Chapter 15. (Thorns of the Shadow: Blood, Blades, and Bacon)

“Are ye sure this is wise, Miss Ailia?” asked the old man, Cathal. He watched the vampire storm around the store as she muttered angrily to herself.

“Wise? I’m one of the elder race. We’re naturally wise. It’s hard to be hotblooded when you’re dead,” she answered sharply. “No. What isn’t wise is some powerless bastard thinking that he can send men into my shop to kill me. I hunt mortals, not the other way around.”

Cathal shook his head but didn’t press the matter further. Ailia was impossible to reason with at the best of times. She had a superiority complex the size of a planet trapped inside a child’s body. Not that Cathal would ever point this out to her.

“Why the sudden worry anyway?” Ailia said. She gave him a withering glare that suggested bad things would happen if he doubted her ability. “I eat pathetic leeches like this Golman for breakfast. I know where he sleeps, how many guards he has and who he has been in contact with. This’ll be a walk in the park.”

Cathal sighed. “O’ course. Normally I wouldnae worry but ye said he’s in the pay o’ Annis. Nothin’ good comes when she’s involved.”

Ailia made a childish snort. “Golman is a nobody. I may not like Annis but I can respect her. She won’t give a damn about him. He is a pawn, a semi useful tool whose greed makes him easily manipulated. Anyway, if I know Bram then Annis already has her hands full.”

She stopped circling the shelves and finally grabbed a bubblegum pink minigun from a display case. She caressed it like a pet dog, her smile growing, then she returned to glaring at Cathal, challenging him to comment.

A bell rang, causing the shelves to slide and turn until the shop was once again a shrine to bright colours and fluffy teddies. Cathal hobbled over to a screen behind the counter that showed the front of the building.

“Hmm, a lovely wee lass coming for a new toy,” he said nervously. “Er, yes. Miss Ailia, ye should get goin’ now. Wouldnae want te keep that unfortunate man waiting. I’ll hold the fort here.”

Ailia walked over to him. Cathal tried to keep himself between Ailia and the screen until she grabbed his jumper and lifted him over her head. 

“You’re a terrible liar. Hell, everyone is a terrible liar to a vampire. Why do you insist on making yourself look like the old fool you are?”

She looked down at the screen then and froze. Her arms began to shake and Cathal braced himself. She dropped him, her eyes not moving from the screen. The image showed a young woman walking down the drive by herself. The woman glanced up to where the camera was watching her from and waved pleasantly. 

Cathal watched Ailia for a moment then retreated into the back of the shop. He had a quick turn of speed for an old man with a limp.

The door to the shop swung open and the woman entered. She was a redhead with messy hair that ended just above her shoulders. The last inch of her hair was black. She wore knee high cowboy boots, snug black leggings and a tanktop that was red, orange and yellow like fire. Her eyes were pink and her face beautiful. Tattoos ran down her exposed arms. A blue band graced each of her wrists. 

“Heya. It’s been a while, eh, Ailia.”

Ailia just stared at her. The girl’s fangs seemed very prominent and a faint red glow filled her eyes. It took her visible effort to calm herself.

“Glory Valentine. I thought I’d made it perfectly clear that I would tear your throat out if I ever saw you again,” she said, a dark menace in her voice.

The woman smiled at her. “I seem to remember that you actually said that the time before we last met. If memory serves me right, the actual last time we met I had you across my knee after a sound beating.”

If Ailia had still possessed a beating heart her face would have flushed bright red. Burning rage and shame warred across her features. She clenched her grip on the minigun.

“You need to learn to relax, eh. What’s a few sour moments between friends?” Glory said pleasantly.

Ailia turned away from the woman. “I’m not your friend and I never will be,” she muttered. She span back around, the fire returning to her voice in an instant. “Now what do you want? I have important business tonight.”

“Well, I’m not here for your wonderful company or to buy a new stuffed toy so take a guess. I’ll even give you three chances.”

Ailia placed the minigun down on the counter then jumped up beside it so that she was at the same height as the other woman. She leaned in slightly so that they were looking straight into one another’s eyes. 

“You have a job up here in Scotland just when Black Annis starts causing trouble. She is hiring an army. Tell me your morals aren’t so easily swayed that you would work for her?” Ailia asked. She spoke calmly but made sure that the woman had a full view of her fangs.

