Chapter 1: Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot
Cal came to, groaning. That damn minotaur had smashed him right over the side of the ravine. Fortunately, it was shallower than it had looked, and a shrub had broken his fall. Cal listened for sounds of the continuing fight above, but heard nothing. Frowning, he carefully pulled himself out of the thornbush and clawed his way back up the steep side of the hill. When he got to the top, he looked around in amazement. There was no one and no fight. The ground was torn up and so were some of the trees. But no Niko. Cal felt a small tinge of panic. Where was he? Cal pulled out his cell phone, and was momentarily distracted by the time. Nearly two hours had passed and evening was settling in. He punched in Niko's number.
"Hello?" It was Niko's voice all right, but he sounded confused.
"Where the hell are you? Are you alright?" Cal was almost shouting.
"Who is this?"
Ice trailed down Cal's spine. "It's Cal. Your brother, you know?"
"You must have the wrong number." And with that, he hung up.
Cal stared at the phone. Was Niko hurt? Was he captured or with someone he couldn't speak in front of? He began limping towards the park trail. Something caught his eye and he bent down to pick it up.
It was an earring. A small hoop with blood still on the post. Cal remembered that little shit Timur had been wearing these. He had been quite a site, wearing an old pastel 70's prom tux and gold hoop earrings in his oversized, bat-like ears. The minotaur had hired them to track him down after he'd been conned out of a considerable amount of money. Unfortunately, when they'd found the creep in the remotest part of the park performing some kind of ritual, their client had gone berserk and tried to trample his former partner. The brothers had suddenly been in the unenviable position of trying to stop a minotaur with a full head of steam and murder in his eyes. Cal would have let him go ahead, but letting Timur die would have bothered Niko's conscience. Sometime during the melee Cal had been knocked over a small cliff.
He finally made it back to their door, and felt for his keys, frowning. They were gone, probably under a thornbush back at the park. Cal knocked on the door. A moment later Niko answered. He had a couple of scratches on his face, but was showered and in fresh clothing.
Cal stared in disbelief. "Nik – why the hell did you leave me in the park?"
His brother frowned down at him. "You're the person who called just a little while ago. How did you know where I live?"
Cal swallowed. This wasn't Niko's brand of humor. "You really don't know me, do you? I'm your brother, Caliban. Cal." The only other people he could smell in the apartment were Promise & Robin. Niko was not under any coercion or threat.
Niko's eyes narrowed, taking in his dirty, battered appearance. "I've never had a brother. I don't know who you are, but you need to drop this obsession here and now." He leaned in menacingly, his voice turning icy, "It isn't healthy for you." Niko's cold tone of voice was nothing compared to the sliver of ice that lodged in Cal's heart. He opened his mouth, but never got a chance to speak.
Robin let out a string of curses. "Niko. Step away from that. It's an auphe." Robin was pointing a gun, sidling to one side to get a better angle past Niko.
Cal scowled at Robin. "Oh, nice, Loman. Do I look like a fucking auphe?"
He felt something cold at his neck. He realized Niko had a sword to his throat. Things were definitely going downhill.
"It's not entirely auphe. It is part human," corrected Promise softly. She was angling from the other side. It occurred to Cal that he knew some damn scary people. He also noticed for the first time that the apartment was spotless – his jacket was missing from the hook by the door, his dirty dishes and magazines gone from the coffee table. In fact, from his point of view by the door, there were no signs he'd ever lived there. What the fuck?
"Marvelous. So what we have is a sub-human freak of nature. Don't trust anything it says, Niko."
The three were beyond hostile. Cal's hands twitched, but the sword tip pressed harder. A trickle of blood slipped free of Cal's skin. "If you even start to reach for that gun, or the knife in the back of your belt, I'll kill you," Niko said calmly.
Cal's mouth quirked. "Yeah, I believe you." He lifted his hands non-threateningly. He spat out his cell phone number. "I'm leaving. Call me when you've pulled your heads out of your collective ass."
Cal turned away and headed down the stairwell before he totally lost it. He made it as far as the second landing before he turned and punched the wall, cracking the plaster. Red-hot pain lanced up his arm. Cal gasped and cradled his fist. "Fucking brilliant," he muttered.
Cal looked up to see Promise just two steps above him. Fuck – he never heard her behind him. His heartbeat picked up and doubtless the vampire could hear it.
"Niko is mine. Don't you ever come near him again."
Cal laughed bitterly. "Damn. I'll bet you've wanted to say that to me for a long time. Relax. I won't be back until I've figured out what in the hell is going on."
She regarded him out of narrowed, purple eyes. "You truly are mad."
"Oh, I'm way past mad, princess," Cal snarled. With that, he gave a jaunty wave with his uninjured hand and left.
