The RESEARCHER & The LIBRARIAN II

Written by DTYarbrough

A Science Fiction Short Story

Copyright 2011 All rights reserved

The RESEARCHER & The LIBRARIAN II

Vivian, how fast can you be ready to travel?” asked Oscar.

“I'm already packed,” said Vivian. “When do we leave?” “Aren't you even curious about where we're going?” asked Oscar. “You told me we would do a lot of travelling,” said Vivian, “and we haven't left the house since. Anywhere will be a nice change.” “You know how important your training is,” said Oscar. “We've had little time for pleasure trips.” “Is this a pleasure trip?” asked Vivian. “I'll have to throw in a few other items.” “Don't bother,” said Oscar. “We're going to Romania. An old friend is in need of our help.” “Not Transylvania?” asked Vivian. “I figured we would go there someday, but on our first trip?” “I'm afraid so,” said Oscar. “Better pack your hiking boots and warm clothes.” “Which airline?” asked Vivian. “Are we taking our crossbows?” “I never fly,” said Oscar. “We're taking a train to the coast. My yacht will take us to France, and then more trains until we reach the Carpathian Mountains. It should take a little over two weeks. I hope you don't get seasick.” “Trains and boats,” said Vivian. “How quaint. What have you got against flying?” “Aside from not being able to get our equipment past security, I've got so much metal in my body, I could pass for a robot,” said Oscar. “What sort of problem is your friend having?” asked Vivian. “I hope he's not in a real hurry.”

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“He's in no immediate danger,” said Oscar. “but there's no time to waste. We need to leave now. Humphrey is driving us to the rail station.” .................... “You didn't tell me you had your own sleeper car,” said Vivian. “I told you I do a lot of travelling,” said Oscar. “It belonged to my father.” “It's very nice,” said Vivian. “Tell me about this friend of yours that we are going to see.” “He's actually an old friend of my father,” said Oscar. “I haven't seen Nikoli since I was a small boy.” “Wait a minute,” said Vivian. “You haven't been a small boy for centuries.” “He's one of us,” said Oscar. “My father trained him. He's gotten too old to fight anymore. That's why he's asked for our help.” “Why doesn't he train someone?” asked Vivian. “He did,” said Oscar, “but he didn't last long. Nikoli suspects a master vampire he drove off a century ago has returned to seek vengence on his family.” “I didn't realize there were other slayers,” said Vivian. “How many are there?” “One per continent, minimum,” said Oscar. “Although I'm not sure about Antartica. I've met most of the others.” “Will I get to meet them?” asked Vivian. “We try to get together twice a century,” said Oscar. “I still haven't met everyone, and the trainees don't always stay around that long.” “I plan on being around for a while,” said Vivian. “I'm really proud of your progress,” said Oscar. “You might just stand a chance if you keep up the hard work.” “I can't do much training here,” said Vivian.

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“I've got a gym on the yacht,” said Oscar. “I should get in some training myself if we're going up against a master.” “Let's get dressed up and go to the dining car,” said Vivian. “We haven't eaten out in months.” “Getting tired of chef's cooking?” asked Oscar. “No, it's not that,” said Vivian. “It'll be nice just to select something from a menu.” “We'd better hurry,” said Oscar. “It closes in two hours.” .................... “Wake up, Darling,” said Oscar. “We'll be at the coast in a couple of hours.” “I slept like a baby,” said Vivian. “I think I'm going to like travelling.” “Maybe you'll have some time to study magic,” said Oscar. “I've got a pretty good library on board the yacht. I usually get a lot of reading done on these ocean voyages.” “That would be nice,” said Vivian. “I haven't had much time to read lately. I really think magic could be useful in our work. But I'm going to miss the horseback rides and canoeing on the lake in the early morning mist.” “Me too,” said Oscar. “It was never quite as enjoyable until you came into my life. Even travelling is going to be enjoyable now.” “If we can get the job done quickly, we'll be home in a month,” said Vivian. “Just think of it as a working vacation,” said Oscar. “But the cleanup work could take days or even weeks.” “Freeing his last victim,” said Vivian. “I almost forgot about that.” “Or his victim's victim if we're too late,” said Oscar. “Does this vampire have a name?” asked Vivian. “Count Demitri Carlophicus,” said Oscar. “Father and I almost crossed paths with him once. He's somewhat of a legend around Transylvania.”

