Born To Run

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Aine

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The strength was pouring to her veins with every gulp and it felt damn amazing; agony comparable to being stretched on the rack, famous torture device invented by good people of old Rome, curiously grew into pleasant fatigue one has after lifting the weights for excessive amount of time. Rowena was still physically weak and somewhat shaken from the experience - mere shadow of her usual self brimming over with boldness that could knock out weaker individuals - but she was steadily getting better. The bone fell back into its place like last disobedient puzzle piece, leaving behind only exceptionally ugly memory. Old wounds, however, belonged to history and boring, dusty books; Rowena had always followed philosophy of enjoying the moment whenever the opportunity arised. And there was so much to enjoy right now...

Her mind, hazy to the point of being completely empty, couldn't come up with a suitable adjective to grasp the flavor of Darien's blood. The taste was so different from any other liquid she had ever drunk that common vocabulary failed to fulfill its function; she really should have widened her literary horizons since the only words that seemed applicable were "otherworldly," "divine" or "yummy". Yeah, not exactly representative nor tremendously descriptive. Rowena was normally overly ferocious about guarding her sacred personal space since nine out of ten people who got this close tried to do something particularly nasty, yet when Darien bent over her protectively, she couldn't help but feel safe. The way he held her was somewhat reassuring; perhaps the seductive taste had really gone on a ruthless hunt to dispose of her brain cells considering the relaxedness she was able to archieve in his presence. Truth to be told, not even medium-sized nuclear blast could distract her right now. Yes, it could kill her effortlessly, but that was another story. Rowena kept on sucking lightly, careful as if Darien's skin had the qualities of costly silk... And then, the logical, rational part of her personality that hadn't turned into cotton candy yet started wondering about the Hekan's suspicious docility. Sure, you could count on venom in her teeth to shut down humans' pain receptors, but that usually didn't stop them from putting up at least a symbolic resistance; survivor instincts were encoded in the very core of their DNA. She looked up to Darien questioningly just to meet his gaze; gaze free of worry and malicious intent. Rowena admitted in the privacy of her soul that when he wasn't frowning at her with resentment, Darien was actually rather handsome.

Maybe it was just the moonlight complimenting his features or the intoxication affecting her, but he looked so serene, so heartfelt... She could have spared her pride from another mortal blow if she just shut up and waited for few seconds. Rowena, however, was too talkative for her own good even under normal circumstances... And there was no filter of reason available right now to sort out what should be said and what probably shouldn't. "Do you know," she proclaimed in all seriousness, "your eyes have the strangest shade of blue I've ever seen in my life? So pretty..." She touched his face, fascinated as a child catching the first butterfly after long season of winter. Of course, shortly after that, the hypnotic spell broke and Rowena's previously blissful expression quickly transformed into full-fledged horror. She flinched away from him immediately as if he was carrier of some uncurable disease, looking appropriately unsettled. Ominous silence descended on them until she dared to speak again. "... Tell me the aliens kidnapped me and replaced my memories with fake ones."
 

The Returner

Brilliant Psychopath
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Basically anything as long as it has a good story line.
Darien paid no attention to the land around which had nothing too interesting to offer anyway apart from endlessness of sand and death. His eyes were set on Rowena. The moment she looked up at him, his dulled mind could swear that for a second he wanted to seize her lips and just taste the remnants of his own blood, but something held him back and instead of fulfilling that fantasy the Hekan looked at his damsel in distress. Rowena's expression shown a great interest in something, her expression somewhat enchanted. He couldn't escape the feeling that Rowena was studying Darien again under a different light, from different ankle as if she was re-evaluating who he was and what she thought of him. Only from afar, his sane self could relax as his wrist was no longer being sucked on because whatever her fangs were doped with, it prevented him from acting on the basis of self-preservation and in the state in which he was, he wouldn't notice being completely drained. It raised a question in the dark and distant corner of his mind. Was Rowen putting on another act and she knew all the time what she was doing? That uncertainty came and went. Then Rowena touched his face, with that simple physical contact something, that was only audible inside Darien's mind, got broken and his sane self got back the reins and pulled Darien back...literally.

As Rowena flinched away, Darien moved back at the same time letting her go as if she was a dangerous predator. In that silence that followed, Darien had truly hard time believing what has just happened and confusion mixed with embarrassment in such a great way for couple moments Darien wished to be still on his way to Cairo for execution. His facial muscles tensed creating a focused mask behind which Darien analyzed everything that has happened and indeed he was horrified because of the way he regarded Rowena back then. Yes, she was attractive and if she were a human, Darien would take his chance. But for Christ's sake, she was a vampire! And she was still his enemy no matter what pact they have entered. Looking away from her, frowning once again, he finally managed to put his scattered thoughts into something that resembled order. "Whatever has just happened will not happen again. For the good of...both of us," Darien replied to Rowena and stood up again still refusing to look at her and covering his uncomfortableness by looking at his wrist that had two small punctures on it. Another wound that added to his already damaged body. Darien undid the provisional bandage from his palm and extended it to his wrist just to prevent infection from getting inside these bite marks. Once that was done, Darien felt way better. The evidence of what has happened was now covered and what is out of sight, is also out of mind.

"So what I wanted to say before you collapsed and begged me for help was that if we go north east, instead of going straight north, we are more likely to hit the river and a ghetto where we could get more supplies." His voice was already sounding the same as before, confident and resolute. Without prodding, he volunteered to carry the rucksack considering that Rowena could still be weak and he definitely didn't want her to feed on him again or getting her any closer to him than at the length of an extended arm and a bit further for that matter. As he placed the folded chute on his back comfortably, he looked back at Rowena for the first time since the 'spell' was broken. His expression once again hard to read but there was a slight change obvious in his eyes. He closed off, hiding whatever he was thinking or feeling inside, keeping himself and his sanity safe that way. "So which way was north again?"
 
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Aine

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Rowena had thought she couldn't be possibly more displeased with herself after going so far as to form an alliance with Hekan, but the gods were evidently hellbent on showing her whole new dimensions of moral decay and shame. Drinking his blood was heinous insult to all she had once regarded as holy, yet desperate situations call for desperate measures and it could be justified with ease. She'd gladly stomp on any tradition to save her own skin; singing praises to majestic shade of his eyes was completely different league, though. Yes, they had certain charm, just as the man himself, but... Wait, what?! Important inner note about Hekan blood: causes permanent brain damage. Might as well be subtle tool to fight the vampires. NEVER AGAIN. "I think I'll stick to my aliens theory. Way more plausible than... whatever happened. Which actually DIDN'T happen," Rowena commented on Darien's conclusion, obviously very uncomfortable. She was stubbornly studying the ground as if she could discover the meaning of life through counting all the grains of sand; her former subordinates would have been truly stunned upon finding out their standoffish commander had more expressions than "slightly pissed off", "murderous rage" and various transitions between the two states.

Judging by Darien's tone of voice and attempts to hide the tiny marks she had left on his wrist, he also didn't seem too happy about the joy they had shared minutes ago. His misery - or more accurately, the fact that it was equally awkward for both parties - made her feel a little better, yet not by much. Rowena's hectic lifestyle of tracking dangerous criminals didn't really support healthy relationships; it was inevitable she would get lonely sometimes, but looking for solace in his arms exceeded all the limits. She shot him a dark look when he spoke again; dealing with insecurities had its time and place. Given that their bond was founded on eternal power struggle and flat-out refusal to budge, this moment clearly didn't qualify for battling inner demons. Rowena put the mask of detached aloofness on again, even though the remark about her weakness hit the sensitive spot with force of hurricane. She just nodded grudgingly, not wishing to dig herself deeper. Orientation in unfamiliar terrain posed no problem to her, but that was a useless skill when she didn't have an idea where to go; Darien provided a reasonable plan. "And they say that females have no sense of direction," Rowena smirked in response to his question and pointed to the sky. "See this group of stars? Your ancestors named it Small dipper in a fit of creativity. Last star on its handle shows the north, which means north-east is approximately this way."

And with that, our improbable companions embarked on their journey. The desert promptly decided to bless the pair by introducing them to all the famous temperature extremes this climate had to offer; nights were freezing while the sun threatened to bake them alive. Rowena's predicament logically prohibited traveling in daytime - she needed to retreat to shadow under the parachute that served as a roof of improvised camp - but that didn't save her from hellish heat. Sand was absolutely everywhere, crawling even under their clothes... To top it off, Rowena shrugged off the humiliation fairly quickly and embraced her vitriolic attitude with great enthusiasm. There were slight changes to her behavior, mainly that she kept the distance from Darien dutifully, but nothing could persuade her to stop waving around the sarcasm flag. Darien, whose fate largely depended on scarce sources of water, often had to put up with lovely comment such as: "I've heard it's perfectly hygienic to isolate water from human urine." On the other hand, she also helped him to gather liquids from few tenacious plants that grew there, even without his explicit request, and generally made herself useful.

After three tedious days, the gate of the Asyut ghetto finally emerged in front of them. Its high walls were made of crumbling stone, yet they still seemed quite solid; nice cage to keep the servile humans safely inside. Rowena frowned because the vile stench of unwashed bodies hit her nose. "And my hopes of glorious bath are thwarted again," she exclaimed aloud, sounding positively annoyed. She felt all scratchy and dirty, which didn't add to her mood; she would have sacrificed her right hand for a shower. "What should I do for few drops of water? Perform the rain dance?" Rowena indicated several peculiar movements, parodying the said dance. She didn't really care about looking ridiculous; humor was the only way she could blow some steam. Despite the complaints, Rowena quickened her pace. The desired civilization was near, even if it consisted of enslaved apes. They arrived at the gate at last; there was a robust black-haired man guarding it, his eyes cloudy with weariness. No other bypass to get to ghetto existed, so Rowena just utilized her natural authority. "Hey, you. Open the gate at once. Presto!" she struck him with tone that was soaked with unspoken menace; it was voice of someone who was used to obedience. The man winced, apparently ready to comply automatically, but hen he focused at Darien and his face twisted with hatred. "You, ma'am, can come in. Not that fiend, though."
 
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The Returner

Brilliant Psychopath
Invitation Status
Writing Levels
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Basically anything as long as it has a good story line.
And so after the incident they embarked on the journey through the land of desolation and oblivion where one can die, forgotten for eternity. At first the silence was odd and uncomfortable just giving more reality to what has happened and Darien as hell was sure that if the spell, or whatever it was, wasn't broken, there would be more to regret. Rowena, too, was exceptionally quiet which somehow assured Darien that she was probably affected in the same way as he was. Though, it didn't take her long to regain her previous enthusiasm and energy with which she so wholeheartedly began dropping those sarcastic comments. Just as he though, that he could get used to her unnecessary remarks, there were times when he felt like strangling her, or replying in kind with some ironic, deeply cutting response which would shut her mouth if even for couple minutes. However, every time he somehow managed to hold himself back. After all, Rowena didn't pushed him that far over the edge just yet, but soon enough if she would carry on, Darien might as well lose his self-control and say, or do something, that even Rowena might not expect. Well, let's just say that when he got angry, you wished that you were rather killed by the mutating consequences of atomic bomb exploding in your neighborhood. Truth be told, Rowena wasn't just words and sarcasm and she did help from time to time which slightly convinced Darien that she took their partnership somewhat seriously. At least to the extent that she didn't want him to die of thirst. Believe it or not, Darien started to trust Rowena, but only as much as you would fit in a thimble but in comparison with his utter skepticism in the beginning, this could be noted as a very good, but still somehow reluctant progress.

