Ghouls and Dolls
The night sky was overcast with low, heavy clouds blocking the moon and starlight and reflected glare of sodium lamps along the streets and in the container lot she was flying towards kept the few people out and about at this hour from looking skyward. That suited White Owl just fine. Having fans wave and call out her name when she was patrolling was fine, even enjoyable. Just not when she was following up a tip from the police about suspicious activity along the docks. Owls hunt best in silence...
When she heard the soft yet distinctive “Rrrrrrrppppppp!” of an assault weapon on full automatic, she instinctively turned and gained more altitude. No point being an easy target even if it was nearly impossible to hit something with a weapon firing like that. The “Pop!pop! pop!” of a semiautomatic pistol was a bit more of a problem. So she climbed higher still and looped out over the river before diving downward and coming into the area the gunfire was low and fast.
There were a few more bursts of gunfire and she could catch sight of some of the muzzle flashes. They weren’t firing in her direction and the lack of return fire meant that there weren’t any police involved. And she hadn’t called for help, so who were they shooting at?
She got an answer an instant later as a figure slammed back-first, and upside down, against the side of a container and a blur caught it before it could hit the ground head first. The blur was hardly as gentle with the assault rifle as it seemed to fly into pieces; some not intended to be individual pieces. In the brief silence that followed, the blur seemed to resolve into a figure.
A spattering of stars as well as a band of stars like the edge of the Milky Way covered some of the figure and a cape that fluttered in the low breeze and what looked like a feminine figure in deepest midnight blue that blended into the background and shadows. The figure turned and White Owl got a brief glimpse of a pale-skinned face and bright green flashes where the eyes should be. It was gone in an instant as more gunfire erupted; which was silenced in a matter of seconds.
White Owl gained some altitude to get a better look at the situation. A dozen men were sprawled about and the concrete dock area was littered with the remains of shattered weapons. She tried to find whatever was wearing the costume and felt something bump into her belly. She looked down just as she felt another bump and made out a shadowy form...
Waving a chemlight?
White Owl flew down towards the light who, in turn, tackled her to the ground mere instants before more gunfire ripped past.
“What are...” White Owl started to ask and found her mouth covered by a hand. A pale, angular face wearing a mask with green lenses looked down at her and spoke softly yet loud enough to be heard over the spanging of bullets off of the containers around them.
“Are you bulletproof?”
“Are you bullet proof? There’s at least twelve more out there and you go flying around wearing ‘just shoot me’ white? Please stay down!”
She wanted to protest but there was a break in the gunfire and the other figure was gone...
And back as gunfire erupted again though with less intensity. The face was smiling down at her, “Six more down, eight to go. You really want to help? Not yet, wait for the shooting to stop; they’ll need to reload in 3..2...1...follow me and take the right!”
She was gone again. White Owl hurried to her feet just in time to see a galactic swirl cut left between stacks of containers. So, she followed and took the opening to the right; finding four men in all black, balaclavas and face masks swapping out magazines in their guns. Four punches later, they were all sprawled on the ground, unconscious.
“Not bad!” She jumped at the voice, turning to face where it came from behind her and finding nothing there. Then there was a tap on her left shoulder and she turned again, a bit more slowly. The figure was stooped down, wrapping gunmen’s wrists behind their backs with heavy zip ties. Another second or two and the guns were all shattered and scattered.
“Thanks for the help,” The strange girl said, smiling. “I really thought you’d be just a touch shorter, White Owl. That cosplayer I met a bit ago got your costume about spot on, though.”
The girl before her was an inch or two taller than she was and slim almost to the point of nearly seeming anorexic, though still nicely curved. Her costume went from her neck to her fingers and toes; deep, midnight blue with that eye bending star pattern on it. It fit as though it was painted on. The cape fell just past her knees and a long ponytail of braided black hair actually touched the ground behind her. The mask she wore covered her nose and around the eyes and green lenses covered her eyes themselves. She wore red lipstick but it was the pointed tips of her ears that caught White Owl’s attention.
“And you’re a bit far from Gray City, Starlight Dancer,” She replied. “The picture on your hero.net entry makes your ears look pointier.”
“Heh,” Starlight Dancer chuckled, nodding, “I wasn’t going to pose for a picture and if you tell an artist ‘elf’ they want to draw us with pointed radar dishes for ears.”
“Oh, for the record?” White Owl added, “my costume is bulletproof.”
