DARK FORCES

"Kastaga"

Higgins stared about the room in dismay. Blood and bits of flesh and bone were strewn through out the apartment like a giant paintbrush had thrown it there. There was absolutely no way to traverse the room without stepping on or into something that had once been human. The stench only added to the sickening horror of the scene, it was worse than anything Higgins could recall, and he was sure that there was more to the smell than just the grisly remains.

Making his way carefully across the room, glad that most of the echor was basically dry, Higgins joined the Medical Examiner, Avery Nolan, as he scrapped something up from the floor. Avery had been doing this sort of work for longer than Higgins had been alive, and had helped the detective break some rather nasty cases, but Higgins doubted that Nolan had ever seen anything this bad.

As Nolan rose from his kneeling position, a small collection of things could now be seen lying on the floor. A skull, a leather-bound book, a few candles, and several bowls of unknown substances sat in the center of a neatly drawn pentagram. The strange thing that Higgins noticed right away was that none of the items setting within the pentagram had a single drop of blood on them. Even the floor within the circle was free of any splattering whatsoever.

Nolan turned and held up a plastic baggie, containing a thin, red lump, before Higgins' face.

"Okay," muttered Higgins after peering into the bag, "I give up. What is it?"

"Part of his thumb."

"Huh."

"The important part, the part with the print."

"How do you know it was a he?"

"Found one of his testicles."

Higgins bit down the choking feeling that was building in the back of his throat.

"Actually, Wyzik found it" continued Nolan. "Fell on his ass after stepping on it, but it gave us some needed information."

"Just one?"

"So far. Wyzik's been in the bathroom ever since. Damn, rookies."

"Any idea what could have done this?"

"Yeah, a six-foot tall blender. Jesus, Higgs, what am I a crystal ball? I don't know of anything that could do this to a person," said Nolan, his voice nearly dropping to a whisper as he finished.

"What's up, Avery?"

The M.E. gave Higgins a puzzled innocence look.

"Come on, Old Man. We've worked together long enough for me to know that when you trail off like that, that something's wrong."

Avery looked about the room then leaned in close to Higgins and said, "I think…. I think something like this happened before."

"When?"

"I can't remember exactly. It was back when I was in med school, and that was a long time ago."

Higgins bent down to study the pentagram and its contents. Picking up the book, he turned it over in his hands. He had been wrong in his first impression; it was not leather bound. It was skin, ancient and blood brown.

A chill ran through him.

"Strange, isn't it?" noted Nolan of the pentagram. "See how the blood's thick around the outside edge of the circle? Almost like it ran down the side of something covering it. Like rain off a roof."

"Maybe whoever's responsible for this had something covering his little altar here."

"Maybe."

"What's wrong, Avery?"

"Something feels very wrong with this, Higgs." Nolan stared across the room and out the window of the third floor apartment. "There's a feeling a evil here."

Higgins laughed nervously.

"Nothing natural could do this, Higgs."

"Are you suggesting something unnatural?"

"Or supernatural."

Higgins held his peace, turning his attention back to the book he held in his hands. Despite the chill he continually felt in this room, the book seemed warm, almost as if pulsing with a life of its own. He studied the title, printed in dark red, a title in some strange language, and flipped through the book it.

The writing inside was in the same language as the title, written by hand, and with dark red, almost black, ink. The text was broken up by crude drawings, many of them showing gruesome scenes of torture and death, and Higgins felt something tighten in his stomach.

"Can't be positive without testing it, but it's my expert opinion that that ink…is blood."

Higgins placed the book back in its original position and waited for the lab team to finish taking their pictures. Until all of the evidence was cataloged and gathered up, there was not too much else he could do.

***

Robert Patterson stifled a curse as he climbed out of bed, having been awoken by some horrendous commotion that his dogs were making. Tightening his robe, Robert was half way across his spacious bedroom when he realized that his dogs were not barking, they were baying, almost as it they were screaming in terror.

"What the hell?" he whispered one of the dogs yelping out in pain and going silent. He wasn't sure, but he thought he had heard a wet snapping sound an instant before the dog became quiet. One of the dogs was still baying, but it was getting closer, apparently on the move towards his room.

Opening the door a crack to peer out, Robert let out a cry of surprise as the door slammed into him, his prize Doberman bolting into the room. Slamming the door shut, Patterson ran back to his nightstand and removed a .357 magnum that he kept there, just in case something like this was to happen.

Grabbing up the phone, he dialed 911 and waited for the connection to be made. There was no ringing, no automated answering service because New York's finest were too busy at the moment. There was only an empty silence, like that of a dead phone line.

Gypsy, the Doberman that had been cowering next to her master, suddenly rose up and began barking at the door. Robert could see a shadow at the base of the door and he leveled his gun at where he thought the intruder's chest would be.

Twenty-two years in the advertising business, clawing his way to the top, Robert Patterson had made few friends and many enemies. He had made shady deals, done many illegal things, and knew many things that he shouldn't. He had also learned that you don't give warning as to your intentions. He merely began squeezing the trigger, emptying all six rounds into, and through, the door.

There was no cry of pain, no scream of surprise. Hell, there wasn't even a thud of a dead body hitting the floor. Nothing but a bullet ridden door, and a shadow still spilling underneath it to show that the intruder was still standing there.

Maybe the guy had slumped forward and was leaning against the door. Yeah, thought Patterson, that has to be it.

Gypsy was shuffling from side to side, growling lowly, in-between whimpers, but no longer barking. That was a good sign, he thought, it had to mean that he had gotten whoever it was.

Robert started towards the door then froze as it did the impossible.

The center of the door bubbled inward, the sound of crackling wood filling the room as it continued to bend like no wood should be able to do. With a thunderous crashing sound the door suddenly exploded in a black cloud of dust and shards of wood.

Robert instinctively flinched back, bringing his arm up to cover his face, but the cloud of debris never reached him. Instead, the black cloud retreated back in on itself, the door reforming completely, and left a massive black shape within the room, resting at the edge of where the cloud had reached.

In the shadows of the room, Robert could make out little detail of what the thing was, only that it stood nearly seven feet tall and was split down the center by a dark seam. The seam split and spread apart to reveal that they were in fact massive wings attached to a thing of pure darkness.

"Oh, my God," whispered Robert, terror flooding his senses.

In a last act of loyalty to her master, Gypsy leapt at the creature and was gutted in one swipe of the thing's massive claw. The dog splattered across the far side of the room, its insides sprayed out like a flowing fountain of blood.

Robert did not register any of it; he was totally focused on the thing before him. He had read about it in somewhat ancient books, had seen its rendition, and knew what it was capable of and what it was used for. That knowledge did him no good for he had never believed that one would come after him, that he would cross someone powerful enough to summon one.

There would be no pleading for his life, no promises of retribution, only death.

Robert realized that a second before the thing moved on him.

***

Higgins finished tacking the newest set of pictures up on the board and stepped back to look at them. One Robert Patterson, 47, a top CEO with Clandestine Advertising, found…more than just dead…in his home early this morning. The only difference between the two sets of pictures was the location, there was no way to tell the victims apart, there just was not enough of them left for that.

The first victim, assumed to be Eric Himmel since it was his apartment, and, like Patterson's place, it had been completely locked up from the inside, had been a recent immigrant from Germany, supposedly here on a work exchange program with the New York Central Library. He had been brought in to help translate numerous books that had just come into the library's possession. Among those books had been the one found in Himmel's apartment, which no one from the library could explain how it had gotten there since it had been locked in a special vault since the Friday before.

Stephen Dorzyan, the head of the project, had showed Higgins security videos and logs of the book being returned to the vault. Higgins had the video department checking the tapes for the weekend to find out who had removed it. He suspected that Himmel had merely slipped a guard some money, since there was nothing in the logs, but the guards all swore that no one had been in that section all weekend.

If they were lying, then there would be something on video. If they weren't, then this mystery was getting deeper…and stranger.

Lost in his thoughts, Higgins nearly jumped when a hand fell on his shoulder. Spinning around, a brief look of panic flashing across his face, Higgins was relieved to see his partner standing behind him, his face plastered with a huge grin.

"Damn, Higgs, when did you get all jittery?"

"Since this shit all started," replied Higgins, pointing over his shoulder with his thumb. "I'm glad you're back from vacation, Steve, but you aren't going to be."

Steve glanced around Higgins at the pictures tacked up, his eyes widening in disbelief.

"It's a bad one, Steve," understated Higgins.

***

Sheila Benson turned off the TV and dropped the remote on the coffee table. Three o'clock in the morning was a hell of a time to be going to bed, especially when she had to be up at seven, but there was no way she was going to miss a showing of "Harvey", especially since she didn't have a VCR to tape it. Why, she wondered, did they show all of the old, good movies so late.

