Finally thought up a good enough title for this thing so I could post it up somewhere official, as opposed to the "Drabbles" thread on my forums.. :-P
So, onto the exposition:having bought/watched the Van Helsing DVD about three times in one day (wanted to see the commentary which entails watching the whole movie), played a bit of Hunter: The Reckoning, and whined at KA until she agreed to come up with some white-wolfish style characters (not that we've ever actually played White Wolf table top, unfortunately), I more or less felt like writing a monster hunting type novel -- which, admittedly, is an area I've never really ventured into before unless you count fantasy, in which yes, there are monsters, and yes you could say they are hunted, but it's focus is on other things, you know?
Besides, this is set in the modern era, which I've only ever dabbled in before. Yay experimentation!
For those who've read/are reading my Zelda fanfiction over on : no, I am not abandoning the Zelda stories for this one. I've been working on both stories simultaneously for a while now and will continue to do so. It helps prevent writer's block if I can occasionally switch characters and subject matter.
Chapters for this story may be a long time coming since a) it's original, and that's harder to write in a lot of ways than a fanfiction, and b) I've got a million and one RL commitments (like a job and so on) that eat into my writing time, plus I'm still working on the fanfiction as well.
On a large part of the plot: I've never played Resident Evil myself, but KA has, and she's enamoured of the idea of a zombie-making virus because she's a mad scientist at heart. This base idea: that zombies can be made through scientific means, is most definitely inspired by RE (give credit where credit is due :-) ), however I'm hoping to do something different with it (insofar as that goes) -- particularly something different enough to avoid dancing on that thin line between "inspired by" and "copyright infringment."
Rated R/Rated M (whichever you prefer :-P )for foul language (which I may or may not tone down, we'll see), mature situations, eventual violence, and maybe even eventual sexual situations (though nothing hardcore because I am a prude). Pretty much a just in case rating. Better safe than sorry.
One last thing: I'm sure this is totally unecessary, but just in case, please keep in mind that the opinions of the characters within a story are not necessarily (and in fact rarely are) the opinions of the author, all right? If one of the characters says/does something awful because they're assholes, well odds are I disagree violently with it. The fact that I wrote a story in which they did that does NOT mean I endorse it.
Other than that, enjoy! Let me know if it's worth continuing or if you'd be interested in reading more.
Chapter 1: Through the Looking Glass
Author/Co-Creator: Rose Zemlya
Editor/Co-Creator: KA Harchak
The old Ford came to a stop with its usual jerk and cough. Jericho Garcia-Cortez forced the unwilling stick-shift into park, then leaned forward onto his steering wheel to stare out at the dirty, unfriendly buildings, and the dark, threatening street.
Just what the Hell kind of freak have they got me out here looking for? He wondered darkly. I thought this guy's supposed to be rich. What the fuck's he doing out here in Bumtown? He sighed and unbuckled his seatbelt, muttering darkly to himself as he did so. "Only one way to find out," he grunted, pulling the latch on the cab door and throwing his foot into it for good measure – autumn was settling in and the damn doors were impossible to open once it got cold. He slid out of the seat and slammed the door behind him as he went, suddenly wishing he'd never left the car. It was freezing out.
"Kid'd better be worth it," he grumbled, shoving his hands into his pockets and starting down the drive of the first apartment building on the street. There were no trees or gardens to line the road, and the only streetlamp he could see consisted of a pole with a bit of shattered glass hanging from it, light bulb swinging listlessly on a wire. The walls of the building itself were barely visible beneath the graffiti which obscured the dark brick and stretched across the front doors and windows, broken only by what looked suspiciously like a bullet-hole and the associated spider web of cracks. He sneered at the building, unable to repress a shudder born of an upper middle-class upbringing.
It was almost amusing, really; he'd faced down God knew how many creatures right out of the devil's nightmares without so much as a flinch, and a bit of graffiti on a wall made him shudder.
He pushed his way in through the door with the bullet hole and approached the dilapidated intercom system set against the wall by the inner doors. "Jesus Christ," he muttered, frowning at it. "What is this, from the fifties?" He rolled his eyes and started to run his finger down the names behind the thick glass.
