May 28, 2010

The Unholy.

((short scene this week. I wasn't going to do this one, because not much happens, but felt it important to chronicle the first encounter with the Unholy, since she pops up again later.))

"Who the hell are these guys?"

I was standing outside the hotel, next to the jeep, glaring at the two men standing opposite me.

"Bob, Bob Johnson." The blonde man extended his hand with a friendly smile. I just stared at him until he lowered it. He affected mild surprise and a tinge of resentment that I didn't shake his hand, like most people would. He looked normal enough.. like he could've worked middle management at any corporate job in America. He was utterly unremarkable... average height, average build, a face that was attractive enough to be charming but not attractive enough to be that memorable.. if a sketch artist ever tried to sketch Mr. Johnson from eye witness reports, he'd come up with a photo that looked like any one of thousands of men in America. Maybe that's what put me off about him. I wasn't used to seeing someone so.. normal.. approach us. His utter lack of remarkable characteristics struck me as suspicious.

Or I was just being paranoid, which seemed likely.

The other guy didn't bother to offer to shake. He just stood there grinning at me. He had training.. and a lot of it. I had watched him walk up with Stepping Feather, watched him make a quick perimeter check, watched how he kept his gun hand lose at his side, and though he was giving me the most ingratiating grin, he was taking in every little detail about me and everyone else, and his eyes kept flicking to the areas of the parking lot that could house enemies waiting to fuck us over.

He wasn't just military, he was special forces. He looked about 30, bore what was probably a perpetual 5 o'clock shadow, stood about 6'1, and was deceptively muscled.. the type where you didn't get a good idea of exactly how ripped he was unless he was walking around without a shirt on. Not that he was shirtless now, but I knew what to look for.. and as annoyed as I was, I didn't mind looking.

"Theo Korbin."

I rolled my eyes, "Right, great, fantastic.. but that doesn't answer my question."

I was eying Bob more than Theo. Theo I had a read on. Bob was much more difficult.. and that bothered me. He seemed so mild mannered and polite. I was also pretty sure I'd seen him studying me like a scientist with a lab rat the last few days in the hotel. Bob just shrugged. "I'm a lawyer? My boss sent me out here.."

"He will be helping us locate and deal with Stone. You will play nice." Giuseppe said, cutting off Bob's explanation. 'Play nice' wasn't a request. He leveled a hard glare at me as he said it, and I glared right back. "Now who's bringing in strays?" I shot back, but he said nothing.

Not able to take it out on Bob, I turned back to Theo. Stepping Feather cut me off before I even started. "I can vouch for him. Don't worry."

I frowned at him but said nothing. Theo just kept grinning at me, and everyone else. How attractive I found him was inversely proportional to how annoying he was. And that grin was grinding on my nerves more and more with each passing minute. I looked at the others, seeking some kind of backup, but they looked significantly less vexed than I was, or were hiding it better. I threw up my hands in defeat.

"Everyone ready?" Stepping Feather asked, breaking the silence. He looked.. nervous. Which made me nervous. What the hell were we doing tonight that would make a werewolf nervous?

"Ready to go where?" Tommy asked.

But no one answered, they just moved to the cars. I sighed and followed. The sun was nearly set.. and I wasn't looking forward to meeting someone at night. It raised the likelihood of the thing we were meeting having a predisposition towards eating my face.


We parked the car and the bikes at the very edge of something that could barely even be called a footpath, let alone a road. Night was in full swing over the Mexico jungle, yet the spot was freakishly quiet. It made me nervous. I watched as Stepping Feather, Roxanne, and Giuseppe began to strip off weapons.

"Leave everything here. Do not bring any weapons, not even a pocket knife. If you do, you will kill us all. Do not make any threatening gestures, sudden movements, or show any fear." Giuseppe said quietly as he removed him knives and stashed them in the back of my jeep.

The rest of us exchanged glances, hesitating. He sounded like we were meeting with a wild animal that we didn't want to spook.. in which case, I wanted weapons.

For me, it took Roxanne taking off the huge shard of glass she carried and slipping it away, unseen on her bike somehow, and then turning and eying us to get me to start stripping off weapons. If she was leaving that thing, which she seemed absurdly attached to, I could leave my gun and combat knife behind.

But it made me jumpy. My skin was crawling with goosebumps, even as the Mexico heat caused sweat to slowly drip down my forehead. The humidity wrapped itself around us like an uncomfortable blanket, but I felt cold.

It took a good five minutes to strip down. (and that's what it felt like..going in naked) Mr. Bob Johnson had a ridiculous number of knives for a lawyer. Tommy watched him, then glanced at me, his expression pensive. I frowned at him and perked a brow in question, but he just shook his head and turned to stash his revolver in the car. What I wouldn't give to have been able to read his mind at that moment..

Out of the corner of my eye I saw a small brown pouch pass from Stepping Feather to Theo.

Once that was done, we followed Giuseppe and the wolves into the jungle. We were all (except Giuseppe and the wolves) panting and covered in sweat when we reached the small clearing. It was obviously man made.. and very dark.
I followed Stepping Feather's lead and sat on a fallen log, trying to calm my racing heart.

No fear.. no emotion.. nothing. I had no idea what to expect, which really, just made it more difficult to maintain control.

We waited. We didn't talk. I tried not to jump at every little sound coming from the jungle around us.

When she finally arrived, we knew she was coming. What little natural noises the jungle was making, ceased completely. It was an eerie silence that only served to heighten our sense of dread. Then, slowly, crows began to circle over us until the flock became so thick that they blotted out the light from the moon. And when she stepped out of the underbrush, it took all my resolve not to bolt through the trees like a scared rabbit.

It wasn't that she was frightening to look at. She was actually rather attractive, wish the exception of her arms, that curved up and ended in hands that looked more like talons. She was tall, busty, beautiful, and utterly terrifying. She wore a cowboy hat crooked down over one side of her face, and she watched us with the intensity of a predator.

And that's what made us fight not to run. She felt wrong. Every instinct screamed at me to run, to get away from this thing.. this unearthly predator. Her expression and body language was completely foreign, except to scream hunter. I knew, just by looking at her, she had hunted and killed more people than I'd probably ever met. She was more than just an animal in human skin..she was a force of nature.

But no one moved. Everyone managed to control themselves. I knew then, that if anyone had even tried to bolt, she would've disemboweled them in under 3 seconds. Her head jerked in a bird like fashion towards anyone who moved at all, in anticipation of a runner.

Her gaze stayed longest on Roxanne. Roxanne looked as close to a wolf bristling as a human can. I thought for an instant that Roxanne was going to get into a pissing contest with the woman.. but the instant passed, and Roxanne's face showed tenuous restraint.. but at least it was restraint.

"What do you offer." She said. It was shocking to hear her speak. I didn't expect word to come from something like her.. and she seemed to know why we were here. It occurred to me, now that I'd seen her, that so did I. We were in her territory. We were bribing her not to kill us. But I didn't know with what.

