Van Helsing was less than pleased with his new assignment. He was a solitary hunter; partners just complicated things. But Canmore was the Order's authority on Gargoyles, and the Council of Faiths insisted that the two take the assignment together. It was overkill really, and Canmore made for a poor traveling companion. The man was terse and cold and there was something about him that put Van Helsing ill at ease.
The night was warm at least, and the wind was in their favor. Southern Italy was known for its light climate and beautiful countryside. The rugged hills ahead of them stood out against the sky in the dusky hours. Their horses seemed content to take a leisurely pace. Canmore was not.
"Hurry it up," the Scotsman said; making his impatience known, "We're 'cuttin it close 'tae sunset."
Van Helsing bit back a response. Any fool with eyes could see that the light was fading. But there was only so much a horse could take, even a Transylvanian stallion, and he wanted the animal well rested in case they had to make a hasty retreat.
Canmore made it clear from the beginning that he was about as happy with the partnership as Van Helsing himself. Neither of them had the patience for social niceties. Still, there was something beyond the general resentment of having been saddled with a partner that made him wary of the Scottish hunter. He had no reason to mistrust him; he Canmore family was an ancient house that could trace their lineage back to kings, a line that stood against evil in alliance with the Order for centuries in Scotland, Ireland, and Great Britain.
Eliminating Gargoyles was the house's area of expertise. They were almost solely responsible for the creatures' near extinction. Van Helsing gathered that the Canmore line had some kind of vendetta, something do with an old grudge and a king losing a throne, but he never bothered to ask about it. He had the feeling Canmore wouldn't answer.
The Scotsman did have good reason to want to hurry. Gargoyles turned to stone during the day, giving the two Knights a huge advantage over the beasts. With any luck, they could sneak into the cave, and destroy the creatures before they awoke at sunset. Van Helsing had hunted gargoyles once or twice before, but always found their lairs before they awoke. He had, however followed the trails they left behind when they came to life, and seen the results of their handiwork.
The two approached the hills and dismounted. Van Helsing bent down and scanned the ground for tracks.
"You 'won find any until ye get closer to the beasts' lair," said Canmore. "They're smart enough not 'tae land where their trail can be spotted so easily."
"Oh really?" Van Helsing knelt down, spotting the imprint of a small, three-toed foot in the mud. "Then I suppose this won't do us any good." Canmore knelt down beside him and studied the print.
"Familiarity breeds contempt. We must be closer than I thought."
"The print is small," Van Helsing said, measuring it against his index finger. "Maybe from a hatchling who wandered from the clan?" The Scotsman grunted in reply. "At any rate, it's pointing toward those hills."
The two removed their weapons from the saddlebags. They would have more mobility on foot and sitting on their horses made them easy targets for an aerial attack. Once armed, they made for the hills.
The face of one the tallest hill was steep and too rocky to climb on foot; the perfect place for aerial creatures to make their lair. Without a word, the two removed their grappling guns and shot the streamlined anchors high into the hillside above. Van Helsing removed a set of karabiners from within his jacket and clipped the rope to his belt before handing a spare set to Canmore who grunted his thanks and began the climb. Van Helsing hastily followed suit, passing him. If the Scotsman were to slip, he'd rather something else break his fall.
Van Helsing spotted a shadowy area a few yards to the right with a bit of a ledge underneath. Catching Canmore's eye he gestured towards the spot. Canmore nodded and pulled himself on to the ledge. The two unclipped themselves and carefully edged their way towards the shadows. Sure enough, almost completely hidden from sight, was the mouth of a cave. The two hunters drew their maces, and in unison pressed a button on their hilts that triggered an array of spikes which sprung out with a metallic swish. Canmore raised an eyebrow, but Van Helsing just shrugged, taking Carl's bazaar contraption for granted. The first rays of the sun slipped below the horizon as the two entered the cave.
It was dark; the setting sun cast little light through the entrance. Van Helsing removed a thin glass tube from his pocket. A small switch on its side forced a pick through a thin membrane, allowing the two chemicals it separated to mix. The reaction caused the tube to glow, casting an unearthly green light about the cave. Lighting another, he handed it to Canmore.
