parts 61 to 63
Most of the research into the deaths of the Schwannseins, Thackerys and Millers was handled by Wesley and Tanya. They intermixed this with sorting through the library to identify any of the older Watcher journals – after all, there might well be records of previous local Watchers, and it would be silly to go to the risk and delay of asking the Council for a copy of something that they already had.
Mort, Pyro and Lorrie were working hard on house repairs. Part of that was the blunt reality that much of the house needed work. Another part was that this gave them a very good reason not to be looking at books with woodcut art and detailed descriptions of things that would eat them, if given the chance. Mort was still giving the one book little frowns and muttering ‘Mystique, just what are you, and do I want to know what you eat?’
Faith was checking places in the area that looked like normal lairs. She’d found a few scattered vampires with dirty, out of fashion clothing making it clear that they didn’t work for June with the Cleaver. There was an old barn near the river that looked like something had very recently broken down the door. There were some bloodstains, a fallen pistol, some clothing up in the old hayloft – which had several tarps nailed up to keep light out – and a battery operated radio. But nothing to suggest that it was currently inhabited. What disturbed Faith the most was when she jumped back down from the hayloft and noticed a depression in the ground. Not quite round with four bumps and smaller holes just ahead of the bumps… “That giant turtle. Maybe we should figure out ways to get rid of car sized predatory turtles.”
Faith made her way back to the house quickly after that. “Anything useful to report back here?”
“Lots of things, dunno about useful,” Lorrie offered. “Why don’t you start, your trip was probably easier to explain.”
“The old power plant is empty. There was some sort of lurky thing with scales in the abandoned car garage with the green sign, but I didn’t get a good look at it and it ran rather than fought. Couple minion vamps near the old school that isn’t being used anymore. And it looked like there had been somebody hiding in an old barn near the river,” Faith paused, thinking back to that footprint.
“What sort of somebody? Human, mutant, vampire?” Pyro asked.
“There wasn’t anything that suggested food or a place to keep food, so I’m hoping vampire. It looked like that giant turtle broke through the door. I found bloodstains.” Faith shivered. “Wes, can you try to find a good strategy to use against a turtle the size of a car that seems to have decided that vampires are tasty? Not that I’m too upset about it eating vampires, but what if it wants to expand the menu a bit?”
“Disturbing,” Pyro agreed.
“We’ve found several Watcher journals, but the oldest is from two hundred years ago, and he was staying in a small house on the other side of town. A quick perusal gives no indication that he was aware of the Door. He did not have an active Slayer, but there was a potential here shortly after he’d arrived. She was not called, and eventually married, had children, and gave every indication of a normal life. There is no indication of the Mistress vampire being in the area during his tenure, or else she did not come to his attention. However, there is mention of a local hermit that only came out at night, frequently observing the Schwannsteins and the Thackerys. He speculated that there might be some sort of connection, but didn’t have any information. So far, none of the deaths look like they were anything other than what is documented,” Wesley pulled out an old book with a place marked by a scrap of grey ribbon. “He did include a sketch of this local hermit. Allowing for limited artistic ability, it could be Erwin Schwannstein.”
“So the guy’s been hanging around for a while,” Lorrie frowned. “Is that normal for a vampire?”
“Hanging around the place you called home is pretty normal, unless there’s major stuff going on to chase them out, or their sire is bent on travelling,” Faith answered. “Hanging around in a way that people think ‘crazy hermit’ instead of creepy guy or why are there all these dead bodies isn’t. Did the Watcher suspect Erwin of being a vampire?”
“While he clearly suspected the hermit of being somehow unusual, he didn’t write any suspicions down in the journal that we have,” Wesley shook his head. “I must wonder about his observational skills.”
“There were also a few more recent journals. One of them from a little over a hundred years ago mentioned a lurking vampire, and the picture that he sketched in is definitely Erwin Schwannstein, and yes, he had a hat. That Watcher was living in town, and he’d mentioned searching for several magical artifacts, but the only one that he mentioned finding was something called the Blade of the Erinyes. Apparently he managed to get it sent out of town shortly before a well-dressed woman with old-fashioned words could acquire it herself, with the claim that she was seeking artifacts for a museum in Boston. She seems to have made quite the impression on him, and there’s a full page sketch. The name that she was using was Ellen Travers. Lorrie says that the picture’s a good match for this mistress vampire,” Tanya added.