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“Then that should make us the legendary slayers when it's all said and done,” said Vivian. “One legendary slayer is enough for that continent,” said Oscar. “We're not here for the credit. The power we'll gain will be reward enough. Besides, only slayers and vampires will ever hear of us and the latter is never a good thing.” .................... “You were right,” said Vivian. “This is a really nice library you have here.” “Don't start reading yet,” said Oscar as he handed her a box.. “We've got to make an appearance in the ballroom. Here's a little something for you to wear.” “What is it?” asked Vivian. “A formal evening gown?” “Open it up,” said Oscar. “I hope you like the color.” “It's a wedding gown,” gasped Vivian. “It's lovely. White is my favorite color for wedding gowns.” “It was Mother's wedding gown,” said Oscar. “The captain can make it official if you would do me the honor of becoming my wife.” “Get out of here,” said Vivian. “I beg your pardon,” said Oscar. “Go,” said Vivian. “You're not supposed to see the bride before the wedding. Give me a couple of minutes to put on the gown. Then send a steward to escort me to the ballroom. Here's the ring. Don't lose it.” .................... Oscar stood in amazement as Vivian walked down the aisle. He had never seen anything so beautiful, so elegant. .................... “. . . . . You may kiss the bride,” said the Captain. ....................

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“Welcome to the honeymoon suite,” said Oscar as he carried her over the threshold. “Vivian Van Helsinger. That sort of has a ring to it.” “Speaking of rings,” said Vivian. “I'll never forget that look on your face when you thought you'd lost the ring.” “I was nervous,” said Oscar. “It's not every day that I marry such a beautiful bride.” “You smooth talkers are all alike,” said Vivian. “You just want one thing.” “Yeah, so what are my chances?” asked Oscar. “Keep talking while I change into something a little more comfortable,” said Vivian. “I haven't decided yet.” “Have I ever told you what I like best about you?” asked Oscar. “It's your ability to make quick decisions.” .................... “Oscar,” said Vivian. “You've got to look at this.” “What is it?” asked Oscar. “I've been practicing some spells and this one is working a little bit better than I expected,” said Vivian as she dropped the feather onto the desk. “It always points in that direction.” “What spell is it?” asked Oscar. “It's a detect evil spell,” said Vivian. “The feather points in the direction of the nearest evil. But there's nothing but ocean for hundreds of miles. I've never been able to make this work over more than a few hundred feet.” “Maybe the evil is aboard ship,” said Oscar. “But I don't understand why we wouldn't have detected it with our slayer powers. Besides, I've known the members of this crew for years.” “You said we can't detect vampires unless they are in the moonlight,” said Vivian. “Maybe this spell can.” “Maybe we have a stowaway,” said Oscar. “Can you pinpoint the location of the evil a little closer?”

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“If we perform the spell at several different locations on the ship,” replied Vivian, “we can triangulate the exact location.” .................... “I don't understand,” said Vivian. “This should be the spot but there's no one here.” “Could it be a ghost or some other form of evil that we can't see?” asked Oscar. “I suppose that's a possibility,” said Vivian. “But I've never detected invisible evil before. But come to think of it, I've never detected evil of any sort with this spell.” “Wait a minute,” said Oscar. “How do we know it's not on a different level?” “You mean on a different astral plane?” asked Vivian. “No,” said Oscar. “This ship has three levels. The deck, the cabins, and the hold. A stowaway isn't likely to be walking around on deck, and he's not here in the cabins.” “How many entries are there to the hold?” asked Vivian. “And how is the lighting down there?” “We have the advantage in the dark,” said Oscar. “A vampire will have no powers, but we still have ours. There's only one way in, through the hatch. Bring your feather.” “What's stored in the hold?” asked Vivian. “A few supplies and lots of sand bags for ballast,” said Oscar. “There's really nowhere to hide.” “I'm going to bring a silver-tipped arrow just in case it's a werewolf,” said Vivian. “Good idea,” said Oscar. “But don't be fooled. They don't have to change unless it's a full moon.” “What if there's more than one?” asked Vivian.

