EXCERPT: THE BURNS WAR
The Fire Salamander Chronicles Book Two
~ Zane Burns, a.k.a. Gunz ~
Modern days. Key West, Florida
The evening was warm and humid. The street lights and neon gleam of the storefronts were promoting a festive and slightly mysterious atmosphere. The street was overflowing with people. The unsuspecting crowd of tourists was promenading along Duval Street, completely unaware of everything that was going on right before their noses. Carefree, they were chatting, eating, and gaping at the colorful windows of shops.
Gunz quickly crossed Duval and walked into a shadowy alley between two stores. As soon as he escaped the crowded street and dove into the muggy darkness of a small narrow alley, he reached into his pocket and pulled his Swiss army knife out. Holding the knife in his hand, he switched to a light run. His Salamander senses were heightened to the maximum revealing the presence of dark vampiric energy all around him. The vampires realized that he wasn’t human, and they didn’t like it. They were in front of him and behind him, surrounding him, creeping up closer and closer, following his every step.
A light breeze brought a much-needed freshness infused with the light scent of the ocean. Gunz smirked. He was almost there. Not too far from the oceanside, there was an old semi-demolished house. This house was his final destination, marked by the Scarlet Queen.
A few months ago, a large group of rogue vampires settled there, using it as their nest. The vampire queen, Akira Ida, approached them, but they refused to accept her as their queen and comply with her rules. The Scarlet Queen wasn’t the type to accept the rejection easily. And since Gunz needed some practice using his newly improved sword skills in real-life situations, she decided that sending the young Fire Salamander to deal with the rebels was the right thing to do. Gunz had no doubt that it was a win-win situation for the queen – her student would get some practice and the rebellious faction of vampires would be vanquished, serving as a lesson to others who dared to disobey her.
Akira had been giving Gunz swordsmanship lessons since he got back from Kendral and she was happy with his general progress. She expressed her complete confidence in his skills, stating that he would be able to deal with the situation at hand without any problems.
Before Gunz opened his fire portal to Key West, Akira didn’t forget to remind him that the point of this exercise was to destroy all the rogue vampires without using his magic or the Salamander fire power, only his sword. What she neglected to mention was how many vampires were in this nest. Right now, he could count at least ten vampires around him, if not more. And he had no idea how many of them were inside that house.
“Come out to Key West, get yourself a little vampire action, have a few laughs…” muttered Gunz, channeling John McClain as he kept running toward the ocean.
Two vampires materialized in front of him and he skidded to a screeching halt. Teleporting wasn’t one of the vampires’ powers, but they moved so fast and soundless that it looked like they just popped up out of nowhere. The first vampire threw a punch. As a Fire Salamander, Gunz wasn’t as fast as the vampires, but he was fast enough to see it coming. He took a tiny step back, turning his head to the side and watched the vampire’s fist sailing less than an inch away from his face, missing him.
The force with which the punch was thrown, pulled the vampire forward and all Gunz had to do was use his opponent’s momentum to send him rolling to the ground. As the infuriated vampire scrambled to his knees growling, Gunz whispered a short spell, turning his knife into a long medieval sword. Before the dumbfounded vamp could get back to his feet, he swung his sword, decapitating the kneeling monster in one swift motion.
The dead body disintegrated in a matter of a few seconds, leaving nothing but a pile of dirty ashes behind. The second vampire roared as he launched at Gunz, his lips curled in a wolfish snarl. Gunz caught him in the air, his fingers firmly wrapping around the vampire’s neck and threw him down. Before the vampire could get up, Gunz’s sword whistled through the air and cleanly cut his head off.
He didn’t wait for the beheaded corps to turn into ashes and continued on his path to the vampires’ nest. As he approached the house, at least ten vampires who were guarding the entrance separated from the shadows and leisurely paced toward him, the cold grins on their faces exposing their dangerous fangs. All of them were tall and looked strong enough to stop a rhino with their bare hands even without the use of their vampire’s strength. Gunz didn’t slow down, a grim uneven smirk playing on his lips.
The vamps didn’t wait for him to reach them. Baring their sharp fangs, all of them attacked at the same time. Gunz rolled on his shoulder, avoiding their grabby hands with long hooked claws. As he came out of the roll with one knee down, his sword hissed through the air, cutting through the muscles and ligaments of their legs.
