Laying spawled out on whatever metal surface he had just bounced off and landed upon, a U.S. Marshal by the very unelegant name of Boone clutching his broken ribs, Arthur Brooks reels at what had just happened. He still has chains on both his wrists and ankles, severely limiting his movement, and his eyesight is difficult to focus.
These days, it was customary to transport criminally insane convicted men under the influence of a high dose of Haloperidol. Nitrazepam could also have been used, but this Arthur Brooks was considered highly dangerous; the psychiatrist had backed the suggestion of the Marshal-in-Chief that this one needed a heavy dosage. Nitrazepam could have caused the man liver damage, and while Brooks was not particularly loved by the powers-that-be, and especially the FBI, the tabloids loved their so-called "White Rook". They had nicknamed him thus, they owned him, and if anything would happen to this particular modern subject, the media uproar would surely go all the way to the federal Department of Justice. From there, any attempt at trying to solve the problem would be trying to plug the leaks in Benedict Arnold's ship in Hell.
But the only Hell that existed is broken, Brooks is sure of this. However, with his movements sluggish and his head swimming, there is no way to actually know what was happening. The drugged haze only lets him remember the boarding in the steel-reinforced patty wagon, the two armed federal Marshals who would watch over him in the back, and the vague knowledge that his transfer wasn't entirely legit.
I need to focus... focus... focus... concentrate... past... the... drug.
One of the marshals is sprawled out on his back, apparently out cold. Whatever had happened produced the very nasty effect of tipping over the truck on its side multiple times, and one of the steel-covered windows had a single rod come off and wedge itself into the poor marshal. The left eye socket to be more precise. The real question was, what had killed the marshal first: the rod in the eye, or the rather unnatural angle at which his neck was turned?
The second officer, Marshal Boone, is struggling to get to his feet, but a deep gash above one of his eyes keeps him partially blind, a predicament not the least helped by the apparent dizziness of the poor gentleman.
The White Rook sees opportunity in the disguise of a large piece of glass resting near the calf of the Marshal.
Right next to his partially-holstered sidearm.
I can't go and reach for it like this, thought Brooks. He'll think I'm onto his gun. Not good.
Arthur Brooks resented firearms back then and still does now. They are noisy, dirty, cold, lack in precision and were in general good taste. Any man, woman, black or white or anything else could pick up and fire a gun. Prebubescent children these days used them to try and kill each other in most states. A nice blade, however, was more than just a tool for releasing death; it was artful, it was elegant and discreet, it was a tool that would never 'run out'. It was his chosen third hand, a natural extension of himself, a favored friend, his only friend.
But as distasteful as it could be, sometimes it had to be the gun.
A few moments later, the sudden stiffled sound of a gunshot was heard in the distance. The few people around the area scattered instantly like flies, a few women screaming in panic. A reinforced steel door opened slowly, and a convicted man in orange coveralls ran slowly in the backstreets in a drugged haze. Half an hour later, police officers and federal agents would argue furiously about how a secretly armored prisoner transport truck with two drivers and two armed U.S. Marshals could have been ambushed, tipped over a few times, and, most importantly, how a single doped-up, criminally insane thirty-nine years old man with chains on his hands and feet could have opened the steel-reinforced doors by himself, from the inside, in the middle of the night and just run off.
At thirteen minutes past midnight, the phone in Special Agent Gries' Manhattan loft rings, informing him of the failed transfer of a federal jurisdiction multiple murderer by the name of Arthur Brooks. The agent, still recovering from a special operation that had been dual-headed by the DEA and the FBI in Jersey City, does not fully understand why he is being informed of this, but just to be sure, he agrees to get up, dress himself and head immediately to Washington D.C. at FBI Headquarters for an early morning debriefing.
One shower, two shampoos, a clumsy shave and two puffs of cologne later, Agent Gries selects a comfortable grey linen suit to put on top of his near-endless collection of plain white polo shirts. Griers reminds himself that he apreciates linen suits because they crumple just by looking at them. So after a full day of traveling by car, of surveillance in a cafe or just regular office paperwork, a regular suit would need a good dry-clean press. All his linen suits require is to hang down while he takes a very steamy shower. He finishes the outfit with custom-made leather shoes. A very embarassing detail about his body is that his feet are very wide, requiring very special sized shoes or boots. Much to his chagrin, the only footwear that is commonly produced for his feet's width were cowboy boots, so the custom shoes and boots are a necessary luxury. He can't imagine himself running down a busy boulevard after a suspect wearing anorexic Puma's or Nike's shoes.
Fully dressed, he grabs his Mustang's keys and heads for the door, then stops. His eyesight drifts naturally back to the cupboard standing beside the living room window. The clear crystal globe he had recovered a few days ago in this student's apartment was beckoning, calling, wishing for him.
