I would like to thank Len Wiseman, Kevin Grevioux, Danny McBride and everyone who worked on Van Hellsing for making Underworld: Evolution look subtle and classy. I would also like to thank Mike Mukakis and Paul Cetrone and all m'buds down on Bloodfeud, particularly Terra for the use of Jonah.
I want to thank one grrl who lies her size-eights off for keeping me from going too overboard with the fandom.
This chapter is dedicated to one man who only lied about his age. Even an honorable act can be hard to carry. Good luck in all things.
Please see mediaminer, ficwad or fichaven for my response to Heatherly's comment.
(bows to Funky Nassau)
My name is Taylor and a few hours ago, I kidnapped a man. I've killed enemy soldiers and I've killed people I didn't know. Theft and brutality were the least of it. They will never leave me now. I did these things because I believed that I and others like me would die if I did not. I became these things because I believed that what I am is worth keeping in the world.
I was right.
I still don't know how a guy goes about living with it.
The grenade hit the water and bounced once.
Dying came easily to a new lycan, especially when there were so many people eager to help.
The silver dosage wasn't an issue in itself. Bullets could be cast or coated with silver of a high enough grade to cause some problems, but the kinds of things that ended up in a silver grenade, the shapes and shavings hissing outward with the force of the explosion could do the kind of damage that made content irrelevant. Where bullets pierced, grenades pulped.
Being within fifteen feet of a detonation hurt like hell wrapped in barbed wire, but not for very long. In theory, the brain can survive about ten minutes without bloodflow, such as when the heart has stopped beating or is no longer intact, but the victim is conscious for very little of that time. For an immortal, however, anything big enough to stop a heart or evict it from its place of business would probably cause more than a little trouble in the rest of the neighborhood. Brain death brings silence. First the senses go, and then the memories and finally the self. Gone completely or just gone where no one from the would could reach it, it was impossible to say. This would happen regardless of intellect or history or courage or even the state of just having figured out what to do with himself.
There were certainly worse times for a guy to go.
One half-clawed hand wound against the ladder and pulled.
He would probably find one.
There was a gun in his hand. He was in the upper tunnels and there was a gun in his hand.
Taylor didn't remember how he'd gotten out of the exit shaft, but he hovered, knees to sopping concrete, staring up at the dank, forgiving walls as his nails shifted and his ribs cracked back down to human size.
A flake of silver drifted to the floor, still hissing, When was the last time you saw him change more than partway, runt? The boss only changed to push out the silver. He'd only changed to push out the silver. Taylor swallowed, expecting a metallic taste in his mouth. Nothing.
There was a gun in his hand. He didn't remember how he'd gotten to the upper tunnels, but Pierce and the others nobody else had been in few enough pieces to do more than twitch and there was a gun in his hand.
Taylor's mind began to clear. This was it. This was the night the boss had been planning for and everything had gone to hell. There were vampires in the lair – a whole fucking scout troop of them – and they'd just killed Pierce and God knew who else and there was still enough fear in his veins to crack open every bone in his body and wring them together new.
There was a sound echoing in the concrete maze, boots on concrete. His thinking got a lot less fuzzy and a lot more relevant when he realized that whoever'd thrown that grenade couldn't be too far off. A different kind of throbbing seeped into his blood. Right now he needed his wits about him. He was lycan. Transformed, he was more than strong enough to take on a vampire hand-to-hand, Ag rounds or no Ag rounds, but there had to be – the stale air went through his nose, his skin, his brain – four, at least. No one could dodge that many bullets. As satisfying as it might have been to feel a vampire's skull crunch like an eggshell between his jaws, Taylor was better off with hands that could pull a trigger.
The other guys had gotten blasted for nothing in the exit shaft. The person who'd done it was nearby and probably thought there was no one behind him. Taylor was probably going to find a way to die that night. And there was a gun in his hand.
He knew what he wanted to do about it, and with the plan shot to pieces, he might as well. Taylor took a breath and checked the clip.
There was a gun in his hand with no goddamned bullets.
"Fuck it," he whispered. Eggshells it was.
The old guys could do it without any trouble. Raze was the master, changing from man to beast and back like water into ice, scary as hell but in perfect control the whole time. The boss... Well, no one really knew about the boss. No one who was talking, anyway.
For Taylor, it was still new. Keeping the wolf on its leash took some practice and usually some screwups, but getting it to come when it was called was something else.
Channeled rage, he'd heard the boss say years back. Know when to release your anger and when to restrain it. That is what separates man from mongrel. He'd sounded like Obi-wan after practicing mind tricks out in the desert too long, but it got the idea across. Lord knew Taylor didn't have any shortage of sucky memories. Still, the change back in the cop diner had probably been his best one.
