French Roast Apocalypse – Chapter 12
New York City, 2010
It didn’t take long for the two of them to reach Iphigene’s Walk, a paved walkway that cut through the east end of the lush thickets. It was a beautiful, secluded path that led deep into thirty-seven acres of thick foliage. Using the path, they could, eventually, divert to one of the other trails if necessary.
“This could take forever.” Angelus said as they trudged down the walkway.
“Could be,” Dylan said. “Like they say about fishing, there’s a reason they call it ‘hunting’ and not ‘catching’. Though in this case there’s a little more urgency.”
“It’s the urgency that pisses me off.” Angelus stopped walking and peered into the brush beyond. “Don’t see a thing moving; just plants. You’d think a dog the size of a cow would stand out.”
“It blends and hides in the shadows.” Dylan came up next to him and peered into the flora. The leaves were yellow and orange and he made out vines and thick branches. A light breeze rustled the foliage but Dylan could see no unnatural movement. “Besides, city boy, you’d be surprised at how close you can come to a cow without noticing them in the right conditions. And this thing’s a hunter. It hides. It waits. It strikes. Camouflage is something it does real well.”
He gave another look, then shook his head and turned away. “It’s off the path.”
“You sure? I’m hearing all sorts of things in there, scraping, scuttling, little heart beats, real quiet.”
“I tune most of that stuff out.” When he thought about it, he did hear those sounds. Deep in the brush, animals lived in the ground or hid in the trees or under brambles. They breathed, slept, ate, and scuttled about. His revenant senses were keen enough to pick them up. Early on, he had quickly learned to tune that kind of background noise out by focusing his attention on what he wanted to see or hear. “Don’t let it distract you.”
“It’s the rhythm of life, bro,” Angelus said with a snarky grin.
“And you’re full of crap, dude.” The words were barely out of his mouth when he realized that this was exactly what they were looking for. Or, to be exact, not looking for. “That’s it! That’s how we find it: we listen for no sounds. Animals won’t like having it around.”
“I thought nature loved Fae.”
“This isn’t an ordinary Fae, it’s a reaper, little brother,” Dylan reminded him. “Animals like them as much as they like us. Maybe less. Like a shark passing by, everything’ll go quiet when it’s close.”
Angelus shrugged, but looked pleased they had another clue to look for. Truth was, Dylan didn’t blame him for his impatience. He felt the same way; he didn’t like the idea of losing another day to the monster. This was his town, and nothing hunted mortals in his park. It was as simple as that.
They diverted off the main path into the woods. There were lots of places to look: alcoves, rocky streams, dark nooks, and shaded paths covered by brush, perfect for shadowy monsters to conceal themselves while waiting for the evening. But it was only when they closed in on the territory close to the Bow Bridge that Dylan sensed the lack of animal activity.
Yes. It was quieter. No scurrying, a lot less breathing, no nibbling; New York’s famous rodents were staying clear of the area.
The air was still, and the revenant felt his gut tighten. Something was watching. Something waiting. He did a slow circle and focused his gaze on the thickets, with their leaves and stony ground surrounding them.
Long shadows stretched from the tall oaks and moonlight filtered through the leafy canopy above. There were lots of places for a monster to hide.
At his side, Angelus removed the safety to his pistol and took position against his back.
Smart move, I keep forgetting he’s been hunting monsters preying in the streets, he heard it … or didn’t hear it… too. They needed to watch each other’s backs. Dylan cocked his barrel and studied the surrounding woods. It was there. He could feel it. The hairs of the back of his neck rose, and he saw the trace of fiery black against the shadows just at the edge of his vision.
There you are. “Two o’clock, near the tree line,” he murmured, trying not to make much noise.
“What I wouldn’t give for movie vampire powers about now.” Angelus said, edging carefully around, staring at the shadows that were moving in a way no natural shadow should.
Insubstantial eyes glinted in darkness, and it howled. The eerie, ungodly sound pierced the air and boomed across the landscape like a crack of thunder, and shook the two young men standing before it to their very core. Trees trembled, and leaf litter swirled around the thing’s legs as if caught in a whirlwind.
Slowly it grew more substantial. Its muscular body coalesced from the shadows, the monstrous head with its naked skull held low as it growled menacingly. The barghest was huge, with a blazing mane of black that burned down its stocky and powerful frame. It looks more like a dire wolf than a hound, Dylan thought, hands gripping his weapons tighter. The thing’s eyes blazed with blue-green fire, like a wide-open Bunsen burner.
Its front legs were longer than the rear, and armed with dark dagger-like talons. Its teeth were finger-long and deadly sharp.
“It’s bigger than a cow.” Angelus observed.
