A Gathering of Players
Disclaimer: Don't own 'em, just having some fun and will return them unharmed.
Author's Note: This is set between NLTZ 2 & 3 by Shannon K. I just want to say thanks for letting me play with your twisted AU. On another note, for those of you who have read my "Year V" project at FAP, yes, some characters may look familiar, but these are different and more original versions of those characters (re: Jesse, Nicholas, and the Guilders). However, I did throw in a nod to the HP fandom and I hope you appreciate the little in-joke.Chapter 1
A Gathering of Players
Mage's Guild Council Hall
On the outskirts of Montreal sits an old mansion. To those who drive by it on and a regular basis, it was a pristine private residence surrounded by small walls, giving it the illusion of being a sort of miniature castle. If anyone were to ask most of the locals, they would tell you that it belonged to some private citizen, probably a lawyer or a doctor. However, no one could come close to the truth, except maybe for the handful of people who maintained the building.
But for those who knew of it's true purpose, it was almost considered hallowed ground. For this was the Mage's Guild, the seat of government for all the Guilds...Thieves, Crafters, Warriors, and Assassins bowed to the will of those elected to serve in the Mage's Guild. For those attending the Council Hall, ceremonial or traditional garb was appropriate, giving the place an almost aristocratic air from previous centuries. Fine clothing and cloaks was the standard apparel for those who viewed it as an honor to come here.
Save for one young man, who stood in the outer atrium of the building and looked at the various cloaked individuals in a mixture of disbelief and disgust as one thought tore its way to the front of his mind. Shit...it's like a fucking Harry Potter convention around here!
However, the moment that thought crossed his mind, he couldn't help smiling at the fact that some European wizards had offered him fifty-thousand to off a certain author for "revealing the truth" and he had considered taking the offer, but he also liked those books. Granted the final book was something of a let-down, but he couldn't fault the author for it. She had taken a lot of creative license in fictionalizing something that had happened a decade ago, but it was a good way to conceal the truth from the mundane world.
Now if the subject of her series had approached him with the job offer, that would be different...but that wasn't likely to happen. The Rowling woman was smart enough to change names and places so the real "Mr. Potter" wouldn't have too much to complain about especially when he got a decent portion of the profits. Great...he fights a war against some psychotic warlock and gets books and movies made about him, and here I am killing just to pay bills.
Jesse sighed and leaned back against a pillar. Yep, life did suck sometimes but at least he was alive. Then again, he got a writer who majored in French and Classic Literature. Chances are I'd probably end up with some crazy hack at a keyboard if someone did my life story. Hmmm...I wonder if Quentin Tarantino would be interested...
He chuckled at that thought, realizing that here he was at the ripe-old age of twenty-five thinking about how long lived he was before looking up and noticing some of the stares he got from others. Most of them regarded him with cold indifference, but he could see a few looks of outright disgust. Then again, he couldn't blame them...they were all dressed in their pseudo/neo-Victorian era wardrobe and here he was disgracing hallowed ground with jeans, a leather jacket, and sneakers.
And then there were the soft whispered comments that he caught as some of those people walked by him. "The Abomination."
"What is he doing here?"
"So...the remnant of the fallen bloodline finally showed itself..."
"A disgrace...who let THAT in here?"
Jesse let the comments harmlessly drift off him. He didn't give a fuck what these assholes thought about him and, when it came right down to it, he could easily kill most of them without much effort. He may be an "outcast" or an "abomination" to their society, but they knew of his reputation and were probably thankful that he still followed most of the laws. On the other hand, if he had strictly followed Guilder Law, he would be quite justified in killing several clan elders for what they had done nearly twenty years ago. Most of them had stood by and let his family get slaughtered for political gain and now that he had "resurfaced" in their society, they knew that something was coming.
As he watched them all enter the council chamber, Jesse was half-tempted to follow them, beat the hell out of the door guards, and crash the meeting, but immediately tossed that idea aside. He was guest here, because one of the Clan Patriarchs had invited him. He didn't care much for the Guild clans, but William DeChabrillaine was one of the few Guilders Jesse had respect for and one doesn't tell the Patriarch of the DeChabrillaine clan to fuck off...especially when the old man sent a cryptic message saying: "It's happening again."
Within hours, Jesse was in Montreal via a portal to New York and a cross-border bus-ride from there. He hated being here, this close to the heart of the community, but being informed that "it" was going to happen again made him drop everything and heed William's call. The hot water heater and the fine from the health department could wait...there was no way he was going to let "it" happen to another kid.