Stepping Feather looked at Theo and nodded. He looked confused for about a half second before reaching into his pocket to reveal the little brown bag that I had noticed being exchanged earlier. He tossed it at her, and she snatched it from the air with disturbingly quick reflexes. My mouth went dry.

She held it up to her face and inhaled, an unpleasant smile breaking across the alien expression. She tossed it back to Theo, who caught it, and again looked confused. She stared at him, waiting for him to do something. He glanced at Stepping Feather for some guidance, but all the werewolf did was nod at him.

So, lacking any other guidance.. he just shrugged. "Anyone got a credit card?"
We all looked at him like he was fucking crazy.. but I slowly reached into my pocket and pulled out a card and handed it to him. For once, I didn't include a smartass comment either.

To my surprise, Theo found a flat surface, dumped the contents of the bag onto it and started cutting it with the card with... well.. lets just say this wasn't his first time at it.

I watched, surprised and more than a little confused, as he cut several lines of cocaine, and snorted them. When he turned back to face us, he was obviously high as a kite.

"Whew! wow.. okay.. so now what?" He said, much less terrified than he should have been.

She lunged at him. Several of us recoiled, but managed not to lose our shit. before we could even blink, she'd trapped him against her, one bird arm snaked around his chest, the other tangled in his hair, pulling his head back at an awkward and uncomfortable angle and sunk her fangs into his carotid artery.

I hadn't even been sure she was a vampire until that moment. I watched with a sickening fascination as she drank, throat convulsing, blood running down her chin and his neck. I wondered if she would stop, or jsut drink him completely dry.

He didn't seem to mind. IN fact, his face said he was having the time of his life. I felt downright voyeuristic when he started making noises.

But she didn't kill him. After a few minutes, she withdrew and threw him to the ground in a not so gentle manner. He laid there, and I swear to God he was basking in the goddamn afterglow.

She licked her lips and looked at all of us in turn, examining us.. then she headed to the edge of the clearing.

"Hey! Wait! Don't you want another drink!?" Theo was struggling to his feet. I looked at him like he was completely fucking insane.

She paused, glancing back at him over her shoulder with one eye. He stretched out his neck again.

"C'mon! You know you wanna."

I saw her bloodied mouth twist up into a disturbing smile, and she quite literally exploded into about 1000 crows that overwhelmed the clearing with their wings, then disappeared into the night.

"Aww.." Theo groaned, and looked rather dejected. I waited until I saw Giuseppe and Stepping Feather both exhale and stand. We got out of that fucking jungle as fast as we fucking could. We stood by the vehicles and rearmed ourselves. The weapons felt like security blankets, even though they wouldn't do jack shit to stop her.

"Who the fuck was that?" Karl asked, voice gruffer than usual. I'm sure he wasn't used to being scared shitless by a woman.

"The Unholy." Giuseppe said, as he slid knives back into invisible sheaths on his person. "She is a very old, very powerful vampire. What we did, we did to avoid angering her, in hopes that she will choose to allow us to live while we are in her territory?"

"'In hopes?'" Tommy asked, voice shaky.

Stepping Feather answered him. "She doesn't really play by any rules you or me would recognize. She's unpredictable.. shes like a fucking tornado. You can't stop her, just do your best to prepare for the inevitable destruction."

I let out a little shiver. It was a good reminder... It solidified in my mind the idea that monsters rarely play by the rules, and the faster I got used to that, the less likely I was to die because I thought I was in for a fair fight.

Once rearmed, we drove back to the hotel, and I tried not to notice how Bob watched everyone in the car with a look in his eyes that reminded me of an extremely watered down version of the Unholy's predatory gaze.

Maybe the weapons would end up being more than security blankets after all...

May 21, 2010

One more entry for the diary of things to have nightmares about.

((The game should start up again at the end of June. Another flashback, this one mostly about Harper dealing with all the horrific crap she's recently been subjugated too. Enjoy.))

The car was quiet as we rolled through the Mexico desert. I was fighting to stay awake, and fighting not to let my hands shake. At the last pit stop, I made sure to put my field medicine kit where I couldn't see it while driving. I found I had started staring at it in the rear-view, instead of paying attention to the road.

I was relieved beyond words when, not only did I see a small run down motel on the side of the barely paved road, but the bikes turned towards it and pulled into the parking lot.

The place was passable, as far as roadside motels went. It was on the very edge of a small town that was currently completely asleep. No one stirred.. but then again, it was 3am. There were one or two lights on in the motel, plus, thank god, the light in the tiny closet of a room that was the front desk area.

I waited outside, leaning against the Jeep, while Giuseppe and Asol went in. They were the only two who spoke Spanish. We'd been driving for 36 hours straight, only stopping for bathroom breaks and coffee. I was inwardly thankful that I'd gotten myself used to shifts that long or longer when I was working as a paramedic.

Idly, I wondered if I'd ever go back to that now.. it seemed a silly thing to be concerned about, considering the things I'd been through over the past few weeks.. It was shocking, really, that I was still alive after facing living dolls, raging vampires, mindless zombies, a homicidal ghost, and more recently, a newly transformed werewolf and spirits that took the forms of rats..

I was still recovering from the wound in my side from the werewolf. I had stitched it up best I could, but it would scar. Anyone who knew what they were looking at would know some wild animal had tried to taste my kidneys. I gave a small involuntary shudder. I had a flash of the former truck-stop guy transformed into a monster with claws from both hands shoved into Goule's body, a split second from literally ripping him into two pieces.

In the rare moments I had let someone else drive while I napped, my nightmares hadn't reflected reality. Really, Roxanne and Stepping-Feather had kept us all alive, tearing into the other werewolf's arms before he could finish the attack.. but in my dreams, I watched, bleeding from the bite on my side (which was also much larger, I looked down, and could see a few of my organs, pieces missing), as Goule was ripped in half, and tossed like a broken rag doll across the grass as the monster turned to finish me off. After that dream, I didn't let anyone else drive. I just loaded up with coffee and energy drinks, and went into '2 day shift paramedic' mode, and just drove. If anyone noticed the haunted look in my eyes, they said nothing. I'm sure they were all collecting their own set of nightmares.

At least no one had been grievously injured when we encounter the Beshilu. I was still trying to wrap my head around spirits that took the forms of rats.. and their war with the werewolves. The pack in Austin explained that the rats chewed thin spots in the gauntlet.. the barrier between this world and the spirit world.. and that was apparently a bad thing. I took their word for it, and when the Beshilu attacked their garage, we helped fend them off. I was still suspicious as to what Giuseppe could have possibly offered to them to get them to back off. But I couldn't argue. They're numbers had been too huge, we would've been overwhelmed eventually.. at least that fight didn't end in nightmares.. not that I was sleeping enough to test that assumption...

