Calm settles on Nicholas’ like a blanket and terror melts away. Outside, thunder cracks the sky open, spilling rain on New York all night. The water drips sickly down the window, casting eerie shadows that dance across the small one room apartment.
With the sick feeling of a dream unremembered, Nicholas realizes the phone is ringing. ‘Outside, two minutes.’ The voice cracks thick with Saxon speckled english. On the street, the haggard FBI agent meets the voice in his crumpled suit in a bad part of town. The man is wearing a tweed jacket, stetson hat and a white mask; black rimed eyes breath hollow and a cigarette juts from a slit where the mouth would be. Smoke, inky in the wet night, tries vainly to lift upwards.
The news was simple, concise, and unnerving. A hunter named Dane Southerland murdered a police officer. The group want’s Nick on the case ASAP. Find Southerland, and find his handler, Victor Cross. The reasons seem slim; they are renegades, they don’t play by the rules; they endager mortal lives.
But that was a song long sung throughout history, and these people who sent masked men to wake Nick up at 4am knew that all too well.
The luger seemed to grow heavy in his shoulder holster, and the terror that faded when the dream died crept back into his heart, as if from the weapon itself.
Sin’s of the father.
He called Chester on the way to the scene. It wouldn’t be hard to convince the Bureau to give him the case; no one wanted cop cases, especially when things didn’t add up. And in the world of darkness, they never truly did.
But keeping the weird out of Bureau CSI would be a chose, so he brought his own expert. When he pulled up to the scene in a corolla that looked almost as haggard as he did, he took charge of the situation swiftly. Flash a badge, say a name, tell the kids that daddy is here; this is the big time now.
The ally was dirty, wet and covered in the fine sheen that every big city gets when it rains. It’s not water, its not grime; its a weary kind of glow that brings you down, makes you feel powerless and oppressed. Tungstan lamps and Halogen CSI flash battled to keep the gruesome diorama well lit.
He almost didn’t see the homeless guy approaching.
His speech was layered with eastern block K’s and I’s. He said he wanted to help, and Nick started the blow off speech but got a look into oder mans eyes; they were frozen with something honest Nick rarely saw in his daily life, a kind of resolution that reminded him of a well tuned engine; steady, relentless, and low, it was something you couldn’t stop. And honestly, with this guy you wouldn’t want to. The proposition was simple enough: when things dont add up, I can help. Okay then.
Chester and Nick crossed the yellow tape that hugged every sad story he had been in. A cursory glance told him what he needed to know; the cop was shot at close range, with a silencer, custom shells and then executed once he was down. A professional job, and in their research, those who took place in the Danse Macabre rarely used guns.
Guys like them, however…
It wasn’t the cop that made the story murky, or the organization who had thrust a pistol into Nicholas’s hand’s and explained to him his undying debt, inherited from crimes he was not alive to commit. It was the blood.
Gallons of it, splashed about the ally like a macabre Jackson Pollock, but it was not blood of men. It was oily, thick and viscousness. CSI guessed and Chester confirmed; it was aging rapidly, turning into dust, like blood from a corps.
The homeless guy smiled when they went back to him.
‘Vampires.’ they all thought at once, but it was Mykhail who said it in his gruff slovak-english.
He had met Dane the night before, and the aging hunter had told him exactly this; there would be a crime, and that an FBI agent would show up, possibly with another hunter. They would be in the game, and t was his job to bring them to Dane the next day at his base of operations.
Chester finished the summery tests on the blood that night, and the science gave him gaps that could only be filled with the power if undeath. They also got a name, someone who was supposedly in the club when it was locked down, but who had disappeared: ‘Eric Stetzer. What he knew, they guessed, was vital.
Sleep gave them respite from the waking terror of life.
The next day, they all met at the chapel and Mykhail led them to a warehouse on Statum on the lower east side by the water. It was a sleepy storage for offloaded water freight, the kind of stuff that comes down and sits for months while supliers run dry and paperwork is lost, found and re-issued.
They found the warehouse that Dane gave them.
It was ablaze, the flames white hot fingers licking the sky like a dragons tongue. Nick liaised with the firemen there, and they presented him with a single piece of evidence; a silver stake that had been left on the front door. The hilt was a screw top, and inside Nicholas found a key that fit a locker at grand central station.
Meanwhile, Mykhail was snooping around the waterfront, weaving between tall cranes and monolithic freight container stacks that towered above them like idols to the free market. At the waters edge, the caser broke. A single .45 caliber shell, unspent, lay not an inch from the murky bay. WHen he looked, Mykhail saw that just meters bellow the surface, a shipping container had been submerged. When the vagrant, unheeding the rancid smell of the polluted wet that looked like water dove in to investigate, he found that it was newly placed, ad welded shut; recently.
