Chapter Six: Underside
"Get something?" Dirk asked Alestair.
"You might say," The vampire said softly. "Thought I doubt you'll be happy. So we found out who we're after, and they're called the Liberatum. Those cells we've been hitting aren't isolated, and the fact that they're communicating makes their motivation more disturbing." He took off his suitcoat and hung it on the back of the chair. "Apparently, they feel that the reign of humanity is due to end."
Dirk's eyes narrowed. "Well, that puts the stakes pretty high, doesn't it." He looked at the vampire, contemplative. "So what do we do?"
"Our options are limited," Thor pointed out. "What can we do against enemies we can't identify? We're without any real hope of stopping the threat at the source, and that's just the start of our problems. We have Locklear's list, but is it complete?"
"Calm down," Dirk said. "We can work this out."
Alestair folded his arms. "With their membership on the rise and other monsters afraid of them, how are we supposed to be calm, of all things?"
"There's worse." Thor looked at them, his eyes serious. "I've gotten news that the EUC has made an alliance with them, too."
"And the American wizards?" Dirk asked.
"The more conservative have taken our side," Thor said softly. "But they're in a rapidly dwindling minority. Worse, the most powerful have sided with them, and given that there's an election coming up..."
"...they'll take office and change the majority's mind," Dirk finished.
Alestair suddenly looked thoughtful. "Are the wizards open to negotiation? Melody and Harmony have always taken our side."
"The twins might," Dirk admitted, looking at Thor. "What do you think?"
"Difficult to say," Thor murmured.
"Ruby?" The vampire asked, looking at Dirk.
He blushed. "We...she..." the hunter looked uncomfortable. "She stayed behind in New York to try to get some support for the coven there. But I don't know if it worked, and she'll be angry if I ask her to come here."
Alestair sighed. "The least you can do is give it a shot. Come on, at least try."
He nodded, opening his phone. The hunter dialed a number and listened to the dial-tone. "Hey, Ruby, it's Dirk. Yeah, I'm good. How's New York? Well, that's not really a surprise. Are you all right? Good. How's...Oh." He frowned. "I'm sorry. That sucks. So yeah..." Dirk, so confident and strong, hesitated. "I know, babe. I know. Look, I..." He stopped. "Wait, now? I mean, I'd love to see you, but..." And suddenly, his voice was coming from two places at once, as a woman suddenly appeared in the room. She wore a tailored coat, a steel rose around her neck, and enough rings they probably counted as brass knuckles. Her short-cut hair had been clearly dyed multiple times, but it could be most nearly called dirty blond. "...are you sure?" He finished, hanging up.
"Positive," she said, dropping the phone into the pocket of her coat. "I've done all I can on my end." She looked at her husband. "And the New Yorkers are with us. The rest of the Eastern Seaboard will fall in line. But the rest, I couldn't tell you. There's been a lot of upheaval recently, and it's making people question the current balance of power."
"So where do we stand?" Thor asked.
She shrugged. "Kenji says that he took care of Tokyo, and he's on his way here. Gavin and Ariadne found the sword in London, and they shipped it here. Astrid and Luther are in town, currently, but they just finished running down a lead on state government. How about you?"
"It turns out that the monsters we're seeing are working for the Liberatum, some kind of terrorist organization," Thor said. "And they want to topple the humans from the top of the food chain."
"That's going to be a mess," Ruby muttered, swearing softly.
"We've made allies in the police force," Alestair informed her. "So at least we're not alone."
She shook her head. "That won't help."
"A C and D," Douglas said, his voice ringing hollow in his own ears. "I don't get it. This case we're one isn't even cold yet, but they're saying that two people is a waste of resources."
Lucas slammed his fist on the table. "We brought in more suspects. We're getting closer. How can they shut us down now? The mayor can't-"
"The mayor?" Douglas echoed.
"Yeah, the mayor," Lucas said, squinting at Douglas. "That's who did this, wasn't it?"
Douglas shook his head, looking down at the paper. "Aim higher, kiddo. This one was the governor."