"Fuck it. Can't be helped now. No. No... Shit."
Special Agent Gries stomps back into the living room area, opens the cupboard and engulfs the small snowy-white crystal orb into his palm. He stares at it for a moment, then into it, further and further... and then tears away from it.
"Whatever you are, you're coming with me. There'll be time for your mystery later."
With these last words, he storms out of his loft, puts the key in the door, and heads out into the night.
"My liege, the quarry has escaped. Through some unforseen quality, the escort was interrupted and the man fled. We know he is on foot and keeping a low profile in the streets of Manhattan as we speak. What do you wish us to do?"
Sitting in a quaid Staten Island living room, privately ashamed of the relative squalor of his living arrangement, Aaron Pierre feels very nervous right now; he had used all of his sweet talk, connections and even a few choice Divine words here and there to make sure Arthur Brooks would be transfered to the Riker Island Prison Facility. The operation had been successful so far, but who could even imagine that a single man would escape this sort of convoy?
YOU WILL RETURN TO ME AT THE SOUND OF MIDNIGHT THIS DAY. I WILL SENT THE OTHERS TO REIN HIM IN. I HAVE NEED OF YOU HERE.
Aaron Pierre paled. Return to the Other Realm? Only his Lord's House members were capable of withstanding prolonged exposure to this ordeal. Still, remembering the previous moment he defied his Lord, he dares not voice his worries. "Yes, my liege."
MY MINIONS WILL TRACK YOUR QUARRY. YOU AND YOUR FELLOWS WILL PREPARE FOR THE HUNT FOR GORREK'TRAN. I WILL NOT HAVE THE TYRANT FENZUREL STOP OUR EFFORTS.
Aaron Pierre fumes silently at this mention. His race, even though he was created as one of the first among equals, was in reality subservient to those who had been chosen to reign above him and his like. Their True Names had been revealed to those in charge to ensure proper conduct and efficient communication, but now, it felt at best like bullying, and at worse, it was sheer despotism. This, he feels, runs along the lines of the latter.
Aaron Pierre agrees to the order with a bitter taste in his mouth. He will obey. In time. But right now, his raging impotence towards his predicament and this world consumes him. "I will return, Lord." He silently adds in his thoughts, in time, but not right now
After having taken the pesky chains off his wrists and ankles using a ribbon saw in a local pawnshop he broke in, Arthur Brooks could run rather swiftly for an older man with a scholastic background. The clamps still in place only feel like an inconvenience, but still one that's very annoying. While a lot of people would liken his habits and his diagnostic to that of a real-life Hannibal Lecter, minus the cannibalism, Brooks was in no way heavily restrained during his incarceration. That is how he was able to maintain an interesting evening routine of pushups, stomach crunches, chin-ups and other sustained stretches in-between his reading sessions. He admits that the exercising was not entirely his choice moments, but the reading had not been the most evocative either. Books that were readily available included cooking antologies, scores of volumes on religion and philosophy, and as talented as he was, Euripides only kept you going for so long when no one else was around to discuss the intricacies of his verses with you.
Still, as he sprints, crouches, vaults and lifts his way through the smaller streets of south Manhattan, working his way north of the bridges towards the East side, he silently prides himself on maintaining his physical condition. While he may not have the cardio-vascular capacity for marathon running, he can clear fences, gates, and even rummage around in containers for some discarded garments to replace his orange coveralls. A lesser man might not have cared much, but for Arthur Brooks, imbued with the knowledge that he would one day regain his freedom and fight the good fight again, lacking fitness and wits was tantamount to suicide. Complacency had no place in his life, and the dozen-and-half months he was put away were not kind on him.
Certainly his old place had been discovered and everything confiscated by the Feds, but there is yet another cache he had been very careful to shield from everyone, even his old contacts, information brokers and deep-throats. Getting there would be the problem. When you are a recent escapee, showing up at the New York Public Library is sure to be very, very difficult. He knows he has to bide his time and make this opportunity work for him. He had no way of explaining how or who had allowed him to escape, but he knows also that he has to make the most of it. Just another day in ruined Eden.
He stops for a moment, catching his breath behind a trendy SoHo watering hole. His ruined parka, shredded jeans and unconspicuous convict's generic running shoes make him look just like another bum, and the fashionable hipsters and illusion-garbed mainstreamers walk by him in their drunken stupors, unaware, uncaring, jigsaw pieces in a giant puzzle of idleness, social dictatorship and capitalistic abandon. Not their fault, he thinks. They haven't seen. They don't know. They lack knowledge.
