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Hilde Bernhardt

Hunter, compulsive nicknamer, unrepentant snarker with a big ol' inferiority complex.

1 · 221 views · located in Modern Day/AU

a character in “Harbingers”, originally authored by Kurokiku, as played by RolePlayGateway

Description

At a few months shy of thirty, Hilde gives off a slightly-puzzling dual impression. On the one hand, her youthful face and extraordinary physical fitness exude vitality. Her build is what one would perhaps refer to as Amazonian: nearly six feet tall (perhaps 5’10.5”) and possessed of a sturdy, corded musculature, she still manages to have an obviously-feminine figure, though by no means a delicate one. Her bright copper-colored hair has not a single strand of grey, falling as thickly to her waist as it ever has, and her stride radiates confidence and energy. On the flipside, the jagged white scars on her striking face- one across the bridge of her nose following her left cheekbone and the other cutting into the right side of her upper lip- and the wary, guarded look to dark violet eyes bespeak more worldly experience than most people her age tend to reflect.

Her complexion is slightly sun-darkened, though a good part of her work is done in the dead of night, so it never gets far beyond fair. Long-limbed and elegant of stature, she nonetheless bears the peculiar calluses and stalking, predatory body language of a life-long hunter.

Don’t let the occasional sly aside glance or wolfish grin fool you; she’s just as likely to develop a permanent furrow between her brows as laugh lines in the future.

Hilde prefers dark clothing, both on Hunts and otherwise. Her black trenchcoat has become something of a signature. Anything else she wears is bound to be mostly nondescript, though easy to move in. She favors slightly-modified military footwear, close-fitting clothes in durable materials, and anything that can conceal a weapon or three.

Personality

In an organization comprised of hunters and slayers, you don’t get a title like “The Huntress” unless you’re exceptional at what you do. You wouldn’t guess Hilde’s the kind of person to earn that title until you’re actually on a job with her, though. She’s hypercompetent, but feels no need to make this obvious in her everyday interactions with people. Instead, she comes off as blunt, crass, and has a tendency to make particularly polite or decorous people uncomfortable. She says whatever she wants to without appearing to consider how it’s going to affect anybody else, and she seems a bit… uncultured, to say the least, though not entirely unpleasant. It tends to keep people from asking too many questions.

Beneath that, however, she’s actually rather no-nonsense, much more intelligent than she lets on, and also frequently in pain. She suffers from chronic migraine headaches and horrible nightmares, both symptoms of near-constant Nocturne withdrawal. She refuses to use the stuff unless it’s absolutely necessary, preferring to fight intelligently and efficiently rather than with the aid of the drug, but at the same time, she’s not about to let her considerable amount of pride get in the way of completing a mission, and so she will take it if she must. Like everyone else who takes repeat doses, she’s become addicted, but she refuses to indulge the demands of that addiction when she doesn’t have to. This is a rather unfortunate choice for both her sleep patterns and her overall peace of mind, but on the plus side, the exercise has given her a great deal of practice in restraint and mental fortitude.

A psychologist once hypothesized that her brash external demeanor and tendency to wield sarcasm with the same efficiency as she wields any other weapon comes from a need to provide herself with distractions. She stopped seeing that particular shrink shortly thereafter, though whether this was because he was right or because she tends to distrust anyone who claims to understand her is uncertain.

Without the luxury of the incredible powers of a slayer, Hilde has had to adapt in order to survive. The reason she is called Huntress by the third parties disposed to that sort of thing is because her years in the field, coupled with intensive training and an intuitive understanding of and natural talent for her craft, have made her very savvy to lore, battle tactics, and personnel management. She has a way of understanding the people she’s working with in terms of strength and weakness without losing sight of their humanity and individual quirks, and she knows how to apply this knowledge to volatile situations. She’s also incredibly resilient for a human, the product of training for this job for a lifetime.

Equipment

Hilde is trained, like most hunters, in a wider variety of arms than most slayers. Part of her ability to succeed stems from the tendency to shift smoothly from one form of combat to another, and she is proficient in many. From a distance, she prefers handguns with silver nitrate bullets, though older technologies like bows and crossbows are not out of the question. Close up, she prefers the bladed to the blunt for obvious reasons, and her hand-to-hand training is a unique brand of mixed martial arts, mostly comprised of aikido (which focuses on using the superior strength of an enemy against them) and muay thai (which is fast, aggressive, and efficient).

Most of the time, she tries to keep her options open, but carrying around a full armory is both impractical and impossible. Her typical arsenal is a high-caliber semiautomatic pistol and spare ammunition, a recurve bow and arrows for when silence and discretion are necessary, an axe (her preferred melee weapon), a machete, and a couple of knives in her boots for emergencies. All of these weapons contain some measure of silver, either through alloy or ammunition. She also carries at least three doses of Nocturne on her person at all times, plus basic medical supplies when working alone or without a dedicated medic. That’s still quite a bit of stuff, but when you’ve been trained like she has, you hardly notice it anymore.

History

Hilde never really had much choice about what she was going to be when she grew up. Her father was a hunter, recruited from the ranks of ex-military Europeans with skills in special operations and infiltration. Her mother was out of the picture far too early to curb this influence in any fashion. Dad wasn’t around all that often, and so she found herself in the care of some Watcher friends of his more often than not, growing up in the company of slayer children. That in itself is something of a feat- and she often came away with more than a few broken bones and nosebleeds when one of them lost control of his or her powers during a slightly-too-realistic imagined battle game.

In order that she might injure herself a bit less, her father taught her defensively-styled martial arts, as well as useful things like how to fall safely and so forth. Perhaps most parents would have pulled her out of such a risky environment, but Erik Bernhardt was not most parents, and Hilde loved him for it.

As she grew up, the shine wore off him a little bit, though. She discovered his Nocturne addiction, and he confessed to her that it was difficult, being outclassed always, not only by your enemies but also your allies. A unit, he had always told her, was only successful if it was cohesive, if no man put himself above or below the rest. The Nocturne was his way of feeling equal to his slayer brethren, and she began to resent him for that.

Even so, she took well to the skills he taught her, and by the time she was of age, she’d read every scrap of vampiric, demonic or lycanthropic lore she could get her hands on, and, unlike most teenage girls, had a preferred combat style. It was only natural that she join the Harbingers herself, and she passed any and every test they administered with flying colors.

Her first mission, however, was a complete disaster, and she does not speak of it. All that anybody can pry from her was that this particular mission took her father’s life, gave her the scars on her face, and created a potent grudge against a certain self-styled vampire lord. Since her initial failure, she has made it a point to do little but succeed, though she also deemed it necessary to start acting a greater fool than she is. Why she made this decision is hard to say; those that know her best can only guess that she likes to avoid questions rather than answer them.

So begins...

Hilde Bernhardt's Story

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Character Portrait: Hilde Bernhardt

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Thud.

The solid contact of wrapped knuckles with the heavy punching bag was dull in the silence, followed swiftly by a succession of similar sounds, punctuated by the steady breathing of the gym’s sole current occupant and the slight scuff of shoes on wood flooring. Drawing back for a moment, Hilde kept herself in motion, bouncing on the balls of her feet as she lunged in sideways for another go. There was a peculiar rhythm to it, if one knew how to listen, and it harmonized with the throb of her heartbeat, and consequently of her head. This was an old pain, though, and she ignored it in favor of continuing.

Readiness was paramount, and she had not the luxury of superhuman strength. She did not take days off, and she did not stagnate. To do so would be inexcusable and futile both, and the thought that she shared his inferiority complexes after all this time drove her harder at the unyielding target. Working the hands, her father had called it, though the bag was heavy enough that she was working her feet as well, with ferocity that nevertheless always stopped short of reckless abandon. Shifting her weight, she spun away from the artificial target and moved smoothly into a series of aikido kata, the repetitive motion pushing the unworthy thoughts to the back of her mind. A superior opponent need not be a victorious opponent.

Some time later, by an unvoiced signal of her body, she ceased entirely, unhooking the bag from the ceiling and cleaning it off before it was tossed unceremoniously back into storage. Hilde passed several mirrors on her way out of the gym, but she’d never made a habit of looking at herself, so she didn’t even pause.

A short series of hallways took her back to her own personal barracks, as she liked to think of it, a couple of rooms in a massive house that didn’t belong to her. Whether it was out of respect for this arrangement or for some reason of personal preference, the space was completely immaculate, not a speck of dust on the overladen bookshelf or the too-expensive wooden desk. The bed, made to military specifications, was against one wall, which made room for a small sitting area in the center. The desk and bookshelf clearly saw more use then the rest, though even they appeared almost new even still. The closet had been turned into a makeshift armory, with weapons and ammunition meticulously organized inside. Most everything hung from precisely-placed hooks in one side or another, but ammo and arrows were stacked at the floor of the wardrobe. Of her clothing, only a single black leather longcoat was hung here, the rest relegated to a dresser on the other side of the room.

