It was exquisite, the perfect weapon for . . . destroying the Undead.
I still remember that long night of vigil and the glorious morning that followed. I do not believe that Pelor's light had ever shone more brightly. Of course, I appreciate that such a belief is simply my own point of view. After my knighting ceremony, his Beatitude Deland, High Priest of Pelor, had counsel to give. One observation in particular, stands out in my mind even now. He said to me:
"You have dedicated yourself to a work that has no end. In that regard, your patience will surely be tried, for as you slay the one, another will arise in its place."
And so it would prove to be.
* * * *
News reached us in Leukish in the form of a request for assistance from Brian Gevon, the Rector in Pontyrel. His Ostiary disappeared while investigating rumors of vampires. There had been reports of townspeople going missing, but very few of the reports could be substantiated, as it was mostly derelicts and prostitutes that had disappeared.
Pontyrel boasted a population of sixty-five hundred souls; large enough that many of the city's missing underprivileged would go virtually unnoticed, even unreported. But Pelor's church looked out for such persons, feeding and caring for them to the best of the church's ability, especially at this time of year; Needfest. So the Ostiary investigated . . . and vanished.
Speculation about vampires? Do you doubt that I would, myself, investigate?
* * * *
My arrival in Pontyrel went unnoticed, for the most part. My particular calling allowed me to travel incognito. I had a tabard and shield which were proudly emblazoned with Pelor's holy symbol, but they were packed away. I would not don them until I faced my enemy; an event I fervently looked forward to.
* * * *
I am still haunted by the look in my father's eyes, as I drove the stake home. I remember what I saw there: recognition, revulsion . . . gratitude. He had been glad that I was there to end his torment. While both necessary and proper – Pelor's continued blessings upon me proved that – the memory of my actions on that day always left a taste of bile in my mouth, a burning in my throat. Yes, the faces of my family still haunt me . . . in the dark of night.
* * * *
I felt that my anonymity would serve me well in my hunt. Though I had only the briefest of glances, I still saw more of my enemy's features than he could have seen of mine. A vile of holy water to the face will do that; to the Undead. I do not doubt that the creature remembers the event, but my face? Unlikely.
Pontyrel was sufficiently large enough to offer such creatures' ample hiding places; abandoned homes, warehouses and cellars. There was a 'seedy' side of town too, filled with all manner of nighttime revelry; taverns, brothels and drug dens. All of these establishments would allow the fiends' nocturnal natures to pass unnoticed and provide an ample supply of victims for them to prey upon; people whose absence would go unnoticed. Such persons provided them the perfect food source. In addition, vampires could enter such places freely, unlike a private residence.
* * * *
After three days of pretended carousing – vampires do not feed as often as we mortals – I finally unearthed one of the monsters. Not the one for whom I quested, unfortunately, but then any of its ilk was prey to me.
I was in one of the more high priced brothels in the east end of the city. The lighting was dimmed and the foul fiend's pallid features were less notable. It reclined upon a couch in a far corner with one of the establishments 'ladies of the night.' I was sitting across the room from it, sipping a glass of wine and appeared to be giving due consideration as to which cocotte I would, myself, soon lead upstairs.
As I said, the creature did not appear noticeably different from any of the others in the room in the low light, but his pale complexion did not escape my notice. No doubt the creature wore some thespian maquillage to cover over the pasty quality of its skin. The woman's expression led me to believe that she was mesmerized by the creature's gaze; she had a lost and faraway look in her eyes. This was all simply conjecture, of course . . . until they arose to leave.
They passed a small, wall mounted mirror as they departed. The woman's reflection was clearly seen, but the creature's was not. The villain no doubt felt that such an insignificant item was no threat. After all, in a place such at this, who would be paying attention to such a trifle as that?
I arose when they entered the hallway, but did not follow too closely. As I entered the hallway, I saw them . . . just as they turned towards the back of the establishment. He was not taking her upstairs, but towards a rear exit.
I followed them outside, but only after pausing just inside the doorway, being sure to keep a safe distance. I wanted to be close enough to intervene at the right moment – so as to save the woman – but not so close that the vampire would notice me following. After a block and a half, the fiend turned into a darkened alleyway. Since I was now hidden from its sight, I closed the distance quickly, my hatred rapidly intensifying! I withdrew my holy symbol from beneath my shirt and muttered a quick prayer to the 'Sun Father' as I turned into the shadowy passageway.
An unnatural mist was swiftly rising within the alley and the air was unmistakably colder than it should have been. I could clearly see their shadowed forms – a small distance ahead – outlined against the miasma by the moon's silvery light. I speedily advanced upon them, drawing my sword as I did so. The vampire looked upon me and smiled, supremely confident in its considerable abilities, but completely unaware of what it truly faced . . . its second and final mistake of the night.
It foolishly warned me away from its intended prey. Instead of stopping however, I increased my pace and cried out; calling upon Pelor's holy power! Instantly, both my holy symbol and sword burst into dazzling, white light! The creature's expression quickly changed from one of glee, into one of astonishment! It knew that it had erred.
My sword was raised upon high as I reached my foe! The creature threw up its arm to ward off the blow, but my hatred lent me strength! With a war cry upon my lips, I brought the blade swiftly down! It sliced cleanly through the upraised appendage and bit deeply into the creature's body; cutting through muscle and sinew, hewing through shoulder bone, burying itself deep inside the chest cavity. But it did not end with that stroke.
I quickly withdrew my sword from the fiend's body; the creature staggered against the side of the building. Promptly drawing my sword back again, I swung it towards the monster's neck with all my power; its head flew from its shoulders! Time seemed momentarily suspended as I watched the vampire's body sway in the moonlight, finally falling into a heap at my feet; black, foul smelling ichor leaking from its ghastly wounds.
Upon the fiend's expiration, the girl began to come out of her daze. I took hold of my holy symbol and commanded the girl return to her brothel; she could not refuse the compulsion. As she left, I quickly knelt and drew two holy wafers from a pouch at my belt, placing them into the mouth of the creature. These would suffice to keep the fiend comatose and thwart its restorative powers. Stuffing the head into a sack, I stood and looked to see the girl nearing the street from which we had entered the passage. I conjured a mist to obscure my own departure and left in the opposite direction.
Should anyone come upon the scene before sunrise, all they would find was a butchered and headless corpse. After sunrise, nothing but ashes . . . and that's how I wanted it. I wanted them doubting and fearful, wondering what had happened to one of their number. It was their turn to know what it was to be . . . hunted.
Tomorrow night, the hunt would start all over again. I slew one of the fell beasts this night, but it was not the vampire for which I quested. That fact would not deter me however, nor even slow me down.
How long would it take, you ask? How long would I continue the hunt for the slayer of my family? That depends; just how many vampires are there in the world?
Deland spoke truthfully: The work is never done!
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