Glory also leaned in. Now they were basically nose to nose. “Don’t try and intimidate me with your pearly whites, Ailia. I’ve been closer to them than this and they’ve never scared me before.” She paused then straightened up. “But no, I’m not in Annis’s pocket. I do however know when chaos is gonna breakout, and where there is chaos there are people willing to pay for mercenaries. It was actually the local Moot that contacted me.”

Ailia sat down with her feet dangling off the edge of the counter. Relief crossed her face which she quickly suppressed. “Chaos is underselling it. I’ve been keeping my ears open and it seems you aren’t the only one who’s been drawn here. Annis has somehow bought the services of a blood-lycan and a man known the world over as the White Swordsman. She has the support of a powerless businessman too who is providing her with hired muscle. Or at least ‘had’ the support of a powerless businessman. After tonight she’ll have to find a new puppet.”

She toyed idly with the gun as she spoke. “The MacFeelan clan is already fighting against Annis’ forces and no doubt they’ll muster up the other clans before too long. Then there is Bra-, I mean Déaþscúa.”

Glory nodded. “Yeah, I’d heard about that. A bold move, going against the Moot to kill Christie. It seems they’re not happy with Déaþscúa. As an associate of his I wouldn’t be surprised if they have their eyes on you already.” She neglected to mention that it was Déaþscúa who she had been contracted to kill. 

“Yep. Looks like a real storm is brewing. It’ll be like old times,” Ailia said in her normal, childish voice. Then she seemed to remember herself and returned to her brooding. “Not the good old times though. They were long before you were even born. Everything for the last few decades have just been mundane distractions. Pleasant wastes of time.”

Silence hung between them for a drawn out moment. Glory removed a sheet of paper from her pocket and dropped it onto Ailia’s lap. 

“That’s all the ammo we’ll need and where to send it to. I’ve got a meeting with the Moot to attend to now. Something about them isn’t sitting well with me at the moment. Watch yourself around them, okay?” She turned to leave but paused after a few steps. “How long are you going to judge me by my childhood self? Ah, forget it. I know you don’t have an answer. I’ll be seeing you. Say hi to Cathal for me.”

And then she was gone. Ailia sat in silence for a while without moving. Cathal was showing no signs of resurfacing. Eventually she shook herself then slammed her fist into the counter. The wood shattered and split into two. Even as it collapsed she grabbed the minigun and jumped down gracefully.

“Cathal! We need a new counter! I want it sorted by the time I get back!” she yelled into the doorway. She didn’t wait for an answer, instead stomping straight out of the shop. 

The sun had slumped beneath the horizon but it was still not fully night. She knew that Golman had a compound close to the border where he had been spending most of his time of late. It was an hour and a half drive there but Ailia had a strong disdain for cars. She could manage it in twenty minutes.

It was widely held knowledge that vampires could turn into bats. This was of course ridiculous. All of that extra mass would have to go somewhere. Unless it was a very dense bat anyway. No, vampires were much more complicated than that. 

Ailia focused on her body. It was cold flesh and bone, varying constructs of carbon without the special element of life that all mortals possessed. Magic held her together rather than blood and nerves, and magic could be manipulated.

Carbon could be as hard as diamonds, as soft as chalk or even be a gas. Vampires were able to harness this property to dispel their bodies into a mist. This would be a fatal exercise if they had lives to lose but being dead did have its advantages.

She felt her body loosen. For something so destructive it was a pleasant experience, only comparable to an orgasm or a last breath of life. Her will extended outwards, encompassing her dress and the minigun. They too joined the haze of particles. Her mind, itself entwined with magic, gathered together the mist into a shadowy, wraithlike mass.

The shadow took off with the speed of the wind, swirling above the rooftops into the jetstreams high in the sky. From below, in the dreary gloom, she could have perhaps been mistaken for a swarm of insects. 

In this form she didn’t exactly think. Only the most basic element of her consciousness existed like this and all of its focus was spent on keeping the atoms that made up Ailia Vihart from drifting away forever. She was still able to feel though, at least in a loose sense of the word. She could feel the wind blowing through her, feel the clash of particles as she sped through clouds and sense the lightness of her form. It was the closest to true peace that she would ever feel.