“They did say ‘motherfuckin’ huge’ ” Dylan pointed out, not taking his eyes from the monster. “Guess that’s New York for ‘big as a cab’.”
With a second howl, it charged. The wave of sound hammered at him, but Dylan had braced himself. Being dead had its advantages; his heart didn’t beat, he didn’t sweat, all that stuff; the fear that it produced couldn’t affect him physically. But that didn’t protect him from the other effects; the hideous sound hammered at his mind, drowning him in doubts and the desire to run.
But Dylan refused to yield to the terror. He was a revenant. He was the embodiment of implacable vengeance against anything that crossed his path, anything that threatened those under his protection. He felt the terror ebbing away, replaced by familiar, raging fury. Before the barghest had covered a quarter the distance, Dylan brought up the shotgun and pulled the trigger, pumped, fired, pumped and fired again. Three blasts of buckshot driven with a heavy load screamed towards the charging monster.
It dove aside from the first shot, but an attempt to also evade Angelus’ first shot sent it straight into the second; half its face was blasted to fragmented ruin, and it reared up, roaring in agonized rage.
Another shot from Angelus’s weapon passed right through the animal and exploded into a tree. “Mafankulo!”
Dylan closed in, firing again and again as he approached. The thing bellowed its rage again, but as fast as the shotgun blasts pulverized it, the shadowy flesh and bone reconstituted, pulling itself back together in an abominable display of ghoulish resilience. It shouldn’t be able to do it that fast!
The magic was stronger… but so were the monsters. Dylan cursed to himself as the barghest’s shattered skull pushed itself back together, crackling and crunching with the sound of bones breaking in reverse. Damn. Ordinary iron buckshot wasn’t cutting it. It’d have to be cold iron if he wanted to do any real damage.
“Drop it, Angelus, that thing’s laughing at you. Catch!”
True to his word, the vampire didn’t ask questions, just slammed his own weapon into its holster in time to catch Dylan’s shotgun.
“Cover me; that’ll at least slow it down,” he told Angelus. This way, he doesn’t go home a corpse, and Tony and Susan still have a hell of a son and he keeps the monster off me.
This thing used shadows as a shield; it thought that being on the border of darkness, the lurker at the threshold of the dead, was its shield and sword. Well, it was in for a serious surprise. He was a revenant. He walked that border between life and death, and that meant he could kill things like this. With a flick of his wrist, Baby Doll was out, and Dylan O’Reily let the rage of the revenant take him.
The beast lunged just as he swung the bat, so the cold iron spikes only raked its underbelly, but this time the screech was one of shock and pain; blood flowed, and showed no sign of immediately stopping. That hurt it!
The barghest skidded over the leaves, trying to turn on Dylan, to rend this insolent little creature that dared to hurt it.
But the shotgun thundered again, and though the wounds it dealt were not mortal, still they hurt, still they slowed and broke things that had to be fixed before the barghest could move well again. “Over here, you ugly bastard!” Angelus shouted, and fired again. With a pained snarl, the beast swiveled its head and charged the vampire.
The thing was fast, but Angelus was, too, with the speed of youth combined with the superhuman talents of an undead. He’d slung the gun over his shoulder and swung himself up into a tree just before the thing swiped at him. A human would have been dead, caught six feet from the tree.
“Hey! Over here, shithead!” Dylan shouted as loud as he could. He braced himself, as the beast turned, its fiery eyes narrowing menacingly. It’s actually not very bright; can’t focus on more than one thing at a time. It growled, showing its fangs, and despite his recent judgment Dylan thought he saw a glint of intelligence in those flame-bright orbs. “You’re in my side of the park, Fido, my territory! These people are under my protection! They’re not yours to take! I’m giving you one warning: go now, or I’m sending you straight back to hell where you belong!”
From the shelter of his tree, Angelus took another bead on the barghest.
The creature tilted its head, and began stalking in a circle around Dylan. Its glowing eyes narrowed. And then Dylan suddenly had no doubt it was intelligent, because the barghest spoke. “You, revenant, send me to hell? I prey on the weak, the old, the very young, and the unborn. I am death! How dare you, a mere revenant, tell me where I can hunt?” As it spoke, its head tilted, as if daring him to reply.
It was majestic in its own way, Dylan had to give it that. He hadn’t seen a spirit like this one before. Most of the Fae he had encountered were weak cowardly things easily dispatched by iron, and a sprinkle of salt, but this thing was in an entirely different league.
Still, it was challenging him on his turf. “I’ve heard that one before,” Dylan said, petting Baby Doll with his free hand. He smiled, well aware his long canines were showing. He could only stay out of the frenzy for so long. It was an effort to keep control; he wanted to kill, but he always gave his opponents a chance. Most of the time, they pissed it away. “And everyone who’s ever copped that attitude with me has taken a permanent dirt nap. Get outta my territory, or you’ll be joining them real fast!”
