Year of the Spectre - Episode III:
"Harvest Dusk"
Page 1

"HURRICANE"

I.  "Breathe"

    Night had settled uneasily over the city of Vienna, the lights from innumerable street lamps were reflecting off of the clouds of smog screening the metropolis and giving the faint impression that the light of day was reluctant in its retreat from the sky.  In this ancient heart of central Europe, where modern overlapped medieval in a messy collision of architecture, culture and ethnicity, the light had every reason to yield itself reluctantly.  The darkness that crept slowly through the city’s labyrinthine maze of back alleys was far from figurative.

     And Nabob, Slayer Chimneysweep, currently reported Absent Without Leave from the Ambiguous Slayers Guild, wouldn’t have had it any other way.

     A powerful fist caught him in the jaw, sending him staggering across the filthy ground of the Vienna alleyway and slumping against the crumbling brick wall that bordered it.  The sweet nectar of blood stung his mouth.  Another quick blow hammered the Chimneysweep in the chest, followed by a savage kick that caused him to stumble to the ground.  There were no lights in the inky alleyway, only the perpetual refraction from the smog above, but Nabob needed no light to see his attacker.  The Rush coursed through his blood, its burning making every nimble sensation a new wrenching experience unto itself.  The excitement of battle engaged bathed his soul with equal tenacity.

     This was what he was meant to be doing.  This was living.

     The vampire, its face twisted and hardened from untold years of feeding off of what had once been its own kind, roared in primal agitation and bared its fangs as the Chimneysweep picked himself up from the ground, his black leather vest and white tank-top caked with dirt.  His eyes glowed with an inner golden fire, and the grin on his face was because of - not in spite of - the bruises across his body and the drizzling cut on his forehead.  The pain only served to intensify the experience.

     The two squared off against one another, vampire and Slayer, natural enemies since time immemorial

     Neither held a weapon.  They fought with their hands and with whatever rage they could summon to sustain them.  Nabob’s leather vest sported sheaths for a half-dozen knives or stakes in plain sight, and even more concealed, but tonight they were all empty.  The vampire wore nothing but rags; it wasn’t one of the civilized ones that claimed the head seat at the tables of the ancient Clans.  No, the primal savagery in its eyes reveled in the hunt, in the kill, not in the subtle machinations of the elder evils.  These wild vampires, having lost any last shred of humanity to the Hunger, roamed the streets and rooftops of Vienna and many other cities, killing when they needed to, killing sometimes at random, ever the primordial predator and never anything more.

     But on this night, Nabob’s eyes shone with predatory ferocity as well.  His fists curled as he rose again.  This was a battle between equals.

     The vampire lunged, awkwardly, undisciplined in the martial arts and yet honed to murderous efficiency through untold years of blind feeding.  Nabob was waiting, however.  He blocked one savage thrust, then the other, leaving the vampire’s mid-torso open to attack.  He didn’t hesitate in lashing out, snapping his leg up and bludgeoning the wild vampire in the jaw with a steel-toed boot.  The creature staggered, caught off-guard.  It was stronger than most of its prey, which would go down most nights without providing a fight.  While Nabob may not have been as assuredly strong as the vampire he faced, his reflexes made up for it.  More than made up for it.  His fists blurred in a flurry of punches aimed to pitch the vampire’s center of gravity off-balance.  Summoning strength, he dealt the nosferatu a crushing blow to the side of the head, sending it reeling backwards several yards.

     As it bellowed in animalistic rage, vocal chords twisted and chafed from years of disuse, Nabob felt more released than he had in months.

     It was tough, this one, if not particularly smart.  Recovering quickly - staggeringly quickly - it charged at Nabob again, a bull rush that would let it bring its full strength to bear if grappled.  The Chimneysweep moved faster, however, shifting his feet elegantly and springing up at the last second, executing a graceful flip in mid-air and planting his left foot into the small of the vampire’s back as it charged past beneath him.  The nosferatu’s flailing arms managed to catch his leg, though, and as the creature of the night fell to the ground it dragged Nabob with it.

     Get up.  Get room to maneuver.  The combat-honed voices in his head screamed as the vampire reached back and caught him by the neck.  Powerful hands constricted around his neck, and Nabob found himself shoulders-down on the ground, the vampire looming over him and rapidly choking the life out of him.

     Adrenaline surged with primal excitement as his heart thumped in futility inside his chest.

     He wasn’t dead yet, though.  He wouldn’t let himself die.  Not here.

