“Was it a big beast? With sharp cruel fangs?” –Gaston, Beauty and the Beast
I drove into New York and parked at the Waldorf Astoria.
I had a standing arrangement with the management. They watched my car, kept a room on standby for me and I got to hope I would actually sleep there.
It hadn’t happened yet.
The Agency paid for it whether I managed to stay or not. I had hoped this time in the City that Never Slept I might get to enjoy the five hundred thread count sheets reputed to be used there.
New York hadn’t changed much since my last trip. The lights were a bit brighter, the streets a bit cleaner, I could still feel the innate underlying hostility of the city, especially at night. Everyone moved with their mental and emotional armor at the ready. But even with that said, people laughed, and talked as if it were the most natural thing in the world to be on the streets at ten in the evening. Their energy was infectious and I found myself floating along the Undertide of the city.
It was quieter on Park Avenue than I remembered, taxis waited patiently at the lights without blowing their horns. I had heard there had been a kindness campaign some years ago and it appeared the lessons stuck. Even without the horns it was still loud, the streets crowded and filled with energy. I could see the living, the dead, the near-living and mostly-dead mingling, often knowingly, heading to Broadway, or Times Square or to 42nd Street.
New York was truly the ultimate melting pot. People from all over the world found their way to its confines, sharing the city, fighting over it, loving it, hating it, but never leaving it for long. The citizens of the Second World felt the same way, drawn by an unknown magic, they came here seeking their fortune no matter what shard realm they originally called home. New York was a cynosure, a realm unto itself, where no one magic held sway and thus everyone was equally capable of being all they could be.
Strangely enough, this made for a relatively quiet city since you never knew who anyone was or who they knew or what they could do. And that was okay with me; a kind of Wild West mentality, everyone was potentially armed and unfailingly polite. I put a call in for Manny as soon as I got into the city and expected him to meet me at the Waldorf.
He showed up as I was leaving my keys with the valet.
His private taxi pulled up as the young valet with an acne problem roared away, just a bit too fast in the black Corvette assigned to me by the Agency. Normally, if it had been my car, I might be upset but after my last few weeks, my attitude was just a bit more laissez-faire and able to appreciate his enjoyment of being behind the wheel of a classic.
As I dropped a fifty into the hands of the valet captain, I reminded him of our standard arrangement and encouraged him to have that young man drive the car to me if I called for it. He smiled and said it would be done.
“Cliff!” came the voice of my brother from another mother, Manny. He was tall and strong with well-kept dreads which fell over his left eye. His brown face only highlighted his bright smile and nearly perfect teeth. The eye was also covered by a simple and barely noticeable patch which vanished into the forest of locks that decorated his head. He wore a chauffeur’s outfit up to and including black gloves, a snug but fitting jacket and well cared for rubber soled shoes.
He was dressed for our kind of work.
He acted as my guide, ally and occasional lifesaver whenever I visited the Big Apple. I used to try and drive in New York but without a native’s sense of how to get around, I spent more time sitting in traffic than investigating anything.
“Manny, good to see you. Did you get my texts?”
Irrepressible, even in the face of imminent doom, he just laughed, “Yep, the usual end of life as we know it. We still need to get a bite to eat before we head downtown.”
“Not that place you took me last time?” Manny had peculiar tastes in restaurants including a variety of Second World dives.
“What’s wrong with the Palace?” He looked a bit hurt.
Nothing if you don’t mind Vampires staring at you while you eat. “You caused a scene, picked a fight and nearly got us killed by a group of hostile vampire thralls. Otherwise the food was great. Maybe we can find someplace where the diners aren’t hoping for fast food carved from the guest list.”
“You, sir, have no appreciation for good food. A good meal is worth fighting for.”
Manny opened the trunk and helped me move my bags. I was not surprised by what I saw there. His trunk was a arsenal of Second World death dealing. As usual, he came loaded for bear or anything else the Second World might offer. Manny and I had worked together for a decade or more, sometimes it was hard to keep track.
He put my bags in the trunk and gave me a hug before offering me my choice of armaments. I waved him away with my cane and his knowing glance let me know he understood we weren’t there yet. But the evening was still young.
Heading into traffic, he focused on the road while I looked at how much he had aged since I saw him last. Travel had me here two or three times in any given year, but it had been a while since I’d been back. I thought back to when I first met him all those years ago.
