Crystal Raven

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Summary

Jean-Claude Beauceur is a monk, a scholar, a kindergarten teacher, a basketball coach, and sometimes demon hunter. When he finds a girl unconscious on the streets, he knows his actions over the next months may spark open warfare between the vampyres living beneath the streets of New York City and the humans living above. Is she the one the Church has been waiting for, or is she a trap designed to destroy the Brotherhood, one of the factions in a three-sided war that has waged for centuries? If he does not find the truth soon, the world as he has known it will come to a bloody end. Crystal Raven.

Genre:
Fantasy / Horror
Author:
Allan Lacoursiere
Status:
Complete
Chapters:
46
Rating:
4.7 20 reviews
Age Rating:
16+

Chapter 1

Chapter 1

The alley was cold and damp. She woke to a world of pain. Six assassins had found her moments after her rebirth when she was the most vulnerable. Blood seeped from a dozen places where shattered bones pierced her skin. Her breath came in a hissing rattle as she clung to consciousness. The pain of a fractured skull muddled her thoughts, and while instinct spoke of a need, the nature of that need eluded her. Did she hear footsteps? Were her attackers coming to finish the job?

Jean-Claude Beaucour looked up with a start. He often lost himself in thought, wandering away from his current surroundings to some twisted corner of his mind. Esoteric philosophies held little interest to the modern world, obsessed as it was with music, sex, and other forms of self-gratification. Mysticism and the occult, folklore and metaphysics filled Jean-Claude’s thoughts almost every waking hour. For him, they held all the drama of a life and death struggle.

It was a bad place to lose track of his surroundings. This neighbourhood made him feel uncomfortable late at night – like a courtesan, it changed its face so suddenly after dark. A transplant from Quebec, he volunteered at a youth centre in the Bronx twice a week. It was a street scene straight out of a movie – buried in a sea of litter and graffiti, broken bottles and broken lives on every corner, and dealers of flesh and drugs hiding in its shadowy niches. The street lamps were broken and the darkness hid a multiple of sins. And not everything in the night was human.

Coming to New York to help heal her wounds after nine eleven was only a pretext to explain his sudden move from his home in rural Quebec. His order had sent him here for darker reasons. Since he was a young child he had known that some of the things that go bump in the night held a chilling reality. He and others like him hunted in the black hours after midnight, although he would fit no one’s description of a thrill seeker. Thin to the point of gauntness, his sweater-vests and bow ties often left him a target of the older kids. Violence was against his beliefs. A monk did not strike children, even if they tended to carry razor blades and knives. Jean-Claude was anxious to reach the relative safety of his car.

His car was a Pinto whose colour was lost beneath a storm of rust. He never worried about parking it on the street – the kids said it was too much of a piece of shit to steal. In New York, you either drove a shit-box or you paid hundreds of dollars to park it in an underground garage. His was a wrecker, but it was reliable. It started on the first turn of its ignition every time and carried him across New York City to this impoverished neighbourhood twice a week, and every day to the elementary school where he taught a kindergarten class.

Half-way across the street, he spotted a crumpled form in the mouth of the alleyway. Even from here, he could see it was a young girl. Instinct took over. He rushed to her side, oblivious to the dangers that may still lurk in the alley. Dropping heavily to the sidewalk, and skinning his knee as he struck the concrete, Jean-Claude felt for a pulse. It was there. Very weak and faint. He made a hasty decision, knowing that by the time an ambulance made it into this neighbourhood it would no longer matter.

Jean-Claude’s world jumped as he stood with the girl in his arms. For a moment it felt as if every nerve in his body was being scraped raw with a wood rasp. ‛Merd! Is she the one the Church is searching for?’ He thought he recognized the sensation as she stirred in his arms. ’Is she drawing strength from me?’ Yes, he knew this sensation. Head spinning, the world whirling like water circling a drain, vision blurred into a confused kaleidoscope. Two things in life made him feel this way, getting up from his chair too fast, or being fed on by a demon.

Confused, he studied the girl in his arms. Eyes blackened, nose broken, blood dripping from one ear, even this shattered she looked like an angel. In her mid-teens, she had the pasty white skin of a run-a-way. Her hair was raven, although that might be the blood and the darkness, and both eyes were swollen shut. There was a deceptive innocence to her, a compelling beauty that drew him to her like a moth to a flame. This too he recognized. Years of training told him he was looking at something more than human, something perhaps more dangerous than all the weapons of mass destruction devised by Man. And he had been at his business too long to believe in coincidence.

