French Roast Apocalypse

Former monster-hunter turned revenant monster Dylan O’Reilly runs a halfway house for monsters. Vampire leanan sidhe mage and medium Keenan Murray was forced to rip the veil between worlds asunder. Now Dylan fights to protect his people, Keenan for his soul and freedom, both unaware of what binds them together.

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Coffee and Cataclysm

It was hard enough running O’Reily’s – the coffeehouse that doubled as a halfway house for young monsters transitioning back to the regular world. Dylan, as a revenant who’d once been a monster hunter, was all too familiar with their problems, so he didn’t mind the work. And when a soul-ripping barghest tried to stake out Central Park, well, taking care of that was his job too… while he kept searching for his wife Anna, who had vanished five years before.

But after something destroys half of Paris, magic seems to be going wild, and what should have been a straightforward hunt almost gets him and his vampire friend Angelus killed. Dylan is torn between the lure of the dead past that ensnares almost every revenant, the mundane yet vital responsibilities to the people he cares for, and the deadly threat of magic unleashed.

Far away, leanan sidhe Keenan Murray is the tool that was used to destroy Paris… and begin the fall of the Veils. Now crippled, in a half-dream, Keenan must find his true self amid the lies that surround him and escape his vampire masters… unaware of what connects his fate to Dylan’s.

New York City, 2010

It was a brisk autumn evening, and Central Park was lit by its swan-necked street lamps with decorative heads. The sun had set, casting long shadows across the winding tarmac sidewalks and dirt paths. The air was ominously still, and very few people were out on this early October evening. Not that Dylan O’Reily, once of Texas, now of New York, blamed them; occasionally bad things happened in the park.

The young blond man lifted his head, tilting his Stetson to get a better look at the brush around him. It was scrubby, filled with prickly shrubs with bright red, orange and small yellow-leafed bushes. All around him were an assortment of trees ranging from tall elms to cherry, oak and red maple.

“I’m telling you, Dyl, the lady I talked to said it dragged her kid from his bike, right into these bushes.” The tall, blacked-skinned youth beside him said. He looped a thumb into his belt buckle and pointed to some broken twigs and scuffed dirt off the side of the road. “There, see?”

Dylan frowned. “And she didn’t go to the cops… why?” He walked over to the spot where the young man indicated and studied the ground. There were signs of a weighted form – a child’s body – and a struggle. Several branches were snapped, and the grass and leaves on the ground were dug into. He noticed deep-set heel marks, as if the child were leaning back, pulling away from something hard. There was no sign of the something – and anything you’d pull that hard away from would have to weigh quite a bit.

There were droplets of blood on the ground. Dylan dropped into a crouch and touched them. It was dry, but he could smell the iron of human blood even now. That wasn’t as impossible as someone else might think: he wasn’t human himself. He had given that up years ago.

“And say what, exactly, Dyl? A shadow dog from hell attacked her toddler and pulled him off his trike? Cops would think she’s on something, and arrest her just for the hell of it.” Angelus fixed him with a steely glare. “Look, bro, it was hard enough to get her to tell me about it! Lady was scared; hell, if I didn’t speak Spanish we wouldn’t know any of this!”

Dylan had known Angelus since he was a child. His father was a biracial Italian who had immigrated with his family from Calabria, Italy, in the 30s. They were welcomed in Harlem when the Italians in Little Italy had shunned them and over the years developed a very close-knit community. Angelus took the people in his neighborhood very seriously and when one of them was harmed, he was there to help. The situation in Central Park involved a neighbor of his. “So, how’d she scare the thing off?”

“She tossed the trike at it.” Angelus explained. “It’s a hand-me-down.”

Hand-me-down trike. Means solid steel frame, not cheap plastics, aluminum, or expensive composites. Might have saved their lives. “Yours?” Dylan asked, curious.

“Nah, one of my cousins’.” Angelus backed away from the brush and shoved his hands into the pockets of his jacket. “It ran like hell after, but… poor Carmen. He’s still sick, pale as a ghost. Had her take him to the Center in SoHo.”

The Center was a hospital set up by Liam, an eccentric vampire highblood who also happened to be Dylan’s current sponsor, to help treat mortals who were infected or harmed by the paranormal world. Dylan wondered how Angelus’s neighbor would react to discovering the world wasn’t what she was raised believing it was. “Bunny will take care of them.”

“Doesn’t she always?” Angelus said. “So, you’re the expert, what do you think it is?”

“You said she described a hellhound?” Together the two young men walked up the path, toward the bow bridge. Angelus had described it as a shadow. There were many shadowy dog-like creatures in myths. It was just a matter of guessing which one.

“She said it looked like a ‘fantasma’, a ghost. Smoky, with a skull head, and she could see though it.” As he talked, Angelus waved his hands in Italian fashion. “It’s a monster, and not one of our kind, Dylan. So what do we do?”

“‘We’? I’m the monster hunter, dude, you’re a troublemaker.”

Expert troublemaker,” corrected Angelus with a hint of offense. What Angelus did shook up a lot of politicians and Highbloods in the city. “And if I didn’t ruffle some feathers, we’d lose all of East Harlem to Blackwell’s people, and Jason and I’ve invested a lot of time, guts, and money reviving the community.”

“I hear you.” The corruption in New York was bad enough with the mortals. Toss in supernatural organized crime, economic and political corruption, and the gang wars became nightmarish. Angelus was always fighting to preserve his territory as head vampire in Harlem, just like Dylan had to defend his territory in Upper Eastside Manhattan.

