. He was filled with so much anger and hate it began to consume him. And thoughts of getting revenge began to flicker through his mind. He hated them all…except for Cinnia. Cinnia he loved. Weeks later, Hunchback was finally fully healed. At least, on the outside. Cinnia took care removing his bandages, and ran her hands gently over his newly healed flesh. “You’re fully healed, Hunchback.” Cinnia’s lilting voice was like birdsong to his ears. Hunchback sat up and stared at her. His body had hardened at her touch. He was disgusting. Hunchback opened his mouth and tried to speak. “Th-thank you. Cin…nia.” His throat was dry like sandpaper from lack of use. Cinnia’s eyes widened with happiness and surprise at getting to hear Hunchback’s voice again after so long. “You spoke! You spoke!” Tears shimmered in her forest-green eyes. She leapt to her feet and called out: “Dearg! Get in here! Hunchback spoke!” “Coming!” Came Dearg’s voice from just outside the cave. Hunchback frowned, surprised that Dearg had been so close by. Did Cinnia not trust him to be alone with her? Did she know about his secret lustful desires? Dearg rushed into the cave, ran over to Hunchback, and crouched before him. “How are you doing, my friend?” Hunchback swallowed thickly at the word ‘friend’. “B-Better now…thanks to Cinnia.” Hunchback gave Cinnia an emotional look. She blushed. “Ah, it was nothing.” Dearg offered Hunchback his hand. “Come. Let’s go outside for some fresh air. You’ve been cooped up in here way too long.” Hunchback nodded, placed his hand in Dearg’s, and let his friend help him up. The trio exited the cave and made their way outside. It was a beautiful sunny day with a slight chill in the air. Hunchback took a deep breath of the fresh, crisp air and watched a V-shaped flock of birds passing by overhead. They were probably heading south for the winter. He squinted his eyes as he looked up at the sun he hadn’t seen for so long. The sun…it was so beautiful. It lifted his spirits. He briefly wondered how the vampires could live without the sun. Their lives had to be pretty depressing. The trio sat down together on the stream’s bank, and watched as the water lazily flowed past over the hundreds of round, gray stones. Hunchback found himself smiling. It was nice to be outside like this with his friends. Dearg cleared his throat. “I wanted to wait until you were better to do this, Hunchback.” Dearg turned his attention to Cinnia who was seated next to him and reached out to take her hand in his. “Cinnia, will you marry me? As Head Priest of the Blood Oak Clan, I need you by my side more than ever. Together we can help the clan move in the right direction. Please say ‘yes’, Cinnia.” Cinnia glanced over at Hunchback, who was seated beside her. Hunchback’s eyes were wide with the surprise at Dearg’s sudden proposal. Cinnia nibbled on her lower lip, looking unsure for a moment. “Well…I…” “Cinnia.” Dearg’s deep voice had Cinnia looking at him again. “I love you. And I will always love you. Only you. Forever. That’s a promise.” “Dearg…” Cinnia started, swallowed, but then smiled. “I love you too.” Dearg grinned. “Then…is that a ‘yes’?” Cinnia nodded. “Yes, I will marry you, Dearg.” “Thank the Goddess!” Dearg leapt to his feet and pulled Cinnia up with him. He pulled her into his arms, put his hands on her waist, lifted her up, and spun her around happily. Cinnia laughed in response. “I’m the luckiest man alive!” Hunchback couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Cinnia had actually said ‘yes’ after all this time. After Dearg’s countless proposals, she’d finally said ‘yes’. Dearg’s persistence had finally paid off. Dearg set Cinnia on her feet, reached out to cup her cheek, and leaned in for a kiss. No, no, no. Hunchback thought as he watched. Embarrassed, Cinnia glanced at Hunchback right before Dearg kissed her. Cinnia’s gaze quickly shifted back to Dearg though and then she was closing her eyes and savoring his tender kiss. I do love him. I love Dearg. So I know I’m not making a mistake. Hunchback’s heart broke inside of his chest in that moment. Cinnia had chosen Dearg…and of course she had. He was disgusting monster. He’d never had a chance to begin with. He blinked back his tears and refused to cry in front of them. He swallowed and cleared his throat. “C-C-Congratulations…Dearg, Cinnia. I’m…h-h-happy for you both.” Lies. Total lies. Dearg pulled back from Cinnia and grinned at Hunchback. “Thank you, my friend. That means a lot to me.” Cinnia smiled back at Hunchback, and was it just his imagination or had her smile been a little sad? *** A few days later, Dearg and Cinnia were married by High Priest Corann. Hunchback had been invited to the ceremony, and recalled how a fairy with red hair, blue eyes and a blue dress had fluttered over with a long red cord in her hands to hover directly in front of Cinnia and Dearg. Hunchback had known that this red cord symbolized the red string of fate. “We shall now bind your hands with this red cord, which is like your love, and your vows shall join you fast together in this life, and the next. As your hands are joined so are your lives joined, and so are your souls. You two shall become soul mates, the red string of fate shall bind your souls together, and you will be able to find each other in your next lives. Flower Fairy, do you give your blessing to this eternal union?” High Priest Corann asked. “I give my blessing to this eternal union.” The little fairy said in her tinkling voice that reminded Hunchback of the sound rushing water made as it passed over the rocks in a stream. “Flower Fairy, please bind their hands.” Corann directed. The fairy began to wrap the red cord around Cinnia and Dearg’s hands, and then tied it into a knot. Hunchback gripped his chest in pain. It felt like his heart had just been ripped out of his chest. He could barely breath. He felt faint. “The Fairy of the Woods…” Corann was saying, but Hunchback could no longer hear him. And then when the Ring Fairy rang her bell Hunchback was brought back to reality. He heard Corann saying: “With this ceremony now complete, I hereby declare you to be husband and wife. You may seal your vows with a kiss.” Cinnia and Dearg stepped closer and kissed. Cinnia pulled back but Dearg leaned forward to capture her lips again, and the villagers and Hunters all cheered in response. The ceremony was over, and Dearg and Cinnia were walking together hand in hand towards the Blood Oak Village as villagers threw rice and flower petals over them. Hunchback tried to sneak away, but Dearg and Cinnia approached him directly, and smiled at him as if he were part of their family or something. Ludicrous. Dearg slung his arm around Hunchback’s shoulders and his other arm around Cinnia’s shoulders, grinning like a fool. He turned to Hunchback. “My best friend.” He then looked at Cinnia. “And my beloved wife. I am blessed to have the two of you by my side. Come, let us celebrate…to the great hall!” A grand banquet had been set up in the great hall - a large, wooden building with a slanted roof that was used for special events. All of the villagers, Druid Vampire Hunters, and graduates made their way to the great hall to continue celebrating the binding of Dearg and Cinnia. Everyone feasted until their bellies were bulging, and drank lots and lots of mead until they could barely sit up straight in their chairs. The celebrating went on and on until nightfall. Dearg and Cinnia were seated at the head of the long table that took up most of the room in the great hall, and Hunchback was seated with them. Hunchback was dressed in his dark green, hooded cloak. From under his hood he gazed at everyone, feeling so alone, and apart from all of them. Dearg and Cinnia may have accepted him…but no one else in the village did. Hunchback could feel the hateful glares of Corann and the Elite upon him. He was a blemish on Dearg and Cinnia’s perfect day. His presence ruined this beautiful party. Dearg and Cinnia were getting rather tipsy and couldn’t stop staring at each other. Hunchback finally found his chance to sneak away. He couldn’t stand seeing Cinnia and Dearg together - holding hands and kissing. It was just too painful. It reminded him of the torture he’d undergone at the Hunters’ hands, when they’d stabbed his hump over and over again. Only this time it felt like his heart was being stabbed repeatedly. Hunchback wanted his pain to end. He made his way into the forest, but not before he’d grabbed a long coil of rope to take with him and a wooden stool. He walked until he arrived at the gigantic, white oak tree where Corann and the others had tortured him. A flare of hatred welled up inside of him. And then hopelessness settled upon him when he thought about how he didn’t even have the power to get his revenge on Corann and the Elite. He no longer had his battle tattoos, and ever since he’d been tortured he’d been unable to use his magic. They’d taken his one redeeming quality away from him. Magic. Hunchback approached the white oak, made a noose out of the rope, and tossed it over a low branch. Hunchback tied the other end of the rope to a nearby bush, so that the noose hung down eight feet above the ground. Hunchback placed the stool directly below the noose and stood up on it. He placed the noose around his neck and took a deep breath. “Goodbye, Cinnia. Be happy with Dearg.” He kicked the stool away from him. The noose immediately tightened around Hunchback’s neck and cut off his airways. His body instinctively struggled to survive, as it tried to breathe, but was unable to. Hunchback tried to stay still, but his survival instincts kicked in. He couldn’t help it - his hands reached up and he tried to pull the rope away from his neck. He couldn’t breathe. He needed to breathe! Dang it! Why was his life so unfair? Why did he have to be born deformed? A strange whooshing sound was heard and then Hunchback was falling to the ground. Hunchback coughed violently, pulled the noose off over his head, and tossed it aside. Had the rope broken? He wondered dazedly, and looked up to see an incredible looking man. The man was tall and intimidating at six-six with long, wavy black hair that cascaded down to his waist, and a neatly trimmed moustache. His ruby-red eyes were fierce, intelligent. He had this deadly aura about him. The man was wearing a red shirt with a golden breastplate overtop, brown leather, battle skirt, gold greaves, and a golden helmet with a mohawk of red feathers on it. A long red cloak was waving behind him in the slight wind that was blowing through the forest. Hunchback realized that the man standing before him was a Roman commander, but why would a Roman commander bother to save the likes of him? He wondered confusedly. The commander spoke in a deep voice. “Why do you seek death so badly, boy?” Hunchback stood on shaky legs. “The woman I love just married another man today, and I never even had a chance to woo her because I was cursed with this deformed body. Also, I have not the strength to get my revenge on those who tortured me…and made me lose my magic.” “Ah, so you lost the woman you love today? I can relate to your pain. I too once lost the woman I loved. I begged God to bring her back to me and when he refused I sought to bring her back to life myself. The experiment failed miserably, however.” The commander admitted darkly. A woman’s psychotic, child-like laughter echoed through the forest. “And then God cursed me.” The Roman commander continued. “Cursed you, how?” Hunchback asked curiously. The commander smiled, revealing his long white fangs. “You’re a vampire!” Hunchback exclaimed, taking several steps back until his back hit the trunk of the white oak. “I used to be an Archangel before God cursed me and turned me into a blood-sucking demon. A form, which reflected my sin. So yes, I am what people now call me - a vampire.” The commander spread his arms wide. “Just…who are you?” Even though the Roman commander was a vampire, Hunchback was strangely not afraid. After all, he no longer feared death because he had nothing left to live for, nothing left to lose. “I go by many names and take on many forms. At times I steal people’s identities. But you can call me Dracula. I am the very first vampire. The one who started to spread this curse to others…this thirst for blood. After all, why should I suffer alone?” Dracula questioned. “The Father of Vampires.” Hunchback breathed. “You…you’re a legend.” “Indeed. Being a vampire is as much a blessing as it is a curse…for some. For example, if I were to turn you into a vampire…your deformities would vanish. You would become a very handsome young man. And you would have the power to get your revenge on those who have harmed you.” Dracula smiled and his red eyes glowed. “My deformities would disappear? I would have power…?” Hunchback shook his head of the pleasing thought. “But then, I would become like you…and thirst for blood. I would end up killing the woman I love. That I cannot allow to happen.” “Not if you turn her into a vampire too. Then the two of you could be together for all eternity.” Dracula slyly pointed out. “Eternity…eternity together with Cinnia?” Hunchback’s tone was giddy at the thought. “What must I do? How do I turn her?” Dracula chuckled loudly. “Patience, boy. What is your decision? Shall you become a vampire?” Hunchback thought about it. What did he really have to lose? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Hunchback swallowed, raised his chin, and looked Dracula directly in his blazing, red eyes. “Do it. Turn me.” “Your bravery is commendable.” Dracula praised before he was suddenly in front of Hunchback and sinking his fangs into the young man’s neck. Hunchback gasped at the odd sensation, which was at first painful but then almost pleasurable. Erotic. He felt himself grow aroused and felt embarrassed that a man was making him feel this way. Dracula started to suck his blood and Hunchback’s eyes rolled into the back of his head from the pleasure. He could feel his strength, his life - leaving him. Hunchback sunk to his knees and Dracula lay him on the ground gently as he continued to feed from him. Hunchback’s heartbeat began to slow. He was dying. Dracula removed his fangs, sat back, and bit into his wrist. He held his bleeding wrist over Hunchback’s mouth. “Now, my friend, drink.” Drops of red blood fell onto Hunchback’s lips, and he trembled with disgust, but…this was for a chance at winning Cinnia’s heart, and getting his revenge. Hunchback opened his mouth and the drops of blood fell into his mouth. Ba-thump. Ba-thump. Ba-thump. Hunchback’s heartbeat beat loudly in his ears. His blood rushed through his veins and an intense thirst began to consume him. He grabbed Dracula’s wrist and brought it to his mouth. He licked the blood there and his fangs extended. Hunchback sank his fangs into Dracula’s wrist, and drank and continued to drink. Incredible. He could feel power and strength flowing through him. It felt amazing. However- Then came the pain. Hunchback removed his fangs from Dracula’s wrist, and shoved him away as his body was wracked by excruciating pain. It was more painful than his torture at the hands of Corann and his Elite Hunters. His body convulsed, shook, trembled and his muscles spasmed. His body began to change. His bones grew and changed shape. He became taller and his back straightened. The flesh on his body seemed to stretch and bubble, and then become smooth. His face changed too. Hunchback could feel his deformities disappearing. He wanted to die…when would the pain and misery end? Is that all he was meant to know in this life? And then it stopped. And Hunchback could breathe again. He took deep, gasping breaths. Dracula laughed happily at his latest creation. “It is done. You have been reborn. You a no longer a Hunchback, young man.” Hunchback struggled to stand and couldn’t believe how tall he was. He was now six-four. His back was so straight, and his face…? He brought up his hands and felt his face curiously. His face no longer felt slightly puffy in places. It seemed…normal. “Here. Perhaps you would like to gaze upon your new visage, Slaine.” Dracula handed him a silver hand mirror. “The mirror has been enchanted so that even vampires like us can cast a reflection upon it.” He explained. Slaine took the mirror and gazed upon his reflection. His hands were trembling. He blinked and blinked again. He couldn’t believe it. He was handsome now! Though his snow-white hair was a bit odd. “You called me Slaine?” “You can no longer be called Hunchback.” Dracula pointed out. “And I think Slaine suits you.” “Slaine.” Slaine smiled at his reflection and checked his teeth. They were perfect, and no longer crooked! He was almost as handsome as Dearg or perhaps even as handsome. “I like it. Why don’t vampires cast a reflection?” “It’s because…we have no soul. Surely, your Hunter friends taught you about that?” Dracula asked. Slaine looked up and gave Dracula a surprised look. “No. They never told me about that. Why is that?” A dark, angry look fell over Dracula’s face. “It’s all part of my vampiric curse. When I turn someone his or her soul is sent straight to Hell. The pursuit of immortality is a grave sin against God, you see. He punishes it quite swiftly.” Dracula explained bitterly. “He wants humans to accept the fact that they’re born…only to die.” Slaine was aghast. “My soul…has been sent to Hell! Then…I will never be reincarnated?” “You are immortal now, you have no need to worry about reincarnation. You will be able to roam the Earth for all eternity. Well, at least until the sun turns into a Red Giant and swallows up the Earth. Then we’re all screwed.” Dracula laughed psychotically at the thought. “A Red Giant?” Slaine shook his head, not understanding what Dracula was talking about in the least. “I see…tell me, how do I turn Cinnia?” “You must do exactly as I did. You must first drink from her…until her heartbeat begins to slow. And then as she’s dying…you feed her your blood. It’s the blood that will bring her back to life. However, and this is extremely important…if you don’t feed her your blood she will die and become a soulless, flesh-eating ghoul with no memory of who she once was.” “Teeheeheehee. Teeheeheehee.” A female’s maniacal laughter echoed through the trees again. Slaine looked around the clearing with a