Fighting his dizziness, he crossed to his car, unlocking the passenger door and placing her gently inside. He was born and raised in Montreal, where despite the claims of the owners’ manual, a general belief was held that a car came equipped with only two pedals – the gas and the clutch. Dashing up an alley, trash cans flying, the girl moaned as the Pinto caught air at its far end. He drifted around a corner, skidding between two cars to avoid a headlong collision, and began the sixteen block Baja to the hospital that, had the girl been awake, would have stopped her heart.

His order was not the only one in this game who gathered intelligence. His enemies knew more about him than he ever would about them. Had they placed the girl there knowing he would not refuse to come to the aid of an injured child. Perhaps he had become too predictable over the last decade, he chided himself as his car navigated a narrow gap between a bus and a truck. It would bear some serious thought.

He squealed to a halt in front of the hospital emergency doors. Excited cries in French rose above the chaos, drawing eyes towards him. A bloody man carrying a battered girl in his arms attracted a few looks before both were swallowed up by the emergency doors. Another Saturday night in the Bronx.

When the triage nurse saw the man in the bloody shirt run through the doors with a broken girl in his arms, she reacted immediately. A team lifted the patient onto a gurney, a doctor materializing from nowhere to yell instructions that confused Jean-Claude, the dizzying maze of medical jargon and initials quickly separating them. As the girl disappeared into the depth of the emergency room, an admitting nurse corralled Jean-Claude and drew him to the counter.

“Are you hurt?”

“Quoi?” He muttered, looking up. “No.”

“What is the girl’s name?”

“I don’t know,” Jean-Claude replied. “A white girl in a neighbourhood predominantly Hispanic and Black – a runaway perhaps?”

“What happened to the girl? A car accident?” The nurse asked. “How was the girl hurt?”

“I don’t know,” Jean-Claude’s breathing became erratic, and he reached into his pocket for his puffer. ”I found her outside Saint Vincent’s Youth Centre. Perhaps she was mugged? Or beaten by the pimp?”

“So, no insurance then?”

“I will pay for her bills, no?” Jean-Claude said. “Do I need to pay now? A cheque, maybe cash?”

“No, not now,” the nurse sighed. “Let me take your contact information. You do realize that we are talking about thousands of dollars?”

“It is nothing” Jean-Claude replied. “I have money, what is the English expression? I am comfortable.”

Is this girl the one? No, it was too early. The nurse’s questions faded into the background. Definitely a demon kit, though, Jean-Claude decided. There could be no denying that. And that left one big question. If she was not the one, who had tried to kill her at the moment of her reincarnation? Was the Brotherhood dealing with a group of renegades? The last band of vigilantes was back in the seventies, in a place called Jonestown, and that had ended in the deaths of nine hundred and eighteen people, many of them innocents caught up in something they could not understand. Had his superiors listened to him and dealt with Jonestown through regular channels these deaths could have been prevented. Instead, they sent Jonas and his hardliners.

God, Jean-Claude swore under his breath. With what they faced here in New York the same thing could happen all too easily. Whatever else happened he must not lose control of the situation, not with the hardliners waiting in the wings for him to fail.

Every violent injury automatically triggered a call to the police. Once Jean-Claude had filled out the admittance forms and had turned to wait for the results of the emergency surgery, two police officers came to talk to him. Led by an officer stationed in the emergency ward, the two confronted him by a coffee machine. He was standing there to avoid the overcrowded waiting room because sick people made him nervous.

“Mister?

“Beaucour.”

“I understand you brought in the Jane Doe?” The officer asked. “What were you doing in that neighbourhood? I mean a white guy in that district at that time of night, it doesn’t look good.”

“I vol…volunteer at the Saint V…Vincent Youth Centre,” he panted through another asthma attack. He reached for his puffer. Being drained by a demon was hell on a man his age.

“Hey!” The officer grabbed his hand.

The admitting nurse slapped the cop’s hand away. “It’s his inhaler. Can’t you see the man has asthma?”

“Sorry, Christ, take a chill pill.” Turning back to Jean-Claude, he continued. “So, tell me, how did you find the girl?”

