Border, KS

Isn't Kansas a little northern for Southern Gothic? (Updates Tuesday and Thursday)

10.6 Post Press

Walter stepped back in to the same conference room where they had started this whole thing. It seemed like it had been twenty years ago that Ashland showed up, although he knew that it hadn’t been. Before the press conference he had managed to get in to the green dress uniform he kept in his locker, and had even thrown on the hat that the creepy couple in town had made him when he was first hired. They’d pulled appropriate rank pins out of storage, and so he had walked out to give a word to the press looking like it hadn’t been a complete shock he had been named acting Marshal.

Now he slumped down in a chair in the conference room and reached up to undo the high collar on the uniform. “You know, the nice thing about my previous leadership career was that I was legally barred from discussing them.” Button undone, he tossed the hat on to the table. “Also if I’m acting Marshal can I switch us to a beret, or at least a traditional police hat?”

Leah, who had accompanied him back to the station while running point from her cell, laughed as she took a seat as well. She was followed by Tania Summers, Ashland, as well as Antigone, Siobhan, and both Ryans. “Not a fan of the Smokey the Bear hat?” She asked. She hadn’t bothered changing—she hadn’t been on camera.

“Not even slightly,” he sighed. “But with the outfit I can’t think of what would be better. Also I have no idea what our budget is. Also also there are literally a thousand other more important things to worry about than changing uniforms, especially since we don’t wear the whole getup most of the time.”

Ashland took a seat. “It was well done, Walt. I continue to be surprised by how many times people in Border will buy an excuse of ‘sudden and unlikely to be repeated gang attacks’ without asking why you have so many unexpected gangs. But who am I to complain. What’s next?”

Walter was about to respond to either her statements or her question, when Chief Deputy Marshal Lucy Alvarez walked in. She had been in the press conference with him, and was in a similar uniform; she took off her brown hat an tossed it on to the table next to his. “Chief Deputy,” Walter greeted her.

Lucy Alvarez was a tall, striking woman with light brown skin and dark hair she kept in a sensible bun. She was a couple years older than Walter but not by much, and she had been in the PD for her entire professional career. “Marshal,” she greeted, without a trace of bitterness or irony. “Call me Lucy. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume the people in this room have some idea what’s going on, all things considered; so I’m going to cut to the chase and say that I know what’s happening too, and we can skip all the posturing.” She specifically looked at Tania—Morgan had stayed back at the Hospital to help where she could, and Tania had met them at the station—and nodded to her. “Ma’am.”

That told Walter as much as her words did, and he nodded. “Welcome to the war party then, Lucy. Here’s where we stand: After meeting with the vampire leader, they attacked. Allegedly because we were getting too close to their plans,” Walter explained. “She called it a tactical withdrawal. We’ve stopped their attacks and have to have hurt them back. But we don’t know where they’ve gone to, or what exactly they were even doing in the first place.”

Alvarez nodded at that. “So it’s got something to do with your investigation into Reverend Morrison and her background; and that research lab that you found?”

“I’ve already sent people to check on the Reverend, and the lab. We didn’t have reports of them being attacked, but that could either mean they weren’t or that they were killed too quickly to report,” Leah answered immediately. “We should know something in the next few moments.”

Ashland looked like she had been about to ask that, but settled for a nod to Leah’s answer. “Since we’re operating under the assumption that those two things are related we need to use them to find out exactly how. What happened, and what does it have to do with…vampires,” she finished, looking like she couldn’t believe she was saying that word seriously.

“And then we need to find them,” Walter agreed. “Which brings us to an interesting question…do we arrest Vampires?”

Tania laughed, a harsh sound that was at most a cousin to something actually joyful. “It’s not the normal treatment, no. Are you proposing to keep them in the basement? Or the morgue?”

Siobhan visibly rolled her eyes, and Walter scowled. “We’re the Police, Tania, which means we’re not in the business of just wasting people. At least not in this department,” Walter offered with a shake of his head. “It’s worth thinking about whether or not there is a way for us to do that here.”

Ashland looked over to Tania, squinting. “Can someone adequately explain to me why the owner of the local newspaper is sitting in on a strategy meeting of the police department?” She asked. Walter shook his head.

“Nope,” he offered simply. Tania bared her teeth to Ashland, apparently content to let that serve as her answer. Ashland didn’t look particularly impressed by the answer, and for a moment Walter was worried she was going to press it and they were either going to have a problem or he was going to have to explain that Faeries were real too; but after a moment she apparently thought better of it and shrugged.

“Fine, not my department, I’ll look forward to seeing my name in the local paper. Senior Special Agent, technically,” she pointed out, giving Walter a falsely angelic smile as she used what he knew to be her cover title.

“Alright,” Walter interjected before anything else could be said. “We’ve all done enough for tonight. Everyone go try to get the sleep you can, we’re going to have long days coming up and we’re going to need it. I’ll message if anything comes up.”

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10.5 The Hell I Am

“The hell I am,” Walter responded immediately, looking to Leah to see if it was a particularly odd joke. The rest of the room was deathly silent, as befit their circumstances. Antigone and Siobhan were looking at him with owlishly large eyes, and he had to shrug at them.

Leah walked over to him and held up her phone. It was opened to a picture, of a letter on what Walter recognized was Marshal Alexander’s desk. It was on the official stationary of the department, and someone had typed and printed a letter on it.

In the event of my death or incapacity, I hereby appoint Deputy Marshal Walter Richards as Acting Marshal of the Border until I return, he is confirmed as Marshal, or someone else is appointed per city law.

William Alexander, 29th Marshal.

The signature was the only part of the letter in pen, and it was in blue ink for good form. Walter stared at it dumbstruck. It wasn’t dated, but he recognized the signature as the Marshal’s handwriting.

“This can’t be actually legal,” Walter finally responded as his brain overcame its bafflement. “There has to be more to appointing an acting Marshal than the previous one writing a letter at who knows what time and saying it’s so.”

Leah shook her head, as she held the phone out to show the others in the room as they came up to see. “In the event of incapacity or resignation, the Marshal can declare an Acting Marshal for up to 30 days without anyone else’s involvement. In the event the incapacity lasts for more than 30 days or after 30 days in case of a resignation the City Council can vote to remove the Acting Marshal. But if they don’t do so within 7 days the appointment is confirmed.”

That caused Ashland to blink. “That’s a terrible way to run any part of a government, and I think you know it. But it makes at least a little bit of sense,” she offered, looking over to Walter. “You know your shit and your clued in to the things going on in town.”

