Thursday, February 15, 2018

Bloody Business


November 30th, 2058 0200 hours (The Brick Yard)

I was tired, my stomach was full (I love Solomon's peanut butter pie), but Sheila X wanted to talk to me.  I walked back to her usual booth and sat down across from her for the second time that evening.  The curtain pulled closed a tic later.

"A certain Mr. Johnson asked about you for an upcoming job.  Are you interested in making some real money?" Sheila asked.  It seemed an odd question.  When had I NOT been interested in a paying job?

"Maybe, what's the job?" I asked.

"Meeting later to find out.  Not here though, this Johnson doesn't do the Barrens.  Meet is tonight at the Space Needle, dinner date theme, bring a girl and dress the part.  Reservations under the name 'C.U. Thomas', nine sharp. Don't be late."  Sheila passed a thin brown envelope to me.  I opened it and found a credstick with one thousand nuyen on it, and a data chip.

"The chip has the dossier on your identity as Charles Urien Thomas.  It won't hold up for long, but it will get you through the day, and into the Space Needle.  You're with the Thomas-Johnson party." Sheila X paused for a tick, then added, "Tommy, whatever his pitch is, give it a lot of thought.  I've dealt with this guy before, he pays well, but its always complicated."

"Any job worth good money usually is," I replied. "Thanks, Sheila.  I'll get some sleep, find a date, and clean up before I head over."

"Don't frag this up Tommy.  This Johnson, well, you remind me of him." Sheila warned.

I nodded, took my shiny nuyen, and walked out of the Brick Yard.

*****

November 30th, 2058  (1015 hours)  Lazi-Staye Inn, Renton

I woke up, took a hot shower, and dressed for my day.  Everything I owned was in that hotel room.  My books were packed up in two trunks.  My clothes filled one suitcase.  My computer and data chips were in a case on the small table.  I had a few hours to find a "date", pick up some clothes for my meeting, and find out what this Johnson had in mind.

1025 hours:  Angel turned me down.

{I had a prior commitment, Tommy ~ Angel}

I was out the door and on my way to Bellevue.  I was a bit frustrated as I couldn't think of anyone to take to the Space Needle for the meet.  Suzy B sported too much chrome to be discrete, Angel had turned me down, and Sue was dead.  That last part was still hurting. The cab dropped me off a block from my destination.

If you've ever had a problem finding a date, you know you have a lot of options.  If you've ever needed a "date" to go with you to an illicit meeting where quasi-legal or wholly illegal matters were sure to be negotiated, then you know you really do not have many options. I knew a few female shadowrunners, but most were chromed out street samurai. With Angel being out of the pool of candidates ..
{I get it Tommy, I'm sorry but I really was busy ~ Angel}
... I was running low on options.  I sent Sheila X a text while Russell was busy hemming my trousers.

Suffice it to say, several texts were exchanged over the next hour.

Russell did great work.  After a couple of hours I was the owner of a newly fitted charcoal suit styled in the trendy corp mage fashion that was popular that season (at least that is what Russell claimed).  A midnight blue cape, fashionable leather shoes, and a tie embedded with tiny crystals (it looked like a night sky with a sprinkle of stars) made for a nice look on me.  My brown skin and elven features worked well with the cut and colors.  Russell suggested, and I relented, that I add a pocket watch to the ensemble.  The outfit devoured the thousand nuyen I had received from Sheila, and a little more besides. The suit went into a nice garment bag, and I got into a cab and headed back to my hotel.

I picked up my "date", at 2005 hours.

*****

November 30th, 2058 2040 hours (Seattle Space Needle)

I stepped off the elevator into the Eye of the Needle. It was my first time in the famous restaurant. The prices are high, the food is good, and view changes slowly. I felt Aria's hand grip my arm tighter for a moment, steadying herself as she adjusted to the motion of the floor.

"I've wanted to come here for ages," she whispered.

"Thanks for coming at all.  I know it was short notice."  Two steps brought me to the Maitre D', a middle aged human man with grey hair and a distinguished manner.  

"Good evening sir, madam.  Do you have a reservation?" he said.

"Yes, indeed.  I'm C.U. Thomas, I'm here under the Thomas and Johnson reservation." I replied.  

The Maitre D' paused just a tic, "I see sir.  Your table is almost ready.  Would you care to adjourn to the bar in the meantime?"

"Certainly.  Thank you."  I turned to Aria, "Would you care for a drink?"

Aria blushed slightly, "Why thank you, yes."

I admit, I was worried about bringing Aria.  If I had a few days longer I may have found someone else but Aria was the best I could do.  She also happened to fit in with the environment.  She was a pretty elven woman, but not so pretty that she stood out from the other pretty elven women there.  Her dress was appropriate, acceptable, but not so flash as to draw unwanted attention.  She also managed to coordinate well with me, which was a pleasant surprise.  It had taken a bit of persuasion to get Sheila to agree to me asking her to come.  Surprisingly, Aria agreed to come even after I explained it was a business meeting and I really just needed her on my arm.  Her only conditions were that I picked her up, that I paid for dinner, and that if things went well I had to take her out again.

Yeah, I was shocked too.

Aria ordered in Sperethiel.  The elf tending bar produced a champagne flute and opened a bottle that looked fantastically expensive.  I knew I was going to hate the bill on my "date" that night.  "I'll have what the lady is having."

We sat and made small talk while enjoying our champagne.  It was the first time I had tasted champagne, and it was not what I expected.  It tickled my nose, and was pleasant on the pallet.  Aria was laughing at my attempts to mimic something she said in Sperethiel when the Maitre D' retrieved us, and escorted us to our table.  I was pushing Aria's seat in for her, when a tall human man and his
date were escorted to our table.  He was a bit more than two meters tall, with salt and pepper hair, and a hardy build. It was either a top notch body sculpt job or this guy spent hours in the gym each day.  His eyes were a mix of blue and grey, like a cloudy sky before the rain came. He was tan, imposing, and mirrored my actions by pulling out a chair for his date.  The woman was a surprise.  She was a tall amerind-elf with flawless skin, and jet black hair held in check with a comb that appeared to be made from real wood.  Her emerald green eyes were striking, and I recognized her immediately as my former client, Samantha Goode. 

With both ladies seated, I faced Mr. Johnson.  He seemed to stare through me for a moment and I suddenly had a bad feeling.  He raised his left hand, "Charles, how wonderful to see you." His voice was a firm baritone.  I shook his hand firmly, mindful of my magically augmented strength.  His grip was strong, and I got the impression the he was far stronger than I.

"Good to see you again." I smiled.  I was nervous, but it was definitely not the time to show weakness.

"It's been too long, Charles" the woman I knew as Samantha Goode chimed in. She had nailed the 'little black dress' wardrobe for the evening, with silver studs on her ears, a pair of silver rings on each hand, and a simple silver chain around her neck.  She was beautiful, and her fingernails matched the green of her eyes.