Picking up a remote on the desk, she hit a few buttons, and the sound of music soon filled the area. Not, perhaps, the heavy metal most of her acquaintances would have expected of her, though she acknowledged that she did indulge from time to time, but for the moment it was one of Chopin’s Nocturnes, and the irony was not lost upon her. Her fingers moved in a sympathetic pattern even as she stowed her gym equipment and laid out her everyday clothes, but she scarcely noticed. Had she, Hilde would have ceased abruptly, but as it was, her invisible piano echoed the intangible notes without interruption.

It was right as she was finishing her shower that the voice came over the intercom. Simple, brief, and no less than she needed to know for the moment. She could appreciate Vageryn’s efficiency, at least, even if she was vaguely suspicious of the man himself. Throwing on the necessary clothing, she admittedly took a great deal more time checking over her weapons. A tanto knife in each boot, semiautomatic pistol in a thigh holster, a double-headed axe at her lower back, sharpened yesterday, and a bow and arrows slung diagonally from her right shoulder to left hip, for convenient reach. She chose not to think about the three vials of Nocturne in her coat pocket, because that would only bring on the shakes again, something she did not need.

Stopping at her door, she shut off the music and set aside the remote, taking a moment to put on her “business face,” which essentially meant that all traces of softness were banished from her expression, her eyes hardening to the consistency of hammered steel and her mouth turning up in a dangerous, lupine grin.

Striding down the hallway at a confident march, she entered the unofficial meeting room looking as though she might break out into mirthless laughter at any moment. “Hey Bark,” she greeted the only other person yet present. She didn’t really understand the girl’s wardrobe choices, but disguise wasn’t unheard of, so whatever. “So, what are we killing today and what direction’s it in?”

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Character Portrait: Hilde Bernhardt

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Hilde rubbed the back of her neck through Ingrid’s briefing, stretching her neck this way and that. She resisted the urge to run a digit along the paths traced by her facial scars, because that would be giving too much away. Her goal was to look diffident and inattentive, and she succeeded. Of course, this was far from the truth of the matter, but nobody had to know that. Why she insisted on appearing so thoroughly uninterested and incompetent would be rather difficult to pin down, perhaps, but she knew the sentiment in its entirety, in the same way she knew many things that she would never say.

She took the communication device and fitted it over the shell of her ear. There wasn’t much she could do to hide its presence, unless the wanted to go into battle with her hair in the way, but then a bigger concern would have been concealing the fact that she was a walking armory, and she’d bothered only minimally with that. Most of her gear was military surplus; she trusted that to stave off the worst of the questions if she was seen.

She spared each of the others a quick glance. Never terribly good with names, Hilde generally nicknamed people anyway, usually only in her head. Wendy was, perhaps predictably, Dollface. The reasons for this one were obvious, though it was not intended as an insult of any kind. Ingrid was Boss-lady. Normally Hilde was not the sort who followed orders without question, but then that didn’t really seem to be expected of her. Boss-lady was in charge, and that was fine by her, but she was allowed to think for herself, which was good enough. The two men both had names beginning with ‘N’ anyway, so calling them Damages and Knives just made more sense to her. Damages, the Slayer, was so named because there was obviously something that haunted him, even more than the usual crap that people like them had to deal with. She didn’t know what it was, and she’d probably never ask, but that didn’t mean she didn’t notice. Knives just amused her. Killing things with kitchen utensils was not the method she would have chosen, but hey, if he was still alive, it must work sometimes. Better than the other option she’d been considering, which was ‘Junior,’ given that he was the younger hunter in the outfit and reminded her a bit of herself about five years ago.

The order was to split up, so she declined Knives’ offer of a lift with a lackadaisical wave and advanced to her Jeep instead. Now she loved motorcycles almost as much as Ingrid, but in her line of work, she wanted something with a roll cage. Y’know, in case the vehicle got tossed by an angry lycanthrope. That had already happened once, and she wasn’t particularly eager to repeat the experience.

Touching her earpiece, she spoke into it. “I’m headed to the stadium.” She figured it might help if they actually, well, split up instead of all independently deciding to hit the same location, so whatever. She pulled out of the garage and turned left, filing into traffic rather normally, though admittedly, she tended to speed more than was strictly legal… or probably safe. She also tended to let loose strings of obscenities when someone else on the road was being particularly stupid, which for Hilde was basically all the time. “I swear to all that’s good and holy, I would have been better for this shit in medieval Transylvania.” She was pretty sure that horse traffic had never been this dense. “Give every teenager, senile old guy and distracted parent a deadly weapon, yeah, there’s a good call,” she grumbled irritably when some idiot decided to cut her off.

Such monologues were not exactly uncommon with her. It was one of a few less-destructive ways to channel the adrenaline that was slowly beginning to trigger in her system, and more than that, it kept her from too long alone with her own thoughts, much as physical activity did. She would never claim to be the most traumatized of her erstwhile compatriots, but when you reached a certain point, all such distinctions were meaningless, and the things in your head could drown you if you let them.

She’d promised herself years ago that they never would.

She reached the stadium not long afterward, mostly deserted at this hour. Your standard collection of homeless or near-homeless were rummaging around in the massive dumpsters, but if anyone knew the right time to make themselves scarce, it was these folk. Indeed, as she made her way around to one of the side entrances, they scattered, staggering their departures to draw less attention. She noticed anyway, but also didn’t really care, beyond the usual disgust she felt that anyone had to live in such a fashion.

“Whelp, time to go hunting,” she mused, cracking her knuckles and trying the door. She was surprised to find it unlocked, and her eyes narrowed suspiciously. They usually locked these places up tighter than banks. Unless some janitor was falling asleep at the wheel, so to speak, someone was here.

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Character Portrait: Hilde Bernhardt

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When the reason the door was opened turned out to be nothing more or less than a Little League team taking a tour, Hilde could have smacked herself in the forehead and dragged her hand down her face, but she didn’t. She’d never berate herself for exercising an appropriate amount of caution, but every once in a while, it was as useless as recklessness would have been. At the very least, her skills in infiltration and stealth had kept her from being noticed, and she made her way out the same way she’d come in, pulling the side door shut as she did.

Boss-lady’s voice was clear over the communications device as she relayed something about movement in the parking garage, and Hilde took a moment to wonder at the fact that three lycans were operating in close enough proximity that their last known locations could all be seen from one vantage. Was it possible that they’d formed some kind of pack, then? That wasn’t unusual for lycans, but that also implied that they’d be closer together than that-

"Fuck! I need backup, Oh sweet fuck! There are two, I repeat, two Lycans closing in on my ass! Help!"

Well, that explained a lot. Hilde was running to her Jeep before Boss-lady had caught her breath to speak. Seriously, though, Knives, chill the fuck out. They’ll kill you if you panic. Not that she’d waste communication space to say that, of course. Such things could wait until after the assignment, assuming they all survived.

She’d slid across the leather of her driver’s seat by the time the orders were amended. It figured that they’d all show up at about the same time and split the Harbingers. Hilde had to admit, the split was sensical, even if it was slightly irritating. They needed to divide the Slayers and Hunters, and Damages and Dollface were riding together already. “10-4, Boss-lady,” she replied coolly, slamming the Jeep into gear. The park wasn’t too far from here, but she still wasn’t going to waste time going on foot.

Neither, however, was she about to bother with traffic. Another of the many benefits to her vehicle (pet named Vlad in one of her more ironic moods) was the ability to off-road, which she took advantage of to get her to the outskirts of the park with all due celerity. Killing the engine, she took stock of the situation mentally before hopping out, immediately registering the direction of the wind and walking into it. She had no desire to be upwind of a creature with a hound’s nose, after all, and so she wound up circling the perimeter somewhat, coming around from the southwest side.

“I’m on location; nothing yet,” she conveyed to Ingrid, moving quietly to cover. Her breaths were steady, measured, and as close to silent as she could make them without ceasing entirely. Her heart for the moment beat a steady rhythm in her chest, and she quietly unslung her bow from its place on her back, nocking an arrow to the string and pulling taut, but not drawing all the way. Her feet, she placed only with the utmost care, in an attempt not to disturb any twigs.

Not that it would probably make much difference; the distant sound of screaming was a discordant jangle in the air, but as always caution was advisable. The dark colors she favored rendered her less visible against the pattern of night-darkened tree trunks and underbrush, but she was rapidly approaching a clearing of sorts. She could spot several overturned picnic tables, the ruins of someone’s dinner strewn about the ground. There were a few corpses also, ripped open and entirely eviscerated. Someone likes to play with his food, she thought wryly. Gallows humor: by far her favorite coping mechanism.

She could also, if she strained her ears, hear ragged panting. Closing her eyes, Hilde tried to pinpoint the direction of the sound as she’d been taught, a slight smile quirking her lips when she found it. The adrenaline was pumping freely through her system now, making her hyper-alert to her surroundings. Well, as alert as a human could get, anyway. Still, it was enough, and if she had her way, it would always be enough for her.