As they made their way in the north-east direction, Darien was somehow glad that they peregrinated mainly during the night when the heat wasn't so bad. Though, it was challenging to get some sleep during the day when the sun almost tried to fry them in the spot. Sleep itself wasn't that much of a kind companion at first either. Each time, Darien would close his eyes and drift off, his mind would start playing tricks on him, his subconscious torturing him with the same scene of what has happened that night when they crash landed. Each time, he'd wake up grumpier than before. Thanks god that he could blame the heat and lack of food supplies for his dark mood which also safely covered the real reason for his irritation and discomfort. In times when he couldn't sleep or when he has just woken up due to the same vision re-appearing, Darien would practice his illusion skills, creating different objects from unidentifiable shapes to miniature stones and small animals. At one point, he tried to create a cat which turned out to be a hybrid one eye, three and half legs and obscured form. Indeed a good trick to scare children but he had an excuse for the lack of ability to generate a matching copy. He was still a beginner so from time to time his creations just lacked some things like details or proper form. However, the good part of their journey was also the fact that the further they moved, the less the dreams came as if the distance they put between themselves and the crash landing point, somehow made his memories disappear as well.

The night of the third day, Darien could see on the horizon a somehow distinctive shape of something that was unmistakably high walls. Some time past midnight, the two of them finally reached the Asyut ghetto. It didn't look as magnificent and pleasant from up close as it did from afar, though Darien felt somewhat relieved even when he saw the slowly disintegrating stone walls accompanied by the noisome odor which was rather repulsive. Rowena's imitation of the rain dance, believe it or not, created a shadow of a grin on Darien's face which was more amused than anything else. It was indeed another moment when Rowena wasn't that much her usual self and it was refreshing even though it didn't last long. At the gate, only one human stood on guard. Darien, as usual, had the inaccessibility written all over his face and he willingly left Rowena deal with the situation because vampires were still more feared than Hekans. Either way, he should have expected troubles. After all, everybody hated his kind but it always somehow felt as betrayal from the side of humans. Well, he wasn't that much different from them, apart from the fact that he had couple abilities and drinking his blood was forbidden to most of the vampires. He used to be a human too in the past and so no one should in fact call him a monster. Below the hurt there always emerged subtle anger combined with annoyance.

"You surely have a refined tongue, calling me a fiend. But I suppose you didn't really pay attention in the history class, did you? They would teach you there that Hekan are humans and that you shouldn't piss them off just as you shouldn't piss off a vampire," Darien said in a voice that was cold as ice and sharp as blade. The moment he finished talking a fist size stone that was laying by the base of the wall, flew throuh the air, hitting the man in the temple knocking him unconscious. Darien couldn't be bothered to try and catch the guard in fall, he was too 'weak' for that after traveling for so long. Giving Rowena the don't-question-me-about-this type of look, the Hekan freely entered the ghetto, as if he was the mayor of this god forsaken city, still cogitating about being labeled as a fiend. As he entered the area, the smell of unwashed bodies and very poorly done household waste collection, Darien remembered being in this ghetto once before.

"There is a little...hmmm, storage if you like. They have food supplies there plus some other stuff. We can get what we need in there and then be on our way," Darien explained to Rowena taking the first turn left expecting his vampire companion to follow. This place was nothing like the Asyut city before vampires seized it and made it into ghetto. The street were unkempt, dirty, with suspiciously looking lumps in the darkness of the shadows. Houses were almost in ruins and only few streetlamps worked making the whole place seem spooky as if taken from some old horror movie. "Nearly there," he murmured audibly enough for Rowena to hear but still keeping it as a whisper. Darien was sure that there were more guards somewhere in the city and anything loud could draw their attention which wasn't really desirable for Darien no matter the fact that he was with a vampire which should serve him as a kind of don't-touch-me badge. Though, as he turned the last corner that led to the storage building, he bumped into something and a dull thump followed the collision. He immediately saw the cause of the sudden clash. There was a group of the ghetto citizens in front of them and from the looks of it, these guys just helped themselves to some extra food guessing from the content of the box that were now scattered on the ground. In total there were three men and one woman, each holding similar box but the contents were hard to tell. One would think that these people would drop their stolen goods at the sight of a vampire and run for their life. But the initial surprise and possibly fear at the sudden, unexpected collision, changed into defiance of the purest quality as they spotted Rowena. The two man hastily put down their load and suddenly they were holding primitive weapons that, however, looked sharp enough to seriously hurt anyone.

"You stay away, leech," growled the man on the right, whose skin was sun burnt which was obvious even in such a poor lighting. His teeth were partially rotten and anyone was better to be far away than close to him to smell the guys breath. His other two companions just nodded in agreement, having same serious expressions. There wasn't a trace of fear or uncertainty in their movements. They were either mad already to stand against a vampire, or truly desperate to safe their own life because from the look of bite marks on their neck and arms, some of these wounds almost healed, some infected, these men served as a dinner a lot of times. Somehow their attitude reminded Darien of his own not so long ago disassembled team. Yet the memory was still too fresh to recall without any feeling of remorse; moreover, there wasn't even time for it. The fourth member of the group, the woman, was standing at the very back still holding the box, which was the smallest of all and somewhat resting on her belly. Her eyes were moving quickly from the men, to Rowena, to Darien, never stopping on anyone for too long as if she was analyzing the situation. She was the only one who had anxiety in her eyes, but something told Darien that she wasn't fearing for herself. Narrowing his eyes, Darien focused on her and it hit him with a force of a thunderstorm. That woman's belly...there was no doubt about the fact that she was pregnant. Clenching his teeth, Darien didn't like where this could go. He wasn't that much of a diplomat but he had to give it a try to save these humans.

"If I were you, I wouldn't mess with this woman. Trust me, she bites fast and deep," Darien warned them, somehow making a remark about the incident couple days ago. Whether in a try to re-direct Rowena's possible reaction or to unsettles her, it couldn't be told. "Shut up! You know nothing, Hekan," spat out the sun burnt lad without even bothering to look at Darien. "Get lost, leech. Feed on someone else tonight," added the man in the front who was even younger than Rowena, possibly. The hatred, which dripped off every word he said, spoke of years of execration and self-preservation. Living each day by minutes, dreading the dark nights when the hungry dead men come to suck on you, stealing away your precious blood and you can't do anything, just lay there and watch; otherwise, they'd kill you and you'd lose the battle. For that and many other reasons, Darien was glad he got out of the vicious circle of human fears; yet, it didn't lessen his own aversion towards vampires. He loathed them just as much as these people did, but he couldn't join them tonight because his hands were bind by a contract. Looking sideways at Rowena, he wondered what she'd do, but knowing her, she'd probably kill them all. Let her kill the men, but if she would land her hand on the woman, he swore to himself that he would turn sides and break the pact, no matter what rules he was meant to play by.
 
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Aine

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Rowena smirked in amusement when Darien launched into a tirade about the guard's low education level; mere mention of word "school" in the context of human race was indeed hilarious. The vampires had decided long time ago that the only knowledge their food needed was the ability to expose their neck without tiresome drama, which resulted in a generation where one was considered a genius if he could count to ten while not having to rely on his fingers as a mathematics tool. Well, according to her, the only thing that truly mattered in tastefully apocalyptic ghetto setting was being street smart; this man, on the contrary, clearly suffered from the case of being too dumb to live. She wanted to exchange a few kind words with him to talk him out of his racist standpoint, but Darien outstripped her. Rowena blinked several times as if trying to disperse some nosy delusion, and yet nothing changed about the guard's motionless body. "You should have said so beforehand if you wanted to switch to a bad cop. I have to prepare my good cop lines in advance or they sound horribly cheesy." She crossed the torso inattentively, her mind still focused on the previous incident. So Darien, her personal punching bag that swallowed every insult she threw at him without so much as wincing, could be provoked so simply by his own people? Interesting. She didn't expect him to jump in joy over being called a fiend - while the true monster here, the vampire, earned the status of "ma'am" no less - but she could sense genuine discomfort beneath the cold exterior.

The crooked streets of Asyut welcomed her with odor so intensive she had to fight the urge to cover her nose; it felt like a deliberate punch to her heightened vampire senses. Yes, superpowers of any kind, no matter how minor, usually tended to ask something in return to re-establish a balance. Nobody knew better than Rowena who literally started falling apart when the right constellation of stars occurred. Hekan's know-how was a pleasant surprise; running around the town blindly and annihilating any forms of life that seemed to pose a threat had its undeniable merits, mainly as the stress relief, but they were kind of in a hurry. Rowena often visited every lion's den with a frequency of hardcore masochist, yet she didn't desire to meet with her enemies unprepared. "Nice. Improvised scavenger hunt?" She followed him without a hint of disgust towards their rundown surroundings; it was immensely hard to insult Rowena's very liberal sense of aesthetics. Besides, she was just a guest in Asyut... And yeah, sympathy for those who had to spend their short, dread filled lives here simply didn't click with her personality. The commander in her, the mastermind responsible for many military operations, was already weaving the plans for their next steps; maybe it would be profitable to stop by Christian's place, ideally with plenty of Semtex to brighten his day. Rowena had always paid her debts and the guy had a significant dent in her book.

Suddenly, a bump cut through the silence of the night and Rowena found herself staring at rather pitiful group of shabby individuals. She didn't need to strain her deduction skills too much; it would have been far-fetched to assume those people were here to donate some food to their happy go lucky community. Half-insane flame in their eyes reminded her of the soldiers deployed in the first line; she had seen this kind of unyielding look that could be roughly translated as "I'm fucked anyway, so I might as well give it my all" many times. Even before either of them spoke, she knew safely they wouldn't pull out the white flag. How foolish; they should have escaped with their bare lives when they had an opportunity. Rowena had cultivated something like hyperactive self-preservation instinct over the years, so naturally, her instinctive reaction was to utterly crush those who opposed her. Darien apparently tired to calm the situation... And for a moment so brief it could be just the shadows playing tricks on him, Rowena looked somewhat flustered at the cunning innuendo concerning what had happened soon after the plane had crashed. She practically possessed a master's degree in suppressing the unwanted thoughts, but the infamous scene appeared in front of her vision in full colors as if it was burned indelibly in her brain... She slapped herself mentally. "Not nearly deep enough, if you ask me. Are your wounds okay?" she asked him nonchalantly and tilted her head aside, her confidence back. The humans still didn't get treated from their stupidity, though, so she directed her attention to them; bugs that were buzzing constantly deserved to be squished.

"This city seems to be full of people who crave to commit a suicide by proxy. Hey, guys, does any of you have a stopwatch?" Her stance was absolutely casual and tone of voice relaxed, but properly trained person could spot the slight change in her overall attitude; it was a calm before storm. She cracked her knuckles loudly, knowing damn well such a sound carried very unfortunate implications. "I am about to break my record in fast killing and that requires very accurate time measurement." This sentence alone made the sun burnt fellow lose the remnants of common sense and attack Rowena furiously. Scrawny, malnourished, already half-dead human against vampire with top-notch military training; he never stood a chance. She evaded the amateurish blow of spear-like weapon with elegance of ballerina, got close to him within few seconds and grabbed his greasy hair violently, breaking his neck in a single fierce movement. The dude didn't even have time to feel horror, which couldn't be said about his companions. "One down," she reported sweetly. Deceased man's friend howled vindictively; two males assaulted Rowena together, hoping to exploit their numerical superiority. It was heroic, but also rather idiotic as the pair obviously lacked coordination. She used the lifeless body as a meat shield, parrying both attacks with ease. The men tried really hard to pierce her through, which resulted in their weapons getting irredeemably stuck in the corpse. Tough luck. Rowena threw away the now useless body, smiled without a trace of happiness in her features and slammed their heads together with all her bizarre vampire strength; grinding sound ensued and the thieves collapsed silently.

