Eye to Eye

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February 4, 2013 – 2am
A blood hunt on Duke. Was it really that easy? No, ‘easy’ wasn’t the right word. There was nothing easy about what he had just done.

Hunter’s heart was still pounding in his chest, adrenaline-charged blood still rushing through his veins. Walking into the Prince’s home and interrupting a room full of vampires was cause for anxiety unlike any that Hunter had experienced before. It had been a huge risk. He could have been recaptured. He could have been killed. He had exposed himself in almost every possible way, standing naked before the Prince bartering for his freedom in front of an entire assembly. He knew the moment he stepped into the room that he had to be prepared for the worst, that he was literally risking everything. His life. His freedom. His sanity. His pride. His dignity—or what was left of it. It was all on the line and yet he knew without a doubt that he had to do it. He had to speak to the Prince and he didn’t know if or when he’d get another opportunity.

It had been simple, but not easy. Moreover, it had worked. It had more than worked.

As much as words could not express his level of unbridled hatred and anger for what had been done to him, so too was it impossible for them to describe his feeling of pure relief and exhilaration when he heard the Prince declare a blood hunt on Duke. He wasn’t free yet, but he had just made a monumental step up. He was now significantly safer and his status had markedly improved since the last meeting. He had been fully prepared for the usual insults and degrading treatment as a dog, pet, or property, yet the Prince hadn’t even hinted at any of those things. Perhaps his Dalu form had worked at providing him a greater level of respect, but Hunter suspected that there were other factors at play as well. As the Prince had very correctly stated, loyalty was not cheap, it was bought at price. Similarly, respect had to be earned. To hear that the Prince respected Hunter’s competence over Duke’s—so much so that he was taking over his job? In Hunter’s experience, there wasn’t a better compliment he could have possibly received, and from what he had gathered about Duke’s job, he probably couldn’t have gotten a better position of status if he had asked for it.

As soon as the meeting was adjourned, Hunter approached Xavier and exchanged a few words to arrange a meeting. Then he turned and headed for the doors to make his way out.

He had to admit, he liked this form. Sharper senses, stronger, and effectively intimidating. At seven and a half feet, he wasn’t just tall—his muscular form had grown proportionally, making him a giant compared to his human size. His body hair had grown in length and amount all over his body. The hair on his head was a little shorter and almost resembled fur, thick side burns now thinning to a short beard. His pointed, fur-tipped ears were larger than a humans and completely reshaped. His massive hands were now tipped with a razor-sharp one-inch claw grown from each fingernail. His eyes were no longer human, but not quite wolf either. His teeth had reformed to give him upper and lower canines. His face still remained mostly human, but he was not recognizable as Hunter with the subtle changes to his bone structure. The rest of him remained anatomically human, but the only thing besides his scent that was partially recognizable were his tattoos.

The entire night had been somewhat of a letdown. A phantom interstellar object is nearing Earth, and therefore going to be require exploitation? That didn’t seem the purview of vampires – let alone vampires like Batman, or Detective Bloodgood, or Jacob. All in all, this Prince seemed to be rather unstable. He was fond of theatrics, of gestures, of threats – but didn’t convey substance. The only truly powerful act the vampire king had made was to effectively free Hunter. He had done with a single sentence what Jacob had failed to do over the course of several weeks.  

I still can’t let anyone know I’ve been a party to Hunter’s escape. As long as they believe that he is as powerful as his boasting, then I’ll go unnoticed.

As the meeting adjourned Jacob looked for Hunter. He had a single question, one that required answering. He saw the large wolf-man’s form move to the door as if to leave. Jacob quickly jogged over and stopped a few feet behind him. He was glad he had stopped outside of reach instinctively. Hunter’s current shape radiated power and energy. It was terrifying. 

“Hey, Hunter,” he called out, quietly. He inwardly kicked himself for allowing his voice to carry some of the fear gripping his lungs.

He cleared his throat.  

