The year was 2010, and @faux_wren was starting a Hunter: The Vigil campaign. It wasn’t my first World of Darkness game (I hear they’re calling it Chronicle or something now, but at the time it was ~*~New~*~ WoD), but it was the one that would stick with me for over a decade, and it was the one whose characters would live rent-free in my head for a long time.
12 years ago, I made a character for that game. She was the sister of a minor NPC I’d made for another friend’s finished Vampire campaign, and as one backstory led to another, she ended up with an entire world in the background that for the most part never made it into either game. I wrote at least half a dozen stories about her, and they sat on a series of hard drives for 12 years. This year – 2022 – I got tired of thinking about how much I missed her story and started rewriting the whole damn thing. It’s 12 years of writing experience better, and it’s going in a pretty different direction from where it started a third of my lifetime ago.
I suppose, technically, this is fanfiction. I didn’t invent the World of Darkness. I didn’t invent the Hunter compacts; I didn’t invent their endowments. I did invent this Seattle, and these characters, though I would be remiss in ignoring that Wren’s campaign gave them their earliest forms of life. I did invent this story.
It is Seattle, 2007, and
Casey Dalton just wants to kill one goddamn vampire.
It was, for the most part, hard to get lost in the streets of downtown Seattle. The immediate downtown was laid out in a traditional grid pattern, with named streets running east to west and numbered streets running north to south. There were landmarks, maps, signs saying “you are here” to make sure you didn’t lose your way. Getting lost was hard. It was an awful lot easier to disappear.
He’d been on this hunt for weeks. As soon as the creature was on his radar it was gone again, corpses in its wake. He’d missed it by inches enough times that it had gone beyond mere annoyance and was really starting to piss him off, and he suspected near to knowing that his boss was losing patience with him. He absolutely, no matter what, couldn’t let Mr. White lose his patience.
Paul Hyatt needed the vampire’s eyes.
He dismissed his companions with a nod as they passed King Street Station. The other two men split off without a word, each of them knowing what to do and how without explicit direction ever being given. It was one of the benefits of Paul’s rank; few dared question him, and those who did were the ones he dared not question. He’d moved up within the company with a speed born both of experience and of efficiency. He was good at his job. It made his current prey all the more frustrating.
It would be soon, he knew. The vampire wouldn’t see another night. The intel was good, and he could feel it in his bones: a dull throb that made him almost jittery. The ache only came when he was truly in his element on a hunt, and he made it a point to avoid thinking that it might be the feeling of like calling to like.
Paul trailed his quarry through nearly deserted streets. A few homeless people slept on doorsteps or lingered on street corners, but it was late enough that most of them had tucked themselves away wherever they could and he was alone. The creature was leading him away from the International District. It was leading him, he knew; it was onto him, and the hunt had become a game. That was fine, as far as he was concerned. If it felt it had the upper hand, it would get sloppy. He was perfectly willing to let it think it had the upper hand.
He brushed a lock of hair away from his forehead as he ducked down a side alley near Pioneer Square, pausing long enough to fake an air of hesitation, as though he didn’t know which direction the monster had turned. In reality, he could’ve practically pointed a spotlight on it despite being over a block away.
Paul sidestepped a sleeping, shivering bundle in the narrow alley without so much as a second glance, and it was a mistake. He didn’t make mistakes.
The figure leapt up from the ground in one fluid motion, tattered tarp flying away in a crackling rustle that echoed off the walls around them. Paul spun and released the claws hiding beneath his fingertips on instinct, swiping through empty air as the shape in the shadows ducked. He dimly recognized the stake thrusting toward his chest in the moments between one movement and the next and knocked aside the hand holding it, slamming into his assailant before the sharpened wood could make contact. The grip holding the stake tightened even as he pinned one wrist to the wall, and he thrust his other clawed hand forward, ready to rip out the throat of whatever had attacked him.
It was almost too late when he saw wide, frightened, human eyes and parted lips revealing not a hint of sharpened teeth. He retracted his claws and turned his hand just in time to miss the kill shot, instead scraping his palm hard along the brick wall in a way that left behind layers of skin.
“You’re not a vampire,” Paul said, ignoring the pain in his hand.
“Neither are you,” replied the woman holding the stake.
He dropped her hand, stepping back barely half as quickly as he’d dived in.
“You shouldn’t be here. Who do you work for?”
“Work for?” she replied, brows furrowed.
“You’re holding a stake. Compact, conspiracy?”
“I don’t know what that means.”
A choked scream echoed down the narrow alley. Paul was off by instinct, mentally tucking her words away for later even as she followed a few steps behind. The scene that greeted them was carnage. Blood pooled on the sidewalk, flashing in and out of visibility with the flickering of a broken streetlamp. Kneeling in the worst of it was a ghastly pale figure, bent over and latched to the ruined shreds of what used to be the man who’d turned right at King Street. Pieces of him were splattered across the road and against the trunk of a shriveled tree that jutted from a gap in the concrete.
The woman let out a quiet, miserable noise at the sight. The pale creature jerked its head up, so quickly that Paul barely tracked the motion.
“Shit,” he muttered, the picture of eloquence, and leapt.
He caught it before it had a chance to do more than stand. His claws went into its throat, severing tendons and muscles before colliding with spine in a thudding scrape that sent shocks up his arm. Footsteps behind him were all the signal he needed to spin left, dragging the writhing vampire with him.
The woman drove her stake into its heart. Ash fanned out from the point like snow, leaving Paul clutching nothing but fistfuls of it that melted into gray powder against his fingers.
“Shit,” he said again.
“Fuck!” the woman yelled, angrily kicking at the pile of ash. “Why can’t this just be easy for once?”