I turned and introduced my date, "This is Aria.  Aria, this is Mr. Johnson, and Samantha".

"I'm pleased to meet you both," Aria chimed.  "I love your dress Samantha, where ever did you have it made?"

A waiter appeared and took our drink orders.  Aria engaged Samantha, insisting on the details of her wardrobe.  It was superficial, not germane to the reason we were there, and provided me with a perfect opportunity to focus my attention on Mr. Johnson.  I opened myself to perceive the astral plane and gazed upon Mr. Johnson.

He was perfectly mundane.  Healthy, full of life, and had no flaws in his essence from cyberware.  He seemed perfectly normal.  That scared the drek out of me!  Samantha was a different story.  Her aura radiated power.  She was an awakened powerhouse, and was watching the astral plane as well.  She spared me a glance and grinned as she bantered with Aria.  As I watched, her aura faded until she suddenly looked completely mundane as well.  I took a drink of my champagne, wondering what I had gotten into, when Aria spoke up.  "He's great, though I haven't taught him Sperethiel yet.  I call him my 'vanima asinus'," Aria and Samantha both chuckled at that. "At least until he learns the language anyway."

I spared a glance at Aria and found her aura glowing with vibrant health and not a trace of magical ability.  She was having fun and was radiating an excited joy. I smiled feebly, as I forced my astral sight closed.  I felt a familiar tension behind my eyes as the astral plane faded from view.

"Charles, how has business been?"  Mr. Johnson asked.  He was nonchalant, frightening for a reason I couldn't put my finger on, and being perfectly amicable.

"Busy of late. Long hours, late nights, but all in all, very gratifying." I replied.  "How are things going for you? Making the big deals?"

"Doing my part to save the world and make a living in the process.  Same as always really. I heard you had some business in Redmond?  Terrible area, worst element, but your outreach efforts seem to really have made a difference.  I understand that certain crime statistics have dropped precipitously.  Well done, that.  You should be proud."  He paused and took a drink.

"Just a little something to help the community. There is a lot left to do there, I'm afraid."  our waiter was approaching.  I took another drink of my champagne.

Aria ordered like I usually do at the Brick Yard, steak and all.  She ate and talked to Samantha, patting me on my arm a few times as they two women slipped into Sperethiel.  I ate my salad, talking about nothing at all with Mr. Johnson and waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Our main course arrived and my mouth watered at the sight of my steak.  It looked perfect and smelled amazing.  The conversation become less frequent, with Samantha and Aria speaking in turn as the other ate.  I bit into my first cut of steak when I felt a pressure on my mind and heard Mr. Johnson's voice. "I apologize for the violation, but this is the best way to meet in public and not be overheard".  I started at the words erupting in my brain, began to choke on my steak, and grabbed my champagne flute.

Aria's hand found my knee, "Are you alright?"

*Cough* "I'm fine, just went down the wrong pipe." I responded.

"Smaller bites. It's healthier for you." Aria smiled brightly.

"She's right, smaller bites will help you live longer." Mr. Johnson's voice rang in my skull. "I have a job that may interest you.  It pays well, and you seem to have a taste for the work."

"I admit I'm curious" I stated. "What do you have in mind for the short term?" I was fishing for a way to respond that didn't raise suspicion.

"You adapt quickly, that is good.  I'm told you don't kill people, but you don't seem to have a problem with killing the infected." The voice in my head was giving me a headache.

"I hope you understand. People often think they know what you may have in mind, but it is so often simply not the case." that's me, subtle, right?

Mr. Johnson nodded as if everything I was saying made perfect sense. "The target is a vampire. He's managed to hide his condition, but has killed scores of people in the years since he succumbed to the infection." I chewed my food slowly while Mr. Johnson's voice played loudly in my skull. "He's recently infected a small number of people. Each of whom is advantageously positioned.  He's chosen carefully, and has garnered some influence by virtue of his brood."

I swallowed my steak, heard Aria say something about the difficulties of meeting client demands, and mentally palmed my face. "Think about it, you may have a larger goal for the betterment of the community at large, but the people involved may only be in it for the money. It can be difficult to strike a balance between community and enlightened self-interest."

"Irrelevant.  I want you to investigate the target, identify those persons who have likewise been infected, and eliminate them.  You can expect resistance from those persons who don't yet know of the outbreak." Mr. Johnson took another bite of steak himself.  He smiled and said aloud, "This is really very good."

I nodded in agreement, "That it is.  I wonder if, maybe you would be interested in contributing to further my work in the community?  I assure you the funding would be put to good use."

Mr. Johnson nodded, produced his pocket secretary and began punching numbers in.  He turned the display screen to face me.  I almost fell out of my chair. "I think you'll find this amount more than agreeable. This is not a negotiation.  Hire who you must, use whatever methods you must, but kill this monster and his brood. Do you accept?"

It was a contract killing. The fact that the target was (allegedly) a vampire was the only reason I was entertaining the idea. I thought while I chewed my steak, my word choice would be important. "I think your contribution is remarkable, thank you. Let me look over the proposal and I can let you know how your donation would be put to use."

"I expect an answer before the end of dinner," Mr. Johnson smiled as he cut into his steak again, his voice ringing in my head. Images and information came flowing into my mind.  I saw the target, heard his voice, and received an overview of his career.  It was a flood of information and difficult to digest. I lost awareness of my surroundings for a moment, like I was lost in a daydream.  I saw the target, saw his aura and the multitude of tiny, fanged mouths swimming in the dark wreckage of his shattered soul.  He was terrifying and radiated an insatiable hunger.

But was what I was seeing real, or was I just being subjected to a potent illusion or mind control?  "If you'll excuse me for a moment.  Aria, my dear, I'll be back momentarily."  I rose, and headed toward the men's room.

I entered a stall, sat down, and hooked my arm into the rail on the stall's wall. I leaned against the wall, and went limp.  My body sagged a bit but I remained seated.  "Good enough" I thought.  I closed my eyes and slipped from my body, projecting my essence, my soul, into the astral plane.  "Don't trust, definitely verify" I told myself, and zipped through astral space to an address I had just learned.

*****

You can't read street signs or house numbers from the astral plane, but you can follow the topography and recognize natural features. Kelsey Creek Park, is a beautiful place from the astral viewpoint.  Its full of life. All the trees and vegetation are cultivated from native species.  The staff keep trash picked up, and security patrols the area so that the well off citizens of Bellevue can jog in peace and relative safety.  Its a nice park, and one I used to visit often before I became an elf.

Southeast of Kelsey Creek, and a little south of the Lake Hills Connector there is a posh neighborhood on SE 10th street. Expensive homes sit on large lots with plenty of grass and other vegetation ("yards" I still don't know why people call them that).  Generally speaking, the astral space in that area is vibrant, clean of astral pollution (what many thaumaturgic scholars refer to as a "background count") and a pleasant place to be.  In the meat world, the area is often patrolled by Knight Errant private security contractors, in addition to Lone Star's police contractors.  The area is one of the safest in the Seattle Metroplex, with powerful and wealthy people calling the small neighborhood 'home'. I made my way slowly, looking for natural features that matched the images I had seen, and found the place almost immediately.  The vegetation was vibrant and alive, but the astral space around the home had a more mellow feeling to it.  Its hard to describe, but something felt different from the rest of the area. I skirted the house and floated around to the back yard.