“Chief Deputy Alvarez is probably going to be a little bit hot under the collar about it, I’d wager?” Taito put in. “Like you pointed out, you’re jumping the chain of command in a major way. Still, if it’s legal…”

Andre shook his head a little. “It’s more common than you think. Uncle Will wasn’t a Chief Deputy Marshal when he was named Marshal. It’s not uncommon for one of them to end up with the job but it’s not uncommon for it not to be one of them either.” He shrugged. “We do things strange down here, but it is what it is.” He looked at Walter directly. “You’re the Marshal of the Border until you’re relieved or confirmed.”

There was a long moment of quiet in the room, as everyone took that information in and processed it for themselves. Some other officers trickled in, apparently having heard word as people back at the department texted their colleagues with the news. Men and women drawn and wan from an evening’s wild rid. Everyone looked tired, and concerned. Which isn’t surprising, Walter thought. I haven’t been with the Department that long; I’m an unknown quantity in a time of crisis, and nearly everyone liked Alexander.

Walter shook his head to clear his head of the shock and confusion. Or terror, he thought to himself. “Alright. I don’t know what the hell that means in the long run, but if we’re not doing something then we’re getting behind. Patton always said the best quality in a leader is making decisions.” He looked to Leah. “Until we get settled, you’re basically going to be chief of staff and public affairs officer. Have Alvarez tell the press I’ll give a press conference in…” He looked down at the watch on his wrist. “Forty-five minutes, at the station.” He reached out and put a hand on her shoulder, nodding to her.

Leah’s eyes went wide, but then she nodded. “Got it. I’ll make the call,” she responded, standing up and moving for the door. She paused. “I won’t let you down, Marshal,” she offered, nervous but proud.

Walter turned to Andre next. “Until I get back you’re in charge of working with the wounded here. We’ve got injured cops who are going to be even more nervous. Take some officers you trust that people like, and go see them. Reassure them, console them, make sure they know we appreciate them. And get me a list of who is injured and how badly.” Andre nodded, standing, and Walter held up a hand. “You’re going to need to do some first contact with families, especially of our KIAs. It’s going to be terrible, but I need someone who can do it.” He reached his hand out, and Andre shook it.

“You got it. I’ll grab DeAngelo and Dunbar and we’ll get to work,” Andre agreed, before he pulled Walter in to a quick man hug. “You’ve got this, Marshal,” he said quietly before he pulled back and let go. With a little salute, he walked out the door and called out to the two officers he see.

Walter turned to the other officers in the room, taking them in one at a time. He made sure each one got at least a brief moment of eye contact that was obviously for them. “We’re in a rough spot right now, but we’ve been in rough spots before. We got through them before and we will get through them now. The city is safe, or as safe as it can be for the moment; and we’ll be out there to keep it safe again. Tell your family, tell your friends. Whatever else happens, the Border PD is still here and still protecting the city.”

He watched them draw a measure of confidence from his words, from the confidence he was throwing out at them as desperately as possible. He got a couple of grins, a couple of wry salutes, and a general feeling they had their heads back in the game as they walked out of the waiting room. The moment the last of them walked out, Walter saw Morgan standing in the corner—apparently having snuck in. Or cheated with what Walter would never admit was magic.

“I can see why your soldiers would be so loyal to you, Walter,” Morgan offered appreciatively. “You gave people a mission and a sense of normalcy. Something to believe in. Do you think you can pull it off?”

Walter let out a sound that was somewhere between a sigh and a laugh, and shrugged. Ryan Aquino came up and clapped him on the shoulder. “Walter was the best. The Army lost a hell of a lot when they used him up. What do you need from me, boss?” He asked. Walter glanced over to Morgan.

“Can I borrow your knight as a bodyguard? They took out one Marshal, I wouldn’t put it past them to try again,” Walter asked, and explained.

Morgan nodded. “He’s yours until either of us need to call him back, but we’ll try to be sure we give you enough warning,” she agreed. “Speaking of, they didn’t take out one Marshal. It took a significant amount of my significant skill—and a lot of sufficiently advanced technology,” she allowed with a little bow to Walter. “But Bill is going to pull through. He’s got a long recovery ahead of him, but screw them they don’t have him.”

That drew a round of applause from everyone in the room, and smiles all around. “Alright,” Walter said after a moment. “We’re all exhausted but I’ve got a lot of work left it turns out. If I let you drive as fast as you want, will you drive us back to the station?” Morgan let out a laugh and pulled out her keys, walking toward the door.

“Hey dad,” Siobhan said softly as they walked toward the door. “That was really cool.” She reached out and squeezed him in a hug.

“Acting Marshal probably comes with a pay raise too, right?” Antigone asked.

“Probably,” Walter agreed with a shrug. Antigone and Siobhan grinned at one another.

“Dibs on a new car!” They said in cheerful unison. Walter let out a startled laugh before they all started laughing, the load lightening slightly as they shared the moment of levity.

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10.4 Border General Redux

“Glad to see the hospital hasn’t changed in a couple of hours,” Walter grunted to himself as he pushed in through the door. The call had come in over the radio while they were driving, that the Marshal had been taken to Border General and that he was in critical condition. They had promptly done a U-turn over a median, scared the living hell out of a bunch of random citizens, and reconfirmed their commitment to not letting Ryan Aquino drive city vehicles ever again.

“I’d like to stop coming here,” Antigone agreed as she ran up to meet them. She and Antigone had been driven to the hospital, after insisting they were not leaving their father alone again, in a car driven only somewhat more sedately by Morgan. At least she can teleport them out in an emergency, Walter thought grimly.

Morgan charged ahead in to the Emergency Room and grabbed a doctor she recognized. Within a few moments of cajoling and almost yelling she had something in her hands that she was reading off of. “He’s in surgery for multiple shrapnel wounds. They’ve stopped him from bleeding out, but it’s still going to be touch and go while they’re trying to get the pieces out.”

Walter nodded, resisting the urge to reach out and read the document because it would literally do nothing helpful and would probably only annoy Morgan. “Is there something you can do to help?” He asked quietly. She was a doctor, so it wasn’t an unreasonable request; but they also both knew he wasn’t asking about if she could help with the sutures.

“Oh good fuck yes,” Morgan answered, baring her teeth in a fierce look that in no way resembled a smile. “They shot the Marshal of the Border, that signs me up to do whatever I want. I will go slap the shit out of Death if he steps in to the room.”

Walter blinked a bit, and caught the chart as she tossed it at him. “I thought you were death?” He asked, not even mostly kidding.

“Fine…” Morgan huffed as she stalked off in the direction of the operating room. “Any other deaths.” She gave a little wave as she all but ran off, moving through the crowd toward the room with such ease that Walter assumed magic had to be involved. That left Walter, Siobhan, Antigone, Ryan Aquino, Ryan Richards, Andre, and Leah with nowhere to go but the waiting room.

