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Dark Lords: Book One, Shadows, Chapter 17

Chapter Seventeen

Making Friends

Miller’s Road, New Oxford, Planet Albion, Realm

 

Alex walked through the tunnel that lead to the Clover. The tunnels connected all the facilities on the ‘bottom’ of the street. New Oxford was riddled with both underground and overground tunnels and heated walkways. Apparently snow fell by the metre in winter.

Wendy had recommended the pub and it was definitely more his style. The place had been built as a replica of a bar from Old Earth from somewhere called Dublin, he wondered if Dublin had been a country or maybe a region.

The Guinness was perfection. He sat in a high leather wingback chair by a real fireplace, mind blank, soaking up the near peace of the just after three am silence. Miller’s Road might never sleep but it certainly had it’s quiet times. Wendy had been right about a few things. These were memories he was going to need on the long voyage with the hundred and forty-nine other members of the Jules Verne’s crew. The smell of real wood smoke. The taste of real ale. The feeling of a nice alcohol buzz. Not too drunk, but definitely not sober.

Wendy had informed him that the auto tram ran every hour, but the last bus had left at midnight. She promised him that his data tag, the temporary tattoo on his hand, would get him on the tram. He had three quarters of an hour to just sit and relax.

“It was a pretty good trick you did.”

Alex looked up at the only other patron, a man by the bar.

“With the cups and grape. How do you block?”

“You cheated.” Alex took a sip.

“So? Your head’s like treacle, boy-yo. Treacle. Or maybe tar.”

He had the bluest eyes Alex had seen in a long time. Not modded, Alex reminded himself, genetic tweaks and body modifications were illegal unless for health reasons throughout the Realm. Yet the tall man’s looks could hold their own on most worlds, unless he wasn’t from Albion.

“You cheated.” Alex repeated.

“So did you. You slipped that grape out, didn’t you?” The man walked the meters between them and offered his hand. “I’m Jason Melwas.”

Alex shook the offered hand. “Alex Hunter.”

“Are you going to tell me how you did it, Alex?” He motioned to a seat to Alex’s right.

“Nope.” Alex shrugged.

Jason ordered another round and sat. “You should try the Moore’s. Better than Wilson’s. Richer flavour.”

“This is my last ale.”

“I’ll buy. How about we have a game?” Jason had a deck of cards in his right hand, Alex didn’t know where they’d come from. “I win, you tell me how you did it. You win, I give you a bite, no charge.”

Alex raised an eyebrow as he took in the well dressed Jason Malwas. “Are you the Vampire charging symposium attendees for biting them?”

“We prefer Vampyre. And yes. What’s wrong with that?”

Alex struggled not to laugh and took another sip. “Nothing, I guess. But I’m not playing cards with you. I know a CM when I see one.”

“A CM? Pray tell?” Jason sat back as the bartender brought a round of Moore’s ale.

“A Card Master, Card Cutter, a Dapper Dan.”

“Ah. A shark. A card shark. How do you know I’m such? One hustler to another.” Jason sipped his drink.

With a sigh Alex took a sip. He took another sip. “Very nice. Almost ten years in the military. I’ve lost a lot of pay packets.”

Jason nodded. “An education well earned is better respected.”

“Do you cheat at cards?”

“Never. You?”

Alex shook his head. “So what royal house do you belong to?”

Jason looked away. “We’re not all royalty, Alex. Some of us have been… liberated.”

“Really? So, besides charging visitors for a bite, what do you do?”

“A little of this, a little of that. Mostly I play cards, quite well. But currently I’m between… developments.”

“There you are!”

Both men turned as Johanna walked toward them.

Alex stood and was happy he was steady. “Johanna De La Roche, may I present Jason Melwas.”

Jason, who had also stood at her approach, took Johanna’s hand and kissed it.

“Lady De La Roche.”

“The infamous Jason Melwas. So what have you been up to, Jason?” Johanna asked taking the seat on Alex’s left.

“I’m on the hunt,” Jason sat, leaning forward, his voice lowered, “for a rich sponsor who needs her money spent.”

“Honest, are we?” Johanna’s smiled wryly and leaned in. “So why have you not hit on me?”

Jason, eyebrows raised, tilted his head. “I shall be honest, Johanna, we live in different worlds.”

“Oh? I am afraid my sister, Daniella, would not share your, opinion.” Johanna’s voice had dropped low.

The sound of bells followed by a squeal turned Alex’s attention to the street door. Three men were entering, they seemed as surprised by the noise as Alex. What was the door attached with, metal?

He turned to ask Jason, but Jason’s demeanour had changed from friendly to not. He was sitting back, almost glaring at the men. Johanna turned in her seat to take in the newcomers.

The bartender walked over and took their order, the whole time they kept glancing at Alex and his table. When the one who looked to be the youngest made eye contact he quickly glanced down. Alex took a sip, but he could still feel them watching.

