Daniel woke up with a start. He jerked and twisted around, and almost had his knife out before he remembered where he was. The Library. He grunted, then rubbed his face — his eyes and mouth felt gummy — and looked at the person who’d woken him.
“How long was I out?” Daniel asked, and it actually took effort not to sound like a cranky old man. Jesus, I’m stiff everywhere.
“A while, man,” the kid answered. He really was a kid — just a teenager, Daniel guessed. He had dark skin and extremely short, black hair. He wore a polo shirt and a faded pair of jeans. His name tag read ‘Jeremy’ accross the top and ‘Volunteer’ under that.
He’d been the only ‘librarian’ Daniel had been able to recruit for his research project. In retrospect, Daniel had to admit that wasn’t much of a surprise. He suspected many of the full time employees had been more concerned about what he’d do to the books than anything else when he’d stumbled in looking like the cast-off refuse of society. “I would’ve let you keep at it, too, but the place is closing in ten.”
Daniel nodded and stood. He didn’t just feel stiff: he was sore everywhere, too. He used to be able to catch z’s in worse places than a chair without feeling like hell afterward, which actually bothered him more than the feeling stiff and sore itself. It wasn’t that much of a surprise that he had passed out — it wasn’t like he’d been getting good sleep for the past few weeks, or any last night — but when he’d been younger, pulling a few all-nighters to recon the enemy hadn’t been a big deal, dammit. Now he just felt irritable — and, pathetically, like he wanted another nap. “Then I suppose I should clear out,” Daniel said. He took care to keep his personal annoyance from spilling out in his tone. Jeremy hadn’t done anything to deserve being snapped at, after all, and having to deal with a cantankerous CO was always bad for morale. “Any way I can reserve these books for a day? I’ll come back tomorrow with a card.” His cousin’s card, to be specific. And maybe a shave and a change of clothes, to help not scare the public employees.
“Yeah,” said Jeremy. “No prob. We can stack them behind the circulation desk. I’ll just put a sticky note with ’em, if that works? They have me do the shelving, so even if they end up on the cart I can leave ’em until last. Oh, and I found a couple more snippets while you were dozing,” Jeremy added. He gave Daniel a couple of index cards. On them in short, crabbed script was a list of titles, page numbers and notes.
Daniel skimmed over them and then looked back up at the kid. “Thanks,” he said — and he meant it. Knowing that someone had kept doing the research even though he’d dozed off did a lot to make up for his frustration. “And for all the rest of your help today.”
“Eh,” said the kid. “I don’t mind. And, frankly man, you look and smell like a recently drowned hobo. I know you didn’t actually come out of the river, but… Phew. I’m pretty sure no one wanted you wandering around scaring the patrons, so I don’t think anyone’s gonna protest that I got to play gopher and read all day. Which is a hell of a lot better than shelving.”
Daniel chuckled. “I suppose libraries are more entertaining when you’re taking books off the shelves rather than putting them on.”
Jeremy grinned in response. “Yeah, there is that. It wouldn’t be so bad if I could actually read some of the shit I put up. But most of the time? Yawn fest.” He started stacking the books together while Daniel rolled his neck to pop a few kinks and got to his own feet.
Once Daniel had slung his backpack over his shoulders again Jeremy looked up from the stack of books. “So, anyway,” the kid said. “This is awkward, but… look, if you need a place to stay, my friend Benny’s uncle is a pastor near here. The church has some cots down in the basement for when people have no where else to crash, right? I mean, it’s been raining like crazy all day and I get why you came in to keep dry, but you shouldn’t have to go back out there just because this place is closing, man. I can walk you to the church — it’s not that far out of my way home. And Benny’s uncle is a pretty cool dude, even if he sometimes quotes his own sermons at you.”
The offer startled Daniel, and he turned to Jeremy while he thought it over. A church? Might make a good base of operations. Some of the books implied that religious sanctuaries could keep supernatural beings at bay. And it would keep his own family out of the line of fire…
…but only by putting an entire community at risk. “No,” Daniel said. “Thanks for the offer, but I’ll be making my way to my cousin’s tonight.” He chuckled self-deprecatingly. “Yeah, it’s pretty obvious I’ve been going through a rough patch — but that’s about to turn around, no fear there.”
