CHAPTER 15 OF MOONBORNE REVENANTS
Look at them. Look at the way they scurry. This way and that, around and ’round and ’round in their little concrete maze. Their lives are fleeting. They are dead from the minute they are born.
What does it matter if you get rid of a few? Maybe one, or two, or three? They breed fast enough—others will spring up to take their places. They always do. One to steal, two to lie, three to dictate the others’ lives. What does it matter how their existences end?
Really, what does it matter? It has been so long. So long since you last felt the power, the freedom. Do you not remember the exhilaration of the hunt? Your skill will get rusty without practice. I already grow dull.
Two months is a long time.
They will go on. They always go on. One, two, three more offspring to carry on the scurrying, to carry on the mundane, pointless activities around which their underdeveloped minds revolve.
They know nothing about this sugar-coated world in which they live and less than nothing about the world festering beneath it. Neither do they want to know.
They are only good for one purpose…
What does it matter if one, or two, or three hundred of these brainless vermin are exterminated? Unbuckle your jacket collar. Reach for the steel.
What does it matter? What the old man doesn’t know won’t hurt him. Reach inside your jacket. Reach for your old friend. Reach for me.
Luce’s fishlike gray eye surveyed the mass of people at the New London metro station.
New London…Hah! He remembered back when it was simply “London.” But the times had changed since the Reorganization Wars one hundred and fifty years ago and now everything was New-something or another. The only thing that remained the same was the clang-clang-clang sound the trains made as they hit against the tracks at breakneck speed. The sounds of the metal striking metal made him think of swords crossing in the heat of battle.
Nowadays, swords were collectors’ items auctioned off at showrooms and donated to museums.
Relics…A painful reminder that his way of life was long dead.
Someone brushed past him. These city crowds he could do without. Different people, yet always the same; hurried young men and women in business attire, families happily welcoming visiting relatives, smiling matrons picking up briefcase-wielding husbands, excited young children accompanying their parents for out-of-town holidays.
Still, they were prospects…Yes, so many very promising prospects.
His pale hand twitched, then went to the buckled collar of his long, black leather coat as he leisurely scanned the crowd for a target. Ah, yes. Perfect.
His eye zeroed in on a petite young woman with short, dark hair in an asymmetrical bob rushing to button her plaid pea coat as she left the metro car. The heels of her sleek, black patent leather boots clicked almost rhythmically against the platform. In spite of the biting wind, she wore a tight yellow skirt with no stockings and tucked under her arm was a minuscule rectangular purse, the point of which Luce had never understood. Her icy blue eyes looked ahead pointedly, head held high.
Yes, yes. That’s the one. Come on, girl, just a bit closer.
The corners of Luce’s thin white lips curved upward in a sinister grin as he began undoing the two small silver buckles at his collar. His hand welcomed the feeling of the cold, hard metal beneath his coat. It was a wickedly curved sword whose shape resembled a flame, about three feet long with an iron hilt that he’d lovingly named “Devilblade.”
He smiled. What the Magistrates didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them.
That’s right, Luce! Do not keep on starving yourself. You thirst, old friend. You thirst and so do I. Spill the blood and let us have our fill.
The young woman was within meters of him now. Yes, a few quick motions and he could easily dispose of her. It was nighttime and winter painted the sky ebony. Intent on hurrying home, no one would be paying much attention to anyone else. The only thing on their one-track minds was always themselves, another thing that hadn’t changed over the five centuries he’d been alive. It would be easy…
One hand would flash out, grab her waist, pull her into the shadows behind the stairwell. Her eyes would grow round, bulge from their sockets. She would flail, struggle just the same as every other before her had done. And just as it had been with the others, it would prove futile. His other hand would wind about the slender throat, crushing the windpipes in mere seconds with a well-applied squeeze. There would be the inevitable sounds of struggling to breathe. Those positively lovely, reedy gasps that numbed the body, reducing her to a rag doll. Then he would release his hold on her waist, slide the Devilblade out of its safe place, and shwip!—make quick work of her.