Cursing furiously, they pulled back for a moment. The vampires were healing fast, but the damage Gunz inflicted gave him the opportunity he needed to regroup. He hopped to his feet just in time to see the growling mass of monsters closing up on him again. He spun around, his sword finding its victims as he moved in a circle with the unexpected speed that could rival the velocity of any vampire.
A few minutes later, only ten piles of gray ashes remained on the ground. It seemed that all the vampires were gone. At least on the outside. Gunz looked down at his bloodied sword, breathing hard. His clothes were torn in a few places and hot streams of blood were running down his arms, chest and back, where the vampires managed to catch him with their claws. One of them was quick enough to sink his teeth into his shoulder leaving behind a gaping hole filled with dark blood. He touched his wounded shoulder and winced in pain.
Gunz probed the house with his Salamander senses and grunted, frustrated. The house was filled with the undead, their dark energy fused into a heavy venomous cloud. He couldn’t even count how many of them were there. The house was dark, and nothing was moving inside. But it didn’t mean that the vamps inside weren’t alert and ready to spring into action as soon as he opened the door.
Gunz carefully moved his left arm, checking the mobility of his damaged shoulder. No good, I have no strength in my left arm. It’s useless, thought Gunz, but slowly moved toward the door of the dark house.
“If I survive this, I swear, I’m going to give a piece of my mind to Akira,” he mumbled, walking up the steps, ready to kick the door open.
“Why don’t you give it to me now.”
Akira’s soft voice filled with authority sounded behind his back. Gunz lowered his sword and turned around. He bowed to her awkwardly as his torn shoulder responded with sharp twinges of agony to his every move. She approached him and unceremoniously pulled his shredded shirt off his shoulder, wiping a few drops of his blood off the edge of his ripped flesh with her finger. For a moment her eyes lit up with a hungry scarlet glow, but she pulled his shirt back up and took a deep breath, wiping the blood off her fingers on her pants.
“Do you want me to heal you?” asked the Scarlet Queen, her voice calm and even, like she wasn’t ready to sink her fangs into his neck just a moment ago. “You know that vampire’s blood has some healing properties.”
“Thank you, Akira, but no,” replied Gunz. “I don’t want your blood circulating through my system, giving you some kind of control over me.”
She shrugged her narrow shoulders indifferently. “I don’t know if this so-called control would work on a Fire Salamander,” she said, raising her eyebrows at him. “Zane, are you seriously considering fighting a giant vampire nest one-handed?”
Gunz shrugged and cringed, clasping his shoulder. “Unless you have a better idea, I’m going in,” he said dryly. “I can’t leave so many rogue vampires running around a tourist destination.”
Akira shook her head. “I do have a better idea,” she said with a sigh. “I was watching you fighting… How many vampires did you vanquish alone?”
“Twelve, I think. Why?”
“Because, it’s enough for one day of training. We’re going to go in together and you’re going to use your magic, not your sword.”
He nodded, a tiny lopsided smile making an appearance as he kicked the door with his leg. The door flew open hitting the wall with a loud bang but remained on its hinges. A couple of vampires that were standing close to the entrance staggered backward, stumbling into the dark mass of other vamps. The house was so dark inside that Gunz still couldn’t count how many monsters he was dealing with. It seemed like the chain of glowing red eyes was endless.
“Ventius,” he whispered extending his right hand forward. A powerful blast of wind rushed toward the vampires, blowing them off their feet and throwing their bodies against the wall.
Akira slipped inside, touching his arm on the way in. “Give me a second,” she whispered.
She approached the squirming mass of vampires who were still struggling to untangle their limbs and get up, staring down at them from her formidable height of five feet. The undead shuffled around and a few of them got up to their feet, silently glowering at the Scarlet Queen, gnashing their fangs.
“This is your last chance. I will not ask again,” said the queen calmly. “Bend your knee and pledge your fealty to me and I will let you live.”
A large vampire that looked like a biker with his leather jacket and long greasy hair, stepped forward. He tongued his cheek and spit on the floor aiming at her feet. “Never,” he hissed, fury making his eyes glow bright red. “You work with a hunter. Against your own kind. You are not fit to be our queen.”
“A hunter?” asked Akira. “Hardly. He is so much more than that. And he’s not my employee. He is my student.”