The difference was, Dylan was a revenant. Revenants were never acknowledged as having any territorial power; they were considered monsters even by vampires, not really “people”. Dylan was the first, and only because Liam had supported him when he made the claim. “I know you’re a big boy, Angelus,” Dylan said, glancing at his friend. It was funny every time he looked at Angelus, he thought of the five-year-old boy he’d first met in the SoHo Rehabilitation center thirty-four years ago. “But these kind of things aren’t something you just throw a few bullets at.”

“Felicia tossed a trike at it, Dyl. This isn’t rocket science here, how hard can it be?”

They were approaching a clearing, and Dylan saw the white railed Bow Bridge before them. “You’re a vampire and I’m undead. Sometimes these things can affect us more than the mortals. Some of the things this could be drain souls. It might be able to just shut a guy like you right off.”

He didn’t want to risk seeing his friend hurt. They had hunted together once before, a long time ago, and Angelus had paid for it with his mortal existence.

“Drains souls? Should narrow it down.”

Dylan rolled his eyes. “Some drain souls, I said. A reaper? Maybe a barghest?” Dylan had dealt with a few of those in his past.

The memory sparked another. Barghests liked victims who were already ill. “Is Carmen sick? I mean, was he sick before the attack?”

“How’d you guess? Pediatric leukemia, but he’s not going to die. He’s responding well to his chemo.”

Damn. It was a barghest. Dylan stopped and turned back around to face the road behind them. It was shaded overhead by an arch of trees, a tunnel of darkness. Barghests liked to travel in shadows. He squinted, hoping to see something moving in the gloom.

Nothing. Only the rustle of branches, and the creak of the tree trunks in the wind, but deep in the pit of his gut, he felt it. The barghest lurked somewhere out there, waiting. Legend had it they were large, green, wolflike hounds, but Dylan knew better; they were closer to the Black Dogs of English myth.

The sky above rumbled. Frowning, Dylan peered up. His head ached, and his gut tightened. Something was wrong, very, very wrong. Gingerly, the revenant touched his brow, and slipped his fingers to the side of his head. The pain grew, and his vision doubled as if he were having a very bad migraine. Except that dead men didn’t have migraines.

“Bro, what’s the matter?” Angelus asked. He touched the older man’s shoulder, concern on his face.

He couldn’t answer, he didn’t know if he was okay. For a moment, he was somewhere else, looking across a landscape of ruins; buildings, crumbled bricks, and cars. Dust drifted in the air as stones trickled from shattered remains of apartment buildings and businesses. Rain showered down from a dark sky.

The vision shifted; now there were felled trees, and the broken ruins of iron fences and marble colonnades.

What in God’s name was he seeing – and why?

Static energy tingled and buzzed in the air, and he felt electric pulses of power grow and wane around him. It was as if the entire area were alive.

A shiver swept his spine as he heard the crackle of lighting in the sky above and the rumble of thunder.

“Dyl?”

Dylan shook his head and closed his eyes. It had been decades since he’d had any visions. He thought they had stopped forever when he became a revenant. His Sight hadn’t worked the same since he changed.

“I’m okay; just a feeling.” A very bad feeling. Something had happened, or was about to happen. Where, he had no clue. It was unsettling. Dylan wished he had more information. Peering up to the sky, he watched droplets of rain spill down from the clouds. “Looks like a storm is coming.”

Angelus snorted and folded his arms. “Coming? It’s already here.”

New York City, 2010

It was later in the evening, and after dropping Angelus off at the SoHo Rehab Center, Dylan found his way to McSorley’s Old Ale House. It was an old pub, dating back to 1853, and a constant, reliable landmark for the older members of the Rehab staff Dylan had befriended. It was an historic ale house with well-used wooden furniture that had seen better days; varnish was worn away in places, and the tables never had chairs that matched, but the overall effect was to give the place a homey, comfortable feel that matched its age and history.

On the bar walls were photos of days long gone, some of them crooked, with dust covering their faces. Other oddities from masks to wooden fish, tankards, old musical instruments, buoys, hats, and lanterns and assorted junk hung from the walls and ceiling – the décor that chain restaurants like TGI Fridays and others tried to imitate, but here was real in every detail. It was a nostalgia-lovers’ paradise, right down to the battered wooden bar, cast-iron woodstove, and ancient bar taps lining the walls.

Dylan found his friends Professor Frasier and Daniel in the second room away from the crowded bar, in the back at a booth. Frasier’s first name was Douglas, but he was often called “Professor Frasier” or “Prof”.

There all three sat for some time, making small talk, while Dylan pondered the vision he had seen, and why he had had one now, after thirty-some odd years of having none at all. It just didn’t make sense. His sixth sense worked just fine, but the psychic bullshit hadn’t been around for decades. Perhaps it was just a fluke brought on by stress?

“You know what really annoys me?” Daniel Farney’s voice drew Dylan’s attention back to the small talk at hand. The Irishman place his mug of Guinness on the booth table with a thud. “Your sign, Dylan. O’Reilly is spelled with two L’s, not one!”

Sighing, Dylan leaned back in the booth and glanced with resignation at Professor Frasier as the Scotsman nursed his wine, not involving himself in the debate. “I know the regular name has two, Daniel. I used one ‘L’ because there are, like, fifty billion places out there named O’Reilly’s. I wanted something different.”

“I don’t care if it’s unique, Dyl! Give the place and yourself a proper Irish name for fek’s sake!” Daniel was a rugged fellow with a head of short wavy alburn hair and grey eyes and freckled cinnamon-gold complexion. He was very large indeed, over seven foot six and a mass of solid muscle. He was also very proud of his heritage, and currently intoxicated, which was why he had come back to a very old argument. Though Dylan guessed there was something more driving Daniel’s tirade, he just didn’t know what.

“Danny-boy, it’s already too late.” Professor Frasier said quietly. “It’s not like the lad can just take down his sign and change the name, it’s been around for ten years; and just like with a man, you lose your name, it takes twice the years to get it back again.”