feeling of dread welling up inside of him. “What was that?” “That pitiful creature…was once my one true love.” Dracula revealed in a sad tone. “Your love? The woman you mentioned? The one you failed to bring back to life?” Slaine asked. Dracula nodded solemnly. “Indeed. The very same…ah, here she comes now.” A woman broke through the trees and entered the clearing. Her skin was a pale blue color, her hair long and blue-black, and her eyes were a pale blue. She was wearing a white, gauzy dress that was splattered with blood. She held something in her hands. Something that suspiciously looked like a bloody arm. “What do you have there, Neena?” Dracula asked in the tone of voice one used when speaking to a child. “It’s mine! You can’t have it!” Neena declared in a child-like manner before bringing the arm up to her mouth and taking a bite out of it. Slaine cringed at the sight and tried not to gag. “Neena.” Dracula chided. “What did I tell you about eating the villagers prematurely?” Neena pouted. “It’s just he looked so delicious. I couldn’t help myself. Teeheeheehee.” “That is your ladylove? But she’s…a ghoul.” Slaine pointed out the obvious. “Indeed. She looks like my lost ladylove…but that creature there has no soul. And no memory of our time together in the Heavens. It’s a miracle she can even speak.” He gazed upon Neena fondly. “Most ghouls do not even have that ability. Her mind is like that of a child…a child who craves human flesh.” “No memory…?” Slaine looked at Neena and his heart went out to Dracula. “That must be hard.” “That is why you must not fail. I recommend getting your revenge on the Elite Hunters first. That way when you go to your Cinnia you should have your bloodlust under control. You wouldn’t want to accidentally kill her before she’s had your blood.” Dracula explained. Slaine’s eyes narrowed on Dracula. “How did you know about the Elite?” “I saw the entire ordeal, actually.” Dracula revealed. Neena nodded enthusiastically. “We saw! That we did! They tortured you! Poor thing! But now you so handsome! You look so different now, but…I don’t want to eat you anymore. No…I only want living flesh.” “I would have assisted you but…your friends came to your aid first.” Dracula explained. Slaine arched a white eyebrow at Dracula. “And I’m supposed to believe that? You’re a vampire. You would have had no reason to help me.” A dark scowl formed on Dracula’s face. “I am not completely without compassion. Not yet anyways. My brethren and I only feed because we must. It’s for our survival. Your plight touched me and made me feel something I had not felt in such a long time.” Slaine didn’t know what to believe but…it was clear now why Dracula had helped him. He wanted the Elite dead. Lucky for Dracula, Slaine wanted them dead too. “The night is almost over, you must go now if you wish to get your revenge today. Remember sunlight will kill you now.” Dracula reminded. Slaine nodded. “I will. And thank you.” He handed Dracula the hand mirror. Dracula smiled, revealing his fangs. “It was my pleasure. Good luck, Slaine.” “Thanks.” Slaine took off into the forest. To be continued in…Tattoo 10: Bear Chapter 10: Bear Slaine couldn’t believe how fast he could run! It was almost like he was flying through the trees. He could do this. He could actually get his revenge! He reached the village in mere minutes, and raised his hood to shadow his face. As he entered the village no one paid him any heed since his dark green cloak was recognizable. They all thought ‘Hunchback’ was beneath that cloak. I am Hunchback no longer. Slaine thought. He made his way to the building where the Elite and Corann all lived together unmolested. Slaine reached the front door and opened it. It creaked as it opened. Slaine stepped inside and closed the door behind him. As he peered around the interior, he was impressed by his new night vision. He could see almost as clearly inside the cabin as if it were during the day. The cabin had a very simple setup with beds on either side of the room. The Elite including Corann were all fast asleep. In Slaine’s new night vision they appeared to be blobs of red heat. Slaine contemplated killing them one by one in their sleep, but wanted to see the fear in their eyes as he killed them. And wanted them to know who it was that killed them too. “Wakie wakie, Elite. Corann.” Slaine said loudly as he used his new powers to light the torches that were on the walls. The Elite and Corann awoke quickly, and leapt from their beds. They were all fully dressed in their hooded vests, and leather pants. This was typical for them because of their dangerous profession. They needed to be ready to hunt and kill vampires at a moment’s notice. Their hoods were lowered though so Slaine was able to tell who was who. Corann marched forward with an air of authority about him. “Who the hell are you? Reveal yourself or die.” Slaine lowered his hood to reveal his new face. Corann blinked at him in confusion. The young man looked familiar but was still unrecognizable. “I don’t know you.” Slaine chuckled evilly. “Oh, but you do. It’s me, Corann - Hunchback.” Corann gawked, blinked, and took in the familiar hunter-green cloak Hunchback always wore. “Impossible…you…how…?” Slaine smiled to reveal his new fangs. Corann gasped and his expression turned outraged. “Y-You! You traitor! You were turned! You…you don’t care about what will happen to Dearg or Cinnia? You will kill them in that new form! No vampire can resist the thirst.” “I plan to turn Cinnia too. As for Dearg…” Slaine shrugged. “As long as he stays out of my way I have no intention of harming him. Perhaps, I’ll even turn him as well. I haven’t really decided yet.” “You monster!” Corann spat. Slaine’s eyes narrowed. “No. Monster no longer. I am a vampire now. An immortal. A supreme being. I am now superior to you - to all of you!” The vampire waved his hand at the Hunters. “And now I will have my revenge!” He attacked. In a blink, Slaine was in front of Corann and a second later he was sinking his fangs into Corann’s neck. Corann gasped at the sudden pain. “Kill him! Kill…him!” Corann ordered even as blood was gushing out of his throat in a torrent. The Elite began to raise their arms, preparing to summon their battle tattoos. Slaine couldn’t let them do that. He tossed Corann aside and using his superhuman speed began to attack the Elite one by one before they could summon their battle tattoos. One bite, one kick or one punch was all it took to incapacitate the Hunters. They may have known a vampire’s weaknesses, but he knew the weaknesses of the Druids. Without their battle tattoos they were weak. Helpless. Only the tattoos were able to keep up with a vampire’s superhuman speed, reflexes and strength. Slaine moved through the cabin like a malevolent wind, biting here, sending a punch there, and injuring the Druids little by little. He was killing them. Slowly. Just like how they had tried to kill him. An eye for an eye. Slaine began to laugh in maniac glee as he tortured his enemies. “Buwhahaha!” Ah, sweet revenge. The vampire drank from them, and delighted in the knowledge that they would become soulless, flesh-eating ghouls by tomorrow morning. Blood dribbled down Slaine’s chin. “Mmm, you jerks tasted delicious. Thanks for the meal.” He licked his lips with his long tongue. Now to find Cinnia. I’m coming for you, Cinnia, my love! *** Meanwhile, Cinnia was enjoying her marriage night with Dearg, and the first time she’d ever made love with a man. Cinnia and Dearg had made love for hours, and she’d grown quite thirsty as a result. She slipped out of bed, put on a robe, tied it closed, and walked over to the pitcher that was sitting on their kitchen table. She frowned when she found that it was empty. Cinnia began to head for the door when Dearg called out to her in that deep, husky voice of his. “My love, where are you going?” Derek sat up tiredly, but with a pleased, sated expression on his handsome face. “Come back to bed.” “I’m going to go to the well and fetch some water. Our lovemaking has made me very thirsty.” There was a mischievous twinkle in her eyes as she said these words. “I’ll be right back, husband mine.” “No, I’ll go.” Derek began to get out of bed. Cinnia shot him a stern look and raised her hand. “Ah, ah, ah. Just because I agreed to marry you, doesn’t mean I agreed to become your obedient, little wife that needs protecting, Dearg. Don’t forget I’m a Druid Vampire Hunter too. I can take care of myself.” Dearg hesitated, but then sighed while giving Cinnia a chagrined look. “Alright, as you wish, my love. You know I trust and respect your strength as a warrior. Just…hurry back. I’m not quite through with you just yet, wife.” He leered at her and let his eyes linger on her curves. “You are incorrigible!” Cinnia chided, hands on her hips, but then she smiled teasingly. “I’ll be sure to hurry back.” She winked. Cinnia tightened her robe, and left her new home and Dearg behind. She made her way through the village quickly, the moonlight illuminating her way to the large stone well that was in the very center of the village. Cinnia approached the well and set the pitcher on the ledge. She pulled up the well bucket, hoisted it up, and used it to refill her pitcher. She released the bucket back into the well, picked up the pitcher, and turned to go. However, Cinnia gasped, startled by the sudden appearance of a tall, cloaked man directly in front of her, who hadn’t been there before. She dropped the pitcher and it shattered upon the ground. “W-Who are you?” She eyed his dark green cloak. It looked oddly familiar. “It’s me, Cinnia. It’s…Hunchback.” Slaine said. “Hunchback?” Cinnia let out a breath of relief, and placed a hand over her frantically beating heart, feeling silly all of a sudden. “What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be in bed?” “I could be asking you the same thing.” “I was thirsty.” “So was I.” Slaine removed his hood. Cinnia gasped and took a step back. “Hunchback…? What…what did you do?” She then noticed the blood dripping down his chin. “What have you become?” “Handsome, I think.” Slaine smiled flirtatiously at her. Cinnia frowned at his blasé attitude. “No, you’ve become a vampire, haven’t you?” Her expression fell. “How could you? Who did this to you? This…was against your will right? Please, tell me, Hunchback.” Slaine wiped the blood from his face with his cloak before he approached Cinnia. “I did it for you, Cinnia. There’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you…” Slaine took a deep breath to steel his nerves. “I love you.” “You…love me? All this time, you…I suspected, but I thought I must be wrong because you never said anything.” Cinnia frowned. “Why didn’t you ever say anything?” She asked urgently. Slaine snorted. “Pfft. What would have been the point? How could I? I was a monster.” Cinnia shook her head. “No, you were my friend. And you were no monster…you were a kind, sweet young man. But now…I fear you truly have become a monster. Whose blood is that, Hunchback? Who did you kill? Who did you drink from?” She demanded with her hands on her hips. “I killed the ones who tortured me…and stole my magic.” Slaine’s red eyes glowed as he remembered what those Hunters had done to him. “They deserved it, Cinnia. I haven’t harmed anyone else. Yet.” Cinnia gasped as she realized whom Hunchback was referring to. “The Elites…how could you, Hunchback? Did you kill Dearg’s father too? Did you kill Corann?” “Yes, I killed Corann. And I enjoyed it.” Slaine smiled revealing his sharp fangs. “And my name is no longer Hunchback - it’s Slaine.” “Slaine?” Cinnia repeated. We should have given our friend a name. Why did we never think of that? “Cinnia…I love you. And I can offer you something Dearg cannot.” Slaine spread his arms wide and the light of the full moon overhead seemed to illuminate his form. “Immortality. What say you, Cinnia? I can save you from Death itself.” He held his hand out to her. “Immortality? As a vampire? Are you mad?” Cinnia gave Slaine an incredulous look. “I would never want to become a vampire. I would never be able to take the lives of innocents for my own survival. I’d rather die! And I’m surprised you agreed to this. You are not the same man I knew…Hunchback wouldn’t hurt a fly!” Cinnia gave him a betrayed, disappointed look. “Stop calling me that!” Slaine demanded angrily, spit flying. “My name is Slaine now! Slaine!” He roared in her face, and hissed at her, baring his fangs. Cinnia’s expression turned fearful, and she took another step back. Slaine noticed and immediately looked repentant. He covered his mouth with his hand. “I would never hurt you, my love.” Slaine approached her again with an urgent look on his face. “No, stay back! Stay away from me!” Cinnia shrieked. Slaine gave her a frustrated look. “Why are you acting like that? Like I’m some kind of monster now? Before I looked like a monster, and yet you treated me with kindness. And now…now that I’m beautiful you treat me like this. Don’t you find my new body attractive? Why can’t you love me, Cinnia?” Cinnia’s green eyes grew sad. “I do love you…I mean, I did love you, Hunchback. Only, I loved Dearg more. That’s why I decided to marry him. And you’d also never told me about your feelings. So what should I have done? But now…I cannot even bear to look upon you!” “You loved me…?” Slaine shook his head. “Hah! Lies! You chose Dearg because of his handsome face! And now I’m handsome too! I’ll make you fall in love with me, Cinnia! Just like Dearg…I won’t give up. I’ll turn you…and then I’ll have eternity to woo you and get you to fall in love with me!” “No! I won’t let you. I’ll defeat you!” Cinnia raised her arm to summon one of her battle tattoos. However, in a blink, Slaine was directly in front of her. Her eyes widened. He’s so fast! And then Slaine was sinking his fangs into Cinnia’s throat. She struggled against him. “No…stop it, Hunchback. You’re making a horrible mistake. You don’t know what you’re doing. Stop….please, stop…” Tears filled her eyes. As Slaine drank Cinnia’s blood she went limp in his arms, and he gently set her down on the ground. Her blood…so delicious. So sweet. He continued to drink her blood until he could hear her heart making its final beats. It’s time. Slaine removed his fangs from Cinnia and sat back. He bit into his wrist and held his bleeding wrist over Cinnia’s mouth. “Now, drink…and gain immortality, my love.” Cinnia looked up at Slaine and his handsome face. She knew she was dying but…she had to be strong. The High Priest had bound her soul with Dearg’s. Even if she died in this life she would be reunited with Dearg in the next. She just needed to be strong. Cinnia refused to open her mouth, refused to drink. She looked up at Slaine and shook her head at him. Slaine frowned and bit into his wrist again so that more blood gushed out of his wrist and fell onto Cinnia’s face. There was so much blood. Cinnia felt the urge to open her mouth and drink. Her thirst was so strong, but she resisted it. Resisted temptation. I cannot fail Dearg…I cannot fail him. I will see him again someday. Slaine began to panic. The sun was beginning to peek over the horizon and yet Cinnia had yet to drink. “Cinnia! Drink, curse you! If you don’t drink then…it’s like I’ve killed you!” Slaine cried as tears of blood began to drip down his face. Still Cinnia shook her head at him, even though her eyes reflected her sadness. “No! No, you can’t die! Drink, Cinnia! Drink!” Slaine used his fangs to rip more of his flesh off and blood poured over Cinnia’s body and yet she still would not drink. Her will was just too strong. The sun started to rise over the horizon and Slaine’s skin began to burn. “Darn it Cinnia! Drink!” Flames began to break out on Slaine’s arms, and his back. The material of the cloak was too thin and threadbare to protect him from the sun’s rays. He was beginning to set on fire. Crap. If he stayed out in the sun much longer he’d turn to dust! Slaine considered letting it happen…he and Cinnia would die together. But when Cinnia saw Slaine beginning to catch on fire, her eyes widened with panic, and she made a sound as if she were telling him to go. Save yourself! “CURSES!” Slaine swore as he used his new vampiric powers to turn into a bat. He then flew off into the forest and escaped the sun’s burning rays by entering a tree hollow. Alone, Cinnia watched the sun rise…and knew she was dying. I made it, Dearg. We will meet again, my love. This was Cinnia’s final thought before she died, and her soul left her body. *** Becca awoke with a scream, her entire body trembling. Blood…she could still see the drops of red blood dripping down onto her face. Her heart was hammering inside of her chest. That dream…no, that memory. What the hell? At the beginning of her ‘dream’ she’d seen and felt things not from the perspective as Cinnia, but as Hunchback a.k.a Slaine. Becca remembered Slaine’s skin catching on fire, and the regret in his eyes that he’d failed to turn her. Oh my God…Hunchback is Slaine. Slaine is Hunchback. He’s…alive. Well, undead but whatever. At this startling revelation Becca couldn’t help but feel oddly pleased. Because of her dreams she’d remembered something very important - she’d been in love with Dearg and Hunchback all those centuries ago. It’s just that she’d loved Dearg more, and so had decided to marry him. Also Hunchback had never told her how he felt. She’d never known he’d fallen in love with her while she’d been caring for him after his torture. Until now. Now she knew not only Dearg’s heart and Cinnia’s heart, but also Hunchback’s or Slaine’s. And she wondered why her dreams had decided to show her this. Was it because ‘Cinnia’ wanted her to know the truth about Slaine, and about everything he’d gone through? She should have hated Slaine for trying to turn her again but…now that she knew why he’d done it, and what had driven him to it - she understood. Love made people do crazy things. I think…I may even be able to forgive Slaine for trying to turn me. But if he hurts Derek then I’ll never forgive him. And as for Derek or Dearg…I loved him so much. Or at least Cinnia did. Each time he proposed to her, her heart had fluttered. I…Cinnia…had too much pride back then. It kept us apart…and because of it we only had one glorious night together. This is so weird. I used to be the woman who