Chapter 1- Friends till Death
Author's Notes: Chances are, any of you who are reading this considering that I've rated it M know full well what is coming. Regardless, I feel the need to give you no reason to complain, so that my hands will be free of any offense in publishing this story.
Several things you need to take into consideration when reading this story. It is an AU Shadouge vampire fic set in the 1800s like Bram Stoker's classic Dracula. I've just now finished reading that book, and it's very fresh in my mind, so needless to say that like every vampire story since then, this will draw major inspirations from that. A word on the meaning of AU, which is "Alternate Universe."
Because it is the 1800s, Sonic and Shadow have entirely different lives as ace detective partners ala Sherlock and Watson. They're both English, and therefore their vocabulary may seem a bit... off for their characters, but I think you'll find that it still manages to demonstrate the difference between them, simply... turned back 200 years. Shadow was not genetically created in this continuity, and therefore he has BLUE eyes, not red ones.
I have tried my best to leave their characters mostly the same despite whatever modifications prove necessary for the setting. The story is laced with nuggets of foreshadowing, symbolism, and other little facets, so I hope you enjoy and appreciate all the work I've put into this.
One final note: I was unsure of how to classify the primary genre, because the eventual relationship between Shadow and the vampiric Countess Rouge is definitely one of romance, and laced with rather blatant sexuality. I considered making the genre "romance" in the category, but then again, genre blending is nothing new to my fans.
Other than that, you'll just have to read on.
Grassy, undulating hills moved past the window, as the morning dew captured the first rays of light like a thousand iridescent diamonds. Nestled amongst crannies and cracks within the landscape every now and then were perfect little towns of alabaster dollhouses, their slanted roofs bristling with cawing birds. Yet the stillness of the idyllic landscape seemed almost suspiciously peaceful, reminiscent of the calm before the storm.
Sighing deeply, the obsidian detective faced forward in his seat, his fists clenched tightly at his sides. Growling in frustration, he glanced at the sleeping form that sat across him - his partner, Sonic. He wanted to kick the snoring speedster in the leg, but he also knew he only wanted to because he wished he could sleep as well. With the rhythmic sound of the train droning in the background and its rumbling and vibrating motion over the tracks, he had enough to occupy his mind without the distinct foreboding feeling that boiled within his stomach.
Although he'd already read and reread it numerous times, he amused himself by looking over the letter which had summoned them to Romania. The creased yellow parchment had a strange, waxy feel in his fingers, and he shuddered involuntarily as he touched it.
'My most esteemed sirs,
I require your services for the investigation of a string of twelve homicides which have recently occurred in the area of my place of business. The local authorities have proven incapable of naming a suspect, and little progress is currently being made. If additional help is not summoned, the culprit may yet escape justice, and continue their rampage unopposed. Your firm's reputation precedes you, my good sirs. You were recommended to me with the greatest of compliments by our mutual friend Mr. Browning of Yorkshire, and from his report, I have every confidence that your performance will be nothing less than exemplary. Should you render the same quality of service to myself as to him, you may expect my unreserved recommendation as well.
In exchange for your services, I will provide for all expenses, including travel, room and board, etc, in addition to the payment in cash upon completion of the case of triple your regular fee. Enclosed is a down payment of £10 for your use to cover expenses. Consider any remainder of this to be a bonus as a gesture of my goodwill. I faithfully await your arrival. I remain yours,
Representative for the Budapest branch of the Bank of London, pHd.
Post-Script: It may interest you to know that a strange and mysterious circumstance has repeated itself with each victim. I hesitate to say more, for I fear you shall think me mad. You shall have to speak to the mortician yourself or to me in person for further details.'
Shadow had worked long enough as an esteemed private investigator in London that a series of bizarre murders should carry no more feeling of something ominous than such a humdrum activity as morning coffee. But inexplicably, this time was different. This time, the clawing feeling in the back of his throat would not be coaxed back. He felt to pinpricks of fiery pain burning at his throat, and rubbed the area lightly in bewilderment.
'Did I pinch myself buttoning my shirt?' But his massaging, rather than making the pain subside, seemed to only add fuel to the fire.
'Confound it, if I were in England, I'd take something to make me sleep, but in this strange country, who knows what would become of me if I were drugged.'
Resigning himself to several hours of agony, he sat back in the chair, heaved a long sigh and stared once again out the window.
By now, Sonic had awoken, and the terrain outside the window had become more and more mountainous and interesting. The two of them were chatting casually, occasionally coming back to conjecture about the case. Apparently, his partner had no qualms whatsoever, and was perfectly at ease. Shadow had seemed to only become more nervous with time, and was now buttoning and unbuttoning the same button over and over on his vest, one of his many nervous quirks.
"I can tell something is bothering you, but I can't for the life of me figure out what it is," he smirked, pointing to his companion's silk vest.
"Neither can I..." Shadow responded airily, still rubbing the same pain in his neck.
"Just relax. In all likelihood, this will be an easy case; we come, we ask around, find our man, go back to London."
