Hungry Shadows, Part 3
tory idea by Gunjack Valentine and Lain.
Written by Gunjack Valentine, Lain, and Lynati
Artwork by Shinigami and Gunjack Valentine with coloring by Lain
Fiona: "It started...to be fair, we aren't entirely
sure just when it started. From the stories I've heard, my family
has been hunting the Demon since at least the time of Nostradamus."
* * *
Fiona: "And just where do you think you're going?"
Philip: "Kappel's in danger, all alone in the dark. Things are
after him. I must go help him."
* * *
Kappel: "We can go now, right?"
Demona: "Just a moment, my dealings here are not yet finished.
I owe my ally here my thanks for his assistance...a token of my
Bone Eater Chieftain: "You only know we can take
those who willingly have given themselves to darkness...
I would be certain to say that he now qualifies."
Kappel: "But- but you promised you'd keep me safe from them,
that you wouldn't let them have me!!"
~ Hungry Shadows, Part 2
. ."Run run in
the dark, with your little lights!"................................................. "run,
wrapped in shadows"
...........Rabbits! ....................."A feast!".........................................."blood, an arrow in the dark"
."""- an arrow in your heart -"
hearts in our hands, dripping a feast... ..........................."Feast!"
........................................................."An eye for an eye;".........."We’ll have your eyes!"
Fiona spun madly, her eyes straining in the darkness, seeking a way
to escape the dead-end that had trapped them. At her side Philip Bouchard
was doubled over, gasping for air after their panicked flight. He stared
at her from behind straggles of sweaty hair, a line of blood bisecting
his forehead to creep down across the bridge of his nose. She met his
eyes for a moment, and then grabbed his arm and began to drag him, stumbling,
through the room. It was a massive space, the walls wreathed with bones
piled nearly to its high ceiling. Skulls mottled black with age and
mold grinned blindly down at her in the sputtering yellow light of her
Behind her the shouts of the Bone Eaters grew closer, a pot of boiling
water about to burst its lid and flood over her and Bouchard, adding
another pair of faceless citizens in this necropolis. They were close
enough now to see the other side of the chamber…
“It’s a dead end,” she whispered.
“Can’t be. I saw it.” Bouchard clung weakly to the wall of
bone as he peered into the darkness. “I saw it so clearly…the Stone…this
has to be the way out!”
“You fool!” she hissed, “Whatever you saw isn’t here! Your mystical
toy has killed us both!”
“No, no, this is the way! It has to be.”
“Look around you! There’s no way out!”
“There is!” He insisted, pawing at the wall. “I’ve seen it!”
Fiona bit off a retort; her mouth was dry from fear, and shouting was
a waste of what time they had left. The Colt was a dead weight in her
hand, and she holstered it to reach for something more meaningful. She
groped about in her pocket, her fist closing on a line of heavy silver
beads. She let them slide through her fingers one by one as she began
I’m sorry, Jackson. I tried, really I did.
Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name…
* * * * *
He’d seen this room before, in the half-memories left by his brief
use of the l’Oeil Gris. The Eye led him to this place, and he was certain
it had led him true. There was a way out here, if only he could find
........"."After! After!"......................................................................................................................."Don’t let them-"
......................................................................................................"Run them down!"
................Find the meatlings!
His head swam from the pain and adrenaline. Bouchard shook it, forcing
himself to focus. THINK, man!
A spark- swift light inside his head- another tunnel above them, built
much later, and close. It had weakened the rock, causing a cave-in that
brought down part of the chamber’s wall. There was a gap…
“I’ve got it!”
Fiona stared blankly at him, startled by his sudden cry. There was
no time to explain; Bouchard snatched the flare from her hand and dashed
forward, scrambling up the decaying heap of remains. Bones rolled away
from beneath his hands and knees as he awkwardly crawled forward, worming
his way through the narrow spaces between the shifting pile and the
low stone ceiling.
“Bouchard, what the hell are you doing? We need that light!” came Fiona's
shriek from behind him.
He ignored her. The flare threw strange shadows, but he thought he
could almost see- yes, there it was!
“There’s a way through! Come quick!”
“A little further in!" He called back to her, voice muffled from the
grisly pile between them. "The back wall’s collapsed, and there’s a
gap leading to a tunnel above!!” He was already moving, wriggling his
way through the fetid clutter. There was a strangled curse and a clatter
of old bone, and then Fiona was crawling up beside him
Bouchard pointed to a sliver of shadow, seemingly nothing more than
a crack in the wall.
She stared at him. “That’s it?”
“Do you have a better idea!?” Bouchard was already crawling forward,
grunting in pain as the splintered bones poked at him. It wasn’t much
of a hole; a ragged triangular opening that looked barely large enough
for a child, formed by two massive slabs of stone propped against each
other. He wormed his way closer, rolling onto his back to get a better
It looked...very small. Philip was not overly fond of tight spaces.
He swallowed roughly, and tried to peer past the bright glow of the
flare to catch a glimpse of the tunnel above. “It’s maybe eight feet,
and tight as a Miser’s fist!” He called back to Fiona, unable to keep
the worry from coloring his voice. “I don’t know if I’ll fit!”
“I can!” She clouted him hard on the knee. “Let me through!”
“No time to argue! I’m smaller; I’ll have an easier time of it!” She
pushed past him, forcing him to back up. They switched positions, Fiona
shifting onto her back and nearly kicking Bouchard in the face in the
process. She slid her arms up into the narrow cleft in the rock face,
feeling along the rough stone. “You wait here with the flare. Once I’m
through, pass it to me, and then I’ll pull you through from the other
side. Got it?”
And then she was in before he could protest, squirming and kicking
as she wormed her way up through the broken rock. Her head and shoulders
disappeared, then her hips. Before he knew it, all that was left were
a pair of scrabbling boots, and then only an echoing scuffle.
........................................Sweet Marrow........................."no hope,
hee! no help!"
....."Cursed light- We’ve found them!"......................................................................take
///////.""THIS WAY! .....THIS WAY!"
Bouchard’s head whipped around to stare at the dark mouth of the passageway
behind him. That last shout was right on top of him!
“Hurry! They’ll be here any second!” he gasped.
There was a sound of ripping fabric and a shout from above. A moment
of heart-pounding silence passed before her voice called back to him.
“Alright, I’m through! Your turn!”
He could hear the slap of bare feet in the passageway as he scrambled
“Here’s the flare!” He tossed it awkwardly, and it skipped off the
top of the crevice before bouncing away into the passage above. The
chamber went black as pitch, but not before he caught a glimpse of the
pale, misshapen creatures that burst into the room, pale eyes searching
for him, the sound of their gravelly shrieks-
....."Seize him!"................""rend his flesh!"................................................"Have you now, rabbits!"
There was no time for finesse. Bouchard dove into the mouth of the
crevice, ignoring the pain as rough stone tore at clothing and flesh.
The space was too small for a man of his size; the stone seemed to constrict
around him, squeezing the breath from him as he kicked and writhed in
a desperate attempt to reach the safety of the light above.
A little over halfway through the tunnel Philip found himself wedged
against the rock too tightly to move. He slapped at the stony, trying
in vain to find a handhold that would support his weight, but he couldn't
get enough leverage to push free.
“Fiona! Help me! They’re right behind me!”
Fiona reappeared with a curse and grabbed his outstretched hands by
the wrist, straining with all her might to drag him up the last foot
and a half to salvation.
“Push!” She huffed at him, face red.
Bouchard bit his lip in agony as the jagged sides of the crevice gouged
painfully through his skin. Abruptly, something in the wall gave way.
He wriggled up the last slight distance and-
-cold, slimy fingers latched onto his ankle like a vise, pulling him
backwards with inhuman force. Bouchard was torn from Fiona’s grasp and
dropped a yard, clawing desperately at the sides of the tunnel as he
was dragged back into the darkness.
“They’ve got me! They’ve got me!” He thrashed and kicked, trying to
shake the iron grip. His heel connected with something solid; there
was a howl and a curse, and while the hold on his leg didn't diminish,
he was able to drag both himself and the ghoul back through most of
the remaining distance. Fiona grabbed his arm again and pulled, bracing
her knees against the wall as she tried to yank him clear.
For one horrible moment, Philip Bouchard found himself the rope in
a monstrous game of tug-o-war. He continued to kick, trying to smash
the arm against the walls, and a muffled gibbering from behind told
him he had at least succeeded in hurting the creature. He pulled his
free leg up as far as he could, aiming a mighty kick straight down on
to the ghoul as it sought to close the distance between them. The blow
struck it hard in the skull, and suddenly he was loose, being pulled
free into the passage above.
Fiona's pistol was already out, and he rolled quickly to one side as
the Hunter began firing into the mouth of the crevice. He grabbed the
flare and staggered to his feet, and the brilliant yellow light reflected
off pale eyes as the things wriggled through the shattered rock after
them. Sharp teeth gnashed as they fought each other, each straining
to be the first through to the prey above. The creatures were beyond
words now, beyond reason, lost in a frenzy of bloodlust that overpowered
even their hatred of the light.