This was the second-best part: the stalking, the hunt proper. The fact that she may very well be a target of the same stalk at this very moment was only a bonus. Her job now that she knew the creature’s location was to find the most strategic positioning possible and take advantage of it without being seen, heard, or smelled. She was in some sense using the recently-departed humans as cover here, because their smell was likely to help mask hers. Speaking of smells... Ugh. Wet dog and blood.

Edging to the front of the tree she was currently standing behind, she dared a quick look out at the rest of the clearing. There, hunched over a corpse and clearly eating, was the target. They didn’t always devour their victims, but it was particularly gruesome when they did. Here’s hoping human beings are full of enough artificial chemicals to make you sleepy, big guy. She didn’t dare contact the others when she was this close; there was simply no way he wouldn’t hear her, and surprise was perhaps the greatest advantage she had.

Stepping forward, Hilde drew her bowstring to her cheekbone, fortunate that the once-human creature was facing away from her. Inhale, aim. There was a pause, one with the clarity of the most crystalline moment but the perceived span of ages, and her breath stilled in her chest.

Exhale, release. There was nothing more than a mild twang and a whistling to indicate the passage of the arrow through air, but she didn’t have time to see where it hit if she didn’t want the thing on her in two seconds flat. One arrow, silver-nitrate barbed head or not, wasn’t going to be enough to put a lycan down, no matter how well-aimed, and if she wanted to avoid immediate mauling, she had to relocate, now.

As it turned out, her aim had been true, but the lycan had shifted just slightly after she fired, which meant the projectile buried itself deep in his shoulder, the trapezius on the left side rather than the clean hit to the sternocleidomastoid section of the neck she’d been aiming for. Successfully fending off the impulse to swear violently, she slipped into the trees, using the uncanny howl of pain to increase her speed at the expense of silence. The hunt was on now, and as always, it was tough to tell which was hunter, and which hunted.

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Character Portrait: Hilde Bernhardt

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Hilde moved as quickly and quietly as she was able to through the underbrush, though she held no illusions that she would not eventually be scented out. The goal was to be in an already-advantageous position when that happened. For people like her, hunts were not so much about power as they were about strategy, and you didn’t survive more than ten years in this business without knowing how to employ a few good ones.

She’d circled about ninety degrees around the clearing when she felt it prudent to stop. The motion of pluck, nock, and draw was as close to a second nature as she had, and she moved her back against a tree for the moment, once more falling silent and waiting. Another arrow should be enough to put the lycanthrope out of its misery, provided it hit a vital organ of some kind. Hilde wasn’t picky about which one, but the brain would probably be the easiest at the range she was expecting.

A rustling noise to her left, then, and she grinned. Gotcha. In one smooth movement, she stepped around the tree, keeping the trunk at her back, and sighted down the arrow. The werewolf was headed straight for her, and she knew without a doubt that it was still hungry. Never fancied the idea of being dog food, buddy, and bigger, badder wolves than you have tried.

She was about to loose the arrow when she caught something out of the periphery of her vision just as the creature leaped for her. Gritting her teeth, she maintained her grip as someone ran beneath it and kicked upwards, catching the lycan’s chest and stomach on a hidden blade, silver by the glint of it. The werewolf’s own forward momentum took care of the rest, and before she could move, she was seized unceremoniously by the ankle and pulled.

Oaths colorful enough to make a sailor blush left her tongue in a rather burning string, and she had just enough time to slacken her grip on her draw so that the arrow wouldn’t go flying off into anyone or anything. Unfortunately, this left her precious little opportunity to do anything about the landing, and so she wound up spread-eagled in monster blood, as well as a few incidental entrails, and none too happy about it. “What kind of Hellspawned simpleton-” she cut herself off as she finally got a proper look at her so-called rescuer.

“…the fuck?” Unless she was very much mistaken (and she most certainly was not), that right there was a vampire. Goddamn glorified mosquitos. She’d known a good number of them had god-complexes, but this apparent messiah complex was entirely new to her. Can’t decide if this is better or worse than deciding to munch on my face. An exaggeration, though she’d never admit as much.

She blinked, and he was gone, leaving her to pick herself up off the ground as Ingrid approached. At the query, Hilde laughed, a mirthless sound worn a bit bitter by the squelch of organs and fluids on her coat and hands, to say nothing of the state of her hair. “Who, me?” she asked dryly, slicking the worst off with sharp sweeps of her hands and giving her best impression of the Cheshire Cat. “Never better. It’s not a real Friday unless I’m covered in were-guts and drunk off my ass. Already halfway there, and the night is yet young.”

Picking up her bow, she examined the wood for damage. Thankfully, there was none, the dark-hued recurve as well-conditioned as ever, save the incidental muck that coated it. With a shrug, she slung it back on her shoulder.

“So, the other three got their situation under control, or are we headed back out?” Rolling her shoulders and testing her joints, Hilde made sure everything was in satisfactory working order. She’d landed awkwardly, but it wouldn’t do more than bruise, and she was almost too practiced at the fine art of ignoring pain, so she was good to keep on going if necessary. What was true of her gear was true of her: short of actual breakages, she’d function until she no longer needed to.

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“Yeah, yeah, okay. Whatever you say, Boss-lady. No bloodsucker. I like that version of this story better anyway; makes me sound cooler.” Hilde knew she didn’t exactly inspire confidence, what with her devil-may-care attitude and lack of anything even remotely resembling decorum or a mental filter, but she wasn’t stupid. Well, she didn’t think so, anyway. Then again, stupid people rarely seemed to. They were both screwed if the Watchers found out though. Scratch that, she was screwed. Boss-lady’d probably get off because of Vageryn. Hoo boy, now there was an entendre to scare the children.

I’m too old for this shit. A falsehood, but it suited her internal need to grumble well enough, so she didn’t bother dwelling on it for long. Her plans of perhaps hitting a bar and drinking herself silly were tragically quashed by the fact that she smelled like a kill floor in a meat-packing plant, so she simply drove her Jeep back to Vageryn’s place (she refused to call anything so ridiculously-ostentatious her home) and hit the shower again.

Sprawled out on her bed, Hilde allowed the veneer of efficiency and carelessness to fade away, the lines of her face softening until what remained was a melancholy frown and a furrowed brow. One arm braced on her forehead, she ignored the slick feeling of wet hair pressing into her back and stared at the ceiling until it became blurred and unfocused. Her eyelids dropped, stilling when her gaze was half-lidded- Nocturne eyes, her father had always called them, the natural violet color very similar to the way his became under the influence of the drug. He’d suggested, jocular smile in place, that maybe she’d managed to inherit that somehow.

“So you were high when you fucked mom then? No wonder she left!”

Of all the deaths she’d caused, she regretted none more than she did that one. The light in his expression, the special glint of affection in his robin’s-egg irises had dimmed and perished, and she’d never seen it again. His smile, his jokes, his laughter… all had followed, and it was all her fault.

By the time she was wise enough to realize what she’d done, he was making a deal with a vampire, her life for his. The feral smile on the bloodsucker’s face had said it all- he had no intention of honoring that bargain.

Hilde’s phone rang, breaking her from her rather maudlin reverie, but she ignored it. It wasn’t the particular piece that represented a business call, but the tuneless sounds of an unknown number. Telemarketer, then, and not one of the five numbers in her contacts list, all of which were represented by a different composition and a nickname for the caller ID. Pathetic. Rolling over slowly, she drew in exactly one shuddering breath and then quelled it, closing her eyes and succumbing to sleep.

The next morning, the sound of her doorknob being turned awoke her instantly, and her hand was wrapped around the pistol under her pillow, softly releasing the safety. The lock did its job, and nothing happened. An unfamiliar, in the house. Apparently non-hostile. “Fresh blood,” she murmured, re-engaging the safety and sliding out from beneath her covers until her bare feet hit the plush carpet. No matter how spartan her decorations, she couldn’t escape the sumptuousness of living in the same house as the being who had more money than everyone else in the city, probably combined. Damn offensive, her inner Swede was constantly reminding her.

She was fully dressed, including boots, when she emerged from her hole in the wall minutes later to head for the kitchen. To all appearances, her night had been restful and plagued with not one thought of old guilt or dream of sad-eyed vampires who tried to do the right thing. Everything was normal, everything was fine, and if it wasn’t, well, nobody would ever know.

Hilde paused momentarily in front of the closed door to the rec room; beyond two mere slabs of wood was another considerably more complex one that called to her, but she had hitherto refused to answer. Biting her lip, she took a half-step forward, hand briefly grasping the handle before she pulled it away as though burned and resumed her customary saunter to breakfast. Normal.

She managed to hum underneath her breath as she worked, completely restored to her usual persona and standing over a skillet, cracking eggs with one hand and whisking with another. Omelets were nice; no memories attached to omelets, no grand confusions about things she was supposed to know. No deep suspicions about egg-based motives, no wondering if your omelet was really an omelet or something else entirely, no need to teach food anything.

