The Apex Predator

Part 6 of Night's Longing

Tears. I wondered if there would be tears. A bloodbag, a human girl—a vampire hunter by blood—dies. What does that mean to the vampires who called her sister?

I guess it means tears. That’s something.

“You can’t die,” Liz says. “Not already. Not like this.” Her tears streak through mascara and eyeliner, though she pays no heed to the mess.

Vicky’s cheeks are damp too, but her hands are balled in fists as she paces back and forth. “I’ll fucking kill them. They won’t get away with this.”

“Vicks, you can’t.”

“Like hell I can’t.”

“No, you really can’t! Ylio is stronger than us, and their allies will leap to their aid in an instant if they’re attacked. You can’t. I can’t. We can’t.”

“I bet Carmen could.”

Liz considers this proposal in silence.

“I’ve got her number.”

Liz sighs. “I don’t trust Carmen. You know, I checked the clan records, and I found nothing about her. 400 years old, and nothing in there? That’s suspicious.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time someone’s updated their name over the years. Not everyone wants to try moving through the modern world with a name like ‘Eberhard’ or ‘Milburga,’ right?”

“I asked Eberhard too, actually. Gave him her description. He doesn’t know her. 400 years is old enough to have known the Nine and all the other big players. Hell, everyone that age is a big player with deep political connections and rivalries going back ages. Vicks, she’s old enough to have potentially worked directly for Dracula and nobody has heard of her.”

“If she actually met Dracula, she’d be dead.” Vicky scoffs. “Unless she’s secretly one of the Nine.” After pausing to think for a moment, she muses, “or maybe that’s why nobody knows her. She could have fled the purge, hid for a while, changed her name. Could be why she was so keen to hear about his cult.”

“Hell of a trick to manage that when nobody else did,” Liz replies. “So maybe she’s interested in Dracula because she’s loyal to him, and maybe because she hates him, or maybe none of the above, but whoever she is, what reason would Carmen have to help us get revenge on behalf of a bloodbag, anyway?”

“She was really intent on learning about Hanna’s… the Boltman thing. You know.”

“Right. The Boltman thing.” Liz lets the topic hang in the air without further comment.

Vicky resumes her pacing, increasingly working herself up as she fails to find an outlet for her anger, which builds into a frustrated growl of outrage. “Stupid bitch. You stupid, beautiful bitch! You said you were durable! You said you could survive—” Her voice cracks.

“…a lot.” I finish her sentence with a weak groan, barely mustering the strength to speak. Ugh. My everything hurts. Did I fuck up that last-ditch lifeward, or is this really better than it could have been? I should have paid more attention to my theurgy lessons.

“No way.” Liz’s voice is a whisper of incredulity. “No fucking way. Your heart stopped.”

“Got better, didn’t it?” With embarrassment, I catch myself whining involuntarily with each exhalation. My ribs don’t feel right. Scratch that, none of my bones feel right. Neither do my organs. Nor my brain for that matter. “It does that when I die, but it eventually remembers how to do its job as long as I’m mostly intact.”

“Shit, is that why you butchered those hunters so excessively? Huh. I thought you were just being…” Vicky trails off, then shakes her head and kneels next to me. “You know what, never mind. Is it okay for us to move you?”


“Uh, I just set you down on the floor of the apartment when I brought you here, so the bed, maybe?”

“You don’t move someone with a neck or back injury, Vicks.”

“Okay, yes, Liz told me that after I carried you here, which is why I’m asking this time. But also, in fairness to me, your heart had stopped.”

Yeah, okay.

“Probably can’t hurt me any worse then. Sure, let’s see if the bed makes me feel less like I’m made out of broken glass.”

My sisters carefully pick me up together and carry me to the other room. They’re as gentle as can be, but the pain still inspires me to scream and pass out about it.

“Let them think I’m dead.”

For once, I feel appreciative of my bloodline’s curse. Every last one of my bones healed correctly without anything like proper medical attention or real first aid. Two days after the fall, I’m able to stand on my own again, though not yet entirely without pain.

