It was dark. Slowly, patches of light started to filter in, as patches of red dyed the ground crimson. It almost looked like… blood. Minutes crawled by but he didn’t know where he was, nor who he was, caught somewhere between a dream and reality.
It was hard and cold. He couldn't move. Panic started to set in as his eyes desperately darted around, trying to figure out a reason for his predicament, but nothing so much as twitched.
In a distance, about ten metres away, a figure shimmered into being. Long black hair, red lips tilted in a familiar smirk and a white dress draped over her body. She looked gorgeous, ethereal, like a painting brought to life. Light was emanating from her, illuminating the room even more.
Her confident visage was suddenly contorted to one of torture, eyes wide open, pupils dilated in fear.
“Rion…” She whispered, almost begging. “Rion... S…ave… me…”
Rion…? Who was that? Was she referring to himself? Was he… Rion?
Her eyes beseeched him for help but he couldn’t move. He could only watch as she was swallowed by the darkness, her mouth agape in a silent scream. He glanced around frantically, limbs finally free from their paralysis. Where was she?
“RION, IT HURTS!” Her voice suddenly shrieked right beside his ear, causing him to flinch violently, and fall backwards, curling up in foetal position, covering his ears, his eyes tearing from the pain.
Abruptly, the scene changed. He was pressed up against a dirty alleyway; a hand fisted his shirt as he dazedly looked up at his attacker. What was happening? This all felt so familiar somehow… Where did that woman go?
He shook his head to try and get rid of the dizziness, but the feeling of déjà vu was still there. Everything was blurry and unfocused, which caused his headache to worsen. Vaguely he could feel something pierce the side of his neck, but that was forgotten by the sudden soul-searing agony that tore through his nerves. White starburst across his vision and he could feel himself starting to lose consciousness as the pain grew to overwhelming heights...
Nicodemus Griseo sat up on his bed, heart pounding from the dream he just had. A hand reached up to clutch at his heart, while his other hand crumpled the sheets below. He tried to calm his breathing, but it wasn’t working and he could still feel the phantom pains of his change settle over his bones. Every vampire had to go through death to return alive or ‘undead’, which was why the change hurt so much.
Breathe in, breathe out.
Just a few months ago he’d been human. Now he was a blood-sucking fiend; not to mention that he had gotten all the memories of a three-thousand year old vampire stuck in his head. Not all at once of course, but Mikhail did say that he would eventually, over the course of a few years, acquire all of Rion’s memories. So he had to suffer through those memories one by one as if he had lived through them. Not to mention the crazy guy after his life because he wanted Rion’s power.
How is this, his life?
It had been over a year since that fateful day where Nic got turned into a vampire, Mikhail Ulric picked him up and then dragged him half-way across the world in the name of recuperation, which was code-word for “going into hiding.”
At the moment, they were staying in a motel just south of California, a few days after their latest bounty. ‘They’ referring to Nic, Mikhail and a new addition, Raksha, who had joined them two months ago and never left. It was a year of constant lessons, drills, fighting and bounty hunting, or glorified assassinations depending on who you asked. Illegal, yes, but thrilling and a great way to make money.
Despite that, Nic had learned a lot in this past year, especially regarding vampires because that was essential knowledge considering that he was a blood-drinking fiend now. Blood was necessary for one, and holy symbols were completely useless. Sun did burn but it all depends on how strong a vampire was. There were other miscellaneous things to know as well, but a year wasn't very long and Mikhail thought that he would eventually pick things up on his own. Well, at least Nic was a fast-learner.
“So Sylvia right? Sylvia White?”
Mikhail eyed Nic from where he was standing, holding up the next bounty. In his other hand, he held a map that contained a few circles; some were crossed out, which meant they had already checked those places. However, there were still at least another dozen more places that were circled but not yet searched.
“Yeah, she’s the other Keeper. That’s why we came back to America you know, to find her.”
Nic snorted, “I think we were fine half-way across the world Mikhail. Kyros is still hunting for our butts here and coming back just makes it easier to find us.”
For just a second, a dark look crossed over Mikhail’s face, so fast Nic thought he’d just imagined it, but he’d caught it just in time to see Mikhail tuck that expression away.
“Yeah, but Rion made it clear to me before he died that you had to learn magic from White. She’s your best bet in getting a magic teacher especially since neither Raksha nor I can use it,” Mikhail said, his eyes back to roaming across the map in front of him. “Why are you so against it anyway? You gaining magic would make it harder for Kyros to kill you, which in turn, makes you safer.”
