[10]

Quickly I tried to gather my will for another spell but before I knew what was happening Larson had closed the gap between is and was standing directly in front of me, one hand wrapped tightly around my throat. His eyes had turned completely black. Looking into them was like staring down into a deep well, the darkness seemingly never ending.
"I am going to enjoy this." He snarled, leaning in even closer to me.
"Sorry arsehole," I croaked, fighting to squeeze the words out from his tightening grasp. "But I don't kiss on a first date."
His head reeled back slightly, is if I had just slapped him around the face. It quickly passed as a growl of pure hatred bubbled from his throat and he roared "Die!"
His grip around my neck constricted briefly and I thought my head was about to pop. But instead of pressing harder, Larson took a hold of my leather jacket's collar with his other hand, took a step back planting his feet and in one swift motion spun around, taking me along for the ride and he threw me. I sailed through the air for what seemed like hours, colliding heavily with items high up on one of the shelving stacks and continued going, hitting the stack behind it. Pain exploded through my back upon impact and spread out to the rest of my body. The force of the impact caused the metal frame of the unit to squeal in protest but it didn't quite tip over. Instead I fell to the concrete floor, in between the two shelving stacks and landed with a thud. My head hit the ground and stars flooded my vision for a second or two. Somewhere in the background my senses registered a female voice screaming out my name. There were other noises, but it all sounded too distant, too faint for my brain to process, at least until it had stopped rattling around inside my head. Another primal howl pierced through the haze, clearing the way for the sound of screeching metal. I looked up in time to see the shelving unit that I had passed through only a moment before, begin to topple over. Instinct took over and I rolled myself toward the falling metal frame, passing underneath the lowest shelf and clear from any plummeting debris. My brain had started rebooting, taking stock of my current standings highlighting that at some point between being used as a human wrecking ball and rolling around on the floor I had dropped both of my eskrimas. All that left me with was the two defensive rings on my left hand and the red sports bottle Reggie had given me. The red bottle was for last resorts only, when there were no other moves to make. But I wasn't out for the count yet. I was still breathing and I was still standing...just. I had to keep fighting. Not only to defeat Larson and retrieve the charm, but I had to save my friend, I had to save Louise. She had been dragged into this because of me, because I asked her to overcome her fears and help me track these monsters down. She had trusted me enough to step outside the safety of everything she had known and now she was being held and used as a bargaining chip against me. I wasn't going to let her down. I wasn't going let her be harmed by these bastards.
By pure stubborn determination I started to climb back up to my feet. My instincts screamed at me again. Quickly I ran power through the defensive rings and brought up a magical barrier in the shape of an invisible dome. Not even half a second later, out of the corner of my eye I saw Larson come flying at me. I raised my shield and he collided with it, circles of white light rippling through the dome from the impact. Instead of trying to directly block his attack, I rolled back using his own momentum to carry him over and deflected the attack. He let out a surprised cry and Larson went crashing into the pile of twisted metal that I had nearly been crushed by. I took a quick second to get back to my feet and re-orientated myself. I saw one of my eskrimas laying on the floor only a couple of feet away and went straight for it. I could hear Larson was already starting to recover as he let out another howl of rage, beginning to move the debris away from him. I retrieved my eskrima from the floor in time to see Larson rise up from his crash site. Without wasting time I levelled the rod and cried "Beleg Sul!"
A torrent of wind rose from the end of my rod, blowing up dust and metal and wood. As I have said before, Vampires from the Red Court are the nastiest flavour of Vampire out of all the Courts. My spell wouldn't do much against Larson other than knock him about and he would recover from the blow very fast. This was why I didn't aim my spell at him. Instead I reached out with my will to collect up everything else around him. Bits of broken metal and splintered wood flew up towards my quarry. He simply batted them away with contemptuous effort and slowly started to walk towards me. I began to pour more of my will into the spell, focusing on the air around us to come to my aid. The wind picked up and more and more bits of debris and ruined metalwork started to come lose. Larson's pace faltered as the pressure of my attack grew and larger items soared at him. He snarled with rage once again, attempting to fight his way towards me. I poured more and more energy into my spell, giving it everything I had left. The strain of keeping the spell going was getting to me. A pressure was building in my head, my knees where shaking and I had to use both my hands on the rod to keep it steady, but even that was becoming too difficult. Larson was starting to accumulate speed despite the virtual tornado being thrown at him. Still I kept pouring my will into the spell but the strain was becoming too much and I dropped down to one knee. A menacing smile crept its way across Larson's lips. He knew I couldn't keep this going for much longer. Damnit! I knew one day that someone was going to have my number; that I was going to bite it in battle. I had come too damn far to fail now, but there wasn't much left to give, I couldn't keep this spell going, I couldn't get myself out of this mess.
