this is the beginning of my vampire story for all you vamp-lovers. THe one problem I see with it is that Wenoa is a weak character. Suggestions? She awoke with the rising of the sun, not knowing how long she had slept. Grasping for the stake she had made last night (or so she hoped), she stood and quickly inspected herself for injuries. When she found nothing unusual, she set off at a brisk trot for the capital city of Chomac, only a day’s travel to the north. The tall wooden shaft, carved to a sharp point at one end, served for a staff as she climbed through the ankle-deep under growth. The only other weapon she carried visibly was a vicious, single pronged whip at her belt. Ellianna had saved her life more then once with this whip, catching the throat of an undead and then jabbing the stake into its heart. She smiled grimly at the memories of those kills and the people she had saved. Her grin quickly faded as her mind forced upon her the loneliness of her chosen career. In all her short life-twenty years by the reckoning of men-she had made few friends and those usually ended up in some disaster that either killed them or stole their friendship forever in some other hideous way. Stabbing the pole into the ground with all the force she could muster, Elli broke out of the trees and onto a wide, dirt road. Despite her instincts and better judgment, she decided to follow the road, knowing the packed earth would speed up her passage. Until sunset, she traveled down the road, wary for any who came in her way. As the sun sank below the horizon, the outline of a great city loom out of the distance. She sped up, knowing she could get there before the sun fully set, if she was lucky, and even then, she would have a hard time finding an inn that would be open. Finally, she reached the city. “Hold! State yer business in Chomac.” A guard stepped in front of her, warily eyeing the pole in her hand. Another, in the same blood red uniform, stalked the walls, crossbow casually slung over his shoulder. “I seek an inn for the night. I need to restock and rest before continuing on my way.” Elli returned her gaze to the man before her and saw his continued stare at the stake in her hand. Sudden understanding dawned on his face and his scowl deepened. “We don’t welcome ‘unters ‘ere. Be on your way.” “Who says I’m a hunter? Who even knows if vampires exist? Surely you don’t, Captain?” Elli was smirking now, deftly twirling the stake in her hand. “No! Well, get on then,” he growled, stepping out of her way. As she passed him, he continued to eye her twirling pole. Elli quickly made her way to the better part of the city, in the center of the circular walls and farthest away from the gates. She had been here only once before but knew her way around relatively well. Before she knew it, she had arrived at the inn, a small place called Näwal Ho’na. This was the only inn she knew of that would be open this late. She sighed, adjusted the scarf over her ears-making sure their pointed tips were concealed-and entered the inn, pasting on a smile. The innkeeper welcomed her graciously and gave her a small room in the back of the building. She quickly inspected the room before returning to the main chamber of the inn where the other patrons had gathered to spend a night drinking and a large fire was crackling merrily in the hearth. Elli felt out of place in her simple, flowing white shirt and loose leather breeches, not to mention the heavy travel cloak and matching ash gray scarf. She ordered a small ale and found a secluded seat in a corner. As she sipped the drink, she glanced around the room, so full of laughter, and was invariably drawn to a figure, similarly clothed as she was, in the opposite corner, nursing a goblet of wine. “Hannah, who’s that?” Elli called the innkeeper’s wife over and pointed at the stranger, keeping a hand on her drink. “Dunno. ‘E came in earlier, ‘asn’t said a word ‘cept to order ‘is drinks.” The woman shrugged and patted Elli firmly on the back. “Maybe you should get to know ‘im,” she added with a mischievous wink. “Never knew a girl like you who didn’t want a man by ‘er side. Go on, ‘e won’t bite.” Elli glared at Hannah’s retreating back and suddenly laughed. She had come to know Hannah well during her last stay in Chomac and the rowdy innkeeper had no ill intent for her. Carefully, after ushering a drunken noble to take her seat, she crossed the room to the stranger and sat across the table from him, trying to peer into the depths of the cloak. He turned away from her, as if trying to conceal something, and seemed to stare into the fire. “Good evening.” Elli raised her glass and took a long pull, trying to appear as friendly as she could. She had no idea what had drawn her to this person, she had long valued