There was freshly dug earth, with newly planted roses struggling to take root.  From the astral I saw a spectral hand thrusting out of the soil, reaching and tearing at nothing material.  A ghost, buried in the soil and confined by the plants and living earth, had managed to just break the surface of it's prison.  I looked around and found two other freshly planted roses, struggling to take hold in the earth.  "Well, that's not a good sign" I told myself.  I looked back to the house and floated over.

Probing the home revealed a potent set of wards. They were substantial, but not insurmountable, and I'm pretty good about slipping through wards anyway.  I braced myself, had a brief moment of trepidation as I remembered the last time I entered a building that hosted vampires, and slipped my narrow astral self into the home.  The interior was dank with death and rife with fear and pain.  Phantom images of blood pooling on the floors, and echos of screams filled with terror played against the grey, insubstantial inner walls.  The place wasn't a home any longer.  It was house of horrors. I slipped back out through the wards, confident that I hadn't been detected and returned to my meat body.  The whole trip was a very long ten minutes.

I washed my face and hands, toweled off and returned to my table.  Aria and Samantha seemed to be getting along fine.  Mr. Johnson was engaging the waiter when I sat down.  "Terribly sorry.  Seems I missed a good joke." I said.  I looked at Mr. Johnson, "As I was saying, I think we can put your money to good use."

"Excellent! I look forward to seeing the results." His deep baritone carried a pleasant quality.

Dinner went swimmingly.  We drank some champagne, ate great food, and I began planning the murder of a vampire.

*****

December 2nd, 2058

Angel took the job I offered. Digging up dirt on someone can be hard, unless you know what to look for.  Angel and I had a wealth of online information to check against where vampires were concerned.  Most of it was fictionalized, useless rubbish, but there were some nuggets of information that helped round up some key data.

Nicholas Poliwatski was a successful attorney.  He had founded his own firm in 2051 after leaving the Metroplex prosecutor's office (he had worked their since passing the bar exam in 2043).  Nicholas had gone on vacation, to Egypt, in 2052.  He came back with a taste for human blood.  Throughout the rest of 2052 a number of Nicholas's criminal defense clients either went missing or were found dead.  Many of the deceased were badly burned, suffered catastrophic head injuries, or were otherwise so badly injured that no one bothered to do any blood work on the deceased.

In 2057 he took on a trio of young attorneys, fresh out of law school, and put them to work assisting him with his case load. In January, 2058, one of those attorney's vanished.  A number of clients went missing throughout 2057 and 2058.  The number of disappearances became more frequent in October of 2058.  "More mouths to feed," I said to Angel.  We were going over the data she had mined, and pulling more information as some programs she had running...  {Smart frames, Tommy, SMART FRAMES.  All these years and you haven't picked up on the lingo ~ Angel}
... dumped more data to us, and it painted a terrible picture.

We constructed a timeline and went over everything we could dig up electronically on Nick. "I managed to access his medical records.  Seems that in 2051 the Metro-health plan he was under with the prosecutor's office, denied reimbursement for a cancer treatment drug.  When he started his own firm his health insurance corp flagged a pre-existing condition.  Seems he had leukemia."  Angel keyed up a report she had "found". "It didn't look good for him" she finished.

"So he gets sick, quits his job where his insurance won't cover it and starts his own biz, and tries to get covered on his own. New insurance says 'hell no' and what?  He decides to become a vampire?" I had a bad feeling where this was going.

"Looks like it.  I accessed his email accounts' deleted files archive.  Seems he was in contact with a shaman who claimed he could be 'purified in the blood and healed of any sickness'" the highlighted portion of the emails floated into view, as Angel continued.  "He booked a flight and spent three weeks in Cairo, though he stopped ordering room service after the sixth day there.  How long does it take to turn into a vampire?" Angel asked.

"No idea.  Something we need to find out though." I answered.

"Right," Angel made a note on her system, then continued.  "He comes back to Seattle, his wife and kids meet him at the airport.  The next morning they file for divorce, nothing contested, he keeps the house, she gets a lot of child support and a generous alimony package."

"What happened to them?" I asked.

"Car accident, three days after the divorce finalized.  Car went off the I-5, crashed into something that went 'boom'.  Coroner recovered three bodies.  DNA matched the wife and the kids.  There was an investigation and autopsy, but nothing came up.  Looks like she lost control." Angel shook her head. "Its a pretty clean set of murders.  I guess he learned a few things as a prosecutor."

"Seems that way." I replied. I scrolled down the timeline."Here." I pointed out a note in the data. "This is the first client who came up dead?"

"Sure is." Angel replied. The display changed, pulling up a file image and pages of data. "Arthur Coomer, aka "Main Merlin", street magician.  Arrested for magical assault with intent to do bodily harm and a litany of related lesser offenses.  Prosecutors wanted him to do ten years. He hired Nick, came to the office, and next thing you know he is well and truly dead.  Nick's appointment register confirms that Arthur came in, they started a file on him which they turned in to the Star when their investigation began."

"Cause of death?" I asked.

"Ruled a 'suicide'.  Found a note and everything." Angel pulled up the suicide note.

"Okay, so he offs a client, a magician. Lets run with that a bit.  Any other magically active dead people around Nick or his law firm." I asked.

"Just a tick," Angel said. "I didn't cross match that correlation yet."  She hit a few keys, I blinked, and a set of documents floated up in the display. "Oh, drek."

"Yeah.  You can say that again." I said. I shook my head slowly. "There must be forty names here. All dead?" I asked.

"Looks that way." Angel responded.

"Dead as in, really dead, or dead like me dead?" I asked.

"This many?" Angel asked. "Probably really dead.  Its a lot of work to make a living person dead in the record."

"Wow." there were a lot of names. "Johnson said he had killed a lot of people. This, this is full blown serial murder." I rubbed my eyes.  I was feeling a mixed sense of fear and hot anger. "And this is just the awakened people he has killed."

"I think it gets worse." Angel said.  "Seems Mr. Poliwatski has been down to the jail pretty often.  One of his accounts for office expenses lists a number of regular payments for "paper clips" that are going to a guard there.  I did a quick check, and there has been a suicide at the jail shortly after each of Nick's visits."

"So he's eating inmates, and paying a guard off to bring him snacks and clean up the mess." The more I learned the less I wanted to know. "We've got a real piece of work here."

Angel nodded.  "Okay, two months ago things changed.  He's still going to the jail, two or three times a week, but clients or potential clients start disappearing with greater frequency.  Where we were seeing two or three a month, now we're seeing at least one client or potential client each week who doesn't make it home.  Most are listed as missing persons, but one was found in Kelsey Park, burned up. Lone Star is keeping the cause of death quiet, but the coroner report I grabbed lists the corpse as HMHVV positive.  A vampire.  Seems this one sat down and watched the sunrise, and it killed him."