I couldn't help Lou.
Out of the corner of my eye I could see Daniel the aid off to one side, Louise still held firmly in his grasp. I could see the worry in her face, the desperation to free herself from her captor and help me. Our eyes met briefly and something in her expression changed. She gave me a slight nod and a small smile. She was willing me to keep on fighting, to not give up. She still had faith in me. She trusted that I would get us out of this and that everything would be ok. She still had hope.
And that was all I needed.
I fought to return to my feet, my will still unleashing a gale. Larson stopped for a heartbeat, surprised by my sudden comeback. I locked my sights firmly on my adversary, gritted my teeth and with a roar of defiance I took that hope and Louise's faith in me and threw it right down his throat. The gale increased immeasurably. Crates lifted off the ground, parts from the metal shelving ripped themselves free and it all went straight for Larson. He managed to side step a couple of small wooden boxes but it wasn't at his usual speed. He was still fighting back against the gale and he was only just able to get out of their way. A corner of the shelving unit came at him and clipped him on his left shoulder. He growled in pain as the impact caused him to lose his footing, spinning him around. He spun back to face me just in time for a medium sized metal crate to collide with the right side of his face. The force of the blow was enough to take him clean off his feet and send him spiralling away with the rest of the debris caught up in the torrent of air. He cried out in agony as he was continually struck by the flotsam whirling around with him until he crashed into the back wall. I held on for a heartbeat longer, making every second and every impact count, and then released the spell. The wind died down, dropping all the bits of wreckage from the air with varying degrees of impact. I fell to my knees, breathing heavily, fighting back the exhaustion trying to spread all over me. I wanted to fall asleep for a week and not get up for a week after that. As the last fragments of ruined metal work and crates hit what was left of the shelving units, silence began to spread across the interior of the building. The only sounds were my laboured breathing and Daniel the aid shuffling nervously on the spot, still holding onto Louise. I looked over to him and he froze in place, seemingly held there by my ice cold glare. Using my eskrima as leverage, I heaved myself back up to my feet. As luck would have it, my other eskrima was only a couple of inches to my left. I reclaimed it and slowly began to walk over to Daniel. Although he fought to keep his cool in front of me, his eyes where singing a completely different song. He was unsure of himself, of what to do next without being given orders. He wasn't a leader. That was Larson's role. To him Larson was the pack leader; no one could challenge him and expect to live to see another nightfall. He hung on Larson's reputation of slaying dozens of Wizards. To him, Larson was unbeatable.
And he had just witnessed me toss his boss half way across a warehouse and bury him under a pile of rubble. And I was still standing...well, sort of.
Truth was I didn't have much left in the tank. If Daniel decided to come after me, there wasn't much I could do to stop him. But it doesn't pay to let them see you sweat. You show a predator weakness and they will tear your throat out.
So I stared at him hard, letting him know that he was the sole attention of my focus. My steps echoed from the ground up and throughout the structure. Each step deliberate, each step with a purpose. Predator had become prey as I slowly stalked towards Daniel the aid and his captive.
He feared me.
Suddenly there was a shriek of metal against metal as something in the wreckage began to move. We all turned to look as large sections of scrap heaved up and fell away to reveal Larson, or rather what was left of his flesh mask, rising up. The right side of his face, where the crate and hit him, had been torn away to show a glimpse of the monster beneath the surface. His expensive suit had been left in tatters as a result of being assaulted by flying debris. Huge sections of flesh had been ripped clean off without a single smear of blood, just the black leathery skin of his true nature showing through. He let out a howl of rage and cast his inhuman gaze upon me.
