For Czernoborg?

October 12, 2018:

June Moon encounters the vampire hunter Blade after discovering she's been hired by the Czech Vampire Court to assess some stolen artifacts.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Moon Knight (Emitting)

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

BRNO, CZECH REPUBLIC

A bell tower in the distance chimes one. Two men stand in the middle of a neatly organized, if otherwise abandoned, stockyard south of the city center.

One of the men takes a long drag on his cigarette, a semiautomatic rifle hanging from a strap on his shoulder. "Petrik, should our shift not be over by now? Or at least see what might be slipped out? I am falling behind on my rent …"

The other man shakes his head and looks away. "Hush, Dom. We have precious shipment to protect until relieved." He gestures with a nod to a nearby shipping container that, in stenciled letters, reads (in several languages): MEDICAL SUPPLIES. "And I do not want … them … to think me dissatisfied with this job," Petrik continues.

As if on cue, a trio of large black SUVs with heavily tinted windows arrive not far away. Half a dozen individuals step out - three large figures behaving like a security detail and three less physically imposing figures: an older man, a short middle-aged woman, and a younger woman.

Petrik quietly curses under his breath but then clears his throat and stands at attention. Dom does so more slowly, torn away from his examination of other containers' labels. He curses more loudly.

The older man scowls for a moment as the sextet walks toward the pair. "Well? Nothing has been disturbed?" he asks calmly.

*

Interesting fact. If the statue atop a church or ediface is not explicitly designed to channel water, it is in fact not a gargoyle, but a 'grotesque'. A popular style of decor from the Gothic period in Europe, when the great cathedrals started stretching skyward.

Another grotesque has joined the others, and in the low light it is as equally still as the stone around it.

The Hunter, the Half-Breed, the Daywalker. The vampire's favorite boogeyman, whispered as a way to scare young fangs into paying attention. Blade. His duster drapes past his low squat, helping his profile to blend in with the surrounding environment. Behind dark sunglasses his eyes flicker at the motion of the vehicles. He's been here since the late afternoon. The Hunter waits for his prey with seemingly endless patience. Sometimes, restraint lures out bigger game that the death of small fry might have scared away.

Familiars and sychophants. Demi-fangs. The rats that scurry around and feast on what the predators leave in the gutters when they're done.

His lips pull back in a silent snarl, but he holds his temper and the rush of adrenaline flooding his veins. For now— he listens, carefully, to catch every word exchanged between the two guards and the 'dignitaries' visiting the site.

They're up to something. Vampires are always up to something.

*

The younger woman took her time getting down from the SUV. A hand wrapped around the bar that would normally have been used to hang a suit, fresh from the drycleaner, her weight swinging out and after a second of almost freefall, the crunch of heavy boots announced her arrival at the location. Despite the fact that she might have been included amongst the 'dignitaries', she was dressed in almost casual fashion. All black cargo pants, black long-sleeved shirt with a high mandarin collar, and a tactical vest which had enough pockets all delightfully full, enough to make a magpie jealous. Dark blond hair was pulled back in a pair of double braids, a pair of goggles pushed back onto the top of her head. She moved with an easy grace, seeming to ignore the three guards, her attention focused on the two who preceded her and the crates which appeared to be waiting for them.

*

The older man in the stockyard is Raduz Matousek, recognizable for his considerable pull from Prague to Lviv. He motions with a hand and one of the security detail steps to the medical supplies shipping container and begins to unlock it, slowly opening the doors.

"Husband," the short woman, Marjeta Matousek - Raduz's wife - says in a sweet tone, "will this take long? After all, I promised our guest a tour of the gallery." She smiles and glances back momentarily to the younger woman in casual dress. "I imagine I must prepare a meal as well." She grins toothily at her spouse.

"First things first," Raduz replies, staring into the pitch-black darkness of the medical container. He nods to his security detail, who begins to close its doors again.

As the doors begin to close, there are voices that can be heard from within - quiet at first but quickly increasing in volume and sense of urgency. "No!" "Wait!" "Please!" "Help!"

Petrik and Dom stand nearby, not looking the Matouseks in the eye.

With a shrill laugh, Marjeta turns to the younger woman. "Brno is such a musical city, is it not?" she asks. "Voices seem to carry on the wind. It has helped in the past, you know, to dissuade invaders and make them think the city's guard had more members than it did." Her eyes sparkle gold for a moment.

