Chapter 1: Paint it Black

Ryan Harovitch, Chartered Accountant, felt on top of the world as he returned home early. His apartment was in one of the nicest buildings in Stuyvesant Town, a comfortably expansive two bedroom where his girlfriend designed things to sell on Etsy, and his wire-haired terrier pissed on the carpets. He didn’t mind that. It was annoying, but the dog was always happy to see him when he got home, which could make up for an awful lot of urine. He’d triumphantly finished the quarterly tax returns for his best client in the office today, and had shaved another percentage point off of their onerous tax burden. He was going to have a glass of wine, engage in some petting both heavy and light, and enjoy a Sunday off.

His dog didn’t greet him when he opened the front door. That was the first sign to him that things were wrong. Kintaro was many things, but he could always be relied on to make a fuss when Ryan got home. The second sign that things were wrong was that all the lights were off. He frowned, and flicked on the hallway lights. A soft moan came from the bedroom, and his blood froze in his veins.

Ryan did not think he was particularly paranoid. He knew he was a great guy. He knew he was a catch. He knew that most men would never measure up to him. But still, he held that fear that he’d come home one day, and find his girlfriend in bed with another man. The look of fear, or worse, anger, in her eyes. The knowledge that he’d failed. Ryan hadn’t failed at a lot of things in his life. He took a deep breath, and stepped to the bedroom door. Braced himself. For violence, for pain, for the end of the relationship, or just for his girlfriend waiting for him nude. He opened the door, and got the third sign that things were wrong.

Paula sat on the bed. All her clothes were on. Her face was pale, dark hair hanging over her face. She shook, her mouth pressed tightly shut, her lips a white line. A steel butcher’s knife was held across her throat. The light falling from the kitchen illuminated it, and her. It did not illuminate the figure behind her.

“Well, fuck,” said the man. His voice was low and rich. “There’s nothing worse than coming home to find your wife in bed with another man.” The voice was strangely familiar. The man leaned forward slightly, and Ryan breathed in sharply through his nose. The man’s face was Ryan’s, though messier, scruffier, and his eyes were an intensely deep blue instead of brown.

“I’m so sorry, Ryan. I thought he was you, he just came out of the bathroom-” Paula’s eyes shut tightly as the man pressed the knife a little harder against her throat. A small drop of blood beaded, trailing down her throat, onto the delicate opal necklace he’d gotten her for their first anniversary.

“Come on. I want to have a little talk with Ryan. Man to man.” The man looked up. “Ryan Harovitch, right?”

“If you hurt her-” Ryan stopped, letting the threat hang in the air. The man was visibly unimpressed.

“If I hurt her, you’ll what? Embezzle from my accounts? Come on. Even if you had the balls to try, even if you had a gun in your hand, you wouldn’t be able to take me. Come on, sit down, man. I just feel like having a talk. Who knows, maybe I tripped that alarm system of yours. Maybe the police will be here any moment. You might get lucky.”

Ryan sat. He didn’t feel very lucky at the moment. “You seem to have me at a disadvantage, mister…?”

“Black. Jack Black. And no, I don’t like the fucking musician.” His eyes grew wild for a moment, pupils narrowing, and the knife wavered on Paula’s neck. She let out a soft sob. Ryan held his breath. After a few seconds, Jack relaxed. “Hey, come on, man. This isn’t life or death.”

He drew the knife sharply across Paula’s throat. Ryan’s world shattered as she dropped to the bed, still as death.

But there was no blood. No jagged wound. The knife smoked like it had just come out of an oil fire, but Paula’s life was not spilling out of a gaping wound. She just lay across the covers, completely still.

“She’s not dead, you know. Just unconscious. Her mind’s… elsewhere.” Jack Black swung the knife carelessly through the air. “You might be wondering why I’m doing this. But first, you should fucking thank me.”

“Thank you-” Ryan started, anger building in his voice. The knife’s edge gleamed again, and the handle hung between Jack’s thumb and forefinger, point hovering about a foot above Paula’s throat.

