Two blocks away from the morgue, Serf stopped the car and let it idle by the curb. Lucien, still in his wolf form, flattened himself against the backseats, his black pelage lightening to match the dark brown upholstery.
Along Serf’s forehead, sweat broke, thick, hot, and musky. The night had turned from cool to cold to frigid in a matter of hours. Serf had no business sweating, but he was running a fever. He thought it was because of the bite. He felt for the wound, but couldn’t find it. It had healed over.
Serf had heard stories about Lycanthropy. He thought he was safe from that disease. Bailien’s demonic blood coursed through his veins. He’d been consuming it for over two years and hadn’t been sick since, never so much as a snivel let alone a sneeze. Vampire blood killed foreign pathogens and Serf assumed that this included Lycanthropy. He’d lost a lot of blood today and figured he just needed more of it.
A wolf’s head appeared at Serf’s shoulder. “What are we waiting for? Raguel is near!” Lucien grazed Serf’s neck with his wet nose, left a slick trail behind, running it from nape to hairline.
Serf said nothing. Digging into his breast pocket, he pulled out Servanah’s phone and dialed. Half a ring in, Boris picked up.
“Yeah, I’m two blocks north of you. I’m here with Lucien. We’re on a hunt. I’d advise you and your men to clear the morgue. Stay the fuck out of our way. If you don’t wanna take my word for it, Bailien is on the way. He’ll clear things up for me if you don’t.”
Serf hung up.
“They’ll let us through. They won’t want to deal with, Bailien.” He looked over his shoulder. The backseat was empty and the door was open.
Lucien sidled the buildings across the street from the morgue. His fur was a constant swirling and shifting kaleidoscope of hues. The black pelage on his paws faded to the granite grey of the concrete ground.
Raguel’s scent was everywhere and it dizzied Lucien. He stopped, closed his eyes and shook his head. Opening them didn’t help. He saw the visual equivalent to the Winged-One’s aroma swirling around the morgue; black bands streamed in and out of the fractured facade. Rage stiffened his limbs, though not his mind, which raced with acts of cruelty; it toiled with tortures he’d administer. He’d waited so long. He’d lost his honor. Had lost his legion. Was displaced from his House. Wrath awakened his limbs and he galloped across the street.
Serf pulled up in front of the morgue where Boris was waiting. Boris lowered his head to Serf’s window. Behind him stood his men.
“Why the fuck are you still here? Thought I told you to pull back,” Serf said.
“We were waiting for you. The morgue’s important to Sloth’s covens and we weren’t going to leave it unattended,” Boris said. He’d already contacted Laszlo. Told him about Serf. About the hunt. He knew Serf was telling the truth. “What do you want us to do?”
“Form a fucking perimeter around the morgue,” Serf said. “Make sure nobody goes in and nobody comes out until I say so.”
Boris nodded, glad that he’d decided to leave the morgue. One of the dead bodies in the cadaver draws was probably the Recreant. Serf would fare no better at locating him than he did, but he knew that Lucien would have no such problem. He’d sniff him out.
“Where’s Lucien?” Boris asked, peering into the car.
“He’s already inside.”
There were a million questions in his eyes, but Boris kept his mouth shut, and Serf was grateful that Boris didn’t give him a hard time. As much as he’d been through in the last few hours, it was nice to have something be hassle-free, for a change. Even something as simple as taking orders and not asking questions. Of course, employing his master’s name had helped.
Boris pulled away and went back to his men. He passed on Serf’s orders.
Serf started the car and headed for the back of the morgue. He didn’t know what he was going to do once he got there. Lucien could handle things from here. Besides, what use could he be? He’d handled himself well out there in the woods. But he’d been armed with silver bullets. Vampires were an entirely different arena. He’d no way of defending himself against them. As evidenced by his aura, his soul was marred. Though vampires respected another’s claim, the Recreant wouldn’t.