"Ballantyne, Bell, Bentley, Bhar, Bind, Bins, there we go. Blake, 333." He followed the line over to the ring code with one hand and punched it in with the other, wiping his hand off on his jeans as it rang. He expected it to ring for a while – it was nearly midnight, after all – but to his surprise it was answered on the second ring.
"'Lo?" Said a voice, barely audible over the staticy speaker.
"Evening. Is this Tristram Blake?"
"Maybe," replied the voice suspiciously, "who's asking for him this late?"
"Name's Jericho," he responded. "I've come to talk."
"I'm flattered. About what?"
"New York." There was a long pause that stretched until Jericho began to wonder if the intercom system had finally died on him.
"New York's gone, man. Everybody knows that." The voice had lost the flippant note and had taken on an edge that Jericho knew all to well. He leaned idly on the intercom system. He'd found the right kid all right.
"It's not what everybody knows that I've come to talk to you about, Tristram."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"No?" Jericho asked. "Then maybe Cas Hadrianwill. Why don't you put him on the line." Another long pause.
"How do you know that name?"
"Buzz me in and I'll tell you," Jericho responded easily. "It's fucking cold out here." Still the voice on the other end hesitated.
"How do I…" Another pause. Then, just barely audible: "Fuck it," immediately followed by an obnoxious buzz.
"Smart kid," Jericho murmured, pulling the door open and stepping into the blessed warmth of the hallway. He rubbed his hands together furiously in an attempt at warming them up as he approached the single elevator. He jabbed the button twice for good measure, then crossed his arms and waited.
Sounds like a punk, he decided, watching the little indicator lights flick on and off at each floor. Probably have a weapon, maybe a pistol? Something small. Won't pull it. Not right away. He hoped not, anyway. He didn't much feel like fighting tonight. It was a possibility, though. Happened a lot with the newly called. Paranoia, violence, sometimes even schizophrenia depending on how they were called. And judging by what he'd read on the situation in New York …
I'll be lucky he doesn't pull a fucking rocket launcher on me and blow the both of us right to Hell, he thought grimly to himself. How the fuck did he get out without getting infected, anyway? Lucky son of a bitch, that's for sure. A small bing announced the arrival of the elevator – looked like a death trap as far as Jericho was concerned – and he climbed into it, stabbing the button for the 9th floor with a finger, then returned his attention to the indicator lights on the inside of the elevator as it rocked unstably back and forth on its way up to the ninth. Another bing and he was out in the hallway, studying the numbers on the apartment doors, trying to decide which way to go. He headed right and counted down as he went.
"917, 915, 913, 911 … there we go. 909." He raised his hand to knock, but the door was pulled open of its own accord before he got much farther than that and a set of baleful champagne-coloured eyes replaced the tarnished numbers that decorated the door. Jericho schooled his face into neutrality, just barely repressing the urge to raise an eyebrow at the kid's appearance: thick, unnaturally bright-red hair, tight black leather pants showing off a thin waist and what Jericho was pretty sure was an anarchy symbol on the belt buckle, a long-sleeved shirt displaying the slogan " /BUSH " with the collar of another shirt peeking out through the neck of it, well-manicured nails, painted black, a short, waist-length leather jacket, and combat boots on his feet to top off the whole ensemble. Jericho bit-back the first few comments that occurred to him. It wasn't that the kid was bad looking – not by any means – he was just …
Freak, Jericho thought to himself. I knew he'd be a freak. As if we don't have enough of them. Who called it?
"Tristram Blake?" He offered his hand. "Jericho Garcia-Cortez. Hunter, level 3, with the Order."
"What are you? A priest?"
Oh my fucking God, was that a tongue ring? "Sort of." The kid frowned and hesitated for a moment more, but at last took Jericho's offered hand and shook it.
"Tristram Blake," he said. "No titles to speak of." Jericho raised an eyebrow.
"Can I come in?"
Jericho could tell before the conversation had even really started, that it wasn't going to go easily. Just from the set of Tristram's jaw, the defiant, cocky quirk of the boy's mouth, the way his eyes glittered with condescending curiosity. He just knew.
It was going to be a long night.
