Without hesitation Mathers made for the vampire with precision and speed, putting the vampire immediately on the defensive. Adrian jumped in beside him, and together they pushed the vampire back, but his superior speed and strength didn’t give the Hunters a chance for decisive victory. They had the vampire cornered, but a wild animal who feels trapped is even more dangerous. The vampire struck out with another of his insanely quick punches and caught Adrian across the jaw, and he fell back dazed for a moment. Mathers didn’t let up and kept the vampire from advancing.
“Get Liz out of here!” Mathers called out to Adrian. He glanced at Lizzie and felt torn between saving her, leaving Mathers here to handle the vampire on his own, or to bring this monster down. He knew his training said to follow Mather’s orders, but he couldn’t leave him here alone. He thought of what Lizzie would want and charged in, landing a kick to the vampire’s body that knocked him back into the wall.
The vampire recovered and in an unexpected move tackled Mathers, sending them both to the floor. The vampire came out on top of Mathers and was pummeling him. Adrian ran over to them and with all the strength he had, pulled the vampire from Mathers. Mathers was back on his feet and squaring off with the vampire again, his face covered in cuts and blood. This is all wrong, Adrian thought. Lizzie and he were supposed to come in, spar with a Hunter and then celebrate with milkshakes and fries. Instead his best friend was bloody and unconscious on the floor behind him , and Mathers and he were fighting for their lives.
When the vampire gave a wide swing towards Mathers, Adrian knelt down and delivered a punch to his ribcage, which actually winded the vampire some. Adrian was tiring, this had to be their chance. Mathers moved in but the vamp grabbed Mathers and threw him into the wall. Mathers dropped hard next to Lizzie. Adrian pushed forward, keeping the strikes coming, not allowing the vampire a moment to go on the offensive again. Then the bloodsucker suddenly stopped and stood there grunting in pain. Adrian looked around for another Hunter, when he saw Lizzie still slumped on the floor behind him, with a taser gun in her hands, pressed against the leg of the vampire.
Adrian swept the vampire’s feet out from under him and he crashed down almost on top of Lizzie. Adrian jumped on top of him, and it took all of the recruit’s strength to keep the vampire pinned. “Liz…” was all Adrian could get out. Lizzie dragged herself up somehow, in spite of the pain, and pulled a large pocket knife from her waistband. Then plunged it into the vamp’s jugular, ripping it across his pale skin. The ragged flesh was consumed by the dark red, almost black blood surging from the gash. Adrian felt the vampire’s body relax and he let go.
Adrian sat there and felt cold as the vampire bled out in front of him. It wasn’t the monster whose face haunted his nightmares. This vampire wasn’t a pureblood, if he was, they’d all be dead. The vampire’s legs started to twitch as his undead life drained out of him like one of his victims. Mathers started to stir as they heard the tramping of boots running down the hall and Adrian stood ready to fight. Winston came through the door and Adrian’s body gave way all at once, sending him onto his knees in relief.
“Adrian…” Winston knelt before him, checking for injuries. Then Winston saw Lizzie laying on the floor beside him. It was as if time stood still, Winston’s face was frozen first in shock and then horror. It was only a few moments before the medics came in and took Adrian aside, assessing his injuries while others attended to Mathers and Lizzie. Winston paced while Lizzie was prepped for transportation to one of the Hunter infirmaries. Even more Hunters arrived, posing as authorities to keep the prying public away and start spinning the web of lies that keep the dark horrors of their lives hidden from the world.
“She’s going to be all right,” Adrian whispered to Winston. Winston looked at Adrian, his eyes a mix of despair and concern, then he looked back at Lizzie. Two medics were shifting her onto a backboard and another was bringing in a gurney. Half of her face was already turning purple and there were small cuts where she’d hit the chair. One eye swollen shut a fat lip and puffed up cheeks. Those were just the injuries on the outside. It made him cold to think about what else could be wrong.