It had started with the book, six years-and-some ago. Huepeo Nupoo, loosely translated as 'Days of Fire' or 'The Burning of Time', a hoary text sometimes seen by some as apocalyptic, others, as Mesopotamian genius preceeding the masters of Greece. Whatever the case was, there was some interesting verses, hardly decipherable by the quality of the text that was provided. Arthur Brooks, Ph.D., did not have clearance to examine the original volume at the Smithsonian, so he was left with copies and facsimiles and other means of reproduction. The text was ancient, that was certain, and there were more than a few tidbits lacking in the various translations that had been attempted throughout the years. It is an understood fac tthat to this day, probably no one living had completely deciphered the complex mix of cuneiforms, pictograms and hieroglyphic expressions that composed these texts. Maybe no one would have that pportunity since the text had been expertly stolen during a very professional and unlikely heist. Still, he knows that in his old cache, he just might be the owner of the most complete reproducted copy of the texts still available. And in its composition, Arthur Brooks had seen something that no one else could: the mathematical expression of an ancient divinity.
No human hand had written Huepeo Nupoo, that much was certain. The form of the handwriting, both with ink and clay tablets, was too precise, too flexible, yet too manually inexpressive to have been manufactured by antiquity's scholars. He pictured it as the earliest text to have been perfectly written, with no sentiments involved, and such was true and good. The snippets of the text that his very literate mind could comprehend were not about subjects that warranted personal interpretation. It was not as apocalyptic as some thought, no... these New Age freaks would have done well to look elsewhere for Revelation-type raving. This was not a sign of things to come... it was a telling. A hidden telling of immortal proportion. The composition had been the key to unlocking the secrets of the 'Days of Fire', and Arthur Brooks stopped after the merest discovery; it was so simple, so obvious, yet frightening beyond belief.
The author was immortal, had always been and would ever be. It was not human. It was not limited in any way. It was crowned in multiple names and titles, wreathed in timeless mystery and silently wracked by loss and hope. But that was not the most astounding of the hidden numbers. Arthur Brooks had divined the terrible secret, the one that had made him lose his will to live, if only momentarily, and thereafter sent him on his eternal quest for truth, and his eventual downfall.
The author, whoever he was, was only the first of his kind, and his kind numbered three millions and three thousand and three hundred and three. Most nefarious was the knowledge that he was the first banished to live in this world, the others sent to the abyss. And that from this same abyss one million and one thousand and one hundred and one of his brothers would come to walk the earth.
Recalling this, onetime Doctor Brooks shivers in the dark alley, catching his breath within eyesight of the poor ignorant masses. Are they to be saved, or will they be damned by them?
The twenty-first floor of the Flatiron Building, first and for some, most worshipped skyscraper of New York City's Manhattan, is always silent at night, despite the obvious light that remains on, though not on account of any need of security. Its resident and exploitant, a certain wealthy European by the name of Lianna Foalchild, had established the corporation headed by himself and a few chosen on this most glorious perch. The Flatiron Building is renowned for its resident publishers and book-savvy odd-ball types, and few were those that ever left its floors once business came running. It was thus very, very unusual for a whole floor of the iron-shaped skyscraper to be bought out and replaced within a year, and due to that, Tennyson Archiving and Research had been seen from that moment as aggressive, assuming, and not a little haughty by the scholarly community, and thus shunned by the bigger players.
But that would not keep its head chairman, the Malkavian vampire known not as Lianna Foalchild, but as Fanen N'Ganasha, to keep to his silent nightly realm of bookrows, temperature- and humidity-controled rooms, aisles of documented research stacked orderly on oakwood tables, and prestation from vampiric consorts and attendees. Having walked the Earth for more than a hundred years already, Fanen N'Ganasha had never been at a loss for mysteries to uncover, conspirations to defeat, trespassers to frighten and occult strangenesses to decipher. Quite by happenstance, his coming to New York, a newly-rediscovered haven of peace for his kind, had been followed by quite a few paranormal occurences. The appearance of an often-overlooked Red Star in the night sky, humans seeing through the guise of vampiric deceivers, and much more. His actual subject of study for the night is a cross-reference of astrological divining of Mayan origin with the actual faulty-yet-modernly-sufficient Julian calendar. The authors who had pooled their resources in this work were insightful, but lacked in some obvious truth. Unfortunately, their knowledge would have to beforgotten in the sands of Time itself.
A phone rings in the distance. The vampire lifts his eyes ever-so-slightly above the gold-rimed round spectacles, and focuses on his powerful hearing. The ringing again. Forty-three feet away from his personal study's doors. Slightly muffled. Past a single set of pinewood decorative doors. His public office down the hall, three rooms away from the reception office next to the bank of elevators. The fine italian leather shoes begin moving fluidly and steadily towards the office, the eyes going back to the open book in his right hand. Rining again. His left hand move forward reflexively after a series of delicate steps, grasp the door handle as if naturally and sightlessly attracted to it, and twists it delicately. Fourth ring. The few remaining feet are crossed elegantly and the left hand lands easily on the phone, without need for eyes to guide it. The receiver is picked up and brought to an ear framed by dirty-blonde-colored hair before the fifth ring ever gets produced. "Allo", says the vampire's smooth voice.
