Evil – we have categorized it, documented it; given it names like psychopath, pedophile, sadist, et cetera. We have gathered, labeled, alphabetized, organized, and placed the information neatly into folders to be logically placed in vast filing systems. We have even made excuses for it, and on rare occasions, forgiven it. This all eases our civilized sensibilities. We no longer need to look at it squarely in the eye, nor take up arms against it. After all, we convince ourselves there is no such thing as pure evil.
But not everyone is so civilized, not everyone follows the rules and laws of society. Sometimes, to destroy evil it takes something equally dark – a selective malevolence that will do what others will not, or cannot do. Not necessarily from a sense of justice or retribution, but a need for its existence, perhaps even its very soul.
The tall, lean man, dressed in black from hat to boot, stopped abruptly at the entrance of a dark alley. The potent smell of urine mixed with rotting garbage wafted out. It was past midnight; the air was still warm, much too warm to be wearing a leather duster-like coat that came down to his ankles. If the time period had been around the American Civil War, he would have blended right in, but it most certainly wasn't. The moon was high and full without a cloud in the darkest blue sky. He removed his wide-brimmed hat to scrutinize the unusually long alley more intently. His long, black hair framed an angular face far too pale to be considered healthy by most. The one small light from a street lamp and the full moon had cast a gauntlet of various black shadows – some, a possible location for concealment, his cold, grey eyes had determined. He listened, but heard nothing except a dog barking in the distance somewhere far behind him. No one was out at this time, but that was to be expected.
He was in the worst part of the old city of York. Centuries ago it had been called New York – it wasn't so new anymore. The curfew was still in effect, and anyone caught outside after sundown would be shot on sight, but that was necessary. Still, he wasn't concerned about that at the moment. He placed his hat back upon his head, adjusted it, and entered the relative comfort of the shadows, leaving behind a small pool of blood near where he had stood.
Blood dripped off his leather-gloved left hand that trickled down from a cut on his lower arm. With each long step, one, sometimes two drops hit the dirty, grey pavement, leaving a sparse trail of red splatter behind. He continued to stride slow but steady, letting his left arm hang down limply at his side, but otherwise ignoring the oozing wound.
The alley was no more than six metres wide, with mostly older brick buildings on both sides. The buildings were the backs of storefronts facing away from each other, and many had low rent apartments on their second floors. A few of the second story lights were still on, but thick, drawn curtains made certain that little of the light made it down to the alley's path. Garbage containers and bags were randomly placed in piles every few paces – a world of treasure for the brown rats that scurried into the shadows upon seeing the dark stranger. Discarded pieces of garbage littered the alley, conglomerating more on the sides where the light breeze couldn't easily dislodge it. It was the usual overabundance of garbage – newspapers, paper cups, beer cans and hypo-needles. Some pieces of garbage were an aberration such as a child's dirt-covered doll or a rusting, green oven. How little things have changed over the past thousand or so years, but a nuclear holocaust can be funny that way.
He was almost at the midway point of the alley when he thought he had heard something far behind him. He stopped and turned slowly to face in the direction of the sound.
Six naked forms quickly followed the blood trail toward their new victim. They were young Fang-gangers who were still hungry for the taste of blood. It was a larger than usual group consisting of four men and two women; all were covered in gore from a recent kill. Fangers almost always came out at night, but usually in smaller groups or solo, and often naked to avoid ruining their clothes – bloodstains were such a bitch to get out. Going "naturel" also limited the evidence that could be gathered to be used against them by The Authority.
One of the youngest males trailing behind, stopped, touched the blood with his index finger, and brought it up to his mouth. He licked the blood off his fingertip, and grimaced at the odd taste. This blood tasted old. The flavour reminded him of the corpse he had once found, and fed on out of desperation. No way was he going to feed on this one, but he wasn't going to tell the others. He couldn't wait to see their faces when they each had a mouth full of this foul tasting shit. This kill would be entertaining at least, he thought, as he quickly caught up with the rest.
