Living in an abandoned warehouse in a district of the city that was almost completely free of humans was very beneficial. The secluded location made for few questions when tortured victims voiced their agony to the night sky.
The demon currently chained to the wall of the warehouse was a real screamer. His voice, usually very deep, was shrill with panic and pain as his tormentor sliced into him with a sharp blade. Unfortunately for the demon, there were only two people close enough to hear his screams and one of them was the man working him over with a knife. The other was fast asleep on a pile of crates on the other side of the warehouse.
Most people would find it difficult, if not impossible, to be sleeping soundly while a screaming demon was being tortured several yards away. Kane was not most people; he was no stranger to screams of pain and terror. In fact, it was the sudden lack of shrieking that finally roused him from his slumber.
Yawning widely, Kane sat up and swung his legs over the side of the crates. After a lengthy stretch and another yawn, he looked over to where his friend had been going to work on their captive, a Langthor demon. His eyes took in the sight of the hulking grey form that was slumped against the far wall, clearly dead, and Xander, who was calmly attempting to wipe the bright orange demon blood off of his hands with an old rag.
"Well?" Kane's deep voice cut through the silence, catching the attention of his friend, who turned and walked over to him.
"He was very… reluctant to tell me anything, but he broke in the end. The weak ones always do." Xander's mouth curled up in a smirk, but it disappeared a second later when he looked down at his hands. Despite his efforts to remove the demon blood, it still clung to his flesh. "Stinking Langthor demons; their blood is like glue. Why do I always get stuck with the messy ones?"
"What did he say?" Kane inquired, impatience colouring his tone.
Xander shook his head and sighed. "It appears that your suspicions are correct. He confirmed that something ancient and powerful has decided to return to this dimension. This thing, whatever it is, has acolytes all over the world, all preparing for a ritual that will bring it into this dimension."
Kane interrupted him at that point. "What about my other suspicion?"
This drew a small nod. "He confirmed that one as well. That's where the dimensional walls are weakest. The ritual will have the greatest chance for success if it's performed there."
Silence fell as Kane considered what he'd just learned. After several moments passed, he rose to his feet and rubbed his hands together in anticipation. "I guess that means we'll be going on a little trip then." He paused and looked around the interior of the warehouse. "All right, you pack up any useful shit you can find in this dump, and I'll go get us some wheels. Meet me out front in twenty minutes."
He started for the door, but a question from his companion stopped him. "What should we do with the body?"
Kane looked over to the demon corpse and shrugged indifferently. "Just leave it for the rats. I'm sure they'll take care of it."
Before he could turn back to the door, Xander's voice rang out again. "Make sure you get some black paint. I'd rather not wake up crispy-fried tomorrow morning."
"Yeah, yeah; don't get your panties in a twist." Shaking his head, Kane turned back toward the door and finally managed to escape from the warehouse. He strode out into the cool night air, eager to get on the road. As he walked along, his thoughts focused on the destination of the upcoming trip and a dark grin spread across his face.
This is gonna be fun.
I hate being the bait.
That was the only thought going through Adrianna's mind as she made her way through the park.
She wasn't a fan of parks. During the day, they were happy, cheerful places, full of playing children. She didn't mind them then. But once darkness fell, and the sound of laughter faded away, all that was left was a bunch of metal and plastic contraptions. They cast shadows and provided hiding places for all the demons and vampires waiting for some unsuspecting, defenceless human to walk by.
Luckily for Adrianna, she happened to be neither unsuspecting nor defenceless. And as much as she disliked being used to lure out any lurking monsters, she knew she was perfect for the job. Her slight frame and the vulnerable expression she was so good at pasting on her face made for an almost irresistible target.
Knowing her friends were nearby, waiting to see if anything took the bait, was comforting. At the first sign of trouble, they would rush from their hiding places to deal with whatever creature tried to make a meal out of her.
Of course, she was more than capable of taking care of herself, a fact that was proven by the sudden appearance of a hungry Crathan demon.
Adrianna was a little on edge as she walked along, so when the snarling demon leapt out at her from behind a tree, she reacted instinctively. With a wave of her hand, she sent the hulking beast catapulting backwards through the air. It collided heavily with a small gazebo, reducing the structure to little more than splinters.
For a demon the size of the Crathan, such a collision wasn't much more than a minor annoyance. It rose from the pile of shattered boards and shook the splinters free from its leathery blue skin. Looking in Adrianna's direction, it gnashed its vicious teeth threateningly, dull brown eyes focused on her small form.