Which they found currently occupied with Ashland and Taito. The broad Master Sergeant was sitting in one of the chairs in his shirtsleeves, while Ashland was standing and pulling on a new white dress shirt. The old one was on the chair next to Taito, ripped and blood stained, and Walter could see fresh bandages on the woman as she started buttoning up her shirt.

“So much for never letting them see you bleed,” Ashland commented wryly. She glanced down at her jacket and tie and apparently decided they were lost causes, so she reached up to spread her collar a little bit in order to make it look purposeful.

“I’ve seen you bleed before,” Walter answered as he went to drop down in to a chair, looking at the two of them. “How bad up were you?” He asked, his eyes glancing back to the bloody shirt again. The others found seats as well, with Ryan Aquino particularly making himself comfortable while the other Ryan went to huddle with his sisters to speak quietly.

Ashland looked at the shirt as well and shrugged. “Not too bad. A couple of stitches. The kid is out right now because he took a little bit more when the building exploded, so I’ll be looking to balance that out in my ledger.” She rolled her shoulders a bit before she grabbed her bloody shirt and tossed it in to the wastebasket in the corner. “We need to talk about what happened tonight. You have someone dealing with the press?”

Walter looked over to Leah, who nodded. “Chief Deputy Alvarez is second in command, and I assume she’s taken charge of the situation along with the PAO. Not really our monkeys or our circus,” Leah answered.

Ashland nodded. “Good. I can throw the weight of the FBI behind whatever the cover up is, which brings me immediately to the next point: What in the entire fuck happened tonight?” She leaned forward, elbows on her knees. “I got to watch a man get speared through the chest by a piece of rebar and pull himself up it to try to stab us. I think he died in a fire but I can’t be sure.” She shook her head, grimacing. “That’s a new nightmare for me, Walter, and I’m completely opposed to new nightmares.”

Walter leaned back, looking down at his shoes and tapping them for a moment. “If I tell you, you aren’t going to believe me,” he offered with a shrug. “I’ll tell you, I’m tired of people not knowing about it. But you won’t believe me.”

Ashland laughed, and it was both a little bit better and slightly fragile—like she was doing more work keeping it together than she was letting on. Walter blinked slightly at the sign of weakness, torn between distrusting and belief. “Walter, I guarantee you I’ve never been more receptive to whatever it is you want to tell me. Do we need the room?” She asked meaningfully, looking around the room. Walter shook his head.

“No, everyone here knows. Alright,” Walter sighed. “The honest to God, I am not bullshitting you and I have not gone crazy answer is that they’re vampires,” he answered plainly, in a tone that said he clearly expected they would laugh him out of the room. Taito blinked, and Ashland clearly looked like her first instinct would have been to disbelieve—but when no one else in the room even looked askance at it, and considering the weirdness she had apparently seen, she didn’t.

Instead she let out a little laugh. “OK. Vampires. Tell me about vampires, Walter.” She looked like she was surprised to have said the words, despite earlier protestations to the contrary. Walter opened his mouth to say something, when Leah’s phone started buzzing and she answered it. Everyone looked over to her curiously, and she blushed slightly—before she went pale.

“What is it?” Walter asked. Leah held up a hand to cover the receiver on her phone, before remembering it was a smart phone and she could just mute it.

“Walter…there are reporters down at the station who want a statement from you,” Leah explained.

Walter blinked. “I guess someone saw me jumping around town?” He asked. Leah shook her head. “Why then?”

“Because apparently you’re the Acting Marshal, Walter,” Leah answered.

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10.3 A Little Bit of Heat and Light

Somebody had once told William that grenades were nothing to be afraid of. “Just a little bit of heat and light.” He hadn’t been afraid of them—he’d just had a healthy caution born of war movies and the fact that they were literally designed to blow people up. Of course trying to explain that respect to a Marine Drill Instructor was an exercise in futility, so he had overcome it. Because that’s what a Marine does, and what he did. But he disagreed it was just heat and light; he didn’t like fire.

The real nightmare was later, a firefight in Vietnam. A buddy of his threw a grenade too low and it bounced off of a log, right back at them. The buddy didn’t make it out, nor did another friend. He could still feel the scar it had given him when it rained.

The fact that the building was on fire was what made him think of that, he knew. He had to shake it off, the prickling fear that rolled up his neck and tingled on his scalp, before it distracted him too much. He had plenty to be afraid of without the terror of a flashback to something that had happened over 40 years before.

He saw the grenade roll in to the room and immediately recognized it. The U.S. had been using the M67 fragmentation grenade since the 1960s, after all; when you’d used one you tended to recognize it. How a bunch of vampires turned terrorists had ended up with some was a problem for quartermasters. He just had to not get blown up.

He dropped his rifle, grabbed Sergeant Fox and hauled the man ahead of him before he jumped. He felt the grenade go off more than he heard it, the thump and rattle in his body that told him he had probably been a little bit too close. But he also had very little time to worry about that, because he knew they would be following up on the grenade attack. He landed hard on the Sergeant and rolled off, pulling out his sidearm with a groan…

Only for it to be kicked away by a boot, the crunch and sudden pain in his hand telling him that he had probably just broken a finger or two. The man above him was tall, buzz cut, cruel looking. He had a semi-automatic pistol in his hand, and pointed it. It was funny what you noticed when you were about to die.

“I think you’re supposed to say that you’re too old for this shit,” the man offered with a cruel grin.

He thought it was terribly funny that he’d die to some human asshole, not even a vampire, who also happened to be casually racist. Not actually funny, but terribly funny.

“You’re too old for this shit,” a voice came from the side. Then there was a gunshot, and a splatter on the wall, and the man fell off of him. “What a terrible line. Come on, Top, let’s get you out of here before they blow the damn building.” She grunted, and reached down to grab his arm and pull it over her shoulder. It was the woman, Ashland, that Walter hated so much. Right then he would have taken a rescue from the devil himself, so he wasn’t going to complain, especially as he realized he was bleeding fairly intensely from his side and was losing feeling in his legs. “Shit, you’re bleeding out. Taito, get the Sergeant and haul ass!”

He was impressed at the woman’s ability to carry him, but he must have blacked out at some point because the next thing he knew he was outside of the building. And then the building was exploding, a horrifying sound of metal shrieking and brick flying everywhere. His last thought before the darkness came again was that it was just a little bit of heat and light…

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10.2 Aftermath

Walter lost track of how many different fights he had been in. It was possible that he had never been in so many different fights in one day, let alone in a few hours, at any point in his life. 32nd and Main had turned in to the West District Police building, which had turned in to Border Power and Electric, which had turned in to an alley outside of the hat store. He was exhausted, and he had run out of ammunition for his rifle, and he was down to a single full magazine for his pistol as he walked out of the alley and looked to Morgan. “Where next?”