*

June watched the opening of the crate with particular interest, though she made no move to approach, even after hearing the sound of living voices from th darkness. Her expression was entirely stoic, not quite bored, but it seemed to be approaching that. "It is indeed a magical city. Full of mysteries yet to be discovered." June tipped her head in the other woman's direction, seemingly completely oblivious to the undercurrent of meaning in the older woman's words, and seemed to give no reaction to the golden shine of the woman's eyes as she looked back at her. "I do appreciate the opportunity to view your collection, but I have no problem with waiting until your business is concluded."

*

An opening presents itself. Blade drops down without a sound, landing on a running ledge that was never intended to bear human feet. Even in sturdy combat boots he balances on it as effortlessly as if it was a sidewalk, still well above the little meeting below.

The screams are not lost on Blade's ears. It's impossible not to hear the pain and despair in those cries. Were it not for the arrival of the entourage, there would be nothing but chalky ash and sweet freedom to fill the air instead. But his hyperaware senses are drawn to the blonde archaeologist, and his eyes narrow at her. There's -something- not quite right about her, but she's not one he can put immediate finger to.

But he fingers a silver stake in his gloves, almost lovingly. It'd fit nicely between the ribs of a fang. Dark oxidation mutes the telltale gleam of the stake. Polished silver stands out, catches the light. And it's expensive and fragile.

See. Blade's as progessive as the next guy.

*

"Indeed!" Marjeta exclaims cheerfully, grinning again, clapping her hands together. "My dear, you are to /die/ for. Not many foreigners understand Brno - or Czechia in general - but you are impressive. And so polite, as well! I dare say I could just eat you up …!"

Raduz is handed the container key and slips it into an inner breast pocket in his jacket. "Petrik. Dominik. Maintain watch and you will be relieved in good time."

"Yes, sir," the sentries say in unison.

Raduz nods and pivots on one heel to begin back toward the SUVs. "Oh," he says, pausing to look back at the two men. "If you take /anything/ from /any/ container in this yard, I will have your entire families killed."

Petrik and Dom say nothing, but the terror on their faces is clear enough.

Raduz hooks one arm for Marjeta to take, which she does. "Come, come, my dear! These boorish proceedings always work up such a thirst, and we have so much to show you," Marjeta says to June. "Why, we -" she stops, looking to her husband. "What's that? It smells so familiar …"

*

June's lips lifted, a smile that held more than a hint of amusement there softening her expression as she looked towards the older woman, "I would hardly be much of an archaeologist, if I did not find the world…and the people in it…endlessly fascinating." She stepped back, as the work or perhaps fairer to say, the meeting was concluded, allowing more than enough room for the pair of husband and wife to begin their short trek back to the SUVs. She did spare a glance for the two guards still with the containers, the slightest arch of her brow coming in response to the look of terror on their faces, but she made no comment, only turning to follow the pair back towards the SUVs. She centered her attention on Marjeta, rather than her husband, as she woman looked back to speak to her, though she stopped as they did, her eyes looking away, casting a glance around the area, though she seemed to see nothing out of the ordinary.

*

A strange, muted percussion breaks the nightime noise. Hard to place, certainly, for most. It doesn't quite sound like gunshots. The mercenaries are so slow on the draw they might as well be frozen. The bullets are subsonic— it's only shocking vampire reflexes that give Marjeta enough time to grab her husband and use him for cover.

The thumps are overridden by the more immediate impact of bullets tearing into flesh like rocks through cheesecloth, and then skating off the cobblestones behind them. Blade drops to the cobbles, holding a strangely ultra-futuristic looking gun in one hand. It chatters again, flinging bullets at the mercenaries with a chatter of automatic fire. Despite the thumping action of the bolt, the gun's barrel barely dances in Blade's grip.

He swings it around again, tracking Marjeta and aiming to put a similar group of silver-tipped rounds through her heart.

*

"WHAT THE F—" one of the security guards begins as several rounds striike him in the chest, before he suddenly bursts into a cloud of delicate and smoldering ash.

A second guard sprays wildly in the direction Blade had just been moments ago. The guard takes a shot to the head and begins to fall, but he disintegrates before making contact with the ground.

A third grabs Raduz by the waist and begins running to the nearest SUV. Raduz cries out in surprise.

Marjeta suddenly hisses, fangs bared, and she looks for a moment with wild eyes at June. "You set us up! You - you horrible thing!" The woman lunges at June, moving in such a way as to maneuver the archaeologist between vampire and hunter.

Petrik and Dom drop to the ground. Petrik covers his head and shuts his eyes tight, grimacing. Dom clutches his gun but seems unable to determine where or what to shoot.