Flicking off lights before heading down the thin hallway, Sheila stopped by the bathroom to get ready for her short period of sleep. After peeing, washing up and brushing her teeth, she continued down the hall towards her bedroom.

Pausing in the doorway, Sheila felt a brief flash of panic as she thought she saw a shadow move out on her terrace. Shaking her head, she thought of how ridiculous that was. She lived on the twelfth floor of a high-security apartment complex. There was no way that anyone could be out on her terrace, no way at all. To prove herself right, she walked over to part the fluttering curtains and cried out in terror as something slammed into her.

Back peddling, she fell on her ass and yelped in pain. Turning her attention on her attacker, she let out a sigh of relief as she realized that there was a bird tangled in the curtains. Chuckling at her momentary fear, and at her clumsiness, she got up and calmed the bird down as she removed it from the curtains.

"You poor thing," she softly spoke to the dove as she firmly held onto the bird. "Yeah, it's okay,"

she whispered as she parted the curtains and gently let the bird go.

She had no sooner released the bird and her wrists were clamped by something cold and unyielding. Pain shot through her arms and shoulders as she was violently pulled out onto the terrace with one quick jerk.

The pain was pushed out of her perception as terror took over. She was being held off the floor of the terrace by one incredibly powerful, talon-tipped claw. Despite the fear, despite the pain, despite what she knew was going to happen, Sheila was in awe of the thing that held her.

Thick, black skin covered its powerful frame. Its skull was slightly elongated; its mouth was a thin slit that let out a low hiss and revealed not one but two rows of large, adamine teeth. Its eyes were rather large and oval, pure black except for a tiny blood-red dot that was the pupil. The claws, which were digging into Sheila's wrists as it held her, were razor sharp and at least two inches long.

"Kastaga…" she whispered.

It screamed at her, saliva spraying her face, and she felt nothing but ice-cold terror for the few seconds that it let her live.

***

Higgins looked to his left, following the pattern of blood that looked as if it had been spray painted on the side of the building, to the neighboring terrace twenty feet away. Steve Strieber was there taking notes of what few bits of information the neighbor could give. Turning to his right, following an identical blood path, Higgins saw Avery busy at his work.

"Nolan, you about to wrap it up?" called Higgins.

"Not a chance, Higgs, this is the worse one yet. Her head went through the windshield of that stationwagon like a cement block."

"Wyzik?" asked Higgins.

"It's good experience for the kid."

"You're a cruel bastard, Nolan," muttered Higgins as he turned and entered Benson's apartment.

Returning to the living room, Higgins browsed around, noting little signs that told what kind of person Sheila had been. No pictures of family, friends, or possible boyfriends. No cute little nick-knacks cluttering up the place. It was fairly Spartan except for the large bookcase that took up one whole wall of the room.

Tobin's Spirit Guide, Arkham Book of Horrors, her collection of books was a veritable smorgasbord of the occult. So far they knew that she had been a twenty-two year old collage student who lived alone, never caused any problems, and never missed work…until now.

What they did not know was what her connection, if any, had been to the first two victims, and why anyone would want to splash her across the building.

Steve walked in, noted the books in a quick glance.

"Exorcisms that work? Nice books."

"Start digging into Patterson's past, see if you can find anything strange."

"What'cha thinking, Higgs?"

"At Himmel's place there was that altar, and here we have a mini-library of the occult. Maybe we've got a cult here."

"In the middle of New York? A cult's running around offing people?"

"It's an angle, Steve. You got a better one?"

"I like Nolan's idea of a psycho with a giant blender. Shit, Higgs, three coroners have worked on this and they can't come up with anything."

"The man is not right," stated Wyzik as he entered the apartment, his shirt already drenched with sweat and dots of blood. "Why does he give me the really messy jobs?"

"It's good for you, Andy," replied Steve as he smacked the assistant M.E. on the back. "Years from now, when you're an M.E. in your own right, you'll think back on this as you send your own assistants out and realize that Nolan taught you right."

"Piss off, Strieber."

"Nolan's in the next apartment down," informed Higgins.

"I known, he wanted me to give this to you." Wyzik pulled a diskette out of his side pouch and handed it to Higgins. "Said it's got some info on it about those killings back in the forties."

"Thanks, Wizzer, now leave," instructed Strieber, turning the young man around and pushing him towards the door.

"Asshole," muttered Wyzik as he left.

"Forties, Higgs?"

"Nolan said he'd seen something like this before, that he'd try to find out exactly when."

"You two think that there's a connection to some murders sixty years ago?"

"Similarity, not connection."

"All right. While you're doing that, I'm going to check out a place called The Dark Corners. Can you guess what it is?"

"An S&M bar?"

"An occult shop that catered to one Robert Patterson. See, you aren't the only detective around here. I was about to inform you of this when we were interrupted by Wizzer."

"What do you know, you can still impress me."

***

Father Ferguson wondered what he had done to deserve being chosen for the annual inspection of Saint Matthew's. All but abandoned, St. Matts, as everyone unofficially called it, was a vast church in an area of the city that no longer recognized its need for such divine assistance. Back in the forties, St. Matts had been the church to belong to. A highly important base of Catholic power within New York, it had nearly rocked the city to its foundations when the deaths had occurred…when it was discovered who had been responsible.

For the past fifty-some years Father Ferguson had been part of a special group that had overseen the continued custodial duties in keeping the church up with out being too obvious about it. The Order had been able to stop the killings but they had had to imprison the creature in the catacombs of St. Matts, sealing it off for eternity.

They prayed.

Once a year, a member of the group would travel to St. Matts and inspect the seals on the catacombs, reinforcing them with prayer and special…items. It had been over twelve years since Father Ferguson had drawn the lot for being the one to come, and he had thanked the Lord for it every year, but it was now his turn again.

It was simply amazing to Father Ferguson than St. Matts could set here, in the center of what was basically a sea of drugs and sin, and never be vandalized, never be broken into. He knew that The Order had something to do with it, a protection rite of sometype, but in this age of many who did not believe it was proof that their Lord was real and as strong as ever.

Climbing out of the battered Ford, dressed in street clothes and carrying only a duffel bag, Father Ferguson unlocked the chain on the wrought iron fence and entered the grounds of the church. It might be the fact that he had not been here in nearly twelve years, but Father Ferguson thought he remembered that on his previous trips, as soon as he stepped onto the grounds, he had been surrounded by a feeling of peace and protection.

He did not feel that now.

He felt…nothing. No change at all, as if there was no difference.

Something was not right.

Moving quickly down the wide path that led to the front entrance of the church, Father Ferguson came to a sudden stop as he saw that some obscenities had been spray painted on the front doors of the church. The door showed signs that someone had attempted to break in but had not succeeded. Panic now crawling its way down his spine, Father Ferguson ran for the front door and unlocked it, his chest heavy with exertion that his aged body should not have to endure.

Once inside he relocked the door and turned on his flashlight. The windows had been sealed up when the Church had left this place and the bright, halogen beam cut a path through the darkness that did little to calm Father Ferguson's nerves. Moving to the right, Father Ferguson found the light room and quickly began clicking on breakers that had not been used in a year, light flooding the vast church in sections that slowly made their way from the rear to the front altar.

Feeling a little more at ease now that the place was bathed in light, Father Ferguson trotted up to altar, halting briefly to dip his fingers into the basin of Holy Water and make the sign of the cross before entering the church proper. Once at the altar, he pushed on the podium while holding down on a switch inside of it. The podium slid away easily to reveal an untiled section of floor that was bare concrete with a silver cross embedded in it.

Father Ferguson let out a sigh of relief. The entrance to the catacombs was entact and, more importantly, so was the seal. Crossing himself again, and saying a silent prayer of thanks, Father Ferguson turned to go retrieve his duffel bag of supplies and faltered as he noticed that not all of the lights had come on. As a matter of fact, an entire section was still off, way up in the center of the church, leaving an erriee pool of blackness.

Turning his flashlight back on, Father Ferguson swung it up into the blackness and choked in terror at what the beam lit on. Hanging in the center of the darkness, the claws of its feet actually dug into the ceiling, was the beast that had been described in the texts of The Order.

It was not contained.

It had found another way out.

It was awake.

Father Ferguson watched in absolute terror as the Kastaga unfolded its massive wings and tilted its misshapen head to stare at him with eyes blacker than the night. If possible, Father Ferguson would have sworn that the creature smiled before releasing its grip on the ceiling and spinning in mid-air. The Kastaga's wings spread out as it glided down to land in the center of the church with a massive thud.

Dipping its head forward and spreading its arms, the Kastaga let out a screech that tore through Father Ferguson's very soul. He dropped his flashlight, the lens shattering as the beam went dead, and snapped out of his frozen stance. He had items in his bag that would protect him from the beast, which would help him escape to summon aid from The Order.

