Gone by Sunrise
With a mighty tumble, two men drenched in shadows fell through the lofty door of an ancient and gothic abode; a decrepit castle, standing atop a hill alone in vast expanses of untouched highlands, coated with snow and filled with a history of bloodshed. Inside, as these two men fell through the ill-lit and grungy corridors of the once-great stronghold, one promptly disappeared into a spontaneous cloud of smoke, and a hearty chuckle filled the air.
“You can’t run forever, Viktor! The spirits of my fathers before me as my witness, I shall have my vengeance!” shouted the man on the floor. He was marked by countless scrapes, scars, and slashes, persevering through the pain like a man possessed. A huntsman by trade, well acquainted with his prey; wooden stakes, crosses, garlic, and small flasks of holy water adorned his person.
A sudden flash filled the room as a man materialized from the smoke; tall, pale, slender, and devilish. “As if you could possibly succeed where they failed all those years ago,” he sneered. He levitated inhumanly, two feet off the ground, and accelerated towards the huntsman.
The huntsman stepped back on his left foot, but something was amiss. He lost balance, stepping onto an uneven stone, and toppled backwards into the darkened stairway. He crashed, slammed, and cracked against the cobbled steps, as stakes snapped, flasks shattered, and cloves crushed under his weight. He floundered to the base of the stairs with a prolonged groan of pain and opened his eyes slowly to the long-neglected hall entrance. Centuries ago, the ornate scene would have struck awe into all its viewers — shimmering portraits of painted glass, lavish tapestries depicting countless brave conquests and victories, faces of ancestral heroes carved into monolithic pillars, long tables fit for the heartiest of feasts, and at the end the ornate throne of the once-great lord.
Today, it sat decayed and alone, impressing none but the ghosts of yesteryear.
The huntsman gathered his senses, standing up. With a jolt of pain and an accompanying yelp, he found his leg had been broken, and he collapsed into a banquet table. To his left, he saw Viktor stagger up to his feet, droplets of blood staining his gothic attire. “You… you cow-footed blunderbuss! Do you have any idea how hard it is to clean this suit? I shall take your head for this insolence!” Viktor limped towards him, fangs gleaming in the torchlight, dragging himself ever-closer to his target. The huntsman tried to scurry away, but his bum leg weighed him down. Viktor continued his approach. The huntsman reached frantically across his body, hoping to find something, anything he could use, but could find nothing intact as Viktor inched ever-nearer. Droplets of blood stippled the carpet behind the vampire as he dragged his feet, savoring every step, soaking in the huntsman’s terror. And as the reality of death crept into the huntsman’s mind, a small glimmer of inspiration flashed. and he reached for an antique chair sitting just ahead of him. Viktor hissed with ghastly bloodlust, and as he reached down to grab the huntsman’s neck — CRACK — the chair shattered over him, staggering his motion with percussive force. From the remnants of the wooden antique, the huntsman grabbed a splintered shaft, and, with adrenaline coursing through his veins, propelled himself up towards the dazed vampire. With a mighty SHUNK, the makeshift wooden stake punctured Viktor’s chest.
The vampire, eyes wide, screeched with inhuman resonance. Blood oozed through his shirt, and life slowly drained from his already pale face. Tapping into the last reserves of his energy, Viktor transformed into a bat, flapping his wings wildly as he tried to flee. His erratic flightpath converged with a stained glass window, shattering where a brave king once stood. The huntsman slumped onto a banquet table, catching his breath. Still shaken, he knew what he had to do; he tightened the grip on his makeshift stake, and through the pain of his leg he hobbled to the exit left by the shattered window. Finally, vengeance would be his.
Outside, Snow fell lightly, coating the hills and mountains surrounding the castle. Footsteps and flecks of blood led up the hill starting a few feet away. Steadfastly, the huntsman trod onward, trudging through the snow and wincing as he tried his hardest to ignore the leg slowing him down. In the distance, he began to make out a vague silhouette; with a steady approach, he saw it was Viktor, collapsed against a fallen log. He reared his head slowly, and with a wavering voice said:
“You’re back… I see. Join me for a while… I don’t, well, won’t bite.” He chuckled, then coughed, and made room for the huntsman to join him.
Surely, the vampire was laying a trap. Viktor was sure to sink his fangs into his neck. But, against all his better judgment, his lifetime of training, and his bitter intuition, some small part of him decided to join him. The huntsman limped over, and slowly sat himself down.
After a moment of uneasy silence, the vampire began to speak. “You look like your father’s son. He was… a good man. I confess I never saw that at the time. He came close to killing me a few times, but I suppose you took the cake there.” Viktor let out a dry chortle. “He would be proud.”
The huntsman, with heavy steps, brought his stake to the vampire’s neck. “Don’t talk about him that way. Not after all you’ve done.” His eyes drew narrower, ready to strike.
“…I apologize. I haven’t earned that, have I.”
The huntsman was unprepared for such concession. Not from such a self-serving abomination. He loosened his grip on the stake a hair.
“I regret a lot of it, in hindsight. The bloodshed, the killing, you know. Generations passed me by, and I left my mark on each one as they went. It all felt like necessity then… the blood keeping me alive and all. I thought it would last forever…” He felt around the wound in his chest, wincing in pain. “When you’re confronted with the rest of eternity, you never seem to think about how it will end. I suppose that was my first mistake, no?”
The huntsman nodded slowly, unsure of what exactly was going to happen next. The duo sat in the snowfall for a while, admiring the moonlit range around them. Viktor quietly broke the serenity of silence, asking “so, what’s next for the great vampire hunter, eh?” The huntsman pondered it for a moment, then a moment more. No response seemed to form.
“Man of few words, I see. Well, at least tell me your name.”
The two paused, before Viktor broke out in laughter, clutching his side. Hunter almost smirked. On the horizon, sunlight began to illuminate the eastern crest of the mountain range, rays slowly seeping through the jagged valleys. Viktor’s laughter slowed to a halt.
“Well, Hunter, there it is. The end of the road, so to speak,” he said, somberly. “My time is over, as it should have been long ago. You should leave now, too. I’m sure there will be plenty of vampires out there for you to slay,” and he chuckled one last time. Hunter began to slowly chuckle too, hearing sounds of laughter he had long forgotten.
Finally, Hunter knew. “When this is all over, I’m going to-”
But as he turned his head to face his companion, he was gone.