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>DATE: Mon 24 May 2021 20:10 By: HexDSL@Posteo.net

A Hunter's Garden Part 4

Part 1.

Part 2.

Part 3.

Little shorter this one. Felt like a good chunk though, Also the chapter title is a foreshadow to my favourite line so far. Keep an eye out for it. Its a little cheesy but hey, isn't all of it?

As always: email me with comments.

I am The Gardener.

I had no idea how long it was before I awoke but the first thing I saw was Howard's face "Wake up, Mike! MIKE! MIKE! We need to move!" I was disoriented and in pain, my body was ringing like a bell inside. It was like being electrocuted with fire. I tried to move but my body just twitched and the shock wave of pain hit me again. I was on my back and above me was no sky, there were things like birds flying around gliding through something, not through clouds but through smoke. Above them was a ball of lava floating like a burning sun. We weren't in the city any more, that was for sure. Howard began to help me up. I could hear explosions and screams and what sounded like dragons or daemons screeching and roaring. As I got to my feet my vision blurred but not like I was stunned it was like the world was out of focus not my eyes. My consciousness slipped from me as I passed out again.

There were a few more waking moments for me before my mind cleared. I remember occasional visions and images. The world was almost in focus one time when I saw the flashes of steel and roars of battle. I was aware each time I gained something resembling conciousness that Howard was fighting for our lives. I Reached down for a blade and then the pain and darkness took me again.

The next thing I remember, the first thing I actually can remember clearly was waking up on a stone floor. The pain had left me. I sat up and looked around. From what I could tell I was in a church. I pulled myself to my feet, there wasn't any pain any more but I was numb from head to toe. I pulled myself to a pew and sat. I looked at the place I found myself in. It *was* a church but it was like an ancient horror movie. The walls were old stone masonry and the windows were not the ornate jigsaws of glass but shards of red and black, like it was made of old smashed pieces carefully puzzled together in layers. Outside the windows the sun did not stream in; but a red fiery glow from that ball of hate and flame I had seen in the sky. The pews around me were wooden and old, as you would expect in a church. It was an old red wood that was in bad disrepair. There were signs of where the glorious decorations of a church had once been but everything was old and broken. Like it had recently survived the blitz and someone was pretending everything was fine. I looked forward I did not see a crucifix or a symbol of any other religion that I knew. There was statue of sorts. A stone carving of the earth. The stone ball sat in a metal pit of barely burning coals, moments from losing their glow. This was no subtle way of showing what this place was worshipping. I stared at the embers for a moment, they as if suddenly all my emotions and confusion hit me at once. I stood up and checked my weapons and let my training guide me. One hand on a blade and me eyes keen. I had allowed myself to be vulnerable, it was stupid of me and I was angry with my lack of control, lack of discipline. Where was Howard? How did I get here? Where was I?

The Large wooden door at the end of the massive room swung open with a creak. I drew my other blade and readied myself for battle. "Relax, its me!" called the familiar voice of Howard. He sounded different, calmer than I expected maybe. He secured the door behind himself. He looked okay, I was relieved. As he had entered I saw the outside for a moment, a red and dry heat streamed in. "I had to check outside, make sure were still safe" he said as he walked towards me. As he turned to me from securing the door I saw that he was covered in blood, none of it looked like his. I suppose that meant we were safe, now.

"Where are we?" I asked. Howard washed his face in what looked like a baptismal font, the water looked as dirty as he did. "When we came through the portal you were a wreck. You looked like you were having a seizure of some kind" He splashed his face some more before continuing. "This place, this world. It seems to be pretty much in the middle of a civil war. I've not worked it out just yet but it looks like they stay clear of these churches, other than that this whole place is either in ruins or on fire." He began using the fonts water to clean some fresh looking chunks of something from his sword.