But even awake, I thought about Jackie. I had never had nightmares about Jackie.. maybe because he was actually dead.. and my mind was already dealing with the event. It wasn't a possibility for me to worry about.. it was reality. It was a big reason I had pressed Giuseppe so hard about the priest. I was desperate for information. Anything that might help us not end up like Jackie. The memories were just as bad as the nightmares.. I could remember every detail. What I remember first was the smell.

We knew something was wrong the second the smell hit us. Death has a scent, one I was familiar with before I was even involved with the supernatural shit. It smelled like a potpourri of blood, feces, and a stale musk that I'd never been able to identify the source of.

I knew what it smelled like because of my job. The others knew what it smelled like for other reasons. Either way, everyone knew something was very, very wrong the moment we reached the back door of the church.

The interior of the church was something out of a Friday the 13th movie. There was blood covering the walls and the floor.. chunks of flesh, organs, and limbs throw carelessly about the room.

The logical and reasoning side of my brain was cataloging. Noting how there was only enough blood for this to be one person, eyes roaming over appendages, judging the cause of the wounds, then running through the stats on how much strength it would take to physically rip a body into pieces. The other part of my brain was trying very hard to freak the fuck out. I was pissed, sad, and terrified all at once.

I think it was Karl who found his head, and confirmed what we had suspected. The Korean man's else were glazed over, hair matted with blood and gore. I felt a white hot rage well up inside of me that was surprising. I wouldn't go so far as to call the irritating little Korean man a friend, but he had been one of us, dammit. And someone had butchered him. In the place that was supposed to be safe.

We'd left for Mexico that same day. Us in the cars, Karl, Tommy, Larissa and Davaro on the boat. As far as I knew, Giuseppe had notified Mona, and the cops were looking into it, Mona leading the investigation. We were sure to eradicate evidence of our presence from the church before the cops arrived. It was a solemn and nerve wracking process. Everyone kept looking over their shoulders at the slightest noises..

I started wondering how many more times I could look at a scene like that before my mind just completely shatte..

" 112."
I snapped back to reality. Asol was talking to me and dangling a key in front of my face, smirking. He thought I'd drifted off. I gave him an annoyed look and took the key from him. I grabbed my overnight bag from the car and went inside.

The room was like I'd expected it to be, dingy, but livable. Since we just needed sleep for a few hours, I wasn't going to be picky. Asol threw his shit down and knelt at the edge of his bed, and began doing Hail Mary's with a rosary he'd presumably gotten from the motel manager. I just shook my head and went back out to the car to grab my field kit. I couldn't keep track of that kid's belief system, and I was stuck sharing a room with him because I was the only one who probably wouldn't wring his fucking neck during the night. Or because Giuseppe enjoys annoying the shit out of me. Probably a combination of the two.

I opened the back of the jeep and grabbed for my kit. We had a few hours till we'd be leaving, and I was pretty sure I knew how to make the nightmares, and the hand tremors, go away.

Something moved off to my left.

I jerked and had my gun out, scanning the darkness, before I'd even thought about it.

"Hey Harp.." I held up a hand to silence Jaleel who was walking up to the car from the rooms. He noticed my weapons, drew both his pistols, and looked out into the dark. "Something there?"
"Not sure.. look." I pointed to the dirt a few feet off to our right. Footprint. Very strange footprints.
"Weird." Jaleel commented, unconcerned.

This time we both saw the flash, a few hundred yards in front of us, behind a stand of scrub trees.
Jaleel started to walk in that direction.
"Don't you think we should grab the others before investigating weird shit in the middle of the Mexico desert?" I asked with a sour voice, gun still trained on the trees.

Jaleel just shrugged. "You can if you want." But he kept walking. I took a quick glance back at the squat building and cursed, breaking into a jog to catch up with him.

There is was again, movement behind the trees. We approached them slowly, weapons ready, and the whole time I was thinking what a stupid idea this was.

We reached the trees and could see a small gas station through the leafless branches. It looked abandoned, safe for the dim lights flickering in the dirty windows.
I frowned, gun still at ready. "That can't be what we saw.. "
Jaleel just shrugged again and pushed his way through the small trees. I followed behind him.

Nothing moved. I glanced behind us and could see the small motel 100 yards away, lights glowing in the windows of our rooms. Out here, there was nothing but the dingy gas station.

Then we saw it again. Movement in the darkness.. we only saw it for a moment, heading towards the gas station, darting around the forlorn building. It looked like dim lighting traveling horizontally across the ground. After a moment, there was a popping noise and the lights in the building went out completely.

Jaleel jerked his guns into a firing position. "What the fu.."


Jaleel and I were thrown flat on our asses as one of the pumps exploded in a huge ball of fire. We both rolled to our feet with practiced quickness, him standing, me down on one knee, guns still pointed at the now burning gas station. The fire wasn't even all that large, and any potential threats were obscured by the writhing flames and acrid smoke.

Jaleel and I shared a glance, and started forward. Probably not the smartest thing in the world to do..

There wasn't much to investigate. The station was small, and the building was sagging in on itself, threatening to collapse. It was untouched by flames, but the small explosion had shaken its frame. Going inside seemed to be a bad idea. The only other thing we could find was a fuse box that was torn to pieces, and places were the sand had become so hot, it had melted into glass.

"What the fuck? I'm pretty sure gasoline fires don't get hot enough to melt sand.." I said, crouching down to examine the small area.

"Fuck if I know. We saw something though, right? Something was here." Jaleel said, still scanning the dark.

I stood and started walking away from the station as it burned, back in the direction of the motel. "There are a million different things I could say to rationalize away that weird electrical discharge that was crawling across the ground.. but given our luck, none of them would be true. Yeah.. we saw something.."


Everyone seemed wary, that night. No one was comfortable dismissing the event as coincidental. I don't know if anyone slept but me.. and I had help. It probably wasn't the smartest thing to do, but I knew from experience that if I didn't do it soon, I'd be even more useless to everyone. So I slept, dreamless, for a few hours, until the drug wore off, and the nightmares came back.

I jerked awake gasping for air. I sat bolt upright in bed looking around frantically, not quite sure were I was. Giuseppe was sitting on top of the twin bed next to mine, legs stretched out in front of him, sketching by the light of the bedside lamp. The bed was completely made, and he didn't look like he'd been sleeping. When I saw him, I remembered. Right.. motel.. Mexico.. ect. ect.

I sagged forward and exhaled slowly, rubbing my eyes with the heels of my hands. My hair was plastered to my face, damp with sweat, and my tank top was sticking to my back. I felt clammy. More nightmares. The morphine didn't last as long as I'd hoped. I might need to up the dosage again..

I sat on the bed with legs crossed, comforter over my lap and concentrated on my breathing. I stayed that way for awhile, hunched forward, lank hair falling across my face. I waited until my heart rate slowed before I bothered to acknowledge Giuseppe again.

"How long have you been sitting there?" My voice was about 100 degrees south of friendly.

"Long enough." He said, not looking up from the small sketchpad.