Fiona screamed in fury as her magazine ran dry, and then she was shoving
him out of the way, kicking hard against a small boulder at the base
of the heap. The flare guttered, and the creatures surged forth again-
they were almost through! An arm lunged out, grasping at the floor inches
from Fiona’s feet. She leapt away, slamming her whole weight into the
There was a deep rumble as the massive stone shifted, and tons of precariously
balanced debris dropped down into the well with a grinding crash. The
monstrous voices shrieked in terror, and were cut off instantly as the
narrow crevice collapsed with a crunch and a billowing cloud of dust.
The roar faded, leaving only the skip and clatter of small rocks and
the sharp hiss of the flare. Fiona glanced down at him through the dust-choked
yellow light, panting hard from her exertion. Philip stared back at
her, watching as she groped in her pockets and finally dragged out another
magazine. Her hands shook as she re-loaded her gun, but not so badly
that they kept her from grabbing him by the lapels of his coat and dragging
him to his feet.
“Let’s get the hell out of here!”
* * * * *
Demona strode into the chamber with her chin held high, her regal bearing
belying the wary look in her eye. The chamber reeked of bitter smoke,
gunpowder, and a whiff of blood, all smothered by the overwhelming stench
of the ghouls. They skittered about in the darkness, agitated by the
sudden violence that had come so unexpectedly into their midst. She
ignored them, striding instead towards one of the forms crumpled against
the far wall.
Her one-time servant was bleeding from what must be a hideously painful
gut wound, along with a second injury on his leg. As she approached
he rolled his head up at painful angle, meeting her gaze with cold eyes.
“Greetings, your ladyship. Come to see what you’ve wrought?” He grinned
manically, the expression bizarre on a face with such deathly pale skin.
Demona nodded at his blood-soaked garments. "Does it hurt?" she enquired
Kappel stared down at the red smears on his hands, grin fading.
“I am… free now. Free of everything. I remember how it was, to live...but…”
His earlier smile sliced back across his face, as he slowly licked the
blood from his fingers. “But now, it means nothing to me.”
His eyes never left hers. Demona sneered at his enraptured expression;
the former human obviously relished the taste. The Bone Eater's internal
work on him appeared finished; this was neither the coward she enslaved,
nor the broken man she had sold away. This was a predator, bleached
of his former human conscience and half-freed of the physical realm.
A malicious shadow, given solid form.
She found it rather unsettling, knowing what he had been, and seeing
what he was now...and that she was responsible for the change. But a
bargain had been struck; she had promised him to the Eaters in return
for their assistance.
He leered insolently at her, as if able to read her thoughts. She narrowed
her eyes. “Tell me,” she demanded, “what happened here? You look as
though you were quite close to the action."
The German 's eyes, now a pale blue, became shrouded. “The Frenchman,
he came to save me – amusing, isn’t it? Almost touching. Made attacking
him all the easier, although-" he looked down at himself, scowling,
“he was better prepared than I would have expected. Managed to re-arrange
my belly with that little popgun he brought along, he did. But not before
I cut him but good. I’d have had him for sure if his whore hadn’t broken
Demona’s eyes flashed. “There was a girl with him?”
“Yes, a female, though I’m not exactly sure I’d call her 'girl',” Kappel
spat bitterly. “A broad, a nasty fraulein packing some serious heat.
A 'bombshell', one might say." He licked his thin lips. "I have no idea
where she came from, but she brought Hell on her own two feet. They
were watching and tried to pull her Underneath,” he gestured towards
the three of his kin who were huddled in the corner, “but they ended
up spit-roasted for their trouble. Next thing I know, she’s having a
go at me with her heater on the way out. I decided to let the others
handle it from there.” He raised and dropped one shoulder; a bored shrug.
She scowled at the news. That damn Hunter was still in the game. And
more- “There’s only one way they could have found their way down here
– the Eye! They must have discovered how to use it. If they could find
you down here, they can find any of us, anywhere!"
Even during the day, hidden from normal mortal view, trapped in
Demona shivered. "They must be found; they cannot be allowed to escape,
nor given the time to plan another offensive! Next time it might be
more than two, with more than a handful of flares and a pair of guns-
it might be a mob with kerosene and torches!"
A great shudder ran through Kappel. The others in the room went still,
whimpering and rocking in fear. Something was coming, and she could
almost feel the hot rage pouring her way. Unlike the ghouls, she would
not be cowed before it.
The King of the Bone Eaters glowered balefully as he slid from the
shadows of the south passage. The ancient fiend stalked toward her,
and more of the ghouls slunk forward cautiously in his wake. Pale forms
crawled around the corners of the chamber passages, hissing and whispering
“Too late for that, Lapider la Dame. They are already fled
of our lovely halls!" His voice seemed to rock the chamber.
"Those assassins came looking for the one you gave to me,”
he growled, voice filled with thinly-veiled hostility. “They
came bearing weapons and light, and attacked my children. What have
you brought upon us?”
“How dare you try to blame me for this?” She spat hotly, rounding on
him, “Eugene is now one of yours to protect. Do not try to mark me as
guilty for your own people's failure!"
"But it was the very enemy you sought our aid against who
caused the damage! Was it not your bargain that we should guard your
slumber while you remained in these halls, and strike out against la
chasseur as your own hand? Did you not promise to entice her to a place
of my choosing, divested of flame or light, that my children could fulfill
our pact without risking brûlure d'âme?! We can heal the coupures of
metal and stone; dommages from burns are not so easily guéri de!"
He gestured to three of the feverish ghouls laid out on the cavern floor,
their clammy skin colored with a blush-like burn.
"That was indeed our bargain, and I have been graciously awaiting your
choosing ground for the past many weeks."
"You grew impatient of waiting, and guided them here this
night, wreathed in arms no less! You broke our pact!"
The effect of his words was immediate; the Bone Eaters came alive, snickering
in delight and clawing at the air as though their king had already turned
her flesh over to their gaping maws.
Demona crossed her arms, meeting the king's eyes defiantly. "I did
no such thing. I have had years to learn patience; granted, your timidity
in facing a single woman grows wearying, but not so much that I would
ruin my best chance to rid myself of the scum. They must have suspected
your people and found an unprotected entrance to your domain."
“LIAR!” The King’s voice was a roar.
“They could not possibly know of our existence; you must have led them
here! They followed you, and they escaped, and now they will bring more!
You are to blame! How dare you demand my aid while bringing destruction
upon my children! Have you betrayed us to the Humans?!” The
others watched the argument closely, circling their King and his opponent
and grinning in hungry anticipation.
“Have you forgotten who and what I am?” She asked, her voice deceptively
calm whisper. “Who are you to question me so? I am the one beyond your
reach, the one outside your realm. You, 'vicomte', should not presume
He stared at her, and his blank milky eyes narrowed. “That
may have been true on the hill of stones,” he said smoothly,
“under the pale moon – but here, the stones are mine. Here, your moon
does not shine. I am le marquis de l'affamé; Lord of all those that
dwell here. You stand in my domain now, and beyond or Beneath, none
that dare draw breath will speak to me so.”
Around her, she sensed the starving creatures cease their pacing. The
tension lay thick in the air, a musky taste, as the Bone Eaters waited,
drooling, to see if their king would give the one order they most anticipated.
Their leader was just raising his hand when Kappel stepped between them;
Demona hadn't even seen him rise to his feet.
“Sire, my Ladyship is not to blame.” He spoke smoothly, his words calm
and measured. “The murderous wench had with her a French wizard who
led her in and out, using his arts to find the way. He is our true enemy,
and he will yet do greater harm if we do not pursue him.”
The king lowered his hand, seeming to consider this. “Pursue
we may, but with what hope? The killer’s path is warded by devilry and
the blinding Above; how will we find them?”
Kappel grinned widely as he brandished his razor. “The Wizard’s blood
will betray him. I left him bleeding; the scent will lead us true. One
way or another, it will serve as a means to track him.”
“Ha,” the king retorted. “You
are new to the fold, and foolish. We dare not follow them into the City;
the humans are too many, and their lights burn the sky. It is sure destruction
to venture there!”
“If allowed,” Demona pursed her lips thoughtfully, “these assassins
will return to bring ruin on your children… But, as you know, I have
skill in the arts as well, and am capable of things far above those
imaginable to this young Frenchman and his woman. If you will but give
me the aid you have already promised, I will lend you my powers in turn.
I can make it safe for you to walk in the Above, to scour the streets
for these mongrels and put them down!"
The king of the Bone Eaters cocked his head at her, his necklace of
bones rattling like beads.
She leaned forward, spreading her arms. "I can swallow their lights.
I can ensnare the pair in shadow, so that none may aid them-- if you
will only uphold your oath, and send your children out to do their duty.”
The King grinned cruelly, showing teeth that never seen a human mouth.
“Smother their light, and ensnare them in shadow? If you
can truly do this, then I will gladly send my children to take their
prize, and bring back your trinket as well.”