All he needed was his bag.

Which was lying on the floor next to the front door.

On the other side of the church.

Behind the beast.

Hissing slightly, tilting its head from side to side as if studying the priest, the Kastaga took a slow step forward. Flexing its talon-tipped claws as it moved towards its victim, the Kastaga was apparently relishing the moment, soaking in the fear of the man before it.

Ten members of The Order had been lost in the original battle with the beast, what chance did one loan priest have against it? Father Ferguson stood his ground, holding his rosary within his folded hands and began reciting one of the prayers he had been taught by The Order.

The Kastaga came to an abrupt halt.

Father Ferguson faltered, surprised at the quick results and the Kastaga moved forward.

Resuming his prayers, Father Ferguson watched in fascination as the air before the beast seemed to shimmer with unbridled power. The Kastaga was visibly exerting it self, its each and every step a fantastic effort for it. Filled with a new sense of hope, Father Ferguson began moving down a row of pews in an attempt to circle around the beast, but concentrating on where he was going was enough of a distraction to lessen the impact of the prayer.

It was not as much of an effort for the Kastaga to advance, and it made headway quicker than Father Ferguson made ground towards his supplies. He halted, concentrating on the prayer, and noted that an unseen force was once again battering the demon.

This was not going to be easy but at least he now had a chance.

Sliding his foot back slowly, Father Ferguson concentrated wholly on reciting the prayer of protection, making a few inches progress at a time compared to the Kastaga's one inch. It would take time, it would be mentally and physically draining, but he could do this. He had no doubt in his soul that he would be able to do this, that he would be able to escape from the beast and warn the others.

Then his belief crumbled, along with the front door as it crashed in.

His concentration broken, Father Ferguson turned to see a group of teenagers standing at the front of the church, obviously members of a gang. Two of them were carrying door-busters such as the police use on raids, all of them looking on in confusion at the scene being played out before them. They'll run away, he thought, turning back to the Kastaga to resume his prayer, but it was too late. He found the horrendous face of the demon now to be less than an inch away from his own.

A movement out of the corner of his eye, a tremendous pain beyond anything his mind could deal with, and Father Ferguson found himself staring at his own heart, being held before him by the creature. His very last thought was that he hoped it would be just as quick for the gang members.

***

Higgins slowly scrolled down the front page of the New York Times displayed on his computer terminal, a page from 1947 that was one of many on the diskette that had been given him by Nolan. The stories had reported on a series of extremely violent killings that had spanned a three-week period in late August. Over seventeen people had been killed, the last ten in a bloody confrontation with the killer, which had taken place at a church in a once prolific part of town.

Though not identified in the articles, the killer was reported to have been a member of the parish at Saint Matthews, and that the last of his victims were church members that had discovered his heinous crimes. While people would not have a hard time believing such a thing from a priest nowadays, Higgins bet it had shook things up a hell of a lot back then.

Jotting down the dates of the killings, Higgins logged onto the police database and started a search for the official records of the incidents. The NYPD database had been established over a decade ago, an entirely new department set up to enter all of the department's vast records into the system.

It was realized early on that there was not enough need, or resources, to store every bit of information in the system, so only active and unsolved cases were stored within the system, the rest were achieved the old fashioned way, the data base just telling you where they could quickly be found. Of course when you considered the vast amount of data that was still contained within the system, it was no surprise that your search could take awhile.

What was surprising was that Higgins inquiry was responded to almost immediately. Higgins typed in the requested password and was even more surprised that access was still denied him. After nearly an hour of making phone calls and trying other searches Higgins was finally able to learn that the files he was searching for were locked down by order of the Commissioner's Office.

Roadblock.

Higgins had no idea how he was going to convince the Commissioner that he needed access to files involving murders from over fifty years ago. He hoped Steve was having better luck as he picked up the phone again to make his request any way.

***

Steve was slightly amazed at the appearance of the shop; it was nothing like he had imagined it would be. The Dark Corners was a clean, well lit, and friendly appearing place, dispelling his visions of a shadow encased establishment full of cobwebs, dust, and skulls. Most of the interior was done in soft pastels; all of the display cases an off white that let their contents stand out in contrast. While most of the cases showed what could only be magical items, potions, charms, and the such, other cases held ancient looking books and common items that were uncommon in that they were made of pure silver.

Browsing along a bookshelf against the sidewall, Steve noted several books that had also been in the personal library of Sheila Benson. Considering his non-existent knowledge of the occult, Strieber did not know if had just found a connection or the best seller section.

"Can I help you?" drifted a soft voice.

Steve turned and found himself facing what he hoped to God did not turn out to be a suspect. About 5'4", 130 pounds, gray eyes, blonde hair, and a figure that would look at home on the cover of a Sport's Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, the woman seemed as out of place as Steve felt.

"Sir, is there anything I can help you with?" she repeated, snapping Steve out of his stupor.

"Uh, yeah, sorry, lost in thought there for a moment." Steve pulled his ID out of his jacket and flipped it over for her to inspect. "Detective Strieber with the NYPD, I was wondering if you could supply me with some information."

"I'll try, detective."

"Thank you, Miss…?"

"Brown. Terri Brown."

"What can you tell me about a customer named Robert Patterson?"

"Not much, I'm afraid."

"Don't be afraid, you can tell me."

She stared at him, obviously not amused.

"My friends say that my humor is a down point."

"I'd have to agree. Mister Patterson is one of my father's private customers. I've only delt with him a few times when he wanted something basic from the shop here."

"Can I talk to your father then?"

"He's out of the country right now, on a purchasing trip."

"I see. Will he be back soon?"

"A few days, Thursday if everything goes well."

"You, uh, wouldn't happen to know a Sheila Benson would you?"

"Yeah, she's another of my father's customers, but she would hang around the shop and talk with me sometimes."

"How about a Eric Himmel?"

"No, I don't know him. Why?"

"Do you think you could put together a list of your father's private customers for me?"

"What's this about, Detective?"

"Three people have been murdered, Miss Brown." Steve noted Terri's reaction of shock but that did not mean that it cleared her yet. "At least two of them shopped here, and that's the only connection that we have so far. If there's chance that the next intended victim is also one of your father's private customers, I'd like to try and prevent that."

"Yes, yes of course. Um, I know most of them, there's only about seven of them, but I'll have to check my father's files for their full names and addresses."

"That would be a great…" Steve trailed off as his radio let out a screech for his attention. "Excuse me a moment." Strieber stepped out of earshot and took the call, Higgins informing him of a grisly discovery at an abandoned church on the east side.

"Miss Brown, if you could get that information ready for me, I'll stop back later and pick it up, okay?"

"It'll only take a few minutes if you'd like to wait."

"Sorry, but I have to go," he replied as he headed for the door. Stopping abruptly he turned and called out "I'll be back in a few hours, thanks."

As soon as the detective was gone, Terri locked the front door and turned out the closed sign. Exiting through the rear of the shop and into what was partly their house (but mostly her father's personal collection of mystical items) Terri couldn't help but wonder about her father's abrupt shopping trip to Germany and his strange silence before he left.

***

That the rented VW was older than his daughter did not lend much confidence to Victor Brown as he maneuvered the battered vehicle around the twisting road of the mountainside. He had been in a state of near panic since he had read about the death of Patterson, knowing immediately what had been responsible for it and what he had to do. He had tried years ago to purchase one of the Daggers of Kajish, unsuccessfully, but he did know someone who would loan him one. He glanced at the wrapped up bundle that lay on the seat next to him, one of only three known daggers to still remain in existence, and prayed that he would return home in time.

His mind kept racing as he wondered if he should have confided in his daughter about what he suspected was happening, but he decided that she did not know enough to be a threat to the creature. It would not attack her but it would come after him.

Would he get back before it did?

He did not have to wonder that for long. As he felt the car begin to slide a little to the left on a rather sharp turn, he applied more brake and steadied the wheel, completely unprepared for what was suddenly revealed by the car's headlights.

The Kastaga stood in the middle of the road, its massive form stretching beyond the pitiful range of the VW's headlights.

Victor stomped the brake to the floor, the squeal of the tires highlighting the little car's effort to come to a sudden stop. The car was not up to the task as it slammed into the unmoving creature, the front of the vehicle crumpling like tin while its driver was smashed against the steering wheel.

Letting out a roar of triumph, the Kastaga brushed the car with one of its mighty claws and pushed it several feet to the left, much closer to the vast drop off that was the side of the mountain road. Another swipe and the car spun around, its rear tires now hanging off of the side of the cliff, its front facing the beast.

The Kastaga paused for a moment, comptimplating its options, then stepped onto the hood of the car, its massive weight crushing it down. Leaning forward, Kastaga looked into the car, cocking its head sideways at it studied the unmoving Victor. Letting out another roar, Kastaga was pleased to see the man jerk upright, his eyes filled with terror.