He didn’t want to say anything, but Nic was a bit reluctant to find her because he was afraid, afraid that she would take one look at him and declare him unfit to be a Keeper and refuse to teach him; would he still get to keep this then? Without the Keeper position, he would lose everything. Everything.
“Yeah, I know, but can we even trust that she won’t betray us?” Nic said a bit darkly instead, his mind still on his situation.
“We don’t.” And that effectively killed the conversation.
A few minutes passed in silence, with Mikhail examining the map and cross-referencing it with the location of the bounty while Nic was lost in his thoughts.
“What’s our next stop, boys?” A sleepy Raksha mumbled, interrupting the silence, as she stumbled out of the bedroom in only a sheer camisole that left almost nothing to the imagination. Nic immediately blushed and looked away while Mikhail did a wolf-whistle.
“Looking good, gorgeous. We’re heading to South Dakota by the way,” Mikhail said, smirking at the younger man’s reaction. “Why Nic, with that reaction, people would think you a virgin!”
“Shut up, Ulric!” Nic said, still blushing but covering his face with his hands now instead of just turning away. “Raksha, would it kill you to put some clothes on?”
“No can do, but I’ll put some on after I get some breakfast,” she replied, already rummaging through the fridge for her usual: eggs, bacon and toast.
Nic groaned. Why was he friends with them again?
“Lighten up, leader,” Raksha teased, before turning towards Mikhail, “What’s at South Dakota now?”
“Hunters. Of Sol,” The werewolf announced grimly.
“Ugh, those prejudiced bastards again? This is the fifth time in the past two months that someone's set a bounty on their group!” Raksha complained, “What is wrong with them?”
Heavy pants echoed through the woods. There was a dark silhouette among the trees. It was a man, and he was running, running as if the devil himself was on his tail. He was running so fast, he didn’t even notice the root below him until he tripped over it. Scrambling to get up, he continued sprinting forwards, even as his chest heaved and his lungs burned.
He had to or they would get him.
Eyes bloodshot and clothes hastily worn, the balding, thirty-year-old man made quite a sight, especially when he didn’t have any shoes on, which left his feet without protection from the unforgiving forest ground. Bloody footprints followed in his wake, making it easier for his pursuer to track him down.
Up ahead, he could see the edge of the forest and just five minutes away would be a town where he could hide, blend in with the people. Hope rose in his chest and he pushed himself just a bit faster.
Quickly. Hurry up before he catches up!
His footsteps continued to thunder forward and just before he reached the edge of the treeline, a huge shadow suddenly appeared in front of him, forcing him to careen to the side or collide with what was essentially a steel wall. He was about to shoot past the shadow when a pale hand shot out and grasped his shoulder, pulling him towards the black mass. Under the pale moon light, the shadow eventually revealed itself to be another man, features set in his early twenties but seemingly ageless at the same time. Inky, black hair framed his face and fell till his neck; wine-red eyes gleamed dangerously in the dark.
Almost immediately after meeting those red orbs, the older man had fallen backwards, landing on his hands and back, face growing even paler if possible as he tried to scramble back in a crab-like fashion.
“Why are you doing this? Those mutts deserved to die!”
Nic remained unmoved, silent like a ghost as he unsheathed his sword. The man realised that he wouldn't be able to get through to the young man before him and his eyes hardened. “The Hunters of Sol will never let you off if you kill me! You will regret–”
In a single motion, the younger man raised his sword up high and slashed down, separating the head from the body. A large squelch sounded before a fountain of blood started to spurt out from the neck of the victim as his body fell limp onto the forest floor, dead. The head landed about two metres away, face forever stuck in the expression of righteous fury he had last worn.
“Shut up, hunter.”
Nonchalantly, the young man swung his katana slightly, flinging the blood off the steel blade before sliding it back into its scabbard attached to the middle of his back, the handle poking out from the right side of the waist. He efficiently started to clean up the body, collecting bits of hair then dumping it all in a big pile before setting it all on fire. A silently murmured spell he recalled from one of the beginner texts he’d read and a bit of the blood from the ground assured that the smoke would disappear without a trace. Luckily there was a lot of blood around to use or he’d probably botch up the spell using his own. Nic let out a relieved breath at the perfectly working spell before he stood up to leave.
He was on his way out of the forest when a loud crackle cut through the silence of the forest. He immediately tensed.
“Nic, do you copy? Over,” A voice asked, stuck somewhere between gruff and growly.
Nicodemus sighed, all tension bleeding out of his frame at the familiar voice, before pressing a button on the transmitter in his ear and complaining, “Mikhail, would it kill you to stop with imitating people you’ve seen on TV? It’s getting old.”
A low chuckle came through before–“But you got the guy right?”