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“Bring more than one arrow,” said Oscar. “If you're afraid. You can stay on deck.” “Don't be silly,” said Vivian. “I just want to know if we're trying to capture or kill and under what conditions that decision could change.” “Only kill in self-defense,” said Oscar, “until you're sure without a doubt that it's evil. Then you don't hesitate even if it seems defenseless.” “What if it pisses me off?” laughed Vivian. “You can't just kill it because it's stupid,” said Oscar. “You'd never get a day off.” “I was only kidding,” said Vivian. “That seems sort of harsh to kill a defenseless creature.” “It wouldn't hesitate if the situation were reversed,” said Oscar. “Look at Nikoli. He had a chance to kill Count Demitri but chose to exile him. Now the tables have turned.” “Why did he do that?” asked Vivian. “It's a long story,” said Oscar. “Given the circumstances I might have done the same when I was young and not so cynical.” “Let's do this,” said Vivian. “Do you want me to go first?” “I'll go,” said Oscar. “Give your eyes a chance to adjust before we start the search. I've got a flashlight in case we need it.” As they descended the ladder into the darkness, Vivian could hear heavy breathing. “Listen,” she said. “I can hear it breathing. What do you think it is?” “I can't say,” said Oscar. “But it must be injured. You'd never be able to hear it breathing if it were healthy.” “It's right over there,” said Vivian. “Use your flashlight.” As Oscar shined the flashlight in the direction of the sound, a shot rang out. Before the first echo, Vivian had fired the crossbow. As Oscar fell to the floor, the flashlight came to a rest at her feet. Picking it up, she shined it across the room where she saw a body lying in a pool of blood, her arrow through its heart. Looking down, she saw Oscar.

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“Van Helsinger!” called the steward. “Do you require assistance?” “Yes,” yelled Vivian. “He's injured. Help me get him out of here.” As the lights turned on, Vivian could see Oscar's bloodsoaked shirt. His breathing was labored and shallow but he was still breathing. “Hurry!” she shouted. “I'm here,” said the steward. “Should we move him?” “Is there a doctor on board?” asked Vivian. “No,” said the steward. “The first mate was a medic. I'll get him right away.” “Wake up, Oscar,” cried Vivian. “You're going to be fine. Just hang in there.” Oscar opened his eyes slowly. “I'm so tired,” he said. “I just need to rest.” “Don't go to sleep,” said Vivian. “You might not wake up.” Oscar closed his eyes and his breathing almost stopped. Vivian lifted him up across her shoulder and began to climb the ladder. “Get out of my way,” she shouted as the steward stepped onto the ladder. “Place him on the stretcher,” said the first mate. “We'll take it from here.” “Turn the ship around,” said Vivian frantically. “We've got to get him to a hospital.” “Don't force me to sedate you,” said the first mate. “Get yourself cleaned up. He's in good hands now. There's nothing you can do. After you've cleaned up, you can tell me what happened.” “There's another body down there,” said Vivian. “Make sure it's dead.” “We'll take care of it. Now go,” said the first mate. “You're just in the way. Let us do our jobs.” Vivian stood there as they carried Oscar away. “What the hell happened?” she thought. “Vampires don't use guns. Neither do werewolves. This doesn't make any sense.” ....................

