(Chapter I Basilton's Way)

          The carriage swayed back and forth over the sharp rocks jutting out at the edge of the mountain. To the right of the carriage was a treacherous drop into a white misting abyss. The mules groaned and shut their eyes, sheilding them closed against the harsh cold wet wind. The driver pushed them on. Basilton was five kilometers away. He could smell the smoke of the wood burning stoves in houses of the town. The wood burnt scent floated in the wind.
          The hunter nestled warmly into his seat next to the window, feeling a slight cold breeze shooting from underneath the thick black leather partition hanging on the window. The gypsy across from him stirred softly. She moved her black veil from over her nose just enough to let out a sigh.
          The hunter, without turning his head, looked over at her noting her soft pink lips parted, revealing pearl white teeth. Her skin was milky white, from what he could see. Her hands were gloved in black thick wool. She was covered in a black silk shaw from head to toe and underneath the silk veils, she wore men's black clothing.
          Either she's cold or hiding something, thought the hunter.
          "Probably both," laughed the parasite in the back of his mind. The hunter still watched her as she shifted herself to the other side of the bench.
          Even behind her black veil, she could see the hunter's blue eyes watching her. Every move she made was intended for his eyes and any thoughts she provoked in the process.
          She had immediate attraction to him when she first heard his voice outside the carriage. A hunter of the undead, she thought with a smile. She placed the black veil down past her nose a little, leaving her lips revealed.
          The hunter sat calmly, staring at her alluring yet mysterious veils of silk. The gypsy turned her head towards the window on her side of the carriage and leaned back, falling to sleep quietly.

          The carriage approached the edge of the town almost at sunset. The sky had cleared shining with colors of deep purple and flourescent pink clouds. The town was silent and cozy, unlike most of the surrounding towns in the same frostbitten region.
          The driver hurled himself from the carriage and ran around the side. The door flung open and a rush of cold night air hit the hunter in the face, making him shudder and pull his scarves up over his mouth.
          "This is where we leave you, man!" exclaimed the driver, "I have business elsewhere outside this town. There's an inn over there." The man pointed at an elaborately built Victorian style hotel just at the corner of a muddy street. "Nice lodgings. Warm clean rooms."
          The hunter edged his way out of the carriage when suddenly the dark figure reached out with a gloved hand to stop him. The hunter turned with wide eyes as the figure whispered under her veils, "I know the one you hunt. May God be your guiding light," and as she smiled the veil fell from her mouth revealing her soft pink lips pulled back and two white fangs glistening in the fading light.
          The hunter nearly fell out of the carriage as the driver pushed his mules on. He caught himself before he fell to the ground, still puzzled by the gypsy's statement.
          "Good god man!" screamed the parasite.
          The hunter pulled the scarves from his mouth and surveyed the town before him. Hard packed snow stood several layers on each rooftop. Horses tied up outside of each building and in every window a lantern burned brightly.
          The Hotel Du Ponte stood proudly and tall above all of the other buildings in the town. It's porch drew out long strides underneath each window. The building itself stood six stories high and at least fifteen rooms across. The hunter noted with a wink the large cascading windows that served has a door underneath a large outdoor chandelier.
          As the hunter walked through the doors, he half expected the patrons inside to turn and watch his every move. Only two people looked up from their dinner and then turned to converse more. To his right several men played with cards and to his left a young adolescent dark haired maiden served a entire family including three small children. A piano played merrily at the back of the room. The room itself was large enough to fit a small house and decorated with deep rich cherry wood chairs and tables. He, himself, preferred the large booth near a bay window to his left near the family but still out of plain sight.
          The hunter settled quietly into the booth, pulling his sword and sheath out from behind him. He laid the large blade across the other side of the booth, stretched out his left leg on the bench and leaned back, sighing deeply.
          Softly and sweetly, the pianist changed his chord to a minor when he noticed the hunter walk in. The young maiden walked back and forth between four tables, serving and laughing and joking with her customers. The bartender, also the innkeeper, smiled happily at the large families and their large tips.
          The maiden walked nervously towards the hunter keeping her head down, making sure not to make eye contact.
          "May I serve you something warm?" she asked shyly looking away as the hunter lifted his head. The hunter stared at her gleaming profile, dark long waves of hair draping her shoulders and framing her body. His eyes followed a narrow path from her green eyes to her lips. A fully grown woman's body with an arrogant teenager's bond.
          "Coffee. Very hot. Thank you."
          The young maiden curtly bowed her head and ran off in the opposite direction. The hunter let out a deep sigh and looked out the window. It had started to snow again and the wind had settled, but the town was still quiet.
          Running quietly back behind the bar, the young maiden gestured for the bartender. He approached her with a towel in his hands, a questioning in his eyes.
          "Uncle, that man in the corner," she said, peeking around the wall, "He is very peculiar."
          "He is a hunter, my dear. See his sword?' he mocked and pointed. "Most hunters are very quiet men," the bartender inquired leaving her with a grimace on her face.
          The young maiden prepared the hunter's drink and placed it on a tray.
          The hunter looked up as the young maiden made her way across the dining room to him. She smiled as she placed the cup onto the table. She bowed once again and informed the hunter the cup was very hot and not to touch it without a napkin.
          The hunter placed his hands around the steaming mug. Warmth was all he needed. Her eyes widened as he slowly drank the hot liquid. She herself swallowed a large lump in her throat. He placed the cup back down on the table after he finished and looked up at her.
          "Would you like more, sir?" she said holding her chest with her left hand, trying to calm her panting.          
          "No....Thank you."
          She bowed once more and introduced herself.
          "I am Carla. If you need anything, let me know."
          "I need a room, Carla."
          A feeling of calm swept over when she heard her own name through his lips. Something safer than a cellar in a storm was found in his voice. She smiled slightly and walked away.
          "No problem. My uncle is the innkeeper. I can get you the best room."
          The hunter nodded and continued with his glare out the window.

