Five centuries ago, terrorists tore open the fabric of reality, revealing a world of nightmares on the other side. After decades of war, a union of wizards and witches built a barrier to keep the monsters in their rightful home.
They called it THE VEIL.
Vampire Detective Devon Harrigan and pampered human priestess Helene Du Solaire can't deny the instant attraction between them, or that indulging it could have devastating consequences. A serial killer threatens to tear down the Veil and release Hell on Earth once more, and Helene is the key to his deadly plan.
Invitation to the Dance
Death by magick always smelled like barbecue.
Detective Devon Harrigan had two conflicting reactions to this particular scent. For one, his stomach curled up and heaved in sick anticipation of what he would inevitably find as its source. Magickal death had a lot of manifestations, and none of them were pretty or neat. Missing limbs, bones sucked out, skin flayed off, organs melted, eyeballs popped...pretty much any and every visceral horror possible was perpetrated by mages, sorcerers, witches, and other practitioners of extranormal magick. His specialty.
But then on the other hand, he was also a vampire, and the smell of bloody, gory death made his fangs ache and his mouth water. He tamped down on the nauseating urge to start slurping on the walls and wondered for the thousandth time how, after five-hundred years, the two halves of his nature were still so deeply at odds.
"This is gonna be nasty," he said into the headset communicator to his partner back at the station. It was Joe Calloway's turn to be chained to the desk slinging paper and Harrigan's to work the field. This case was eating up so much of their time they were no longer able to keep the balance if they were both doing the same thing. "I smell barbecue."
Joe laughed. "Keep your revolting eating habits to yourself, Detective. That's a crime scene, not a dark alley by the pier.”
"Yeah, yeah. I'll call you back when I've got the details.” Harrigan tapped the communicator off and sidled up to the officer on duty. The kid was green in more ways than one: obviously a rookie, currently wearing skin the color of faded guacamole, and busy wiping what appeared to be vomit from his mouth. Harrigan flashed his gold shield, and the kid couldn't hide his expression of relief to see a member of the Extranormal Investigations Unit, or EIU, but more popularly known as "Eew", on the scene.
"It's another one. The Black Hole Killer," the officer reported, his voice weak and trembling. "God. It's...awful."
Harrigan gave the greenhorn a sympathetic pat on the shoulder, but the kid flinched under his touch and looked even sicker rather than comforted. Not surprising—five hundred years living in the open together hadn't eased the tension between vampires and humans one bit. Even the famed Blue Wall cops supposedly formed around one another couldn't seem to bridge that particular prejudice.
Which was fine by him. Harrigan preferred to keep his human interaction as limited as possible, preferably very brief, either on paper or with the dead. He was the best investigator the New Denver City PD ever had, and his particular disdain for working with mortals was tolerated as a result. He rarely had to talk to those who didn't drink blood, turn into something not-so-human under the full moon, cast spells, or do any of the other countless things that were born from human nightmares and horror movies back when the Veil first fell.
The world was a very different place today than it was when he was human, thanks to that catastrophe. In 2118, a group of terrorists calling themselves The New Day reported to the world that they were in possession of an anti-matter device, and demanded the release of thousands of the world's most dangerous criminals to keep them from detonating it and getting the planet sucked into a black hole. Naturally, the world governments stuck by their standard "we don't negotiate with terrorists", mostly because they didn't believe The New Day or anyone else was actually capable of building an operational anti-matter weapon. Two days later, they found out the hard way just how wrong they were. The New Day's weapon tore a rift in reality that spread around the planet like a new equator, but rather than sucking the planet inside out, they opened a passage to another world.
A world where evil bred, thrived, and looked for ways to cross over to the mortal plane. And the result, to the horror of The New Day, right along with the rest of humanity, was a deluge of nightmares. Literally. Whatever the creatures and substances might have been on the other side of the Veil, they turned into horrors straight from the human subconscious when they crossed over. Everything from vampires to flesh-eating fogs to brain-hungry zombies washed over the planet like a bloodthirsty tsunami, sending human civilization plummeting into chaos. By the time an organized union of witches and wizards came forward to help the human governments seal the Veil, millions were dead or missing, and millions more changed into mutated versions of every thing your mom said didn't live in your closet or go bump in the night.