"Human," hissed the Kastaga through clenched teeth.

Terrified beyond reason, his mind racing at the realization that he was too late, Victor could barely grasp the idea of using the Dagger. The Dagger of Kajish, the only known weapon that could kill a Kastaga, was lying on the floor of the passenger side, the cloth partly undone to reveal the gleaming silver blade of the weapon.

As if it could read his mind, the Kastaga's blood red pupils moved to the left, in the direction of the Dagger then back to lock on Victor. The man made up his mind to try and lunge for the Dagger but it was too late.

The windshield exploded in a shower of glass as the Kastaga's claw shot forward, its talon-tipped hand held out straight. The adamine claws tore through Victor's neck with no resistance, the hapless man's head falling into the rear of the VW, his mind momentarily registering the vision of the interior of the car spinning before it shut down.

***

"You're too late, detective," reported the mousy clerk behind the iron bars. He barely looked up from his crossword puzzle after checking Higgins' requisition form.

"What do you mean I'm too late?"

"Some guys were here this morning, took these very same files that you're after."

"Look, I've had a long, bloody, gory day, and I'm in no mood to fence with some pencil pushing records clerk that obviously doesn't know what in the hell he's talking about."

Now the clerk did look up, his face red and his 4'11" frame shaking with obvious rage. "This pencil pushing records clerk use to be a police officer, until I took a bullet that shattered my knee and left me unable to carry out our duty! Since then, I have performed this meaningless, thankless job for the last five years. And, while I may not be the best record keeper that they have ever had, I do know how to do my fucking job!"

"Look, I'm sorry, but it's been a really bad day."

"You should try spending a few days down here. We have four sub-basements full of files, and do you know that the bottom two have rats the size of greyhounds? Why do you think we still carry side arms down here, that someone would try to bust out some records?"

"Buddy, I just spent the afternoon combing an abandoned church, the inside of which had been decorated with the ripped apart bodies of about ten people. We're not sure of the number yet because we're waiting on the morgue boys to try and put some of them back together, so you can understand if I'm not too impressed by the size of your fucking rats!"

"Yeah, I can see where that would make for a rough day. Look, this file's not here. Some guys in suits were here about an hour ago with a letter from the Mayor's Office to hand over everything to them."

"Who were they?"

"I don't know, but the one guy, he was wearing a ring of the Holy Alliance."

"And that is?"

"Please, detective, don't you go to church?"

Higgins' tired stare answered the question.

"It's a ring that high-ups in the church wear. You know, like Bishops and such."

"You learned that from going to church?"

"Nah, my uncle's a priest, he introduced me to one of those types before."

"Did they say why they wanted the file."

"Nope, they were silent as church mice," he chuckled at his own joke. "They gave me the papers, I went down and got the files."

"I don't suppose you remember anything from them?"

"Just the investigating officer's name, a sergeant Tom Nolan."

***

Steve pulled up in front of the Dark Corners shop and immediately got a chill down his spine that something was not right. After trying the front door, he made his way along the side of the house/shop towards the rear. The back door was likewise locked, but there was a set of stairs that led up to a small porch and another door. That same feeling of dread again passing through him, Steve pulled his gun and bolted up the stairs two at a time.

Reaching the landing, Steve peered through the thin cloth that served as a curtain on the door. From his vantagepoint he could see an open area that had several hallways leading off of it and stairs that led down to the first floor. The far hallway ended at an open door through which he could see Terri setting at a desk intently reading a book.

He was about to knock on the door when suddenly his view was blocked by something large and black. Steve shook his head as if trying to clear his vision, unsure of what had just happen. One moment he had a clear view into the dark hall, the next there was someone standing there, someone massive.

Massive and…deformed?

It was hard to tell in the nighttime shadows, but Strieber could swear that the someone who was now traversing the hall was not normal.

The shape suddenly dodged to the right, blending into the darkness and becoming invisible. Steve could now see that Terri had risen from the desk and was walking into the open room. She flicked on the overhead light and the room was bathed in revealing whiteness.

It was not a deformed man that stood against the wall, it was a monstrosity.

Steve's mind tried to grasp the image before him. The massive build, the folded wings, the razor-like claws and teeth. The jet-black eyes with pupils of red. It was beyond anything he could imagine and his mind rationalized it as best it could.

Psycho in a monster suit.

A damn good monster suit.

Terri screamed and backpedaled down the hallway. She slammed the door shut as she stumbled back into the room she had left just seconds ago. The psycho moved towards the room and Steve swore that he felt the whole building shake slightly with his thudding steps.

His training and years of experience taking over; Strieber kicked open the door and leveled his gun at the man in the monster suit.

"Police!" he shouted, "don't move!"

One instant Steve was facing the back of the man the next he was facing the front of him. He hadn't even seen him turn around; he had done it that quickly. The man let out a roar of acceptance to the challenge and Steve knew that there was no way in hell that it could be a man in a suit. There was no way that a human, or any animal that he knew of, could roar like that. If it were possible, Steve would say that the roar was as cold as ice and deadlier than life.

The monster took a step forward and Steve fired. The .357 bucked in his hand, the slug punching a hole in the thing's chest and doing nothing else. The black, thick, pus-like substance that oozed from the bullet whole was merely a trickle that quickly subsided as the wound sealed it self.

"What the fuck?" whispered Steve, not believing what he had just seen.

Another step from the beast and Steve quickly squeezed off three more shots, each having no effect on the thing.

In a raspy voice that sounded like hot coals scraping on metal, the creature eyed the hapless detective and proclaimed "My…turn…now."

Steve had barely been able to grab hold of the thing's forearm as it latched onto his neck with it's giant claw and lifted him up. Struggling for air, holding onto the thing's arm to keep his neck from snapping, Steve saw his life flash before his eyes, and knew that he had found what had killed those people, that he was going to be its next victim.

The pressure was gone and he was free, falling to the floor as his lungs gasped for air.

The creature was roaring in pain now, spinning around to reveal a huge knife buried in its back, up to the hilt. Deciding that it could not reach the cause of it's pain, the monster merely turned to face Terri, who was standing there, her eyes filled with terror, holding another knife and a vial of blue liquid.

Lunging for the woman, the Kastaga was brought up short as she smashed the vial against it. There was a flash of blackness and the hallway was now empty of the horror, Steve's ragged gasping the only sound, or evidence, that something truly terrifying had just occurred.

"Are you okay?" asked Terri as she knelt beside Steve.

"Wh…wh…what the hell was that?!"

"A Kastaga."

He merely stared at her with eyes still wide from horror.

"I know what's going on now."

***

Higgins took a swig of his beer and merely stared at the man across from him. Meeting at O'Malley's was something that Higgins and Nolan did every now and then, to celebrate after solving a case, but there was nothing in their manner tonight to suggest they were celebrating.

"What have you found out?" asked Nolan, just swirling his drink.

"Not a whole hell of a lot. Somebody beat me to the records."

"What?" Nolan's surprise was evident.

"The Mayor's Office gave them permission to remove the files, but no one will tell me who it was or who authorized it. If the clerk's right, it was someone connected to the Catholic Church."

Nolan sighed deeply and downed his drink in one swallow. He had, apparently, made up his mind about something. "You know, I've been doing this job for a long time, Higgs. Hell, I could have retired years ago, but then what would I do? There's been nothing for me since Alice passed away, nothing but my job."

"People are dying, Nolan."

"Thomas R. Nolan, god rest his soul, was a good cop, Higgs. He did his best everyday to try and end some of the suffering that was going on around him. Then, one year, there's a series of killings so brutal, so violent, that it's mostly covered up. Nothing like it had ever occurred before, and the powers that be didn't want a panic to take place."

"What happen in 1947?"

"I don't know a lot of the details, Higgs, just that it was like it is now. My grandfather was part of the team working on it. The killer wasn't part of the church, that's just where it ended, but with other police officers and reporters arriving, it was the best story they could come up with at the time."

"They who?"

"I never found out. Granddad, he wouldn't talk about it much, except to my father, and I would overhear them sometimes." Nolan's eyes were distance, like he was there at that moment so long ago, playing it over in his mind. "Do you believe in evil, Higgs? Pure, unadulterated evil from the very depths of hell?"

Higgins didn't answer right away; he took another drink and pondered the question for a moment. "If you mean is there a difference between good and evil, yes. If you mean evil as in an entity, then I have to say no."

"There is evil out there, Higgs. More terrifying than anything man can do. Those newspaper clippings I gave you were all that was left of my granddad's personal files. Not long after the case was over someone broke into his house and stole everything else. There's no evidence, no proof, but I remember some of things I heard them say. Most of all, I remember the look in granddad's eyes when he was talking to my father about it."