Just one. One kill to get him back into practice before he went off to stalk more prey. He flexed his fingers. It wouldn’t be near as entertaining as hunting a supernatural, but it was sport all the same.
A firm pressure pressed down against his shoulder, jolting Luce from his thoughts. “Luce,” a voice rumbled.
Jaw working, Luce tore his eye from the brunette and inclined his head toward his associate. He stared up at the red-haired American’s square face, the pace of his breathing quickening, nostrils flaring, looking very much like a furious bull ready to charge.
The woman walked on, passing Luce and joining the other people walking up the stairs, completely oblivious of how close she had come to receiving the poison kiss of death.
How dare the man spoil the hunt when Luce’s sword thirsted so? How dare he interfere? By all rights, Luce thought, I should kill him for it. Why shouldn’t he? It wasn’t as if his death would be any great loss, that was for sure. Who would miss that uncouth, foul-mouthed man? Or, for that matter, the bloody disgusting cigarette smoke odor that clung to him like a second skin? No one.
Except the Church…
In another moment, his flash of anger had passed and he let his hand fall away from his collar. The last thing he wanted was another “meeting” with High Priest Cross. With a resigned nod, he regained his gentlemanly composure. He needed to keep his mind on the business at hand: finding the half-blood. After their job was done, he would be free to entertain himself as he wished.
“Right,” he said, his voice eerily quiet as usual. “Business first.”
Rudolph McLane stifled a shiver as he pulled his beefy hand away from Luce’s shoulder. Ten years as partners—ten whole years!—and he was still unable to get used to the cold eye that betrayed the man’s sociopathic tendencies.
Sure, they were Guardians, part of the organization of supernatural bounty hunters employed by the Church. Yeah, you could probably call them mercenaries. And it was very true that Rudolph’s unscrupulous bar buddies and cheap dollar-an-hour romantic liaisons were evidence that he was no Boy Scout. But in all of his forty-three years, he’d never come across a man as twisted or depraved as Luce.
No wonder the guy never had women. Besides the fact that the whole eye patch thing was probably a major turn-off for the ladies, his unnatural love affair with homicide probably didn’t leave time for being normal.
Killing supernaturals, Rudolph could understand. The freaks and monsters polluting the human world deserved to die. But Luce didn’t just kill supernaturals, he killed every damn body, anything that moved was a target. One of his victims even included another Guardian. When faced with the Magistrates for his crime, Luce’s reason for the murder had simply been “boredom.”
Hell, in a world of automatic guns, the guy’s weapon of choice was a freaking sword.
Killing was one thing, but who wanted to be that close to the death?
So Rudolph kept his distance from Luce. The other Guardians did as well; the only one who ever dealt with him on a regular basis was Nina, their other partner. Even the Magistrates, the seven leaders of the powerful New Europe Church, let the man alone.
Hastily turning his mind back to business, Rudolph looked to his left. He crossed his arms, hoping to warm himself a little. New Europe was too damn cold. “Where to from here, Nina?” he asked.
Daintily drawing a small, cellphone-like object from the pocket of her short, wine red leather jacket, the petite blonde motioned for them to give her a minute. Long eyelashes fanned downward as her eyes, the color of storm clouds, scanned the screen of the device.
She tucked a lock of long, shiny straw-colored straight hair behind an ear to get it out of her face. In her late twenties, Nina could only be described as beautiful, but beneath that golden beauty and sweet voice lurked a well-trained assassin.
“The West End,” she said after a moment. “The New London lab wants us to check in immediately.”
Arching a skeptical eyebrow, Rudolph snorted as he leaned against the not-so-clean metro station wall. “The lab? You gotta be fuckin’ kidding me!”
Luce frowned. “Since when does their say matter?”
