RAISING THE DARKNESS - September 2013
(from Chapter Three…)
Dawn got out her cell phone, opened the doors to the balcony wide, then went outside to watch the moonlight play on the restless waves below.
Kiko answered on the third ring. “What? What?”
“Sorry for waking you up, but we’ve got some excitement around here.” Dawn’s smile was so big that it was making her cheeks hurt, but in a good way.
“Cool excitement?” Kiko asked. “Not-cool excitement? What?”
She could just picture his little person’s body jumping out of bed as he ran for his clothes, their hunting days still with him, even if they were long gone.
“It’s cool excitement,” she said, glee in her voice. And she’d never really ever done glee.
To think—she had an inner cheerleader in her and she’d never even known it, not even when she was growing up and doing her best to piss her life away with every rebellious act she could think of. Of course, that rebellion had led to a short career as a stunt woman, which had led to vampire fighting, but that wasn’t here nor there.
She told Kiko about her stroke-of-midnight soul stain lifting. “I don’t know what’s going on, but how awesome is that?”
Like Costin, Kiko was on immediate alert. “I suppose it’s cool.” Then, “You don’t think there’s something fishy about your happy-happy-joy-joy thing? This is Samhain, for God’s sake. If it were any other night, I’d just think you accidently swallowed some Ecstasy.”
She stayed quiet, but, naturally, Kiko didn’t.
“Okay, what I mean is this—you know how there’re different versions of Cinderella? There’s the Disney take. The squeaky clean, Yay!, glass slipper, everything is weddings and chirping birds—you know, the whitewashing of just about every other version of the stories that came before. And I’m talking about dark stories where the frakkin’ stepsisters cut off part of their feet so they’ll fit into the slippers, and where those sweet little birds aren’t so sweet at all and they punish those bitches by pecking out their eyes.”
“Your point is?”
“That there’s only one happy-Yay! Disney version of the story while the rest aren’t so nice. Odds are, Dawn, that you don’t have any kind of happy ending version of your soul stain going on during Samhain.”
Nothing like a good dose of Geek Kiko to put things into perspective. Even so, she couldn’t stop loving the absence of heaviness in her, couldn’t help but to lean on the balcony railing and smell the brine-laced air and think of how lucky she was to be alive after all the shit she’d gone through in life.
Maybe, after everything she and the team had been through, something good had finally happened and this had nothing to do with screwed-up magic, like Kiko and Costin thought. Maybe her therapy had kicked in—
Her ears picked up a sound from down the beach. Somewhere in the night, there was a cry, but these were the final hours of Halloween and the kids were out in full force, so she went back to listening to Kiko.
“Sure, we wiped out those Undergrounds,” he said. “But our vampires weren’t the only bloodsuckers out there. There’re different lines, and some of them could be into magic. We’d be stupid to dismiss the idea. And we know that there’re hundreds of other supernatural creatures out there that might be up to all kinds of mischief tonight.”
She laughed, but then stopped. Dawn’s mother was one of those creatures Kiko was talking about. Eva Claremont had come under the sway of what they thought might be a demon and they hadn’t heard from her since.
But now that Dawn’s soul stains had gone a little lighter, thoughts of Mommy Not-So-Dearest didn’t get to her as much as they had before. She had spent a long, long time trying to forget about that woman.
Now it seemed so easy.
“Besides,” Kiko said, “you know better than anyone that some of the cold cases Natalia and I deal with at the agency have a certain...stench...about them, too.”
“Not everything is supernatural, Kik.”
“I’m not saying that every old robbery or lost love case we deal with is otherworldly, but there’re some screwy things we’ve come across, and Natalia shoves those cases right out the door. She doesn’t want a thing to do with them.” He and Natalia were trying to be “normal,” now that they’d gotten married. “What if one of those cases left some magic behind and it had a ricochet effect on us or our friends on Samhain? Magic doesn’t always aim straight, you know.”
She could hear him moving around on the other end of the line. “You’re overreacting, Kik.”
“No matter what’s going on, I’m getting right on this.”
“Natalia’s not going to like it.”
“Let me worry about that.”
He hung up without another word. Typical Kiko. He was probably already dialing up this house’s landline so he and Costin could have a conversation.
She tucked her cell into the pocket of her jeans and kept leaning on the railing. Three-two, one...Yup, there went the phone.
The waves seemed to get louder, but maybe that was because she was really starting to listen to them. Meanwhile, she thought she felt the dragon’s blood swirling on her right side, restless.
Screw you, she thought. Did you really think you were going to get another chance at taking over the world?