     Sliding his legs up from beneath the vampire’s pin, he squared his left foot into the nosferatu’s jugular and pushed hard.  The creature choked slightly from the pressure, its eyes bulging just as Nabob’s surely were, but it managed to keep its grip.  In frustration, the Chimneysweep brought his right foot up as well, kicking the vampire in the face with the heel of his boot once…twice…

     The grip on his neck disappeared, and beautiful air filled his lungs.  The wild vampire staggered backwards, clutching at its broken nose and shrieking loud enough to wake up most of the neighbourhood.  In this part of Vienna, however, such cries in the night were far from uncommon, and few would be foolish enough to poke their heads out to see to the source of the commotion.  Those who were new to the neighbourhood or habitually inclined to be snoopy were likely already dead.

     There was no time for pride in his maneuver.  Circling his legs above him for momentum, Nabob practically flew back up to his feet, fists already curled.  One punch to the kidneys, another to the sternum and a final one to the head knocked the dazed vampire away from him.  His right hand brushed against something in the alleyway - an aluminium garbage can, filled to the brim with refuse, neglected and uncollected for weeks.  Seizing it by its handle, Nabob easily hoisted the can and flung it as easily as a ball bearing.  Metal crashed against undead flesh as the vampire was knocked squarely to the ground by the weight and momentum.  One of the articles of trash that spilled out of the can as it careened through the air - the broken-off handle to an old picket sign - caught Nabob’s eye, and with practiced reflexes he snagged it out of mid-air.

     It was time to end this.

     Nabob leapt forward, the sharpened, splintered end of the picket sign dancing across his fingers as he did so.  From around his neck there came a flash of gold in the dim light.  The vampire saw him coming at the last minute, but was still too stunned to do anything about it.  With a supernatural accuracy the makeshift stake speared through the vampire’s shrivelled, befouled heart.  The creature of the night wailed in agony for an instant before its animalistic vocal chords disintegrated into a fine powdered ash, along with the rest of it.

     Slowly, the Rush faded, and the golden glow in Nabob’s eyes disappeared.  His breathing remained heavy as he crouched on the ground, one hand still tightly wrapped around the splintered picket sign handle.  He looked it over.  It was a campaign election sign for Joerg Haider, the leader of Austria’s right-wing Freedom Party.  Nabob scowled.

     Nabob let himself slump back against the wall, discarding the sign and breathing heavily with triumph and relief.  He felt better.

     Or at least part of him did.

     He missed Rae.  He missed her fiercely.  It was as though a part of his own soul had withered and died along with her back in Irvine, and that he was never going to be able to get it back. The Chimneysweep closed his eyes.  Every detail of his lost love he could still see in his mind; her short-cropped hair, her pale, ovular face, her beautiful smile.  Always sincere, always caring.  Always perfect.

     Now just a memory.

     No, he snapped at himself, more than that.  We were both Slayers.  Someday we’ll be united again under the Divinity, and we’ll be together again.  We’ve got to be.  He couldn’t let himself think anything differently.  Sometimes, though - sometimes he would wish that when he struggled with a vampire that he wouldn’t be the one to rise again afterwards…

     “I am impressed.  I thought you were done for when it had you by the throat.”

     The Chimneysweep slowly turned to see a dark figure approaching from a cluster of deep shadows.  He sighed wearily as he clambered back up to his feet, sticky with sweat and fatigue.

     “Easy enough to get away from,” he said. “If it’d been smart enough to pin my legs down too, then I’d have been in trouble.” He strode over to the corner where he had flung his vinyl jacket when he first engaged the fight, glaring at the newcomer as he did so. “I didn’t realize that I’d been followed, though.  You’re good at it.”

     “Natural selection has much to say about that.”

     Nabob slipped the jacket on. “Hard to keep yourselves hidden if you can’t move silently, right?”

     The newcomer nodded, stepping a little closer to him and out of the shadows.  His slick black hair was cropped in a mid-cut down to about his ears, and his colored, narrow complexion hinted at an Asian ancestry.  He seemed to almost glide across the alley as he moved towards the Chimneysweep, a tan trench coat concealing most of his person. “You came a rather long way just to punch another vampire through the heart, you know.”

     “Well, Jabez,” Nabob replied, straightening his jacket, “maybe I just needed to blow off a little steam from the last few weeks.  Hope that meets with your approval and all.”

     The Rogue Slayer sorcerer folded his arms across his chest. “You seem to have a lot of ‘steam’ to blow off then, mate.” He began to pace, slowly circling his fellow Slayer. “Any reason why?”

     “Is that why you followed me out here, Jabez?” Nabob asked, spreading his arms out in indignation.  They ached badly, but he managed to push past it. “Find a nice, quiet little corner of the city so that you could slit my throat or fry me with a fireball or blast me with lightning or whatever the hell it was you felt like doing?  Well, go right ahead.  You’ve got your magic even without the Rush.  I can’t stop you.”