Even Morgan was starting to look exhausted. She had explained that showing up with the force that they were was far more draining than just showing up, and that the amount of interfering metals he was carrying added to it, as did the fact that she was giving him some of her energy during the process to keep him going. “I’ve got juice for one more, and we’ve got two left. Far west side of town or far east. There’s no radio report, I just know where there’s fighting—but not much more. Your call,” she breathed slightly.

Walter winced a little bit. “Absolutely no intel on either?” He asked, drawing a shake of her head in response. He nodded, acknowledging the limitation and not blaming her. He sighed, and pulled a coin out of his pocket. “Heads west, tails east.” He flipped the coin—a nickel—and watched as it spun through the air. He was tired enough to not even bother with catching it, just following its path as it flopped to the ground with the visage of Thomas Jefferson staring up at the sky. “West it is,” he offered, rolling his shoulder.

Morgan looked around for a moment, and spotted an honest-to-goodness old fashioned phone booth—albeit one covered in graffiti and with the phone long since gone. “How quaint,” Morgan breathed appreciatively as the two of them slogged toward it. Walter pulled out his radio and toggled it.

“Badge 928 to all units, two ongoing firefights remaining in city. Badge 928 going to reinforce units on the west end of town, find and reinforce units on east end. 928 out,” Walter spoke in to the radio before he put it back on to his belt. “Best we can do if we don’t have the time or juice to hit both. Ready for sufficiently advanced technology?”

The power with which Morgan rolled her eyes could have probably juiced a helicopter to get them where they were going. “Get in the goddamn phone booth, Superman,” she commanded, and Walter obeyed.

**** ****

What seemed like four hours later but was probably no more than about forty minutes, Walter walked exhaustedly in to the Border PD main building to weary but excited applause. Almost the whole department had been called in during the evening, and as the fighting had died down they had made their way back to the main office for debriefing and treatment of minor wounds. Walter saw far too many wounded, and far too many not there—either at the hospital for more serious injuries or dead—for his liking.

Andre Alexander came up with a stack of documents in his hands as the applause was dying down. “Walt, that was a hell of a thing you did. There’s a lot of people here who would have been a lot worse off if you hadn’t run yourself through the ringer.” He reached out and squeezed Walter’s shoulder as Leah Silverman came up with another pile of documents.

“Initial reports,” she explained, walking with Walter to one of the big conference tables in the main entryway. “We’ve got a lot fewer KIA than we could have, although we’ve got a lot of wounded. And the media is going crazy—we need to say something to them.” She also held something out in her other hand for him to take—a Border PD coffee mug filled with what it was designed for. He took it gratefully and downed a long gulp of it. Andre offered a similar cup to Morgan, who gave him a grateful smile and took it as well.

“God that’s simultaneously the best and worst coffee that I’ve ever had,” Walter offered almost reverentially. “Did everyone get here alright?” He asked a heartbeat later, still holding the coffee like he was trying to absorb it by smell. Leah nodded, and motioned to one of the conference rooms, which Walter began walking toward tiredly.

“Your daughters and their friends are all here, as well as the girl from the hospital and Ryan Aquino are all in there. We’re waiting for some of the final clean reports, we’ve still got units out in the city we don’t have contact from. And some smaller incidents we don’t think are related; people taking advantage of the ‘riots’,” Leah offered with a wrinkle of her nose. They went through the door to the conference room, the same one they had sat with Ashland in not long ago. As soon as he passed through the door he was smothered in hugs from his children.

“Thank God you’re OK!” Antigone breathed as she squeezed him.

“And you were worried about us doing crazy shit?” Siobhan’s comment was playing it more cool but she was hugging him no less tightly. He wrapped his arms around them, squeezing and reassuring himself that they were wholly safe as well. “We’ve been following your reports on the radio.”

“We were going out of our minds!” Antigone agreed, her voice somewhere between an admonishment and a gasp of relief.

Siobhan, as usual, had a slightly different take. “But it was kind of amazing, you were kicking ass all over the city! No wonder they clapped when you came in!” She sounded proud of him, which warmed Walter’s heart a little bit even through the weariness. “BPD should invest in teleportation, looks like it works pretty well.”

Walter snorted and pulled back from their hugs, looking over to the others. Lacey, Monica, Scotty, and the girl from the hospital looked similarly shaken but not particularly worse for wear. He opened his mouth to ask how they were doing, when the radio on the table crackled to life. A panicked voice came through on an all channels broadcast.

“Badge 344 to all units. 10-34 at McPherson Warehouse. Hundred is wounded. I repeat, Hundred is down!” The terrified voice came through. Leah, Andre, and Walter all stiffened, and Andre cursed.

“That’s the Marshal!” Leah gasped, as they all started for the door.

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10.1 Semper Gumby

“Does your mere presence make Vampires flee?” Walter asked as the closet door closed behind them. He knew he would only have a few seconds, so he asked the first question on his mind. “And where are we going?”

Morgan shot him a look and a little bit of a grin. “Of course it does—I’m the Queen of Winter, and they are most definitely not. But mostly the fact that I’m massaging a hole in time and space means anyone vaguely supernatural can feel it coming unless I take effort to hide it.” Her grin turned a little but lupine as she held out her hands to begin doing whatever it was that she did. Blue light began to expand off of her hands, frost licking the walls across from her fingertips. “And if I can’t outright fight for the side I want to, then I can damn well make my allegiances known in other ways. They’ll feel me coming.”

Walter raised an eyebrow, and resisted the urge to comment on her phrasing, when he felt the now familiar feeling of being folded in on himself and the world shuddered. It was cold, whatever flashing space he took between worlds, and the world was a swirl of blue in light and dark shades. It felt both…formless and purposeful at the same time, and it felt like it went on for longer than the few moments that he objectively knew it was. When it was done he was in another closet, this one stocked with office supplies rather than janitorial ones, and he reached for the door.

“Where are we?” He asked curiously, waiting for an answer before he opened the door. “And are these vampires or humans?” He did a quick mental count of how many bullets he had and quickly made sure that he had his other magazines—but even so he wasn’t sure he’d have enough for what he had to do.

“32nd and Main,” Morgan answered immediately. “I heard it as one of the firefights on the police radio that was going the worst. I think Andre and Leah are here. Ready?” Walter nodded, and then they bolted out the door. Which was dramatic, but apparently they were just in the supply closet of what looked to be a small law or accounting firm right off of the street. He started to look over his shoulder at Morgan before he saw through the window that he was overlooking the firefight. “Yes, I can pick a good spot, now go save your friends,” she offered, walking casually to the window to watch. “I believe it is just humans here.”

Walter grinned. “See you on the other side for round two,” he offered, before moving quickly to the door, keeping low to make sure that he wouldn’t be seen. In dark clothing in a dark building at an oblique angle it wasn’t likely—but he didn’t want to make it easier, either.