“So, I’m guessing that there aren’t minion vampires in the abandoned school anymore? And what’s the odds that the lurky with scales is a problem? Are there even scaled lurky things that don’t need someone to go slay them?” Lorrie frowned, and then muttered something about scary things and nightmares and old books.
“No more minions in the school,” Faith agreed. “As for that lurky, I don’t know and yes.”
“Whaaa?” Lorrie blinked. “A few more words would help.”
“There are not so humans that are in the books of demons and don’t always need to be killed. And some that the majority don’t need killed, but they’ve got their crazies that do bad things, just like humans have their crazies. So lurky might not need to be killed, but I don’t know how likely it is to need being killed. Best thing is to keep an eye out, because I don’t want to chase it unless it needs killed, there’s too much going on with the scary vampire woman to add more trouble,” Faith explained.
“An accurate, if rather informal explanation,” Wesley murmured. “It also leaves out mention of individuals that have been spotted that were unlike any other known demon species. One might assume that they are part of an entire species, but it takes more than one or two sightings to declare a species.”
“Could those unique individuals have been mutants?” Mort asked.
“Well…” Wesley paused, a small frown on his face. “The circumstances sometimes sound as if it could be a rather visible mutant, but… I was under the impression that the presence of mutants was a new phenomenon. Some of these reports of solitary individuals are centuries old.”
“How much of that is fast communication and… I know that there were charts about the global population. The curve looks like a rocket. Not many, a few more, and then just about shooting up. If there’s one mutant in a million people, then before that could maybe be only one or two in the whole world, and probably not that visible. But what’s the population now? A couple billion people? Of course there’s more mutants. Especially if there is a connection to nuclear testing and mutation,” Faith snorted.
“Nobody’s sure about that theory,” Pyro scowled at her. “And I think it was six or seven billion. A lot of them over in China.”
“Okay, so maybe mutants aren’t connected to the nuclear testing, and maybe they are. I don’t care. But there’s more of everybody now, and we can hear about it faster. Does that mean some old report wasn’t about a mutant a few centuries back?” Faith shook her head. “And just what do we know for sure about our vamp in the hat, the evil wench, the magic Door, and evil plans?”
“He’s shown an interest in the Schwannsteins, which would make sense if he is Erwin Schwannstein. We have no information on his plans, other than he seems to dislike the… well, I suppose calling her an evil wench would do. Though I suppose calling her an evil June Cleaver or June with the cleaver sounds a bit more polite. Beyond her desire to have the Door under her control and her apparent efforts to create a force of mutant vampires under her authority, we do not know. There is nothing in the books that we’ve gone through about the door… and she is giving us fits of frustration and headache,” Wesley rubbed at his temples.
“She doesn’t seem to be here all the time, the mentions of her seem to suggest that she’s travelled. And there were mentions of a British accent in her early appearances,” Tanya added.
“Evil British vampires,” Lorrie grumbled. “Why doesn’t she go back to England?”
“If you haven’t got all your papers and documentation lined up, or if you look different from everyone else, or probably if you can’t go out in the sunshine, travel’s a lot harder,” Mort commented. “I don’t have problems with sunlight, but papers can be hard to get for a mutant, and some people won’t do business with you if you look different. Not too sure about how vampires handle it, but the papers might be hard to get.”
At the same time, Wesley muttered, “Being British is hardly a crime, even if there are a few… British vampires…”
Tanya looked over at Wesley, who had stopped moving and was now starring at some of the pages before him. “Wes? What’s the matter?”
“Our mysterious vampire in the hat is most likely Erwin Schwannstein. Erwin lived in this house, before the drastic renovations. If the construction of the Door predates his death, then he would know about it. Would know that the object that the Mistress vampire is looking for is right here. Her obvious search for it suggests that he has not shared this information with her. Which means…” Wesley’s voice tailed off and he took a slow breath. “This means that he is sincere in his non-support of her.”