          In his room, the hunter lounged quietly on the massive king size bed. He sighs were short as he gazed out the window. The gypsy's lips and fangs struck him over and over, deeply. He knew she was bound to the one he pursued. But how? She is a vampire, sure, but what does she, what could she have in common with this demon he hunted?
          "Beats the hell out of me, D," yawned the parasite. "But I gotta tell ya, if you dont loosen up and take that waitress out for dinner, I'm gonna beat the hell outta of ya!"
          Footsteps echoed outside the door.
          "Quiet," D whispered.
          The footsteps stopped at his door and then faded off down the hallway.
          "Somebody's anxious. Could be the girl," said the parasite with a grin.          
          D shoved his left hand aside and the parasite could see their surroundings completely. After surverying the room, the parasite coughed, "Nice room. Needs to be a bit bigger. Uh, is that a bathtub over there!?"
          D closed his eyes tightly and opened them watching the shadows form over each other across the ceiling. Candles were lit on every table and even in his room, like the houses in town below, stood a lantern in the window.
          "Symbolizes something," said the parasite.
          "What?" D groaned.
          "I dunno. Maybe it's to keep bad things away. Half of the bad things that come around usually appear at night and are sometimes fearful of light, especially fire. Maybe that's what it is. A security system."
          "Has anyone ever told you you're hard to impress?"
          D stood up and walked over to a full length mirror standing in the corner with it's face to the ceiling. He pulled it down and took a close look at himself. His form was almost transparent. He could see himself but yet he could also see the clothes drawer behind him. He carefully started to disrobe taking off his heavy shoulder spikes and cape. He laid them carefully beside each other on the clothes drawer behind him. The next part was a little harder. The leather body armor.
          As he pulled the chest plate off he made a horrible groan and then a long sigh. It's been a while since you've seen your chest, dont blind yourself, laughed the parasite. D shrugged and placed the chest plate over the cape.
          A small envelope fell from the chest plate as he laid it aside. D picked the envelope from the floor, opened and unfolded the letter inside.
          It read:

          Hunter D,
          It is hard to ask of you such a large favor. This vampire must be put to death. I offer you $50 million to destroy this demon and send it back to the underworld. Come to the address below, immediately.