Hunter had just passed into the next room when he heard the sound of someone approaching fast from behind him, but he dismissed it as someone being in a hurry to leave. It wasn’t like anyone would be foolish enough to attack him here and now, if ever. When he heard Jacob’s voice, his Dalu ears perked and reflexively turned toward the sound before his head and body followed to fully face him. Hunter could smell a mixture of cold blood and toothpaste on his breath. He could smell the detergent that had washed his clothing and the fumes of his motorbike. He couldn’t smell his fear—Jacob was a corpse after all and lacked the ability to sweat or piss himself—but Hunter could hear and see the fear plain as day.

Jacob looked tiny.

Hunter looked down at him, his dilated bestial eyes focusing on the minuet details of Jacob’s body language, catching every subtle movement while his ears continued to turn to the other sounds around them. There was no masking his predatory nature in this form. From a distance he could still be mistaken for a very large human, but standing before him left no doubt that there was a feral beast rooted in his core. This was the creature that belonged to the powerful smell of Hunter’s exotic blood, a magnificent specimen that made the memory of his human form seem like it had been nothing but a confining, understated disguise.

Hunter watched and waited for Jacob to speak up.

Jacob looked away. Since the moment the Prince spoke, it had occurred to Jacob that he would likely never see Hunter again. There were a million questions he wanted to ask, a million things he wanted to say. In that moment, three factions within him warred for dominance. The beast called for blood, to run in fear, to attack. The scientist called for information, for truth, for a chance to study the monster in front of him. The human within Jacob, however, simply wanted hope. Unspoken conflict played on his face for several seconds. Then he looked into Hunter’s eyes, searching for the man within him. 

When he thought he found it, he spoke. “Where are you going?” 

The simple question conveyed meaning that he knew would not be lost on Hunter. He was not simply just asking for his direction or even his purpose – Jacob wanted to know if Hunter was free. Through torture, imprisonment, and blood, so much had gone into the creation of a monster. This monster – made by the Hound was now claimed by the Prince. 

So, was your price truly paid? Was your loyalty bought with just a simple proclamation? Are you still just a junkyard dog – now without chains?

Hunter did pick up on the fact that Jacob’s question was not being asked at face value. Deducing exactly what Jacob was asking was trickier because interpretations were subjective. Hunter’s best guess was that he wanted to know what was next, but why the vampire couldn’t just follow him outside and speak freely Hunter didn’t get.

“I’m going to wait,” he replied. Even his voice was different. His vocal cords produced a deep, guttural growl that garbled his words, his teeth making them trickier to pronounce correctly. “But not here.”

He didn’t want to overstay his uninvited arrival in the Prince’s home, not after everything had gone so well. He turned and made his way through the house to the front door, not caring one way or the other if Jacob followed.

Even though Hunter could barely be heard within the creature’s voice, the words were absolutely his. As the werewolf turned to leave, Jacob smiled – almost beamed at the response. He stood at the doorway to the mansion, the vampires behind him, the werewolf and the wild of the woods before him. 

We are so different.

He jogged to catch up to Hunter. He had another question, though this one was somewhat less important. 

“So what did the Prince mean when he said you blew up a couple of his buildings?”

I thought the Hound was the only one who had reason to take your actions personally.

As soon as he stepped out of the house, Hunter turned to head deeper into the woods. He needed to be away from everything. He listened to Jacob following him, willing to allow the vampire’s company for now.

How does the guy still not know about Hobo’s?

One of his buildings,” Hunter corrected as he continued to walk. That’s what Shaddizar had said, and it was the number of buildings he had blown up. “I blew up Hobo’s. It was Duke’s restaurant—he managed it.”

Jacob squinted his eyes in thought.  "Wow. Wait, what? When did you… Okay. You know what? I don’t care. Just tell me at least that you didn’t kill dozens of people in the process, please."

Realizing quickly that Hunter must have set the building to explode during the escape after he went upstairs, he considered the possibilities. 

