Helstrum was bored.

He, and his summoned army of Demons, had – as promised – subjugated the land. Well, this land. He didn’t much care for the others. The Slave Pits were working at full strength, the City had been ground down to a sea of misery. It have been going on for a while too – so all hope for that meddlesome costumed heroine had been stolen from the inhabitants.

This meant that his nightly rounds were never interrupted. He didn’t even need a guard now.

“It takes all the fun out of the bleeding, let me tell you.”

The terrified inhabitant squealed. He was being held over the edge of the Dark Lord’s balcony. The unfortunate had endured the Dark One’s whining for over a hour and hoped that Helstrum’s arm wasn’t getting tired.

“Oh – what do you car-” Helstrum faltered.

He was a vampire. His hearing was beyond all imagining. He could hear the sweat leak from the pores of the villager he was terrorising, he could hear the breathing of the only living person in the building.

So hearing a second pair of lungs inflate and deflate, and the almost silent sound of someone landing in the room behind them wasn’t a problem at all.

Other then they shouldn’t be there. It couldn’t be a rescue mission, this guy was randomly plucked from the slave pits. He sniffed.

It was almost scentless, and with the stench of panic coming from the one he was holding, almost should have been good enough. If Helstrum hadn’t been, as stated before, a vampire. Male. Not the costumed one, but could it be a new challenger?

It was, to Helstrum, deliciously exciting. He was about to turn round and confront the intruder when he heard the air itself part and a third step into the room. A teleporter? A Gate spell? They weren’t demons. Demons stank.

He looked out at the human he had dangling. There wouldn’t be much fun in that one. “You know, I hate to leave you hanging around.” He let go.

Now – the turn should be masterful. It should be…why wasn’t there a scream? Or a thud.

“He knows we’re here.” Helstrum turned. Where was the usual fear in the voices of those who faced him.

He saw a small man clad in black. Only his eyes were visible behind some black mask. Was he an assassin? Someone had sent an assassin to kill him?

Helstrum laughed until the appearance of the other in the room broke his train of thought. At least 7 foot tall, as pale as the Vampire was, his eyes were milky and yet he moved around the room with a practiced ease.

“I don’t care. I know he’s here.” He spoke with a voice that also seemed to tear the air. Helstrum had no idea what that was. And he figured he should be worried – especially with that lack of thud.

A familiar scent flooded his memories. And it wasn’t just the stench of the panicking villager.

He turned to see that one floating, albeit in an awkward fashion, in the air.

A word was breathed, so softly that only Helstrum could hear. It was a command. A command that filled his bored heart with joy, fear and excitement.

It was joined by the steps of the two behind him moving.

He span a kick out to where the little one should have been and watched as the shape leapt over the his own outstretched leg and landed, sending a crushing blow into his cheek before sweeping his supporting leg out from under him.

Helstrum leapt up.

The villager had been placed safely behind the three. The Assassin, the freak and, on point, the cloaked, masked figure of his nemesis. A figure he hadn’t seen for years.

Naomi spoke, and her voice was as thunder. “Missed me?”

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The teacher/grandfather/father/priest/authoriton/swami/mentor sat before the class.

S/He/It started. “Shall we carry on from where we left off?”

The class pulled out their writing implements and started to trace the shapes they had learnt the day before.

 

===

 

The Hunter came to his ward. It was a long time since the caves; since the trip to spread the light. Now he walked slowly; now his back stooped, his hair grey.

He grunted, pointed to her bow and walked away. She hesitated,knowing what he meant.

Her face broke, tears forming at her eyes. But still she gathered her items and followed him.

 

She caught him at the lake’s edge. This was where he had built his barge and covered it with kindling. As she approached he turned and smiled. He pointed to the small fires he had built for her, proud at his handiwork, but his happy grunts soon changed to the hacking coughing – and that was too much for his girl

She threw herself at him, crying, mewling, holding him close. He stroked her hair and blinked his own tears away. They both knew this day would come. Both had hoped it would have come a lot later.

 

They spent the day together. She caught dinner, showing off her hunting skills. She would have to take his place, now, and wanted to prove her worth to him.

 

As if that were necessary.

 

 He cooked and before the sun disappeared, they lit the fires and placed small, covered lamps on the boat.

 

He coughed again. Slowly at first, but quickly it developed into deep, tearing hacks. She held him, hoping that she could keep them away. 

He spat. It was red.

He took her hand and looked into her eyes. It was time. 

She tried to open her mouth to protest but he placed his fingertips over her lips and shook his head.

It was time.

They held for the last time. Long and tight.

 

Finally, he took his place on the barge which she pushed into the water, before taking her place in her personal circle of fire.

 

She was to bear witness to his passing. To make sure he didn’t come back, because their Old Enemy had learned a new trick.

 

The night was cold. Her friend’s coughs echoed over the lake. His breathing rattled until, just before dawn, the final spark of his life blew out. And with that light gone, the Dark rushed in to take it’s place.

She watched the body jerk up, abruptly. Watched it tried to get to its feet – a meat puppet with jagged, uncontrolled movements. She notched an arrow, pushing the tip into the flames. Her heart broke at the desecration. Tears flowing down her cheeks.

 

The arrow flew, trailing the flame in the sky.

She notched a second.

 

The first overshot, landing harmlessly in the lake. Her crying ruined her aim. She took a deep, steadying breath.

The second flew. The flaming arrow drove into the chest of her old mentor. Her friend.

It burned its light into the dark places inside.

The body fell to the deck, convulsing.

Burning arrows rained down on the barge, catching the kindling, turning the barge into a pyre.

 

The Hunter said his last goodbye, and she sat in her circle of light sobbing for her old friend.

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The mail sat on the screen. She stared at it.