The doors to the council closed, leaving Jesse alone in the outer atrium.
"And so the scion returns upon the shadows of a darkened past..."
Okay, so he was not alone after all. Jesse's head snapped up and looked in the direction of the voice. What he saw was a wiry man in his late thirties, maybe early forties, with short cropped black hair peppered with a little gray. The man's monotone/sing-song speech and the almost "unfocused" look in his eyes would give one the impression that he was mentally handicapped in someway...or perhaps autistic.
"Tainted and scarred, yet willing to endure to the last..." Yeah...like a high end version of Rain Man on crack,
Jesse thought. He had never met the man personally, but he knew of him. If anyone in community scared the hell out of him, it would be this man. However, he managed to keep his voice calm and even friendly as he spoke.
The man known as Baxter nodded, the bare hint of smile only noticeable as the corner of his lips twitched slightly. "And the players gather for reasons known only to them and those that summon them."
Jesse managed to suppress the slight shudder. If Baxter was summoned, that meant serious business indeed. And Baxter's cryptic speech, which was something of a trademark for him, revealed a lot to Jesse.
"It's more than us, isn't it?" he asked.
Baxter tilted his head slightly as he studied Jesse the way a snake studied a helpless mouse before striking. "It's a dark game with more than one side...the pieces are chosen, but their sides are not." Oh fuck!
Jesse was afraid of this. This meant the current meeting in the council hall was about a topic that divided the clans and they were at serious odds over something. He had an idea of what it might be about, but if various factions were calling in Mage-Killers like Baxter and himself, it meant something big was happening and the various clans were calling in their big guns. The clans themselves may not openly wage war with each other, but that didn't stop their tools from fighting it out over whatever the objective was.
"You are afraid," said Baxter, but it wasn't tauntingly. Someone with Baxter's...mental condition...wasn't capable of taunting. It was merely a statement of fact.
Jesse didn't bother denying it. "Yeah, damn right I'm afraid," he shot back. "I'm standing here talking to the 'Darth Vader' of mage-killers...you would be too if you were me."
Baxter's lips twitched into a smile again and even his cold glassy eyes flickered momentarily in amusement. "An insult and a compliment...a paradox, much like yourself, McCade." Then the smile faded. "You fear me...but that is not what you're afraid of. The past screams at you and that is why you're here."
"And why are you here, Baxter?" asked Jesse, slightly annoyed that he was that easy to read. His past was no secret to the Guilds, pretty much an embarrassment and a stain as far as most were concerned, but it was like the older man could read Jesse's soul, which probably wasn't far from the truth since Baxter had a reputation for being able to silently stalk his targets.
"Because I was summoned." And there it was...simple as that. Baxter's face had suddenly gone cold and neutral, a sign that he wasn't going to reveal any more than he had, which really wasn't much.
"Well....well...look who it is," sneered another voice. "The bastard child and the gimp...let me guess, it must be Pride Week somewhere...or is Jerry's Kids hosting another telethon?"
Both men turned to see a third man, this one with long black hair and sporting a pentagram earring. Like Jesse, he too wore street clothes, though it looked like they came from the local Hot Topic or some second-hand store that specialized in gothic clothing. However, what was most disconcerting were the slight facial similarities between this man and Jesse, but that was to be expected since he was Jesse's older half-brother.
"Nicholas," Jesse said, his voice loaded with venom. "What brings you here?"
"Careful, McCade," smirked Nicholas St. John-Dupuis. "It's not wise to be disrespectful to one of the ruling bloodline."
"Keep it up, Nick," said Jesse as he stepped up to stand face to face with Nicholas, "and your grandfather won't have a successor."
"What...you think I have anything to fear from the scion of Shunned
bloodline? You're not even welcome in the Council chamber and we both know you don't have the balls to-"
Nicholas was suddenly cut off when he felt something warm near his crotch. He looked down and saw McCade's hand holding a fireball and aimed at his family jewels. For a moment, fear flitted across his face before he shoved it aside and resumed his cocky attitude. "Uh-huh...as if even you would violate the rules here on hallowed ground."
"Hallowed to you, maybe," said Jesse. "But as you pointed out, I'm of the shunned bloodline, maybe the rules don't apply."
An invisible force suddenly separated both men, knocking Nicholas to the floor and throwing Jesse against the pillar he was leaning against earlier.