That explains the smoke smell I got a whiff of yesterday. Chances are, unless he waited a while for Duke, he would have do it immediately after he escaped. Since Hunter was here tonight – asking for help – it’s unlikely that Duke was actually killed. That means he either didn’t wait long, or he accidentally tipped Duke off somehow. 

“Wait, does Duke know you’re here?” 

How long did he wait until after I left to do it? I didn’t hear or feel any explosion that night, so it couldn’t have been within twenty minutes or so, but he did arrive with clothes and equipment, so I know he was out for at least a while. 

Hunter gave no response to Jacob’s plea about the casualties. If Jacob had seen the explosion or heard about it on the news, he’d know as Hunter did that there very likely were at least a couple dozen people in the vicinity of the explosion. It had been no small blast, and there had been apartments above it.

Hunter knew where that conversation with Jacob would go and was already bored just thinking about it. So instead, he obliged Jacob’s second question.

“I don’t know,” he said without turning or slowing down.

Don’t know, or don’t care? And why did you dodge the question about explosion victims?

Jacob reconsidered what Hunter said. He had detonated a small street-side diner in Chinatown. While it was likely the restaurant itself wasn’t too occupied at the time, there were residential apartments directly above and around it. Apartments full of people sleeping, or getting ready for work, and pedestrians passing by on the street.

“Now that I think about it, Hobo’s is right below some apartments. They would have been occupied.”

Jacob thought back to when he had been there, in the dungeon below. He could still see the bottle of acid in his hand, the young throat in Hunter’s. One of them held freedom, the other certain death. The boy’s terrified eyes and pleading expression burned themselves into Jacob’s memory. 

Save me.

“How many was it? How many people, Hunter?” His voice carried genuine anger now. 

He stopped and glared at Hunter again, trying to express his indignation, but the subduing presence of the wolf’s enormous form sapped his conviction. Just looking at him, Jacob couldn’t help but feel fear. Hunter wasn’t just physically powerful, he was now an authority among vampires – even his superior. He was resourceful. He was intelligent. He was connected. He was an unrepentant murderer. 

Jacob felt cowardly. He felt wrong. He felt sick. He wanted to be somewhere, anywhere else. 

I did this. I set this monster free.

This time Hunter stopped and turned to face Jacob. Not that he needed to see Jacob or hear the anger in his tone to know what would be in his expression. Shock, outrage, indignation, mortification over the poor dead people. Anger, fear, judgement, condescension… what kind of animal would do such a horrific thing?

Hunter had seen the look on Jacob’s face hundreds of times—the look everyone had for the scum of the earth on the other side of the bars.

“Does it matter?” he asked, his Dalu voice giving off another unintentional growl as he spoke. Despite the gruffness in his voice, there was no anger in his eyes or tone, but as Hunter looked down at him, the challenge to Jacob’s moral outrage was unmistakable.

Jacob took a half-step back reflexively. He narrowed his eyes as gentle rage gripped him. His shoulders tensed and he planted his feet.

“It matters,” he said, not breaking eye contact.   

Hunter noticed Jacob’s change in stance. It could have easily been taken as aggression, but Hunter saw it more as a determination on Jacob’s part to not be moved.

“Why?” Hunter challenged again, not angry but stern. “Why is killing one so different from killing five or ten or twenty?”

Jacob blinked twice. He didn’t think he would be called upon to explain basic human morality in his lifetime, but here he was: A vampire explaining why mass-murder is bad to a werewolf. The irony was hilarious. 

Despite his anger, despite his humiliation, despite everything  - Jacob laughed. It was a light, happy laugh. Hunter was taking this seriously, and while that was surprising, Jacob found himself coming to terms with Hunter’s perspective. 

“I’m sorry, it’s just kinda funny – the irony. A vampire and a werewolf discussing the morality of murder.” 

Still smiling, he considered everything Hunter had done up until this point. _You really are a sociopath, aren’t you? I need to think like he does for a moment. I need to make this into an equation. What is the difference to someone like him?_ 

Jacob scratched the back of his head in thought as he considered what he could say.

