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Acherontia Atropos (Part 3)

"You might feel like shit, but you're still lucky. Most people don't survive their first encounter with a vampire." Tamlin said, her face completely serious.

For a long, long moment, I just lay there in bed and stared at her, waiting for her to get to the punch line. She just sat there and stared at me, and I started to get the dark, sinking suspicion that there wasn't a punch line to this particular joke. Finally, I had to say something, or go insane from the silence that was surrounding me. Good ol’ mouth to the rescue. "You're kidding, right?"

All the emotion suddenly drained from her face, like someone had just flipped a switch. On, happy. Off, cold and dead. "You will find, Duo," she said, her voice devoid of inflection, "that I never joke about certain things. Vampires are one of them."

"Oh, come on, stop it. Vampires aren't real. They don't exist. You've been watching too many horror movies." I sounded a little desperate to my own ears. To be truthful, I was a lot more willing to believe in the possibility that vampires really existed than I wanted to admit. Really, I was a lot more ready to believe pretty much anything than I would have been last year. Hey, a lot of weird shit can get crammed into one little year.

"I will say this one more time, and you can choose to believe me or not. Vampires exist. They are real, just like you are." Just as suddenly as it had disappeared, the life returned to her face. "You should be a lot more willing to believe, considering that when I found you, one was sitting on your back."

Goose pimples mysteriously sprang into being all up and down my arms. That was not something I was really ready to think about. Still, I had to play it tough and attempt to salvage what little machismo I had left, even if it was pretty obvious to everyone that I was shook. That’s me, the heap big Gundam Pilot. Right. "Yeah, I was there, remember? I know there was something trying to make cracks in the asphalt with my head. I just don't know if I believe that it was a vampire."


She'd heard the hesitation in my voice. Great, just great. I let myself be manipulated into answering, though. "But it sure as hell wasn't human."

"Then why is it so hard to believe that it could be what I say it was?"

"Come on, man. Vampires are stuff out of old, corny B movies. You know, cheap plastic fangs and black capes and slicked back hairdos with overdone widow's peaks. That shit isn't real."

"No," she agreed, "it isn't."

That made me pause. "What?"

"Movies aren't real. They got a few details right, like the fact that vampires drink blood and are afraid of holy items, but the reality is very different." Her eyes held a burning intensity just like the one I saw every morning when I looked in the mirror. This woman had a purpose. "The only reason that you are still alive, Duo, is because the vampire didn't want to kill you."

"It was sure as hell doing a good impression of it."

"Not true. It wanted you to be unconscious. Dead blood poisons vampires. Living blood is what they feed on. You must have looked like easy prey, walking by yourself. You're lucky that I was in the area." Her fingers caressed the barrel of the shotgun lightly, possessively. "The only thing I don't understand is why it attacked you like that. It should have been able to simple roll you under with its eyes."


"Take over your mind. It should have been able to roll you so totally under that it could have peeled your skin off by inches and made you like it." She shook her head. "But it didn't, and it was being very careful about how hard it hit you, because it didn't want to kill."

"Maybe it just underestimated the hardness of my head." I grinned disarmingly at Tamlin. She seemed to be immune to it, but Heero snorted.

"Don't fool yourself. If it had wanted you dead, it could have ripped your throat out with no effort. They can bench press cars one handed. They are not human."

God help me, I don't know why I said what I did next. "Neither are you."

Tamlin stopped, mid-breath, and for a long, long moment, her face went dead again, and I was genuinely scared that she would shoot me. A gun that big wouldn't leave much behind. Instead, she suddenly just started laughing.

"What? What's so funny?"

As quickly as she had started, she stopped. "I think I underestimated you. Maybe that's why it couldn't roll you under."

And damnit, no matter how much I whined, she wouldn't say any more. Finally, I changed tactics. "So let's assume for one minute that you aren't jerking my chain, and that really was a vampire."

"How generous of you." She said, very dryly.

"I try, thanks. Anyway...assuming that, what do you want us to do about it?"

"What makes you think I want anything?"