The Huntress snorted. “I’m in the wrong business. Should have been a chef.” Or I’m finally hitting the wall and going crazy. Whichever.

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Character Portrait: Hilde Bernhardt Character Portrait: Nathanial "Nate" Winters

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Hilde became aware of the extra presence at the door at about the same time as her ill-advised words left her mouth. Not that she minded; it was her habit to say things that were off-color or sometimes deliberately rude, usually when she decided that someone seemed inclined to be friendlier with her than was strictly necessitated by camaraderie. Colleagues, she had. Friends were another matter entirely, and lovers were long out of the question, for too many reasons to bother enumerating to herself.

“Y’know, Damages, it’s generally better to greet people, rather than think about it. Of course, if you’d rather I think you were as socially-inept as I am, I’m sure it could be arranged.” She delivered her words in a deadpan without turning around, but then glanced over her shoulder at the doorway and grinned slyly. In went another egg, and she whisked furiously for a few seconds before adding some vegetables and a touch of meat.

A deft flick of her wrist later, and she slid a laden plate down the center island towards where he was standing. The appropriate utensils followed, and she shut the silverware drawer with her hip before opening the refrigerator. “Milk, OJ, tea, or coffee?” she asked, grabbing everything just in case. The coffee pot was done, and the kettle was boiling, though she had to grab herself another plate. It was not often she had extra folk to breakfast, though she supposed that in some way that she always prepared for them regardless.

“Eat; I’ll never finish all this shit on my own anyway. While you’re at it, tell me about how things went on your end yesterday. Heard you lot wound up on the bad side of a couple rabid puppies.” Hilde slid into a seat at the island and sliced into her own omelet, staving off the persistent niggling of the notes of the Tristesse playing in her head at present by focusing on the immediate present.

This was one of many reasons why she generally tried to avoid downtime with the others. She looked at people and saw music, as nonsensical as that would sound if she said it. Her fingers twitched, and she held her knife and fork a little too tightly to conceal this. Being at war with one’s own better nature was no easy thing, but she needed her worse nature like she needed the Nocturne, which only tended to make the tremors more violent and persistent. She could fire a gun or a bow with a stone-steady hand, but in the simplest of everyday encounters, she was always reminded of her frailties.

So instead of letting it overwhelm her, she made a point of studying the room’s other occupant. Damages was one of those guys that looked like he bore enough weight to hunch his posture just slightly, though perhaps that was symptomatic of his reticence more than his namesake issues. Hard to say, really. He was undeniably attractive, but Hilde noted this in the same way she would the condition of his fingernails or the way he spoke, which was to say for its informational value alone. Useful skill, that, and one she’d been sure to hold on to after it saved her ass years back.

Actually, he called to mind ancient Greek statuary, which she knew more about than she’d ever let anyone give her credit for, what with the nose and the athleticism and all. She wondered how uncomfortable he’d be if she intentionally made the comparison; it might be funny to find out, but for now she’d refrain. There was a time and place for everything, and while she normally didn’t care about those, she was reluctant to disturb the peace at the moment.

All this, she noted in the time it took for him to answer her. Tucking a strand of fiery hair behind her ear, Hilde sighed, though it was little more than a breathy exhalation. Tristesse was something of a depressing tune, which made it all the more fitting but also an irritant to her enforced lightness.

She should probably work out a bit more negativity on an innocent punching bag today, to try and keep herself in balance, so to speak. If she went too long without a nice long run or some other form of exertion, she became unable to remain still or focused on anything for long. Her archery could use some sharpening as well; she had missed that lycan’s neck by a few inches the night before, after all, and such mistakes, however small in physical distance, could be the difference between living to hunt anther day and lying sprawled in a pool of your own eviscera.

An important distinction, if ever there was one.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Hilde Bernhardt Character Portrait: Nathanial "Nate" Winters

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The man says coffee, so let there be coffee, she thought irreverently. Glancing at him sideways, she decided he took it black, but there was sugar and creamer on the island if she was wrong, a possibility she knew better than to discount. The ceramic mug, clean and unmarked in a cheery spring-grass green, slid to a stop just as neatly as his plate had up and to the left of it, and Hilde took the opportunity to move the kettle from the stove onto a cool burner, flicking the knob that turned the range off and dropping a tea bag into her cuppa. A little milk and she was done, back in her seat and chewing over the fruits of her labor with feigned thoughtlessness.

“Think nothing of it.” She waved off his thanks with a lazy gesture, shifting a mite uncomfortably in her seat. Was it unfortunate, that she was more used to being told “fuck you,” than “thank you”? It wasn’t as though she tried to make it otherwise, and she supposed if you wanted people to think you were an unintelligent asshat, such things were probably a mark of success. Someone oughta throw me a damn party.

There apparently wasn’t much to the story on his end, though she did fix him with a curious look when he mentioned overkill. “Ah, Knives. I’d always figured he had a special kinda hate for lyanthropes.” At least he didn’t meet a friendly one yesterday. Talk about being thrown for a loop. The thought brought on an unconscious grimace, but she realized her mistake and flipped it upside down on a dime at the subsequent inquiry.

“You know nobody’s ever asked me that before?” True story. As long as she’d been working with the others, naming them things that had nothing to do with their actual appellations, she’d never been once called out on it. Then again, it wasn’t like they all socialized together with frequency either. Just imagine it: the Harbingers, going to movies and having drinking contests at bars. She shook her head, rueful smile still in place. No, they were much more likely to occasionally pass awkwardly in the hallway and nod rather than say anything. Occasionally, a couple would occupy the gym at the same time, but pretty much everyone seemed to afford training the same sanctity she did, almost as if it would be no less than sacrilege to carry on a conversation at such moments. She had no idea if any of the others were friends, but if she were a gambling woman (and in a way, she was), she'd put money on the negative answer.

“Hell, why not?” The woman shrugged, then leaned forward and rested her elbow on the island, chin on her hand. She seemed suddenly very intent on her tea, stirring it over and over with her spoon until the liquid was a vortex in miniature. “Names are funny. You get ‘em before anyone even knows a thing about what you’re like, about what’s going to make you tick. Me? I was named after a valkyrie, an old Norse thing, y’know? My legal name is Brynhildr Bernhardt. Helluva name, innit? It’s a wish my father made, and it has nothing to do with me.”

Hilde grinned, though it didn’t quite reach her eyes, a mechanical action designed to trigger whenever she mentioned her old man, intentionally or on accident. It doesn’t hurt anymore, I swear. See? I’m smiling like a fool and everything. Bringing her tea to her lips with her free hand, she swallowed a little too much and did not particularly relish the burn on the roof of her mouth. Setting the cup down carefully, she ran her tongue over the spot and sighed inwardly. Sometimes, she wished her wounds would heal faster, small and large.

“If you don’t think it fits, I’d hear alternative suggestions, but I’m willing to bet it does.” The woman tilted her head to one side, narrowing her eyes just slightly and raising an eyebrow. Given her present posture, it was definitely a challenge. She was daring him to tell her she’d got it wrong, that it wasn’t melancholy Tristesse she saw when she looked at him, heard in her head when he entered her little domestic bubble. That something happier, less damaged belonged in its place, maybe even something shiny-new, some great revelation about his place in the universe and the futility of struggle in the grand scheme of things.

But these were her sentiments, and she never had liked to project.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Hilde Bernhardt Character Portrait: Nathanial "Nate" Winters

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“I see.” Hilde sighed, smiling ruefully across the table. The challenge bled out of her demeanor, and she settled back into ease, posture slightly slouched as she leaned on her folded arms, now braced on the table. She shrugged, a careless movement of her shoulders, and took the last few bites of toast before rising, collecting her dirty dishes and his before tapping the faucet to run the water.

“It isn’t perceptiveness so much,” she explained, squirting a bit of dish soap into the sink and scrubbing the first plate absently. “It’s just… some people need to understand. It’s a tactical advantage that you probably don’t require. I, on the other hand, do.” Sliding the plate under the running water, she shook it off and set it gently in the dish drain, watching the water pulled downward by gravity and dripping from the ceramic surface. Inexorability encapsulated.

“It’s in the little things, mostly. What people do with their hands, where their eyes go. People look up and to the left when they’re remembering. Well, unless they’re staring off into space and doing it instead. You and I do both of those things quite a lot.” Another plate added to the drain. It had been a game she played with her father. When she was a child, he’d take her to some public place, like a restaurant or a park, and he’d drill her. How many license plate numbers did she remember from the parking lot? What was the make and model of the vehicle to the left of theirs? How many days in a row had that waitress worn that uniform? What was the state of the marriage between the two people sitting behind him? How did you know?

She might have said more, but a sound drifted to her ears at that point, and she stiffened, dropping the teacup she was currently holding. It hit the floor with a cacophonous crash, shattering. Stepping back, she swore creatively in Swedish, crouching to pick up the pieces and trying to shake off the feeling that karma was conspiring to pay her back for every less-than-stellar thing she’d ever done in one day. It just had to be the piano, didn’t it? Nobody had ever played the thing within her earshot before, and she had counted herself lucky.

