"Something isn't right here," Ken muttered to himself darkly.
Michael frowned lightly, a bare wrinkling of his forehead that quickly smoothed out. "What makes you think that?"
"It's just that... something doesn't seem quite right here. Something's off, somehow." He shrugged. "It's probably nothing."
"Somehow I doubt that," the younger man muttered under his breath, slipping a microphone over his head so that the speaker lay directly before his mouth. His soft face turned into a glare of concentration. "Keep your eyes open from here on out, Ken; the mission is starting now. I'm here, Claudia."
Ken blinked sharply, turning to stare at the young man. Surely there should have been some noise, even a little sound from the receiver "What?"
"Give me a second," he continued. Sweat beaded on his forehead, and his face began to go pale, his body trembling finely; it was like he was pushing himself in a race, but without moving an inch. "You've got about twenty humans, mostly vampire freaks. Everyone else is a vamp. Varying levels, but mostly flunkies and Lesser Masters."
Again, not a peep from the receiver. "How can you-"
"Marcellus is... across the room, on the other side of the dance floor, talking to a Lesser Master. There are two or three flunkies there - I'm guessing they're bodyguards, - a revanent on a leash, and a human, vamp freak by the way her thoughts are going?quot;
"Michael?" He could hear his voice coming perilously close to whining, and the younger man's eyes turned suddenly back to him.
"Huh? Oh, I'm a little telepathic, Ken. I can pick up people's thoughts if I try really hard or get really upset."
"Nice of you to mention that to me." He was pouting now and didn't really care who saw. He didn't like being kept in the dark, just a side-trait of being a private detective that never really went away. Telepathic, eh? So not even his thoughts were private in this little impromptu group he'd been thrust into.
"Claudia... you knew good and well that he didn't know about this."
He snatched the microphone from Michael's face and spoke into it in a near yell. "You just wanted to freak me out, didn't you? Just like with the powers thing."
His companion pulled the microphone back from him and stated, "She said, of course." The same frown came back, and when he spoke again, it was clearly to the woman on the other end of the connection. "Look, be careful in there. I've got a bad feeling about this mission, and Ken was just saying a few minutes ago that something didn't seem right here."
After another second, and a worried look that he was beginning to understand was Claudia making one of her less-than-reassuring comments, Michael pulled the mic away from his mouth. "I really hate riding back-up," he complained.
"You don't think Maki can handle helping Claudia?"
Michael snorted amusedly. "Maki can more than handle it. It's just -" His eyes went wide, and he yanked the mic back in position. "Dara! He's scenting power levels! Marcellus is -!" He stopped like someone had interrupted him - and he could suppose that probably Claudia had.
He reached for the door handle, apparently to let himself out and go help his partner. Ken did the only thing he could think of; he wrapped both arms around his waist and pulled him back against him. On some level, he was surprised that the tactic worked; the kid may have been wiry, but Ken knew he was stronger than he looked, had to be to survive around Claudia with her twisted ideas on training. "Michael, don't!" he cautioned, speaking as loudly as he dared.
"I have to help her!" He wasn't worrying about the level of his voice. "Marcellus is scenting power levels; he's going to find out Claudia and Maki are in there! Let me go, Ken! I have to help them!"
"And let Claudia kick both yours and my asses later? No way." He tried to make it sound like he was teasing; really, he knew that was exactly what she would do.
He held the younger man, never really loosening his grip on him, keeping him close against his own body, until his struggles began to ease. When Michael spoke again, his voice was almost unnaturally soft. "Do you think she's okay?"
"Why don't you ask her and see?" he replied, easing his grip on him but not really releasing his hold.
He readjusted the microphone, shoved aside in their rather brief struggle, and whispered, "Dara? What's going on in there? I heard a gunshot, and everyone's thoughts are a jumble."
"Something's wrong with her," slipped out of his own mouth, and he wanted to hit himself for letting it out.
"What?" Michael's eyes had gone wide; was he talking to Claudia or him? "Yeah, fine. Got it. Just... be careful." He slid the microphone off and folded it carefully before twisting to look up into Ken's eyes. "What did you mean, 'Something's wrong with her'?"
"I I don't know, but something doesn't seem right. It doesn't feel right?quot; He shrugged tightly, a bit angry at himself for his inability to express exactly what he meant.
"Let's go in after them." Ken looked up sharply at his companion, who merely gazed back at him with blank eyes. "We can do any good helping them out here."
"Claudia would want you to stay out here." She could really less than give a damn whether I lived or died, he thought to himself humourlessly, but Michael's precious to her; she'd kill everything in sight if anything happened to him.