"Somehow, I don't think you were sitting here, waiting for me to wake up out of simple concern for me, or because Heero's such a good conversationalist." I glanced at the silent guy in question. Not even a hint of emotion. Same old same old.

"That's true." She smiled. "Let's cut to the chase, then."

"Ah, my favorite part."

"I'm here because I was sent to find you. Before you ask, I can't tell you who. There is a kiss of vampires in this area." She held up a hand before I could say anything. "A kiss is what we call a group of vampires. They've been hunting at this school."

Well, that explained a lot, actually. "We who?"

Tamlin grinned wolfishly. "Vampire Hunters."

There was something really, really odd about the entire situation. Vampires? Naw, odd, but not that odd. Vampire Hunters? Kinda went with the territory of vampires. Vampires hunting kids at our school? That actually explained a lot, like where Ayako had gone. I had to suppress a major twinge at that thought. She probably wasn’t alive any more, then. No, it was something even more off kilter, and it took me a while to realize what it was. Heero had been sitting through the entire conversation silently. He hadn't snorted, or made a sarcastic comment, or said anything disparaging at all, even when the woman asserted that vampires were real. And there was also the fact that he'd let some woman that as far as I knew he didn't know into our room, and was letting her sit on his bed with a loaded weapon in her lap. Something was really not adding up here.



"Do you know this woman or something?" Heero's eyes flicked over to her for a brief second before he said.


"Really." Something told me that he wasn't telling the whole truth. But I didn't want to go through a long, drawn out question and answer session that probably wouldn't get me anything just then. I'd save that for later. So instead, I asked the more obvious question. "What do you think we should do?"

"I think we should listen to her." Gee, Heero, thanks. What a help.

Tamlin smiled. "Thank you, Heero."

Heero shot her another look, and it wasn't the usual glare. It was...fear? Maybe? From Heero? Naw, couldn’t be. But shit, I was getting a bit scared myself.

"Ok," I said, "I'll buy. So there are vampire hunters. I'm assuming that you spend all your time killing vampires."

"Depending on the Hunter, yes. Sometimes we'll kill other things, like shape shifters, or rogue witches."

This was starting to get too weird, even for me. "Fine, fine. So what do you want us to do about it?"

"All of you have a gift for killing," she said, her face going cold again. "I'm just here to warn you that you might have to broaden your horizons a bit. Monsters are everywhere, and most of them aren't necessarily human. I can't pick your targets for you, but I can give you the knowledge that you'll need to stay alive."

"What do you want in return?" I would have said that this was sounding too good to be true, but the fact that we were talking vampires and such was keeping it firmly away from my "good" list. I normally like it when people offer to teach me new things. This offer just wasn't hitting my G-spot, though, for some strange reason.

 "Nothing in return. I'm doing this as a favor for a friend." Once again, she was smiling. Flip the switch on. For some strange reason, I wasn’t reassured. "And I'm also doing it because I wouldn't want to send anyone out to face the monsters alone or unprepared."

"Fine then. Prepare us." This was starting to make me really, really tired.

Someone knocked on the door. It was Wufei, his arms loaded down with rolls of gauze and little orange bottles. After Heero let him in, he managed to sidle past the mess in the room to get to my bed, where he dumped the gauze.

"Ah, Wu-man, just the guy I was hoping to see." I grinned lop-sidedly at him. "Please tell me that those happy little medicine bottles have what I think they have in them."

"Yes." He nodded. "I'll let you have some after we get you bandaged. It would be too difficult for us to do it once you're unconscious."

"Great then, let's do it." I managed to sound a lot more enthusiastic than I felt. Call me crazy, but even if I know it’s going to make me ultimately feel better, I’m still not in to pain. Heero and Wufei had to help me sit up. It was a struggle that left me gasping for air around all the whimpering I had to choke down. My cheeks were suspiciously wet again, and when the two of them started bandaging me up, I decided to get Tamlin or anyone talking. I needed the distraction, anything to keep me from thinking about the fact that I felt like my head was going to split in two. "Ne, Wu-man...did you meet Tamlin?"

"We all did, when we reached you." Wufei started wrapping a long piece of bandaging around my head. "And she told you she's a vampire hunter?"