Derek is still in love with and who he’s loved for centuries. But I’m not really Cinnia, anymore am I? I’m Becca Thorn now. With a blush on her face, she recalled how Dearg had made love to her, worshipped her body, and made her shatter out of pleasure. Dearg…he’d been so brave, carefree, and happy. The Derek she knew now was very different from the Dearg she’d known. Dearg had smiled often and shown off his dimples to her. He’d laughed and joked and teased. The Derek of today rarely smiled, laughed or joked. Instead he always seemed to be scowling or brooding about something. Dearg had been so open with her, whereas Derek had his guard up around her all the time. Fia was right, Derek was a shadow of his former self. It must have been because he had no soul. Derek’s soul was in Hell. And the only way to free Derek’s soul from Hell was to kill him. Kill him…to save him. Maybe she’d kill Slaine in order to save him too. Yes, he too deserved to be saved. I’ll kill them…and save them! Becca thought to herself. There was a knock on Becca’s door. “Becca! Are you alright? We heard you scream.” It was Ti. “Maybe we should just bust in there.” Came Fean’s voice. The sound of something getting hit was heard. “Fean, you can’t just break into a woman’s bedroom! Perv!” Becca let out a slow breath. “I’m okay! It was just a nightmare. Sorry for worrying you guys!” She called out to them. “Oh, okay. Sweet dreams!” Ti called out. “You too!” Becca called back. Sweet dreams…huh? What would Dealande think if she knew that Becca had not only dreamed about her past life but about Slaine’s, and that she was feeling sympathetic towards yet another vampire? Oh well, what did it really matter when in the end their goals were the same - the death of Derek and Slaine. Just for different reasons. Becca would kill Derek and Slaine, but not to destroy them…it would be to save them. Becca went back to sleep. She awoke several hours later, showered, and got dressed in some of the clothes Ti had lent her. She put on a purple hooded vest, a pair of tight, purple leather pants, and yep, purple boots. She had breakfast with the other Druid Vampire Hunters, and then followed Nathair up to his room so that he could give her another battle tattoo. Today, Nathair tattooed a beautiful unicorn onto her shoulder, and afterwards Dealande healed her flesh. “Am I going to be training with Fia again?” Becca asked Dealande warily. Dealande shook her head and her lip twitched with amusement as if she knew how much Becca dreaded that idea. “No, I think it might be useful for you to have a little hand to hand combat training. And so Nathair will be your instructor today.” Nathair looked as surprised as Becca felt. “Hand to hand combat training with Nathair?” She eyed his huge biceps and her expression shifted to worry. Nathair was probably going to kick the crap out of her. Why me? Becca internally moaned. Nathair just nodded with a blank expression on his face. “Whatever, Dealande.” Nathair led Becca to the training room and ushered her inside. She was already missing her awful training session with Fia. “Let’s start with the basics then. How about throwing a punch?” Nathair suggested. “Eek!” Becca immediately raised her arms in front of her face out of fear. Nathair raised an eyebrow at her antics. “What are you doing, woman?” Becca lowered her arms and gave Nathair a suspicious look. “Aren’t you going to try and hit me?” Nathair snorted and gave Becca a condescending look. “If I hit you…you’d be out cold, and that would be the end of this training session. So…no. Hit me.” Nathair put his hands on his hips and straightened his back. Becca blinked back at him in confusion. “Excuse me?” “I said: ‘hit me’.” The Druid beckoned her to come at him with his hand. Becca’s eyebrows rose. “You’re serious?” Nathair nodded and gave Becca an impatient look. “Hurry up!” “Well…don’t get mad afterwards.” Becca approached Nathair and punched him in the stomach. “Ow! My hand! What is your stomach made out of? Rocks?” Becca shook her red, throbbing hand. Nathair smirked. “What was that?” “A punch.” Becca said defensively. “No, that was a little love tap. Now this…” Nathair approached a suspended punching bag full of sand and stood in front of it. “Is a punch.” He punched the punching bag with all his strength. The punching bag swung backwards, and the chain that had been suspending it broke. The bag ended up hitting the far wall and exploding into a cloud of sand. “Ooo.” Becca clapped at the impressive sight. “That was amazing. You’re really strong! Like a superhero or something. You should become one of the Fantastic Four…although I guess they’d have to rename it the Fantastic Five.” The tips of Nathair’s ears turned red and he was glad his hood was up. He coughed into his hand, approached Becca, and moved to stand behind her. “First, you need a proper stance. Legs slightly apart, knees slightly bent, arms up before you, hands clenched into fists. And use your forearms to block your face. Now you’re going to twist your body and punch, like so.” Nathair moved Becca’s body for her so that she get a feel for how she was supposed to move. Becca twisted her body and punched out with her right fist. Nathair stepped away from Becca. “Again.” He said. Becca punched the air. “Again.” Becca punched again. Nathair nodded, looking pleased. “Good. Your form is good. Now punch me again.” The Druid put his hands on his hips. Becca gawked at Nathair. “Seriously?” “Dead serious. Now hurry up!” He barked at her. Becca hesitantly approached Nathair, and stood in front of him with her body perpendicular to his. She twisted her body, and punched his stomach. This time her hand didn’t hurt! “Again.” Becca punched his stomach again. “Again. Hit my chest.” Becca punched his chest. “Again. Hit my face.” Becca punched his face without thinking. Nathair’s head snapped to the side and a trickle of blood trailed down his chin from his split lip. Nathair wiped the blood away with the back of his hand. Becca was horrified by what she’d done. “Oh my God, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you-” But then Nathair was smiling and laughing. “No, that was excellent! That was a perfect punch!” Becca’s worried expression turned surprised and a tad suspicious. “Really?” “Yeah, hit me again.” “O-Okay!” Becca said enthusiastically. She was beginning to get into this. Who would have thought that punching some big guy with a bad attitude who wouldn’t fight back would be so much fun? For the next thirty minutes, Becca punched and kicked Nathair’s muscular body. Until- Becca sent her fist flying into his solar plexus. “Oof.” Nathair covered his stomach as he sunk to his knees, having had the air temporarily knocked out of him. Becca immediately became concerned again. “Nathair! Are you alright? I’m so sorry.” “No.” Nathair wheezed, smiled and laughed. “That was excellent. That punch will be able to bring vampires to their knees. Well done, Becca.” Becca blushed at his unexpected praise. “Th-Thank you, Nathair.” Maybe all that time she’d gone to the gym in order to keep her figure had paid off. She wasn’t out of shape or weak, just untrained in fighting and martial arts. Nathair stood up with a hand still on his stomach. “I’m just going to go up to my room and uh…rest. Why don’t you do a little weightlifting until I get back?” Becca gave Nathair a concerned and suspicious look. “Do you need any help getting to your room?” She reached out for him. “No!” Nathair backed away from Becca’s touch, and then coughed into his hand. “I mean, no thanks. I’m fine…really. Just train by yourself for a little while, and I’ll be back in a bit.” He assured before leaving the training room with fast steps. “Well, okay.” Becca muttered to herself as she went over to the rack of dumbells and picked up two ten-pound weights. She began doing bicep curls. Nathair sure had been acting strangely…but why? Was it because Becca had really hurt him? She began to wonder if may he needed medical attention. Unable to concentrate on her exercises, Becca decided that she’d go see if Nathair was really okay. He seemed like a scary guy on the outside, but Becca was sure he was a ‘good guy’ on the inside. Although…look at the mistake she’d made by trusting Slaine. Best not to think about that right now. Becca put the dumbbells back on the rack, left the training room, and headed to Nathair’s room. She stopped in front of his door, took a deep breath, opened it, and made her way inside. Becca flipped on a light switch and turned around. “Nathair, I’m really sorry about earlier, I-” Becca’s words died in her throat at the sight before her. Nathair was buck-naked on his bed, and his hand was wrapped around himself. He was flushed, panting for breath, and his dark eyes were glassy with his lust. Nathair’s eyes widened in horror when he caught sight of Becca in his room. “Becca!” He accidentally squeezed himself out of reflex, and this sent him over the edge. Talk about bad timing! “Oh crap!” Becca watched, too shocked to move. “Oh my God…I’m so sorry. Really, very sorry.” Becca began to back up in the direction of what she hoped was the door. This was the absolute worst. Nope, Nathair didn’t think it could possibly get worst than this moment. Nathair was a bit of a masochist and had gotten a hard-on from Becca hitting him over and over. He’d gone up to his room to take care of his little problem and now this had happened. The most embarrassing moment of his life. “Becca, wait-” Becca knocked into a table and ended up knocking one of the pet tanks to the floor. The screen lid popped off, and one of the snakes escaped. “Crap!” Nathair swore when he saw which snake had just escaped - a green pit viper. “Becca, don’t move. Don’t make any sudden movements. That’s a viper. And he’s poisonous.” He warned. Becca looked down at the lime-green viper that was slithering towards her and screamed. “No! I can’t!” She spun around and ran for the door. The viper was faster. The snake leapt up and sank its fangs into Becca’s inner thigh. Becca looked down at the snake attached to her leg in shock and didn’t move. “No way.” “Dang it!” Nathair leapt off the bed, grabbed the viper, forced it to let go of Becca, and then carried the viper over to another tank. He opened the screen lid and tossed the viper angrily inside. “Bad viper! No dinner for you tonight!” He scolded it. The sound of a thud had Nathair turning around to see that Becca had fallen to the floor face-first. “Becca!” Nathair ran over to her and flipped Becca over onto her back. Becca was flushed, and panting for breath. She looked up at Nathair dazedly. “Nathair…?” “Crap.” Nathair looked down towards where the viper had bitten her. Vipers were poisonous. What should he do? He panicked. “I…have to suck out the poison! But…” “Do it.” Becca said as she unbuttoned her pants and pulled them down to reveal a pair of purple silk panties. She spread her legs to give Nathair access to her inner thigh. Nathair swallowed thickly at the erotic sight, and then shook his head. Now was not the time for having perverted thoughts. He had to suck out the poison and save Becca! Nathair knelt down between her legs, put his hands on her knees, spread her legs, and brought his head down to her bite wound. He latched his mouth onto her bite wound and began to suck out the poison. Once his mouth was full of blood and poison he spat it out, and went back to sucking at her inner thigh. Becca moaned. Nathair began to get turned on again. Crap. This is wrong on so many levels. At that moment, the door opened and in stepped Fia. Fia - the Druid Huntress that Nathair was secretly crushing on. “Nathair, what is all the commotion-?” Fia blinked and her eyes widened at the sight before her. Becca was on the floor with her legs spread, and she had Nathair’s head between her thighs. Also, Nathair was buck-naked with his butt in the air. She’d never seen Nathair shirtless before, much less naked. His chest and torso were a work of art, all lean, hard muscles and ripping abs. He also had a nice, firm, scrumptious behind. Nathair looked up at Fia, and his expression turned dismayed. “Fia! This isn’t what it looks like!” “I…I’m sorry to have disturbed you!” Fia began to back away. Nathair leapt to his feet to reveal his entire nakedness and half-aroused state. “Fia, listen to me!” Fia looked down at Nathair’s crotch and blushed. “Oh my God…it’s…” She tried to turn around and run, but Nathair reached out and caught her. He then pulled her into his arms. “Fia, let me explain!” The Druid demanded. “Let go of me, you pervert!” Fia slapped Nathair hard across the face. Suddenly, Fia could feel something very hard pressing into her thigh. “Let go!” Fia tore away from his grasp. “A viper! A green pit viper bit Becca!” Nathair called out after her as she ran through the doorway. Fia stopped, turned around, and gave Nathair a suspicious look. “Really?” Nathair nodded, his expression grim. “Yes…Becca caught me at a bad time, got freaked out, and knocked into one of my tanks and freed the viper. It bit her and I was sucking out the poison.” Fia frowned, and her brow furrowed. “Why didn’t you just call for Dealande? She could have healed Becca.” Nathair blinked, feeling like an idiot. “I…didn’t think of that.” Fia sighed, deciding to let Nathair off the hook. This time. “I’ll go get Dealande. And you better put some clothes on. I’m sure my Grandmother doesn’t want to see…that. She might have a heart attack.” Fia said in an amused tone. The tips of Nathair’s ears turned red. “You got it.” Nathair said before closing the door. He quickly pulled his clothes back on and returned to Becca’s side. The color had returned to her pale cheeks, and she was looking better. “Hey. How are you feeling?” “I’m okay…thanks to you.” Becca smiled up at him weakly. A few seconds later, the door opened and Dealande and Fia entered the room. Dealande immediately went to Becca’s side, crouched next to her, and reached out to place her hand on the bite mark. A gold-tinged light enveloped Dealande’s hand and she healed Becca’s wound. Dealande removed her hand a few seconds later, stood up, and faced Nathair. “There was barely any poison left. You did well, Nathair.” Becca groaned, sat up, and blinked around at everyone owlishly. She felt…much better but still sluggish, weak. She pulled her pants up and buttoned them. Becca stood up on shaky limbs. Dealande frowned when she noticed Becca swaying on her feet. “However, your pets put the life of The Savior at risk! These pets of yours are a hazard-” “It was my fault.” Becca quickly interrupted. “I knocked over the tank and freed the viper. And when Nathair told me not to move…I panicked. I ran…and the viper attacked. So it’s all my fault. Not Nathair’s. Nathair…saved me. He saved my life. He’s a hero.” Nathair lowered his head to hide his astonished expression. Fia was looking at Nathair with newfound respect. Dealande huffed. “Very well. I’ll let you off the hook this time, Nathair. But something like this better not happen again or else I’ll have you get rid of these ‘pets’ of yours. Come along, Fia.” “Uh…yeah.” Fia agreed. Dealande and Fia left the bedroom and closed the door behind them. Nathair approached Becca with an emotional look on his face. “Thank you.” Becca offered him a sheepish smile. “I’m the one who should be saying that.” Nathair shook his head. “No, I should. I don’t know what I would do if I had to give up my pet snakes. They’re all I have…they’re my only friends.” Becca frowned thoughtfully. “That’s not true. I’m your friend.” Nathair gave Becca a surprised look. “You’d want to be my friend…even after what happened?” “Especially after what happened. It’s not everyday someone saves your life.” Becca couldn’t help but recall how Dearg and Hunchback had protected her from Corann and the Elite when her secret that she was a girl had been discovered during a sparring match against Aengus. They too had been heroes that day. And now her beloved heroes were…soulless bloodsucking vampires. “Is something wrong?” Nathair noticed her sad expression. Becca slapped her cheeks with her hands and shook her head. “Nothing at all. What about you? I saw how freaked out you got that Fia had to see you in such a state.” “Ugh.” Nathair ran a hand down his tattooed face. “I never wanted her to see me in such a pitiful state. I…admire her.” Becca’s lips curled into a Cheshire smile. “Hmm, you admire her?” She nudged her elbow into Nathair’s side. “Come on, admit it, you like her, don’t you?” Nathair’s eyes widened and he lowered his head to hide his expression. “What? No, I don’t. That would be improper…she just lost her fiancé.” “Keane, right?” Becca said softly, her expression turning serious. “This may sound weird coming from me since I’m an outsider, but I bet Keane would want Fia to be happy.” “Maybe. But…Fia would never notice someone like me anyways.” Nathair said glumly. Becca raised an eyebrow at his words that were strangely reminding him of something Slaine would say. “What? Are you serious? I totally saw Fia checking out your behind and staring at your huge-” “Becca!” Nathair cut her off, half angry, half amused. “Geez, you’re not the shy type are you?” “Nope.” Becca grinned. “And I love playing matchmaker. I’d be happy to give you some advice about how you can catch Fia’s eye too, if you’d like.” Nathair hesitated, but then sighed. “Sure.” Becca slung her arm over Nathair’s shoulder and smiled broadly. “Welcome to the dark side. We have cookies.” *** When Garth finally awoke it was to find himself curled up on his side on a cold, concrete floor. “Ugh.” He sat up, rubbed his throbbing head, and the sound of rattling chains was heard. “The hell?” Garth looked down at his hands to see metal shackles around his wrists. There were also shackles around his ankles. Chains were attached to the shackles and Garth followed the long length of chain to see that the chains were attached to the wall. The length of chains gave him just enough room to stand up if he wanted to and walk over to use the chamber pot that was in the corner of the cell. He inspected his prison cell, which was three walls of cement, and the forth wall was comprised of bars and the cell door. The reality that he was trapped inside of a cell seemed to crash into Garth. No, not again! Garth thought wildly as he stood up and pulled at the chains as he recalled