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“He's sleeping now,” said the first mate. “We removed the bullet. All we can do is wait. Get yourself some rest. You look like you could use it. Would you like something to help you sleep?” “I'm fine,” said Vivian. “He's not going to die, is he?” “I would think you of all people would know the answer to that question,” said the captain. “Don't lose your head.” “Don't lose your head?” thought Vivian. “Of course. Oscar had told her that the only way either of them could die was if they were beheaded. How had she forgotten?” “Thank you, Captain,” said Vivian. “I'd forgotten.” “Forgotten what?” asked the first mate. “He'll never leave me,” said Vivian. “He promised.” “Get some rest,” said the captain. “We'll let you know if he needs you.” .................... Vivian awoke to find Oscar lying next to her. “Why didn't you wake me?” asked Vivian. “How are you feeling?” “Sore,” said Oscar. “Sticks and stones may not kill me, but they still hurt.” “What was a vampire doing with a gun?” asked Vivian. “Or was it a werewolf?” “Neither,” said Oscar. “It was an escaped murderer trying to leave the country. Vampires and werewolves aren't the only evil creatures, I guess.” “Is he dead?” asked Vivian. “He's dead,” said Oscar. “Nice shooting.” “It was more instinct than skill,” said Vivian. “Is that how it's going to be?” “I'm afraid so,” said Oscar. “The slayer instinct is becoming dominant. But it's an instinct that will keep you alive.”

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“God help the other guy,” said Vivian. “If anyone is going to help them, it's the devil,” said Oscar. “How long before you're 100% again?” asked Vivian. “Are we going through with our mission?” “I'll be with you in your next workout,” said Oscar. “I'll just have to work through the pain. We can't cancel the mission. A fellow slayer is depending on us.” “Will you be ready in time?” asked Vivian. “We're going to slow down for a couple of days,” said Oscar. “There's a storm up ahead, and we'll give it time to dissipate. That'll give me a little time, and we can get in some sport fishing.” “Sounds like fun,” said Vivian. “Will you bait my hook?” “You've got to be kidding,” said Oscar. “You're a slayer for heaven's sake. Suck it up.” “I can't help it,” said Vivian. “I can't stick a hook in a helpless worm.” “We don't use worms,” said Oscar. “A small squid or octopus is more like it.” “Ew!” said Vivian. “No way!” “Okay,” said Oscar. “I'll bait your hook. But you have to clean the fish.” “Maybe I'll just watch you,” said Vivian. “I'm kidding,” said Oscar. “The crew will clean the fish and help you land it if it's a big one.” “Well, maybe I'll catch just one,” said Vivian. .................... “How many is that?” asked Vivian. “You've caught seven,” said Oscar. “And how many have you caught?” asked Vivian.

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“Hey! I've been too busy baiting your hook,” said Oscar. “Excuses,” said Vivian. “Who's the fisherman?” “We're out of bait,” said Oscar. “Where did you hide that other bucket?” asked Vivian. “Other bucket?” asked Oscar. “I thought that was chum. I tossed it overboard.” “Talk about your poor losers,” said Vivian. “Well, I am getting tired.” “You've caught enough to feed the whole crew,” said Oscar. “Save some for the trip home.” “You're a good teacher,” said Vivian. “Like they say, those that can't do, teach.” “Nobody says that,” said Oscar. “You made that up.” .................... “Is that the coast of France?” asked Vivian. “We'll be in Port La Rochelle in a few hours,” said Oscar. “Have you got your things packed for the train?” “I was going to leave room for a few necessities we can pick up in Paris,” said Vivian. “Necessities?” asked Oscar. “Like a new purse, some high heels, and a designer gown or two,” said Vivian. “Maybe on our way back,” said Oscar. “We're in a bit of a hurry now.” “I was only joking,” thought Vivian, “but I could pick up a few items while we're here.” ....................

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“So you don't have your own sleeper car?” asked Vivian. “We'll just have to rough it,” said Oscar. “What do you think?” “It's bigger than my apartment,” said Vivian. “I love it.” .................... “Wake up, Oscar,” said Vivian. “I sensed something on the roof.” “I don't sense anything,” said Oscar. “Well, I don't sense it now,” said Vivian. “But it was there. I'm sure of it.” “Get dressed,” said Oscar. “We're going up there. Which way was it moving?” “That way,” said Vivian. “But the train must be going seventy or eighty mph.” “You want to just go back to sleep?” asked Oscar.