The creature gave a low laugh. “You are overconfident, revenant.”
True, he often was overconfident, but he rarely thought about it when he lost himself to the revenant. And really, was it overconfidence? So far, he’d found that everything died if you hit it enough.
The warning was done, the monster had declined. It circled him, and Dylan followed it, slowly turning, his attention riveted to the immaterial tendons in its back legs as they flexed, moments before it sprang. Dylan swung the bat up and around, its sharp spikes hammering into the monster’s skull. The impact was so powerful the barghest’s head was driven to the ground, leaves and dust blown outward by the impact.
With a crunching snap of splintering bone, Dylan wrenched the weapon free, but the barghest was far from done. With a furious snarl, the barghest’s head snapped around and seized the bat before he could bring it down. It braced its legs and shook the bat from side to side, whipping Dylan back and forth before hurling them both aside.
The revenant rolled with the fall and sprang upright, his body one with the weapon in hand. It would take more than a toss to bring him down. A lot more.
From the tree, Angelus watched, gun still in hand. His heightened reflexes allowed him to follow the battle, and gun was still trained on the beast, but without cold iron, Dylan knew there wasn’t much his vampire friend could do. Just as well. It keeps him safe and out of the way.
Baby Doll, the fists of a revenant, and balls as big as church bells were the only things capable of touching this monster.
That might not be enough.
He clashed with the thing again, but the beast leapt to the side and the bat only grazed its shoulder. Claws flashed out, caught Dylan across the chest, tearing away cloth and flesh. He felt no pain when he lost himself to the berserker, though. Deep reddish black ooze smeared his shirt and his duster, and down his chest, but that didn’t weaken him. It only fueled the rage further, and the revenant lashed out, weapon jackhammering down on the creature’s hide in a blur of motion.
The barghest pivoted with unnatural speed and reared, then spun its body sidewise, a body-check by a runaway car. The impact sent Dylan tumbling, but he got his body under control. Bat in hand, he ducked and twisted around the great claws when it reared up, brought Baby Doll down on its back. It bellowed in frustration and jackknifed around, the massive body just missing him. But he’d cut it too close; the rotting stench of its breath overwhelmed everything as the barghest’s jaws caught him, ripped him from his feet. The Fae monster shook Dylan like a rag doll, daggerlike teeth sinking deep into his gut, crushing his lower ribs and his useless organs.
Then it began to penetrate that despite his indomitable nature, his unlimited rage, he was weakening. It was draining him.
Clarity returned with the sure knowledge of his peril. This was one of the few things that could kill a revenant: something that consumed the soul, the spiritual power that drove him. Trapped in its maw, he would die for real, and he’d never see his wife again. He strained against the vise-grip of the thing’s jaws, and it chuckled. It saw the realization in his eyes, and knew that only a few moments of time remained to Dylan.
The blast of a shotgun echoed in his ears, and the barghest staggered and yelped involuntarily. Dylan wrenched himself from the thing’s mouth and tumbled weakly to the ground, fetching up against the wide base of an oak.
The great black beast turned its attention to Angelus. The vampire was on the ground, shotgun in hand, waving to the thing with a devilish smirk. “Hey! What’s a matter you? Don’t recognize a good challenge when you see one? Come and get me, you big stupid furball!”
He’s going to run out of rounds, and sooner rather than later, Dylan thought dully as he tried to stand. His legs weren’t responding properly and it was hard to walk. Had it fractured his spine? Possibly; his toes tingled, and though it was supernatural power that flowed through his body, keeping it moving, that flow might have been disrupted by the energy drain.
Staggering but staying upright with the tree for support, he forced himself to his feet. Baby Doll still hung from his fingers; a good weapon was a part of a hunter. You kept hold of your weapon at all costs… or you’d pay the one cost you couldn’t afford.
But he still couldn’t run, he could barely stand, and that meant he could only watch as the barghest charged Angelus. The young vampire didn’t flinch but fired repeatedly, missing as the thing dodged twice but then catching it full on the chest with the third blast. Angelus barely evaded the barghest as it thundered by, a runaway train from hell, but in doing so the monster ended up between him and his tree.
A vicious chuckle rumbled from the barghest; it knew that as long as the battle remained on the ground, it would eventually catch Angelus as it had caught Dylan. Showing no sign of the fear that must be boiling inside of him, the vampire steadied the gun, so it was level with the beast’s head as the barghest came back around.
A shout, and a dark form dressed in baggy dark pants and a heavy black and grey hoodie streaked into view between Angelus and the barghest. Even with the supernatural creature’s speed, it couldn’t evade the barrage of fire from a submachine gun; the bullets stitched a line from one side of the thing to the other.