* * * * *
Fiona and Philip had emerged from a storm drain two miles away from
the pub, coated in muck and slime and badly battered by their fight.
Not wanting to risk the questioning eyes of the pub's inhabitants, she
had led him to sneak up the rickety back outer stairs that led to the
She locked the door to her room behind them, and after a moment's thought
shoved both the chair and the desk in front of it. Stripping off her
soiled coat slowly, she motioned at the back of the room to the tiny
"Fill the basin in there with water, and bring it back out for me.
Then go ahead and wash up; we both need to get clean before our wounds
Fiona missed Bouchard's absent nod, busy as she was examining the shredded
sections of her coat. Exhaling sharply through her nose, she tossed
it onto the floor in the corner of the room. She accepting the proffered
basin from her companion in silence, and set it on the table. Half a
bar of soap floated in the slightly brown water.
Thoughtful of him. She found a scrap of towel from a bag on
the floor, and then rummaged under the bed for her medicinal kit, removing
from it a half-full bottle of whiskey and a small wooden box. She them
on the desk next to the bowl, and began to meticulously clean her hands,
first with soap and water, and then, wincing, with the whiskey.
By the time Bouchard exited the shower, clad in a worn blue bathrobe
several sizes too small, she had all the scrapes and cuts on her hands
patted dry and half-bandaged. Fiona had him help tie off the last of
the cotton bindings before telling him to sit down.
He collapsed into the chair gratefully, poking through her field surgery
kit as she sloshed more whiskey into a chipped tumbler and handed it
"Oh. Thank you."
Noticing the coffee pot still sitting on the nightstand, she downed
the dregs without a thought, grimacing convulsively at the aftertaste.
The bitter brew was tepid, but not cold. Had they only been away two
hours? Three? It seemed like a month.
“What time is it?” Philip asked, echoing her thoughts. She turned back
to him, noticing the bandage on his wrist - wrapped in material torn
from the hem of her blouse- was soaked through with blood and sewer
muck. She'd start with it, then.
“I think it’s a little past two in the morning,” she replied, her shears
made short work of the makeshift dressing. Fiona peeled it away as gently
as possible; the wound was still seeping blood, which she took as a
good sign. Philip grunted and took a gulp of the alcohol as she set
about cleaning the wound with a dampened piece of clean cloth.
“This is a bad cut,” she murmured, dabbing at the clots, “it’s straight,
but deep. You’ll need stitches.”
Bouchard frowned, regarded his tumbler of whiskey, and downed the remainder
in a swift gulp. Fiona took the glass from him and poured him another
before washing her hands again; he pointedly averted his eyes as she
opened the packages containing the needle and sterile thread.
“What were those things?” She asked, as much to distract him as to
sate her honest curiosity. “I’ve never seen anything like them before.”
“How should I know?” He replied tightly, sucking in a breath as she
set to work.
"You're a scholar of arcane things; well read and well-traveled by
your own admittance. Surely you must have some clue?"
Philip hissed again, and Fiona smiled apologetically while she let
him catch his breath. He was silent for a minute more after she returned
to her work, taking another drink.
"I had heard rumors...during the war. Stories told to pass the time;
the boys made them up to keep their minds off of what was going on around
them." He offered her an ironic look. "We did what we could to keep
that sort of talk to a minimum; it can have a negative effect on morale
sometimes, but just the same you'd hear them."
"Hear what?" she pressed.
"Some said... that they were the souls of the men cut down by the war,
come back to avenge themselves on the living. Hungry ghosts; partly
flesh, partly intangible. Real enough to take a bite out of you one
minute, the next, melting away into the shadows..." Philip frowned,
more worried in thought than in physical pain. "They feared the light,
living in caves and scavenging carrion. Some of the men, usually the
seedier ones, claimed they heard voices calling to them from No Man’s
Land during the night. That they saw things walking out among the wire
and the shell craters. The first thing I did when I heard stories like
that was to check the man’s breath. Nine times in ten, they’d been hitting
the wine.” He laughed, trying to make light of the situation, but there
was no heart in it. Fiona remained quite, focusing on finishing her
task. After another awkward pause, Philip continued.
“I had a Sergeant who claimed to have seen one. He described it as
a pale, naked creature - a grotesque form with a stringy beard, glowing
white in the moonlight as it picked its way through the muck. The sight
of it unnerved him so much that he’d ordered one of his men to fire
on it. The thing disappeared, and they never did know if they’d hit
it or not. The next night, though, the private who’d done the shooting
went missing from his post. They never found him. He probably just snuck
off; there were always desertions… But Sergeant Laurent was never the
same. He never talked about it in front of the men, but he was convinced
that there was something out there. He was deathly afraid of the night,
and took to carrying a revolver with him all the time. He said it was
for ‘personal use’, in case sundown found him wounded and alone in No
Man’s Land. Frankly, I thought he’d come unhinged.”
His voice trailed off, and he chuckled nervously.
“Perhaps I should have listened to his advice. Here’s to you, Sergeant
Laurent!” He toasted the empty air, and drained the remainder of his
second glass of spirits. Fiona tied off her last stitch and he winced
again, despite the numbing effect of the alcohol. The wound was now
clean and dry and, although it was still an angry red, she was satisfied
that it would heal well. She finished off her work by binding his arm
up in a fresh bandage for good measure.
“Well, it looks like you’ll live another day.” She patted his shoulder,
“now it’s your turn to play surgeon.” She moved slowly, unbuttoning
her tattered blouse and peeling her arm out of her ruined sleeve, revealing
the patchwork of vicious bite marks that were hidden beneath.
“Mon Dieu!” He stared at her wounds with horrified fascination.
“You have to wash it out very thoroughly; I want it to be as clean
Philip reacted as one horribly embarrassed. “I should not have allowed
my injuries to be tended before yours!” He exclaimed, hands fluttering
above her wounds. “Why did you not tell me how bad they were?”
She shushed him quickly. “It looks bad, I know, but yours were more
serious. You could hardly help me if you’d fainted from blood loss.
The wounds themselves are painful, yes, but they won’t be the end of
me. I have had worse. I’m not so much worried about the pain as the
risk of infection.”
Philip grimaced; the thought of gangrene was hardly a pleasant one.
He scooped up the basin and tipped its contents down the drain in her
tiny washroom, cleaning the worn bowl with more lye soap before refilling
it. Selecting a new dry towel, Philip brought his equipment back to
the table, where Fiona was already rummaging in her medical kit.
“You did very well back there,” she told him as he began to inspect
her wound. “I hadn’t expected you to hold up, to be honest. I have worked
with others in the past, and most came apart rather quickly when they
ran up against the Demon and her minions – but you stood your ground
“Is that how it looked to you?” He smiled tiredly at the compliment.
“Half the time I was too busy to think, and the other half I was terrified
out of my mind. Maybe I’m just lucky.”
She looked at him across the small table, and shook her head. “It doesn’t
matter what you feel; it only matters what you do. You survived a fight
with the German, that alone is remarkable.”
He finished washing her entire left arm, from shoulder to wrist. She
examined his work, and then handed him one of the sterile dressings
from her kit. He positioned it carefully over the bites and then bound
it in place with a fresh bandage.
“You saved my life tonight,” Fiona said quietly. “If it hadn’t been
for you finding that hole, we’d both be dead. Of course,” she added
thoughtfully, “if it hadn’t been for you, we would have never been in
danger in the first place…”
“Glad to be of service, mademoiselle,” he grinned.
He had finished bandaging her arm, and she flexed it experimentally
before nodding her satisfaction. “Next time,” she said, “we’ll do things
my way. Here, a hydrochloric solution, for proof against infection,”
she passed him a syringe and a small vial of liquid.
“Next time? What next time?” His previous glow of pride wasn’t enough
to mask the sudden incredulity in his voice. “You intend to try again?”
Unsure whether to laugh hysterically or offer to help, Bouchard held
his tongue and checked the syringe before administering the injection
just above her new bandage.
“For us, there’s always a next time. You’ve seen the damage she can
do. She has to be stopped before she can spread her evil further. Make
no mistake though, I have no intention of walking blindly into another
one of the Demon’s ambushes. Next time, I’ll be prepared."
She pulled a fresh shirt from her press and pulled it on carefully.
"We’ll take turns keeping watch tonight. When the sun rises, the Demon
will be trapped in stone. We’ll use the Eye to find her roost, and I
will go fully armed. Herr Kappel is a mean hand with a razor, but I
have enough guns here to equip a small army. I’ll take the German alive
if I can – there might be a way to save him from the evil she worked,
and if there is, you’ll be the one to find it."
He stared at her, still speechless as he tried to comprehend her suicidal
resolve. He must have been more exhausted than he thought; it was starting
to sound like a good idea.
“Do you really think we can save Kappel?”
“I won’t make promises, but I will try, for your sake. And his. One
way or another, I’ll free him from the Demon’s thrall. As for her,”
Fiona strode to her half-open trunk of arms and dragged out a long-handled
sledgehammer. “There’s still one sure way to deal with her kind. But
that is tomorrow, and this is tonight; it’s been a long day. You should
He shrugged uncertainly. “After all this, I don’t seem to feel all
that tired. What time is it now?”