I took a moment to gather my thoughts while Howard explained to me how he dragged me into a ruin while he had scoped out a safe place. Then how he carried me between group of battling daemons and ended up at this church. He had realised that the monstrosities that roamed this world were all avoiding the church like it was scarier than even them. I realised that he was not being entirely honest with me. I gripped my blades tightly but didn't draw them from my belt. "Howard!" I said with my most commanding voice. He looked up from his sword which was now cleaner than it had been just moments ago. "Yes Mike?" he questioned "Why didn't the portal effect you like it did me?" Howard stared at me with intensity. We were locked in each others hunting gaze until a new voice made its self known. "Because he's a Vampire." We both looked around and locked eyes on a man dressed in robes standing in the shadows at the side of the room. "Who the fuck are you?" asked Howard with poignant directness. The man stepped forward and dropped his hood, he was clean and young with not a blemish on his face, his robes were black and charred, "I'm one of the good guys, I assure you." He said while making a gesture to show he had no weapons. "And you sir, are a vampire" he added, looking at Howard as he stepped forward a little. "Is this true?" I asked sharply.


Howard turned away as if polluted by his own shame.

"How?" I asked.

The angelic man walked closer into the room "I've been watching you both for a few hours. It was your soul that was burning when you arrived, and the pain you felt was an effect of your attachment to it." He then gently put a hand on Howard's shoulder "But you, you gave up that soul to protect your friend didn't you? You knew good and well what was happening. I saw you. You just let go of it as if it were simply in your way. You needed to shed it to finished your mission."

Howard looked over at me with sorrowful eyes "Yeah, there was no point us both dying. When I felt the burning start to set in. I knew what I needed to do. It wasn't hard to let go. I guess I wasn't using it much anyway." Howard was not a broken man or monster to be feared, not yet. His soul had been tormented since I had known him. He seamed no worse off without it. As worrisome as that was to me.

"Why am *I* not burning any more then?" I demanded. Howard put away his sword with exaggerated motions to make sure there was no misunderstandings between us. "You were a mess for hours. Mostly catatonic. I carried you here and then you started getting better." Howard didn't look away from me even for a moment. His eyes locked on mine and then as he broke my gaze he quietly added "I carried you. I protected you." I don't know if it was the stress, the worry or the sincerity that got me but I laughed a little. We laughed together but only for a moment. "How did it happen?" I asked. "Like the fella said, pretty much. I've been around long enough to know a few things. When The burning started inside me, I knew what it was, I pulled myself together long enough to see the things that roam this world." He paused as if trying to find worlds that would make it make sense. He wasn't looking at me any more but he was still looking towards me, more absently now. "I knew it was death for the both of us. That's then I knew what I had to do. I pushed out my soul and I got on with my mission." I looked at him. He knew what he had done, he did this for me. I didn't know how much time had passed, how long before he began to change? Before the hunger?

"We good? I mean, for now?" He asked. I nodded and turned my blade towards our visitor.

I raised one of my blades with dramatic effect and pointed it squarely at our visitor's nose. "Now. I’ll ask again, once very clearly. Who the fuck are you?" I demanded the information with all my fury. "My name is Charles" he said as if it should be enough to impress us. Howard put his hand on his sword handle and took a deep breathe. "Okay, Charles. WHAT are you? Some sort of guardian fucking angel?" He asked. Charles smiled "I think your in the wrong hell dimension to run into those vile creatures." I thinned my eyes as I tried to get a sense of this man. "And.." I prompted gesturing with my blade. Charles was calm, he didn't fear us and he seemed a little entertained by our lack of knowledge. "This realm is a dumping ground for vampires and daemons, its a midway point between the hellish paradise that daemon's come from and your world. Its at war because daemon's are trying to get to your world and vampires are trying to get to daemon worlds, each needs the blood of the other to open a doorway to their destination."

