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Avenger Assembled

Between Monsters

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Jack stood alone in the lobby of the Imperator Hotel, nearly invisible to the eye except to the most observant. It was a simple matter to walk through the elevator doors and drift up the narrow shaft, the relatively slow ascent giving him time to think. He was in a black and red suit and tie suitable for vampiric socialization, a bottle of blood in his hands that had come with him through the transformation. This was a social call, even if he was coming without calling ahead to knock the man off balance. Hopefully he wouldn't need to beat Pitt into torpor with the bottle. At the top of the shaft at the penthouse level, he passed through the doors and reformed, waiting to be discovered.

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For the most part, the penthouse was shrouded in darkness, not that it would impair Avenger's vampiric eyes; a strange green flickering glow seeped in from an adjacent room, but there were no bulbs in any of the light fixtures, no lamps or candles. No furniture offered the illusion of comfort here in the large living room, but the walls were decorated with a large collection of masks, a mixture of Asian, African and Native American designs, carved and painted in garish hues, all empty eye sockets and twisted grins.

Off to the left, from the direction of the eerie green light, came the sound of Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five's 'Heebie Jeebies', crackling over a somewhat tinny speaker.

"I got the heebies, I mean the jeebies, ... come on and do that dance they call the heebie jeebies dance!"

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Tak tak tak tak...

A small and somewhat frail looking man entered the room, his slender silver cane rapping sharply on the polished wooden floor. The head of the cane was dull black iron, forged in the shape of a lion's head, and he clutched it with pale, slender fingers. His dove-gray suit was clearly tailored but possibly as much as a century out of fashion, which means in a way it was almost hip again.The little hair he had ringed the top of his head, oily black and lacquered in place. His face was pinched, like an apple left out in the sun.

"It's Jack Faretti. You know me, remember? From the Black Mass last All Hallows Eve. I was with Claudia."

Pitt smiled at the memory, but without much sincerity; his British accent is clipped and quite possibly fake.

"Mmm, not much of an affair, was it? The most tired and worked over 'virgins' I've ever seen, with blood as bitter as soap."

He sighed theatrically.

"No one throws parties like they used to; Aleister and his lot were the last with any class..."

Tak tak tak tak...

He stopped in front of his visitor, leaning forward with both hands on the head of the cane, and smiled up into his youthful face.

"What can I do for you, Jack?"

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Jack knew the smiles of his own kind well enough. The friendliest vampire in the world smiled like a shark; after all, it's what they were. "If you would grant me the pleasures of your domicile for a little while, I thought we might partake of an old vintage." He lifted the bottle up higher, so the older vampire could see it. Watch him, he reminded himself. Frail vampires didn't survive the predatory dealings of their fellows. This may be his true body, but the weak old man is not his true face.

"It's from Melinda's private stock." He gave the old man a predatory smile of his own. "I thought it was high time I got to know some of the powers in the city as more than just a pretty face."

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"It's from Melinda's private stock." He gave the old man a predatory smile of his own. "I thought it was high time I got to know some of the powers in the city as more than just a pretty face."

Pitt purses his lips and nods.

"Very well; it's been a while since I had a drop from Melinda's cellars."

He gestures back to the doorway he came from, back towards the green glow.

"Please, follow me. I have glasses in here."

Tak tak tak tak...

The dining room was dominated by a large black mahogany table, far too large to fit through either of the doorways into the room, with matching chairs of massive dimensions at either end, and a beautifully ornate china cabinet of the same wood stood against the back wall. Once inside the room, the source of the peculiar illumination became clear: a wide fireplace of pale marble, carved into the likeness of some ancient Roman temple. A single black log burned on the grate,looking rather disturbingly like the crude human effigies left in the ash by the eruption at Pompeii; wicked green flames danced in and out of the nooks and crannies of the log like eager kittens, giving it the eerie semblance of life.

The Victrola by the china cabinet had reached the end of the record by the time the older vampire fetched a pair of champagne flutes; balancing his cane in the crook of his arm, he moved the needle back to the start.

"There we are; forgive the indulgences of an older generation, but I cannot bear the primitive thrashing sounds of the current age."

He offered his glass and nodded.

"Now, what exactly do you wish to discuss, young man?"

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The historical implications of the room were unfortunately lost on Jack, whose knowledge of history came from what he'd picked up from older vampires and a few half-remembered college classes. But he knew that these were things of respect, items of importance to a vampire Pitt's age, and that he'd do his best to respect them as well.

"I hope you won't mind if I take our refreshments first." He poured the blood with class and distinction, the carefully preserved vintage from someone named "S. Cline" sparkling ever-so-slightly as the mysterious green light from the fire washed through the liquid. He raised his glass to Pitt and said in the Old Slavonic that was the language of courtly vampires of a certain generation. "To the blood."

When they'd made their toast and drunk their liquid, the fluid warm and sparkling as it filled him, Jack finally spoke. "You're a powerful man. I sit here in your domicile and marvel at the edifice you've built. Here, and below." He waved his free hand dismissively in the direction of the peons beneath. "But even the greatest house has termites. I would help you deal with your pests, sir, to the betterment of both your servants and yourself."