Leaning on his elbows, Dylan studied the two older men. By sight, one would never guess that Professor Frasier, with his wild strawberry hair (touched with gray) and weathered middle-aged features was the younger of the two. The professor worked at a local university, and at one time had helped Dylan finish his education. In theory, they were peers now, but that just felt odd to Dylan.

“Leave it, he’s on a roll.” Dylan told him. “Better than hearing him talk about…” he paused trying to recall the latest girlfriend that Daniel had recently broken up with. “… Caitlyn?”

“That was last month, I believe.” Douglas corrected. “It’s sweet Ellen this month.”

“Ellen!” Daniel took a slug of his beer. “It was Ellen. She told me I needed someone more my age.” His face fell and he cupped his ale. Dylan noticed the slight webbing between his fingers. “More my age? Now where am I to find a bird on this side of the pond over the age of four hundred?”

“Canada?” Dylan offered. “French Canadians might have someone.”

“Someone that’s Catholic?”

“That’s your problem, Daniel!” Professor Frasier threw his hands up. “You’re a blasted dinosaur. You’re looking for a nice Catholic girl over the age of four hundred who’s not yet married? Well, you’re not going to find one. They’re all bloody babes in the woods here, and most of them aren’t practicing Catholics!” Then more gently, “Mary’s been dead and gone for over three centuries, you’re not going to find another Mary!”

The big man grunted, and stared at his glass, stung. “So, you and Li doing any better?”

The change of subject didn’t surprise Dylan, nor did it appear to surprise the professor. Both Dylan and Frasier knew that Daniel, as much as he would love to, would never be able to return to the remains of his family. “About the same.” Frasier sighed, and turned to his wine. “Which means he’s still as stubborn as an old mule when it comes to speaking about important things.”

That was Douglas-speak for Liam being an ancient sod unable to change his old stubborn Celtic warrior ways to fit a more modern, sensitive culture.

Dylan had lived in New York for over thirty years, and just about all he knew about the elder vampire who went by the name of “Liam Farney” was that he funded the SoHo Paranormal Rehabilitation center and was behind the Free Paranormal People’s movement in the United States.

The movement had three chapters now: one in LA, one in New Orleans, and one in New York. Liam was a rebel in vampire circles. He upset the applecart by keeping the company of ghouls, zombies, shapeshifters, and revenants, when he should by all rights be killing them. In a world where monsters were the biggest secret, genocide was a regular practice. If you threatened the secret, you died. The entire idea of rehabilitation was alien to those in power, especially to the humans working with the vampire elites in government. Yet Liam Farney had funded – successfully funded – a center with a dedicated staff and integrated monsters back into society with a ninety percent success rate.

That was likely why Professor Frasier stuck with him. He saw something special in Liam. Liam was different than the other old ones.

“What sort of important things are we talking about here? Sex? Financial stuff? Or his political stuff?”

The Scot blushed. “What d’you think I am? No, it has nothing to do with sex! Politics! Doesn’t it always have to do with politics?”

“I could have told you it was about politics, boy.” Daniel said, an amused tone in his voice both at the question and Professor Frasier’s embarrassment. “Li hates politics but always gets his pawns well positioned on the board anyway. Always has, even when I was a lad. He’s gotten soft lately, though. He cares about his pawns.”

“Nice to know, Dan.”

“So, who’d he set up this time?” Daniel looked at each man, suddenly frighteningly sober.

The professor didn’t answer immediately. The silence was uncomfortable; Dylan really wished he could have a drink. The downside of being a revenant was that you couldn’t eat or drink mortal food. Unlike his vampire friends, he was cursed. Sure, since he was nurtured by a vampire he could regenerate faster if he had blood, but there was always a downside. Madness – a killing madness – was the real threat if he overdid it. So he avoided blood most of the time. He only took it if he really needed to beef himself up.

He looked to Daniel. “Did he ever set you up?”

Daniel frowned and scratched his head. “Well, I did bodyguard for the Murrays for two hundred years. He thought my compassion would make it a good career move. Reckon that was a set up.”

Dylan knew that name, and not in a good way. One of the huge shipping empires, Cissonius Incorporated, was run by a truly ancient vampire, Aedan Murray, and his line. And, he knew, Aedan was responsible for kicking Daniel out of Ireland and separating him forever from his own family, including his ward and charge Keenan. “He arranged for you to work with the assholes who stole your kid?”

Daniel shrugged. “To be fair, Kee’s their kid; I was just his bodyguard. But he was a good lad, if not a bit wild. They let him do what he pleased; I was the only one who dared to give him any boundaries.” He looked into his beer. “Despicable lot. Poor lad, those devils fecked him up good when they initiated him, I just couldn’t abandon him… Eh, water under the bridge now.”

“Danny, Liam couldn’t have known about this kid back in the eighteen-hundreds, could he?” Dylan understood Daniel’s need to vent about “his” boy. He suspected that losing Keenan was why the big man spent his time womanizing and drinking when he wasn’t working himself to death.

“That would not be possible. Not even he can predict the future.” Professor Frasier said flatly. “Though he’s very good at guessing. That blasted Smith, now, he’s a different kettle of fish.”

“He didn’t have Smith then,” Daniel said. “If you ask me, Smith’s been a pretty good influence on him. Now what’s Liam done that’s got you so pissed, Douggie?” Daniel was the only person who was allowed to call Douglas by that particular nickname.

Dylan folded his arms behind his head, well aware of what was bothering the professor.

“He fixed the election, that’s what! Not that I disagree with having one of our people in office – those bloody League bastards are always culling the area and independents usually work for Blackwell. But I don’t agree with using the same tactics they do to get one of our people in office!”