“Ah... okay then; I’ll just catch the bullets heading for the parts of you that aren’t dressed.” Starlight Dancer wandered off before White Owl could decide if the remark was snide or serious. She came back dragging an unconscious gunman and dumped him in the clearing where they were standing.
“Mind lending me a hand? Some of these guys are a bit heavy.”
She was off again and soon dragging another one back and White Owl went off to start bringing back the four she’d bagged and then the last four Dancer had claimed. Soon enough, there was a pile of gunmen, twenty-six in all, and Dancer started producing more zip ties, from where, White Owl wasn’t sure, and started randomly tying legs and arms together to end up with a pretzel-like mound of bodies.
That should keep them until the police come to pick them up....oh, good! One’s waking up.”
Dancer bent down and drew a pistol from a holster on one of the men and gave the one who was stirring a gentle tap on the cheek with her hand, “Wakey, wakey! Hi there, Mind telling me which one of these lovely steel boxes is holding the stash you were here to collect?”
“Go to Hell, bitch!” The man even spat at her.
“My, such language,” She looked back to White Owl. “Is all the lowlife in Queen City like this? His manners are horrible.”
Turning back to the man, Dancer gave a shake of her head, “I’m afraid that won’t be happening; I know the landlord there.” She held up the pistol, “See this? It’s the only gun any of you have left that I haven’t destroyed. Watch carefully...”
She had his attention, maybe because the gun was aimed at him. She had White Owl’s attention too, for the same reason, so she had an excellent view. One moment the gun was intact, the next it was in dozens of pieces; most of them not pieces the manufacturer meant to be pieces. The man’s eyes went wide as Dancer made a little ‘oh, well’ gesture with her hands.
“Oh, dear, I’m all out of guns,” Her voice was soft, musically pleasant,
“I guess that means I’ll have to start breaking gunmen next...”
“O-over there! Over there! Two rows down that aisle, bottom container! It’s got a little green X on the lock!”
“Are you absolutely sure? I’d be really...disappointed if I find out you’re wrong. Or lying to me...”
“No! No! That’s the one!” He looked at White Owl with eyes wide with terror, pleading, “Please! you’ve got to believe me! Keep her away from me!”
From the sudden rank odor, she didn’t want to be near him, either.
“Good boy,” Another gentle pat on the cheek. “You coming?” The last was aimed to White Owl who, bemused, followed her; down to the indicated container, little green X painted on the lock. A set of lock picks appeared in Starlight Dancer’s hand. About thirty seconds later, she had the lock open.
“I need to practice that more. Want to find another container and swap this lock with that one?”
A strange request, White Owl thought, but at least one that made sense in a twisted fashion. She took the picks and the lock, walked amongst the stacks of containers and finally selected one painted the same color, picked the lock and swapped the X-marked one in its place. She came back with the other lock to find Dancer had it opened and it was holding boxes of...
“It’s the stuffing they want, White Owl,” she ripped the head off, exposing the fiber stuffing, and a small, clear vial filled with a liquid. “Good! He wasn’t lying. Definitely what I came looking for.”
“I’m guessing drugs?”
“Not just any, a synthesized drug that gave my friends and I some bother a few months ago. It’s called Stiff. Swallow some, inhale some, get some on your skin, and you’re paralyzed and can’t move; for hours at least. We shut down production in Gray City, but I’ve been trying to track down some shipments. This should be the last. I don’t want somebody figuring out how to make it...or worse.”
She tossed the stuffed toy back into the container then two cylinders that had suddenly appeared in her hands quickly followed. She slammed the door closed and locked it. Ten second later, there was was a muffled ‘fwump’ and a stream of smoke slipped out.
“And that should be that,” She said.
“Weren’t you after the drugs? Why destroy them?”
“I don’t want the drugs,” Dancer replied, a serious expression on her face that belied her previous light-hearted attitude. “I want them gone. We know enough about Stiff and how it was made that more samples won’t gain us anything. There was way too much there for me to take back with me. Focused incendiaries means all they’ll find, if and when they figure out our deception, means all they get is ash and bits of melted glass and no usable samples to try to recreate it.”
White Owl saw it otherwise. “You just destroyed the evidence the police would need to lock these thugs away for years!”
“They can do that with the scraps of their weapons, Owl,” Dancer countered. “Fully automatic weapons are illegal and there are remains of twenty-six of then scattered about. And I’d be surprised if the five pistols mixed in with that trash were legally purchased, either. If they haven’t been filed off, I didn’t break them where serial numbers could be found. They’ve lost the drugs and they’re out fifty thousand or so dollars’ worth of weaponry. I count that as victory.”