her privacy in a tavern, knowing that if-by some fluke of design-she got too drunk, anyone with her would undoubtedly learn of her elven heritage and disgraceful past. The man turned his head back toward her, face still hidden in shadow. Suddenly, she felt ridiculous, trying to get this stranger to talk to her. She stood and turned for the bar, thinking to sit and talk with Bryan-the innkeeper- or Hannah, when she wasn’t busy. The stranger reached out and grabbed her arm, spinning her around to face him. “Sit…please.” His voice was deep, soothing and somehow familiar to Elli, though she didn’t quite know how or why. “Sorry.” She sat, staring at this man with renewed curiosity. Again, she felt stupid, this time for having left both her weapons in her room. Well, she had the daggers in her boots but reaching for either now would only draw unwanted attention. Before she was consciously aware of saying anything, she had asked the question that was bothering her most: “Who are you?” “A friend.” Again, that soft voice, slightly husky-but not overly so-and soothing. Elli felt the spark of recognition but couldn’t place the voice. He grasped his hood and for a moment, she thought he would reveal himself. She caught a small glint below the cloth before he pulled the cowl even lower, blocking her only sight of his face. “Trust me, Ellianna. I would not bring harm to you.” “You know my name?” Elli abruptly slammed her cup to the table, and adjusted her scarf again, just to make sure her head was fully covered. “I know many things. Please, walk with me.” He stood and motioned for her to follow. As she got up to do so, she realized he had charmed her somehow and she really had no idea what she was doing. Her hand instinctively went to her belt for her whip and she silently berated herself for leaving it in the room. She followed him into the streets and around to the back of the tavern. As they rounded a corner, she noticed he walked with a slight limp, favoring his right leg. “Where are you taking me?” Elli finally found her voice and called out to the cloaked stranger ahead of her. “Where we will not be overheard. I cannot trust this to anyone but you.” He suddenly rounded on her, cloak billowing around his body and making him seem too large. He pulled her to the ground and sat beside her, again clutching at his hood. “It has been so very long, Elli. I trust you will not tell a soul of our encounter?” She nodded, confused by his talk and the familiarity of his voice. “I will tell no one.” She had no intention of keeping her promise if this man turned out to be hostile in any way. “Good. I must ask you not to scream…I doubt you will recognize me.” Suddenly, he pulled his hood down, exposing something Elli hadn’t been expecting. The left side of his face was covered in a bronze mask, engraved with intricate detail and runes around the eyehole. From that slit, a bright, green eye shone, piercing her with its gaze. The other side of his face was normal, full lipped with a tiny nose and another green orb below a thin eyebrow. All this was topped by a mop of light brown hair, mussed from the cloak hood. His mouth was drawn into a tight line and it looked as if he fully expected her to run. “Do you know me?” “I don’t know. Your voice…that I think I know. But I haven’t heard it in so long. And I never knew anyone with a…face like yours.” She stumbled through the words, hoping she didn’t embarrass him into hiding the intriguing mask again. He laughed, a hearty sound that nearly put Elli at ease. “A young magician, so promising in your father’s house. He followed you like a dog, hounding your every step. He never left your side and always tried to impress you. Until-” “Until one of his spells went wrong. He blew out half the house and Father was furious! I never saw him again after that. How did…” It dawned on her now. Her own brown eyes widened and she leaned away from him to take in more of his appearance. She carefully cocked her head to one side and wrinkled her brow in confusion. “They said you were dead. The house was destroyed beyond repair and we had to build another. It drove us all crazy. How did you survive it?” “Do you even remember my name? Or am I wasting my time?” He began to hike his hood up over his head again, suddenly ashamed of his ruined face. “R-R-oh forget it. I buried those memories so long ago. Please,” She placed her hand on his arm, halting his motions. She smiled at him, trying to comfort him. “A bit of jogging my mind would help. I’ve been so long on the road with only myself.” “Roawan.” He tore away from her and hid his face within his hood. “My name’s Roawan.” “Wait. Where are you going?” Elli stood with him and kept a hand on his arm, memories flooding into her mind, things she had purposefully