Hunter and the Hunted
Joshua Olsen’s Cantrips & Catastrophies
A Magic: the Gathering Fan Fiction short story
Author’s note: Dear readers, the following was written as the sort of scene that you find in many action movies that introduce a bad-ass character. Imagine this piece as the literary equivalent to the scene in every Terminator movie where Arnie wipes out some poor biker blokes so he can acquire some clothing. As such, don’t expect any stunning philosophical discourses forthcoming. Do expect some good old fashioned carnage though. Enjoy.
Arrkas gasped, a pointed blade had just been forced between his scales and deep into his back from behind. Before Arrkas could do more than let out a howl, a shape was leaping onto his back, and to add insult to injury he could feel as a vampire’s pointed fangs bit hard into his neck, piercing the skin and draining blood. His blood!
Outrage cut the pain down to size, even as the sword-wielding vampire twisted the sword around in the wound. The second vampire clung tightly against Arrkas’ body, sucking his blood down as fast as it could. Cowards! Attacking him from behind! Arrkas grasped at the vampire atop him with his free hand, trying to grab hold of the beast and throttle it like a dog, but the creature was out of his reach and he couldn’t get purchase. “GET! OFF! ME! LEECH!” The vampire reared back with a hiss to avoid his arm, and lunged forward again at the wound, biting harder. A spray of blood spattered against the side of Arrkas’ head, coating one of his eyes. This was becoming problematic; he would soon weaken if he couldn’t get the vampire’s away from him. Bloodied eye shut, Arrkas waited agonizingly long seconds for the vampire to rear up again, seeking no doubt to tear his whole throat out this time. He snapped his tail up, smacking the vampire around the head and driving it forward. Arrkas then snapped his head back, smashing it into the vampire’s jaw.
Grabbing the stunned vampire by the head, Arrkas hurled it away, unconcerned with where the creature went, as long as it was off him. The sword wielding vampire had meanwhile twisted the sword in for all it was worth, rending the muscle. The sword was in deep, as deep as the vampire had been able to drive it, but that slowed the bleeding, the sword stoppering the puncture hole in Arrkas’ hide.
Exhaling hard and once again pushing the pain down, Arrkas spun around to his rear, sweeping his table-leg club at waist height, aiming for the vampire. The creature nimbly leapt back to avoid getting splattered, but was forced to leave its sword still embedded in Arrkas to do so. Arrkas followed through quickly, stepping in and punting the vampire across the room with a hooking kick. The vampire sailed across the room, but landed with perfect grace on the wall, sticking to it like an insect. It snarled, drawing a handheld crossbow. Arrkas reversed his grip on the table leg so it faced pointy end out, and he hurled it like a javelin. With an impressive thunk it impaled the vampire, pinning him to the wall through the torso. The vampire, held halfway up the floor by the table leg rather than its own magic, like some kind of hunting trophy, tried for several seconds to pull the improvised spear out of its gut before it coughed blood and died.
Arrkas turned, the other vampire was already standing. A few chips of rock lying on the floor betrayed where Arrkas’ wild throw had sent the vampire, but the bloodsucker appeared quite unharmed. Indeed, it was barely paying its adversary any attention at all, too busy licking up the Viashino’s blood that had spattered across its clothing and pale skin. Arrkas watched, mildly disgusted, as the vampire sucked its fingers like a man dying of thirst, running hands through its hair to try and find any stray droplets. Eventually it could get no more, and looked up at Arrkas. There was something different about its eyes, the sheer black was now flecked with a touch of gold.
“Your blood…..I’ve never tasted anything like it…..something in it…..so much raw power…..saturated with ancient magic. I must have more, NEED more of it!”
“What makes you think you can come and take it?” Arrkas snarled.
The vampire laughed, and picked up a heavy tower shield that had been knocked off the wall where it had been part of the Voldaren crest of arms. It was made from finest quality tempered steel and had taken expert forgers over 3 days of solid labor to craft, but that didn’t really mean much as the vampire bent it in half with its hands, tossing the folded metal aside. Arrkas wasn’t put on edge because of the feat, but because of how easily the vampire had done it. There had only been a modicum of effort involved, it seemed Arrkas’ planeswalker blood had a potent effect on a blood-drinking creature; it had absorbed some of his magic. Arrkas gave the vampire his best I-Will-Break-You voice.
“My blood stays in my veins leech. Now why don’t you scurry along and fetch the Count for…..”