“I don’t know,” Paul replied dryly, shaking his hands off and sending up dusty clouds. “That went more easily than I was hoping.”
She turned to look at him, anger painted across her face, and he shrugged.
It wasn’t just more paperwork, it was failure. Error and more error and failure. A body, but the wrong one. Parts reclaimed instead of claimed. Paul stared at the remains of his former coworker with professional detachment. He could see the woman cursing under her breath, and the flicker of movement out of the corner of his eye as the man who turned left at King Street jogged toward them. The man he thought had been behind him when it was the woman with the stake. The man who would’ve incapacitated rather than killed, letting Paul finish the job. Left instead of right at King Street Station was the difference between being in one piece or several. Breathing or breathless. Eyes or ashes. Success or failure. The math didn’t add up, but again, it never had.
The man slowed as he approached. He took one look at the thin layer of ash covering Paul and gestured to the congealing mass oozing its way down the hill and into the gutters.
“Paperwork in five?”
Paul glanced at the woman standing at the mouth of the alley.
“Make it fifteen.”
She had stopped swearing like a sailor when he reached her, but color was still high in her cheeks, and the anger from earlier was there in the furrow between her brows. The stake was gone, and so were the stakes, which meant he finally had a moment to really see her. She was a head shorter than him and thin under the battered, oversized hoodie. The hoodie wasn’t half as filthy and ragged as it had looked earlier, and neither was she. He belatedly realized that he’d seen exactly what he expected to see, and exactly what she meant for everyone to. He mentally recalculated. His age, maybe younger; too young for this, but with something older than it should be in the eyes. No real training, only street smarts, a hint of luck, and pure dumb skill.
“You’re good,” he said, ignoring for the moment the trouble she’d caused him.
“I should’ve been better.” She crossed her arms and peered up at him. “You aren’t a vampire, but you’re not human.”
“I’m as human as you are,” he said, without as much conviction as he would’ve liked.
“You move too fast. You have claws.”
“I’m good too.”
She scoffed and turned away.
“You shouldn’t have been here tonight,” he called out, following her as she started back down the alley where they’d met.
She shot him a glare over her shoulder, but didn’t stop.
“Why wouldn’t I be serious? It’s a free country.”
“This area was off limits to hunters. A notice–”
“Hunters,” she spat, cutting him off even as he fell into stride next to her. “I’m not a hunter. I’m just hunting.”
He didn’t see the distinction, and told her as much.
“I have one goal, and then I’m done. Not that it’s your business,” she corrected.
“It’s my business because this area was off limits.”
She stopped and he stopped with her, noting the way her jaw clenched.
“Why are you doing this?”
I don’t have anything but the hunt, he thought but didn’t say, and what he actually said with a shrug was “It’s my job.”
“People pay you to do this?” she replied, voice shaking with anger and incredulity.
“In a manner of speaking. You do this for free?”
“In a manner of speaking.”
Paul couldn’t help but laugh. She narrowed her eyes at him, but a smile made its way onto her face nonetheless. He didn’t know the names of the men in the street behind them, the cleaning and the cleaned, faces he’d seen a dozen times; he didn’t know the name of the monster they’d killed together. He wanted to know hers.
“I’m Paul,” he said.
She hesitated long enough that he knew she was lying when she said “Casey.”
“You should be careful hunting by yourself, Casey.”
“I’m not the one who got caught by surprise, Paul.”
She opened her mouth to retort, but closed it again, silent.
“There are rules you don’t learn working by yourself. Rules it’s important that you follow.”
“Like your paperwork?”
“Like staying away from Pioneer Square when–”
He was mid-sentence when her lips met his. Distantly, he recognized her hand gripping the front of his shirt so hard that the second button had come undone. His brain slotted the image into the place where he kept things to think about once the danger had passed, and laser focused on the feeling of her tongue flicking at his when his mouth dropped open in rare shock.
He had just finished processing that she was pressed against him from head to toes, nipping at his mouth with a series of needy whimpers that he couldn’t help but respond to. He had just brushed the backs of his fingers against the shell of her ear. He had just tilted his head to slot their mouths together in a way that threatened to prove itself very, very dangerous.
She pulled away, eyes dark and hungry.
“Happy birthday to me,” she said, and was gone down the alley.
He didn’t follow this time, frozen in place as he watched her walk away.
“What the fuck was that?” he asked, but there was no one there to answer.
Paul’s palms were sweating. The one he’d scraped open stung, and he ignored it.
“This report,” his boss said, casually tossing a tablet onto his desk. “It says you were, shall we say, negligent.”
“It’s not the death that’s the issue. We can always reclaim our resources postmortem.”
“I understand that, sir.”
“It’s the principle of the thing. The principle of our business. It would be a shame to learn that my best field agent wasn’t living up to the standards of his position.”
Paul didn’t shiver through sheer force of will, but he knew it didn’t matter whether the feeling of slow dread was visible in his expression or not. Everything was visible from the leather seat at the ebony desk that looked over the city’s darker parts through thick panes of glass. Paul looked back across the desk at the darkest part of them, and nothing in himself was secret.
“My apologies, sir. It won’t happen again.”
There was a long pause where neither of them spoke.
“Yes,” Paul said, and tried not to think about the kiss he’d left out of his report.
“Who is she?”
“No one, sir. Another hunter. Unaffiliated.”
“Bring her in.”
He froze, surprise flickering across his expression for an instant before he schooled his features into long-practiced nothingness. He wasn’t in recruitment. He was in field ops, which meant… what?
Mr. White’s mouth curled in the ghost of a grin. It was one of the most frightening things Paul had ever seen.
“I want to meet the girl who got the drop on Paul Hyatt.”
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