Cal walked down the street, seething. People instinctively stepped out of his way. Granted, he was covered in dirt and scratches and on the verge of a homicidal rage. Cal tried to think past the rage, past the giant gaping hole that had opened in his heart and the black muttering shadows whispering in his head. Niko was lost to him, at least for the moment. Nik was alive, and maybe even safer without him, but Cal was lost. Without Niko, he really was a sub-human freak. A monster. Niko was his better, human half. Cal clenched his injured fist to help him focus on the here & now. What happened in the fight? Right before the fight broke out the little shit had looked like he'd set up some kind of spell, complete with pentagram and incense. He had been holding a glowing ball of some sort, and Cal had stumbled into him just as it flared. The last thing he remembered was that berserk minotaur knocking him off the cliff. Right. Find Timur, and find out what he knows.
Cal arrived at the ice cream shop an hour later. The old man was working behind the counter, and George the freckle queen was at her usual booth, talking softly and sympathetically to a very pregnant woman who was in tears. Cal grimaced and turned around to order a double chocolate malt shake. He drank it greedily, realizing he hadn't eaten in hours. After the woman left, Cal waited a few minutes before sliding into the booth across from her.
George smiled politely. "Hello. Have we met?" She tilted her head to one side, considering Cal.
Cal sighed. "Must have been another lifetime. Look, I need to find someone, and I need your help."
George nodded, putting on her sympathetic professional psychic face. She reached across for Cal's hand. Instead, Cal dropped Timur's earring into her palm.
"I need to find the guy who wore that last."
George turned over the earring, noting the dried blood. "Is he a friend?"
Cal regarded her steadily. "He took my brother from me. I want him back."
George's brows rose in surprise. She focused on the earring. "Timur," she murmured. After a minute or two, an eternity to Cal, she looked up. "He's in Atlantic City. You'll be able to find him at a place called One Eyed Jack's."
Cal exhaled sharply and sat back. "Thanks." He started to get out of the booth.
"Be very careful. Yours is not the only heart at stake, here."
"Huh. Right." Cal shrugged and exited the ice cream parlor in a slouch. On the way out, he dropped his last twenty in the tip jar while the old man was talking to the psychic.
Cal thought furiously as he walked. How to get to Atlantic City? He could steal Niko's car, he thought with a smirk. It would serve him right. But Cal wasn't sure the car would make it as far as city limits, much less to Jersey. Then Cal had a better idea.
A couple of hours before dawn Cal scoped out Robin's dealership. All was quiet as he slipped through the lot towards the main entrance. When he got to the door he broke out the glass. This caused the alarm to start beeping, but Cal knew the code. Robin didn't remember his being here multiple times to work off some of their car payments, so he wouldn't have reset the alarm. Cal kicked in the door to the interior office. With a prybar, he opened the lockbox for the keys. He mulled over his choices, then realized there was really only one option: the jet-black Camaro Robin received last week – the one that Robin had made him detail to a high finish. Cal picked up the keys and tossed them from hand to hand. "Sweet!" he said softly. Then he realized he needed something else as well.
Robin had once let Cal see him enter the safe combo while regaling him about one of Nero's special birthday parties. He hadn't cared, because Cal (ordinarily) would never steal from him. So now Cal entered the numbers, and the safe handle popped open. Most of Robin's sales were legit cashier's checks or electronic transfers, but he did have a few thousand in bills on hand. Cal counted out one thousand in hundreds and pocketed it. He closed everything up, and because he knew Niko would be very disapproving of his actions, desperation or no, he grabbed a piece of Robin's stationery and a pen.
'IOU 1000 + one Camaro' he wrote. Underneath he drew a cartoon of an auphe.
Just past nine in the morning Cal's cell phone rang. He had filled up the tank, stopped off at a bakery for a box of donuts and coffee, and hit the road. He turned down the radio to answer the phone.
"You filthy malaka," hissed Robin. "I'm going to hunt you down and tear you limb from limb."
Cal whistled. "Damn, Loman. Excuse me, Robin. You sound upset. And how do you think you're going to hunt me down? You were going to lowjack this car today, remember?"
"How did you know that?"
"We've been over this, remember?"
After a moment of silence, Robin said, "You still won't get far in a stolen Camaro."
Cal tsked. "Are you sure you want to send New York's finest after me? Unprepared?"
"Fine. I'll come after you myself. And when I do, the stories of what I'm going to do to you will be used for centuries to scare boglets into good behavior."
"Relax, Goodfellow. I'll bring back your precious car. But you owe me for calling me a subhuman freak." Cal hung up.
Cal made it to Atlantic City by midday. He was able to use the expertise he'd learned traveling on the run from the auphe with Niko to find a motel that would take cash, no questions asked. After checking in, Cal realized he had no gear to stow away except for the clothes he was wearing and the weapons he carried. He sniffed himself and made a face. After a couple of days in these clothes, including the roll into the ravine, he was decidedly rank. Cal ran across the street to a convenience store and bought a burrito plus some soap, toothpaste, and a toothbrush. He spent some time in the motel room washing his clothes in the sink, ate the bean & cheese burrito & chased it down with chocolate milk. He actually found himself missing Niko's nagging voice telling him to knock it off with the junk food. Cal never thought that would happen. He stretched out on the bed, intending to go out after dark to look for the place George said he'd find Timur.