One of the sharpened fragments of the cup bit deeply into her right palm, but Hilde didn’t even flinch, throwing the fragments into the wastebin. In fact, she seemed not to notice. Go figure. It must just be ‘poke Hilde’s demons until they surface’ day. Thank you, universe. Thank you ever so much. The piece wasn’t classical, which helped; the only songs her tutor had ever let her perform were the masterful ones, so nothing jazz or pop or self-composed. She was going to be a virtuoso, the old man had admonished, and a virtuoso did not waste her time with such things.

A huntress didn’t waste her time with music at all, and she was not to be anything but a huntress, so there went one more carefully-nurtured skill set. What would she have been, if the choice were hers? She knew, but refused to acknowledge it any longer, and so she would lie up and down until the day she died and say that she would have chosen this for herself no matter the circumstances. It was why, though she hovered at the door to the rec room earlier that morning, she had refused to urn the knob. She couldn’t trust herself not to do as this mysterious player had obviously done and give in to that temptation.

The fact that the water was tinged slightly pink interrupted her metal critique of the invisible player’s art, and she looked at it curiously, brows furrowing in confusion. Pulling both hands from the water, she at last noticed the jagged cut, running from the juncture of her index and middle fingers to the center of her palm, bisecting that crease the fool fortune-tellers called the life-line.

“Huh. Would you look at that? Apparently I don’t have any advantages of grace, either.”

Ah, sweet irony.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Hilde Bernhardt Character Portrait: Nathanial "Nate" Winters Character Portrait: Raven Aleister

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An unfamiliar tread entered the uncomfortable silence that shrouded her like some cloak of arcane protection. She knew the footsteps of everyone in this building; their cadence, the pressure applied, the frequency, walking and running both. What she’d told Nathanial was the truth: she had to notice such things, in order to stay alive. This wasn’t one of them, and the lines of her body tensed, scarred mouth drawing down into a frown. It was just the barest trace of familiar though…

And then she had it. That morning, after her doorknob had rattled and she’d reached for her gun, the receding footsteps had sounded like that. She turned to look over her shoulder, mildly-surprised that the new-blood looked to be as much used goods as anyone here, considerably moreso than most. It wasn’t just his age, either. He was careworn, but in a way that suggested that what wore on him didn’t care at all, didn’t give two shits about what a mess they made of him.

It was exactly how she felt deep in her guts, and she scoffed when he spoke, pulling open the cabinet Damages gestured at with her undamaged hand. She might have reminded the old man of the early hour, but she was pretty sure he knew already. Hell if she could judge; she spent half her mornings a trembling ball of Nocturne withdrawal symptoms.

She brushed off the Slayer’s comment with a shrug, well-aware that it wasn’t an argument worth getting into and finished the last of the dishes, draining the sink and running a steady stream of cold water over the cut before she dabbed it dry with a paper towel. “Fragile human I may be,” she quipped readily, “but I’ve had worse battle-wounds than those delivered by wicked ceramic cups in the throes of death. The dishware may have the battle, but I promise the war is mine.” She raised a mischievous eyebrow flashed a lopsided smirk; distraction was an ever-welcome thing, and though she might never make indication of it, she was indebted to both men.

For even if she was currently not particularly welcoming the entrance of Moonlight Sonata into her arguably already-overtaxed brainspace, at least she was able to ignore what was issuing from the other room now. Speaking of which, it might be worthwhile to figure out exactly who it was that produced that particular piece. “So Shades, Vageryn rope you into this happy little organization, or what?”

Nah. Shades wasn’t going to cut it, but she’d prefer to reserve judgment on exactly what he should be called until she knew more than the fact that he was likely a hunter like her and also likely addicted to Nocturne as she was. That series of deductions was nothing more complicated than the fact that he was older than most Slayers ever got and didn’t walk like one. The Nocturne thing was a damn guess, really, but Hunters didn’t live so log in this business without a little help either, and damn if he didn’t remind her just a touch of her father ten years ago.

That was going to be a problem, she could already sense it, but it sure as hell wasn’t his fault and she wasn’t going to make him suffer for it.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Hilde Bernhardt Character Portrait: Nathanial "Nate" Winters Character Portrait: Raven Aleister Character Portrait: Ginger (Gin) Parker

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Not knowing how long she had been playing, Ginger forced herself to stop. The repetition of the same melody over and over began wearing on his mind and she backed off, the piano bench skidding loudly on the wooden floor, then leaving her in silence as she twisted pieces of her hair together in her fingers. The grief still lingered, thoughts churning once happy memories into dark longings, but she had dealt with such for two years now. Though it was never easy, she had grown used to needing to ignore them.

She found her bag and eventually made her way back up to the main part of the mansion, hearing voices and figuring she had discovered the kitchen at last. Hovering outside the door, she heard the accent of that man from earlier, his sunglasses flashing in his mind's eye. She reasoned that she had only been upset and confused, irritation always twisting her judgements of people, hiking up her annoyance with human kind itself as whole. So, exhaling once and hoping her face wasn't still pink or puffy from crying, she pushed her dark hair over her shoulder and stepped inside.

Three figures were there and she glanced over each one quickly, hardly taking in details other than confirming that the sunglasses man was indeed among them. She dropped her bag at the edge of the seats, then took one, and stared at her fingers for a moment. There had been no greeting to her arrival.

So she lifted her dark eyes, suddenly realizing that her makeup was probably smudged around her eyes like a raccoon. But she didn't care much. Maybe a little. But that was the superficial girl inside of her longing to be in high school again and on the cheer squad and popular and pretty and...

She pressed her lips tightly together, forcing her old self away.

"So...what is there to eat around this dump?"

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Hilde Bernhardt Character Portrait: Ingrid Bowman Character Portrait: Nathanial "Nate" Winters Character Portrait: Raven Aleister Character Portrait: Ginger (Gin) Parker

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“I’m sure I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Hilde replied easily to the older man’s question. “The retirement package may be a hole six feet in the ground, but I have great dental.” As if to prove it, she grinned, a flash of pristine teeth, then snickered, which probably ruined the whole faux-vanity thing she was going for. Nobody with white lines slicing up their face could be too concerned with their outward appearance unless they wanted to drive themselves crazy. Hilde knew she wasn’t ugly, but in all honesty, it wasn’t the preferred aesthetic, especially when half her colleagues looked like models.

She was legitimately intrigued by the fact that this ‘contractor’ proclaimed himself also a craftsman, and if there were any credibility to that claim (the calluses and wear patterns on his clothing said yes), she might have a name for him yet. Good news, in her world, but she was prevented from inquiring further when another person entered the room. A single sweep of her eyes was sufficient- red puffy eyes, she’s recently cried, calluses are very new, so amateur. If she can survive with no formal training, she’s a Slayer. Scuffing on boots- they’re her favorites, or her only ones. Wanderer. Sweatshirt’s too loose for a woman who knows how to find jeans that fit so closely. Probably not hers, designed for a male most likely. Father, brother, boyfriend? Doesn’t matter- for her to gather quite a bit of information, but she wasn’t terribly concerned, and so she didn’t bother with more than that.

Choosing to completely ignore the fact that this woman had been weeping and was probably also the one responsible for the piano song (that was a simple process of elimination), she fixed her with an incredulous look. “Dump? Princess, if this is a dump, I’d hate to see the castle you came from.” Untrue, actually; there was no way this girl was from that much money, but then the point remained the same. Of course, now she was requesting food, and perhaps Hilde should have said ‘you want to eat, you make it yourself,’ but she didn’t because she loved to cook and it prevented her from having to look at the increasingly-large population of the room. This was good, because when she looked at people, she observed them, and that could grow almost as tiresome as the music she heard simultaneously.

So instead, she shrugged. “Eggs, pancakes, or waffles?” She considered poking at Damages until he volunteered to help, because his social anxiety was showing and he could probably do with a distraction, but frankly she had no idea if he even knew which end of a spatula was which, so she decided against it. Ten minutes later, Ginger’s breakfast of choice was in front of her and Boss-Lady was walking in through the doorway.

“Why not?” Hilde replied to the question. “It’s a big happy family bonding moment.” The fact that one of them had tear-smudged makeup, one was clearly uncomfortable, and one was by his own admission simply a ‘contractor’ and not a member of this messed-up little organization was not lost on her, and her deadpan conveyed that perhaps as well as any intonation would have. Still, she put the kettle back on the burner and set it to heat. Not much point in doing anything else. She’d actually been working with Ingrid long enough to know how the woman took her tea, and also long enough that they’d both understand that Hilde would make it because she wanted to, and not because she was happy being cast as some kind of domestic servant. It was almost… friendly, that way.

She’d long ago resigned herself to the fact that almost was the best she was ever going to manage. Almost a friend, almost a concert pianist, almost as good as a Slayer.