I sighed and rubbed my face with my hands. Not only do I have nightmares, I have to wake up in a room with this fucker. We hadn't even been sharing a room.. where the fuck was Asol, and why the fuck was he even in here? "What do you want?"

He ignored my question. "Nightmares?"

I turned my head enough to glare at him through the damp curtain of my hair. "No, I've been dreaming about ponies, puppies and butterflies. What the fuck do you think? Of course I'm having fucking nightmares! I haven't slept through the night since I met you people."

A faint sneer crawled across his face, his voice affecting a tone of contempt. "Perhaps then, if it troubles you so much, you should leave, and find a nice area to bury your head in the sand once again in order to protect your fragile sense of sanity."

I just stared at him, slightly stunned. I'd never even considered leaving. But now, I thought about it. Really thought about what he was saying. The shit we've been through.. it was enough to break most people. Take their minds, and shatter them into a million tiny pieces until the person was nothing more than a hollow shell. These real, living nightmares weren't really meant to be undertaken by normal people. Even Giuseppe wasn't what I would call a pillar of sanity.

So I really thought about it. If it got worse, could I take it? I'd always been good at burying things. The shrinks my folks sent me too as a teenager had told me it was bad, to dig a hole and pile shit inside, covering it with miles and miles of dirt. But how else do you deal with vampires, werewolves, and the ghost of the guy you watched get shot in the head?

Any way you could. And I had been. Nightmares or not, I realized, I'd been coping just fine, and Giuseppe was questioning my resolve for no good goddamn reason. I noticed my fists were clenched so hard they were trembling, fingernails biting into my palms. I was pissed. The first time I'd felt like I was doing something important in my life, and Giuseppe was suggesting that I was too weak to handle it? Assuming that I'd actually allow myself to be consumed by something as pointless and useless as fear? Insinuating that I'd rather keep myself ignorant then weather through the stress?

I took a deep breath and forced my hands open. I had carved little half moons in my palms that welled with blood. I wanted to punch him. Instead, I straighten my shoulders and glared at him through narrowed eyes, my expression mirroring his contemptuous sneer. My voice, colored with rage, was little more than a snarl. "Get the FUCK out of my room."

His contemptuous sneer shifted slightly into something resembling his arrogant smirk. He slid off the bed and walked out of the room. "We are leaving." he said as the door shut behind him. I threw a pillow at the warped wood as it swung shut.

Fucking self-absorbed, arrogant asshole. When had I ever suggested that I'd rather bury my head in the sand? When had I ever hinted that I might want to forget the shit I'd learned? I scowled at no one and threw another pillow against the door, then swung my legs off the side of the bed and stomped into the bathroom. I needed a shower, and he could damn well wait for me to take one.

Nightmares be damned, I wasn't going to run away from any of this shit. If for no other reason than to deny him the satisfaction.


I was just finishing shoving clothes in my overnight bag when I heard someone yelling.

And then I smelled the smoke.

"Oh Fuck me.." I grabbed my shit and bolted out the door. If its not one thing, it's another. I guess I should be thankful the shit waited until sunrise to fall apart again.

The first thing I saw as I turned around was black smoke billowing out of the windows of several of the rooms. Everyone was outside, staring at the flames that had begun to lick the morning sky. But it was only us. No other guests. that should've been my first clue. Asol ran up and skidded to a halt in front of us, panting.

"Juan.. we gotta..get him ..and family..out.."

I blinked at him, confused. "Who the.. shit. The manager." The managers office, which was attached to a small apartment, presumably where the manager and his family lived, was located a few doors down from where the flames were gobbling up the rotted wood siding. It looked like the fire had started only a few yards away from his living quarters.

Asol got there before the rest of us and started banging on the door. I was surprised he was so adamant, but then, he'd apparently spent most of the night talking with the manager while we slept.

No one answered the door, and the walls were getting hotter. Jaleel rolled his eyes, yanked Asol out of the way and kicked the door in with one practiced strike from his boot. The door slammed inward, and the smell poured outward.

That oh-so-familiar smell... tinged with the scent of rot. Old Death.

It made us hesitate. I heard Asol swallow and try not to gag. His voice was thready and uncertain. "Juan..?"

Jaleel crept inside, Goule, Asol and I behind him. I wasn't sure where the others were. The hallway was narrow, and the walls were hot enough to burn you if you touched them. We didn't have much time, but we couldn't rush. Something was off and it made all of us proceed with caution.

It was only about 10 steps until we entered the kitchen, and were privy to a scene that put another notch in the nightmare bedpost.

Jaleel didn't warn any of us. He entered the kitchen and stepped to the side to allow everyone else to file in. He didn't say anything, but he looked a little green. Goule started cursing loudly. Asol inhaled sharply, which caused him to gag because of the smell. He managed to keep his breakfast down.

I didn't. It was worse then everything else we'd seen till now, more twisted, more macabre. I turned and vomited in the corner until my stomach was completely empty, and even then I dry heaved until my throat was raw. The guys, to their credit, didn't rib me about it.

We had found Juan's family. In the middle of the kitchen, sitting around a small rickety kitchen table, were four people. The bodies were bloated and covered in flies. The smell of rot was heavy, it forced its way down our throats and coated our tongues. They must have been dead for days. A woman, who must have been Juan's wife, sat at one end of the table, her head sat on her neck at an odd angle, eyes bulging and covered in gnats. She'd been strangled, then her neck snapped.

A man who was not Juan sat across from her, a small bullet hole in his left cheek, and the entire back of his head blown off.

But the worst part were the kids. Two young kids completed this 'happy little family' dinner. A boy and a little girl, neither any older than 8, sat in their little chairs, dressed in their Sunday finest, with food on the table in front of them, their little bodies swollen and limp, well past all the staged of rigor mortis. The girl had a nasty gash across her neck that was covered in dried blood and pus, writhing with maggots and other insects. The little boys mouth hung open, and I tried not to see what was moving around in there, eating his tongue.

I spit one last time and stood up, my legs shaky. Smoke had begun to creep into the room. Asol was babbling.

"But.. he was so cool. how could he.. what happ.. I don't get it."

I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand and tried not to look at the gruesome scene. My voice was raspy. "I think it's obvious what happened. That's the 'other man' and Juan is completely bat-shit-fucking-insane."

Jaleel nodded and turned to the door. "Yeah. Fuck this shi...FUCK!"

We turned to see Juan falling from the side hallway and burying a fire axe 4 inches into Jaleel's shoulder. Jaleel shoved him off and pulled a gun with his good arm. But Juan was too close, the quarters too small, and he couldn't get a shot off. Juan lunged forward and swung the axe down towards Jaleel's neck.

But the attack fell to the side, harmlessly, as Asol flung himself into the older man's torso, knocking the wind from his lungs. He grabbed Asol by the shirt and flung him to the ground, pulling the axe upward to cleave Asol like a piece of firewood.