"I don't know..."
"Just think of it as a vacation," he said reassuringly.
Although his mind was not set entirely at ease, his partner's voice seemed to blend hypnotically with some other, sweet, disembodied voice, as if an angel were whispering in his ear. The strange voice seemed to mix imperceptibly with the gentle violet hues of the twilight, as he felt his eyelids beginning to close on their own. Why sleep seemed dually so inviting and terrifying he could not say. Perhaps it was the haunting, phantom voice that came from a mouth that was not its owner, or perhaps he was still afraid of what might become of them if he sunk down into darkness.
In a moment, his fears were laid to rest.
Screaming like a mortally wounded demon, the train pulled into the station, rattling and rocking with such fury that it looked as if it would topple over at any moment. As the tremendous steel centipede lurched to a halt, a great billow of smoke or steam filled the air, to meld with the coppery smell of hot metal within the station. Stepping off the train, he stopped to look around. The station was crowded with the huddled forms of parties of gypsies, their withered faces scowling at him with dull, glassy eyes. He resisted the urge to turn around and climb back into the train. He took the plunge.
Following closely behind him was the ever-smiling face of his indefatigable partner, who seemed to neither have been unnerved by the train's screeching, nor to be at all dismayed at how dismal the city of Budapest appeared.
"Well, we'd best make our way to the Band of London, and check in with Mr. Billings; let him know we have arrived, and secure our lodgings," Shadow muttered, stepping briskly from the station to the dingy streets outside.
"Can't we stop and have a drink first? I would kill for a good ale."
"No. We haven't the slightest clue what sort of strange, devilish brews they concoct here; you might be dead with one sip," he scolded, as they turned a corner.
"Oh, come off it! Alcohol is alcohol, no matter where you get it. I suppose you won't buy any Romanian tobacco for your pipe then, eh? Could be poisoned."
Folding his arms across his chest, Shadow growled slightly at his friend's mocking remark. "As a matter of fact, I shall speak to Mr. Billings about procuring some English pipe-weed."
"Say, what have you got against this place, hm?"
A strange and ambivalent expression flashed over Shadow's face. "I don't know. But something isn't right. I can feel it."
"Of course something isn't right. Twelve people are dead. I'd say that's pretty not right," he shot back.
"No, more than that. I feel like... like the very air is infected by some malady. Like... there's some sort of ominous presence.
Sonic looked at him with a mix of disbelief and appreciation. "What you need is a stiff drink to calm you, and maybe a woman to take the edge off."
"Why I never! How can you be so crass?"
Sonic seemed not to notice what his partner had said. "Do you suppose they have women here, the same as in London?"
"Of course they do, you imbecile. How else would they sustain the population?" he growled.
"I don't know. I was just thinking that I haven't seen anything that looks like a woman. Sure, some of these mud farmers seem vaguely female, but..."
"How can we possibly even be having this conversation, Sonic? Don't we have more important things to worry about? Like our case?"
"Ah, our cases practically solve themselves. You need to learn to have a little fun, buddy."
He sighed as they approached a long, wide road filled with puddles and lined with skeletal trees.
"I believe there may be some... disparity between our respective definitions of enjoyment..."
Now it was the cerulean detective's turn to sigh. "You're impossible. Alright, I'll make you a wager."
"What sort of wager?" he asked confidently, never one to back down from a challenge.
"I bet that I'll solve the case before you do. In fact, I bet I can do it in three days," he remarked with a cocky smirk.
"Alright, but what are the stakes."
"If I don't solve it before you do, or three days pass and I've not solved it, you get to watch as I stand on our roof back home in my nightclothes, shouting to the streets of London that you are superior to me."
He liked that very much.
"And... if you do manage this?"
"You, my dear friend, go with me for a night on the town in Budapest, and everything that entails. You have to get intoxicated as can be, sing me a song, and then bed a local."
Smirking with satisfaction in victory, he shook his partner's hand. "May the best man win."
They had come up in front of the Bank of London, its great, looming doors towering over them. The bank was carved out of what seemed to be a single, immense block of immovable granite. Plain and unassuming, it starkly contrasted with the eclectic mixture of bright dollhouses set amidst imperious, gothic spires from ages past. A quint little bell chimed as they stepped over the threshold, and the pair placed their coats on a rack by the door, and Sonic carefully perched his treasured hat on the very top. Stepping towards the desk, they were greeted by the warmly smiling face of a blond haired fox girl, who was apparently Billings' secretary and the bank teller in one.
"Yes, we are he detectives that Mr. Billings sent for from London," Sonic said with a wink and a smooth smile.
"Oh, he's been expecting you! Down that hallways, third door on the left. Go right in!" came her bubbly reply.
After they were out of earshot, Sonic leaned over to whisper in his companion's ear. "I'll tell you what I'd like to 'go right in'-"
"Good God, man! Have you no shame? It's bad enough that these thoughts occur to your own warped mind, but must you share them?"