Sensing that she was nearing her destination she willed herself down, spiraling through the clouds to gather together on a rooftop like liquid being poured into a mold. It was never a pleasant experience to leave the half-life of that existence to the worries that were intrinsically coiled around a physical form. At the end of the day, a body was little more than an anchor for emotions and pain.

Ailia sneered at the tiny village below her. She hated the countryside. It felt, well, too… dead. She laughed to herself at the bad joke. It was one of the many drawbacks to being in a child’s body. The moodswings, the tantrums, the sudden bouts of random joyfulness. It made being a powerful creature of the night who is feared by all rather difficult. She tried to focus herself. Vampires didn’t have emotions but they did have intense thoughts. The way Ailia saw it, thoughts were just emotions that spoke back to you. 

There were lights beyond the village, nestled into a divot of land a short distance away. A single road ran up in that direction. Ailia concentrated on it, pushing everything else from her head. She jumped down, switching to her shadow form for a brief second to appear on a hill between the village and the light.

She could see the compound now. It was a series of cheap warehouses huddled together in the shadow of the steep cliffs that surrounded them on three sides. The soil had been churned up by tires and several lights splashed the walls in unnatural yellow. The whole place looked weak and miserable except for the large amount of men that seemed to be guarding it.

She could sense their life, hear the pulsing of their sweet blood even over the electric hum of the lights. They were armed but none of them seemed tense or excreted the pungent scent of fear. It appeared that they weren’t expecting trouble. There were two things that nobody expects and one of them was an ancient vampire with a vendetta ripping their throats out with a little girl’s body.

Ailia moved closer. The prospect of a bloodbath honed her senses. Something was wrong. She had done her research on Golman. One didn’t reach Ailia’s age by being unprepared. He had risen up the ranks of business from his own cunning, entering the world as a penniless orphan to become a successful entrepreneur. He had outplayed his competitors at their own games until he was the only one left.

More than that though, he had discovered the secret of the powered community and had somehow gained enough influence within it to be notice by Annis. He knew the dangers of the world he had forced himself into and he knew that he would be stepping on the toes of many dangerous people. For him to leave himself so undefended just didn’t add up. There was no doubt that he had done his research on Ailia too after the failed attempt on her life so he should have been ready for her.

She extended her senses further. There were more men within the buildings but not enough to make any difference. Some of the men were injured. These men were tired too. Ailia guessed that they had recently been in a battle. Some of the men sent against the MacFeelans most likely. 

She shadow-stepped again, this time materialising on the edge of the cliff. No new threats caught her attention. There were dogs but they had trouble catching the scent of vampires and there were plenty of searchlights but she had no intention of been caught in them.

“What is your plan?” she whispered to herself.

She warped to the opposite cliff then walked its length back to her original position. Nothing revealed itself. Her options were to turn back for another day or continue blindly towards a potential trap. Ailia wasn’t one to back down from a challenge though.

There was a newer building built in the far corner of the compound. It had that distinctive new building smell but also had the scent of machinery cutting through it. The walls were thick, far thicker than any normal structure, as was the roof. Two men guarded the door. Her reports said that it was a safehouse built to serve as Golman’s home away from home as he conducted increased business in the area. A single heartbeat drummed within.

Another shadow-step brought her onto the roof of the building. Her footsteps were silent as she padded across the cement. There were sensors across the edges but nothing in the centre. The defences by human standards were impressive but Ailia was on a whole other level.

She moved to the roof of the closest warehouse so she could watch the guards. They held rifles and scanned their surroundings diligently. She’d only have one chance to get past them without the whole compound being alerted. 

Her eyes zoned in on the door. It was sturdy metal with a passcode lock. Without access to the code stealth wouldn’t be an option. Silencing the guards while ensuring that one survived long enough to tell it to her would be tricky with all of the other guards that were patrolling the grounds.

“Looks like I get to do things the fun way,” she said with a giggle.

She threw the minigun high into the sky then sprang off the roof at a sprint with her arms held out to either side of her. The men didn’t have time to react before her open hands impacted with their faces and drove their heads into the wall. Instantly she pivoted and kicked out so that her feet slammed into the door. There was a thunderous crash as it was torn from its hinges and flew into the room beyond. 

