…Back to the Beginning…
…Last time in When Skies are Gray…
Crow raised his hand in farewell to Vincent, or he thought he did. Up seemed a bit nebulous at the moment. Johnson dragged him after Bain into the dark, across the manicured lawn, and out the cast-iron gate branded with an R on the front. They moved through crowded streets and back alleys or back streets and crowded alleys. Crow couldn’t get his bearings. The stars trailed together and spun. The street couldn’t commit to laying down flat, but decided instead to rise and fall in unexpected places. Even his own body gave up on physics and motion. He tried to raise his head only to find it hanging off the end of his neck like a useless bauble and the world upside-down. When he tried to bring it back up to a normal forward position, he found himself examining his feet. He giggled.
“Bain, you better know where you’re going, cause if y’all are following me we’re probably walking in circles,” Crow said with a snort. “Walking in circles will only make us dizzy.”
“Not so loud,” Johnson said.
“Is this what being drunk is like?” Crow hissed trying to whisper. “This is not fun. And you’re very tall.”
The world which was Johnson pulled up short.
“Let us pass,” Bain said to something in the darkness.
The sharp tone of Bain’s voice focused Crow. He fought through the cloud of intoxication to the island of control. Fear rolled off his friends. They reeked of the sweaty smell. Crow stilled his breathing, his heart, his mind – focus. Zephyr’s tiny feet touched down on his shoulder. She slipped into his pocket, disappearing. When had he put his shirt back on, let alone his coat? Last he remembered he’d taken them off. A bubble of laugher surfaced. He smashed it down before it bubbled from his mouth. Vincent never mentioned side effects like uncontrollable laughter when they talked about Caroline’s magical transfusion. Crow tossed his head to disrupt the invisible gnats of joy swarming around him. Stupid witch with her stupid happiness.
“You, Bain, may pass, but the others will come with us. It is high time we put an end to this little war and ascend again into the Material Plan as the predators we are.”
“You have chosen your new Master then?” Bain said.
“We do not have a master. Leave now repentant one,” he spat the name out like it tasted vile in his mouth, “before I withdraw my offer and slay you.”
“Do not stop us, Xanthus.”
“You do not frighten me.”
“Does this?” Crow palmed the Jade Gun. He fired at a vampire with a high-rise of golden hair wishing it was Fortunatus caught between his sights. The vampire shifted to the side. Crow’s bullet grazed open his cheek. Bain lunged at Xanthus with a curved blade drawn from inside his coat. The blade ran through Xanthus’ gut. He doubled over. Two more vampires appeared out of the shadows.
“Get out of here!” Bain yelled.
Johnson turned with Crow for the alley exit. A loud crack across the back of Johnson’s skull dropped him. The big man dragged Crow down to the cobblestones crushing him under his heavy arm. BW8 and Jack flew at the two vampires. They shifted in the darkness driving BW8 to his knees with matching blow to the head. Jack yipped and fell silent beside BW8. Unable to gain control of his body, unable to stand up, Crow watched Bain forced to the cobblestones. He had to get free. He had to free the Jade Gun. Bain locked eyes with Crow. Xanthus drove a stake into his heart. Fear passed through Bain’s turquoise eyes. He dissolved into a skeleton and then to ash.
Crow moaned. He ripped his other hand free grasping at the dust.
Anger energized his trapped, drunken limbs. Crow shoved up on his hands and knees. He pushed to his feet. Something cold snapped around his neck. The world went black.
Crow came-to in a small room filled with hissing steam, masking fog, and grinding gears. Leather belts cut into his bare skin where his t-shirt had been ripped open. The belts ran across his body while thick leather cuffs bound his wrist and ankles to a wooden chair.
“Release me, now,” someone next to him said with deadly calm.
Light burst in his head. Enflamed muscles protested. Crow pushed through the pain. He tried to turn his head to see who spoke. Small leather caps, lowered from the ceiling and strapped on their heads, limited his movement. Crow caught the speaker out of the corner of his eye.