“None of us like murder, extortion and bribes, dude, but that’s how League politics work.” It was the first Dylan had heard of Liam fixing the election, but he wasn’t surprised. Liam was known for arranging the murders of vampires and their demon allies who were attempting to murder their way into areas around SoHo. Vampire politics were archaic and rough, murder and tossing around cash was commonplace for territory lords. Liam was an ancient, and protected his territory and everyone within it with tactical brilliance and brutal efficiency.

“We’re a free city now, no culls.”

“At the cost of how many mortal lives? Dylan’s? Angelus’? Anna’s?” Professor Frasier drained his glass. “Lord knows what Anna was doing when she vanished.”

His wife’s name was like a sick jolt in his gut, even now, six years later. He tried not to show it. “Looking for Reggie, her sire.” Or so he hoped. If Liam was involved in her disappearance, Dylan would have more than a few words to say about it, and Liam wouldn’t like them. “And to be fair, Prof, I walked into that myself. I volunteered to hunt the Red Fangs for him; I had no idea it would make me go full revenant and destroy any chance of being human again.”

You didn’t know that, but he did, and he knew you wouldn’t listen to Anna or me, and he did the same thing to Angelus. He let both of you become monsters.” The professor’s cheeks were red from alcohol mixed with fury. “I know it’s in the past, but it’s not the first time he’s done it, and it’s not the last time, and this election is just another example of his meddling with the lives of others! Isabella was one of my students at the center! And he’s gone and dragged her into his world!”

Daniel sighed and drained his glass of Guinness. Beside him, the professor finished his wine. “It’s your round, Douggie.”

“Aye.” The professor took the glasses, and stood up. “Dylan, you should have brought a flask. John mixed blood and whisky and food all the time.”

Dylan missed his fellow revenant and friend John Baker. A few years back, John moved to New Orleans with Tina and two other friends to set up their own organization for paranormal victims. “That’s because John was a freak among freaks,” he said fondly.

“If the boyo wants to get bladdered, he can always tap a patron before they leave,” Daniel said. “Fetch me a pint of the black stuff, would you, lad?”

“Aye, if you promise to behave yerself, you old goat.”

“Don’t worry about me, Professor,” Dylan said.  “I would have grabbed something earlier this evening, but Angelus had me hunting for a barghest.”

Professor Frasier paused a moment before leaving. “Barghest? Are you bloody mad? Those aren’t creatures to be taken lightly. Angelus, he’s just a boy, Dylan. Defending territory is one thing, but killin’ soul-eating beasties is not something he should be doing!”

“Christ, he’s more than adult enough to deal with devil dogs!” Daniel said, obviously in a contrary mood. “The real question is, why would there be one of those beasts in New York?”

Dylan shrugged. “Spirits don’t know borders.”

Douglas picked up the mug and his glass and shook his head before leaving. “Barghests in the park? It was bad enough with all the damn gremlins and hauntings! What is this city coming to?”

Dylan watched him weave his way through the crowded pub. It was a Friday night, and in New York City that meant everyone was out.

“You know, I’ve been here almost four years now.” Daniel said with a sigh. “Four years, six women, and three jobs.”

“At least you have work. This economy sucks.” Dylan tried to spot the Professor but couldn’t see the brown v-neck sweater anywhere. “Anna’s been gone five years today and the coffee bar we started is barely breaking even. Halfway house I’m running is doing okay, but it’s sucking away everything I’m making. Didn’t think it was going to be this hard.”

Daniel shrugged. “I’ve seen better days.” He looked distant. “Dylan, I wish I could tell you what happened to Anna afterwards. I was there when they grabbed her, but after that? No.”

Folding his hands on the table, Dylan tried to control his temper. It always flared when Anna was mentioned. “I know. It’s not your fault; Aedan Murray took her. Hell, I know how powerful an ancient like that is, even to an old fart like you.”

Shame cast Daniel’s face down and the old vampire leaned his brow onto his knuckles. “Lousy maggot… Aedan’s stronger than Liam, even. He’s demon-blooded, Dyl. He’ll bust your dial faster than you can blink an eye!” He drew a breath. “I let them down, both of them.”

Dylan swallowed the lump in his throat. He still had hope Anna was out there. She was multitalented; she danced, painted, baked, sang, kickboxed, and learned anything lightning-fast. Even an ancient would have use for her; what would be the point in killing her? Dylan just needed to find her, and rescue her someday.

“Look, Danny, Anna’s a smart, resourceful lady. If she hasn’t already escaped, she’s found a way to keep a low profile and keep them both safe.”

The man tried to smile. “Whatever, kid.”

“Am I late?” asked a kindly voice. The two men turned their heads to see a cadaverous old man wearing a fedora and a frock coat, and carrying a brown paper bag. He had a head of graying hair and a gentle smile despite his yellowing pointed teeth.

“Hey, Doc Sacco!” Dylan scooted over, taking his heavy coat and hat with him to make a space for his former therapist and friend. He eyed the bag as the older man placed it on the table and took off his hat before sitting down.

“I hope you fellas don’t mind, I brought my dinner with me. I had to work late.”

Dylan’s nose twitched. One could never tell what the old ghoul would bring in. He had friends who worked the funeral homes, but most of the time, the Doc stuck to raw animal flesh. “As long as it’s not from the morgue.”

“Sashimi,” Sacco said with a sideways smile. “Kae made it for me. Told me I was her favorite customer!” The ghoul placed a plastic container of sliced raw fish on the table.

That got a grunt from Daniel. “Ate a shark raw once. Damn frogs sank my ship, off the coast of Spain. Had to walk back. Learned a lot about the seabed that way, mostly that it’s a bloody pain to find your way back when it’s always pitch-black.”

