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Jason, Farrah and Dawn were gliding through the air towards the Network building. Twenty dark forms emerged from Jason, heading towards the bottom half of the Building. Shade couldn’t easily penetrate the magically protected upper floors but his incorporeal form could easily scout out the rest. Once Shade had bodies all over the building, Jason could easily shadow jump to any of them.

The vampires had naturally good aura control, if somewhat limited in scope, with Jason himself having learned some tricks from Craig Vermillion. The ancient vampire was projecting his aura strongly, flooding the building with fear and dread. It made him easy to find but he also sensed the approach of Jason and the others as they fended off his aura. Farrah needed to expend more effort than Jason and Dawn but still managed to resist the oppressive effects of the vampire's aura.

Jason headed for the ground while Dawn and Farrah went for the third floor. As they split up, Farrah used one of her powers on Jason.


  • [Farrah Hurin] is attempting to use ability [Power Bond] on you.
  • [Power Bond] will enhance some of your abilities for the duration of the bond and give [Farrah Hurin] access to your knowledge. This is restricted to your knowledge of concepts external to yourself. This ability cannot read your thoughts or access your knowledge of yourself.
  • [Power Bond] can be rejected or ended at any time by you.
  • If you do not implicitly trust [Farrah Hurin], this ability will fail. Subconscious distrust will prevent this power from working.

Jason accepted the power.


  • You have been affected by [Power Bond], connecting you to [Farrah Hurin]. You may end this connection at any time.
  • [Power Bond] has used a random essence from [Farrah Hurin] to enhance one of your abilities at random. Ability [Sanguine Horror] has been enhanced by [Fire Essence]. While [Power Bond] is in effect, familiar [Colin] will be immune to fire and heat effects and inflict [Burning] when making attacks.

“Oh,” Jason said, his dark hood hiding the wide grin on his face. “Oh dear me.”

Jason didn’t bother to hide as he alighted on the ground outside the building, a half-dozen more Shades emerging from his shadow. There was a small group of cabal members standing outside the door, none of them hiding their true forms. One was a cyclops, twice the height of a man, while the others looked like stretched-out humans with long, narrow limbs. The cyclops was silver-rank, while the others were bronze.

When they noticed Jason's arrival, the Cabal members didn't move to attack. The long-limbed ones were fearful while the cyclops was angry, all of which Jason could read from their auras.

“Out and proud; I have to respect that,” Jason said, looking up at the cyclops. “You’re pretty awesome.”

“Why are you here?” one of the Cabal members asked. “The Network betrayed you.”

“That’s why I put my trust in people and not institutions,” Jason said. “I still have friends here and I’m not going to let your new boss eat them. Are you really okay with what’s happening here?”

“Power always wins,” the cyclops growls in a voice of rumbling thunder. “I want to test your power.”

“I’m sure you do,” Jason said, pushing the hood back off his head. “Once you have, though, you’ll wish you hadn’t. If the Cabal is willing to pack up and go home, I’m willing to let it.”

The cyclops threw back its head to let out a booming laugh.

“You think you can kill us all?”

“Yes,” Jason said.

“We never wanted to be part of this,” one of the long-limbed Cabal members said. “You don’t know how strong the vampire is. Can’t you feel it?”

For all his aura’s strength, Jason didn’t have the power to suppress the vampire’s gold-rank aura. His was too strong for the vampire to suppress in turn, even if it could. Only certain bloodlines possessed that aspect of aura control.

“I can feel it,” Jason said.

He sent his own aura flooding over the building, overlaying it with that of the vampire. The domineering aspect of Jason’s aura competed with the fear-drenched aura of the vampire. It wasn’t exactly a positive sensation but Jason’s aura did include protective aspects. The Network members in the building were given a sense of being shielded from a monster by a tyrant as Jason alleviated the vampire’s oppressive force.

The long-limbed Cabal members were looking at Jason with even more fear than before. The vampire hadn’t spared his own people from the effect of his aura, so now they were suffering both his and Jason’s simultaneously. The results were purely psychological but they were effective nonetheless.

“I have a thing about people turning victims into the undead and me having to put them all down,” Jason said. "If anyone but the old vampire and his ghouls choose to run, I won't chase. Go inside and tell your people."

“Don’t you dare,” the cyclops warned, sensing the fear from his minions. He had willpower to spare, impressively unintimidated by either aura.

"I don't want to get caught up in the middle of this," the long-limbed man complained. "Are you seriously alright with killing all these people?"

A beam of light shot from the cyclops’ eye like a laser and the long-limbed man screamed as his flesh burned.

“Yes,” the cyclops growled as the man tried to run but the beam tracked him until he fell dead to the ground.