Charles seemed trust worthy enough for my liking so I lowered my dagger. "So what kind of daemon are you?" Howard asked. "None! I'm a wraith." He said almost offended. He could see our confusion at what he thought was an obvious statement. He explained himself "I'm a native to this realm. Aeons ago before the travellers set waste to our world we were all one with it. In perfect balance. When the travellers started beating the life out of each other it fractured us. The result was, well..." He gestures to himself. "My kind were born." His words where filled with a strange pride in his people. "'Wraith' is the name given to us by the first of the travellers. We had not learned to take a form back then. We existed as wind and shadow. They wasn't even sure if we were alive."He raised his hand and showed us it against the light, his skin though solid in darkness was plainly less so in the light. He was made of a kind of blur. His form was very undefined and seamed held together by his attention to each part of himself. As he spoke his face gained focus and as he gestured his hands became more clear while the rest of his clarity faded in some way. He stepped back into the shadow away from the windows light and he again seamed as real as any other man. His robes never lost clarity, they were real, and old. He wore them, I suppose to save himself from having to conjure a whole form.

Charles continued to tell us about his people with the same sense of pride. They were eternal and could not be harmed by anything because their only form was made of their own thoughts. As the years went by they began to learn to interact more directly with the world around them. The first of the things he kept referring to as 'travellers' built the churches to honer the old ghosts of this world. The first ones were not like the daemon's that we knew now.

The time before the travellers had come became a distant memory. They took names and became individuals. Recently however the traffic of travellers had increased dramatically and their little world had been devastated, only the churches were left standing. Both sides feared the power of the first ones and thought it best not to anger them. So the churches had become home for the Wraiths. I was touched by the story and ashamed that as hunters we were not even aware of these people, our potential allies. For every daemon or vampire we killed in our world there was one less potentially traveller to decimate theirs. I told Charles about this thought. He understood already "Just because you don't know about us it doesn't mean we don't know about you." He said with a smile. "You owe us no apology hunter." That's when Howard finished pretending to clean his sword. "Well I don't really give a shit either way. Not my world. Not my problem. Now where's the Gardener? I want to go home."

"How long before being here effects Mikes soul?" Howard asked in a touching display of concern for me. Charles looked at me intently for a moment "He feels okay now because he has had time to acclimatise, his soul is numb. When people arrive here they are usual consumed by travellers before they get this far." Howard grunted. "We would have been 'consumed' too if I hadn't been able to fight." I nodded to him as a bitter sweet thank-you. Charles considered for a moment longer and then added "This building seems to hurt the travellers, it maybe healing you in some related way. I would guess another few hours or so and the numbness will turn to rot. You'll begin feeling pain when we leave here I would guess."

Charles seemed very well versed in the affairs of the soul. Maybe because that's what he was made of, in some way. "Fine. We had better get moving then." I proclaimed. "There's a fortress of sorts far north of here. It is where the daemons run their affairs. That is where they will have taken your friend" Charles informed us. "How do you know?" Howard asked suspiciously "I'm a Wraith. We know all" he said, again with a great pride. But without a hint of arrogance.

We checked outside and while there were many sounds and flashes of power from the distance, our immediate area looked safe enough. I hadn't gotten a clear look at the area before now. It was a strange place, I looked like a Victorian city after a war. Except that the sky was black and red and lit with fire. Every building was a ruin and only the vaguest imprints of what once was still remained. Except the church. It was ancient yes, but totally untouched by the devastation around it.

Once we were sure that nothing was in the immediate area we left the church and dashed for the nearest ruin. Charles joined us. Where as Howard and I dashed and ducked behind cover as we went, Charles simple gestures as if he was to move and before we knew what was happening he was at his destination. It was a strange thing. It wasn't that he was teleporting or moving too fast to see. He was simply somewhere else and my brain did not want to allow me to decode what was happening. I just knew the results and I also knew that there was something else going on that I couldn't understand. Ancient and powerful magic at play, again. I suppose.

