Bright, blistering, sunlight beamed through the windshield of the truck and caused Ami to squint, despite the dark-tinted sunglasses she wore. Beside her, Hotaru half-hung out of the passenger side window, gazing, blearily, out at the stark desert landscape, "Arizona in July." She muttered.
"Remind me again why we're doing this."
Hotaru pulled herself back into the window, "I don't really have the knowledge to be able to help you, Ami. But, there's a vampire who lives out here in the Mojave. He's very ancient and might be of better help than I."
"But, if there's never been another like me, how can he help?"
"As far as the Council knows, there's never been another like you. This one, he's one of the Originals."
"The original Night Stalkers. Very ancient and powerful beings. The Council enlisted their aid to help defend our kind. They tend to live a life of solitude now, in the most out of the way places they can find. The one we're going to find is, actually, kind of famous among Normals, but most believe he's just myth."
Ami began to roll through a mental inventory of American urban legends. Taking the information Hotaru had given her and running it against her own knowledge. She could only come up with one cryptid that would be found in the Mojave desert and was thought to be quite ancient, "Chupacabra." she muttered, not realizing she had spoken aloud.
"Bingo." Hotaru replied, "He, at least, I think it's a 'he', was one of the Originals. There's also one known as the Namibian Night Stalker, we get our name from her, the Leeds Devil, who does the occasional freelance job for us, and the Kappa."
"I thought there was more than one Kappa?"
"No, just the one. He moves very fast which is why he can, seemingly, appear in multiple places. Anyways, there were only a few at first but our numbers gradually grew and they sought retirement. Turn off up here." Hotaru instructed, pointing.
"Up here" was a dirt road that was little more than a wide trail. The old truck, Ami's since an accident had totaled her car, bounced and rattled over the ruts and pot holes, jarring it's occupants. "Where will we find him?" Ami asked.
"Not sure. I've only been out this way once, but I think he lives in a cave about twenty or so miles down this way."
Ami grunted as the truck bounced across a particularly large pot hole, "To tell the truth, I don't think I can take another mile of this, much less twenty."
"Tell me about it," Hotaru replied, bracing herself against the roof of the cab.
There was a few minutes of silence as Ami concentrated on controlling the truck. She felt a sudden stutter in the steering wheel that gradually grew as she pulled off of the dirt road and rolled to a halt.
"What's wrong?" Hotaru asked.
"Something with the wheel. Do me a favor and check the ones on your side, please?"
Hotaru did as she was asked and saw the problem immediately, "I told you that tire patch wouldn't hold."
Ami came around and, seeing the flat tire, muttered a curse at cheap American products that were made in China.
Hotaru removed her hat long enough to wipe a bit of sweat from her brow, "I guess we'll have to wait until dark to continue on. It's too hot to walk the rest of the way."
Ami smirked, "Kid, you've lived with me for two years now. When will you learn that I always have a Plan B? Grab the packs."
Hotaru dug around behind the seats for the two large frame backpacks and hauled them out to Ami, who was pulling a pair of large, rugged-looking bicycles out of the bed, "Where did you get those?"
"Ramon built them." She replied proudly.
"Ramon built them?" Hotaru asked. She knew Ami's fourteen-year old son was intelligent but this was beyond her expectations.
"Well, technically, Ramon and Oso but Oso's job was more of a supportive roll, 'Hold this piece' and 'I need that tool' as well as the welding. The bikes work great."
The cycles were of an impressive design. Both the front and rear axles had quick-release latches for a swift and efficient tire change. Hotaru doubted they would need it as the thick, knobby tires would protect the inner tube from anything. The front fork was separated from the body by an assembly similar to one found on motorcycles. Mounted onto this assembly was a cyclist's computer, with speedometer and odometer features, and a digital clock. The handlebars held a pair of bright L.E.D lights to compliment the red, flashing, taillights. Hotaru mounted hers and bounced happily on the large and comfortable seat, letting the shocks on the seat, as well as those on the front and rear forks, absorb her weight, "Ami, these are excellent. Do you think Ramon could build one for me to keep?"
"Sure, Ramon built it for you."
Hotaru noticed that, on Ami's cycle, were the words, Crimson Howler. She looked on her own and found the words Love Bites. An utterance from the jaded, and now confirmed, bachelorette after she had been jilted by another lover. Her fifth in a year.
"He's named them. Oso's is the Grizzly, his is the Black Howler, and Saeko's is the Indigo Growler. He built them to take anything."
"Since when does Ramon build bikes?" Hotaru asked, taking the tiny hand pump from Ami and attaching it into the holder strapped to the side of the bike.
"He has a problem with...shall we say...personal amusement. Oso and I thought it would be a good idea that he have a hobby. He didn't much like my ideas, but then again, swimming and chess aren't really popular anymore, are they?"
"They were popular?" Hotaru asked, earning a playful cuff across the ear.
"Anyways, Oso tried to get him interested in car restoration. He was pretty good at that but I had to put a halt to it after he dropped a transmission on his hand."
"Three broken fingers and sixty stitches later, he started tinkering with his bike, complaining that the crank kept popping and clicking. He had found some spare parts, taking them from some old bicycles he had found in the woods and, before we knew it, he had built an excellent bicycle from the ground up."
Ami strapped the tent onto a platform mounted on the rear of the bike, tightened the straps on the pack and followed Hotaru into the desert. According to the bike's clock, it was eight pm. and the wrathful sun was beginning to retreat past the western horizon. Ami knew that, despite daytime temperatures, the desert could get downright cold once the sun set. They would have to stop and make camp if they didn't find Chupacabra's cave and soon.