We met during an operation where he was one of a group of humans destined to become food for a group of rogue vampires.
He was probably fifteen at the time and had lost his entire family to these vamps. The Red Watch, the primary Master Vampires in the New World frowned on renegades and hired me to find and reveal their location to them for extermination. I was informed they were dangerous and planning on attempting a local coup, but because of an arrangement with other Second Worlders they could not move openly against them. So they hired me to find them and once found, a covert strike squad would be dispatched.
Their leader, Jericho Privitee, a former member of the Red Watch Council, with funding from the Old World Families had planned to blackmail the leaders of the Watch with a list of their indiscretions to their Vatican Masters. As I later learned, the local Red Watch had a goal of controlling all of the Second World groups under one banner, their banner. This would give them unprecedented power with so many diverse groups working together.
The Agency sent me not only to resolve the issue but to put a cap on the consolidation and prevent it from happening. Only the death of Privitee would send the right message.
No one counted on Privitee being as charismatic an individual as he was. He managed to get a large number of the unaffiliated vampires into his camp. In a city the size of New York it was hard to keep tabs on every single vampire, so his army was much larger than anyone expected. He also managed to acquire the support of several other Second Worlders including the fierce but diminutive Redcaps, flesh-rending ghouls who kept to the sewers and fed upon the hapless who stumbled upon their lairs, and rakshasas who disconnected from their own clans and were eager to work with anyone who promised them the opportunity to feast freely on souls in New York.
One of the disadvantages of working with such diverse groups was the inherent difficulty in keeping them under wraps. They left a trail that led me to their headquarters in an abandoned section of the subway using the sewer systems as a freeway for their operations.
I wasn’t sure if it was just plain luck that I found their pantry before I ran into too many of them. I released their victims and was trying to lead them back above ground before we were caught. But catching us, only ensured they were standing still when the Red Watch sprung their trap.
The ensuing battle was fierce but brief. Privitee died at the hands of the leader of the assault team, a young and ambitious vampire named Albrecht. Less than two hundred, he had waited patiently for an opportunity to rise through the ranks and Privitee’s death would give him the chance he had waited for.
I and the escapees were forced to participate in the battle and had stayed close to each other during the fight. I liberated weapons from the dead and passed them out and fought with the escapees trying to get above ground. Young Manny who was only too eager to take a shotgun loaded with vampire-killing loads waded hip deep into the conflict. He carved a swath through their lines so devastating even the Red Watch was stunned. Once the rebels had been put down, the Red Watch surrounded our group, melting out of shadows as we neared the final subway junction before reaching the streets.
Albrecht appeared uncomfortably close and shimmered, lit only by the pale lighting of the tunnels. His vampiric smile spoke of unfinished business.
“Agent Engram, we appreciate your help on this mission and the traitor and his scion have been put to death.” This sounded good so far. Then he went on. “Too many of these who remain could reveal our existence and numbers to the human authorities. We cannot allow them to live.” In the dark with nothing but his eyes and fangs glittering, his bloodlust was clear to me.
“They don’t know anything and you could glamour them so they would forget anything you didn’t want revealed. This isn’t my first rodeo. I know exactly what you’re capable of.”
“Glamours can be undone, magic can penetrate our obfuscations. There is only one way to truly be safe.” The remaining thirty humans captured from the lair of the rebels were surrounded by the Red Watch’s assault squad in their trademarked red leather outfits. Albrecht raised his hand and without any hesitation, the Red Watch fed upon those whom I had rescued and assured of a return to their lives.
Albrecht moved forward to kill young Manny. Manny’s response was to fire upon Albrecht but the empty click of the shotgun was the only reward for his bravery. I stood in front of Manny and waited for Albrecht to attack. My reputation preceded me as one of the Agency’s top operatives so he was unsure of what his play should be. “Step away from the boy and we can call an end to this unsightly event. Your Agency has been suitably paid and you compensated for your fine work in discovering the rebels. Why would you risk my wrath protecting that scrap of a human.”
“I could give a damn about your wrath.” I smiled as I heard Manny reloading the shotgun from the belt of shotgun shells he took from one of the rebels. Gotta admire his survival instincts. “I told the boy he would be safe and he will be. You will get out of my way and you will do it now. We are leaving here and you will never seek him out again. Am I clear?”