"Your gun's in the glove compartment," Michael continued as if Ken hadn't spoken. "Silver shot for it also. Let's get going." He opened the door and stepped out into the cold, dark night.
"Do you know where she is?"
"She said she was going upstairs after Marcellus." Even as he ran, Michael shrugged, shouldering his way through the crowd intent on going the opposite direction. "Seems as good a place as any to start looking."
"She's going to kill me for letting you do this," he predicted direly.
"You worry too much."
"Someone has to."
He shook his head and sighed. /What have I gotten myself into?/
They reached the top of the stairs. The hall stopped in a closed and (quickly determined) locked door on one side; the other way extended a ways dimly lit by candles along the walls, the spaces between lights as black as pitch. They moved down it, silently testing the status on each door... before the shine of Claudia's leather ensemble caught the light before them. With that marked as their goal, they rushed the last few feet forwards to slid to a stop in unison beside her.
The hunter stood absolutely still, staring into the room in which doorway she stood; she almost seemed frozen. Looking just past her, Maki too was not moving; they both almost seemed to be in shock.
Hesitation in his every movement, Michael stepped around to come between the other two hunters. Unsure what else to do and even more so of what to expect, Ken followed suite.
Of all things he'd been bracing himself for, a child's playroom was the lowest thing on the list. Dolls of various shapes and sizes littered the floor, a small but elegant bed was pushed up against the far wall, along with a huge chest sitting open to reveal even more toys. It was like a child's wonderland, and in the middle of it all, a tall pale man held a young girl no more than eight up against his body (She didn't struggle at all, he noted dimly) as he stared down Claudia and Maki.
"Don't do this," came from the man's lips to break the silent tableau.
Maki raised the crossbow, blank look vanishing. "There's a contract out on you, Marcellus. You killed four entire families."
"We can't let you live." Claudia's voice sounded soft; her eyes were locked on the little girl.
"When Maki and I fire," Michael whispered to him, leaning over to
speak almost directly in his ear, his eyes never leaving the room, "you do
also. Just remember to aim for his heart or his head." He nodded his
agreement and turned his full attention back to the screen unfolding before
Claudia took a slow step into the room. "Put the girl now, Marcellus. Don't bring her into this."
/She's saying one thing and means another.../ he thought to himself. /No, she means that "Don't bring her into this" as "Don't involve her in this fight" but as something else too.../
"So the rumours are true," the man, Marcellus, stated, his grip on the girl loosening slightly. "The infamous Dara the Hunter is going soft." He glanced down at the burden he held. "She's mine, to do with as I want."
Ken took a brief second to look the child over more closely. Brilliantly red hair hung down in front of her face; it probably would go down to her waist when properly cared for, when not matted and tangled as it was now. Lidded blue eyes stared at nothing. She wore a white shift; blood stained it in a few places. She couldn't be older than eight, if that.
While his attention was elsewhere, Claudia darted forward, dropping her long spear-like stake to snatch the child from Marcellus's grip.
"Now!" Michael yelled beside him. His voice seemed to echo in the
dim long hallway, deeper and stronger than he'd ever heard it before.
/He's in his element here, fighting like this.../ flitted through his mind before explosions from Michael's gun broke through his thoughts. Marcellus jerked back and forth, body slung around by the force of the bullets, but he didn't fall.
"The heart!" Claudia yelled, the child cradled against her body
where she still lay on the floor. "Michael, the heart! Maki, stake!"
Calm as could be, Maki raised the crossbow, took aim, and fired. "Ken, the
Wordlessly, without thinking, he obeyed the order. The bullet hit the pale man's forehead just as Maki's bolt went through his chest. Marcellus froze for a long, long moment, then light exploded around the wood. A second later he exploded into flames. The body burned up quickly, not even leaving ashes behind when it was done.
He could only stare at the dark spot on the floor till a pale hand landed gently on his shoulder. "Welcome to the team," Maki's soft voice stated. The Oriental stepped past him to help Claudia back to her feet. "How's the g-"
A loud hiss cut off Maki's question. Michael, who had just been being to relax a bit, tensed back up and swung his gun in the direction of the sound. "Shit! He turned the kid into a vampire?!"
One of Claudia's long leather gloves hit him in the eyes. "No, Michael," she stated softly. Ken could only watch, horrified, as she lowered her bare arm before the child's fanged mouth, a gentle look in her eyes that seemed totally out of place with what he'd come to know of her character. The girl only stared at the skin for a moment then tore into it savagely. Claudia's other hand petted her hair almost maternally, a pained look in her dark eyes. "She's a halfbreed."
23 February 2002
Well... here's another chapter - and back to Ken's POV for you. Hope you enjoyed and see you next time!