"Three down, one more to go," she commented on her flattering statistics. The woman, while not trying to imperil her, belonged to the group and it was a tradition to apply a principle of collective guilt. Moreover, Rowena couldn't care less about well-being of some random human; she didn't even look at her face. That chick could have a giant question mark instead of normal features and she wouldn't have noticed. Only her sixth sense combined with peripheral vision warned her about the forthcoming danger, and even that wasn't enough; she jerked to the side quickly, but the silver knife still stabbed her right arm. Rowena immediately reached after the hilt to get it out of her limb that was already going balefully numb and turned around to confront the traitor. She narrowed her eyes in a hostile way, giving new meaning to the word "sinister"; trusting him certainly wasn't her most intelligent idea. "I guess it serves me right for not murdering you in your sleep, huh? Okay, lesson learned." While her voice didn't falter in the slightest, Rowena felt exceptionally enraged. It shouldn't have shocked her that Darien chose to join the crowd of persons who had back stabbed her, especially because it was so large, but it upset her for some reason. Why?! He was a freaking Hekan, she should have seen it coming ages ago. Well, she had no time to dabble in petty emotions; claw-like bones ruptured the skin on her knuckles, creating more frightening version of knuckledusters. Rowena raced towards him, silver knife in one hand, improvised knucks on other, with very clear intention of beating him to bloody pulp. Meanwhile, the woman took advantage of their melee and ran for her life. Well, at least someone got out of this unscathed.
 

The Returner

Brilliant Psychopath
Invitation Status
Writing Levels
  1. Adept
  2. Advanced
  3. Prestige
  4. Adaptable
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  2. Female
Genres
Basically anything as long as it has a good story line.
Just as he expected Rowena did go after the men. She saw them as a threat or maybe it was just her killer sense that ordered her to murder those humans. Darien just stood aside, watching the horrible perfection with some amazement in his thoughts. Rowena worked precisely, her movements swift, obviously knowing what she was doing. None of her victims could do as much as protect themselves and the surprise that would be natural for them to feel, well, they didn't even have the time to reach that stage before they dropped dead on the ground. But then, just as Darien was afraid, Rowena didn't stop at that. Just as she moved her head to target the fourth member of the group, the pregnant woman, Darien quickly grabbed the handle of the knife. Moving physically would be too slow, he had to use his manipulation in order to catch up with Rowena's speed. Sending the knife flying, feeling the trepidation clutching on his heart, the fear that he would be late and two more lives would be lost, was complimented with anger and also disillusion for hoping that Rowena might have been slightly different than he thought.

Darien supported by the feelings that played in synchronized orchestra of determination, aimed at Rowena's heart but she sensed his approach and tried to evade the strike. However, the knife hit her arm. Clenching his teeth because he missed, Darien though noticed the effect it had on his vampire partner. She shifted her mind from her previous prey to him. Well, that alone was could be considered a good progress, even though he got the consequences that will surely follow this attempted assassination. 'Come at me,' Darien thought with such a passion that you could call it a lustful wish. As if Rowena was able to read his thoughts, she ran at him, pulling the knife out of her wound and forming her other arm into some hybrid, horror-like weapon. For a second there, he wished that he never have had sealed the blood pact. But he didn't lose hope, because as Rowena had secret armament, so did Darien. Spreading his legs wide as if in search for stability, Darien lifted his palm and toward Rowena in somewhat a ridiculous notion, warning her to stop without saying a word. Though, this slight movement only helped to direct the energy for what he planned to do. Even before triggering the spell, Darien was sure that it would cost him a lot of energy so he had to act fast. The tingling, that forestall the release of magic, grew strong. He had to accumulate as much as possible so that he could then use it in quick, powerful yet precise blow. Already having Rowena targeted, Darien used his force against her movement momentum. In other words, Rowena got stuck in place as if someone froze suddenly. Unfortunately, the moment the spell was released it began taking it's toll on Darien and so he couldn't even enjoy her expression.

"You listen to me very carefully, Rowena," Darien said, his facial features ominous with his eyes narrowed but shining with hidden rage and indignation, his voice low and menacing. In spite of his actual state, it was also apparent that he was careful. "I get it that you are more blood thirsty than I have initial anticipated. You cannot stand threats and so you have to kill. But as long as I am in this partnership, you will not land a hand on a pregnant woman or in fact any person who does not threaten you. I get it that you want to kill men who are armed. You probably don't have any sense of humanness in yourself but I don't care. You should understand one thing, though. Killing those who are unarmed, vulnerable, is as low as..." thinking of the right comparison, Darien had to resort to the only comparison that Rowena would possibly be able to comprehend "...drinking the blood of Hekan." He finished and had to prevent himself from altering his expression into displeased, or even disgusted one simply because he has just openly insulted himself. Still, he didn't know any other way how to make this understandable to Rowena. With his arm extended, Darien moved closer to the, possibly still, pretty much pissed off, no longer in service, commander. Deep inside his min, the Hekan could feel the energy being drained from him quicker with each passing moment, but there was one more thing he had to do.

"I will be taking this back," saying so, he forced the silver knife out of her clutch for his own protection in case Rowena didn't lose her need to kill the traitor. How ironic. Darien would dare to wonder how would Rowena see herself as a traitor through her own eyes, if he wasn't in this, kind of screwed up situation. "Next time, you attack a person who has not threaten you in anyway. I will make sure that this goes through your heart just as it went through your arm, Rowena. I will not stand your killer instincts if their are used unnecessarily. So if you want to make this partnership work, you should keep this in mind." His voice has gotten softer but it didn't lose the threatening edge. As he stepped back, Darien slightly stumbled due to over prolongation of the spell. Finally lowering his hand and in that way terminating it, Darien already put somewhat a safe distance between the two of them. It was obvious from the way his body was hunched, and his legs were positioned, he switched to the defense position. If he would have held the spell for a bit longer, he might have as well collapsed which would be very unmanly and unwanted as it would make him vulnerable to Rowena's whim. Either way, he probably didn't have much chance to stand against Rowena now anyway, but there was this sense of determination from the time past, when he was still with his old team, facing Rowena face to face for the first time back then. Though, in Kharga, he was in better state not having to worry about his soft-focus vision.
 
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Aine

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Rowena was now officially fed up with people betraying her left and right; they did it with such an eagerness it almost warped into a cliché and Darien was about to feel her wrath. She could have simply extended some unused part of her body to pummel him from the distance, but somewhat clouded judgement caused her to want to employ her hand to hand fighting skills. Nothing quite provided better satisfaction than maiming enemy's face with bare fists, and she really deserved a creative outlet after those stressful days. Of course, that momentary abandonment of logic backfired on her; Darien assumed a ludicrous stance straight out of a B-rated action flick and Rowena could suddenly sense some foreign force stopping her in the middle of movement. It was like she was hanging in the air powerlessly, bound by invisible metal strings, no matter how much she resisted. And Rowena DID try to claw her way to freedom; the vampire wouldn't have submitted to Darien's will voluntarily. She clenched her teeth in unshakable resolve, muscles tense with overexertion, but she wasn't able to move even by an inch. Frustration got a hold of her; just what the hell was THAT?!

Following flood of words surprised her; she was effectively trapped by some sort of binding spell and Darien still resorted to talking instead of good old violence. Not really characteristic for someone who attempted to wipe her out of existence mere seconds ago; Rowena failed to connect the dots, to analyze his behavioral patterns. The content of Hekan's harangue, however, confused her even more. So... Let me summarize the facts. He almost killed me over a stranger just because she happened to have another human inside? To be fair, she would have probably released the woman if she had actually noticed her pregnancy in her killing mode - believe it or not, she had few standards as a female - but right now, Rowena was pondering over Darien's questionable motivation for betrayal. Disposing of the weak was perfectly acceptable in the realm of vampires; not only that, you would be considered equally useless if you let them waltz away without putting them firmly in their place. A demonstration of power, including some charitable ass-kicking, possibly with deadly consequences, signified good manners. Human race, at least according to Darien, begged to differ; this came off as a culture shock for our heroine in shining armor. Not a single word left her lips as he was chastising her like a spoiled child, but the original expression of pure animosity vanished from her face just to be substituted by slightly friendlier annoyance. A phenomenal accomplishment. The Hekan coerced Rowena into saying goodbye to the knife once again, yet it was exchanged for the desired control over her body. She staggered a little, affected by the insidious force of inertia, but she stood her ground.

"What a nice speeches you can deliver, Darien. Who would have thought you had it in you?" Vampire's tone was absolutely neutral; so cold it matched the temperature of arctic ocean. Her human companion seemed to be rather haggard as the spell had collected its tax on his combat readiness; attacking him right now would have been beyond low. On the other hand, Darien also didn't have a problem with ambushing Rowena when her attention was directed elsewhere. Returning the favor, she got in his proximity within the speed of light and pinned him against the storage's wall; she seized his hand with the knife in it to pacify the former leader of rebels while her elbow found its way on his neck. Even though these actions weren't particularly loving or gentle, anyone would have understood it was about dominance, not about hurting him. Magnitude of raw power used on Darien right now couldn't be compared with treatment of those unfortunate men from earlier; as a matter of fact, Rowena just shoved him. "Now it's your turn to listen." She needed to look up to him because of the difference in their heights, but that didn't erase the smugness from her features. "I applaud you for having stable set of beliefs. It's a sign of strong personality and yada yada yada, but you can't expect me to fucking KNOW your principles. Just for your information, from where I come from, killing the weak is considered a commendable action; it cleanses the society. This must sound outlandish to you, but a brand new tool of communication has been invented just few millenniums ago. They call it the language. Maybe - and bear with me since it's a revolutionary thought - you could have just told me about your moral objections." Rowena spoke calmly, but the anger buried somewhere in her chest was lightly scratching the surface. "So let me put it this way, Darien; I'm allergic to pointy objects flying at my heart. Attempt similar bullshit once again and I swear I'll break your spine. Mark my words, sweetie." With that, she let him go and entered the storage as if nothing had happened between them.

Rowena searched through few crates to discover items like ropes, oil lamps and lighters; simple but helpful devices that were immediately confiscated for greater good. She also carried some boxes containing the food outside for weary Darien to inspect. "I have no idea what you need in order to survive and what sort of food will be durable for long time, so pick whatever you deem fit," she smirked. "Oh, and since I have enlightened you on the concept of basic communication, let's discuss our next course of action. Do you have anything against visiting Cairo? My good acquiantance lives there; a passionate collector of Egyptian antigues that specializes on Book of Thoth. He is pretty much asking for someone to rob his mansion, so I thought we could honor him with our presence."
 

The Returner

Brilliant Psychopath
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One moment he was prepared to fight off Rowena's remnants of anger and the next moment, he was pressed against the moist, crumbling wall of the storage house hardly recollecting how the hell did it happen. Yes, the toll has definitely been taken in greater proportion than he has primarily anticipated but from the way Rowena looked, the glint in her eyes, the way her face look from so up close, her mood wasn't so murderous as just few seconds ago and so Darien slightly relaxed inside his mind; though, his blood still raced through his veins as a echo of previous incident. In the upset mood that he was in, what Rowena said next only filled him with indignation a bit more. She truly had a refined tongue but to use him in such way as to make him want to run the knife through her ribs...well, that was some premium skill she had. "Well, you're the one to speak about communication when you go fucking blind once you switch into killing mode. If you didn't try to their throat apart so hastily, I might have had time to inform you," he told her in husky voice trying to take some air in as he was deprived of that privilege not so many seconds ago. Just as he was trying to regain some of his strength, Rowena was already scavenging inside of the storage house. Darien let her do it, she could make herself useful, possibly cool down a bit more and Darien himself just couldn't stand her at that point anyway. She was just symbolizing all that he hated in vampires in that moment. So instead of wasting his thoughts on her, he looked at the three dead bodies which will soon turn into carrion that the vultures of the desert will feed on once the guards dispose of their bodies. There was this sense of loss in Darien's mind but at the same time, he knew that this was inevitable, almost necessary, and therefore he didn't have the need to feel sorry for those men. Only the numb notion of how easy it is to kill someone washed over him as he quickly recollected what has happened. In the back of his mind, though, Darien congratulate himself that he managed to save at least two other lives.