his time in a cell while trapped in his animal form. He’d been treated like an animal, worse even. Garth let out a roar as he tugged at the chains again. “Mmm….nghhh.” A strange feminine moan snapped Garth out of his own inner turmoil and he noticed the bed on the other side of the large prison cell for the first time. Chained to the bed was a dark-haired woman, who was dressed in only her emerald green bra and underwear. She was writhing and moaning on the bed while acting as if she were in pain. Her skin was flushed and there was a slight sheen of sweat on her body. Abruptly the woman stilled and turned her head to look at Garth as if she’d sensed his presence. Garth’s eyes widened when he recognized Nerezza! She was so pale, her cheeks hollow and there were dark shadows beneath her eyes that it was no wonder Garth hadn’t recognized her at first. She looked so different from her usual lively self. Her pupils were dilated and even as she stared at Garth it appeared she didn’t see him at all. “Hey! Nerezza! Snap out of it! It’s me, Garth! Hey!” He pulled at the chains. Nerezza blinked, focused her gaze on Garth, and her pupils returned to their usual size. “G-Garth…is that you…?” Garth nodded, “Yeah. Don’t worry, Nerezza, I’m going to get you the hell out of here. I’m going to help you.” “Yes, Garth…please, help me.” Nerezza arched her back and writhed on the bed sensually. “Please, I need sex…I’m dying.” Garth’s throat went dry at Nerezza’s pleading. Holy crap! “Nerezza…?” The sound of footsteps approaching was heard, and then Dracula came into view, his mink coat billowing behind him with his long, confidant strides. Garth glared over at Dracula. “You! Hey, you perverted creep! Let Nerezza go!” Dracula unlocked the cell door, entered, strolled over to Nerezza and peered down at her while she writhed on the bed. The scent of jasmine filled the air as Nerezza released her pheromones. “That looks painful, my dear.” Dracula reached out and trailed his index finger down Nerezza’s cheek. She shuddered at his touch. “Do you want me to ease your suffering?” Nerezza glared up at Dracula. “D-Don’t touch me…!” “You say that, but your body is begging for my touch. What a pitiful creature you are, succubus. You cannot survive without sex and anyone will do in the end.” Dracula gave Nerezza a pitying look. “N-Not you…never you…!” Nerezza gasped. “But I could free you of your suffering, succubus. Let me turn you…and then you will no longer need sex in order to survive. Then…you will only need blood.” Dracula smiled revealing his fangs. “And you won’t be forced to be a whore who spreads her legs for anyone. Let me free you of your God-given curse! Let me show you that I am more powerful than God!” He spread his arms wide and cackled. Nerezza arched off the bed, moaned, and panted, but she shook her head in the end. “N-No! I already told you…I don’t want to join you. I’d rather die!” Dracula’s smile fell. “Then die you shall and in a most painful way. But since you’re immortal you shall die and then come alive, only to die again, and again on that bed. How many deaths will it take until you go mad, I wonder?” Dracula trailed his hand over her body, which pressed itself into his burning touch. “Such a wanton body you have.” “Get your hands off of her, Dracula!” Garth snapped. He was beginning to get angry. Dracula turned to face Garth and approached. “Hello, Garth Mackenzie. Won’t you consider joining me, demon?” Garth’s brow furrowed. “What the hell do you want with us? Why us?” “I’m interested in gathering new powerful allies for what I have planned for this city. And I’m very interested in turning one of you demons into a vampire. Just think about how powerful you’d become!” Dracula spread his arms wide. “I also enjoy the idea of stealing God’s potential new allies. The less reformed demons God has in his army for the End Times…the chances are higher that I can defeat Him, you see.” He chuckled at the thought. “Not interested.” Garth spat. Dracula’s red eyes narrowed. “Everyone has a price, demon. I wonder what yours is. Women? Money? Power? Or perhaps…” Dracula smiled widely, a glint in his eyes. “Knowledge. Perhaps there’s something you really want to know.” Garth flinched. Knowledge. He wanted to find out the location of the underground fight club where shifters were being forced to fight human exorcists in battles to the death while trapped in their animal forms. “You know where I can find the Red Priest?” Dracula smiled. “Of course I do. Is that your price? Then…after I turn you I shall tell you where the Red Priest is so that you can get your revenge upon him. I’ll even help you take that fanatic’s head, if you wish. I’ve never liked him much.” It was such a tempting offer Garth was almost willing to take it. But he’d witnessed firsthand the things Derek had to suffer as a vampire. Also, if his soul were cursed to Hell then he’d lose his chance at finding his Judge, having her fall in love with him, and gaining redemption. That was his only chance to rejoin God’s army and to be forgiven. “Yeah, I know what my answer is.” Garth beckoned Dracula closer. Dracula moved forward. “Screw you!” Garth roared in his face, and spit flew onto Dracula’s cheek. Dracula’s eye twitched and he took out a handkerchief to wipe the spit off his face. “Apparently, you need a little more time to think it over. Enjoy watching your friend die. Oh, that’s right…if you decide to join me I may consider sparing her. Think about that while you’re my guest here.” Dracula wheeled around, headed to the cell door, opened it, and locked the door behind him. Crap. Garth mentally swore. If he agreed to join Dracula, he’d free Nerezza. “Don’t even think about it, Garth. I’m not worth it.” Nerezza objected upon seeing the conflicted expression on Garth’s face. “Like Dracula said…I’m nothing but a whore.” “Don’t say that. It’s not true, Nerezza. You’re our friend.” Garth’s blood was boiling. He hated to see Nerezza in the vulnerable state she was in, and watch her tearing herself apart. Nerezza smiled sadly. “That’s all I ever wanted…for you guys to consider me your friend. It’s hard for us demons to have friends.” “Yeah.” Garth agreed. Hours passed and Nerezza’s condition grew worse. Her pheromones grew stronger and the scent of jasmine and exotic spices filled the cell. Garth had no choice but to breathe them in and grew aroused in response. He was disgusted with himself at his arousal for her. He didn’t envy the curse of incubi and succubi one bit. The sound of approaching footsteps was heard and then the vampire Undertaker came into view. He was holding a tray of food in his hands, and while balancing the tray on one hand he unlocked the cell and entered. He approached Garth and set the tray of food down before him. “Compliments of Dracula.” Garth looked down at the tray of food. There was a steak, potatoes, green beans and freshly baked bread. It smelled delicious. His stomach rumbled. “What about Nerezza?” Undertaker chuckled darkly. “She’s supposed to die…unless she decides to join us.” “Screw that.” Garth kicked the tray of food and it went flying into the wall with a splat where it slid down the wall leaving a trail of mashed potatoes and gravy. “If you want to starve too - that’s your choice, fool.” Undertaker sneered in his Southern drawl. He turned to leave, however, the scent of jasmine and spices reached his nose and he grew aroused. “What the hell?” Undertaker turned his attention to Nerezza who was still writhing on the bed. Undertaker licked his lips in a predatory manner. He strolled over to the bed and peered down at Nerezza with hooded, lust-filled eyes. “What a delectable little morsel you are…so sexy.” “Hey, stay away from her.” Garth warned. Nerezza arched her back and moaned. Mesmerized, Undertaker watched her erotic display. “Dracula told me not to touch you, but I think that’s going to be impossible. Especially when you’re begging for me like that.” Undertaker crawled onto the bed and straddled Nerezza. He reached down and ripped her panties off. Nerezza focused on Undertaker’s face. He grinned at her revealing his fangs. Nerezza screamed. “No! Get off of me, no!” “Get the hell off of her, you pervert!” Garth roared as he strained against his chains. “You’re seriously beginning to piss me off!” His blood was boiling in his veins. “Hold still, woman.” Undertaker said as he unzipped his pants. “You know you want it.” Garth saw red. The reins on his anger snapped. The shifter let out a ferocious, primal roar. His muscles bulged and strained against the chains, and Garth began to transform. Orange fur sprouted all over his face, horns sprouted from his head, his eyes turned red, and his muscles bulged as they increased in size. The shackles shattered and in seconds Garth was in his Hellcat form and standing on four legs in the cell and growling at Undertaker with drool dripping down his long canines. Undertaker glanced over at Garth whose transformation had taken mere seconds. His eyes bulged. Garth now resembled a six hundred pound tiger-like creature with orange and black striped fur. He had horns, cat ears, and spikes protruding from his spin. His claws were a foot long, deadly and sharp. “Holy cow!” Undertaker stuffed himself back into his pants before he ended up losing something important. Garth pounced across the length of the cell, knocked into Undertaker, and pinned him to the floor. “Dag nam it! Get the hell off of me you giant fur ball!” Undertaker tried to reach for one of his guns. But Garth brought one of his clawed paws down on Undertaker’s chest, slicing down and leaving three deep, bleeding grooves in Undertaker’s flesh. Undertaker gasped at the pain, and blood trickled down his chin. He passed out from the pain. Garth picked Undertaker up with his maw, and with a toss of his head sent Undertaker flying across the cell. The vampire hit the far wall with a crack and slid down the wall, leaving a streak of bright red blood in his wake. Garth roared triumphantly at his defeated foe. The Hellcat’s red gaze then focused on the woman on the bed, and he approached with menacing steps. To be continued in…Tattoo 11: Dragon Chapter 11: Dragon “G-Garth…” Nerezza called out. Garth glanced over at Nerezza and tried to control his animal instincts that were crying out to him to mate with her. He approached Nerezza, pounced on top of her, and nuzzled her neck. Garth purred deep in his throat and began to lick her exposed flesh. She smelled like catnip. Her drugging, addicting scent was driving him wild. Crap! He was growing aroused and if he didn’t get a hold on his anger he would end up screwing Nerezza in his animal form, which would be wrong on so many disturbing levels. Not only would it be disgusting but also it would be a grave sin. The sobering thought acted like a bucket of cold water to his face, and he began to calm down. He took deep, heaving breaths, and his anger and lust began to leave him. Garth began to transform from his Hellcat form back into his human form. In seconds, he was back in his human form, but still on top of Nerezza. And now he was buck-naked. Garth buried his face in the crook of Nerezza’s neck. “I’m so sorry…you must be terrified of me right now.” He couldn’t seem to stop himself from rubbing against her though. Crap. Pull yourself together man. Nerezza turned her head and surprised Garth by kissing his cheek sweetly. “I could never be afraid of you, Garth.” They were sobering words and Garth managed to pull himself away from Nerezza’s body. He grabbed the chains that were keeping her restrained to the bed, let out a roar, and shattered the chains with his bare hands using his brute strength. Once Nerezza’s bonds were broken, he got off the bed. He offered her his hand. “Come. We need to get out of here.” Nerezza took his hand but didn’t get off the bed. “Garth, I can’t move…I don’t have the strength.” Nerezza said in a soft voice. Garth’s brow furrowed as he thought about how to deal with this situation. “Then I’ll carry you.” “Garth…I’m dying. I need…you. Please.” Nerezza looked up at Garth and gave him an urgent, pleading look, and spread her legs invitingly. Garth couldn’t help it - he looked down at her. She was so beautiful. He gulped, his throat feeling dry. He grew even more aroused. Garth wanted to take her so bad, but…his monstrous strength, he could hurt her! He shook his head. “No…I can’t. I’ll hurt you.” Nerezza chuckled at Garth’s worried expression. “Garth…I’m not human, remember? I can handle you…all of you.” Garth’s expression was bleak. “If I take you right now…it makes me no different from Undertaker. I would be taking advantage of you.” Nerezza shook her head and opened her arms. “No, you wouldn’t be because I want you, Garth. Please, my friend…save me.” Garth’s restraint snapped, and he leapt on the bed and straddled Nerezza. He looked down at her beautiful face with its pained expression. He could ease her pain. He could have her. He closed his eyes and kissed her. Nerezza eagerly kissed him back and swirled her tongue around his. Garth united their bodies and Nerezza gasped at the feeling of their bodies becoming one. Garth groaned. It felt so good having her in his arms like this. Nerezza reached around Garth and raked her nails down his back. This big beefy male was mating with her and it felt wonderful. “We’re one.” Garth rumbled. Nerezza smiled up at him. “Yes, we are, Big Boy.” “I’m going to move…okay?” Nerezza nodded eagerly in agreement. “Yes, please, do.” Garth began to surge over her. Nerezza cried out at the mind-numbing pleasure. Garth grew concerned and frowned. “Are you alright? Did I hurt you?” Nerezza’s hazel eyes sparkled with amusement and lust. “Hell yes, I’m alright. And please continue.” And so Garth did and delighted in the sensations he was feeling. Nerezza moaned and writhed beneath him. “More…harder…faster.” She urged him on. “Dang, you’re so erotic, woman.” Garth purred as he began to surge over her with abandon. She reminded him of those times he used to take shifter women back in Scotland when he’d been a part of the shifter clan there. They too had been able to take all he had to offer and give back just as much. “Ah! Yes! Just like that!” Nerezza cried out in glee. Garth was taking her so hard it was almost painful, but Nerezza delighted in the pain. She’d always been a little bit of a masochist. It was part of her curse. As Garth took her he leaned over her and nibbled her neck. Nerezza cried out in pleasure and arched her back. This pushed Garth over the edge, and he grunted as he reached the peak of his pleasure. Nerezza cried out and raked her nails down Garth’s back. She could feel his sexual energy pour into her body. His energy was so masculine and potent. “Yes, oh yes!” The succubus said as she wrapped her legs around Garth’s waist to keep their bodies connected as she fed from his sexual energies. She could feel power flooding through her and her strength returning. She felt alive once more. This is so…incredible! Just how powerful is he? Garth continued to surge over her. This sent Nerezza over the edge to join him in his pleasure. “Garth!” She cried out as she trembled against him. “So good. You’re so good.” Finally, Garth’s was spent and collapsed on top of Nerezza. Nerezza didn’t mind his heavy weight at all. It was oddly comforting. She felt safe in Garth’s big, brawny arms. Even if they were just friends. She wrapped her arms around him and held him close. He’d saved her. After a few minutes, Garth spoke. “We should probably check out of this love hotel.” “Yeah.” Nerezza agreed in a slightly amused tone. “It’s got the worst room service.” Garth moved off of her and got off the bed. He looked at the mess he’d made of Nerezza. The shifter frowned. He couldn’t help but think about how mad the guys were going to be if they found out he’d slept with Nerezza. She was their friend and in a sense off-limits. Nerezza sat up and looked at him. “I have no regrets, Garth. You saved my life. And you mean a lot to me…you’re a true friend.” She soothed in a comforting way. Garth’s expression softened. “You mean a lot to me too.” His voice was gruff. He took in her nakedness, and his frown deepened. “You need some clothes.” He glanced around the cell. Nerezza looked pointedly at his crotch. He was impressive even when not aroused. “You too. You wouldn’t want to make poor Dracula feel inadequate.” She teased. Garth chuckled at Nerezza’s words and spotted the unconscious form of Undertaker. He grinned evilly. “I think I found some.” Garth walked over to Undertaker and pulled off his long black trench coat. It was oddly heavy and Garth noted it was filled with guns. He carried the jacket over to Nerezza and tossed it to her. “Here. Dress yourself, woman.” Nerezza pouted flirtatiously. “What’s the rush? You don’t like seeing me naked?” Garth flushed. “I don’t like other men seeing you naked.” He muttered darkly to himself. It was Nerezza’s turn to blush at his unexpected words. “O-Oh.” Nerezza quickly put on the trench coat and buttoned it up. Garth made his way back over to Undertaker so he could steal the man’s pants and boots. They were a tight fit but…it’s not like Garth had much of a choice. I feel like Magic Mike in these. He reached into the pants pocket, and pulled out the keys to the cell. Garth walked over to the cell door and opened it. He motioned for Nerezza to join him. “Come on, let’s-” His words died in his throat as he caught sight of Nerezza. Two curled horns had sprouted out of her head, and two bat-like wings had emerged from her back and were spread behind her. A long black tail with a heart-shaped barb swished behind her. Because Garth was a demon and Nerezza had consumed his demonic sexual energies - it had activated Nerezza’s true form as a succubus demon a.k.a sex demon. Nerezza hopped off the bed and joined Garth. She placed a hand on his chest and grinned wolfishly. “Your sexual energy is especially potent.” She winked. “I-I see. Let’s blow this joint.” Garth unlocked the cell door, and they exited. They spotted a staircase at the other end of the dungeon, and ascended it. They opened the door at the top of the staircase, and entered what appeared to be a normal bedroom. “What the?” Garth said as he looked around the luxuriously decorated bedroom that was filled with antiques. Garth and Nerezza made their way through