"That will be enough, this is hallowed ground." Baxter's voice betrayed no emotion, though the cold delivery of his words carried enough force to make both of the younger men stand down.
Nicholas kicked himself back up to his feet and then straightened his coat before tilting his head from one side to other. An audible crack echoed through the otherwise empty atrium. "We're done here for now," he said as he turned and started to walk away. "But we'll continue this later."
Jesse watched his half-brother walk down the atrium before disappearing around a corner. He was half-tempted to throw a fireball after the bastard, but the firm hand on his shoulder and the shake of Baxter's head told him to rethink that option. "But we'll continue this later," he repeated in a whiny imitation of Nicholas' voice. "Asshole."
"That may be, McCade, but this is not the time or place." Baxter released his grip on Jesse's shoulder and motioned at the closed Council Chamber doors with his head. "Besides, given the decisions being made, you may get your chance."
"You know what this is about, don't you?" asked Jesse.
"I know that it involves a child with great power...an outsider, similar to the one that surfaced twenty years ago..." Baxter trailed off and gave Jesse another half-grin. "And we know what happened to that young man, don't we?"
"But that doesn't explain why we're here," said Jesse, although he knew that comment was probably a lie. He just didn't want to face up to it.
"Isn't it obvious?" asked Baxter. "Some of us have been summoned to kill the child's parents and bring the child here."
Jesse felt a wave a nausea hit him as Baxter confirmed his suspicions. DeChabrillaine was right, it was happening again. Except this time around, they weren't going after the lost scion of a Clan bloodline, they were targeting an outsider...a complete innocent who just happened to have some power that some of the various clans wanted to add to their own.
"Not me," he said after a few moments of silent contemplation. "I'm not getting involved in this."
Baxter shook his head. "You will be involved, McCade...you won't let it happen again, or at least you will try."
"And what about you, Baxter? Are you going along with this?"
The older man was silent for a moment, it was obvious that he had some reservations about the situation. "I have no choice, Jesse McCade. If sent after the child's parents, I will kill them."
"And what about the kid, huh?"
"Being raised as a Guilder is not an entirely unpleasant prospect...depending which clan takes the child."
"Oh yeah...I'm sure they'll get over the fact that their cheerful new life is a result from their new family murdering mommy and daddy right in front of them." Jesse pounded a fist in frustration against a pillar. "And I can't believe you'll go along with this."
"It's not in my nature to turn down a contract," said Baxter. "Just as it is in your nature to prevent another from suffering as you have."
"And you realize that we could be facing off against each over this?"
"Yes, and we both know that if it were just between us, you will die." Baxter's eyes glistened in the early evening darkness that was starting to shroud the area. "But I am only to kill the parents...you will be trying to protect the child. The child is not my concern."
"No, just offing mommy and daddy so whoever else can snatch the kid...wait..." That's when it hit Jesse. "Why would they call in mage-killers on this one? Who exactly are these kid's parents?"
Baxter offered no answer other than to shrug indifferently and then look back toward the council chamber doors. After several more minutes of silence, he then turned back to Jesse, who sat down at the base of the pillar. "The Council has made their decision."
A few seconds later, the council doors opened and various Guild members filed out, filling the atrium. Jesse lost Baxter in the crowd, but the clips of conversations he caught didn't sound very reassuring as to how the vote went. "This is madness, we risk a war."
"No wonder the Dupuis want her...which is why we will act first."
"The girl's power is raw and untapped, perhaps even stronger than the Abombination's..."
Jesse caught a couple glances in his direction, recognizing members of the Dupuis and Bonacieux families. He ignored their disgusted looks and decided it was time to go looking for William when he felt a hand on his shoulder, causing him to suddenly spin around to face an old man wearing a gray overcoat and carrying a cane, looking like a businessman from the 1930s...or maybe a mob boss.
"Shit, dammit, William! How the hell do you do that?"
"You came," said William DeChabrillaine, giving Jesse a sad smile. "I just wish it had been under better circumstances."
"No shit...William, what's going on?"
"Walk with me, my boy," said the old man, keeping his tone casual as if this were just a normal day. "We have many things to discuss."
Jesse understood at once what the old man meant and looked up to see Patriarch Sebastian Dupuis and his grandson, Nicholas, in the upper balcony area talking to each other. Patriarch Dupuis paused long enough to glare in Jesse's direction for a moment. Nicholas whispered something in his grandfather's ear that got a malicious chuckle from the older man. Nicholas then gave Jesse a wink and pretended to shoot an invisible gun in his direction. Jesse shook his head in disgust as he followed DeChabrillaine outside.