“Nearly three in the morning,” she said with a quick glance at the
clock. “When was the last time you slept?”
“Not since two days ago. I… I was busy researching with Reeves…” He
paused, voice trailing off, a pained look on his face. He rested his
head carefully in his arms. “Frankly, I don’t feel that much like sleeping.
You can rest, if you like; You can rest, if you like; I’ll take the
opportunity to do a little more research – there’s a lot we still don’t
She shook her head and moved to peek out from behind the closed curtain
to the street below. The morning star had already risen above the horizon
and soon, the first hint of dawn would brighten the sky. “If you don't
get some sleep you’ll be no use to me at all. You can borrow my bed.
It’s small, but you’ll fit. I’ll wake you when it’s time to go.”
There was no response.
She peered at him closely; the alcohol had finished what the stress
had begun. He was well and truly asleep, his head cradled against his
arms on the tabletop. Fiona fished one of the large blankets off of
the bed and covered him up, before taking up a position by the window.
* * * * *
Demona stalked through the dark tunnels, traveling more by memory and
touch than by sight; even her vision was no match for the pitch black
of the lower levels. Fire or even magical light were forbidden here,
save in her own small resting chamber.
She reached the large alcove that had been allotted to her, and found
that the fire she had banked before leaving was again cold to its core.
One way or another, the flames never seemed to survive in her absence.
"Exori flamma," she whispered, and the fire sprang back to life with
a crunch and a crackle. From the hall outside the alcove, she heard
the Bone Eaters scattering in fear.
She made her way over to a metal trunk resting in one corner. Unlocking
it, she lifted the lid and began sorting through the objects that lay
within. Two books first- one a formal, leather-bound volume; the other
a collection of notes and records written on cured lambskin; a log of
her personal exploration of the Occult, of experiments and theories
in the use of magic.
She sat down to read by the glow of the fire, nodding to herself as
she examined the passages. It was as she'd thought; with enough skill
and a strong foci, she could weave an enchantment that would suit her
purposes and those of "le marquis de l'affamé" just fine.
Demona burned the new passages onto the remaining blank pages at the
back of her journal, and returned to her portmanteau. A careful look
proved that she had suitable ingredients as catalysts; selecting two
sealed jars and a hinged wooden box, she laid them out by the fireside
next to the book.
As for the foci...her hand paused above a heavily wrapped bundle. She
had never used it for anything like this before...but if the rumors
were true, it was strong enough to both anchor and power this
spell, along five others of the same degree. Her hands closed around
the figure, and she set it out with the rest.
Now, to set the spell on her prey...
"Eugene? I know you are back there. Come out, I have need for your
pretty razor now. And I do hope you managed to save what I needed from
the mouths of your new brethren..."
"A trade of a morsel for the whole beast? Even my people aren't stupid
enough to turn that down...though they may well take it out of your
hide if you fail to deliver, my Lady. We were saving these for a snack."
The gaunt form of the former human slipped into the firelight, squinting
but otherwise undaunted by the bright glow. It seemed his transformation
was less complete than she had thought; none of the others dared come
so close. Perhaps the remains of her compulsion clung to him still...
"You'll have your snack," she snapped, snatching the red-stained scrap
of the cloth from his hand. "Now, are you sure that it's her blood on
"Sure as shadow. I pulled it from between his teeth myself."
Demona nodded, concealing her disgust; the ragged bit of coat felt
“And here’s the other." He said, holding out his razor to her. His
eyes trailed it he backed away, remaining in shadow to watch her work.
She returned to the fire, laying the two final pieces down beside her
other supplies, and picked up the wrapped bundle.
Gently peeling away the furs that cushioned it from physical harm,
and then the silk wrapping that guarded it magically, she withdrew a
small stone sculpture. It was about the size of two fists, and carved
in the likeness of a gargoyle with its front hands clasped together.
To think that fool Ancel offered the Eye to me in *trade* for this!
He had known the statue's history and significance as well as she
did; after all, in better times she had used him to help verify her
researches into it.
Demona closed her eyes briefly, took a slow breath to focus her mind,
and began to chant in a clear voice.Several stanzas in to laying down
the base of this particularly complex undertaking, she flipped open
the box and picked up the praying gargoyle.
"...insignire sanguinis exuviae mea hostis" she chanted, wiping the
blood from first the blade and then the fabric onto the head of the
sculpture. Instantly, the air started to hum with collecting power.
She stood, the statue held out in one hand, the other clutching a handful
of black powder from the cedar box. To normal eyes it appeared to be
nothing more than crushed charcoal...but when she cast the first handful
into the fire, the flames turned a sickly green.
"Abalienare catenatus tenebrae..." The praying gargoyle grew warm in
her hand. "...disiunctum aeternis..." she declared, making a second
pass of the powder into the fire. The statue's energy now felt as though
it was crackling in time to the flicker of the flames.
One last handful scattered into the pale flames. "Celare lumen et iubaris!"
Her scalp tingled with the power. It was going to work! She
raised her hand over the statue, letting the last few pinches fall directly
onto it. "....lucifugum, donec sanguinans umbraes cruento..." Immediately
it began to glow with a ghastly red light, a brilliance that rippled
and danced in mimicry of the fire.
Demona set it down gently, and she nodded her satisfaction when it
continued to pulsate with a bloody glow. Picking up one of the small
jars, she unscrewed its lid and prepared to pour the oily liquid down
into the snapping flames...
* * * * *
He crossed slowly through a mud-mired No Man’s Land, watching the rip
of bullets taking down other young soldiers in his squadron; watching
comrades lost over a year’s worth of battles falling together in a single
moment. The ground was dark as though it were night-time, but the crow-filled
sky was the color of old dust. One rook wheeled and dove at him, talons
outstretched, laughing with the voice of an old woman. He threw himself
to the side and it almost missed him entirely, but where the rook’s
outstretched wing grazed his cheek it drew blood.
Bouchard heard voices - female voices - talking calmly above the sounds
of the battle. He turned, searching for their source, and found them
standing beneath a shell-shattered tree; three woman garbed in silk
robes. They did not appear to notice him, their attentions fixed instead
on the carnage around them in the dying battleground.
But it was no longer the battle of Marne, or Verdun, or any battle
from his memory- the players on the field were no longer human. Horrors
beyond his imagination tore at each other, and the elements ran riot
in waves lightning and blistering heat. In the distance, a pack of red-skinned
giants hurled a sea of fire against a silver-clad woman armed with a
spear. She battered the inferno aside with her shield, bellowed a harsh
command, and her adversaries were set upon by a flight of shrieking,
A voice, grinding and ancient, spoke from just behind him. "They
stand aside from the bloodshed, and they mock the poor fools who die,
secure in their own superiority. ...But they have never fought in battle,
Philip Bouchard. They scheme, and they manipulate from the sidelines,
but they do not understand what it is to suffer as a soldier does through
war." Philip whirled, and found three figures behind him, their
faces obscured by the shadows of their hoods. Straggly hair hung down
from beneath the hood of each, the same dirty gray as their robes
“What is....Who are you?” he whispered.
One figure raised its head. "Dark shadows of those light witches,
bound into this flesh by our first master, forced to perform the service
that they give their lord and lady willingly." Its glutinous voice
seemed to come from everywhere at once.
“I don’t understand.”
A rasping chuckle sounded in reply, raising the hairs on the back of
"Ask It. It
can tell you."
Philip looked down, realizing that he was now clutching the Seer's
Stone in his hand. The carved eye seemed to stare back at him, and the
breath seemed to catch in his throat as he reached out to it.
Darkness enveloped him. Blinding pain; the feeling of his skull being
ripped apart. The feeling of separation, like a giant blade had cleft
him apart, far worse than it felt to use the eye before. More feelings
then- violent shuddering, a large body writhing; twisting in the throes
of death. Just as quickly as it had come upon him, both the pain and
blindness fled. Images fluttered past his eyes, each accompanied by
snippets of sound, scent, emotions.
The sky above a roiling sea, the crashing of waves and a feeling of
terrible hunger. Again, that sense of separation. A pair of men standing
on the shore, one tall and commanding with cold eyes, the other seeming
to blend into the shadows at his side.
A giant pearlescent orb cleaved by a sword; a blacksmith’s hammer striking
a hand-sized gold talisman; a bejeweled goblet smashed apart to reveal
a familiar sliver of gray stone; a shield emblazoned with the livery
of an owl in flight. Fiona’s Demon, standing amid human carnage and
lowering her blood-smeared claws towards the face of a young man as
he lay dying.
The disjointed images streamed away like smoke in the wind, and he
beheld the silver-clad woman from the battlefield. She stood in a silent
olive grove, her spear hanging lightly in one hand, and the owl-shield
on the other. Her polished armour shone in the failing light of a summer’s
Before her stood a pair of strange young women; one bore a great sword,
the other a scroll, and their eyes glowed a livid red as they raged
at her. Between them stood a third woman, her hands gripping a slender
crown. Bouchard couldn’t seem to make out the features of her face,
nor the words being spoken; yet somehow he understood what was happening.
