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Damien grunted as the baton slammed into his gut one more time. Damien repositioned his feet against the wall and lunged forward, his fangs bare. He growled, gnashed, and bit, but the laughing man stayed regrettably out of his reach. The man struck him again, and he felt a rib crack from the blow. Damien let out a breath and let his feet drop dangling him from the ground, his toes barely touching the dirt floor.

The small dungeon, which Damien assumed is what you would call a jail cell placed within a basement, stunk of sweat, mold, and blood. At least some of that blood smell came from Damien’s own nose and mouth. It wasn’t his own blood, of course; nor was it his sweet Veronica’s blood. This was the blood of a guardsman who had cornered him a day ago as he had fled from the city of Normashire.

The death of Veronica, the baker’s daughter, was considered too much for this small town. The baker was a surprisingly powerful man, being on the city council. Damien had decided to remain in the city, waiting for Veronica to change. That had been his mistake. The massive manhunt that followed had been unlike anything Damien had ever seen. Every ally, every street, and every nook and cranny was filled with light from lanterns and bonfires. Damien had no place to hide.

He had tried to flee, but there were simply too many men dedicated to bringing him in. They were armored and trained men as opposed to the thugs and vagabonds he was used to dealing with. He had managed to kill a few dozen, but they had weakened him and he found himself overwhelmed before he could do anything else.

A loud creaking of metal on metal pierced the air, and the guard stepped back and to the side, lowering the baton so quickly that Damien almost wondered if he had been doing something he shouldn’t have been by torturing Damien. Damien didn’t blame the guard. He had been known to torture more than a few of his prey in the past before draining them. It was only natural to show cruelty when you were in a position of power.

This, of course, didn’t mean that Damien wouldn’t kill the ugly guard the first second he got. Just because he understood the man, didn’t mean he liked the man any better. Sounds came from down a darkly lit staircase and Damien could make out the shadows of two men moving down into the light. They spoke; but whether it was from the echoing caused by the basement walls or the various hits to Damien’s head, he couldn’t make out the words very well.

He lifted his head in defiance, forcing his eyes to focus as the men approached him. The first man was a fat bearded man wearing a long robe. He was most likely the local magistrate, although Damien couldn’t say if he had seen the man before. The second was a significantly odder man. He was tall and lanky, wearing a long brown trench coat. Over his head seemed to sit a pair of ridiculous goggles, with various lenses lined up and attached to the hinges of the frames.

“I do have to say, I am a bit surprised to see capital sending someone to investigate this case,” Damien could finally make out what the fat man was saying, “I don’t think this is necessary; it is a pretty clean-cut case. This man has clearly signed a deal with the devil. He murdered in the name of Satan and should be burned at the stake in repentance.”

Damien grunted at that, shifting himself in his is thick chains. The guards repositioned their weapons in their grips, clearly not wanting the magistrate to be so close to him. He gave them a toothy sneer. He knew his eyes would unsettle them, completely black as they were. The magistrate took a step back, but the other man seemed to regard Damien with curiosity more than fear.

“Do you really think that will be enough?” the lanky man asked, eyeing Damien up and down.

“What do you mean?” the magistrate responded indignantly, “That is the proper procedure for dealing with witchcraft and sorcery.”

“May I?” the man in the trenchcoat gestured to the guard, who nodded to him.

The man pulled out thick leather gloves, putting them on his hands. He lowered the strange goggles over his eyes and then moved close to Damien. Damien lunged at him, causing the magistrate to take another step back and the guards to raise their spears. The man seemed completely unphased though. He roughly felt over Damien’s arms. Every once in awhile, he reached up, almost unconsciously, adjusting the lenses on his head.

He pulled out a stethoscope, listening for a pulse. Damien waited for the man’s astonishment when he didn’t hear Damien’s pulse, but the stranger only mumbled incoherently to himself as he continued his machinations. Maybe he wasn’t paying enough attention to realize that Damien had no heartbeat? Maybe he already knew? The last step the lanky man took was to shove his fingers into Damien’s mouth, exposing his fangs.

Damien was shocked by this. It had been so sudden that he had not even expected it. Most that were aware of those fangs avoided them like the plague. This man just shoved his fingers in the mouth of a vampire as if it was nothing. Even if his fangs couldn’t pierce the leather gloves, the force of his jaw was stronger than that of a normal man. He could easily break every finger in this man’s hand.

By the time Damien snapped down, the man had already withdrawn his fingers. Some spittle stuck to the strange man’s gloves and he unconsciously wiped them off on the coat with a casualness that irritated Damien. He growled in frustration as the man turned his back to him.

“Well Artemis?” the fat magistrate asked eagerly.

“I don’t think you are dealing with a sorcerer,” the man called Artemis responded.

The magistrate gave him a confused look, “What do you mean.”

“It would instead appear that you have a vampire on your hands.”

The magistrate waved his hands dismissively, “Vampire, Witch, it doesn’t matter. They are all servants of Satan. What difference is there, we will burn them all just the same?”

Artemis was already shaking his head, “Fire won’t work on his kind, at least not in entirety. There is quite a bit of difference between these kinds of creatures… if you study the occult.”