“Hurting them in the wallet?” Starlight Dancer chuckled at White Owl’s question.
“When they aren’t thinking with something else, it’s the biggest motivation. Put people like this in jail? They have, or can easily get, lawyers who’d get them out nearly as fast. Besides, they can always hire more gunmen and buy more guns; if they have the money. Cut the money off and you cut the head from the neck.They’re out the money paid for the weapons and manpower, out even more for the lost Stiff, that has to have at least dented the cash flow.”
White Owl looked at her. Even now, this close to her, details of her body were difficult to make out for the patterning of her costume, “Has anyone told you that you’re strange?”
“All the time!” Starlight Dancer laughed. “I’m an elf! I’m going to be strange to humans, super- or otherwise. Bye!”
“Wait!” White Owl called out but Starlight Dancer was already gone. She had been looking right at her...and still didn’t see her go; one moment there, the next moment not. Not even a burst of smoke. There were so many questions and no answers likely now. Shaking her head, White Owl took a cell phone from one of her belt’s pouches and called for the police then waited for them to arrive.
The wait wasn’t too long, maybe twenty minutes, then about an hour longer as the first cops called for backup to be able to haul so many people off to jail. “Thanks for your help, White Owl,” was both grateful and rote by now and she gave a brief shake of her head.
“I didn’t have that much to do with it,” She admitted, “We had a visitor from Gray City. calls herself Starlight Dancer. Before you ask, no, I never met her before this and no, I know very little about her. Try calling the Gray City Police. They might know more.”
She told what little she did know about the gunmen and the now destroyed guns and drugs. The Criminal Investigation Unit swept for bits of weapons, sometimes literally, with brooms, and collected the ashes and remains from the container; White Owl didn’t tell them about swapping the padlocks so at least that much of Dancer’s plan remained intact.
So many question...
His shift was finally over, Thank God! Last call had been 2:30 but it had been closer to three before the last customers stumbled out into the street and sometime closer to five A.M. by the time the place was straightened up, cleaned up and ready to go when the bar reopened the next morning about 9 A.M. At least he wouldn’t be back on shift until 4P.M. The hours could be long and the pay not all that great, though the tips could be nice since he was always a bit generous in measurements when he made cocktails.
It was the fringe benefits that really made the job worth it.
Tonight’s fringe benefit said her name was Cara and he could hardly look away from her. She was definitely hot but it was her eyes! He could hardly look away from her eyes. They had flirted and he was maybe a bit more generous pouring shots for her than was his usual, and she’d promised he’d wait for him to finish work.
As promised, she waited under a streetlamp at the corner of the block. She greeted him warmly, kissed him, and led him away.
Her eyes would be the last thing Henri Dubresky ever saw...
Morning always came too early, Athena Nikos grumbled. At least it was the weekend so, unless the museum called her for some reason, she wouldn’t need to go into work. Once she got coffee brewing, she took a quick shower then dressed casually. A mug of coffee, a chocolate chip muffin, thank goodness for a superhuman physique, she scanned news headlines on her computer while having her breakfast. A blinking icon in the corner of the screen made her scowl. Taking up her cell phone and dialed a private number.
“Thank you for calling in so quickly, White Owl,” The detective that answered said. “I’m Detective Moretto and we’ve got a...situation we’d like your help on.”
“Does this have to do with last night?”
He was quiet for a few moments before answering, “Yes...” And then quickly adding, “Not at the Dockyards, though. We found a body earlier this morning. I...I think we’ve got some crazy person on the loose.”
So much for a quiet morning. “Where do you need me, Detective?” He told her an intersection in the Rhineland neighborhood of Queen City.
“We haven’t moved the body yet, White Owl,” He added.
“I’m on my way...”
It was easy enough to find the intersection even if she hadn’t known where it was. Half a dozen police cars with flashing lights shutting off the flow of traffic and a white Criminal Investigation van at the scene is rather tell-tale.
“What do you have, Detective?” She asked the man who came up to greet her.
“Worse than anything I’ve ever seen, White Owl,” He responded, looking visibly ill. “I’ll warn you, it’s gruesome.”
He led her into the alleyway behind some buildings where figures in while coveralls, masks, bonnets and latex gloves were moving slowly and carefully. One was taking pictures while others were going over odds and ends on the street and another was hip deep in a dumpster bin. In the center of the activity, something small was covered by a white sheet. The CI team greeted her then one of them removed the sheet.