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“No, of course not,” said Vivian. “Someone's going to die if we don't do something. I'm sure of it.” “Bring your crossbow,” said Oscar. “And remember, it'll be able to sense us if it hasn't already.” .................... “I can smell its scent,” said Oscar. “Can you see anything?” “It's impossible with the wind in my eyes,” said Vivian. “But I can smell it too. It's definitely in that direction.” “Stay low to keep down the wind resistance,” said Oscar. “Let's go.” .................... “He's inside this car,” said Vivian. “I can sense him. But how is that possible?” “He must be near an open window on the moonlit side of the train,” said Oscar. “You go in that end and I go in this one. Wait for my signal.” As Vivian reached the end of the car, she looked back to see Oscar at the other end. Oscar waved to her and began his descent to the platform near the door. Vivian did the same. Looking through the glass in the door, she could see the aisleway was clear. As she saw the rear door open, she opened her door and went inside. “The vampire had not been through this door,” she thought. She began to walk toward Oscar. “He was in this car, and he didn't leave through that door,” said Vivian. “I can't sense his presence.” “He didn't go into the car behind us,” said Oscar. “Unless he jumped from the platform, he's still in here. He could be any one of these passengers.” “He's not on the moonlit side,” said Vivian, “and when he was, he was probably near the rear of the car. There are still a few people awake that would have noticed him near the front of the car.” “That narrows it down a bit,” said Oscar. “That man wearing the brown hat. What do you think?” “Could be our man,” said Vivian.

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“You'd be wrong to assume that,” said Oscar. “What is this? A test?” asked Vivian. “Why can't it be him.” “The hat,” said Oscar. “He could never have kept it on while he was on the roof. And it matches his outfit so well, I don't believe he stole it from someone else.” “What about that lady? She seems to be all alone,” said Vivian. “You yourself have been referring to the vampire as a he,” said Oscar, “Are you doubting your instincts now?” “No, you're right,” said Vivian. “It's definitely male. But that only leaves the old man and his grandson.” “The old man is French and the boy is German,” said Oscar. “Is that his grandson?” “Oh no,” said Vivian. “He looks like such a sweet old man.” “He probably is,” said Oscar. “It's the boy.” “No!” said Vivian. “Are you sure.” “Look at the knees of his pants,” said Oscar. “Then look at mine.” “He was definitely on the roof,” said Vivian. “What do we do?” “Sir, there seems to be a problem with your ticket,” said Oscar in his best French accent. “Will you please come with me.” The old man opened his eyes and looked at the boy for a moment, then began to stand. The boy stood up and stepped into the aisle as if to let the old man pass. Suddenly the car became dark and the boy bolted for the door. Vivian and Oscar quickly followed. As they opened the door, they saw the boy climbing to the top of the car. As Vivian raised the crossbow, the boy stood up to run. There was a thud and the headless body fell onto the platform. Vivian watched as the body turned to dust leaving only the clothes fluttering in the breeze. “He was only a young boy,” cried Vivian.

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“Think of all the lives we've saved tonight,” said Oscar. “He was dead long ago.” As the train exited the tunnel, Oscar and Vivian made their way back to their car, the crossbow behind her back. .................... “It's neverending, isn't it?” said Vivian. “We hardly seem to make a difference.” “Unfortunately,” said Oscar. “But there are other so called vampire hunters that manage to kill a few before they become overconfident and get themselves killed.” “Doesn't it get frustrating?” asked Vivian. “Once you realize that we do make a difference, it's not so bad,” said Oscar. “Try to imagine what it would be like without us.” “But if we don't kill one every day,” said Vivian. “I feel like we're not doing our job.” “We don't have to go looking for trouble,” said Oscar. “It will find us. For every one we kill, thousands of lives are saved.” “And for every one we don't hunt down?” asked Vivian. “You can't think of it that way,” said Oscar. “You'll make yourself crazy.” .................... “Oscar Van Helsinger to see Nikoli Corsikov,” said Oscar. “Come in,” said the butler. “He's expecting you. This must be Vivian.” “Vivian Van Helsinger,” said Vivian. “And you are?” “The name is Bentley,” said the butler. “Please come in. The master is in the study. Please follow me.” “Master, your guests have arrived,” said Bentley. “Shall I bring some wine?” “Our finest,” said Nikoli. “This is a very special occasion. Welcome to my