"Oh come on!" I sighed as I once again focused on Larson.
Within a heartbeat, there was a blur of motion and the Vampire had what was left of his hands wrapped around my throat and squeezed, lifting me up off the floor. He looked down at me with a wrathful glee in his black eyes. Stars began to swim across my vision and it was getting harder and harder to get any air in my lungs.
"That's it," he snarled. "Die!"
My chest was on fire, desperately in need of the oxygen it was being deprived of. My vision was starting to blur and it was becoming nearly impossible to keep struggling. I could feel a darkness coming over me and everything began to fade as I sagged down to the floor.
This is it, I thought to myself.
But then a flash of something gold cut through the haze and my vision sharpened onto a single item swinging free in front of my face; the Icarus Charm. It was still hanging around his neck. Feebly I reached up to try and grab it but my strength was fading quickly.
"Die," Larson screamed. "Die like the insect you are!"
In a last ditch effort, I dug down deep with everything I had left and croaked, "Buzz...Buzz."
I grabbed a hold of the Charm, planted both my feet on his stomach and with all the strength I could muster in my legs, kicked him away. As the chain broke, so too did the charms enchantment and Larson cried out in pain, falling to the floor as the built up energy of the charm was released. As he fell back, he lost his grip on my throat; the sudden intake of air was near euphoric, my lungs couldn't get enough of the stuff. I retrieved one of my eskrimas from the ground beside me and scrambled to my feet as quickly as I could. The remaining power began to fade away and Larson's cries had died down to merely growling menacingly. He managed to get himself to his knees and once again locked eyes with me.
"I'm going to kill you," he spat. "I'm going watch yo..."
I didn't want to hear what else he had to say. I jammed the end of my eskrima into his mouth, poured every last scrap of will I could pull together into the weapon and snarled "Runya!"
Fire lashed out from the end of my rod and his head exploded into fleshly, rubbery chunks. The rest of his body fell limply to the ground, his legs twitched a couple of times before becoming deathly still. Silence ruled the moment. I stood triumphant over my adversary, the instrument of my will, my eskrima, that had delivered the killing stroke held tightly and firmly in my grasp.
The day was mine. I had won.
I heard the scuffing of feet off to my left and saw Daniel the aid looking on in disbelief. His grip on Louise was loosening as doubt clouded his every evaluation of the situation. I could see in his face that he didn't know what to do next. I had just killed his indomitable leader. I'd seen Daniel's type before, the loyal second in command. Only knowing existence from one order to the next.
"Daniel," I said as I slowly moved towards him. "You're going to want to let go of my friend now."
His nervous gaze looked from me to the motionless, headless corpse that had been his boss and then back to me again. He looked at Louise and then nearly jumped out of his skin letting her go. She stumbled a little as Daniel released her, but she quickly found her footing and then ran over to me. She took up a place to my left, gave me a brief nod indicating that she was ok and touched my shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze of reassurance. We both turned our attention back to the last Vampire standing and he visibly flinched under the weight of our collective glare.
"This is what's going to happen now." I said, keeping my voice steady and as devoid of emotion as could manage. "I am going to let you live. When night falls, you are going to run back to your Red King and you are going to tell him that this city is under my protection. You are going to tell him if any Vampire dares to tread within its limits, they are dead. If they even so much as look at this city on a map in the wrong way, they are dead."
Daniel reacted as if the cold harshness of my tone were physical blows to his head. Each word driving him back one step at a time until he could go no further, his back pressed hard against the buildings wall. "London is off limits as of this moment. Now go, crawl away and don't let me lay eyes on you ever again."
And with that, I turned my back on him and walked away, Louise falling into step behind me. We left the warehouse, slamming the door behind us and leaving Daniel the aid with nothing to do but think about what had transpired and the message I had left him to deliver.
This is my home. All supernatural predators beware, you mess around in this city and you'll have to deal with me.
Who am I?
I'm Gabriel Crane.