Monsters like himself. But he didn't spend a whole lot of time dwelling on the facts of how it all happened. It didn’t matter that vampire-human hybrids had been living on earth thousands of years before the Veil fell. Or that the once-human creatures created in that first wave of horror, and their descendants, now lived practically like untouchables among the humans. He was too busy trying to deal with the ongoing result. A whole new kind of citizen opened up a whole new world of crime.
Which required a whole new brand of cop. Enter the EIU. An elite police unit present in most major cities and branches of federal and international law enforcement especially trained to deal with crimes of an other-than-human nature. One of their biggest, though most perverse, advantages was that they were able to follow a case for four or five-hundred years, if need be. Death meant nothing to them personally. Not their own, anyway.
The Black Hole Killer had been operating in Harrigan’s city for less than a month, and already there were six missing and twelve dead, the worst serial kidnapper/killer he had ever seen in five centuries of police work. The worst part was that the perp didn't leave any of the usual "monster tells", no holes in the neck, no claw marks, no scales or hair, and not even a speck of DNA. When there was a body at all, it was only unidentifiable charred bits and pieces. And as the piece de resistance, every scene had what looked like a small, yet potent, pulsing black hole—the greatest cause for alarm. Black holes on the planet's surface were really small tears in the Veil. The more such tears opened, the weaker the magick maintaining the Veil. Not a good thing at all.
As Harrigan approached the inner parlor of the 4th Street Temple of The Order of Light, the smell of barbecue mixed with a whiff of sulfur confirmed that the young officer at the entrance was right. The BHK had struck again.
He ducked under the crime scene laser, which detected his badge and belatedly approved his intrusion with an impotent beep. He had been to every one of these crime scenes, and so far there was nothing terribly different about this one that he could see. Bits of crispy critter were spread here and there on the floors and walls, and a tiny, crackling patch of dense nothingness hovered several feet above the floor. Department sorcerers were already chanting their asses off to heal the rift before anything on the other side could break through. The droning buzz of their work made him grit his teeth; if there was one thing he hated more than magick-based crimes, it was magick-based methods of solving them. Just what the hell was the matter with a little old-fashioned brain activity, with some brute force thrown in for good measure? It worked for him.
Brute force couldn't mend a rift in the Veil, some less grumpy part of his consciousness reminded him. He knew it, but that didn't mean he had to like it. Magick was a wild card , and the more of it you used in any equation, the less control you had over a situation.
And control was something Harrigan valued more highly than anything else.
He tried to hide his surprise when the Chief of Police approached, wearing a grim expression. Harrigan knew the drill: the press, politicians and Otherworld reps at every level of government were after their asses to solve this. The chief was spending his days tap dancing and running from one press conference to another, reassuring the citizenry that the NDPD was doing its level best to stop the world from coming to an end and their children from being turned into jerky.
Hell, he shouldn't be surprised to see the Chief; he should be surprised he hadn't seen him on scene sooner. Chief Royston was everything Harrigan wasn't: six-foot-four, with 275 lbs. of hard muscle packed into a carefully tailored blue uniform. His skin was the color of deep cocoa, his features regal and elegant, clearly showing his royal North African heritage, his haircut high and tight like a good soldier. Harrigan was barely six feet tall, his build more swimmer than linebacker, and pale in every way that Royston was dark. Unruly, too-long dark copper hair that he refused to call red, green eyes and Irish marked every inch of his uber-white body. It was enough to make most men feel small and practically invisible, and it only made Harrigan even more surly.
"Harrigan," the Chief greeted him.
He expected a lecture. The standard, you need to get your ass in gear before the Mayor has my hide sort of thing. He would have welcomed the chance to vent. Instead, he got his second surprise that night when the chief took Harrigan's arm and led him away from the CSU team and the sorcerers as if he were going to share a particularly juicy piece of gossip.
The surprises kept on coming. Harrigan could count the number of times the Chief used his nickname to address him on one...finger. He schooled himself not to gawk like a dink.
"This case just became number one priority. Everything else is tabled until we apprehend this monster."
Harrigan bit his tongue before pointing out that if it were mortals who were dying and disappearing, the department would have had a full time task force on the case weeks ago. He also tabled the urge to encourage his by-the-book Chief to refrain from using the non-politically correct term for Otherworlders. Just to be obnoxious, since Harrigan called them monsters too, and had sat through more hours of ironic sensitivity training than he cared to remember as a result.
In his mind, a creature was a creature, and all the pretty names in the universe weren't going to change that fact.