Sharing their sentiments, Nina gave them a one-shouldered shrug and motioned for them to begin walking. Cross Labs was located in the dead center of the city, and if they were going to get there on time, they needed to get a move on.
She exhaled noisily. “Since High Priest Cross gave them the authority on this mission and made us their flunkies, that’s when.”
Rudolph rolled his eyes as the trio climbed the stairs topside, Luce on Nina’s left and Rudolph to her right. So this was what it was coming down to? The big, bad Guardians, expert bounty hunters, deadly assassins were now taking orders from lab-jockeys? If he had to deal with that obnoxious bastard Dr. Lisbon again, it’d better pay real nice. Their last meeting had ended with Rudolph’s fist crashing into the little nerd’s eye.
He smirked. Betcha he had to go find himself a real doctor.
“Fine, whatever. As long as we get paid,” he muttered finally, reaching into the pocket of his worn black motorcycle jacket for a cigarette. “What’re our orders?”
“Capture the creature and bring it in to Malcolm and Lisbon,” Nina replied, tucking her hands into the pockets of her jacket in an effort to combat the fierce winter wind attacking their faces. “I think there’s something special about this one, though.”
Raising both eyebrows, Rudolph momentarily removed his cigarette to blow out a stream of cloudy white smoke into the night air. “Yeah? Why d’ya say that?”
“They’re giving us three times the regular pay for it.”
Rudolph unintentionally disposed of his cigarette as his mouth dropped open, stopping in his tracks to stare at his partner. Three times! Three times the regular pay was close to a million dollars—for each of them.
“Hoooo-leeee shit,” he remarked. His pale green eyes were wide, and he didn’t even notice when the end of his wind-propelled ponytail whipped around to slap his face. “That’s the same as getting paid for bringing in, like, fifty fucking vamps!”
Eye bright, Luce only smirked coldly. It was as close to amused as he had ever looked. “Hm…Let me guess, Cross himself is coming here to see it, isn’t he?” He looked at Nina as though he already knew the answer.
Shocked, Nina nodded. “Yes. How did you know?”
Looking off into the distance, Luce continued to smirk, the shadows of night and the bright city lights playing upon his angular face and sunken cheeks. His eye glinted like light reflecting off a knife. Coupled with his puppet-like smirk, it was a frightening visage. With his long limbs and slightly scraggly pale gray hair, he resembled a grotesque skeleton.
“Just a lucky guess,” he said.
He began chuckling to himself, as though he’d just heard a great joke that no one else had.
Exchanging confused glances, Rudolph and Nina decided to leave him to his thoughts, however sick and disturbed they may have been. He always got especially strange when the subject of High Priest Cross came up.
The last time they’d been in New London had been the first time Nina and Rudolph had ever seen the leader of the Magistrates. However, he and Luce had seemed to know one another—very well. Luce, Mr. Proper English Gentleman, the man who never wore anything but starched three-piece designer suits, actually addressed him as “old man.”
Rudolph slid a cautious glance Luce’s way. Curiouser and curiouser, he thought. Though the Church controlled every facet of the government from the shadows and its inner workings were as murky as the lake water back home, it was Luce who was the real mystery. The man with only a first name who never seemed to age…
“It’s been a long time, Lucian.”
Eye narrowing, Luce stiffened. “Not. Long. Enough.”
His associates had gone off a while ago. Nina, to check into their hotel and Rudolph, to meet with their new contact about the target. As fate would have it, Luce had been left to deal with the high priest and the scientists.
“Seven years is not long enough?” Invisible threads pulled up the corners of High Priest Cross’s lined mouth. He turned small, shrewd gray eyes to look at Luce as he lit a sixth red candle on the old wooden table. “Do you really hate me so? Do you really hate me when I have given you such power? Such purpose?”
Teeth clenching, Luce set his jaw, trembling hands clenching at his sides. His eye drifted to the foot-long wooden cross symbol mounted on the thick stone wall behind the high priest’s head.