Outside there were two police cars forming a barricade, behind which officers were clustered with service pistols and a few rifles, with most wearing bullet proof helmets and jackts. On the other side there were a matching pair of carefully parked SUVs behind which hid a much greater number of people wearing armor and helmets and almost universally holding automatic weapons of some kind. He winced, because that was a serious imbalance of firepower, but there wasn’t a lot he could do. He pulled out his radio, and switched it to the police frequency but kept the volume just barely on. There was every possibility they would be monitoring police frequencies, so he had to come up with something that would let Andre and Leah know that something was going to be happening without tipping off what it was. He only thought for a second.

“Badge 336,” he murmured in to the radio, using Andre’s badge number. “Semper Gumby.” He watched one of the police officers behind the car, otherwise unidentifiable, take a quick look around before he returned his eyes to the fight. There’s Andre, and he now knows what’s coming, Walter thought. The enemy closest to Walter perked his head up at this new intrusion to the chatter he was clearly monitoring, although it was clear he didn’t know what it meant, and he looked curiously around…in the wrong direction.

There, Walter thought as he opened up the door cautiously. The Rangers Rules, both in ancient form and modern, tell an Army Ranger to wait in ambush until their fire is doubly frightening and that after firing an enemy could be rushed with hatchets. Walter wished he had his hatchet with him, but he figured an orichalcum knife would due. He pushed the door open and, just as the man at the end of the line was starting to look back, threw himself out in to the street at a full run. He braced the hand that held the gun against the hand that held the knife, holding it like he would a flashlight in a standard shooting stance.

He was firing before his other foot hit the ground on the first step of the run. Each of the enemy soldiers was wearing body armor and a helmet, so his shots had to count—and he made sure they did. The first one took the soldier listening to police radio chatter in the side of the head just below the helmet, dropping him instantly. The next shot had been intended to do the same to the following man, but he turned at the sound of Walter exiting the office building so the bullet took him directly on the chin. The third soldier in the row figured out what was happening more quickly, but by then Walter was to the rear of the SUV that acted as half of their barricade, crouching down low. Since they had been parked hood to hood this gave him his own little bit of cover, although he was only too aware of how little cover it was.

But that was alright, he knew, because his job now wasn’t really to take down more of them—but to distract them so they would keep making mistakes. He leaned around the rear of the car and fired two rounds quickly at the next two men in line, purposefully aiming low. One hit the target in the calf and the other forced the fourth man in line to dance back. Walter finished off the man he had shot in the calf with a double tap before he crouched back around to cover because he was out of ammo. The fourth man who had jumped back realized a second too late that doing so left him exposed to the other police officers, who obligingly dropped him with a shot to the upper neck.

Walter ejected the magazine from his pistol and was just slamming the other one in place when one of the men burst around the end of the cover to try to take him out. Walter saw the barrel of the rifle sweeping toward him and desperately threw up hid left arm to block its descent. The man fired and Walter cursed at the spray of gas—and the volume of the gunshot so close to his face—but the bullet flew wide and embedded itself in the asphalt. In return Walter brought his own pistol and jammed it up toward the man’s chin to try for a killing shot; but the other man was too good for that and blocked it as well. That left them each out of position and each blocking the other man’s gun, with the first man to break the stalemate likely winning.

Walter dropped his block of the man’s rifle but stood up quickly, slamming the crown of his head in to the man’s chin. It dazed Walter slightly but did worse to the soldier, sending him stumbling back a bit. That was all Walter needed to take the orichalcum dagger he held reverse gripped in his left hand and bury it in the man’s throat. He dropped to the ground as Walter turned desperately back to the other soldiers…

To find them fleeing as the Border PD advanced toward them, the fight having turned against them because of the flanking maneuver. Walter breathed out, panting slightly as Andre and Leah ran up to him in full tactical gear. “Holy shit, Walter, that was incredible,” Leah breathed.

“Incredibly stupid, you could have been killed…but thanks for the help,” Andre offered with a shake of his head. “Semper Gumby, huh?” He asked. Walter smirked as he leaned down to pick up one of the discarded automatic rifles. It was an M4A1, and Walter checked the magazine before grabbing another one from someone who was no longer using it.

“Always Gumby?” Leah asked, parsing the Latin and looking at Walter curiously.

“Marine lingo,” Walter answered. “Always flexible. I can’t stay, I’m playing pinch hitter for the whole department thanks to some sufficiently advanced technology.”

“Magic,” Leah corrected helpfully.

“Never,” Walter responded immediately. “You guys alright here while I go help elsewhere?” When they nodded he returned it, jogging back toward the office where Morgan waited to go to their next site.

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10.0 Sicarius

Chapter 10: Battlefields

A fight, a battle, has a flow to it. Not just a momentum in the sense of one person having the upper hand, but an ebb and flow to it. Half of being successful in battles, Walter knew, was following that ebb and flow and knowing how to take advantage of it. And so Walter knew that he would never have as good a time to press his luck as he did in the moments following his brazen attack and slaying of the first vampire, as the corpse slid away from his dagger and began to turn to ash on the floor.

“Bug, go right!” He barked as he moved to the left and immediately pressed his attack. He kept the dagger in a knife fighter’s grip, as opposed to an ice pick, and slashed at the throat of one of the vampires ahead of him. She was a dark haired woman and she cursed and flowed back away from his blade like water. In a smooth motion Walter drew his pistol out from his jacket with his left hand—which required a bit of maneuvering, given he had it set for a right handed draw—and fired two shots at the chest of the other. The bullets impacted and the man hissed, but it only slowed him down for a second.

By telling Siobhan to go right Walter had split the remaining three vampires into two groups, a duo he now fought and a single Siobhan faced. She must have sensed something as well because she was pressing her attack—but Walter didn’t have much time to worry about her either. Besides, she had the iron clad faerie dog with her, and Walter trusted both of them to watch one another’s backs. His own was slightly more exposed.

The male vampire, apparently healed from the gaping bullet wounds, lunged at Walter with fingers that had apparently gone to form claws. It was a neat trick, and one he didn’t particularly want to judge the efficacy of. He didn’t think he was going to get out of the way and was bracing himself for the incoming shredding when something inside him…shifted. Gave way or gave him a pool of just a little bit more speed, and he ducked out of the way of the blow. He brought the knife up but wasn’t quite fast enough to do more than superficially slash at the man’s ribs before he turned to block an incoming punch from the woman.

He felt something inside of him, the place where he had pulled just a little bit more speed from. He could feel it there waiting. It was warm and dark and filled with terror, dark red lights twinkling in the night like rubies, waiting for him to call on it if he needed it. The fact that it was there terrified him, but he wasn’t going to forget that it was there if he needed it. He pushed it aside as he slapped the woman’s hand away with the side of his gun and tried to follow up with his dagger, but couldn’t connect.