Imperiously, the shield-goddess demanded the crown; the woman wrapped
her sharp-nailed fingers tighter around it and refused to give it up.
Incensed, the goddess raised her hand and struck; on either side, the
crown-bearer’s companions fell to the ground screaming, bronze wings
beating helplessly against the ground. A searing smell filled the air;
molten metal. It reminded Philip of his father’s workshop, of lead being
cast into toy-soldiers.
The magic had not come easy for the goddess; she hadn’t dealt such
vengeance since the great war of the gods, but now her fury ruled her.
The faceless woman remained standing, glancing from her fallen sisters
back to their tormentor. Wordlessly, she raised the crown…and placed
it on her own head. Turning her back on the goddess, she collected her
sisters, and began to walk away.
"We saw them, and called them to us. The same as I have been calling
A desolate island, gulls shrieking. A bargain struck. Bouchard’s head
spun from the shards of knowledge; like individual pieces of a vast
puzzle, the sights were but glimpses of some greater unknown whole.
Two sets of shadows, merging. Blood pouring out across the dead stone
of the island; that terrible hunger appeased, but never for long. The
faceless woman turned to him, and for a moment Bouchard could SEE her,
and he was screaming, and the darkness roiled back up around him….
He was back on the war-torn hillside, but it was empty now, save for
the one grey-cloaked hag. Dizzy and nauseous from the sensory overload,
Bouchard sank to his knees.
I don’t…understand,” he said weakly, gazing up.
"The Eye was never meant for mortal use; mortal comprehension cannot
fathom the truth it shows. Even the Theoi have died, trying to use it.
That was why he bound us, to See for him, and it taxed even us. But
if you truly wish to know the truth, you may continue to use it to aid
your search." It paused. "If you survive the night."
The hag-being smiled at him, only its maw was that of a Bone Eater,
gaping wider and wider and he turned and ran, feeling its hunger at
his back like a scalding wind, and as he ran the land became a graveyard
and he was fleeing past more Bone Eaters and they dropped the gnawed
remains of previous victims to chase him, chase him through the dark,
the light was leaking out of the sky until the whole world was a maze
of catacombs, and he could hear them hissing, drawing closer, fear and
black night encasing him, choking him, and there was no air-
* * * * *
Seated cross-legged on the bed, Fiona glanced up from her journal again
as Bouchard moaned softly. The man’s sleep had been restless, and whatever
phantoms haunted his dreams seemed to be growing stronger. He whimpered,
and then began to thrash fitfully. She shook her head and went back
to recording the events of the last few days, knowing that her own sleep
was going to be plagued with nightmares no less fearsome than whatever
Bouchard was facing.
She was reaching for her cup of coffee on the bedside stand when he
suddenly gave a hoarse cry. Startled, her hand knocked the cup over,
dashing the hot brew across her book and shirtsleeves.
Bouchard was struggling to sit up, hands clawing at the blanket that
had wrapped around him as he twisted in his sleep.
"No! Run! They're coming, they're coming!!" He shrieked, eyes wild.
She went to his side. "Calm down, Monsieur Bouchard!" He tried to scrabble
away as she approached. "Philip, it's okay." She tried again, hoping
the use of his christian name might help soothe him.
He blinked rapidly, recognition lighting his face. "Fiona...Mme Canmore?
What...where...?" Bouchard glanced around the room, looking confused.
"I was...back in the catacombs. Only they were the city of Paris. And
I was running, running from them. I can feel them getting closer." He
spoke between breathes as she helped him unwind himself from the blanket.
The heavy material was damp with sweat where it had touched his skin,
and perspiration had beaded on his forehead.
"It was just a dream, Philip. We're safe, in my boarding room above
the tavern, remember?"
"No, no it wasn't! We're not safe here. I can feel them..."
Fiona was certain his sanity had snapped, until she noticed the black
silk cords dangling from his tightly clenched left hand. "You had a
vision?" It was more statement than question. "What did you see?"
He accepted the battered tin mug of black coffee she proffered, taking
a long drink of it and lurching to his feet.
"I saw...many things. There was a...creature. It wore a woman’s face,
but it was something… Ancient, something terrible. It spoke to me, called
me by name. The Eye showed me things, pieces...the gods at war...the
grove. Then It told me they were coming.” He stood suddenly to pace
the small room.
“The Eye did?"
"I- it...I don't know. Maybe it...She could have been a personification
of it..." Bouchard's face darkened as he forced himself to remember.
“Much of it was beyond my understanding, but this I know: something
is coming.” He drew up short. "We need to leave immediately. Whatever
it is, it's more than just the Bone Eaters or the Demon. It's something
bigger...and I can practically hear it getting closer." His eyes grew
distant. "Like thunder before a storm."
Fiona sighed. "Dawn isn't far off..."
"It's further off than the evil I feel on the horizon." He pulled his
overcoat on, and started bundling up his supplies. "And it isn't safe
here." Bouchard glanced at her. "I don't want to see you further injured,
but if you insist on staying here, I will head out on my own.
I won't stand here trying to convince you until we're both killed."
The haunted look on his face decided her. The Grey Eye isn't called
a "Seer's Stone" for nothing, after all.
"Fine. I'll go with you; there's safety in numbers...But we're going
to arm ourselves first; I'm not having a repeat of our blunder in the
Catacombs. We'll need to pack light enough to still move quickly on
foot..." She spoke the last to herself as she dropped to her knees next
to the bed and began hauling packages and luggage from beneath it.
"Lend me a hand, and we'll be on our way inside five minutes."
* * * * *
On the streets below, a pair of dead eyes gazed up from a narrow alleyway,
watching the lights of the second story flat. The street was empty,
the air leaden, the quiet of the night marred only by a silken rasp
as Kappel stropped his straight-razor against the sleeve of his coat.
The other Bone Eaters were all about him, seeping silently into this
world, here from the shadows cast by a crumbling brick wall, rising
there from pools of filth and shadow. They were drawn by the smell of
the wizard’s blood, and with every moment the Lady's darkness
was spreading, like ink in a cup of milk. Drops of shadow ate away at
the cobblestones of the street, at the gutters and brick walls, each
spreading larger with every passing second, swelling and joining as
they devoured the sleeping city.
A soft murmur, too quiet for mortal ears, began to echo from the dirty
..............."....can taste their sweet blood already!"......................
lick clean their bones...
ahead, so close!"...........................
Kappel glanced up just in time to see the
summoned darkness draw like a curtain across the face of the moon. The
stars and streetlamps dimmed, and then began to wink out one by one.
* * * * *
Fiona seated the Thompson's bulky ammo drum with a smart slap, chambered
a round, and swung the gun around a bit to get a feel for the weight.
It was heavier than she would have preferred, but the extra ammo would
be worth every ounce if they ran across the Demon or her minions. Her
belt was loaded down with spare drum magazines, and the pockets of her
overcoat were stuffed with flares. A spare torch was thrust into her
belt like a pistol, replacing the one she'd lost amid the bones of the
catacombs. A leather messenger bag hung heavily across one shoulder,
filled with a few of the more volatile contents of her armoury. Fiona
hoped she wouldn't need them.
She checked her pocket watch; it was little more than an hour until
sunrise, but that was more than enough time for things to go wrong.
They'd have to be careful to avoid attracting attention, as she didn't
relish the thought of explaining their choice of evening attire to the
Behind her, Bouchard shoved the last of his tomes into a shoulder-pack,
and hefted it into place. He kept glancing around him uneasily, and
Fiona couldn't help but share the feeling that they were both being
She took a quick look around the room, checking for anything important
that might have been forgotten. They'd return for the rest once the
sun was safely in the sky. In the meantime...
He turned, fidgeting distractedly with the straps of his bag.
"You know how to use one of these, right?" She asked, holding aloft
a large rifle.
"I believe so."
She tossed it to him, along with a wide leather bandolier. He winced
as he caught them, the motion straining his injured shoulder.
"It's a Winchester, no? Like the American cowboys use?" It was a long,
heavy thing, well-worn from decades of use. A powerful weapon as well,
judging by the three-inch shells that marched in a neat row across the
Fiona smiled a little at his reply. "That's right. It might kick a
little harder than you're used to, but whatever you catch on the wrong
end of your sights will rue the day. Just keep your aim good; if we
run into trouble, I'll be counting on you to guard my back."
He nodded and looped the bandolier over his shoulder, a small grin
at her compliment softening his worried expression.
"Well then, if we're done here, I think it's time to go-"
The image flashed through every fibre of Bouchard's mind, and was gone
before he could even realize what it was. There was a curious buzzing
in his ears, and he shook his head to clear them as he took a step forward.
