DISCLAIMER: I don't own anything to do with Blood Ties, but I bloody well wish I did!! I'm just borrowing the characters etc for a while, and I promise I'll give them back when I'm done with them, though I'm not sure if they'll still be in one piece... ;) On with the story!!

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The familiar night-time darkness wrapped itself tightly around Vicki as she slowly ascended the stairs to her office, exhausted after a long night's work. A light flickered feebly somewhere further down the hallway, occasionally spilling a brilliant white light into the darkness as she carefully navigated her way to the office and opened the door.

Coreen jumped clean out of her seat as the door swung open, surprised and yet relieved to see her friend back in one piece.

"Vicki!" she gasped. "You scared the hell out of me..."

"No kidding. I thought you were going home to do that sleeping thing," she replied, slumping onto her comfortable desk chair as intense pain throbbed through her body. It hadn't been an easy night.

"Well, you were supposed to a) not do that chasing after Astaroth thing and b) call me as soon as you were on your way home."

"I'm sorry. Things got a little...hairy."

Coreen cast her a sympathetic, but fiercely reprimanding look reminiscent of the PI herself. "You've got to be careful, you know. Henry's not here to watch your back anymore."

"A little harsh, don't you think?"

"Sorry, but it had to be said. You have to stop throwing yourself into fights with things you know nothing about."

"I can handle myself, thanks." A note of bitterness pierced her voice as the memory of him lurched in her stomach. She was supposed to be forgetting about all this, moving on. Coreen seemed to be making it far more difficult than it had to be.

"So, what happened anyway?" Coreen busied herself organising some of the many case files scattered lazily around the office, if only to conceal her expression of concern regarding her friend's welfare.

"Met a source, source turned out to be a demon in disguise, demon went away with very sore head and a broken arm," she relayed, a newly poured glass of amber whisky glittering merrily in the dim light of the room. She rested the cool, smooth surface of the glass against her aching forehead, breathing deeply as she tried to ignore the throbbing pains in her back. Her adversary, a demon who could fool an onlooker into thinking he was human, had seen fit to kick her across the narrow street like a ragdoll, with no-one around to hear her scream with pain. She was, in all honesty, lucky to be alive.

"What's the damage to you then?"

"Nothing that won't heal," she replied casually, barely concealing a grimace as she shifted slightly in her chair. "Anyway, that thing just ran away with its tail between its legs. It was kind of weird actually," she remarked, the memories of their fight becoming ever clearer. "I – well, I was on the floor – and this was after I nearly snapped that thing's arm off – and it just ran. It was as if something had it spooked, or like it had done enough or something." The clarity in which she had seen this in her mind's eye suddenly became a little more hazy. "I don't know...I could have just imagined it. Maybe it'd had enough."

"You think it could have been working for something, or someone, else?"

"Maybe," Vicki replied, rubbing her forehead impatiently. "I'm not sure."

"If you have some sort of description I could try looking it up – I borrowed some great books from Dr Sagara and some of the stuff in those books are amazing. There's this fish demon - "

Vicki waved her hand, signalling her to stop. "You get way too excited about this stuff. Not tonight though, I need to rest and you should be getting home. I'll call you a cab."

"Don't worry, I'll call one myself," she said quickly, mindful of the PI's discomfort. "Are you going to be okay here?"

"Yeah," she smiled grimly. "Thanks. I'm going to bed – can you lock up for me?"

"Sure thing. I'll see you tomorrow; get some rest."

Vicki nodded, smiling weakly at her colleague as she walked slowly into the lounge area of the office and lay down on the sofa, attempting to find a position that didn't exacerbate some sort of bodily discomfort; this, she found, proved to be so difficult that she simply had to give up, opting instead to curl up tightly, warm and protected.

Her mind wandered back to the encounter, each part of her body smarting with pain as she ran through the events, blow by blow. As much as her body wanted her to sleep, the detective in her just couldn't help but analyse and consider the night's turn of events. Coreen had suggested the idea of the demon just being a lackey – it did seem like an odd MO to dupe her into meeting him just for him to get a rise out of beating the crap out of her. He couldn't have been working for Astaroth though, she thought – Astaroth didn't want her harmed, just captured and brought to him. So, this would mean that there could be a new player in town, someone who clearly wants to make themselves known, but who definitely doesn't do things by halves. But who?

As much as her mind ached to get up and consult those heavy, leather-bound volumes she had lived in for the past year, her aching body resisted, so she sank into the soft cushions and closed her heavy eyes, falling asleep to a montage of demons, priests and the sensation of fire licking her wrists playing over and over again in her mind.

***

The relentless, icy wind of the Canadian winter rushed mercilessly through the narrow streets as the demon made his way back to his mistress. She would be pleased with his work this evening, no doubt – he had done exactly as he was asked, and had recalled at just the right moment. His right arm was already beginning to heal, a product of the endless benefits privy only to the eldest of his kind. He moved it gingerly, bending it slightly as he continued to move towards safety, nigh on undetectable in the shadows, and grimaced with pain; the discomfort would be gone soon, he assured himself, never faltering in his effortlessly fluid movements, careful to avoid being seen by the inhabitants of what he knew only as 'the surface'.

Her scent alerted him that he had finally reached his destination; using his good arm, he easily lifted the manhole cover, his route to safety, and dropped down into the stinking sewers he called home. As he slid the cover back over the hole an overcoming wave of security spread through his monstrous form; enjoying the sense of being where he belonged, he jumped cleanly down from the ladder and made his way along the familiar, twisting tunnels of the world below – his world, the underworld where the creatures too monstrous to live on the surface dwelt. He continued to move swiftly through these underground passages he knew so well, taking each well-remembered twist and turn through the crudely lit sewers until he began to feel the very essence of his kind emanating within him, and she was there.

He walked more slowly through the echoing antechambers filled with lesser-ranked members of his horde, allowing their reverent gazes to wash over him pleasantly whilst he looked straight on – the only eyes he was interested in looking into today were those of his mistress, those beautiful, powerful brown irises holding a fire and thirst for power that seemed to also blaze within him, though he knew he could never be so bold as to look into them directly. He knelt before her, her porcelain face half-tainted with shadow, and waited for her questioning to begin.

"So?" She asked, her voice pulsing with a gentle, yet slightly jagged tone.

"I did as you have asked," he replied, head bowed to the ground. "I allowed her to walk away, though not completely uninjured."

"Good. Tell the others to keep away from her, at least for the time being," she replied, eyes burning brightly despite the gloom. "I've brought you something, as promised. Bring her in!"

At once, two other creatures entered from to the side, each of them supporting a beautiful, blonde girl by the arms as they carried her towards him. A white handkerchief was fastened tightly around her mouth, muffling her desperate pleas for help as he stared up at her, her bright blue eyes widening in response. She saw, quite clearly, the hunger and malice in his eyes, and screamed as loudly as she could whilst her captors looked on in silence, clearly unconcerned by her weak struggles against the steel-like binding that were the creatures' grip on her slim, delicate arms.

"Thank you, my lady," he replied, humbled by her generosity. "You are very kind."

"Quite true. You may leave, but be prepared for the next act – a few more days, and everything is going to change."

"As you wish," he replied, rising to his knees and acknowledging her with a deep bow. He turned to the girl and addressed her captors sternly, making his own authority known: "Take her into my chambers, then leave. Prepare, as the mistress has said, for the next step; our moment is soon to come."