“The occult?” the magistrate’s eyes darkened, but Artemis seemed to take no heed.

“Yes, for example, the Vampire has no league with the devil at all. It seems to function more like an illness than a conscious dedication to the devil. Now did Satan make the disease in the first place, to that, I cannot say, but-”

“Blasphemy,” the magistrate whispered, causing Artemis to stop, “You speak blasphemy in my presence.”

“Not at all,” Artemis tried to reassure him, “Did the capitol really not say why I was sent down here?”

The magistrate sneered but made no other comment.

Artemis sighed, “I’m here to study this monster. You managed to successfully capture it; it’s the first of its kind we have ever seen alive. There is very much we can learn from it.”

“No,” the magistrate cut him off, “This beast will be trialed and killed for the murder of the baker’s daughter, tonight. I will not let a being of darkness stay in this world.”

“Look,” Artemis responded, a bit of plea in his voice, “I know you’re a god-fearing man, and the church may have excommunicated me for their own reasons, but this is a matter of state, not a church, so please heed my advice.”

The magistrate’s eyes rose, then darkened once again, “Excommunicated from the church? There is no division of church and state, they are the same.”

Artemis swallowed, realizing he had backed himself into an unpleasant conversation, “At the very least, if you plan to kill him, you will need to-“

“Enough,” the magistrate growled, “He will stand trial. He will be found guilty. We will burn him at the stake. That will put an end to him and his evil ways. As for you, I want you out of my town by the time that trial is over. If I see you in my city, you might be next.”

Artemis took several steps back. Damien could not see the man’s face. He didn’t know if that face held fear, or indignity, or something in between. Damien watched in wonder as the man collected himself. He took one glance back at Damien, his eyes placid, before turning and leaving.

The magistrate made a few gestures and two of the four guards present followed Artemis up the stairs. The magistrate sighed, wiping his forehead with a handkerchief. The fat man suddenly realized he was still in the same room with Damien and gave a jump. He eyed Damien up and down before turning and leaving.

Damien wondered who this Artemis was. He seemed to know entirely too much about Damien’s kind to be considered safe. When Damien escaped from this prison, and the idiotic magistrate seemed to guarantee his inevitable escape, Damien would need to take care of this Artemis. It was just one more life to add to the thousands he had already taken.

*****

Why did it have to be a god-fearing man? Artemis could handle angry men, depressed men, superstitious men, and stupid men. However, he never seemed to gain that special knack to be able to deal with a holy man. They weren’t like stupid men. Stupid men could be manipulated. No, Holy men were something much worse. They were idealistic.

Artemis huffed angrily although he wasn’t particularly upset. He had been chasing monsters for several years now and it almost always ended this way. He ended up being kicked out on his ass and the monsters being disposed of quietly behind the scenes. This was just another lost opportunity for Artemis.

A few strange looks from peasants as he walked by and he realized he still has his goggles on. He removed the goggles and gloves. He needed to stop being so careless some times. A pain tweaked his shoulder reminding him of the last time he had been too careless.

Still, he hadn’t been careless this time. He had managed to plan. Artemis still had a trick up his sleeve, and he wasn’t done with this town just yet. Within a few minutes, he found himself reaching the small house he was renting out. He entered and the old lady turned, smiling up at him from her needlework.

“Good to see you in one piece,” the old lady crowed.

Artemis bowed to her with respect, before bidding the old lady a hasty farewell. He really wasn’t in the mood to deal with her senile antics. She was one of the oldest lady’s in town. Her husband had long died, her home more or less derelict, and her mind rapidly slipping. However, Artemis had still decided to stay here for two reasons. The rental fare was especially cheap, and the lady wouldn’t talk. Even if she did, no one could separate reality from her own dementia.

Artemis went into a side door and found the latch to her cellar. He quickly lit a lantern and made his way down. It was a small dirt decline and he needed to duck his head once he made it into the basement. It was simply too short for him to stand up straight. He moved over to the small locked door and removed a key he had hidden in a small pouch around his neck.

He unlocked the door and winced as it creaked open. He hated the sounds of creaking in the dark, it always unnerved him. Of course, there was nothing he could do about it now. He wouldn’t be in this city much longer. He moved into the damp room and up to a small rock slab and the small form lying atop it.

He looked down at the ice-cold creature before him. It was a corpse, of course. He had to pull a significant amount of strings and perform several acts that bordered on illegal to acquire the body before him. However, he had managed to get it, his backup plan.

He glanced at the shackles that held the corpse down. It felt odd tying down a corpse, but precautions had to be met. He glanced up and down the body. She really was very beautiful. It seemed a shallow thing to judge her on, but he suspected the vampire had picked her because of her form. Creatures of the night could often be skin deep.

Artemis pulled up a chair, sitting close to the cold form. He remained there, the lantern emitting the only light in the otherwise cold dark basement. He watched closely, waiting for it. It was the slightest twitch of one of her fingers; that had to be the sign that it was time.

“Time for you to wake up sweet Veronica, we have work to do,” Artemis whispered.

Her eyes opened.

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