His own voice sounded tinny and distant, and the buzzing was an impossible,
thundering roar that made the guns of the Front seem like a lover's
whisper. He saw her turn, dimly heard her speak, but he was falling,
and then the Roar burned through his vision, a wall of rippling,
tormenting darkness crashing over him, stripping flesh from bone, grinding
bone to dust, scattering all before it with an endless, ravenous scream-
"Bouchard! Can you hear me? Bouchard!" She felt for a pulse; his heartbeat
was fast and erratic, pounding like a jackhammer.
Another vision; that's what it had to be. He'd come out of it on his
own the way he had before. It was hell on the nerves every single time,
but she was rapidly growing accustomed to these ghastly displays. As
bad as it looked, he'd be fine...
assuming his heart doesn't give out from the strain, of course.
Such cheery thoughts.
She straightened up, sighing. Nothing to do but wait it out; he'd come
to in a minute, spouting the usual madness and shaking like a leaf,
and they'll be on their way. Nothing to worry about, nothing at all.
The nausea was the only warning she got. It hit her hard and fast,
an iron fist that clamped around her gut, doubling her over with sudden
pain. The room spun, the floor lurched beneath her, and then she was
falling, and her face smacked hard against the floorboards. She clung
to them in panic as she tried to regain her balance, fingernails gouging
deeply into the wood as her flat spun end for end.
Her world came apart at the seams, the soft light of her room shattering
and swallowed in a flood of shrieking darkness. She was blind and alone,
and then even the rough wood of the floorboards gave way, and she was
falling again with nothing left to catch her. An unimaginable pressure
squeezed her body, the darkness constricting around her as though she
were sinking into the blackest depths of the ocean. She fought for each
labouring breath, and for a horrible, endless moment it seemed the life
would be crushed from her, snuffing her out like a candle flame.
* * * * *
"Her Ladyship's gifts serve true." A harsh grin split Kappel's face.
He felt a deep shuddering of power in his bones, a cosmic death rattle
as his mistress' curse strangled the life from the city. The last lights
had vanished, the last sounds faded, leaving behind an otherworldly
calm. Even his Kin stood silent, awed by the lady's power. He paused,
savouring the moment, the silent anticipation of the gathered horde.
"The night is ours. Take them now, and take them alive. Our feasting
will come after the Lord and Lady are through with them."
The Bone Eaters spilled from their hiding places, crawling from under
the eaves of buildings, slipping by twos and threes from alleys and
gutters, gathering into a ragged wave of pale, gleaming flesh as they
converged on their victims.
* * * * *
Weak... So weak.
Fiona didn't know how long she lay simply breathing, gathering
her strength. Too long; never mind specifics. She couldn't stay here.
*They* couldn't stay here. Bouchard had been right once more, damn him.
He'd warned her something was coming... And now it had arrived.
The crushing pain had receded, but the darkness remained. It was more
than an absence of light; it felt alive, malicious, predatory, circling
as it watched for an opening, waiting to strike the finishing blow.
It hadn't finished her yet, though, and that was something. Whatever
new witchcraft the Demon had conjured, she'd survived the first blow.
To survive the next, she had to be on her feet.
It took a minute or two but she finally forced herself upright, fighting
back the nausea that rippled through her stomach. Her muscles clenched
with residual agony, but at least she was vertical. That was a start.
A few deep breathes helped clear the haze away, and then she fumbled
for the torch on her belt. It snapped cleanly to life, the bright yellow
beam illuminating the familiar shapes of her room. She sighed in embarrassed
relief; for a moment, she'd been terrified that it too was dead.
Philip was just as she'd left him: flat on his back, panting at the ceiling
in short, sharp gasps.
His eyes were still open, staring sightlessly up into the light of
the torch. He looked like a corpse; stiff and cold save for the movement
of his chest. No way of knowing how long this attack would last, and
no time to wait. She grabbed him by both shoulders, and began to shake
“Philip? Snap out of it. We're in danger here; we have to run.” It
was like trying to rouse a statue. She could barely even budge him;
two hundred pounds of him were locked in a grim parody of rigor mortis.
“Come on, wake UP! I can't-“
Both her eyes and the torch-beam jerked upward, coming
to rest on the dusty plaster ceiling. The sound had definitely come
from above. Fiona swallowed thickly as she sat perfectly still, ears
straining for another sound. There, a faint scuffle- footsteps on a
tiled roof, and the soft groan of wooden rafters shifting. He said something
was coming, something terrible…
No time for delicacy; she struck him hard across the face. Still no
reaction. "Wake up! Philip, wake up, it's here!" It was time to run-
past time, in fact, and if he didn't come-to soon, she’d have no choice
but to leave him. Fiona slapped him again, and was rewarded this time
with a wince and a cough.
“Too late, we’re too late…” His voice was frightfully weak, but it
was the sweetest sound she'd ever heard.
“It's never too late until you're dead,” she snapped, “and even them
I'm sure the angels negotiate. Come on, Philip! Snap out of it! We're
under attack, and I need your help!”
Bouchard sat up, blinking rapidly, as he tried to focus. “Help... No,
there's no help... only darkness!” His eyes finally focused on hers,
and there was a terrible despair in them. “No help, no escape! Wrath
is upon us! Your demon grew tired of trying to drag us down to hell,
and has brought it here-"
She slapped him once more, this time hard enough to make her own hand
sting. His head snapped to the side, only to be hauled back by a fistful
of his collar.
"Keep your voice down,” she hissed furiously, inches from his face.
“Pull yourself together, or so help me, I’ll leave you for whichever
of the Demon’s monstrosities is currently creeping across my roof! You’re
welcome to wait for them to come down and strip the flesh from your
bones, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to let the Demon take me so easily!
He was staring at her now. Still shivering, but she had his full attention;
that was something, at least. She took a calming breath, and spoke in
a steadier voice. "Now, I need you on your toes for this. We're not
going to make it out of here without a fight, and I need you to be steady.
Can you be steady?"
Bouchard nodded slowly, and her eyes dropped to his hand. "And for
the love of life, put that away!" He barely resisted as she snatched
the Eye away from him, and stuffed it into her back pocket.
"Now are you with me, or are you going to make it easy for them?"
"I'm...with you." He whispered back, still looking stunned from her
"Good," she replied, offering her hand and helping pull him to his
feet. "Pick up your rifle, and let's show them what we're made of."
* * * * *
Fiona eased her front door open, peering out into the darkened passage.
She played her light across both ends of the hallway, and then motioned
him forward. Bouchard obeyed, wincing inwardly at each creak and groan
of the old wooden floor. He was still dizzy, and his stomach felt as
though its contents had been removed and replaced with blocks of ice,
but his head, for once, was quite clear. The Hunter’s harsh words had
grounded him somehow, helping to restore order to his tumultuous thoughts.
All through this interminable night, he'd been unable to do more than
react to the horrors springing up around him. At Reeves’ mansion, the
fight had ended before he could grasp what was happening. Later, when
he’s rushed off to the Catacombs, he’d been half-mad with shock, unhinged
by Reeves’ death and the power of the L’Oliel Gris. He’d nearly gotten
them both killed.
Was he mad now? His mind was too battered to answer that question with
any certainty, but somehow, the panic and grief that had been his constant
companions through this nightmare were beginning to loosen their hold.
What replaced them wasn't so much courage as a sort of stubborn fatalism:
he neither wanted to die, nor for Fiona to die because he had failed
her, and the only alternative was to fight. Whatever else this venomous
darkness had in store for them, better to meet it armed and on his feet.
Who could say? He might even survive.
A hand on his shoulder halted him. Fiona eased her door closed without
bothering to lock it, and leaned toward him. “We’ll take the back stairs,”
she hissed softly. “Move quiet as you can, and keep a sharp eye out.”
Bouchard nodded, silently cursing the old wooden floorboards as he
started down the passage. Fiona was quiet as a ghost behind him, and
he marveled again at her skill-
"Leaving so soon?"
Eugene Kappel stood on the landing of the stairs opposite them, barely
eight feet away.
“You must be the Hunter. Milady has spoken of you often, but we’ve
never yet been properly introduced.” The German’s voice was light and
mocking, and he seemed to take no notice of their weapons. “And where
could you be heading to, I wonder?”
"Bagnères-de-Luchon," replied Fiona coolly, showing not a hint of surprise.
"I hear it's quite lovely this time of year. We do have a train to catch,
though, so I'm afraid we really must be going." She began backing away
slowly, her weapon trained on the grinning fiend.
"Come, come. I'm sure you could spare a moment for an old friend."
She didn’t take her eyes off the German. "Go now,” She murmured to
Philip. “The back stairs. I'll catch up. Don't argue."
He did as she said, melting into the darkness as Fiona turned her full
attention back to their uninvited guest.
"Where's your mistress, Eugene?” She snapped coldly. “I thought she
was keeping you on a shorter leash these days… Or did she let you have
the evening off to play with your new friends?"
"Oh, she'll be along soon enough, pet, no worries there. She just sent
us ahead to keep you company..."
Philip hadn’t the time to listen further. He hurried down the servant’s
stairs, gripping the banister tightly as his feet found their own way
in the dark. It took a moment’s searching at the bottom to locate a
door, and he eased it open as quietly as possible. The room beyond was
almost as dark as the stairway, with only the faintest glimmer of moonlight
filtering through a pair of large windows to his left. He forced himself
to stand still, waiting for his eyes to adjust.