“I’m giving you a fucking chance, here. I mean, I know, I’ve murdered a few people, but there are rules. You know? It’s a game. This is counting coup. Giving you… motivation. Keeps things fun.” He grinned. “I’d murder her, but you don’t seem like the kind of guy who would be stronger with revenge motivating you. You look like glass, not steel. I think you’d just shatter. So, hey, if you survive this, your girlfriend better thank you. Your weakness is the only reason she’s still breathing.”

“Survive what?” Ryan asked, softly, using the tone reserved for strange animals and obvious madmen.

“The game. One day. Twenty-four hours. I’m going to chase you. There’s a deadly weapon in your apartment, with your fingerprints on it, and genetic evidence aplenty. I called the cops just before you arrived, they should be here soon. They’re going to find a girlfriend in a coma. I wouldn’t blame you if you decided to go with them, but you’d be sealing your fate, and hers. If I catch you, if I find you in the next twenty four hours, I’ll cut your throat, and then your girlfriend’s. If you avoid me, you survive. So does your girlfriend. Does that sound like a fair deal?”

The world spun around Ryan. Anger. He wanted to throw himself at this man. Every monkey instinct was screaming to kill this man who had violated territory and the sanctity of a mate and who now had the audacity to hunt him. To hunt a member of species that had inflicted speciecide on every predator stupid enough to get a taste for their meat. The same instinct that had burned forests and slain cave bears and depopulated the world of species time and again rose up. Unfortunately, Ryan was a New Yorker.

There’s no room for monkey instincts in New York. In a city where eight million people were lain end to end, you couldn’t just stab someone for infringing on your personal space. You screamed and hooted in order to satisfy the need to mark your territory without spilling anyone’s blood, because you were outnumbered by nearly seven orders of magnitude. And so Ryan stood there, shocked and dazed, as Jack Black disappeared into the shadow, his harsh chuckle filling the air with a low and throaty mirth. Then he was all alone in the apartment. He looked to the side, and saw his terrier. It had not been spared. The loss tingled at the back of his brain, like a wound that the body didn’t have time to acknowledge. He sank down onto his knees, trying to breathe.

The door slammed open. A woman stood in the hallway, a scant few feet from him. A massive revolver, of a make that Ryan didn’t recognize, was raised in her hand. He didn’t recognize any guns by sight. He was pretty sure it wasn’t an AK-47. She checked him, and lifted the gun to point towards the ceiling, flicking a switch on the handle. Her eyes flicked down to Paula’s body, and she frowned. “Are you Ryan Harovitch?”

“I-” She took out a flashlight, and turned it on him. The bright purple-white glare surrounded him, and he nearly jumped. She gave a quick nod. “What was that?”

“UV light. If you’d been bonded to a Fetch, it would’ve hurt like an albino sunbathing in Death Valley.” She sighed, and flicked on the light in his bedroom. “Li Fang Fen, Binghamton Police Department.”

He stared dumbly at her hand. She was Asian, and lovely, even a little reminiscent of Paula. Black hair hung over her bright blue eyes, and she looked pale and underfed. She slid the gun back into its holster under her armpit, hidden beneath a plain white t-shirt and police officer’s jacket. A quip sat on his lips about being outside of her jurisdiction, and died whimpering. “He just… disappeared. Into the shadow.”

Li Fang Fen frowned at him. “Shit. You’re completely normal, aren’t you? Fuck, I didn’t think it had gotten this bad.”

“That man-”

“He was a wizard.” She walked over to Paula, and crouched down, moving stiffly. Li Fang Fen looked about 20, and moved like an 80 year old, hobbling and limping as though every joint was bothering her. “He made a deal with an Irish doppelganger called a Fetch. Now he’s started killing people.” She frowned, and ran her fingertips across Paula’s throat. “Heart’s undamaged, but slow. Lungs are working. Chi… Ah. He cut the link between her chi and her brain.”

“Chi’s not real.”