Once again, Sonic continued as if Shadow had made no protest whatsoever. "Well that's one woman so far in the country. Sorry buddy, that one's mine." He grinned suggestively.
"Women are not territory to be claimed or objects for your amusement. They are people, just the same as men."
"Well yeah... but does that mean you've always got to be so serious and prudish about it?"
"Let's have this discussion another time. Mr. Billings is waiting for us."
As he finished speaking, he opened the door and stepped inside, leaving no time for argument. Mr. Billings stood as they entered, his face an equal mixture of gravity and relief. He was a very wide sort, and his suit looked far too tight for him. He had a pudgy, round face and a short, blunt nose. He was a pig.
"Ah, you must be the legendary detectives I sent for from London," he remarked in a commanding, grandfatherly tone.
"Quite right. And you would be Mr. Billings, I presume," Shadow returned with a bow.
"Now you must excuse me, I'm absolutely horrific when it comes to names. You are..."
"Shadow Harker of Derbyshire, at your service, sir," he responded formally, extending his hand.
"How do you do."
"And I'm his partner in crime-solving, Sonic Morris," the blue investigator added without his friend's level of pomp.
"Excellent. I'm sure you're both sufficiently exhausted from your journey as to be anxiously awaiting a night's rest. I've booked you a room in the Carson Hotel. Please make yourself at home there during your stay in Budapest."
"You have our warmest gratification for your generous provisions," Shadow responded with a veiled eagerness. "But first, would you mind filling us in on the details of the case?"
The pig paused before he spoke, his complexion whitening to an ashen discoloration. "Oh, right. Well, as you both know, of late, twelve individuals have been recently murdered within the area surrounding Budapest. Several of the victims were Englishmen, and prominent businessmen who held accounts with us."
"That's why you called us," Sonic interjected, partially to prove he was listening to his somewhat uptight companion.
"Precisely. The local yokels can hardly fasten their own trousers, much less service a need for legitimate and competent law enforcement. They haven't the slightest clue what to make of any of it."
"Hm..." he rumbled as he pondered, stroking his chin in concentration. "What leads you to believe this is the work of one man?"
"Well Mr. Harker, there is but one commonality among all twelve victims that we've found most perplexing. None of the victims had removed from their person, any sort of material possession... money, pocket-watch, all was accounted for. But each and every victim..." Billings swallowed a lump that had formed in his throat. "... had been somehow drained of all their blood. The coroner's report names each one homicide - death by loss of blood."
"Well? What's so strange about a repeating modus operatum? Isn't that the mark of a serial killer?"
"That's just the thing. They undeniably died of blood loss... but the autopsies state that there are no signs of a struggle with any of the twelve victims, and they were unable to find any sort of wound except for a set of dual incisions of identical size and distance from each other... This holds true for all twelve."
Shadow's brows furrowed into a thoughtful frown, and even Sonic looked a bit befuddled, although his smirk remained.
"Well... it looks as if we have quite the case ahead of us. No perceivable motive, and a mystery murder weapon. We'd best be thorough."
"We'll need someone to translate for us; I'm afraid that neither Mr. Harker or I are fluent in Romanian."
"Oh, it's a good deal more than just Romanian my good detective. There's also Czech, Slavic, Serbian, and a plethora of obscure dialects. I regret to inform you that our bank mainly caters to residents speaking English, French, or German, and that none of our staff know any of the local languages. You'll need to find a translator among the population, I'm afraid."
"Would you know of anyone who could serve as one? Surely there's someone connected to the bank. A Romanian client, perhaps," Shadow responded.
"Now that you mention it, there is a local noblewoman who keeps her accounts with us. She is highly educated, and fluent in all of the local languages, as well as English, among others. If you like, I can send her a wire asking if she could perhaps be good enough to help you. I'm sure she'd be more than happy to oblige."
Sonic and Shadow glanced at each other skeptically. They were unsure of their likelihood of receiving help from a noble, but it was something, at least.
"Thank you for all your help. Now, if you'll excuse us, I believe we'll be retiring now to the Carson Hotel. Good evening to you, sir."
"And to you as well, detectives."
The two of them departed from Billings' office, coming out once again into the main hall.
"Shadow, you go on ahead, I'll catch up. I have business to attend to with the lovely lady."
The crimson etched hedgehog rolled his eyes, but a slight smile found its way to his lips nonetheless. "You never cease to surprise me."
"Only because you choose to be surprised."
His smile broadened slightly. Their banter would never cease, but it was an integral part of their friendship, a mutual understanding, so it didn't have to. They were yin and yang, two peas in a pod, eternal friends till death do them part.
Stepping out into the street, he made his way towards the Carson Hotel, leaving his friend to flirt with the secretary as he pleased.
Author's Notes: Tune in next time as the ace detectives continue their investigation, bringing them to the castle of the deceptively sweet and seductive Countess. Will Shadow fall under her spell? (Most definitely) Will he end up as yet another of her blood-drained victims? Find out, in the next horrifying installment of Bloodlust.