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Pitt returns the Slavonic toast, then murmurs appreciatively over the fine qualities of the blood. When Jack offers his help, the older man frowns.

"'Termites'? To what do you- ahh, yes. The insect...and the girl."

His tongue extends to the bottom of the narrow glass, a blue-black eel writhing as it extracts every last drop of the precious fluid.

"Truly exquisite! I will have to see about getting a bottle for my own collection. As to the problems you describe..."

He turns to gaze into the freakish blaze, the green fires dancing in the dark of his eyes.

"Carmine, I can deal with; he's weak, rotten from the inside, like the filth he rummages through in the alley. I can have his family killed with a flick of my wrist, and he knows it. But the girl-"

With blinding speed, he hurls the empty flute into the fire; it shatters into atoms, and there's an unearthly wail for a few moments before the surging flames die back down. Pitt paces in a circle, leaning heavily on his cane.

"She's a filthy little whore; she's not even human! I can smell her, even up here! Can you? Like wilted flowers and rotten fruit!"

The frail old man spins on his heel, and the fury in his face belies his apparent physical age.

"She's a plague, Jack, and she's spreading; her detestable blend of 'pluck' and 'winsome charm' brings the blood up in my throat, but the little grubs downstairs eat the droppings up, and then they feel 'good about themselves'."

Pitt lowers himself into the nearest black chair and goes back to staring into the fire.

"I'm sick, you know that?"

He leans his cane against the table, and starts unbuttoning his shirt.

"Not from her, of course, but a hunter; got me three years ago this June."

The suit coat and silk shirt are pulled away to reveal a putrid weeping wound in his torso, just below his left armpit.

"I don't know what he did to the blade, but I'm less than half as strong as I used to be; time was, I could bend this like salt water taffy, and now look-"

He grasps the iron-headed cane in both hands and exerts himself; his face is taught, and his arms tremble violently before he gasps and thrown the cane aside with a clatter.

"I can't take her myself, Jack, or else I would have months ago! She was never a problem before, and then she left, but now that she's returned...I'm in hell! You have to help me, before she turns all of them against me. Because if she does...then I don't stand a chance."

Pitt leans forward, a hint of desperation in his eyes.

"Help me, Jack; you can go places I can't, you can find her when she's the most vulnerable, and you can kill her. For me."

He sags back into his chair, closes his eyes and sighs.

"And I will be very appreciative."

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Jack winced in automatic sympathy, imagining the agony the other vampire must be in. He'd tasted magical injuries in his own time, but that wound looked excruciating. It was hard not to imagine his fear, as well. An open magical uprising in a building owned by a vampire? If the press got wind of the first, how easy would it be for them to get wind of the second. And public exposure would likely be his death warrant.

Indeed, exposure was one of two sure death warrants in Freedom City's vampires. Melinda would have gladly let him rip the throats out of every one of his tenants and a brace of nuns aside, if it stayed out of the papers. "I generally restrict my mortal blows to those who've transgressed against Melinda. If it became known that I was freelancing, well..." He waved his hand, then folded the fingers forward to study whisper-faint scars on his pale wrists. "You've seen Melinda's punishments. And her pleasures; the two are one in the same with her. I have some status, but you know how the others of our kind enjoy seeing daywalkers brought low."

He sipped his glass meditatively, then added, "But there are other considerations. It's worse, I'm afraid, than you think. Your tenant, you know the one I mean, has begun turning to the costumed freaks that permeate the skies of this city for help." His wicked smile faded slowly as he went on. "My friends have ears in this city even among the petty godlings of the day. But I'm sure you know the danger the girl's turn to the capes puts us all in. Even if we kill her now, the danger is still great."

It put Pitt in far greater danger than Jack himself, something the two men were most intimately aware of. The risk of a pogrom caused by a clash with superhumans was a problem; the risk of Melinda's vindictive rage was a disaster. "But I have not come here to be a grim prophet of doom for you, not in your lovely accommodations on this, a lovely evening." He sat his own glass down. "I confess a certain bluntness has served me best in the world of business. If I were to remove the girl from your consideration, what would it be worth to you? To have tenants loyal to you, as peasants should be to their rightful overlord?"

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As Jack paints a frightening picture of possible events to come, the older vampire mutely clutches his head in his hands; it's clear he had no idea that the faerie girl was recruiting outside help.

"But I have not come here to be a grim prophet of doom for you, not in your lovely accommodations on this, a lovely evening." He sat his own glass down. "I confess a certain bluntness has served me best in the world of business. If I were to remove the girl from your consideration, what would it be worth to you? To have tenants loyal to you, as peasants should be to their rightful overlord?"

Pitt looks up, his eyes guarded.

"You would still help me with this problem, even knowing how dangerous it would be? These do-gooders travel in packs, you know, like wild dogs hot on the scent! Surely you would need help in this matter, but then-"

His face becomes clouded, and he gnaws on a knuckle, right down to the bone.