“She was lying on the sidewalk by my car,” Jean-Claude said. “It is, how do you say, kitty-corner from the youth centre.”

“The one several blocks from here? And you park your car there?” The officer asked, incredulously. Jean-Claude could see he knew the street.

“It is, what do the kids say?” Jean-Claude admitted. “A junk pile.”

“Is that your car out front?” The other officer added.

“Merd!” Jean-Claude swore. “I apologize. In the excitement, I forgot to move it.”

“If you give me the keys,” the second officer continued, “I will park it for you.”

“And why did you bring her to the hospital yourself?” The first officer said, ignoring the interruption.

“The ambulances,” Jean-Claude replied. “They do not always come to that neighbourhood.”

“And what do you think she was doing there?” He asked, a common interview trick Jean-Claude had used himself.

“White girl in that neighbourhood,” Jean-Claude offered. “Maybe a crack whore? We see that at the centre from time to time.”

The other officer returned and whispered loud enough for Jean-Claude to overhear, “blood all over the front passenger seat, otherwise clean as a whistle. Too clean.”

“My partner says there’s blood all over the seat in your car,” the first officer remarked. “Blood can be difficult to clean.”

“Perhaps Jamal’s father can remove it,” Jean-Claude replied. He really wasn’t interested. It couldn’t be helped, and thankfully it was only blood and not ichor. All he really wanted now was for these two to go away to give him time to think. What were a few blood stains compared to the end of a search that had spanned two centuries?

“Who’s Jamal?”

“From the centre,” Jean-Claude supplied. “I taught him basketball and he got a scholarship to college. To thank me, his father details my car twice a month.”

“I see,” the officer wrote down Jean-Claude’s vitals, and concluded the interview. “Okay, Mr. Beaucour, we’ll be in touch.”

“Merci.”

Jean-Claude wandered over to the admitting nurse, bringing her a coffee to thank her for helping out. How was he to find out the one thing he must know at all costs? It was so hard to think here. After having had his soul leeched twice, the assault of noise and motion now raping his senses left him feeling dizzy and nauseous. Jean-Claude realized that if he did not seek April’s help immediately his own health would be at risk, but he suspected he was the girl’s only friend in this world. If she was only a girl.

Seductress demons, like succubi, came in all shapes and sizes. Some used a glamour to hide their true selves from their victims, others used a pheromone storm to lure their prey close enough to feed. Succubi were the most dangerous of these because they could use both. They were often irresistibly beautiful, and tragically, would truly love their victim until the day they consumed their soul. And sex was not their only means of seduction. Power, wealth, and even knowledge had been used by these demons extensively in the past. Jean-Claude could not trust his instincts now that the girl had fed on him, and if he made the wrong decision it would mean more than the end of his Brotherhood.

And there was always the possibility that she was a possessed human child or he had finally snapped under the pressure.

“It has been a long time,” he said. “This is not a good thing, no?”

The nurse took pity on the old man, who looked done in by the trauma of the last hour. “She’s in the best hands in the city. No-one treats more trauma injuries than these doctors. If she has any kind of a chance, Doctor Gilmore is it.”

“That is good,” Jean-Claude said, nodding. “I would like to ask her for her name.”

Two hours later, he was dozing off by the coffee machine when a doctor in bloody scrubs came up to the admitting nurse. Pointing him out, she led the doctor across the emergency room.

“Mr. Beaucour?”

“Oui.”

“I’m Doctor Gilmore. I’m the surgeon. Your friend is in stable condition. She’s a very sick little girl and is going to need a lot of care.” The doctor paused, holding out a crystal figurine of a raven. “This is all we found on her. Do you have any idea who she might be?”

The Crystal Raven, an ancient Wiccan relic given by the Church to its lone Succubus ally during the Long Night of the Vampire. Jean-Claude recognized the object but said nothing. “No, I’m afraid not. Perhaps we might call her Crystal Raven until she can tell us her name, no?”

“It’s better than Jane Doe,” the surgeon smiled.

“May I see her?”

The doctor frowned. “We’ll be settling her into a room soon; you can go up then. She has a lot of broken bones and required surgery. There’s not a lot to see past the casts and the bandages.”

“I understand,” Jean-Claude said. “I will let her know she is not alone. Sometimes, this is important, no?”

“Yes.”