 

We know her. We were at her birth. We saw her name passed on. We have even heard about the small place she sat now. And as our point of view focuses on her flushed face we know realise that we don’t, actually, know her name.

 

Which, all things considered, is the point.

 

However, we can see that she is furious. 


No one should be able to find her. No one. Least of all him.

 

Coffee? What the fuck did he mean by that?

 

Bastard.

 

She hit the reply button and hammered out a response.

 

“How the fuck did you get this address. No, forget that. I don’t want to know. I don’t want you to reply to me again. Not after what you did.

 

Our time for coffee is long gone. You made that very clear the day you grafted that metal arm to you and betrayed everything we stood for. You and your teams – your cells.”

 

She paused. People had been hurt her way, too. And she knew his teams had always been careful.

 

Of course she knew, she checked. It was her job.

 

“Just…fuck off!” She yelled at her laptop, sure that it had been offended by the outburst.

 

One of her cats rubbed round her legs and she picked it up, crying tears of vehement frustration into its fur. Her hand went to her keyboard and she hit a key and stormed from the room.


Drafts: 1


***

 

Drafts: 5

 

Coffee? What did it mean? And why nothing else?

 

She hit the refresh button. And again.

 

And…again.

 

But as it was now three days since it arrived and she figured nothing else would be following it.

 

Christ, this was annoying.

 

Coffee? What could he have possibly meant by that. She thought of all the ways they had used it.

 

“Would you like to come up for a coffee?”

 

The eye contact. The smile. The lips. The kettle boiling dry in the background. She remembered the passion, the clothes being torn aside. She remembered –

 

Her hands flew to the keys again.

 

“So that’s your plan is it? You think you could sweet talk me into bed? Just like that? How easy do you think I am?

 

And how the HELL  did  you get this address. I told you never to contact me again – you and your cells, your metal body. How was that going to help? What on earth …


***

 

Drafts:10

 

“Bastard message.”

 

She needed new eyes on this.

 

“Lucy.” Silence reigned.


“Lucy.” Still nothing. 

 

She sighed. “Lucy.” Sharper this time, a little harder.

 

“Yes, madam.” It was a male voice that answered, which reminded her that she needed to spend more time on her home system.

 

“Lucy. Coffee.”

 

“Ma’am.” She heard a noise from the kitchen. “Latte, ma’am?”

 

“Nono. I don’t want one.” Useless technology. “Definitions. What does it mean?”

 

“Coffee: A drink made from the roasted and ground beanlike seeds of a tropical shrub, served hot or iced. Coffee: a party or reception at which coffee is served. Coffee: A widely consumed stimulant beverage prepared from roasted seeds

 

The voice droned on.


“Ugh.” She walked away to get her Latte.

 

***


Drafts: 18

 

She looked at her mug and clicked on the Drafts folder. She command-A’d all her previous attempts and deleted them.

 

“Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”

 

She hit the reply button and typed her response.

 

She waited, re-read it just to be sure, then hit send.

 

Smiling, she walked to her garden.

 

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When all was quiet, the storyteller/shaman/elder/priestess/actor/chieften started his tale.

“It was the dawn of man.

===

It didn’t come in the dark, It was the dark.

It cared not for numbers – there was no safety there. 

You could not hide. You could not run.

Male. Female. Offspring. All were taken with impunity. 

There was a reason of fear the sun going down and it had nothing to do with it not coming back again.

 

Light was the first defense. Huddled close to the light, the Dark was held at bay, howling at the edges where its power dimmed. It picked off those who strayed beyond the protective circle, killing its prey slowly; making each and every scream count, taunting those safe inside to come out. Come out and help.

But none did. They closed their ears and rocked, some screaming, some wailing. Most crying.

One fateful night, a child rolled in its sleep, falling outside the ring. It was snatched in an instant, her cries ringing out. Close she was brought, so all could hear her begging, her screaming and even though she had no words, every cry tore at the heart of all in the tribe. All but one. A hunter. He steeled his heart and listened – tracing the child, predicting her movement.

His hand flew into the fire. Ignoring the flames that seared his fur, the smell of his arm burning. 

He grabbed a burning branch and ran into the night. So shocked was The Dark by the brazen attack that it had no time to act. The light illuminated the child. 

With no dark to hold her, she fell.The hunter leapt, grabbed and rolled. She didn’t even make it to the ground. The hunter returned her to the wailing women who preened and caressed the child.

The Hunter didn’t stop moving and made a fire at a greater distance. Then with grunts, screams and points he organised the other males to do the same. Soon they had a perimeter fence, a greater area of safety.

No longer would they lose their own to the Dark. They had fought back.

They had a victory.

They had a Hero.

 

===

 

The Tribe moved left the plains and headed into the caves. Armed with their fires, they drove the dark away and won another victory. Within days the walls were covered with images of the Great Hunter’s deed. The child hung around him, adopting him as her mentor, her protector. Soon the scarred pair were inseparable, the child aiding hunt. 

And every night, with the child sleeping in his lap, the Hunter stared at the images on the wall.

The Rainy Season rolled in and the Tribe were forced further into the cavern system, as the water extinguished the fires set up around the came mouth. To keep spirits up, one of the Tribe took to performance and, through actions, retold the story of Brave Hunter – much to the hunter’s embarrassment and the child’s pride.

One such night, at the climax, a victory howl from Dark stole the story. 

It had not been defeated. Only made angry, forced to feed on other tribes.

Mothers held their children closer. Men held their women.

And the Hunter stared at the images on the wall.

The next day he took the performer and the child and set out across the plains.

Every tribe they met the hunter taught to make fire. Every night, by those same fires, the performer showed how the Hunter saved the child. The stories were performed, copied, re-performed. And, slowly, the Tribes of Man fought back against the Dark.

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