Jeremy shrugged. “Alright,” he said. He picked up a heavy stack of books, leaving a handful for Daniel to manage. “Your call, man. When you come by tomorrow, let me know how it works out, alright?”
Daniel nodded. It amused him, on a certain level, that the conscientious young man was trying to look out for him. After he’d spent decades of his life fighting on behalf of the well-being of civilians, it was an unexpected moment of turnabout. He chuckled at his own thoughts. When exactly had he upgraded Jeremy from ‘kid,’ anyway?
Daniel was the last patron out of the library. After leaving his stash of books behind the circulation desk, he and Jeremy walked out together. The sky was already dark — night came early this time of year — and largely overcast, but the rain at least had stopped. Jeremy started walking one direction. Daniel picked another — not because it was the direction of his cousin’s house, but because he didn’t want anything that might be following him to set its sights on Jeremy, too.
Daniel’s caution was validated in mere minutes.
As always, Daniel had moved quickly, sticking to places with available cover and away from anything he identified as a potential faerie hideout. He didn’t have that itch in the back of his spine, like when the fae had stalked him earlier that day — but something else was setting his senses tingling with alarm. It was too damn quiet. He ducked into an alley and cut through it to avoid an intersection. And that’s when the two figures flowed out of the shadows to intercept him.
Both were humanoid. One was huge — at least as tall as the troll Daniel had fought earlier, but not as wide. The other was shorter and stocky, but still big enough to make Daniel cautious. He couldn’t pick out much else in the way of details. Why is night vision always the first to go? he thought grumpily while reaching back for his knife.
The shorter figure spoke, but not to Daniel. “Is this him?” he asked his taller companion. His voice was soft and quiet — almost clinical. There was none of the blatant hostility and intimidation Daniel had heard from the troll, and for some reason that made this opponent even more chilling. The troll had tried to make their fight personal, and had made mistakes because of it. For this fae, it was all business.
“Yes,” the larger one said. If anything, his voice was worse. It had a thick accent, but under that Daniel heard the hopelessness of someone who had given up caring — a fatalism he’d seen too often in young men pushed too far by circumstances out of their control in a war zone. “He was the only other person under that bridge, but Abigail never touched him.”
At the sound of his angel’s name, Daniel straightened. He’d drawn his knife and held it at his side, at the ready. “What’s this about, then?” he asked. Daniel wasn’t slow. “Are you Hans?” he asked, putting Abigail’s description together with the big man’s size and accent. “What happened to her?” Daniel demanded — if that was Abigail’s werewolf boyfriend, something had to be seriously wrong for him to sound like that.
The shorter figure sighed. “How unfortunate. We found him here: collapsed, clearly from aura depletion. It seems she is out of control, after all, and unsuitable for the Center to recruit. And Hans, you will not speak of this other than to validate my account of events, understood?”
Something passed between the two men — something Daniel might not have noticed if he hadn’t had his eyes opened so recently to the existence of magic. Something told him the bigger man wouldn’t have a choice in the matter.
“Yes,” Hans said. His shoulders sagged.
Daniel started to back away — he slipped into a ready stance as he did, bringing his knife up between himself and the shorter man, on guard. Whatever happened, it’s really fucking bad, he thought. Shit, if that is Hans then is that other guy even a faerie? Does she have more people after her than just Archarel?
Then the smaller man vanished.
No, he just moved too fast for Daniel to see.
Daniel was used to the chaos of an active war zone. He’d survived ambushes, snipers, booby traps, mortar fire and more firefights than he’d ever bothered to count. When the man disappeared, Daniel didn’t waste time looking for where he went — Daniel just threw himself toward cover. Likewise, when the stranger reappeared next to him an instant later, Daniel didn’t wonder how he had gotten there. He reacted just as he would if an entirely new opponent had lunged at him from out of hiding.
Daniel had a fist full of the man’s suit jacket and was slashing his knife into him before he even thought about how he was reacting — before he even noticed that the man was wearing a suit, and glasses, and had a bushy beard — before he picked out any details other than enemy, here, now.
It wasn’t fast enough.