[Epilogue]

We headed over to the car where I'd hidden my backpack when the exhaustion hit me like a truck. My legs became rubbery, suddenly unable to take my weight and I toppled over. However Louise was there to catch me. She supported me until I could get my legs back to their natural state and consistency. After a moment, I got my appendages back under control and was able to stand on my own. I looked up to see Louise staring at me, her expression soft yet serious. Like something important was on her mind but it was something that made her feel at ease. Neither of us said anything for a full minute. The world around us continued with its busy and frenzied life, but not for the two of us.
"So," I coughed, breaking the silence. "Is this the part where the gallant hero gets the girl?"
She levelled me with a steady glare, smiled and the punched me playfully on my left arm. I winced, the aches and pains of the fight starting to play up for my attention.
"You just had to ruin the moment, didn't you?" she said but she was still smiling.
"Was just making sure that you weren't going to go all soft on me," I told her. "Besides, I did just rescue you from a gang of supernatural monsters. That tends to make some people deeply appreciative of their rescuer."
She laughed quietly, bowing her head to look nervously at her feet, but her expression changed to something more placid and said "In all seriousness, thank you."
Louise looked back up to me and spoke softly "After I was taken, after I saw what those..." she paused. She was replaying the events in her mind, trying to find a way to dispassionately categorise what she had seen. "Those things really looked like, I mean I know you told me about them and I thought I was prepared. But actually seeing it, right in front of me? I was frightened. I was scared out of my mind, but then you came." She placed her left hand softly on my cheek. It was a warm and reassuring gesture. "And all that fear went away. I knew you would stop them and that you wouldn't give up until I was safe." She paused once again, taking in a deep breath before continuing. "I know I told you in the past that there was no place for me in your world, that I didn't belong there. But after seeing the things you can do and truly knowing what is out there, I understand now that I was wrong. I was a fool to try and ignore it and pretend that it didn't affect me. To ignore what you had to face on a daily basis."
"What are you trying to say?" I asked gently.
"What I'm trying to say," she answered. "Is that there won't ever be a place for me in your world if I don't try to make one."
For once I was lost for words. But right now words were immaterial to what I wanted to do. I leaned forward a little, lowering my mouth towards hers. Her breathing quickened and our lips were barely a hairs width apart.
"You're going to have to shelve those thoughts till later kid." A rough voice spoke up from behind us, completely pulling Louise and me away from the moment. We looked around to find Ebenezar McCoy standing there with an expectant, yet impressed expression fixed on his features. "We've got more pressing matters that need to be dealt with."
"Ebenezar?" I responded in surprise, a hint of annoyance flavouring my words. I mean, come on. Could he have chosen a worse time to appear out of nowhere? "The Vampires here have been dealt with. I have regained possession of the Icarus Charm," I said, holding up the small pendent to show him. "Good guys win again."
"Yes I know." He said.
"You know?"
"Yeah, saw the whole thing. Not bad kid."
"Wait, so let me get this straight," I said, frustration and disbelief welling up inside me. "You saw the whole fight, saw me getting tossed around, nearly killed and didn't think to lend me a hand?"
"I knew you could handle the situation," he answered. "But the others needed to be sure."
"What others? What the hell is going on here?"
Ebenezar shot me a level look and then suddenly nearly a dozen figures appeared out of nowhere from behind a vale. Louise tensed up beside me, startled by the new arrivals. Hell I didn't even know they were they either. There was no mild build up of energies or subtle stirring of magic. Magic like that was so far beyond my abilities that I couldn't even begin to describe how it was done.
I studied them, quickly taking in the details. Ten figures, all dressed in grey robes and cloaks, their hoods pulled up over their heads, most of their faces hidden beneath its shadow and each of them holding a Wizard's staff. I looked back to Ebenezar and for the first time realised that he too wore a grey robe and had a grey cloak draped over his shoulders.
"Here kid." Ebenezar said, stepping forward and underarm tossed something to me.
I caught and unravelled it. Another grey cloak.
"I already have a Warden's cloak sir." I responded confused.
"This isn't for the Wardens Gabe." he said. His expression was set in stone cold certainty. "This is for something far more important."
One of the hooded figures to Ebenezer's right stepped forward and put a hand on his shoulder.