"About what? What the hell's going on, Avery?"

"A demon."

"Ah, for crying in a bucket, you expect me…" Higgins trailed off at the look returned by Nolan.

"The church had something to do with stopping it, Higgs. I'll bet that they're back to stop it again. Don't get in their way, it's not healthy."

"Would you listen to yourself? You're trying to tell me that some demon has been unleashed, is killing people for some unknown reason, and that the Catholic Church will stop at nothing to put an end to it?"

"Higgs…"

"No. Thanks, but no, Avery." The ringing of his cell phone interrupted Higgins.

"Higgins…what?…calm down, Steve…a what attacked you?…I'll meet you there in a few minutes."

"Keep an open mind, Higgs," warned Avery as Higgins slid out of the booth.

"I guess I'll have to," he replied, looking at Nolan with a puzzled expression. "That was Steve, he called to tell me he was attacked by a demon."

"I'm coming with you."

"Nolan, this isn't your job."

"For over fifty years, ever since I was a child, I've lived with this, if there's a chance that I can find out the truth behind what happen back then, then I want to know."

Higgins merely nodded and led the way out of the bar.

Nether of them noticed that the lone man who had been setting at the table nearest them also chose that moment to leave. Or that, maintaining a discreet distance, he was following them.

***

The Kastaga was furious with pain and rage. It had instinctively returned to its lair in reflex to the attack on it, and in an instance it could tell that it was not alone, that its lair was no longer safe. They were here, like those that had imprisoned it so long ago. They were waiting for its return, ready to try and imprison it again, but it did not give them the chance. It knew that it was in no condition to fight them now, and so it chose to go to the other place.

The men knew it had been there but they were not fast enough. It would return when it was stronger and show them what it had to offer. But for now, it would have to wait, in this place that was similar to its previous lair in that it also had the taint of death.

Thoughts of revenge slipped from the Kastaga's mind as a scent drifted to it. There was someone here also, a human, but one that was of no threat to it. Scanning the darkness, the Kastaga easily spotted the man, tromping about with no concern, his flameless torch spilling light across his path.

Crackling with glee, the Kastaga swooped down from its perch and vented its anger on the lone man. It tore him open with one swipe and feasted on his insides. Nothing was left of the man but tattered bits of flesh and shattered bones, and the Kastaga felt the pain easing from it.

Soon.

Soon it would have it's revenge.

***

Higgins stared at the picture in the book, a supposedly ancient rendition of a Kastaga, and briefly skimmed over the entries below it. The Kastaga was reportedly a sort of hit-man-from-hell, summoned by an individual to kill his, or hers, enemies. It was impervious to weapons not made of silver, and even then it was only injured for a time, supposedly able to regenerate itself. It was easier to banish a Kastaga back to hell, or imprison it, than it was to kill it. The only known way of killing it was with a certain mystical dagger, only five of which were ever made, and all of which were supposedly lost.

"And your father went to get one of these daggers?" asked Higgins as he closed the book.

"According to his journal, yes. From what I've read my father kept closer contact with more of our customers than I thought. Some he was friends with, others he merely kept an eye, on to see what they were doing with their knowledge."

"Knowledge?"

"Of the occult."

"Right."

"This thing was real, Higgs," added Steve. "And believe me, that picture doesn't do that fucking thing justice. It was down right ugly. Evil ugly. It was as ugly…"

"I get it, Steve."

"No you don't, it was fucking Janet Reno ugly."

Higgins paced around the small room that was a den to Terri's father and stopped to eye Avery who had been setting silently through the entire exchange. Avery returned his stare silently; sipping at the coffee that had been offered him by Terri.

"And I know you believe them."

Avery merely nodded.

"No comments?"

"You've heard my part of the story. What are we going to do?"

Walking to the window that overlooked the street, Higgins stared out at the horizon, which was beginning to turn a slight red with the impending sunrise. "Okay, with what you've told me, we have this theory. Himmel summoned the Kastaga for the purpose of killing someone but instead became a victim himself…why?"

"He must have made some mistake in the ritual," offered Terri.

"And now this thing is going around killing people that you say know a lot about the occult. Why?"

"I don't know. My father didn't even have a clue, but he was afraid for both our lives."

"Did you get to make up that list?" asked Steve.

"Yes," she handed it to him. "These are people who are rather well practiced. My father already had the list written up and has apparently contacted some of them."

"There's only nine names on this list," stated Steve in a tone of disbelief. "Surely there's a lot more people than this in the city that believe in the occult?"

"There's a difference in believing and knowing."

"Hey, Steve," interrupted Higgins from his position still at the front window. "You want to do something for me?"

"What?"

"Go out the back door, sneak around the side of the building, and see if you can get a plate number on the gray caddy parked across the street. The guy inside it keeps tossing looks this way, and from the pile of cigarettes outside his car, I'd say he's been here as long as we have."

A few minutes later, in the red glow of morning, Higgins spied Steve crossing the street from three houses down, walking casually as if he was out for his morning jaunt to work. The man in the caddy also spotted him, and he didn't buy the act for a minute. The vehicle roared to life and screeched out of its parking spot, rocketing down the street.

Breaking into a run, Steve tried to get close enough to make out the plate number, but it was to no avail. He headed back for the Dark Corners shop, the others now exiting the front of the building.

"Did you get a number?" asked Higgins.

"No, I didn't get close enough. But, I was able to make out what type of plate it was."

The others just stared at him, waiting for a continuance.

"Diplomatic. And there was a nice little sticker on the trunk from the Italian Embassy."

***

"Come on, Kid, you've got to have more for me," stated Bowman, still hanging tightly onto the fifty dollar bill in his hand. "All these bodies and you don't even know what kind of weapon was used?"

Wyzik held his ground, glancing nervously about the morgue though he knew they were alone. People had a habit of showing up unexpectedly, dead or alive, and Wyzik didn't like the fact that Bowman was now coming down in person to get information.

"You've got what, twelve bodies? Hasn't anybody figured it out yet?"

"Thirteen, JB, and that ain't a lucky number."

"No, but Higgins and Nolan are a lucky pair, I can't believe they haven't found out anything yet."

"I'm not their confident, I just hear things."

"So, what have you heard lately?"

"Nolan's scared on this one, he's acting really strange."

"I'd be to if I had to deal with this shit."

"No, man, he's scared! He's acting more nervous than me, and that's saying a lot, he's been doing this crap for a long time."

"Come on, Wyzik, I need more than that."

Just then the doors burst open as gurney was pushed in, its contents three plastic bags, the man maneuvering it looking none too happy at spotting Bowman. He ignored the reporter, an achievement most employees in the building failed to do, and handed a clipboard to Wyzik.

"This guy bugging you, Wyzik?" asked Cunning, still not eyeing the reporter. "You want I should call security?"

"That's okay, Al, Mister Bowman is just visiting," he replied after signing off for receiving the remains.

A humphing sound was Cunning's only response as he reclaimed his clipboard and strolled out of the room.

Wyzik waited until the morgue driver had left then smacked Bowman in the arm with the back of his hand, a look of disgust on his face. Turning his attention to the report delivered with the corpse, Wyzik smiled slightly then reached for the fifty that Bowman was still holding. The reporter held onto the money for a second then released his grip as Wyzik informed him that they had just received victim number fourteen.

"One Jimmy Able, a security guard from the Bronx Zoo."

"Does anyone else know about this yet?"

"Nope, not even the detectives."

Bowman pulled another fifty out of his pocket. "And they won't find out about until, say sometime this evening, right?"

"I can't guarantee that, JB."

"Just lose the work for a few hours. Misplace it before you leave. Get sick and go home early. Anything, just give me some time to flesh this out."

"You owe me, for a change."

"If I turn up anything, I'll owe you a big one, Kid."

***

Higgins sat as his desk for what seemed like the first time in weeks. He had his notes spread out before him in an attempt to come up with something, anything that might give them a clue as to where they could find the Kastaga. Steve and Terri were currently inspecting Saint Matthews in hopes of finding some clues that had been missed, clues that leaned toward the supernatural. Nolan had finally gone home to get some much-needed rest, his age showing the strain on him at having spent the entire night awake.

Sleep was something that Higgins did not think he would be able to do even if he tried.

The report from the video department stated that no one had entered the vault at the Library, and that the video had not been tampered with. This came as no surprise to Higgins since he had learned last night that the Kastaga was able to teleport itself, stepping through some sort of mystical doorway from one place to another. That information did confound things though, for it would indicate that the Kastaga had been free to go get the book before it had killed Himmel.

Damn, but this crap was giving him a headache.

Higgins got up to go get himself some aspirin when he spotted the three men at the end of the large room. Twenty desks, several partitions, and numerous other officers were between him and the men, but he saw them clearly; two guys in suits and one in the official uniform of a Bishop. The trio entered the Captain's office with out even knocking, their intentions unknown but suspected.