"I am part of an organization known only as the Order," he explained, trying unsuccessfully to find a spot on the dilapidated old armchair that didn't have something sticking out of it on an unpleasant angle. "We've been around for so long we're not even sure of the when, where, and how we were founded. We're worldwide and have dealings with almost every government on the face of the planet, and agents in every corner of the world. We're also a closely guarded secret," he added with a pointed look at Tristram, who looked as though he was trying to decide whether Jericho was crazy or drunk. "No one knows about our existence except our members, and some very high-ranking members of other organizations that we work with, like governments, churches, weapons manufacturers, and so and so – for fuck's sake, is there somewhere else I can sit?" He stood up and pointed angrily at the chair. Tristram offered him a smirk and gestured.
"I've got plenty of floor," he said. "Knock yourself out." Jericho directed a disgusted look around Tristram's tiny little hole of an apartment – taking in everything from the empty Chinese take-out boxes on the coffee table and the counter, to the piles of discarded newspapers scattered around the floor, to the mismatched "cushions" on the "couch" over which the kid had draped himself – before turning that same look on Tristram himself.
"Thanks," he said, just barely keeping the sneer off his face. "I'll stand."
"You do that," Tristram replied, not bothering to keep his own sneer off his face. Jericho directed a cool frown at him and leaned up against the wall. "So what exactly does this 'super secret religious governmental organization' of yours do?" Tristram asked, making quotation marks in the air by crooking his fingers. Jericho mimicked the gesture.
"This 'super secret religious governmental organization' isn't religious, or governmental," he responded tightly. "We work with those organizations, not for them. If nothing else we're quite above them as far as our own purposes. We don't answer to anyone but ourselves."
"Whatever," Tristram said, waving it off as unimportant. "For the government, with the government, same damn thing. I asked what you do. What's your organization for?"
"We deal with things that are generally outside the scope of your average human's … awareness, let's say," Jericho said. "I'd use the words supernatural and paranormal—"
"What like X-Files?"
"—but then you'd say that," Jericho finished, a dull expression on his face. "And I would be annoyed." Tristram gave him a visible once over and raised an eyebrow.
"David Duchovny, you are not."
"Too bad," Jericho said, unable to keep himself from rising to the bait, "you'd make a great Gillian Anderson." He shook his head. "Look, shut up, all right? You're getting me off topic."
"Oh right," Tristram said, "you were busy giving me your campaign pitch for the Crazy Bum of the Year Award."
"Crazy am I?" Jericho asked, resisting the almost overpowering urge to just strangle the kid.
"I know an acid trip when I see one, man," Tristram replied with a roll of his eyes.
"Well there's little doubt of that, now isn't there?" Jericho muttered under his breath. Whether he heard him or not, Tristram continued on, heedless.
"I mean, come off it. A super-secret ancient organization dedicated to dealing with the 'super natural' and 'paranormal'?" again the finger crooking gesture. Twice this time. Jericho briefly wondered if he'd get fired for breaking the kid's fingers. "Seriously, Pops, you've got some issues. You've been watching a bit too much TV I think."
"Don't call me Pops," Jericho snapped. "And from the look of things, I'm not the one with issues, Cas." That shut the kid up. The wry twist of his lips vanished without a trace, as did a shade or two of colour. For a half a second he looked as though Jericho had just slapped him across the face, but the next instant his face clouded over with anger.
"I don't know what you're talking about," he said stiffly.
"Oh you don't?" Jericho said. "Didn't sound like that when I said the name Cas Hadrian over the intercom. Sounded to me like you know him quite well."
"I thought you meant someone else."
"That's bullshit and you know it."
"Let's see if I can jog your memory, then," Jericho said with a raised eyebrow. "Cas Hadrian, son of Joseph Hadrian, formerly of New York. Went to Harvard Med School until the second to last year of his degree program, at which point he and his father had a tiff, and he dropped out." Tristram's eyes went wide. "He surfaces again in New York a year and a half later. Gets himself arrested for assaulting a police officer during a riot while protesting against the government's foreign policy. By the time he gets out, he's already off on his next rally, protesting against his father's corporation this time. This process – protest, jail, protest, jail – repeats itself over and over again until three weeks ago." He paused. "Do you know what happened three weeks ago, Tristram?" Tristram had gone pale by this point.
"There was a terrorist—"
"More bullshit," Jericho interrupted. "And you know it, don't you?"