A box being dropped in front of him, snatched Darien back into reality and he looked at the box first while listening to Rowena. Picking couple things like dried meat and fruits from the box, plus two sacks of water which could be reused, Darien pondered on Rowena's suggestion. "Who is that friend of yours? What's his name?" Darien asked calmly as if nothing has happened before and the three heaps of dead meat not so far away, were not the reminder of actions past. The reason why he asked for a name was that Darien himself had a pretty good knowledge of any vampire that was overly interested in the the Book of Thoth and the ways how to find it. Some of these vampires were just fools who thought that anything they possessed was crucial to finding the sacred script; others were not so innocuous. Darien knew Rowena to some extent and due to that, he began to be afraid that she might have friends of the latter type. "What exactly does he have in his mansion?" Asking curiously, Darien looked up at Rowena, after he placed the newly gained supplies into the rucksack. It was obvious that he gained some of his energy back but just to speed the process up, he was already nibbling on some dried meat while sitting on the ground with his back against the wall. At that point, you could almost think that there was nothing in the world bothering him but to hear Rowena giving him more information. He almost looked relaxed haven't it been for that strange, yet characteristic, careful reflection of his eyes, as if he saw even that which is not mean to be seen.
 
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Aine

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Darien's reaction cemented her previous suspicion; while the Hekan had claimed to know a lot about whereabouts of the legendary tome, there were obviously vital pieces of information missing, too many unknowns in the equation to carry on. She could guess from the way he had stumbled around the globe in past when their relationship had been strictly in the "enemies for life" category; it was either that or very thorough attempt to lead her astray. Rowena frowned almost imperceptibly. The surge of questions was bound to come and Darien asked about fairly rational things, yet that didn't automatically mean it made her jump with joy. Certain topics were somewhat behind her zone of comfort, even if she struggled to admit it to anyone, including herself. Taking a deep breath, Rowena removed the miniature signs of insecurity off her face once and for all. "I'm sure you'll love him. Christian Sunderland. Does that ring any bells?" How could this name not sound familiar to him? Darien didn't have to be well versed in senselessly tangled net of vampire intrigue to recognize the heir to vast wealth of well-heeled family, ancient Egypt enthusiast and prominent politician in one. Christian kept a low profile on his archaeological activities, and with a good reason, but she was sure Darien would know him at least thanks to his political career; Sunderland had enhanced lives of many Hekans with laws so strict it seemed ridiculous even to Rowena.

His posture didn't show any hints of aggression, so Rowena sat next to Darien casually before she continued. "As for what exactly he has in the mansion..." Her lips moved by few millimeters, which created tiny smile... And even though she smirked and grinned at him practically nonstop since they had joined forces, this was the first time it didn't look like some strange imitation artificially manufactured by aliens who knew nothing about how real smiles actually work. Rowena just couldn't help herself; unraveling fiercely guarded secrets and generally sticking her nose where it doesn't belong had always lifted her spirits. "Perhaps you already know this, but when I was still naive, full of ideals and innocent - okay, more innocent than I am now - I used to dabble in research for Book of Thoth myself." Sure, fancy term like "research" applies here. It definitely wasn't wandering around blindly, relying on mere luck and epically failing at the end. "One thing became clear during that hunt; the Book is secured by very peculiar defensive mechanism. Let's call it "lock" for sake of simplicity. And what does every lock need? A key. Hell, it's probably a metaphor since normal, intelligible instructions are apparently evil in its purest form, but the message remains unchanged. We need... some object to get past its protection and Mr. Sunderland possesses a very handy - if encrypted - map to its hiding place."

Slightly narrowed eyes indicated stubborn unwillingness to reveal the source of this statement, but her tone had a great resoluteness to it as if not even earthquake could shake that belief. "Hm? Are you in mood for some old-fashioned cryptography?" The omnipresent rattle composed of typical sounds commonly associated with poverty - barely audible scuttling of rat paws, persistent gnawing and hum of insect wings - was abruptly disrupted by howling of engine. The freshly spilled blood had alerted the guards; wasting perfectly fine food was an unforgivable sin. "Looks like our taxi is arriving shortly," Rowena snickered. Regardless of their target destination, obtaining a car instead of demolishing their legs systematically would raise their living standards tremendously. She stood up from her position and threw a side-way glance at Darien, evaluating his condition. "Do yourself a favor and hole up. This place is ugly enough even without your intestines decorating it."

As soon as Darien disappeared in the darkness of storage, Rowena noiselessly dissolved into pool of red liquid; fighting fair was, after all, a result of either very poor tactics, severe mental disorder or combination of both. If someone else dreamed of being ripped apart by vampire patrol, they could go ahead, but she liked her head too much to say definitive goodbye to it. Waiting, the worst part of every mission, didn't torture her for too long; few seconds passed and the tires screeched on the gravel path. Two tall figures stepped out of the car, discussing something urgently with muted voices. Rowena couldn't distinguish their appearances very well in her current form; she saw only two blurred smears of heat inspecting the dead bodies cautiously. Predatory vision stripped of unnecessary functions... Her mind, however, stayed focused and somehow tranquil; maybe a little too tranquil considering what was she about to do. Dawson had pushed her in the corner with his threats, but those guys were just unaware individuals doing their jobs. She would violate yet another sacred rule tonight. Oh well, it wasn't like it mattered anymore, right? Rowena crawled to the first man, materialized quickly and ran her improvised knuckledusters right through his heart without single warning. Moment of surprise was at her side and she lost the advantage with blowing her cover, yet she was confident she'd destroy one guy without further complications. A grave mistake. The vampire greeted the death of his colleague with shock, but also with professionalism. He reached after the power resting inside of his brain. Needless to say, it was the worst kind of power imaginable. "FREEZE!" the man almost barked; his voice had a strange, rich texture that was impossible to ignore, impossible not to obey... To her dread, Rowena found herself absolutely petrified. And he was slowly approaching her...
 

The Returner

Brilliant Psychopath
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Christian Sunderland... Of course, he knew the name but he never got the chance to meet the guy personally. Not that Darien would want to meet Christian face to face, especially after Christian would have his favorite vampire blood. Darien nodded couple times, seeing the potential in the robbery. As Rowena sat down next to him, it could almost look as if two old friends were talking about times already past. Darien himself didn't mind it yet his consciousness raised the level of awareness from sheer habit. At the mention of the map, Darien looked at Rowena, pausing in chewing on the last bit of the dried meet. A map... he has heard about it but it was very hard to locate and if Rowena was right and her vampire friend had it... Darien felt excited about this new piece of information and the interest materialized itself in his eyes like flame of a freshly lit candle.

"Sure some cryptography would be a welcome change in the daily routine," he replied and was about to add something more when he heard the familiar sound of something crushing the gravel. At first, he wondered what a car would be doing in this place but then he remembered that from time to time, couple of vampires ran checks on different ghettos and because they were vampires, they could use car to make the transport easier. For a second Darien wondered whether they noticed the unconscious guy by the gate, or maybe that guy was no longer unconscious and told them something. But then, Darien thought, this patrol wouldn't be so leisurely driving through this place. Rowena's opprobrious remark crushed the last bits of intimacy that was between them, if there was any at all. "Yes, sure. But you know, you are not so pretty yourself. Well, at least your smell would somewhat scare off even the humans in here." Darien couldn't help himself but had to pay her back in kind remembering how she complained about not being able to have a bath. Apart from that, he gladly retired into the storage house and in fact, he started foraging through it in case, he would find something that Rowena overlooked. Therefore, he didn't noticed what was going on outside, until he heard someone loudly pronouncing just one word, that was odd enough and chilling at the same time, that it could only be uttered by a vampire. "FREEZE!" The word itself could mean only one thing.

Darien quietly made his way back to the entrance of the storage house and looked outside. There was one dead body on the ground that added to the previous heap. The other member of the patrol was still standing, and so was Rowena but for a reason, that Darien could derive from the circumstances, she just wouldn't move. Unlucky her, he thought with a slight hint of sympathy but also a touch of amusement. He could kill the other guard quite easily with a little of manipulation but the problem was that, Rowena was blocking his view and if he couldn't see his target properly, then he might as well hit her by accident. Remembering her last words, Darien wouldn't doubt that she would do her best to kill him once she would get from under the control of that spell, or whatever it was. On the other hand, the guard had no idea that there was someone else around which pretty much gave Darien the possibility to do whatever he wanted in order to separate the two. But he had to act quick because the guard, as he neared Rowena, had a smug smirk on his face.

"I know you. You're the traitor," he said and his smirk grew in size. "There is prize on your head whether you're delivered dead or alive. But there is higher reward if you are delivered with your beloved Hekan." His voice was full of self-confidence and the promise of money, suggesting only a little of the rumors that might have spread about Rowena's sudden disappearance. He was now standing close to Rowena, so close that if she would be able to reach her hand, she would be able to touch him. Yes, the problem was, she couldn't move and the knowledge of that inscribed itself in the vampires expression in full detail. "So why don't you tell me where he is, pretty little lady?" Said the guard and something in his behavior changed ever so slightly. He obviously knew who Rowena was and therefore his own ego enjoyed this moment of power. After all, right now he was able to freeze in place one of the great masterminds in vampire military world. Just as he was waiting for Rowena to speak, the guard threateningly pulled out a gun that was now inactively resting by his side, yet the way his finger was traced on the trigger and the way his eyes gained some focus, it was obvious that he wouldn't hesitate to use the weapon in second's notice.

Suddenly, a high pitched screeching sound, as if something sharp was being drawn down on the metal, came from the car and the vehicle itself started rocking. The source of this unexpected intrusion couldn't be seen as the originated from the side of the car which was shielded from the sight of Rowena and her new friend. Screeching resounded again, somehow inconsistent this time which only added to the unpleasant feeling of not knowing what was going on. One could think that this could have been taken from a horror movie, but the guard bravely straighten himself up, frowning at the car. "What the hell?" He said, turning his attention to his only means of returning back to the civilization, but still effectively holding Rowena in place, using his power. The car moved on its springs more violently this time and the guard finally stepped into Darien's view as he wanted to inspect what on Earth was trying to turn the car upside down. The moment he saw him, Darien used on of the primitive sharp weapons of the humans that was slightly trembling by the bodies for the last couple seconds as Darien 'kept in touch' with it so that the launch would be quicker. With one swift command of his mind, the weapon hit the guard in the back with an audible dull thud of knife slicing into meat. The guard stumbled, not fully understanding what has happened. Due to shock and confusion, he released the spell, turning around looking wide eyed at Rowena as if she attacked him somehow. There was a question in his eyes which however would never be asked because at the moment when the guard faced Rowena there was a silver blur racing through the dark of the night and the guard has just received his good bye gift of silver blade stuck in his brain. As he dropped dead on the floor, Darien walked out of the storage house, once again looking slightly weary. His expression was pensive as if something about what he has seen provoked deep thoughts within the boundaries of his mind, but in fact, he was thinking about how to perfect his illusion abilities. Screeching and explosion sound illusions were not hard to do but still, he had to work on them a bit.