Almost someone her father would have been proud of. Almost someone she was proud to be.

Almost.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Hilde Bernhardt Character Portrait: Ingrid Bowman Character Portrait: Vageryn Character Portrait: Nicholas McGraw Character Portrait: Nathanial "Nate" Winters Character Portrait: Raven Aleister Character Portrait: Ginger (Gin) Parker

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#, as written by Dalmar
Ingrid sipped her tea while observing her charges. It was nice to see them together like this, even if it was just by chance. The more they hung out together, the stronger they would become. The bond between warriors could be a powerful friendship and if her intuition was correct, they were going to need each other more than ever, in the near future. There was something in air, a shift in the wind was about to take place and it sent a chill down her spine. Vageryn had always been a keen observer of the world around him, but lately he'd been spending every waking moment following underground world events. His drive to acquire more Slayers and Hunters was worrying. When it was just the two of them, they were more than enough to handle what the city could throw at them. The Slayers did their part and they did theirs. Hell, she wondered if Vageryn even needed her? Never in her life had she met anyone with his skill and ability. Though now that she thought about it, she couldn't recall the last time he went on a hunt.

As she stared at her cup, lost in her thoughts, another thought occurred to her. Vageryn referred to them as a family, but weren't they just people with the same goals living under one roof? She knew Vageryn intimately, but really knew nothing about the people who followed her orders. Was a leader supposed to know their troops in a personal way, or was her job just to trust in their ability? What did they think of her? Vageryn would scold her if he knew she was having thoughts like this, but despite her actions out in the field, she was very much concerned with the weight of her position. What did he see in her exactly?

>><><<
The sound of a gong rang through the lavishly decorated brothel. One by one women that were a true feast for the eyes lined up before the potential client, each adorned in an identical outfit, each wearing their best smile, but neither of them betraying their desire. Their eyes glistened when they saw the man standing in the foyer. A high roller they called him, a man of wealth and apparently very fine tastes. Men like him often came during the early hours to be discrete. They were often people of high position, lawyers, doctors and politicians, even a few religious types. This man was familiar to some of the girls, but they never fit his exotic tastes. Oddly enough, he preferred the company of the Madam, but on occasion he would choose one of the more exotic girls. The girls waited patiently as the client looked them over, a few of them blushing when he got close. The man was certainly easy on the eyes, his features were almost other worldly, masculine yet angelic.

The Madam walked into the foyer wearing an exquisite burgundy Victorian Gown. A string of pearls ringed her neck and an imitation ruby ring adorned her right, third finger. A woman of regal manner and beauty, she believed in taking care of herself and expected the same of her girls. Believing in a healthy diet and an equal appetite for life, she had aged well. Only the most critical of eyes could spot the fact that she was a woman of fifty. With the grace of a duchess she approached her long time friend. “Mr Arn, a pleasure to have you once again, in this fine establishment.”

“The pleasure is all mine Madam,” he said with a bow. “You look lovely as always Olivia.”

“Girls, this man is not a client, he is a friend. Treat him well.”

“Yes Madam,” they said in unison.

“Do any of my girls strike your fancy?”

Vageryn walked over to one of the girls and greeted her with a smile. “Who is this ravishing beauty before me?”

“My name is Tatyana, but most of my clients call me Ebony Honey.”

Without taking his eyes off Tatyana, he said, “I'll take her.”

Olivia clapped her hands signaling the other girls to leave. “What's your pleasure this morning?” she asked him.

“Bondage.”

A sequel of glee escaped the lips of his pick along with the words “Baby, you really know how to pick em'. I am going to rock your world.”

“Wonderful. I'll leave you two to it then,” Olivia said as Ebony, led Vageryn to the 'dungeon'. “That girl has no idea what she's in for.”

:/=
Ebony laid on the silk canopy bed, her wrists and ankles bound to the bed posts with satin rope. Vageryn was tightening the last rope, much to her pleasure; he'd be a fun one. “Are you secure? You can't escape?”

Tatyana feigned pulling on the ropes. “I can't escape," she said in mock defeat.

“Don't play games, really try. If you can escape, I'll reward you.”

Ebony raised an eyebrow. “I see.” This time she pulled hard against her bonds, but they didn't budge. Damn, this guy ties really good knots. Time to surprise him. With increased effort she pulled against the ropes, jerking the bed in the process, but still they held. What the hell? Why can't a I break them?

“Come on! Break free!”

“I... I cant! You tied them too well.”

“I see. So even your vampiric strength can't help you?”

Alarm bells started going off in her head, she needed to flee, but she was bound completely. Realizing she was going nowhere, she stopped struggling and stared at the ceiling. “Fuck. Let a Slayer get the drop on me. I knew there was something off about you. Damn my libido. So what are you planning to do to me... Slayer?” The last word was said with bitter distaste. “

“It's simple.” Vageryn grabbed a chair and sat in it casually before continuing. “I'm going to ask you two questions and you are going to be very fourth coming with the answers. If you refuse to cooperate, you'll experience a world of terror like you've never known.”

Ebony struggled futilely against the ropes again. “I can't tell you anything, he'll kill me.”

“Who? I assure you, he will know nothing of this encounter. The seal I used will prevent your master from knowing anything. I'll tell you what. I'll sweeten the deal. If you cooperate, I'll let you go, unmolested.”

Seal? ...Those little caresses! Clever bastard, but also intriguing. “Everything inside me is telling me to flee, but there is this feeling that you are a man of your word. I like the letting go part, but not so sure about...”

“It's not going to happen.”

“Damn. Fine, ask your questions.”

“Excellent. Now, who is your Master and what are your coven's plans?”

“My Master is Gavin, he's an Elite. I think he's 1800yrs old. We have no real plans. We're being kept in check by a powerful Elite rumored to be the oldest. He has some plan for the world, but we don't know what it is. We don't really want any part of it either. We have a good system in place. Why screw it up?”

“I see.”

“You look disappointed. I'm not as important as you thought?”

“No. When I saw that you maintained much of your human appearance without the need for a strong illusion, I knew your master was an Elite, but Gavin is no threat.” Pausing for a moment, “It was every thing you know...right?”

“Yes. I'm not about to fuck with you. My Master's memories flow through the blood in my veins and he fears you like the Dalaks fear The Doctor.”

“I'm sorry?”

“Don't you watch television?”

“Er, not usually.”

“Google it. Now, are you going to let me go?”

Vageryn stood up from the seat and walked over to the bed then removed the seals from the bonds around her wrists. With both hands free, she quickly embraced him, pulling him into a kiss; it was a short but forceful one and she knew better than to let it linger. Please don't kill me. “Sorry. I just had to have a taste.” Vageryn removed the rest of her bonds without a word, then headed for the door.

When he reached the door he turned back to face her. “Tell Gavin to watch his back.”

“The Slayer is concerned for my Master? Or was that a threat?”

“If I were a Slayer, it could be taken as such; if I were a Slayer.” Vageryn left the room leaving Ebony with a puzzled expression. Olivia met him in the hall with cell phone in hand, ready to dial the clean up crew. “That won't be necessary. Ebony will continue her services here. She won't be a problem.”

Thank you Vageryn. I'm glad it went well. I honestly didn't believe she was a danger. It's nice to know they aren't all monsters.”

“They are monsters Olivia, but they're not all evil. True evil exists, but the modern world has yet to experience it. They throw around the word easily enough, but they have no idea what it means.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Hilde Bernhardt

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For a long time, Hilde was silent, unreactive even to the crashing of Damages’ chair against the tile floor. Her gaze appeared to be focused somewhere in the middle distance, neither present nor entirely absent, shadows flickering, ghostly, behind the violet irises as one hand unconsciously traced the white lines of scar tissue on her visage. She never looked in mirrors, but she knew exactly where they were, all the same. His teeth had put them there, raking over her cheek, her lips, her soul, all in a mocking parody of a lover’s kiss. She’d known this was his intent because he’d told her so, with great relish. He’d licked the wounds and the saline tear-tracks that stained her face when she’d watched her father fall, limp and cold, from his iron chokehold, murmuring low words of false, poisoned comfort into her ears, as though he were not the reason for all her suffering.

He was a monster, and she’d been given no reason to think that any of his sort were at all different from him in this.

And yet. Her remaining hand clenched vaguely on the table. She’d not crack it by dent of superior strength, because she didn’t have any. She was still now what she’d been in that moment, with him. Weak. Fallible. Breakable. Human. An insidious chill slithered up her spine. Was she now to believe that she worked with creatures like him? People who could, at any moment, lose themselves to that kind of feral impulse, betray their human sides to embrace the monster within?

Bullshit. “Bullshit,” she repeated aloud, appearing to snap from her trance. Placing her hands on her hips, she directed her stare first at Shades, who’d mentioned being cursed, and then at the Slayers still remaining in the room. “Not your story, Boss-Lady, because I believe you, I do. But bullshit that we all feel sorry for ourselves now.” She took a deep breath. She was only going to say this once, because it was taking a hell of a lot of effort to put the words together the way she wanted to.