Leather belts with silver buckles bound Fortunatus naked upper body to a high-back chair. The cuffs encasing his ankles and wrists irritated his skin. It peeled away from the confining leather. Their two chairs sat on raised platforms. A hot light shown through the steam-filled room and cast deep shadows into the vile runes carved on the chairs. Cords ran from the cuffs at their wrist and ankles off into the foggy darkness where a machine hummed and gears grinded.
Fortunatus ignored Crow. He strained against his bonds.
“Release me. I brought you the Dhampir just as I said. You have no right to bind me.”
“Yes, but you see, Betrayer, we do not trust you. You have switched sides in this game one too many times. Besides, Manson would like a word with you when he gets here.”
“This is dull, Adonis. I did not agree to be a caretaker, jailor, or babysitter. Why does it take humans so long to travel from one place to another?”
“Brother, we agreed to turn both Crow and Fortunatus over to Manson. But we made no promise of their condition.”
Crow ignored the fear trying to seep into him. He had been captured by the Greeks. They had slain Bain. They had his friends. He sat in a chair too similar to an electrocution chair to be comfortable. Ignored the fear! How much time had passed? How much time did he have left? He glanced around the room. Escape. He needed a way to escape.
“This is unacceptable,” Fortunatus said.
Crow could tuck his fear away in a dark forgotten corner and walk away, but he couldn’t ignore Fortunatus. Red anger boiled up in him washing away the fear and the thought of escape. It focused on the vampire next to him with pursed lips. It focused on the creature that had yet again proven himself selfish and beyond forgiveness.
“When I finish healing Olive, I’m coming for you, Fortunatus. This time I’m gonna kill you. This time, I’m going to mercifully put you out of your misery.”
“Comforting thought, Crow. But it seems to me we will not make it out of here alive. So you must forego the joy of turning me to ash.”
“Oh, we’ll make it out of here, you damned betrayer.” Crow spit with hatred. “You, you couldn’t be loyal if you’re very being depended on it. You’d sell your own mother.”
“I did. And I do not see how it is any business of yours. You cannot keep those around you from getting hurt. What is worse, Dhampir? Being true only to yourself or putting everyone who loves you in danger? Ever notice most of your friends die?” Fortunatus said.
“You’re the one killing them!” Crow shouted straining against the belts in an attempt to reach him.
Xanthus golden high-rise of hair caught the light as he stepped out of the fog. Bain’s ashes dusted his coat. Mist ran rivulets through the gray striping his shoulders. Water droplets edged gold chains around his neck and darkened the short beard on his sharp face. In his ringed hand he carried a box with a switch.
“And Jack?” Crow said ignoring Xanthus.
“He is a human child. I should have drained him and savored his young blood when I had a chance,” he said without conviction.
Xanthus threw the switch. Electrical fire burned through Fortunatus. He convulsed with the power of the current. His teeth clamped together and he squeezed his eyes shut. Xanthus shut it off. Fortunatus slumped in his chair. Steam rose from around the leather cap on his head and blood trickled down from his nose.
“What the?” Crow whispered.
Fortunatus didn’t heal. The blood continued to run down his face. His limbs trembled with aftershock.
“These are very special chairs with very special runes carved in them. Very old runes. Too ancient for even Fortunatus to read them.”
Adonis joined his brother in the foggy light. He poured a dark liquid from an onyx pitcher. Fortunatus healed.
“Nice haircut,” Crow said glaring up at the vampire. “You steal it from Bain?”
One side of Adonis’ hair hung over his face like Bain’s while the other side was short and spiked.
“I like the whole eyeliner thing to, you pansy,” Crow said.
Adonis ran a hand over the ring in his lip and his trimmed goatee. He studied Crow a moment before he backhanded him across the face. Crow’s lip split and a bit of blood ran down his chin.
“We control your ability to heal.”
Xanthus flipped the switch. Fortunatus screamed. The smell of cooked meat infused the steamed air.
“Go ahead,” Crow shrugged, aware that his lip hadn’t healed. “I don’t care if you torture him.”