"You're driving," Darien said simply to Rowena as he grabbed the box of supplies, leaving the backpack behind. He placed the carton on the back seat before he relaxedly sat in the front passenger seat. The black beauty of Aston Martin was a luxury of black leather and smooth suede and digital evolution. Darien looked at it for a while, enjoying the sight, letting some long gone memories come back again. Yes, he got to drive on of those when he was serving one of the vampires and truly it felt nice to be back in the comfort of wealth especially after one spent so many days walking. But just as it was pleasant, it made Darien uneasy. He cherrished some memories from the past before he joined the rebellion but still, it was the past that he wanted to forget. Turning his eyes away from inception of this mental time travel, Darien closed his eyes, seemingly ready to take a nap, but in fact just trying to push the old remembrances back where they belonged - to the metal cage with seven locks that he voluntarily created inside his mind.
 
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Aine

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Rowena knew it was naive to rely on things that other vampires took as granted, mostly because she possessed an extraordinary talent for attracting rather atypical catastrophes, but this was a little too much. Even the mathematics, uncrowned queen of natural sciences, showed its back to her; how high was the probability of being frozen in a middle of move in ONE fucking day, mere minutes apart?! Well, normal rules of statistics apparently went on a vacation when it related to Miss Finchley. She was attempting to kill the guy with intensity of her stare, her face constricted in especially sincere display of hatred, but, feasibly, no new superpower involving murderous gaze came to her rescue. Rowena gritted her teeth; she had been under influence of similar spell before and breaking free lay within her capabilities. It demanded two simple conditions; colossal concentration and a lot of time... Too bad the vampire had tragically short supply of both. Oh well, at least she could try to throw him out of balance to sabotage flow of his magic; magic that greatly depended on self-command. "Look, I get that you're no psychology expert, but even you could make a wild guess and estimate how little I care about your salary. Besides, if you ever want to become a real adult, you should learn how to earn your income and stop bothering everyone in your vicinity," Rowena uttered with a smirk.

Somehow, her inclination towards sarcasm acted as a lightning conductor to the feelings of uneasiness; it gave her an illusion of control, and the satisfaction from the fact that he didn't beat her on two fronts, physical and mental. Ultimately, such a small victory meant nothing since she couldn't punch him to death with mental superiority, yet it was still objectively better than woefully scrounging for pieces of mercy. Her opponent evidently didn't share Rowena's sense of humor; pulling out the gun certainly pointed to that conclusion. She was looking into the barrel idly, putting on her best poker face. Sure, her fate rested in Hekan's hands right now and she wasn't confident in his loyalty at all after that escapade with ghetto residents, but she could as well die stylishly. Unbent, unbroken, with her pride still intact... The reluctant hope was slowly abandoning the stage to make space for despair when the horrible sound reverberated through the empty street. Following events occurred in rapid succession; Rowena could observe as the member of patrol got suspicious and dug his own grave by sailing into unknown waters. The spell vanished into nothingness, its only remnant being weird, tingling sensation climbing up from her toes to her fingertips... She clutched her fists repeatedly to get rid of it, but the feeling refused to go away; perhaps it had something to do with bloodstream.

"Wouldn't have it any other way," she sneered and sat in front of the steering wheel, obviously comfortable with her position of driver. Maybe Rowena didn't understand the concept of art and remained an irredeemable barbarian when it came to acclaiming masterpieces in famous picture galleries, but this car was a true diamond among the vehicles. Elegant, beautiful, yet perfectly adapted to harsh conditions of their surroundings. Her hand caressed the wheel softly, as if she was a rider greeting her horse for the first time. "Choosing to travel in a death seat, eh? I admire your courage. I will make sure to write it on your epitaph." Despite the ominous comment that may have referred to her abilities as a driver, the Aston Martin started smoothly and Rowena navigated it through the crooked streets with apparent ease; she infringed the highway code as if she was a seasoned pirate of roads. They managed to get out of ghetto without further interactions with its inhabitants, which was undoubtedly the most positive outcome they could achieve, and the desert welcomed them open-armed.

The surprisingly greenish landscape was passing by quickly, leaving behind just a thin scent of gasoline. Rowena fell uncharacteristically quiet again; her usual expression of eternal amusement changed into something more serious, thoughtful. The recent incident, still very fresh in her memory, had a bigger impact on her than anyone would have expected. There was the lingering feeling of humiliation for not dealing with the enemy competently, but something else was bothering her even more... Keeping your word in itself was an impressive feat in a world where almost everyone suffered from chronic backstabbing disorder; and keeping it right after a conflict so heated it had almost caused a mayhem between the two parties belonged straight to the realm of fairy tales. Darien had defied the odds; not only that, he didn't even laugh at her incapacity. Perhaps he really took this partnership seriously... "Hey, Darien?" Her eyes were firmly set on the horizon as if it emitted strong magnetic field. "I'm not going to repeat it twice, so listen well. I... uh, thanks." Structure of that word felt strange to her tongue since she hadn't pronounced it for such a long period of time... Suddenly, unmistakable crack impaired the regularity of engine's growling. Rowena rolled her eyes and stepped on the brakes. "Dear universe, I am still not entirely convinced that you hate me. Could you possibly present me with more evidence?" She got out of the car; brief inspection revealed a flat tire. "Oh, at least I can repair that." Rowena knelt to the ground, determined to play the mechanic. "Get me some tools and a spare tire."
 

The Returner

Brilliant Psychopath
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Basically anything as long as it has a good story line.
As she seated herself behind the wheel, Darien already partially dozed off. Sleep was one of the luxuries he couldn't afford lately and it was quite a risk to close one's eyes in a presence of a vampire, but for some reasons Darien didn't care in that moment. Some inner feeling convinced him that it was possible for Rowena to finally notice that he wasn't taking this partnership lightly; therefore, she shouldn't have the need to dispose of him. Naive thought, one might have said, but in situation where naivety was forbidden and intuition was the only reliable weapon, nothing else could have been expected. Driving out of the ghetto, Rowena didn't hesitate to test the power of her new toy and the speed pressed him against the seat, only to drain the rest of his senses away as he embraced the dreamless darkness. Because of that, he didn't hear the exceptional thanks that Rowena paid him even though he heard her speaking from afar, his mind just refused to decode the string of sounds. If it wasn't for the sudden cracking sounds and jump of the car as if passing over a bump, Darien might have slept all the way to Cairo. Opening his eyes instantly, the cold blue iris scanned the surroundings, his body immediately tingling with the flow of magic as he was ready to crush any enemy at second's notice. However, Rowena was just getting out of the car, murmuring something to herself. Frowning, Darien got out too, wondering what has happened that they suddenly stopped in middle of nowhere.

Breathing out heavily in the unspoken 'humph', Darien got over to the boot and opened it fulfilling Rowena's wish for a tire. But the minute that the cover was lifted, Darien's own breathing got held within his windpipe. What he saw in the trunk was a sight rather unexpected yet fascinating. "Mmm, Rowena? Since when do vampires smuggle mummies with..." reaching into the depths of the storage place, Darien pulled out a antique object. "...with canopic jars?" His mind was trying to figure out just why on earth did two soldier have this stuff in their car and as he was turning the canopic jar in his hands, as if that object could give him some hint, it indeed did show him something. As the he ran his thumb across the smooth surface, there were some irregularities and as Darien looked at the symbols, he recognized a sentence. Mumbling it to himself in a quick string of words that were hard to tell apart, Darien immediately got a translation in his mind. My stomach is the Opening One, my entrails are the One with the Secret Essence. Frowning, the Hekan looked back into the trunk and indeed he noticed that a different jar had some set of symbols on it too. "Interesting," he murmured more clearly and went back to the front to find paper and pen. For some reason, he felt that if he wouldn't write this down, he might as well miss some important clue or piece of the whole puzzle. After few seconds, he returned back to the rear of the car taking out all the jars and setting them on the ground in somewhat a semicircle, before he sat down himself, his legs crossed, paper pad resting on his thigh.



As he was sitting there, bending over the jars, carefully taking each into his hands, running his fingers over the symbol as if he was caressing a very precious object, then scribbling down words, Darien looked pensive. There was crease on his brow as he focused on the translation, retreating from this world into his own world of sacred knowledge. From time to time, he would mumble something in foreign language which was most likely old Egyptian. His voice was always low as if reciting something that was only meant to be heard by the chosen ones. There was something charming, almost alluring, about him at that moment. Whether it was his baritone with which he spoke from time to time, or the overall withdrawal from reality with the potential of being vulnerable, who knows... The truth is, though, Darien never really stopped paying attention to the outside world. Yes, he was mainly focusing on the jars but he was still aware of what was happening around him, or at least he was focusing at the main things - car and Rowena. And so, he missed one thing. Quietly and slyly, a green colored cobra emerged from the bushes, slithering towards them. In the shadow that was thrown by the trees, it would be hard to notice the snake if it has suddenly stopped. Its tongue was inaudibly shooting from it's mouth, tasting the air as a child would taste its ice-cream, delicately. It got close to Rowena's heels before it stood up in its fighting position and for the first time the cobra let out a threatening hiss, extending the skin around its head.
 
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That exclamation interrupted Rowena's not very complicated string of thoughts that were revolving mainly around future state of her uniform after tampering with the car and how much she craved a bath right now. "What?" It was a question filled with curiosity more than surprise or anything else; many soldiers weren't quite as dedicated to the just cause of their noble profession as they were devoted to their own wallets. Some of them even suffered from the delusion that their services should have been rewarded at least with golden bars; such a vermin often got to extra cash by stealing everything that wasn't nailed to the ground. Rowena stood up from her position near the damaged wheel with feline grace and moved to the trunk to inspect the illegally gained goods. "Horrible, really. Not even week has passed since my departure from the army and random soldiers already raid the tombs. I know I was a beacon of morality to them, but so soon? This is truly heartbreaking." Her words were soaked with sarcasm even though there was a piece of truth hidden in them; not even the biggest kleptomaniacs had dared to steal under her supervision. Yes, it was less about moral superiority and more about perfectly justified fear from nastily creative punishment, but still. She touched one of the canopic jars with utmost caution, apparently deep in thought.

The thefts were awfully common outside of her troops, yet the value of stolen objects rarely reached astronomic heights. Ordinary trinkets, ideally shiny rubbish that could be easily sold anywhere; that was the usual target group of those wannabe archaeologists. No marketeer would buy such a tasteful souvenir as a mummy, and from so untrustworthy source, to boot. "Unless they compulsively desired to exhibit a dried corpse in their living room, they must have had a buyer. Probably someone powerful from military infrastructure... Powerful and spineless, which is essentially definition of more than half of my former higher ups." Rowena hadn't been exactly overflowing with love for her superiors even in her better days and that thing with them wanting to dispose of her didn't obliterate the prejudice against them in the slightest. Darien, however, seemed to be paying attention more to the jars themselves than to her theories. She managed to distinguish few familiar words amobng the strange syllables, but nothing really epoch-making; he was talking under his breath and her knowledge of ancient Egyptian had become a little rusty from not using it for ages. "Oh well, I guess I'll leave you to your work." Examining their discovery would have been an interesting way to kill the time, yet she was a soldier in the core of her being; different tasks had varying degree of importance and she still needed to change that tire.

Darien's quiet, rhythmic words joined together into one fluent stream that almost resembled a lullaby; meanwhile, Rowena tended to the car, listening to him secretly. Small, improvised revision of language that would be crucial very soon for their quest couldn't hurt, right? Truth to be told, it sounded more like nonsensical background noise to her because of lack of practice on her part and volume of his voice, even though she was sure she'd get to it eventually. Immersed in trying to decipher the code, Rowena hadn't noticed the devilish creature until it made its presence known by sinister sizzle. Her heart practically stopped beating on the spot. The animals weren't the greatest fans of vampires and showed it with ardor of a fox that stumbled upon a way to the hen-house; Rowena was used to it and could destroy a grown bear within few exceptionally bloody minutes. Snake with its relatively fragile body constitution logically shouldn't have posed a problem... Unfortunately, steel fist crushing her soul had absolutely nothing to do with logic. She squeaked quietly and fell back behind Darien, surpassing the speed of light in the process. Her hand gripped his shoulder adamantly to the point it started to hurt. "Kill it." No flowery sarcastic comments, no parade of mastery of language she usually reveled in, just tiny, urgent order... And genuine fear reflected in chocolate-brown eyes. The world was probably about to end.
 