But the newcomer, crazy-brave though he was, obviously hadn’t a clue what he was facing. Probably not even any regular iron in the bullets, Dylan thought bleakly, and the barghest showed barely any sign of being hit. It seized the boy in its maw and began to shake him like a dog playing tug-of-war.
“Motherfucker!!” Angelus, given those few seconds, had recovered, and fired into the beast’s flank, forcing it to drop its bleeding prey and turn on him. The vampire realized that it was too close quarters for the shotgun and dropped it, whipping a long, gleaming knife from a sheath strapped to his hip. “Come get it, Cujo!”
The barghest rammed into the vampire as Angelus plunged his knife into its chest. The monster howled in pain and fury — there was iron in that blade! But that just enraged the thing, and one tremendous cuff of a gigantic paw sent the vampire, still clinging to the dagger, flying into the leaf litter near the sprawled form of the kid who’d tried to save him.
Dylan had no time to think. Angelus, this new kid, all this was a bigger mess than he had planned for. The barghest needed to die now. Dylan raced forward, his regeneration having finally given him legs that worked, Baby Doll raised as he closed the distance between him and the monster.
But the barghest wasn’t finished with Angelus; it leapt upon the young vampire and the two rolled over and over, supernatural strength of the vampire contesting with the hunger and sheer size of the barghest. Steel flashed thrice as Angelus buried it hilt-deep in the monster’s belly.
Anger returned, washing away weakness, and Dylan tore into battle. The bat smashed into the monstrous shadow-dog, over and over, until it released the vampire and returned its attention to the revenant. “That’s right, I’m back,” Dylan said, with a humorless grin. “I’m a revenant, you bastard. I always come back!”
Bleeding, Angelus, rolled to his side, his clothing torn. His movements were slow, but he was still alive, or at least as alive as any vampire could be.
The barghest snarled. Angelus’s blow had hurt it. “I can put a stop to that, and you know it! I tire of you, revenant! It is time to send you to hell where you belong!” With a lightning-fast leap it was upon him. It took all Dylan’s strength to block it with his bat and he still felt himself weakening!
Then Baby Doll snapped, even the cold-iron reinforcement giving way, and the monstrous jaws wrenched it free from Dylan’s hands and then snapped at his throat. Dylan barely managed to roll enough so it plowed its face into the ground, but that wasn’t enough. He didn’t even have time to finish rolling to his feet before the thing’s great maw clamped back down on him, stabbing and crushing him with finger-long teeth. This… HURTS.
Gritting his now-pointed teeth, he found himself being tossed again, this time feeling a great chunk of himself missing, ripped away — probably a good piece of his torso or guts.
He landed in a sprawling heap on the ground, and forced himself to stand again. He didn’t dare look at himself. He knew it was bad. All he could do was keep moving, and make the kill.
If he could. For the first time, he felt an actual twinge of doubt. He’d never fought anything like this barghest before. It was too fast, too strong, too magical for him to kill as he’d killed the others.
Across the clearing, Angelus quickly eased himself and the bleeding kid against an oak. The boy was shivering at the approach of death, and Dylan saw Angelus hold the boy close as if to comfort him as he passed.
The sight of the boy — a complete outsider, someone who never had any reason to be involved — passing in front of him brought Dylan to a peak of rage. “That’s it, you mangy mutt. You’re going down.”
It roared and came at him, and he found himself slamming it with his fists, punching with the furious, unstoppable strength of a revenant, over and over and over, interrupting its every attack, shutting its mouth with pounding knuckles. It backed off for a moment, stunned, puzzled. Its skull was cracked, its ears misshapen. It bled, it limped, and it did not look nearly as smug as it had only a few minutes before.
But it gathered itself again and charged with full speed. Its claws caught him across the face, sending him into an outcropping of rock. The impact stunned him, and he felt more blood flowing sluggishly from his face.
This was worse than bad. He was going to rival Filipe in the ugly contest for a week or so when this was over, if he lived to see that week. He tried to lift himself, but his right arm was twisted at an odd angle, broken. As the beast lowered its jaws towards him, he felt the weakness growing. Oh crap. Is this it?
A roar of thunder, and blood splattered across his face and the stone nearby. The barghest howled in pain and surprise, and bolted into the shadows.
Rolling weakly to a crouching stance, Dylan saw a tall, dark-skinned figure standing on the rail of the Bow Bridge, wearing a long brown coat, blue shirt, black tie, black slacks and a police badge hanging from his pocket. “Thought you guys might need a little a little backup. Good thing too; looks like you just got your asses handed to you!”
It was Jason Knight.