Megame found she liked Cade more and more as they continued their travels through the dim paths and narrow trails of the backwoods of Romania. She enjoyed his somewhat gruff demeanor and was amused by his casual way of speaking. Cade, for his part, didn’t seem to mind their company much either, particularly Hachi’s.
He was also a wealth of amusing anecdotes and stories, particularly about vampires.
“See the thing is,” Cade said, coming to the conclusion of one of his many stories. “A lot of Vampires in North Germany can’t actually sense the presence of garlic, even though they’re violently allergic to it. So I give him a bag I say is maiden blood, right? Well, he was so eager for a drink he was halfway through it before he realized it was said maiden’s grandmother’s homemade garlic sauce dyed red!”
Their laughter echoed through the quiet forest as they continued their careful trek down the nature trails.
“Mmm, how far is the road?” Kara asked, by far the most subdued of the four of them.
“Just a few kilometers ahead.” Cade said.
“You live pretty far from the road for someone who travels so much, Cade-san.” Megame noted, recalling how remote his cabin had been when they finally found it.
“I prefer my privacy.” Cade shrugged. “And I tend not to get along with people in the long term, differences of opinion and all that.”
“I suppose I can understand that…” Megame said, not sure what he meant by ‘differences of opinion.’
“Now, foxes on the other hand…” He gave a smile to Hachi, still in her more human form, who smiled back at him with her own teasing toothed grin.
Megame rolled her eyes. She thought it was cute that Hachi was flirting with someone, but it could be a little overt at times, particularly how flagrantly seductive Hachi could get at times. Given her own fox magic, it could be distracting for everyone.
“Well, if we’re getting close,” Kara said. “Then I’ll take point, you three stay a little behind and I’ll call if I see anything ahead.”
“Is that…really necessary?” Megame asked. “What could be on the road that we need a scout for?”
“Bandits and highwaymen,” Kara offered. “And that’s just on the mundane side of things.”
“She’s right.” Cade said. “Most nomadic monsters make their hunting grounds on roadways. There’s a reason trolls like to hide under bridges, why not make your house right beneath where your favorite meal has a lot of foot traffic?”
“There are trolls in Romania?” Megame asked.
“Well…you get the point at least.” Cade said, before gesturing for Kara to move ahead with a wave of his hand. “Just don’t get too far ahead in case you need backup.”
Megame heard something that might have been a snort of derision as Kara moved quickly ahead of them, soon vanishing into the trees like a shadow.
“She can be a bit of a handful, eh?” Cade asked, watching her go.
“Mmm…” Megame only made a neutral noise, before reluctantly offering more. “I like her but she can be…reticent.”
“Well, she has reason enough to be.” Cade said.
“What does that mean?” Megame asked, and Cade gave her a sidelong glance.
“How much has that girl told you about herself?”
“Not very much…” Megame admitted, knowing she had dominated conversation since she had first met Kara. There truly wasn’t much she knew about her.
“Well, I can’t say I now very much myself, but what I do know isn’t my business to reveal.”
“That’s understandable.” Megame sighed. She didn’t want to pry into Kara’s personal affairs if she didn’t want them to be known, but it was still a little disappointing overall.
“Well if you can’t tell me about her” Megame said after a few moments of silence “What can you tell me about this vampire, Constantin was it?”
Cade’s eyes slowly turned upwards, as if lost in thought. “Old Constantin and I have…something of an understanding.” He said after some consideration. “A deal we made a couple of decades ago.
Megame looked at him curiously. “Decades? Cade-san you don’t look more than thirty-five.”
Cade let out a light barking laugh. “That’s awfully kind of ya to say, Megame, but I’m a fair bit older than that.”
“But how’s that possible?” She asked. “Are you magic?”
“Well I don’t practice magic.” Cade said. “Other than your basic ritual stuff any old person could do but…I suppose you could say I have a bit of an eclectic ancestry.”
“Er…” Megame wasn’t entirely sure what that meant.
“Poor Megame-chan,” Hachi cooed teasingly. “It’s never easy being the youngest in a group.”
Megame frowned, she didn’t like being reminded that she was significantly younger than the fox.
She’d read once in an encyclopedia that a fox usually lived around five years in the wild. Hachi’s human form appeared to be in her mid to late-twenties, and her teasing youthful nature spoke to something similar. In reality, the bright-eyed fox was past ninety years old, an age Megame herself would likely never reach.
“So what kind of agreement do you have?” She asked, trying to change back the subject. “How do you make agreements with a vampire?”
“Well, it’s not that hard to be honest.” Cade said. “You have to understand that, when they’re well-fed, a vampire is about as reasonable as a person with a cigarette addiction. They have their needs but they can talk things out just fine. Things only get trickier the longer they go without their ‘fix’. Give it a few weeks and it’s like negotiating with a crack addict, a month and it’s like dealing with a rabid animal.”