After some work, they got the port authority workers to haul the container up, and then use a cutting saw to dislodge the hingest from the heavy steel walls. Nicholas asked them not to look in, and they obliged as a genetic fear pricked at the hair on their necks; seldom were good thing found in sealed, hidden tombs.
This was no exception.
Inside were guns, military grade and in absolute abundance. Also, ask and soot, some papers not fully burned. But that wasn’t what stung the nostrils and stirred the bile in their stomachs; it was the corpses, the wet fluid and the old bones.
They looked newly dead, but they gave off a powerful reek of something rotten and decomposing. In the corner, a fire trap inside O2 tanks lay unused, having failed to ignite its second and 3rd load, the weapons and the bodies had not been immolated in the chemical blaze. When the sun hit them, the dark bones withered to dust
Mykhail snooped around and searched for clues while Nicholas cleared the area and Chester went to get the car; they had to hide the bodies, and quick. As he examined the stash, the Ukrainian failed to notice movement behind him as the dead body filled with a powerful hunger that drove even its soulless frame. It was on him suddenly, a feeble attempt of a weak or dying thing; a last gasp of hatred before the churning maw of oblivion.
But the Slav was a fighter unmatched with his powerful fists, and he delivered blow after blow to the fragile frame. Skin split and organs exploded; thick, putrid liquids gushed out with black blood that stug with the twang of rotten eggs ten times over. It covered his face and his chest, chocking the air out of him. But blood was blood, and years of darkness had him ready as he forced his fear down someplace safe, someplace alone.
A shot rang out, and Nicholas, his face horro stricken felled the thing once and for all.
They moved swiftly then, as Mykhail readied the unused O2 tanks, Chester prepared to make way to grand central. Nicholas placed a call about the container, asked for a bomb squad, and the fiend surprise when the O2 tanks exploded through the communiqué. He stayed to wrap things up for the police with a black bow that had ‘gangland’ written all over it. Chester and Mykhail went to the locker.
Inside, they found files from Dane, coded to an unknown team. It was the motherload. Members of secret cults and organizations, information locations and leverage, as well as known Vampires, lycanthropes and changelings; even haunted places that dripped with animus. The key to Danes cell, and the who’s who of New York players of the Danse Macabre. They all convened at Chesters, where the brilliant scientist poured over the documents, thirsty for knowledge.
After they had some food, they decided to pay Eric’s home a visit.
His house was shut tight, and no answer came at the door. Mykhail climbed the fire escape to see into the luxery loft. The scene was par for the course. When they had the door open after Nicholas used his badge to get the key, they saw the gruesome display.
Eric’s eyes were wide open and had terror carved into them like stone. His boyish face looked preverse and sick with dried blood flecked over them. Claret pooled sickly in a neat circle around his young form.
But this was not the work of savage demons or soulless bodies, thirty for the sweet liquid wasted. Two in the chest, one in the head. A clean kill from a human weapon, and while it was certainly not unheard of for Vampires and their ilk to use the weapon of men against them, and often in a deception, this smelled of a silencing; the only way to keep a secret forever.
More questions now than answers; Who has the boy been? How was he caught up in this dark ballet? Were Vampires burned? Men? And where did Dane Southerland and his mysterious boss Victor Cross fit into the mold? The sun sank bloody behind steel canyons, as if it could not take the day any longer. It was far, but they had to see it.
That night, they went to Taxer ridge.
There, outside of the city, they found the modified SUV and the scorched tombstones. Yellow police tape sucked every amount of light and tried to flash it’s warning through the country night, flapping softly in the wet breeze. An eerie calm permitted the scene, and although the prevailing theory was that Vampires were killed here as minions of an encroaching darkness, the mist that rose around the graveyard seemed like a poison to humanity. With few questions answered, the trio left the ridge, and headed to the adress Nicholas had traced from a call in Eric’s phone.
Same story, same careful routing. Chester had taken samples at the grave sight and sent them for analysis, and they all crowded now around miss Chapman’s door. Mykhail was the first through, and his blood was starting to rise in his chiseled eastern European face. The case had questions but then they found answers, more mystery seemed to sprout around them like living vines, twisting around the truth and groping at their feet. It felt like they were being slowed, hampered in some way, kept in the dark.