“For how long?” Liz asks.

“Until I kill them.”

“You can’t,” my sister objects, just as she did with Vicky, but I’m not in the mood to argue.

“I can.” My voice is firm. “Lizzy, I know it’s easy to forget, but I have specifically trained my whole life to do exactly this.” I stretch my arms in the air and lean forward to touch my toes, triggering some disturbing pops from my joints while I try to get my muscles to wake up. “You just need to smuggle me out of here without letting me be recognized. Let Ylio think the Hanna problem is solved, and Hanna will make sure the Ylio problem gets solved.”

“I won’t let you!”

“Liz.” I turn my whole body to face her head on. I want her to look at me. Really look at me. Read the outrage in my eyes and the determination in the set of my jaw. I stand my ground. But what I see on her face isn’t a mindless need for control, it’s just fear. She came close to losing me once, and I can see her doubt that she’ll ever see me again if she lets me go now. My voice softens. “Lizzy, please. If you don’t help me do this, things are only going to get harder. For all three of us.”

She weighs the options in silence, until, with a sour twist of her mouth, she provisionally accepts my point. “What are you planning to do out there?”

“Not planning,” I shrug. “I do my best work improvising. All I need from you is to keep an eye on them and message me when they next go out for a meal.”

“Ylio doesn’t leave all that much. They spend most of their time down here. That could be weeks, and you have nowhere to stay.”

“I’ll find somewhere.”

Vicky, who’s been looking increasingly unsettled during this conversation, butts in. “You’re giving us nothing. You’re shutting us out. Who are you exactly, and what have you done with Hanna?”

Ouch. I realize I’m going full vampire hunter mode here, practically acting like my father. It feels gross to notice, and I grimace in disgust with myself.

But it’s Liz who responds. “You ever need to wear a mask to get something unpleasant done, Vicks?”

“No.” She sighs. “I guess I really haven’t, I can only imagine.” Vicky rubs the back of her neck. “But I know how you get sometimes, Lizzy.” She softens and after a moment, she too relents. “Alright. I’m sorry. I think I’m just scared that you’ll get a taste for hunting vampires again or something.”

That’s too much. I can’t keep up this persona around my sisters. “No, Vicky, please don’t believe that.” Tears sting my eyes. I cross the room and sweep her up in a tight embrace. “I won’t. You’re my family. This is just revenge, I promise.” I pull away to look her in the eyes and hope the look of hurt on my face proves my sincerity. “And when I get back, you can make damn sure to remind me of the pleasures of being on the right side, okay?” I turn to Liz. “Both of you.”

“Of course.” With me losing my nerve for cold, calculated planning, Liz picks up the slack and puts on her own mask of professionalism. “But for right now, let’s find you a disguise and sneak you out of here.”

Plenty of safehouses to hole up inside while I wait for the notification. The weight of my old, familiar gear is a strange comfort, for all I loathe the people who taught me how to use it. The training equipment inside helps me knock off the rust, hone my reflexes again.

A meager bookshelf holds a few yellowed copies of classic hunter texts. Here I find Professor Van Helsing’s On the Nature of the Vampire and His Weaknesses, thoroughly hand annotated with notes and corrections. It’s an old edition, published in the 70s, without the forward mine had by Helga Vordenburg which warned the reader about exaggerations, mistakes, and straight-up lies and therefore also missing all her footnotes correcting the old fraud. I think the only reason anyone still teaches from this book is a misplaced sense of respect for the historical value of such an old piece of hunter lore.

More useful to me is Practical Theurgy: the Hunter’s Primer, a book that begins by belaboring some academic point about the distinction between theurgy and thaumaturgy and how the notion of practical theurgy really belongs in the latter category. I’ve never met a hunter who cares about that sort of thing, but after skipping past the author’s preoccupation with occult taxonomy, I find a fairly well-written refresher that even teaches me a few new tricks.