My shot caught him in the stomach. It was deafening in the small kitchen. The smell of gunpowder was masked by the reek of death and fire. He looked at the wound, then up at me. I have never seen that look in a human beings eyes before. It wasn't just rage. It was rage fueled by jealousy. Jealousy so intense it had led him to murder his entire family, just based on suspicion, and set them up in a grotesque parody of happiness, and burn down his livelihood.

Those eyes made me hesitate. He took two steps and brought that axe down, and my reaction time was shit. I starting moving, and knew it would be too slow. That blade was going to to bury itself in the top of my head.

Or it would have, if two throwing knives hadn't impacted at that exact moment. They hit within milliseconds of each other, one burying itself in his chest, and the other right between his eyes. The force of the blows snapped his head back and threw him to the ground, the axe clattering to the floor.

Giuseppe stood in the hallway, morning sun pouring in from behind him, and partially obscured by the smoke leaking in from the walls. His eyes flicked to the kitchen table, then away, and he pointedly did not look at them again. That was the only indication that the scene may have been unsettling to him.

"I believe that it is time to go." And he turned and walked out.

Goule offered me a hand up, though I didn't remember falling on my ass. I ignored it and slowly got to my feet, staring after the Italian. Damn. Now I owed him..

We walked out of the manager's quarters just as the fire began to eat through the walls. Jaleel had blood coursing down his arm, so I took him aside and pulled out my kit. The wound wasn't nearly as nasty as I thought it had been. Which was odd, but I didn't question it. Right now, I didn't care. I stitched him up as quickly as I could, then turned to watch the motel darken the sky.

And then I realized we were the only ones outside. I turned in a slow circle and realized that there was no one else, anywhere. We were on a small rise, just outside the town, and it was empty too. Landry still waved in the breeze, stands stood open for business, but there was no one there. It was just after sunrise, and the town was completely dead.

"Shit.." Goule said, breathlessly. He'd noticed too.

My face was a stony mas as I took the vial out of my pocket, adding a small drop to each eye. I blinked through the excess liquid as my vision faded to black and white. I looked at the town again.. and inhaled sharply and took an involuntary step backwards.

"What? Whats going on?" Goule prodded.

I swallowed and tore my eyes away from the vision in front of me. My voice sounded much more calm and matter of fact than I actually felt.

"The whole town.. they're all dead. They all killed each other..And they're all staring at us."

About 50 yards away was a group of ghosts. There had to be at least a hundred of them. They stood on the sand and watched us, silent and unmoving. They're injuries ranged from bullet holes, to broken necks, caved in skulls, and a dozen other methods of murder. They had all killed each other.

"What the fuck would cause an entire town to turn on itself?" I asked, looking to the werewolves. Roxanne shook her head, and Stepping Feather shrugged helplessly. "Fuck if I know.."

And then, as if in answer, a streak of electricity quite literally bolted out of the motel and right past us. But in the morning sun, we could see it more clearly. It was about the size of petite woman, scuttling on four deformed limbs. It's mouth was full of jagged teeth and a tongue that resembled a human tongue that someone had split right down the middle with a knife.

And it looked like it just had sex with a Tesla coil. I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up as it darted past me, energy making the air crackle.

It got about 20 yards away from us, heading towards the town, when the largest bolt of lightning I'd ever seen arced down from the smoky sky and struck it on the back. The impact was loud, and we stumbled back as a smoking crater formed from the impact.

When the smoke cleared, there was a man standing in the crater, his boot heel on the neck of the creature. Bones were protruding from its leathery skin, and it wasn't moving. He picked up the limp form and tossed it over his shoulder like it weighed nothing. He looked like a perfect marble statue He was beautiful, but something about him seemed completely artificial, something was just wrong. He looked up at us, but his face remained a neutral mask.

"What the fuck is that?" Asol squeaked.
I don't think any of us actually expected the 'man' to answer, but he did, and his voice was oddly pleasant. "My creation."
"And who the fuck are you?" Jaleel asked.
He stared at us a moment before turning and walking out of the crater (which was now filled with quickly hardening glass), and towards the desert. "No one."

We watched him go, no one moved to stop him.

"We are leaving." Giuseppe said in a flat voice, and turned towards the Jeep. We all followed him without a word, eager to leave this god forsaken piece of land behind us.

May 14, 2010

Truck Stop Tango- A Lesson in Why You Should Always Keep Your Werewolf Entertained on a Car Trip

((short flashback this week. This was a minor incident, but the quote was just too good not to write about..))

When I pulled to a stop in front of one of the gas pumps, everyone vanished from the car like it was on fire. I guess no one appreciated the atmosphere much. Roxanne and Jaleel both pulled up to the pumps as well, and I watched, hardly concerned, as Roxanne stalked towards one of the buildings like a woman on a mission. I should've have been worried.

The Truck stop was one of those combined businesses.. gas station, convenience store, and a small restaurant that probably sold more liquor than food.

When I looked up from the pump, half the group was no where to be seen. Stepping Feather leaned against a bike, looking like he always did- gorgeous, and without a care in the world, Asol was disappearing inside the convenience store, and Goule was walking back towards the bathrooms.

It seemed like a damn good time to get a fucking drink. It was humid as fuck, and I was having a hard time shaking off the mental beating Giuseppe had given me in the car.

The restaurant was dim and full of smoke. I slid onto a bar stool, grimacing as my hands stuck to the bar's surface. Roxanne was sitting a few stools down from me, taking long pulls from a beer and eying the patrons with an expression that made me nervous.

I ordered a rum and coke (which, once again, tasted like a goddamn whiskey sour), and then took the time to examine the room. Most of the eyes were on us. Only a few of the men were actually staring, but I caught more than one sidelong glance over the top of a beer, or deck of cards. The glances I got varied between lewd, curious, and downright disgusting.

The looks Roxanne was getting tended to be of a slightly different nature. Sure, some of the truckers were checking her out, but more than a couple didn't look at all happy to see her. It took me a few minutes to figure out why, seeing as Roxanne, though damn tough looking, was the more attractive of the two of us.

But she was also black. I scowled into my drink. Racist shitheads.. but Roxanne didn't seem to mind.. she just sat there, drinking and making a point of meeting people's glares and giving them a big, not so pleasant smile. It wasn't until she was approached that I figured out why.

I watched as a man at a corner table stood, nodded to his buddies, and started to swagger over. He was a big guy, but by no means muscular. He looked like he might have been a line backer in high school, and all that mass seemed to have settled around his gut. This guy was the epitome of trucker stereotype. He even wore a trucker hat. I think his neck (if he had one..) might have actually been red. I didn't bother to fight back the look of revulsion when he spit a wad of dip stained spit on the floor.

He leaned on the bar with one arm, facing his bulk towards Roxanne, who was smiling at her beer.

He spit again and leaned forward, trying to use his massive size to intimidate her. He was probably used to getting away with that, though how anyone could mistake that bulk for anything more than fat, is beyond me.