"I don't know any—"
"The dead walked, Tristram," Jericho snapped. "The dead began to walk in New York."
"You're on crack," Tristram said flatly, getting up from the couch. "Terrorists blew New York up three weeks ago. Everybody knows that. It's got nothing to do with dead people, or zombies, or viruses, all right?" Jericho offered the boy a crooked smile.
"And who said anything about viruses?" He asked. Tristram hissed and narrowed his eyes. "But all right fine," Jericho said easily. "Let's pretend for a second you're not just bullshitting me and yourself and the God damned world. Let's pretend for a second you really don't know anything. I'd have to sum it up for you, and from the look of you, you'd probably rather not relive it. Personally I'd rather not go over it, myself. It's not exactly a pleasant subject." Tristram narrowed his eyes.
"You're the one who's bullshitting yourself," he snapped caustically. "You don't know anything about New York." Jericho shook his head.
Never should have called my bluff, boy. "All right fine, kid. Have it your way," he said. "I'll tell you what I know. Once upon a time New York City was a thriving metropolis of people and life. Nearly 20 million people lived and worked and breathed there every single day. One of those people was Joseph Hadrian, a well respected molecular biologist, among other things."
"A money-hungry capitalist bastard you mean," Tristram interjected, pacing nervously. "What do you know about Joseph Hadrian?"
"About as much as I know about you," Jericho returned. "Shut up and listen for a change. So Joseph Hadrian goes about his life in New York, fighting the good fight, trying to find ways to cure diseases and help people and all that jazz. He's a good guy. Smart, respected, got a nice little family all his own. But one day he's approached by Big Money. Big Money doesn't want to help people. Big Money doesn't want to cure disease. Big Money wants Joseph Hadrian to turn his brain to things like killing people with disease, and what Big Money wants, Big Money usually gets. So Joseph Hadrian starts to think about creating disease instead of curing it." Tristram came to a slow stop in the middle of his pacing and stared blankly at Jericho.
"Are you with me so far, kid?" Jericho asked, meeting his stare evenly. "We're talking biological warfare here. So Joseph Hadrian thinks and he thinks and he thinks, and he wonders: the problem with biological warfare is that it's a double-edged knife. Just how useful is a weapon that kills indiscriminately? What good is killing every living thing in an area with a powerful disease, when sooner or later your own troops are going to have to go in there and be exposed to it? And on top of that, there's no bloody guarantee that the disease will get everyone in the first place. Some people could resist the infection. There could be small pockets the virus doesn't ever touch. Even if a person does contract the disease, there's always the possibility that they'll survive – infinitesimal though that possibility may be – and the last thing any self-preserving government wants is survivors who can rat them out to the UN and NATO and the rest of it.
"Now here's where things start to get weird," he said, crossing his arms across his chest. "God knows how he came up with it – maybe he saw a freshly decapitated chicken, running around without a brain, or maybe he just watched one too many horror films – but suddenly Joseph Hadrian's brain switches from microbiologist mode, into mad scientist mode, and he realizes that the only way to kill any survivors is to go in there and do it manually; but what the Hell good is that? You'd expose your own troops to the disease and you're not gaining anything. So Joseph Hadrian thinks some more, and he realizes that for the greatest gain, you'd have to have the people already in the area doing it themselves. People you aren't going to miss. So he thinks to himself, why not have the diseased do it for you?" His eyes narrowed as Tristram's widened. "Why not have the deceased do it for you."
"Fuck you," Tristram spat. "You are insane."
"I'm not done."
"I want you to know that I'm armed," Tristram continued, nothing in his face or posture to suggest he was lying. "I have two pistols on me and if you so much as twitch the wrong way you're gonna have a cap in your ass so god damned fast you won't know what hit you."
"For fuck's sake, I'm not here to kill you."
"Then what are you here for?!" Tristram demanded. "Why the fuck are you standing there going on about viruses and Joseph Hadrian and everything else? What do you want from me?"
"I want you to admit what you saw happen to New York."
"I didn't see anything in New York!" Tristram cried, turning away from Jericho and glaring out the window into the blackness beyond. He crossed his arms as well, but couldn't hide the fact that his hands were shaking as he did so. "Nothing happened in New York."