She started to leave the balcony to see if Costin had come upon any paranormal news through the supernatural conspiracy chat boards that usually consumed Jonah’s attention.
But then she sensed, more than heard, something on the beach close by.
She wasn’t psychic like Kiko or Natalia, and she wasn’t a spirit like Costin, but Underground fights had sharpened her human senses. It was just that she hadn’t used them for a while.
Turning her ear toward the faint sound she thought she heard—swish, swish, like sand under a set of paws that were coming this way—she leaned over the balcony, straining to hear some more.
Just as she realized that she did hear something and they sounded a whole damn lot like running steps, she backed away from the railing—but not before a wire looped around her neck and her body was yanked over it.
She barely had time to scream as she grasped the railing, the wire gnawing into her neck as she hung there, clinging and paddling her feet, kicking at whatever had attacked her.
They were pulling on that wire while Dawn choked, trying to slip one hand into the noose while holding on with the other. Her vision got cloudy and, instinctively, she turned her head, baring her teeth, using the only weapon she had on her.
But before she struck, she saw a face... An old man with sideburns, pale, puckered skin, and white eyes that looked like they’d rolled into the back of his head. His mouth was in a pruned “O,” as if he was about to scream, too.
The messed-up sight of him made her forget all about biting, and he took advantage of that, putting more force on the wire, even as he reached with his other hand to Vulcan pinch her neck.
A memory flashed by, adrenaline-quick.
London, an attack on their headquarters, another pinch at her neck—
Gathering her guts, she bit his hand, sinking her teeth deep and letting go of the balcony at the same time.
A yelping sound was all Dawn heard from him just before her stunt woman training came back to her, powered by muscle memory. Midair, she twisted her body, flailing with a hand and catching on to one of the trellises that decorated the side of her home.
The wire whipped off her neck, and out of the corner of her eye, she saw it fall to the ground. But her attacker still held onto her, his hands wrapped around her waist.
For a reeling, moonlit second, she hung there, the trellis cracking, threatening as her attacker’s grip began to loosen. She kicked back at him, but a pair of teeth sank into her shoulder—human teeth—and she yelled.
As the old guy bit her again and again—as if it wanted to eat her—the trellis broke an inch, another, and Dawn brought up her elbow, smashing it into her attacker’s temple.
He reared back, and that was enough to break the trellis, sending them both tumbling the rest of the way.
They hit the ground, and Dawn’s lungs pushed out all the air she had. But adrenaline was animating her, forcing her to her feet so she could grab the piece of trellis that had cracked off. She brandished it like a staff to ward off this...thing.
Not a vampire. What was it?
She looked around, gaining her bearings, and her mind began to function properly.
Three of these things, she thought.
All dressed in black, hunched and circling her. The old man who’d attacked her was face-first on the ground, making animal sounds of pain, and Dawn realized that he’d fallen on something that had injured him.
The other two were shaded by a shadow cast by her house, but Dawn could still see the whites of their eyes and how their arms were curved at their sides as they breathed, in, out.
Were they growling at her, too?
Hellhounds, she thought.
No. These were human-like creatures, not dogs.
Then another possibility. Fast and furious zombies? Revenants raised from the dead by something or someone on Samhain?
Whatever these weirdos were, they were angry, and they weren’t stopping, as the guy who’d been lying on the ground rolled to his side, revealing the blood on his stomach where he’d landed on jagged, pointed rock. Even so, he crawled over the sand, as if homing in on Dawn at all costs. He left a trail of blood, and even if he was making a sad attempt to get at her, he was still covering some ground.
“What the hell are you?” she whispered, and she had no idea why she’d even tried.
She thought she heard one of them—the shortest and smallest one—make a twisted sound from the shadows. It made no sense at all, but something about the voice kicked in a thousand awful memories that swirled together: Vampires and blood...
Out of habit, Dawn broke the trellis stick in two, forming a cross.
Turned out crosses didn’t work on these guys, but when the two creatures who were standing on their feet rushed Dawn, she was ready, lifting up the two ragged sticks and aiming at the things’ left sides, where their hearts would be.
They didn’t seem to give a shit that she was about to stab them. In fact, the freaks ran right into her sticks, impaling themselves.
Dawn jumped away so fast that she fell to her ass, crab-scrambling backward, sand flying out from under her.
They were still coming.
And now that the two things that had been in the shadows had emerged into the moonlight, Dawn could see more of them.
One was an even older man with a bald head, withered skin, and those rolled-back eyes. He was holding a chain.
But it was the other one—the smallest—that Dawn couldn’t stop looking at.
