MARCH 31, 2017 THE IVORY TOWER LONDON, ENGLAND "All right, what's the emergency?" Erika demanded irritably, scrubbing a hand through tangled hair and yawning to indicate that she had just gotten out of bed. Natalia and Jill were in similar states of near-wakefulness after Raven urgently called them out of bed. Natalia was simple enough, since she shared the room with the brunette. Erika was crashing at Jill's (it seemed to be a rotating thing, sending Erika between Jill, Raven, and Hushcobb, depending on the psychic's whimsy), so the two had to walk across the hall. Erika's tone made it seem like she and Jill were Samwise Gamgee and Frodo Baggins trekking to Mount Doom. Unfortunately, Raven was fairly certain an epic battle was at the end of this particularly journey as well. The brunette pointed at Sam with her thumb. The man was leaning against the wall a gentlemanly distance away from her. It seemed he was a little uncomfortable with public displays of affection. If the situation weren't so dire, she would have teased him mercilessly for it. Instead, she said to the others, "Sam got a call from Karin Krauser at Hushcobb. They're under attack. Sounds like every vampire they've got in lock-up just got busted out." "Crossfire, Ruth, and I recently checked out an abandoned rec center in Boston that was being used by Emily Sternit as a hideout," Sam briefed them. "Lorentz, Sternit, and Sanguinaar have since located elsewhere, but they left behind a magic circle with runes suggesting that they could now remotely control the undead -- its obviously how they got the vampires to go rampant. They also had maps of Hushcobb, meaning there is definitely a traitor out there. It looks like Hushcobb's security system lost all power, allowing the vampires to escape." Erika smacked a fist into her open palm. "Awesome! Some excitement! So, when do we go?" "Wait, wait, wait!" Jill interrupted, waving her hands in a 'stop' gesture. "We're going up against vampires? As in plural? And who are these people you're talking about?" Natalia filled her in, "The Sanguinaar are a blood cult that worship someone called the Magister. Emily is part of them." A distance look entered her eyes, as if she were looking at an old, fleeting memory. "They're tied to me. I know it. I just...don't...remember...how...." Jill gave her friend a querying glance. "Hey, Natalia? You there?" She waved a hand in front of the other girl's face, making the blonde blink in surprise. "There you are! You went up into space there for a second." "Sorry. Got...lost in thought." Sam watched the exchange thoughtfully and tucked it away for later. He then said, "Anyway, the Lorentz is making his move. We need to help." Natalia nodded. "I can get us there. Hopefully, Hushcobb hasn't turned on their Empiric Fields." The girls changed into their costumes and then gathered in the center of the room, linking hands. With a thought from Natalia, the five of them vanished. --- MARCH 31, 2017 HUSHCOBB, KA Karin took point and led Crossfire and Ruth from the gymnasium toward Inversion. The steady rapport of her companions' firearms sounded behind her as they kept vampires at bay. Karin herself swept her wooden sword in precise, confident strikes at a pair of the fanged assailants attempting to rip out her throat. One cut shattered a clawed hand while the second struck the other vampire across the head. A stake flew past Karin's shoulder to piece one of the vampires in the chest, turning him into dust instantly. The surviving vampire leaped back into the shadows, nursing his shattered arm. Karin turned. Crossfire twirled another stake in one hand while holstering his sidearm with the other. Ruth reloaded a Calico machine pistol. The three kept close together as they made their way through the streets of Hushcobb. "It just had to be bloodsuckers," Crossfire grunted. "Its bad enough that most of them are stronger, faster, and tougher than us, but it doesn't matter how many bullets you put into them -- it just slows them down at best unless you stake them." "How many stakes do you have left?" Karin asked. She and Ruth didn't bother to arm themselves with them; Crossfire was their most reliable means of dispatching the vampires, especially since the killing blow had to be through the heart. Their role in battle would be to disable and distract in order to give Crossfire an opportunity to neutralize their enemies. The marksman pulled back the lapels of