Ash tumbled. As he gathered his feet beneath him and rose in a defensive crouch, his arms up and his eyes locking on his target, he mentally shook off the hit. Distraction would get him killed one day. He knew that, not because he distracted easily – he didn’t – but because vampires gave no quarter. If they saw an opening, or weakness, they’d exploit it. That simple.
“What’s on your mind tonight?” Dragan asked. He slowly shifted to his right, inching closer to Ash while appearing to be at ease and relaxed in his stance. His arms hung at his sides, and his bare feet made no sound shifting over the protective mats beneath them, but Ash didn’t need the sound; he focused on the Dragon’s core, waiting for a shift in weight to telegraph his intentions.
“I’m here,” Ash said. He crossed one foot in front of the other and shuffled away. Dragan, or Dragon among those that knew him well, didn’t waste energy. He moved slow, plotting his attacks, and hitting hard and fast when he found his shot.
“As opposed to being out hunting?” Dragon raised a padded fist in front of his face. The other hand stretched and flexed before coming to a rest pulled back near his ribs.
“As opposed to helping Mike and Crandall.” Ash spat out his words.
He ended up in the Pit of the Dancing Crane because he stormed into the office raving up a storm about burning the vampire club to the ground with the vampires nailed inside like a coffin waiting to be buried. Dragan had listened patiently until Ash ranted himself out, but when Ash demanded a response, he’d ended up working out instead of staking vampires.
“There are innocent people in there.” The calm in Dragan’s voice ruffled Ash’s concentration.
“No one is innocent helping those monsters.” Ash flinched, blinking back a dull ache in the forefront of his head. Not pain of their workout, but of the stress Ash piled upon himself. He rubbed his temple with two fingers, but dropped his hand back into a defensive posture when Dragan shuffled forward.
“The others in Mike’s band?” Dragan paused, his body tensing when he words did not.
Ash ducked in a deep squat and then stepped aside, swinging a fist at Dragon’s chin. “Beth or something? And Jon.”
The Dragon blocked the blow, and stepped back laughing. “Beth? How is it you forget the girl? Her name is Beryl.”
With a shrug, Ash darted forward throwing three quick jabs. His first glanced off of Dragan’s forearm and caught his shoulder. The next two, the old hunter caught in proper blocks. His right leg shot out, sweeping Ash’s feet from under him, but Ash fell into another tumble, using the misbalance to put space between them again.
“She’s not my type,” he said between panted breaths.
“Whatever.” Ash rubbed the back of his hand over his forehead, swiping away sweat. “He’s married and quite content at that.”
“Maybe it’s not the vampires. Maybe you need a girlfriend.” Dragan stepped forward and then veered off into the center of the Pit. Ash reacted defensively, not catching a shot at Dragan before he pulled away.
“I don’t have time for dating.” Ash circled left and, as Dragan shifted his weight to follow, charged. He slammed into Dragan, wrapping his arm around the man’s arms, pinning them to his chest, and slamming them both to the ground.
Ash straddled Dragan’s waist and reared up to swing a fist, intending to take advantage of the brief moment Dragan would remained stunned. No such luck. Before his fist began forward motion, Ash tumbled across the mat, Dragan flipping him away with strong legs and an uncanny sense of leverage. Before Ash could get his feet underneath him, Dragan followed, scrambling to his feet, but keeping his center of balance low to the mat. As Ash tried to rise, Dragan plowed into him, knocking him back, putting Ash in the same spot he’d just been.
“Fuck!” Ash slammed his fists into the mat at his sides.
Dragan shook his head and stood. He offered his hand to Ash, pulling him to his feet. “Let it go, Ashland. This is too big, even for you.”
Ash shot him a venomous look. “Don’t you think I know that? That’s why I wanted your help.”
With a shake of his head, Dragan said, “With all four of us, it’d be too big. There were at least fifty beasts in that club the night I staked it out. If only a handful escape, we’d be dead. Then what good could we do?”
“Four.” Ash snorted. “Is that kid doing anything productive yet?”
Dragan’s smile was wry and amused. “He’s trying not to fight it. It’s a start.” When Ash rolled his eyes, Dragan laughed and reminded him of his own start. “You were just as much of a handful when you were first bit, my friend. Maybe moreso.”
Up Next: Immortal, Not Endless