He saw the figure step back from the door, and his anger, his impatients and his pure intent turned at once to rage. He charged through the door like a front blasting into a city, at once everywhere, swinging his alumina bat the the head of a small, severely dressed male. His capped his knee, and the bone broke with a sickening crunch; sinew and bone tearing beneath Mykhail strength.
Nicholas care in screaming federal niceties, and pointing the aged weapon at the heart of the man. No words were exchanged. The stranger lept, and took a 9mm Para round in the chest, but seemed not to notice.
Cold fear started to freeze into their extremities, threatening to take hold of their movements as Chester brandished his own weapon purloined from the crate they found what seemed like weeks ago. But they were men of reason, men of atonement and men of rage; they did not let the dread take hold, as their resolve melted it away hotly.
Mykhail moved first, swiftly attacking, but the speed of the stranger was intense, and he knocked him aside with inhuman strength. But with three around him, his focus was split, and he was still shocked from their intrusion. It gave the Ukrainian his opening as he arced the bat in a wide loop around the assailants head. The back of his skull cracked, the the wet scent of fresh blood twanged the room. Another jab, another painful bash. Chester aimed and readied himself, while Nicholas fired once more.
This time, he caught the creature between t he eyes. The wet dent creased, and then exploded outward; the damaged bone and tissue ripping wider than they should have. Black blood and pink bain matter splattered across the wall like sunlight through trees, covering the small room in dripping chunks of gore.
The European saw his chance. He wrenched free the silver stake, still smooth and clean from his belt, and rammed it into his chest. The created blocked, still stunned, and it didn’t pierce the ribs. But the second try hammered home, and a wale like the anguish of Angels ripped through their minds and their hearts; but only for a moment. Soon, if faded even as Mykhail turned the things face into a black ruin of bone, blood and sinew. Teeth cut through his cheeks and he slammed his foot on the shattered jaw, its tongue lolled out of a hole in its neck and a fount of bile and gore bubbled wet with slick saliva.
The motion stopped. For an instant, time stood still and the three grasped the reality of their situation; but adrenaline and force of will buried any bout swiftly; this was what they did now, this was their burden. as Mykhail and Chester coverd the body with sheets and down, Nicholas took charge, calming the residence in the hall way. Chester and Nick stayed behind as Mykhail snuck the corpse out the fire escape and into the car.
He waited as police and SWAT arrived across the street, and prayed. Then, he saw a tac clad SWAT officer approach him, and he grasped his bat, hoping to avoid a true sin. Then, the man wrenched off the helmet, and the impassable face of Dane Southerland started back.
He explained a bit, but not much; he was cleaning house, he had a traitor in his midst, etc. He wanted to meet them all the next day, at the church, and Mykhail promised to make the arrangements. They parted company.
Exausted, Nicholas stayed on Chesters couch that night after a lengthy deception for the police. It all fit well, the whole thing, guns, murders, old blood as a significant sign, and a warehouse (possibly drugs?) set ablaze. This was mob war that could be tacked onto a nearly endless list of offenses committed by the obdurate organizations. The DA splashed the news and the papers with the dead, and with crying moms and sisters. Sleep felt good.
Mykhail would not sleep that night, but would watch the blood sucker all night; tormenting him and speaking to him of the sin he was soaked in. Even paralyzed by Apollo’s Bow, the presence of the crucifix made the thing writhe, and red tears streamed from his face.
Dawn brought divine fire, and the blaze extinguished yet another soulless malice from the world of mortal men.
The three convened later that day, and a glossy eyed Southerland met them. He offered little enough explanation, but thanked them in his way. He was clearly an aging man, but Mykhail had always been surprised how young he looked; aside from his white hair and crows feet, he looked no more than 30. But now the years hung heavy on his frame; his skin looked brused and scared, and his eyes sagged in their sockets. Light did not seem to reflect in them.
He offered them a job; six months of taking his orders, gaining knowledge of what he called the grand conspiracy, and they would each receive $500,000 dollars. He spoke the worlds as if he were talking through a phone; his voice booming with confidence but the dead look in those dark eyes betrayed his detachment, as if this was just another job interview.
He left swiftly, promising to answer more questions when they convened again. They all stood in the church parking lot, the most unlikely of a team. An underpaid FBI analist with a murky past, a brilliant and inquisitive geneticist with a quick wit and a wandering warrior that called no place home.
It is said the evils draw men together, and no place is it more true than here; they were bonded now, like soldiers in a war, by a world that escaped them most of their live. What mysteries did it hold? what danger?
As Dane walked haltingly away, they all stood and watched the old soul that wore sorrow like a cloak somehow turn the bright morning air into a wet chill and darken even the house of the Lord.