“But that means they’re only reasonable if they’re feeding on people!” Megame objected.
“Ya, something of a catch-22 for the overly-principled, which is why vampire hunters tend to split into two camps.”
“Groups, sides, whatever. Point is, on the one side you have your vampire hunters who think all vampires are an abomination unto their respective Lord and should be extinguished to the very last. Given that they’re parasitic undead that need to victimize the living to sustain themselves that’s not an entirely unreasonable stance to take, and there truly is no dealing with some of the nastier breeds of vamp.”
“That kind is prevalent in all breeds of monster hunter.” Hachi sighed. “You’ll find more rabid monks in Japan that would try to eradicate my kind if they could.”
“I take it you’re in the other camp then?” Megame asked.
“That’s right.” Cade said. “We’re a bit more adaptable from a moral standpoint, and we’re willing to compromise for the mutual benefit of everyone. Push comes to shove though and I’ve staked more than my fair share of vampires.”
“So when you met Constantin you managed to…negotiate with him?”
“Well, yes.” Cade nodded. “We negotiated a bit violently at first. Angry words were said, threats were made, furniture was thrown, but we managed to work things out after a little while.”
“What did you work out?” Megame was honestly curious now.
“Well you see, most people hate when vampires come to town. For good reason too as even the most pacifist vegan vampires have a tendency to go full-chupacabra and suck the livestock dry.”
“I…what?” Megame didn’t understand much of the sentence offered.
“Never mind.” Cade waved it off. “Needless to say, I was a bit perplexed when the people of Arbessos were actively defending Constantin rather than riding up to his castle, torches ablaze and pitchforks ready.”
“They were defending him? But he drank their blood!” Megame said, shocked.
“Caught me off guard as well.” Cade nodded in agreement. “So I asked around. Turns out that while some of them got a bit anemic, he never drank anyone dry past the point of a little lightheadedness. He never over-indulged, never kidnapped anyone, and never turned anyone else into one of his own breed.”
“That’s…” Megame was honestly surprised to hear about that level of restraint from a monster.
“Weird, right?” Cade said. “So I assumed he must have half the town hypnotized or something. Turns out I was wrong there too, they just honestly liked the old bloodsucker.”
“But why? Even if no one died he was still going around drinking their blood that must be horrible!”
“Well, bit of a correction there.” Cade said sheepishly. “Depending on the vamp, bloodsucking can either be traumatically painful for the victim or intensely pleasurable. Turns out Constantin’s one of the latter. On top of which…well, Romania gets a lot of bad say when it comes to vampire thanks to a certain Irish author by the name of Stoker. But their history says otherwise. A lot of the people in Arbessos believe Constantin to be old Vlad III reborn, their eternal protector. And from what I saw last time I was there, he did his fair share of keeping other monsters at bay. The town might be his feeding grounds, but it was also his territory, and he wasn’t about to let any other monster have its way.”
“So he keeps them safe?” Megame asked.
“Makes sense on the surface, he’s protecting his food supply for one thing, but once I parsed some proper words with him…well he seemed more like a local entrepreneur than a menace. Said he was just keeping his family’s castle safe from anyone else.”
Megame frowned, not sure what to do with this information. Sure stories about friendlier vampires were pretty common when she was growing up, lots of romantic novels and manga were about more romantic and outgoing vampires, but she was used to the real thing being so much uglier and dirtier than stories, it was rather surprising to find something closer to the modern depiction.
“But Kara still wants to kill him? Well…re-kill him I guess?”
Cade smiled. “Don’t get too caught up on the vocabulary when it comes to undead. As for our friend…well I can’t really guess her motives. Arbessos is a small town and they tend not to advertise that they’re housing a vampire. It took me a few months to track him down the first time.”
“Do you think Kara can be convinced to let him go? I mean if no one’s being hurt…”
“A person like her tends to see things in black and white.” Cade said. “She might not even be happy about it, but it’s her job and her duty as far as she can see it.”
Megame frowned “Can’t you tell me anymore about it?”
Hachi leaned in on Cade’s other side, wrapping her hands around his arm as eh pulled herself closer. “Can’t you tell us even a little, Caaade…” She stretched his name with a teasing lilt of the tongue.
“Should’ve known never to get mixed up with foxes.” Cade said though it was clear how little he minded the attention. “All I’m going to say is there’s a lot more to that girl than she’s letting on.”
“Well, I knew that!” Megame complained. “You make it sound like she’s not even human.”
Cade said nothing, merely looking off into the distant trees as if worried he was stepping into the sights of Kara’s rifle. “Well then take it from me, if you want to know more you’ll have to pull it out of her. I’m not saying a word.”
“Well I plan to…somehow” Megame sighed reluctantly as the trio made their way out of the forests and towards the open road.