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Darien didn't look up when the hiss resonated in the air since he thought that it still might have been the tire letting out some air. Not even a second later, Rowena's hands clutched on his shoulder as if she was trying to break his bones. Perceptive 'ah' left his mouth as he arched his back trying to get away from the grip. Rowena's desperate 'Kill it' filled with panic and fear, made Darien somehow worried and as he was about to look at her for some explanation his eyes grazed over the impressive, yet lethal newcomer that was slowly slithering towards them. Sure, his own heart skipped a beat for a while since he knew how dangerous this sly king of jungles can be. However, he remembered his lessons instantaneously. Assuming a poker face, Darien began considering all the options that they had.. Snakes were not only sensitive to someone's fear but also to their own bodies. So if Darien would try to break the snake's spine with his manipulation, the animal is most likely to notice it the exact second he would try and start off, trying to bite either of them; though, the cobra seemed to be more focused on Rowena than on Darien.

"If you carry on crushing my shoulder, I don't think I can do as much as pet that nice scaly friend. Get your hand off," Darien murmured at Rowena his voice as low as possible but still audible, concentration clearly obvious in his tone. As a reply there was a dangerous hiss from the cobra as if the snake was warning them from trying to plan any treason. In that moment, the situation somehow resemble a hold-up with hostages where the snake was the bad guy and the two companion where at its mercy. Darien had to smirk inside his head. But even that vanished as the snake carried on closing the distance between them widening his impressive neck, somehow managing to stand taller than before. Still sitting crossed leg, once Rowena removed her hand, Darien slowly put his fingers under the hems of his shirt, moving it upwards inch by an inch, carefully watching the pissed off reptile. He wished that he had a hat that he could throw at the snake which would serve just as well in distracting and possibly blinding the predator too if it landed on its head. The worst moment was, when Darien had to pull the shirt over his head, being completely vulnerable at that moment as he exposed his abdomen and chest to the cobra while being blinded with the cloth. And the snake was just reaching the furthest placed jar. He couldn't deny it, but his heartbeat sped up since this was the closest he has ever gotten to a poisonous animal. The cobra stopped, raised at two thirds of it's own length, its neck extended to the maximum. Its tongue was shooting out in regular intervals always accompanied by warning hiss. The snake could safely bite either of them now. Just one swift and quick motion forward with its head to inject some poison into the blood, would have been all it took to get rid of them both.

The Hekan held the shirt at chest level and counted down to three to calm himself. The moment, he decided to throw the shirt, the snake relocated its attention from Rowena to him and bolted at Darien, its mouth wide open with the fangs fully extended, dripping venom. Darien jerked backwards away from the attacker, as the shirt flew threw the air meeting. In the motion Darien bumped into Rowena which he noticed only on the very edge of his consciousness. The snake was now tangled in the shirt, its head searching for escape was clearly visible. Only later on, Darien regretted what he has done, but back in that moment, it was his instincts leading his action and so with his fist clenched tight and his human strength accumulating on his knuckles, Darien struck down on the head of the reptile, crushing it with audible crackling sound. The Hekan's breathing was heavy, there were beads of sweat on his forehead that he had no recollection of acquiring. Just as the cobra's blood began coloring his black-gone-grey-with-dust shirt, Darien's relaxed assuring himself that the nasty snake hissed his last goodbye. Kneeling there on one knee looking like a if he was ready to propose, Darien's muscled upper body was more than nicely displayed in the moonlight and the smooth shadows around each crease of his skin only pronounced his stature more. Lifting his fist from the shirt, looking partially disgusted already apprehensive about the loss of clothing, Darien turned around at looked at Rowena, the incomprehensibility deeply engraved in his features which even caused him to ignore the dull pain in his hand which was still clutched into fist. "What...the...hell...Rowena?" He managed to get out of himself between each breath. It was clearly a demand for explanation and it was just as clear that it better be a good one.
 
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The serpent was drawing near to the couple with every smooth stroke of its long, elegant body; constant hissing and expanded hood testified more about its intentions than any words possibly could. Even vampires were sensitive about the cobra poison, meaning that single bite without proper antidote could have been her last injury. Rowena, however, was too detached from the reality right now to notice; if someone had invented the device adapted to reading the thoughts, he would have found her browsing through archives of her memory. It wasn't a good time to daydream to put it mildly, but the strength of primal impulse - sighting of the cobra - sucked her in without asking for permission politely. Vivid imagination, the skill to picture diverse outcomes of many situations with breath-taking details, usually served Rowena well in thinking outside of the box and planning the operations, but it grew into a handicap rapidly. The creaking of old hinge, the darkness unpenetrable even by her vampire eyes, the cold eating away her skin little by little, the widened pupils of snake's eyes, inability to move... And the worst of it all; unfading wish to just succumb and go to sleep, the sleep she would never have to wake up from... Her five senses were flooded with creating nightmarish visions, so she twitched slightly when Darien's voice cut through the walls of horror. "Ah, s-sure." She let go of his tortured shoulder instantly, as if it had transformed into a hot plate in the meantime and she had suffered third-degree burns. "Just deal with it."

Darien's nervousness was almost tangible, yet it couldn't really compare with Rowena's mindset who looked to be on a verge of collapse. The vampire didn't even have time to be embarrassed; her mind simply blocked the feeling momentarily, pushing it into unconscious with a helpful notion "Come back after the big ugly viper is gone." Deep inside, she knew she couldn't disappear; running was kinda difficult with paralysis of fear overtaking her body. Breathe. One, two, three... Fuck, this is an idiotic calming exercise! Believing in Darien suddenly didn't seem contrived at all; if it hadn't been for few remaining drops of common sense, she would have buried her face in his shirt and waited for the storm to perish. The Hekan certainly solved their snake problem with a distinctive signature style. Normally, she'd have laughed and interjected a funny remark about potentially lethal striptease, but the fountain of her humor had dried up for the moment. Relief dominated in her, relief so enormous it could probably supply New York-sized city with electricity for a year... And, of couse, the embarrassment returned in all its glory to sweeten the confused chemical cocktail in her brain.

Milk-like complexion had many disadvantages, one of them being the fact that blush was impossible to hide, even in pale moonlight. Rowena's expression was a strange mix between demureness, gratitude and displeasure; she would have been glad to bury herself five feet under ground just to escape his quizzical gaze. Never before had she looked so much like human, writhing in self-doubt and obviously flustered. Darien wanted his answers, which made sense what he had done; Rowena admitted that. It was just that she couldn't tell him - or anyone, for that matter - something so personal. Her forte was building the barriers, not blasting them; handing someone weapon like that would have been plain stupid... And so she opted for a compromise. "I... Well, when I was little, my parents would always lock me in the pit with snakes whenever I refused to finish my breakfast, which caused an extreme trauma on my part..." Rowena let the ridiculousness of that exclamation sink in before she laughed outloud; it came out a bit forced, but it was better than truth. "No, nothing like that has happened, but the truth is I can't stand snakes. Breaking news; vampires have phobias, too. I will wrestle with a crocodile next time to make it up to you... Aren't you cold?" Somehow, she couldn't bring herself to be cruel to him again after that heroic feat. Moreover, Rowena really needed to change the topic... And his body was aesthetically appealing, which provided her another good reason to cover it. She pulled out a blanket from the depths of stolen crate, passing it to the Hekan quickly. "Ehm, so... Did you discover anything important from those inscriptions?" Yes, the effort to shift the conversation away from her fear couldn't be described as "subtle".
 

The Returner

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Darien was watching Rowena intently and the deep red blush that was suddenly obvious on her cheeks only threw him off balance even more than the fact that he has just escaped another life threatening conflict. Didn't his life used to be more peaceful even when he was on the run? Rowena's sudden change of behavior the insecurity that Darien noticed...Just what on Earth has been going on with her? The surprise that he felt could get another dimension of incredulity about the fact that Rowena actually can suffer human feelings and has the ability to look like one too. She looked vulnerable, Darien had to admit, but at the moment, he wasn't feeling like getting up and going over to her to clumsily comfort her. He didn't even think that she would appreciate that anyway. After her first exclamation, Darien's eyebrows shot up in astonishment for which he later mentally slapped himself. Of course, it was a lie, though Darien wouldn't be surprised if some vampire parents did that, considering how cruel leeches could sometimes be. Well, she didn't really explain the whole thing to him and her efforts to shift the topic were more than apparent. It didn't soothe Darien's curiosity at all, it only fed his mind with more need to ask her for proper explanation. But then, he was a human and he was capable of compassion and understanding and above all, patience.

Shifting his position so that he was sitting crossed leg again, about a meter away from the messed up shirt, the night has suddenly became coooler and Darien shivered. Yes, he was cold and so he was glad when Rowena passed him the blanket, but with that notion, his right hand reminded itself with sharp pain that shot up all the way to his neck. "Damn," he murmured, partially shocked and partially because it really did hurt. Examining his injured hand, he noticed that the place around his knuckles was getting swollen. Has the impact broken some of his bones? Trying to move his fingers only resulted in more shots of pain. Well, it shouldn't be a surprise, after all he practically hit the ground with his bare hand. Hearing Rowena asking about the canopic jars in a desperate attempt to shift the topic, Darien looked at her then at the mentioned object and back at the vampire, thinking whether he should try to explain the whole thing or point out his injury first. The manly side of him won and he decided to hide his discomfort a minute longer. His notes didn't lie so far from him so he took them and his eyes focused on the jars again as if he was finishing a thought that got previously disturb by the sudden visitor.

"Yeah, each of them has a one sentence inscription and if you put all the sentences in order it is like a riddle of some sort." It was indeed very interesting piece of information and Darien handed Rowena the paper on which the sentence were scribbled down and each of them was given a number to determine in which order the sentences are meant to be read. His hand writing was a bit messed up as he wrote all of that on his knees but it was still legible. As he passed on the paper, his face began twisting since his injured hand started pulsating. He tried to hide his pain but didn't manage it that well. "I think, it's time for you to pay back the desert incident. Your blood has healing attributes, right?" Darien said aloud looking at Rowena, gritting his teeth. It was obvious what he was suggesting and to be fair, he had all the rights to ask her for her blood since he gave his own to Rowena back then. She still owed him for that. She actually owed him a lot of favors by now.
 
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A riddle? Now that was interesting, but not very surprising; old Egyptians seemed to be inserting Easter eggs for future explorers to find everywhere as if they had predicted their glorious nation would fall... And it did, despite the famous pyramids and other architectural wonders that the rest of world could only dream of at that time. Another confirmation of Rowena's lifelong philosophy; all the pompous luxury - so-called advantage of civilization - was just an empty shell without brutal strength to protect it and conquer new territories. She glanced at Darien's notes, thankful for acceptable distraction, and read through the messy lines hastily. Spark of recognition flashed in her eyes; those verses had accompanied her throughout entire childhood as one of the numerous teaching tools. Mother's voice was still reciting them softly in her head, placing the accent on the right syllable with perfectionism that didn't allow a single mistake. Just as Rowena was ready to dismiss the value of their findings, Darien made his request.