I was looking over the list of the missing, "I recognize some of these names.  'Anthony Denello', works for the mob, hangs out at Fat Tony's.  What did he get pinched for?"

Angel pulled a file, "Seems Tony was stopped during a routine security check, they found a gun on him.  Tony has a record, so they pulled him in on a parole violation and felon with a weapon charge."

"Tony, went to Nick. Nick's a mob lawyer?" I looked at Angel, who was manipulating her search fields.

The display re-ordered itself a bit, with a dozen names highlighted in red, "Each of these missing persons has notations on their records that suggest they are linked to organized crime."  Angel leaned back in her chair.  "So, yeah, Nick's a lawyer for the mob."

Fraggin' perfect.

*****

I flew to Boston the following morning.  My identity was pretty well constructed, (and really expensive), so when I applied to buy the spell formula I wanted I was only a little worried I might get arrested. The lore store was owned by MIT&T, and occupied a small corner in the downtown area.  My ID held up, and I was able to purchase five spell formulae I had been wanting, as well one I now desperately needed. I bought them in hard copy, which meant I had six heavy books to carry out, but they were also just small enough to fit in my carry-on for the flight back.  I was back in Sea-Tac by sundown.

I spent the next two weeks learning a spell which I hoped would keep me alive.

Detection spells are handy.  Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Magi means the wise, and being informed is at least a component of appearing to be wise.  Detection spells do suffer the need to be cast, much as my spell that detects ghouls did, until I had woven a self-sustaining mana loop to make it permanent.  I had experienced numerous unpleasant surprises from having a spell running continuously.  Riding the bus and detecting a ghoul under the street below me, walking through a dark neighborhood and sensing ghouls in the underground or in an abandoned building is disconcerting.  Now I was adding to my web of detection spells, and for a moment I wondered how much sleep I would lose in the future.

I moved into a new place in Lynnwood. The cost of living there was going to be a strain, but with the job I was on I would be able to pay it.  Assuming I survived, of course. I chalked out the circle I needed in my two car garage (funny that I didn't own a car at the time) and spent the better part of the day going over the symbols, the ritual components, and purifying myself for the work ahead.  I sent out a mental call, and an air elemental appeared just outside the circle. "Lend me your power for this working, please." I asked. Air elementals are well suited for aiding with detection spells.  The spirit bowed its 'head' in my direction.

I took up a small cup holding a fine, glittering powder.  Alchemically purified, powdered quartz mixed with fine grains of alchemical silver glinted within.  I held it aloft and began my incantation.  The words flowed from me and I felt the mana weave its way into my senses. I felt the spirit's might added to mine.  My intonation was precise, my gestures perfect, as I cast the powder into the air above me it exploded into small motes of light that fell upon me like drops of rain.  I felt the power of the spell infuse my being.  Then I felt something, something wrong, at the edge of my senses.  I focused on the spell, working the mana and weaving a pattern that would feed the spell, keeping it going without a need for me to focus to sustain it.  The presence I felt persisted.  It was wrong, alien, and hungry.  I finished the quickening of the spell, and the pondered the presence I was detecting.

The spell formula I had used was meant to detect vampires at considerable range.  I had put a lot of power into the spell casting and I estimated that I was able to sense the presence of a vampire out to about four hundred meters.  I would have been perfectly happy if I hadn't detected any, but to have one that close was concerning.  The spell formula I used was supposed to have some interesting effects once you got close to a vampire.  I thought for a moment, then decided to test my new spell out. I donned my form fitting body armor, put on a suit and concealed my slivergun in my shoulder holster beneath my jacket. I walked out of my house and started following the spell.

2010 hours: I sent Angel a message.

It didn't take long for me to find myself approaching a bar a few blocks away.  I paid my cover charge, and walked in.  The place was full of laughing, happy people. Music was playing and a small dance floor was crowded with people having a good time.  I was within line of sight, and less than ten meters from the dance floor (the spell's close detection effects were said to be good out to fifty meters) so I got my first opportunity to see what my spell revealed when I saw a vampire at close range.

Anthony Denello had been a good looking man.  He was tall, had dark hair and broad strong features.  Under the influence of my spell I saw him as a vampire, with small motes of silvery light playing over his person and dark eyes flooded with blood.  The visual imagery was going to take some getting used to, but there was no denying it made him stand out in a crowd.  He was dancing with a young woman, who seemed to be thoroughly enjoying herself.  I opened my astral sight and immediately wished I hadn't.  Tony's aura was darkly spotted with the tiny fanged mouths I had always seen when I look at a vampire.  The spell worked, that much was certain.  I also saw a thin line of mana wafting from Tony and into the young woman's aura. The mana seemed to be clouding her mind.  Tony's aura was weak.  He must have been terribly essence hungry, and the young woman was a vibrant, living meal.

"Tony!" I called out.  Even over the music and the chatter at the bar, he heard me and turned. I didn't know Tony other than by reputation, and having seen him at a restaurant I liked. He looked straight at me, and for a moment I thought I was going to piss myself.  His dark eyes looked right back at me through the astral space between us. "I know what you have become Tony. Let's talk." I spoke softly but he seemed to hear me.  He turned to the woman and said something.  She nodded and headed toward the ladies' room.  Tony walked over to me.

"Tommy 'the machine' Gun. I thought you were dead son. Shall we take this conversation outside?" That Tony recognized the real me, was scary drek.  He was smiling, and I got a good look at the fangs he had grown.  With effort I forced my astral sight closed, and gestured to the door.

"After you Tony." I said.  The vampire laughed and walked out. I followed.

Anthony Denello had been a made man.  He had money, powerful connections in the Seattle mafia, and he had a beautiful car.  The vampire Tony had become walked over to his vintage 1969 Corvette Stingray and leaned against its rear. It moved deliberately, slowly, and faced me with a smile that almost concealed the fangs.  "Tommy Gun back from the dead. Wow! Word was you were hit by a bus. I guess tales of your death were premature."  The vampire unbuttoned his jacket, and smiled at me.

"Sorry about what happened to you Tony. I bet Nick surprised the hell out of you." my jacket was already unbuttoned. "Did you see something he didn't want you to, or did he just decide to eat you?"

The vampire's expression changed. It's smile vanished and its dark bloody eyes fixed on me hard. "How do you know about Nick?" the voice was firm, unyielding, and carried a force that was hard to describe.  It slammed into my will, found my defenses more than sufficient, and shattered.

I played along, "Nick killed a chummer of mine. He was live streaming the whole time and I saw it happen." it was a thin lie, but was close to several truths. "I heard you got pinched a while back, and asked around.  A joy girl I know is in the bathroom, sent me a text saying you were here. I just want Nick so Tony, you can walk if we can talk."