Scooping his files back into the cardboard box from whence they came, Higgins beat a hasty retreat down the stairs. He had the sinking feeling he was about to be pulled off the case and he was going to delay that as long as possible.

***

"I don't get to church much, but is this normal?" asked Steve from his position on the raised platform where the priest usually carried out their sermons. He was looking at the slab of concrete with the silver cross embedded in it.

"It's a seal of binding," informed Terri as soon as she spotted it. "It's placed at the entrance to contain something, usually an evil force."

"The Kastaga?"

"Possibly. But the Seal is intact, which means that it did not escape from it's confinement, someone had to release it, call it forth."

"Like a jail break."

"Yeah, but they summoned it from this place, which means that they knew it was here. And the only ones who knew it was here were supposedly those people from the church."

"No, someone else knew it was here, or at least suspected it."

"Who?"

"Nolan."

***

"So, was Jimmy a friend of yours?" asked Bowman. He had finally managed to track down the guard that had found the body, after roaming around the zoo, twice. The guard had had the benefit of having been driving a little golf cart type vehicle while Bowman had had to resort to food travel. It seems that the zoo administration was disinclined to help the reporter since the story would of course reflect poorly on the safety of the zoo. That the killing had taken place in a long disused section did not seem to matter to the public relations department.

"Nah, not really, he was one of the night guys, I only saw him at shift change."

"Can you show me where you found him?"

"Hmm, not right now, I've got rounds to make. Are you sure that this is okay? You cleared it with the office?"

"Would I come out here, flash you my press Id, and start asking questions if this wasn't on the level? How do you think I found you so fast?"

"Yeah, I guess that makes sense. I'll tell you what; you go back to the lion pavilion, turn left and walk to the African Villa. Behind it you'll see a path that leads into the woods. Just keep following the path and it'll take you to the old lion's den area."

"Lion's den?"

"Yeah, that's where they use to put on the shows, then about ten years ago one of the lions went bezerk, killed the tamer and got into the stands. A few people got killed, but that was before my time. Since it was at the edge of park they just closed it off and forgot about it, but we have to make rounds there every now and then."

"Thanks, I'll make sure I get your name right."

"That's Kolchack, with two Ks."

***

After sleeping most of the day away, Nolan had awakened with the need to get out and do something. He was feeling mostly useless in this case, wanting desperately to do something that would contribute to ending the life of the creature that had driven his grandfather to an early grave with his obsession about finding the truth. He got dressed quickly and decided to head into the office to see if anything new had turned up.

Something new had indeed turned up. When he arrived there were numerous unmarked trucks in the parking garage, all of them the scene of activity. Groups of men dressed in white medical uniforms were busy rolling gurneys to the vehicles where other men would load their contents into the truck. A pair of men in dark suits were apparently overseeing the operations, their hushed conversation completely covered by all of the activity going on.

Nolan got out of his car and marched over to the official looking men, the demand for an explanation on his lips. He never got the chance to ask what was going on, a police office in full riot gear stepped from around one of the vans and stopped him.

"This is a secure area, Sir, you'll have to use the south elevators."

"I happen to be the Chief Medical Examiner, and I want to know what's going here."

"Sir, if you don't leave immediately, I will have to arrest you."

"Young man, did you just hear what I said? Either get the hell out of my way or I'm calling the chief of police and getting the whole area closed down right now!"

Before the officer could reply, one of the men in suits turned and walked their way, his expression one of mild annoyance. As he got closer, Nolan got a sense of familiarity from the man's features that were visible around his dark glasses.

"You're Avery Nolan, aren't you?" asked the man as he waved the officer aside.

"Yeah. Who are you?"

"I'm Cardinal Desmond, of the Vatican Special Projects Corps. I was wondering if you'd mind going with one of my men and trying to answer some questions for us?"

"Desmond? You were there, weren't you? Back when this stuff first started!"

"Now is not the place, Mister Nolan."

"The hell it's not! What the hell have you brought on us?"

Nolan saw the man nod then his head exploded in a swirling mass of stars that quickly washed away to blackness as he lost consciousness. He had never heard the man who had stepped up behind him, the same man that had followed him and Higgins the previous night.

"Take Mister Nolan to the Mission, see that he's made comfortable."

"He knows what's going on," informed the hitter.

"He's known for a long time."

"Not as much as he does now. And there are others."

"Our assignment is to stop the Kastaga."

"Our charter is to prevent the coming of the darkness."

"By spreading our own? The taking of life is not a light matter with me, Etchisson, don't forget that. I've been in charge of the VSPC for a long time, and I'm not about to change the way things are done now."

"I ment no disrespect, sir, I merely wished to inform you that a great many of…non-members know about the demon, and about us."

"And if we don't stop the Kastaga? It's killing those with a strong aura of majik about them, those who could pose a threat to it, and the coming darkness. We may very well need the assistance of these people in the future."

"You fear that we may not be able to stop the darkness?"

"What sane man wouldn't. I've seen only a fraction of the creatures that come from the darkness, I can't imagine what our world be like if the darkness came to engulf it."

"And of the others?"

"Maintain surveillance, assist them if needed but avoid contact."

***

Higgins pulled out his cell phone and answered it, his concentration more on the road than on the incoming call since he hated other drivers that did that very thing. He listened intently to Steve's report of what he and Terri had found at the church, and to Steve's theory about Nolan. Higgins experienced a brief flash of anger at the proposition, but he quickly subdued it, trying to keep an open mind about the whole affair.

"If this thing's been eating at him all of these years, maybe he summoned it to bring about attention to what happen to his grandfather."

"I don't think so, Steve, but I won't rule it out. We'd be in the dark completely if Avery hadn't given us that information. It was hard for him to do, but when he finally made up his mind he let us know everything."

"We can't find him, Higgs. He's not at home or work, he's not returning his pages."

"Shit."

"What's the plan, Higgs?"

"I'll stop by his office and see if he's checked in, then meet up with you later at Terri's. Her place is probably the best place to be considering the situation." Higgins went on to inform Steve of the trio that had visited the station and suggested that Steve stay away as long as possible.

"This is getting complicated."

"I know, just stay alert, and I'll see you later." He broke the connection and returned his concentration to the road, glad that it was a Sunday and traffic was somewhat light. Heading for Avery's office, Higgins kept telling himself that Steve had to be wrong.

***

Nolan had awakened to find himself in a somewhat spartan room, lying on a small bed that was really little more than a cot. There was also a desk and chair in the room, neither of them offering a clue as to his location. The room's only window was a slot roughly six inches wide and twenty-four inches high, covered by a weathered looking shutter. The room would have been considered completely primitive if not for the security camera in the one corner, far out of reach even with the use of the chair.

Setting on the edge of the bed, Nolan patiently waited for his captors to come to him. It was not a long wait, the click of the door unlocking seeming rather loud in the barren room. The man that had introduced himself as Cardinal Desmond entered, followed by two men in brown robes.

"I trust that you're feeling well?"

"Besides the headache, you mean?"

"I must apologize for that, Mister Nolan, but you were getting a bit out of hand."

"How the hell do you expect me to act? You know what's going on, what happened back in the forties. How can you, a member of the church, condone such atrocities?"

"I was just a priest then, but I remember you grandfather. He was actually the one who led us to the demon, tracking down the man who had summoned it and bringing about the confrontation that took place at Saint Matthews."

"And your people showed their gratitude by ruining him."

"He was offered a chance to join The Order, to continue hunting the creatures of darkness, but he thought that such things should not be kept secret, that it would be better to let the whole world know the truth. Those in charge at the time were not to keen on that idea."

"And has any of that changed?"

"No, not really. But I am not as ruthless as my predecessors were. Once this matter is settled, you will be allowed to return to your normal life as if nothing has happened."

"How Christian of you."

"The Kastaga has apparently moved on to a new lair. Unfortunately it returned to Saint Matthews before we were ready for it and escaped. Once we find its lair we will settle this once and for all. Until then, you will be our guest here."

"Is that what you call it nowadays?"

Desmond rose from the chair and the two robed men moved for the door. Nolan did not miss the bulges under their robes that indicated weapons. Somehow he found the idea of armed monks, if that is what they were, easy to believe.

"The room is monitored at all times, just call out if you need anything," informed Desmond as he stopped in the doorway. "You will be safe here, you have my word."

"I'm sure that means a lot."

***

"What's up, Wyzik?" asked Higgins as he walked into the morgue.

"Hey, Higgins, how's it going?" Saying that Wyzik appeared nervous would have been an understatement. His face was suddenly covered in sheen of sweat, and he was shuffling papers about with no apparent order.

"Something wrong, Wyzik?"