"No one can know how far this has gone! The shame I would bear..."

The weakened vampire reaches out to Jack, entreating him.

"My very future is in your hands! Can I trust you? I hope I can. What would I give...?"

He looks around the room, distracted, until his eyes settle on the fireplace and they brighten slightly and he rises with some difficulty to his feet.

"You're still young, I know, so you still walk with one foot in the mortal world, especially you, Jack, being a daywalker. It's a phase you will grow out of in time, but there's no shame in it; we all had to crawl once, a long time ago."

Tak tak tak tak...

Pitt makes his way over to the fireplace and pulls a slender silver key out of his inside jacket pocket; it's more like a thin rod with small gears placed irregularly up and down its length. He is about to insert it into some hidden keyhole when she stops and peers over his shoulder at the younger vampire.

"If you were going to kill me tonight, you already would have, but I will warn you nonetheless; I am old, but I have many friends, both in our world and the flickering parade of the mortals. Strike me down, and you will never rest for the remainder of your short existence on this Earth."

He plunges the key into the gaping maw of a chimera, then turns it sharply to the right, releasing the front of the mantle to swing downwards on a hidden hinge. With shaking fingers, he withdraws an ornate box covered in pressed gold leaf from the exposed recess, and turns to place it on the mahogany table.

"I could offer you many things, Jack: blood, from both my personal stocks, and from within the most delicate throats, pulsing just below the surface. A share in certain criminal enterprises that have allowed me to live in comfort for decades. Or, I can give you these-"

He flips open the lid to reveal neat stacks of gold Krugerrands; the coins almost seem to glow of their own accord. Pitt smiles, as if giving a small boy an electric train set for Christmas, and he practically purrs when he speaks.

"There are thirty-two Krugerrands in here, just a little 'mad money' I've held onto, in case of emergencies. Based on the current selling price, there is just over thirty thousand dollars in this box. Would you like it? Then it's yours...once you eliminate the girl."

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Yes. Yes. It was all going according to plan, if you could count rapid improvisation as a plan. If Pitt thought of Jack as just a young punk looking to make friends and influence his fellow vampires, the sort who could be bought with gold, it would make things far less complicated for all of them. "That is a lot of gold. I don't think I've ever seen so much in one place." He smiled, reached into the box, and took a single gold coin.

"I think this is a suitable down payment for my victory," he said cordially, a young man's smile on his face. "I will see to it that the girl is removed from your cares, never again to be a menace to your interests. In return, I will gladly accept the remainder of your gold once the job is done. And in the future, when you are carrying out your business in the city, I trust that you will remember the value of my services goes far beyond gold." With a smile, he bit down on the coin with a long eyetooth. It was real, of course, but it was always good to make an impression.

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There is a new light in Pitt's eyes as he enthusiastically grasps Jack's arm.

"Excellent, my boy, excellent! You will need to bring me proof, of course; her head should suffice, I think."

He practically dances his way over to the Victrola, where he removes the Louie Armstorng and replaces it with Fats Waller's "Ain't Misbehavin'", which he starts humming to himself as he stiffly sways to the music.

"Ahh, it's like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders! I'm a man of thirty again!"

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Jack smiled a little, his mind working as quickly as it could. "I'll have results for you soon," he said, rising to his feet. With a neat little flourish, he slid the coin into the cuff of his sleeve. "I'll leave the rest of that bottle for you, I think, as a gesture of good-will. The girl's head will be yours within a fortnight, as will peace and security in your domicile." He popped his neck. "I'll come by and visit again. Feel free to stop by my place any time, Pitt. It's a good time for both of us to have friends."

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Jack smiled a little, his mind working as quickly as it could. "I'll have results for you soon," he said, rising to his feet. With a neat little flourish, he slid the coin into the cuff of his sleeve. "I'll leave the rest of that bottle for you, I think, as a gesture of good-will. The girl's head will be yours within a fortnight, as will peace and security in your domicile." He popped his neck. "I'll come by and visit again. Feel free to stop by my place any time, Pitt. It's a good time for both of us to have friends."

Pitt nods vigorously as he escorts Jack back towards the elevator shaft, leaning on the youthful vampire for support.

"Indeed it is! I cannot tell you how good it is to know that the younger generation is not without hope! May our friendship and partnership last for a hundred years!"

Once at the shaft, he firmly clasps Jack's hand within both of his own; he's smiling, and there is almost paternal warmth in his eyes.

"Good luck to you, Jack."

And then he returns to his music and the rest of the bottle of S. Cline...

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Jack stayed busy that night, first stealthily reconnoitering each and every domicile in the Imperator Hotel to get a better idea of who lived where and in what conditions. In the form of nearly invisible mist, he was essentially impossible to spot for the vast majority of the dwellers in the motel and for those who seemed more sensitive he stayed especially careful.

When he had a better idea of who lived where in the hotel and what their needs were, he took his fancy new Krugerrand to a rare items dealer he knew through the vampiric community. He had the coin's value appraised there, the better to suss out exactly how reliable was his new ally.

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