          Rue Du Ponte
          Basilton, seventeen miles south of Grande Forge in the Perrone Mountain Range.

          D stuffed the letter into it's envelope and slipped it back into his chest plate. He walked over to his sword still in it's sheath on the bed. He stopped suddenly, picking up a noise outside his door. Footsteps, again. He pulled his sword from it's sheath and held it out in from him.
          There was a knock.
          "Who is it?"
          "It's me. Carla! I brought you fresh sheets."          
          The hunter sighed with relief and walked over to the door. He opened it carefully, still weary of what may be behind but his senses were settled when he saw the dark haired beauty standing with white fresh linens in her arms.
          "I'm sorry, I caught you during a bath?" She smiled looking up and down at his white chest.
          D dropped his head, letting his long wavy auburn hair cover him. Ha! You? Taking a bath? Jeez, what a laugh!
          "Good. I know how embarrassing it is when you're naked and wet and there are no towels around." She giggled as she pranced into the room looking for a place to lay the sheets. She sighed and turned back around to the hunter and passed the sheets to him. D took them and then looked at her.
          "I'm sorry, " she said apologetically, "Im not a very good housekeeper. I havent cleaned this room in three days but surprisingly is doesnt look bad. Ha ha!"
          D glanced at her and watched as she talked, enamored by the elegant choker necklace she wore around her neck. Her neck. He stumbled backwards as she continued to talk but she took notice.
          "Oh my! Falling for me already! I'd better go. More dinner to serve!" As she turned to walk back out the door, she swung around and said "If you need me, just hollar."
          D shut the door as she skimpered out into the hallway and out of his sight. The blood rushed to his head and his bloodlust settled back into it's dark cavern inside his body.
          "Well, I must say, she is quite a looker. Too bad she talks so damned much, " scoffed the parasite.
          "Too bad, " D said.