the bedroom, and exited into another hallway in what appeared to be a mansion. Below their feet was an Oriental runner, and oil paintings and tapestries were hung on the walls on either side of them. Suits of Romanian battle armor stood in shadowed alcoves. Garth eyed the broadswords that were leaning against the suits of armor and tried not to think about how cool they looked. They made their way down the hall, realizing this was just a lone wing inside of the enormous mansion. They spotted the exit and ran towards it. They exited into a spacious courtyard with an impressive stone dragon fountain in the center that was surrounded by a topiary garden. The leafy, green trees had been clipped and pruned into different geometric and animal shapes. The estate seemed enormous, and they looked behind them to admire the posh, glamorous San Francisco mansion they’d just escaped from. Garth and Nerezza were just about to take off running when a black cloud descended upon them. The sound of multiple, small, winged creatures was heard, and the swarm of bats materialized into Dracula. “Leaving so soon? Pity, I had hoped you would both enjoy my hospitality for a little while longer.” Dracula drawled as he approached them with menacing steps, his mink coat flaring behind him. “Get behind me!” Garth pushed Nerezza behind him and got into a fighting stance, prepared to face off against Dracula. However- “You need to learn your place, demon.” Dracula said before he let his battle aura flare up around him. It was powerful, menacing, and intimidating. Nerezza and Garth watched as his aura became visible to the naked eye, and resembled black flames. It brought Garth to his knees, and Nerezza too. “Darn it…you stinkin vampire.” Garth struggled to stand but it felt like there was a cloak of lead around his shoulders. He was beginning to get angry. Perhaps in his Hellcat form he’d be a better match for Dracula? He wondered. However- At that moment, there was a bright flash of light and an Archangel materialized within the courtyard. The Archangel was tall at six-six, had a muscular physique, spiked-up white hair with blue tips, and ice-blue eyes. He was wearing silver armor with spikes on it consisting of a breastplate, gauntlets, and greaves. Beneath his armor he was wearing black leather. A double-edged sword was strapped to his side, and outstretched behind him were two enormous, white, feathery wings. Garth couldn’t help but think that the Archangel bore a startling resemblance to Uriel - Derek’s guardian angel. But what the hell is an Archangel doing here? He wondered. Dracula’s expression turned furious and his red eyes glowed. “What the hell are you doing here, you dog of God?” He demanded, his lip curling in a sneer. Gabriel frowned. “Hello, Dracula. I don’t suppose you remember me?” “I’m afraid not. All of my memories were stolen by God when I was banished to Hell.” Of course I remember about my love Neena…but that is all. I would never forget what happened to her. Never. “My name is Archangel Gabriel. And…I’m also Garth Mackenzie’s guardian angel. I don’t appreciate how you’ve been treating my charge.” Gabriel announced and raised his chin. Dracula glanced over at Garth. “Garth’s guardian angel? Why am I not surprised? I suspected God wanted him for His Army and that’s why I wanted to steal him for my own. I would do anything to weaken God’s Army, you see.” Garth’s brow furrowed in confusion. Why would he of all people have a guardian angel assigned to him now? “I don’t understand…why have you become my guardian angel, Gabriel?” “God has taken a personal interest in you and your fate. And…it’s only a matter of time before you meet your Judge.” Gabriel informed him. “My human Judge?” Garth glanced at Nerezza before he turned his gaze back to Gabriel. “Why, yes. Of course she’s human.” Gabriel agreed nonchalantly. “It is only the love of a human that can redeem a fallen angel or demon like yourself.” It felt like a punch to the gut for Garth, for some reason. “Oh.” Gabriel unsheathed his sword and sliced it through the air dispelling Dracula’s powerful aura. Garth and Nerezza stood up as soon as they felt the pressure leave them. “Now, go! I’ll handle Dracula.” Gabriel announced as he pointed his sword at the ancient vampire. Dracula looked mildly amused by Gabriel’s claim. “Oh, you think you can handle me, dog of God? We shall see.” The vampire held his cane out in front of him and unsheathed the sword that had been concealed within. He pointed it at Gabriel and smiled revealing his fangs. “It will be fun chopping you up into tiny little pieces, dog.” Garth hesitated. He knew Archangels were tough but Dracula was one was tough son of a gun. “What are you waiting for, Garth? Get Nerezza out of here! I thought you wanted to protect her!” Gabriel shouted with a tinge of irritation to his voice. Gabriel was right. Crap. “Thanks, man. I owe you one.” Garth grabbed Nerezza’s hand and took off running with her towards the exit of the estate. Gabriel and Dracula charged each other, and their swords clashed. Dracula swung his sword again and Gabriel blocked. Gabriel then swung his sword for an attack of his own, but Dracula easily blocked. A deadly, elegant dance ensued as the two swordsmen battled each other. Their blows were so heavy and powerful as their swords clashed the air seemed to tremble around them. Dracula frowned as he felt…something. He’d fought this man before…eons ago. Or perhaps had just sparred. Dracula was aware of the fact that thousands of years ago he’d been an Archangel. However, when his love Neena had died and God had refused to save her, Dracula had decided to ‘play God’. He’d decided to try and bring Neena back himself, but the experiment had failed horribly. Neena’s body had revived as a flesh-eating ghoul with no memory of him and the mind of a child. When God discovered what Dracula had done he cursed the Archangel for his insolence transforming Dracula into a hideous, bloodsucking, bat-like demon, and banished him to Hell in this gruesome form where he’d been tortured by bloodlust. Dracula had also been cursed with a way to curse others and turn them into vampires too. Dracula could bite a human being, drink their blood, and if he gave them his blood afterwards he or she would be ‘turned’ into a vampire. However, if Dracula merely bit a human he or she would turn into a flesh-eating ghoul within twenty-four hours. Ghouls that Dracula could control with his mind. This powerful virus was in Dracula’s saliva. If a vampire was extremely careful not to inject a human with saliva when it bit someone - that person would not be infected with the ghoul virus. But most vampires didn’t care what happened to their human victims. “We’ve battled each other before, have we not?” Dracula questioned Gabriel. Gabriel nodded, and his expression turned somber. “Yes, we have. But…as friends when we would spar together. It is because of our past friendship that I am here, Dracula.” “Go on.” Dracula raised an eyebrow at the angel. “God hasn’t forsaken you, Dracula. There is still a chance you may be redeemed. If you find a special human female called a Judge and she falls in love with you - her love will redeem you. And then you can rejoin God’s Army.” Gabriel explained. “And if you fall in love with her-” Dracula began to laugh, and then cackle really. His laughter was tinged with bitterness. “You expect me to fall in love with some human female Judge? Think again! I will love no other than Neena. And God took her away from me! I will never forgive that!” “It was wrong of you not to accept the cycle of life. We are all born…to one day die. And then we are born again, so that our souls can continue to learn new things and evolve - in order to get closer to perfection, and God with each life. Life is an endless cycle of rebirth and death. Humans who have reincarnated many times eventually have two choices: they can either return to God or become angels who help to guide other humans on their path of spiritual evolution. “So many humans feel lost today, thinking they only have one life, one chance. When in fact they are in truth given limitless opportunities. They don’t understand that their current lifetime is a lesson that their soul needs to learn, and that the adversities they face are meant to be faced. This is all so that their souls can become stronger, smarter, and more perfect. So many humans today disregard the truth of the immortality of the soul, and this is why they are so unhappy. They fear death. And they don’t accept the deaths of their loved ones either. They cling to life…and curse God for death. Just as you have. But there’s still hope if you’d only just open your eyes-” “Silence! I’ve heard enough, and I have no interest in God’s offer of redemption. I plan to make God pay for what he did to me, and I will steal his potential allies and make them my own. Soon I will put my plan into action. First, I’ll take over this city as a show of my strength, and then using my new allies I’ll take over the entire world! I’m sick of hiding in the shadows. It’s about time I made my move. And no one will stand in my way. Especially not egotistic Archangels like you!” Dracula attacked and with more power than before. Darn it. If only he’d listen to me. I have to make him listen somehow. “Dracula, you don’t understand. There is hope-” “I said: silence!” Dracula roared as he swung his sword and unleashed a great blast of power Gabriel’s way. “You dog of God!” Gabriel was blasted back and off his feet. He groaned and struggled to stand once more. Should a fallen angel really be this powerful? Gabriel wondered. No, this is the power of blood…the blood of the thousands he’s consumed these many centuries. This is where his power comes from. I should make my escape for now. The Archangel summoned his wings and they emerged from his back. He spread his wings and took off into the sky. However- Gabriel sensed an attack and dodged left. Dracula’s sword sliced into the side of Gabriel’s shoulder. Hellfire! Gabriel glanced behind him to see that Dracula had summoned a pair of bat-like wings in order to pursue him. “Going somewhere, Gabriel? Fleeing like the coward you are? I won’t let you escape. All of God’s allies shall be destroyed by my hand!” Dracula thrust his sword forward again with lightning speed. Gabriel dodged the attack in midair and spun around to face Dracula. He flew forward and swung his sword. Dracula blocked the attack. Gabriel and Dracula began to exchange blows, but this time they were in the skies, high above the clouds. Gabriel was tiring, and Dracula didn’t even look winded. The vampire’s power was incredible. He needed to escape. He needed to lose Dracula somehow. Gabriel looked around the night sky wildly, and spotted a group of gray, storm clouds. Thunder rumbled and lightning flashed. That’s it! There! Gabriel flew towards the dark storm clouds and entered them. Dracula pursued Gabriel fearlessly. Within the storm clouds the Archangel and vampire continued their fierce battle, exchanging tremendous blocks and blows. The air began to become electrically charged around them, and the hair on Gabriel’s arms and the back of his neck rose. Thunder rumbled loudly within the clouds, and then lightning flashed. Dracula dodged a bolt. Gabriel ended up having to do the same. But then a bolt caught Dracula in his right wing and ripped through the membrane. “Darn it!” Dracula shouted as he struggled to remain airborne. “I’ll finish you off some other time, Gabriel! You haven’t seen the last of me!” Dracula called out before he folded his wings and began to dive down through the clouds in order to escape the lightning. Gabriel let out a breath of relief, but his relief was short-lived. A bolt of lightning hit Gabriel’s left wing and he was sent plummeting towards the Earth. Dang it! Gabriel swore as he tried to get himself under control. But his wings weren’t working properly. He was going to crash. And crash he did. Right into a giant dumpster filled with foul-smelling garbage. Gabriel’s head and body were throbbing in pain, and he couldn’t move a muscle. Hellfire. He didn’t have the strength or energy left to teleport to safety. And he didn’t have the energy to will his wings back into his body either. He was a sitting duck. The humans would find him like this, with his wings in plain sight and they’d torture and dissect and experiment on him until he regained the strength to escape. But if they kept him drugged…he was so screwed. “Hello? Is anyone in there?” Came a spacey sounding female voice. Oh crap, a human. Gabriel tried to cover himself with the garbage bags in the dumpster. “Hello…I heard a large crash? Is someone hurt?” The female voice was getting closer and closer. And then a flashlight was shinning into Gabriel’s face. Gabriel blinked into the light and could see the face of a young woman with messy, strawberry blonde hair, and wide, blue eyes. She was wearing a pair of pink, Hello Kitty pj’s and fluffy, bunny slippers. Gabriel recognized her instantly. She was Sasha Robinovitch - a veterinarian and mad scientist. She was also destined to be Garth Mackenzie’s Judge. She was an eccentric young woman, and a klutz, but she had a good heart. “It’s you. Please…help me.” Gabriel managed to get out. Sasha shinned the flashlight at Gabriel’s wings and then on the broken one. “Wings…a fallen angel? Well, at least he’s not human.” She muttered darkly to herself. “Sure, I’ll help you. Let me just get you out of there first.” Sasha set the flashlight down on the ground and then grabbed onto Gabriel’s armor. She began to try and pull him out of the dumpster. “Dang boy, what have you been eating? You weigh a ton!” Sasha pulled and heaved with all her strength, and Gabriel was finally pulled out of the dumpster - only to fall forward and onto Sasha who couldn’t support his tremendous weight. “Eek!” Sasha squeaked as she fell back to the ground and Gabriel ended up right on top of her and with his face on her chest. “Sorry…I can’t move.” Gabriel apologized with a slight blush to his cheeks. This was the closest he’d ever been to a female before. “It’s okay. Just give me a second to gather my strength.” Sasha said as she panted beneath him. “Okay. Here we go!” Sasha pushed and shoved at Gabriel’s chest as she tried to push him off of her. “Mmm! Nghhh! Ooo!” She made constipation sounds. He didn’t budge an inch. “Yeah, this is so not working. You’re just too heavy. Maybe if I just…” Sasha began to slide herself out from underneath Gabriel until she finally made it out from under him. She stood up. “Phew!” Sasha looked down at the fallen angel who was now lying on the ground flat on his face. She noted the sword he still held in his hand…the bloodied sword. “Did you get in a fight with Satan or something?” “Something like that.” Gabriel hedged. Sasha crouched by his side and peered into Gabriel’s handsome face. “Are you really one of God’s angels?” “Yes.” Sasha frowned. “I never pictured angels dying their hair or wearing earrings.” Gabriel flushed. “It’s my own personal style. Most angels don’t dye their hair or wear piercings, just so you know. I’m a bit of a rebel.” “Oh, I see. So you’re different. Well, Mr. Angel, I really hate to do this, but I’m going to have to drag you across this dirty ground to get to my veterinary clinic. I don’t have the strength to carry you. I feel bad…dragging an angel across the dirty ground though. I really hope that’s not a sin.” Gabriel’s lip twitched. “I’ll give you a free pass this time, female.” Sasha grabbed Gabriel’s ankle and began to drag him through the alley and towards the exit. Before she exited out onto the sidewalk, she looked both ways to make sure no one was around before she dragged Gabriel out onto the sidewalk. Sasha dragged him as quickly as she could to the entrance of her veterinary clinic. She opened the door and began to pull Gabriel inside. Gabriel’s head hit the door jam with a crack. “Ooo.” Sasha flinched, having sympathy pains. “Oops. Sorry. I bet that hurt. That sounded like it hurt.” “Don’t worry about it.” I wonder if this girl is going to kill me before she saves me. Sasha then proceeded to drag Gabriel to her examination room. She collapsed to her knees panting for breath once she’d finally made it. “Phew, made it!” Sasha looked up at the examination table and frowned. There was no way she was getting him on that table. She stood up, crouched beside the angel, and began to inspect his broken wing. Now birds she could deal with. This would be a piece of cake! “Your wing is broken. I’m going to make a splint.” “If you just leave me here like this…I’ll eventually heal. You don’t have to do anything.” Gabriel informed her. Sasha frowned. “And leave you in pain? I don’t think so.” She went off to fetch the necessary medical supplies, returned a few minutes later, and began to treat Gabriel’s injury. Gabriel was surprised by the clumsy girl’s gentle touch. Apparently, when she was in ‘doctor mode’ she was like a totally different person. It didn’t take long for her to splint Gabriel’s wing. And he had to admit that he did feel better after her treatment, and his wounds were healing much faster than they normally would have. “Hey, I just want to say…thank you.” A loud snore was what greeted Gabriel in response. Sasha had fallen asleep and was using his good wing as a pillow. Gabriel flushed as he saw what she was doing. “Hey…female. Awaken! You can’t sleep there!” Sasha murmured in her sleep and snuggled deeper in Gabriel’s soft wing. “So nice and fluffy.” Gabriel let out a defeated sigh. Oh well. I need to hurry and find Neena’s reincarnation before it’s too late. Dracula is bad news, and San Francisco is in his crosshairs. This was Gabriel’s last thought before he joined Sasha in sweet oblivion. *** Becca lay on her stomach on Nathair’s bed as he got his tattooing tools ready. She was shirtless. Today, Becca was going to get her last and most powerful tattoo in her arsenal. Her dragon tattoo. She was feeling strangely nervous. Nathair set his stainless steel tray of tools down next to her on the bed. He sat next to her, picked up a piece of paper that had been lying on the bed, and inspected the dragon tattoo she’d sketched. He frowned. “Becca?” “Yeah?” “I don’t mean for this to sound insulting but…I’m hesitant to tattoo you with this dragon tattoo.” Nathair