White Owl fought the urge to retch. There were the remains of a body, she guessed male, but only from the waist up. The arms were also gone, as was the chest and several of the internal organs. The top of the skull was also missing, along with the brain. The parts of the body that were left were covered in bite and claw-marks.
“Good Lord!” She said softly, looking away. “What could do this to a person?”
“Nothing entirely human, White Owl,” one of the men in the CI coveralls said. “No evidence of a saw or other tools used, so the body was...ripped...apart. Or eaten, given the bite marks on what remains. Measurements of the bites looks like it would be a human but the claws definitely aren’t. The biggest question is where is all the blood?”
White Owl hadn’t noticed at first, the scene was grossly enough as it was. It took another look for her to realize the man was right. The human body holds the better part of nine pints of blood, yet there were only a few small splotches around the corpse and oozing from the remains itself. There should have been blood everywhere from the looks of things.
“He was killed somewhere else?” She asked.
“Nowhere relatively close,” The Detective said. The CI nodded.
“What blood we’ve found indicates it happened right here. The blood spatters are static, no indications of the body being carried or dragged. Falling blood will leac]very a little splash, the pattern pointing the direction a body’s being carried. Or there’d be a trail of droplets at the very least. Close as we can tell, the body was killed and dismembered right here; or moved no more than a couple feet at best, and that from being jerked about while it was ripped apart.”
“That’s why we called you, White Owl,” The Detective said. “This...this thing has super powers at the least, we’ll need your help to find me stop it.”
“I’ll do everything I can, Detective; you know that.”
He gave a bit of a nod and a small smile, “I know. Thank you. Now for the really bad part. Facing the press.”
Out beyond the ring of police cars and a cordon of uniformed officers, two dozen or more people were clustered together along with video equipment, still cameras, recording devices, microphones...even a couple with just pens and note pads. White Owl did not envy the detective having to make a statement to them. He’d do his best to not say everything that had been found, and what hadn’t been, all in an effort to try and keep panic from spreading. But the truth was simple enough, White Owl knew, something monstrous was roaming Queen City.
Something she needed to find and stop.
The press was called that for a different reason, though this group was pressed up against the cordon, most of them shouting questions in order to be heard over the other shouted questions; holding out microphones and recorders to get whatever might be said in response to either their own questions or someone else’s. They were focused on the detective and the crime scene they couldn’t get any closer to, and paid no attention to a tall, slender woman dressed in a plaid skirt and baggy sweater who wasn’t asking questions. When she saw a figure dressed in white shoot skyward, she quietly slipped out of the crowd with practiced ease. She had a knack for passing unnoticed when she wished to.
What she wanted to do but couldn’t with the police and investigators there was get a better, longer look at the scene. While she could pass unnoticed virtually at will, she was not invisible and someone would notice her poking about.
So, she’d wait for later, after a fashion. She walked down a block and between a pair of buildings then climbed a fire escape up to the roof of one of them. A few sprints and leaps across intervening alleys had her on a rooftop that overlooked the crime scene. The people below were too engrossed to bother looking up to notice her though she decided to not take the chance. She took a small digital camera from her purse. It was high resolution and had excellent zoom and pan capabilities, and it was mounted on a mechanism that would let her move the viewpoint around. A long cable connected it to a display tablet. She mounted it on the edge of the roof, pointed down at the grisly scene below, then sat down on the roof. Slim fingers dancing across the display controlled the motions and focus of the camera and she satisfied herself for now by quite literally looking over the investigators’ shoulders.
By late afternoon, they appeared to have finished up, loaded up the remains and left. By nightfall, even the last police who were keeping folk out of the alley withdrew as well. That suited her just fine. While hardly bored, her skills were much better suited to action than the tedium of surveillance. When it as full dark, she stood up, removed her skirt, sweater and shoes and touched the spot on her abdomen where a belly button would have been if she was human and savored the liquid feeling of her costume flowing over her body. Clothing and equipment was miniaturized to the size of a BB and placed on their spots on the costume’s surface and she e pander her mask and put it on. Nimble fingers quickly braided her hair into its usual ponytail.
Ready for the night, Starlight Dancer dropped lightly to the empty alley below.
The events of the night before were on Athena’s mind most of the day. The fight at the dockyards was odd mainly from the number of people involved. Drug deals usually didn’t have that many people in one place even with a face to face exchange of drugs and money. Though, if the people involved knew Starlight Dancer was hunting them, Athena could understand why they’d be in greater numbers than normal; the woman was a phenomenal fighter based on what she’d witnessed.
