Usher steps back as far as he can, away from the intense heat: blasts off a few rounds at Hitch, but misses, the shots smashing chips from the walls far behind. Dan runs lightly up a few steps: creates a miraculous burst of light on the surface of a common nickel, and hurls it up. The coin arcs lazily over the banister and onto the mezzanine, bringing fresh pain to Usher and his henchman, who has just rubbed sight back into his eyes.
Libby comms through: “Sandi! Ground front is secure! Where next?”
“Target is floor two Libby – come on up!”
“Roger that! G to floor two – we’ll be there in about 20 seconds!”
Albie’s voice squeaks panicky into Sandi’s earpiece:
“Sandi! Sandi! One of the Mikes is down!”
“Hang in there, Albie! Where are the wolves?”
“On way! Wolves fight well!” Zac growls back.
“OK Cool! You guys are the best!”
By Fire and by Lightning he Falls
On the mezzanine, Hitch readies himself: he has more pain coming on line! Usher can probably hear the sounds of more enemies scaling the walls. He raises his hands, though his machine-pistol is still in one:
“Let’s talk! I can tell you what the plan is!” he grins.
“You’re dead – and you’re gonna be dead!” Hitch yells, and another wall of fire bursts into life, mere feet from Usher. Unless he can burst through the solid stone wall behind him, Hitch thinks, there’s no escape!
Therefore, Usher’s move is all the more surprising: with a scream of – what? Pain? Joy? Thwarted rage? – he jumps right through both fiery walls, over the bannister and down, landing agilely on the steps by Dan – but not pausing – flying across the atrium floor to the double-doors Sandi left open. Cliff spins on the ball of his foot, turning his back on the henchman, and bounds downstairs, accelerating as he gains the floor, charging across at Usher, who evades his lusty swing – just!
“Missed – goddam!”
Paul too steps down a little from the landing: just enough to be able to see his target. Paul’s stylus flicks a dispel off the PDA and out at Usher, then with a surge of adrenaline Paul pulls out a massive lightning blast, sending it leaping across, past Cliff and into Usher! The Greater Vampire’s whole body briefly glows red and black: then wholly black: then ashes collapse into dust and disperse forever.
“Usher’s toast!” Paul yells gleefully.
Sandi barely bothers to change position, swinging her sights onto the remaining henchman, and her Glocks slam two double-taps and two single shots into the vampire. That leaves a single round in the breech of each Glock.
Her hands blur as she drops the mags out, and slips two full mags in. Now, she’s ready to fire again, and has five “sparklies” in each gun, before normal bullet service resumes.
The ballroom windows burst in and the G’s Libby and Hal roll in, rising smoothly to their knees away from the fiery walls and scanning for targets. There’s only one. Even as Simon (sniper-scope rifle) and Chuck (heavy assault rifle) follow up, the bursts of fire from their point pair has finished what the Academy team began.
“Well say! That’s a mite disappointing!”
“Yeah… sorry Libby – Paul just nailed Usher. You did, huh Paul?”
“I did!” Cliff has confirmed Paul’s kill: it’s not a vampire fake-out.
“So what’s left is securing the house and a fight out back!”
“Our enemies are falling! Wolves rule!” Zac growls over the comms.
All enemies down! Thus falls Usher, one of Rieker’s greatest allies.
Some few minutes later, Cliff Paul and Dan concentrate in the well-appointed reading-room, along with Libby and Hal. The G pair seems to have a fair idea of what to look for, but the others asserts their willingness to help. Hitch and Paul are quite paranoid about letting the G find things on their own. By good fortune, a false book is swung out and a section of bookcase slides open.
“Ah, the old cliché! Guys, we’ve got the cellar entry here in the library – lounge – whatever.”
“On my way!” Hitch calls back. “I’m just making sure we have wheels!”
Out in the sweep drive, Sandi hugs it out with the Lycans. A few last compliments to Pablo, Zac, Charlie and Albie and the Lycans swing into their vehicles and drive away. Sandi’s chosen the tidiest-looking black van: a vampire transport no doubt but it has not gotten all shot up and smells OK inside. Hitch turns the ignition on through some arcane process, and Sandi switches it to idle.
With exit transport assured, Hitch scurries off to share in the find. Coral Castle’s climate-controlled cellar has been used as a coffin repository. Usher’s coffin is obvious: it’s much nicer-looking than the minimum-price ones around it. Paul and Dan turn in triumph as Hitch, arrives, panting literally and figuratively.
“Hitch dear boy – we’ve found a dossier in Usher’s coffin!”
Suppressing the urge to roll around clutching the file giggling manically, Hitch flips the gray cover open and slides his compact camera out of its protective vinyl. The first several pages are obvious enough: files on each of the team. Then, his eyebrows raise: the next several dozen pages have the look of official federal facilities… possibly even the G’s own facilities. He takes photos methodically and rapidly, Cliff flipping over each page for him. The last page is quite different: a facsimile of a document handwritten in some type of Scandinavian language. Possibly ancient.
“What’ve you found, guys?”
Libby’s question, amicably posed as it is, sets the hairs bristling on Hitch’s neck. And where Hitch is paranoid, Paul has been paranoid before him. Tension rises as Hitch and Paul calculate the odds on getting out of the cellar alive with or without the folder. Cliff stands close to Hitch, ready to protect him if need be.
“All right, I’ll let you have this file,” Hitch says at last, “but mind – these notes have been leaked from the G! You may or may not want to officially agree that Greater Vampires exist – but there’s a real threat inside your organization and don’t you forget it!”
Libby takes the folder, not bothering to rebut or agree with Hitch’s rant. She flips through it.
“Huh. Well, things have been said, things have been seen. Maybe something happened here that isn’t important enough to make it into my report. Take your camera and head out – we’ll take care of the cleanup.”
The two teams gather out in the driveway. Sandi rises from her perch atop the van, stretches and jumps nimbly down. She and Libby high-five then low-five: both in very good spirits. Farewells are said all round: some sincere, some not at all.
The Academy team piles in, Cliff behind the wheel, and head back to their hotel for a well-earned rest. Spells need to be restocked, prayers said, and guns cleaned and oiled. There’s a document to be translated. And of course, the unease created by the discovery of extensive federal documents in Usher’s possession simmers on.