The vampire smiled, "I can walk?" It actually laughed. "Chummer, you are the dumbest slag I've ever heard of, and I used to collect money for loan sharks.  I'm going to be the boss of Seattle soon, and you're going to be a blood bank I drink from when I decide I want a taste of magician. I understand you people are sweet."  It stood up and took a slow step toward me. "I'm immortal now, chummer.  I can walk into that bar and drink everyone in that place dry and there isn't a damn thing you, or anyone else can do to stop me. Hell, I say a few words and you're standing here like a slack-jawed fool."

The vampire stalked up to me. "Tommy 'the machine' Gun, big badass shadowrunner wiz-kid. You don't look like much more than a nice meal now, kid. Get in the car." Again I felt the power in his words shatter against my defenses.  The vampire didn't seem to notice.  It turned, walked back to the car and opened the passenger door.  I decided to take a chance, and slowly walked over and climbed into the car.  It smelled of blood and death.  The driver side door opened, and what was once Anthony Denello, climbed in and shut the door firmly.  It turned to face me.  "Now then, about that snack."

Vampires are fast, very fast, but so are magicians if they know the right spells and have the ability and foresight to quicken them.  The vampire was pretty new, he had to have seen the spells I had enchanting me, but obviously didn't understand what he was looking at.  He opened his mouth, exposing his fangs.  I shoved my viper slivergun into that gaping maw, "No means 'no' Tony" and blew the back of his head off.  Brains and bone exploded inside the once beautiful antique.  The vampire jerked then lay still.  The silver motes clinging to him started winking out (nice touch, that).  I watched for a moment then opened my astral sight to make certain. The vampire's aura had vanished. Only a corpse remained.

I went through Tony's pocket's, retrieved his credstick, pocket secretary, and his gun (you would think he would have learned after getting pinched the first time).  I took the keys to the car too.  I knew I was going to hate myself for what came next.  I got out of the car, and took the keys across the fiberglass hull.  It was a horrible sin, but it had to be done.  I scratched "vampire inside" on both doors, then walked back to the door man.

"You've never seen me before," I said.  The spell snaked between us. "Forget I was ever here."  He took on a blank expression for a moment, I wove an invisibility spell around me, and walked away.  I was half-way home when Angel texted me.

"Cameras cleaned and wiped.  Did you get anything?"

"Maybe" I responded.

*****

I knew we wouldn't have a lot of time before word got out about poor Tony being dead in his car. The mob would find out he was infected and there might not be a lot of fallout from him getting whacked from them, but Nick was another matter. If the vampire thought he was in jeopardy he was likely to run, and I would be stuck following a trail of dead people. Angel had managed to locate his phone, which was active at the jail, and pulled his call records.  She went to work identifying numbers from his call logs, while I called Sheila and asked her to put a meet together in short order.  I whistled up one of the air spirits, and flew to the Brick Yard as fast as it could carry me.

I walked into the Brick Yard, and straight to the bar.  Aria was tending, and frowned at me. I had forgotten to make another date.  "Aria, sorry I've been out of touch. I was in Boston for biz." She didn't seem impressed.  "Make it up to you?  Dinner? Dancing? Both?"

Her frown softened a bit, "Space Needle again?" Damnit that escalated quickly.

"You got it.  I'll call you tomorrow." I said.  "Can you tell Sheila I'm here?"

Aria, shook her head and smiled, "Drek, I forgot, she said to wave you on back. She wants to talk to you."

I found Sheila in her booth. "They're good, you have the money?"

"Yeah." I put a pair of platinum credsticks on the table.

"Nothing personal Tommy, just biz" Sheila said as she passed them through a reader.  They cleared the checking protocols and Sheila whistled. "Be careful Tommy, it'll be rough."

"You can say that twice. Where am I meeting them?"  I asked.

"That lot in the Willows.  Suzy B insisted." Sheila's said.

"Will you let them know I'm on my way?" I turned and heard Sheila's response when I was barely a step away.

"Already have chummer."

******

Vampires are not something you want to fight, and definitely not something you want to fight alone.  If you have to do battle with the fang-faced fraggers you want solid backup you can trust to put hurt down range.  I landed less than a block away from a rubble choked lot in the Willows where I had prepped an assault on a building full of ghouls barely a month prior.  There were some familiar faces in the lot.  Edgy Ed, Gitti, and Suzy B were standing around Gitti's old truck. Jim, Joe, and John were nearby. Adam was petting a dog, his spear close to hand.  As I approached, Crank rode up on a small, pink, electric scooter with small flower stickers pasted on it.  I have to tell you, it was the weirdest thing I had seen in months.  He stood up from the scooter, holding it upright with his calves. Creep was eating noodles from a take-out box.

I let the invisibility spell I was under unravel as I came within fifty meters of the team, (never surprise a group of heavily armed people).  "Oi! Chummers, its me." I called out."

" 'Sup?" Crank asked.

"Crank." I said. "Sheila tell you the deal?" I asked.  Everyone but Creep nodded.

"You want us to help you kills some vampires, right?  Sheila has the money, we get paid when the job gets done.  We're on a time limit for tonight, etc. etc."  The little fragger was annoyingly nonchalant. "Yeah, omae, we got it."

"We've got targets all over the 'plex.  I've got wheels coming, we'll need casual civilian attire, I assume you guys came prepared."  I said.

"Of course," Crank said. "What do we look like? Amateurs?"  He sat down on his pink scooter and I swear I heard a bolt snap.

*****

Ratchet was a rigger I had worked with a few times before.  He had a garage where he maintained his vehicles, worked on his drones, and did other rigger things. (Hey, I don't pretend to know what being a rigger is like, okay?)  It was 2245 when we rolled up at his garage.  Cameras dotted the security fence, and a pair of mini-blimp surveillance drones were tethered to the roof.  I don't know how Ratchet monitored it all, but he seemed to have every point covered.  I climbed out of the back of Gitti's truck and waved at the surveillance cameras.

The garage door rolled open.

Ratchet had three large SUV's ready for us. Gitti, Edgy Ed, Suzy B, and Creep piled into the first; Ratchet, Jim, Joe, and John took the second; Crank, Adam, and I took the third.  Everyone had been told to bring silenced or suppressed weapons.  When I asked Crank about his load out, he showed me a silenced Ares Predator, then chambered a round in his assault shotgun.  When I looked up at him, he just said, "Its not a weapon, its a good luck charm."  Seemed perfectly reasonable to me.

At 2300 we left the garage.  We were locked and loaded, and Angel was feeding us data on likely targets.  We were saving Nick for last, so we started in Renton, with another mafia affiliated target.  Donnie Marcillian had gotten pinched by the 'Star for pimping.  Nick was supposed to be defending him, but apparently now Donnie belonged to Nick.  We rolled down to Renton, toward an address that Angel reported was alleged to be an old fashioned whorehouse owned by the Yakuza.  Upon hearing that, I remembered something Sheila X told me just a couple of weeks before, "Tommy, whatever his pitch is, give it a lot of thought.  I've dealt with this guy before, he pays well, but its always complicated." Yep, very complicated indeed.