Bailien would want him to stay with Lucien. That decided the matter for him. Serf veered into a narrow alley and parked by the morgue’s back door. Where the lock used to be, he saw a fist-sized hole. Lucien. So much for subtlety.
Past the door, within the freezer room, Lucien stared at the cadaver racks, his eyes now red baleful orbs. Deep growls made his throat ripple. He didn’t have to check the draws to know that Raguel wasn’t there. His betrayer was gone.
He felt the transformation come. His rage awakened the wolf within. Fur rippled in waves as his spine stretched. Muscles popped, pulsed and expanded. Hind legs elongated. He threw his weight on the balls of his hind paws and arched his back, hunching, letting his fore paws dangle, facilitating the process. His neck swelled. Shoulders widened accommodating a now gargantuan head. The shackles expanded with his swelling extremities. He was now twelve feet tall.
The scent was still thick. Lucien breathed in deeply, allowed the scent to consume him, and succumbed to the vision.
Behind the morgue, the moon was all Serf cared about for some reason. Heavy, fat, and swollen. He tried looking away, but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t. Sweat soaked through his shirt. His heart was racing. His blood was boiling. A roaring need burned in his throat.
Perspiration along his forehead erupted into a torrential downpour. Sweat stung his eyes. He thought he heard a familiar voice calling him. Serf! Serf! the voice said. But it sounded so far away.
The car felt like a sauna. He ripped open his shirt, tearing away the tank top underneath, reducing them both to tatters. He flung away the heavy wet weights.
He looked at his chest.
Red welts swelled. They populated his entire torso. He ran a finger over one, felt a pinch and pulled back his pricked fingertip. He looked at the welts and saw course hair follicles punching through his skin. His entire body was on fire now.
“What’s happening to me?” He didn’t recognize his own voice.
Within a matter of seconds, the growths along his body swelled, multiplied and coalesced. His hair felt like it was peeling away from his throbbing scalp. His vision blurred as tears streamed down his face and mingled with the sweat pumping from his pores. He ran his hands through his hair and felt more of the burning boils growing.
He unbuckled his belt and yanked his pants down. As he fought with his underwear, he felt an exploding spasm of pain along his groin. He pulled down his briefs and saw that one of the protrusions had burst. Thick tufts of hair streamed from the wound.
The leather upholstery squeaked as he slipped on his sweat and slid down the seat. Serf couldn’t help but look up.
Again, he became enamored with that glowing sphere, the song of the moon beating in his veins. It was indifferent to his pain; it sought the animal lurking within.
Muscles convulsed and stuttered. The right side of his chest exploded. Blood streaked the windows. The animal within Serf came forward.
Lucien had seen everything. He didn’t have to go into the Autopsy Room to see what had transpired there. The scent was so strong. So rich. The Winged-One’s visual sulfur scent still seeped from the cadaver draws.
He’d seen Raguel escape from the stakes, kill the thralls, then drain Darius. He’d seen how Raguel had slept within one of the draws. He’d seen the thrall, Boris triple check the draws. Even the one with Raguel slumbering inside. Then, after Boris had left, he’d seen Raguel wake, secrete his essence and escape via the gaping holes he’d made on his way in. Fury shook Lucien’s limbs.
Suddenly, a howl erupted from the opposite side of the door.
Boris’s men heard the howl.
“What the fuck was that?” Stills asked.
“I don’t know. It sounded like a howl,” Baker said.
“It came from the alley.”
“Tell Stevens and Jacobs to go check it out.”
“Shouldn’t we wait for Boris?”
“He’s busy trying to reach Laszlo. We can handle this.”
“You got it,” Stills said. He radioed in Baker’s orders.
Boris had heard the howl too. He’d been circling the morgue, patrolling the perimeter, and was now peering into the alley where he thought the bray had come from. He saw Serf’s car, but no sign of the detective or the source of the howl. It had probably been Lucien, picking up a scent. Boris approached the vehicle. He wondered if Serf was in the car or in the morgue with Lucien.