Hilde didn’t yell; that wasn’t her style. Instead, her voice was relatively quiet, but her words were crisp, sharp, and emphatic. “So one of your folks was a bloodsucker? So what? Doesn’t change a damn thing about who you are. Are you gonna change anything about yourselves now? Are you suddenly worse people than when you woke up this morning? Humans are just as capable of being fucking monsters as anything you came from. Hell, maybe moreso, only without the fancy powers. Call it a curse if you want, but don’t you dare pity yourselves in front of me. The lot of you can do fucking amazing things, and what’s more, you’re all good enough to want to do those things. There’s nothing pitiable about that; it’s goddamn admirable.She’d certainly always admired it, some days to the point of a creeping and bitter jealousy. The Huntress would never consider herself a good person, but she liked to think she could at least be a fair one, and what right had she to judge any of them?

Bloody hell, did she ever know what it was like to try and get out from under a parent’s shadow, and she wasn’t just talking about one of them, either. Hilde knew she was probably doing a really bad job getting her point across, but tact never was her strong suit. “You are what you choose to be, and the way I see it, you’ve chosen to be Slayers, my colleagues, and a damn good lot of people. I for one don’t give a shit who or what your parents were.”

She lapsed into silence, but refused to look down at the table, even as her cheeks colored slightly. That… had gotten away from her a bit. She’d intended to make some kind of joke about it, especially the humans being monsters part. She didn’t usually do serious, and the degree to which she felt what she was saying was somewhat embarrassing. Her hands dropped from her hips to her sides, and she sighed softly, moving to pick up the chair Damages had knocked over, setting it to rights and then gathering up the pieces of his broken plate.

She didn’t cut herself this time, disposing of the second piece of broken dishware in one day. She felt a bit like the child or unruly teenager at a gathering of adults. Their pain didn’t belong to her, not really, and it was just another way in which she didn’t fit with the rest. The line of her shoulders was tense; for once, she hadn’t meant to upset anyone, and for precisely that reason, she was afraid that she had.

Her mind was a mess, a menagerie of images overlaid with frantic song and swirls of discordant color. Every time she blinked, they were there. That vampire from yesterday, who however clumsily had tried to save her life, and him: the one who’d killed her father and taken from her all illusions or normality. Just further proof that they, too, were individuals. That they deserved to be treated like it.

This, like so many other things, was not something she had the words to say correctly.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Hilde Bernhardt

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Hilde spent much of the day by herself.

That wasn’t precisely her preference, but the way she saw it, the place she most thought she should be was the one where she’d be utterly useless, and so it was best just to keep to her lonesome. She had this feeling, not terribly difficult to decipher, that Damages wasn’t taking this whole sick ‘your mom’ joke very well, and she also sort of figured that someone should talk to him about it. It didn’t have to be her, of course, but Boss-Lady was busy and Tinker (oh, she’d seen the workshop formulating downstairs) was new, and everyone else was dealing with the very same shocking revelation, which left her feeling quite flat-footed.

She wasn’t good with words. Sometimes, she said too much until it sounded like she was rambling, but more often, she didn’t say enough. Her strength, her power, these were not natural extensions of herself. She had not been born to do this, and her making had not been easy. It had required, among other things, tamping down her more empathetic, emotionally-savvy instincts. Her desire to be close to others, her capacities to love and trust. Her gentleness. None of them belonged to her any longer.

It wasn’t that she hated it; not all the time, at least. After all, for those sacrifices, she’d earned an iron resolve, a multitude of combat skills, a steely confidence, and a cool, logical mindset that had served her well. It just meant that she was wholly unsuited for situations in which other people experienced pain that couldn’t be bandaged up with gauze or dulled with a little aspirin. So, like the coward she was, she’d done nothing, even when she’d known there was something that needed doing.

She’d submitted, entirely unwillingly, to the attentions of several tailors, well-aware that anything constructed for her would have to be made custom anyway. People didn’t design for women as tall as she was, not usually. She still wasn’t completely certain it was necessary, but after a long and heated discussion with the person on her project, she was at least satisfied that she’d had some input. Meditation wasn’t new. Her father had encouraged it heavily in her youth, a way to ‘center herself,’ he’d said. Reflect on what was truly important. If the content of her stillest thoughts was anything to go by, what was important about her was her failures, for it was those that settled over her like a stifling cloak in those hours, and only when she knew everyone’s eyes were closed did she allow it to slump her shoulders, broadcasting her defeat in the subtlest overtures of grief.

When the call came over the intercom, it was back to business as usual. Swinging her armoire’s door open, Hilde snatched bow, quiver, gun, axe, and machete from their places. The gun went into a thigh holster, the bow and arrows over her shoulder, and the machete and axe crossed over her lower back. An extra long-bladed knife found its way into her boot, and she was grabbing her keys and heading out the door just as Aleister passed her door.

“Oi Tinker. You can ride with me. Don’t need your geriatric sensibilities slowing the traffic, yeah?” She grinned to show it was a joke and clapped him on the shoulder, abrasive-if-likeable mask firmly affixed to her face.

It was a good one like that. Sometimes, even she almost believed the show she put on.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Hilde Bernhardt Character Portrait: Ingrid Bowman Character Portrait: Vageryn Character Portrait: Nathanial "Nate" Winters Character Portrait: Raven Aleister

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#, as written by Dalmar
Now that was odd. Vageryn wasn't normally the worrying kind; he cared about the team of course, but they were well trained and then capable of taking care of themselves. Saying he had a bad feeling was cause for concern. Ingrid wasn't sure what to think at the moment. Their enemy could only be one of two things right? After tightening her boots and zipping up her suit, she confronted him on the matter.

“You have a bad feeling?” she said poking her head into the study.

Turning away from the computer, Vageryn leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers. “Did you see the news this morning?”

“No, why?”

“This morning there was a mass shooting at a college campus, multiple victims were taken to the hospital; the same hospital you'll be investigating. The gunman was found dead in an alley with his throat ripped out; there was very little blood at the scene.”

“Vampires.”

“It certainly looks that way, but what use would they have for mercenaries or hit-men? Why have them shoot up a college campus? Something isn't right, there is nothing to gain from it...yet, it's no coincidence that the same hospital the victims were taken to has gone dark. I don't like it. I feel like I'm sending you in blind.”

Ingrid walked over to him, placed her hands on his then leaned in and kissed him. “We'll be okay. We're trained to handle just about anything so don't worry.” Standing up straight, she adjusted her holsters then turned to leave. Stopping at the door she said, “You know, you could always come along.”

“My place is here Ingrid, we've talked about this.”

“It was just a suggestion. You have to stop running eventually you know... or is it hiding?”

“Aren't you supposed to be leading your team?” With that said, Vageryn turned back to his computer screen.

Ingrid met up with the others in the garage though she didn't see Ginger with them. Remembering how exhausted the poor girl looked earlier, she figured she must be sleeping. Perhaps it was for the best. The young woman had only just arrived and was hit with this morning's bombshell; she needed time to acclimate and the rest would do her good. “Right then, our destination is Pandora General. We're pretty much going in blind, so we'll assess the situation when we get there. For now, we stick together... and no heroics.”

:/=
Tatyana rushed into Gavin's office. “You are not going to believe what happened to me this morning.” When no response came from the back facing chair, she started over. “Look I'm sorry I missed you birthday celebration, but I had other clients. I can still dance for you though.”

The chair slowly turned around, but it was not Gavin in the seat. “Does this dance involve you in various stages of undress throughout?” Lindsey said with a wry smile.

“Lindsey?”

“In the flesh. Now I believe you were about to dance?”

“Don't flatter yourself.”

“Wouldn't dream of it. Now what has you rushing in here the way you did?”

Tatyana thought for a moment and was visibly shaken by the lack of details. No matter how many clients she had, she remembered them all; their faces, their sent what they liked and disliked, even their taste. Yet now that she tried to recall the meeting her mind was blank. “I...I'm sorry I can't.”

“Stop.” Lindsey left his seat with the expedience of a cat pouncing on its prey. Within the blink of an eye he was circling the confused woman, his right elbow resting in his left hand, right index finger and thumb upon his chin. Then he stopped and gripped her chin, turning her head side to side, his piercing blue eyes probing her mocha ones. “Remarkable, there isn't even a trace of the meeting. What was the message he gave you?”

“Message? ...Yes, the message. Gavin should watch his back.” Shaking her head free from his grip, she put her hand to her forehead. “What happened to me?”

“Hypnosis, if I had to guess; a powerful one at that. It seems your visitor was well versed in the ways of the mind, most notably vampire minds...very curious.” Before he could dwell on it further, his phone rang. “Hold on,” covering the receiver he turned looked at Tatyana, “You should get some rest my dear. When she left, he returned to the call. “Excellent, if they survive, follow them. ...No don't engage them, only tell me where they go.”