“Of course, who do you take me for? Raksha?” Nic joked back before continuing, “I sliced off his head and burned the body. How’s it going on your side?”
Mikhail gave a grunt before replying, “All down, I’m taking them to burn now. You better not let Raksha hear you say that. Have you checked on her yet?”
Nic ran a hand through his hair before breathing out slowly, “Yeah I did, ten minutes before I brought this bastard down. She was already on her way to the rendezvous point. I’m heading there now. What’s your ETA?”
“Ten minutes. I’ll see you there Nic.”
The earpiece fell silent. Nic took one last look around the forest before heading back towards the town where the man had tried to escape to. It wouldn’t do well to be late after all.
A glance at his peripheral right and he caught the moving shadow that had blended in the darkness silently. A near silent rustle of a bush sounded from about ten feet away. Nic raised his head and scented the air, his acute senses giving him some hint of a pursuer.
Smells like a female, and… sex.
Acting as if he did not notice anything, Nic quickly continued on his way to the rendezvous point. A few minutes of trekking later and Nic was out of the forest and on a wide grassy plain that separated the forest from the town ahead. The tail, Nic felt with his enhanced senses, had paused at the edge of the treeline before abruptly disappearing. A second of silence before Nic leaned backwards smoothly; just a hairsbreadth before a silver dagger flew by, hitting the tree five metres behind with a loud thunk. Looks like Mikhail’s training paid off.
“Impressive,” a feminine voice purred seductively. A woman suddenly dropped down before him as Nic straightened up. The blond hair that cascaded down her shoulder and the half-lidded green eyes along with the skin-tight black bodysuit over her generous assets would have been very attractive to normal males. But Nic was not just any male. He was a pureblood vampire as well as a Keeper. A succubus’ allure would not affect him in the slightest.
Painted red lips smirked provocatively, but gaining no response, quickly lowered a fraction.
“Oh? So you are not affected? Interesting.” A finger rested on the edge of her lips and her smirk widened once again. “This’ll make things much more… fun.”
Nic only had a moment to process what she said before she launched herself towards him at a speed that surpassed a normal human by several leagues. Leathery wings had burst out from her back, boosting her speed. In a fraction of a second, she reached his position which had been at least ten metres away. Her hand reached out to swipe at his throat, elongated fingernails serving as makeshift claws.
Fortunately, Nic had shifted back in time, bending his head just slightly backwards in order to avoid being hurt. Three red lines appeared on the pale skin at his Adam’s apple where he did not quite manage to fully avoid the blow. Her claws didn’t break the skin, but it was dangerously close to his jugular.
Heart pounding from the near miss, he retaliated quickly. In a flash, he grabbed the silver dagger from the sheath on his lower back using his right hand, slashing upwards whilst tilting backwards, from her left hip to her shoulder.
Her left leg shifted backwards so the strike didn’t fully land but a large cut appeared on the black fabric. She then struck out with her right leg, kicking upwards towards his face. Nic used his right arm to block, simultaneously jabbing out with his other hand, landing a solid on her face.
The woman staggered back, with her nails shrinking back down to normal. Her right hand came up to cup her face. After moving her jaw for a little bit, she smirked, before opening her mouth and asking nonchalantly, “That’s quite a lot of strength you got there. But still not enough if you’re hoping to beat him.”
Nic’s eyebrows twitched at that, but he tried not to let that comment get to him. “So what? Right now, I only need to beat you, and that,” he said while getting into ready position, “I can.”
Which was true, and they both knew it.
The woman in front of him snarled, her face suddenly transforming into a grotesque picture of a badly-deformed bat. Her mouth hung open and Nic could see the large elongated canines that were protruding from the top and bottom of her mouth. Her nails that had shrunk back when she got hit grew again, and a large leathery tail sprouted. With the amount of damage her shirt had sustained, it was a miracle her body was still sufficiently covered.
“Try then, you brat!”
She lunged forward, but Nic was already waiting for her. He crouched down and swept her legs from under her using his right leg before balancing on said limb and twisting his body upwards in order to execute a swift side-kick with his left leg that landing squarely on her waist.
The attack flung her a few metres away and she landed with a heavy thump, knocking the wind out of her. In a blur, Nic had gotten up, sheathed his knife and arrived at her position, pinning her arms above her head with his knees at her waist and his ankles crossed over her legs, effectively trapping her down.
He took the sword out of its sheathe from behind his back and placed the sharp end of the blade at her neck, pressing closer until a thin red line could be seen.