"It is time." Said a deep masculine voice, he had a sense of urgency to his tone. I couldn't see much of the man's face because of the hood, but what I could make out was that he had a lightly shaded beard, possibly white, a strong jaw line and what looked like a strap of some kind running down and round his cheek. An eye patch maybe? Ebenezar looked at the figure and nodded his head in response. He turned back to me and said "Say your goodbyes Gabe, we need to go. Now put that cloak on and get over here."
I think somewhere my brain must have shorted out and went back to its default settings. I had no idea what was going on, but Ebenezar gave me an order and I went along with it, falling back into the role of the good soldier. I put the grey cloak on and turned to face Louise who was still standing behind me. I could see in her eyes that she was trying furiously to make sense of the situation and coming up empty handed.
"Gabe what the hell in going on?" she asked. Her eyes searching mine for an answer.
"I have no idea," I answered honestly. "But my gut is telling me this is something serious and that I need to go with them." I reach out and held Louise's hands in mine.
"I am coming back." I said, reassuring her. "And when I do, you and I are going to finish that conversation."
She looked up at me and I smiled back at her. It took her a moment but she returned the smile and gave me quick and confirming nod.
"You better get your arse back to me." Louise said and then she kissed me on the cheek. It felt warm and natural and more importantly it felt right. I gave her hands a gentle squeeze before letting go and joining the others.
"Alright, everyone form up." Ebenezar called, pulling the hood up other his head. I followed suit and settled into place beside his right hand man. The hooded figure turned to look at me and I could clearly see now his white beard and the lower part of an eye patch. He smiled at me and put his hand on my shoulder. There was a sudden jolt, like a static shock, that ran the length of my body and in an instant the fatigue and weariness that had been threatening my joints with collapse was gone. The aches and pains where still there, but they were a distant feeling, like the battle had happened weeks ago and I was fighting fit once more. My breathing quickened for a moment, purely from surprise, and I fought to get it back under control, doubling over and resting my hands on my knees.
"He good to go?" I heard Ebenezar call over his shoulder.
"Almost," came the reply from the bearded second. He held out his arm, his hand open with the palm facing up and uttered something under his breath. A flash of green light streaked from the tip of his staff and blossomed into a bright swirling orb that hovered above his outstretched palm. The light began to shift and the sphere started to warp, changing size and shape until it stretched out and solidified into a long staff of white wood. Runes blazed into existence along the length of the shaft, etching their power into the stave. Casting a one eyed gaze over his handy work, McCoy's second tossed the newly forged staff to me. I checked its weight and balance; it was a work of art and I couldn't help but smile as I nodded my readiness to Ebenezar.
"Good," the old Wizard nodded back in reply. "Now let's get this show on the road."
The bearded figure held up his staff and a ball of green lightning crackled from its end. There was a blinding flash of light, all my senses were over loaded, and I couldn't hear, see or smell anything. A gentle current started flowing through me, like my whole body was vibrating. It lasted for all of a second, but it felt like hours. When my wits returned to me I found myself, along with the group, standing in an open plain. The moon was high and oppressive in the night sky, a dramatic back drop for what looked like a giant Mayan temple.
Then it suddenly dawned on me...we were surrounded by hundreds, if not thousands of Red Court Vampires. Ebenezar raised his staff up high and bellowed, "Remember Archangel!"
McCoy uttered a spell under his breath and a whole section of the temple just exploded. Fragments the size of cars rained down upon those unlucky enough to have been beneath it. Inhuman screams filled the air, the cries of agony were almost deafening.
Holy crap.
The sudden and violent act of destruction brought everyone to a standstill, like someone had hit the pause button, and then all eyes were on us.
This job, this life has taken me to some strange places, but I had most definitely left the frying pan and I was now neck deep in the fire. This was what it had all been leading up to. All the skirmishes, all my missions, this was the culmination of a war ten years long. I always said that if I lived to see this day, I would go down swinging.
"Batter up you bastards." I said to myself.
Someone screamed.
The Vampires charged us.
This was going to be one hell of a fight.

[End]

*Author's note*
I hope people enjoyed reading this. I have already started working Gabriel Crane's next adventure 'War of the Fallen' which I'm hoping will be a lot longer. Please let me know what you think, good or bad, as it is all part of the learning process. Thanks for reading.

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