Still the wait is an agonizing, painfully dull slog to endure alone. I have been biding my time for days, and Ylio has yet to visit the surface. It might happen tomorrow night or six weeks from now. There’s no way to know for sure. What if they never do? How long should I be willing to wait before I decide on a back-up plan?

It’s no wonder that the message I receive presents an irresistible temptation.

CarmenDear Hanna Boltman,

I pray this message finds you safe and well. I have been apprised of the situation, and you may rest assured that I give you my full support in your vengeful crusade against they who wronged you.

The sensitive nature of your adventure has inspired me to withhold communication up to this point, for fear of presenting an unwelcome distraction. Nevertheless, I have presently resolved to send this missive in the hopes that my company may lighten the burden of such patience as you require for your task.

It therefore pleases me to extend the following invitation, if it pleases you to receive it. I would be delighted to enjoy your company this evening at 8 o’clock at the Gilded Horn Steakhouse. If you are amenable, a prompt RSVP will confirm my own plans for the night. In the event of a “yes,” do inform me of your location, and it will be my honor to provide transportation.

With a hopeful heart, I await your response.

Carmen Dusilla Stirkane

I have my phone notification set as loud as possible, so receiving this message at three in the afternoon wakes me from a sound sleep. What the hell is Carmen doing up at this ungodly hour?

Wait, never mind. Is she asking me on a date? Is a four-century-old vampire with more charisma in her little finger than I’ve mustered in my whole life asking me on a date?

I should ask. Hold on. No, not like that Hanna, you idiot. She’s old and fancy. I can’t type like a slob at her.

Exquisitely, my good madame. Although I must acquiesce to surmise the query on my mind this very afternoon is the following: does this intention represent a romantic overture toward myself?

CarmenAmused and flattered as I am by the effort, please allow me to assure you I have no expectation that you attempt to mirror my writing habits. Speak to me in the manner that comes most naturally, if you please.

To answer your question: yes. My intentions are, among other things, romantic in nature. You have charmed me, Hanna.

Is it… okay to say yes? Will Ylio ruin this for me if I say yes? Will saying yes put my revenge at risk? My fingers are already answering before my mind catches up. No, no, fuck, at least delete the keysmash first. I don’t want to totally overwhelm her with the gay flirting conventions of the modern era.

YES ill go on a date with you

fuck i got no fancy dresses to wear tho

oh and this is how i type


hope its cool w you

>_< im kinda embarassed compared to your fancy typing tbh

CarmenDo not fret. I have weathered the storm of many prior generations’ shifts in writing convention, and I choose to withhold judgment on those who write in the style of their own peers.

On the topic of clothes: if you approve, I am more than willing to bring you something suitable for the occasion. Otherwise, I can still guarantee that you will not be offered any resistance by fools seeking to enforce a “dress code” upon you.

i think id actually die if you came here with a dress for me to put on for our first date

CarmenFor you to die for me is not on my agenda.

At least not this evening.

No emote or anything, but I can easily imagine Carmen winking at her phone as she typed that last line. At least I hope I’m reading her right. It’s hard to gauge tone when someone’s typing like they’re from another era altogether. Which she is.

I can’t get back to sleep. Instead I get dressed in the best I have to wear: a black t-shirt, a pair of jeans, and my hunter’s boots. I give my shirt the old sniff test, and, well, it could be worse. I guess.

…No, I can’t go out smelling like this. I’ve got a sink, some dish detergent, and hours of time for the shirt to air dry, which I think should be plenty if I wring it out enough. Should I polish my boots? I’m going to polish my boots. Should I polish the sword? No, no, who brings a sword to an expensive steakhouse? That’s stupid. Oh, I hope Carmen doesn’t expect me to pay my half of the meal. I definitely don’t have the money for that. She probably doesn’t right? She knows I’m poor, probably, and she’s one of those old-fashioned Lady Gentleman types who will definitely insist on paying. I think.

