Previously: The Three Towers
The Great Hunter had never considered his own vampirism to be of particular note, until just recently. It did not define him, the way that being a calvaryman, or a Methodist, or even a Crimebuster had defined him, now, for well over one hundred years. He wasn’t “a vampire.” It was just a condition, like diabetes. It was less than that, because he was obliged to attend his diabetes every several hours, and his vampirism only troubled him four or five times a decade, at most. He had a very minor case of it. There were times when he all but forgot about the cravings. There were other times, usually after he got an accidental taste of the stuff somewhere — during a round of fisticuffs, or a visit to the dentist, for example — when his thirst for blood threatened to overwhelm him. Each of these times lasted a little longer than the one previous. He imagined that if he lived too many more years, he might eventually let go. He could feel the pull of it, the slide into a comfortable kind of depravity, one lapse in judgment leading to, and justifying the next, and then the next and the next. Eventually, he would no longer care about anything except the demands of his own unholy gullet, just like every real vampire he’d ever met, fought, killed, and drunk the blood of, over the course of his crimebusting career. He never wanted to be like that. He had sworn to himself that he never would be.
Except that lately, he had been feasting on the blood of snake-boys. It was not his fault. They were delicious. They were also soulless, and plentiful, and annoying. They had been coming in waves now, every few months, for years and years. There were always a few survivors from every wave, whose only means of interaction with the world was to sing that dreadful SerpenTerrorist song they all sang. Loudly. Out of key. And asynchronously with one another. The other Crimebusters were always happy to look the other way while the Great Hunter tied up the loose ends. It was his job. They assumed, he supposed, that he was simply cooking them in the Execution Chamber ovens. And, eventually, he was. If you thought about it — and he did think about it, a lot — was drinking their blood first any great harm to them, given the situation they were already in?
But the harm, of course, was not to them: it was to himself. Each time he drank blood, even cold snake-boy blood, as sweet and refreshing as an American lager, he became a little less of a man, and a little more of a monster.
It ended tonight.
He stood on the rooftop of his famous house, the so-called Clockwork Brownstone, waiting for Sky Lord and the others to arrive. He had called this meeting to tell them everything, and to beg for their forgiveness. As long as it was a secret, known only to himself, his vampirism could potentially grow into a more serious problem than it had ever been to date. Quite clearly, it had already started to do so. If his friends knew about this little situation, though, they could help keep him in check. That had been the plan, anyway. He hadn’t anticipated another snake-boy attack on the very morning of his coming out party, so to speak, but decided, ultimately, that it was a good sign. The ensuing flood of snake-boys into his care (assuming his friends allowed him to remain administrator of the Execution Chamber) would serve as a temptation for him to resist, and his resistance, in turn, would be proof of his new resolve to himself, and to his friends. He hoped.
“Pip pip,” he said, to cheer himself up and calm himself down as he surveyed the sky. “Tally-ho.”
He hadn’t been this scared since he had stood at the bottom of San Juan hill, waiting for Col. Roosevelt to give the signal and start the charge. Back then, he had had nothing to lose but his life. Time — he thought — has a way of raising the stakes for everybody, and even moreso, it turns out, for immortals. The longer we have lived, the more we have to lose. Reputations. Bodies of work. Mechanical houses made of gold. The Great Hunter liked his life, the one he was living now, except for the one little thing. When you really considered it — he thought now to himself — his vampirism was not really even like a disease. It was more like a war wound, something he had picked up while protecting innocents from the ravages of far worse vampires than himself. Maybe he had called this meeting too rashly. Maybe he would be able to take control of himself without help. Maybe he shouldn’t risk having his friends turn on him. They had thrown other former Crimebusters into the ovens in the past — for heinous crimes, certainly — but maybe they’d see his vampirism as a more serious kind of problem than he himself had managed to thus far. Anything was possible.
Sky Lord arrived with two young children draped over his shoulders, like a deer hunter with his kills: there was Sky Prince, the man’s son, on the one shoulder. No surprise. Happens often enough. Poor lad. And on the other shoulder was a snake-boy, of all things. Sky Lord dropped them both onto the rooftop with a heavy thump, thump. They lay there, possibly (but not certainly) breathing.
“So yeah,” said Sky Lord. “What’s the big deal? You wanted to talk?”