Lance woke with a start, a cold sweat clinging to his body. Sunlight was slipping in through the cracks in the shade as he glanced around the room. It was as if he was afraid the remnants of his nightmare were going to become real.
This was the third night he'd had the same dream about the silver-haired vampire. Every time it was the same thing. He would chase after her, but she would keep slipping away just when he thought he had caught up to her. Suddenly, he would be alone in the dark forest with no idea where he was. Voices would call to him, too quietly to be understood. Sometimes, they seemed like they were laughing at his misfortune. Other times, it seemed like they were trying to tell him something important. No matter how he tried to search for the source of the voices, he could never find it. Then, when he was at the point of giving up, the trees would erupt into flames around him, slowly closing in. It made him feel powerless, a feeling he wasn't accustomed to. And that was what scared him the most.
Trying his best to shake away the feeling, Lance pushed the covers aside and shuffled over to the window. He pulled open the curtains, flooding the room with sunlight and giving him a view of the gardens below.
A smile played on his lips, but it was short lived. The memory of his sister running up and down the garden paths was both amusing and disheartening at the same time.
When she had disappeared, the life of the house had gone with her. Their father, who had already lost his wife to a tragic accident over a decade ago, was struggling with the possibility that he may have lost his daughter in a similar fashion. As a way to cope with the situation, he had immersed himself in his work which often kept him away from home for periods of time. This left Lance the family estate mostly to himself, a thought that was nearly suffocating him. All he could do was find a way to get away from there and away from it all.
He turned from the window and made his way into the bathroom. The sound of water flowing from the faucet calmed his nerves a bit as he splashed it into his face. He reached blindly for the towel hanging on the rack beside the sink and dried his face, opening his eyes to look at his reflection in the mirror.
To some, mostly the women his age that lived in town, he was considered handsome. He personally had never seen what exactly it was that set him apart. His short, light brown hair was similar in color and cut to many of the other men his age. There was nothing particular about his face that would stand out as exceptionally appealing. Except his eyes. His gray eyes had always been the trait he was most pleased with. They were the exact same color as both his mother's and his sister's, which now gave him a way to hold onto a memory of both of them. Physically, he was not particularly strong or muscular, though he was far from weak. Overall, he saw himself as average, which was perfectly acceptable to him. There were things that were more important to him than appearances.
He returned the towel to the rack and shuffled back to his room where he dressed himself before heading downstairs. As he glanced at the antique clock hanging in the hallway on his way to the kitchen, he realized he was running late. He quickened his pace and was greeted by the housekeeper as he entered the kitchen.
"Lance, what you have for breakfast?" she asked cheerfully in her heavy accent.
Lance smiled. "Nothing for me, Sophia," he said, making his way toward the door. "I'm running a bit late this morning."
"No, no," Sophia scolded good-naturally. "You know rules. First you eat. Then you go."
Lance rolled his eyes, waving his hand absently at the bowl of fruit sitting on the table. An apple lifted magically from the bowl and flew into his hand. He took a bite and grinned at Sophia as he swallowed. "Happy?" he asked.
Sophia chuckled. "Yes. And it be our little secret," she said, referring to Lance's use of his gift.
Lance's father, though he was generally an accepting man, had a strong aversion to any kind of magic. It was only by the vehement arguing of Lance's mother that he had agreed to allow his son the opportunity to train his gift. At the death of his wife, he had considered pulling Lance from his lessons, but decided to honor her wishes instead. When Lance had grown into adulthood, his father had allowed him to stay at the family estate until he was able to get out on his own with the one request that he did not use his gift in the house. For the most part, Lance followed this request, but he had a habit of using it when his father was away.
"Isn't it always?" Lance asked as he waved and stepped out into the morning air.
The sun shone brightly as he made his way down the pathway leading from the house. As it reached the edge of the property it became less defined and eventually became a trail leading through the forest. After how many times Lance had taken it, he could have found his way through with his eyes closed and without tripping over a single rock or twig, but he enjoyed the feeling and beauty of nature around him.
Within a few minutes he emerged from the forest near a secluded portion of town. There were a few houses that were visible from the road, but most were built too far into the trees to be seen. The people who lived in this area either enjoyed their privacy or the feeling of nature that one couldn't get anywhere else. From where he stood, it was only a short walk to his destination.
Upon arriving at the modest yellow-brick house, Lance pushed open the gate and cut across the over-grown lawn on his way to the back yard. There he found an older man seated cross-legged with his eyes closed on the roughly-made cobblestone circle in the center of the yard. Aside from the variety of unkempt bushes that separated the yard from the trees of the forest around it, the circle was the only object that occupied the space.
Lance came to a stop before the circle, not wanting to interrupt the man's meditation.
Mattias Bard, the only known mage within a hundred miles, made it his common practice to meditate in the early morning and was not pleasant to deal with if interrupted. That was one of the things Lance had quickly learned during his early years of training.
"You are late," Master Bard said, interrupting the few minutes of quiet that had been hanging in the air. He didn't bother to open his eyes when he spoke.
"Sorry about that," Lance replied. "Things didn't turn out the way I expected last night and it made it hard to get any sleep."
"I trust you have unfortunate news, then?"
"Mixed news, I suppose. She, the hunter, accepted the job…" Lance trailed off.
"But?" his master prompted when he didn't continue.