I could smell him from where I sat, 4 stools away. I could only imagine what his breath smelled like up close and personal. I briefly wondered if werewolves had increased sensitivity to scent in human form. For Roxanne's sake, I hoped not.

"You're a little far from the bayou, nigger."

I froze. The bar seemed to get very quiet. My eyes flicked to Roxanne and I groaned inwardly. She was grinning, ear to ear, one of the most frightening grins I'd ever seen. That's why she even came in here. She was looking for a fucking fight, and this guy just served it up on a platter.

He was about to have a very bad day.

Roxanne turned in her stool and mirrored his posture, leaning on the bar with one arm, draining the last of her beer. She smiled at him, and he was too stupid or too arrogant to see the violence it promised.

"You're a little far from San Franciso, faggot."

I choked back a laugh. The trucker's neck got even redder. "What the fuck did you call me?!"

Roxanne stood up from her seat, and got right up in his sweaty face. "You heard me."
And then she pushed him. His eyes went wide as he stumbled back a few feet. Not used to getting pushed around, that one. His face got beat red, and he was practically spitting with rage. "Fucking nigger bitch!"

And he threw a punch straight at her nose.

I watched as Roxanne easily side stepped the punch, grabbed his arm, snapped his elbow, and rammed his face into the sticky bar. He was unconscious before he could even register that he'd gotten his ass kicked.

Shit broke out 3.5 seconds later.

A sane person would have let it end at that. Roxanne had dispatched the redneck without any effort at all. You'd think that would make his buddies think a moment before jumping to finish the fight.

That is, if they had two braincells to rub together in the first place. His table mates came running. Then the next table.. then some other guys in the corner who looked more like they just wanted to fight, rather than avenge the fallen dumbass.

I tried to move back from the growing brawl, because, while I wouldn't want to leave Roxanne hanging out to dry.. lets face it. If she couldn't handle it, god knows I couldn't either. All I had on me was a gun, and I knew damn well not to draw it. I had no intention of escalating this goddamn cluster fuck.

It didn't matter much. The fight went out the door before I had much time to react. I was busy dodging stray punches and trying to catch a glimpse of Roxanne in the tangle. Every time I did, she was smiling widely.

The light was blinding, and the asphalt was blistering hot. I managed to pull myself away from the fray to get a better handle on the situation. Roxanne was fighting off roughly 15 burly trucker guys. I watched, trying to decide what to do, as Stepping Feather jumped into the fray. The brief glimpse I caught of his face did not reveal a happy expression. But then, I'd also seen the flash of more than one knife being drawn from within the fray.

Asol apparently thought fights were cool, pulled out a flimsy pocket knife and sprinted towards the fighting. I watched as he blocked a switch blade with his forearm, and then took a left hook to the chin. Jaleel had joined in at some point, and being a much more competent fighter, smashed his fist into the attackers temple, dropping him like a sack of rocks. I darted in long enough to drag Asol's remarkably stupid ass out of trouble and took him over to the car. I let him lay on the hot asphalt as I bandaged his arm and checked his pupils. He was one unlucky sonofabitch.. the switch blade had nicked his radial artery. He left a trail of blood on the pavement.

By the time I got him to where he wasn't going to bleed to death anytime soon, there seemed to be a dog pile forming. I couldn't see Roxanne, just a few unconscious (or so I hoped) bodies. I didn't realize the fight was getting serious until I saw Roxanne's arm shoot up into the air out of the pile of bodies, fingers elongated, nails lengthening into claws...I watched, frozen, as she dragged those claws down the back of one of the younger men. He fell and didn't get back up.

I have never been so glad to hear police sirens in my life. Those who were still conscious, fled. Stepping Feather had Roxanne in something like a modified full nelson and was talking frantically in her ear. I couldn't hear him, but I watched as she slowly started to compose herself, arm slowly shifting back to something more normal.

I took a quick inventory of the scene, hoping they hadn't killed anyone. I knelt next to the guy I had seen Roxanne claw, and was surprised to find him alive. He was unconscious, but sweating profusely, twitching, and shivering. The wounds weren't bleeding nearly as much as they should have been.

Stepping Feather walked up behind me, and I heard him groan. "Fuuuuuck.."

He strode forward and grabbed the guy, threw him over his shoulder, and started for my jeep. "We have to take him with us.."

"What? Why, for Gods sake?" I asked, jogging to keep up.

I saw him grimace. "He's going through his first change..he's a wolfblood."

I had my keys out and was about to open the back of the jeep. I stopped and just stared at him. "And you want to put him in my fucking car? Are you insane?"

Stepping Feather flashed me a sheepish smile. "He probably won't change for a couple more days. You're safe for now."

I looked at him incredulously. "Probably?"

He snatched the keys from me and popped the back hatch, lowering the guy onto the floor, between the overnight bags. "Don't worry, we'll be right behind you."

He tossed me the keys, and took off at a run towards the bikes where Jaleel and Roxanne were waiting for him. Goule had already dragged Asol into the backseat, and the sirens were getting closer. I took another look at the guy as he convulsed and moaned in his unconscious state, cursed, and closed the back of the jeep.

"Harper! Hurry the fuck up!"

I slipped into the front seat and pulled back out onto the highway. We never actually saw the cops, but they must have arrived just minutes after we bolted.

I wiped the sweat from my face and tried not to keep looking in the rear view mirror every 10 seconds. Fucking werewolves.. I concentrated on calming my ass down so I didn't run us off the fucking road.

Giuseppe sat in the passenger seat, like he'd never left the car, headphones on, sketch pad out, and didn't say a word to anyone.

We all obliged him.

May 7, 2010

A moment of Truth

((More flashbacks.. sorry for no post last week, I was out of town. This scene occurred in the car on the way to Mexico. As I've said before Simon Goule and Asol were player characters that are no longer in the game for various reasons. Both characters were killed in game after they're players where no longer playing with us.

The scene may seem a bit choppy, because the questions don't necessarily feed into each other all the time, but that's what it was like originally. It was a scene of us players trying to think of anything to ask that we thought would be important. As you can see, some players are more focused on the big issues than others...Enjoy))

We had already spent a few hours on the highway. I did my best to ignore Asol's babbling from the back seat and focus on the road in front of me, the roar of the motorcycles following us, and the million questions racing through my head. Giuseppe sat in the passenger seat, the faint sound of opera music drifting from his headphones.

I drove, turning the mysterious around in my head for a long time. I started becoming more and more frustrated, because nothing was making any goddamn sense. The New Orleans power structure was falling, mostly because we had been picking away at its foundations, more or less unintentionally. We had decided to make ourselves scarce before anyone realized our part in the matter. There was a civil war brewing, just under the surface, and it was very likely that if we stuck around, all us poor little humans would be caught in the middle. I did not foresee that ending well.