Expecting to attack their victim by surprise and from behind, they were startled to see a dark form standing in the middle of the alley, as if waiting for their arrival. He looked at each of them in turn, as they approached out of the darkness to stop and stand in the moonlight only a few paces from him. Was he insane as well as stupid? Didn't he know what they were, and what they were going to do to him? For a moment there was a standoff of curiosity between the killing fraternity and their prey.
The dark figure studied the six naked vampires. All of them looked to be in their early to late twenties, paler than even he was, with long unwashed hair, and gore mostly around their mouths and chests. Even the oldest vampires could have looked to be in their twenties, but he knew these ones were young in years, otherwise, they wouldn't have followed him so rashly.
"You're bleeding," commented an older male. "What happened, did you lose in a bar fight?" He grinned showing his fangs.
The gloomy stranger just glared at their leader in response.
This, the older male found a bit unnerving, and it was the second unexpected reaction from a soon to be meal.
The youngest male thought about the strange tasting blood, and decided this might not be such a good idea. All their victims had shown fear in their eyes but not this one. "Erik, maybe we should just let this one go."
Their leader ignored him. "You didn't answer my question. I SAID, why are you bleeding?"
The stranger now met the leader's stare with a predator's eyes. "I bleed by choice and by my own hand," he replied in a low, raspy voice, as he produced a khopesh from beneath his coat. The ancient sickle-sword gleamed unnaturally in the moonlight, as the stranger held the weapon pointing to the ground like an extension of his right arm. "You young ones are so easily tempted and fooled. I seek someone... special, but I now know he is not among you. I have no quarrel with you."
"Young? YOUNG! I am over two hundred fuckin' years old!" outraged the leader.
"As I said, young ones," he confirmed with a brooding impatience. "There are older and deadlier beings on Earth and other worlds than you lot. If you were older, wiser, maybe you would know this."
"Wait, don't tell me. Are you one of these deadly, old creatures from another planet?" he questioned sarcastically.
"No, not from another planet... I suggest you move on." He cleared his mind; the dark energies flowed through him; he visualized the patterns of his first attacks, as he prepared for what he knew was to come.
"You suggest. Right, of course... You know what I think? I think you're just a crazy fool with some stupid old sword." There was now uncertainty in his voice, perhaps even a hint of fear, but arrogance drove him on. "A sword is useless against us. Hell, even auto-beamers can't kill us!" Erik glanced around at his group. "Well, what are you all just standing around for? KILL HIM!"
Erik's severed head hit the ground before he took his second step forward. So blindingly swift was the stranger's movement that even the unnaturally quick vampires were stunned, and froze in their tracks for a moment. A moment that resulted in a second swift death for the nearest female blood sucker, as she was cleaved in half from left shoulder blade downward. Both halves toppled in opposite directions to splatter heavily on the dusty pavement. The sickening blood-iron smell from her stomach contents filled the air.
Their leader was correct, an ordinary sword couldn't have dispatched the undead, but this was no ordinary sword, and combined with the darkness that now possessed it, the impossible, had become possible. A vampire's rapid healing ability was rendered useless against this fiendish blade. They all knew it, and they started to believe.
Upon witnessing this, the youngest male disappeared quickly into the night, leaving two males and one female Fanger to face the stranger.
"What THE FUCK are you?" yelled a frustrated male. This THING in front of them was faster than anything he had ever seen, and it had killed two of his friends way too easily. This wasn't happening... This, just, wasn't, happening!
"I am your genuine death," the shadowy executioner replied, passing judgment.
The other male and the female now attacked simultaneously. The male came straight at the stranger from the front, as the female circled around him. Upon seeing this, the frustrated male literally sprang into action, jumping incredibly high with the idea of coming down on top of the stranger.
The razor-sharp sword arced forward and up in a blur of motion to meet the first oncoming threat. It sliced through the male Fanger's chest, cutting into his cold heart, and sending him sprawling onto the ground. The stranger's choreography of death didn't stop, as the smooth motion of form with sword now continued its upward sweep, and then quickly struck across, cutting off head and hands from the airborne vampire coming down upon him.