Aaaa, I’ve never been treated to a fancy dinner date like this before. I never learned the etiquette for this stuff!

Breathe, Hanna. You already thought you fumbled her once, and look where we are now. I’m sure she’s not expecting me to be a perfect picture of a 17th century Victorian lady. I’m at least more sure of that than I am what century the Victorian era was.

It takes me most of the next four hours to calm myself down and feel at least as presentable as I can possibly make myself under the circumstances. My shirt is still a little damp, but I can deal with it. It’s time. I’ve heard the beep of her car horn. I just have to step outside and meet up with my date.

Ohmygod the suit Carmen’s wearing today is even fancier than the one I last saw her in. I don’t even know suit stuff, but I can tell that there’s extra tailoring happening there and a whole vest under the coat and a handkerchief in her front pocket folded in some origami-like design. Her smile is even more handsome than I remember as she opens the passenger door for me.

The car is just like her suit, way fancier than I know the words to describe and probably Italian. It’s a convertible, I know that much, and when we take off, I’m thankful that the wind finishes drying my shirt. You’d think inside the city there wouldn’t be much fun to get out of a sports car, but traffic seems to part for her the same way as the crowds did back in the club. She blasts through the streets as though there were no obstacles at all, and even the lights turn green just in time for us to scream through each intersection at top speed, or what I imagine top speed to be. Though I suspect any speed Carmen does is “top” speed, honestly.

Dinner is surprisingly chill. As promised, nobody bothers me about the dress code. One look from my date, and humans bend over backward to accommodate her every whim. It even makes me feel powerful just being in her company. The two of us enjoy light and flirty conversation that stays away from the topic of Dracula or murder. With the aid of some nice wine, I eventually manage to loosen up around Carmen and even forget to worry about which fork is which.

Vampires don’t eat much, and when they do, they tend to only have an appetite for meat, but Carmen surprises me. We split a massive porterhouse cooked black and blue, and she doesn’t just eat her fair share, she also samples each of the sides, commenting approvingly on the mashed potatoes, even. I surprise myself by devouring an entire salad, and I start to think maybe my body has been craving a lot more greens than I’ve had access to lately. I should really tell my sisters I need more veggies in my diet.

As if inspired by that thought, Carmen brings up the topic of my family. “May I ask about the nature of your relationship with Victoria and Elizabeth?”

I giggle at the question. It’s a fair one, though, if Carmen’s genuinely interested in dating me. “They’re my sisters,” I answer simply, though I soon realize that needs some clarification. “At least in private. Publicly I’m just Liz’s personal bloodbag.”

“Quite the age gap between you sisters,” Carmen observes.

“Well, I guess I’m an honorary sister, like I’m an honorary vampire. I drink blood with them, you know.” I waggle my eyebrows flirtatiously at my date. “Also we do fuck, which is probably not very sisterly behavior, but…” I let the sentence hang with a shrug.

Carmen appears puzzled. “Is this some sort of initiation rite before they turn you properly?”

“No, they’re just being— Oh, you don’t know.” My mood sinks at having to confront this topic. “You can’t turn vampire hunters,” I explain. “Cursed bloodline. Believe me, I’ve tried.” I don’t cry. I shed no tears. I refuse to. I’ve mourned my fate enough for one lifetime. “I would give anything to be able to join this family for real, but it’s never going to be in the cards for me.”

My last few words are quiet, practically a whisper. Try as I might, it’s impossible to fully hide my heartbreak.

“Never say never.” My date reaches across the table to put her hand on mine. “The world is full of mysteries and powers beyond your knowledge. Far fewer things are beyond mine, and even I do not know everything. Nevertheless, what I do know is this: Morris Boltman does not get to have the final word in the book of your life. There is hope for you yet.”

The tears well up and fall down my face against my will. I can’t look her in the eye right now, but somehow when Carmen says this, it doesn’t feel like the cruelty of false hope. I want to believe her. I want a future I can look forward to.