"What have we here? Are you lost, little man?"
He whipped around at that, gun at the ready. A pair of ghastly white
eyes peered out at him from the kitchen pantry. A loud hiss drew his
attention to a second Bone Eater, perched atop a nearby counter. Only
two, at the moment, but no doubt the sound of a gunshot would draw the
rest to me...
Forcing a little steel into his spine, Philip drew himself up to his
full height and snapped, in his best impression of Ferdinand Reeves:
"I command you to leave this place, beings of the foul dark! I am a
student of secret paths, paths of the light way, and I will not suffer
your presence. Depart now, or I will cast you out; in the names of-"
he groped for appropriate gods-" Apollo and Lugh, I bid thee gone!"
The two dead things shared a nonplussed look, and then turned back
to him, showing their teeth.
"What care we for names and titles? You are the one who came thieving
into our lair, beyond the reach of your gods." It chuckled thickly,
a wet sound. "The Lady sorcerer has promised us meat, and meat we shall
have, once we bring your bones to her!" It leaped at him without further
warning, and Philip jerked the Winchester's trigger.
The recoil was like being kicked in the shoulder by a horse. The shot
was a bad one, missing two feet to the left as the Bone Eater twisted
in mid-air, but his poor accuracy could hardly have mattered less. The
massive bullet punched a fist-sized hole through the wall of the kitchen
pantry, vaporized a shelf of preserves, and struck a five-gallon can
of paraffin oil.
A tremendous gout of flame billowed out of the open pantry door, coating
half the kitchen in burning oil. The second monster’s scream of terror
was cut off as the conflagration enveloped it, bathing the hapless creature
in liquid fire. It staggered drunkenly from the sudden inferno, fire
trailing from its burning form as it fled blindly into the common room
Bouchard had a split second to take in the awful scene, and then his
assailant was upon him. It moved with inhuman speed, batting his rifle
aside like a twig as it tackled him. Inhumanly strong fingers dug into
his shoulders as it fought to bury its teeth in his neck. They grappled
desperately; careening about the burning kitchen as each struggled to
overpower the other. The fire was spreading rapidly around them, dancing
up the wall in rippling sheets, licking at the wooden rafters, but the
ghoul was too mad to care. Flecks of foam spattering his face as its
teeth gnashed mere inches away, and its voice was a whining hiss in
"The lady wouldn’t grudge a little tasting, would she? So tempting,
“Tempting, maybe,” Bouchard grunted, muscles straining, “but I’m not
He twisted hard to the left, jerking the creature off balance. It stumbled,
its death-grip on him faltering as it lost its footing. An opening.
With a strength borne of desperation, the Frenchman grabbed his assailant
by the neck and shoulder and tossed him like a sack of wheat. His fingers
were already closing around the leather sling of the Winchester as his
foe bounced hard off one of the stout wooden tables and landed on all
There was no time to work the action, let alone shoot. The Bone Eater
sprang back at him, crossing the kitchen in two bounding strides, screaming
like a banshee as it came. This time, however, he was prepared.
It had been a long time since Bouchard had last held a rifle, and longer
still since his training as a cadet, but some things are not easily
forgotten. He pivoted smartly just as his Sergeant had taught him, and
drove his whole weight into the butt of the Winchester as it connected
solidly with the creature’s jaw. There was a harsh crack, like a thick
branch snapping, and the ghoul was lifted clean off its feet and hurled
against the far wall. It didn't get up.
There was no time to worry if it would recover; the kitchen was rapidly
turning into a furnace. He ran for the side door, half-blinded by the
smoke and intense heat, and crashed through it into a narrow side alley.
Behind him, flames were spreading rapidly through the first floor, engulfing
the common room and racing upward to the quarters above. He gasped for
air, fighting his way through heat so intense that it seemed to buffet
him in physical waves. Where was Fiona? Was she still inside? If she’d
survived the monsters, she’d be trapped by the inferno. He had to do
something, had to find a way to-
Before he had time to complete the thought, a staccato chatter cut
through the roar of the spreading blaze. It paused, then came again:
the unmistakable sound of a machine gun wielded by experienced hands.
There came a muffled chorus of shrieks, followed by another long burst,
and then something large crashed though a second story window, tackling
him to the ground amid a hail of shattered glass. Bouchard was knocked
off his feet, the breath driven from him by his assailant’s weight.
He struggled weakly, pushing it away just long enough to catch a glimpse
of long, golden hair.
Fiona shoved his face hard into the pavement, throwing her own arms
up to shield her head and neck. A massive thunderclap rocked the air,
stinging his ears painfully as splintered wood and glass pelted down
on him. When he looked up, the window she'd jumped from was filled with
“You certainly know how to make an exit, Mademoiselle,” Bouchard grunted
as she pulled him to his feet. “What happened in there? Are you hurt?”
"I'm fine. Kappel introduced me to a few more of his new friends."
She eyed the flames roaring from the shattered kitchen windows. "Was
the fire your idea?"
“I was ambushed; there were two of them. I fired...” His expression
suddenly turned to horror, and he turned back to the blaze, spreading
rapidly now through the second floor of the building. "Fiona...the owner's
family...the other boarders..."
Fiona's face turned hard. "We don't have the luxury of worrying about
them, Bouchard. Our fight should have woken the whole house in time
to escape. If not…”She could see the look of indecision in his eyes,
and cut it off quickly. “Listen to me, Philip. This fire is our best
chance to escape. The monsters will be scattered and confused by the
light, and we might be able to slip away before they regroup. We've
got to survive, and that means making our move now. Do you understand?”
“Yes.” He didn't like it, but a cold feeling in his stomach told him
she was right.
“Good. There's likely a crowd out there now, but we'll try to slip
through as quietly as we can. Stick close, and move fast.”
* * * * *
They broke from the alley at a fast trot, and were both so focused
on their escape that it took a moment for the obvious to settle in.
There was no crowd.
The street was completely deserted. The conflagration burned bright
enough to light up half the block, but not a soul was to be seen. Bouchard
scanned the neighboring shops and tenements, and the cold feeling in
his gut grew worse. No one running out to gawk or play hero, No faces
at the windows, no lights in any of the rooms. Where were the shouts
of alarm? Where were the fire bells? Where were the people? He turned,
eyes straining as he peered into the strangely darkened streets..
"I see them." There was no trace of emotion in her voice, but her Thompson
was up and ready, finger on the trigger. Something was out there, moving
about just beyond the wide circle of firelight. Bouchard followed her
example, the empty brass of his last shot ringing like a bell across
the cobbles as he worked the Winchester's action. He could see the eyes
now, dozens of them staring out from rooftops and alleyways, glowing
like fireflies in the reflected light.
"What are they?"
"More of Kappel's kin." Her eyes flickered back and forth, taking the
enemy's measure. "Many more; far too many for us to fight our way through.
The Demon's hold must be strong indeed, for them to risk venturing into
the open in such numbers. Fall back; we'll use the fire for cover."
"We can't afford to be caught here!"
"We won't be. I just need a minute to think..." She stared out at the
eyes, considering her options.
"Slow going?" sang down a voice from above. "What a pity. It appears
you'll be late for your train after all."
Kappel stood atop the burning pub, balancing easily on the peak of
a gable as billows of smoke and glowing ash swirled around him. Nearly
the whole building had caught now, but he hardly seemed to notice the
flames that roared and snapped around him. Illuminated by the infernal
red glow, he leered down at them like a twisted grotesque.
"You two are full of surprises. The fire," he shouted, waving casually
to the roaring inferno surrounding him, "was an especially nice touch.
You Hunters seem have a talent for indiscriminate destruction. And you,
Herr Bouchard! That Seer's Stone hasn't yet managed to boil your brains
"Hold your fire," Fiona hissed, pushing Bouchard's rifle aside before
he could properly take aim. She gazed up at Kappel, her face set in
a look of withering distaste.
"I'm disappointed, Eugene," she called, resting her Thompson lightly
on one hip. "You're an annoyingly durable one. I though I had put you
down for good in there."
"I'm afraid not, Hunter."
"In that case, I'll give you one chance, worm!" Her voice rose to a
furious cry, echoing through the deserted street. "Take your kin and
crawl back into the hole that spawned you! Cower there in the dark,
gnaw your old bones, and pray to whatever feeble gods you have that
I never come searching for you! Run like the filth you are, and perhaps
you'll survive a little longer. I promise you this, though: if you or
any of your gutter-sucking kind lay so much as a foot in my path, I'll
slaughter you to the last. This I swear on my father's name!"
Kappel only laughed, clapping in mock applause. “Slaughter, indeed!
Such magnificent, fanatic, idiot courage! You'd have done well in the
war, Fraulein, chanting your oaths into the teeth of the Maxim guns.