Lance sighed. "She wanted nothing to do with me or the help I offered her."
"Sometimes these things happen," Master Bard said in a dismissive tone. "Obstacles present themselves, and they take time to overcome."
"Her mind seemed pretty made up, and she laughed in my face. I highly doubt—"
"The winds of change are blowing, Lance," Master Bard interrupted. "I sense that soon the hunter will find something she had not bargained for."
"And what makes you say that?"
Master Bard waved his hand dismissively. "That is not important. What is important is that you keep an open mind. It may soon be she that comes to you for help."
"Yeah, right," Lance said, rolling his eyes.
Master Bard's eyes finally opened, locking Lance's in their sharp green gaze. "It has been nearly twenty years since you first came under my guidance and you still don't show me due respect. I do know what I am talking about."
Lance bowed his head. "I'm sorry. I'm just frustrated, that's all."
Master Bard's face softened as a wry smile appeared on his lips. "Are you sure it is her rejection of your help and not the rejection of a lovely young woman that bothers you?"
"I couldn't be more sure," Lance replied, avoiding his master's eyes. "I don't have time to think about that sort of thing. There are more important things that have to be taken care of."
There was a moment of silence before Master Bard spoke again. "After all of these years, I know when you are lying, even if you don't realize it yourself. However, you are right," he said, standing from the ground. "While we must leave the business of the shifty goings-on to the hunter for now, life moves on for those unaware of it. Come, there is work to be done."
By the time Lance was dismissed the sun was already beginning to dip low in the sky, giving the clouds the faintest hint of orange and pink. It had always been his favorite time of day because of the way the sunset was never the same twice, but today he was far too distracted to notice. If anything, the signal of the coming night reminded him of the rejection he had faced last night.
With his hands shoved into his pockets, he began to make the trek back home, more lost in thought than paying attention to where he was going. He kept his eyes mostly to the ground ahead of him, not bothering to look where he was going.
About halfway home, Lance glanced up when he heard shuffling in the foliage. He was about to dismiss it as simply a rabbit scurrying around when he saw a figure crouching near the base of a tree not too far away with its back to him. Despite the voice in his head telling him to just ignore it and continue home, he quietly stepped toward the figure. As he drew nearer, he realized he recognized the person.
"Ileea?" he said in surprise.
He saw her tense as she turned her head to look at him. "Well, look who it is," she said nonchalantly as she stood from her crouch.
"What are you doing here?"
"Hunting vampires, what did you think?" she said, as if the answer was obvious.
Lance glanced up at the sky through the tree branches above. "During the day?"
Ileea snorted and shook her head before turning and starting to walk away.
"What's so funny?" he demanded, following her.
"You really don't know anything about hunting, do you?" she asked, not bothering to look at him as she continued on.
"So teach me, then."
"I'm not a teacher. If I was, I wouldn't be here right now," she said dismissively. "I will, however, tell you one thing. Vampires don't sleep. During the day they are confined to caves or forest area unless they want to risk being burnt to a crisp in the sun. That makes day time the best time to go after them because not only does it somewhat level the playing field when it comes to being able to see, they also can't escape as easily."
"Doesn't that make them more dangerous? Like when you back a wild animal into a corner?" Lance asked thoughtfully.
"Vampires are incredibly dangerous to deal with either way, so it really doesn't make that much of a difference."
"If hunting vampires is so dangerous, why do you do it, then?"
Ileea finally stopped and turned to look at him. "Is there something I can help you with or do you just enjoy stalking people?" she asked pointedly.
Lance noticed she was holding him in the same sharp gaze she had held him in the night before. It made him feel slightly uncomfortable, but he tried not to let it show. "Look, I know you don't want my help, but I have to help you find Akira."
"Akira? Who's Akira?"
"The vampire…didn't I tell you her name last night?"
"No, but it's not like it matters," Ileea said, turning and starting to walk away again.
"Look," Lance said, quickening his pace so he was able to stand in front of her, "I know you don't want my help, but I need to find her."
"And you still haven't told me why," she said, crossing her arms.
"I don't really see how it matters."
"I like to know who I'm working with and why."
"My motives are pure, that's all you need to know."
"Sorry, but that's not going to cut it. You can either tell me why you need to find her or you can run along home and let me do my job. I honestly don't see why that's so much to ask."
Lance just sighed, debating whether he should tell her or not.
Before he could come to a decision, Ileea rolled her eyes. "I work better alone anyways," she said, brushing past him. "I'd get home if I were you. Neci's not very forgiving to any humans that happen across her path," she added, not looking back.
Lance turned and watched her walk off. He wondered who Neci was, but quickly deduced she must be the vampire Ileea was hunting in addition to looking for Akira. What bothered him about the exchange, however, was that it seemed liked she had been trying to avoid him. He couldn't for the life of him figure out why, though he supposed it was possible she was like that with everyone. He really had no way to tell.
Glancing up at the quickly darkening sky, Lance decided it would be in his best interest follow her advice. Back tracking to the trail he had originally been taking, he headed for home again.
A/N: Sorry for such a long wait on this chapter! I hit such a terrible spell of writer's block, it felt like all I could do was sit on my computer and play endless games of Bejewled with Word open but ignored in the background. Anyway, I'm hoping to have the next chapter up MUCH sooner. Just hope this one was worth the wait!