“Whatever he is, he’s killing our kind!” yelled the vampire, scowling at the queen with freezing contempt. “We will never accept your rule.”
“As you wish,” said Akira indifferently and turned around. As she passed Gunz, she touched his arm again and whispered into his ear, “Fire Salamander, make this house burn hotter than hell. Kill them all.” She walked out of the house and closed the door, leaving Gunz alone.
As quiet as the Scarlet Queen spoke, the vampires heard her. They all screamed at the same time, some hurdled toward Gunz, some tried to break out through the boarded windows of the house.
“Ignius Amplio,” hissed Gunz, entwining his magic with his elemental power.
The fiery inferno unfolded before him, swallowing the house and its inhabitants within a few seconds. Guns walked out of the house when the roof caved in and the last screams of the burning monsters died out. He found Akira standing a few feet away from the burning house, her sharply angled eyes squinting at the brightness of the flames. All around her, the ground was covered in ashes. That was everything that remained of the vampires who somehow escaped from the smoldering trap that Gunz created.
Her eyes shifted to Gunz and the corners of her small mouth quirked up. For a moment she looked like a cat who was watching a canary. He glanced down and grunted. His shirt that was already shredded before the fire, completely fell apart and his pants were torn in few places, too.
“Well, my student, you presented yourself nicely,” she said attempting to sound serious. “I’m talking about your fighting skills, of course.”
“But of course you are,” muttered Gunz, shaking his head.
Akira giggled pressing her hand to her mouth. Gunz rolled his eyes, wondering how an ancient vampire, who killed more people than anyone cared to count, could still have the laughter of a little girl.
“I’ll see you next week, Zane.” Akira waved her hand and was gone before he could say anything else to her.
Gunz sighed and turned back to the house. It was still burning, smoldering flames rising high, the dark clouds of smoke disappearing into the night sky. He waved his hand, silently commanding the fire to cease. He was positive that by now all the vampires were dead and leaving the fire burning would just attract the attention of humans. It wasn’t necessary.
As he was watching the fire gradually die down, he felt a light vibration in his pocket and reached for his phone. Good news – his phone survived the massive fight with the vampires. Bad news – his boss, Agent Andrews, was calling him at one o’clock in the morning.
“Hello,” Gunz answered the phone, expecting problems.
“Gunz, did I wake you up?” Jim didn’t sound sleepy. Most likely he was still in his office.
“No. What’s going on, Jim?”
“I need you to come in,” said Jim calmly. “There is something we need to discuss as soon as possible.”
“I’ll come in first thing in the morning. 8 AM sharp,” replied Gunz, knowing ahead of time what would follow.
“No, I need you to come in immediately,” objected Jim, notes of aggravation breaking through his calm front. “It can’t wait until morning.”
“Jim, it’s going to have to wait until tomorrow,” said Gunz with a sigh. “I’m in Key West. Just finished cleaning a giant vampires’ nest. One of the vamps managed to bite a chunk off my shoulder. I’m bleeding, and my clothes are half-gone. I have to go home and heal myself, Jim. I’m in the world of pain. Sorry.”
Jim grunted and Gunz heard him slamming his fist on his desk. “Bad timing, Gunz. Very bad timing. I’m sure it was the Scarlet Queen who sent you to clean up her mess.”
“Yes, sir,” confirmed Gunz. “But what did you want me to do? Leave a huge population of rogue vampires hunting the tourists around the Keys? It’s been over a month since I came back from Kendral and I’m swimming up to my eyeballs in supernatural bullshit! It’s worse than it’s ever been here. I don’t understand what’s going on.”
“I don’t know,” replied Jim dryly. “Your buddy Aidan is saying the same thing. Him and his team don’t have a minute of peace. Anyway, I need you in my office stat. Just open your portal into my office as soon as you are ready.”
“Jim —,” started Gunz, but Jim interrupted him.
“Go home, heal yourself and come to my office right away. Not in the morning. Right away! Do you understand me?”
“Yes, sir. I’ll see you in an hour.”
Gunz hung up the phone, putting it back in his jean back pocket. Then he turned his sword back into the Swiss army knife and put it away.
“Fire Salamander – go,” he muttered to himself and waved his hand, opening the fire curtain of his portal.