“So, Alex, having a good time?” Johanna turned to him.

“Yes.” Alex looked at the only other customers. The men were definitely staring at their table. “Friends of yours?”

Jason leaned forward. “I must say goodnight. I’m afraid my pursuers have followed me.”

“Pursuers? Who are you running from? Jealous husbands? Or angry catamites?” Johanna asked, her tone full of mischief. “Perhaps your tastes run more to multiples?”

“Catamites?” Alex asked.

“Some men prefer male lovers.” Johanna said. “Some prefer group action.”

Jason’s warm blue eyes chilled. His mouth tightened as he looked at Johanna. “I would hate to think your reputation untrue, Lady De La Roche, but perhaps your sister’s take on your character is more accurate than I understood it to be.”

“Ouch.” Johanna smiled wickedly. “So, how much? I understand your services are available for a price from any street corner.”

Alex saw Jason’s jaw clench.

“I make no excuses. I have no reputation to worry about.” Jason was leaning on the table. “I’m not gilded in gold chains.”

“Chains? Sounds like fun. But again, sir, how much?” Johanna asked, sitting back and looking Jason up and down. “For the full hand?”

Alex was looking from one to the other. With eyebrows raised, he looked to Jason. The hustler was beginning to fluster. Wasn’t full hand a gambling term? It sure didn’t sound like a gambling term the way Johanna used it.

More than you can afford.” Jason glanced up at the men still sitting and watching. “If you’ll-”

“No. You, Jason, are not excused.” Johanna motioned for the bartender to bring another round. “Do you think them Black Guard? Come to spirit you off, perhaps?”

“Do not mock me. I’ve been pursued for weeks. This lot are the ones in the open. They’re from Avalon.” Jason lowered his voice. “There is one following me that is more ghost than … I don’t think they’re all human.”

“Paranoid.” Johanna leaned toward Alex. “Comes from an unbalanced diet. How about I go over there and demand to know what they are up to. Will that help you?”

“Do as you wish, Lady, and I use the term loosely. I’m heading off.” Jason stood.

Johanna leaned forward her hand on Jason’s. “Please stay.”

Jason looked down at her, surprise on his face. He sat back down.

“Thank you.” Johanna’s smile was honest as she blushed and took her hand from Jason’s but left it centimetres from his fingers. He stared down at her hand, looking more flustered and a little shocked. Abruptly, startling Alex, he leaned toward Johanna.

“I jest not, Lady De La Roche,” Jason shrugged, “being seen with me is not wise. I have … earned my reputation.”

“I know.” Johanna’s hand was covering his once more. “Are you really being pursued?”

“Yes.” He motioned with his chin to the three men. “They’re from Avalon. I can’t linger anywhere or they show up. They wish my return to servitude.”

Alex really had no idea what was going on. Avalon? Wasn’t that a planet? A Realm World that was experiencing some political unrest? He looked over at the three men. They were definitely staring at their table. They were definitely staring at them. They were definitely staring at Jason.

“Can you not … forgive?” Johanna asked.

Jason pulled his hand from hers. “No. Never!”

Alex stood up, startling both of them.

“Sorry. But you only rent ale and it’s time to pay the tab.” He bowed politely to Johanna. “Lady.”

Jason also stood. “I too need to be excused. Perhaps we shall meet again, Lady De La Roche.”

Alex started toward the back of the pub and realized he didn’t know where the washrooms were. Jason motioned toward an alcove. They entered the very large well lit men’s washroom. The white tile and overhead lights were blinding after the low lights and dark wood ambiance of the bar.

The catamite comment came back to Alex. He took a stall. The lock seeming flimsy and inconsequential. He could hear Jason at the urinal. Could hear him washing his hands. The door opened. Alex stood up. Great, now—

“Madam, you have the wrong room.”

Alex froze. Had Johanna come in the—

“What the – No! No! Please, Blood no! Why! Please stop! No!”

Alex opened the stall door. A woman with dark hair was standing in front of Jason who was backed against the counter. Jason was undoing his pants while looking from the woman to his hands as if they were possessed. Jason looked up at Alex. The woman’s head twisted unnaturally to look at Alex.

“Run! She’s—”

She struck Jason without even looking at him. Jason’s head slammed against the mirror, cracks spiralling out. He dropped to the floor.

Pain slammed between Alex’s eyes. He cried out involuntarily, falling back, he sat heavily on the toilet behind him. The woman was suddenly in front of him. Wood chips rained down around him. She’d moved so fast that she had gone through the stall door. Wood splinters had stabbed through her arm. He looked up at flat dead black eyes.

“Hel—”

She spun moving toward Jason who was almost to the bathroom door. He dropped, rolling and used her momentum to throw her. She hit the urinals shattering two of them. Jason was back on his feet, his hand reaching for the alarm button. But she was on him and pinned him to the floor. She had him by the throat. He was choking. She stopped moving with a stillness no living thing can possess.