We skilfully snuck around a battle between three large winged vampires and a daemon the size of an elephant. The daemon was shifting between it's human form and its gigantic true self effortlessly but the vampires were well armed and were not easily defeated. "I don't get it" Howard whispered "In our world the Vampire are working with the daemons why are they fighting here?" I was just as curious and we both waited for Charles to enlighten us "Your world is one of many, and here they all converge when they travel. Not every world has such weak willed vampires as yours. Some worlds have nothing but vampires left on them. Others have nothing but daemons. But here vampire blood allows daemon's to open portals and vise-versa." We moved further north as fast as possible. I was beginning to feel the effects of my burning soul. It was like a sadness inside me and a sickness in my stomach. We came to a relatively safe area where there was nothing but burned terrain. There were no travellers for as far as we could see. We talked as we walked "This place is called ‘The Meadow’ by my people." Said Charles. "When the first travellers came to this world it was a grassland with a lake in the middle now its a burned plane." Listening to Charles was oddly comforting. He had existed in this world forever he knew everything about it. The war had took its toll on his world but there was very little hate or sadness left in Charles. He had existed for so long and some how all of the negative emotions had gone from him. The endless war in his world just irritated him. He wanted it over but there was no hate left in him. I suppose that knowing your will exist forever changes the way you look at things. Even the longest war seams of little consequence and the greatest love could be nothing more than a brief fling.

We had been walking at pace for over an hour. I felt as weak as I did on my first day as a Hunter. I was tired and sick and every step felt like a struggle. It was made worse by my travelling companions; a Wraith that never tired and never rested and a man who was becoming more of a Vampire every moment. I thought about what would happen to Howard as we walked. Would I have to kill him? Could I? Even if I had the will, he was a better fighter than me, and now he would have Vampire abilities, who knew how they would manifest. I was snapped back to reality when I heard him say "I'm hungry." He said it softly and with shame. "For what?" I asked far too quickly with one hand on my blade. "I want a soul" he replied absent mindedly. Charles was strangely supportive of Howard's needs. "You should kill the next daemon we see, another vampire won't sustain you. They have no soul to consume" Howard agreed "Yeah, I know that, I've been hunting them for a little while you know. I'm not sure I even know how to feed. This is my first meal as the enemy." I thought about this, on some level Howard had resided himself to his fate. "You're not the enemy Howard." I was trying to be supportive but I wasn't sure how long Howard's humanity would last with no soul to support it. Eventually, I figured the hunger would take him and he would be less picky about his lunch. Charles however seamed genuinely convinced that Howard was different even now. "You didn't have your soul taken from you Howard. You gave it away for someone else. That makes you a whole different kind of vampire." Howard was not so convinced I could tell from how he brushed off the comments and walked a little faster so I couldn't see the self hate in his eyes. Then something dawned on me "Hey Howard, you've not had a cigarette since we got here!" I pointed out, a little impressed with him. He grunted in agreement and continued on. Charles let him lead the way and stayed back with me "Lesser addiction can have no hold over him now I'm afraid, its not a *good* sign." suddenly Howard's quitting made me worried not proud.

We came to the edge of the wasteland abruptly. The edge was little drop in front of us. Below we could see a large dip, like the mouth of a massive crater. There was a large stone building in the middle and as far as we could see no fighting. This place was patrolled by Daemons alone. "What is all this?" I asked as we ducked down to avoid detection. Charles was informative as ever. "This is our destination. It is the place where the first daemon crossed over to our world, this crater was left by the explosion. It is Their stronghold and where your friend will be." We looked for an opening, watching the patrols go past for a long time. Charles continued to educate us "They have to hold this place. It is the weakest point between this world and theirs. If they lose it then crossing over to their world will be a lot harder."

At least one of the patrols were less enthused my their work than the others, skipping checks and being more interested in chatting. We waited for the two human like daemons to come around again. I gathered my energy and pushed my doubts and fatigue aside. We scrambled down the side of the cliff as fast as we could. There were a few placed where it wasn't as sheer and the spot we found seemed safe enough. At the bottom we hid behind a cobblestone wall.

Howard nudged me and pointed at two the patrol. At the edge of a stone wall. They were lazy and not patrolling like the others. "Lunch" said Howard with a menacing grin. His humanity being overrun by the desire to feed. I think the only reason he hadn't looked at me with those hungry eyes was that my soul was on fire and unappealing. I was thankful for that small mercy at least.