They continued to walk along a small walkway behind the mansion that led to what appeared to be a small park that also included a small hedge maze. It wasn't until they had reached a gazebo that stood at the entrance of the maze that DeChabrillaine stopped and briefly looked around the surrounding area before sitting down on one of the gazebo benches. He then tapped the gazebo with his cane, which momentarily bathed the small structure with shimmering blue sparks of energy.
"We can talk here," he said, "away from others that may be listening."
Jesse shook his head as he entered the gazebo. "I don't see why we should be secretive, William, I already know what this is about."
"Yeah...swiping a kid, killing their parents for their bloodline...are they fucking insane!?!"
DeChabrillaine didn't answer. Instead, he simply sat there and let Jesse continue his tirade.
"Kidnapping, brainwashing...and for what, because some kid can do some spooky shit that scares the hell out of the Mage's Guild? Didn't they learn when they tried that shit with me?" Jesse sat down across from DeChabrillaine. "Please," he said, his voice losing some of its anger. "Please tell me that you aren't going along with this."
The old man was silent for a few seconds before he spoke, as if he were waiting for Jesse to continue. "Are you through?"
"Yeah...for now...what the hell is going on?"
"You want the short or long version?"
"Just give the version that makes sense, okay?"
"Very well...about five years ago, a being of powerful magic showed up in San Francisco, California."
"San Francisco...isn't that Kindred territory? What the hell would one of us be doing there?"
"Well, it turned out that this particular individual was one Alexander Lavelle Harris, a resident of Sunnydale, California. He didn't show up on the radar until he reached the Bay Area."
"Oh fuck," Jesse groaned...this was not good. "A Hellmouth Mage? Like the Red Witch."
"No," said DeChabrillaine. "Harris was not a Hellmouth Mage. In fact, the Hellmouth repressed his magical abilities to the point that we couldn't detect him. It wasn't until he had gotten well clear of it, and shed its taint, that we had detected him."
"Oookay...that's good...no, wait...'WAS not a Hellmouth Mage'? Is he dead?"
"Not exactly." A smile tugged at the corner of the old man's mouth. "But I'll get to that part later. We sensed him and the Mage's Guild had sent someone to monitor him, but by the time the agent was in place, Harris had returned to Sunnydale."
"And you lost track of him," said Jesse. "But he didn't stay there, did he?"
"No...in fact, he shortly left Sunnydale and returned to San Francisco, moved in with this woman named Emily Larkin."
"Okay...so...let me guess, Dupuis sanctioned a retrieval on this Harris guy and the Larkin girl was killed, huh?"
"That was not an option," chuckled DeChabrillaine. "It turned out that while his magical abilities were not that well developed, Harris had become quite the competent demon hunter, and rumor had it that he had actively assisted a Slayer at the time. Other rumors suggested that there was a falling out between the Slayer and Harris. Anyway, trying to retrieve Harris would have caused some problems and chances are we would have had a high body count and been forced to kill him."
"So what happened?"
"It was decided to wait...and that was when he was turned."
"Yep...turned, converted, bitten...actually, I think the term they use is 'embraced'."
"Great...he escapes a city of demons and bloodsuckers only to get turned into a bloodsucker right after he moves into a new town."
"From what I understand, it was willingly. Besides, these are Kindred, not the demonic sub-species you're used to. Needless to say, once Harris had become Kindred, it was pretty much over with...until two years ago."
"Wait...hold on...two years ago...wasn't that when the Red Witch that sealed the Hellmouth and cast that spell that unleashed all the Slayers around the world?" Jesse shook his head before placing it in his hands, rubbing at his temples as if he were trying to rub away a migraine. "Shit, William...don't tell me this kid we're after is a Slayer."
"No...it's a little more complicated that. She is Alexander Harris' four year old daughter."
"Huh!?!" That didn't sound right to Jesse. "Um...daughter? Last time I checked, vampires couldn't have kids."
"Use your head and do the math, boy," snapped DeChabrillaine. "He was obviously in a relationship with another woman before he moved to San Francisco. It wasn't until the mother died and the Hellmouth was closed that we were able to detect her. She was then left with her father shortly thereafter. Given the magical nature of both of her parents, the Mage's Guild views her as both a potential threat and asset."
