To say it was cold was a damned understatement. The cold was bitter, but this was to a whole other degree. Alathis couldn’t help smile at the lame pun.
Outside, the boarded up window, the snow fell so thick it conquered the black of the night into a forever white he could have turned on his dark vision to attempt to see the building across the road, but there was no point. He had tried switching it on and off over and over; it was all a part of getting used to his new abilities. That inexperience was the reason why he was here guarding a family and not out on patrol like his master, Telric. No human could survive out there for long, but Telric was no longer human, and neither was Alathis.
Alathis held his hands over the heater; he wrapped himself in three layers of jackets and a wool blanket. It was the middle of winter of the Antarctic region of Sartarth and right in the middle of the 50 days of night.
The young Hunter sighed and looked over his shoulder, through the lit living room, past the roaring fire and into the darkened hallway and the staircase.
The Orrell family, made up of a mother, father, two daughters and a son were sleeping soundly on the second floor, oh how Alathis envied them. They had adapted to this shitty hellscape having lived here for generation after generation. Alathis was from a country called Isstarrsia which was mostly classed as being “sub-tropical” except for the far north which bordered Sartarth. Alathis had lived most of his childhood in the north-east of Isstarrsia which while wasn’t the warmest, especially during the winter but it was like heaven compared to here. That and Alathis had spent a lot of his teenage years in Amartis which was further south and properly tropical, but most of those years he’d live underground.
Both of the girls one being about two years younger than him the other about a year younger than her, had crushes on him, even if he didn’t have extensive training on how to read body language and microexpressions he could’ve figured that out.
To most young men like him, it would’ve been neat, despite how plain of face and slightly overweight they were, feed their ego, but it happened so often to Alathis even at his twenty years of age he’d become desensitised to it. And after what he went through, after what he had to do, Alathis wasn’t sure he could be with another girl or even appreciate the attention of another beautiful girl.
Alathis wiped away the welling tears and pulled the blanket from his wrist to check his watch. It was quarter past midnight, time to search the house again.
He sighed again summoned his DT-235 shotgun into his hands and as he stepped into the darkness switched on his low-light vision, engulfing the corridor and the stairs in a green haze. The strange wallpaper covered in patterns which seem to transform into different faces every time he’d look at it, in the green they seemed sinister; their eyes made up of kaleidoscopic petals stared at him with malice and hatred which was hard not to think was imagined.
Alathis shook himself back into reality.
Moving in the instinctive silence drilled into him since he was a child, Alathis first checked the kitchen, which was just left to the lounge; a small two metre by three metre room, with a long bench which took up most of the length of the left side wall with a sink, an electric oven and a large electric fridge. Alathis couldn’t help smirk; they needed a refrigerator like he needed a hole in the head. It was more of a social status thing, he supposed, the husband owned a local company which produced ice cubes, they were quite well off, but they would be more well off if there weren’t at least a few dozen other companies producing ice cubes all over Sartarth.
Alathis approached the boarded-up window at the end of the kitchen and stared outside. He reached out with his senses for a sign, any sign of a magical aura. He knew there wouldn’t be; they too can hide their signature as Alathis did now. But perhaps, just perhaps they might’ve forgotten.
He left the kitchen to check his and his master’s room. It was only a little larger than the kitchen, with a single, nicely made bed, a bedside table with an electrical lamp light and Alathis’ sleeping bag on the floor on the bed’s right side. At first, Alathis had whined about having to sleep on the floor, but he stopped when he found out Telric had to go and patrol through the cold snow storms outside. He more than deserved the bed then.
Alathis checked beneath the bed; shotgun raised and nothing. He opened the small closet in the right side wall, and it was empty too.
He sighed yet again; there was no way they could get inside without him knowing with his newly enhanced senses, he could’ve even heard if they tried to pick the double door’s lock. He could make out the father snoring softly upstairs; he fought to block it out, that was yet another thing he needed to get used too, and by the avatar, it was the hardest, especially his enhanced hearing.
Then he gave a quick look into the small bathroom and the lock on the only door. Over the centuries this town has been attacked the houses were designed to be easily defensible, so most had one entrance in and out, reinforced walls, few windows. Alathis knew it wouldn’t make any difference, but A for effort.
Still silent as can be, he began ascending the stairs. Despite the cold, the family had agreed to keep their doors open, so Alathis could slip in and check on them. Again Alathis looked under their beds and the closets. He hated doing it, he felt like such a creep, but if needs must. Alathis just hoped to hell; he wouldn’t wake anyone up, especially one of the girls.
Alathis breathed a long, silent sigh of relief as he left the last bedroom which was the parents’.
He checked over the upstairs bathroom and when he was about halfway toward the stairs it happened.
A knocking on the door.
It was a very light knocking that only he or another Hunter could hear, it could’ve been the wind on the door, but his instincts seemed to scream it wasn’t.
He checked his watch; it was only 12:45 his master wasn’t due back from patrol for another two hours and fifteen minutes.
Was it one of them trying the oldest trick in the book? Or perhaps it was his master, and something had gone wrong, the knocking seemed to reverberate only halfway up the door. Then he managed to decipher a tune.
Alathis straightened and fought the urge to yell out before he burst into a sprint, he was down the stairs and opening the doors in a split-second, shotgun raised.
A dwarf wrapped in so much clothing he seemed almost as wide as Alathis was tall and his face utterly hidden burst inside along with the screeching torrent of wind and snow.
Despite their enhanced strength it took both of them to push the doors closed and all of their weights.