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home. You look just like your father. Oscar, isn't it?” “Nikoli, it's so nice to see you're still around and kicking,” said Oscar. “I'm still around,” said Nikoli, “but I stopped kicking years ago. I'm just an old man now. An old man that needs your help.” “You saved my father's life more than once,” said Oscar. “It's the least I can do.” “Your father saved mine just as often,” said Nikoli. “You owe me nothing, and I have nothing to offer you except my gratitude.” “It will be an honor to serve you, Sir,” said Oscar. “Vivian, this is the legendary Count Nikoli Corsikov, Vampire Slayer to the Czars.” “It's an honor to meet you, Sir,” said Vivian as she offered her hand. “She's as beautiful and gracious as your mother,” said Nikoli as he kissed her hand. “I was so sorry to hear about your father's passing.” “It was his time,” said Oscar. “Please sit down. Let's have a toast to the old days.” “There were so many,” said Nikoli. “To your father, my oldest and dearest friend.” “To my father,” said Oscar. “To your father,” said Vivian. .................... “Bentley will show you to your room,” said Nikoli. “It's late and you've had a long trip. We'll speak of my problem after you've had a good night's rest.” “I enjoyed hearing your stories about Father,” said Oscar. “It brought back a lot of old memories for me.” .................... “How did your father become the slayer for the New World?” asked Vivian as she closed the door to the room.

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“After he trained Nikoli, he was chosen by the slayer's council to come to the New World. The first vampires reached the New World around 1000 A.D. aboard a Viking ship. By 1500, they were widespread throughout New England,” said Oscar. “That's when my father became the New World slayer.” “Did he continue to share his powers with Nikoli?” asked Vivian. “No,” said Oscar. “The council created a new set of candles, the ones you used when you cast the spell on yourself.” “Does South America have its own slayer?” asked Vivian. “They do today,” said Oscar. “She was appointed in 1750.” “If Nikoli dies without an heir, will another slayer be selected by the council?” asked Vivian. “At the next 50 year convention,” said Oscar. “But any slayer or assistant slayer can take over temporarily. If they do a good job, they will most likely be selected as the permanent slayer.” “Why don't they just put slayers in every country, or every city for that matter?” asked Vivian. “There's a limit to the power the council can distribute. With each new set of candles, the power is spread thinner,” said Oscar. “And whenever more than one slayer uses the same candles, as we did, their individual powers are reduced. Of course you can gain power as a slayer, but if your initial power is too low, you stand little chance of gaining more.” “If I could find a way to increase the power of the candles,” said Vivian, “then we could have more slayers. That's going to be my goal. I'll have several lifetimes to find it.” “That would be a worthy quest,” said Oscar. “I'll assist in any way possible.” “Goodnight,” said Vivian. “Sleep tight.” “Goodnight, Darling,” said Oscar. “Pleasant dreams.” .................... “Good morning,” said Nikoli. “I trust you had a pleasant night.”

