Dead leaves crunched beneath Sheyene’s boots. Wind whistled through pine and oak, ash and birch to sing a melancholy dirge of sadness and death. For death was her mission, a death long in coming, urgently needed.
She considered the many ironies of the situation as the dark forest chirped away at her. She sought Death, to bring him death. But Death was hiding now, cowering somewhere in this place full of life. She of such low birth, born of no-one, come from nothing. He from the highest nobility, born into luxury, having everything, wanting for nothing. Except more.
Sheyene never really understood that; how having everything only seemed to make one even hungrier for more. And no one, no man or woman in this world had more than Death, this death anyway. He had literally one of everything, including immortality itself, and still it was not enough.
It was this drive to acquire more that had brought this Death to her attention. Stealing goods, money, and life itself from ordinary folk for centuries had brought him little consideration. But when the wealthy had begun disappearing, when the elite had met him, at that point this Death had signed his own warrant.
He’d been amused when he saw her approaching his manor, a great white castle built from the finest stone in the world. She’d heard his laughter, from so far away, though it was doubtful he knew it at the time. No doubt he’d thought she was just another foolish mortal come to try her luck against the evil vampire. No doubt she would be as easily killed as the rest of humanity he’d slaughtered.
How wrong he’d been.
Having dispatched with werewolves as servants ages ago due to their unpredictability, the vampire’s protectors were fresh vampires, newly-turned into the undeath and still weak against their master’s will. Faster now than they were in life, and stronger, they were slow compared to Sheyene, and weak. These were put down quickly and easily.
Pangs of guilt still shocked her when these were killed. These were almost always taken against their will and turned into monsters. Once they came back to unlife, they were slaves to their maker’s will. Some few might break free, given time and enough willpower, but they were far and few between. And never the newly turned, never.
His guards inside the halls proved more formidable. Some might still be his slaves, most were likely serving him willingly now, waiting for their master to share some bit of vampire knowledge, doled out in small bits designed precisely for the purpose of making them want more.
For reasons she’d never truly fathomed, vampires who’d broken the shackles of their mind-chains were faster and more powerful. Ultimately, it was a question never worth pursuing. Perhaps, someday, she’d have the time.
In the end, even these proved useless against the vampire-hunter Sheyene.
Oh, the look on his face. Priceless. He’d been expecting his personal guards to bring this bloodied, humbled human before him to beg for her life. When those doors slammed open, when she stood before him, dead vampire blood dripping from the double-ended daggers that were her mark-in-trade, the grin dropped from his face as if weighted by stone.
He was gone in an instant, recognizing he faced no mere mortal at all.
She saw him in the distance, fleeing at a speed no man could even perceive, let alone follow. But she could see.
And smell. She smelled him as well. His fear. One of the many traits she’d picked up from her mother. Smelling fear.
Terror actually had a sickly odor, like soured sugar poured on old, stale bread. And the deeper the fear, the worse, and stronger, the smell.
This one, this death, stunk to high heaven of it.
She’d found that this was quite common actually, especially in the older vampires. When all their defenses were finally broken, when they were faced at last with their own deaths, they emanated a terror deeper than anything she’d ever felt from a normal human. Devilishly perhaps, she found that quite satisfying.
The three story jump, out his window onto the ground, was but a step. She smiled, just in case his old, evil eyes were turned in her direction.
Briefly, Sheyene considered closing the distance between them now, finishing it quickly. At last, she decided against it; this one deserved to be afraid after centuries of arrogant invulnerability.
She’d promised her father, all those years ago, never to take pleasure in her work, lest it one day tempt her to become like the very monsters she hunted. It was not a promise entirely kept.
For a moment, she thought he might flee entirely, running to fight another day. Possible, but doubtful. From long experience she’d learned that when pitted against a formidable foe, vampires almost never fled the battle, they merely retreated to place of safety and defense. A vampire whose reputation was marred by cowardice was not long for this world, one way or another.
His stench of fear was still strong among the ancient oaks. She need not look up to know that’s where he was, lurking above, hoping for a chance to immobilize his opponent before killing her. Vampires do love their torture.
The sounds of a night forest waned as Sheyene made her way slowly into the woods. She followed the path, as he would have so as not to leave a visible trail among the brush and bushes. As if that were all she could use to track him.