“How to start? So, what do you think of life? Obviously yours hasn’t exactly been the easiest, but do you think your life has value? I guess that’s a dumb question. You’d kill anyone that tries to kill you, so of course you do. How do you see other people? Is there anyone you value? Anyone you would fight for? Die for?” 

Karina.

Hunter had to fight down his irritation at his own reflexive response to Jacob’s question. As much as he didn’t want to admit it, he thought of Karina far more than he wanted to, missed her far more than he should. Fight for her, yes. Kill for her, yes. Die for her? He wanted to say no, but his only confident answer was, probably not.

Not that Jacob would ever be privy to any of that.

“That has nothing to do with what I did at Hobo’s or my question,” Hunter stated, pleased that the truth of his statement also served as a perfect deflection.

Is he trying to avoid my question? Jacob thought to himself. It might be a good sign if he is.

“No, I suppose it doesn’t. Bear with me, and just let me ask you this: How many people would you estimate died yesterday? Seriously.”

Hunter didn’t have to think about his answer to that question either. He’d read the police reports and their casualty estimation seemed realistic.

“At least twenty, probably no more than thirty,” he replied.

Jacob lost his breath at Hunter’s response. Twenty people? Thirty?! How can he just say that so casually? 

“God damn. Wow…”

Stuffing aside the anger and humiliation at Hunter using his freedom to take the lives of so many, Jacob centered himself on the point he still had yet to make. 

“Okay. So, each of those people are just another Hunter. Each one has goals and ambitions like you. Each one is trapped in some way. Each one wants to get out of something, they want things to get better. Killing them, you denied them – all of them – the chance to change anything. How you felt when I almost walked out on you? That’s them. Or their families. Or their friends.

“Do you see that? Tell me you see that.”

Hunter had to resist the urge to interrupt Jacob. Trying to get him to sympathize with or feel sorry for the people he killed wasn’t going to work.

“Sure. People value their own lives, the same as I value mine and you value yours. But just because they value their lives doesn’t mean I have to. Now you still haven’t answered my question. Why are twenty lives more valuable than one? When we were in that dungeon, you hesitated to keep your word because you knew I was going to kill the man I was holding. You knew that. And yet, you gave me the acid. One death was acceptable, but twenty is not? What about two?”

Jacob wanted to turn away from this question. He wanted to change the subject. Hunter was right though – his hesitation provided ample evidence of the moral dilemma that Jacob faced in the dungeon that night. He still wasn’t sure he made the right decision. In fact, every further moment since then had further proved this the wrong decision.

“I didn’t know that you would let him go even if I turned to leave. In fact, knowing my beliefs, you might have even used him as a hostage to get me to free you. Frankly, he was dead the moment you caught him.”

“You could have insisted that I let him go before handing over the acid,” Hunter stated. “There was good reason to think I would have.”

Of course, Jacob hadn’t thought of that. Fortunately, Jacob had been oblivious to the amount of leverage he had had over Hunter. He could have asked for a lot more than just a pint of blood. As Hunter continued his point, his tone took on a good amount of accusation.

“The bottom line is you let him die because you wanted to feel justified in living up to your word and convictions—convictions that apparently involve helping people ‘be better’ but not necessarily saving lives.”

Hunter had him. Jacob’s own actions had proved that he didn’t give human life more value than his own self-imposed sense of integrity. He was willing to be an accessory to murder, but not a liar. And yet, Hunter knew Jacob was capable of finding acceptable reasons to lie too when it suited him. Self-righteous hypocrite. 

He allowed a couple of seconds of silence as he leaned down and gave an intentional growl. “Don’t act like you are any better than me.”

Because you’re not.

Hunter turned and kept walking.