“But does it mean that he has his own plans for the Door? Or does he even know what it is?” Lorrie asked.
Faith frowned, thinking about the vampire in the hat. Thinking about how he’d stood back and watched as the minions attacking the house were killed. Had stood back and watched as she’d fought the minions at the cemetery. How he’d apparently been watching his family for a couple hundred years. And she remembered how B had her boytoy vamp Angel. “Maybe we should see if we can talk to the vamp in the hat. And see if he’s got a name he prefers, because... Erwin? Damn.”
“I’m not certain that such a thing would be wise…” Wesley murmured.
“Do we have a better way to figure out what he’s up to and what he knows?” Pyro countered.
After several long moments of quiet, Tanya spoke up, “If you run into him again on a patrol, see if he’d be willing to talk. But only if you think you can talk to him safely. Neutral ground would be best – I have no interest in permitting a vampire into the house!”
Nobody else wanted a vampire in the house either. Especially not one that might have plans for the magical Door that they didn’t quite understand.
End part 61.
Faith had considered things for a while, and decided to email a couple questions to Willow. She didn’t think that the redhead could figure out where she was from the email, not unless she gave some specifics. And the worst that could happen would be that the other girl wouldn’t have answers either.
Subject: Ugly Questions
Me again – no, I’m not quite dead. ‘Cept… the hospital. I know it was bad, but I don’t know how bad. All the medical shows – do we know if I flat-lined before or during the coma? Would that Call another Slayer?
I’m here. B’s there. Are there any other Slayers out there?
There’s some weird stuff going on here – maybe I’ll tell you about some of it some other time, if we all live.
I guess you’ve got nothin’ new on the Door?
I had a weird dream. May have been a Slayer dream. Someone I trusted told me that there could be – were demon mutants. As in, we got human mutants, and there’s demon mutants. And that I needed to watch myself if I run into any. If it was a weird dream – much wilder than purple squirrels stealing the Cheetos and beer to take over Chicago – then no harm, no foul. If it was a Warning, then pass the idea to B?
Email sent and worries nibbling at her, Faith left the library. The house was rapidly moving past the point where she could do any of the actual repair work, which meant that was out. With a huff, she started gathering up a collection of broken broom handles, those little narrow bits of wood that got called ‘dowels’, scraps of 2x4’s, and some likely looking sticks as well as a couple decent knives. With her collection of wood gathered, Faith started carving stakes. After all, it wasn’t like they didn’t keep, it wasn’t like they wouldn’t get used, and it took very little skill to make them. Unlike wiring or plumbing. Carving stakes didn’t give her the same sort of headache behind her eyes that searching through old books produced.
Faith didn’t worry about minor things like the passing of time, focusing instead of carving the stakes smooth enough that they wouldn’t leave blisters or splinters if she needed to use them. Focusing on giving them sharp points, the better to kill vampires with. Focusing on calming her thoughts to the point where she didn’t feel like snarling at people or attacking the next something that moved.
“Faith, come in and eat something!” Lorrie’s voice called from the house.
With a sigh, Faith gathered up the new stakes and her carving knife before moving back into the house. “We now have a bunch more pointy sticks for vampires.”
“Splendid. We’ve been attempting to determine a safer method to speak with Erwin Schwannstein, if he seems so inclined. A neutral location sounds like our best option, as we don’t want him in the house, he’s unlikely to want to be in a church, and we don’t want to enter a vampire lair.” Wesley paused, and then gestured towards the table. “We have a lovely pot roast.”
“I’ll have to feel out the idea if I run into him again,” Faith agreed, heading towards the table.
“Feeling who now? Do I want to hear about this?” Pyro yelped.
“Feel out, not feel up. I don’t date the undead, that was someone else,” Faith snapped. “Hat vamp, remember? What he may know. And only if it looks safe to ask. More importantly… is that home-baked bread?”
“Yes it is, sit down and eat,” Tanya smiled.
“Assuming that you don’t mind the company, I’d like to go with you on patrol tonight,’ Mort offered, the scent of scorched wires and that hard to explain scent of electrical workings clinging to him.