Then there was the murder. Brutal and grisly, Why was the body so mutilated and where were the missing parts? And the blood? Outwardly, Athena couldn’t see how these two events were or could be related yet she couldn’t shake the nagging suspicion that they were.
Experience had taught her to trust those instincts.
When night fell, Athena Nikos donned the garb and guise of White Owl and hunted once more.
While it wasn’t a straight line from where she was to the two crime scenes, it wasn’t that big of a detour to reach the place where the body was found before heading on the the dockyards. Glancing down as she passed above, she saw Starlight Dancer down below.
Of course she’d be involved in this somehow... White Owl decided it was time for some answers.
She dived, intending to come from behind the other girl, grab her and lift her up into the air. Having done some research earlier, nothing of the little bit of information she’d found indicated that Dancer could fly. She’d get her answers at altitude. White Owl’s dive was bringing her in from directly behind.
Dancer simply spun to the right, out of Owl’s grasp a split instant before the grab. Something thumped her on the back and she hit the pavement and skidded to a stop just before hitting the wall.
“I know I haven’t read the Superheroine Rulebook, is there something written in there that you can’t just say ‘hello?’”
That was just too much! White Owl leapt to her feet, fist flying.
Starlight Dancer wasn’t there; spinning away once again. More punches and kicks were avoided with similar ease. All of which just increased Owl’s frustration.
“Hold still, dammit!”
Naturally, Dancer did no such thing.
“Dammit! Would you just stand still?”
“Maybe if you said ‘please?’” Came the reply.
“Please,” White Owl growled. Then threw another punch.
Which hit Starlight Dancer square in the left cheek hard enough to send her tumbling sideways. She dropped to the ground then stood right back up, working her lower jaw a bit.
“Nice right cross,” She said. “Feel better now?”
“No,” White Owl admitted, suddenly feeling foolish. “You dodged everything else, why not that?”
“You said please. It would hardly be sporting of me if I didn’t honor that, would it?”
“Besides, that’s something else in the Rules? ‘The heroes must fight each other over some trivial matter before they team up?’ We fought, I lost. So, let’s team up now.”
That had White Owl breaking out in laughter. “You’re a nut job!”
A tilt of the head and the corner of the mask tipped upward with a quirked eyebrow, Starlight Dancer asked, “That’s a yes, then?”
White Owl gave a nod and a slight smile, “That’s a yes. Now, why are you here?”
“After out bit of fun last night, I decided to go listen to a band playing in a nearby bar; they specialize in folk music from Eastern Europe. Anyhow, one of the bartenders there was good looking. Not really my type, but fun to flirt with. Only his attention ended up being spent on another female there; long green dress, gold hair, amber eyes. She...didn’t smell right. She left just after last call and he met her outside the bar.”
“Is that jealousy I hear? Not used to being upstaged?”
Dancer chuckled and shook her head, “Sorry, but I can’t really do jealousy any longer since I’ve become Elf. To my nose, she had a similar odor to Stiff. Plus a lot of pheromones. I didn’t see her try to slip anything into anyone’s drink, so I figured she was just looking for a night of fun and found a partner.”
She paused briefly and White Owl had a sudden realization. “The body, that was the bartender.”
Dancer gave a solemn nod, “His name was Henri Dubresky. She killed him here. Drank his blood, ripped him apart and ate what she felt were the choicest bits then took the rest to her lair. We need to find her and stop her before she kills again.”
“You describe it like you saw it happened.”
“If I’d seen it, it wouldn’t have happened, White Owl. His death happened because I didn’t pay attention to my instincts last night.”
“How do you know it was her, then?”
Starlight Dancer gave a slight shake of her head, “To be completely honest, I don’t. All I have to go on is a scent and scant evidence. I admit, I’m hardly a detective, my friends are all better at that skill than I am. If she’s not the killer, I’ll give her my most sincere apologies after we stop whoever it is. In the mean time, though, she’s all I have to go on.”
White Owl thought about it a moment then nodded, “Fair enough I suppose. How do you propose finding her or whoever?”
“You did hear me say I’m not a detective, didn’t you? The band is playing the same bar tonight. I figure I’d start there then try other bars in the area..”
“Dressed like that?”
She shook her head, “Hardly. Hold these for me, please?” From seemingly nowhere, Starlight Dancer produced a plaid skirt, a bulky pullover sweater and some low-heeled shoes. Then her costume...melted...