My newly enhanced senses told me of two foul, and hungry, presences in the old two story house across the street.  I keyed my mic, "Heads up, we've got two of them"

"You sure?" Creep said.

I took a breathe, let it out slowly and responded, "As certain as anyone can be, detection spell shows two."

"Chill," Creep chirped in my ear. "I'll have to get you to share that sometime."

"Stay frosty." I said, and the line went quiet. "Creep, give me an astral walk around the perimeter. Ratchet, can we get a camera up there please."

"Roger that." Ratchet called back.  The dwarf, sent out a pair of small, insect like micro drones which flew over to the house.

I pulled on my AR goggles and watched the feed.  I steeled myself, as I watched from the little drone's point of view.  I watched as the drone drew closer to the door.  It was closed, but the drone landed and wiggled its way under.  There was light in the foyer beyond, and an older Japanese elf woman laying on the floor, her face frozen in terror.  The drone was looking straight into her features for a full second or two. "Video is recording, feeding to Angel, I've got motion in the house upstairs and down" Ratchet sounded almost mechanical.  His tone emotionless and flat.

"Go or no go?" Angel called out.

"Go." I said.  "Adam, you're with Creep until he gets back.  Then you two cover our exist and protect Ratchet and the vehicles.  Rest of you with me, we're on for plan one."

I dumped my AR goggles in the seat and climbed out of the big SUV.  Crank stepped out, his Ares Predator in hand while his "good luck charm" hung from a funny holster he had rigged to his left leg. The other six street samurai, were out on the street a tic later.  "I've got two other exists from the building, one in the back and one on the south side, coming up from the basement.  Storm cellar most likely." Ratchet's little drones were flying or crawling around the exterior.

Jim, Joe, and John headed to the front of the house.  Ed, Gitti, and Crank headed to the back.  Suzy B jogged over and joined me as I made it the storm cellar entrance.  I could sense one of the foul, hungry presence below, and one above me in the upper floor.  "I've got one on top, one below"

The cellar door exploded open with furious BANG, and a woman with wild, blood soaked hair pounced on Suzy.  My gun was coming up and somewhere in the back of my mind I remembered something I had apparently been suppressing... I had never defeated a vampire in a straight up fight before (lets be honest, I suckered Tony).  Suzy's Dikote(tm) coated cyberspur whipped up to meet the the monster, but met only air.  The vampire ducked under the blade, grabbed Suzy B by her right ankle and swung her like tennis racket.  Suzy slammed into the side of the house with a loud BOOM sound and went limp.  The vampire was already turning toward me and Suzy was still falling to the ground.  My gun wasn't up to head height, but I fired anyway.  It was panic fire, because I was scared drekless, but my first burst of three rounds caught the vampire dead center of her chest and blew a hole the size of my fist through her.  The vampire dropped, seemingly boneless to the ground.

I saw Suzy B laying limp on the ground, then Creep manifested in front of me, wildly pointing to the downed vampire. I realized I still sensed her on the ground. Small motes of light still clung to her and her eyes were dark bloody pools. "I have a clean image of the target, running ID.  Make sure she stays down." Angel's voice in my ear was reassuring. I put another three round burst in the vampire's head and felt her presence disappear from my senses, even as the motes of light vanished.

Creep vanished, and I moved to check on Suzy.

Suzy B was unconscious.  Her aura was as weak as always from all the cyberware in her body.  She didn't appear to be in danger, so I pulled here away from the entrance and the dead vampire.  "Suzy B is down but not out, these fraggers are fast."  I took to the steps leading down under the house, my senses still telling me of the vampire above.

The spell that gave me the ability to see in the dark, much as a real elf can, has been a great benefit to me over the years.  That night it showed me a scene I often wish I could forget.  A dozen people lay bloodied on the floor, in what seemed to be a small social area. A pair of couches, a few tables, and a small bar filled most of the space.  A large troll lay bleeding on the floor, his head had been torn off and now rested on the bar.  The rest of the people in the room were alive, badly hurt, and crying for help.

I opened myself to the astral and beheld the true horror. Small dark spots were forming on the aura's of the victims. The infection had begun and would turn each into a vampire in the time it took the virus to devour each victim's soul.  I didn't dare step onto the blood soaked carpet, so I stood on the last step and said a prayer I had learned at church.  I raised my slivergun, took aim at a young woman laying on a darkened mass of carpet.  "Help me, please." she said.

"I am." I answered.  Then I opened fire.  I had to reload while I was on the steps.  Each victim got three rounds or more.  The micro camera on my mic boom recorded the whole thing. I placed my empty magazine in the pouch my fresh one came from, and backed up the stairs.

"First floor is clear." Joe whispered.

"Any survivors?" I asked.

"Three," John replied.

"Roger that. I'm on my way."  I walked around the bloodied grass and dead vampire, threw Suzy B over my shoulder and ran to the front yard.  I lowered her to the grass, and crept into the foyer my astral sight open to the horror beyond.

A whorehouse is not a pleasant place for an astral jaunt.  They are polluted with lust, and tainted with suffering.  This particular whorehouse, was also filled with the astral residue of the horrific deaths of its clients and "employees".  A dozen dead littered the first floor.  The survivors were likewise infected.  I did all I could for them, then swapped out for a fresh magazine.

None of the team said a word.

The last vampire was still upstairs, its presence foul against my senses.  I pointed to the ceiling and moved to a point where the vampire felt like he was directly above me.  I looked at the street samurai, pointed to Joe, held up three fingers and pointed to the stairs down the hall.  The three orks crept down the hall and trained their smgs up the stairway.  I backed up a couple of steps, my foot found a corpse and I almost fell on my ass but Crank caught me.  The large troll shook his head at me softly.  I nodded and pointed to the spot at the ceiling.  I waved to the remaining street samurai, pointed my gun to the ceiling and with my left hand held up three fingers.

Gitti, Edgy Ed, and Crank took aim at the spot I was pointing to.  I pumped my hand once, bringing a finger down. Then again, leaving one finger up. Then pumping it a final time, my left hand forming a fist.  All four of us opened fire at. Crank's Are's predator, my viper slivergun, and the sub-machine guns Gitti and Ed bore blew holes through the ceiling and the flooring above it.  Something screamed above, a loud feral sound that sent a shiver down my spine.

A flurry steps sounded above then the trio of ork street samurai opened fire.  We had driven the vampire straight into the kill zone.  Jim, Joe, and John backed up as they fired a second burst.  They were backing toward the front door when I saw the bloodied form of the vampire leap down to the landing.  Crank fired and the head of what was once Donnie Marcillian exploded.  I saw the small motes of light wink out as he fell.

"Nice shooting" I said.

"I was aiming for his heart," Crank answered.  I turned and found the large troll smiling down at me.  "Joking man."