forgotten: grief, death and war. She couldn’t remember if the pleasant memories were fiction or fact. It was worth a try anyway. “I remember now…Roawan, the boy I kissed.” Roawan whirled around, his green eyes glinting in the shadows of his hood. When he spoke, his voice was no longer sweet and soothing but bitter and almost threatening. “No, you didn’t kiss me. Never. I was your father’s slave, the boy he showed for entertainment when he had company. How I longed to run away with you, though. My spell wasn’t flawed. I tried to kill myself, knowing he would never let me have you, and you were too involved in your studies to care much. If it wasn’t for my instincts, I would be dead. I rolled away at the last moment, thinking I had a plan. Of course, the blast still caught me, ruined my face and tore that plan from my mind. I’ve never been able to recover it.” He hung his head, turning away from her. Suddenly, he whirled around again, pointing at his face under his hood. “Now I’m this!” “I swear I kissed a boy named Roawan.” Elli shook her head, not sure if she understood all of this. “And I don’t tell that to everyone.” “What did you do when they told you I was dead?” “Buried myself in my studies, tried to forget. And for a while, I succeeded, driving you from my mind with all my heart. But I knew there was no way I could forget you. Then I found my calling, not to fight for a position of power among the elves, not to settle down and run a tavern. I hunt undeads, Roawan.” Her voice had fallen to a whisper, not to proud to proclaim her profession. “I know.” He turned away from her again, shuddering. When again he spoke, his voice was broken with sorrow. “I must leave. Forgive me.” “Wait!” Elli yelled as he whirled around once again and swept past her, mumbling under his breath. She felt something crack into the back of her head and darkness enveloped her. * * * * * * Bryan leaned over her, shaking his head at Hannah. He pulled away and turned to the other woman, a grave look on his face. “Hunter?” Hannah’s voice was high with fear, the accent she always adopted around the tavern gone without a trace. “Do we have to move again, Bryan? Is it really necessary?” “I don’t know yet. She doesn’t seem to know what we are. Call Sprite.” Bryan stalked out the door, planning to go for the other member of his “family,” Julien, a weapon smith and master. “Get her to the cellar and prepare the coffins for travel. I’ll be back.” Hannah nodded, glanced back at the sleeping woman on the bed and closed the door silently behind her. She made her way to a back room reserved for the family and knocked quietly. The door opened slowly to reveal a wide-eyed girl, no older then fifteen. She smiled at Hannah and swung the door open the rest of the way. Hannah entered, studying the girl worriedly. She was small, graceful and resembled the stereotypical elf of the humans; her short, black hair framed her small face with its small, fragile-looking features. The most striking thing about Sprite was her eyes; large and slanted, they were ice blue, piercing anything they saw to the other side. “Bryan’s found a hunter. We need to prepare to leave.” Hannah flinched at the girl’s open resentment. “Must we?” Sprite, the youngest of the family, sat down heavily on the floor and stared up at Hannah, wrapping her arms around her curled legs. “We must prepare, Sprite. There is no telling what will happen if we don’t.” “But I like it here. They like my dancing.” She had always been fond of dancing and since they had moved into Chomac, she had perfected her body, becoming one of the best dancers in the land. Every night, she would perform for the patrons of Näwal Ho’na to bring in extra money. “Are you sure?” Bryan’s deep voice sounded from down the hallway, extraordinarily loud to the sensitive ears of the two undeads. “No doubt.” Julien answered him, voice only slightly softer but higher in pitch. “Perfect. Hannah, are we ready to leave?” He pushed the door open and stepped into the room, flinching at the bright light. Julien followed, taller and thinner then the innkeeper. “Not yet. Why all the hurry?” She hooked her arms under Sprite’s shoulders and hoisted the girl to her feet. “Another undead is here. I’m certain.” Julien glanced nervously at the women and then back out to the hallway. “Another? What if the hunter is not on our trail? What if she’s looking for that one?” Sprite was overly hopeful in Julien’s eyes but she bounded over to him, smiling hopefully and he couldn’t bring himself to say no. “It’s possible, but unlikely. I only barely saw the tracks myself but there is no doubt there is another in our realm.” He pushed the girl away, crossing to the rug in the middle of the floor. “We must leave.” Bryan nodded and followed Julien down