"The governor," Lucas repeated, disbelieving. Seeing his friend's face, his eyes widened. "What, really? How'd he get involved?"
Douglas shrugged. "I have absolutely no idea. And that's the tragedy of it. But I have my orders. I can't continue this investigation or put any more resources at your disposal. I'm sorry, but you'll be on your own. Call him, and he might help."
The FBI agent sat back, his head spinning. "I...I don't..." He got up, feeling confused. Taking out his cell phone, he punched in Dirk's number. After two rings, the hunter picked up.
"You have something?" His voice was low and gravelly, and he sounded angry.
"Not exactly," the man stammered. "The governor just issued a cease and desist order." Dirk grunted.
"Not surprising," he responded.
Lucas blinked. "What?"
"The governor of the state's most likely a monster. Look, you'll need somewhere to crash until you figure things out, and we've got an extra place. It's about four blocks from here. I'll text you the address, and you're free to crash here until something turns up." Suddenly, Lucas' phone beeped. It was a text from his boss.
"Listen, Dirk, I have to go. My boss is checking in." He sighed. "And I bet it's not good." The message was, as he had anticipated, not good. It was simple, succinct. CASE CLOSED. RETURN TO WASHINGTON IMMEDIATELY. He copied the message and sent it to Dirk. And that was when the front wall of the precinct exploded.
Dirk shot out of his chair, reaching for the gun on the table. "There's been an attack at the police station." He hosltered the weapon and grabbed his customized .308 rifle out of the corner. "It's them, I guarantee it." Ruby conjured a knife out of her sleeve and took off her jacket, revealing a belt of grenades.
"I'm coming with you," she insisted.
He nodded. "Good. Alestair?"
"I'm a bit brutal for this," he replied. "You two can handle it."
Dirk nodded. "Bike's out back. Wanna take her for a drive?" Ruby grinned.
The gunfire pouring into the police station was, to Lucas' ears, coming from fully automatic weapons. He cocked his pistol and sighed. What I wouldn't give for a good Benelli right now, he thought. Through the smoke, he could make out the dim outlines of people through the smoke. He fired twice, and he saw one of the figures waver indistinctly. However, the man clearly did not stop firing. Swearing profusely, Lucas swapped out the magazine for one filled with silver bullets, and he fired again. This time, the man fell backward, and Lucas pumped his fist. Then he switched targets and fired.
"Douglas," he said, leaning over. "Silver." The chief nodded, grabbing a magazine and slamming it into his gun. They came up in unison, firing at the shapes in the fog. Around them, people were scrambling for safety, taking cover behind something extremely bullet resistant, or else they were being cut down by automatic fire.
"We're getting nowhere," Douglas said. "We're going to need something heavier!"
Two blocks away
Dirk got off the bike, unslinging the duffel as he did. All around them, people were running away from the scene, and some of them were bleeding. He swore. "There's wounded. That means that..." he saw the smoke, and his head sagged. "Aw, come on. Why this?" Another car pulled up in front of the precinct, and a half dozen men got out. They pulled several automatic weapons from various places, and they opened fire on the gaping hole in the station.
In one fluid motion, Dirk pulled the rifle from its resting place in the bag and chambered a round. One of the men sighted an officer and flicked the safety off. Now. The rifle cracked, and the man fell in a shower of red. The men's heads snapped around, and Dirk was suddenly aware that Ruby had drawn her .45 compact.
"You really should have-" Dirk's rifle cracked, the shell casing hit the pavement, and he fired again. Two more of them went down, and he sighted another. "Oh. I guess that works." She raised her pistol and squeezed off two shots, dropping one of the men. A red stain marked the wall he struck, and she felt a chill.
"Ruby. Stay focused" His voice was low, soft, and reassuring. She nodded, firing over the heads of two more. The remaining two men cowered momentarily, taking cover behind a brick wall. Dirk grinned.
Six inches to the left, two up, one right...and he fired. A sudden shower of red spattered the pavement adjacent to the wall, and Dirk slightly adjusted his sighting picture before he fired again. Again, the same red stain burst all over the asphalt, and he loaded a stripper clip of silver bullets into his weapon.