“I do not have time for the incredulous. The police will be here soon, and they will most certainly agree with your view of reality. They will also lock you into prison, in a dark cell, where that man will find you and kill you. It is your choice what you will do, but stubborn refusal to change in a time of crisis is the way of fools and old men, and you do not strike me as either.”

Ryan had been raised in America, in an upper-middle-class family. Statistically, the most fantastic thing he was likely to believe was that one human being in history had been able to come back from the dead, and even that belief was relevant primarily to the number of days he could take off from work. “Prove it,” he said. She gave him a hungry look that made him regret the words immediately.

“God, I wouldn’t mind that one bit, you look delicious. But no, there’s no time for that.”

“You eat people?” he asked, horrified. “You’re one of them?”

“Inaccurate on both counts. You’d be fine. Probably thank me, really.” She stood up straight, back creaking. “He’s right about the police. A domestic dispute has been called in, and a patrol was sent to this address. They’ll likely be here within a few minutes. I cannot be seen in your presence. You have to flee, and find a place of safety, now.”

“I…” He felt his voice break, the little terror of being on his own filling him. He wasn’t used to this. To having no resources to draw on. He’d been surrounded by people who loved and cared about him most of his life. “Can’t you help me?”

“No. You need to punch me in the cheek, and run out of here. Otherwise the police’ll get suspicious about why I let you go. I could tell them that you had a gun instead, but they’d likely get a lot more trigger-happy with you if I did. Lose yourself in the crowds. Ditch those clothes, trade them with some homeless guy. Twenty-four hours and he’ll let you go. Those Irish fairy bastards tend to be true to their word, by and large. Just keep running until your girlfriend wakes up. And stay in the light.” She scanned the room, turning away from him.

“That’s all I can do?” he asked, his voice shaky.

She paused, and turned towards him. “There’s another way. You could make a pact with me. Allow me to bind my soul with yours. I could give you strength. The power to fight him. To break him. I’m old, and strong, as these things go. Of course, I’d need a price back from you.”

“I have money.”

“Not what I need. But the thing is… If you made that agreement, this’d be your life. The supernatural. The strange. The terrible. You’d be exposed to it, and you’d never be able to get away. If you just run, then this feeling is confined to this night. Then… Chances are good you’d never see this insanity again. Hopefully.”

He thought about it. He really did. For several long seconds he considered shaking her hand and doing anything to be able to stop anyone from doing this ever again. Then he thought of Paula, and his job, and his comforts. And he couldn’t meet her eyes.

“It’s not for everyone, the nightmare. People who have what they want usually don’t want to trade it in for something new. He’s got a pact with a Fetch, so keep away from mirrors and shadow. He can jump through them. And don’t trust familiar people. They might be him.”

“How do you know all of this? Have you been tracking him?”

“I knew him when he was a student. Sweet boy. Never hurt a fly.”

“Jesus.”

“Yeah. Now fucking punch me, and make it look good. Make it hard, too, I’m tougher than you think.”

He raised his fist, and hesitated for a few seconds. She waited, and then groaned.

“Fuck it.” She grabbed a lamp, and smashed it hard across her own face, leaving a modest scratch on her cheek and a handful of shattered ceramic. “Get running, Ryan!”

The shattering broke his daze. He turned, and ran. He didn’t use the elevators. He sprinted down the stairs eight floors, and left through the maintenance exit, into the small park behind the building. The air was humid and thick, and disgustingly hot. Just past sunset, and the air was still over eighty degrees. A pair of police cars sat in the driveway leading up to the front door, their lights flashing. He was beyond the range of their lights. He turned, and began to sprint away quickly.

He had made it perhaps a hundred feet through the darkness when Paula appeared out of the night, with deep blue eyes. He froze.

“Ryan… You’re really fucking making it easy for me, here. It’s New York City. This place is light pollution central. And you’re sprinting through one of the two square miles in this entire fucking expanse that’s not lit?” Her voice was the same rough, deep, rich tone as Jack’s. Hearing it come out of Paula’s soft mouth was going to haunt Ryan.