<<>>
All Nightmare Long

Pandora General, one of the top hospitals in the country was home to the brightest doctors and state of the art medical facilities. Day in and day out patients would come and go each having been treated for whatever ails them. From mild to severe every emergency was handled with the utmost care. Be it the burn clinic or the OBGYN, patients felt they were in the best hands available. The lobby itself was a place of relaxation with a soothing fountain and comfortable leather sofas, there were magazines on end tables as up to date as donations would allow and even some bookshelves filled with classic literature. Pandora General was a place people could be comfortable in; for the Harbingers, it was anything but.

Death lingered in the air, invading their senses. As they looked around the room, however there were no signs of foul play. The lobby was pristine, indeed it appeared to have been recently cleaned, yet there were no signs of life anywhere around them; like they had all vanished. They began to search the area, but found little. “What the hell is going here?” Ingrid's inquiry wasn't directed at anyone, but the others were no doubt thinking the same thing. As they moved into the main hallway an audible thud was heard behind them. They turned to see what it was and saw a woman lying on the floor, she appeared to have hit her head and she was barely conscious.

“Help us.” The woman's words were barely a whisper. Ingrid motioned for the others to stay back as she cautiously approached the young woman. Upon closer inspection, the woman appeared to be in her early twenties, she had dirty blond hair and was garbed in a common green gown often given to patients. Ingrid drew one of her pistols. Before she could pull the trigger the creature was upon her, lifting her up by the throat and baring her fangs with a loud hiss. Within the blink of an eye Ingrid found herself in a tangled heap of arms, legs and various weapons. The Harbingers picked themselves up only to see their prey had vanished.

Ingrid looked at the others, “the eyes had a violet glow to them. Spread out and shoot on sight. I have a feeling we're in for a long night.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Hilde Bernhardt Character Portrait: Ingrid Bowman Character Portrait: Nathanial "Nate" Winters Character Portrait: Raven Aleister Character Portrait: Ginger (Gin) Parker

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“Drawbacks? Was that supposed to be a pun, or are you just ridiculous unintentionally?” For all that the words themselves were a bit on the rude side, Hilde was smiling, and she nodded amicably enough to the suggestion that she make her way down to the workshop at some later date.

Damages came by then, and, unable to say what she properly wanted to, she just offered a lopsided grin. “’Course you won’t,” she said easily, shrugging as if it were the least important thing in the world. “You’re a damn good Slayer. Nothing changes that.”

As things turned out, they were all headed to Pandora General together, rather than taking separate rides, which didn’t bother her at all. The new girl was conspicuously missing, but the Scandanavian woman offered up no comment on this fact. It wasn’t really any of her business, and frankly she was kind of surprised that Damages was here, not that she could stand to look at him for too long. There was something so very raw about his pain, as though it were pouring out of his eyes and his skin from somewhere deep in his soul, intent on choking her with its familiarity. Or she would have thought so, if she believed in things like souls anymore.

The trip itself passed in silence, more or less, save the occasional muttered invective on Hilde’s part when someone cut her off in traffic or failed to accelerate with adequate celerity when a light turned green. That said, she had them there in good time, pulling illegally into a handicapped spot to save them time getting to the door. It wasn’t like anyone was going to care.

Checking that the magazine on her pistol was full (it was, obviously), she clicked it back into place and disengaged the safety. She may well prefer bows and arrows, or getting up close and personal, but she was no fool, and it may very well be the case that this one turned out to be more slaughter than hunt.

The lobby of the hospital bespoke both moderate wealth and an abundance of good taste, and the thought distantly that it was a shame it and much of the rest of the place might be a shambles by the time they got through with it. She’d never been fond of hospitals or doctors much, but even so… her treads were soft on the linoleum, and her only reply to Boss-Lady’s rhetorical question was to shake her head, her ponytail swishing back and forth with the motion. They likely wouldn’t know any more about this situation until they were in the very thick of it, up to their elbows in blood and gore.

When they came upon the woman in the hallway, her suspicions were immediately raised. “I wouldn’t-“ she started, but Boss-Lady had waved at them to stay back, and Hilde figured she’d reached much the same conclusion. When the girl attacked, she wasn’t even surprised enough to flinch, though what Ingrid said next did alarm her somewhat.

“Violet?” She shot a glance at Tinker. He and she would know the most about that, after all. “You mean someone’s been dosing these poor bastards with Nocturne?” That couldn’t bode well. You had to be in pretty good shape to make effective use of the stuff. It was a highly-dangerous, volatile compound, and just introducing it into someone’s system without care for preparation or dosage wasn’t done. It was becoming obvious why, and the huntress gritted her teeth together.

She jerked her head towards the left corridor, indicating that she’d take it, and this time, she really did engage the safety on her firearm and withdraw the bow. It was quieter, and she didn’t need every nasty in the proximity being alerted to her presence immediately. The axe at her waist and the machete with it were comforting weights, as well, and she’d always have options.

As always, the question was whether those would be enough to keep her alive.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Hilde Bernhardt Character Portrait: Ingrid Bowman Character Portrait: Nathanial "Nate" Winters

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Hilde noted the new presence at her back with a grateful nod. This was going to be dangerous, no matter how you sliced it, but it was nice to know she had someone at her six. Especially someone as reliable as Damages. Treading soundlessly into the hallway, Hilde kept her bow tracking the movement of her eyes, which were never still, flicking back and forth over the still corridors, ever-watchful for movement. Her heart was picking up pace in her chest, the pumping subtly audible in her ears like the low pulse of a bassline, the drums in the symphony, keeping the time upon which all else was built.

And that was what was wrong with vampires, wasn’t it? They played with no underlying, stable beat, no foundation to their existence. They were all melody and caprice and hunger, untethered to the metronome that ticked away the hours of mortal beings, inexorable, but welcomed, when you understood the alternative.

A small movement caught Hilde’s peripheral vision—like the improper shift of a shadow and no more. “Heads u—“ her warning was cut off even with her breath, as an arm like an iron vise clamped around her waist, dragging her forward at a speed human beings were never meant to move. She felt the nausea stirring and pushed it back, away from the immediate. An echoing clatter informed her that her bow had hit the ground, just then completing the journey preordained for it by gravity. It was a testament to the speed at which her captor was able to pull her along, as though it weighed nothing.

Her silver-tipped arrow was still clasped loosely in one hand, though; she’d had just enough reaction time to ensure she didn’t drop it. The creature holding her did not appear to notice, as its gaze was fixed on Damages. She felt cold steel at her throat, and knew it was holding a knife to her head.

Then it started on some spiel about being the master of the vessels, which was fine and likely important, so she made eye contact with Damages, then flicked them up to the creature, trying to convey to him that he should keep it talking. She, for one, was not content to be used as a mere bargaining chip. That ship had sailed, and she was stronger now, faster and better and not about to give up and let this so-called “master” yank her chain around as he pleased.

The actual trick was going to require some time and some squirming though; the newborn holding her was many times stronger than she was, and already its grip was tight enough to begin squeezing the air from her lungs if she allowed it. Instead, she measured her breaths, exhaling no more than absolutely necessary so that there would always be room to inhale again, but that tactic wasn’t going to do forever. She wondered if the creature even knew it was holding a mere fragile human and not a Slayer, who likely would have faced no such problem.

But it didn’t matter. This mere human was going to be a problem for it yet. Slowly walking her fingers up the shaft of the arrow, she kept her eyes fixed straight ahead, on Damages, mostly, though she wasn’t really looking at him so much as she was looking beyond him. At least she’d know if he made any sudden movements, which she was trusting not to happen if she wanted to stay alive. A fingertip brushed the head of the arrow, and she slowly turned it about between her index and middle digits, reversing it so that the whole thing was pointing backwards. The trick was doing all of this carefully enough that the newborn or whatever was controlling it would not notice its mistake.

Then she shifted it again, so that her tight-fisted grip was somewhere around the middle, and shifted her gaze to actually catch Nate’s again, nodding with the subtlest of movements. A delay of three seconds, and then Hilde moved, throwing her head backwards to slam her skull into the newborn’s nose, an action which wouldn’t do much damage but hopefully would startle it. Reflexively, the creature tried to put distance between them, and the knife came away from her throat.

“Heh.” Grinning, Hilde jerked her arm backwards in a quick motion, burying the silver-alloyed arrowhead in the newborn’s thigh, then dropping and rolling forward as quickly as she could to clear a shot for the still-armed Damages. Running low, she retrieved her bow and had another shot nocked and aimed just in time to see what remained of it burst into flame. Boss-lady’s voice followed soon after, and Hilde raised an eyebrow.

“What would you have done if I was still that thing’s captive, anyway? We humans don’t take well to fire, you know?” Despite the words, there was clearly a smile in the tone, and Ingrid would doubtless be able to detect it. Rolling both shoulders, Hilde glanced at Nathanial.

“Well, this sounds like fun. Kill bloodsuckers until the morning comes or die? It’s almost like they don’t know who we are or something.”