I was going to kill him. “Do we really need to talk about this right now? This isn’t as easy as I’m making it look,” I hissed, crouching in the shadows of an old brick warehouse, focusing intently on the illusion spell I’d wrapped around the both of us. I clutched a book tightly, a slight tingle vibrating my arm as I caressed the embossed black leather cover. The sensation was no doubt caused by the residual traces of magic that were warding it for safekeeping, but I was masking that from detection now. Success, I thought to myself as I tucked it into my satchel.
Alucard’s fangs glistened in the moonlight. I looked up between the buildings at the glowing sliver of moon, and spotted a dark tide of hungry clouds rolling in. A big storm. One of those old Missouri Summer storms that pounded the city clean with a vengeance of rain and ear-splitting thunder and lightning.
As if a premonition of the storm to come, guttural howls of outrage, and an inhuman hunting cry pierced the air, and then the pounding of many thunderous feet filled the streets. I shivered. They were onto us.
My accomplice didn’t catch my tone. Or prioritize our current predicament.
“It’s just that… well, the job is hard.”
I rolled my eyes, tracking the heavy footfalls that were racing about in a frantic search just around the corner. “It’s a fucking bookstore, Alucard.” I wanted to grab him by his canines and throttle him. Worthless vampires.
I held up a hand, silencing him instantly.
A throaty basso voice rumbled, “Clear,” from just around the corner. It was a harsh sound, as if unused to speaking in anything other than consonants and growls. The thud of his calloused feet continued off into the distance. I took a deep breath and rounded on Alucard, careful to put as much venom into my tone as possible without breaking our masking spell. I was good, but not good enough to cover a shouting match.
“Get your head in the game. Ogres don’t appreciate being robbed.”
“Why don’t you just buy it from them, then? You know, like you told them you were—”
A barbed arrow struck the brick wall right behind Alucard’s ear, hammering deep into the stone. A frustrated curse rang out at the near miss, and all of a sudden I sensed many bodies changing direction to come directly at us.
“Goddamn it!” I hissed at Alucard, careful to not use his name now that they had found us. He tensed, as if about to launch himself at the archer on the roof that had nearly pierced his ear. Twenty vertical feet wasn’t difficult for a vampire. I immediately grasped his forearm, squeezing hard to stress the importance of my warning. “Remember to stay in character!” His lips tightened briefly, and then slowly morphed into a grin. He suddenly belted out a pious clarion call for all to hear.
“Usurpers, fiends, abominations, all!” And then he ran up the side of the building against our backs, and laterally launched his body across the alley to tackle the goblin archer on the adjacent roof. The goblin simply stared at his impending demise in utter disbelief, the second arrow in his calloused hand hanging loosely, forgotten.
Alucard slammed into him and the weapons went clattering down the fire escape loud enough to pinpoint our exact location. Damn it, Alucard. I didn’t have time to go after him. I tapped a few buttons on my watch, the screen depicting an aerial view of the city block around us. A swarm of glowing red forms were converging on my position in the dark alley at the bottom of the screen. I tapped a few options on the screen to send the drone home and covered my watch. I still had a warehouse of technological goodies I had, um, appropriated from my company, Temple Industries, before it had been sold to a German firm. The FBI frowned on insider trading, even though it had all really just been a setup: The Brothers Grimm complicating my life a few months back.
Seeing no other option, I sighed and stepped out into the open. A dozen or so gargantuan ogres skidded to a halt upon seeing me. They were covered in tan hides over their grey, warty, scarred skin. Primordial weapons of bone and flint hung in their meaty fists as they seethed with hatred upon seeing me. Their heads were bald, but some sported beards. Even a few of the Ogresses had faint mustaches. Ick. Several looked amazed that a lone, weaponless human stood calmly against their gang.
But if my illusion spell was working as intended – and the look on the archer’s face had kind of confirmed it was working flawlessly – they saw something else entirely standing before them. Something to be feared… or at least acknowledged with no small amount of respect. Then again, ogres weren’t too bright. So, I was ready for anything.
The leader gripped a club as big as my torso in his meaty fist. He let the tip thump to the ground as he challenged me with an aggressive glint in his eyes.
“Pretty birdboy going to die,” he growled.
I smirked back in what I hope looked like pious disdain – in line with my character. I was still getting the hang of my powers, and wasn’t entirely sure how adaptable my disguise was. For all I knew, I was standing there with a mentally deficient look on my face. Or no emotion at all. I guessed either would work fine with this disguise. I didn’t speak, not wanting to risk giving my true nature away. Instead, I tapped my cane on the ground and it rang out like a bell. The lead ogre stared at the cane with trepidation, but of course, he didn’t see a cane at all.