“I’m… I-”

“So, Li Fang Fen came after me, huh? I’m flattered. You know I fucked her once? Felt like a million bucks that night, and death warmed over the morning after. Chi vampires, they’re not very good at sharing.” He sighed. “Didn’t think she’d be coming after me so quickly. I’ve barely been making any noise. It’s just… Fuck, you know how it is, right? A craving. You think of something, and you can’t stop thinking of it. You go nuts every second you deny it to yourself, and the moment you give in, the brain floods with endorphins that can’t be beat.” Jack smiled. “That’s what killing someone feels like for me, now. It can’t just be easy, because fuck, where’s the joy in that? And you’re making it pretty fucking easy here, Ryan. I’d rather you got away than give me a shitty chase.” Jack smiled with Paula’s perfect white teeth. “Well, not quite. But I can certainly find ways to motivate you. You love your parents, Ry-”

He froze, and turned, his eyes widening. Ryan frowned, and turned his head to stare in the same direction. Sodium streetlights flared yellow, casting small pools of light in the dark parks of Stuy Town, illuminating the supposedly safe places. Quite a few of them were broken. The city was still regaining its feet from the events of a year before. Ryan and Paula had been on vacation in Jamaica when a bunch of cultists tried to reintroduce black plague to New York City. The city had suffered, and was only gradually pulling itself back together into shape. The only person visible on the paths was a girl. She couldn’t have been older than nineteen. Pretty, pale skin and hair dyed an eclectic blue and green, wearing a Metallica T-shirt, and with a pair of headphones over her ears.

Ryan turned back towards Jack, and the murderer was gone. He turned his head back towards the girl, and let out a little scream and recoiled as he found her standing right in front of him, landing on his ass. He stared up at her, as she held the headphones in one hand. A distant whistling emerged from the speakers. “What’s the matter, man? Jumping at shadows?”

He swallowed, hard. “Are you another one of them?”

She smiled. “No. Not quite.”

“What the fuck are they?”

“I don’t know. But whatever you’re talking about…” She twirled her headphone cable around on finger. “I’m not one of them. You’re having a pretty shitty day, aren’t you?”

He swallowed, and stood unsteadily, his heart pounding. “I guess. What are you?”

“The wind, man. The wild wind.” There was a rustle. The wind picked up, blowing through the branches and trees, and the unbearable damp heat was lifted for a few precious seconds. He stared at her. “I’m Ariel.”

“Ryan.”

“Ryan, you are having shit luck. You know, wizards don’t like to mess around with mortals. For the same reason most mortals don’t like to mess around with mortals. And a serial killer wizard? There are probably less than a hundred thousand wizards in the whole world, what are the chances one would develop sociopathic tendencies and start trying to kill people? And in that vast sum of improbabilities, what are the chances that they’d target you?”

Ryan began to calculate odds. He liked numbers. Numbers were simple and predictable, easy to deal with. Most people were scared by numbers, and comforted themselves with stories instead. He did the opposite. “I guess… Rates of sociopathy are usually around one in-”

“What if I told you this was the fifteenth supernatural serial killer attack in the last week, in this city?”

“Then I guess it’s not coincidence. Is that why you’re here?”

“Yeah. More or less, yeah.” She sighed. “Let me honest with you, Ryan. I’d love to help you out here. I like most humans. Hell, I’d say that I like all humans, but there are a few that really know how to get to me. But I can’t help you out of this.”

He let out a bark of laughter. “I get it. Oh, god, I get it, yeah. I mean, 15 serial killings, there’s probably bigger things on your plates, right? The problems of one man don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy…”

She turned her eyes on him. One eyebrow was green. The other was blue. She stared at him with an expression of such arctic calm that it left him shivering despite the heat. “I don’t care what you believe. But I do not do numbers. I would go to war for you, over any one man. I would crush that pestilent bastard who dares to harm the humans I gift my air to. I would rip the breath from his lungs. I would bring a hurricane down on his skull. All if I had the option. But we all have our constraints, don’t we? We all have our rules. And mine don’t allow me to help you directly, however much I’d like to.”

