When Joshua was human, he had always imagined his future like this: a homely wife, a typical family of five children, a comfortable home - neither too modest nor too extravagant, all while making an honest living as the village healer.
Of course, all that vanished when he was bitten at the age of 22. At the time, he had been engaged to a lovely woman picked out by his parents, to whom he was to marry at the completion of his apprenticeship with the village healer. He mourned when he was forced to leave the village or risk being burnt at stake, but he didn’t mourn her, merely the loss of his dream of a peaceful, human life.
It all seemed so long ago. Joshua was going on his 264th year of being alive, and he hadn’t given much thought to family, stability and settling down in at least two centuries. He was enjoying the life of a lone vampire, staying in one place for only a few years at a time, before uprooting and starting a new one hundreds of miles away. One decade he was a rich noble in the imperial chinese court, the next he was a humble fisherman on the coast of Japan. When colonialism was at its peak, he spent a decade as a travelling missionary, though he had placed a little more emphasis on travelling than actually evangelizing.
Joshua didn’t know what he was thinking when he decided to be a police officer. It was probably because he had spent the last decade watching crime procedural TV. They just looked so cool, and were doing such meaningful work. And Joshua reasoned that the usual barriers that would prevent humans from joining the force (personal danger, rigorous training) didn’t apply to him, so really, he’d be doing humans a favour by joining.
His illusions of the police force were shattered almost as soon as he left training. It was clear that the police force was corrupt, inefficient, and recruited bottom-of-the-barrel candidates. The hierarchy prioritized people who were more enthusiastic about ranks and titles than they were about genuinely helping people. It was depressing, and Joshua soon came to regret his career choice for the decade. Still, he refused to quit, only because he had already set up his new identity and home in the area, and couldn’t be bothered to go through all the paperwork and fraud required to move somewhere else.
The decision to stay would change his life forever.
“Hong, in the briefing room in five minutes. We’re going to carry out a raid on the child-trafficking ring.”
Joshua hummed in acquiesce, putting the finishing touches to last week’s mission report.
It was his last year in the force, though he had not told anyone his plans for resignation yet. Already some colleagues were remarking on his exceptional youthfulness, complimenting him for his lack of aging. Whenever that happened, he would deflect it with a “Asian don’t raisin!” joke that would leave them chuckling. Still, it was a sign that he had to move on soon, or the compliments would soon turn into suspicion.
Over the years, he had risen to the rank of lieutenant. While he didn’t do as much front-line work as he used to, he still insisted on joining his colleagues on risky missions. In particular, the force had been monitoring a child-trafficking ring in their area for while now, waiting for the best time to bust it open. Joshua wasn’t directly involved in the case, but volunteered his service when he heard of the high risk of danger.
“Hong, don’t be dense,” his captain, Walters, had replied. “You’re a lieutenant now, you have staff to supervise, and you’re damn good at your job. You’re not directly involved with this case, so just sit out and don’t risk your neck like that.”
“With all due respect, captain, my field record has been spotless, and no one has even come close to breaking it. With a case of this scale and importance, shouldn’t you assign the best men - you most trustworthy men - to this mission?”
Walters hadn’t looked entirely convinced, but Joshua could see that he was considering his point. It was true that Joshua was perhaps the most trustworthy man, besides the captain himself, in the precinct. Walters was one of the few good ones who lasted in the precinct, and Joshua was glad - honoured, even - to serve under such a self-sacrificing, upstanding human.
Joshua decided a little extra push wouldn’t hurt.
“Captain,” he started, hesitating slightly so as to sound as if he was disclosing something deeply personal, “if I have to be honest, this case is somewhat… personal to me,” he paused, then took a deep breath as though gathering courage, “When I was a child, my best friend was kidnapped off the streets on the way to school. No one ever saw him again, but the police at the time suspected that he was sold off to a child-trafficking ring. So, if I’m being honest, sir, part of me feels like I have to be part of this mission, to avenge him.”
It was clear that Walters bought Joshua’s made-up spiel hook, line and sinker. If Joshua were a better man, he would feel bad for lying, but he felt justified in his lie - after all, he was doing it so that he could protect his colleagues. He had faster reflexes and superior senses - it was only right that he put himself in danger rather than sit back and do nothing as his human colleagues risked it all. What was that saying again? With great power comes great responsibility.