"Be realistic Howard! We can't take on one daemon, never mind two!" I reasoned frantically. Howard however was not in agreement "No. As a Hunter I couldn't take a daemon. But as a Vampire with hunter training! The odds are much better. And with a Hunter and a Wraith as backup I think that that maybe an even match!" Howard began to carefully sneak around the edge of the wall. We followed as I tried to talk him out of his attack. "You're not even sure what you are now? Do you even know if you have any, you know... Vampire powers?" I said hastily. "Do you have any idea how much focus it takes to keep these robes from falling off me? I don't even know *how* to fight!" Charles added. Howard was resolved and ignored both of us. In the end, I took a deep breath and tried to push my own fatigue and sickness to the back of my mind again. It was time to fight no matter how bad an idea I thought it was.

Both daemon's looked alike, they were tall and had skin like a sandpaper with jeans and dirty shirts, I was sure that when they were in our world they would have masqueraded as body builders and hung out in gyms and football games. They were not powerful, I could tell my looking at them. They lacked the killing eye that the other daemons I had seen always had.

We were just a few feet away from the daemons who were chatting about a recent kill their language, Demti. They were stupid. They spoke with a very basic grasp of their own language. "Go distract them" ordered Howard to Charles who sighed and nodded. He owed us no loyalty but was glad to help in any way he could. It must be nice being so sure of your own immortality. "Mike, Take my robes for me." Charles said as they dropped to the floor and his form faded away. A few moments later the daemons where distracted as promised.

They both heard a sound conveniently in the opposite direction to us. The dirt and dust on the ground in front of them began to whip around and spin as if inside a small tornado, as it moved any rock that it happened to suck in was quickly fired at the two like little bullets, even though it did little to actually injure hem it did entertain them they laughed and pointed at the stupid Wraith trying to hurt them. Obviously the Wraiths had tried to fight the daemon's like this before. So much so that they weren't remotely worried by the attack, what could the wind actually do to them?

They began to relax and tried to taunt Charles knowing full well what he was. They put their knives away and lowered their guard. That's the moment Howard saw his chance and with his new found Vampire speed and agility he launched himself like a bullet at his enemy. He was effective in knocking them both off their feet. The tornado vanished and the whipped up dirt fell to the floor. A few of the rocks that Charles had fired at the daemons began to roll towards one of them while Howard punched the other in its face as hard as he could, with his new found abilities Howard's fists were like hammers. Even the strongest vampire I had seen didn't have the power to pound a daemon in the way Howard was doing.

I was still feeling sick but I knew it was my time to get involved. I fired a throwing knife at the other daemons neck. It wouldn't stop him for more and a second but every second gave Howard the time he needed. The Daemon tried to scream as my little knife went into him. Thankfully a neck injury makes it hard for you to call for assistance. He opened his mouth wide for air as he pulled the blade from his wind pipe. I fired another at his stomach as he raised himself to his knees. The rolling rocks forced themselves into each wound as Charles intended. A little unsettling to watch but quite effective as a means of inflicting pain. I ran at my enemy and cut at him with my daggers. He batted me away like a rag doll as he sucked in more air. With each breathe the wounds healed more and his power returned. The other Daemon gurgled with pain as Howard's hand entered into his mouth, he reached deep inside its throat and as if by instinct alone he pulled its head with his other hand and pushed his arm again deeper inside it, it was a grotesque feat of skill but sickening to watch. Howard's whole body lit up and then the light spun around him just for a moment. It sunk into his skin. He had taken the Daemons evil soul and it powered him in ways that I had never seen before. He removed his arm from the daemons corpse by ripping it through its body and with his unnatural grace he used his sword to remove the other daemon's head. It happened in such a graceful and quick motion that it actually took me moment to process what had happened.

Howard and I looked at each other across the two corpses. I was horrified at the new found brutality of my friend and mentor. He was ashamed of how much he had enjoyed it but still he did. He looked down at his blood soaked arm, he raised his hand and looked at in in the soft light of the lava sun that we fought under. He licked his finger genitally and then stood up. He used the daemons torn shirt to mop away the bulk of the guts and crap from himself.