Just a kid after all, aren't you Blake? Jericho thought to himself with a sudden pang of sympathy. A wretched, miserable little kid who's just found out that Santa Claus isn't real and the Easter Bunny's dead and you can't admit it to yourself for fear your heart will break.
"Then where was I?" He said calmly. "Right. Joseph Hadrian. So Joseph Hadrian goes out and hires a crack team of scientists from his corporation and locks them all up in a little laboratory so they can help him. They start to develop a disease that kills the brain, but leaves the body functional. Somewhere along the way, though, something goes wrong. The disease works, but it's unstable, and more contagious than they expected. Somehow, some way, one of the test subjects gets out…"
"Shut up," Tristram hissed, back rigid with barely suppressed violence.
"…infects the scientists, who in turn infect security, who in turn infect their families, who in turn infect their friends, and so on and so forth…"
"Stop! Shut up!"
"…and within a week New York is no longer a thriving metropolis teeming with 20 million individual lives. Now, New York is a City of the Dead, inhabited by the dead, teeming with the dead … only they're not entirely dead, are they, Tristram Blake?" He narrowed his eyes at the boy. "Their bodies still maintain their basic functionality. They stumble and moan and groan and attack each other and everything else that moves because that's what the virus within them has been bioengineered to do. Before you know it the Big Apple is rotten through to the core. Its inhabitants start decomposing …"
"I said shut up!"
"… and the next thing you know New York looks like an old horror movie from the 80s. The Government quarantines the whole island, blows up the bridges, patrols its edges, and claims it was a terrorist attack and that there are no survivors. No one left to tell the story of what actually happened. Not one soul out of twenty million." He could see Tristram's face contort through the reflection on the glass. "Except," he said, "for little Cas Hadrian. Son of the mad scientist, who managed to sneak off the island on the first scouting run made by the American Military. Smuggled himself away on a ship. No one knows how he managed to survive, not even the Order. No one knows how he escaped infection. How he didn't get ripped apart by the first man-made zombies. Everyone thinks he's dead – even the government. But he's not, is he Tristram? Little Cas Hadrian is doing fine and dandy, living in a shithole apartment in Bumtown U.S.A., hiding away from the world and the truth he's seen with his own two eyes." He paused for effect. "The last of the New Yorkers."
And at last, Tristram reacted. He punched the glass in the window hard enough to make it shudder threateningly in its casing and whirled around on his heel.
Jericho met his gaze calmly and didn't flinch. He'd been through this a thousand times before. Knew exactly what was going on the kid's brain. Understood from the experience and the awful light in Tristram's eyes that at that, exact moment, the kid hated him. Hated him passionately. Hated everything about him, from his scuffed hiking boots, to his stiff new jeans, to his mismatched eyes (one blue, one green). Why? Because he was there. Because he was convenient. Because when someone grabs you by the hair and forces you to look the one thing you never wanted to think of again in the face and you find its just as ugly as you remember it, you need to hate something, and instead of directing your energies at the thing you're afraid of, you'll turn around and attack the very thing that's trying to save you from it.
Like a drowning man strangling the lifeguard.
Jericho had left his guns in the truck. He hadn't wanted to set the kid anymore on edge than he already was. But now, as Tristram stood there and shook with rage and fear and a million other unnamed emotions, flexing his fists as though he would like nothing better than to reach under his jacket and rip out the pistols he'd said he kept there and just end the conversation right there and then, Jericho was starting to wonder if leaving his guns in the truck had been such a good idea after all.
"I don't know who's crazier," Tristram said in a tightly controlled voice. "You for going on about zombies and the supernatural and super secret organizations, or me for letting a fucked up crackhead like you into my house."
"And why did you let me in?" Jericho demanded, pushing himself off the wall and frowning at Tristram. "Hmmm? You wanna know why? Because you may've spent the past three weeks trying to convince yourself that New York didn't happen, that the news is right when it says that it was a terrorist attack, and that you're just crazy. You want to be crazy. But every time you close your eyes you see what's left of the Big Apple's inhabitants. You see horrible, decomposing faces – all slack muscles and dead expressions. You hear shambling steps and guttural noises. Every time you close your eyes you're back in New York, hiding in whatever hole it is you managed to shut yourself up in, and you can hear them out there, and they want you, and you know you're going to die." Tristram went pale. "You can't deny what happened there anymore than you can deny that you are, or were Cas Hadrian. That's why you let me in. Because on some level you know that there are such things as zombies, you've seen them yourself. There are such things as the undead, and demons, and the monsters under your bed. You know there are."