Walter felt the momentum of the fight flowing away from him as he kept pressing to try to get an advantage against the vampires, but he kept finding himself denied. He could get close to being in a position to press but in that moment the other vampire would flow in and seal the whole. He wasn’t getting too terribly scored himself, although he was taking his share of cuts and bruises as well as the fight continued. He just needed to be a little bit faster, or a little bit stronger to push through a block and have an unguarded shot at a vital area. If he couldn’t get to it soon he wouldn’t have a chance to, and would have to retreat to regroup with Siobhan and try to press it three (two humans and one dog) to three (vampires).

Or, he thought, I could try the other thing. The thing he had felt that had helped him be just a bit faster, even as it terrified him. It felt like black silk and sweet lies in his mind, but it also felt like just a little bit more ability to survive. He didn’t know what would happen if he and Siobhan were forced to retreat down the hallway, but he knew it was not nearly as good an outcome as if he could kill his two and then go help Siobhan do the same. So he reached out to it and touched that dark place, and felt a piece of it break off and seep in to him.

It wasn’t a river, the sudden maddening speed that he had seen Morgan or Oberon employ, but it was just enough. A bit of speed, enough to duck under a slightly overextended arm and come in at the ribs. Just that much and he was in and his orichalcum dagger slid between the ribs of the male vampire. The man’s eyes went wide with shock as the dagger pierced his heart, but Walter didn’t stop; he slid the dagger out and launched himself with that edge of speed and power at the other vampire.

The dark haired woman blinked and flowed back away, but she was slightly too slow to avoid the blade completely. It left a long scoring line down hr cheek which hissed as if it had been drawn with acid. She started forward again, but then a scream filled the hallway. Siobhan, gasping and with a cut down her cheek, but standing in front of the swiftly decomposing decapitated corpse that had once been a vampire. She started forward to reinforce Walter, and the Vampire apparently thought better of facing the two of them at once. She took two quick steps back, and then fled down the darkened hallway and disappeared.

“I need to stop fighting enemies that can do that,” Walter grunted. He looked to Siobhan, bloody but unbowed with sword in hand—and beyond her to Antigone, Monica, Lacey, and that boy that always seemed to be with them when they got in trouble. “Everyone alright?”

Monica breathed out, shaking her head in a little bit of shock. “Jesus Christ,” she cursed softly.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” Walter asked, looking around for a moment. Morgan appeared as if out of nowhere, or maybe just lingering by the closet. “More?” He asked. She paused for a moment and closed her eyes, considering.

“One or two we may be able to jump on our way out, but I don’t think we have time. They’re fleeing—I can feel them calling to the shadows to escape us,” Morgan answered. She looked back at the group of teenagers. “They’ll be safe—as soon as the vampires are out they won’t be able to r-enter for some time, I placed something that will block them. Ready to go to the next battlefield on this evening’s list?” She asked, holding out a hand.

Walter nodded, looking to his daughters and their friends. “Be safe, Ryan will come and make sure you’re safe and get you all home. I love you, and I’ll see you all in a bit.” At that he took Morgan’s hand, and the both of them lunged back in to the closet to disappear once more.

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9.7 Don’t Choke

Siobhan gasped for air as she was lifted off the ground by her throat. She reached up to try to pry the fingers off of her windpipe, but they were like cold iron bars and she could find no purchase. Perhaps predictably that left her next move as trying to kick whomever it was in the stomach, but her choker was apparently pretty hardbodied as it just ended up hurting her foot. She started to panic a little bit, as she heard a voice.

“They always try to kick,” the deep voice offered with an amused drawl. “It’s always the fingers and then the kicking. Why aren’t people more imaginative?” Siobhan managed to look over her shoulder to find the largest Asian man she had ever seen holding her up. Each of his fingers was the size of a sausage—he probably could have effectively choked her with two fingers and a thumb.

“I mean,” came the other voice, which turned out to belong to a slender woman of medium height. “You’d get more variety if you didn’t just kill people by choking them to death. Kind of your fault if it gets a little repetetive.” She walked up to Siobhan and reached out to stroke the back of her head. “Now then, you seem to have brought us who we needed. Put down the…knife, and we might let your sister go. It won’t help you with us.”

Oh, right, Siobhan thought wryly, even as she was choking. It was worth a shot—she didn’t think vampires ware particularly susceptible to swords but that didn’t mean it wasn’t worth trying for. She got a good grip on the sword, and started squirming to try to get a good angle. The Asian man laughed at that. “Oh, she’s got fight in her, I like—” He started in a condescending tone. Then Siobhan got the right angle and jerked her body, swinging the sword in a wide arc that brought it through the man’s wrist. Far from having no effect it seemed to have a completely normal effect, slicing in to the flesh and bone. The man let out a gasp and screamed in pain, his hand releasing her neck and dropping her to the ground.

Siobhan stumbled away from him back to the other students who were watching in mute horror at the unfolding proceedings. That brought her back to the side of the Eisenhund as well, who was growling at the vampires. Siobhan gave him a sidelong look, gesturing. “Thanks for the assist, buddy,” she groused in a voice gone hoarse. The dog looked apologetic somehow, but took a step forward to indicate that its head was back in the game so to speak. Siobhan nodded, and turned to the vampires again who were staring at her in shock.

“What the fuck are you?” The Asian man asked, looking at her through eyes gone wide in fright in a way that seems like it might have been a long time since he was afraid of anything. The woman was also looking in concern, but since she wasn’t injured it was less pressing at the moment. “Why is it healing so slowly?”

Siobhan shrugged. “Faerie…girl?” She shrugged a little bit, brandishing the sword out in front of her. “Faerie princess seems a little bit presumptuous. Wait, no, I got it!” Siobhan grinned wickedly. “Faerie knight, that’s the ticket. I’m a Knight of the Courts of Faerie, and you are not taking my friends. Leave now, keep all your limbs,” she offered.

The Asian man grunted, but with his off hand reached in to his long coat to pull out a wicked long knife. “No, now we’re going to make it hurt. I’ve never gotten to kill a Faerie before. I wonder what you taste like, you little bitch?” He hissed angrily. Siobhan blinked, and then snorted.

“That’s your line, I wonder what you taste like?” Siobhan asked. “Seriously? You don’t sound like you’re a badass, you just sound like you’re a pervert. I’m not worried about you killing me, I’m worried about leaving my drink unattended. So if you want to have to ask your buddy there for a courtesy handy, come and get some fang face.” That was apparently all the motivation they needed to start bolting for her.