I was appalled at the sight of it and turned to see Charles once again fill his robes. "Good work" Howard called to him. "Thank you. I may not be able to fight directly but it is fun to stretch out my form." Charles adjusted his robes so that they hung more naturally, he stood by me and quietly said "Don't judge your friend too harshly. He's going though a lot."

Now that Howard was 'fed' he was showing more signs of his condition. His muscles swelled with power and he carried himself with far more ease than I had seen him show before. I had to accept that Howard was really becoming a Vampire and as a Vampire he would lose much of what was his old self. I had never seen one so fresh before but I assumed the darkness and arrogance that I was accustomed to would soon replace his humanity. For now though, we walked carefully on to the stone building that held our Gardener.

The fortress we were slowly entering was vast and guarded more with an imposing decor than actual guards. We snuck carefully around the stone wall careful to avoid any more conflict. Charles was an excellent help to us. It wasn't his eyes that he saw with. As he pointed out, he was Wraith and he didn't really have eyes. His vision was all around him and stretched out for a few meters. As early warning systems went he was the best. It was slow and monotonous to duck between walls and storage containers waiting for the next patrol to pass. It took us a long time just to make it past the first gate. As for Howard, he was grilling Charles about why Vampires couldn't take his soul, he even went as far has asking if he could 'give it a try.' Charles was understanding about Howard's new needs and took no offence, he told us that Howard's mind would settle in the future and his training gave him a sense of identity that would help him retain his values. I knew how lethal Howard's skills were before he was turned, now he genuinely frightened me.

We came to the end of a series of small walls and guard structures. This whole place was drastically undermanned. There was a gap between us and the main building. The area out front was filled with Vampires and human looking people we assumed were daemons. These ones were working together. They were the ones that had been coming to our world. "There are too many to take on, even for all the hunters in the Garden" I said. "Are you sure the Gardener is even here?" asked Howard. Charles nodded "Yes, this is where they would bring any prisoner. I'm sure. The forces that attack your world have no other stronghold here." We watched the activity for a while. It looked like daemons were returning to the building. They looked very weak. We talked between ourselves and decided that these travellers must be the ones that had returned to this realm from our would and were heading home. My chest was tight and I had began to feel shooting pains down my neck. My headache was getting worse. My soul was in pain. Charles could see all of this in my eyes and he was showing himself to be a good friend even though I had only known him a few short hours. "Don't worry. As soon as you are out of here you'll feel better. Just hold on to that pain or you'll end up like your friend" he said gesturing to Howard as he offered his most coherent smile. The way he looked had stopped bothering me shortly after we met. It was like the wind worked even here and my acceptance of him as a person forced me to see him as such. Howard had not warmed to him the way I had. "Mike. If you let go of your soul I'll shove it right back in to your ass. I didn't give up mine so you could fuck up later." Howard smiled a twisted grin. I Don't know if it was the pain I was in or the stupidity of Howard's statement that did it but I lost my temper "Shut the fuck up!" I was still whispering but I did so with a deep flash of anger. Howard had no rage to return at me. He just smiled a little sadly.

We knew that we needed to strike now, my sickness was getting worse and if we didn't take our chance soon I would have been in no condition to fight any more. It was Howard who came up with the plan "Charles, how big of a dust storm can you kick up?" He asked. Charles looked across at the dust and rocks around the building and smugly said "Enough" Howard and I smiled. "Well get to it then!" I ordered with a jovial tone. "Here, Take my Robes, I’ll meet you inside when its safe." Replied Charles. I nodded in agreement as his robes fell to the floor, I slung them over my shoulder and waited for the storm to start.

Within a few moments the wind had built to a Gail force. The daemons and vampires alike laughed and shouted about how the Wraiths were 'at it again.' There was a melancholy thought passing though my head about how hard his people must have tried. How relentlessly they threw their rage just to be laughed at by the people who destroyed their world. It must have been a regular, and tragically pointless attack.

As the dust clouded the air and the daemons called abuse at the wind a tunnel appeared down the centre of the cloud that was forming. Right from us to the door. We took our moment and dashed straight and without hesitation.