There were times Dylan just didn’t know if Daniel was bullshitting him or not. The man would come out with the most outrageous stories sometimes, but… he had the background to make them believable. Daniel had served in the Merchant Marine for the Murray family and was a privateer in his early days.

“Your life is far too violent for me, Daniel, all those wars, more than four hundred years of them, and piracy too!” Sacco said, waving a hand. “World War One and Two were enough. Trenches, ghastly places.”

“Dude, World War One was one of the most violent wars we’ve had in history, and World War Two was the deadliest. Anything he fought in before that is piddly,” Dylan pointed out, glad they were no longer talking about Anna.

“We fought like men then. None of these peashooters and cowardly chemical crap you boys use today,” Daniel said, folding his arms. “All these weapons of mass destruction and drones have made it so you kids forgot how to fight like men. You’re a bunch of toddlers tossing bombs for the sake of who kills the most women and children. Downright cowardly.” He emphasized that last with a fist to the table that rattled the salt and pepper shakers on their tray.

“Danny, the point of the big bombs is to keep people from having a war in the first place. And drones keep our soldiers out of the line of fire, rather than putting our soldiers in the field,” Dylan said. Coming from a family of vets, Dylan’s sympathies were more with Douglas; avoiding war was by far the preferable course.

The Irishman snorted. “The point of war is combat between men, so women and children are kept safe. If you keep killing women and children, what do you got? Nothing! You’ve got nothing to protect! Just a bunch of angry blokes. You guys have no honor. You need to look your enemy in the face and fight honorably. You can’t even abide by the fucking Geneva Convention’s Articles of War! ”

“Ah, the gang’s all here,” Professor Frasier said as he nudged his way through the crowd and handed Daniel a dark glass of foaming ale. “Your pint. It’s my round, Sacco, is there anything you like?”

“I’m quite fine for now,” the Sicilian ghoul said, splitting his chopsticks. “A little later, maybe.”

Dylan pressed his head into the soft cushions on the booth and looked across the room. Something was odd. A crowd had gathered around the bar and were watching the television. Usually the pub played the sports channel, but by the look of the talking heads on the screen it was the news, CNN by the red-orange scroll on the bottom. “Wasn’t there a hockey game tonight?”

“Aye, but didn’t you hear about the terrorist attack in France?” Professor Frasier asked, sitting down. He sipped his wine. “I put an order in for hot wings and mozzarella sticks. I haven’t eaten all evening, bloody starved.”

“I hope you doubled it,” Daniel said. “I’ll toss in a few Euros.”

“Dollars, and fine, I did,” Professor Frasier corrected.

“So what about this French terrorist thing?” Dylan asked, curious. He leaned with his elbows on the table.

“Yes, do tell,” Sacco added. “Last time I was in France was during the war.”

“Which one?” Daniel asked.

“The second. I worked in one of the hospitals there,” Sacco said. “I had to have access to… well, you understand, I was struggling with my condition.”

France, guys.” Not that he blamed them for going off on tangents; Dylan’s companions were a lot older, and often talked about their youth, and like many vampires or ghouls felt detached from the modern world. The youngest of them, Douglas, had been born in 1908 and just celebrated his 102nd birthday. At fifty-two, Dylan was the baby of the group. To the older immortals, whatever happened in Paris was just another war, or act of human violence which would pass in time, and life would go on. It wasn’t important.

“They don’t know yet,” said the professor, tapping his wineglass absently. “But the telly says…” He hesitated. “They think it was a ten, fifteen kiloton device.”

New York City, 2010

For a moment, the entire table went silent, everyone staring at Douglas.

Finally, Dylan managed to speak. “Kilotons… A nuke?” His gut churned.

Both Sacco and Daniel looked just as horrified as Dylan felt. “Who in their right mind would nuke the frogs? Not that they’ve done anything useful. When was the last time they won a war? ”

“Frogs? Such terrible language, Danny! And for an elder! Stop being so bigoted old man! Does that matter?” Sacco said. His face was grave. “What horrible news.” He shook his head.

“What did I just say about you young punks being cowards?”

“Will you two stop it!” Dylan snapped. “This is serious shit. Nothing else? I mean, where in France was this?”

“Paris.” Frasier answered quietly. “Centered at the Cimetière du Peré Lachaise.”

That silenced everyone again for a moment. Paris. One of the greatest cities of the world… nuked? Dylan almost couldn’t grasp the idea. And a cemetery? “Who the hell would blow up a cemetery?”

“An interesting question, indeed.” Professor Frasier nodded at their expressions; Dylan suddenly recalled that Frasier’s field was nuclear physics. “Strange thing about the pictures coming out of there, though,” he said frowning. “It looks to me as though it was an implosion. If it was a nuclear weapon, the blast would be radiating outward, not in. Same if it was a bolide, a comet fragment or something getting down into the atmosphere and detonating. This… looks as though something sucked everything towards its center. Never seen anything like it.”

Daniel’s head snapped up in an instant, his gaze narrowed. “Really, laddie? Were there any witnesses? Because if you’re right, that sounds like magic to me. Dark magic, from the old days, from before I was born.”

“Don’t know about witnesses; it’s just being reported now, and anything like witnesses? That’s going to take time. Or be silenced fast, if the witnesses saw something the League doesn’t want discussed.”

The professor shook his head. “Now maybe you’re right, but if so… well, that’s one of the things Liam doesn’t talk about, which brings us back to his lack of sharing.” Frasier stared into his wine glass. They stopped talking as a waitress dropped by with baskets of mozzarella sticks and chicken wings. They smelled heavenly. By God do I miss eating.

Both Daniel and Douglas dug in; there was a short silence after the waitress left, broken only by the noise of the surrounding patrons.