“Looking for a break from the wiring?” Faith smiled.
“That and I can’t guard your back if I’m not there,” he agreed.
“Sounds good. Maybe when we get back, they’ll have found something in the old books.” Faith nodded, pleased with having her boyfriend planning to go with her tonight. “Now, pass the food.” She glanced at Tanya, and could almost hear the chiding words from Dick and Mellie. “Please.”
End part 62.
After dinner, Faith and Mort headed for his motorcycle, with an assortment of stakes and knives, as well as a crossbow. They headed away from the house, and Mort pulled into the cemetery where they had first seen Lorrie waiting for a vampire to rise. Half turning so that he could see Faith, he asked, “Do we have a plan for tonight?”
“Unless we see something major or run into some minions to chase down or that turtle to avoid, there’s a couple places further out of town that I wanted to check out. Junie’s got to have a lair somewhere, and I’d feel better if we’re at least looking, and we may find something else. Maybe talk to hat-vamp if we see him. Warn any mutants to be damn careful after dark, if we can spot any, if it isn’t too late. Check the cemetery, avoid the turtle… pretty much the usual.” Faith shrugged.
“Fair enough. Lead the way, I’ll follow and watch your back,” he gestured towards the middle of the cemetery.
“Watch my back or watch my backside?” Faith grinned.
“Both – it’s a shapely backside,” Mort grinned.
Thirty minutes later, the pair concluded the little cemetery had no signs of any vampires hanging about, risen or otherwise. The only other thing of note was a small headstone for Charles Franklin Pinfield, with a set of dates. There were no other Pinfield headstones around the small stone, and it looked rather recent.
“Lorrie’s Watcher that didn’t trust mutants?” Faith asked, gesturing towards the headstone.
“The date seems right,” Mort mused. “Wouldn’t they want him to be buried at home though?”
“Maybe they sent him away to be abandoned and forgotten too, like Tanya’s uncle.”
“Depressing. Can we go now?” Mort gave a shudder.
“Yeah. There’s nothing to stay in this cemetery for,” Faith agreed.
The old motorcycle factory was empty. The signs that they found suggested the pair of vampires they’d already killed hadn’t been part of any larger groups, and didn’t have any minions lingering behind. Mort was just glad the turtle wasn’t hanging around anymore.
An old grain silo further out of town also seemed abandoned, though their investigations startled a flock of birds. Faith blinked when the flicker of motion out of the corner of her eye proved to be Mort catching a bird and eating it with his tongue. “Damn it, you’ve been holding out on me! You mentioned the green, you mentioned the super-jumping. Not once did you see fit to mention an eighteen inch tongue as a special power!”
Mort blinked, and then gave a grin while blushing and waggling his eyebrows, “I’ll make it up to you later?”
“Damn right you will.” Faith insisted. Maybe the eating whole birds was a little strange… alright, it was pretty strange, but she could deal with his strange. He dealt with her strange, in the form of ‘Slayer’. But the benefits… the benefits definitely would outweigh the strangeness there.
They headed back towards town, trying to figure out their next stop. She didn’t know the area well enough to get from the old silo to the next place that looked like a possible lair. Faith was also debating the merit of grabbing a bit of extra food to take along. They were moving through town, having just passed a gas station, and a closed Laundromat when Mort pointed towards the grocery store, “Isn’t that our pal with the hat?”
Following his gesture, Faith saw a man in a hat walking out of the grocery store, a plastic bag over his arm. Between the battered jacket and the plastic bag, he looked unremarkable. Unthreatening. He felt like a vampire.
“I think it is,” Faith felt herself grin. “Bet he’d stay civil along the sidewalk.”
“Good idea,” Mort pulled the motorcycle into an empty parking spot.
They had to move at a brisk walk to catch up to him, and Faith called, “Hey!”
He turned, his eyes flickering from dark to a bright vampire yellow for just a moment when he caught sight of her. His weight shifted a little, prepared to move or dodge, and he gripped the plastic grocery bag in a way that it would stay closed. “Something bothering you, ma’am?”
“Just a few questions,” Mort gave a weak looking smile and a shrug. “We didn’t have a phone number for you.”