We had not thought much about what we would do once we where inside.

It was lit by flaming torches and reminded me of a old castle, mostly made of a sandy stone and the walls were covered in an assortment of skulls and hides, not all of it was actually animal hide.

We carefully avoided noise and like the finest ninja of legend we stealthily scurried down the entrance hall. We checked through the broken and reused glass that was strapped across every door, looking for any sign of the Gardener. We smelled food; or at least meat of some description being cooked so we avoided getting close to what we assumed was a mess hall or whatever passed for one.

We scurried along some more until we heard a scream. We hurried to the larger corridor. There was a guard outside. He was a daemon, he had a lizard like face and a build the finest henchman would be proud of. He stood, arms crossed directly outside the door we needed to get into. "If we try anything he'll call his Buddy's" I whispered to Howard. "Did You forget? I'm a vampire now" grinned Howard, happy that his new status was yet again of use. "You go first and I’ll to the talking" he took the sash from the robes I was carrying and tied it around my hands. "You don't speak their langauge." I pointed out. "They are the ones who come from our world right?" he replied as he made sure I could free myself from his authentic looking knot. I shrugged, it was as better plan than anything else we had. Howard walked brazenly towards the daemon, pushing me with the tip of his sword, I pretended to be his battle beaten prey. Given how I was feeling it wasn't hard. The pain from the sickness all over my face made my role particularly convincing.

"Open the door, I have another one for interrogation" demanded Howard. The daemon grimaced at me and took hold of my throat. He peered at me, checking my skin and muscles like I was a prize cow "Humm. I'm not sure what he's worth in interrogation but he would make a fine meal." The daemon said in broken English while chuckling at his own sickening wit. Howard joined him for a moment. He opened the large wooden door and showed us in.

There she was, in all her beauty our Gardener, my Gardener. Chained to a stone table and covered in blood. She saw me instantly and a small smile cracked her weary face. There was a tall man standing near her with an assortment of torture devices "Oh you've brought me another subject?" He announced with delight. "You’ll have to wait my dear" he said as he pulled a small knife from my Gardeners side. He came darting over to check out how much fun I would be to break "Oh, a human." He said "How disappointing!" Howard's charade wasn't was over yet. He Sniffed the air. "You're one to talk! You smell like a human to me." He said accusingly. "My skills with interrogation out-way the limitations of my species. I assure you!" He spat indignantly. "Good" said Howard as he launched at him with his bare hands. I untied the sash around my hand and hooped it over the guards head pulling him down a good two feet so I could stab him in the eyes, it was the most effective attack I could think of at the time. I saw the shadowy outline of Charles appear by the Gardener "Are you okay?" He called to her as he struggled to form enough of himself to untie her. "I'll live." She said with a blood thirsty gratitude. I wrestled the guard to the ground and threw a knife in the direction of Charles, it passed through him and entered the wall next to him. "Oh!" he exclaimed taking the knife and using it to pry open the Gardeners metal restraints. The moment one of her arms was free she took the knife from him and quickly released her other hand. "How did these flimsily things hold you?" Charles asked. "They didn't." She said as she rolled off the table to reveal a large bloody bone spike coming out of it. "The chains just kept me lying down, The table is cursed. Made me delicate."

She began to heal the moment the spike was removed from her. "Its an old trick" she said, "It's a daemon bone" she coughed up blood as She snapped the spike from the table. Within a moment she pulled the daemon from on top of me and flung him against the wall, with the effortless grace that I had come to expect. She spun around and pierced his head with her spike, he fell to the ground silently as the life left him.

I embraced her tightly partly because I was so pleased we had found her and partly because I was exhausted and needed her help to stand. She smiled at me and with a momentary flicker of green light in her eyes my fatigue vanished. My strength began to return and my pain left me. "Howard looks happy" she noted. I turned to see him stringing up an unconscious torturer by his feet. One of his own tools, a rope from the ceiling. He noticed us watching and gave a victorious wave "Hello! Glad you ain't dead yet!" He called as he began selecting a torture blade. "Is he developing a sense of humour?" She asked. "Yes, it makes up for his lack of soul" I said dryly. She sighed, I'm not really sure what kind of sigh is was but it was loaded with a deep understanding. Howard cut at his victim until he awoke "Humans DON’T work with the enemy!" He screamed. The torturer was terrified. He knew a Vampire when he saw one and knew that nothing good would happen to him from this point on.