The light revealed the cave's occupants: five mature gargoyles, all frozen in fearsome battle poses and looking for the world like a group of grotesque but inanimate statues. There were chips of stone on the floor and the thought crossed Van Helsing that this might be a hoax or some macabre sculptors workshop. He could usually sense both the presence and nature of a being. He could feel Canmore's presence—the standard human mix of good and evil that his Asian mentors referred to as Yin and Yang. Of the five stone creatures, he sensed nothing.
From the inside of his shirt, the Scotsman removed a square of black cloth. He unfolded it reverently and Van Helsing realized that it was a mask.
"An old tradition," Canmore explained before slipping it over his face. Sewn across the front of the mask were three red stripes that resembling claw marks. Van Helsing paid no notice. Most monster hunters were eccentric at best. The rest were absolutely mad. Few sane men entered their line of work. The few who did never stayed that way for long.
Canmore lifted his mace and struck the first stature with a blow that shattered its face. A second took care of the rest of its head and the pieces of it scattered across the cavern floor. Van Helsing raised his weapon, ready to destroy the nearest creature, but something further back caught his eye. It was a gargoyle child, a female. She must have made the footprints they found in the fields earlier. Like the others, she was frozen in a battle stance, but she looked so silly that the affect was lost. In truth, the pose was rather playful, as if the creature-child was playing at imitating her elders.
"Are ye going to help or am I 'tae do this job myself?" Canmore called. Glancing up, Van Helsing realized that all but one of the five adults were already destroyed. Van Helsing hesitated. There was something innocent about the child.
Distracted, Van Helsing did not notice the last traces of sunlight vanish. With a tremendous roar, the two creatures burst from within their stone shells, raining a shower of rock and dust on Canmore. In that heartbeat of a moment, Van Helsing's "hunter's sense" revealed their terrible mistake.
"Canmore, they're not evil!" he shouted, but it was too late. In the brief second it took Van Helsing to register their error, Canmore drew his knife. As Van Hesling shouted for him to stop, he rammed it into the heart of the startled creature. The Gargoyle was too shocked to cry out. He could only stare in disbelief at the knife embedded in his chest. His fingers brushed the red blood that ran from it. Staggering back, he reached forward towards the far corner where the creature-child stared in horror.
"NO!" she cried out, rushing past Van Helsing to the dying Gargoyle's side. Canmore reached out to grab her, but Van Helsing stepped forward and grasped the rogue hunter by the collar of his jacket, slammed him into the cavern wall.
"What have you done?" he shouted, shaking with rage.
Canmore glared at him, struggling angrily. He grasped Van Helsing's neck, choking him. Van Helsing jammed his elbow into the other hunter's throat, collapsing his windpipe. He pulled Canmore forward and slammed him back into the cave wall, knocking him unconscious. The Scotsman's clenched hand released and Van Helsing gasped for air. Behind him he heard soft weeping. He turned to see the little Gargoyle girl next to the dead one, her head pressed against his motionless shoulder. Van Helsing knelt down beside her, wanting to offer her comfort but not knowing how.
Guilt overwhelmed him. How many innocent creatures had he crept up upon and destroyed while they slept. And the child—the knowledge that he nearly destroyed her as well was almost unbearable. Hesitating, he placed his hand on her quivering shoulder. To his surprise, she turned and leaned against him. He wrapped his arms around her, holding her frail body to his chest.
"Hush little one," he whispered. "It's alright. No one will harm you."
Van Helsing stood, holding her in his arms, and turned slowly. He carried her out of the cave. What else was there for him to do? The child had nothing else in the world; he couldn't leave her alone now. He would protect her, care for her, and guard her from monsters like himself.
Disclaimer: I don't own Van Helsing, or Gargoyles. I borrowed a race and a vendetta from Buena Vista, but nothing more.
A/N: Yes, Carl invented the glow-stick. Sadly, he still has to wait another hundred years before the first rave.
Ok, so if this chapter seems a bit different to you, I uploaded another draft. I think that makes it my fourth, but such is my anal retentive streak. I reread the last upload and it seemed almost as bad as the original. So my dear reader, because I respect and cherish you, I will give you nothing but the best and purge this story of suckyness with my dying breath.