He was talking to an empty space. By the planes, the vampire was fast. There was a flittering in his peripheral vision, and Arrkas’ head smashed into the floor, shattering floorboards. He lashed out blindly, but it was like striking stone, and then he was flying again, crashing through one of the few untouched pieces of furniture. His sword wound throbbed, and snarling Arrkas wrenched the blade out, bringing it around even as the empowered vampire came at him again. The vampire moved around the strike with ease, but Arrkas had anticipated such a move and curved the swing, catching his attacker in a glancing cut all the way along its arm, slicing through the expensive material. The vampire’s other hand came in palm-first, catching Arrkas in the temple, wrenching him sideways. By the time Arrkas righted his feet, the sword was no longer in his hand. The vampire hissed with hunger, snapping the sword in two like it was made of brittle candy. Even as Arrkas circled the vampire, wary of his foe, the deep cut to the vampire’s arm began to seal itself with empowered swiftness. When the cut receded the vampire gave Arrkas a lazy smile, arms extended as it circled him.
“Are there any more of your kind around? Your blood makes a human’s taste as ash-filtered muck, I fear it would be hard to go back to it after wrenching that delectable bounty from your veins.”
Arrkas knew the vampire was arrogant, drunk of its newly acquired power, but he also knew the danger of the situation. The other leeches were no match for him, but this one could be his undoing. For one thing, it was fresh and healthy, while he was wounded and fatigued. A situation that rarely went well for a fighter in the wild. He could Planeswalk away, but to flee from such a foe was not worth considering.
Besides, the vampire might be too fast to allow him to do even that.
Arrkas rolled his shoulders, trying to get the feeling back.
“You’ve only tasted my power creature. Your strength is not your own, and you shall not defeat me with it.”
“My god, you talk so slowly lizard-man. You talk slow, and you move slow.”
Then the vampire blurred from sight again, only experiencing it before allowed Arrkas to reach out and grab the vampire as it appeared in front of him as if by magic. He roared, slamming his fist into the pale thing’s face. When Arrkas hit things, they stayed hit. Especially a head shot like that. He pulled his fist back to hit again, to bash the thing’s brains out of its body, but then it wasn’t there, and he felt its fangs sink into his side, draining him. He went into a fury, holding the vampire tight and seeking to pummel it into mush, but his grips would only be there for a moment before it would twist out, and then it would lash out, draining him, slowly weakening Arrkas’ strength while it replenished its own injuries. He could never land a series of blows to stun or knock it off balance. After a few tense moments he grasped it again, threw it bodily away before it could escape, anything to keep it at arm’s length for a bit. The vampire cartwheeled mid-air, landing gently on the wall feet first, and easily flipped back to the ground without a scratch on it.
Arrkas was panting. The vampire was not. This was getting serious. The vampire wanted to spend all day dodging things? Well let’s see him dodge this.
With instinct born of years of practice, Arrkas momentarily let the reality of the world slip away. His injuries, outside noises….. both slipped away as Arrkas took hold of his connection to the land in this plane, and tugged on it, pulling mana to him. With a flash of green energy his forearms were sheathed in gauntlets of primal sorcery, tripling the size of his fists. Arrkas raised those fists up high, and as he did so time seemed to slow ever so slightly for him. He saw the vampire move into a sprinter’s crouch, about to blur towards him. It sensed something amiss. Too bad it was too late.
With the bellow of a man triumphant, Arrkas brought his fists down on the floor of Voldaren Manor.
The resulting tremor was felt throughout the whole mansion.
Windows blew. Paintings fell, and anything not bolted down rattled. The floor around Arrkas cracked, split and buckled, erupting out from the point of impact in an aura of destruction. A localized wave of seismic energy picked up the vampire and tossed him into the air, and it was as he was in the air that Arrkas leapt. No enhanced reflexes could aid the blood-sucking monster when it was unexpectedly airborne. Arrkas could see it twisting and flailing with his predator’s eye as it realized the situation. But there was nothing for it to grab or push off, all it could do was wait for gravity to kick back in and take it to the ground. Too slow.