“Have you suggested couples therapy?” Sacco ventured abruptly. Dylan wasn’t entirely surprised by this sudden shift in subject. Doc Sacco tended to do that if something really upset him. “Concerning the lack of sharing, that is; it might help him trust you more, especially with things like this. It might be connected with some childhood trauma.”

The idea of the ancient first-century Celt in couples therapy was ridiculous, and a welcome distraction from the gravity of the situation. “Dude, you do that. See how it works. No, Doc, this isn’t about normal couple’s problems. It’s about critical need-to-know information like magic that works like a nuke.”

“No, it doesn’t work like a nuke, that’s my point as to why it isn’t a nuke, and aye, I’m afraid he’s right. Liam’s so tight-lipped about his past, he just insists I trust his judgment like everyone else does,” Professor Frasier said, dipping a mozzarella stick in sauce. “And getting him drunk doesn’t work. He only gets cranky.”

“Never get him drunk,” Daniel advised. He tore flesh off his wing and chewed thoughtfully. “He’s a moody son of a whore.”

“Aye, ye don’t have to remind me,” Professor Frasier agreed.

“Not bad – the wings, I mean.” Daniel tossed the bones into his basket and grabbed another. He slathered it in blue cheese and started to gnaw on it. “Never talked to me either, Doug. Hell, he’s my sire, always been a tightass.” He stopped for a moment and thought about his words. “I wasn’t shaggin’ him. I fancy birds, not fellas.”

It was an awkward moment, and Dylan noticed Professor Frasier blush. “Right, shagging. Yes. We were talking magic and what he’s keeping from us younger lads.”

Daniel was on a roll and very difficult to redirect. “Damn it, I’m gett’n there, boyo! Have some respect for an old man! I call it as I see it. You’re shagging him, right? Look, Li’s always been, er, it’s ‘gay’ now right?”

“Yes, though LGBTQ is preferred.” Dylan said. He was tempted to bury his head in his hands. Daniel was prehistoric!

“Right, we never had sexual identities then…” Daniel grabbed a mozzarella stick. “If he’s courting ye, he trusts ye, that’s all that should matter to ye! He doesn’t talk, can’t make him something he’s not. See? He comes from a time that you trusted your leaders without question. It’s the way he is. Just like you can’t stop being an egghead. They still use the word egghead, don’t they?”

“No, that went out with the fifties.” Dylan told him. “Geek or Nerd is okay.”

“Right, okay, you’re a geek. Nothing wrong with that.” Daniel tossed another wing in his basket and downed a gulp of Guinness. “So, stop trying to get blood from a stone!”

Professor Frasier sighed. Dylan understood Daniel’s point, but they needed more than pats on the head and being treated like chess pieces on a board. Liam claimed to work with the council, but there were times when he held back crucial information. Everyone knew he was just using the council as a puppet to put on a convincing imitation of democracy.

“Aye, grin and bear it as the old bastard pretends there’s nothing wrong while the world’s falling about our ears, all because he hasn’t told us something critical linked to his past!” Professor Frasier said. “Or better yet, when he’s planning something. It’s called ‘Living with Liam Farney’! Every day is one big, unexpected surprise! Like this implosion, you’re not telling me it has nothing to do with them, the old highbloods sitting in Europe, they’re up to something, and he knows it!”

“Dude, talk about conspiracy theories! Why would they do this? Everything’s cushy for them,” Dylan said, worried and angry. “I mean, they’ve got everything they want. Mortals working with them for the promise for eternal life, economies to bend to their wills, nations to start wars whenever they want to exploit a resource across the globe, the world is their fucking oyster! This… this is insane, not something they’d do at all!”

“And why Paris?” Daniel demanded. “New York City, the war in Iraq, I could make sense of, but a graveyard in Paris with nothing worth blowing up except a few famous corpses don’t make sense.” Daniel looked perplexed. “Highbloods… Murray, Tamir, Liu Guang, Varnava, Eniola and Gaiseric only care about their family lines and power. They only attack if something threatens them, or if they can make a profit. America, China, Russia, India, hell the Arab States that threatens them. France? That’s Blanc territory, an ally, why threaten a Fae sanctuary? That’s not their bailiwick. They wouldn’t do this.”

Sacco looked up from his fish; as always, the Italian had been intensely listening to the discussion. “I think you are missing other possibilities, Daniel,” he said, tearing into a piece of fish. “There are other, non-politically-affiliated forces beyond Lucius and his highblood empire, and the entire world is a threat to them as it is. Any of them – other ancient highbloods who are not associated with the League, the remaining Fae (present company excluded) who haven’t been stamped out, the few remaining Gods or Demons who want to go back to the old days, any of them might think it’s about time to put Lucius, his children, and the mortals in their place. Think about the Bomb, and the power humanity has now. It rivals the mythical magic of the good old days. Doesn’t it bother you? It bothers me. And I know it bothers Professor Frasier here. Even we humans have only used the weapon twice because we’ve seen it in action and know it’s not something to be used, only held in case of ultimate extremity. Think about how a nature spirit or a Fae from the ancient days would feel about the thing.”

“A blasted abomination to nature it is.” Daniel remarked “Kee showed me stuff on the Bomb,” Daniel continued. “I remember when the Yanks dropped Big Boy or whatever it was called –”

Little Boy and Fat Man,” Dylan said, trying to keep the exasperation out of his voice.

“Yes, that’s it,” Daniel said, either ignoring or not hearing Dylan’s tone. “I know it was ugly, but people aren’t stupid; that’s why it’s only been used twice.”

Sacco shook his head unconvinced. “It does bother you, Daniel, you even said it. Bombs and modern warfare bothers you, there is no honor in it. Think about what the other beings in this world feel! It terrifies them!”

The big vampire shrugged his massive shoulders. “Aye, I get your point.”

