Soulbound ‡ clash

by Wes Leigh

Chapter 6

You ask that question as though you don't believe these creatures exist … that they are simply make-believe. I assure you—they are real. They are out there, but they don't make themselves known, not like Hollywood producers and horror novelists would have us believe. No. They're hidden away. In secret places. In small communities, mostly, in rural regions, waiting, biding their time.

-- Excerpt from Rob Ransom podcast: 'Vampires and Werewolves: Are They Living Among Us?'

The solitary figure watched from high up on a nearby hill, unseen by the werewolves and vampires of Agony.

Unaware of the observer, they continued on with their battle preparations.

Silvermane werewolves shifted from form to form, darting through the trees, dashing to the river, paddling across to regroup on the other side, panting with anticipation. It was much like a hunt, though they'd never stalked prey with vampires in their party before. That complicated things, but as they learned to work together, they realized there was synergy in working together.

As for the Smyth Covenant vampires, they learned a new respect for the lycans. Werewolves couldn't jump from spot to spot, so the vampires could move farther faster, but in hand-to-hand combat, the Silvermanes were supernaturally quick with their slashing claws and snapping jaws. More than one vampire learned just how quick, suddenly finding sharp teeth at their throats, stopping just before closing for the kill. It was a good thing they were on the same team.

Daniel and Diego darted from place to place, enjoying their roles as generals in a wargame. It was much like playing chess, with a bit of random violence thrown in from time to time. Jumping back and forth in time added an extra dimension, one they hoped would tip the balance in their favor when they actually encountered Ignatius and his forces.

When they finally finished for the night, exhausted but pleased with their progress, they congratulated each other and left for their individual homes. Daniel and Xavier and Connor and Diego gathered together at the end, holding each other as they were accustomed to doing, and kissed gently, congratulating each other on a successful first practice.

In the shadows of the trees on the hilltop, the solitary figure watched them kiss before slipping away, unnoticed.

On the other side of the hill, the shadowy observer pulled up a hoodie and walked slowly to the nearest road, not trying to hide, but still walking softly and carefully. There was just enough moonlight to see without needing a flashlight. At the road, the hooded figure pulled out a cell phone and searched through audio files saved a few months earlier. Finding the desired file, fingers tapped the screen to start the audio playing.

Podcast Host: Welcome back to the Rob Ransom Report. Today's topic … Vampires and Werewolves: Are They Living Among Us? My guest today claims to have personal knowledge of the existence of these creatures of the night. He says he moved to a small town and found it inhabited by werewolves AND vampires BOTH, and that he even attends high school with them (scoffing laughter). Now at his request, we've disguised his voice to protect his identity, because—let me just say—this guy has some explosive revelations to share. Okay, so in our last segment, we were talking about vampires and werewolves living in small communities all across the nation.

Podcast Guest: (voice digitally altered) That's right, Rob.

Host: Any particular town you want to name?

Guest: (laughter) No, that wouldn't be a good idea.

Host: I suppose not. So if I live in a small town, how can I find out if my next door neighbor is a werewolf.

Guest: Werewolves don't live in town. They prefer to live on farms and in hunting lodges outside of town.

Host: I guess that makes sense. Easier access to prey.

Guest: Right.

Host: Got it. So I'm safe from werewolves if I don't live in the country. But what about in town where the vampires live? Do I look for a coffin in my neighbor's bedroom? How do I know I'm not living next to a blood-sucking monster who wants to make me into a vampire?

Guest: You've been watching too many movies, Rob. (laughter) It doesn't work that way.

Host: Do vampires have little baby bats or what? How do they reproduce?

Guest: Rob, what I meant was, vampires don't suck your blood to convert you into a vampire. They inject serum into your body, and it changes you.

Host: Ah, I see. And werewolves? They don't bite you to make you into a werewolf?

Guest: Yes, it does work that way for lycans. Their bite infects you with lycanthropy, changing you into a werewolf. But they also reproduce like humans, having pups.

Host: Well, so if you –

Guest: (interrupting) Vaewolves are kind of a mixture of the two. They inject venom, which then turns you into a vaewolf too. I don't know yet if vaewolves can have baby vaewolves.

Host: Vaewolf. That's a new one on me.

Guest: Yeah, half werewolf, half vampire. Vaewolf.

Host: (mocking laughter) I'm kind of surprised, Dan— oops, sorry, almost said my guest's name. Ummm, where was I? Oh, yeah, so you can have werewolves and vampires get busy in bed (more laughter) and create a—what did you call it?

Guest: A vaewolf.

Host: Right, a vaewolf. Well, I have to say, all the legends must be completely wrong. I thought vampires and werewolves were mortal enemies.

Guest: Not always. Sometimes they become friends.

Host: How is that even possible?

Guest: How can werewolves become friends with vampires?

Host: Yes.

Guest: They just need the right connection, something … or someone … to bring them together.

Host: Are you saying you've seen werewolves cooperating with vampires?