Boris thought he saw movement inside the car. He tried peering inside but couldn’t see a thing. Blood was smeared across the windows. Was the blood Serf’s? Was Serf the Recreant’s next victim? The detective could be fighting for his life inside the car, trying to fend off a superior opponent. Boris thought about calling for backup, but that’d just be time wasted and by then Serf could be dead. He grasped the handle and yanked open the door.
Stevens and Jacobs stepped into the alley, eyes scanning. Reaching the car, they split; Stevens took the driver’s side, Jacobs went passenger side. Both tried to peer past gore smirched windows. Abruptly, Stevens pulled his head back.
“Hey! Boris is in there,” Stevens stammered, his eyes bulging with fright. “My god, it looks like something ate half his head! We gotta…”
Something blasted the driver’s door off its hinges, sweeping Stevens off his feet and slamming him into the wall. Jacobs was trying to process what had just transpired when the same fate befell him.
“What was that?” Baker said. “Call Jacobs!”
Stills tried, but only got static.
“Let’s go,” Baker said as he raised his assault rifle. “Tell Dale and Rivers to meet us there.”
As Stills called the men on his radio, he and Baker raced to the alley. When they got there, Rivers and Dale were waiting by the lip, peering through the darkness.
“Where’s Stevens and Jacobs?” Baker asked.
“Don’t know,” Rivers said. “Can’t see ’em.”
Baker could just make out a car. It was jostling, shaking, pitching on its sides. He saw glimpses of fur and heard low growling sounds. Stray dogs? The city was teaming with them. “What are you two waiting for? Stevens and Jacobs could be getting mauled.” Baker said. “Get the fuck in there.”
Rivers and Dale marched into the alley, their eyes alert, their rifles trained.
The men were not prepared for the scene that greeted them. “Oh, God!” Rivers cried. What he saw made him forget all about whatever was in the vehicle. There was Stevens, several feet away, wedded to the wall by the car door, face mangled, shards of shattered glass imbedded in it. Chunks of gore slid down the door and splattered onto the ground. Rivers looked to his right, found Jacobs and the other door in a similar state.
Dale saw the roof bulge. “Get back!” he yelled, but his voice was drowned out by the sound of screeching metal, followed by a swooshing, slicing sound cutting through the air. Peripherally, Rivers saw it coming and dove to his left. Dale didn’t react as quickly. He was cleaved in half. His bottom half dropped to the floor. His top half sailed in the air and landed by Baker’s feet.
Sitting in the newly transformed convertible, the werewolf that was once Daniel Serf howled in the front seat. Freed from the confining metal arbor, he drank in the night and saw the moon; feral eyes flooded silver with lunar light.
Breathing in the night air soothed the beast, somewhat. He yearned for the forest. The grass beneath his paws. The wind in his face. The scents it would deliver. And the thrill of the hunt. Already, he despised the city’s assault of multitudinous scents, hated the metal and steel of its structures, looming over him, caging him in. He reviled the cement he sensed swathing nature’s ground. He had to escape this most unnatural place.
He whipped his head away from the moon. Smelled blood. Smelled fear. He threw his head back, let loose another howl, lunged from the car, and followed the scent that brought on hunger, and the need to hunt. To kill.
Looking upon the massive beast, Baker was quite sure that he was no longer sane.
By his side, Stills stood frozen in place. Everything seemed to slow to a crawl. Stills thought to level his weapon, but he just couldn’t get his arm to obey. The fear he felt was primordial, instinctual. Yet, at the same time, he was mesmerized, fascinated by the thing he saw galloping towards them. He understood how a dear in headlights felt.
It was so tall. Thick black fur covered its entire body. Bulging underneath the heavy coat, were rows upon rows of rippling muscle. Drawn back lips exposed elongated teeth the size of small swords. Maws clenched tight, spit slipping free from the gated mouth, squirting and jettisoning onto its chest.