It occurred to Dylan that young upstart vampire industrialists and their American government allies were engaged in a technological secret war. It would likely make old highbloods like the Murray family very uncomfortable. “Doc Sacco is right; I mean, if this is magic, and done by a fossil, something has them spooked. As for other powers, it’s possible. I mean they’re not all gone, they just might decide it’s time to make a stand.”

“Well, it’s a theory. No proof. Not unless he tells us something,” the professor replied.

The tapping of high heels drew the attention of all four men to the shapely form of an attractive blonde woman dressed in a long brown coat, stylish boots, a knee-length skirt and bright pink sweater. Her long blond hair was bound up in pigtails and her face was made up subtly to bring out her bright blue eyes. Looking around the pub, she eased her way around the crowd of bar patrons towards their table.

“Bunny,” Dylan said.

“Blokes-only night, which of you blokes told her to come?” Daniel said, almost defensively.

Dylan lifted a brow.  We really need to work on Danny. He has a long way to go.

“She’s never asked what we do on Fridays?” Frasier asked into his wine.

“No, never. Last I knew, she was working shift at the center. She was with a patient.” Sacco picked up a piece of fish dropped it into his mouth. “But I can’t say anymore, HIPAA act and confidentiality.”

“HIPAA don’t apply to us.” Dylan told him.

“Well, our patients deserve the same kind of privacy mortal patients have, don’t they?” demanded Bunny, stepping up to the table and putting her hands on her hips. “So this is what you fellas do on a Friday night!”

There was an awkward moment where they all exchanged glances, then, Sacco quickly picked up his lunch, and Professor Frasier picked up his glass, both men quickly moving to give up their seats, while Daniel and Dylan tried to clear the table of the baskets and shove themselves against the wall.

“Bunny, my dear, please have a seat!” Sacco offered politely.

“I’m taking the tab, if you want a drink, ” the Professor added.

The blonde sighed and waved them back to their seats. “Oh, don’t be silly. Both of you, sit down! I’m not here to take your seats or to drink. I appreciate the gallant offer, Doctor Sacco, and Professor, so sweet, but you forget, I’m not your kind of vampire. Liam, Jason, Danny and you are unusual. I can’t eat or drink, any more than Dylan here. So sorry.”

Reluctantly, Doctor Sacco sat down, followed by Frasier.

“So if you’re not here to get pissed among mates, what are you here for?” Daniel asked gruffly. He ran a large hand over his head and scratched his neck.

Dylan noticed Bunny glare at him disapprovingly. For the thirty years he had known her, Bunny had been a prim and proper lady, always polite and always quick to the point. “Bunny, is this about Angelus’s friend, Carmen? Don’t know if it helps, but it was a barghest that got him.”

The woman’s face became serious. “Thank you, Dylan. Yes, I heard; Angelus came and told us what you found out. The boy was doing all right until around six this evening.” She looked around the room, uneasy, and leaned onto the table, pale fingers spreading across the wooden surface. “Around then, we started to lose him, all of a sudden. I can’t explain it.”

What? “Barghests eat souls, but it shouldn’t have a hold on him now. If they can’t make a kill, they lose their grip, so to speak.” Dylan looked confused, and glanced to the others. Had the thing been strong enough to leech from the kid’s wounds, even from distance? That would be terrifying.

“Is there a medical explanation?” Doctor Sacco asked.

“You said this happened around six o’clock?” Frasier asked at the same time. Dylan noticed he was gazing over his shoulder at the television when he said it. He was still looking at CNN as he continued, “Troubling. Does he have any prior medical conditions?”

“I’m sorry, Doug, HIPAA.” Bunny looked apologetic. “What I can say is, this wasn’t anything ordinary. Doctor Smith had to do something which was not… medical, if you understand my meaning.”

The small group exchanged glances. “You mean Doctor Smith did some unholy ritual?” Dylan had never felt comfortable around the strange, ancient vampire who went by the name of “Doctor Smith”. He gave Dylan the creeps.

Bunny rolled her eyes. “Dylan, that’s very disrespectful. Black magic does very little to help souls! Whatever he did was a good thing!” She looked at the group. “But that’s why I’m here; Liam’s called a council.”

“Really?” The professor reached down and gathered up his coat, looking grave. “Did he say why?”

“The barghest?” Dylan guessed.

“Not the barghest, Dylan,” Bunny said firmly. “Not that that’s trivial, but it takes something far more upsetting to get Liam to call a council. Danny, he wants you there too.”

Turning away, Daniel took a slug of his ale. “Tell him to piss off! I’m not interested in his council!”

“Hey, I’ll go. I felt it. Maybe I can help.” Dylan put on his hat and started to pull on his coat.

Bunny looked at him. “Felt… what?”

Oh yeah. I didn’t mention that to anyone yet. “Something… bad. Disruption, like my Sight was on overload; for a minute it was like I was somewhere else. Right around when we were tracking the barghest.”

Bunny nodded slowly, as he continued getting his coat on. “By the way, when am I going to be on the council?”

Both Douglas and Bunny looked at each other with pained expressions, and Bunny sadly shook her head. “I’m sorry, Dylan. You’re still too young. I’m sure some day Liam will feel you’re ready, but you’ll have to be around a while.”

“Doc Sacco been around here forever, and he’s not on the council.” Dylan pointed out. “Sure it ain’t an undead preference thing?” As long as he’d been in New York, the SoHo council had only had vampires on it, none of the other types of supernatural residents.

“That’s because I’m always turning them down.” Sacco explained, slathering his salmon in wasabi. “Politics are too stressful. I’d rather work with my patients without worrying about whose pockets to grease to keep the center open.”

“It’s much more than that. And besides, ever since Isabella became Magistrate, the League can do very little to hinder our operations. New York is a free city!” Bunny told him.