His stench grew stronger, he was near. Leaves fell from above, wood creaked. Her father’s voice, loud in her ear, told her to finish it quickly, and quietly. Sheyene chose not.
“Come now, Count Mykant.” Sheyene’s voice echoed among the ancient trees. The voices of the forest were hushed now, hanging on every word of the deadly opponents. “This subterfuge is beneath you. You are old, I am young, and you are truly formidable indeed. Why not face me in the open?”
“Why should I?” the question rang from above, a whispered, hateful voice, old in the extreme. “And I am no fool. Your youth is well behind you now, perhaps farther even than mine. But, I am formidable.”
Sheyene heard the orb. She heard his arm reach back, suddenly thrusting forward. She heard his fingers open. She heard the bomb leave his hand, traveling at blinding speed.
She leapt, well out of reach of the explosion. His next attempts missed as well, four in all. Sheyene moved as each one flew from his fingertips, in unpredictable patterns that ultimately wasted his efforts. She was not about to show this monster anything of value.
Despite the echoes of fire, she could hear his low curses. Another smile crossed her lips.
He would have more tricks up his sleeve though, the old ones always did.
Sheyene returned to the path, forcing Count Mykant to follow her from above. He likely had a pistol out now, a silver bullet loaded into the chamber. How droll.
Sheyene’s easy steps forward allowed the Count to draw a bead on her. This was always the most dangerous part of her ploy. A shot to the head would end her game forever. But they never took that shot. Always to the chest, so the bullet would wound, incapacitate, not kill. They always wanted the killing blow for themselves. Vampires did love their torture.
The shot rang out. The bullet pierced leather, flesh and bone. Blood erupted from a gaping wound in Sheyene’s chest. Slowly, the double-ended silver daggers fell from her fingers. Her body shook violently, and Sheyene fell to her knees. Blood welled in her throat, gushing out in her attempt to keep it from strangling her as she knelt, dying.
Suddenly before her, stood ancient Count Valkmir Mykant. He was old in the extreme, reports put him between one and two millennia, give or take a few centuries. Despite having been turned in his youth, lines were beginning to creep onto his face, creasing his forehead. His eyes were old, however, but they all were. Though every part of them was (nearly) immortal, their eyes always seemed to age normally. An old vampire looked tired in the eyes, and the older they were, the more weary they appeared. Mykant looked tired indeed. And angry.
But he stank of terror. Even with his opponent bloodied and nearly dead, he was still afraid.
Try as he did to hide it, Sheyene heard the fear in his voice.
“So, the great Sheyene is taken down by a simple ruse, and a small silver bullet. A pity I cannot keep you alive for a time. Our brethren and sisters would no doubt take great pleasure in watching you die. Too bad.”
Sheyene looked up into the Count’s old, dead, tired eyes.
“Yes, too bad.” She uttered through the blood and bile in her throat.
Her reflexes were even faster than his, so he never saw the stake emerge from within her sleeve. Never saw her grip it tightly, and thrust it upward into his chest.
He did feel its wooden sting, smelled the polished bit of nature that was the bane of all vampires.
He did feel utter surprise at seeing her rise even as he fell, the blood oozing from her chest already beginning to slow.
How? The question ran through his mind. Sheyene saw it in his spent eyes, in all their eyes when it came to this.
“I am only half of what you are, old one. Only half of death, just enough to bring justice to you and your kind.”
Mykant laughed, blood spurting from between his lips.
“Justice. Ha! You know nothing of it, child. Nay, for vengeance you have come, and vengeance you shall have. But I go, knowing it will not be enough. Never will it be enough. Even if all our race is extinguished, and light rules the world forever, never your thirst for vengeance shall be quenched. No girl, you are not half, no matter your heritage. You are as much vampire as I, and perhaps more.”
And Count Mykant died, his body decaying quickly until nothing was left but ash blowing in the wind, a bloody stake lying on the ground.
Sheyene stood above him, watching as he dissolved. His words echoed in her mind.
She’d killed many vampires, some as old as Mykant, some even older. All had uttered hateful words at the end, all that had been able to do so, at least. But none had hit her in quite this way before.
Sheyene stood long after Mykant was lost to the wind, wondering if he was right. If he was, in any way or form, about her, then he was right about her motives. What was she, then, if she could no longer tell justice from vengeance? And whom did she truly serve?