Baker tried to scream, but before he could, Serf leapt, landed on his chest, and clamped his jaws over his entire head. A single yank tore it off its shoulders. Serf sat on the headless corpse and ate.
Stills trembled where he stood, but managed to bring up his weapon and aim, the gun shaking. The target was too close, too big to miss. He pulled the trigger, never released it until he’d emptied the entire clip.
Every bullet hit. Blood and fur sprayed everywhere. Though the creature bled profusely, it seemed undisturbed by the hemorrhaging holes riddling its fur. As Stills watched, he saw the bleeding taper, then come to a stop. He saw the wounds push the bullets out. The punctures sealed. Then he saw new fur grow over the patches. Stills’ mind abandoned him. He gibbered inanely.
In one bound, Serf was on him, slipping his claws into the yielding flesh of Stills’ belly. He was still alive as Serf eviscerated him.
While Serf fed on entrails, Bailien watched from the morgue’s rooftop overlooking the alley, his feet dangling over the ledge. He’d witnessed the entire massacre. He’d known who the werewolf was. How could he not? After all, it was his blood thrall. What happened? What had went wrong? So horribly wrong.
He now knew why Serf hadn’t answered his call. Somewhere along the way, Serf had managed to pick up a disease. Lycanthropy. Bailien hoped Serf was salvageable. He didn’t want to destroy one of his most valuable instruments. He stood up.
Serf! Serf! Answer me! Serf heard a voice say in his head, but he didn’t recognize the name or the voice, and ignored it. He whined again, this time in confusion. He saw trails of black bands creeping from underneath the door and through the hole that once housed a handle. This scent belonged to a dead thing. An ancient evil. Mingled within it, he saw green bands. A living creature, not just any living creature, but a creature like him. Except those emerald bands were much darker than they should be; looked more vomitous than verdant. This confused him. How could this be? How could something be both dead and alive?
Above, Bailien hopped onto the ledge and jumped off the roof. He crashed onto Serf’s shoulders. The impact shoved the beast into the wall. Serf’s monolithic pate bore the brunt of the damage; a deep gash opened along his brow and blood spilled down his muzzle.
Serf stared at the ancient, evil thing, raised his snout, breathed in deeply and whined. Was it recognition that Bailien saw buried beneath that feral stare? Or was he just hoping beyond hope that he could retain his most valued property.
Serf the human tried to regain his mind. He’d somehow managed to form a mental door that separated him from the beast. The door bulged inward. He saw himself pressing against it, trying to hold back the wolf that wanted to dominate his mind. Crackling and splintering sounds preceded the inevitable. The door shattered. The wolf’s snout plunged through the opening and brayed victoriously. Serf knew it was over. The rest of his mental door fell away, disintegrated before his eyes, and drifted away like dust. He felt himself fall away into that darkness, felt himself fall back beneath the folds of his mind.
With Serf the human gone, Serf the wolf roared.
It became quite clear that there was no saving Serf. No matter how valuable the tool, there wasn’t a use for one you couldn’t control.
Besides lifting his arm, Bailien barely budged. He caught Serf about the neck, and in the same motion, slammed Serf into the wall. Serf’s claws shredded through Bailien’s arm, tore through the fabric and into flesh. If Bailien were a Mortal Born vampire, he’d be limbless.
Regretfully, Bailien knew he had to end this. He closed his eyes, was about to call upon his essence, when he saw the way Serf was staring at the blood running from his arm, tongue lolling from his maws. He heard Serf’s heart beating rapidly, heard his brutal gasping breaths.
Perhaps, he wouldn’t have to give up his precious resource after all. He let go of Serf.
The wolf felt the body’s need for the blood and was disgusted with it, loathed wanting to taste anything that spilled from dead flesh. The wolf tried to fight it. A low desperate whine mulled from his maws. His need for the blood even overpowered the need to consume living flesh. To flee the city. To kill the abomination before him. The dead thing that wasn’t a man.