The first monster was among our list of suspected vampires, and had saved us a trip into Greenwood, by slumming with Donnie. The house was awash in contaminated blood and corpses.  Angel remotely triggered a 911 call from one of the phones in the house, left word of vampires and dead people and hung up.  We politely cruised out of the neighborhood before the police contractors arrived.

Angel checked the location of the other phones we had identified, and found a group of four of them huddled together in Ravenna.  The address matched up with a bar none of us had ever heard of.  Nick's phone was on the move.  He had left the jail, and was down at a retailer outlet.  Angel tagged his phone and lifted a search result for "shovels".  The store he was at was the first result from his search.

*****

Ratchet had us to Revenna by 0100 hours.  The area was desolate, and my senses were screaming at me. We had four foul monsters in what was once a bar called "The lower".  Its sign boasted 'founded in 1992'. I still have no idea why that would be something to be proud of.  The vampires were inside.  There wasn't much in the area.  Most of the nearby buildings were in various stages of falling down.  Ratchet launched his tiny drones, and we waited for the feed.

It was horrible.  I've seen a lot of things in my years in the shadows but this was one of the worst, and easily the worst thing I saw that night.

Ratchet vomited and I heard Adam over the com "Oh frag this!"

"Chill and cut the chatter" I said.

{I won't tell you what we saw.  None of us talk about it.  Just know that after that night, vampires passed ghouls for my least favorite monsters on the planet ~ T}

{I still have the video.  I can upload it here if you want.  They wouldn't believe you if you told them ~ Angel}

{No. Let the dead rest~ T}

We spread the team out in the street about fifty meters from the bar.  I could see small motes of light insight a darkened hole where a window once stood.  The vampires knew were were out there. I don't know what they were waiting for, but they didn't wait long.  My powerball spell blew the street side wall apart and brought the roof down.  Creep followed up with a fireball spell that lit the night up in an orange hellfire glow. The spooky little fragger actually started laughing as the building caught fire. Bits of flaming debris rained down into the street.

I blinked and the next moment a vampire had Creep by his ballistic vest and had hoisted him into the air.  Glowing motes of light danced along the vampire's face, only to vanish abruptly as Adam's spear cleaved the top half of its skull off.

A second vampire was rolling on the ground in front of the burning ruin.  It had caught fire, and had adopted the 'stop', 'drop', and 'roll' method to extinguish them.  Crank fired on the flaming vampire.  His predator's silencer doing its job, and the vampire was knocked into another roll toward the burning building. Motes of light continued to dance along in the firelight.

The third vampire blurred across the distance and kicked Edgy Ed in the groin.  I swear I felt a rush of pain for him as he was thrown three meters into the air.  It spun toward Gitti who screamed "Hell no!" and opened fire.  The vampire took a dozen rounds fired from point blank range, then caught Ed as he fell.  Gitti stopped shooting and the vampire held Ed by the neck and the back of his vest.  "Leave ."  That same power in the vampire's voice slammed into my defenses, but I shrugged it off with relative ease while my teammates turned and started running.  Ed was running in mid-air, held aloft by the sheer power of the vampire.  "I'll rip his soul out, then I'm coming for you." It rasped.

I heard Angel's voice in my ear, "Kill that bitch!"

My pistol came up and I fired a single shot.  It passed over Ed's left shoulder and missed his ear by perhaps as much as three centimeters, but the flechettes scored dead center of the vampire's forehead, blowing the back of it's skull apart.  The motes of light winked out, and Ed fell with a crash at the feet of the monster.

I was turning to meet the third vampire, but I knew I would be too late. I saw it reaching for me, its eyes wide and bloody, motes of light playing across its features.  Then I heard a loud BOOM, and the vampire's head vanished into a fine mist.  I heard Crank's shotgun action cycle, and turned to find Crank ten meters behind me smiling. "Told you it was a good luck charm."

I couldn't sense the last vampire. We moved in and checked the rubble.  We found our missing vampire impaled by a charred wooden beam that had likely come out of the roof.  "I think she's dead" Creep said.

I nodded and turned to the survivors.  There were several. I did what I could for them, then reloaded.

*****

I was down to my last magazine for my pistol.  I was tired and still processing the horrors I had witnessed.  We found a our last suspected target in a diner down in Green Lake.  We pulled up in the lot at 0210.  The vampire was sitting there talking to a pretty waitress and not drinking the coffee.  It must have been distracted because it didn't react to the trio of ork hard cases who walked in and took seats at the counter.  It never budged when Crank walked in a tic later and went to the bathroom.  And it didn't even turn to look at me as I approached his table.

The vampire did, suddenly, take notice when I brought my pistol up though.  I shot it just left of center with a three shot burst from my slivergun at a range of less than five meters.  It blew a hole through its chest and the seat behind.  It looked up and laughed at me.

I never even saw it move.  One moment it was sitting down and the next it was on the counter and running for the door.  Jim, Joe, and John gunned it down as it the lay hands on the door.  The plexi shattered under the force of the vampire's strength and the hail of bullets that blew through the body.  The waitress snapped out of it, started screaming and ran out the side exit.  Crank came out of the bathroom, looked at the dead vampire and said, "Must have been something he ate."

I didn't detect any more vampires in the area, but we checked the diner anyway.  The cook and the manager were dead in the back office. I saw small dark energies swirling in the corpses. I summoned Adam, who promptly speared the corpses through the brain pans.  The dark energies vanished, and we left before the police contractors showed up for coffee.

*****

Suzy B was hurt but finally conscious.  Edgy Ed had a horrific groin injury and was going to need medical attention.  We were all tired, and the events of the evening were definitely a strain on us all.  Ratchet drove us all past Kelsey Park around 0410.  Angel was reporting that Nick had tried to call the dead vamps and she was working hard to keep his phone displaying a "no signal" error.

"He's certain to know that something is up." Angel reported.

"Sub-zero with me" I said. "Its time to end this fragger."

Crank nodded in agreement, and small "thumbs up" icons appeared in my AR goggles' overview.

"Quick and quiet, just like the ghouls building." I said.  "Creep, once we stop you're on astral over watch. Adam and Getti, cover Creep and Ratchet. Crank you've got the doors and I'm bringing the quiet.  Everyone shoots, none of us dies. Everyone clear on this?"

I had a trio of acknowledgements from the orks.  Crank squeezed my shoulder, (it hurt), and said, "We got this."

"Alarm system has been shut off. It's on software update cycle.  You've got a ten minute window to finish him and get gone before it starts chirping." Angel's voice came as we rolled to stop.

The SUV's stopped two houses up from Nick's place. I wove an invisibility spell around the orks, Crank, and myself and we headed up to the house.  "Killing sound" I whispered.  Then I wove the silence spell over the area in front of the door.  My senses weren't telling me anything about what was inside, but I chalked that up to the wards around the house.

Crank grabbed the door knob, and tore the door out of the frame. We stepped into an immaculately clean house.