Perhaps the shrapnel would have cared for such things, but they mean
nothing to me.” The leering smile slid slowly from his face, leaving
something less pleasant in its wake. "No, I’m afraid you’re wasting
your breath. The two of you have caused no end of trouble to my new
people, and they are eager for a chance to express their displeasure.
My Mistress may want you alive, but accidents happen in the heat of
the moment. I’m not sure even fear of Her Ladyship can keep my fellows
from following their nature once they get a good taste of your blood."
“Come and get it then,” she cried. “What’re you waiting for, you sniveling
coward!? Here’s your chance! We’re here, just the way you wanted us.
Come down off your perch, and I’ll teach you a jig such as you’ve never
seen!” She laughed, and the sound of it sent shivers down Philip’s spine.
She had changed, transformed before his very eyes. Gone was the calm,
calculating woman, and in her place stood a blond-haired Fury.
“Think quickly, monster! How long before the Gendarme stumbles across
this little picnic outing? And even if you fought off every human in
this city, how will you fight the sun? Dawn will come, and your filthy
mob will crawl back down whatever pit it came from or be burned to dust
and ashes. We’ll be free to hunt down the Demon while she sleeps in
stone, and once we’ve finished with her, we’ll return for the rest of
you! I'll bring an army of stout men, and we'll put torches to your
nest of abominations!"
This last was shouted toward the unseen mob of Bone Eaters, who exploded
instantly into a cacophony of furious howling. A slate shingle spun
out of the night sky, missing Bouchard by mere feet to explode like
a gunshot against the pavement. A brick smashed through a shop window
to his left, and then debris began pelting them from every direction.
He crouched low against the shop wall as he searched the darkness for
a target, but was astonished to see Fiona standing nonchalantly in the
midst of the onslaught. She batted aside a nail-studded plank aimed
at her skull, and gave the German a feral grin.
“You see? Your minions are helpless. They can’t approach us as long
as we remain in the light, and to wait much longer means certain destruction.
If you start running now, you might be able to find a hole deep enough
to hide you from my wrath!”
“ENOUGH!” Kappel’s shout was loud enough to rattle windows, drowning
out even the dragon’s roar of the fire. The rain of missiles ended instantly,
as did the ghouls’ howling. Silence descended as Kappel stared down
at his nemesis, his face frozen in a snarl of consuming hatred. When
he spoke, his voice was slow and deliberate, shaking with barely-controlled
"Did you think for even a moment, Hunter, that you could hold a candle
to the power of my Lady? Did you think you could stand in her path,
and not be crushed? She holds your very lives in the palm of her hand,
and you dare to threaten her?” His voice sunk to a venomous hiss, and
his eyes narrowed cruelly. “Look around you, you puffed-up strumpet!
Isn’t this Paris, the City of Lights? Where are those lights now? Strange,
isn’t it? All this noise, and still the streets are deserted. Not a
single shout of alarm. Not even a whisper. Most peculiar, wouldn’t you
Fiona's face darkened, her jaw working angrily as she pondered his meaning.
"A spell, then."
"A curse!” He drew the word out gleefully, savoring the very taste
of it. “A conjuration of darkness most terrible and unending, a darkness
beyond all mortal comprehension. The essence of the grave, drawn forth
to devour you! You, and dear Philip; my Lady has set her mark on you
both, consigning you to eternal night far from the eyes of men. No,
there’s no help coming for you, and the sun will never rise. You’re
standing in the Final Darkness, in the Valley of the Shadow of Death!
You will die here, and my tribe will gnaw your bones to dust!”
He was ranting now, and there was a fervor in his words that made Fiona
take a step back despite herself. He might be bluffing… But one look
in his eyes told her the truth. Her throat was suddenly very dry as
she remembered the horrible attack in her flat, Bouchard’s fit, the
crushing pain as the darkness descended.
Lies or truth, he’s trying to rattle you. Don’t let him.
"Fine words,” she shouted back, “And yet here we are. My offer still
stands, Kappel. Why don’t you come on down and show me what you can
do with that razor? I’ll be more than happy to give you a few pointers.”
For a long moment he looked mad enough to try it, but controlled himself
with visible effort. Smiling thinly down at her, he shook his head slowly.
“No, I think I'll let my comrades have the first go at you. No sense
in tiring myself out when there are plenty of them to keep you occupied.
I'll happily observe any tactics or techniques you care to demonstrate,
however; I'd hate for you to feel unappreciated...."
"Coward!" she snarled, but Kappel only laughed.
"Sticks and stones might break my bones, but we'll all be feasting
on yours soon enough. Or did you think that this little pyre of yours
would protect you?” His eyes glittered hatefully, fixed on her with
an intensity that made her skin crawl. “Enough of this babble, Hunter.
Let me give you a taste of my Lady's power!”
Turning, Kappel stretched out his hand toward the blaze that surrounded
him. A shudder seemed to run through it; for an instant, the leaping
flames shrank back, their ceaseless roar faltering as though beaten
down by a sudden gale. They sprang back in the blink of an eye, but
the damage had been done.
It started slowly, in patches. An unnatural shimmer rippled through
the flames, and their brilliance began to fade, the bright red and orange
glow bleeding away into a pale, tinted gray. The bleached flames spread
like poison, and the fire's illumination slowly dwindled. The circle
of light it cast wavered, and then began to contract around them. With
it came Kappel's kin.
The Bone Eaters crept forward at a leisurely pace. They panted with
anticipation; their attention was focused on the fading light and the
two humans that lay beyond it. Faces that might once have been human
twisted themselves into masks of hunger and malice, and their slavering
grins cut jagged white crescents in the gloom. Bouchard hadn't had a
chance to observe the creatures closely until now, and would gladly
have forgone the pleasure. Their forms were obscene parodies of humanity,
stripped and debased almost beyond recognition. He shivered, watching
the horde's shuffling approach from across the sights of his Winchester.
"We'll never get them all. Prepare to run, Mademoiselle; I'll take
down as many as I can." He mentally singled out what he hoped were the
meanest of the lot; perhaps killing them would make the others cautious,
giving Fiona a better chance of slipping away.
"Don't go all heroic on me now, Philip. We're not beaten yet." Fiona glanced
back at the tightening mob, gaging their movements, and then at the fire.
"If you shoot, it will only goad them into rushing us all at once. Just
hold on; I've still got a card or two up my sleeve, but I need you to
trust me. Be ready to run."
Kappel laughed harshly. "Defiant to
the last, just as a Hunter should be! Are you still hoping to pull off
some miraculous escape!?" The flames lapping at his feet burned ghostly
silver now, and though they still radiated heat like a blast furnace,
he was now little more than a dark shadow silhouetted against the roiling
She ignored his taunts, watching the fire instead. It couldn't be long
now. Come on. Come on! Just a little more time!
The creatures were twenty meters away; close enough to hear the rasping
susurration of their breathing. Fiona switched on her electric torch,
and played the yellow beam across the front ranks. The nearest of them
jumped back, hissing like wildcats, but more crowded in to take their
Fiona shoved the torch back into her belt, and hoisted her Thompson,
throwing one last look at her nemesis on the roof above. "You should
have run when you had the chance, Kappel!"
"And you shouldn't have meddled in the Lady's affairs. Farewell, foolish
Kappel was still laughing as Fiona's last card finally hit the table.
* * * * *
The life of a Hunter had always been fraught with danger. Confronted
by the Demon’s fearsome might, the Canmores had of necessity become
great students of violence in all its forms. Fiona had learned from
the best, and one of the first rules she’d been taught was best summed
up by an old family proverb: never bring a tack hammer to do a sledge’s
work. One never knew what the Hunt might require, and over-prepared
was always better than the alternative. That was why, among the other
contents of the inferno that had once been her rented flat, there was
a cheap pine wood crate containing twenty pounds of dynamite.
There was a flash that turned the street bright as noon, and the entire
second floor of the pub vanished in an earth-shaking explosion. Both
Fiona and Bouchard were knocked flat by the tremendous blast, but the
first floor of the structure shielded them from the worst of the debris.
The mob of Bone Eaters weren’t so lucky.
Philip struggled to his feet, feeling as though he’d received an uppercut
from the Almighty. Fiona was shouting something to him, but all he could
hear was a dull ringing. For a moment, he wondered if he’d gone deaf.
Half of the Inn was simply gone, and the rest shattered beyond recognition.
Kappel was nowhere to be seen. The street was utter chaos, burning wreckage
scattered everywhere. A heavy roof beam had crushed several of the ghouls,
and the others were groping about blindly, gibbering in panic and trying
to find thick enough shadows to disappear inside.
“Quickly, before they recover!” Fiona’s voice seemed far away, muffled,
and it took a moment for the meaning to sink in to Philip's shell-shocked
brain. “For God’s sake, Bouchard! RUN!”
She grabbed him by the arm and half pulled, half threw him, and then
they were sprinting down the street, dodging between the flaming timbers
as they went. A pale, light-blistered form rose in their path, but Fiona
knocked it aside without even breaking stride, and suddenly they were
in the clear, sprinting down an empty grey boulevard.
TO BE CONCLUDED...