“Talk. Who sent you?” he questioned, expression stoic, but the aura around him had changed from the careless nonchalance of before to the dark, ruthless intent of a very powerful vampire. It wasn’t something that should be coming from a twenty-one year-old kid.
Frankly, it was one of the most terrifying visions she had seen in her life. And as a succubus working in the dark side of the world, she had seen plenty.
The red eyes looking at her now were devoid of any warmth. She knew for sure that this man could murder her and it would be no different than killing a fly. It was as if she was nothing more than a particularly annoying pest.
Crimson eyes continued boring into hers and her terror was rising by the second, but Kyros counted on her to track him. She may not have been the best fighter available, but tracking was her speciality and she needed to be alive to report back to him.
He wouldn’t mind her giving away some of his secrets for this.
“Kyros! His name’s Kyros! He hired me to track you!” She shouted with her voice getting higher and higher as she babbled on. It wasn’t hard to fake the terror in her voice considering that she was scared but her priority was escape so she intentionally took it up a few notches.
Hopefully the kid would spare her, then she could go back and report and get the money she was promised. Which, looking at the situation right now, was totally not worth the amount she was getting paid.
Goddamnit, Nic cursed in his mind, how does he keep finding me?
Kyros, Rion’s killer, the one who landed him in this mess in the first place and who was now after his life. When was he ever going to catch a break? But first, he needed to get rid of this minion below him.
Mind made up, he smiled down at her while sheathing his sword. A second later he was flashing his fangs and bit down at her jugular. Instantly, warm blood flooded his mouth and Nic was nearly lost to the taste of it. While he didn’t necessarily crave blood (which was weird but Mikhail had assured him that Rion was the same), he did like the taste of it; sweet, succulent and savoury with just a tinge of what Nic thought life would taste like. It was almost like ambrosia to him. Plus, his wounds healed faster, which Nic counted as a major boon.
The woman was whimpering below him, but she stayed absolutely still, so he didn’t do anything to hurt her, drinking deeply but not so much as to be harmful.
Once done, he slid his fangs out, licked them clean before willing them back in. Vampire fangs were hidden above the canines and would fall from the sheath above in the gums over their teeth when unleashed. This allowed vampires to be able to blend in more with the humans, which in turn would increase their survival rate.
Nic licked his lips again, swiping the muscles over the slightly protruding sacks above his gums. He still wasn’t too used to the fangs but he’d deal.
Nic then lifted his head from her neck and checked on her. The succubus had already fainted; it was time to leave. There wasn’t any harm in letting her go since they were going to leave here soon anyway. Her information would be useless. All the madman would know was that Nic had been here, not where he would go, which was enough.
Considering that they’d escaped from Kyros for a year already, disappearing from his view again wouldn’t be too hard.
Glancing at the moon that was high in the night sky, Nic realised that he was going to be late. Mikhail and Raksha would already be waiting.
“What took you so long, leader?” A sultry voice came from behind when Nic had stepped into the bar, a quaint little two-story building which doubled as a motel. Nic barely reacted; the flicker in his eyes towards her the only response she got. He didn’t even twitch a muscle.
“Don’t call me that, Raksha. We both know who the real leader is. And your shadow gave you away,” Nic answered as cool as a cucumber, inwardly crowing at the fact that he’d bested Raksha at her own game.
“How do you do that? You’ve only been training for a year!” She complained for like the millionth time this had happened, arms crossing over her ample chest like a petulant child. Fiery red hair that fell down to her waist along with striking violet eyes whilst standing at the towering height of six foot and ten inches, Raksha was a sight to behold in this dreary pub. Her voluptuous body only added to her beauty. The pointed ears that were usually concealed by an illusion spell though, told everyone there that she was not human – she was an elf. The ears, along with the runic tattoos sprawled all over the side of her neck and up to the left side of her face identified her specifically as a dark elf, a race of vicious warriors that stood at the apex of physical combat, rivaled only by the werewolves.
Mikhail, who had been trailing behind Raksha, was one such creature. He had eyes the colour of burnt gold, silver-grey hair with shaved sides, the top combed back, and beads woven intricately into little braids that hung to the top of his neck. His muscled figure as well as his rugged look was intimidating to normal bystanders, unless of course, they were in an Underworld bar. Nic knew that the ‘wolf was just a giant softie, someone who had taken care of him at his lowest points who was practically Nic’s older brother in all but blood.
The three of them stood in the centre of the first floor, garnering a lot of attention from the locals at the bar, especially with two of them being so good-looking. Nic inwardly lamented their faces for attracting so much attention when they were on the run from a madman after his life, but nothing he could really do about it.