It was another ninety minutes of quiet worry before they had the girl settled into a room. Secrecy and the many dangers here saw Jean-Claude arrange to move her into a private room, giving a credit card as security – and even leaving this much of a paper trail kicked up his ulcer. Tomorrow he would come and pay her medical expenses, already approaching ten thousand dollars, but he would pay that in cash if he could.

The Brotherhood abhorred paperwork. There were no official records of the organization – no membership lists or organizational charts, no budgets or operational orders. Knowledge of their existence was confined to a select few members of the Church hierarchy, and that knowledge was kept strictly to an oral tradition since its founding. Even their archives, seven sets, kept in seven different locations, contained not the slightest hint of their existence. Situations like this, in this age of instant communication, were becoming increasingly difficult to contain. What to do about this girl?

Since the dawn of time the Brotherhood, in one form or another, had defended Humanity from the predations of demons. As its Grandmaster, the decision about this girl and about the vampyre infestation growing beneath the streets of New York was his, and almost every choice he faced ended in disaster. Folded into the structure of the Church centuries ago, both their existence and the existence of demons had to be hidden at all costs. Failure would set off another disaster like the witch hunts of the Sixteen Hundreds, where thousands of innocent men and women died, and not one demon was banished. And given the geopolitics of the day, there was always the possibility that some government would be tempted to use either the Brotherhood or demons themselves as a weapon.

His first sight of the child stopped him cold. This little stranger lying in a hospital bed, only one blue eye and a hand not covered in bandages and casts - he could feel her tugging at the edges of his soul the moment he drew near. Was she some other kind of demon sent to eliminate him? The consequences of the decision of a long-ago pope were a gathering storm on the horizon, time was running short, and if this was the saviour they were all waiting for the Church and all humanity faced dark days ahead.

It had been a long day. As he sat at her bedside, holding her hand gently in his own, he fell into a dreamless sleep. Throughout the night he could feel the connection between them. Despite all his training, exhaustion and worry was leaving him easy prey – trust and demons were a volatile mix that led to the eternal fires of damnation. How many times had he preached this same thing to the Brotherhood’s newest recruits? Practice was a hardship in a seductive world where dreams and reality collide, a world where your soul was more than a mere concept in a dusty metaphysics book. Yet, he could not bring himself to pull away from the girl and her palpable need for human contact.

The hospital staff left the pair alone, too harried and overworked to bother with one more old man sleeping where he did not belong. Finally, a nurse, coming in to do her rounds, woke him from his sleep and chased him from the room. It was fifteen minutes before he was due to begin teaching his class, and, realizing he could not make his shift, Jean-Claude went off to find a telephone and phone in. Someone would need to cover his class for today – and probably longer.

After he had called in to arrange some time off, Jean-Claude made his way out of the hospital and headed towards his home for a shower and a change of clothes. Still exhausted, he could sleep for a week if only he could afford the time. Amazingly, he had survived the night, and he was not sure if that meant any more than that the demon’s host was too damaged to finish him off. At his apartment he made a quick, second call to his lawyer – a man still in Quebec, but who was licensed to practice in New York. Jean-Claude started the process to have himself declared her guardian until her parents were found. There would be none. And they could not have a demon loose in the foster system. That was one disaster he did not wish to contemplate, at least not before breakfast.

On the way back to the hospital, he stopped at a diner for breakfast. April Moonshadow, a neighbour, and mother of a young girl about the same age as Crystal was its owner/operator. A Wiccan steeped in the true traditions of the Covens, she too was an initiate of the Brotherhood – one they had come to rely on to heal the unseen damage inflicted during their operations. She fixed him a plate of bacon and eggs, then poured herself a cup of coffee and joined him. A strict vegetarian, she had inherited the business from her parents, and had not bothered to change the menu, or try to attract a different clientele. The diner with its working-class patrons and the memories of her mother and father that lingered in every corner and niche suited her fine exactly the way it had always been.

“You were not home last night?” She questioned. “A girl?”

“Oui,” Jean-Claude replied between bites. “She is in the hospital.”

April raised an eyebrow. “And you should be too.”

He did not bother lying, knowing she could read the signs in his eyes and the grey pallor of his skin. She fished out a crystal from a black velvet bag she wore around her neck.