Adrian started to feel his chest tighten as he watched them take her out of the room. Lizzie had always been there when he needed her. Who was going to be his family representative at his initiation? He started after her and the medics, but a hand on his shoulder stopped him. He turned to see Mathers standing behind him. “You can’t do anything for her now. She’s too stubborn to give up now,” he said with a warm smile. Adrian looked out towards the door, hearing the medics calling for the crowd to disperse. Lizzie was strong, he reminded himself. She never let anything stop her, and this would be no exception. With that reassurance he followed Mathers to debrief with Captain George.
* * *
A few days had gone by since she woke from the fight. Lizzie and Adrian were sitting in their living room, watching her favorite kung fu movie. He still had a black eye and his split lip was nearly healed, but she looked like she had been hit by a truck from either side. Her face was still half covered in multi-colored bruises, her left arm in a sling with a hairline fracture and a sprained rotator cuff. Her broken ribs were wrapped and sitting up hurt, plus she had a random smattering of other minor injuries. Winston intended to stay home and hover over her like a hen. She had to beg her Aunt Jill to make him leave, and he finally agreed once Adrian volunteered to play nursemaid, not that she felt she needed one.
No one had spoken much about that night since she came home. She thought they all blamed her for bursting in instead of waiting for Mathers. In a way they were right, but she wasn’t going to apologize. We saved her, that girl, she told herself. They were all still alive, and she had a part in that. That’s what Hunting was about. Aunt Jill said they had no reports of a vampire in the area prior to her and Adrian’s discovery. Their best guess from their interview with the girl was that he had arrived just the day before. No one would tell them anything more, they were only recruits after all. The Hunters at the infirmary assured her they had both passed, but that didn’t really seem to matter anymore. All Lizzie cared about was that everyone was safe, and the vampire was gone.
She heard her father come in from the garage and he walked into the room and looked at her, then the TV. “Glad to see Adrian got you to take it easy.” Lizzie rolled her eyes.
“Here, this is for you,” he handed Adrian an envelope and threw his coat on the back of one of the couches before heading into the kitchen. Adrian slipped a finger under the flap and pulled out a folded letter.
“Is it your assignment?” she asked excitedly, trying to crane her neck to see it, then she winced at the pain in her ribs and sat back.
“Yeah… I’m in Chicago,” Adrian said, surprised. It was rare that an Acolyte was assigned to a Hunter from their home district. He continued reading to the bottom of the letter, “I’m assigned to Mathers.” He looked up at her and a smile crept over both their faces.
“Dad?” she called out.
“Yes, hon? What do you want for dinner, pizza or spaghetti?” he asked holding a jar of sauce.
“Uh… pizza. Hey, did they give you my assignment yet?” she was hoping for some place with a beach. She had never seen the ocean.
“No, they didn’t,” he said curtly and walked back into the kitchen.
“What was that about?” she asked. Adrian shrugged.
She moved to get up and Adrian stood to help her, but she waved him away. She shuffled her way into the kitchen where her father was digging through the mail looking for pizza coupons. “Dad, is something wrong?” she sat at a counter stool. Her head started to throb a little, her concussion would still affect her for a while, the doctor had said.
“You should be lying down! You need to rest.” Her father moved to usher her back into the living room but she pushed him off.
“Dad! I’m a little banged up, that’s all. I’m not crippled. Leave it.” She couldn’t handle his over protective act right now.
“Lizzie you almost died!” he said raising his voice at her.
“That’s ridiculous! A few cracked ribs and a banged up shoulder is far from dying. I’m going to be all right. Now what’s going on?” She gave him a stern look. Winston wasn’t good at lying to his daughter.
“You didn’t get an Acolyte assignment,” he said, then went back to digging for coupons as if he hadn’t just delivered the most crushing news of her life.
“What?! They said I passed! Why not? What did they say? Is it because I got beat up? That vampire wasn’t even supposed to be there!” She was furious. How could they fail me?! she thought. She had put her life on the line, ripped open his throat herself. This was a kill on her record at sixteen years old. She could feel her blood boiling and she wanted desperately to hit something.