Despite her initial reaction to the demon's appearance, Adrianna was calm. She'd dealt with Crathans before. They were essentially mindless predators, living only for the hunt, all brute strength and ravenous hunger. Such a demon was not much of a threat to her; all the strength in the world didn't mean much when the target couldn't be touched.
When it looked like the demon was about to charge her, Adrianna casually held up her hand, forcing the Crathan to come to a complete stop. Confused, the demon attempted to push forward, only to find that it was unable to move so much as an inch. Lacking any real intelligence, the Crathan did the only thing it could; it kept trying to push forward, attempting to get to her.
With the threat contained, Adrianna took a moment to more closely study the demon as she waited for her friends to arrive on the scene. Stepping forward, she looked at the Crathan's face and shuddered slightly.
Ugly-ass brute, she thought, her eyes roving all over its massive, horned head.
Adrianna's observation was interrupted as several people appeared out of the night and quickly walked over to her. One of the newcomers, Christy, looked at the immobile demon and sighed. "Another Crathan? Where are all these things coming from?"
Before Adrianna could respond, the other new arrival, Mark, did. "We probably got one of the parents last time and missed the nest." He circled around the frozen demon, eyeing its struggling form closely. "This one is definitely younger than the last one. It only has a couple battle scars, probably made by its siblings."
"Should we just kill it, or try to question it and find out if there are others?" Christy asked.
Adrianna looked from her friend to the demon and stared at it for a second. The thought of trying to interrogate it didn't appeal to her in the least. Torture had never been something she or her friends were particularly good at.
"Wait," she said, as something occurred to her. "Can these things even talk?"
Mark shrugged. "I don't know. They seem pretty stupid, so I'm guessing no. Doesn't really matter though; even if it could tell us, what could we do with the information? Hunt down the rest? They don't stay in the same place longer than a couple nights anyways. So we kill it." As he spoke, Mark stepped forward and drew a short sword from the sheath on waist.
Adrianna held up her hand and concentrated on the demon. Unable to resist the force she was exuding, the Crathan fell to its knees and bowed its head. As she and Christy looked on, Mark steadied the blade of his sword over the back of the demon's neck, took a deep breath, and swung down hard. The sharp blade sheared through the Crathan's thick neck and its massive head fell to the ground with a dull thud. The body stayed upright for several seconds, blood squirting out of severed veins and arteries, before it slumped to the ground.
Mark stared at the corpse for a second, then returned his sword to its sheath and turned back to the others. "Come on," he said. "I think that's good enough for tonight. It's almost one-thirty, and I've got work in the morning."
Adrianna closed her eyes and sighed.
Ah crap, I almost forgot about work. When she was acting as the bait, everyday things like work and the like tended to get pushed to the back of her mind. Tomorrow is gonna be a long day.
Before the trio could get moving, Christy spoke. "What about the body?" She gestured to the massive headless corpse. "Shouldn't we move it? I mean, somebody could wander through here, out for a late night stroll or something."
Mark waved away her concerns as he walked past her. "Forget about it. You know how fast those things decay. Even if somebody did happen to see it, it'd be gone by the time they could bring anybody else back to see it. And even if they got a picture, everybody would just think they made it up. No body, no worries."
"And look." Adrianna pointed toward some bushes off to their right. "It looks like the clean-up crew is already here." Sure enough, several small forms slunk out of the bushes as they watched and made their way over to the corpse. The tiny demons were scavengers; they quickly went to work on the Crathan, tearing off little strips of flesh and shoving them in their mouths.
"Ah," Christy said, a sheepish smile on her face. "I forgot about them. My bad."
Adrianna smiled and threw an arm over her shoulders. "Don't worry about it. You'll catch on soon enough. You've only been here four months. Now let's go. I've got work tomorrow too." The two women caught up with Mark and the group quickly made their way through the park.
As they neared the exit, Adrianna decided to voice her displeasure over the whole bait situation. "Hey," she said, "next time, I say we use somebody else as bait. I'm getting really sick of doing it. Why can't we use Jason instead? I mean, he's always bragging that he's not afraid of anything; let's let him prove it."
Christy snorted, but any response that might have been forthcoming from Mark was forgotten as another presence suddenly appeared. "Well, well, what do we have here? Aren't you do-gooders a little bit old to be playing in a park?"
At the sound of the familiar hated voice, the group came to a stop. Adrianna felt her blood begin to boil as she glared in the direction of the voice.
"What do you want, Gabriel?" Mark inquired, his tone cold.