“Mmmm. I suppose that does make getting in touch a bit trickier,” He motioned towards a big blue postal drop box, “Best not block the sidewalk, even if things are quieter now than they would have been a few hours ago.”
Faith and Mort followed him over to the postal box, with the pair of them on one side, and the vampire in the hat on the other, with the box between them To Faith, the moment felt weird, the sort of weird that she thought was called surreal.
“So, Erwin Schwannstein?” Faith murmured.
“I haven’t used that name in a long time. It was one of several things that I could never forgive my father for.” He paused for a moment before sighing, “I suppose you could just call me Stein. Nobody who knew me before is still alive, none of my friends are around anymore. Initials would sound ridiculous, and I was never much for nicknames.”
“You’ve been watching your family?” Faith asked.
“Yes. They are my family, even if I didn’t like all of them. And…” Again, he paused. “I doubt you care that much about my reasons. There are several, they are mine, and they will hold.”
“Tanya’s a little freaked out by the idea,” Mort offered.
He made a thoughtful noise, his head tilting just a little to the side. “I take it then that Eli hadn’t had the chance to talk to her about me.”
“Wait… Eli, her uncle the old Watcher… he knew about you?” Faith blurted.
“Some. He knew that I am family, that I’ve been keeping an eye on them. Knew I am not a danger to the family as long as they remain decent members of society. More to his interest, I’m an excellent resource for historical questions, especially about local events,” there was a thin smile at the last statement.
“You don’t like Junie, do you?” Faith asked.
“Junie?” He blinked at her, his brows dipping lower, “Junie…?”
“That crazy woman who… she sort of looks like June Cleaver, only more likely to be June with a cleaver. And we don’t know her name,” Faith explained.
“Her name is Patience.” At their disbelieving look, he chuckled, “Naming children, especially daughters, after the virtues used to be very popular. Patience, Hope, Charity, Prudence, Chastity, Faith, Grace, Joy, Temperance… Some people even named all their daughters after virtues. Naming sons after Apostles was more common. Some of the virtue names have become less common in later days. And no, she isn’t very patient, even if she is named for it.”
Faith shook her head, thinking about what he’d said. While she’d known that she had a virtue-name, she was suddenly aware of just how much worse it could have been. Prudence sounded like an insurance company. Chastity or Temperance would have been taken as challenges. “Know why she wants that special door so much?”
“The usual. To gain power, destroy her enemies, leave them broken heaps bleeding and sobbing at her feet before she kills them.”
“To try to take over the world?” Mort shook his head, “That is pretty common.”
“She’s gone a bit mad, you know. Half of her enemies have been dead for… well, longer than I have. She still thinks the Door will let her find them, break them, gloat a bit and then kill them.” He settled the bag on top of the postal box, and pulled out a package of green gummy candies. Opening the package gave a strong scent of mint. “I’m not strong enough to beat her in a fight, and a bit too self-centered and fond of existing to try something that would take me out with her.”
“Tell us where she stays,” Faith gave a little smile. “We might be able to try something.”
“The Schwannstein manor,” he gestured away from the middle of town. “She managed to get it about a century ago. She isn’t alone either.”
“There’s a lot of big old houses…” Mort began.
“This one used to be my father’s.”
Faith blinked. “Umm… is there… has she got a grudge against your family or something?”
“Against my father. Who died years and years ago. I don’t know what started it, but that’s been the cause of more than a few of the things she’s done,” one hand touched his throat, and he shook his head. “She hasn’t been quite right in the head since before I ever met her. I don’t know why.”
“I hate fighting crazy people,” Faith muttered.
Mort shivered, “Its worse when you don’t know they’re crazy until after a while. You don’t know where their limits are, or even if they have them.”
“True. I’ll be seeing you around.” He tucked the mint gummies back into his bag, and gave a nod towards Faith, “Slayer.”
“Faith.” She snapped.
“Ehh?” He blinked at her.
“My name is Faith. Not… that’s what I do, not who I am.” Faith didn’t quite glare at him. “And this is Mort.”
“Fair enough,” He gave a small nod, “I’ll be seeing you around, Faith and Mort.”
End part 63.