The momentum of the kick carried her back towards the warehouse. She span in the air, kicked off from that wall too and shot forward into the building, rolling as she hit the ground. Another guard ran to the door with his gun at the ready until the minigun finally succumbed to gravity and landed on his head with a gruesome crunch of bones.

Ailia picked the gun up and sauntered into the main room. A lone man in his late twenties stood with his back against the wall, a pistol clutched in his hands. He was dark haired and tall and would have been considered as handsome if not for a slight pudginess. 

“Mr Golman, it’s a pleasure to finally meet you in person,” Ailia announced in her sweetest voice. She licked her lips with a slow deliberation.

His posture was that of a cornered animal, all fear and tension, but he couldn’t hide the confidence that burned in his eyes.

“Cut the act. I can see that you aren’t in the least bit scared. You can feel pride in the fact that you’ll die like a real man at least.”

Golman shrugged and stood up straight. He now held the gun casually at his side.

“Ailia Vihart, a local arms dealer and a vampire of over three hundred years young. Ye live up te yer reputation. I’m still nae impressed though. Ye see, ye have a stranglehold on the UK armament market within the powered community. Trouble is, that is the direction I want te expand my own business in. I have been given the opportunity te remove ye and increase my sphere of influence among the powered. I’d be a fool nae te take it.” His voice retained an accent but he spoke clearly and professionally. 

Ailia laughed aloud. “That’s funny ‘cos I’m the immortal vampire with a minigun.”

Golman tapped his watch without looking away from Ailia. There was a sharp click then he bounded to the side and opened fire with the pistol. To Ailia it was as though they moved in slow motion. She swayed to the side and levelled her minigun. 

The walls around them juddered then suddenly slid down into the ground to reveal giant lights. They clicked on, blazing ultraviolet light lancing from all sides into the room. Alia cursed. The light instantly blinded her, overwhelming her heightened vision. She could already feel a stinging sensation crisscross her skin. Vampires didn’t burst into dust in sunlight but staying inside a giant suntan booth wasn’t a good idea.

There was the sound of running feet from the door. She span and fired in their direction and was rewarded with brief screams and an overwhelming smell of blood. She turned to spray the lights with a hail of bullets when more clicks sounded around her. Gaps in the wall opened and more guards piled in. 

She heard the slight scrape of triggers being pulled and the bang and whistle of bullets. She could smell the gunpowder and heated metal. Even without the use of her eyes she danced around the bullets, dropping the gun to gain mobility. Guided by the smells of sweat, fear or excitement, she ran at the men. Her fingers tore through flesh with childlike ease. 

Something was wrong. It didn’t feel quite… real. Ailia tried to ignore what her ears and nose were telling her and look beyond them. There! Just on the edge of her hearing was a faint, high-pitched screech. How had she not noticed it? The smell of blood wasn’t quite right either. There was a chemical edge to it. 

She stopped moving and cleared her mind. Dizziness was creeping over her. Before she knew it she had fallen to her knees. The lights suddenly shut off, replacing the blinding light with dazzled darkness. As her vision cleared she could see Golman standing over her. The rest of the room was empty, devoid of any corpses. She tried to stand but her body felt beyond her control and an ungodly migraine racked her brain.

“I’ve been told that nobody is as arrogant as vampires,” Golman explained matter of factly. Ailia struggled to follow his words. “They tend te underestimate their foes because of their clear superiority. If ye can get inte their head though then they donae know that they’re losing. Ye vampires are lords of a dead age. Against peasants with iron ye were gods but in this age, against modern technology, ye are nothing. We have easy access te portable daylight, machines that can create unhearable sounds that affect the mind and man-made gases that can damage cells while smelling perfectly innocent.”

“You bastard…”

Golman laughed then pushed her to the floor. She could feel her consciousness slipping. It was a strange sensation for someone that never even slept. Golman spoke as she faded, his words cutting through the mental fog to etch into her brain.

“Yer just jealous that ye have been surpassed by a weaker race, like the brutish neanderthal outpaced by the brains of the homosapien. My plans extend far beyond Annis. She is but a means to an end, as are ye. The age of legends is ending, bringing forth the true age of man.”

Previous – Chapter 14.

Next – Chapter 16.

2 thoughts on “Chapter 15. (Thorns of the Shadow: Blood, Blades, and Bacon)

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