“Whoa! Whoa...wait!” White Owl looked away at the suddenly naked figure and felt hands plucking away the clothes she’d just been holding. When white Owl looked again, Dancer was dressed in the clothes, had exchanged her mask for some large-framed glasses with green eyes showing from behind the lenses and was dragging her fingers through her hair to undo the braid it had been in and wrap it into a loose bun on her head which completely hid the pointed tips of her ears. She also seemed just a bit shorter now and realized she was doing something with her posture; a bit of a slouch, head turned downward. Little touches that added up to great effect.
“That...that’s...certainly different,” White Owl finally said, chuckling. “Are you old enough to even get into the bar?”
A large purse appeared from somewhere and Dancer fished around in it and pulled out a driver’s license. “I do have a fake ID. Nobody’s going to believe I’m in my fifties. I use the date I became Elf as a birthday, so my stated age is legally able to drink.
“Never mind the age thing...wait...fifties? No, I’m not touching that one...how do you keep doing that?”
“That thing. Making clothes appear, that hand bag, the zip-ties from last night...that!”
“Oh...that...” Dancer replied, chuckling. “Do you want the easy or the hard answer?”
“Okay. I keep all of it miniaturized and stored on my costume. At least that’s what I say to keep my head from hurting trying to figure it out myself.”
“In other words, you don’t know?” White Owl’s eyes were wide.
“A very good friend of mine provided our uniforms and much of our equipment and modified the stuff I provided on my own. He’s tried to explain it to me, but I get lost about two words past ‘quantum manipulation’ and just say shrunk instead.”
“Exactly. It’s a lot easier to say. Oh, here. Use this.” She handed White Owl a small earpiece and a small clear bandage. “It’s a communicator. Paired to the ones my friends and I Use, put the one thing in your ear and stick the other on you jaw bone just under that.”
“That looks pretty small. What kind of range does it have?”
“On it’s own, only about a mile or so. But it piggybacks on cellular signals, so just about nationwide, I guess. Definitely anywhere in the city.”
White Owl looked at the items once more, “your friend make these, too?”
“Yep. He’s a real wizard at this kind of thing. And others.”
That got a chuckle in response, “I don’t suppose his name is Gandalf, is it?”
Starlight Dancer blinked, “What?”
“You said he’s a wizard. You’re an elf, so I just figured...”
“Now who’s being a nut? Of course he isn’t Gandalf. Gandalf’s a fictional character.” Dancer was silent for a moment or two before adding, “But he was Merlin once upon a time.”
“And you all live in a hollow tree and bake cookies...”
“Of course not! We’ve got a two story building that houses a book shop, an apartment and an underground passage that leads to our headquarters four blocks away. And I like muffins better than cookies. Are you ready?”
White Owl nodded, “I guess. What do you want me to do?”
“It’s your city, you know it better than I do. How about flying a patrol and call if you spot anything. I’m going to start at the bar from yesterday then try some of the others if I don’t get lucky there; I’ll call if I see anything.”
White Owl thought for a few moments then shrugged, “We only have one victim so far and what you said you saw; it’s as good a plan as any. Gold hair and amber eyes?”
“And a green dress,” Dancer added. “Though I suppose she could change clothes easily enough. Yes, it’s not much to go on, but if there’s even the slightest chance of preventing another killing, it’s worth the effort, isn’t it?”
“Good point,” White Owl admitted. “I’ll patrol unless I get called for something else.”
“I understand. It’s your city to protect. If you need help, call me. I have GPS on my motorcycle.” Before White Owl could ask, Starlight Dancer stooped down and a sleek green street bike appeared then disappeared just as quickly.
“That’s one way to avoid parking fees and fines I guess,” Was White Owl’s chuckling reply. “With a trick like that, why don’t you call yourself Harpo?”
“Because Starlight Dancer is a rough translation of my name, Shaandra Gael.”
“And it really does suit the way you can move.”
“We better get going. If we don’t find anything, or something else interrupts us, I’ll treat you to breakfast wherever you like.”
“And if we do find something?”
“Lunch or dinner?”
“Alright then. I’ll meet you back here around dawn.”
“Unless we meet somewhere else, that works for me. Good hunting.”
White Owl watched Dancer walk back towards the end of the alleyway before taking to the air herself.
The bar had a decent crowd but was hardly the mass of people there would have been had there been a big time star or a hip nightclub; maybe a few more than usual for a Saturday night because of the band. Mostly middle-aged, a few younger and a handful of older, nostalgic for their birth lands or wanting a taste of the culture they never knew. Shaandra Gael could sympathize, being born Romany but never exposed to the culture since she had been raised in Canada as a Canadian, she had little connection to that or any other culture of her birth region and she appreciated the passions displayed in the music.