*          *          *

          The next day......a sun, some clouds and a rather peculiar stench in the air. No one in town could quite place where the smell was coming from and what kind of odor lingered with it. The men turned their faces away from the wind and the women and children were too embarrassed to think who could've made such a foul breath.          
          But the smell was not from the cows in the field, nor did it come from the basement of the undertaker's parlor. The smell lingered far from the town's reach but with it also came the foul odor of death surpassing thousands of years above the dirt and soil.
          A man shouted from the street, "The sky! So oblivious is the sky! The smell does not reach the sky but it bothers me!" A man dressed in white came running towards the screaming man beating him until he fell to the ground crying.
          A chaotic crowd emersed themselves in the business of the warden and the crazy man. The hunter stood atop the inn's porch, watching contently and wrinkling his nose everytime he drew in the foul stink.
          "What seems to be the problem here?" asked the parasite.
          "This smell has everyone in an uproar. Seems they havent smelled zombies before." D turned and walked back into the inn. The innkeeper was at his desk beside the large upright piano at the back of the dining room. He was buried to his eyes in paperwork long over due. Prancing merrily around him was his young beautiful niece.
          "Uncle Robert, do you have to work now? You promised to take me to Duraning to see the gypsies!" Carla cried as she grabbed a few papers from Robert's hands and tossed them into the air. He tried to catch them but let them fall from his grasp and then settled his head in his hands.
          "Carla, please? I told you it's too close to Vampire's Eve to take you to that horrible gypsy town. We have to stay here until that night passes silently. I wont have you in harm's way."
          "Harm's way?! Oh, you dont care! You'd feed me to that horrible gypsy vampiress if you had the opportunity!"          
          "Blast you!" cringed Robert as he stood up and ran for the rest of his papers as they flew towards to open door.
          The hunter stopped in front of the door, bending down to catch the rest of the papers as they blew against his feet. The innkeeper stopped with a surprise and then smiled at the hunter. He calmly took the papers and laughed.
          "You know, you're the guest not the servant. If you start helping me more like that I just might have to hire you," laughed Robert.
          The hunter did not return his laugh nor a smile.
          "Ahem, D, is it?"
          A slight nod.
          "What brings you to Basilton, if I may ask?"
          The hunter nodded and walked around the innkeeper's desk, pulled up a chair and sat quietly. Carla watched the hunter as he sighed and bowed his head. She smiled but it soon withered from her face when she caught a glimpse of the hunter's pale complexion in good light. Without moving his head, he looked up at her and in return, watching as she quickly looked away.
          "A rather large bounty, I'm afraid."
          Robert narrowed his eyes and waited for the hunter to say more, but that was it. The parasite hissed deep inside.
          Carla turned back to face the hunter and this time he was looking straight at her, his blue eyes searching the choked-beaded necklace around her neck. His bloodlust started to rise. Why do you keep looking at her? It's not like you to show your libido in front of anybody. Even me! screamed the parasite deep within.
          The innkeeper glanced up at his neice and then back to the hunter. The tension between the two was so thick a mastif couldnt break the line with his massive jaws.
          The hunter continued finally, "I'm a vampire hunter. I'm searching for the Mistress of Rominav."
          Robert gasped and stood up, rubbing his chin and pulling at the black hairs of his beard furiously.
          "You know who I speak of?" D questioned with a glare in his eye.
          "Yes," Robert whispered, barely under his breath,"Yes, yes. Quite so. She's a frequent visitor. She hunts for sport around these parts." Carla sighed deeply and walked towards the window. Her uncle stood behind her knowing her pain. "My brother was hunting one day in the woods north of this town. It was like, something like sunset, though the sun was already hidden by the trees. The fog was thick. I remember because I was there. I had witnessed everything." Robert reached out to Carla who squeezed his hand in return.
          "We were hunting a wolf that had disrupted the town numerous times with it's nightly game of killing chickens. We had him cornered just when the moon turned black. I could hear heavy breathing but it was not me nor my brother. Not even the wolf. And the smell of thousands of years rotted away thickened in the air. I can still hear the screams in the night. That demon was relentless."
           Robert sighed and glanced out the window, watching the sun light dance on the snow below. "The wolf had the right idea. Run. But I didnt run. Instead I watched as this monster ripped my brother in half with it's own hand." A short silence filled the room and then, "My brother was a good man. He never meant any harm to anybody. But yet, he destroyed the Mistress' lover, our sister. The monster was just a zombie the Mistress evoked with her spirit."
          D's eyes widened as he looked up at the innkeeper. A single crystal-like tear fell from his cheek. Carla stood by him, clutching his arm tightly.
          "Sorry, I acted so naive earlier. It was I who hired you, hunter. I know you must have been wondering where the letter had come from. Anonymous with an address to a blizzard town. I summoned you here not only to avenge the death of my brother and sister, but those who also died in the past everytime the sun sets and doesnt return for thirty days."
          D stood up, looking at Carla, watching the tears drown her eyes.
          "This vampire, D....she makes an annual feast here. She is destroying us with her troops of zombies. You would think with thirty days to kill and drink she would have wiped us out by now but we are a large town. It would take her years.....Carla was just a toddler when the vampiress decided to feast first upon her mother."
          Carla buried her head in her uncle's chest and cried quietly. D looked out the window, squinting at the bright snow. Even so bright, the day is dimming. High noon, yet the sun seems as if it were ready to set into darkness.
          "She will be a strong adversary. The days will be long." D glanced once again at Carla, noting the heaviness in her grace and her eyes. Her dark green eyes glowed with childhood happiness, yet a yearly reminder kept the sadness in a strong hold.
          D looked out the window again. The parasite itched but was brushed off.
          "Three days. That's all. Then darkness."
          The dark hunter inhaled deeply. This was indeed a large bounty but he had his own indifferences for hunting the vampiress. He had been bewitched by the Mistress' Black Wives before. The dark maidens held him in torment for days, draining him of his own life giving blood, before finally he released an anger upon them so terrible, they burned and withered to ash.
          The hunter had something to give to the Mistress personally. A death warrant.
          "I have to go to Duraning. I need a horse," D said finally.
          Robert looked up and smiled.