Guest: (a short pause) Rob … I've seen people turn hatred that was tearing their world apart into deep friendship and eventually love. I've seen love so strong it overcame death itself. Why is it so hard to imagine werewolves cooperating with vampires?

Host: (chuckling) Okay, well maybe we should put you in charge of the planet. You seem to have a knack for extreme diplomacy.

Guest: (pausing before replying) Maybe we should, Rob.

The hooded figure paused the podcast and turned to look back in the direction of the old mill. Lifting her hand to her hoodie, Trudy pulled it back and gulped. She hadn't been sure of it before, but now her suspicions were confirmed. She was living in a town filled with supernatural creatures of the night. Wow.

Trudy checked her hip. The .40 caliber handgun was safely holstered. She always carried one, for safety, when she went out on her nightly hikes. There were coyotes and cougars in the hills around Agony, so she always took her handgun on her hikes, because her hunting rifle was far too bulky to carry. She was an expert shot with both weapons, so she wasn't concerned about being out at night, all alone, walking the lonely hills of Agony.

Well, before that night, she hadn't been concerned.

Now that she'd seen vampiric and lycanthropic war parties battling each other in the woods, she couldn't be as sure of her safety any more. Not that she thought her handgun would do her much good against a werewolf or a vampire.

She shook her head, surprised at herself for even thinking such a thing. These were her neighbors, her friends, her students. Set aside for one moment the fact that they could transform into snarling, hairy beasts or teleport instantly to where you were standing and sink fangs into your neck—she shivered and then chuckled at her own overactive imagination—these were still people she knew and lived with and worked beside.

And Daniel was one of her favorite students. She chuckled again, realizing now who Connor's mysterious sex partners in the drama building must have been. Vampires and werewolves must have very different ideas about sexual mores and customs, she decided. Yes, though she would never in her wildest dreams have imagined Daniel was more than human …

She thought about the Rob Ransom podcast she'd just played. Though the voice of the guest was digitally altered, Rob Ransom slipped up, calling the guest Dan. It had to be. Daniel was the 'secret source' who appeared on Ransom's podcast, revealing that he lived in a small town filled with vampires, werewolves, and—what had he called them?—vaewolves. It had to have been Daniel. And judging by the way he and Diego were leading the two battling groups in their wargames, Trudy had a strong suspicion that Daniel and Diego were both these vaewolf creatures.

It didn't matter. Not really. She knew what kind of person Daniel was. Over the last two years, she'd seen him grow and mature, developing into a fine young leader. There had been some very odd events this last year. Hushed over. Hidden. Buried. Trudy hadn't been able to find out what it was all about, but she had been absolutely certain that Daniel was somehow involved. After everything had settled down, she had noticed the other students treating Daniel with respect and … well … hero worship, in a way. Much more than you could ascribe to his position as the quarterback of the football team. Yes, Daniel was the unofficial leader of the school, perhaps of the entire town, and every student silently acknowledged it. Trudy was secretly pleased to see this, for she truly cared for this skinny blonde teenager. And she was just as happy to see him unashamedly exploring his relationship with Xavier, Connor, and Diego. They were all good kids.




Yes, but still good kids.

And her students.

What was she going to do about her newfound knowledge of the real nature of Agony and its residents? That was a very good question indeed.

Ignatius Caedes waited in the study for the other vampires to arrive. He stood at one wall, studying the titles on the spines of the books. One caught his eye. Schlussfolgerungen über die Natur der Kreaturen der Nacht. He pulled it down, smiling when he translated the name. Conclusions on the Nature of Creatures of the Night by Father Ignatius Benedictus. That tedious old windbag, Ignatius thought with a snarl, must have actually finished his life-long research project. And published it, though it was unlikely human libraries would consider it a serious, scholarly work. Ignatius flipped through the tome, smiling at the illustrations. The old fart certainly had a vivid imagination, though he was closer to the truth than most might think.

Ignatius closed the book and slipped it back on the shelf as the other vampires entered the room. He turned to face them, his eyes glowing only slightly, making it clear that he was an ancient vampire and therefore their superior.

They were cautious, as well they should be. He had killed their kind before, though he'd always had to flee afterward. But he wasn't here to kill this time, so they were safe enough.

"Thank you for agreeing to meet with me," Ignatius said, opening up the conversation. He nodded toward the thin woman on the left. "And my gratitude also to you, Executor Koleva, for hosting us. The hospitality of your Covenant is much appreciated."

Koleva nodded her head ever so slightly. "You assured me it was a matter of grave concern that could have dire consequences for all vampires. I am prepared to hear what you have to say." She gestured at the other two Executors. Oskar Müller was a massive man with dark brown skin who had a perpetual frown on his face. Michel Dubois was shorter than Oskar, thin and precise in his movements, dressed in a tailor-made suit.

Ignatius waited for the executors to speak, but they said nothing, watching him carefully.

No matter. He didn't need their input or their friendship. He desired one thing only: their obedience.