Arrkas crashed into the leech mid-air, striking it like a piledriver and using his weight to bring them down hard. They came down amongst the shattered floorboards, Arrkas on top, the weight of his impact driving his knees hard into the vampire. It tried to buck him off, but Arrkas had all the leverage he needed now, pushing himself down against the prone vampire. He started to drop wild haymakers into its head, and at this close range there was no way to dodge. The vampire seized Arrkas’ body in two great handfuls and squeezed with the strength of desperation, fingers carving deep into Viashino flesh, but Arrkas was no youngling. The simplest way to alleviate pain was to bludgeon the thing causing the pain into submission, and that was what he did. His fists, bolstered by the enchantment, rose and fell in terrible rhythm, and then it was done. Bloody, injured, triumphant, Arrkas Zek rose from the crater and stood on cut and bleeding legs.
Clap. Clap. Clap.
He turned. At the furthermost entrance to the ballroom, some seventy strides away, was the Count. The master of Voldaren Manor was marked out by his aristocratic stature, his unequalled finery, and the aura of raw menace he projected. Around him stood at least two dozen other vampires, guards and high-born both, bedecked in armor and laden with rapiers, halberds, crossbows and other assorted weapons. The count lazily took in the scene of slaughterhouse carnage before him with cold fury, but he projected lazy amusement.
“Well well well. Most impressive stranger. If I had known you would go to such lengths to seek an audience with me, I might have reconsidered sending a carriage after all.”
Arrkas spat, blood and a tooth further marking the floor.
“I needed to talk to you. Not your envoys, not your lackeys. You. What I have to say is for your ears alone.”
The count spread his arms in an exaggerated fashion.
“Then by all means speak. Share your message. I hope you do not mind if my court listens in though, I like for them to see my lordly business at work. If they are lucky, they may even get to watch on as I make your death following this conversation a messy and drawn out thing. Or maybe I’ll just keep it private.”
If Arrkas was scared by the Count’s merciless words, he gave no indication. His voice was full of terrible severity as he looked the Count square in the eye.
“My message is simple: this is your last night in this world, alive or undead. You, and all the disgraceful whelps who reside here will die, and this monument to hedonism will burn to the ground.”
The Count laughed, his mocking guffaws soon joined by his assembled court. The very notion was preposterous!
“If you believe those words you are either a fool or an idiot. Your abilities in killing my most expendable brethren is impressive, but you are injured, and alone. You cannot hope to prevail. Kneel before me know, and I shall see you die with some dignity. Probably not your eyes or tongue, but some dignity. Your crusade is at an end.”
Arrkas grinned, exposing a mouthful of teeth to make any vampire jealous.
“Who ever said I came alone?”
Behind Arrkas, out on the balcony, a shape was stirring. A furred hand, hideously large, grabbed the balustrade, and began to haul a huge form over.
The Count’s grin shrank back by a few teeth.
“I’m sure you didn’t think I’d notice the wards over the perimeter, keeping out those you didn’t want in. But when I gained access to the grounds, I happened to leave the main gate open….. and the wards inscribed on them rent apart.”
More shapes were appearing at the shattered windows. First one, then two, then half a dozen. The vampire’s heightened senses began to pick up that which the rain had been keeping from them: the rank stench of wet fur.
The vampire contingent began to shrink back. The count’s formerly wide grin of superiority was now a grim slash on his face.
“That, and a full moon, is all it takes to get some of my hunting friends to come join me.”
The werewolves were now padding into the room, snarls etched on their lupine toothy snouts. Saliva dripped from their mouths as they salivated at the smell of all the fresh meat. The lycanthropes were massive specimens, scarred and lean and full of the bloodlust of the wild. Long had they wanted to get in and feed, but until tonight they had been kept out. Not tonight.
A wall of muscle and fur advanced slowly, with that kind of horribly delayed threat of violence that only a stalking animal can provoke. As the first werewolf, a massive coal-black alpha, went to walk past Arrkas it stopped, instinctively recognizing another predator’s presence.
“You see Count, you thought yourself the greatest power in these lands. Your first mistake. You thought you could keep the hunger of the wild at bay. Your second mistake. And you are wrong about one more thing: I’m not on a crusade.”
The aristocrats started trying to back away without attracting attention, while pushing forward the lower-born guards at the same time. The Count had drawn his own weapon, a great ruby-studded broadsword, but there was real fear fighting for control of his face, perhaps the first time it had ever done so.
“I’m on a hunt. And you are the prey. Run now. Or don’t, you’ll. Just. Die. Tired.”
And with that Arrkas gave a perfect wolf howl, and the tide of dark fur surged forward at his call like a breaking damn. There was a collective scream as the army of werewolves met the vampire lines with terrifying force, and the hunt began.