     Jabez scoffed, and for an instant Nabob saw beyond the black trench coat and menacing poise.  There was more annoyance in his face than anger. “I have no intention of killing you, Guild-Slayer.  I followed you out here because I suspected you might do something foolish like this.”

     “Yeah, I’m sure that your heart was just running over with compassion for me.  After what I…I…” he turned away, leaning an arm against one of the walls of the alley.

     “After what?”

     Nabob let out his breath slowly, but couldn’t find words.

     The Rogue continued to glare. “After what?

     “How…how is she…?”

     “Better than she was, certainly.  Losing most of an arm can be a rather traumatic experience,” he stepped forward again and leaned his back against the brick wall.

     Nabob cringed.

     “Kali does not blame you, though.”

     He looked up. “How can she not?”

     “You would be best to take that up with her.  She does want to know why you left Home so quickly, however,” Jabez continued. “You failed to even stop and see her before you left.  She asked me to find you.”

     “And how am I supposed to face her after what happened?  God damn it, Jabez, Kali lost her right arm out there in the Shadowlands!  And I stood there and watched and let it happen!” With a boiling fury he rammed his fist into the brick wall.  Something cracked sharply, and the Chimneysweep winced in pain. “GAH!”

     “Yes well, losing your hand as well will not solve anything,” Jabez muttered, reaching over and seizing the Chimneysweep’s broken fist. “Here.” There was a soft glow from the Rogue’s overlapped hand, and instantly the pain began to ease.  Jabez gave him a scornful look. “At least try not to wound yourself.  There are plenty of people out there in the world who would be happy to do it for you.”

     “I’m surprised you’re not one of them,” Nabob murmured, nursing his sore hand. “I broke my promise.”

     “My, aren’t you just breaking everything tonight…”

     “I’m serious!” the Slayer snapped. “You made me promise that I’d look after Kali before we left for the Shadowlands.”

     “That I did.”

     “And does it fucking well look like I took very good care of her?”

     “Mind your tongue,” Jabez snorted. “And pay attention to the facts.”

     “That’s what I’m doing!”

     “Obviously not.  You brought her back alive, boy, from a suicide mission into the realm of evil itself.” Jabez hesitated. “For that you have my gratitude. And hers, I might add.”

     “She’s still crippled, though,” Nabob mumbled. “It doesn’t solve anything.”

     “Of course not.  Nothing will.  But I know Kali.  She’s strong - she shall learn to live with it.  The catch is that you have to do the same thing with your guilt.” He stepped away from the wall, folding his arms again. “Speaking of which, do you not have a rather important appointment to make?”

     That, of course, was the important thing.  Meeting with the leadership of the Ambiguous Slayers Guild to reveal the existence of the Rogue Slayers.  It was a meeting that could bring about an end to eight hundred years of mystery, seclusion and distrust.  That was what Kali had hoped for and worked towards from the very moment she met Nabob.

     If absolutely nothing else, he owed it to the crippled Rogue princess to finish the good fight.

     “Yeah,” he said, rubbing his neck unsteadily. “I’ve got seats booked on a flight for Rome tomorrow morning.”

     Jabez laughed sharply. “I hope for the sake of my people that all of the Guild-Slayers are not as rash as you.  On the eve of an important mission you risk everything just to square off against a vampire.  Bravo.”

     “It was just a wild one!” Nabob said defensively. “Lost most of its skills and reasoning to the Hunger long ago.  Like I said, I just needed to blow off some steam.  Out here, on the streets, I know what I am.  I know what I’m meant to be doing.  What I’m about to do…with all of this diplomacy crap…” he shook his head. “I needed to clear my head, that’s all.”

     “And what would have happened if it had managed to kill you?”

     The Chimneysweep shrugged broadly. “It didn’t.  Everything’s cool.”

     “Charming,” Jabez shook his head and pressed his fingers to his temple. “I recommend that you go get some sleep in what is left of the night.  A lot depends on your actions tomorrow.”

     “All right, I’ll do that,” Nabob dug his hands into his jacket pockets. “I take it you’ll be heading back for Home?”

     “At once.”

     “Great.  Well…uh, thanks for coming out here after me.  And for not killing me.”

     “You are most welcome,” with a flutter of the trench coat, the Rogue sorcerer turned and began to march back out of the Viennan alley.

     “Oh…and Jabez?”

     He turned again. “Hmm?”

     “Tell your girlfriend that I’ll be back soon to see her.”

     A thin smile toyed at Jabez’s lips. “You misunderstand, Nabob.  Kali is not my girlfriend, as you put it.”

     “No?”

     “No.  She is my fiancee.”

     With that, he disappeared back into the darkness, leaving Nabob to contemplate the chilled remains of his own happy memories.