"We need to get inside," he said. Ruby looked up, her eyes glowing yellow.
"I'm trying to get the people to move," She said. "I can come, but I'm going to need cover."
He nodded, holstering his pistol and strapping on a machete. "You got it."
Inside The Station
One of the thugs came around the corner of the office kiosk, only to find himself facing the business end of a Benelli Nova. Lucas Freyton smiled coldly.
"Lights out," he growled. I like Benellis, he thought. And the FBI agent pulled the trigger. The decapitated corpse fell to the floor, and Lucas moved to find cover somewhere else. As he did, he heard footsteps on the tile floor. Heavy, for an officer. He pumped the shotgun, sending the shell skittering across the floor. The creature came around another corner, and another shotgun blast took him down. Lucas sighed, looking around. He and Douglas had gotten separated by the second blast, and he had been trying to find the chief since. Suddenly, he heard Douglas' voice bellowing orders, and his heart soared.
"Go, go, go!" He was yelling. "They're not going to wait for us to regroup." Lucas pushed open the door to the stairwell, and started to descend. At the bottom, he saw Douglas looking at him. The police chief raised an eyebrow.
"A shotgun?" He asked. "Really?"
"Says the guy with the .308," Lucas said.
Douglas shrugged. "Hey..."
"...it works," they finished in unison. A monster suddenly appeared in the stairwell, and they both fired together. It snarled, and Lucas fired again, sending a slug through its skull. The creature slumped to the floor.
"Let's go," Lucas said.
Dirk swung the door open, and he blinked when he saw Douglas.
"Doug," he said, trying to curb his surprise. "Are you all right? Is anyone hurt?"
"No," Douglas said. Peering past Dirk, the chief saw Ruby. "Who's the chick?"
Dirk hesitated. "She's-it's-later," he finally decided. "Now come on. Let's get you out of here." Douglas shook his head.
"There are still people inside," he said, hurrying the desk jockeys and rookies through the door.
Dirk stripped off his jacket. "Ruby, you want to take survivors or evacuate? I'll take the other side of things." She shrugged.
"If they've got wounded, it'd be best if I heal them. You rough them up." Dirk nodded, dropping the rifle and drawing his revolver.
"Be back before you know it, sweetheart." Ruby looked around, trying to see if there were any monsters left. But she could see none.
Several Blocks Away
"It's him." The man looked at the security camera footage, transfixed by the image of Dirk and Ruby. "I thought he died in Berlin."
"Apparently not." The woman folded her arms and grunted.
He shook his head and looked away. "The cops had silver. How did they know to use silver? They're onto us."
"Calm down," she said. "They assured me that it would be taken care of. Even a hunter like him won't be an insurmountable problem."
"Locklear was the only other hunter like him," the man pointed out. He began to pace. "Between the cease and desist and the attack, we've overstepped. They'll see us as we are now, and that could complicate things."
"The cease and desist wasn't us," the woman pointed out.
The man waved his hand dismissively, as though swatting the question out of the air. "We expected the Order to get involved. It doesn't change anything."
"It means we're going to be sacrificing people," she muttered. "Great."
"It's a noble cause. That was our agreement." He stressed the word agreement ominously.
"And the consequences for breaking it and so forth and upward and shut up." She sighed. "I know the rules."
He looked at her. "What's the matter? You agreed to the terms we set, and you even profited from them. Why should you hesitate now?"
"We lost good men here," she whispered. "How much are we going to sacrifice for this, before it's all over?"
"Everything. If we aren't willing to die in the service of our cause, we have no purpose."
Dirk turned the corner, his pistol raised. Clear. Again. He lowered the weapon, but then the hunter felt it. The temperature dropped, slowly at first but then ten, twenty degrees. The flames around him began to flicker and die.