He nodded, and lowered his head. “I’m… sorry.”

“There are two options. First, I could escort you. Not long, just an hour or two, but I can get you somewhere safe. From there, it’s up to you to escape. Or…”

“Or?”

“Or you could leave this city, forever. Journey far from here. Give up what you have and what you know, let go of your old life, and sacrifice it to me.” Her face was deadpan. “In exchange for showing the willingness to leave behind what you know, I can give you power. The strength to ensure that no one will ever threaten you so casually again. You can have strength. The strength of the wind.” She hefted a small branch, and threw it sideways. The sliver of wood blurred, and a crunch echoed across the apartment towers. He stared, and saw it, halfway through a concrete curb. The curb was shattered and broken, gravel surrounding it. The stick looked almost perfectly unharmed, wedged in the hole it had made.

“How the fuck did you do that?”

“When two things meet with enough force, one of them is going to break. If you’re good, it’s never you.”

“I…” Ryan stared down at his shoes. “I don’t want to give up everything. That’s why I’m running, because I want to keep everything I have. I worked hard to have a happy life. I don’t want to be forced to give it all up, just because I fell into something horrible.”

She sighed, and shrugged. “Happy men seldom become heroes. I cannot say I respect that decision, but I don’t begrudge you it. I’ll show you to a place where you’ll be safe from the wizard.”

“What about all of this? Serial killers and nightmares and-”

“Ryan. You want to go back to your happy, content life after this. Right? To be safe, and to not worry about nightmares and monsters. That means you give up the chance to know what’s happening in the world. In this world, there are two kinds of people. The kind who can’t be happy unless they know the truth, and the kind who can’t be happy if they know the truth. You don’t want power, strength, the blessing and the curse of choosing how this all goes down, do you? You just want to live a happy life.”

“What’s the matter with that?” he asked, a bit more sharply than he should have.

“Nothing. I’m glad that you can have it. I just wish everyone could.” She held out a hand, and he took it, feeling very silly as the two of them walked through the night. He felt his weakness very keenly, being led by a young woman through the city. The wind blew at their backs as they walked, no matter which direction they went, and it made every step a little bit easier. He frowned at her.

“Are you really the wind?”

“Yes.”

“That sounds like a pretty powerful position.”

“There are perhaps ten beings in all of existence that could be my equal.”

“So is it one of those ten who’s making you follow the rules?” Ryan asked.

“No. They might carry out punishment, but they’re not the reasons I do it.” She shook her head. “It’s people like you. The innocents. The helpless. The ones who could have lived happy lives, if only I’d stuck to the rules.” She grinned at him, and he realized they were standing in front of a homeless shelter. He turned to thank her, and she was gone.

A sweet, sympathetic young woman with blonde hair helped him sign in with a name that was not his, and accepted his admission that he had no ID. He was given a bowl of thin stew, and a cot in the middle of a large room filled with many other people. He traded his good business suit for a ragged sweater and shirt, and pants, both threadbare but surprisingly clean. The plague had not been all bad. The city had been shamed quite beautifully into improving the treatment of the homeless community, and he was enjoying the benefits. A safe place, and an atmosphere of people who would protect their own. They’d been taken advantage of once, and they wouldn’t be again. For a little while, he felt safe.

He woke up to find officers standing at the entrance in the black uniforms of the NYPD. Guns at their belt, clipped into their holsters, the sweet sympathetic blonde pointing him out. He tried to run, and burst through the back door into the alley, and into the arms of a burly old sergeant, who had him on his stomach. In the light of the midday, he tried to struggle, and had his face ground into the gravel for his troubles. The cuffs clicked tightly shut around his wrists, as he was held down.

“Please. Please, god, you have to believe me, I didn’t hurt her. We had a perfect life together. I came home, and found this man, holding her at knife point. He beat her, and then he left- He must have gone through the window or something, but-” Tears filled his eyes as he sat in the interrogation room. A young Hispanic man sat in front of him, listening sympathetically. An old bullet wound had taken out one of the man’s earlobes, leaving his ear notably shortened. A blonde woman stood behind the Hispanic man.