*

Rather than moving towards the pair of Marjeta and Raduz, go where the power is and all, June instead ducked down, moving to try to put one of the SUVs between herself and the direction from which the not quite sound of gunshots seem to be coming. There was a moment, isn't there always, when a laugh threatened to bust from her throat as the vampires burst into ash, the look of it almost intimately familiar. She moved quickly, keeping low, not with fear, but with determination, as if this were not at all the first time she had to avoid gunfire. Of course, she was only human, and she could not match the speed of the female vampire. She did manage to murmur a word, and her own brand of ash cloud, complete with glimmering embers swirled around her as she straightened, awaiting the vampire's lunge. But the woman who came out of the a momentary cloud was not, quite, the same woman who had gone into it. It was the same body, but her hair was now dark, almost black, with few hints of that dark blonde remaining, as was her skin, now dusky, and no longer sporting that California Girl tan. The eyes were the same, still that deep blue, but there was no human soul looking out from behind them. She moved quickly, far faster even than the vampire could manage, seeming to simply be instantly out of reach, avoiding the vampire's grasp, seeming to ignore the danger of the hunter behind her, "Such a small mind."

*

Blade works with an efficiency that's methodical if it weren't so graceful. Fluid. He never stops moving. No posturing, no steadying of the hands or settling his heels for balance. Just a flickering black shadow, the *thududu* of that stubby suppressor, and bodies flaking to ash in front of hunter, witch, and mercenaries alike.

Blade flows past Enchantress. Not a threat. Not yet. The stink of magic assails his nostrils, and he floats in front of Marjeta. One of those silvered stakes pins her hand to the car door, and a silver-edge knife flickers to her throat and blackens the flesh where the razor edge makes the barest contact.

"Marjeta. Been tracking you for weeks, now. Though you lost me in Budapest, didn't you?" He bares his demi-fangs at her. "Start talking, fang bitch."

A bodyguard lunges sideways from behind a car, thinking he might have flanked Blade. Six bullets stitch a line of smoking ash from sternum to forehead and the guard falls backwards in a dusty pile.

The gun swings towards Petrik and Dom, though Blade never takes his eyes from Marjeta. "You two. Stay down. I'll deal with you in a minute."

*

At June's transformation, Marjeta yowls, the sound like nails on a chalkboard in a classroom full of dying animals.

Her limbs stretch inhumanly long, but they're not long or fast enough to reach June - or the figure that was June. "How /dare/ you deny me!" Marjeta sneers, glancing back toward Blade from the corner of her now-blood-red eyes. "The both of you … of course!" She throws her arms to her sides, the limbs extending into leathery bat wings. "Never again will I be so foolish," the vampire says with a growl and leaps upward, beating her wings to attempt to fly away.

Unfortunately, Blade's stake immediately nails one wing-hand to an SUV door, and then his knife is to her throat. Marjeta is grounded.

The vampire's upturned nostrils flare, but she makes no effort to move her head closer to the hunter. "Why should I?" she says after a moment. "You'll end me either way."

Raduz, meanwhile, sits dazed in the SUV where he's been thrown … except that his last bodyguard is obliterated. "A year's pay to the man who gets me the /hell/ out of here!" he calls to Petrik and Dom.

They look to one another. Then to Blade. Then to Raduz. Then back to one another.

*

"I dare many things, child." The woman who was June Moone simply stood where she had stopped, a glance given to the SUV. The sound of the door locking was audible, at least to the vampire now sheltering inside, a momentary heat-haze seeming to shimmer around the vehicle, before she looked away. "He is not with me, but you are right on at least one count."

Leaving the female vampire for the hunter to deal with, she looked towards the last two remaining standing, the sentries, still over by the crates. "You will do nothing, until I tell you otherwise." It was not a pleasant feeling, for either of the men, to feel the woman's whisper in their mind, though that seemed a momentary and fleeting thing, the wash of her power coming in the instant after.

*

Blade's knife slips away from Martja's throat and flickers near her cheek. A second later, her ear and a goodly amount of hair falls away, ashing from contact with the silvered edge of his dagger. "Oh you wanna play 20 questions, then?" he inquires, brows lifting. "That's where I ask twenty questions, and each time you don't answer, I cut something else off. Vampires look funny without a nose."

The SMG extends from his arm and aims at Raduz. "How about you, dickless?" he inquires. "We can play 'who talks first'. Winner gets to be a loose end. Loser gets to fill an ashtray."

He turns his head halfway back to June, glasses making his expression difficult to read. "Walkin' around with fangs is bad for your health, lady," Blade advises her. "Almost popped you center-mass, but I been after these fuckers for too long to let it go."