the trapdoor in the floor into the underground passages he had built for them. Hannah pushed Sprite down before her and followed only after making sure the door to the room was soundly locked. * * * * * * It was dark when Elli woke and her time sense was again skewed. She immediately sat up in the bed, wondering if “last night’s” events had merely been her imagination. The elves had always shunned her for an over-active imagination. Carefully, she stood and crossed to the corner where she had left her weapons. She sighed heavily when she found them, tucked up next to the wall where she had left them. As she pushed the whip into her belt, she turned back to the room and tried to penetrate the deep shadows. She was unnerved when her elven eyes didn’t pick out anything but she could clearly sense there was something else there. The reminder of her heritage brought another nervous adjustment of her scarf but when she reached up, she realized it was no longer on her head. She dropped a fist into her palm in frustration and turned back to the bed, hoping against hope that her sense was nothing more then paranoia. “Looking for this?” The same husky voice from last night called from the shadows and her gray scarf appeared, followed by the same cloaked figure, hood drawn up over his head. “Yes.” Elli, unnerved by his sudden appearance and still not sure if this was the same man she had known in her youth, snatched the scarf and jammed it onto her head. Her hand floated near her whip handle but she forced herself not to draw it. “Get out.” “I have information for you. Concerning the undeads you came here to hunt.” Roawan sat on the bed, seeming not to notice her anger, or her whip. “What undeads? I came here for supplies. It was the largest place around for that.” Elli glared at him, half hoping he would lower the hood again. “You didn’t know of the city’s plight?” He was genuinely surprised as if he had actually expected her to have known of something happening out of her normal realm. “What are you talking about?” Her hand hovered dangerously near her whip but he didn’t seem to take note. “I had no idea of undeads in the area.” “Right.” Roawan slowly lowered his hood and stared at her. “And you didn’t know about me either.” “No, I still thought you dead!” She was agitated now and pulled her whip, pointing it accusingly at him. “Tell me what you’ve come to say and get out.” “Chomac has been haunted by an undead or more for years, though they obviously hunt outside the city on occasion. These have not been overly active within the city for some time but they are here.” He lowered his gaze to the floor, ashamed of his appearance. “How do you know?” Slowly, she put the whip away and began pacing the room, not sure of his trustworthiness. “I have my sources.” He shrugged and chanced a glance up at her. “I can help you.” “How?” “I’m a magician, remember?” He smiled weakly and tried to hide his mask without pulling up the hood again. “They are closer then you think.” “What would you do when the battle began? Run and hide like you did from that spell of yours?” Elli knew the spell would strike a weak spot in him and force him to answer truthfully. Without answering, Roawan stood and reached his hands into the opposing sleeves, quickly drawing out two long, thin rods of a silver metal. He flicked his wrists down hard and the rods transformed. They whined softly as they extended horizontally until they were no longer rods but discs, ragged around the edges and sharpened, perfect for throwing and taking the head of an opponent. Elli gasped as he deftly swept them in a circle, bringing them to a halt before his masked face. “I have my weapons,” he growled. As much as he had wanted to be with Elli in youth, he found her too cautious now and overly self-centered. “So I see.” She smiled and casually rested her arm across her whip. “I can’t handle people to well.” “And you want me to?” He nearly laughed as his discs retracted to their former rod shape and he pushed them back up his sleeves. When he had finished, he pointed incredulously to his face. “With this?” “Hey, you never know.” Elli shrugged, adjusted her scarf again and sat down beside him. Something was bothering her, nagging at the back of her mind. If this really was Roawan, the boy she had spent so much time with in their youth, why had he not sought her out before? And how could she tell if this truly was the same man, besides the unnerving fact that he seemed to know so much about her past, so much that she had purposefully forgotten. “There’s something I used to call you…oh, what was it?” “Magically inept? Bookworm? Pup? Roa?” He smiled at her surprised look and laughed as she shook her head in amazement. His grin only grew as she continued to stare at him and