She could overhear the bartenders talking and, by the lack of concern in their voices, assumed that the late Henri Dubresky had not been expected to be on duty tonight and that news of his demise had not yet been reported. That would change soon enough and she grieved for them in advance. But she kept her senses alert.
The band took a break and that’s when he found her target. The gold hair and the amber eyes fairly shimmered in a darkened corner of the room.
“White Owl, this is Gael, do you hear me?”
“I hear you just fine...Gael? Not Shaandra?”
“Later for that. She’s here. Same dress and everything. And...oh dear...this could be a problem. She’s flirting with the Cimbolom player.”
“Why is that a problem and what’s a cimbolom?”
“Do you know what a hammered dulcimer is? Kind of like that but more resonant. It’s a problem because he’s big. She’s either really hungry or she’s hoping to stock up for the winter.”
“How do you want to play this?”
“Stay nearby. I don’t think she’ll try anything before closing and I want to be certain she’s what we’re looking for. I’ll call back once I know more.”
“No, I’m Gael.”
“You’re impossible is what you are!” But she caught a bit of a chuckle from over the comm.
Gael continued to watch. The woman remained at her table when the band began playing again. She went to the bar just long enough to order and pay for a drink then went back to her place. When the band broke again, she continued flirting g with the cimbolom player; it looked like he was going to be her prey tonight. Gael figured she’d have at least some superhuman strength given the man’s size. Eventually, last call came, the band ended their last set and packed things away. The gold-haired woman gave her target a kiss and slipped out of the front with other customers. Gael followed.
“She’s moving, it’s definitely the cimbolom player. I’m heading out now.”
“I’ll be there in a moment,” White Owl replied, “taking down a mugger with bad judgement in location.”
“Copy that. See you when you get here.”
“Wait for backup if you can. I won’t be long.”
“I’m guessing she’s stronger than me, but I doubt she’s the kind to say ‘please.’”
That got another chuckle, “Copy that.”
Gael waited a few minutes more before editing with another group of people and looked down the street in both directions and spotted the green dress most of a block away. Instead of heading directly there, she ducked into an alley, quickly and quietly ran up a fire escape to the rooftop, dashed across roofs and leapt between buildings before dropping back to street level a block beyond her target. She changed into her costume but kept the street clothes over it, trusting the bit that showed would be mistaken for stockings or tights and a pair of gloves. She left the mask off.
Then she moved towards her target at a normal walk. The woman was under a street;amp, looking back towards the bar and looking that way, Gael saw the cimbolom player exiting; his bulk was unmistakable. She was now barely five feet away from the golden haired girl.
The kick that shattered her pelvic bone caught her entirely by surprise; she didn’t see it until she had been struck. A kick in the ribs stilled her writhing then the woman was on top of her. The smile she gave grew ever more wide until it was literally splitting her face from ear to ear and her tongue was sliding over sharp fangs.
“My, my,” The voice was raspy and cruelly taunting, “we usually have to work much for our meals.” She leaned closer as though to kiss her and, instead, exhaled hard into Gael’s mouth. Gael tried to resist but the breath was forced into her lungs. As her body froze up, she realized the Adair had been laced with Stiff! She tried to speak and only managed “tra-“ before she was completely paralyzed.
“And what lovely little bird have you caught, my beautiful Carathis?” It was the cimbolom player!
“That mousy girl who’d been watching us all night, Vathek my love. Though it turns out she’s no mouse.” Fingers pulled at Gael’s hair and revealed one of her pointed ears.
“Oh! This is a treat!” Varthek said gleefully. “Truly a feast my love!”
A mugger was hardly a threat to her, gun or no, just time she didn’t want to spend with a petty nuisance right now. She was cuffing his unconscious hands around a light post when the muffled “tra-“ sounded in the earpiece Starlight Dancer had given her. Leaping into the air, she quickly flew the few blocks and spotted gold hair and green dress as part of a cluster of people; one of them look to be as big around as he was tall. He looked up, lips stained red, and dropped a third figure that fell limply to the sidewalk.
Shaandra Gael in her street clothes! The side of her neck was red to match the man’s lips.