From behind, the female screamed with blind rage as she jumped on the stranger's back, straddling his waist with abnormally strong legs, and biting him deep on the neck. Caught by surprise, but not giving her a chance to rip off a chunk of flesh, he ran backwards into a nearby brick wall. This knocked the air out her, which loosened her grip. He reached behind with his free left hand, grabbed hold of her neck, and threw her away from him to land flat on her back. The distance thrown was much too far to be humanly possible.
She sat up quickly and turned around on all fours, preparing to strike again like the pack animal she had become. The realization now hit her – she was the last one, but the stranger wasn't coming at her. Instead, he just stood there with his sword lowered as before but now dripping vampire blood. "Why don't you attack?" she spit out the question seasoned with anger.
"I could kill you here and now, or let you go – your choice." He spoke calmly with chilling indifference. "It matters little to me."
She paused for a moment, and then slowly backed away on all fours. She had decided on life, such as it was. When she passed by the unconscious male lying on his back, she stopped; slowly stood up, keeping her green-yellow eyes fixed on the stranger. Three of her group had met their genuine death, but her friend with the gaping chest wound was still with the undead. A few more inches lower, and he would have been eviscerated. The chest cavity was laid open, but his damaged heart remained beating. Why wasn't he healing? The heart had only been cut, not hacked in two, as was the intent. Her hate changed to sadness as she looked down at her broken friend.
A change came over the dark stranger. He relaxed out of his battle stance, and walked toward the unconscious vampire. The female recoiled, backing away further into the shadows. The stranger cleaned and sheathed his khopesh, to be once again hidden from view underneath the long, black coat.
Nausea suddenly overcame her; she hunched over and vomited the small amount of blood she had sucked from the stranger. She had never tasted such horrible blood, and now her body was rejecting it. After it had passed, she stood up straight and stared back toward the stranger. She was not the least self-conscious of her nakedness in contrast before the overly clothed outsider.
"Do the two of you hunt only to live, and not for sport?" he asked in solemn judgment.
"Yes, the two of us do, but I can't speak for the others." She wiped red spittle from her chin with the back of her hand, and brushed back her red hair.
"Do you hunt children?"
"No, of course not! What do you think I am?"
"I know exactly what you are. I am concerned about what you may have become. Sharks, wolves, vampires, they all have their place, but when the killing goes beyond the need for survival, when it becomes pleasurable, this I cannot allow."
The dark figure knelt beside the fallen vampire, removed his glove, and placed his hand above the exposed, beating heart. A black, smoky tendril came from his palm, surrounding the heart in a black cocoon of darkness. A few moments later, the smoke dissipated revealing a heart with no sign of damage. "The rest of the damage will now heal on its own... Strange, for most of my existence I have lived as a warrior. Killing was my calling, and after all these years, I've become very efficient at it. But it's strange, strange that I cannot remember the last time I gave back a life."
As he continued to ponder, kneeling next to his victim, now patient, the female came slowly out of the shadows. She approached him cautiously, and was amazed to see the deep wound she had inflicted on his neck was now completely healed. Only drying blood remained to confirm that her fangs had found their mark. "Who, WHAT are you?" she asked almost timidly. "You're not one of us."
There was a long, disquieting silence. "It is a question I have often asked myself... I do not know. I have met no others like myself – from my earlier days in Mesopotamia to the present killing zones of Eastern Europe. Perhaps I am an aberration of nature. I wish this were true, but I fear nature has little to do with me."
"Then, at least, what is your name?"
"I have had many names." He stood up and walked away. "He will live. Take him and go before I change my mind." The dark stranger walked back the way he had come. For a moment he stopped and turned to face the woman who was now holding her still unconscious friend in her arms. "Akhilleus."
"It is a name I was once called a very long time ago," he said fondly, and the hand of retribution disappeared like a ghost into the darkness.
Also available: Lex Talionis – The Butcher of Proxima Prime
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