‘Karetil!’ Alathis hissed then shook his head. ‘Daviksar.’
His friend’s new name was yet another thing he had to get used to.
‘What in hell are you doing here?’
The young dwarf peeled off the scarf around his mouth pulled the goggles from his eyes, revealing a glare of surprising intensity which sent a freezing dread through Alathis somehow colder than the wind. What did he do to invite a look like that?
‘I came to speak to you,’ said Daviksar each syllable uttered through chattering teeth.
Before Alathis could reply the dwarf turned and stormed toward the lounge.
‘What? Why?’ said Alathis as he followed the dwarf-Hunter. Daviksar didn’t bother to answer, he just approached the fire, and raised his hands over it, and Alathis sensed a subtle burst of magic before Daviksar made the flames erupt stronger.
‘Shouldn’t you be with the family you and you master were assigned to?’ said Alathis.
‘My master let me leave,’ said Daviksar. ‘There is still over two hours before he is due to take over patrolling-’
‘What? All by yourself?’
‘Yes, Alathis,’ said the dwarf as he fixed Alathis another glare. ‘All by myself, anyway...’
Daviksar looked back to the fire. ‘He was interested in what I might find out.’
Alathis sighed and rolled his eyes. ‘This again-’
‘Yes, “this again”,’ snarled Daviksar. ’I was told you woke up from you Ritual screaming: “It’s its hand!”
‘Yeah, so what?’
‘Then you said something about something living in the red sea,’ said Daviksar. ‘You remembered something; no one remembers anything-’
‘K-Daviksar, keep your damned voice down, you’ll wake up the family. Anyway, why in hell are you making a big deal about that? Isn’t it far stranger that all of us survived our Rituals? The Ritual only one in five survive? Isn’t that something to make a far bigger deal of?’
‘We were lucky.’
‘Lucky? Lucky? If four or five of us lived that’d be lucky, but all of us. No way. No way in all the hells.’
‘Alright then, what other explanation do you have?’
The image of that horrifically gigantic hand reaching for him from that orange drenched abyss of water flashed through Alathis’ mind.
Alathis flinched. ‘N-none.’
‘You lie. You are a terrible liar, Alathis you always have been. You do have an idea. You never tell me anything. Anything.’
‘I-I don’t, I told you about how I felt about...Silette.’
‘Yeah, but nothing that matters. What happened to Silette during the...attack, Alathis?’
‘I...I can’t tell you that.’
‘Can’t or won’t? I know the attack just so happened to happen when you and she went on your walk-’
‘Karetil, please don’t.’
‘It’s Daviksar now, Alathis. Not all of us had the privilege to keep our original names.’
Alathis left hand clenched into a fist, and his right gripped his shotgun. ‘Well, if you knew what I went through what I had to do, you wouldn’t think I’m privileged.’
‘But I don’t know, do I?’
‘You can guess, though, can’t you?’
Daviksar grimaced and turned his attention back to the fire, silence hung.
‘How did you get that scar, Alathis?’
With a sharp intake of air, instinct made Alathis’ hand shoot to cover the huge scar on his cheek, forgetting his fringe still hid it. ‘You can guess that too, damn you.’
‘Why don’t you get it healed? It’s a simple magical procedure.’
‘You know what. What’s up with you?’
‘Me? This isn’t-’
‘Well, I’m making it about you now, since your Ritual, you’ve changed. You used to be friendly, happy all the time. Now you’re just...’
Alathis pursed his lips and shrugged.
Daviksar sighed and shook his head. ‘I don’t know, my friend, there’s just so much pressure now, y’know? We go straight from our cushy lives in the Coven and our Rituals, straight up to this hellhole, so we have to fight vampires. A lot potentially. Feels like we have been thrown in the deep end, y’know? And now I have to...’
The dwarf trailed off in his sentence, his eyes widening like he realised he’d said too much.
‘Have to what?’ said Alathis, fighting the urge to forget his trigger discipline.
‘Do you remember what happened to you in your Ritual, at least tell me that.’
‘...I do, I remember all of it. It was...beyond hell. I...I don’t know how I’m still sane after what I saw and did, in all honesty.’
Daviksar laughed, but it seemed to drip with sarcasm.
‘D-do you remember yours?’ said Alathis. ‘Is that why you’ve changed?’
The dwarf’s laughter descended into sobs.
‘W-what’s wrong? You do remember, then?’
‘C-can you get me a hot chocolate drink, please?’ said Daviksar. ‘I’m still so cold.’
‘Of course,’ said Alathis and he turned toward the kitchen.
Instinct made Alathis slide to the side, faster than he thought possible.
But not fast enough to keep the knife stabbing into his right shoulder and stick fast.
Alathis cried out as pain blasted through him, causing his fingers to go limp and let go of his shotgun, but his enhanced constitution allowed him to weather the shock and he spun into a round-house kick aimed for the side of Daviksar’s skull.
But the dwarf had already erected a small bubble of magical light around him, and Alathis leg smashed against that, making more pain.
Yelling out again, Alathis stumbled back.
‘W-what are you doing?’ Alathis shrieked, he continued to stumble away to the other side of the lounge, clutching at the knife in his back. The pain was unbearable, but if he hadn’t moved it would’ve pierced the base of his skull. ‘W-what hell, man.’
Daviksar didn’t reply, he just deactivated his shield and raised his hands.
‘No!’ said Alathis. ‘Please, don’t do this. Not this again!’
A huge fireball burst from the dwarf’s hands and flew straight for Alathis.