“Nic? What happened? You got lost in your head over there,” Raksha suddenly piped up, her face the picture of concern. No matter what kind of cutesy act she put up, Nic knew that she was the most stable of the group and probably the most deadly if he were honest. Dark elves were terrifying.
“I’m okay, just the atmosphere here getting to me,” Nic replied to her question.
This place was at the end of the road in a small town in South Dakota, mainly occupied by the supernatural and humans ‘in the know’. This establishment thus catered mostly to such creatures rather than humans. The first floor was the pub with the bar at one corner and quite a few tables set up to accommodate the growing crowd. It was quite casual since most customers were regulars so new-comers like them were the attracting a lot of eyes.
Even with all the unwanted attention, Nic, Raksha and Mikhail had already scouted out the town beforehand to make this their base during their hunt for the Hunters that were terrorising the nearby werewolf pack.
While humans were far inferior in terms of physical skills, they made up for it with sheer numbers as well as clever exploitation of a werewolf's weaknesses, wolfsbane and silver. The stronger the wolf, the less they’ll be affected by silver. The wolves that had settled here were all turned wolves with the exception of two of its members who had challenged their previous alphas, lost and had then been chased out of their packs, which made them very susceptible to either of the above mentioned materials.
The pack had not done anything that broke any laws so the hunters had no right to hunt them down like animals. As such, a bounty had been issued by the pack’s leader, Tom Bayers, on the heads of all the hunters involved; he wanted them killed for their crimes.
Since the three were finally done, Nic headed straight for the counter and started to process the bounty through. Any town with a sizeable population usually had one bar that owned a verification bowl, which made them eligible to collect and disperse bounties across the country. Each bowl will be filled with a special liquid that is able to identify the name, age, and time of death of any single being as long as a sample of DNA is presented. It involved a lot of nifty magic by the creator which would always keep updating the record of every living being on the planet.
The old man at the counter, who doubled as the bartender, peered closely at the bits of hair each of them had collected from their prey before dropping them into the bowl of what looked like water placed by his side. The liquid immediately turned red and a few words floated upwards, stating the name, and time of death of the people who had been killed. Nodding in satisfaction, the old man scooped the hair out, dumped them in the bin and then handed Nic the payment for the hunt, which was a total of ten thousand dollars in check.
After filling in his bank account number and handing it back to the old man for him to bank in, Nic headed back to where Raksha and Mikhail were waiting for him at the foot of the stairs before heading to their room.
As soon as the door closed behind the last person, Mikhail immediately asked, “So, what’s next?”
Raksha let out a huge sigh and pouted in response. “Oh come on! We just netted a huge amount this time round. Can’t we just sit back and relax for a little while?” She whined, flopping onto the bed to emphasize her point.
“No can do, beautiful. Nic here’s still green, you know that,” Mikhail said, jerking a thumb towards the youngest of the three. At the age of twenty-one, Nic had only just reached the age where he could buy alcohol while Raksha at twenty-three and Mikhail at twenty-four both had a few years on him. Not to mention that they had grown up in this world, unlike himself who had been thrust into the supernatural world a year prior.
“I know, I know. Doesn’t mean I have to like it,” Raksha complained, exasperated as she continued pouting. Mikhail gave a slight chuckle at her antics while Nic stood silently in the doorway.
He never asked for this. He never wanted to join any of this, but life wasn’t fair and now he got stuck in this world that he knew nothing about because Rion thought it would be a good idea to stick him with the title of Keeper. Chosen, as if he were something special.
At least, Nic thought with a deprecating smile, he wasn’t living in that tiny-ass apartment he called a house, barely able to scrape by.
He was grateful that the other vampire had gotten him out of that life but having his head hunted for every minute of every day was getting tiring, so uncharitable thoughts were swirling around his head.
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Age range: 14-25
Word count: 4827
Author name: Janice
Why your project is a good fit: My book is of a typical modern fantasy with a unique twist that would bring a fresh look on how the supernatural world can be seen as. With compelling characters and a complex plot, my book will be a very exciting journey.
The hook: Nic is a 21-year-old human-turned-vampire forced to go on a journey through modern America in a bid for survival.
Synopsis: Thrown headfirst into a world where everything is not as it seems, Nicodemus Griseo, a human-turned-vampire has to go toe-to-toe with one of the strongest powers in the Underworld in order to survive. Armed with abilities he has yet to fully understand along with his two companions, Raksha and Mikhail, Nic doesn’t know if what he has will be enough, but he will certainly try.
Target audience: Young Adults
Your bio: A 20-year-old fresh graduate aspiring to be a writer and publisher.
Education: A levels
Personality / writing style: Expository
Likes/hobbies: Reading and writing