He pulled in a shaky breath. He could feel the shivering disk of the moon overhead, through the rock and through the steel. It was a help. Aside from that... The closest thing he'd had to a best bud since high school was plastered to the sides of the exit shaft along with five other guys in assorted states of creamy and chunky. The rest was easy.
A shiver like a diamond winter dawn ran through Taylor's body. There was a reason why he loved it.
The wolf had come at the midnight of Taylor's pathetic life and taken him away. In the stories, that was always the end of a guy. But for Taylor, "away" didn't mean nowhere. He'd already been nowhere, and away was a step up.
Taylor pulled his shirt loose with one hand, slipped it off and tossed it behind him, kicking off his shoes as he went. Everything on his skin was expendable. Maybe everything inside too.
There was a secret to it.
The first time the change had hit him he'd screamed like a cat with her tail on fire, but that had been it. He'd felt pretty proud about it until Pierce had told him: Nobody ever screamed the second time. Taylor was no Mensa scholar, but he hadn't had to ask why not.
He chucked the empty gun over his shoulder as muscles turned as dense as steel and grew, grinding bone as they went. Organs shifted and lurched out of position. Bone healed, scarred, broke again and took new shape.
Life was always going to suck like a broken rib through a lung and there was no escape from it, but deciding when, how hard and for how long could be just as good. The wolf had given him control, of his flesh and of his fate.
Taylor ducked his head low, lips pulling back over teeth like cracked granite. He took a long draught of stale air. That way. One clawed foot passed in front of the other, and his heavy body sank on its own weight. One claw-nailed hand flexed as he realized his leg still wasn't up to barreling sideways on the walls. His ears twitched as the creak of just-worn leather grew louder. They were turning around.
The death dealers were better trained than he was. He could hear it in the even beat of their hearts. He could smell it in oiled leather and sheeny scent of guns that got cleaned on schedule.
They were better trained, but Taylor knew the area. He scuttled back, barely feeling the dampness against the pads of his feet. Shadows closed around him and he waited.
A beast would have sprung forward on one leg at the first hint of blood.
A beast would have turned pain to power and killed the dealer before he could kill back.
He couldn't help a growl when they walked toward him, eyes aimed straight ahead but turning. He was half-crippled in an alcove and a trio of heavily armed dealers were headed toward him. Oh shit. Oh shit. Oh shit. Gunfire and the sound of something heavy hitting the floor. They'd got someone.
Three sets of eyes moved his way. Taylor's jaw twitched. He wasn't going to run. Of course, with a fucked up left leg he couldn't if he wanted to, but it felt better to decide that he wasn't going to run. The one in front raised his weapon and fired.
He missed by at least three feet.
Taylor blinked. He'd been sure that—They'd all been sure, but...
...they can't see in the dark? All that funky blue-eye stuff and they can't tell that I'm— The one with the short black beard came forward half a step and peered cautiously in Taylor's direction, eyes passing smoothly over nothing. Okay.
The lead death dealer's face showed fear but not enough. This guy knew exactly what it meant to come waltzing into the werewolf den with a picnic basket full of silver. This wasn't some kid to drag off into a cop car. This wasn't some dupe of a candidate with no idea what he was in for.
Well... Taylor realized as the vampire blinked into the darkness. Maybe the part about not knowing what he was in for.
Taylor sprung forward on one leg and tasted blood. The death dealers were better trained, but it didn't take much to pull neck bones out of alignment and duck toward the next guy. Weapons flared. Taylor turned pain into power and killed the dealer before he could get killed back.
A beast would have stopped to pull flesh from bone and swallow its kill. Taylor went looking for Lucian.
Pierce had been right; he couldn't track worth a damn, so he followed the sound. The boss probably wouldn't be the source of the loudest noise, but what could a guy do? It took a long time to find the way. Taylor knew all the routes in and out – Lucian had insisted on that – but the clash of claw and steel and bullet changed any map he might have built in his head. Dragging his damned leg didn't help either.
He didn't know what to fear more, the noise or the quiet. By the time he reached the lower level, the fighting had sunk to a low clamor. As hopeful as he'd been, he knew better than to think this meant that they were winning.
There was a crashing sound, and a sickening aquatic crunch as the eighteen inches of water on the lower level failed to keep a body from hitting the concrete underneath. Taylor hauled himself forward, hugging the shadows.
The new guy didn't scream during his second change. Didn't look to happy, but he didn't scream. Taylor felt something almost like a grin pull his fangs bare as he watched the candidate writhe in the water, his rib cage expanding in uneven bursts as his skin grew bristles and his jaws stretched long. Newbie or not, Michael Corvin had bent steel on his first night, Taylor remembered as the new guy's skin darkened and stretched over a bulkier frame. Whoever'd just lobbed the new guy through the divider was going to get his ass kicked.