She dove, rushing at the man and planning on using her speed and strength to hit him hard. He was suddenly a blur and moved out of her way then grabbed her ankle as she flew past! He moved like Gael did! He spun and flung her at a wall. She caught herself just before hitting and rushed back towards him, kicking. He dodged again and landed a punch on her cheek. He was strong, maybe as strong as White Owl herself, and very fast. The blow was startling but did little damage.
They traded blows and she came to realize he relied on his speed and strength but he didn’t really have any fighting skills; after a few punches she was able to predict his moves and counter the advantage his speed gave him. Now to figure out how to hurt him!
Carathis watched her lover and White Owl fighting for a moment then turned her attention back to the elf lying dead at her feet. Her love had fed well, the ripped throat did not ooze blood. Now it was her turn to feed. But where to start? She looked so delicious. Finally, she decided and lifted up one of the elf’s slender arms. Opening her mouth wide, she placed the arm between rows of sharp fangs and bit down hard.
The screams stopped Varthek in the midst of a punch. “Carathis?” She was looking at him, face contorted in agony, with most of her fangs broken completely away and the few remaining cracked badly.
“My teef! My beautiful teef!” She cried. Varthek moved towards her, his own fight forgotten until White Owl’s boot nearly tore his head off in a spinning high kick.
“Varfef!” Carathis called out as she saw him go down. A gleaming flash of a sword separated her head from her neck.
Gael and her confounding tricks! The sword dropped from her left hand and made a tossing gesture. White Owl grabbed the short staff, more a baton, really, that had appeared midway towards her.
“Teak,” Gael gasped then gestured towards the big man who was s rambling back to his feet. “Vampire...”
White Owl understood, blessed Athena, she understood. Using the stick, she renewed her attack, the length and hardness of the stick adding extra force to the blows. He was soon down again.
“Vampire...” Gael said again, pointing at him. “Not...alive...”
White Owl nodded. The man was still down, flat on his back. She put the end of the stick over his chest where the heart would be and pushed down hard. Even without it being sharpened to a point, her strength was sufficient to make it pierce his heart.
He wasn’t going to get back up.
“Gael!” She was at the elf’s side in an instant, “you’re not dead!”
“Hurts too much to be dead,” Her voice was getting a bit stronger though it still wasn’t much over a whisper in volume. “Hips broken. Right arm, too where she tried to bite me.”
“What did you do to her?” White Owl asked, looking at Gael’s arm. The fabric of the sweater was ripped to shreds, with the remains of several broken fangs stuck in the wool. Beneath that, she could see Starlight Dancer’s costume, intact.
“Mine’s bulletproof, too,” Gael said, managing a weak smile. “Toothproof, too...”
“Goof! Do you always come armed for vampires”
“Never met one before. But a teak escrima stick makes a good stake doesn’t it? Need more, though.” She pointed to the sword lying nearby. Then four stubby, cylindrical objects appeared by her hand.
“Thermite incendiaries. Two for each of them...”
“One for the head, one for the body,” White Owl said, nodding. She took up the sword and went back to the staked vampire. It wasn’t the neat stroke that Gael had managed, but she did get the head cut from the body. She carried both heads a short distance away; one thermite grenade for each body and each head soon had all of the burning into ash.
“That should do,” Gael said, sounding better still. “Ow...first time I’be encountered anyone as fast as me but a lot stronger. Didn’t expect there to be two, either. Should’ve.”
“Don’t kick yourself over it,” At the laugh, While Owl realized what she said. “Never mind. We can never anticipate everything. The Devil is in the Details...what did I say that’s so funny this time?”
“A friend of mine, made my gear, is very...detail-oriented...”
“Don’t take this the wrong way, but why aren’t you dead?”
“I’m Elf. Elves don’t kill easily or stay dead for long.” She paused a moment, wincing at a sudden pain. “Fang girl breathed Stiff into me after kicking me. Then the big guy drank my blood. I regenerate and blood gets replaced pretty fast; the fresh blood cleaned the Stiff from my system faster and I’ve been exposed a few times already. Helps build up some resistance.
‘“I should have learned to expect answers that don’t make much sense from you,” White Owl groused. “Let’s get you some attention.”
“Please, no hospitals. Do...do you have a hot tub, or big bathtub?”
It had been a very busy few days but, at last, the day had been saved. Now, he could go back home and spend time with his wife. Captain Valiant flew to the building that housed their apartment, landed on the roof, and changed into civilian clothes out of sight then slipped through the skylight that illuminated their bathroom.
“‘Thena, honey?” He called out after a moment, “Why is there a naked girl floating in our bathtub?”