“He’s trying to pull you out,” Adrian said from behind her, leaning casually against the pocket door frame.
“What?! You can’t do that!” she screamed and turned back to her father. He wouldn’t meet her eyes and then she knew it was true. “Why?” she asked in confusion rather than anger. He took a pair of scissors to a page, ignoring her. She took a deep breath trying both to calm herself and handle the pain her outburst had caused her body. No one said anything.
Adrian cleared his throat, “He’s scared.”
“Scared?! Why the hell is he scared?” She knew her father wanted peace but she also knew that what the Hunters did was important. Until he could get the vamps to the table, Hunters had to continue the fight. He was doing his part, she needed to do hers.
“I thought I’d lost you,” her father gave her a look that managed to be determined and sad at the same time.
She felt the rage deflate out of her, “Dad, this is my choice.”
“So you’re just going to throw your life away for glory?” he asked in a harsh voice.
“You think that’s what this is about? When I was little I heard all the stories about you and the other Hunters. Courage, righteousness, adventures and heroism – it all sounded so amazing, but I’m not some wide-eyed five-year old anymore. I know what going on the Hunt means. I want this because it’s right, and I can save lives. Last night a woman was almost killed… made into someone’s meal for nothing other than being pretty. We saved her. She is alive because of us. That’s why I want to do this. Not for some childish sense of notoriety. I thought you knew me better than that.” She stared at her father in disbelief. She couldn’t stand to look at him anymore and hobbled away to her room.
* * *
“I’m sorry,” Winston said after Lizzie stormed off. “You shouldn’t have had to see that,” he folded up the coupons absent-mindedly and gave a deep sigh.
“It’s not the first or last time I’ll see you two fight,” Adrian said, taking a seat. “I should have protected her. She was my partner and, I let her get hurt like that.” Adrian let his head rest in his hands, the image of Lizzie laying on the floor, bloody and bruised filled his mind.
“Adrian, you did everything you could. You got her home alive, and that’s more than I could have asked of anyone in that situation. You two were recruits, ill prepared to deal with a vampire.” Winston put a hand on his shoulder.
“Lizzie, just… isn’t meant to follow this path. She’s headstrong and brave, but it’ll get her killed,” Winston gave a sigh of disappointment. “I know it hurts her to hear this, but it’s for her own good.”
“No,” Adrian said. Winston pulled back from Adrian’s uncharacteristic defiance. “Lizzie is strong, stronger than you give her credit for. She’s smart, and intuitive, and yes she’s quick to act at times, but she can be trained out of that. She understands what we do this for better than anyone. She inspires people and has the ability to lead,” Adrian swallowed before saying his next words. “She’s the kind of person who could help you bring the peace you’re after.”
“You’ve never believed in a peace with the vampires,” Winston said skeptically.
“No. But I believe in Lizzie, and she believes in you and your misguided ideals. You have to let her follow that path in her own way, or you’ll lose her. I’m not saying this as her friend. I’m saying this as someone who has put my life in her hands and trusted her to do the right thing, and she hasn’t let me down yet.” Adrian turned and went back to the living room, having nothing more to say.
* * *
Lizzie slept a lot the next day and woke up late in the afternoon. She rolled to her good side and hobbled her way to the door. As she pulled it open she saw an envelope on the floor with her name typed on it. It was folded and crumpled like it had been sitting in a back pocket for a while. She gingerly picked it up and sat down at her desk. Inside was a letter with a long smear of old ribbon ink at the bottom.
Dear Miss Elizabeth Diane Reilly,
The Council is pleased to inform you of your promotion to the rank of Acolyte. Please report on Monday, September 4th at 7:30AM for assignment. You are permitted one small suitcase and one personal bag for your flight. Hunter Branch will meet you upon your arrival in Boston.