"Yes." He didn't seem phased one bit.

"Am I the only one here that thinks it sounds really screwy?"

Heero and Wufei shrugged at the same time. If I hadn't been in so much pain, I would have growled at them. As it was, I settled for a glare, which I transferred over to Tamlin. "Fine, looks like I've been outvoted. I'll believe you, too."

"Once again, how generous."

I wanted to do something really really immature, like flip her off. But I didn't. See? And some people say that I have no self control. "I know I am. Now what do you have to tell us?"

"Right now, I can give you the basics. Don't look a vampire in the eye. Carry a holy item, such as a cross, with you. Holy items will light up in the presence of a vampire, and burn them if they touch. It won't work unless you believe in what the holy item represents, however."

Huh. Go figure. I guess I did believe in God after all.

"Vampires can only come out during the night, but some of the old ones can actually wake in the daylight hours; they just can't let the light of the sun touch them. Normal bullets won't injure vampires, and neither will normal knives. You either have to use straight silver or a metal alloy with a high silver content." She paused, I think for effect. "The best way of killing a vampire is putting a stake through its heart and cutting off its head. The most foolproof, however, is cremation."

The general principle was sound, I’ll admit, but the thought made me a little sick to my stomach. Shooting people, I could handle. Cutting mobile suits in half with a thermal scythe, I could handle. Hell, watching Heero set his own broken leg again, I could handle, as long as I got warned ahead of time and I was allowed to go sit in a corner and have the heebie-jeebies for a while. But when it comes to chopping off actual heads, though, I had a feeling it could get a little grosser than I was really used to. "How did you kill the one that was on me?"

"I blew off its head and took out its chest with the shotgun." She grinned. "That works pretty well, too."

"I can imagine." Wait. Even after being shot twice with a shotgun, there'd still be some of the body left, though not a lot. More than a sandwich baggy full, that’s for sure. "What did you do with the body?"

Wufei was the one that answered me. "Trowa and Quatre are taking care of it."

Ok, one less thing for me to worry about, then. I felt a little hint of guilt that Trowa and Quatre were the ones having to clean up after a mess that was kind of sort of maybe partially my fault...but then again, considering that I'd been wearing part of said mess splattered all over me, maybe I couldn't dredge up that much sympathy after all. I sighed softly, suddenly feeling very, very tired and about a thousand years old. "Is that everything?"

"All of the really important information that I have. Whatever you do, if you go up against these monsters again, is remember that they are stronger, faster, and much, much older than you, and if they are master, they might have all sorts of interesting abilities that no one knows about. With caution, you might live to see another fight. Overconfidence will get you killed out right." She stood. "I don't have much time left here. If there are other Vampire Hunters in the area, they will most likely find you. We weren't a well organized group when I was active, but we still helped each other out for the most part."



“Is there any GOOD news that you have for us?”

She actually laughed. It reminded me of one of Heero’s more psychotic moments. Somehow, that didn’t surprise me. “You’re still alive, aren’t you?”

Heero jarred my arm, and my shoulder let out a loud, nerve-tingling screech of protest. “Unfortunately, yes.”

“There you are, then.”

I couldn’t let it go. “Tamlin?”

"Yes?" She looked at me curiously, as if she’d never had anyone ask her two whole questions in a row before.

"Why wasn't the vampire able to catch me with its eyes?" The answer to that question seemed to be terribly important all of a sudden.

She smiled at me. "If you want my personal theory, I think it's because you have an affinity for the dead. It could be more than that, but I am almost certain that you have that affinity."

"How do you know that?"

"You could tell there was something wrong with me, couldn't you?" Tamlin winked at me, and then disappeared. I shit not. She just vanished, no light show or over-dramatic sound effects. One minute there, the next minute gone.

For a long, long time, I sat there. The end of the bandage that Wufei had been wrapping around my head slipped from his suddenly still fingers and hung annoyingly over my right eye. We stared at each other, as Heero kept wrapping another bandage around my arm, completely unfazed.

"Wufei?" My voice sounded very, very lost, like a little kid that just found out that Santa Claus doesn't exist. "Please tell me I didn't just see that."

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