"MOUNTAINKING WITH VOCALS"

    Los Angeles International Airport was the aerial transportation hub of the southwestern United States, a fact that was readily apparent to anyone who took the time to gaze out at the sprawling metropolis of terminals, runways, and hangars.  Of the thousands upon thousands of people who passed through it every day, however, most were too concerned with catching their connector flights to bother noticing the architectural artistry that had gone into this particular Airport, though.  It wasn’t just another decrepit, ant-infested landing strip that one might find up in Canada.  No, LA International had been constructed with the most advanced materials and engineering available anywhere.  Its shareholders could certainly afford splendour, after all, and they hardly skimped.  Some would say that it was built with style.

     At least, that was what Ernie Kazelski would have said.  As a ground controller on the tarmac at Los Angeles International, Ernie had spent most of his days and many of his nights ferrying planes safely in and out of the terminal, and as such had ample opportunity to fully appreciate the finesse with which the Airport had been constructed.  It was one of the few things that Ernie had taken pride in…knowing that he was a vital, integral part of such an enormously splendid operation.

     Coincidentally, that was precisely what he was thinking when he died.

     Ernie Kazelski’s slightly bloated, middle-aged body, still wearing the ear-protector headset and still grasping the signaling glowstick, slumped to the ground, lifeless.  Somewhere behind the large concrete post behind which he had been taking a leak, the supernatural chattering of infernal teeth that had accompanied his untimely death eased.  The creature was satisfied…if only briefly.

     The Plague-Sever Spectre regarded its current surroundings.  It briefly contemplated how mankind had changed since the last time it had roamed free over the land.  Back then, when there had been more of its kind, man had been primitive.  Fearful.  Insecure.  Now they walked freely and openly, seemingly without a care in the world, as though they owned the entire planet.  Generations of security, it seemed, had worn away the innate instinct in every human: the instinct that they were not the predators of this world, but instead were the prey.

     Unfortunately for the humans, it considered, that sense of security was false.  They were the prey.  And Plague-Sever alone would put the primal fear of death back into these soft things.

     Yes.  It liked that idea.  A ripple of enthusiasm streamed up and down its ethereal form.  First, however, there were more important matters to look into.  For months it had preyed blindly upon the weak, sickly humans that it had encountered, stealing their life essence and devouring it slowly for sustenance.  It had clashed with the Specials of this world, too, and drank deeply from their essences too, which were infinitely more satisfying.  But gradually Plague-Sever had become aware that something wasn’t right.  It had vague, distant memories of companionship and of belonging.  A shadowed recollection of a land far removed from this one.

    There had once been more of its kind.  The Spectre knew that much.  Lately, though, a burning desire had grown inside of it to find out where exactly they had gone, and if there were any others.  And if there weren’t, what had happened to them all?  It had to find out.

     It didn’t know where to begin looking, however, so instead, it had begun to listen.

     Whenever the Spectre consumed the life energy of one of its victims, the energy retained its essence for a while.  Plague-Sever fondly recalled a strange creature named Solomon who had briefly granted it companionship in exchange for the magical use of that essence.  Solomon was dead now, though.  Killed by a Special.  His using it, though, had given Spectre an idea.  When it consumed its victims now, it listened to them.  Their life essences would sometimes whisper, telling it of strange, distant places, of lost loves, of unfulfilled dreams.  Sometimes flashes of strong mental images accompanied these whispers, tantalising the Spectre with the pictures of fresh feeding grounds, of a discovery of its own past…

    Through many victims, Plague-Sever had, gradually, as though putting together a complicated puzzle of fragmented memories and obscure knowledge, been able to form an idea of where it was he needed to go.

     It was a place called Europe.

     A woman it had killed today, not far from the Airport, had been hurrying to catch a ‘flight’ to Paris - which Plague Sever had determined to be a small part of Europe - to see her fleshy lover again.  That had pointed it in the right direction.  Now, it listened to the whispers of Ernie Kazelski’s life essence even as it was slowly devoured and psychically metabolised…

     Warm liquid running down concrete…Flight AC-174 coming in from Vancouver…Flight AA-2475 to Boston…feed the dog when I get home…call Lucy…Flight EA-311 to Europe…

     That was all it needed to hear.  The mental tangents were clear and distinct; Ernie had been a professional, clear-headed in his duties.  They led the Plague-Sever straight for the great metallic bird that was bound for Europe.  Chattering to itself excitedly, the Spectre approached the looming 747 that was European Airlines Flight 311, carefully avoiding the ground crews loading the baggage and fuelling the jet plane up.  No chances could be taken this time.  Desire overpowered hunger.  It had to reach its destination.

     It was time to go home.


Year of the Spectre Episode 3 - Page 2