"Huh, um, no, why?"

"I was on my way down here to see if you knew where Nolan was when I ran into Al heading out for a run."

"I haven't heard from Nolan all day, now that you mention it. Do you suppose everything's okay?"

"I hope so," Higgins sat on the edge of the desk, facing Wyzik, his look conveying that he knew something and was hoping Wyzik would confess and make things easy.

"Al said you had a visitor down here earlier."

"Yeah, that reporter dude, Bowman, was nosing around."

"What did you tell him?"

"Nothing. Hell, I don't know anything, I'm just an assistant examiner."

"There's more going on than you can imagine, Wyzik, so why don't you tell me everything right now, while I still like you some what, and maybe you'll get to keep you job."

"Honest, Higgs, I…"

"Jarrod Bowman is slime, Wyzik, but he's no slouch. He doesn't waste his time with people that can't tell him anything, and Al says he was down here awhile. So, you want to level with me or do I have to beat the shit of you?"

From the look in Higgins eyes Wyzik could tell he meant it.

Uncovering the report on the guard from the zoo, Wyzik handed it over and told Higgins everything that had transpired.

"Damn," cursed Higgins as he read the report. "Did Nolan see this?"

"No, I honestly haven't seen him today."

Higgins grabbed up the phone and dialed Terri's number. When she answered, he told her about the newest victim and asked if she knew the man, if maybe he had been left off the list of her father's. The name was completely unfamiliar to her.

"Can you get rid of this thing?" he asked.

"Yeah, I think so, but the ritual is very specific, everything has to be perfect."

"Get everything together that you need, we're going to send this bastard back to hell."

"We don't even know where it is."

"We do now." Higgins explained his theory and how, even if he was wrong, he did not want to be caught unprepared. He instructed her and Steve on where to meet him, and told them of some items he was going to bring on his own.

Wyzik just sat listening to one side of the conversation, disbelief playing out on his face at what he was hearing. Neither of them had known about Etchisson, standing outside of the room, listening intently to their dialogue, and they never would. As soon as he had heard the possible location mentioned he had bolted down the hallway, eager to begin the final phase of their assignment.

***

Carla Pennright was ready for the Kastaga when it appeared, having been warned a few days ago by Terri. She had thought of erecting a barrier of protection around her entire house but the desire to actually see the creature had proven too great. Instead she had constructed the barrier merely around her bed, and she wore the Amulet Of Lyndath in case she was anywhere else when it arrived. The Amulet had proven to be a proper precaution as the Kastaga was suddenly in her kitchen.

Holding her ground, despite the terror that she felt, Carla stared at the creature, taking in its entire vision of horror.

The Kastaga, ignorant of the Amulet, became enraged as its claw, which was on a direct course for Carla's head, suddenly struck some invisible force and rebounded sideways.

Vicious blows erupted from the Kastaga as it attempted repeatedly to strike the woman, it's talons never once making contact with its intended victim. It bellowed with rage and began ripping the kitchen apart, smashing furniture and fixtures with blinding anger.

Growing tired of seeing her house being slowly devastated by the Kastaga's wrath, Carla screamed at the creature to stop. The creature wheeled back on her and roared.

"We know now," she told the creature. "You won't kill anymore of us."

The Kastaga roared again, a cold chill gripping Carla as she actually felt the Kastaga's rage and desire for violence, and then it was gone in a flash of blackness that folded in on it self.

Trembling, Carla picked up the phone and dialed Terri's number to tell her of the encounter. When there was no answer, she simply hung up and began sobbing deeply.

***

"Thanks, Smitty," parted Higgins and he, Steve, and Terri made their way via cart towards the old Lion's Den section of the zoo. Higgins had busted the guard that had let them in a few years ago, and with the detective's help he had turned his life around. What was going on, Smitty didn't know, and didn't care, he would do anything to help Higgins out.

"I hope you're right about this, Higgs."

"So do I, it means we can end this tonight."

"Hey, guys, not to be a wet blanket," interrupted Terri, "but this ritual that I have to perform is no easy task."

"Just tell us what we have to do."

"First, let's see if this is the place. It's a safe bet that it's out hunting already, but I have no idea how long it will stay out."

"You warned the rest of the people on the list, right?" asked Higgins.

"I did it the night I found my father's list, I just wish he was here to help."

"Can these people protect themselves from the Kastaga?"

"Yes, none of them should have a problem. But I don't know how patient the Kastaga will be. It may return here after only one or two attempts, and I don't know if that will be enough time to get everything ready."

"It'll have to be, I don't think we'll get another chance like this."

They rode on in silence, the tiny cart bouncing along the old trail, the only sound the hum of the cart's electric motor. It was only a few minutes before they came upon the disused sector of the zoo, the area somewhat overgrown but still navigable.

There were several buildings that had formally housed animals, souvenir shops, snack bars; the arena where the tragic lion show had taken place, and a large, sunken pit that contained a disused natural environment for the previous animal occupants.

"That building over there," pointed Terri. "It looks like a good place to start, I'll need enough room to set things up."

"While you're doing that we'll look around and see if we can find any signs that it's using this place for a nest."

"I don't think we should leave Terri alone," objected Steve.

"I'm a big girl, Steve-o, I can take care of myself." She pulled on the chain necklace that she was wearing and withdrew from under her shirt a bronze amulet of intricate design. "Besides, I have this, which will protect me from any harm intended by the Kastaga."

` "Got any more of those?" asked Higgins as he lifted his duffel bag from the back of the cart.

"No, but I've got these for you guys," she replied, reaching into her own pack.

"There's no way that can be considered a dagger," noted Steve of the massive blade she pulled out. It was nearly a foot long from handle to tip; made of pure silver with a leather bound handle that had some tiny trinkets hanging on it's end.

"This can't kill the Kastaga, but it'll think twice about a direct attack."

"What effect do you think this'll have?" asked Higgins as he pulled out his own weapon. It was an army issue M16 with grenade launcher. "I know the bullets won't bother it too much, but I've got six phosphorous grenades that could burn a hold through a limo."

"Where the hell did you get that?" asked Steve.

"Nice touch," commented Terri. "That might cause him a bit of pain."

"I've got a shotgun here for you, Steve."

"That's all right, I brought my gun to play with."

"You gun didn't do any good the other night."

"Yeah, but I've been such a good boy that Terri gave me some silver bullets."

Terri smiled.

"Hollow point even."

Higgins shrugged, picked up his bag, and headed towards the closest building.

"Good luck," said Terri, kissing Steve on the cheek before turning and heading for the building that she had chosen.

"Come on, Romeo," called Higgins, snapping Steve out of his momentary stupor.

***

Trevor had been working non-stop since he had learned of the existence of the Kastaga two days ago from Terri. Her phone call had been meant as a warning for him but he had seen it as an opportunity to be taken. A self proclaimed Techno-mage, Trevor was as adept with technology as he was with the occult, and a great part of his free time was spent trying to merge the two. He had yet to be successful on anything but a minor level, but if he could capture the Kastaga he was sure he would be that much closer at merging the two arts.

He had not left his workroom since he had gotten the message, concentrating on erecting the trap that he was certain would work. A CRAY2000 mainframe proto-type took up a large part of the cavernous loft that was his workroom, a multitude of cables snaking across the room to various pieces of equipment such as monitors, sensor pads, video units, and other techno-toys, all contributing to the trap.

Trevor stood in the center of the intertwining cables which, if viewed from above in the rafters, could be seen to form a pentagram, the heart of the trap. Unluckily, for Trevor, it was at this vantagepoint that the Kastaga had chosen to arrive. The creature's massive form was spread out across several steel beams, resting as it studied the puzzle below.

To swoop down and rend the man into a hundred pieces was something that Kastaga wanted desperately, but it recognized the pentagram for the source of power that it was, and did not wish to risk its limited freedom on the attempt. The teleporting was taking its toll on the Kastaga, it was feeling much weaker with the exertion, but it would try one more of its targeted victims tonight.

It vanished in it's flash of blackness and Trevor would never know if his trap would have worked or not.

***

When the Kastaga has chosen a victim it does not need to know where the victim is, it merely thinks and it is taken to the location. It was therefor a great surprise to the creature when, thoughts of revenge in its mind, it arrived at the area that it had chosen for its new lair. It had been thinking of the woman who had hurt it the other night, and of possibly surprising her with another attack, but obviously the woman had been thinking the same thing and was now here, at the location of the its new lair, hunting the Kastaga.

The Kastaga smiled thinly, its teeth glistening in the moonlight, as it thought of such a challenging opponent. Sniffing the air, it detected many scents, more than just the woman's, and knew that finding her would not be a simple task, that the place was visited too regularly by others. Moving with stealth that would have been hard to believe, considering its bulk, the Kastaga headed towards the closest building.