A hand caught each of Daniel’s wrists, but the one hand around Daniel’s arm with the knife squeezed closed with crushing force — literally. Pain shot through Daniel and his knife tumbled to the ground as his radius and ulna were snapped under the force of the other man’s grip. Daniel roared and stepped forward anyway, lashing out with a knee. The man twisted though, deflecting the blow — but Daniel wasn’t done. He headbutted the man with all his strength. Their skulls cracked together, and the bearded man stumbled back in surprise.
But he didn’t let go. Instead, his opponent used his grip on Daniel’s good arm to catch his balance — and then he wrenched it around, twisting it effortlessly in ways the human body wasn’t meant to go. Daniel screamed hoarsely as his elbow — and then shoulder — dislocated. Then his enemy, smiling, heaved Daniel effortlessly into the alley wall.
Daniel hit it hard, even with his backpack to cushion the blow. He sagged down. Between the pain in both his arms, and the throbbing ache in his head and the darkness of the alleyway, he could barely see. Gotta move, he told himself. Shit, this is bad. An attempt to get up sent waves of agony through Daniel’s body from his dislocated joints, and he collapsed before he even started to rise. His vision swam. Gotta move, his survival instincts screamed at him through the throbbing pain and blurred awareness. Shit: he’d lost track of the guy again.
He didn’t get to move.
The bearded man reappeared in front of Daniel, kneeling over him. He seized Daniel’s shoulders and shoved him back into the wall, holding him in place. Daniel blinked, trying to marshal himself to do something, anything.
But before he could, Lewellan’s fangs tore open his throat.
When Lewellan rose again, Daniel’s wounds were closed — all of them, including the one to his neck. The Director was an experienced vampire, and hadn’t left any blood to stain the homeless man’s clothing, either. Daniel’s chest rose and fell slowly — he was still alive, though that wouldn’t last. He certainly wasn’t conscious anymore — Lewellan hadn’t left him enough of an aura to have a consciousness, let alone motivation to do anything. Despite being perfectly healthy, “Abigail’s” most recent victim was comatose.
Lewellan fished his phone out of his jacket pocket and hit the first number on his speed dial. “Adrian,” he said when the call connected. “We’ll need the car. We found the poor man Abigail mentioned hunting this morning. Yes. Yes, collapsed. Aura depletion, if I don’t miss my guess — but we’ll take him back to the house so that the local coven mistress can confirm my diagnosis. No, I don’t think he’ll make it. He seems too far gone, to me. Abigail was not gentle — the man’s soul is shredded. Who knows how long he’s been lying here without recovering? I’m dubious that he will survive even until we get to the house. Yes, I’ll file the report with the Center once Linda confirms the inevitable cause of death. By the library, the Market Street branch.”
Lewellan paced while he talked. “Oh, and Adrian” he added — almost as an afterthought, “contact the hunting parties. This confirms that Abigail has gone feral with blood lust. Yes, mandatory interment. But also: she will be more powerful than they might expect. This man’s death explains her bloated aura, which she must have depleted severely to break my geas and elude you. However, since she is so careless with lives then she is likely to have taken even more since fleeing this morning. We already know she is unstable and a compulsive liar. So no chances: I don’t want anyone playing at being a hero by trying to negotiate a surrender — even if it seems to work, she can’t be trusted. Tell them that comes directly from me. Yes, the order is to kill on sight. Yes.”
There was a brief pause, during which Lewellan shared a smile with Hans — as though the two of them shared an entertaining secret. Hans looked away, but otherwise didn’t move. Lewellan turned his attention back to his phone call.
“No, I don’t think he’ll be missed, so that at least is fortunate,” the Director said. “Yes,” he responded to his assistant’s reply — followed by a grim chuckle. “No.” A brief pause followed, and then a more heartfelt chuckle. “No, I realize that the rain has been difficult on you and your brothers — no, there’s no reason to let this man’s eventual death be in waste. I’ll see to it that the corpse is preserved when he finally passes on. Goodbye.”
Lewellan hung up and slipped his phone back into his pocket. Then he turned to Hans. “Keep an eye on the body,” he ordered — adding some additional reinforcement to the geases he’d layered on Hans as he did. He had plenty of life force now, after all. “Don’t let anyone come this way unless I accompany them. I’ll wait for Adrian by the street.”
Hans nodded. He couldn’t do anything else.
Lewellan took a deep breath of the cool night air and tucked his hands into his pockets. Then, smiling to himself, he strode out of the alley to await the arrival of his assistant.