The ogres were all seeing a monstrous Crusades-era sword, and it was glowing with crackling blue-white light. Because standing before them was a Nephilim, a child of an Angel of Heaven and a mortal. And most avoided Nephilim like the plague, because they were rather… Old Testament, you could say. No forgive and forget with them.
Illusions kind of rock.
I wasn’t sure how much action the illusion could handle, so I was banking on the fact that simply seeing a Heavenly Warrior might be enough to keep them at bay. That had been my plan anyway, before Alucard had stumbled into an empty trashcan while we were creeping out of their vault, alerting every ogre on the block. I couldn’t risk my illusion failing if I threw down with them here and now, revealing my true identity. Especially if I used any overt magic. Nephilim were dangerous, but wizards they ain’t. Magic would give me away faster than a cockroach skittering across the linoleum when the lights flicked on.
I felt the strain of my spell tugging at me as Alucard drew further away. Tiny droplets of sweat began to pop up on my forehead. My vision began to grow blue with the strain, as sometimes happened. If the spell broke, these guys would know exactly who had robbed them blind. Which wouldn’t go over well. Not at all.
So, I was bluffing. And I hoped they didn’t call me on it.
No elemental whips. No fire, no Shadow Walking. Just my shiny new cane.
“No God here…” The leader snarled, and then raced towards me like a charging rhinoceros. I waited until the last second, feinted left, then darted to the right, lashing out with my ‘sword’ at his feet. The cane traced a line of white fire across his flesh, and boy, did he howl!
I sneered contemptuously. The remaining ogres watched him writhing in pain as he bled out, none offering so much as to help him stand. They exchanged glances with each other, and I watched as their features began to darken in outrage.
“Oh, shit,” I whispered, under my breath. They slowly turned back to me, hungry grins on their cheeks, and then surged forward with a murderous roar that seemed to make the pavement quake.
I thought about that outcome for all of a millisecond, and then turned and fled. I took two running steps up the wall and catapulted myself to the lower rungs of the fire escape. I used a tiny boost of power to give me the extra juice to reach, and latched on, quickly pulling myself to safety. One of the ogres pounded the wall below me with his hammer fist, the brick crumbling. Then his pals began to join in. The old building groaned. I raced up the metal stairs, gaining the roof to find Alucard ripping the throat out of his attacker. He leaned in as if to give the goblin a kiss.
“Stop!” I hissed. “Nephilim, remember?” I enunciated the words in low tones as I ran towards him. He shuddered, eyes lidded closed for a moment before dropping the body to the roof. He turned to me, eyes swimming with the bloodlust of his inner vampire, irises flashing a crimson red. The illusion didn’t work on us. We saw our true forms. I grabbed his shoulder and shook him until his eyes cleared. I waggled a hand for us to hurry as the building quivered again, the pounding of hairy fist against mortal brick like a steady drumbeat. He nodded, looking slightly embarrassed. “We’re out of here. I’m sending an illusion of us flying away like good little Nephilim.”
Alucard nodded as I squinted in strained focus, gathering my power and wrapping it around a single thought. The literal belief that what I was making was real. That two Nephilim were throwing themselves off a perfectly good roof before unfolding their wings and fleeing the ogres’ compound. Once confident of every minor detail, I let out my breath in a rush and flicked my hand. Power drained out of me and my knees shook as the illusion took form.
Two rather scrawny Nephilim hurtled themselves off the roof, anxiously checking over their shoulders as they flew to safety. I nodded to myself, redoubled the illusion spell that was no longer disguising us, but hiding our presence entirely, and ripped a hole through reality. A verdant spherical Gateway of fire flared into existence, revealing a quiet street several blocks away on the other side. The flames lining the door reached toward the calm street with hungry, dancing claws, stating the direction of the intended travel. As far as I knew, no one would be able to walk from the other side to my current location – they would be eaten alive by the flames.
As long as those flames pointed the direction you wanted to go, you were safe.
Sparks sailed off the flames, darting through the opening and into the street beyond.
Alucard’s dark eyes glittered in the moonlight as he turned from the portal to me. He looked impressed, but also thoughtful. I rolled my eyes at him. He was still getting used to how I handled things, but now wasn’t the time. I shoved him through the opening, followed, and pulled it closed behind me as I heard the fire escape protesting under immense weight. A quick glance back revealed no pursuers, so I hoped no one had noticed our true getaway.
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