Shit they’re fast! Siobhan thought, throwing herself to one side as the Asian man came at her in a blur with the knife. She thought they might have been faster than the Faerie woman she killed in the High School, but she wasn’t faster than the demon they’d killed in the basement of the hospital. God my life is screwed up!

She dodged out of the way as the man slashed with his knife again, and he looked rather surprised that she hadn’t been right there to get disembowled. But he was fast as a viper to turn and press the fight to her, until he was interrupted by the Eisenhund snarling and lunging at him. That distracted him for a long enough moment that Siobhan could turn and slash at the female vampire as she came in for a bite. That forced the woman to dance back because she had no desire to get slashed with a weapon that could apparently hurt her. But they were still fast enough that Siobhan felt like she was probably going to be on the losing end of this battle. Even as she thought that, however, she felt something in her chest that felt…familiar somehow.

She had no time to think about it as the woman changed angles and tried to come in from the side. That required her to pivot but put her back to the Asian man, who lunged at her past the Eisenhund. The dog’s snapping teeth prevented him from scoring more than a light slash, but it still burned as the knife lacerated her shoulder and spent a little spray of her blood across the hallway.

“Shit!” She gasped, stumbling back away. The Eisenhund lept to join her, presenting a united front, as the feeling in her chest continued to grow. She whimpered, backing up past a storage closet as she tried to place it. The vampires turned to advance menacingly, growling with a little bit of inhuman hunger as they did so.

“Well what do we have here,” came a voice from behind her. Siobhan groaned, looking back over her shoulder as the two vampires they saw originally came up from behind her. “Having trouble containing one little girl with a sword?” These were two men, and one raised an eyebrow in taunt.

“Ok, I don’t want to go through this again,” Siobhan began, shaking her head. Finally the feeling in her chest, why it was familiar, fell in to place. It was the High School, what Antigone had felt before she opened the door. Which meant… “Sorry, little bit distracted. I don’t want to go through this whole thing again. You guys run the hell away, and you get to keep your limbs. Got it?” She turned to face the closet and backed away, putting her back against the wall so she could watch everyone as they advancd on her—which they obligingly did, coming up slowly to form a loose half circle around hr and the Eisenhund.

“And why should we do that?” The vampire woman asked. “There are four of us, one and a dog of you, and while you apparently have some skill I doubt you have more than all of us.” She held up a hand, and her fingers and nails slowly began to grow into wicked black talons. “And like the man said, I bet you taste delicious.” Siobhan swallowed, her pulse pounding and her shoulder aching. Come on, come on…she thought, biting her lower lip. “So why should we run?”

“Because,” Siobhan answered, swallowing as she looked at them. “If you don’t, that closet is going to open up and kick your asses.” She pointed beyond them to the closet, which drew their attention. They all looked back it with raised eyebrows and bewildered expressions. Come on, come on…she thought desperately.

“Are you smoking something? Professionally speaking, since we’re about to eat you, that effects us too,” the Asian man offered with a pained if cruel grin. “Cause there’s no way something is going to come out of tha—”

He never finished his thought as there was a flash of bright blue-white light and a burst of frost along the opposite wall. The door to the closet exploded off its hinges in a spray of snowflakes and Walter Richards, dressed to kill in a suit, launched himself out of the closet and buried a strange looking knife in the back of the Asian vampire’s head.

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9.6 Yet Another Hospital Fight Club

Siobhan Richards was not a young woman prone to idle threats. She didn’t start fights when she didn’t intend to finish them. But she was forced to admit, as she threw herself at the next soldier who was raising his gun, she didn’t exactly have an exit strategy for this one. Her father wouldn’t have been thrilled at that, she knew; he was a firm believer in the Powell Doctrine, at least as far as it came to always having an exit strategy from any scrape she got in to. Far too often recently she had been thrown in to these fights without any kind of idea what the victory conditions were or how to get out safely—the only rule she had to live by before and now was to get her sister out alive, followed by herself. In that order, always in that order.

The next man was a little bit slow on the uptake, so Siobhan was on him in between the beats of a heart—even one racing as much a hers. His rifle came up, but it was easy to reach out and tap it aside with her sword. The blade was feather-light and eager, seeming to glow in the reflected crimson of the emergency lights. Since Morgan had said it was a part of her, Siobhan had a split second to idly wonder if that meant she too was eager. After that split second, her blade lashed forward to bury itself in the throat of the gunman, a crimson spray bursting from his neck that looked like black ichor in the lighting.

One woman did not beat four men, especially with a weight and apparent training disparity as it existed between them. But two men, as one was dead and one was bleeding to death from a hand that could now be cast in a Star Wars movie, was doable. And perhaps one Faerie blooded woman could take on four men and live. Perhaps one Faerie blooded woman who was the daughter of Walter Richards could have taken on more—she didn’t want to find out.

The other two were faster and further back, and both got their rifles up in time to fire off a three round burst at Siobhan. She knew in her mind that she wasn’t fast enough to dodge bullets, but someone had forgotten to tell her body that. She threw herself forward in to a roll which took her under the spray, and came up next to the third man in the group. He was on the ball, however, and spun to use his rifle as a club. It cracked her across the face and a lance of pain burst through her skull, drawing a gasp of pain from her. She spun to absorb some of the blow, although not neary as much as she would have liked, and whipped around to find him jumping at her with a knife in his left hand and his rifle in his right.

Somehow she knew the knife was iron. It was almost laughable that they would be kitted out for hunting an actual Faerie, not just someone with some tricks, but she also knew it wouldn’t exactly feel good even if she wasn’t Morgan or Tania. Deep in her bones she knew that iron would hurt more while her sword was out, would hurt more while using any powers connected to Faerie, and worse it could shatter her sword. Also worse, she thought wryly as the man advanced,It’s still a freaking knife!

He had it in an ice-pick grip, blade toward the floor, and she knew he would either have to bring it up high to stab down at her or he would have to slash in an almost punching motion. She was ready for either, but as he started to move number 4 raised his rifle again.

“Shit!” Siobhan snarled, starting to try to move again and somehow avoid both gun and knife. But in their desire to kill her, the active threat, they had forgotten the other threat of the large and terrifying dog. Siobhan stopped having to worry about man number four as the Eisenhund lunged for his throat and he was forced to step back and deal with it. Of course, that meant Annie hadn’t run like a smart girl, which meant Siobhan needed to finish this quickly.

The man didn’t raise the knife to stab but did start forward with a punching move designed to slash. It was fast—maybe slightly more than humanly fast—but he wasn’t faster than a Faerie Queen, and Siobhan had once kind of gotten the drop on one of them. Siobhan’s blade lashed out as she stabbed him in the hand between the middle and ring fingers, and he screamed. He also dropped the knife, which let her leap forward and punch him in the throat with her left hand. Now screaming and gagging simultaneously he stumbled back a step, only to gape in horror as Siobhan pulled her sword free and spun. His throat too opened in a blackened maw, blood spraying across the hallway and the wall he had been backing toward. He fell, silently except for the clatter of the rifle still wrapped around his body on a sling, and was dead before he hit the floor.