Jason tucked his hood back over his head and wrapped his cloak around himself as identical cloaks manifested on the half-dozen Shades standing with him. Moving fast, it would be hard to tell them apart from Jason, especially with Jason’s aura washing over them all.

***

Farrah’s sword whip lashed out to shatter the glass, allowing her and Dawn to fly into the third floor unimpeded, where they sensed the source of the vampire's aura. Unlike Jason, the vampire lacked the control to hide his location in an area flooded by his aura, instead, standing out like a beacon.

Dawn and Farrah touched down in a wide hallway full of ghouls. Farrah stomped the floor and a wall of obsidian rose up to bisect the hallway lengthways, swiftly enough to crush several ghouls into the ceiling. The wall then exploded into shards, shredding the remaining ghouls into bloody chunks and the hallway fell silent.

The door at the far end of the hallway opened and a man entered, unfazed by the bloody horror Farrah had made of the hallway. Looking like he stepped out of a period drama rather than the next room, he gazed at the women with a self-satisfied sneer.

“Finally something in this wretched modern world I can wholeheartedly approve of,” Willoughby said. “A pair of comely wenches delivering themselves unto me.”

“I don’t think you’re going to like what we’re here for,” Farrah said.

“I think I might,” Willoughby said. “Women are no fun unless they struggle.”

"I'm going to enjoy killing you," Farrah said.

“I’m going to enjoy teaching you to use that sharp tongue for… better purposes.”

Farrah conjured her obsidian armour around herself as Willoughby dashed forward with the lightning speed of a gold-ranker, practically teleporting down the hallway. Almost instantaneous was not actually instantaneous, however, and while Farrah and the vampire traded barbs, Dawn had been muttering a spell incantation.

Just before the vampire reached them, magic circles appeared on each wall of the corridor, shooting out a net of flaming threads that Willoughby crashed into like a fly into a spider’s web. His momentum was arrested as he was tangled in the burning threads but he immediately started yanking himself free with his gold-rank strength. Farrah didn’t waste the chance, though, and her whip-sword snaked out to wind itself around the vampire.

Farrah’s sword, when unextended, was a jagged-edge greatsword made from obsidian. In its whip-sword state, the obsidian teeth separated and were strung along a flexible cord of red-hot lava, like shark teeth on a necklace. The lava joined the flaming threads of Dawn’s trap spell in burning the vampire but the damage was superficial. Willoughby strained against the sword wrapped around him and Farrah didn’t leave it in place, knowing he would quickly burst the conjured weapon. Its flexibility and power were incredible but its durability was its weak point.

When Farrah retracted her sword, the obsidian razors chewed up the vampire as if he was caught in an industrial accident. He rapidly healed, although the burnt portions of his flesh recovered more slowly. His regeneration was impeded as flames lit up from the corkscrew wounds left by Farrah’s sword.

Dawn had been casting a second spell as Farrah clashed with the vampire and steel rings appeared around Willoughby as he recovered. They immediately warped as the vampire flexed but it bought time for the women to make more attacks. Farrah stomped the floor and an obsidian spike drove up through the floor, piercing through the vampire's crotch to impale him. Obsidians spikes then stabbed out of his body.

It was one of Farrah’s most powerful attacks, while also being very efficient in terms of mana cost to damage. The problem was that it was an easy attack to read and avoid, so it saw little use. Only when the enemy was large and slow or caught up by another ability was it useful, which made Dawn a valuable partner for Farrah.

Despite the power of the attack, it barely impeded the vampire. There was a sharp crack of stone from inside the vampire’s body as he once more moved to the attack and the impaling shaft was broken. Farrah stood strong against the gold ranker, fighting back as best she could. The speed difference was on full display as her sword hit nothing but air while his clawed nails tore strips off her obsidian armour.

Farrah was not Willoughby’s primary objective, however, as he had identified Dawn’s control effects as his primary impediment to killing them. The vampire kicked Farrah square in the chest, sending her flying back past Dawn and out through the hole through which she had entered the building, falling out of sight.

Dawn targeted Willoughby’s brief moment of imbalance after the lunging kick, seizing the chance to step forward and place her hand against the vampire’s chest. All the fire in the room, from the remnants of Dawn’s flaming threads to the burning effects Farrah left behind on Willoughby’s body vanished. Immediately after, an explosion under Dawn’s hand sent the vampire hurtling back down the hallway. She followed up with a rapid series of rising hand gestures, each one causing a wall of flames to rise up one after another, blocking the path between themselves and Willoughby.

Farrah flew back into the building, moving faster for having dismissed her damaged armour. Her flaming wings vanished and she conjured up a fresh set of armour.

“It’s going well,” she said, eyeing the flaming barriers sealing the hallway.

“It’s far from over,” Dawn warned.