Luce fidgeted, quickly looking elsewhere. He’d had more than enough time with that cross as a child. “You’ve never given me anything, old man.”
Dropping his mask of benevolence, the high priest’s mouth twisted in disgust. “I haven’t?” His eyes bored holes into Luce as he stabbed a withered finger at the younger man. “You ungrateful spawn of the Devil,” he snarled. “If not for me, you would have been locked away in the Facility! Locked away until you expired!” His pale eyes grew crazed as he curled his hand into a fist. “I cured you!”
A memory of a five-year-old boy, face drawn tight from the dried tears on his cheeks, thin legs burning from hours of standing, surrounded by a circle of red candles as a man in a flowing white robe read strange, foreign words aloud from a large, leather-bound book. The boy sniffles as he clutches his arms around himself. “P-Please not again! Please! I’ll be good, I promise! Just don’t bring the Scary Things again. Please don’t.” Small body shaking, his gray eyes dart to and fro as dark shadows seep up from the stone floor, swirling slowly about his legs.
Luce’s pale gray eye burned, glowing like an ember. “You killed me! I was an infant when she died!”
“You were a scourge!”
Their voices filled in the tiny room, a windowless chamber located beneath what was now Cross Labs, and resonated, lingering like ghosts. As a child, Luce had hated that echoing. The detached voices had frightened him so much that he’d stopped speaking at any volume above a whisper to avoid hearing them. Of course, this had been back when laboratories hadn’t even come into existence yet, back when the austere, spired Church itself stood above.
“Insolent demon!” Bits of foamy, white spittle flew from High Priest Cross’s mouth, but he didn’t seem to notice as his beady eyes attempted to slice through Luce’s head. Angular face reddening, he gripped the edge of the table. “Even though you killed my wife, I have done nothing but help you! And you repay my kindness with this—this impudence?!”
“I was an infant! I didn’t mean for her to die!”
Images of thin, white shackled wrists and darkness flooded Luce’s mind.
Jackhammers seemed to be drilling against his cranium. Grabbing both sides of his head, Luce struggled to put back up the mental dam that had been keeping them at bay.
Listen to my voice, Lucian. Let me in. Obey me. Let. Me. In!
His head began to swim, and he staggered backward blindly, painfully slamming into the wall adjacent the table.
“Stop it!” he shrieked. “Just stop it! Stay out of my head!”
The high priest slowly reached for the small, wooden paintbrush on the table. “Look at me, Lucian.” He slid a little, round pot of ink to the edge of the table, dipped the paintbrush in the dark pool. “Look at me and be calm.”
As he sank to the stone floor on his knees, fists unclenching, Luce found himself staring into High Priest Cross’s eyes. Why could he never resist? Would this ever end?
Let me in, Lucian. Don’t try to block your mind from me. Cross’s paintbrush moved upward in a diagonal motion on Luce’s forehead. Down…Across…Down again…The pounding in Luce’s head dulled and his breathing slowed, evening out. Let me in…His eyelids began getting heavy even as he battled to keep control.
The thick ink created a five-pointed star housed in a circle. Obey.
Placing a brown-spotted, chalk-colored hand upon the design, the high priest kept his eyes trained on Luce’s. “Now, Lucian, have I not been generous to you?”
“Yes, you have. Most generous,” Luce’s mouth said.
“Do you not think that your immortality is a gift?”
I wish I could just reach my blade. My sweet, sweet blade.
“Of course,” Luce’s mouth said.
High Priest Cross smiled, eyes glittering merrily. “Very good. You may rise.” He removed his hand from Luce’s forehead.
If only I could separate the head from that shriveled body. If only…
Nevertheless, Luce’s body moved to stand up. He then folded neatly at the waist, giving the high priest a courtly bow. “Is there anything you wish to impart upon me?”
“Only this,” the high priest said, reaching up to touch Luce’s shoulder, “Welcome back home…son.”