When I crossed the threshold, I felt pressure on my senses and I felt the monster close by.  I dropped the invisibility spell, tapped each of the orks and Crank, then patted my ear.  I let the silence spell drop away.  I heard a pitiable sound from the back of the house.  "Please don't"

I pointed to Joe.  His left hand came up and he signed to Jim and John who crept forward, their smgs at the ready.  Crank laid a hand on my shoulder, this time not squeezing it, and slipped ahead of me.  His Ares predator cradled in both hands.  The sound continued,  "Please.  No, please don't."

We made it to a closed door at the end of the hall. I could feel the wrongness of the vampire through the wall.  It was dark, hungry, and terrifying.  I wove my silence spell over us, and leaned against the wall as Crank leaned back to kick.

Two hands erupted on either side of me, grasped my ballistic vest and pulled me bodily through the wall. I crashed to the floor, my concentration broken, and sound returned. The door to the room burst inward and Crank appeared, shotgun in hand only to have the vampire, Nicholas Poliwatski, punch him in the stomach.  Crank flew backward through the open door, bowled over Joe and the two of them tore through the wall behind them.  I put one hand to the floor to push myself up, but Nick helped out there, by kicking me in my favorite chest.  I felt ribs break, lost every bit of air in my lungs, flew out the window and landed in the back yard.

I heard the soft popping sound of suppressed sub-machine guns firing.

I saw Creep manifest in front of me.  He looked positively terrified, then vanished back into the astral plane.

I managed to cough. Tried to gulp in some air and fumbled to get my arms under me.  My right arm was numb, and my ribs were on fire. I heard a crash from inside the house, and realized that I didn't hear the gunfire anymore.  "Drek." I groaned, as I pushed myself to my feet.  I couldn't seem to get enough air in my lungs. I was wheezing, and I tasted blood. I made it to the back door and nearly got killed when Crank was thrown through the door and tumbled into the back yard. He stopped and lay still next a rose bush.  I walked into the house, and found myself in the kitchen.  There was a blur of motion, and I flew over the kitchen counter, knocking over utensils and landing hard.

Nick strode into view, casually batting at something in the air.  "I should call the police," the vampire said.  There was blood on his lips and I had terrible fear come over me. "I didn't order delivery."  He took another step toward me.  I fumbled with a numb hand, and sent a bolt of mana blazing at the monster.  Nick batted it away with less effort than I would have thought possible.

"Come now. That can't be the best you can do" he smiled, his bloodied fangs protruding over his lower lips.  I struggled to push myself up, my hands fumbling in the clutter. "What? No righteous indignation, no pleading for your life?  What kind of vampire hunter are you?"  He grabbed my neck and lifted me bodily into the air.  Where a moment before it was difficult to breath, it suddenly became impossible.  I saw swirling motes of silver fire dancing about the vampire, and his eyes were pools of dark swirling blood.  He was powerful and I was mostly powerless.

I was slammed onto the kitchen table, and my vision swam for a moment.  "Come now, at least try to fight back.  The orks went down struggling to the end.  At least be entertaining," He was arrogant, and he was kicking my ass.  I couldn't catch my breath, my gun was somewhere in the hall or in the room I was kicked out of, or maybe in the yard.  I fumbled, felt something in my left hand and tried to see what it was.  Nick grabbed my favorite head and pulled me up to face him.  I stared into those terrible eyes, "Give yourself to me" the power of his words shattered against my defenses.

I thought about Pepper.

I was beaten, bloodied, and badly injured. I brought my left hand up and thrust whatever it was I had grabbed at the vampires dark eyes.  The wooden kitchen spoon buried itself in Nick's head.  He dropped me. It hurt.

The vampire fell over, blood flowing from his ruined eye as motes of light vanished from around him.

"Rot in hell" I said. I turned and went looking for the team.  I found Joe in the hall, and his head embedded in the flooring.  Jim was dead, his throat torn out, and whirls of dark energy were playing at his corpse.  I took his suppressed smg, pointed it as his head, and squeezed the trigger.  Nothing happened, the gun was empty.  I found my viper, and shot him until the dark whirls vanished.  John had been torn in half.  He was dead, and his corpse was just that, a dead body laying in a child's bedroom.  Adam came bounding in, found me wandering in the house, shook me and said "We're almost out of time, we have to leave."  I nodded and started walking back toward the front of the house. We passed the the room Nick had been in.  There was a holo playing. An image of his wife, playing on a loop. As I watched it cycled again, the footage was from an internal camera in the house, maybe a nanny cam. Nick was reaching for his wife, and she was pleading with him, "Please. No, please don't."  The image froze for a moment, Nick reaching for his wife, his fangs clearly visible and her terror all to real.  Then the holo cycled again and the scene began to play.

I walked out of the house to find Crank limping out of the back yard.   We stumbled into the SUV's, and Ratchet began to drive.

"Recording is solid.  Local cameras were all offline.  Police contractors won't have anything to tie to us." Angel's voice was in my ear and I started to come around a bit.

"Sit rep?" I asked.

"Jim, Joe, and John are KIA.  Ed needs medical attention, Suzy B had a seizure while you were in the house, we'll need to get her to a doctor too.  Gitti says Creep is in shock, no idea what happened there.  Lone Star and Knight Errant are responding to a call of "suspicious sounds" from the neighbor.  We'll be clear in a minute, maybe two" Angel spoke like she was reading the scream sheets. "I got the whole thing recorded for you."

"Thank you Angel." I said.

*****

We took Suzy B and Edgy Ed to the same clinic where Sheila X once had us tested for HMHVV.  It seemed like a really good idea at the time so I had the tests run again.  We all came back negative, and I tried to breath a sigh of relief.

Suzy B had a crack in her skull, she was going to be out of action for a few weeks.  Ed lost a testicle and was really pissed about it.  I had four broken ribs.  Crank had a concussion. Creep had been disrupted in a one shot astral combat.  Seems he was what Nick was batting at in the air before he bounced me around the kitchen.  Jim, Joe, and John were dead and laying in a crime scene.

I used a little bit of healing magic on myself and Crank and managed to patch us up. Suzy B and Ed were beyond my help and needed some time to heal.  Creep would have to rest and hope his battered essence would recover.

The team collected their money, and Sheila told me she would get the orks' money to their family.  I believed her.

I met with the spooky Mr. Johnson on another "date night", Aria in tow.  She had a good time and I smiled and put on my best face.  My payoff was huge, but it really wasn't worth it.  I would have given it all back if it meant Jim, Joe, and John were alive and well.

We all die sometime.

It's a bloody business.


___________________________________________________________________________

From the author:

Thank you for reading my fan fiction.  If you enjoyed this, please comment below, and please do share this with others.

I also write and publish role-playing game material (for other game systems) under open game licenses.  You can find me on KickStarter as W.S. Quinton, and on Drivethrurpg.com under my company Sinopa Publishing LLC.

As of this writing I have friends who have kickstarter campaigns going on.  Please do check those out, share them with others and support them if you can.




















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Thank you for your comment chummer.