Fire ran through her body as Siobhan turned to see all of her friends still there, not just Annie. Electricity tickled her fingertips and her scalp as the adrenaline burned through her slender frame, muscles whipcord tight with tension. Maybe there’s a little more than adrenaline there, she thought; her fingertips and the tip of the sword were lightly coated in frost.

“Jesus Christ,” Scotty gasped, gagging at the sight of the carnage in the hallway. Monica and Lacey looked pale as ghosts, but they had seen her messy work before. Now I am Shiva, Siobhan thought, Destroyer of worlds. Did Oppenheimer’s friends look at him like this afterwords?

“I know these guys,” Sally breathed. “They’re all mercenaries hired by the vampires with the promise of getting turned eventually. That means those two—” She trailed off, her eyes going wide in horror as she looked over Siobhan’s shoulder. Shocked, Siobhan started to turn until she felt a frozen cold hand close around her throat and her whole body was lifted off the ground.

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9.5 Hiding (Bijoux, Pt 2)

Two different thoughts ran through Antigone’s mind at the same time. The first one was to run as fast as humanly possible away from the people, because oh my god they were coming for them. There was a terror, Antigone found, to being hunted and knowing it that she hadn’t expected. But the other part of her mind was screaming at her that they needed to find somewhere very close by to hide in, because the person had mentioned other people who were going to look for them.

“I don’t fucking know!” Antigone hissed out in response to a question no one asked, shaking her head. Now it was her turn to look over to Siobhan and shake her head again. “Bonnie, I don’t know what to do—” she panicked. Siobhan reached out and grabbed her, and all of the panic that had gripped her disappeared as she saw the look of calm in her sister’s eyes. It was like a cool salve on a burn, or the feeling of clarity when a headache is gone for the first time in hours. Her sister knew what to do, and that meant that Antigone didn’t.

“They don’t have an army,” Siobhan whispered quickly. “Or they’d just start shooting everybody. They cut the lights, which means they want some privacy. We can avoid them, get out, and get to safety.” Antigone nodded, and Siobhan grabbed her shoulder and squeezed. “Our first plan was good. We stick to the shadows, avoid the main hallways, and get out the front.”

Once again everyone fell in line, and Antigone ended up in the middle. That cold-electric feeling of adrenaline running through her body was leaving her on edge, and everything in the world seemed to make more noise than it should. The clop of Siobhan’s boots, the rustling of Scotty’s jacket. At least she and Sally were walking quietly—of course, her forgetting her sandals and Sally not having them would be a serious disadvantage if they had to walk over broken glass. But then again, things were unlikely to go full Die Hard.

They crept down the hallway for a few moments until the Eisenhund sniffed the air and paused. Antigone was afraid that it would growl but it seemed to understand that they were sneaking, so it contented itself with baring its teeth and flattening its ears. They all took the warning and glanced around. Siobhan quickly motioned them down a side-hallway, which Antigone recognized as being the one with the memorial to the victims of the plague from decades ago. It was not exactly a place that she wanted to hide, but they weren’t spoiled for choice—they all quickly, and as quietly, as possible shuffled in to the hallway. The emergency lights ran on the major arteries of the hospital and many of the smaller hallways, but not all of them, so as they all but ran in to the memorial hallway they were plunged int darkness. Almost as one they turned to look back in to the crimson clad hallway, breathing softly and trying not to draw any attention to themselves.

Slowly, slower still to a hallway f frightened teenagers with pounding hearts, the sounds began to grow closer. They were, at least to Antigone’s eyes, probably well trained at sneaking—their boots made very little noise as they walked and it was likely just an accident that had given them away. In the red light as they passed by the mouth of the hall in tense silence they looked even more ominous and threatening than a group of scary men in dark military style outfits would have. Their black shirts and pants were given a red gloss by the lights, which also gave a sheen to their weapons. Most of them appeared to be human, but there was something about the way two of them walked that made it clear they weren’t. Their walk was too smooth, too gliding—they didn’t seem concerned with anything around them, and they didn’t carry any guns. Their eyes moved lazily from side to side as if looking unenthusiastically for something or someone.

Antigone watched them like she had watched nothing else in her entire life, her heat beating so loudly in her ears that she was convinced it was audible from space let alone from just outside the hallway she was in. And for what was then almost a heart stopping second the figures stopped just beyond the hallway and looked around. They had passed the hallway so their line of sight didn’t include on the group of teens, and after a moment they continued walking along. Sweat beaded on her brow and after a long moment she reached up to wipe it off of her brow. With her eyes adjusting to the dark Antigone could see enough of everyone’s faces to see her own emotions mirrored there. After about two minutes of silence they nodded to one another and began to walk out of the hallway. They could hear sounds of conflict rising further in the hospital, although Antigone couldn’t tell exactly what was happening. They made it back to the hallway and started to walk toward the entrance of the hospital again, still sticking to the plan and hoping they weren’t walking toward the fight. They were creeping in the right direction, past a couple of private rooms and storage closets, when a voice broke the silence like the crack of thunder.

“You!” The voice shouted, followed by searingly bright flashlights shining in their faces. They all paused, and Antigone saw that Siobhan tucked her sword behind her as she turned. It left her standing awkwardly, but her body hid the slender blade well enough without her having to summon it again. They all shared an awkward look as if trying to decide who should speak, when Lacey stepped forward. Petite and blond, she was about as non-threatening as anyone could appear to be.

“Are you a cop?” She asked hopefully. There were four men, each dressed in black and holding an AR-15. The lead one kept his shouldered while the others, arrogantly or lazily, had their rifles held loosely. “When the lights went out we got so scared, sir—” She continued.

“Shut up!” The lead man barked, looking at her. Then his eyes went to the rest of the group, and fell on Sally in her hospital gown. He smirked, and motioned. “There. Radio the others. Take her, kill the rest.” His rifle raised to point directly at Lacey’s face, drawing a squeak of fair from the young woman, and Siobhan started moving.

It won’t be fast enough, Antigone thought in horror, as the man’s finger moved inexorably toward the trigger. It almost made it too before the Eisenhund caught his attention with a room-shaking growl. Turning his rifle toward it in shock turned out to be a terrible mistake as Siobhan flowed past Antigone like water and silk and with one confident move severed his hand at the wrist. He screamed, although it was lost in the growling of the Faerie hound, while Siobhan kept moving and rushed the other men as they raised their weapons.

“GO!” She screamed, as the fight began.

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