"I want you to get out," Tristram said stiffly. Jericho sighed.
"No!" Tristram shouted, taking a step forward. "Shut up. All I know is that my father was messing around with shit he shouldn't have been, and New York paid for it. That's it, that's all. I don't know anything about demons, or monsters or … or anything! Get out! Get out now!" He pointed furiously at the door. Jericho could feel his face melt back to the same irritated-with-the-world expression he'd been wearing when he'd first entered the apartment –he'd been expecting something like this, after all. It was standard issue with the newly called. Tristram's temper flared up further and his face contorted with fury. "Out!"
"Fine," Jericho said, climbing slowly to his feet. "I'll leave you here to live out what's left of your life, but understand this Tristram Blake, you have been called, and there's no going back from that. There's no blissful ignorance for you anymore. You've seen the other side, and you'll see it again."
"You'll meet a cashier at the store who just seems off. Pick up a girl at a club who gives you a chill. You'll look at a bum on the street and for half an instant you'll see something else entirely." He watched as the last of Tristram's color left his face. "You're aware of it, now, kid, and it'll haunt your steps 'till the end of your days."
"I'm calling security," Tristram said in reply, his voice hoarse. He all but lunged for a pile of newspapers in the corner and began to dig through them. "You've got until I find my god damned phone to get off the premises before I have you dragged off."
"Whatever, kid," Jericho said with a heavy sigh, heading for the door. He pulled his coat out of the closet and reached into one of the pockets, pulling out a slip of paper, holding it out to Tristram, who had produced a cordless phone from the pile of paper and was now clutching it like his life depended on it. "When you change your mind, give me a call and maybe we can continue this chat." Tristram snatched the card out of his hands, then crumpled it up violently and threw it over his shoulder.
"If I change my mind," he corrected him. "And I won't." Jericho shrugged into his coat and met the younger man's eyes.
"When," he insisted.
Jericho went, and Tristram slammed the door after him.
Denial, Jericho decided, slamming the door of the truck shut after him and forcing his key into the ignition with more force than was strictly necessary, was a hideous, ugly boil on the face of rationality. He hated it with a passion. Hated it for the waste of time and energy it was. It was a large part of why he hated going on these recruiting missions. It never failed. The newly called were always in denial. Always.
Good Christ, if a city full of zombies wasn't enough to convince a man that maybe he didn't know jack about the world and what monstrosities lurked in its darkest corners, then what the Hell would?!
He's in shock, Jericho told himself soothingly, turning the key and forcing the stick-shift into reverse. He wrapped his hand around the passenger seat headrest and craned his neck to peer behind him as he backed the truck up. I shouldn't have been so hard on him. Christ, even the Hunters who saw New York were freaked out. Hardly the kid's fault if his brain doesn't want to deal with it.
"So why do I have to deal with him?" He grumbled out loud, turning back around and jamming the stick into drive. "If they fucking think I'm going to take him on as a Charge, they've got another think coming." He wrapped one hand around the steering wheel and with the other turned the dial for the heat up as far as it would go. I need a drink. He blew a stray lock of dark hair out of his eyes in what was a decidedly dejected gesture and pressed down on the gas pedal.
How long? He wondered to himself as he drove. How long 'till he uncrumples that paper and calls me? He spared a glance for his cell phone, secured in its cradle on his dashboard. I give him two days, max. He's scared, he's not stupid. He'll get desperate soon enough. He raised an eyebrow at the road ahead.
On the other hand, anyone who'd put a friggin' chunk of metal through their tongue isn't likely the sharpest tool in the box, now are they? Maybe he is on—
"Jesus Christ!" He slammed his foot down onto the break pedal as something big and black bolted into the road right in front of him. He caught a brief glimpse of gold eyes and a canine face before the truck skidded to a stop with a squeal of rubber on pavement and the thud of a truck on flesh. Jericho slammed forward into the steering wheel, the seatbelt catching a half-instant too late as it always did. "Fuck," he coughed painfully, pushing himself back off the steering wheel and pressing his hand futilely against his chest. "What the Hell…?"