And then there was the issue of Stone.. I suppose it worked out alright that we needed to leave New Orleans for awhile.. we needed to find Stone. The only lead we had was the note Asol had... so we were heading to Mexico, to find an Aztec temple, and to find Stone. We had no idea what he might be doing there. We were going in blind and that worried me.. a lot. Going in blind, and Giuseppe was still keeping secrets.

The more I thought about that the more annoyed I got. We had been running around looking for information on this priest, and still had no idea why, except that Giuseppe wanted to find him.

I frowned and glanced at the Italian, he was sketching something on a small pad, seemingly oblivious to the rest of us, but I knew better. Giuseppe was never oblivious to anything. But he was stuck in the car with me, at least for awhile, and that, maybe, was an opportunity. He couldn't lock himself away in the rectory this time.

I decided I was tired of this bullshit.

"We need to talk."

I thought for a moment he didn't hear me, or was ignoring me, he just kept sketching away at that pad. I clenched the steering wheel hard and was about to get significantly more pushy when I heard the music from his headphones go silent. He kept sketching. ""

"Why are you looking for the priest. Who is he?"

He didn't stop drawing, but I noticed his hand tighten on the pencil for a brief instant.

"It is not something you need to concern yourself with."

I slammed my hand hard against the steering wheel. Goule and Asol both jumped in surprise, Giuseppe just gave me a sidelong glance and continued scribbling.

"Bullshit! We're helping you and you have yet to tell us what the fuck we're doing. I'm not a big fan about going into all these potentially life threatening situations totally blind, so I think its not too much to ask to know who the fuck this guy is and why he's so fucking important! We can't figure anything out about this whole mess if you don't tell us what the fuck is going on!" I looked back to the road, I'd been glaring at him. It was a good thing we were on a mostly deserted highway.

Giuseppe put his pencil down, his normal grumpy expression having transformed into something more like a sneer. He stared at me with this very unfriendly look, but there was a spark of something else in his eye. It seemed slightly out of place, but I couldn't quite figure out how, or what emotion it was.

"You would like to know why I am looking for this priest?"
"Yes." I replied with no small amount of anger.
"Fine. The priest is a man I knew as a child, as an altar boy. He was the perpetrator of the systematic abuse I experienced during my very young years serving at that church. I recently discovered he is still alive, and am working to discover his whereabouts so that I might pay the worthless piece of shit a visit." He had nearly imperceptible tremors in his clenched fists, and his voice contained suppressed violence.

I suddenyl felt sick to my stomach... I was glad he hadn't elaborated on the abuse, there are some thing that even I don't want to know.

But I refused to show that I felt like an asshole. Regardless of the outcome, my question had been valid and justified. He had kept us too in the dark to know this was a personal issue, and I wasn't going to let him turn it around on me. So I just nodded. "Thank you."

But he wasn't done yet. He closed his sketchpad with an authoritative 'snap' and tucked it away. I didn't at all like the look he gave me. He was pissed, and was going to do something about it. And I knew it would be something I didn't like.

"Since you are so determined to drag painful and personal truths out of people, we are going to play a little game. I will answer your questions truthfully, and you will answer mine." His voice was dangerously soft, and it wasn't a request. Which I guess was fair enough. Mine hadn't been either. I wasn't really worried.

I should've been.

"Fine. Whatever."

"Can we play too?" Goule asked from the backseat, Asol looking between us eagerly. Giuseppe's eyes never left mine, and the smirk was small, but present. "If you agree to abide by the rules."

I shifted in my seat, trying to get comfortable.

"So tell me Harper. How did your friend die?"
I felt my hands spasm against the steering wheel, knuckles white. I had to bite my tongue to keep from mouthing off to him, telling him it was none of his goddamn business. I should've known he'd aim right for the one sore spot he knew about. I briefly debated telling him to fuck off.. or lying.. but somehow..he'd know. He know I was lying to him, and then I'd never get a straight answer from him ever again. If I didn't answer his fucking questions now, he'd never tell me anything. So instead, I gritted my teeth and stared at the highway, and tried to tell the story as succinctly as possible.

"We were on a patrol. Another soldier was drunk, shooting into the air. Driscoll..he tried to get the guy to relinquish his side arm. It went off at the wrong moment, and took half his head off." Memories tried to overwhelm me. I hadn't thought about that moment in a long time. Even when I saw Driscoll again, I tried my best to keep them at bay. I did the same thing now. I told the story and tried to stem the tide of the vivid images. I didn't want to relive it.

But I was stupid to think Giuseppe was done. His face held no sympathy, he simply watch my expression like a bird of prey, reading me easily. "And how long have you hated him?"

I snorted and shook my head. Some small part of me twisted into a knot, and I felt a brief flash of heart wrenching sadness at the question. I didn't know why and I quickly shoved that small part away, I had no reason to feel that way. Not to that degree. It made no sense, so I refused to acknowledge it even existed.

"Not long after I met him. Everyone loved him, and he didn't even have to try." I said with a scowl. Giuseppe's expression became a touch more malicious and I knew he still had more to say. I braced for the next question.. but even though I thought I was prepared, the next words he said, quietly- but clear as water, turned my guts to ice and made my ego shrivel up into a tiny ball and roll away to a dark corner.

"How long have you been an addict?"

His eyes bored holes into me and I had to swallow three times before I could speak. My throat had suddenly gone very dry. I could feel all the blood draining from my face. Goule and Asol looked at me, stunned. I thought no one knew. I thought I'd kept it under wraps. Everyone knew Tommy was a junkie.. but until now I thought no one suspected that I had my own chemical crutch. Giuseppe looked smug.

When I could finally answer, my voice was barely more than a whisper. "Couple years. Since before Driscoll died.." I said nothing else. I don't know if I even could. I didn't want to give the others in the car any more information than I had too. I just sat there, staring ahead of me, aware of the arrogant smirk/sneer on Giuseppe's face now that he'd gotten his minor revenge, and hoped to God no one asked me what I was addicted too.

Thankfully, Giuseppe felt that was enough to put me in my place, because he turned his attention to the guys in the back seat while I sat, heart slamming in my chest, trying not have a full blown freak out. I wouldn't give him the satisfaction.

Giuseppe regarded Asol in the rearview mirror. They seemed slightly less enthusiastic about this new 'game' after seeing the entrails Giuseppe had split with just a few simple questions. "How old were you when you started seeing things?"

Asol seemed taken aback by the sheer innocence of the question. "Fuck if I know.. 5? 6? I usually tried to shut up about it, because people don't like it when kids talk about that shit. They put you in special ed classes and send you to doctors and shit..."

Giuseppe's eyes flicked to Goule.
"And what about you, Simon? What made you want become a police officer?"
He also shrugged. They seemed to be waiting for the other foot to fall. They didn't understand that the real show was over, this was all just followup. "My dad was a cop.. and he did good things for people. I wanted to be like him."

"And when did you go crooked?"

There was no gasp of surprise on that one. We had already pretty much figured Goule wasn't a straight arrow. Hell, I'd suspected it before we even fell into this group, when I'd met him at a few crimes scenes as an EMT.