Dawn was a control specialist, able to do some damage but nowhere near enough to kill a gold-ranker. Unfortunately, her silver-rank control effects only lasted moments against gold-ranker and the most she could do was buy critical moments for Farrah to land her attacks. Even so, Dawn’s precision and judgement had allowed her and Farrah to largely control the opening stages of the fight, although the vampire’s gold-rank power meant that everything could change in a moment.

Rather than rush through the sequence of flame walls blocking the corridor, Willoughby leveraged the advantage of his gold-rank physicality to smash through the walls of the adjoining rooms, which Farrah and Dawn heard as a rapid series of crashes. The vampire smashed his way back into the hallway, grabbed Farrah and kept going, battering her right through the opposite wall. Lifting her into the air by the neck, he slammed her into the floor so hard that they crashed through it, dropping to the level below.

Kneeling on top of Farrah, Willoughby looked around at what should have been a small army of ghouls. Instead, the ghouls were once more unmoving corpses, withered and dry as if they'd been dead for months.

His attention was drawn back to Farrah as she punched him in the ear. He pinned her arms under his knees and grabbed the face of her helmet, the obsidian cracking as he broke the faceplate right off. He raised a clawed hand to bring it down on her face when a flaming rope from the hole above wrapped around it. More ropes snaked around his other limbs and he was yanked through the hole and pulled up to the ceiling where the ropes were anchored. He was bound for only a brief moment before quickly breaking free.

In the moment he was tangled up, Farrah was still lying on the floor below but sent a stream of obsidian shards up to bury themselves in the vampire’s body. They joined the broken shards still in his body from his earlier impalement, but like that attack, the obsidian did not noticeably impede him. He dashed at Dawn, who calmly evaded his attacks.

Unlike Farrah, who was at the beginning of silver rank, Dawn’s avatar was closer to the peak. This meant that while her speed was no match for the gold-ranker, she was far better off than Farrah. The experience-born expertise of a diamond-rank essence user was enough to make up the difference with a vampire attacking like a feral beast, wildly swinging at her with clawed hands.

While he was unable to hit her, he was so fast and so ferocious that Dawn could do nothing but avoid attacks. Farrah leapt up from the floor below to attack the vampire from behind but was intercepted. As she arrived behind him, Willoughby snarled and blood spurted from his back, shredding his clothes. Rather than splatter over Farrah, it coalesced into a blood clone between her and the vampire. It looked identical to Willoughby except for its purple-red bruise colouration, reminiscent of Colin’s silver-rank form mimicking Jason.

Both Dawn and Farrah sensed through the vampire’s aura that creating the clone had cost him considerable power. As Dawn predicted, most of Willoughby’s powers were related to creating minions, with little in the way of combat power. He had seen Farrah demonstrate that using ghouls was little use, while his freshly made lesser vampires had been blinked out of his senses steadily during the fight. It was a concerning development but one he could not turn his attention to as he fought the two women.

Willoughby needed to distract one of the women long enough to kill the other as their double-team tactics were proving too effective. The blood clone was Willoughby’s last resort, the creation which consumed a huge portion of his accumulated life force. Once he defeated the women he would need to feed on them to completion instead of turning them into lesser vampires. Even then, he would need blood infused with reality core energy as soon as possible.

Unfortunately for Willoughby, a vampire’s handful of powers paled compared to those available to an essence user. Farrah had a last resort of her own and, sensing Willoughby expend a huge portion of his power, slipped a gold spirit coin into her mouth. Her Limit Breaker power would greatly extend the time she could use the spirit coin boost to her attributes and the vampire swore as he sensed Farrah’s aura grow sharply in strength.

When Farrah used her Limit Breaker ability to confront a gold-rank essence user, she had still been outmatched. This was not the case against a gold-rank vampire, let alone a blood clone that was an inferior duplicate. As she tore through it, Willoughby realised he was not going to win and tried to flee, dashing past Dawn and aiming for the hole in the exterior wall.

Free of the vampire’s attacks, however, Dawn was once again free to use her powers and a web of steel-like thread filled the gap. The vampire crashed into them, trying to force his way through but they slowed him as Dawn cast a spell and more flaming ropes emerged from the floor, wrapped around the vampire and dragged him back inside.

After that, it was just a matter of time as Dawn continued to impede both the vampire and the clone as Farrah lay into them with power fuelled by the spirit coin she consumed. As a finisher, she transformed the many obsidian fragments she had left in his body into lava, burning him from the inside out. In the end, the vampire was left as a burned wreck, bound to the floor by conjured steel wires it no longer had the strength to break.

“Don’t kill it,” Dawn said. “Wait for Asano. There’s something I want to test.”

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A note from Shirtaloon (Travis Deverell)

Book one of He Who Fights With Monsters is now available on Amazon, with a fresh spruce of editorial polish.

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Shirtaloon (Travis Deverell)

  • Australia

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