Asking for vampire's blood so directly usually translated as shorter and infinitely more vulgar version of "Hi, fellow citizen, I've grown weary of my boring life. Could you take care of the problem, please?" Sharing the precious, life-giving liquid was supposed to be a very intimate deed, something akin to deeply religious experience. To simplify it, giving someone very essence of your being meant a lot. It was also playing with fire since addiction could be formed very quickly and everybody knew that the government wasn't even trying to hush up the assassinations of those who had demonstrated weakness by surrendering to their urges. Survival of the fittest at its best. The Hekan was actually lucky to encounter Rowena of all vampires; a cynic persecuted by her own race who had very loose grasp of ethics and certainly saw nothing sacred about feeding.

Her features created a picture of complacency as she was watching Darien's face distorted with pain; the opportunity to pay the debt actually felt good. "No need to drive me to the wall by mentioning this episode over and over, Darien. Just asking nicely would do, as they should have taught you in any educational institute worth its name," Rowena smiled sarcastically, but rolled up the undamaged sleeve and bared her teeth. The vast majority of vampire population would have cringed at the prospect of biting themselves since the anesthetics didn't dull their pain receptors, yet her powers kinda consisted of systematic self-harming; what was one sting against prolapsed intestines? Anyone without vampire fangs would have trouble with drinking via tiny wounds left by normal bite, so Rowena scraped her arm instead. She didn't even flinch as crimson liquid engulfed the overall whiteness of her skin; few drops fell to the ground, gleaming like rubies. "Just to make this clear; my blood is no aspirin you can take anytime. Don't be too eager to suck me dry and pray to every god you know that it doesn't short-circuit your brain. Other than that, have a pleasant meal." Amusement spread over her face as she stretched out her hand to Darien; yes, the cobra didn't scar her unrepeatable charm in the slightest.
 

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Darien passed any of her comments with resilient silence, looking at her wrist for couple seconds. Was he really going to do this? It was after all just broken bones. It would heal in time. But did they have the time? Swallowing in attempt to moisture his dry throat, Darien frowned and took Rowena's hand, drawing the bleeding wound closer to his face. This will be once in a life time experience and hopefully it won't ever repeat again. His lips enclosed around Rowena's wrist and the metallic taste of blood filled his mouth. The frown on his face deepened as he focused on swallowing the unnatural liquid. Maybe if he didn't know what it was, it might have been easier for him. First swallow went down hard. His throat was convulsing as it tried to refused the blood but Darien forced it down and sipped a bit more. There was a strange sensation in his hand. Tingling would be the best word to describe it. Did that mean that his injury was healing? He hoped so and because he didn't have any other indicator that the broken bones were healing, Darien decided to go by that sensation. It took four more sips of Rowena's blood till the tingling was gone. His lips parted from Rowena's wrist and he let go of her hand, wiping his mouth as he looked at his healed hand, making fist and releasing the fingers couple times to make sure that everything was done. It was somehow surprising that the blood really did work.

"Well, to be honest, I am glad I am not a vampire. Feeding on blood? Ugh," Darien said and made a twisted face of a child who just ate something rather repulsive. But then, out of blue, his face changed and he looked deep into Rowena's eyes as if searching for something - arrogant comment maybe? His lips pressed in a thin line, he could still taste the blood on his tongue and it might take a while till it would go away completely. "Thank you," he then said simply, his voice clear, the words nicely pronounced as if there was no shame in saying them. As he looked away, the moment was shattered. Darien began collecting the jars. "We better get going. The tire is changed, right?" He asked Rowena as he got up and placed the jars in the boot next to the mummy, wondering just quickly who could the mummy be before, while it was still alive. Part of his consciousness retreated to the depths of Darien's very being pondering on what has just happened. They have exchanged blood. He gave her his own and she gave hers in return. For some reason, Darien felt as if some bond was completed. And truth be told, he felt somewhat closer to Rowena, though that wouldn't, of course, show in his behavior in any way. But the fact was simple in his mind, though he refused to accept it just yet. It was too soon to change his views on vampires, those creatures who forced him into becoming who he was now. The creatures that murdered millions of innocent people. All the hate was still just too strong to surrender to something that was slowly growing deep in that corner of Darien's very being.

Sitting down on the front seat again, Darien momentarily closed his eyes, finally letting go off the stress from conflicting the serpent, but the after taste of blood in his mouth was too distracting and so he reached into the box on the back seat and got himself a bottle of water from which he drank almost vehemently.
 
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Chitchat along the way

Rowena slipped behind the wheel again, ready to resume their journey. Her expression seemed kinda unreadable, but that was actually the return to norm; well, at least when she wasn't smirking. "About those inscriptions... This is no riddle, Darien; it's a part of funerary text, plain and simple. They call it Litany of Re and it's supposed to be reserved for especially fancy corpses. Our little stowaway must have been a noble."
Darien listened to her as he gulped down the water. So no riddle? For some reason, Darien had a feeling about it, but he wouldn't share it with Rowena, since she was the one who did some research and he was the one who took anything for a lead or a tiny hint. "A noble, hmm?" He murmured just to fill in the silence just as he screwed the lid back on the water bottle. Looking at the road ahead, Darien tried to guess how long it would take them till they reach Cairo.

"Yeah. There's one inconsistency, though... From what I remember, these texts are typically found on walls of crypts, not on canopic jars. I am no expert on religious humility, but scribbling something like this on vessels with human organs really seems like giving the gods a middle finger." Rowena shrugged and turned the wheel, guided only by stars on the night sky and silver line of river. "Anyway, that's how I would interpret it - and given my divine heritage, it might not be so far-fetched." Ironic echo resonated in her words as she mentioned Sekhmet, infamous progenitor of vampire race.

"So there is no other meaning to the inscription? Not even when it's on canopic jars where it doesn't belong?" Darien asked in casual tone of voice. Maybe all this was just to rebel against other gods who might or might not be real, but considering Sekhmet's revival... "Say have you have met her in person?" There was light curiosity in his words but nothing intrusive. Just a momentary interest.

"I am not sure, to be honest. Egyptians were obsessed with death and its aspects, so it would seem uncharacteristic to put it on the jars just because they suddenly decided carving it into walls was too tedious. There may be some hidden meaning, but I have no idea on what it might be." Something was definitely off about this; she made a mental note to inspect the jars herself later. With another question, Rowena let out a dry chuckle, obviously somewhat taken aback on how he could even ask that. "I was a hound, Darien. Someone trained specifically to track, kill and drown cute kittens without a hint of mercy. And if my former boss could put a self-destruction mechanism on me, he would do it without hesitation. Do I really look like enough of a diplomat to enjoy a glass of blood with Sekhmet?"

Well, who know maybe there was some hidden meaning about the jars but apparently both of them were clueless so maybe with time they will figure it out, but for now, Darien let it slip his mind. "Oh well, it's true that you are not much of a diplomat," Darien stated in a matter-of-factly tone of voice and he gave a small shrug of his shoulders as if it wasn't so strange that Rowena didn't get to meet her 'mother'.

Rowena would have rewarded Darien's last exclamation with a medal for greatest understatement of a year if it had been possible, but settled with a nod instead. The silence fell on them again; silence that Rowena despised. She had always been too communicative for her own good and now, when there wasn't any imminent danger or important task to do, boredom got a hold of her quickly. "Hey, I have been wondering about one thing," the vampire spoke after a while of uncomfortable stillness. "How does one get chosen to become a Hekan? Do you draw straws and go with a trial and error method - which would reflect the skill of our bureaucracy quite faithfully - or is there some... screening to determine your potential?"

Darien looked at Rowena, his eyebrows slightly risen. Didn't she know? He thought that every vampire knew how Hekans come to existence. "I wish we could draw straws, at least there would be a chance that I wouldn't get picked," he said and there was something in his voice that hinted ever so slightly that being Hekan is not something that he did voluntarily. "I was born in a ghetto somewhere in Europe. I don't remember which one. When I was about six, vampires came and lined all kids in the street, parents were kept separately somewhere else. There was one vampire who stopped in front of each kid, stared into their eyes for some time before moving on. Sometimes the child would start crying, or collapse, though most of them actually collapsed as far as I remember. That vampire was using telepathy to invade our minds and search for the Potential, by which I mean the possibility for some of us to use ancient Egyptian magic. When the guy moved from me to the boy or girl, I can't remember that either, next to me, I was still standing. Shaking a lot but standing, more shocked and confused to be able to think about anything. That's how I got chosen," he explained and just from thinking about the pain that the telepathic attack caused him, the complete confusion and fear he felt as a little boy, made Darien get goose bumps under the blanket.

The sheer detail of his answer was somewhat astounding; Rowena almost expected him to dodge the question with silence which seemed to be his favorite way of dealing with unpleasant remarks. In a strange twist, Darien basically threw his curriculum vitae at her... And Rowena, pathologically known for kicking people while they are down, didn't exploit the the opportunity; partly because he had the decency to treat her the same a while ago, partly because she could actually feel for him on a certain level. "Good old mind drilling, eh? I thought it was exclusively a torture device, but our lovely world is full of surprises. I made one of my subordinates use it on me in an attempt to find out how much it hurts," she stated calmly as if it was completely logical to subject yourself to mental torment out of curiosity. "Three words: worst migraine ever."

There was this unexpected curve of lips as a subtle smile formed itself and settled in Darien's expression. Sure it was a torture, especially when you execute that on a child, but it was manageable. The downside of was, though, that some of those kids actually didn't have any Potential, and those children then one day mysteriously disappeared. "I can't imagine what has happened to that subordinate afterwards," he noted and in fact wondered if Rowena went crazy back then as she always did when something unpleasant happened to her or around her that signaled imminent danger. "So have you always wanted to be in the army?" He asked her in return a question of the same or similar nature.

Rowena couldn't help but smirk. True, Darien hadn't seen far into her practices outside of being her former target, yet this assumption was simply ridiculous. "She died a horrible death, of course... In a minor war conflict, about ten years later after that incident. Punishing obedient soldiers didn't really seem like a suitable strategy to gain some respect, you know... It would have looked bad on recruitment posters." Balancing between subtle sarcasm and earnest explanation, Rowena realized this debate was getting... weirdly civil. "No," she answered immediately as if there was nothing to think about. "Me and military, that was a slow process full of self-discovery, not some shallow love at first sight. I joined it mostly to prove I could... Spiting everyone with that decision also served as a fine motivation." Shadow of nostalgia crept into Rowena's expression, somehow softening her features.

The subtle smile developed in a smirk too, but didn't stay long. It disappeared for whatever reason Darien had. He was sure that this partnership wasn't on Rowena's career list when she joined the military. But well, the ways of the Gods are inscrutable, right? Just as suddenly as his face was once again hard to decipher, Darien frowned, deep in thoughts. "Say, Rowena," he started and there was something in his voice which signaled that what he was about to say was something that was on some level challenging to say, as if the utterance could trigger something lethal. "What do you plan to do with the book of Thoth?"

The moment came and went; Rowena's expression returned to its default state. The mention of a reason they sustained this fragile cooperation sucked her back into reality. Maybe they could talk in a civilized manner, but ultimately, that didn't rewrite their roles in this little drama. Darien was her enemy. "You mean after I fulfill that promise about killing you over it? Well, I'm a modest girl and it's surprisingly easy to make me happy. Old-fashioned revenge, I guess. Stripping few generally unpleasant individuals of their power would be a fun thing to do. That ascension to divine status also seems like quite a career leap." And if it could cure me permanently, well... "There are many, many things to do with infinite wisdom, but I will probably burn the book after I get my share of knowledge. I hate it when others touch my toys." Rowena glanced at Darien, her gaze ostensibly indifferent. "Your intentions are, of course, painfully obvious. New world order, extermination of my race, hugs for free, flowers and rainbow... Say, is there anything more innovative on your mind?"
Yes, that much he figured out. Killing each other is definitely part of the whole process of getting the book and Darien wasn't any less determined in winning the fight against her even if it would be against all odds. Rowena's revengeful intentions didn't surprise Darien that much. "Burn the book, hm? Do you think it will be that easy? After all, it belonged to a god before and I would be quite surprise if he didn't make it fire proof and stuff." It was just his thought but it somehow felt right because if Thoth would want the book destroy, for whatever reason, he would have done so himself. Then, Darien appeared to be pensive. Was there something else he wanted from the book, apart from exterminating vampires? There were so many possibilities. He could rid himself of his powers and regain his full life again instead of constantly thinking that the day he is living now was also his last one. "Yes, that plan hasn't changed at all. There are other things I might do but those are secondary possibilities."

