Friday, April 10, 2020

The Witch Hunter

Jack Grey wouldn't have thought a goth club would be a good setting for one of his shows, but the Crux Invertus had been a strip club before being repurchased and repurposed, and it still retained a working main stage -- along with half a dozen mirrored corners, each with its own small stage and pole -- and the audience of clubgoers was more appreciative than he would ever have guessed. He'd chosen the musical accompaniments to match what he understood of their tastes, and he must not have gone too far astray; they were riveted.

With a dramatic lift of his arm that swept his cloak out behind him, he conducted Valeria up the steps and onto the platform, where she sank into a dancer's pose: one leg tucked in front of her, the other crossed over it, with her arms around the upraised leg and her head tilted down towards her knee. With quick, theatrical gestures the Magical Mister Grey raised the golden cloth sides of the pyramid around her, then stepped around to the front of the pyramid and lifted the cloth that covered the base. There was nothing but empty space beneath, with metal legs at each corner to hold it up. Turning, he took hold of the loop at the top of the pyramid and lifted it, one-handed, into the air. It rose lightly, weightless, as if it were completely empty.

He swung it all the way around himself, cape flaring, as the metal legs fell away. Then he set it gently on the ground and tapped the top twice. The cloth sides of the golden pyramid collapsed, revealing Valeria still inside. He extended a hand; she took it and rose effortlessly to her feet, then bowed to the crowd's applause.

Jack bowed as well, then snapped his fingers. A rain of rose petals fell from the ceiling. In a place like this there was no way to conceal the mechanical release, but it covered their exit and made for a lovely signature effect to end the show. There was applause as they slipped off the stage and behind the curtain, and that was all that he wanted, really.

"Did you see him?" asked Valeria.

Jack paused as the applause intensified, half-tempted to offer an encore. "See whom?"

"Haviland. He's in the club, he was watching from the balcony."

Jack's response was immediate: "Do not throw him off it."

Valeria stopped herself, scowled, and turned to him. "What are we going to do about him?"

"We're going to collect our payment and get out of here," he said. "The club has security, and they can handle him. Besides, we're inside Elysium -- if only barely -- and we can't afford to start any trouble here."

Valeria nodded slowly. One of the many things Jack's master had drilled into them was the importance of Elysium, the neutral territory where vampires could gather in peace and safety. Putting on a show here avoided any risk of trespassing on someone else's hunting grounds, but it did limit their options for dealing with the man who was hunting them.

On the other side of the curtain, the music began again. Before long, mortals would be dancing again -- some of them on the stage, likely as not. It was time to go.

"I'm so sorry," said a voice, and suddenly the club owner was visible, melting out of the backstage shadows. "I saw him, too. I have people watching him, but..."

Malachi Omicron -- his legal name, unlikely as it seemed -- was a paradox: early generation, but Caitiff. Word had it that he'd been turned out of guilt and abandoned by his Sire, but he'd made a name for himself in the local communities, both kindred and kine. He cultivated an air of mystery, avoiding sunlight and moonlight alike, but managed the club despite that. Despite being clanless, he was said to have the trust of the Prince.

Valeria heaved a breath and her shoulders relaxed. "I did warn you."

"You did," answered Malachi, as easily and respectfully as he would have answered another vampire. "I have your earnings in cash, or if you'll give me a moment I can write you a check."

"Cash will do fine." Jack said cheerily. It had been a good night, and anyone who treated Valeria well would get the same in return from him. "We just want to go before--"

Malachi nodded. "I understand." He held out an envelope. "It's all there. If you'll follow me, I have a pair of bouncers ready to move in and ask your friend some unpleasant questions about a restraining order. They'll keep him occupied until you're well away."

Jack turned to Valeria and raised an eyebrow. You see? It's best to have the weight of authority behind you. Then you're protected.

She nodded an acknowledgement, then shrugged. Sometimes that's not enough and you have to be ready for violence. She didn't have to say it aloud; she'd been his girlfriend before he was turned and his ghoul ever since, and he knew her well enough to read exactly what she was thinking from her posture and the barest hints of her expression.

"Thank you," said Jack.

Mal shrugged. "My people made the mistake; my people can correct it."

"Nevertheless," said Jack, "Thank you. And my apologies for drawing someone like that into your place."

Malachi didn't answer, but his lips twitched and Jack knew that he was pleased.

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