“So I can’t go?” Dylan flopped back into his booth, disappointed, and pulled his hat off. “Wonderful. Look, I have a really bad feeling about the whole situation. We were just talking about it, right, guys? France?”

With his coat buttoned up, Douglas joined Bunny. There was a faint blush to his cheeks, and Dylan wondered how well the meeting would go with a college professor who couldn’t hold his wine in attendance. “Aye, it wasn’t a nuclear weapon, I’ll guarantee that. I’ll explain the physics behind it when we get there.”

“Horrible, isn’t it?” Bunny paled and fingered her purse. “Terrible loss of life. Yes, Dylan, that’s what this meeting is about.”

Dylan noticed that she said nothing about his vision, or whether it, too, might be connected with the mysterious event in France. Instead, she straightened and let her gaze fall on Daniel. “Liam thinks your boy is involved.”

That sobered the Irishman out of his mood real fast. “Why the bloody hell didn’t you say so?” The merchant marine grabbed his battered old peacoat and pulled it on.

It stuck Dylan suddenly that if Danny’s kid was involved, Anna might be involved too. Furious, Dylan almost jumped to his feet, but Doctor Sacco’s hand on his shoulder kept him from moving. “They know about Anna, Dylan. Take it easy. How about a flask? I have one with a little type O from my favorite blood liquor store, cheap but it has a kick!”

“Prof, so help me God, If Anna’s involved, you better damn well tell me!”

“Of course I’ll tell you, lad. I’m not Liam. But right now, I don’t know anything, do I?”

Dylan forced himself to sit back down. Professor Frasier was right; at the moment, they knew nothing, and getting all in a froth over Anna would do none of them any good, especially him. Dylan needed to wait. Liam had to arrange an investigation. Once they figured out what happened in Paris and who was there, they’d do something.

What in God’s name did the event in Paris have to do with Daniel’s adopted son? Dylan took the flask offered by the ghoul and gazed at it. Drinking blood whisky was like eating raw flesh, but he never lost his mind to drinking, only when eating what he hunted. Resigned, he looked at the flask, and decided he did need a drink. As long as he didn’t make it a habit, he’d be fine. That was a lesson he’d learned the hard way. Right now, he needed something to calm his temper. His fingers shook as he unscrewed the lid and he took a swig.

“Hey, boyo, you’ll be all right, won’t you?” Daniel asked, looking down with a worried frown.

“I’ll make sure he gets home, Danny.” Sacco said. “And I’ll see if Filipe can keep an eye on him tonight.”

“I don’t need no fucking babysitter.” Dylan grunted. “I’ll be peachy. Just need to play a little Left for Dead, you’ll see.”

He could tell Bunny and Douglas were reluctant to leave. Bunny gave him a sympathetic look before leaning over and kissing him on the brow. “Don’t do anything stupid, Dyl. Take care; you know we all love Anna, just like you do. We want her home safe. We’ll do everything we can to bring her back.” Beside her, Professor Frasier nodded, and Daniel gave a nudge to his shoulder.

“I know, Bun. Thanks guys.” He felt tears, but stubbornly refused to notice them. “Okay, get out of here, guys. Danny Boy is champing on the fucking bit. Have fun.”

He watched the small group of vampires leave. Wordlessly he took another swallow from the flask and grimaced. It was strong, but not bad for cheap blood booze. He had to hand it to the bootleggers; they made some damn good stuff. “You still have your still, Sacco?”

“If you are asking if I still make my own wine, yes. I still grow my own Concords, too. The only Italian wine is the wine you make yourself, with an added little ghoulish touch, of course.” The ghoul finished the rest of his fish and packed up the garbage.

“So, how about going back to your place?” Dylan said. “The twins are closing tonight. Café is in good hands. We can drink a bottle and watch some Bogart films.” He gathered his coat up and dropped his hat on his head. He needed air, and as much as he wanted to go back home, right now the place would just remind him of Anna. They had built it together. The café was their labor of love.

The therapist watched him for a moment, worry etched in his thin-skinned features. “Well, I guess there’s no harm in that. You do know it’s been five years, Dylan.”

“I know. I’m still not ready to let her go, okay?” He was a revenant; they couldn’t let go, not really, it was their nature to cling to the past, and Anna was how he came into this world. Anna saved him. In truth, he knew he couldn’t be alone that evening. He’d just end up going out looking for trouble, a gang to take his anger out on. He might even lose control.

With a shrug, Sacco slid out of the booth and shouldered into his frock coat. “Well, I could use the company. I have an excellent collection of films, too. Second only to Daniel’s, I suspect.”

“Hey, I’ve got a damned good one too.” Dylan told him. Once his coat was on, he handed the flask to his friend. He already felt its warmth spreading through his body. It was a strange feeling; he almost never felt warm. He was always cold, except when he baked in the kitchen.

“You’ll need more than fifty years to catch up to either of us, I fear,” Sacco told him as they nudged their way past the crowd of mortals. “Then again, the amount of work you do, I really can’t imagine you having any time to watch any films in your collection.”

They stepped out into the street. It was late, and the streetlights were so bright they blotted out the stars. Overhead, high rise buildings towered above them, making the street feel more like a canyon than a part of a city. Dylan pulled on his gloves, already feeling the chill.

The air was heavy with the smell of gasoline, dust, and sweat. Yet, as they walked, Dylan O’Reily smelled something else. It was a sharp, fresh smell he remembered from growing up in the Texas hill country. The smell of ozone, the smell of lightning and power, hovered in the air like static, made the hair stand up on the back of his neck, and he was struck with a sudden conviction. The world around him had changed; he didn’t know how, he didn’t know what the change meant, but he knew one thing for certain: this was only the beginning.

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