“Your version of mercy leaves much to be desired,” Fortunatus panted as the electricity cut off.
Handing the switch to Adonis, Xanthus pulled Bain’s curved knife from the small of his back. He shifted up to Crow and drove it through his knee. Crow howled. He jerked away, but the leather straps kept him from getting far.
“Do you care if I torture you?” Xanthus whispered.
Precious drops of magical blood meant for Olive fell to the floor. Adonis and Xanthus traded devices. Electricity arched over Crow’s body and reflected in the blade of the knife working Fortunatus over. Their panting screams hid the whistling, clanking, steaming machines lost in the fog. Enough. Crow forced his gaze onto Fortunatus. He forced the anger out and over the pain. Blood poured from the vampire. His skin shrunk. His eyes sunk into the hollows of his skull. Crow tried to enjoy the emaciated enemy tortured beside him. He tried to tell himself that he didn’t care if they turned Fortunatus into a zombie. Pain ripped his thoughts away. A breath of hot air blew the steam apart like a curtain opening. Xanthus and Adonis shifted away to a table covered with blades, bolts and gears designed to inflict agony without dealing out death.
“I see the way you look at Olive,” Crow gasped. He had to keep them alive. He had to feed the anger. “I see you now. You did this. You planned this so you could take her for yourself.”
Fortunatus blinked, surprised. He turned pain-filled eyes on Crow.
“If I wanted her, dhampir,” he whispered through white, strained lips, “I would have taken her while you were recovering from touching her. And I would not woo her.”
Crow let his anger burn white-hot. He feed it the fuel of Fortunatus words.
“She’s mine. You so much as think about touching her and I’ll rip you apart.”
A spiked chain uncurled from Xanthus hand. It cut into their arms.
“You? You think you can lay claim to her,” Fortunatus said, the leather belts holding him up as he sagged against them. “Like she will stick with you, you half-breed monstrosity of nature.”
The spiked chain snaked out of the fog and lashed open their chests.
“Better than being a back stabbing traitor to someone who claimed you as a friend, your master, and me.”
The vampires lashed and hacked at them withholding their power to heal but their insults continued to fly.
“Friend? Oh, you mean your idiotic father,” Fortunatus spat. “In love with a witch given a lesser power.”
Crow threw himself against the leather bands. Anger erupted inside him.
Adonis hurled the onyx pitcher against a large copper tank smashing it to bits. Black liquid splashed across the room. He glared at them, bored and angry. Pain had been unable to deter the hatred between the two old enemies. They ignored the cutting, biting, lashing torture as they hurled sharp words at one another.
“Let us go. Manson will be here soon,” Adonis said.
He shifted through the pool of light, followed by Xanthus and their silent brother, Kalogeros. Straight bangs framed his ever-present large sunglasses. He bent over Fortunatus, dipped his finger into a cut at the vampire’s side and tasted his blood.
“You will die here, but we will rise to the glory you hoped Manson would bring when you joined him over fifty years ago. Enjoy the sensation of your blood trickling out and the madness of desire overtaking you.”
A door closed off in the fog. They were gone. Crow waited a few minutes clinging to the anger inside him. He did not want the Greeks returning the moment he got free.
“If you have a chance to escape, Crow, I suggest you hurry and take it,” Fortunatus mumbled slumping against the belts.
“Don’t you die on me yet, traitor,” Crow said.
He grunted straining against the leather cuffs. He drew on the anger eating away at his insides. The hate he felt for Fortunatus all those years. His father’s friendship betrayed, the aid to Manson, and the petty retribution over a yelling match which got them in this mess in the first place. Crow threw log after log on the fire of his hate and strained all his muscle against them. The belts didn’t budge. Crow panted. Precious blood spilled out his wounds. Steam collected on his skin. He tried again, but the anger wasn’t enough. The hate wasn’t powerful enough to break the belts holding him to the chair and blocking his ability to heal. He needed a stronger power. He needed something.