“I never said I was better than you. Morality isn’t about being better than the other guy. It’s about doing what’s plain old right. That time, downstairs, I hesitated to free you because I knew it would guarantee the death of the kid. You’re right too, I let you kill him because it was convenient. It let me keep my word. It covered up the evidence of my presence. But that isn’t the whole story.”

Jacob set his hand on the trunk of a tree they passed nearby and looked up at Hunter.

“You’re goddamn right I’m no better than you. Believe it or not, I actually knew you’d kill him, the kid upstairs, and anyone who happened to be unlucky enough to be walking by at the time. You see, this all came down to just a little math equation. These guys here die so that you can live free. What I didn’t calculate is that you would also blow up an entire apartment complex without stopping to consider that people might have lived there.”

He chuckled nervously,  "You know, I actually thought I was saving lives? Saving people from what would happen if they… if they truly broke you. " 

I figured you would skip town. Go live out in the woods somewhere. I had no clue what you would do to Hobo’s.

Jacob’s ‘math equation’ was irrelevant. He had no way of knowing how his actions would ultimately affect the lives of everyone around those involved. Even Hunter knew that predicting those kinds of ripples was impossible. Predicting casualties of an explosion, however?

Hunter raised an eyebrow when Jacob essentially accused Hunter of acting without thinking. Did he think that he was the only one capable of calculating casualties? Hunter had had more than enough time to think about what he was going to do if Jacob succeeded in freeing him from his chain.

“Don’t insult me. Ignorance is your forte, not mine. But there’s a difference between knowing how many people will be in a blast radius and knowing the future. Maybe you did end up saving lives. Maybe I would have killed thirty-five people if they had broken me. Maybe I’m about to play a key role in preventing an apocalypse and leaving me chained up down there would have resulted in the end of the world. You flatter yourself if you think you can make those kinds of predictions.”

Jacob could feel his blood get hot as Hunter spoke. 

Predictions or no, I at least have the foresight to think about the consequences of my actions.

“Don’t insult you? Ignorance is my forte? I’m not the one who’s accidentally killing dozens while trying to satisfy whatever bloodlust-driven rage that fuels you. God damn, you don’t even seem slightly remorseful that your revenge took the lives and homes of everyone that just happened to be in harm’s way. Did you even think about the fact that there were people there, or was it just another step you had to take in some ‘glorious revenge’ scheme?” 

“Of course I thought about it!” Hunter replied with an indignant growl.

I thought about trying to carve the chain out of the stone floor and how long it would take. I thought about spending another six hours trying to pick the lock on my collar and whether I’d get caught before finishing. I thought about trying to break through the walls. I thought about the way the room was wired for electricity. I thought about the physics of being unable to break my chain or kill Duke. I thought about just lying down there and starving to death. I thought about what Duke may or may not do to me when he came back. I thought about calling the police. I thought about calling Detective Barrett. I thought about calling the press. I thought about what would happen if my cell phone ran out of battery power. I thought about how many people were in Hobo’s. I thought about how much they knew and their loyalty to Duke. I thought about the chances of them being willing to help me. I thought about the people living upstairs. I thought about looking them up on my phone and calling them for help. I thought about just leaving Hobo’s alone and skipping town. I thought about waiting for Duke to come back before lighting the place up. I thought about asking you to help me lure him there. I thought about waiting for daytime when the apartments would be emptier and the restaurant would be fuller. I thought about the various kinds of trouble I might get into for doing what I did.

His list continued on and on. Hunter didn’t want to go as far as to believe he had thought through ‘everything’ but he had thought through a lot. Very few people knew just how smart he was and most mistook his ability to quickly think through options for impulsiveness.

More than anything, I thought about all the things I wanted to do to Duke. All the ways I wanted to kill him… all the ways I wanted to make him Hurt… Turned out that blowing up his restaurant when I knew he wasn’t around was really the only thing I could do to him. And so far I’d say it’s worked out rather well for me.

Hunter crossed his arms over his chest. “Just because it was primarily motivated by revenge doesn’t mean it wasn’t calculated.”