What the...as he exhaled uneasily, he noticed his breath crystallizing in the air. Oh no. "Whoever you are, I'm dangerous. You'd be wise to back down now." No response. He looked around, trying to get a view of whatever it was that had cause such a sudden shift in ambient temperature. Wizard, maybe? But what kind of wizard would have sided with them? And that's...then he heard it. Floorboards creaked behind him, and he whirled. Nothing.
"I'd stop playing games if I were you," he said. Again, no response. He heard another movement, again behind him, but turning revealed nothing. "Come on. Don't make me do this." He thumbed the hammer back on his Winchester, muttering a quiet prayer. The weapon had been designed to kill almost anything with a single shot. Let's hope the first one is spot on. The sounds came again. He turned, and kept turning. Again nothing.
Suddenly, something came flying out of the shadows and landed at his feet. Looking down, he saw it was a mangled corpse, its neck at a bizarre angle. Several bite marks were taken out of its face and torso as well. From what he could tell, it had been a man. It's a message. A survivor I'm supposed to be saving. But the message did not faze Dirk. He had seen a lot worse, and the sight of a dead human made him more angry than afraid.
"Okay, before I was annoyed." His eyes narrowed. "Now I'm angry. So come out and fight like a man, you animalistic coward." He peered around a corner, and then he stepped back, inhaling sharply. Impaled on various protrusions from the walls hung a half-dozen bodies, all horribly mutilated. One, he could see, had several ribs torn out of it, while yet another was decapitated. The others were missing limbs and...then he saw the bite. A massive chunk had been taken out of the man's head, and his jaw was completely missing.
Okay, that's no witch, Dirk thought. No witch is eating the corpses, unless... Now the chill he felt was not physical. It was fear. Dirk looked at his weapon, suddenly unsure. Would it work? Several creatures had cryogenic abilities, but none of them were going to do much more than chuckle if they got hit with a revolver shell.
He stepped into the room, looking around. Almost immediately, a thought struck him. I wish Ruby were here. He banished it without compunction. She shouldn't be here. She's keeping the survivors safe. That's what's important, isn't it?
All around him, the flames were flickering and dying. Though Dirk could see nothing, the prickling feeling on the back of his neck grew stronger. It's here, somewhere, he realized, looking around. Nothing. He exhaled and swore softly. Wonderful. In the next room, he saw another decapitated corpse on the floor, the head mauled and lying several meters away. Another was impaled with its own shotgun. What on earth? He wondered. What is this thing?
The sound of a floorboard creaking caused him to turn, but he saw nothing. Hidebehinds aren't real, he told himself. Hidebehinds aren't real. They're not... then he heard a hiss of breath. It was barely perceptible, and someone might have excused it as a draft. However, Dirk did not. Then he heard motion, and the hunter dropped flat to the floor, letting a dark, frog-like shape sail over his head. It hit the floor, scrambled for footing, and it went for his throat. Dirk hammered the monster in the face with his hand, which was covered by a set of silvered knuckle-dusters, and the creature fell back. To his shock, it splayed itself, again like a frog, across a wall. Then it moved, jumping from one wall to another, and then again, until finally, it tackled Dirk to the floor.
The monster was thin, almost wraith-like, but its relatively frail appearance belied horrible strength. Its fangs gnashed and snapped as it tackled Dirk to the floor, trying to get at his neck. Dirk resisted and instead clamped his fingers on the creature's neck. Feeling the pressure, the creature changed tactics. It instead attacked Dirk's arm in an attempt to tear it from the socket.
Snarling, Dirk pulled the pistol from his belt and emptied the half dozen shots into the beast's midsection. The creature screamed in pain and pulled away. Dirk scrambled to his feet. The creature regained its balance, and Dirk could see that, while the wounds were not healing, they were not mortal. The ice, the claws, the eyes... Nothing about it added up, or at least not well.
His eyes took in the monster: thin frame, milky eyes with pale blue centers, and a mouth that looked like a shark. Stringy hair hung off its head like seaweed, and feathers decorated its neck around a glowing blue crystal. This thing is a Wendigo. That of course was why his gun had not killed it. Standard silver bullets would do little more than infuriate it, and even his weapon's special shells could not penetrate its hide.