The Hunter looks from husband to wife. His finger tightens on the trigger. "How about it, Raduz? Count of three? One. Two. Three."

*

"I will do nothing," Petrik and Dom say quietly in response to the Enchantress's command. Dom's grip on his gun relaxes as well, with the firearm softly falling an inch or two to the ground in front of himself. The two men stare at the woman as if waiting for their next direction.

In the SUV, Raduz grits his fanged teeth and stares daggers at Blade. "If you want to stay alive, you'd better walk away now. As skilled as you might be - you have no /idea/ what you're messing with right now." He flicks his hand from under his chin and narrows his eyes. "You and your … companion," Raduz adds with a snarl. "I suppose there's no accounting for taste."

*

The hunter's words drew Enchantress' eyes back towards him, that same amusement, which now looked sinister, on her face rather than engaging as it had on June's once again curling her lips, "You would have tried. But now is not the time to argue such things. I would advise you to get the information you need, before I lose my patience with the one currently cowering like a dog in his kennel." Raduz' comment only drew a laugh from the dark-skinned woman, "As my June would say, I do 'class up the joint', don't I?"

*

Blade's wrist twists and jams eight inches of silvered steel into Martja's soft under-jaw, and up into her brain. Stab. Twist. Ash. She dies before she can do more than howl the first note of defiance.

Blade's machine gun chatters and bullets slam into the SUV's windshield. But instead of perforating the vehicle, they *crack* skywards as they slap into the ballistic-treated glass. The SUV accelerates backwards as Raduz pins the accelerator to the floor and slams it into reverse. The SUV floors it backwards and slams into a retaining barrier, then bounces off a stone wall and pulls into the street. Bullets chase it until it's out of his line of sight, and Blade exposes his teeth in a snarl of rage.

"Motherfucker," he growls. The knife's sheathed and he reloads the gun, magazine clattering to the ground. It's tucked back under his arm and he turns back to face June, posture neutral— neither aggressive nor friendly.

Maybe a little aggressive. "What's your angle here?" he inquires, voice a flat monotone again. "Ain't marked. I smell something on you but it ain't the fangs. That gets you a pass for now. What" he points at her with a leather glove, then at the container. "angle are they playing with you here?"

*

Enchantress watched the SUV accelerate, the crunch of the rear fender against the wall loud in the otherwise silent aftermath of the female vampire's death. She did not move to intercept the vampire's departure, though she did watch the retreat out into the street, before she turned back to face the vampire. "Here?" She lifted a hand to indicate the crates, "I was not involved in this particular piece of business. They have a few artifacts I wish to acquire. They had a need for an archaeologist, and they found one." She watched the man, before she glanced back down to the street, "Shall I bring him back for you to interrogate? Or would you prefer to chase him through the streets?"

*

Blade holds up a cell phone with a map on it. "GPS tracker. He'll rabbit. Rabbits run to the burrow. Smoke out ten more suckheads that way." He walks to the conex container, casually kicking one of the cowering men in the ribs to get him out of the way. He examines the heavy padlock and then rips it open with a twist of his wrist, then tosses it aside to skitter across the cobblestones.

The doors are flung wide open, and Blade points a finger inside, then rotates his wrist. Index finger curls. Beckoning. "Out," he says, and moves aside to let the inhabitants slip past him amidst the clash of cool night air and the fetid dank of the container's interior.

"Artifacts. What kind of artifacts?" Blade demands of June, looking back to the woman.

*

Enchantress' shoulders lifted in a light shrug, as the hunter made his decision, seeming to have no real feeling one way or the other. "As you like." She turned her head, watching the approach he made to the container, the casual way he kicked one of the guards, who did not, per her order, do anything to resist him, out of the way. The exodus of bodies was something that seemed to interest her, "Feedstock, or something more useful?" It was a casual question, casually asked, before she responded to the question posed to her, "A bowl, a necklace, and a bible from the hell-plane. Or so they claimed. My June had hoped to be shown them when they were finished with this business, but then, she does like to do things the hard way. Now, following your intervention, we will have to do it my way." They way she said we was clearly not directed towards the hunter.

*

Stumbling slowly out of the container, as if in pain or duress, thirteen individuals in varying states of health haphazardly assemble in the stockyard.

"Where are we?"
"Are we free to go?"
"Please don't hurt me … please …"
Incomprehensible sobbing.
"What happened to my child?"
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry I ran away, I'm sorry …"

The voices are a chaotic din of despair and regret. None of them belong to vampires, though, and while the group is clearly desperate for aid, none is willing to move closer to Blade or the Enchantress.