With a cocky grin on his handsome face, the dark-haired vampire stepped out of the shadows and let his eyes wander over the three friends. He let his eyes linger on each for a second, before finally coming to a rest on Adrianna. "Well, I was out for a little stroll, and I noticed that there were only three of you tonight. I just couldn't pass up the opportunity to do a little damage while I could. But you had to have her with you, of course." He tipped his head to Adrianna, the grin still on his face. "Little miss telekinesis. It's a right drag, I tell you. I would have loved to get a little better acquainted with the lovely Christy."
His gaze locked onto Christy, and Adrianna felt her shift slightly. It was understandable; the vampire was looking at her like a predator sizing up its prey, and it was clearly making the girl uncomfortable. Adrianna lifted her hand slightly, more than willing to force Gabriel to look elsewhere.
Before she could, Christy stepped forward, eyes focused on Gabriel's. "I've told you before, vampire; the only time you'll get close to me is the day I put a stake through your shrivelled little heart."
Adrianna was more than a little surprised by her usually timid friend's words, but Gabriel just grinned. "I look forward to the day you finally try that. We'll see who ends up staking who." He put heavy emphasis on 'staking' and his grin widened when Mark scowled and took a step toward him.
"Just leave, Gabriel," Adrianna said, before Mark could do anything he'd regret. "It's too late for this bullshit dance."
Still grinning, the vampire inclined his head slightly. "Fair enough. A word of advice before I go though: next time you kill a demon, you might want to take a little time and see if there's anything special about it, any unique markings or whatever. Wouldn't want you to kill the wrong demon, get on the wrong somebody's bad side. The devil's in the details." With those final words, and a foreboding chuckle, the vampire melted into the darkness.
As soon as he was gone, Christy shuddered and turned to Adrianna. "Uh, God, what is that guy's problem? How come he doesn't hit on you like that?"
Adrianna shrugged. "I guess I'm just not his type. Plus, I've physically injured him more times than I can count. I guess that's a turn-off for him or something."
Christy frowned. "Lucky you. Next time he shows up, I'm gonna kill him. Just so we're all clear."
"Perfectly," Mark said, breaking into the conversation. "Anybody who can take the murderer and turn him into a pile of dust has my blessing. But for now, how about we just forget about him and head home?"
Adrianna and Christy both nodded, and the trio set off again. This time, they made it all the way out of the park without interruption. When they reached the road, however, Christy broke the silence with a question. "I wonder what he meant, about checking demons for strange markings. What does that even mean? And why would he warn us at all? It's not like we're friends, what with us always trying to kill each other and everything."
Mark shrugged. "Yeah, it's weird, but I'm not going to worry about it. That douche is always trying to mess with our heads in some way. I'm sure this is just another game he's playing."
Unable to find fault with his logic, Adrianna remained silent. She knew Gabriel; she and her friends had clashed with him countless times since he first arrived in Lakeland three years previously. He was the oldest vampire they'd ever encountered, powerful and arrogant. But he'd never been able to kill them. Alone, he was stronger than any of them. But as a group, they were his match. So the two sides were stale-mated. The vampire turned to mind games to get at them, since he couldn't physically take them out.
Wouldn't surprise me in the least if tonight was just one more game that douchebag pulled out of his bag of tricks, she thought, frowning.
She was pulled out of her thoughts then, as a grinning Christy threw an arm over her shoulder and spoke. "Yeah, I guess you're right. Besides, even if something strange is going on, we'll deal with whatever happens. We always have before, right?"
Adrianna smiled at her and nodded. Without further interruption, of the vocal or demonic persuasion, the three friends continued their trek home, ready to go to bed and prepare for another day of living in the supernatural shit-hole that was Lakeland.
As the green sedan roared down the deserted highway, the driver's side window rolled down and harsh music blasting from the speakers, Kane was keeping a close eye on all of the signs he was blowing past. Ads for stores and restaurants were littered all along the side of the highway, but there was only one sign he was interested in.
As he cruised along, he sang the words of the song, with the fingers of his right hand tapping the beat on the steering wheel and his left hand hanging out the window. To his right, his companion was sleeping soundly, apparently oblivious to the loud music. Xander's head was resting against the window, which had been covered liberally with several coats of black paint. All of the windows had been painted in a similar fashion, with only a small section of clear glass for Kane to see out of. Although it was unlikely the sun would rise before they reached their destination, they weren't taking any chances.
Just as the song ended, Kane finally spotted the sign that he had been looking for all night. With a grin and a dark chuckle, he gunned the car, pushing it as hard as he could. He blew past the sign without a second glance, having already seen the words.
Lakeland – 25 miles