Jesse was silent for a few seconds as he thought about the implications of the situation, then he realized that DeChabrillaine had left something out. "Okay, what are you not telling me?"
"What do you mean?"
"C'mon, William, I know you're holding out on me. The girl's biological mother...you said that she was magical as well."
"In a manner of speaking, she was a former vengeance demon...Anyanka, I believe."
"Anyanka..." Jesse managed to repeat after getting over that shocking revelation. "As in 'I like to rip the balls off men and run them through a meat grinder fun and profit' Anyanka? The patron demon for scorned women? That Anyanka?"
"Ah, you've heard of her?"
"Yeah...one of my early contracts ended up...well, he ran afoul of her and my killing him was more of an act of mercy than anything else. Let's just say that it's the first and hopefully the last time that I've seen cockroaches, a rubber chicken, and a cheese grater used that way." Jesse shuddered as he recalled that particular incident. "I still have nightmarish flashbacks of that whenever they air Kafka on Turner Movie Classics."
"Wait until you actually read his books," DeChabrillaine chuckled. "Then you'll get some real nightmares." Then the expression on his face became more serious. "Jesse, the girl has great potential, but she's also in danger. We cannot allow the Dupuis to have her."
"So you figure I should kidnap her for her own good? And then what, turn her over to you?"
"Only if it comes down to that." The tone in older man's voice told Jesse that there was a possibility it might end that way and that he wasn't too happy about it. "Others will make attempts for her, and you need to keep her safe for three days from the moment those involved in this contract breach the San Francisco's city limits."
"Three days? Why three days?"
"Because that is when, in accordance to our laws, that I can send a message to the Prince of San Francisco and inform him of what is happening. But until then..." DeChabrillaine's voice trailed off, he didn't have to tell Jesse what it meant.
"Until then, people like Nicholas and the others can pretty much do whatever they want to," Jesse finished for him. "Knowing Nicholas, he'll rake up a high body count. Does the Mage's Guild realize that we're risking a war with the Kindred? If it were regular vampires, I wouldn't be worried, but these are Kindred, William. They're not going to like this one bit."
"Sebastian doesn't seem concerned. He sees this girl as being worth the risk and that alone worries me, especially if what we suspect about her is true."
"And that would be?"
"That she is more powerful than either you or Nicholas."
And there it was, the other proverbial shoe that Jesse was waiting for DeChabrillaine to drop. That revelation had Jesse's mind reeling over what this meant, but it really was no surprise. He had been right...this was a power grab and the Dupuis, along with a couple other ambitious families, were all going after this four year old girl as if she were some rare commodity to be exploited. No...this was not good at all.
"So," said DeChabrillaine, his soft voice breaking Jesse out of his thoughts. "Are you going to take the job?"
"Do I have a choice?" Jesse snapped. "I have a hot water heater that needs to be replaced and hefty fine from a health department because of it. I need the money."
"And the fact a little girl's life is on the line," added DeChabrillaine, knowing that this was the young man's way of "justifying" his taking the job. "I suppose that has nothing to do with it."
"Well, that too." Jesse fell silent for a moment as he thought about something else. "William, do you know who summoned Baxter?"
The patriarch raised an eyebrow at that question. "Baxter...damn, someone must not be taking chances with Harris." He then shook his head. "I don't know who summoned him."
"The Dupuis," Jesse spat out. "I could see them stacking the deck."
"No, Jesse," DeChabrillaine chuckled again. "I doubt the Dupuis would contract Baxter. While he will work for just about anyone, even someone of Baxter's...eccentricity...has standards."
Jesse got up off the bench and turned his attention to the hedge maze. "Yeah, but like you said, this girl's got a lot of power, some people might be desperate. Even Baxter might make an exception if offered the right amount."
"Or maybe he's here on his own."
"Why would he do that?" asked Jesse. "I don't see him kidnapping a kid, what would be in it for him?"
The old man shrugged. "For Baxter, who knows?"
"Yeah, well, that's just great. We got Nick and his group of psychotics, the Rain Man of Mage-Killers, and me stuck in the middle of this." Jesse exited the gazebo and took a couple steps before turning back. "Ya know, you're asking a lot of me and I think this is gonna' cost more than just a new water heater and paying my fine with the health department."
"How about a new engine for your Falcon?"
And just like that, the poor bastard known as Jesse McCade let his conscience get the better of him and land him in another situation that could cost him is life. Then again, he never really was that bright.