*          *          *

          The horses pawed the ground and neighed happily as Carla and the hunter entered the stables. A black cyborg horse stood in each stall, six rows down and six rows across. At the very back stood the largest cyborg steed. A black stallion with yellow glowing eyes nickered as Carla and D made their way down to his stall.
          "This horse used to be my father's," Carla informed the hunter, "I dont believe it a good thing for the horse to outlast it's master but he is a good horse. Programmed to the latest technology every year. I hope you will find him as a satisfying partner."
          Carla smiled up at the dark figure, watching his face, noticing no movement whatsoever. D nodded and walked towards the horse with a saddle and bridle. He placed his left hand on the horse's nose and stroked the soft skin above his nostrils gently. Carla could see his lips moving and finally she realized the hunter was whispering to the horse.
          An odd smile crept upon her face as she watched the hunter converse with the enigmatic black steed. The horse grunted and pawed at the ground. D raised his head and nodded with a slight smirk. He tightened the saddle and pulled back on the reins as he mounted.
          Carla stood back getting a full view of the hunter on his new horse. A tear welled up in her as she remembered a picture of her father sitting upon his powerful steed, wielding a gun in one hand and a double-edged sword in the other.
          "How far to Duraning?" D asked.
          "Fifteen kilometers," Carla whispered.
          D nodded and turned the horse around towards the door. Before he could make his departure, he turned around in his saddle and without reason or necessity, he felt the urge to tell her he would be back. He knew he was about to tell a lie.
          As he started to turn the horse back around Carla stopped him with a sigh.
          "Be careful, hunter."
          D nodded, keeping a watchful eye hooked on Carla's sweet dark brow. A glimmer of tear hung at the edge of her eye, ready to fall. So dark, yet so beautiful and so young looking. Like a childhood hero I never had until now. Please, D. Come back.

