Hildreth put his phone away and went back downstairs. “Hey!” He jumped down the last four stairs and did a “Ta-da!” pose. “Here I am! Did you miss me?”
Jim-Marie bowed his head.
Hildreth walked up to him. “What’s wrong?”
“How do you do it?” The boy raised his head. “How do you go out each night and kill people?”
Hildreth sat beside him.
“I tried to stake that vampire and…I couldn’t. I want to. I wanted to, but I couldn’t. So, how can you? How can you kill so many people?”
Hildreth folded his hands and rested them on the table. “It’s a good and natural thing to hesitate about hurting or killing someone. But a hunter doesn’t have that luxury. It’s kill or be killed. You must overcome that natural revulsion in order to survive each night.”
“Training. It’s one of the first and most important lessons you will learn.”
Jim-Marie looked down at the weapon sitting before him. “If you had to kill me right now, would you?”
“Only if I had to.” He double checked the positioning of the hammer plates.
“Do they look okay?”
“They’re perfect.” Hildreth closed up the back of the weapon. “Master Shinowa is going to come here tomorrow to assess you.”
“What if he says no? Would you be able to train me?”
“Not without my master’s permission. Sorry. I’d love to pull a Qui-Gon Jinn and thumb my nose at the Jedi Council and say, ‘Well, boo on you! I’m training him anyway.'”
“But you won’t?”
“No. I have too much respect for Master Shinowa. I trust his judgement. If he says you are not qualified for training, you aren’t qualified.”
“So, then what?”
“I honestly don’t know.” He patted the boy’s back. “I bet you’re starved. Come on. Let’s go upstairs. I happen to make a totally awesome pizza from scratch.”
Jim-Marie almost drooled. “I haven’t had pizza in years.”
“I figured that much. Come on.”
It isn’t dawn yet, but I want to run to Hildreth. Make sure he’s okay. Make sure he’s safe. Make sure he got home safe.
Elsie stood and paced around the roof. I worry about him too much. He’s a pro hunter. He knows what he’s doing, even if he does pack insufficient stakes. That will definitely change when we get married. I’ll make sure he has enough stakes. I’ll stick them into his hair if I have to.
She stopped at the roof’s midpoint and listened.
An owl called out a series of monotonous hoots.
Cars rushed past the front gates and disappeared into the night.
Then, there was silence.
She sighed. “Maybe I should go check on him. Nothing’s happening out here. I might as well—”
The front gates opened.
Elsie stood still.
Late night mourners?
A vampire dressed in a fabulous red and black cape, black slacks, no shoes, and no shirt entered the graveyard. But he wasn’t alone. He dragged an unwilling victim through the gates. The victim, a man, struggled to escape.
The vampire kicked the gate shut and pushed him up against it.
“I didn’t think so.” Elsie ran to the edge of the roof and jumped. She landed in a crouch, pulled out a couple of stakes, and raced towards the vampire.
“Don’t. Please. Don…”
The vampire bared his fangs and lowered his open mouth to the other man’s neck.
Elsie grabbed a slushie that someone had left on a random tombstone. “Hey! Fang-faced loser! Eat this!” She threw it at the vampire’s head. It hit the target, exploding artificially sweetened red stickiness everywhere.
The vampire spun around and snarled.
“Hi! I’m Elsie Vansing the Marauder. Prepare to die.”
The vampire snapped a viciously angry statement in Romanian and charged at her.
I’m ready to dance.