That leaves more deadly weapons, he realized. But a flamethrower won't be fast enough. This realization was reinforced as the creature went for his throat. Even as he sidestepped, one of its limbs reached out, slashing through his stomach like the flesh was nothing more than soft cheese. Dirk yelled in pain, but the Wendigo was clearly surprised to see that his victim was not dead. The hunter grunted in shock and pain, but he grabbed the Wendigo by the throat and, pulling it up into the air, body-slammed the creature into the floor. The boards cracked, but the creature snapped and snarled, trying to attack Dirk again. The hunter grimly held on, feeling his stomach already healing as the creature struggled in vain to find purchase on his already-shredded limb. Then, suddenly, the arm felt cold. Dirk pulled back. The crystal around the creature's neck had started glowing, and his fingers were showing spidery veins of frost.
The relinquishing of his grip gave the creature another opening, which it took. The beast's limb lashed out, and Dirk jerked backward to narrowly avoid decapitation. Its limbs suddenly became a whirlwind of razor-edged death. Dirk weaved like a boxer, falling back as he avoided the blows. All around him, he could feel the temperature dropping. If the creature did not manage to tear him apart, it might freeze him to death. Not how I want to go, he thought grimly. One of the claws nicked his face, opening a shallow gash.
Dirk hissed in pain, but, if anything, the injury only drove him to push harder. He drew his revolver and fired twice, hitting the creature at point-blank between the eyes. The creature's mystically enhanced skin deflected the brunt of the force. However, two .44 revolver shells at point-blank would turn the average human skull into the equivalent of an extra-chunky soup, and it striking the monster still hurt quite a bit. The Wendigo fell backward, screeching as the bullets set its ears ringing and crossed its eyes. That confusion of sense was enough to give Dirk an edge. However, he did not try to run. Instead, he pulled an improvised firebomb from his belt and hurled it at the creature. The resulting explosion bathed the creature in harsh orange light, and Dirk stepped back, satisfied, watching the Wendigo burn.
But suddenly, as quickly as they started, the flames died away. The creature stood there, its legs smoking, and it bared its fangs angrily, glowering at Dirk as it did.
"Hu...man..." it snarled. "Human...food..." Then it stopped, sniffing the air. "Human smells...smells dirty." The creature lunged at Dirk again without warning, its bloody teeth bared. This time, it tried to get behind him and bite his neck, but Dirk managed to grab it and throw it off. As it flew, the creature's claws tore strips of flesh off his shoulders. He yelled in pain, trying to grab in vain at the wound on his shoulders. It licked the blood on its hands and spat.
"Foul," it hissed. "Human...foul..." It screamed at him, but Dirk was unmoved. The Wendigo leapt at him again, and Dirk swung, but it pulled up just short and slashed for his right leg. Its claws sliced clean through his pants, but they pinged off the metal leg underneath. As it pulled back in shock, Dirk grabbed it by the neck again. He slammed it against the wall, ignoring the pain as it slashed at his shoulders and arms. Stubbornly pulling out another firebomb, he shoved it right in the creature's gaping mouth. It screeched in surprise, but the sound was muffled by the explosive. Dirk held the creature there grimly, waiting the three seconds until the fuse triggered the explosive inside. The creature screamed, and its entire body lit up as a five-hundred degree blaze ignited its innards.
Dirk stepped back now, watching as the Wendigo writhed in scorching agony. As the creature attempted to crawl toward him, he watched, unmoved. Slowly, the blaze died, and the creature with it. As its body burned to ash, Dirk walked over to the pile of smoking creature remains and picked up the necklace it had worn. Despite the inferno having all but incinerated the creature, the necklace had survived.
"Hm," he murmured, looking at the pendant. "Interesting." The hunter looked down at the pile of ash, and as the red haze faded, he could feel the pain and the wounds healing. "Owwwww," he moaned, holding his stomach. "That hurt." And Dirk walked away, idly kicking the Wendigo's ashes as he did. "Why can't anyone ever be nice to me?" The hunter wondered aloud.