The new guy convulsed, one arm dripping oily water as the fingers splayed nearly backwards into a full lycan span
...and seemed to shrink. Taylor's eyes widened. The new guy's whole body was shrinking back to human size. Why would a death dealer bother to dope a guy up with enzyme when there was half a mint full of silver handy? And then why chuck him through the glass into a half-flooded atrium? What kind of vampire felt the need to—
He froze. Like a rabbit in the headlights, he didn't move a hair. Thoughts of Lucian fled his mind. Thoughts of anything.
He would never be sure how he knew it was him. Taylor had never seen Viktor, and what little he'd heard the boss say about him hadn't lingered too long on what the guy looked like, but he was absolutely sure. Purpose and power radiated outward from the lines on his face, each knuckle on both withered hands that clenched the blades with a grip like adamant. Viktor was a monster to his bones. And Taylor couldn't move. And the bastard wasn't even looking his way. After one lightheaded moment, he finally got his chest to move in and out, his lungs to draw air.
It was nearly twice that before it occurred to him to wonder what the vampire was looking at. By the time he really got his mind out of first gear, there wasn't anything to see. Corpse-blue eyes traced the shadowed, empty water.
Okay... Taylor thought. Where the hell did he— The next ten seconds were a blur. Water hissed and voices seethed. A growling like the underworld itself shook the earth, the stronghold, Taylor's mind as something pulled Lucian's great enemy off the landing and into water gone wild.
It was Corvin, wasn't it? The boy's features were still just clear enough to make out. Taylor's head shook, just barely, side to side. Something had gone wrong. Something had to have gone fuck-all wrong for a candidate to be duking it out with Viktor and the boss nowhere in sight.
Someone crashed against a pillar, pulling his attention back to the present. Holy fuck; he was fast! Strong Taylor had expected, but shit, this dude was running around like Sonic the Hedgehog on steroids. Michael Corvin had no idea how to throw a punch; Taylor was just good enough himself to know a real amateur when he saw one. By all rights, Viktor should have turned him to nothing by now, but it looked like the kid was actually holding his own. Taylor was so absorbed in watching them that three death dealers –oh shit oh shit oh shit – filed into place without so much as a flinch from him. He barely noticed when the one with the two barettas and the Pat Benatar complex walked up behind them.
But he sure as hell noticed when she took them out. Whatever was going on here, Viktor's little Sonja standin didn't seem to be minding the death dealer hard line.
And if that wasn't hot...
The fight went on. None of the participants seemed to know he was there and Taylor was happy as hell to keep it that way. Sonic the Hybrid let out a roar when Viktor knocked the death dealer to the ground. Taylor's jaw flexed. The dusk-skinned creature fighting for its life down there was probably the strongest being on the planet, fast and deadly with claws that Taylor would kill for. The sum total of six hundred years of hope and bloodshed.
And he was going to die.
There was a reason why the boss had wanted to make the transformation himself, more than one if he counted the desire to personally sever Viktor's trachea without benefit of an anesthetic.
Viktor struck and the hybrid dodged.
Viktor left an opening, too obvious by far.
Don't, Taylor half-prayed from the shadows. Don't try to—
Corvin lunged for the elder's exposed collarbone and found himself locked at the wrist.
Taylor's eyes slid shut. This was the end. Even if a few of them managed to eke out a fugitive existence, the lycan's strongest champion, their master plan had been defeated. From here on out, it was only a matter of—
"Time to die...
There was a slice and a splash. Taylor felt the breath leave his body. What next?
There was quiet. Water dripped. The pool sloshed gently under two sets of feet. Taylor dared to look.
What the he—
A robed figure in the drink and a sword sliding from the death dealer's hands while the new guy looked on.
He could feel the air around him, in his lungs again. Could she have killed her own master? And for what? To save an untrained half-lycan who probably still didn't know how to throw a punch?
Taylor felt a long-lipped lycan grin change his startled face.
And if that wasn't hot...
There was a long pause. The death dealer raised her head and cautiously surveyed the area, the now-vertical new guy following suit. Two eyes like jet fell on Taylor.
He backed away. He'd been ready for the boss to turn half-vampire and that was on thing, but for all that this guy had just knocked the lycans' greatest enemy into a pylon or two, he didn't have six hundred years of grace and loyalty behind him ... and there was no telling whether he was still mad about the car and the two-by-four and Taylor wasn't sure the new guy knew it had been Pierce and not him.
The death dealer left, Michael Corvin following obediently at her heels. Taylor wasn't sure whether to feel relieved or gypped. Corvin was leaving, after all they'd done for the guy?