his suit jacket to showcase the bandolier across his chest. "Enough." "Who cares?" Ruth cut in sharply. "We need to finish this up fast and get to Eliza!" Karin laid a hand on her shoulder. "Ruth...." she began soothingly. Crossfire, surprisingly, interrupted. He said with feeling, "I know how you feel. Believe me. But Karin already showed you that Eliza is safe. The best way to keep her that way is to contain the vampires. And the best way to do that is to be smart about it." Karin wondered what expression was in his eyes, hidden behind those sunglasses. Crossfire and Eliza's candle burned out long ago, but it had left its mark on them both. Ruth let out a steadying breath. "You're right. I'm sorry. I'll...I'll keep it together." "Don't apologize," the marksman said. "Don't apologize for loving someone." Then he nodded toward the radio tower. "Now, I just had an idea to keeping this mess from getting even more out of control." "I'm all ears," Karin said. "Funny you should mention that," Crossfire quipped. "Since a lot of vampire subtypes gain enhanced hearing, I was going to suggest we rig the radio tower to send out a high-pitched sound. Maybe we can disable a few of them." Karin blinked. "Huh. When did you start getting all Sam Ebayan on me?" "Correction: Sam's getting all Crossfire," the marksman countered. Then Ruth exclaimed in warning, "Three vamps, on our three o'clock!" --- MARCH 31, 2017 HUSHCOBB, KA Sam hated teleporting. The motionlessness despite moving vast distances was a incongruity he would never wrap his head around. The fact that Natalia Elmore managed to overcome his Empiric Field to do it was even more unnerving in its own way. Raven's hand slipped into his and gave a squeeze. "You all right, handsome?" He nodded. "Yes. Just don't like teleporting." "Shit," Erika suddenly whistled. "This place's gone to hell in a handbasket. Again." A quick survey proved her assessment accurate, if crass. Once again, buildings were either aflame or crushed. Gunfire from agents and defense turrets echoed in the air. A pack of four vampires were in the middle of the streets, gorging on the bodies of fallen agents. "Oh, shit!" Jill exclaimed in worry. "I think they saw us!" "They aren't the only problem," Natalia said mysteriously. "You're going to want to step to the side, Sam." The mercenary knew better than to second guess the blonde's readings from EISU and dutifully did as she suggested. A second later, a spike of rebar speared the spot he once occupied, having dropped from the sky like an arrow. Sam followed its trajectory. Floating overhead, his longcoat fluttering in the wind and displaying his red waistcoat and metallic bone-like armor, was Lorentz in all his terrible glory. The mercenary clenched his hands into fists. "Hello, old friend," the renegade mage greeted with his ever-present feral grin. "Welcome to the party." Sam said nothing. Raven, however, was not so silent. "Seems pretty dead for a party." "Puns so quickly?" the mage said with a raised eyebrow. "Such cleverness is to be expected from the granddaughter of Thomas Aegil." He surveyed the rest of the team. "Such a colorful array of would-be heroes at your side, Skullman. Too bad they are naught but children, naught but ants among gods." "I hope you're including me in the latter category," Natalia said stonily. "But of course, little one," Lorentz beamed. "I've been looking forward to seeing you again." He floated down so that his feet touched the ground. He strode toward them confidently. "Such beauty you have! Its like a summer's day to me!" "Oh, gross," Jill griped. "Hell, I've never even met you, and I can already tell you're a creep." "Its not my looks he's talking about." Lorentz's smile widened. "The clever young lady is correct. Its the power at your fingertips I admire." He looked up and down at Natalia's costume. "Now tell me, child: why play at superheroes when the ability to level this entire town is at your disposal?" "Because I'm not like you or the Sanguinaar," she countered. "Because I have friends and family who love and support me. What do you have, Lorentz?" The renegade raised his index finger. "One, Matthew Phoenix." Sam's eyes narrowed. Then Lorentz raised a second finger. "Two, Vincent Ferrara." A third finger. "And three, Eliza Landel." The mercenary barked, "Erika! Detain him!" The ferocity and authority he put into those words brooked no argument. Not even Erika Hennessey's multiple