East Duraning, 4:30 pm, Festival of the Vampyre

          The cyborg horse stamped his way through the snow snorting and swaying his head back and forth. The parasite stirred in D's mind. There was a terribly evil presence in the wind.
          "$50 million dollars! That's a mighty ridiculous figure," snorted the parasite. D ignored him as always but he knew as dangerous as it sounded, killing a four thousand year old vampire wasnt going to stop him from fullfilling a promise he made to himself after escaping the Black Wives.
          "I know, I know. They really hit you deep, man. 'Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned' but what about a man who was strung up by his toes and drained of nearly all his blood, eh?" The parasite chuckled at that thought. D frowned, suddenly looking up, his head cocked to the right.
          "What is it? Where's the noise coming from?"
          Tribal drums beat furiously beyond a glowing light shining behind a mountain, silhouetting the entire mountain range. The beats were ambient and came at odd time signatures. The sounds of many drums at once.
          The party marked the annual passing of the undead. Men and women dressed in black and red, symbolizing the patriotic colors of death and destruction, danced in circles around each other with hundreds of onlookers.
          Duraning was an evil town to those who did not live within it's high walls. Gypsies and travellers of all sorts poured their desires and passions into the merchant town. Novelty shops lined the streets along with drunkards and prostitutes. Hagard old men gambled from dusk till dawn with money well spent on booze and rude whores. Women and children lived in fear of the local rapist stalking the streets at night, searching for his youthful victims.
          This was certainly the right town to destroy and it seemed the Mistress kept her eye tight upon it's people. They chanted her name as if she were a god and raised their hands to the heavens screaming terrible curses at the clouds and praying for a day of reckoning. Or at least another day to party themselves dead.
          "They look like my kind of people," joked the parasite. Maybe I should cut you off and let you join them. D walked the cyborg steed carefully through the crowd of partiers, glancing to and fro at their mixed faces and expressions as he strode through. "I heard that!" He kept his hat low and his guard high as he approached a store of interesting delicacies, rarities and commodities only shared through those who had a high tolerance to losing themselves in reality.
          D remembered the witch doctor's name who owned this store. Several years earlier he had visited the old doctor on his way to the Eastern Harbor Plains where the sea walls grew forty feet in the summer and crashed so hard upon the beach it created thunder throughout the surrounding valleys. In the midst of all the noise he had remembered what the doctor had said about a small valley in the Snowing Mountains. The towns within the valley lived through thirty days of darkness in winter due to the sun sinking so low and the earth tilting far from it's rays.
          Thirty years ago, D had saved the doctor's life from a terrible demon resurrected by the same vampire he now hunted. The doctor had told him he was forever in his debt. After his brutal fight with the demon, the Black Wives of the Mistress of Rominav held him captive. But not for very long.
          "Husam Muhad, what a brave boy he was years ago." The parasite seemed pensive now and that allowed D to think thoroughly of what he could ask of the doctor.
          The hunter climbed off his horse and knocked on the store's door. The sign on the door indicated the shop had been closed since three that afternoon but D knew the doctor was still lingering around. He could feel him.
          The tiny doctor stood behind the door and through the glass he spotted the hunter and started smiling. He flung open the door and threw his arms around the hunter. D patted the doctor on the back. Thrity years ago, the doctor was just a skinny teenager practicing a deadly witchcraft. Now, the doctor was reaching late middle age but still looked like he did years earlier.
          "It is so good to see you here, D," the doctor said, standing back and looking at D with awe in his eyes. "After all these years, you still look so young. You dhampirs really dont age a day, do you? So amazing. Come in! Dont get swept up with these crazy people!"
          D stood in the showroom of the small store glancing over the demon masks lining the yellow tinted walls. Strange paper lamps hung in each corner illuminating the shop with an eerie tint of red and orange. The strong scent of musk and mer incense held in the air was made to plow into a person's sensitive nasal membranes and knock them into another universe. For D, it was sinus torture.
          The doctor gestured for D to take a seat. The hunter reach for a chair and pulled it close to the doctor's studying table. The doctor sat atop his stool with his purring cat laying upon a pile of papers.
          "Heh, a good paper weight. Hard to move after he's finished a meal," chuckled the doctor. D pulled his chair closer to the doctor as if he had a secret to reveal.
          "The Mistress? Where is she now, Husam?" D's eyes were slowly changing colors from blue to a green hue with a red tint. With every thought of the Mistress, his blood stirred uneasily in his veins.
          "She is close, hunter. Sometimes I hear her in her cavern. She is ready to resurrect the spirit of her dead lover. The one your innkeeper friend's brother killed. She is after the girl. The Mistress is very experienced with resurrections. She is a malevolent practitioner of the cursed craft. She could resurrect the dead from millenias ago."
          "Carla is not safe in Basilton." Husam sighed. His dreams were filled with the Mistress' chanting and bellowing from the deep caverns below Duraning.
          "The Mistress was once a well respected vampire aristocrat but when her first lover was killed two thousand years ago by the vampire king, she just lost herself. She became a demon we all feared. She would've killed the vampire king centuries ago had he not thrown her into the caverns below this terrible town."
          "The king made sure she could never leave her caves by sealing off the entrances. But yet hunter, she still hunts and feasts. She uses the dead bodies in the cemeteries, resurrects their sleeping spirits and sends them out under her command. She is a crazy fiend. One who is trusted within these walls by these horrible people. She sees all with her crazed followers. No secret is safe. I know she will resurrect her dead lover by any means possible. She is lonely in her tomb. She longs to be released."
          The doctor sighed. D lowered his head and thought of Carla's beautiful dark green eyes and skin of golden brown. The image of the beaded choker necklace danced in his mind. His desires were growing. He was growing weary with bloodlust.

Chapter 2
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