Taylor's eyes caught on a glint. The death dealer had something in her hand... something that Taylor had seen many times. He felt the impact of the silver grenade again. It shredded his leg, pierced his gut, knocked his head against the wall.
It would have made more sense to just jump down into the atrium and start sniffing around, but death dealers tended to interpret that as an attack ...because it usually was. This particular death dealer was probably nervous enough to begin with and he didn't need her turning trigger happy. For all that her decapitation jobs seemed to leave a good chunk of skull still on his neck, Taylor was pretty sure he wouldn't be in much shape to complain after if she decided to perfect the matter on him.
He turned and headed back through the tunnels. Even as it was, his leg was screaming. But it was the only thing that was. His ears twitched. No gunshots, no growling, no slash of claw on flesh...
Everyone's dead, Taylor realized. Not just on our side; everyone's dead. For some reason that thought chilled him. A lycan defeat he could have bought, but a total massacre on both sides?
We actually held our own.
Taylor found him in the anteroom near the exit shaft. He let out a hiss as his leg finally gave way. He slid down against the lost bricks, panting hard. He was too heavy. Muscle pulsed and bone crunched. He knew how hard was too hard and took the easy way for once. Breath came and left him in a pained pant, his human throat adding only a little sound.
Himself would have made sense. Pierce made sense. Singe had been hard to believe, but this... Taylor swallowed a heavy, sticky knot of nothing. There was a force of nature lying slouched against the broken bricks.
He closed his eyes and touched one grayed hand.
There was a slap of skin on the wet floor. Expendable shoes. Another man stood next to him.
He turned to look. It was just another one of the guys, short hair and a scanty scruff of what passed for a beard around here. Taylor looked back to Lucian.
"Should we bury him?" the other guy asked.
Taylor held in part of a laugh. "And what? Carve 'great leader of the werewolves' on his grave?" he coveredhis mouth with his hand for a moment. "Maybe if we were in southern California. He was all about keeping us alive. I don't think he'd be too happy if we did something stupid like stick around and wait for the human cops come and corner us and we have to kill them."
Scruff-boy answered with a frown in his voice. "They'd just draw guns? We wouldn't be able to sneak out?"
Taylor turned back to the other man.
"Are we the last two?"
"There are a couple who might've made it," he admitted. "We should check."
"They'll be back."
"Or the humans will." Taylor's thoughts twisted through the next sequnce of events: Find other survivors. Grab anything useful. Run like hell for base camp. Keep running. Fuck but he wished someone could tell him what to do after that. "I know you," he said to the other man, "but I never caught your name."
"Jonah," he answered.
"You weren't here long before I was, were you?"
He shook his head.
"We both beat the spread, then." Taylor almost managed to smile.
Taylor opened his eyes. "How many does that leave?"
Jonah shrugged. "Aside from you and me? Maybe four. I'm pretty sure I heard someone moving—"
"No, I mean how many all together?" asked Taylor. "With everyone back at base camp?"
Jonah was quiet. "What do you mean?" he asked softly.
Taylor didn't know how to answer. What did he mean, anyway? "I don't have a plan," he admitted.
"Me either," answered the other man. "Did he even have a plan for after tonight?"
We may yet get the chance to bring our species to its potential. There will be warriors, yes, but also scholars, scientists—
"Yeah," Taylor nodded. "He did." Something difficult built in his eye. Singe. Pierce. Lucian. He shook his head. "But it's not the sort of thing that we..." He closed his eyes. "It was the sort of thing he'd have had to do himself."
But it was okay to give more than a passing damn when a good man finished things up, even if he hadn't been all that good. They could still come out of this. It was about proving Lucian right. It was about proving Pierce and Singe right. It was about being a lycan in a way that was worth more than one breath and then another.
Taylor steadied his hands against the earth and looked up. At first he thought it had been a long time since he'd looked another man in the eye like this. Then he realized that he never had.
Warrior in civilization.
"I think I have an idea," he said.
My name is Taylor and I have done brutal things. I will probably do more before I'm through. The fact that things just as bad happened to me doesn't change that. Becoming a better man won't change that. Carrying out someone else's dream as if it were mine won't change that.
I'm going to do it anyway.
I will do it because what I am is worth keeping in the world. I'm not as smart as Lucian, but I've never been ashamed of it. Things aren't going to go the way he wanted, but they're going to go. I don't know how I'm going to go about living with it, but I'm going to live with it. So are a bunch of other people if I have anything to say about it. I'm going to find a way to be lycan in a way that means more than one breath and then another.
And maybe recruit some chicks.
drf 24 at columbia dot edu