Pasted on the inside of one of the container's doors is a manifest, of sorts:

LIQUID ASSETS (13) FOR CZERNOBOG MERGER - 29 of 77

*

Blade ignores the herd of kine. He protects humanity. Doesn't mean he cares much about them individually. Getting emotionally invested in the prey just wastes energy. He rips down the notice and examines it, reading through the pages. "Czernoborg," he mutters. He furrows his brow, then looks to the pale-faced lady. "I don't know the name. Sounds slavic. The shipping marks—" he uplifts his chin at the shipping container. "New York Harbor. Couple weeks ago. Smuggling them into the Baltic states. Old families here. Old bloods. Czernobog might be an Elder. Tithing him."

"Where were these artifacts being held?"

*

Enchantress did not answer any of the questions being thrown their way, nor did she make any move to approach the group of people stumbling out into the decidedly fresher air than what they had ensured in the container during their transport, "Why bother to go through all of the trouble? Blood is blood, and humans have a decided propensity for reproduction, they are quite literally a self-replicating food source. Why not just harvest from the surrounding area? Certainly new York has enough people that losing a dozen would not stretch the food supply for the vampires there. If it is meant to be a gesture, it seems a rather empty one. Where is the sacrifice?" But that did bring her attention back to the flock of humans, "How do you intend to deal with them? Let them loose in the countryside a world away from where they should be?" A moment of thought, before she replied, "So far as we were able to ascertain, they were in the vampire's," here she indicated the place where the female vampire had been, "residence."

*

ONE WEEK AGO:

In his guise as 'Mister Knight,' Marc Spector stands over a large table covered with papers in a room whose walls are peppered with photos, diagrams, notes, and yarn. Blade is in the room as well.

"Based on what you've told me," he says, rubbing his chin through the cloth of his white mask, "there's some kind of power vacuum that's being filled in eastern Europe. How did it happen? Who's involved?" Mr. Knight gestures about the room. "Guesses. Facets of the diamond that is this mystery."

He points to a printout of some academic article about an ancient Slavic bowl. "I've seen this - well, something like this - before. It's ritualistic. Said to let those who drink it travel safely by moonlight." He coughs. "Downside: they become enemies of the sun."

Knight moves to a nearby wall and stabs at a map with a gloved finger. "Why would vampires value such a bowl? Sentimental value? Or is there something more - or something else - to it?"

"One of us has to find out. This all fits together somehow," he continues. "I just … I just don't know how yet."

TONIGHT:

A text message notification causes Blade's cell to vibrate.

MoonMan: ever heard of 'chernobog'? getting lots of hits in intercepted emails/calls

*

Blade eyes Enchantress as she launches into a diatribe about humans as a food supply. His arm shifts a subtle bit inside his duster sleeve, checking that his gun is right where he left it. She's fast. Maybe too fast. But that kind of talk provokes a flickering rage that is almost immediately squelched by cool dispassion.

"I just kill fangs. I ain't the March of Dimes," he tells Enchantress, and to prove it he walks away when his cell phone recieves a text. The notification is silent enough that even a vampire wouldn't have heard it. Eyes skim across the message, and he taps one back, then sends a picture of the manifest still in his hands.

"Then I'm headed to their residence," Blade informs June. "This is more than just food shipments. This is something bigger. Internal bickering. Power plays. Tithes. Even if it's not—" he flashes a tight, humorless grin, which fades almost immediately. "No reason to let the fangs hang on to some dusty old artifacts."

*

Enchantress seemed not at all bothered by the rage she saw flash across the hunter's face, nor the twitch of his body as he checked the readiness of his weapon. Her tone was dispassionate, "When dealing with an enemy, it can be useful to think like that enemy. Ask the questions they would ask. It is nothing personal." As Blade dismissed the now refugees of sorts, Enchantress lifted a hand, drawing a circle in the air. Perhaps five feet from the refugee closest to it, a window in the world opened, one that showed New York City, not far from Times Square. The window had no edge. It simply was. New York inside, and the receiving yard where they were on the outside, "I would suggest you go as quickly as possible, or you can remain here, if this place suits you better than where you were taken from." To the hunter, she noted, "I will accompany you."

*

The thirteen distraught individuals don't even hesitate to walk or shuffle through the portal. A few look back briefly to the Enchantress, but they are silent in their departure.

Nearby, Petrik and Dom get to their feet and queue up behind the container's former occupants to walk into New York. "I will go as quickly as possible," each intones flatly.

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