Who knew that a 200-something year old vampire would have something in common with Spider-Man?
Joshua’s walkie-talkie crackled to life.
“Suspects are on the first floor with some clients, they appear to be negotiating.”
Joshua breathed evenly, in, out, in, out.
He didn’t need the oxygen, but the breathing kept him calm and centred before a mission. He was parked around the corner of the building they were about to raid, headlights and engines off, waiting in the car with his colleagues for the cue to move in.
“Our informant estimated around twenty kids in the basement, I repeat, twenty kids in the basement. Entrance to the basement through the ground floor, staircase at the north-west corner of the building.”
In his mind, Joshua pictured the building from the blueprints they were given in the briefing. He went over his role again and again in his head: of guarding the kids, getting them out of the building alive, making sure they are safe. It was a role he initially protested against, accusing the captain (in private, after the briefing) that he was given the easiest, risk-free role.
The captain had immediately shut down his complaint.
“Hong, I know you’re a daredevil, but hear me out. I put you in charge of getting the kids out because you’re the only one I can trust to do the job. Can you imagine any of the bumbling buffoons on our force carrying out your role without some collateral damage? These are kids, Hong. This mission - yes, it’s important for us to catch the perps, but it’s probably even more important that we get all of those kids out. Alive. Understood?”
Speechless, Joshua could only nod.
Another ten minutes passed before the walkie-talkie started up again, this time with the captain’s voice coming through.
“Suspects are in a physical altercation with the clients, move in while they’re distracted.”
Within seconds, Joshua was out of the car and running towards the building. He waited at the entrance, along with the rest of the force, for them to bust down the door before he was off like a shot towards the basement.
The ground floor was blessedly empty - there were only three perps guarding the entrance to the basement. Startled, the perps barely had the time to reach for their own firearms when Joshua and his colleagues fired off three non-fatal shots, bringing them to the ground. He kicked their firearms away from them, left his colleagues to tie them up and headed down towards the basement.
The stench of sweat and fear grew stronger the further down the stairs he went, and screwed up his nose, cursing his sensitive nose. He consciously blocked his sense of smell - just stopped breathing - and wrenched open the door of the basement.
The sight of seventeen terrified children greeted him. A quick scan told him that they were between the ages of eight to twelve, and he breathed a quick sigh of relief - it meant that they probably understood English and could follow orders.
“Hi,” he started, using a soothing tone. He added a bit of glamour, a hint of persuasion, just to ensure that the children would follow his commands. “I’m Lieutenant Hong, I’m with the police. I’m here to get you back home to your parents. Will you follow me?”
The children eagerly gathered around him. At this point, some of his colleagues came down to assist him. He encouraged the children to follow them out of the basement, saying that it was safe to do so, and using his sensitive hearing to ensure that the perps in the building were well and truly rounded up by the police already.
He lingered until the last child left and scanned the room quickly in case anyone was left behind. The room was bare, empty, but instinct told him to check with all his senses.
He took a deep breath.
The smell of blood hit him full-force, winding him. His eyes widened, and he took another deep drag of air.
It wasn’t human blood.
He had never smelled blood like that before. It smelled a little like werewolves’ blood, but where werewolves’ blood smelled smoky, like cooked meat, this unknown blood had a hint of spice. It tickled his nose and made his eyes water.
Where was the smell coming from? There were no obvious stains of blood in the basement.
He stilled his breathing and listened.
He could hear everything within a one-mile radius, but quickly blocked off white noise, the ruckus the force was making upstairs, trying to concentrate on the basement.
Then he heard it.
The sound of a wolf’s whine.
It came from beyond the basement’s walls.
Joshua scanned the room. There didn’t seem to be any obvious fake doors, no shelves that were disguising secret entrances. His eyes fell on a heavy wooden chair in the corner of the room. Without much thought, he picked it up and threw it against a wall of the basement, where the smell was the strongest.
The chair made a small hole in the wall. Joshua squinted - it was plaster, not a real wall. There seemed to be a hidden room beyond the wall. The whimpering stopped, suddenly. A hitched breath.
Joshua knew he had found the source of the blood. He didn’t bother with the chair; with his bare hands, he tore down the wall and found himself face-to-face with a pair of wet, red eyes.
The eyes of a young vampire.