admitted. “I think it will be too much for you to handle, at this time.” Becca glanced over her shoulder at Nathair. “I’m not insulted. And I trust your judgment. What would you suggest?” A relieved expression fell over the tattoo artist’s face. “I have an idea for a better tattoo. One that will be easier for you to control, but that will be equally powerful. Give me a second.” Nathair went to fetch a drawing pad and a pen, and set to work drawing the tattoo design he had in mind for Becca. He completed the sketch in a matter of minutes. Nathair held the pad out to Becca so that she could see the design. It was an incredible, black, three-headed dog. It reminded her of Cerberus, but looked even more ferocious and frightening. All three heads had red eyes, enormous teeth, and sharp claws. Elaborate Celtic knotwork surrounded the beast artfully. “It’s amazing…it’s Cerberus, right?” Becca asked. “It’s a hellhound…and it’s related to Cerberus, yes.” Nathair nodded. “The knotwork contains powerful protective and offensive spells. So what do you think? Do you like it?” “I love it.” Becca offered Nathair a pleased smile. “I have one more suggestion. If you don’t mind I’d like to use black ink for its body and red ink for its eyes. I think its appearance could come in handy. The more dangerous something appears - the more people fear it.” Nathair explained. Becca raised an eyebrow at the Druid. “Is that why you tattooed your entire face?” Nathair nodded. “Our battle tattoos have always been a form of intimidation against the vampires.” “I see.” Becca said. “Well, it definitely works. When I first saw you…I thought you were a really scary guy. But now that I’ve gotten to know you…you’re not so bad.” Nathair rubbed his hand over his mouth in an awkward gesture. “I’m going to start.” “Okay.” Nathair began drawing the outline of the tattoo under her skin with his tattoo gun. Becca flinched at the initial pain, but after a few minutes, her skin felt numb and she barely felt anything. When Nathair began to inject black ink into the tattoo it really began to come to life. It took Nathair six hours to finish the three-headed hellhound on her back. When he was finally finished, he wiped the sweat from his brow with the back of his hand, grabbed a clean towel, and gently dabbed at the tattoo to get the blood off Becca’s skin. He cleaned the area which now had the tattoo and sat back to admire it. The Druid was pleased with how it had turned out and felt proud. Her hellhound tattoo was his best work yet, and it would be sure to protect his new friend. Like Derek had done when he’d tattooed Becca’s butterfly tattoo - Nathair had added a little of his own magical power to the tattoo. “It’s done.” Nathair grabbed a mirror and handed it to her. “I’ll, uh, close my eyes so you can go look at it in the full-length mirror over there.” He pointed at the mirror. Becca offered him a grateful smile. “Thanks.” She took the mirror and Nathair closed his eyes. It was odd seeing such a scary looking guy being such a gentleman! Becca got off the bed, and made her way over to the full-length mirror. She stood with her back to the mirror and used the hand mirror to look at her back. She gasped. The tattoo took her breath away. “It’s frigin awesome. I’m like The Girl With the Hellhound Tattoo now. I love it.” Nathair’s lips curled into a pleased smile, but he kept his eyes closed. Becca made her way back over to the bed, and sat down next to Nathair. She reached out and took his hand. “Thank you.” Nathair flushed, not used to thanks or praise. “Don’t mention it.” The door opened at that moment and Fia stepped inside. She took one look at the shirtless Becca and Nathair on the bed, and began to back away. “Did I come at a bad time again?” Nathair’s eyes shot open. “Fia! What? No…I was tattooing Becca’s final battle tattoo - the one for her back.” “Oh, I see.” Fia rubbed the back of her neck nervously. “Well, Becca, after Dealande has healed your tattoo, head to the training room for more training.” A feeling of dread swept over Becca. “You’re going to train me again?” “You’d hate that wouldn’t you? But…no. Ti and Fean want to help you train. It seems like you’ve managed to win everyone over in this house except for Vortigern and I. I bet that makes you happy.” Fia sneered and flipped her long hair over her shoulder. “Your training may have been a little…intense, but in the end it worked. I learned how to summon my battle tattoos. And you’re right - if I can’t handle you I probably won’t be able to fight vampires. I don’t know if I’m really the Savior or not, and I agree that you’re the better Huntress. This city needs you Fia - more than it does me.” Becca said sincerely as she met Fia’s eyes. Fia’s irked expression shifted to surprise. “Well, at least we finally agree on something. And thank you for saying so…it means a lot coming from you. Maybe I misjudged you, Rebecca Thorn. Maybe you’re not such a fool after all.” Becca offered her a wry smile. “And maybe you’re not such a witch.” “Becca!” Nathair turned to look at Becca and he couldn’t help it - he looked down. Oops! His eyes widened at the sight of Becca’s chest. Yum. “Oh crap…sorry.” Nathair looked away and shut his eyes again. “She’s bigger than Fia.” He muttered, not realizing he was speaking out loud. Fia immediately became incensed, stomped over to Nathair, and hit him hard over the head. “Ow!” Nathair complained, but wisely kept his eyes shut. “Was that Becca?” “No, you idiot. That was I!” Fia hit him again for good measure. “Oh.” Nathair groaned with pleasure. Fia was hitting him, punishing him. He could feel himself getting turned on. “Oh yeah…punish me more, Fia.” “You’re speaking out loud again, Nathair.” Becca giggled. Fia raised an eyebrow at Nathair, and put her hands on her hips. “Excuse me?” Becca grabbed her shirt and quickly put it on. “I’m going to go find Dealande. I should probably leave you two alone.” “What? And why should you do that?” Fia demanded, giving Becca a heated look. Becca gave Nathair’s crotch a pointed look. Fia followed Becca’s line of sight and blushed. “Nathair! You pervert!” She shoved him down onto the bed, straddled him, and began to hit him while Nathair moaned and groaned in erotic bliss. Becca smiled at their antics and stifled a laugh. They were like the perfect S and M couple. Becca left Nathair’s bedroom, made sure to close the door behind her, and put a hat on the doorknob. Just in case. Becca went to find Dealande who used her powers to heal her back. After that, Becca headed to the training room and entered. The sight that met her was Ti and Fean leaning against one of the walls and sharing a joint together. Fean took a drag on the joint and then handed it to his sister. “This is the good stuff, sis.” The Druid was incredibly mellow compared with his usual hyper self. Ti took a hit next. “Yeah, I feel so much more relaxed. Fia should really learn to smoke pot.” “Yeah. She’s way too on edge all the time. Way too uptight. She needs to learn how to loosen up…have a little fun. Unwind, dudette.” Fean agreed as he took the joint back for another hit. “Uh, hey guys.” Becca greeted them tentatively. “Oh, hey, it’s Becca.” Fean greeted and checked her out. Becca was wearing a short-sleeved, black T-shirt, purple leather pants and boots. “Welcome…you want a hit?” Fean held the joint out to her. “Oh, no thanks. I think I’ll pass. Thanks though.” Becca waved her hands before her. After the whole Slaine getting her high on whipped cream can fumes so that he could turn her, she had an aversion for anything that would affect her mind. “Well, let’s starting training then.” Ti said before she stretched out her arm, summoned her magical power, and willed her cat tattoo to rise off her arm and materialize. The cat gracefully leapt down from Ti’s arm and landed beside her. “You have a cat tattoo too, right Becca? Let’s have a catfight.” “Whoo, a catfight!” Fean cheered. “I do. And okay…I’ll try.” Becca held up her arm and furrowed her brow in concentration. She summoned her magical power and willed her cat tattoo to peel off her arm. Her cat leapt down and stood in front of Becca protectively. Ti smiled at Becca’s shimmery, blue ink cat. “She’s pretty. Nathair did a good job on her. Let’s see how good she can fight. Attack!” Ti ordered her own ink cat and the cat sprang into action. “Attack!” Becca quickly ordered her ink cat, which leapt to attack the other cat. The two cats collided, engaged, and ended up rolling across the floor as they scratched and bit each other. “Meow! Rawr!” They were really going at it. “Whoo! Go!” Fean fist pumped as he watched the cats. “Who are you rooting for, bro?” Ti demanded, raising an eyebrow at her brother. “Uh, I always root for the underdog so Becca.” Fean admitted. Ti bristled, reached out, grabbed Fean’s ear, and twisted it. “You can’t root for other people! You’re my brother! You’re supposed to be always on my side!” She chided. “Ow, ow, ow! Alright, I’m sorry! I’m sorry! Why don’t I just root for both of you then.” Fean suggested. “That’s not good enough!” Ti exclaimed. Becca laughed at the siblings’ antics. She couldn’t believe she was actually having fun during a training session. Unreal. Fean managed to escape his sister and put his arm out. “Or maybe I should just kick both your butts!” He summoned an ink crow that peeled off his arm and took flight. “Attack those cats!” Fean ordered. The crow dive-bombed the cats, and began pecking at their heads. “Retreat!” Becca called out to her cat. Becca’s ink cat leapt out of the way and the crow ended up attacking and destroying Ti’s ink cat, which exploded into purple ink. “Argh! Fean! How could you?” Ti shrieked and stamped her foot on the floor. Fean just laughed, and ran away from his sister who’d started to chase him. Becca laughed and used Fean’s distraction to have her ink cat stalk the crow that’d landed on the floor, and that was awaiting further orders. Becca motioned for her ink cat to kill the crow. Becca’s ink cat stalked stealthily towards the crow and hopped on it from behind. The crow shrieked as it was destroyed. Ti and Fean turned to look at what had happened, and saw that Becca had defeated Fean’s ink crow. Fean gave Becca a thumbs-up. “Congrats. You go, girl!” Ti grabbed Fean’s ear and twisted it. “Don’t congratulate other girls!” Becca laughed at their antics again. “Look at these silly little Hunters, my love. They look so carefree. One would think they had no idea Armageddon was almost upon them.” Came a silky, male, Romanian-accented voice. “Indeed, they look like idiots. This mission will be even easier than we thought.” Came a female voice with a French accent. Becca, Fean, and Ti turned to see that there were two vampires suddenly in their midst. Both were wearing heavy hooded cloaks that they removed and tossed to the floor. The male vampire was incredibly handsome with his curly black hair, and red eyes. He was wearing a black, Victorian-style suit with a red cravat and a top hat. He was also carrying a black cane with a silver, dragon-shaped knob. The female vampire looked like an evil ballerina. Her blonde hair was pulled back into a tight bun and she had red eyes. She was wearing a black ballerina dress with a fluffy skirt and lace-up slippers. Fean stepped in front of the girls protectively. “Who the hell are you guys?” “Allow me to introduce myself, I am Andrei.” Andrei took his top hat off and bowed gallantly. “And the lovely lady standing beside me is Abelle.” Andrei took Abelle’s hand and kissed it. “Isn’t she divine?” Fean found himself nodding in agreement. “Yeah, man-” And ended up getting elbowed by his sister in his side. “Oof! Hey!” “What do you want, vampires?” Ti demanded. “You two have guts, coming into a house full of Druids.” Andrei smiled slowly, showing off his gleaming, white fangs. “That’s the problem with Hunters…they’re all talk and no action. If they had a brain cell in those heads of theirs they would have tried to kill us by now. We’re here to kill her.” Andrei pointed his cane at Becca. “Of course.” Becca flinched. “Me? Why?” Andrei raised an eyebrow at Becca and tilted his head at her. “Surely you know? Dealande is not the only one who can have visions of the future. Dracula has had prophetic dreams of his own that warn him that he must slay the red-haired Druidess. You are a threat to him.” “Because you two have been so polite, if you stay out of our way little Hunters, we shall spare your lives.” Abelle began amiably as she addressed Ti and Fean. “All we want is Rebecca Thorn.” Becca swallowed nervously. “Ha! Did you really think we’d give up our comrade that easily? Think again!” Fean raised his arms and several crow tattoos began to peel off his skin and materialize as he prepared for battle. “If you want Becca, you’ll have to get past us first!” Ti declared as she held up her fists before her. She summoned two of her wildcat tattoos, but didn’t let them peel off her skin entirely. Instead she willed her tattoos to cover her hands, so that as a result each fist was now a giant wildcat head. She could open and close her hands, which would open and close the mouth of the wildcat. Ti got into a boxing stance. “Those are some interesting boxing gloves you have there, girl. Andrei, I’ll take the girl - you take the boy.” Abelle announced as she stood up on her tiptoes and put her arms over her head in a dance pose. “As you wish, my love.” Andrei grabbed the silver knob of his cane, and unsheathed a long thin sword. He tossed the sheathe aside and pointed the sword at Fean and his flock of crows. Abelle moved to attack first. She danced towards Ti and then jumped, her toe pointed outwards. And then the oddest thing happened - a metal spike emerged from the tip of Abelle’s ballerina slipper. “Holy crap!” Ti dodged out of the way. “What’s with those crazy shoes!” Abelle smiled, flashing her fangs. “Did you really think these were ordinary ballet slippers? Think again!” Abelle danced and attacked Ti with her spikes. Ti avoided the attacks and made some of her own, punching at Abelle. However, Abelle was extremely fast and agile, and avoided Ti’s punches with ease. In one particularly stellar move, Abelle bent backwards as Ti’s punch sailed over her chest in a Matrix-style move. At the same time, Fean ordered his crows to attack Andrei. “Attack! Get him!” The flock of crows swooped down and attacked Andrei with their beaks and claws. However, Andrei dodged gracefully while moving his sword through the air, and the crows began to explode one by one in showers of black ink. Ti kept looking for an opening and wasn’t finding one. Crap. The Huntress realized in that moment that they were no match for the vampires they were facing and that they would soon be killed along with Becca. “Becca, go on, get out of here! We’ve got this!” Becca nodded and began to run towards the exit. However- All of a sudden Abelle began to spin rapidly and her feet became a blur. That’s when her foot shot out and Ti was unable to move out of the way in time. The metal spike pierced Ti’s shoulder, and the Huntress cried out in pain and staggered backwards. Becca stopped in her tracks when she heard Ti’s cry of pain and spun to see that Ti had just been stabbed in her shoulder. “Ti!” She looked over at Fean and saw that Andrei had somehow managed to defeat his entire flock of deadly crows. Andrei was approaching Fean with deadly, purposeful steps. Becca could leave them to die…or stay and fight, and die with them. I’m tired of running. “Hold it right there! Stay away from my friends, vampires!” Becca raised her arms and summoned her unicorn and fox tattoos simultaneously. They peeled off her skin, and materialized beside her. “Attack!” Becca directed her ink unicorn and fox. The translucent, blue-tinged, shimmery unicorn galloped towards Andrei, and aimed its horn at Andrei’s heart. Andrei blocked the horn with his sword. The fox ran across the floor and leapt at Abelle. Abelle tried to leap out of the way but the fox was fast and somehow managed to latch onto her ankle. She cried out in pain. “Ah, get it off of me! Get it off!” “Abelle!” Andrei turned his attention towards Abelle, and the unicorn took advantage of his distraction to stab him in the stomach with its horn. Andrei leapt backwards, and blood gushed out from the wound on his stomach. “Darn it!” He swore as he put a hand over his stomach to try and keep his guts inside. Becca regrouped with Fean and Ti. “Hey, you guys okay?” “Yeah.” Fean replied, panting for breath. “Thanks to you.” Ti had a hand pressed to the wound on her shoulder. Becca turned her attention to the unicorn and fox. Her brow furrowed in concentration as she willed the attacks she wanted the unicorn and fox to execute. Sweat beaded her brow. Fean and Ti exchanged a look as they watched Becca fighting the vampires to save them. This dire moment had managed to bring out Becca’s true potential. Her desire to protect her friends was that strong. They could hardly believe it, but Becca was pushing the vampires back. However, the door to the training room was suddenly kicked open, and kicked so hard it went flying off its hinges, and into the room. In stepped a hulking, giant of a male. He was six-nine, even taller than Garth. He had wild, black hair, fierce red eyes, and a full black beard. Two leather straps with spikes on them formed an X over the bulging muscles of his chest. He was also wearing a helmet with horns on his head, black leather pants and biker boots. The vampire was wielding an enormous battle-axe that he had resting on his shoulders as he stomped into the training room with thundering steps. Becca had to tilt her head up to look at the male. “A Viking? No way.” Bergthor saw the fox that was latched onto Abelle’s ankle, let out a battle cry, and charged. He swung his axe down upon the fox and it exploded into blue ink. “Thanks.” Abelle said. “Go help Andrei.” “Don’t boss me around, woman!” Bergthor complained as he stomped over to Andrei and swung his axe at the unicorn next. The unicorn tried to protect itself with its horn, but to no avail - its head was chopped off. Blue ink dripped down from Bergthor’s battle-axe and the vampire smiled, apparently happy with the destruction he’d wrought. Andrei still had a hand over his stomach. “Thanks, Bergthor.” He ran over to Abelle. “Abelle, my love, are you