The wolf gave into the need and howled. Serf leapt for Bailien’s arm, sank his teeth in and clenched it as he lapped up the blood with his tongue. Nostrils flared, soaking in the aroma. Feral eyes rolled back.
Bailien tried pulling his arm away, but Serf gripped his elbow and shoved him backwards onto the floor. Serf tore into Bailien’s arm with his fangs and drew more blood, swallowed it in frenzied gulps. Starting to feel weak and dizzy, Bailien tried to pull away again, but Serf showed no signs of slowing and threw his bulk on top of him, pinned him to the ground and drank.
The morgue’s rear door flew from its hinges and soared over Serf’s head. Out bounded Lucien, howling as he charged toward them. Serf pulled away from Bailien just as Lucien reached him, but he couldn’t avoid the former demon lord’s claws as they raked across his face.
Serf backpedaled, his eyes locked on this new threat, blood running down his face, pumping from the wounds along his brow. This was the owner of the scent he’d picked up earlier. It was a werewolf like him, but its body was dead. How could this be?
Bailien jumped to his feet.
Outnumbered, and satiated with both blood and flesh, Serf turned and raced down the alley.
Lucien dropped to all fours and was about to pursue when Bailien grasped his shoulder. “Let him go,” Bailien said. “We’ve more pressing matters. Astor awaits us.”
“The Recreant is our betrayer! Raguel is here! His scent is still strong. We must hurry.”
“Yes! Though he goes by the name, Roman, now.” Lucien told Bailien everything he’d learned.
Though exhilarated, Bailien contained himself and nodded. So, that was why they couldn’t find him in Hell. Had he been here all along?
Lucien transformed from his Neuri battle form and reverted to a wolf.
On the ground, within a pool of someone’s blood, came the crackling sound of a radio. “Serf! I’m trying to reach detective Serf. Suspect has been spotted.”
“Purgeon.” Lucien said.
“Who?” Bailien asked.
“More ways than one to catch Raguel,” Lucien said. “Answer the radio. Find out where the suspect has been spotted.”
Bailien reached for the radio and followed Lucien’s instructions.
“A Priest?” Bailien asked when he was done, growing impatient, and slightly taken aback, for he was now unaccustomed to taking orders from his former Lord. “Clearly, I’m missing something.”
“The priest and Raguel are friends,” Lucien said. Bailien thought he sounded rather smug, clearly enjoying the fact that he had information Bailien didn’t have. Usually it was the other way around.
Lucien told Bailien about the priest, Father Purgeon. How he was friends with Raguel whom he knew as Roman. The bible he’d found at the Recreant’s house, gifted to Raguel. How he was suspected of killing Serf’s men.
“Perhaps the girl’s with the priest,” Lucien said. “Raguel stole her from Drake. I do not know why. Nor do I care. Raguel’s end, by my hands, is all I crave.”
Bailien wondered if he could convince Lucien, to delay wrath, hold it until they got back what they’d lost. Killing the betrayer would only satisfy vengeance. It wouldn’t answer the plethora of questions plaguing his mind. The betrayer had avoided Hell. Bailien had checked. Had Hell scoured upon his disgraceful return. He was sure that Hell would like to know how the former Gatemaster had done it. And for that information, Hell might restore them to their former glory.
“Don’t you want to know why he did it? How he did it?” Bailien asked. “There’s much more at stake. How is he here? Twelve years, off the radar! Unfallen, but still a demon! He’s more valuable alive than dead. To Hell. To us.”
Lucien glared at Bailien, his shoulders shaking with suppressed violence. “I was once House Wrath’s warlord, and vengeance is not something easily shed.”
Bailien was furious. It was no use. Lucien wasn’t listening. But they were wasting time arguing. He’d try changing Lucien’s mind later. He had to. “We’ll find him through his friends. Hopefully, the girl is with the priest. Raguel’s rescued her once already,” he said, hoping this was something that they could both agree on. What they would do with the betrayer once they found him remained to be seen.