He’d seen it in the movies so many times. The hero, or more likely some foolish sap who’d been in the wrong place at the wrong time, is in the police station. He knows that if he’s locked up, he’s a dead man, because the police can’t protect him. So he tries to tell them the truth, and he winds up sounding like an absolute lunatic, because the police don’t realize what’s really happening. Ryan had seen it happen so many times. He wasn’t going to let the same thing happen to him. He just had no idea how he was going to convince them not to lock him up.

“Yes, this is the third time you’ve given me that story. What really happened, eh? Come on, some random nut with a knife manages to elude every single security camera on his way out? Sounds a bit… preternatural, doesn’t it?”

Maybe it was the tone of voice. Maybe it was the choice of words. Maybe it was the desperate desire for someone, anyone, to actually help him. Ryan felt the tears threatening to pour out, overflowing. He wiped his eyes and stared at the badge. “Detective… Marco. I…” He swallowed. “I don’t want to sound crazy.”

The man nodded sympathetically, smiling. The blonde woman continued to stand, silent as the grave, her arms crossed. “You sound like you’ve had a long day. Start with us from the beginning.”

“I got home. I heard my wife moan, I walked into the bedroom, and… It was me. Holding a knife to her neck. Someone who looked exactly like me. He called himself Jack Black. He held the knife against her throat, and then he told me he was going to play a game with me. He did something to her that knocked her out, and told me that if I could stay out of his hands for twenty four hours, Paula would recover and he’d leave us alone. He can walk through shadows. He can go through mirrors. I met a Jiang-shi, named Li Fang Fen, working with you, who told me this. And this… woman, Ariel, who said she was the wind, and that it was all some kind of conspiracy. If you put me into a holding cell, I’ll be dead by morning.”

Detective Marco nodded slowly, and smiled. “Well, paranoid delusions and suicidal ideation. Not to mention, I think we can take that as admitting to that assault charge on Detective Fen. I think we’d better put you in a cell for your own good, eh?”

Ryan didn’t scream or fight. He didn’t struggle. He didn’t even fling defiant curses at the damned asshole detective. He just let his head slump. “You can’t protect me from him. You’re going to get me killed.”

The blonde woman slapped a pack of cigarettes against her hand several time before withdrawing one. With a flick of a Bic, it glowed cherry red, a thin stream of white rising into the air. She stepped forward into the light. Deputy Inspector Larson stood with a proud laurel and ivy badge on her chest. “There’s no safer place in the world for you than one of my jail cells, mister Harovitch.”

He was marched down into the bowels of the station. Through a delousing shower, his clothing and the remains of his identity stripped away to be replaced with the jail overalls. Past the large regular holding cells with a few dozen nonviolent offenders waiting for a court date, and into the deep cells. The door was slid open with a soft rattle of bars, and he was pushed in. A single barred window let in the bare minimum of light into the room, and that was fading quickly. Two cots sat in the room. Concrete walls were dingy and barely lit by a flickering fluorescent lamp. A rumpled heap of clothes that might have contained a fellow prisoner sat on one of the cots. Ryan sat on the other, and watched in horror as the old sergeant started back towards the entrance. “Wait- Aren’t you going to stay? What if something happens?”

“Son, if you intend to kill yourself or your fellow prisoner, refrain. Otherwise, I couldn’t care less.” The old man grunted, looking over his shoulder at Ryan. “Get some sleep.”

The door slammed shut behind him, and Jack Black was sitting on the cot next to him, in Paula’s shape, bright blue eyes giving her away. “This is a rotten way to end it, Ryan.”

“What the fuck do you want from me?” Ryan asked, staring up at the bars. The light, creeping across the wall. It was low and golden. It couldn’t be long until sunset. Until he would have been free. He could feel himself on the verge of tears.