Jacob narrowed his eyes at Hunter spitefully.

“What the..? You knew? You fuckin’ _knew?!_ I … I can’t even believe… God damn, I don’t even know what the hell to think.”

How did I ever rationalize setting this lunatic free? Well, I know how this will go. He’ll go nuts, kill a bunch of people, and get himself caught again – or worse. And when he’s there again, demanding I save him like the petulant asshole he is, I’ll just say “No.” 

Half-turning away, Jacob paused for a few seconds to just breathe. 

“Damn you. God damn you. Do you have any clue how hard it is to be your friend? I mean, I know you have no clue what I’m talking about, but I see it. You’re angry. You’re emotionally wounded. You’re a batshit crazy psychopath for chrissake! But despite your hard-ass tough-guy bravado, I know you’re capable of caring. You’re far too passionate about the way you know the world to work to not care about anything. Hell, maybe even people—a few, very specific people. People that suit your needs.” 

Hunter’s jaw muscles clenched with his teeth in subdued anger. It wasn’t what Jacob had called him—it was what he accused him of.

Caring.

Hunter could perfectly rationalize his behavior, he could find no flaw in believing he was better off not caring about other people. Caring was an open door for hurt, disappointment and betrayal. Without the burden of relationships, he was free from obligation, able to be objective and do what needed to be done without hinderance.

Yet Jacob’s words angered him because they were true. He simply could not deny that some small part of him cared about Karina—and not just for the sex. And as much as he wanted to believe that he didn’t care about injustice in the world, deep down it still stirred a burning anger in him.

As much as Hunter wished otherwise, Jacob was right.

“And what about you?” Hunter demanded accusingly. He unfolded his arms and took half a step closer “Did you think about what they might have been intending to do to me the night they took me? I know you were there. Did you think that they might kill me? Did you care? Or maybe you were there watching them beat the shit out of me long enough to deduce they wanted me alive? Was that your justification for doing nothing? My guess is you didn’t think past your own selfish need for survival and just ran to save your own ass.”

Hunter leaned closer to Jacob, glaring at him with a growl as thick sarcasm filled his voice. “Maybe I should be more like you. Maybe I should be okay with just letting people die when it’s to my convenience and justify it by claiming to be remorseful afterward. People will still be dead but at least you’d feel better, right?”

Jacob didn’t have words. This wasn’t just Hunter being a dick, this was genuine treachery. His words were accusations. 

You are a coward, Jacob. You’re exactly like him. Look at you! Your skin, your teeth, even your appetites are entirely and completely self-interested. You hide behind this guise of humanity because you have nothing left. 

Jacob felt his feet backing him away from the werewolf, but no amount of distance from Hunter could change his words.

You’re as hypocritical as he says. You talk about saving lives, but will consent to ending them if it suits you. At least Hunter is honest about his motivations. At least he knows where he stands in the universe, and look where it’s got him! 

Taking another step back, then another, Jacob turned away and started back toward the mansion, to the company of his own kind.

You coward! Look at you! You can’t even stand up for yourself! Where is your moral high ground now? Where is your justification, humility, your morality!? You have nothing!

Mid-step, Jacob paused and half-turned back to Hunter one last time. "Don’t get yourself killed out there, man."

Hunter couldn’t help but feel an amount of satisfaction in seeing Jacob back down. Maybe Jacob had realized that his finger pointing might as well be directed in the mirror, or maybe he simply realized that his preaching was wasted breath on Hunter. Either way, Hunter had gotten something through to him and knew he wouldn’t be hearing any more of Jacob’s ethical bullshit.

“Same to you,” Hunter replied. Ironic as it sounded, he meant it. As long as Jacob didn’t cross him, Hunter wished him well—the same went for everyone else in the world. The problem was, there were many who didn’t know how to leave him the hell alone.

They can cast all the stones at me they want, but they better damn well be prepared for me to throw back.

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Eye to Eye

Vampire: Dark Ages Squee