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“Indeed,” said Oscar. “Oscar said you feared that Demitri would harm your family,” said Vivian. “I don't understand. If you have family, why aren't they slayers?” “They are my brother's descendants,” said Nikoli, “and I can't protect them all. There are thousands spead all over Romania.” “How does Demitri know they are your relatives?” asked Vivian. “Even I don't know all of them,” said Nikoli. “But if their last name is Corsikov, Demitri has threatened to kill one a day if I don't face him. He's given me until the next full moon.” “That doesn't give us much time,” said Oscar. “Where does he want to meet with you?” “Castle Keep,” said Nikoli. “In the Dark Forest region of Carpathia. It's an old ruin that once belonged to his family. It's in the middle of nowhere. It will be a difficult hike in mountainous terrain. The forest is too thick for horseback. I'll see that you get a map.” “Where can we get a pair of Russian Wolfhounds?” asked Oscar. “I have a fine pair,” said Nikoli. “I trained them myself.” “Excellent,” said Oscar. “Then we can leave at once. We'll need supplies for at least three days. We can't carry more than that anyway.” “I assume you brought your own equipment,” said Nikoli, “but feel free to use any of mine. I wish I were going with you, but I would only slow you down.” .................... “It looks like there's only one logging road that will get us anywhere near the Dark Forest,” said Oscar. “I'm sure Demitri is also aware of that. We need to stop at this bridge.” “Do you think he's set a trap?” asked Vivian. “Nikoli is of little threat to him. You'd think he'd want him alive.” “I think he'll be checking the area near the end of the road to see if anyone has come to challenge him,” said Oscar. “I don't want him to know we're here

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until we know where he is. Once he discovers there are two of us with two wolfhounds, he'll be very difficult to find.” “You don't think he'll run, do you?” asked Vivian. “That would put Nikoli's family in grave danger.” “We're slayers,” said Oscar. “He won't be able to resist the urge to kill or turn us. But once he knows what he's up against, he'll be far more dangerous.” “What are we up against?” asked Vivian. “What did Nikoli tell you about Demitri?” “He's 26 years old physically and even Nikoli doesn't know how old he really is,” said Oscar. “He's trained in the deadly art of Pencak Silat Serak. It's a style of karate found in Indonesia. Even in human form, he'll be a worthy opponent.” “Why doesn't he just walk into Nikoli's home and kill him?” asked Vivian. “In human form, he can be temporarily incapacitated by bullets just as I was,” said Oscar. “Did we bring any guns?” asked Vivian. “He can smell gun oil and spent gunpowder a mile away,” said Oscar. “We'd never get within range.” “If that's the deadliest form of karate,” asked Vivian, “why didn't we learn it.” “It's only deadly against humans,” said Oscar. “It's no more effective against vampires than any other form. We use our karate mainly for self-defense. I never expected to come up against a vampire that could challenge me in human form. But trust me, that will only happen if he has no other option.” “That looks like the bridge on the map,” said Vivian. “Do you want me to park here?” “That's fine,” said Oscar. “I'll release the dogs. They're trained to stay within sight and not to make a sound unless they are attacking.” “As thick as those woods are, we'll have to be careful not to trip over the dogs,” said Vivian. “They won't be far away.”

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“We need to make it to the ruins before sunset,” said Oscar. “Unless the dogs can pick up his scent, we'll need to be inside when it gets dark.” “What if they pick up his scent?” asked Vivian. “Are we going to try to find his lair?” “We'll try,” said Oscar. “Maybe he will be careless if he thinks that he need only be concerned with one old man.” “What do you mean by careless?” asked Vivian. “Vampires try to cover their tracks near their lair,” said Oscar. “In a city he would use the rooftops when he's near his lair. Here, he'll most likely use the trees.” “Then how will we track him?” asked Vivian. “The dogs can't climb the trees. Will we be able to sense his trail?” “Not likely, if he's in the trees,” said Oscar. “But the absence of scent can be just as important when tracking a vampire. If you find tracks everywhere except in one general area, chances are that's where his lair is.” “That sounds easy enough,” said Vivian. “Especially with the help of the dogs.” “Ah, but a really smart vampire will leave false trails leading past his lair,” said Oscar. “Close but not too close.” “So you're hoping he didn't bother to leave a false trail?” asked Vivian. “Or he didn't bother to cover the real one,” said Oscar. “But with a master, it's more of a instinct than an afterthought. Chances are we'll have to do this the easy way.” “The easy way?” asked Vivian. “We'll have to let him find us,” said Oscar. “Easy to do, but extremely dangerous. The element of surprise will be on their side.” “Their side?” asked Vivian. “There's more than one?” “A master vampire usually has at least a couple of mates,” said Oscar. “The dogs should be able to keep them occupied for a while, but we'll have to kill them ourselves once Demitri is immobilized.”