“I would’ve liked a challenge. If you’d put up a real fight-” Ryan lunged for the man. Jack laughed, and dodged the clumsy wrestling lunge, bringing his fist down across Ryan’s cheek, and sending him to the hard floor, standing up straight over him. Despite the feminine frame, Jack Black was terrifyingly strong. His head spinning, Ryan thought he saw a light strip under the cot. “I might’ve spared your woman, if you’d been any good. If you’d been better at this, you could’ve at least saved her. But no, you went and got caught by the cops. Did you think that they could do anything?” Jack smirked. “They were just happy to have someone to blame, you poor fool. Watching you try to tell them the truth in that interrogation room was the highlight of my night. For that alone, I might let her live… But no.” He cracked the elegant knuckles of Paula’s hand. “I think I’ll beat you to death, and then go smother her with a pillow.”

The world went white. There was a horrible scream, as ferocious light filled the room. The fluorescent light above had gone bright white, and two more strips appeared from beneath the cots. The room went from dingy and yellowed to bright and white as an operating room, no shadow left. Jack’s arm went up to cover his eyes as Ryan blinked, tears running down his cheeks. And standing in the center of the room, ragged clothes discarded, standing in a pair of jeans and a white tank-top, was the blonde woman from the interrogation. “Jack Black. You are charged with the murder of six individuals. You are currently in police custody, but your discussions of your crimes committed against Ryan Harovitch are on record. You have the right-”

“Are you fucking kidding me!?” Jack Black’s insane blue eyes flashed. “You think some fucking light will stop me!?” He swung one of those slender fists. Larson bent to the side, and the fist went through the concrete wall. Jack Black cursed, trying to pull his arm back, only for Larson to draw an old black side-handle baton from her belt. She spun it around till the long side of the baton faced out, grip held between white knuckles, and jabbed the tip into Jack’s throat. He gagged, making choking noises as he clutched at his throat with his free hand.

The baton spun in her grasp again, even as his throat filled out. She slammed the grip of the baton up against the outside of the elbow of his free arm. Then she shoved him backwards with all the force she had, using the arm in the wall as a lever. The point of the baton struck the wall hard, and Jack’s elbow bent in the wrong way around the grip, reversing in the joint with a horrible crunch. The baton spun once again, leaping into Larson’s hand, and she brought it across Jack’s face hard enough to send him to the ground. She went down with it, placing the baton across his throat, one hand on the grip, one knee on the other end of the baton. Jack made choking noises as he was held down, and was nearly unconscious when the baton was removed.

“You make any more trouble for me, I’ll beat you to death. Got me?” The man nodded. She looked up, and Ryan took a step back. The look in Larson’s eyes was terrible and fierce. Then it softened. “Are you okay, Mister Harovitch?”

“You-”

“Took a difficult suspect into custody. After he admitted to harming your girlfriend, who is in Beth Israel in stable condition. With this bastard down and out, pardon my french, she should recover in a day at most. I’m sorry for the hardship you’ve undergone, particularly in the part you played in baiting this monster.”

“You used me as bait?” Ryan asked, more numb than angry.

“Yes. To keep anyone else from going through what you did.” She looked him squarely in the eyes. “Are you okay?”

He slumped down onto the cot. “The police know about this kind of thing?” He paused for a moment, and frowned. “Wait. Dane Larson, from-”

“The cult nuke scare. Yes to both your questions. We know about the spooky side of the tracks, and these things.”

“And you don’t tell anyone?” he asked weakly.

“Do you want to join up, Ryan? Fight the good fight?” He looked down. “Then you get to go home, but you don’t get to question how we fight these things.”

“So I should thank you?”

“I don’t care what you do. I’d do my job regardless.” She took out a cigarette, lit it, and walked up to the bars, rapping them with her night stick.

“Thank you. You saved me.” He looked down at the ground. “You saved my girlfriend, you-”

“Christ!” She turned, and shook her head. “I was trying to avoid all of this girly shit. But I’ll tell you what. You really want to thank me…” She puffed on the cigarette, and her grin was orange as a jack-o-lantern’s. “You said you ran into a couple of supernaturals. What were their names, again…?”

One thought on “Chapter 1: Paint it Black

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