alright?” Andrei looked down at Abelle’s wounded ankle and his expression darkened. “I will make them pay for hurting you.” Bergthor rolled his eyes as he watched the lovey-dovey couple. “It will heal, darling.” Abelle assured Andrei, and reached up to caress his cheek. “Do not look so worried.” “I hate seeing you hurt. It reminds me…of that time.” Andrei admitted as a dark shadow fell over his features. “I know.” Abelle replied understandingly. “But I’m immortal now. You saw to that.” Bergthor turned around to face Becca and the other Hunters with an evil smile twisting his lips. Oh crap. Becca thought as she felt like a mouse being stared at by a gigantic, hungry cat. “Becca, now you should really get out of here.” Ti said grimly. Becca shook her head. “No, I won’t just abandon you guys.” Bergthor chuckled merrily as he approached. “I’m going to have fun chopping you up into tiny little pieces, Savior.” He sneered the word ‘Savior’. Becca shivered at his bloodlust that seemed to be pouring off of him in waves. “Hey!” A deep male voice called out to get the Viking’s attention. Everyone’s attention turned towards the open doorway to see Nathair. He was in full Hunter garb - hooded, leather vest, leather pants and boots. He had his arms raised before him and snakes were half peeled off his skin, and swaying back and forth and hissing. And then dozens of snakes began to slither into the training room. “Wait, those aren’t ink snakes, are they?” Abelle said with a tremor of fear in her voice. “Attack!” Nathair ordered his snakes - those that were alive and those that were made of ink. Nathair’s eyes were glowing electric blue. The snakes attacked, slithered across the floor towards Bergthor, and wrapped around his ankles. “Argh! Get off!” Bergthor roared loudly, tried to take a step forward, tripped, and fell forward, smack on his face. The snakes attacked the lovey-dovey vampire couple next. Abelle shrieked out of fear, and Andrei instantly shielded her with his body and fought off the snakes with his sword. “Stay behind me, Abelle!” Nathair locked gazes with Becca. “Becca, go. Get out of here. I’ve got this.” “But…” Becca started to object. “Trust me.” Nathair said firmly. Becca bit her bottom lip but then nodded. “Alright. Don’t die. I’d never forgive you.” Nathair smirked. “Don’t plan to.” As Becca ran out of the training room she called out to the vampire couple: “Those vipers are poisonous. You’ll have to suck out the poison. See ya!” Becca ran out of the training room and didn’t look back. She’d come to trust these Druid Vampire Hunters and knew that they would prevail. To be continued in…Tattoo 12: Hellhound Chapter 12: Hellhound Becca ran down the hall, down the stairs, and made it to the living room before she was attacked again. She instinctively ducked, and a gleaming katana soared over her head, cutting a few red hairs. “I missed.” Koko complained. “Pity.” The vampire removed her hooded cloak and tossed it aside. Koko was wearing a knee-length, red and black kimono with short sleeves. A black obi sash belt was tied around her waist, and she was wearing a pair of black knee boots. Her black and red hair was tied up into a ponytail. She was ready for battle. Becca straightened and gaped at Koko. She rubbed her neck unconsciously with her hand. “You almost frigin decapitated me!” “That was the idea. Slaine won’t be able to love a headless corpse! It’s time to die, Rebecca Thorn!” Koko attacked with a psychotic look in her glowing, red eyes. Becca raised her arm, prepared to defend herself, and summon an ink creature. However- A black stag got in the way and protected Becca, its impressive antlers clashing against the katana. Becca turned to see Fia. “Fia!” “Get out of here, Becca. Go outside into the sun. You’ll be safe outside.” Fia said without taking her eyes off of Koko. “I still can’t believe these vampires are going around during the day! It’s crazy!” Becca hesitated. She didn’t like Fia very much but…leaving her to a vampire was another story. “I…I can fight!” Fia smiled. “I know. But now’s not the time. Not yet. And who was it that said I was the better Huntress? I can handle this crazy ninja vampire chick!” Becca realized that she’d only end up getting in Fia’s way if she stayed. “Kick her butt, Fia!” She said before running towards the foyer. “Will do.” Fia shot back. Becca reached the door, turned the knob, and exited out into the sunlight. She ran down the steps to the sidewalk and looked around. “Phew.” There were no enemies in sight and she was out in the sun, so she was safe, right? The sound of a car window being rolled down caught her attention. Becca turned her head to see a car with black-tinted windows, and as the window was rolled down the muzzle of a gun suddenly came into view and was pointed at her. Her eyes widened in fear and shock. She froze. “Get down!” Came a male voice and then a body was crashing into Becca, and sending her to the ground. A shot rang out. “Dag nam it!” An angry male voice with a southern accent was heard from inside the car. “Who just got in my way? I’m gonna shoot you full of lead!” More shots were fired. The man, who’d pushed Becca to the ground, stood up and offered his hand to her. She looked up at the mysterious cloaked and hooded figure. “Come with me.” The man told her. Becca hesitated before putting her hand in his and allowing him to help her up. They then began to run down the sidewalk together hand in hand. Becca curiously glanced sideways at her rescuer. Because of his dark green, hooded cloak and the gas mask that was on his face she had no idea who the hell he was. That gas mask is kinda creepy. The male stopped in front of a black Lamborghini, and took out his car keys. He unlocked the car. “Get in.” Becca didn’t need to be told twice. She got in the passenger side seat while her rescuer got in behind the wheel. He started the engine, pulled out of the parking spot, and merged into traffic. He pressed on the gas. Becca let out a breath of relief. “We’re safe.” Her rescuer looked in his rearview mirror. “Tch.” He made a sound of annoyance. “Not yet. He’s following us.” “What?” Becca looked into the rearview mirror and sure enough she spotted the car with tinted windows coming after them “Holy hell.” “Put your seatbelt on.” Her rescuer directed. Becca quickly put it on. “Hang on.” The male pressed down on the gas and floored it. Becca crossed herself and prayed. The male laughed at her antics, and that laugh was strangely familiar. Becca reached out and pulled her rescuer’s hood down to reveal his snow-white hair. “Slaine!” Slaine stopped laughing and stiffened. “Yeah, it’s me.” “Oh, sorry.” Becca raised his hood as his head began to smoke from the sun’s rays that had begun to hit it. “Slaine, why are you here? Why did you rescue me?” And in the middle of the day. Slaine let out a heavy sigh and shook his head. He shrugged. “I don’t really know myself but…when Dracula told me he had a dream that a woman named Rebecca Thorn would kill him…I knew he would try to have you killed. And I…I just couldn’t stand back and watch that happen.” Becca gave Slaine a suspicious look. “Do you still want to turn me into a vampire?” “Honestly? I don’t know.” Slaine clenched his hands around the steering wheel. Slaine glanced at Becca’s new tattoos. “Besides I think it might be impossible now. What with Dracula’s dream and the fact you’re now a Huntress. You’ve chosen to walk a different path from me once again, Becca. We’re enemies now.” He frowned at the thought. The car that was still pursuing them had managed to catch up to them, and pulled up directly behind them by swerving around another car. Undertaker leaned out his side window and began to fire at the Lamborghini. “Crap!” Slaine swerved the car back and forth across the road as he tried to dodge the onslaught of gunfire. “That jerk Undertaker is really shooting at us!” His voice was tinged with disbelief. “Slaine! There are too many innocent people around!” Becca exclaimed and nibbled her lower lip before she decided to make a suggestion she wasn’t sure Slaine would listen to. “Let’s get off the main road.” Slaine rolled his eyes at Becca’s subtlety. “Oh, what the hell. Just so you know, I don’t care about what happens to these humans.” He spotted an exit ramp, took it and they began to head down a winding forest road. Becca grabbed her seatbelt as Slaine drove like a daredevil down the twisting road that had forest on either side. “Hey Slaine…there’s something I want you to know in case we die.” Slaine glanced at Becca curiously. “What?” Becca took a deep breath to steel her nerves. “I remembered my past…my past life as Cinnia, that is. I remember you too, Hunchback.” Slaine gripped the wheel and stiffened. “You remember…how hideous I used to look?” Becca shook her head. “No, I remember how kind and sweet you used to be. How you would nurse injured forest creatures back to health. How you wouldn’t hurt a fly. How you wouldn’t step on ants that were crossing your path.” Slaine flushed at her words. “I’m not that person anymore, Becca.” But Becca plowed on with what she wanted to say. “And I remember how I felt about you. I loved you, Hunchback.” She admitted softly. “What a load of crap.” Slaine snarled as he nearly lost control of the car. “You married Dearg!” “Yes, I did. I married Dearg because even though I loved you…I simply loved Dearg more.” Becca reached out to place a hand on Slaine’s shoulder. “And you never told me that you loved me. Why?” Slaine laughed bitterly, and blinked his eyes rapidly to clear them of his blood tears. “How could I? I was a hideous monster.” Becca let out a frustrated huff. “But not to me! You may have loved me Slaine, but back then…you didn’t know me. There’s a chance I may not have rejected you, but you didn’t even try. Instead you tried to force my love for you. You tried to turn me into a vampire and ended up killing me.” Becca pulled her hand back and wrapped her arms around her body as she remembered. The blood dripping down onto her face. Slaine hung his head, feeling ashamed. “I…I’m sorry Cinnia. I never meant to hurt you. I regret my actions even now.” “And yet you tried to turn me again! Why?” Becca demanded angrily as she poked him in the arm. “Because of Derek! Okay?” Slaine burst out, feeling embarrassed and pathetic. “I knew…you’d fall in love with him again! It was only a matter of time!” Becca shook her head, and her lime green eyes were filled with sadness. “You’re wrong. I was falling in love with you, Slaine…but you had to ruin all that by making the wrong choices again. You betrayed me, Slaine…I trusted you!” Did I make the wrong choice? Again? Will I continue to make the wrong choices when it comes to Becca over and over again? Did I really have a chance with her and yet I screwed it up? So this situation…is all my fault. I just keep making the wrong choices. But, no more. No more being an idiot. It’s time to start making the right choices. Slaine peered into the rearview mirror. “Crap! That jerk is still on our tail!” Slaine watched as Undertaker emerged from the side window again. “What the hell is that guy doing now?” Undertaker whipped out a rocket launcher, which he aimed at the Lamborghini. Slaine’s eyes popped. “No frigin way…a rocket launcher?” Becca paled. “Did you just say ‘rocket launcher’?” Undertaker waited five seconds until the marker turned from green to red. At that point, the missile was locked on. Undertaker pulled the trigger and fired the rocket at the Lamborghini. “That can’t be a heat-seeking rocket, can it? Crap. We’re going to have to go off road!” Slaine swerved right, went off the road, and began to drive down a rocky hill into the forest. “Did we lose it?” Slaine asked as he concentrated on swerving around the trees in his way. Becca checked her rearview mirror and saw the rocket pursuing their car. “Oh my God, Slaine, the rocket! It’s still after us! We’re so going die.” “What!” Slaine looked into the rearview mirror quickly, and saw the rocket still pursuing the car. “Crap! Son of a gun! It’s a heat-seeking missile alright. We’re going to have to e-vak.” Slaine undid his seatbelt. “We’re going to have to what?” Becca demanded in an incredulous tone. Slaine reached over, unbuckled Becca’s seatbelt, opened her passenger side door, grabbed Becca, and threw them both out of the car. Slaine wrapped his arms around Becca to protect her body as they hit the ground, and rolled down the hill. The missile hit the Lamborghini and it exploded with a boom! Becca screamed. Flaming pieces of metal debris flew through the air. Slaine rolled so that Becca was beneath his body as the shrapnel began to dangerously rain down on the ground all around them. Several pieces of sharp, metal debris imbedded themselves into Slaine’s back like arrows, and he grunted and grit his teeth against the pain. This is nothing…compared to the torture I once went through at the hands of that sadistic bastard Corann and his Elite. Finally, the rain of metal debris stopped. Slaine moved off of Becca, and noted she’d fallen unconscious. Slaine sat on the ground, reached behind him, gripped a piece of metal, and grit his teeth as he pulled the metal out of his back. Blood spurted through the air as Slaine removed each piece of metal from his back one by one. Afterwards, he felt weak and dizzy. He was panting for breath and his vision was going hazy. When he stood up he swayed on his feet. But they had to keep moving. Undertaker would probably come down there to inspect the wreckage. Slaine made his way over to Becca, and scooped her up into his arms bridal-style. The vampire looked down at the vision of beauty that was Becca in his arms. At least I get to carry her like this once in my undead life. Slaine started off into the forest and shivered at the fall chill in the air. It was the beginning of October, and the leaves on all of the trees had changed color to red, orange, and yellow. At least, his hooded cloak and gas mask protected him from the sun’s rays. Slaine searched the surrounding area for some kind of shelter where he could hide with Becca and inspect her for injuries. After a few minutes, he spotted a shallow cave. Score. He made his way inside and looked around to make sure it wasn’t inhabited by a big grizzly bear or something. He then set Becca down on the floor of the cave gently, and started to inspect her body for injuries. There were a few small cuts on her arms…bleeding cuts. He could smell her delectable blood. Slaine leaned over Becca and licked at her wounds. The vampire watched as her wounds began to close right before his eyes. He began to tremble with desire. Her blood smells so delectable. Slaine realized in that moment that he still smelled blood. He sniffed her body and discovered that she was bleeding from the back of her head. Worried, Slaine put his hand behind Becca’s head and when he inspected his hand he saw that it was covered in blood. Had Becca’s head hit a rock when they’d jumped out of the car and rolled down the hill? Slaine wondered frantically. Head injuries were very dangerous for humans. She could die. Slaine’s pupils dilated at the smell of Becca’s blood on his hand. He licked the blood off his hand while watching her closely. His red eyes glowed with lust and desire for her. Maybe he should turn her right now. He mused and a smile curled his lips. She was currently unconscious and would be unable to resist him as he bit her neck and then fed her his blood. This was the perfect opportunity. Slaine leaned over Becca, his fangs elongated, and he went for her neck. He was just about to sink his fangs into her flesh when he just stopped. I was falling in love with you, Slaine…but you made all the wrong choices. You betrayed me, Slaine…I trusted you. Becca’s words echoed through his head mercilessly. The vampire pulled away from her. No! He would not betray Becca again. This time he would make the right choice. He would save Becca…another way. Slaine licked the back of Becca’s head until her wound stopped bleeding, and then ripped strips of cloth from the bottom of his cloak, which he used to bandage Becca’s head. Hours passed and the sun began to set. Slaine was feeling tired and weak, but decided to go in search of firewood anyways. He didn’t want Becca to wake up in total darkness inside of the cave and be afraid. The vampire also wanted to make sure that she was kept warm from the fall chill in the air. Slaine left the cave and it didn’t take him very long to find several dry pieces of wood in the nearby forest. When he returned to the cave, Slaine built a small fire, and used his vampiric powers to get it going. As soon as the sun had set, he removed the gasmask he’d been wearing and his hooded cloak. He walked over to Becca and placed his cloak over her like a blanket. He then moved to sit across the fire from her. Slaine sat down cross-legged on the cave floor, and struggled to keep his eyes open as exhaustion tried to claim him. His eyelids started drooping anyways. He’d lost so much blood. He was so tired. Slaine ended up falling asleep while in his sitting position. *** A couple hours later, Becca awoke with a start. She sat up and groaned. “Ugh.” Her head felt like it’d been hit by a two-by-four. She blinked around at her surroundings. When her eyes adjusted to the dim light she discovered that she was inside of a shallow cave. There was a small, flickering fire right beside her, and sitting directly across from her on the other side of the fire was Slaine. “Slaine!” Becca exclaimed fearfully, and raised a hand to the side of her neck to check for a bite mark. Her neck was bite mark free, however, and Slaine appeared to be asleep even though he was in a sitting position. She looked down at the hunter-green cloak that had been covering her like a blanket, and reached up to feel a bandage that was tied around her head. Her brow furrowed in confusion. “Slaine…saved me? But why? Why didn’t he try to turn me this time? I would have been completely helpless.” Becca couldn’t help but remember the old ‘Hunchback’ who’d lived in a cave that had been just a little bit bigger than this one. She remembered him as a thirteen-year-old boy holding a huge, fluffy bunny in his arms, and laughing. He used to be so sweet but now… She stared across the fire at Slaine, and took in the all-black leather outfit he was wearing. He