“You are but a human yourself. Do you think you could stand against the might of the Red Watch, the most powerful vampires in the world? So powerful we control the Vatican itself?” Albrecht’s voice had the sound of hysteria as if he were trying to psych himself up to attack an Agency operative. Not a standard procedure but if he won, he could tell them anything he wanted.
I’m done with this idiot. This was out of hand. “Have you ever heard of the Accursed, Albrecht?”
All of the vampires who had finished dining upon their victims had been slowly edging forward, encircling Manny and I. Manny stood ready to acquit himself if necessary.
It wouldn’t be.
At the mention of the Accursed, all the vampires stopped moving. Their faces covered in blood, teeth shining in the low light of the sewers. Still twitching corpses lay dying behind them.
“A myth, something to scare Humans and children of the Second Worlds. They aren’t real.” Albrecht’s confidence was shaken. But he seemed resolved to his mission.
I turned to look at Manny, “I want you to put that shotgun down. And don’t pick it up again. I want you to close your eyes, and don’t open them until I tell you to, no matter what you hear. Do you understand?” I kissed him on the forehead and he put the shotgun down. The vampires edged closer. “Stay down.”
“Anyone who doesn’t want to be dead should leave now.” Two of the vampires dropped their victims and sped away into the darkness without a sound.
I rolled up my right sleeve exposing the marks which held Fenrir bound to me. They were already glowing their trademark blue. The vampires didn’t run. “Now, Manny. It’ll be over in a moment. Keep your eyes closed.”
Albrecht drew his sword, a nice custom piece, balanced, with a short handle, a one-handed weapon. He charged me, blurring with vampiric speed. I raised my hand and put it in front of me as the runes which surrounded my flesh sprung to life. My shirt and jacket exploded from me and the runes, sigils and markings lit up across my arm, across my chest and back.
He pierced my outstretched hand, driving his blade all the way to the hilt. A short weapon, it stopped just shy of my throat. It wouldn’t have mattered. I was not alone.
“All that looks at thee is thine, Fenrir, Wolf of Legend. You may feast upon the souls of all who have died here, though a poor feast it will be, shriveled husks of men.” Albrecht tried to remove the blade but it held fast as I closed my hand about the handle. My strength magnified, Fenrir filled me with his boundless power, his ceaseless rage at being imprisoned in me and he sprung forth a dark wind, absorbing the souls of everyone in the room except Albrecht and Manny. The vampires rushed toward me in an effort to try and kill me before my power could claim them.
They never had a chance. Their damned souls served as beacons to the evil that was Fenrir. Several of them managed to lay claws or fangs upon me but in the seconds of touching me they fell away screaming as Fenrir consumed them. Painfully.
It was several minutes of terrified screaming before the room grew quiet again. Albrecht, Manny and I were the only living things left. My arm burning with blue-black light slowly dimmed as I drew the sword from my flesh. The injury closed behind the sword but the bites and claw marks from the other attacks didn’t heal.
I looked to Manny and saw blood leaking from one of his eyes. Nothing to be done for that now. I took my hand that was slowly cooling and pressed my fingertip into the leaking socket. Manny screamed and fell instantly to sleep.
Albrecht looked at me, trembling. “That is the nature of the Accursed. You live only because I would hate to explain to your very influential father who hired me, that you were too stupid not to accost one of the Accursed. You can tell him the rebels having fed were more dangerous and desperate than you knew. Your entire cabal fell to them and only with my help were you able to escape. Do you understand?”
Albrecht nodded, looking around at the smoking piles of his former friends and their tragic victims. I handed him back his sword and looked at Manny’s eye. He had peeked. The only reason Fenrir didn’t kill him was because I kissed him. That eye would never heal to its former ability but in its place I had left him something to remember this night. It was a hard lesson.
One he wouldn’t easily forget.
Albrecht slunk away vanishing in the style common to vampires and I carried Manny to the street, my arms and legs trembling from the exertion of forcing Fenrir back into his cage.
Fenrir, demon wolf, drinker of blood, killer of gods, bound within my black sigils howled, sated for a time.
I sat at the top of the subway stairs with the unconscious manchild and counted the stars till the trembling stopped.
Motus Vita © Thaddeus Howze 2013, All Rights Reserved