“A runaway,” Jean-Claude explained, accepting the crystal with a crooked grin. The energy it contained would help revive him quicker than a day-long dance with caffeine. “I found her in the alley by the centre, badly beaten.”

“I see,” April said. “How old is this waif?”

“About as old as Gwen, no?” Jean-Claude said. “Much trouble in her future, I think.”

“Much,” April replied with a smile.

“She is a succubus and not a nymph,” Jean-Claude whispered. “And I will never be cast as a romantic lead.” And then he continued aloud. “I will need to bring girl things to her.”

“I see,” April said. “I can help with that. Do you know her size?”

“About Gwen’s size,” Jean-Claude shrugged.

“What hospital is she at?” April laughed. “I’ll come see for myself.”

Much relieved, Jean-Claude finished his breakfast before making his way back to the hospital. Women’s undergarments were more of a mystery to him than the obscurest denizen of the Stygian depths, and he would rather face a trio of vampyre assassins naked than the women’s hygiene section of the local drug store. One never knew where his work with the Brotherhood would lead him, and somehow he suspected this waif would carry him to places he’d never pictured himself visiting in this lifetime.

He arrived at her hospital room to find Doctor Gilmore finishing his rounds.

“Your friend made a remarkable rally last night,” the doctor said.

“Good,” Jean-Claude replied. “How long does she need to be in the hospital?”

“At least six weeks,” the doctor warned. “She is still a very hurt little girl.”

“I see,” he said. “My friend will come and bring some things. What will she need?”

“I’ll have a nurse make you a list,” the doctor offered.

Jean-Claude sat through the day at the girl’s bedside, reading an ancient tome in some long-dead language. His studies suffered from his preoccupation with the girl and what her presence here might mean. So much rested on his finding the succubus bound to the Church before another demon found him. Had the demon lords who began all this placed her here as part of some wider scheme, not even he could see through? From time to time, he spoke to her, hoping for some sign, and saw nothing.

April and Gwen found them like this when they arrived early that evening. As like as two peas in a pod, mother and daughter sported long blonde hair, straight and not dyed, laughing blue eyes and gentle, ready smiles. They were earthy and unpretentious and enjoyed an easy-going, practical nature. While Gwen took his place holding the girl’s hand and introduced herself with such ease and glibness that one would think they were meeting under normal circumstances, the two adults stepped back to talk.

April studied her critically. She was only a child, and not the woman she had expected. She should have realized sooner. Historically, girls had married as young as thirteen and were considered old maids by seventeen or eighteen. “She’ll be one size smaller than Gwen in the waist. It’s hard to judge through all that plaster. A nightgown might be easier to manage.”

“The nurse,” Jean-Claude said. “She made a list.”

April studied it. She frowned. “Most of this can wait for a while. How long is she going to be here?”

“Six weeks,” Jean-Claude replied.

“That will run a pretty penny,” April winced.

“There is money.”

“When the majority of these casts come off,” April said, frowning at the drugs listed on the girl’s chart, “she would be better off at home with us.”

April did not agree with modern medicine’s dependence on chemicals. She reached into her purse and withdrew a black silk pouch, undoing its drawstring with long, slender fingers. She upended the bag and an amulet made from a blood-red crystal slid out. Prepared in a blessing ceremony, it held the natural healing patterns of the earth. She carefully placed it around the girl’s neck with the help of her daughter. The three of them said a quick prayer.

“What is she?” Gwen asked suddenly.

“A very sick little girl,” Jean-Claude replied with a gentle smile.

“I know you know what I mean,” Gwen pouted. “Why do you always treat me like a child? I am sixteen, not a baby anymore. And I have talents of my own. I can see Crystal’s aura is ancient, shot through with pulsing black veins. That means she is not a normal, right? Isn’t that what all that training is about because I can see people’s true selves?”

“Not everyone is part of our world, Gwen, not even all those who have the talent. You will be staying at the hospital again?” April quickly changed the subject.

“Oui,” Jean-Claude said. “Did you bring it?”

April handed him a rosary with a large wooden crucifix that came down to a sharp point at the bottom. The prayer beads were made of several rare woods and semi-precious stones all linked together with pure silver settings. It was gaudy and bulky, and incredibly ancient. Anyone looking in would see a very religious man praying for an injured daughter. Things were not always what they seemed, and while he was indeed praying, he was also keeping a vigil.

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