"Maybe you still haven't noticed, but I usually find my way around various restrictions. Improvisation is a key. Yes, fire might be too mainstream method of destroying books... On the other hand, I could always weave bodies of small animals into the pages to render them ilegible. That would take years with my current skill of manipulating flesh other than mine, but this kind of corruption happens on a molecular level. Very thorough." Rowena's tone was light, even though somewhat bemused; she was seriously pondering over it. Casually revealing the information about her powers evidently didn't bother the vampire at all.
"Awww, how disappointing. Say, how do you imagine it would work? Killing all the vamps is fine and dandy, but revolution on such a scale is about as stable as a house of cards. And without common enemy to unify you... Well, judging from your history, you're not prone to resolving conflicts over a cup of tea. Do you really expect everyone will just get along and hail you as their savior?" Rowena smiled sweetly, curious about his answer. There was a hidden trap in her words; would he fall for it?

Weaving bodies of small animals into the pages...Darien had to chuckle about that. Firstly, the idea just sounded hilarious. Secondly, the image itself was funny. Shaking his head lightly as if shaking of the remnants of the amusement, Darien fully looked at Rowena as she spoke. Well, that was indeed beyond his control. "You have no idea, Rowena," he said and the smirk along with his tone truly did give his words a weight of truth. "When you were chasing me, you thought you might have got the guy, the biggest threat to your whole society. But well, I was and still am just a runner. It won't be me using the book for ridding the planet of your race. There are already bits and pieces of a different plan set in motion that will ensure that no big revolution and fights for power will outbreak. You see, the problem of your race is that you consider humans just food without brain, without the ability to think for themselves. But if you pull strings in the right place of a right person..." He left the end of the sentence just hanging in the air, leaving Rowena to make up the rest of her own liking. "The point is that the race for the book isn't the only thing that we have been doing Rowena." And since you are not in the army anymore you can't do anything about it. There was something in his expression that clearly showed that he wasn't bluffing. That every word he said was true, but that he would say no more than that. The old defiance was back.

Rowena's smile, contrary to what Darien perhaps estimated, didn't fade; it only got that slightly mischievous flavor that indicated a fascination. Well, isn't THAT interesting. If she had still been in an army, this would have meant months and months of wasted time spent on investigating, but national security was someone else's problem now. Yes, Rowena had never been much of a patriot; the fact they had labelled her as a danger to society and tried to eliminate her didn't have a positive effect on her sentiments. "Oh, this is rich. Comedic gold. Are you even aware of what you're saying to me here? Pulling the right strings? Do activities of your group consist of influencing important ghetto figures by controlling the access to food supplies? Or are you building nuclear weapons from sticks you find lying on a ground? No, you don't have to answer that; I understand your mission is top secret." She patted him on the shoulder in a fake friendly gesture, clearly amused. "But please, allow me one question since I am new in this conspiracy business. If you're still part of some organization that holds a significant power... What are you doing here with me, Darien? Shouldn't they be picking you up soon, as you're a treasured member? If so, warn me beforehand. I want to die in a fair battle as my honor of a soldier commands," Rowena stated in a dramatical tone and laid a right hand on her heart. Yeah, full of tact as always.

Darien smirked at her, a spark in his eyes. Usually her words would pretty much knock him off, make him upset or annoyed. And yes, he could feel that creeping up slowly but for some reason, it wasn't so acute as always. There was this cold reassurance deep in his chest. The ultimate trust he put into his organization. "What am I doing here with you? Well, isn't that obvious? I'm hunting the book of Thoth since you are just as good pawn in the game as I am. You are a key for me that open the door to your society, for example, to the mansion of your friend about which I wouldn't know without you. Yes, it comes down to the fact that we are basically using one another for our own benefit and I don't see why we should keep that a secret." His voice was neutral, but he did have a point. Rowena used him for his knowledge about the book of Thoth and he used her to get the last pieces of the puzzles. That's what their partnership basically came down too. Pretty simple, wasn't it?

Rowena noticed how Darien didn't even falter at her jabs; this organization or whatever it was must have earned his trust fully... Or perhaps they had brainwashed him somehow. "Nicely said. I am wiping an imaginary tear here. Let me correct you in one little thing, though." Her smile, surprisingly quite friendly, slowly transformed into full-fledged grin. "I am not the one risking my very life for some shadowy person that's supposedly pulling the strings. You should probably re-check the definition of pawn in some dictionary." Yeah, let's not dwell on the fact that I used to be one practically for my entire life too much. "Anyway, speaking about Christian, you might want to leave any possible confrontation up to me." Seriousness crept into her voice again, along with some sort of badly hidden discomfort. "Not to underestimate you, but I've sparred with him many times and no human is fit to face him."

That was it. She got him. The annoyance finally crept into his face. Yes, he wanted to shake her or do whatever just to get that smug tone of her voice gone. To make her be serious for once and actually accept the facts that he was placing in front of her, without any stupid word game that she always used on him. Looking away from Rowena, Darien looked out of the side window frowning. Better not look at her or he might as well regret the next thing he would do or say. "After all, you are the experienced vampire killer," he muttered in agreement not feeling like commenting any further. Not even feeling like talking anymore. Yes, he brought that upon himself the moment he asked Rowena what she planned to do with the book of Thoth, but still, her behavior just did upset him. She reminded him of one of those noble vampires he met before he joined the rebellion. All those filthy rich leeches, holding their nose high not just because they were superior but because they thought that they were ultimately right in anything they said. Rowena looked like one of them at the moment. So full of herself that it made him sick.
 
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Rowena didn't notice the exact moment, but something in her perception of Darien had definitely changed. It wasn't a big, eye-opening discovery capable of throwing her entire ideology to the dustbin nor it occurred out of blue; the process was slow and deceitful, as if someone had sneaked a virus into her brain to gradually corrupt the data stored within. The Hekan had persisted in a silent mode for the most of their journey, pouting like a spoiled kid, and she didn't have a single reason to care. Her only regret should have been the missed opportunity to flay him alive and use the scraps of bruised skin as a humorous way to rejuvenate the design of her carpet, but sadly, that wasn't the case. Perhaps the time spent stuck in one car with Darien had contaminated her mind and laid rather stable foundations for another kind of sociopathy, but the grudging respect she had felt for him before turned into... something else. Acceptance, maybe? Cautious appreciation? Rowena didn't like the parasitic sensation as it ventured into dangerous regions, yet it just nestled somewhere inside of her, refusing to go away. To say the feeling was bothering her would have been an understatement; the vampire had a plenty of experience with pure hatred - so much that she could probably make a living out of organizing courses about it - but this was a new situation. New situations with its unpredictable outcomes only enhanced the probability of failure and success ratio of their quest could already be measured in negative numbers.

Aston Martin that was so sublimely burrowed from the deceased guards made its way through the desert like an arrow shot from a crossbow; quickly and elegantly. Rowena had avoided any further contact with ghettos planted around the river, often purposefully choosing a longer path - yeah, they contained a lot of fresh food, but she didn't particularly wish to risk another struggle with armed forces. Moreover, Darien's mood was bad enough without the blatant poverty of human quarters screaming at him: "Look, the vampires oppress your people and enjoy it colossally! Even cattle has better living conditions!" The silent treatment she had gotten from him had resulted in increasingly wackier attempts to fight off the stillness; in one hilarious moment it looked like Rowena had forgotten about his presence entirely since she had started humming quietly. While the educated opera lovers all around the world wouldn't rate her voice very flatteringly, she didn't sing that much off-key either... The biggest surprise, though, probably came from the fact that the queen of snark had chosen a fast, rather upbeat melody instead of a funeral march. Needless to say, this little private concert had been terminated without refund when the vampire realized there was an audience.

Finally, after few hours, ancient Cairo, city older than many civilizations, appeared as a silhouette on a horizon. Nobody would be able to guess its age if it wasn't for commonly known historical background; as the first bastion of vampires, the capital had undergone a drastic cosmetic surgery. The main theme was the future; millions of differently colored lights creating the impression of sea of stars, flashing neon signs, cold efficiency of tall, metallic skyscrapers... Every sci-fi writer's dream and every epileptic's worst nightmare. "Home, sweet home," Rowena murmured, but there was no joy in her tone; just determination and residual traces of sarcasm. "Oh Cairo, how much I've missed your lovely streets." Turning to face Darien, she smirked slightly. "To be honest, my info might be a little outdated since chasing you took away such a big portion of my time, so I think it would be better to visit another friend of mine to clear up confusion. You know, real friend. Friend that I don't want to murder in cold blood." Knowing is half the battle, said an old proverb, and Rowena intended to arm herself with every piece of knowledge she could get.

The car passed through one of the numerous entrances without any trouble; Cairo was a free city, after all. And no-one would be suicidal enough to trespass its sacred borders to face the wrath of many powerful vampires that gathered there... Well, maybe except from a certain couple of fugitives. Rowena drove somewhere to the outskirts, this time even conforming to the road etiquette; getting caught for speed limit violation would have been a very inglorious end to their adventures. Familiar thrill was beginning to grow in her stomach; they were in a middle of a scorpions' nest, vulnerable to sheer amount of predators operating from here, yet hidden in the traffic more thoroughly than a needle in a haystack. The most exciting game of hide and seek ever; the game that made her blood boil. Of course there was also the stress, but the endorphins from sudden adrenaline rush simply didn't give it a chance to develop properly. She parked the vehicle in front of uniform looking grey prefab; even futuristic Cairo had those depressing places assigned to lower classes and the farther from the center, the more frequent they were. Yes, they did seem like a royal palaces when compared to average ghetto hut, but still. "Gotta greet him first; this guy is even more paranoid than me." Rowena stood up from the seat, as confident as always, and knocked on the door. Her fingers were tapping out a peculiar rhythm - a complex mix of signals similar to Morse code.

There was a sound of key in a lock after a while that felt like an eternity, and the door moved slightly to reveal worn face of a ginger man. His hair, so radiant he could volunteer as a substitute for semaphore, was reprehensibly messy and bags under his eyes spoke about countless of sleepless days. Features of his face were delicate like those of a porcelain doll - typical vampire pretty boy - but the nervous tic controlling his facial muscles made him bear a striking resemblance to a drug addict. "Is that you, Rowena?" he gasped. "No, Haji, it's Santa - hey!" Her answer was interrupted by an abrupt door slam; some friends she had. Okay, I will reconsider that thing about not wanting to murder him. Luckily, reflexes perfected by years of training allowed her to stick her foot in the opening before it closed fully. "Look, it's cute you are ashamed of your untidy house, but you don't have to clean it hurriedly just because of my visit. Or are you trying to tell me I am not welcome here anymore?" Haji, as she called him, opened the door reluctantly; something in her voice told him she would have been content with tearing the entrance down if he hadn't complied. "Hi, Roe. I would hug you, but frankly, you smell. Are you in need of assistance in your criminal schemes..." That was when the ginger noticed her Hekan companion; his blue eyes widened in surprise. "So the rumors were true. Damn, girl, you're kinky. Well, at least you let him wear the pants." The former soldier burst out in laughter, ignoring the slurs directed at her address; this used to be a routine between the two. "Only on special occasions, so be grateful. I took your grave homophobia into account."
 
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