Ignatius slid his hand to his throat and casually stroked the jade amulet hanging there. Under his breath he whispered words that made his eyes glow more intensely, his pale skin to shine slightly, his long silver hair to glow. Then he spoke, and the timber of his voice was shifted into a deeper register, reverberating around the room, penetrating past any mental defenses the other vampires might have prepared.

"There is grave danger for all of us," Ignatius began.

The other vampires felt this peril deep in their immortal souls.

"We must unite or be destroyed," Ignatius continued.

They could only nod in agreement. Their eyes were beginning to lose focus as his words ensnared their minds.

"Our way of life … our very existence on this planet … is now threatened. Only you can stop this menace. Only you can save our people. And I will show you how." His voice changed, suddenly warm and comforting. "I do not desire to rule over you. My only wish is to lead you, to guide you, to care for you as my own children. And when we have prevented this approaching catastrophe, I will leave you in peace, going my own way, never to return."

The three Executors nodded. What Ignatius said was logical and wise. They would gladly follow him and bring the full power of their Covenants with them, all under his direction until this danger was eliminated.

"What do you require from us?" Executor Koleva asked.

Ignatius smiled. So easy.

Trudy walked into her house and opened the gun safe she kept in the hall closet. She ejected the magazine and double-checked the safety before storing the gun and magazine on a shelf inside the safe. Closing the safe, she locked it and shut the closet door.

Walking down to the kitchen, she heated up water for chamomile tea. Breathing in the soothing fragrance, she calmed her mind and thought carefully about what, if anything, she should do.

Leaving Agony wasn't necessary. She wasn't concerned for her safety. If she hadn't been harmed in the last two years, she wasn't worried now. It was strange finding herself living with vampires and werewolves as neighbors, but it beat living in Chicago. Now that was a dangerous place to live.

No, she didn't want to leave. She liked Agony. She liked the people here, even if some of them weren't exactly 'people' per se. And she loved teaching at the high school. The kids responded so well to her free-wheeling style of instruction.

And it was beautiful country. Forlorn, lonely, barren, but rugged and charming in its own right. She enjoyed hiking the hills, seeing wild animals flitting through the shadows of the forests, hearing eagles screeching in the sky.

Agony was her home now, and she didn't intend to leave.

But there was one thing she felt obligated to do. And it involved Daniel. It wouldn't be easy to talk to him about it, but her heart kept insisting that she had an obligation to the young man, to help him see the importance of a task he had to do. The only question was how to phrase it without hurting him.

And it would have to be soon. Of that much, she felt certain.

The wolf pack wasn't as easy to manipulate. They circled Ignatius, snarling and growling, looking for an opportunity to strike.

Ignatius waited, hands to his side, showing no clear threat to these lycan fools. He was patient, knowing they wouldn't strike until they sensed a weakness in him. He wouldn't give them that. He was unafraid, and he wanted their assistance.

The largest wolf stopped and faced Ignatius. It shivered and transformed into a swarthy, naked man, his hair long and black, his chest covered in dense fur, his body rippled and powerful. "Why are you here, creature?" the man snarled.

Ignatius held his hands out, palms up. "To warn you. Nothing more." There was no point in trying to control the minds of these hairy beasts. Lycanthropes resisted vampiric charm far too easily, and it also pissed them off.

The alpha wolf squinted, examining Ignatius carefully. "Warn us of what?"

"You have heard of vaewolves, no doubt," Ignatius replied.

The man nodded.

"They have returned," Ignatius stated, watching as the alpha's features contorted with disgust. The other wolves stopped circling him and sat, glancing anxiously from their leader to Ignatius and back.

"You know this how?" the man asked.

"I've seen them. They are living in North Dakota. In a town called Agony. Two of them."

The man shifted into full werewolf form and snapped, "Abomination!" The rest of the pack growled nervously, bodies rigid and prepared to follow their leader if he attacked.

"Indeed," Ignatius agreed. "An abomination and a danger. They cannot be allowed to live. You know the ancient treaties between our peoples. Whenever a vaewolf appears, it must be destroyed immediately, and all creatures of the night must unite to do so, for vaewolves are treacherous beyond estimation and formidable as well."

"Who sides with you?" the alpha asked.

"Three vampire covenants have agreed to aid me. Two other werewolf packs are with me as well. Yours is the final pack in our army, if you will agree to join us."

"What is expected of us?"

"To operate as a pack under your able leadership, but executing the missions I give you. You will still be independent, but your pack will be invaluable in the upcoming fight."

The wolf pack leader considered Ignatius' words carefully, then grinned with anticipation. "We shall join you. Under one condition."

"What is that?" Ignatius asked.

"Our pack gets to rend the vaewolves to pieces." The pack howled, ripping the night with their yips and yowls.

Ignatius nodded, solemnly. "Agreed," he replied. It was the same request the other wolf packs had made, and he saw no problem with promising all three the same thing. It wouldn't matter when the final moment came.

He stroked the handle of the black dagger at his hip and smiled. It would be his hand that took the soul of a vaewolf. He was not in the habit of keeping promises made to werewolves, or to any other creature for that matter.

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