Halting at the open door, the Kastaga could tell that some humans had been by here very recently, but nothing more. It began to edge into the building when it suddenly heard a cha-chink sound from behind it somewhere. It spun around as a new sound greeted its ears, a whooshing sound, and it found it self facing a human that was new to it.

The man was holding some type of weapon, that was all that the Kastaga could make out before its world exploded in a blinding light that burnt its flesh and knocked it backwards into the building. Pain such as was previously unknown to the Kastaga rained down on its limited senses, the burning seeming to spread across its chest.

Cha-chink.

Whoosh.

Another explosion, close by, and more fire splashed onto the Kastaga. It curled itself up and rolled into the building, out of the open doorway, and tried to push the pain out of its mind. Finding the hole in its chest where the burning pain was emanating from, Kastaga tore at it self with a clawed hand and withdrew the still burning ember of brilliance. With a roar it threw the white-hot object out the door and retreated into the darkness to force its healing.

"Remember me?" spoke a voice from the rear of the building.

Its eyes still seeing stars from the ember, the Kastaga could barely make out the form of the man from the other night, standing on a small balcony at the back of the building. The man had only the same weapon as he had had the other night and the Kastaga knew it was not a threat.

Having emerged from the office that he had been searching, Steve had remained quietly on the balcony, next to the stairs, while Higgins had shot at the Kastaga twice, hitting it once, the second shot burning through an old desk. Its wounds visibly painful, Steve did not want to give it the chance to recover, and taunted it, letting know he was there.

The Kastaga made to leap at the balcony and Steve squeezed off three rounds, all solidly placed at the center of its chest. Still reeling from the last assault, the Kastaga was once again thrown backwards as the silver slugs tore into it, pain tearing through its consciousness.

Steve retreated into the office and exited through a rear window that had a fire ladder attached below it. He rounded the building, which was quickly being consumed by the flames of Higgins grenades, and joined his partner.

"Damn but I think we pissed him off!" quipped Steve.

"Do you think we slowed him down?"

As if in answer to his question, the front of the building exploded outwards in a shower of burning wood as the Kastaga emerged, carried on by its mighty wings. It screamed in pure hatred as it shot towards the two men, both of which were already dropping to the ground in reflex.

Higgins and Steve avoided a direct hit as they dropped, the Kastaga trying to get airborne also aiding in the factor, but the creature did manage to rake Steve with one of its claws. He cried out in pain as his arm was sliced open, blood pouring freely.

The Kastaga twisted in mid-air and hovered there, its gaze locking on the two men where they lay. Steve had landed on Carl, and was thrashing in pain, hindering Carl's attempt to bring the M16 up to bear on the Kastaga. It had them both, nothing would stop it from shredding the men into hundreds of bits, and the Kastaga moved to swoop down on them.

And suddenly the pain was back, hundreds of pinpoints of intense agony spreading throughout its body as the night was filled with the sound of thunder. The Kastaga spiraled to the ground, hitting hard as dozens of men emerged from the night, all dressed in black combat gear and carrying automatic weapons that they were firing at the Kastaga.

Carl and Steve watched as the group of men advanced on the downed creature, none of them letting up on their assault. With practiced ease, the men would switch mags in less than a second as one went empty, thousands of rounds tearing into the beast. The Kastaga was huddled into a ball, it's massive wings curled around it in an attempt to avert the fusillade of bullets raining down on it.

Helping Steve up, Carl directed him back from the melee, not knowing who in the hell these guys were but thanking God that they had shown up. The roar that had been their constant firing suddenly ceased, though it seemed to keep echoing in their heads, as the men encircled the Kastaga.

A new man emerged from the darkness and joined the apparent soldiers, his face familiar to Higgins, who suddenly remembered seeing him in the bar that night with Avery. The man was giving orders, though Higgins couldn't hear what they were, and motioned towards the black, shredded, ball that was the Kastaga.

It was not over.

In an explosion of muscle and black, leathery skin, the Kastaga emerged from its fetal position and vented its rage. The new man was the first, split cleanly in two by a razor sharp claw, and then it tore into the others. Some had enough time to react, bringing their guns back into play, but it was too late and too confusing. Higgins saw at least two men shoot their fellow combatants, the Kastaga moving with a speed faster than they could match. The Kastaga was so filled with rage that it was tearing and rending with a speed that created a virtual cloud of blood around the carnage.

They did not stay to witness the end; it was evident what that would be.

Half carrying Steve along, Carl made a bee line for the building that Terri was suppose to be in, praying that she was ready for them. He slammed the door shut behind him, a huge iron thing that had two giant locks, which he slid into place. The building had obviously been the lion pen, rows of steel-barred cages on either side of the hallway they now occupied. At the end of the hall were a series of cages, transfer points for taking the lions out, but no sign of Terri.

With a tremendous bang the iron door nearly buckled inwards, the hinges almost ripping out of the concrete they were set into. Higgins ran down the hall, dragging Steve with him, swinging the door shut behind them on the first transfer cell they entered.

The iron door smashed to the floor as the Kastaga struck it with its huge fists, the beast looking battered and beaten from its battle. Black bile frothing at its mouth, its nostrils flaring with anger, the Kastaga began stomping down the hall, each of its steps leaving a spider's web image of cracked concrete.

"Shit," muttered Steve as Carl spun around to face their advisary. "Now he looks fucking pissed."

Higgins backed into the next cell, kicking the door shut with his foot, knowing that the iron cell doors would not even buy them a second of time. Continuing to back pedal, he let out a curse as he backed into the wall that was the rear of the building. He glanced around feverently for another way out, hoping for one more door to put between them and the monster, and finding none.

The Kastaga reached the cell door to the first transfer pen. Moving slowly, with barely checked anger, it wrapped its hands around the bars and jerked the cell door free with one mighty tug. It tossed the door behind it and entered the cell, never taking its eyes off the men in the next, and last, cell.

"Tunnels," muttered Steve.

"What?"

Steve nodded down beside them and Carl spotted two small tunnels that exited the building, the passageway for the lions to their constructed natural environment. Higgins sat Steve down and looked for a way to open the passages, which were covered by solid metal doors. He saw that the doors were in fact solid sheets that slid up, but the chains that were once used to hoist them up were no longer present.

Grunting with the strain, Higgins managed to lift one of the sheets a few inches before having to let it go. He could not get the proper leverage to even lift the sheet enough so that at least Steve could try to get away.

The Kastaga was half way across the other cell when the darkness was peeled back by a flash of red light in the corner. Terri had struck a flare and now they could all see the large pentagram that had been drawn on the floor, in the center of which now stood the Kastaga. Touching the flare to the ground, the pentagram burst into an encircling flame, surrounding the demon. The air seemed to shimmer with unbridled energy as the majik began to build in the room.

Terri stood and held a book before her, which she began to recite passages from. The Kastaga roared and struck at the invisible barrier that contained it to no avail. Terri's concentration was intense as she read in a language that Higgins could not recognize, occasionally stopping to toss various powders into the flame of the pentagram.

The Kastaga seemed to wither in pain, reaching upward as if seeking salvation, the flames of the pentagram turning black. With a scream that none of them would ever forget, the Kastaga suddenly compressed and sank down, melting into a pool of blackness that vanished.

"That was impressive," commented Steve before passing out.

EPILOG:

"And they just dropped you off at your house?" asked Higgins after a swig of beer.

"Yep, and that numb nuts reporter Bowman," replied Nolan.

"Bowman?" asked Steve.

"I forgot about him," informed Higgins. "If he wasn't such a pain in the ass then I wouldn't have asked Wyzik why he had been there, and learned where the Kastaga was."

"Apparently those guys that tried to storm the place found him in one of the old lion cages. The idiot locked himself in there while searching it!"

"Probably better for the Kastaga that he didn't find it," added Steve. "Can you imagine the mess that demon would have made from getting sick after eating him?"

"Your humor is not something you should use often," groaned Terri. She was setting next to Steve, leaning close to him, her hand resting on the cast that encased his shoulder and arm.

Nolan smiled softly, in a grandfatherly sort of way, as he thought of how close the two were becoming.

"Are you sure that these guys left town? Desmond and his bunch?" asked Higgins, his expression still as somber as it had been when he had joined them.

"As far as I know," answered Nolan. "Oh, Terri, Desmond asked me to tell you thanks."

"I did it for my father, and the others, not for him."

"You might get to tell him yourself," added Higgins, almost in a whisper.

The good spirits that had been building came to halt as the group turned its attention to Higgins, who downed the rest of his drink before meeting their gazes. "That book from Himmel's apartment, the one that we returned to the library."

"That book made out of skin," confirmed Nolan, shuddering slightly at the memory.

"Just before I left the station a report came in…. It's gone, again."