Familiar...Light hair, a slight overbite, high cheekbones...
It couldn’t be. Not when the team had blown up the Underground in London and Lilly Meratoliage had been in the midst of the explosion.
Dawn didn’t have time to figure it out, because the girl was holding what looked to be nunchucks, and even with a stake in her, she was gearing up to attack.
Shitshitshit. Dawn wished she had those stakes back so she could use them again. Stabbing the left side of a Meratoliage—one of the dragon’s custodians and bodyguards—didn’t work, because the family was genetically bred to have their hearts on the opposite side of their bodies.
Shit times a hundred.
The rock-impaled sideburn man on the ground was still groping at the sand as he mindlessly advanced toward Dawn, but she didn’t worry about him—not when the even older bald guy had started to spin his chain at his side and when pseudo-Lilly was starting to run at Dawn, grasping her nunchucks in one hand while dropping to all threes, just like a hellhound that Dawn had initially mistaken the group for.
Her mind raced now. What to do? How to fight these creatures?
And with what?
She grabbed the only thing available—the sand. Two handfuls of it.
The girl arrived first, and Dawn held her breath, then hurled a fistful of sand right in the she-creature’s face.
She reared back, making a guttural sound, whipping her head back and forth and blinking those awful white eyes as they seemed to roll even further back in her head. Her mouth was still shaped in a scream.
But Dawn didn’t notice for how long, because the old man with the chain was approaching with more methodical malice, his blank gaze trained on her like weak lasers. He spun the chain around his head, like a lasso, and Dawn had the feeling that he was ready to duck the other handful of sand she’d planned to throw at him.
She steadied her breathing, trying to think like a stunt woman—no, a hunter—again.
Then she knew what to do.
Just as she was about to jump-flip to a stand and use her legs to windmill the guy off balance, something exploded from behind her.
Or maybe it was just the beginning of an explosion, a projectile fired from a weapon, because right in front of her, the old man burst into a mess of sprayed blood.
Dawn took cover, curving her arms over her head as she got into a ball, then looked up to see what the hell had happened.
The first thing she noticed was that the girl was gone, and so was the sideburn man who’d fallen on the rock. Had he retreated while Dawn wasn’t looking?
Had the girl?
The second thing was that Jonah had walked out from behind Dawn and was already inspecting the pool of gore that the old bald man had left behind. Jonah held a grenade launcher with one hand as, with his other, he picked up the bloodied chain.
Dawn grimaced, then said, “What was that, Jonah?”
As he turned to look at her, she thought for a moment, “What if it’s not Jonah? What if Costin is still in his body?”
But then, in the moonlight, she saw that his eyes were blue, not the topaz color that indicated Costin had taken him over, and relief sighed through her. She liked her Costin peaceful, not as the berserk warrior who had once followed the dragon’s orders before he’d been recruited to take the vampire master down.
Meanwhile, her soul stain didn’t react one way or the other, although the dragon was beating inside of her again, as if sarcastically slow-clapping at the sight of blood.
Jonah flashed her one of his charming smiles. “You’re welcome, Dawn. Are there any more freaks around?”
“Not that I know of.”
When she stood, her knees were weak. God, it’d been a long time since she’d thrown down.
But a tiny thrill shooting through her made her wonder if it’d been too long.
She went over to the remnants of the old man, but she didn’t get too close. The dragon was getting more excited.
“Thank you,” she finally said to Jonah. Grudgingly.
“You all right?”
“Of course I am.” Dim bulb. She didn’t need him to be saving her ass.
“I was taking a break from Costin and the research. I came upstairs to see how you were doing and heard a stir outside, so I raided the upstairs weapons locker.”
Ever since defeating the dragon’s bloodline, they hadn’t been on high security. All their doo-dads and items of destruction had been stored away.
Were things about to change?
Jonah asked, “How many were there?”
“Three altogether. Two now.”
Dawn looked off into the distance, then down to the trail of blood that the injured old man with the sideburns had left. Her shoulder, where he’d bitten her, ached. Probably she should clean the wound right away because God knew what kind of chaos could result from a revenant bite.
If that’s what she’d just tangled with.
She turned to Jonah. “You’re not gonna believe what I think I saw.”
Before she even told him about Lilly Meratoliage, Jonah had an appetite in his gaze, and Dawn was shocked to realize that she felt it, too. The soul stain had wiped out so much feeling from her before that she’d blocked out most other emotions. Including boredom.
Including the craving of a hunter who would love to come out of retirement tonight…
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From the book: RAISING THE DARKNESS, A Dawn Madison Vampire Babylon E-Novella
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