She turned her head and looked at Alex. Her face had no expression. Alex looked at it and started shaking. It wasn’t human. It might not even be alive.

“You’re going to kill him, Jason.” The voice was melodic, happy. Every hair on Alex’s body seemed to lift. “First you’re going to fuck him until you feel him tear inside, then you’re going to rip him open and before he dies you’re going to eat his liver. And you’re going to remember liking it. No,” a beatific smile spread upon her face, but her eyes remained dead things, as she turned them back onto Jason struggling under her, “you’re going to remember loving it.”

“No! Fuck you! No!” The slap left a white hand print on Jason’s face.

Alex moved. They were closer to the door than he was. He ran to the counter, reaching for a shard of glass. Her hand closed over his ankle and he was yanked back. The pain in his head came back a thousand fold. His vision starred.

Suddenly the pain lifted. Blinking, Alex saw Jason slamming a large piece of urinal into her head even as she slowly crushed Alex’s ankle. The edge of the heavy ceramic had cut through tissue and exposed her skull. No blood flowed from her wounds, only a thick red jelly.

Alex grabbed a piece of ceramic from the broken urinal and drove it into the creature’s hand. Thick not blood plopped onto the floor. Jason gave a final whack that shattered the piece he was holding and hit the alarm.

Nothing happened.

“What the fuck!” Jason punched the alarm hard enough that the casing shattered.

She stood up in a fast jerky motion. Then she grabbed Jason by the throat with her left hand. She saw the piece of ceramic still stuck into the fleshy part between the thumb and fingers. She pulled it out with her right hand as Jason slammed something into her. Her hair rose, her body shivered.

“Bad.” She said grabbing his wrist with her right hand. As she squeezed, she moved his hand away from her body. Jason gagged and with a popping sound dropped the taser. “For that, Jason, you’re going to rape the female you were talking with as well.”

Alex looked around. He grabbed a long piece of metal from the stall door. Getting up he drove the sharp end upwards into the small of her back. He felt a pop as he broke through into whatever filled her. He grabbed the taser from the floor and put it against the metal. Jason’s face had gone red and his feet were drumming the door.

Alex held the taser against the metal and depressed the button. This time she went rigid. Her body was shivering, her mouth working but not making any sounds. She stepped back toward Alex, dropping Jason.

There was a pop and smell of ozone. Alex looked down at the taser, it’s charge was depleted. Alex heard a faint giggle and realized it had come from him as she swung at him. But Jason stopped her arm, even though it had dragged him bodily forward.

“What the fuck!” Jason yelled. Then the alarms were sounding. There was sudden pounding on the door. Alex could hear Johanna calling. He looked at the door and realized that the thing had put some sort of lock on the door’s frame. The round puck wouldn’t let the door open.

Jason grabbed a piece of pipe sticking out of the wall, water still spraying onto the floor. He yanked and it broke free. With each word he yelled and struck the thing:

“Die! You! Sick! Thing! Die! What! The! Hell! Is! Going! ON! DIE! DIE!”

It lay on the floor and had even stopped twitching. It didn’t really have a head anymore. They looked at each other. Alex nearly screamed when the taser in his hand beeped again.

“It needs to be recharged.” Jason’s voice was shaky. He’d been ready with the metre length of now bent pipe.

They both jumped when the round lock dropped off the door and rolled into the ruined stall. Jason’s face became concerned as he slowly looked up, listening. His face intent.

“Those aren’t the emergency alarms. Those are the fire alarms.” Jason said.

“So everyone has left the building?” Alex looked from Jason’s face to the door.

It opened and a man stepped in. Jason hesitated. The thing was fast, but damaged. It lunged across the room right for Jason, then stopped seeing Alex.

It’s as surprised as the other one was, Alex thought. Why?

This time the pain hit Alex in the temples. He slumped back. He saw Jason swing and hit the thing in the head. It caught the pipe before the second swing could connect. Then it jerked.

Alex looked up at the doorway. A woman was standing there, some sort of blaster in her hand. The thing fell to the floor.

“You need to vacate the building at once.” The woman said.

“What, by the Blood, is going on!” Jason said to her.

“You’re both lucky to be alive.”

“Yeah, figured that out.” Alex said. Both Jason and the woman looked at him confused.

“What?” Jason asked his look concerned.

Alex felt something warm hitting his hand. He looked down. Blood. The front of his shirt was becoming covered in blood. He could taste it on his lips. He reached up and touched his nose.

“Wow. I’ve got a real gusher here. I’ve never had a nosebleed this bad.” The room tilted slightly to the left. Then it started to spin.

“Alex. Are you okay?” Jason was stepping closer. “You’re speaking gibberish, boy-yo. Please tell me you get nosebleeds regularly?”

“This is not good, is it?” Alex said but then his vision greyed out. The last sensation he had was of falling.

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