He grabbed the door handle and kicked it open, wincing as he did so. Great, just great. This was all he needed tonight – to run over someone's mutt and have to explain to them what happened. "God damned people and their God damned dogs!" He snarled, still rubbing his chest as he slipped out of the car. "Christ! Whatever happened to leash …," he rounded the hood of his truck and stopped, staring at the ground in confusion, "…laws." He froze.
There was nothing there.
No body, no blood, nothing.
His eyes narrowed.
A low growl was his only warning, but he was already in motion, twisting like a cat and flattening himself against the fender of his truck. The same black shape that had run in front of his truck sailed through the spot where he'd been a second before and landed with a grace that belied its size in the beams of the headlights. It turned in a single, smooth whirl of gold eyes, black fur, and slick white teeth and leapt again without missing a beat. Jericho threw himself to the side, reaching into his coat as he went, grabbing the smooth, cool handles of the revolvers at his hips. The wolf slammed into the fender of the truck and fell to the ground, but picked itself up without so much as a flinch to whirl on Jericho again, too-intelligent eyes narrowed in anticipation of its kill.
This time, however, it was staring down the barrel of two old-fashioned six-shooters.
"Bring it bitch," Jericho snarled, flashing his own teeth. "I'm packing silver." The wolf stopped short and snarled, raising its hackles, but didn't move any closer. Jericho cocked both guns and narrowed his eyes. "That's right," he said darkly. "I know what you are. And I know how to kill you." For a long moment they both stood and stared each other down, their standoff illuminated by the headlights of the old Ford, no movement made between them except the puffs of frozen breath that hung suspended for the briefest moments in the air, glittering sterilely in the light.
Come on …, Jericho intoned inwardly, glaring at the wolf through a puff of white. Come on you stupid beast… buy it! Buy it, buy it, buy it, buy it, buy it…
And at last, the wolf did. With one last, threatening bark, it made a fluid turn and bolted for the shadows on the other end of the street. Jericho waited until it had disappeared again before stealing a glance up at the sky as he uncocked his guns and slipped them back into their holsters in a single motion. The moon was almost, but not quite full. He narrowed his eyes at it.
"Shit," he said again, then turned back to his truck and climbed inside, shutting the door after him. He leaned over to the passenger side and slammed the glove compartment with the heel of his hand. It popped open and he reached in, rummaging through the multiple boxes held inside it, picking them up one at a time and then throwing them back in. "No, no, no, no, no, shit." He slammed the compartment closed again and snatched the cell phone out of its cradle as he straightened. He pressed a button and lifted the device to his ear. It rang twice, and then a pleasant feminine voice answered the phone.
"Good day! You have reached Al's Weapon Emporium. Our office hours are from—"
Jericho pulled the phone from his ear and pressed three more keys, then moved the phone back up to his ear. The same feminine voice answered again, but this time the tone was all business.
"Name, designation, and location please."
"Cortez. Hunter level 3. Corner of Kent and Innes."
"State your emergency."
"We've got a natural lycanthrope on the loose down here and I'm out of silver. Large wolf. Black coat."
"Has anyone been bitten?"
"Not sure, but there was blood on its muzzle and it wasn't mine."
"How long since the sighting?"
"Three Hunters have been dispatched to the area. You're out of silver, let them handle it." Jericho rolled his eyes. That more or less went without saying. You couldn't even hurt a natural without silver. The voice lost the businesslike tone and softened a bit. "Do you need any medical attention, Jeri?"
"Nah, it didn't hit me. I bluffed it. Did a number on my truck, though."
"How'd it go with the Blake kid?"
"About as well as I expected."
"He threw me out."
"At least he didn't shoot you."
"Always keeping things in perspective, aren't you Jen?"
"I try," she replied and he could hear the dimpled smile she followed up with. "Listen, my shift's over in an hour. Did you want to get a midnight snack somewhere?"
"Thanks, but no thanks," Jericho replied easily. "It's been a long day and I'm beat out. I'm just going to go home and pass out and wait for the kid's call. Let me know how it goes with the werewolf."