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“So. The dogs aren't just for tracking,” said Vivian. “I thought our senses were as good as theirs.” “They're extremely light sleepers,” said Oscar. “They make excellent watchdogs.” “Why is that one frozen like a statue?” asked Vivian. “She's letting the other dog know that she's picked up the scent,” said Oscar. “There, the other dog's joining her. We need to pick up the pace.” “I can sense a male and a female, maybe more,” said Vivian. “Yesterday's trail,” said Oscar. “But let's follow it as far as it leads. It's heading in the right direction toward the keep. It can tell us how cautious they are about covering their tracks.” .................... “The trail ends here,” said Oscar. “They must have taken to the trees.” “Maybe we'll pick up the trail again,” said Vivian, “if we continue in the same direction.” “We need to hurry,” said Oscar. “It's getting late. It's taking longer than I thought because of all the thick brush.” “I think that's the keep up ahead,” said Vivian. “It's in worse shape than I had imagined. The walls are grumbling and some of the roof is caved in. It doesn't look very safe to go inside.” “We'll need some cover,” said Oscar. “His mates will be far less formidable if we can get them inside and out of the moonlight.” “Okay,” said Vivian. “Let's go in over there. It looks a little more stable. Call in the dogs.” As Oscar gathered the dogs, Vivian entered the archway leading into the keep. “Oh no,” said Vivian. “I left the candles in the car by the bridge.” “What candles?” asked Oscar as he stood outside the archway and attempted to leash the dogs.

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“Nikoli loaned me his candles,” said Vivian. “If things looked too bleak, I was going to cast the spell and get my power from his candles. That would give you exclusive and full power from your candles.” “You should never have brought those out here where Demitri might possibly get his hands on them,” said Oscar. “If he ever discovered the words to the spell, it would be a disaster. He would have slayer strength and skills in human form. And he could give his mates the same powers.” “We've got to get back to the car right away,” said Vivian. “Nikoli had the words engraved into the candles.” “My god, Vivian,” said Oscar. “What have you done? Hurry, there's no time to lose.” Demitri stepped out of the shadows, a smile on his face. He motioned to the two females and off they went into the woods. .................... “We're almost there,” said Vivian. “Be careful in case they've beaten us here.” “It looks like the car doors are open,” said Oscar. “The lights are on.” “Do you sense their presence?” asked Vivian. “Maybe we should send the dogs down there.” .................... “The dogs have found something on the ground near the car,” said Oscar. “Let's check it out.” “Looks like Demitri didn't waste any time trying out that spell,” laughed Vivian. “You think this is funny?” asked Oscar. “What do you think?” asked Vivian as she pointed to the three vampires asleep on the ground. “Those were my own special candles and that was a sleeping spell.” “Why didn't you let me in on it?” asked Oscar.

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“It was the panic in your voice that really sold the trick,” said Vivian. “You can't fake that.” “Stake 'em and read their memories,” said Oscar. “Boy, are you going to have nightmares, but you'll gain quite a bit of power.” “Are you sure you don't want one of them?” asked Vivian. “Not until your powers are comparable with mine,” said Oscar. “But I don't know why we bother. You're just going to outsmart them. What do you need with powers?” “Are you mad at me?” asked Vivian. “I didn't want to take a chance on losing you.” “Of course not,” said Oscar. “If I could, I'd always outsmart them. You're amazing, simply amazing. How did you know he could hear us back at the keep?” “I sensed his presence,” said Vivian. “He was ready to strike when I called to you. I guess no one ever told him about a bird in the hand.” .................... “None of them have left any live victims behind,” said Vivian. “I guess we're done.” “Not just yet,” said Oscar as he handed the sword to Vivian. “You've got to finish the job.” “Can't you do it for me?” asked Vivian. “Please?” “We're not baiting hooks here,” said Oscar. “Do your job. No one else can do it for you.” “Well, I don't like this job,” said Vivian. “Welcome to my world,” said Oscar. “I hope you never like it.”

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