personalities dared to break rank. They didn't need to hold a committee. Erika extended a hand. Suddenly, Lorentz was forced onto his knees as a telekinetic weight chained him to the ground. The Irishwoman glanced at Sam, noting the silent fury in his dark eyes. Slut decided to let her feelings on the matter known, "Next time, say please, Short, Dark, and Handsome. Though if you're that forceful, maybe I ought to ask Raven to share...." "Not now, Erika," Sam growled, striding toward the contained Lorentz and jerking him by the collar. "What did you do to my friends? Tell me, or I'll carve out your heart." Lorentz, unafraid, chuckled and replied, "Oh, don't worry, Skullman. I'll tell you. I'll tell you everything you need to know." He cackled again. "I have a friend in Hushcobb, you know. Helped me get a map of the entire town, even down to the power grid. Even did me a solid, as you Americans say it, and cut off all the power to Inversion. Didn't take long after that for the Sanguinaar to take control of the vampires and send them out like rabid, hungry dogs. With all that chaos in town, Matt and Vinny weren't paying much attention when I showed up." Sam started choking Lorentz with his own collar. The mage gasped reflexively. "Where are they?" "Oh, they're somewhere here in town. I gave them to a vampire named Harold Prior. Find him and you'll find them." Lorentz grinned despite the pain he was under. "Hopefully, you'll find them in one piece." "And Eliza?" Sam asked tightly. "Ha, ha, ha...." Lorentz hissed out. "Why is it that everyone close to you ends up getting hurt, Skullman? Your parents, your son...your old squeeze was far too young to know the pain of losing a child. And now? Now you're making her feel the pain of losing her new flame." Sam growled and punched him across the face. "What did you do to Eliza?" He punched him again. "Talk!" A third strike. Raven stepped in, grabbing his arm before he could beat on the mage further. "Sam! Get a hold of yourself!" She pulled him away from the mage and forcing him to release his hold on the man's collar. "Ha, ha, ha...." The renegade spat out blood from torn lips. "Eliza Landel is safe and sound in an Inversion cell. She's unharmed...so to speak. That's not to say she won't be a problem. Hushcobb likes to hunt monsters. But can you hunt one of your own?" "And just what do you mean by that?" Sam demanded. "Oh, you'll find out. But one last thing." Lorentz grinned. "Its been five seconds since you touched me." Suddenly, Jill shouted, "Sam, Raven! Watch out!" The mercenary and the brunette leaped away from Lorentz, just as the bone-like metal plates of his armor slashed out like whips made of razor wire. They dodged the first few strokes, but Sam had to sweep Raven off her feet and dart away as one of those metallic tendrils speared the ground she was standing on. Another tendril lanced at Erika, who batted it aside with her axe. However, her concentration was broken, and so was her hold on Lorentz. The renegade flew up into the air, casting aside his coat to display the skeletal-like armor he wore. "I'm going to have all sorts of fun here, Skullman! Send your worst!" With that, he flew off toward the heart of the town. As soon as he was gone, Sam was on the move. "We need to find Matthew, Ferrara, and Eliza and we need to contain these vampires." "That should be easy. Natalia can just take them out with a wave of her hand." Jill suggested. The blonde shook her head. "Actually, probably not. Right, Sam?" "What do you mean?" Erika asked. The mercenary grunted out in explanation, "If Natalia kills all the vampires indiscriminately, she'll kill Harold Prior as well. And he's the only one who knows where Matthew and Ferrara are. Maybe she can use EISU to find them, but so far, EISU's only been reliable as an early-warning system or when used on someone Natalia is close to." "In other words, Natalia can't just snap her fingers and solve the problem," Raven said. "Damn, Lorentz is actually pretty smart to come up with something like that." "So, how do we find this Prior?" Jill asked. "I know of Prior," Sam said. "He's a killer and a rapist. Becoming a vampire just made him worse. He actually volunteered for it. He was in Inversion, just like the other vampires -- and Eliza is there right now. Maybe she knows where he went." "...And what about what Lorentz said about her?" Raven asked quietly. "I...don't know. But we have to find out."