shake her head slowly. “Roa. You really are Roawan, aren’t you?” “You still hold doubts.” He turned away from her so only the right side was visible to her, the flesh still unscarred. “You’ve changed, Elli. No longer the happy-go-lucky girl I knew. Now you’re the frightened hunter, trying to support yourself well enough to live. It’s a change, I must admit.” “Oh, and you haven’t changed?” She understood her mistake when he flinched and slid his hand to the mask. “I’m sorry-I didn’t realize…” “I know.” Roawan continued to stare at the wall, not even turning an eye to Elli and seeming to sink deep within himself. “The sun’s rising. The undeads are trapped here for another day.” “What are you talking about? I haven’t heard of or sensed any undead. What are you keeping secret?” Elli paced to the window behind Roawan and threw open the shutters, wondering how he knew of the approaching dawn. “No more than you are. There are two, possibly more, in Chomac. They know exactly where you are and thus have the advantage. I have my own business to attend to. I will rejoin you here, tomorrow at dawn.” He stood, pulling the cowl up over his head and once again casting his face in shadow. “Prepare yourself, Ellianna; the undeads will not tolerate your presence.” Without glancing back at her, he swept out of the room, leaving the elvish hunter lost in confusion. She fell onto the bed and stared out the window. “Pardon my intrusion, Miss.” Another man, dressed in a leather hauberk and breeches covered by a floor-length, green cloak, stood in the doorway. A small triangular cap covered his head with a feather stuck in the rim and a thin but strong looking staff rested comfortably in his hand. Upon closer inspection, a full quiver was slung over his back, a bowstring tucked into his belt and his muscles were tense, prepared for battle. “I couldn’t help but overhear. You’re a hunter?” “I suppose.” Elli was cautious, watching his terse movements with apprehension. He bowed deeply, sweeping his hat off his head and holding it before his chest. “I offer my services in the hunt. I believe I know where we may start.” “Who are you?” She fidgeted with the dangling edge of her scarf even as her other hand slid to the handle of her whip. “Wenoa DeMontè…” he hesitated as if not sure if he should continue. A smile broke his face as he straightened and replaced his cap. “Ranger in these lands. And what would an elf such as yourself be doing here alone? Surely you weren’t planning to hunt without a companion!” “I’ve done it before and survived.” Elli dropped her hand from her scarf. If he hadn’t already stated that he was a ranger, she would have been thoroughly confused, how had he known she was elf? “But you have sensed them before,” he pointed out. His smile had flown from his face but he seemed more relaxed, his stance less stiff. “May I come in?” “Please.” She tried, futilely, to hide the bitterness in her voice. How did these types of people find her? She held no love for rangers, especially one who seemed to already know so much about her, but could not deny the possible advantages of such a powerful ally. Wenoa carefully crossed to the chair below the window and sat with his back to the wall, laying the staff across his knees. “You have not tasted the strength of these particular creatures. I have reason to believe there are four in this section of the city alone, all working together.” His voice took on Elli’s bitterness. “The nobles here are too foolhardy to realize they’re being drained. They believe that if they ignore the undead, they will disappear, like the peasants they kill. Bah.” “I’ve never put much hope in the humans. Half of them don’t believe in the undead and the other half are deemed too superstitious to listen to. Why four?” “Different bites. I’ve counted four so far. One prefers to feed from the wrist of the victims and has a tiny bite, probably the youngest. Another prefers to kill its victims, largest bite. The other two are somewhere in between and both tend to leave victims confused or disorientated, wandering around for hours before someone finds them.” He shrugged and continued to watch her. “Right.” Elli narrowed her eyes suspiciously and made a little half-bow with her head. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to rest.” “One more thing, please. I know where to begin our search.” “Our?” “I assumed we would ally ourselves against these four. Is that a problem?” Wenoa stood and crossed to the door, stopping just inside the room and glancing back over his shoulder. “If you change your mind, I’m staying in the Velvet Rose, just down the street.” He nodded curtly and left her alone to contemplate his information. Instead of leaving right away, he sat at the bar for a while, mulling over his options.