"Yes, sir," he replied instead. "But why? This scene doesn't look any worse than the others. Whoever's trying to rip holes in the Veil is doing a shitty job. He's an amateur."
The chief grimaced, paling as he shook his head. "This wasn't just another kill. This was an attempt on a very specific, very important person. And an attack on this particular person makes things look a whole hell of a lot more bleak than they did when we thought this was just some black wizard psycho on a rampage."
If things got any more damned curious, Harrigan was going to quit the squad and go write a damned book. Fact was definitely stranger than fiction, and far more likely to induce a bleeding ulcer, a condition he'd found out the hard way still affected vampires. Not to mention the fact that he suspected the average horror writer made a hell of a lot more money than he did.
The chief's dark eyes nailed him in place, and there was a long, tense beat before he replied in a low, dramatic timbre, "The Maitri."
Surely the announcement was meant to elicit some drama from Harrigan—a gasp, or maybe falling to his knees and ripping out his hair or gnashing his fangs and sobbing or something. Unfortunately, the title meant absolutely nothing to him, and so all it got was a blank stare. May Tree? What the hell was that?
"The Maitri. Don't you read, Harrigan?" the chief asked with a tone that suggested Harrigan ate babies for breakfast. Which he didn't. He was strictly a cow and pig kind of bloodsucker.
"Not if I can help it, sir."
The chief's slightly worried countenance morphed into one of angry frustration--a much more characteristic expression for him. "The Maitri is basically the messiah of her sect. You do know what the Order of Light is?"
"Sure. They were at the front lines in the War. They pretty much built the barrier themselves.” Duh. He had lived through those blood-soaked days, and however many centuries went by, he wasn't likely to forget.
The chief nodded. "Under the leadership of Mage Aedius Quentin, who remains their leader. His protégé is a young lady whom they contend is the focal point of their power. Without her, they believe the Veil will fall, and the world will plunge into the same chaos that almost exterminated humanity five-hundred years ago."
Harrigan made a face. He couldn't help it. All this witchy hocus pocus sounded like something his grandmother would tell him when he was a kid to keep him from sneaking cookies or kicking the dog. "Don't ye bother that animal, boy, or the Maitri will get ye!” Magick…Bleh! He put The Order of Light right up there with the Christmas Elves Union and the Lollipop League as fantasy organizations. Just another excuse to dress up like characters from the Lord of the Rings and dance around naked, chanting, and lighting off sparklers while they got drunk on grog or what-ever-the-hell.
"And?" he urged the chief to continue, no longer caring about being polite or indulgent. It was too tiring and never got him anywhere anyway.
"She was with the victim tonight. We believe she was the intended target, but she was able to fight them off. She's...incredibly powerful."
The chief's deep voice dropped to a soft whisper, and Harrigan's brows shot straight into his hairline. Of all the words in the OED, the last one he'd ever choose to describe the chief was soft.
The chief took a deep breath and pulled himself back together. "She's an invaluable asset, both to her people and to humanity in general. We can't afford to lose her."
"Chief, you don't seriously expect me to believe that one woman is the reason the Veil stays up?” If he did, Harrigan was going to ask him what he thought about Santa and the Easter Bunny next. But not about Leprechauns, because if they were real, he just didn't want to know.
"Son, five-hundred years ago, people didn't believe in vampires, either," he pointed out. "Anything is possible. Whatever the case, we're putting her under your guard."
Before Harrigan could bite off a profanity-laden objection, Chief Royston spun and charged into the growing crowd of investigators, heading toward a shimmering privacy curtain in one corner of the room. He followed, grumbling to himself all the way about this damned job, and how he was too highly trained to be a babysitter to some spoiled, milque toast priestess who spent her days watching birdies alighting on her fingers and singing hymns to unicorns or whatever the hell women in her position did.
Then the chief announced them, and they stepped behind the curtain.
For a moment, the warm, bright light suffusing the air inside the makeshift tent blinded Harrigan, which ticked him off. How smart could this broad possibly be if she waited for the arrival of a vampire with what felt like the sun wrapped around her like a blanket? He threw his arm up over his eyes to shade them and hoped he didn't burst into flames.
"I'm sorry, officer," she said. "I didn't realize you had arrived."
Her musical voice froze him in place. Caressed him like a warm summer breeze; like a gentle brush of fingertips on his skin, and Harrigan was forced to back up into the energy curtain to keep from falling over like a moron as his muscles turned to mush and his bones gave under the sweet spell of her speech.