A bubble of wild laughter rose inside him. It pushed up through the hate and burst out his lips. Crow chuckled. He couldn’t help it. Was he mad?
“I do not think laughter is appropriate at a time like this,” Fortunatus said.
Caroline’s magic, filling his veins, blocking out darkness, rushed over the anger. It quenched the fires of hate. It linked with his humanity, his mother’s magic, his father’s undeadness, his love for Olive. It linked all the good inside him, but not of him. The leather bounds burst asunder. Crow tumbled out to damp floor. Warm tiles pressed against his wounds. The painful reversal of wounds – healing – began. He pushed to his feet, stumbled to Fortunatus and ripped open the belts holding him up.
“You traitor,” he said.
He dragged Fortunatus out of the circle of light and away from the cursed chairs. Warm fog enveloped them. They dropped to the ground. Crow wounds knit back together, and Fortunatus’ body healed. So much blood. How much did he have left?
“You have called me a traitor, several times already. We need to broaden your vocabulary.”
“I think I already screwed us both,” Fortunatus said through clenched teeth.
“I am a traitor. I wanted to hurt you for all the malice you showed me. I thought it unfair since I had your tattoo on my hand, since I had proved I had switched sides.”
“You had a hand in the death of both my parents. You think even with a tattoo that heals quickly?”
“No. And it should not. Forgive me, Crow.”
Crow grunted, surprised.
“This is the second time I have been saved by you when I did not deserve it. I believe my loyalty must now rest with someone other than myself regardless your feelings about me.”
“That would be a historic change.”
“Your eyes are red. Have you been drinking?” Fortunatus ignored his snide remark.
“I was full of magical blood designed by Caroline, the Witch of Joy, to save Olive, but we’re running out of time. It may already be too late. I don’t know how much time has passed, or how much blood I’ve lost.”
Fortunatus shifted to his feet and held out his hand to Crow.
“I swear on the angel Akilina that I will help you reach Olive in time whatever the cost to myself.”
“Then let’s get the hell out of here.” Crow accepted his hand and climbed to his feet.
Crow picked up Bain’s knife lying tossed aside by Xanthus. Fortunatus gathered up the spiked chain. They shifted to the door, stopped, and listened. Nothing. They both drew in deep breaths through their noses.
“Also the others. They’re split up.”
“I will go and get Jack and Zephyr,” Fortunatus said.
Crow nodded. Fortunatus shifted up to crouch on the ceiling over the door. Crow pounded on the door with his fist. The guard outside grunted in surprise. The bolt screeched as he slid it back and pushed open the door. Fortunatus dropped the spiked chain down around his neck and yanked him off the floor. The guard’s feet kicked in a last moment fight for life. Crow grabbed his gun and stuck it in the waist band of his blood drenched jeans before he drove Bain’s knife into the guard’s chest. The guard sifted into ash on the floor. Fortunatus dropped down and they stepped into the hall.
Underground catacombs opened before them. The fog from the room dropped to the floor and crawled over the white walls. Fluorescent lights turned Fortunatus’ pale skin an off yellow. Crow ducked under the low ceiling and scented again. Two halls branched off from the room where they were tortured. One straight ahead and one to Crow’s right.
Fortunatus gathered up the spike chain wrapping it around his arm.
“Meet me at the door out of this place with the others,” Crow said.
He held out his hand. Fortunatus grasped it. For the second time in the last few hours, Crow’s skin burned. He looked down at his arm.
“Second new tattoo today.”
“That is never a good sign,” Fortunatus said.
Just above Crow’s right wrist, just below his other new tattoo, a beautiful woman in a flowing gown inked in. She held out her hands. Jewels and gold spilled from them in an unending cascade.
“I take it back. That is a very good sign,” Fortunatus said.
“I’m guessing it’s yours.”
“Yes. It is Lady Fortune.”
“Let’s get going before I get linked to anyone else.”
“Move fast,” Fortunatus said. He hesitated. “And Godspeed.”
…Join me, next Friday, for the continuation of the tale…