"I'll fill you in tomorrow," she replied with a disappointed sigh. "Don't work too hard, all right Jeri?"
"Who me?" He asked with a grin. "See you tomorrow Jen."
"See you." He hung up with a shake of his head. She never gave up, that one. He set the phone back into its cradle and started the truck back on its way with a sigh.
It had been a long day. He just wanted to be back at home, passed out in his bed.
God I need a drink.
If there was one thing that Jericho Garcia-Cortez could not stand, it was waiting.
As a child it ruined Christmas for him. The stores would all put out their Christmas merchandise, people would erect great, unsightly monuments to the holiday on their lawns and roofs, and even the most pathetic excuses for trees that lined the streets would wink and sparkle with red and green – and all by no later than December 1. That left twenty-four more days between then and Christmas in which he would be forced to sit there and wait. It was entirely too much time to live in a state of perpetual excitement and suspense, and by the time Christmas finally did get off its ass and roll around, he'd be so burnt out from the pre-Christmas wait that it was impossible to enjoy it – the same principle applied to all areas of Jericho's life.
Some people thrived on anticipation.
Jericho wanted to shoot them all.
Jericho was not a waiting man. Jericho was a doing man. If denial was one half of the reason Jericho hated recruitment assignments, then waiting was the other. All of his normal activities were up in the air – he couldn't be called out on other assignments, he couldn't go downtown and entertain himself somehow, he couldn't do anything, because if the kid called, and he missed it, he might not get another chance.
And with a kid like Tristram Blake, he knew he wouldn't get another chance.
It wasn't so much that the newly called were rare, but they were more often than not hard to find, let alone with Blake's level of education and potential; couple that with the shit the kid must know about his daddy's home-made zombies, and the next thing you know, the Order can't afford to lose him.
And so, there he was, on the first night of a full moon after a natural lycanthrope sighting, sitting on his couch and idly bouncing a silver bullet in his palm, instead of loading it into his gun and putting it through the heart of any poor bastard who managed to get bit by the beast and wasn't found by the Order prior to sunset that night, because he was stuck there waiting for some pampered little rich brat to come down of his gold-plated high horse and be a man for probably the first time in his sheltered little life.
He bounced the bullet a little too hard and didn't manage to catch it. It hit the ground with a pretty little clink and rolled under his couch. He made an annoyed noise and thought briefly about going after it, but opted instead to glare malignantly at his cell phone, resting quietly on the coffee table between the TV Guide and the coaster.
"Come on you bastard, call me," he growled. "Call me!"
It was sort of funny, in a perverse kind of way. He felt like he was back in high school, waiting for whoever he was currently interested in to return his phone call.
"It's been two days," he moaned, falling limply back onto his couch. He made a frustrated, disgruntled noise. He's got to have seen something by now. That area is crawling with shit. If I had a dime for every two bit fledgling—
The thought was cut short by the sharp electronic ring of his cell phone. "Finally!" He threw himself upright and snatched the little device off the coffee table, sparing a quick glance for the display on the front of it. The letters BLAKE, TRISTRAM glowed back up at him and he let loose a breath he hadn't realized he was holding.
"Took you long enough, kid," he growled, hitting the TALK button and lifting the phone to his ear. "Cortez speaking."
"Hey there Pops," said a familiar voice. Jericho rolled his eyes. He managed to sound more insolent over the phone than he had in real life.
"Hey kid. You got something to say?"
"Yeah I do, actually," Tristram replied. "Remember what you said – and I'm not saying it's true or anything, so don't even think it – what you said about … about seeing things now?"
"Yeah. What of it?"
"Well … I'm giving you an hour to prove to me that neither one of us is crazy before I check myself into the local asylum, and I tell you what, Pops, if I go I'm taking you with me."
"No need to threaten, kid," Jericho growled back. "You'll get your proof. Meet me at the end of your drive in fifteen minutes. And bring those toys you were talking about the other day with you."
"Oh believe me," Tristram replied darkly. "I will. And I assure you, they aren't toys."
"Good," Jericho said flatly. "See you in fifteen minutes." He hung up the phone and got to his feet.
The waiting was over: it was Christmas at last.