Still, he looked nervous. "A lot of stuff. I learned the law doesn't mean shit when you're actually out there. Bad people still get away with bad shit, innocent people still get fucked. Someone offered me a lot of money one day to look the other way, so I took it. He'd get off scott free anyway, so what difference did it make?"

Giuseppe quirked a brow at Simon as he went silent. "And?"
"What do you mean and?" Goule seemed flustered.
"I believe you are leaving out a rather important detail."
Goule shifted uncomfortably, then shrugged in a very 'fuck it' manner. "It didn't take me long to realize I didn't give a shit about helping people. What I do now.. well.. its much more fulfilling to me, personally."

I couldn't help but sneer at him.. but he couldn't see it. I knew there was a reason I never liked that sonofabitch.

At this point I'd recovered enough from my shock to join back in the game again. I still had more questions for Giuseppe.. and while I'd had first hand experience at the consequences.. my curiosity outweighed my sense of self preservation.

I never said I was all that intelligent..

"What are you?"
My voice didn't quite sound like me. I cleared my throat and glanced at Giuseppe. he was regarding me with an expression that was a mixture of slight amusement, scorn, annoyance, and that something else that I still couldn't identify.. it was bugging the shit out of me.

"What they call a ghoul. One who drinks, or injects, as the case my be, the blood of a vampire, and can use it to improve oneself."
"That's how you move so fast."
He nodded. "That is one benefit, yes."
I crinkled my nose. I couldn't imagine injecting that shit into myself. Ironic, I know. "And you want to be a vampire?"

He tilted his head to one side to regard me a moment before answering. He seemed.. almost impressed, I'd made the connection from what little scraps I'd gathered over the last few weeks. But he was hard to read, so I couldn't ever tell for sure.

"There will come a point where that will be a necessary step, yes."

I just looks at him incredulously. "Why?" Even more than injecting vampire blood, or worse yet, drinking it, I knew I never wanted to be one of the monsters that we'd already dealt with, that fed on people, twisted manipulative schemes, and constantly backstabbed for political power.

He shrugged, as though the answer should be obvious. "Time, mostly. I require more time to accomplish my goals than a normal human lifespan, or even the lifespan of a ghoul, will naturally allow me. Thus, the need for other measures to ensure that time.

I just gave a small shiver. He seemed to enjoy my discomfort.

"Is that what you took from that thing we shot? It's blood?" Simon asked.
Giuseppe simply nodded.
"How does that make you different from it?" Simon asked with a grimace.

I blinked. My mind counted the ways.. the many differences between stealing blood from a monster, and drinking the life force of an innocent person. But Giuseppe recounted none of these.

"Simply put, I am still alive. They are not."

I just shook my head. I seemed to be the only one making what seemed to me to be a very important distinction. Goule pulled my from my self-righteous musing with another question.

"So Harper, whats on the dog tags?"
I held them up for him to see. "Name, rank, religious affiliation, blood type..and everything else that's usually on a Army issue dog tag, for Jordan Driscoll. Sometimes, he uses them to talk to me, making the tags say other things. It's fucking weird."
He nodded slowly, letting the explanation sink in past his natural resistance to weird shit, then asked the question that really seemed to be on his mind.
"Have I given you reason to hate me?"
I almost laughed. Almost. "Aside from being a crooked cop who uses other people to get himself ahead in life?"
"Yeah, actually."

"I don't need any oth.." I stopped short, Giuseppe was giving me a look. I glared at him. "Fine. You make what I find impossible seem like the easiest thing in the world. That's enough reason for me." Simon tried to catch my eye in the rearview, and I wouldn't let him. He had a flabbergasted look on his face. "You're.. jealous of me? That's why?"

I didn't validate his question with a response, and I was saved from further annoying inquiries by Asol, who had turned his attention from us, to Giuseppe.

"Why aren't I dead?" He asked with the air of someone talking to an Oracle.

Giuseppe quirked a brow at him tone. "Primarily because Harper is a skilled medic and managed to keep you alive after you were shot. Also, because we did not let you leave our company while you were carrying the note that held your death sentence. You should be careful. We may not always be there, or willing, to such misfortunes in the future." There was no threat in Giuseppe's voice, merely a warning. And he was right. The kid was going to get himself killed if he wasn't more careful.

But Asol did not seem phased. "What do you want from me?"
"Right now, precisely nothing, but for you to stop asking me stupid questions. Later on, perhaps more insight into the Union of the Snake." Giuseppe seemed to grow very tired of Asol's questions very quickly. And who could blame him.
The kid just kept firing them off, presumably without putting any thought into their content. "Why are you dead?"
Giuseppe sighed heavily. "As we have already discussed, had you been listening, I am not."
"Are you like other dead boy?"
"Karl? No. His relationship with death is a much different creature."

It was actually me that lost patience with him first.
"What the fuck are you trying to prove Asol? Do you even listen to yourself?"
He just grinned at me. He was infuriatingly difficult to piss off.
"I wanna get back at those motherfuckers who tried to have me killed. I want to show the people who told me I was crazy, that I wasn't. That the weird stuff really is there. I'm okay if they never know it, because I do. Now I have a question for you."

I heaved a pained sigh.
"Why don't you hate me?" He looked at me, an honestly curious expression on his face. I smirked.
"Who says I don't?"
He shrugged and sat back heavily in his seat. "Believe it or not, I'm pretty perceptive.." I snorted...he ignored me. "and you don't like me.. I get that.. but you don't hate me either. Why not?"

I frowned, perplexed, and glanced back at him. "You're pretty cynical kid, you know that? Why would you assume I should hate you?"
"Everyone else seems too." He said, matter-of-factly.
I just shook my head. "You get in the way, and they don't want you here. But most of them don't hate you. I don't want you here either.. but the other option was to let you get yourself killed.. and I wasn't okay with that." I shifted uncomfortably when I noticed how intently Giuseppe was watching me, listening to my answer to the question. I felt, not for the first time, like I was being studied, like there would be an exam later, over me.

"I don't hate you because I have no reason too. I usually have to have a pretty good reason to hate someone.."

Asol laughed. "Like someone being more popular than you are? You're sayin' I've got nothing for you to be jealous of, that's why you don't hate me."
I narrowed my eyes, patience with this 'game' completely gone. "Keep it up Asol, and you may find yourself on that list after all." I growled.

He laced his fingers behind his head and grinned. We were saved from his next question by the roar of a motorcycle, as Roxanne's bike passed us, and turned off the highway, towards a truck stop.

"Thank God for pit stops." I grumbled, turning the car to follow her, and trying to ignore just how fucking self satisfied Giuseppe looked in the seat next to me.


I think I hated him more than I ever had at that point. I remember thinking that surely, there wasn't anything else he could do to make me hate him more. But Mexico would soon teach me to never underestimate Giuseppe Santore's ability to accomplish anything, especially piss me off.