was a vampire. A true monster. His soul was in Hell. Becca stood up and the cloak fell off of her. She raised her arm and summoned her fox tattoo. It peeled off her arm, materialized, and stood beside her, awaiting her command. Tears burned Becca’s green eyes. “I’m going to save you, Slaine. Kill him.” She commanded her ink fox. The ink fox approached Slaine with slow, purposeful steps in order not to wake him. The fox stopped directly next to Slaine, tilted its head, and opened its mouth wide. It leaned forward, prepared to bite Slaine’s head off. However, the sound of a branch breaking echoed inside of the cave loudly. “Wait.” Becca commanded her fox that pulled its head away from Slaine’s neck. Becca turned her attention towards the entrance of the cave to see a cloaked, hooded figure entering. Oh crap! Was this the vampire who liked guns that had been pursing them? Becca wondered frantically. The figure approached the fire, and Becca stiffened, prepared to fight. The figure lowered her hood to reveal Yoko. Yoko was wearing a knee-length, black and white kimono with short sleeves, a white obi sash belt that was tied around her thin waist, and black knee boots. Two short swords were strapped to her back and Becca could see their hilts. “Yoko?” Becca recognized the vampire twin from when she’d been kidnapped by Neena. Yoko looked at the ink fox. “What were you doing with that?” Her voice held a dangerous edge to it. “Ah, I heard someone coming so I…” Becca shrugged and tried to look innocent. Yoko raised an eyebrow at the strange girl. “You thought I was Undertaker?” “Undertaker?” Becca asked and her brow furrowed. Just how many vampires were in San Francisco? She wondered and shuddered at the thought. “Undertaker is the vampire who pursued you both. Don’t worry. He thinks you’re dead.” Yoko smiled as if the thought also pleased her. Becca remembered the explosion. “Great. That’s good news…I guess.” Yoko sniffed the air and her stoic expression shifted to concern. “Slaine-sensei…he’s hurt.” Yoko rushed over to Slaine’s side and crouched beside him. She ripped his shirt off, flipped Slaine onto his stomach, and revealed his back. Becca gasped at the sight of it. His back was an absolute mess, torn open in places, and bleeding profusely. “How did that happen?” Yoko glanced up at Becca and gave her an exasperated look. “Foolish human, he obviously used his body to protect you from the explosion.” Becca gulped. “Slaine…protected me?” She felt like a total witch that she’d almost just killed him. But he had no soul, right? How could someone without a soul do an act of kindness though? She wondered. Would killing him have been wrong? But it was to save his soul. Becca could feel a headache coming as her mind whirled with possibilities and questions. Yoko leaned down and began to lick Slaine’s back while making purring sounds. Becca blushed at the erotic sight. “W-What are you doing?” Yoko raised an eyebrow at Becca. “Our saliva has healing properties. I’m going to seal his wounds.” “Oh.” Becca said and looked at her arms. She’d been cut but those cuts were pink and already healing. Had Slaine…? She blushed at the thought of him licking her wounds closed. It took almost half an hour for Yoko to close all of Slaine’s wounds. Once she was done she pulled back and licked her lips. “Mmm. Slaine-sensei tastes so good.” She then removed her cloak and put it around Slaine’s shoulders in a tender gesture. Becca gave Yoko a strange look. “Aren’t you going to try and kill me?” Yoko gave her a droll look. “I could care less about you, Rebecca Thorn. All I care about is Slaine’s well-being.” Surprise flashed across Becca’s visage when she realized something. “You love him don’t you?” Yoko nodded. “Yes, but Slaine sees my sister and I as his ‘daughters’, I think. It was centuries ago in Feudal Japan when he saved my sister and I. He was an Iga ninja and had been ordered to make an attack on the Koga Clan. My sister and I were only seven-years-old at the time. Still ninjas in training. When he found us…he should have killed us. Instead, he decided to save us. He raised us like his own daughters and trained us to fight so that we could protect ourselves. But when Dracula found out about our existences, he sent vampires to kill us. When Slaine arrived to find us dying, he decided to save us by turning us.” Becca frowned and gave Yoko a pitying look. “He didn’t save you though. He cursed your souls to Hell.” “No, you’re wrong.” Yoko’s red eyes flashed angrily. “All we wanted was to be able to stay by Slaine’s side. He saved us.” Her voice was firm. Becca felt pleased to know that Slaine hadn’t been alone all this time, but she was also feeling strangely jealous of Yoko and Koko’s connection to Slaine. But that was silly. She realized. Her feelings weren’t making very much sense. “I see.” She sighed. “Look, I’m glad Slaine has you and Koko by his side. He shouldn’t be alone. I also care about his well-being in my own way. You two…you’ll look out for him, won’t you? Protect him from Dracula?” What am I saying? Just a few minutes ago I was trying to kill him. And now I’m asking Yoko to protect him? What the hell is wrong with me? “Of course. Koko and I would protect Slaine with our lives.” Yoko readily assured her. Becca let out a breath of relief. “I’m glad to hear that…that he isn’t alone.” Yoko surprised Becca by actually smiling. Slaine slowly blinked his eyes as he came awake and sat up. He was feeling much better, but still weak from blood loss. The pain in his back was mysteriously gone though. His eyes widened dramatically when he caught sight of Yoko who’d latched herself onto his arm. “Yoko!” He quickly looked around the cave to find Becca, and saw her seated across the fire with an ink fox seated next to her. Phew. He let out a breath of relief. Becca looked okay and it didn’t appear as though the two women had fought or that Yoko had tried to kill Becca. If Koko had shown up…well… “What are you doing here, Yoko?” Slaine asked Yoko warily. “I came to help you, of course. I followed you and Undertaker on my motorcycle.” Yoko revealed. “That was one hell of a chase you gave him, sensei.” Slaine’s brow furrowed with confusion. “Wait, how did you know it was me?” Yoko raised an eyebrow at Slaine. “Who else would be rescuing Rebecca Thorn in a Lamborghini? You tend to be a little predictable, Slaine. Even if it was a different color from your other one, as soon as I saw the car I knew that it was you. That’s why I followed you, to see if you’d need my help. I almost had a heart attack when you drove off the road, and the missile blew up the car. After that I watched as Undertaker parked his car, and made his way down the hill to inspect the wreckage. “I waited a few minutes before following Undertaker, and kept myself hidden among the trees. Undertaker took one look at the car, the metal debris on the ground, and the blood before he burst out laughing. That son of a gun figured you two were dead. I don’t think Undertaker knew it was you, Slaine. Anyways, I waited until he left before I started searching for the two of you. That’s when I discovered this cave. I helped to heal your wounds. You were badly injured and loosing a lot of blood.” Yoko licked her lips as she remembered the sweet taste of her sensei’s blood. Slaine’s eyes flared. “You licked my wounds in front of Becca?” The vampire flushed and looked across the fire at Becca awkwardly as Yoko snuggled up against his arm like she was his lover. What does Becca think about this? Becca looked at Slaine across the fire, suddenly feeling very far away from him. Slaine and Yoko were vampires, and she was human and now a Druid Vampire Hunter. They were enemies. But for the moment they appeared to have an unspoken truce. “Yes. I did.” Yoko was unrepentant. Becca waved her hand in front of her. “Oh, I don’t mind. I’m glad she was able to help you heal.” “Slaine-sensei…you’re weak from loss of blood. You should feed. Feed from me.” Yoko moved her kimono aside to bare her neck and part of her shoulder to Slaine. Slaine’s pupils dilated and his fangs elongated, but he covered his mouth with his hand. He then shot a worried and slightly horrified look in Becca’s direction. “No! I shall not feed in Becca’s presence.” Like a monster. I don’t want her to see me like this. Becca stood up. “I’ll go outside so you can feed.” She started for the exit of the cave. Slaine stood up quickly. “No!” He grabbed her arm. “Undertaker could still be out there. It’s too dangerous. Stay here, Becca. Tonight I will protect you. Tomorrow morning you can leave and return to the Druids. Or wherever you wish.” Becca hesitated but then let out a defeated sigh. “Alright fine, but as soon as I’m gone you’ll feed, right?” Slaine was touched by her concern and nodded. “I shall.” Becca moved to sit behind the fire once more. Slaine sat as well. He gave Becca a searching look. “So you won’t return to Derek?” He tried to make his tone as casual as possible. Becca frowned and her expression darkened. “No.” No yet… Confusion flickered in Slaine’s red eyes. “Did he try to turn you?” “No.” “Did he try to bite you?” “No.” Slaine let out a snort. “Then why did you leave him?” “I found out he’s a vampire…a monster. What did you expect? For me to react like this: ‘Oh Derek, you’re a vampire? Cool! Come and suck my blood.’ Hah! Especially with my blood phobia.” Becca rubbed her arms at the thought. “Blood phobia?” Slaine asked. “I faint or have a panic attack at the sight of blood or…” Becca looked at the blood surrounding Slaine. “I used to. I guess with everything that’s been happening to me recently I’m beginning to get desensitized to it. It was probably because of how I died in my past life.” Slaine cringed at her words and a guilty look crossed his face. “I’m sorry.” Becca shook her head. “No, it’s okay. You know what? I forgive you, Slaine.” Slaine’s jaw dropped slightly and he gave her an astonished look. “You do?” Becca nodded. “And thank you for saving my life today.” “It was nothing.” Slaine flushed, and a dopey, happy look was forming on his face. Yoko hit Slaine on the back of his head. “Ow!” Slaine rubbed the back of his head and glared at Yoko. “What the hell was that for?” “It was nothing.” Yoko repeated mimicking Slaine’s Celtic accent. “Stop trying to be cool, Slaine. If Dracula finds out about this you’ll be in deep crap. Dracula wants her dead.” “That coward.” Slaine angrily clenched his hands into fists on his lap. “Afraid of a little nightmare.” Becca wisely kept her mouth shut about the ‘prophecy’ and her being the city’s Savior. She was moved Slaine was risking his ‘life’ for her by helping her, but she still intended to kill Slaine when she the opportunity presented itself. She was determined to free his soul from Hell. The night passed quickly, and when the sun rose and sunlight began to stream into the cave, Slaine and Yoko put their hooded cloaks back on. Becca stretched her arms over her head, stood up, and gave Slaine an emotional look. “Well, I guess this is goodbye.” Slaine offered her a tentative smile. “Take care, Becca. Be safe.” “You too.” Becca said before she left the cave and walked out into the sunlight. Becca looked up at the clear, gray-blue sky, and shielded her eyes from the bright, golden sun that was shinning overhead with her hand. She glanced behind her to see Slaine and Yoko dressed in their hooded cloaks, standing inside the cave, and couldn’t help but feel sorry for them. The sun had become their enemy. Becca turned her gaze back to the forest path in front of her, and began to take it back to the main road. She exited the edge of the forest, looked both ways before crossing the street, and stood on the side of the road as she prepared to hitchhike her way back into downtown San Francisco. A few minutes passed, when a Toyota appeared and stopped upon seeing Becca on the side of the road. Becca walked up to the car to see a middle-aged couple inside. The man was seated behind the wheel, and the woman was seated in the front passenger seat. Becca noticed the wedding rings on their hands, and noted that they were a married couple. “You need a ride, honey?” The wife asked in a friendly manner, as she looked Becca over. She was probably determining whether or not Becca was some kind of juvenile delinquent. After a moment, she nodded to herself as if deciding Becca was safe to let in the car. “Yes, please.” Becca quickly explained where she was going. “Well, hop in, kid. We happen to be driving right past there. We’ll drop you off on our way back home.” The husband said amiably as he unlocked the car. “Thanks!” Becca got into the back of the car. “This is actually my first time hitch-hiking like this. My car…er, broke down.” “Oh, that’s a shame.” The woman glanced over her shoulder to give Becca a sympathetic look. The man restarted the car and off they went. “My name is Bruce, and this is my wife, Kelly.” “I’m Becca. Nice to meet you both.” Becca said while hoping she didn’t seem too nervous or suspicious. “Did you see the horrible accident back there?” Kelly asked with obvious distress in her tone. “Uh…yeah.” Becca hedged. “Horrible.” Bruce shook his head. “There were no survivors apparently. We stopped and talked to the cop that’s parked on the side of the road investigating the accident.” “No survivors.” Becca echoed, thinking about Slaine. He was ‘undead’. “That’s…sad.” “God bless their poor souls.” Kelly said before crossing herself. Their souls? Becca’s thoughts immediately shifted to Derek and Slaine. Their souls are currently burning in Hell. I must save them. Bruce and Kelly dropped Becca off right in front of the townhouse that was acting as the Druid Vampire Hunters’ current base of operations. “Take care, kid.” Bruce said with a wave. “You be safe now, honey.” Kelly offered Becca a warm smile. “Thanks. You guys be safe too.” Becca said and watched as they drove off. Her lips curled into a rueful smile. Apparently, there were still good Samaritans out there despite all those crazy, late night, news reports that said otherwise. Becca ascended the steps and knocked on the front door. The door opened to reveal Ti. “Get out of town!” Ti exclaimed as soon as she saw her. She reached out and surprised Becca with a hug. She pulled back and looked Becca over. “You’re alive. We were all so worried about you. We thought they kidnapped you…or worse. What the hell happened?” “Hey, Ti. As soon as I managed to escape the townhouse I hailed a cab, and got my butt out of here. I’ve just been lying low until now.” Becca explained. “Well, welcome back. Come on in.” Ti ushered Becca inside and into the living room. Everyone was there: Vortigern, Dealande, Fia, Nathair and Fean. All of the Druids were sporting bandages, but they were all thankfully alive. Everyone seemed happy and surprised to see Becca in one piece. “Hey guys, look who’s back!” Ti exclaimed as she pushed Becca forward into the room as if she were presenting her. Fean stood up with a big grin on his face, and walked over to give Becca a hug. “Hey, welcome back, babe.” Mmm, her boobs are pressing against my chest. “Uh, you can let go now, Fean.” Becca was saying in an amused tone. Ti grabbed her brother’s ear and yanked him back away from Becca. “Let go of her Fean, you perv!” “Aw man, such a killjoy, sis.” Fean reluctantly let go of Becca. “So you made it.” Fia approached and looked Becca over. “Good. It’s what I expected.” “Good job, Becca.” Nathair said with a half-smile. Becca let out a relieved breath as she looked at all of them. “It’s really good to see you all again. And I’m glad you’re all okay. What happened to the vampires? Did you kill them all?” Nathair chuckled darkly. “I wish. Those bloodsuckers got away. As soon as you left…they went off in search of you.” “I see.” Becca said nervously. Nathair narrowed his eyes at Becca. “How did you get away?” “Like I just told Ti, I hailed a cab.” Becca started nonchalantly. She decided that telling them that a vampire had saved her probably wouldn’t be the best idea. “It appears…we have our Savior.” Dealande began with a proud note to her scratchy voice. “You showed true bravery and courage during the attack, Becca. And you controlled your ink creatures flawlessly. I don’t think that there is anything more that we can teach you. I believe the time has come for you to leave us…and go kill Derek Dearg. Save this city.” Becca blinked at Dealande’s unexpected words. “Derek? What about Dracula?” Dealande laughed lowly and her blind eyes twinkled with mirth. “Don’t be so impatient. You’ll get your chance to kill Dracula too, but we’ll be there to help you with that. You’ll need all of us to take that ancient vampire down, trust me, but…Derek you should be able to handle on your own because he trusts you.” Kill Derek? Becca thought, her heart clenching inside of her chest. But it’s the right thing to do. Right? Fia walked up to Becca and placed a hand on her arm. “I’m counting on you, Becca…to avenge Keane’s death and to save Derek’s soul.” Becca frowned at the Huntress’s words. “But I still don’t think Derek killed Keane. I already told you that.” “It doesn’t really matter.” Fia flipped her long hair over her shoulder. “You still want to save Derek’s soul, right?” “Well, yeah, I do.” Becca agreed. “Then kill Derek, and put him out of his misery. Save him. Free his soul from Hell. You’re a Druid Vampire Hunter now, Becca. You’re one of us. I know you can do it.” Fia placed a hand on Becca’s shoulder and smiled at her. “I…” Becca looked around at everyone’s hopeful and expectant faces. She felt like she didn’t want to let them down. No pressure or anything. She finally nodded. “I’ll do it. I’ll kill Derek…and save his soul. And then we’ll go after Dracula, and stop whatever it is that he has planned for this city.” And Slaine…I’ll kill him too. Vortigern grinned. A strange glint in his eyes. “Well said, girl.” Fia’s smile widened. “I knew I could count on you, Becca. You really are one of us now. A true Druid Vampire Huntress.” “I…am a Huntress.” Becca murmured to herself. Don’t worry, Derek. I’m going to kill you and set your soul free from Hell because…I love you. And then I’ll kill Slaine and free him too. But don’t worry, my love. When I face Dracula I will probably die, and then I’ll meet you on the other side.


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