I turned to the Gardener, "Who *is* that?" she asked as the robes I had draped over my shoulder were pulled away from behind me, I quickly turned to see Charles filling them. "He's a friend." I said confidently. "He's a Wraith" she replied astonished. Then without another word she kissed me. "You came for me!" She said and kissed me again "I don't know how you got here but you came for me!" She was larger than life to me but in that moment I knew she had expected to die here. If she were human she would have been in shock but she wasn't and I continually had to remind my self of that. Whatever she actually was, she wasn't human. Breathing in deeply from the air for a few minutes was all that it took to heal her wounds and steady her mind.

I could hear a conversation behind me as the tortured man lost consciousness again. Charles was being very calm, as I had come to expect. "You can't kill him Howard. You know that." He said with that eerie certainty that he had constantly shown us. Howard was either frustrated or just angry, I wasn't sure, "I know! I wouldn't have even considered it before I came on this fucking field trip but as it is, I'm a Vampire now and I really want to watch him bleed some more" Charles shook his head like a disappointed parent. "No, you are a hunter with a brand new edge. As soon as you kill a human, like this, your not a hunter any more and then you're just a vampire." Howard threw down his knife and screamed at his prey "I was doing so well!" Charles smiled. He was getting through to Howard and he knew it. As he always seamed to know things. "You can still do well! You just have to relax and take hold of your nature. Force the man you want to be to the surface." Howard stepped away from his prey. "I Know... I'm sorry." He said as he crouched down on the floor.

The Gardener who was looking far more like her old self already let out a commanding "Good!" And then pulled one of the knives from my arm band, she took a few steps towards the man who was still hanging from the cling.

"I am the Queen of the Human void world. Defender of the Realm of Earth and Keeper of life. I am The Gardener! I am not a victim and I am not prey. I am the green glow of nature than thrives in all of the light." Then she threw the knife with such force that it actually went straight through the man's head. She turned and as if to settle any judgement that may have began to form in our minds she added, "And I have no spiritual reservations when it comes to removing evil, daemon, vampire, god, devil or... Human."

"Well thank fuck for that!" said Howard with a clap. Charles looked over at me uncomfortably. Howard was searching his pockets, he found what he was looking for. His last cigarette. Watching him light up and almost look like his old self was a relief to me. If only all vampires could replace blood and souls for a good smoke the world would be a better place.

"Do you have an escape plan?" asked the Gardener. "No" I replied. She laughed "So its my turn to rescue you then?" her clothes were blood stained and torn, but some how she still looked elegant.

Howard walked over to the rest of us, it wasn't far but I felt like he was symbolically standing with us as a hunter once more. "I was fairly sure that this was a suicide mission but I'm glad we came. If nothing else we have a lot of information to bring back to the Garden." he said. The Gardener nodded dubious of Howard's optimism "Thank you for coming" she said, it seamed all that was appropriate.

Charles sprung into life, looking as coherent as he ever did, saying that we needed to find a way out of the building "No we don't" said the Gardener. "All we have to do is find a daemon who can open a portal and get us out of this realm. There must be a gate keeper here." she was already coming up with a viable plan. Howard who was listening at the door threw some logic on the whole idea "Even if we find this gate keeper, how the fuck are we going to convince it to open a portal and not get killed in the process?" Charles tried to help "If you think its too dangerous your welcome to come and meet my people, you can stay with us as long as you need"

The Gardener tied a rag round the base of her spike, making it into a more weapon like tool. "Thank you Charles but it's time we stopped playing prey and started acting like hunters." She swung the spike around her hand much like Howard did before a fight but unlike Howard she was not showcasing her skills to unnerve the enemy she was getting the feel of her new weapon.


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