- Mr. N'Ganasha, this is Inspector Laflamme. Am I troubling you?
- Ah, my dear Daniel", replies N'Ganasha. "How may I be of service?"
Fanen N'Ganasha is not troubled at all by the mention of his vampire-known name. Daniel Laflamme is a kindred spirit, another vampire, one of the Ventrue Clan, and accessorily, an acquaintance and something of a good friend. Having met a few years back in the province of Quebec, in Canada, Laflamme was a newly-Embraced mortal detective with a constabulatory force called the Surete du Quebec, and N'Ganasha had established a haven in the Montreal surroundings to research the mysticism and archeological sites of the past Iroquois tribes of Lower Canada. When the Sabbat, a murderous vampiric cult of madmen and false prophets, had threatened most of the local Kindred, as vampires called themselves, to join them or die the Final Death, N'Ganasha and Laflamme had organized the self-imposed exodus of a dozen vampires to better and more peaceful surroundings. New York had been the choice destination for most of them. Laflamme was able to maintain his mortal identity for a while longer, landing a selective night-time position of Inspector at a local NYPD precinct with the help of his locally well-connected Clanmates, and Fanen N'Ganasha established his headquarters in the Flatiron building, claiming the district of the same name as his personal Domain. They say you get to know your real friends in adversity, and Laflamme's and N'Ganasha's relationship was well-forged thus.
"I know that it's not customary of me to disturb you in the middle of the night, Fanen..." Daniel Laflamme is still speaking with his heavy French-Canadian accent, N'Ganasha noted.
The Malkavian Fanen blinks. "My nights are all I have, dear Daniel, and I cannot say they are most exciting these days. Anything you wish to bring to my attention is most welcome. My stewart Philip has left and the Livinstons have left for home hours ago. Would you like to pass by the office?"
"Actually, I do not have a lot of time for that. I have to get the most done before the day shift and Commissioner Wellington come in and find out about the night's events."
Inspector Laflamme sounds worried. The trench-coat wearing, BMW-riding, brown-haired Ventrue is a usually mellow fellow, but the tinge of nervousness in his voice is a dead giveaway. Something is eating at him.
"Daniel, why don't you tell me what is happening?" This comes out more like a challenge than an actual question, and the Malkavian silently winces at his own eagerness.
"Fanen... are you aware that your Clan's representative, Carter Vanderweyden, is missing?" Laflamme is anxious and waiting.
Fanen sighs. "I am constantly on the lookout for any evolution of our secret society, Daniel. You know this. Of course I am aware of Carter's disappearance. He last was seen leaving for his private Domain at Riker's Island."
"Right. And you know that Arthur Brooks, the White Rook, was scheduled to be transfered for detention to Riker's Island?"
"Yes, I know that too, Inspector." The mention of the title is a slight indication of irritation. "Is there a point to all of this, Daniel?"
"Arthur Brooks was being transfered this very night by armored carrier. He was heavily drugged and restrained. Four United States Marshals were on escort duty for him. He's escaped, Fanen. They're all dead, and he's still unaccounted for. It's going to be a hunt like never seen before in New York, and there will be fucking murders." Daniel Laflamme, NYPD Inspector, is not used to swearing. He sounds very obviously under a lot of stress. His information finally points to a very telling question.
"Did you know about this?"
Fanen N'Ganasha takes a few steps away from his desk, phone still in hand. The book in his right hand wobbles slightly as the vampire feels his facade being chipped away by uncertainty and surprise. A very slight blood sweat breaks out on his forehead. After a silence, he replies:
"...no. I did not know this." The Malkavian hesitates for a moment, listening to the Manhattan nightlife resonating in Daniel Laflamme's cellular phone. Finally he replies. "I'll have to call you back. I will see you at Riley's Valkyries' Club tomorrow night."
After hanging up the telephone, the vampire scholar retracts past a hidden section of bookcases to his personal, hidden study. He punches in a very long string of complex numerical codes, and after the thick fiberglass doors woosh open, he seals himself in his temperature-controlled tomb, containing his most revered and rarest of volumes. He lays down on a thick mattress and starts concentrating, intent on disconnecting himself from his material shackles. A handful of minutes later, Fanen N'Ganasha's etheric form is soaring through the Manhattan skyline, seeking a mortal that has unwittingly endangered his species for a long time.