She shifted gears and struggled up a steep and rocky hillside where Hotaru waited, "It's difficult enough to move through this wasteland without getting lost during the day. It'll be next to impossible to do so during the night. I think we should stop here and make camp, start out fresh in the morning."
Hotaru didn't answer right away but, instead, searched the desert below their hill. Even though her night eyes were better than Ami's, she still couldn't see anything resembling the cave she had been taken to before.
Snapped back from her search, Hotaru, dumbly, replied, "Huh?"
"Make camp for the night? Start out in the morning?"
Hotaru gave the darkening landscape one last scrutiny, "Why not?"
Ami nodded and began to unpack her bike. Given their high vantage point, one of very few in the Mojave, they would be able to see anyone sneaking up on them for miles around. However, the downside of this was, given any type of light, anyone would be able to see them.
As Ami began to set up the tent, Hotaru searched for wood. They would have a small fire only long enough to heat up some food and warm a couple of blood packs. Nothing was worse than a pack of thick, refrigerated, blood and the way it left a phlegm-like coating in the mouth and throat.
With the sun finally gone and night falling, the air was becoming chillier. They pulled on their jackets and crouched near the small fire, waiting for their supper to finish. Ami heard a rock shift in the darkness, and then another, followed by a tiny gurgling growl. She poked Hotaru, "Did you hear that?"
Hotaru shook her head. Though her vision was superior to Ami's, her hearing paled in comparison to the werewolf hybrid's.
Ami continued to stare off, waiting for the sound. She wasn't disappointed when she heard the growl again, closer this time, "I'm going to go check it out. It's probably only a coyote but you never know."
Hotaru nodded, "Be careful."
Ami began her Change. If it was a coyote, she wanted to scare it off as quickly as possible so it wouldn't disturb them again. Her Change looked nearly like her original werewolf form but with one noticeable difference. Her fangs were now nearly four times their original length, the tips stretching just past her jaw.
Ami loosed a low growl of her own and stalked off into the darkness.
Crouching low to sniff at the dirt and rocks, Ami encountered a scent she had never known before. It wasn't human but wasn't animal either. Blood and flesh mixed with sulfur in a pungent and unpleasant odor. Ami followed the scent, springing up onto a large boulder to get a better view of the desert floor. She could see her camp on top of the hill and could just barely make out Hotaru, who was quietly pacing and watching the darkness, awaiting her return. Ami's eyes roved the slope of the hill until she discovered something she hadn't seen before.
The creature crouched low on it's long, powerful legs. It had tiny spines on it's backwards-facing knee joints and it's tail swept back and fourth, helping to balance it. Two dark, almond-shaped eyes took up a good portion of it's oversized head, which sat low on narrow shoulders. It dug around on the ground with short but muscular arms, picking up various rocks and examining them closely before casting them away, each time with another of those odd, gurgling, growls. Occasionally, a stone would pass whatever inspection was taking place and would be deposited in the small shoulder bag that the creature carried with it.
Carefully, Ami stalked the creature. She was nearly upon it, ready to grab it and give it a solid shaking when it suddenly turned around to face her, "What do you want, Werewolf?"
She was slightly taken aback. She didn't know it could speak and the shape of it's tiny mouth, with it's three, narrow teeth, dictated that it should not have been able to but she understood it, even punctuated with those growls and the occasional insect-like click.
"I asked you a question." It stated again, sounding annoyed and somewhat impatient.
"I'm sorry." She said automatically, "You startled me. I didn't know you could talk."
"I can do many things." It replied, "Speech is among them. Now, state your intentions."
"My friend and I are searching for the Chupacabra."
"I'm a Vampire-Werewolf hybrid. We're seeking the Chupacabra for information. She suggested that he might know something about my type. She said he was very ancient and might have come across something like me before."
The creature sighed and scratched at the crown of it's head with a single long claw, "It is true that the Chupacabra is, indeed, ancient but what makes you think that he can be of any assistance?"
Ami shrugged her massive shoulders, "It's a long shot but a possibility nonetheless. You wouldn't happen to know where to find him, would you?"
"Indeed, I do, Hybrid."
"Is he near?"
"Very near." It replied.
Ami was beginning to lose her patience with this little creature, "Then, stop playing games and tell me where to find him before I crush your skull."
The creature smiled, "Is that any way to speak to someone you seek help from?"
Ami blinked, "You're the Chupacabra?"
Chupacabra smiled, showing off his needle-like teeth, "Indeed."
"Then, you can help me."
Chupacabra shook his head, "I do, in fact, know someone somewhat like you and he may be able to help. The local native human tribes refer to him as the Coyote father."
Ami's nose wrinkled, "A coyote? How can a coyote help me?"
"This is not the coyote you know. This coyote father is a god-spirit, one of the many beings that helped to create the world so very long ago."
Ami nodded, "Where can I find him?"
Chupacabra shook his head, "He'll find you. Travel another day into the desert but you must be alone."
He shrugged, "No idea. He makes the rules." Reaching into his bag, he removed a small red box, "Take this."
Ami took the box and opened it, revealing several, neatly-rolled, cigarettes, "I don't smoke." She objected.
Chupacabra chuckled, "Not for you, for him. If you do not have an offering, he'll kill you."
"But, if I give him an offering, he'll help me?"
"I didn't say that. I said that if you don't, he'll kill you. Your chances of receiving what you desire are greatly improved with the offering."
Ami glanced at the box but when she returned her attention to the Chupacabra, she found it was gone. She looked first left, then right, searching for any trace of the creature but finding none at all. It was like the damn thing had simply vanished. Ami thought for a moment. Perhaps, the Chupacabra had vanished. She had seen stranger things before.