Pieces of the Puzzle

Holy Crossover, Batman! It was bound to happen sooner or later, so sooner it is. Our not-so-dynamic duo, Royston and Talan are interrupted by an unexpected and unwelcome guest. To catch up read this, this, and this.

        Royston stared morosely into his nearly-empty pint of beer, counting the rings of foam. His arm burned like the dickens and he kept rubbing it as though it would make the stinging sensation go away.
         “They sent us to the wrong place,” Talan said for the third time, disgusted.
         “Bloody wankers,” Royston agreed, wincing as fresh pain shot up his forearm.
         “Two more,” Talan gestured to the bartender.
         Roy nodded gratefully at the American.
         Once they realized there was no way around the pit in the floor, Royston called his handler. Felix Crowley then informed them that the parchment detailing their task had been mistranslated. Royston’s company mobile was now, for all he knew, still plummeting towards the core of the earth after he flung it into the hole–Crowley’s voice still screaming out of it. They walked back through the doors, which opened at a flash of Royston’s tattoo and, following Talan’s brilliant suggestion, went straight to the nearest pub.
         Royston took a gulp of the new, frothy beer the bartender brought after clinking it dissolutely with Talan’s. The American really wasn’t so bad. The accent, of course, was ridiculous and he had no concept of proper manners, but he did know how to shut up and drink a beer. It was a talent, Royston realized after weeks with Shafer, that not every man possessed.
         “Now what?” Talan asked finally, eyeing the telly in the corner as though he cared about the football match.
         “Well my mobile’s in the pit of the bloody silver pyramid where we were supposed to go and Crowley hasn’t tracked me down yet, so for now, we wait. I’m sure someone’ll turn up to claim me,” Royston said glumly.
         “How can they find you?” Talan turned away from the match, his blonde eyebrows shooting towards his hairline.
         Royston rolled up his sleeve—on the non-tattooed arm—and pointed to the tiny lump just above the crook of his elbow.
         “Tracking device. They can find me anytime, anywhere,” he grinned and swallowed another mouthful of beer.
         “Jesus,” Talan said, impressed. “Did they do that when they decided you were…y’know, him?”
         “No, mate. I’ve had this since I was nineteen, since they first offered me a post. They take their employees seriously, they do.”
         “They should, considering how much it costs to replace one of you,” a new voice interrupted their murmured conversation and both men froze.
         A blonde, Slavic-featured young woman slid herself into the stool next to Royston. She wore a black suit and her shapely legs were covered in black hose. Even Royston could tell it was expensive. A wiff of her perfume floated past him as she caught the bartender’s attention and ordered an extra-dirty martini.
         “Excuse me, miss,” Royston began.
         “It’s Elsa. Elsa Obrecht.”
         Royston blanched. Talan regarded Elsa with undisguised admiration.
         “I see you’ve heard of me,” her red lips curved in a smile and she took a sip of her martini, eyes focused on Royston.
         “I don’t b’lieve I’ve had the pleasure,” the American shouldered Royston to the side as he eagerly reached across him to shake Elsa’s hand.
         “Talan Davies, yes, I know who you are, too,” Elsa delicately took his hand in the briefest possible handshake.
         Talan looked pleased rather than otherwise and Royston dug his elbow into the beefy man’s side before he knocked Royston off his stool.
         “What’re you doing here?” he asked, scooting away from Elsa.
         “I know the Council has been making one mistake after the other and that you’re the fourth al’Uttarak they’ve declared in fifty years. The Firm is…displeased,” Elsa fished an olive out of her martini and rolled it between two scarlet-tipped fingers.
         “Bloody hell,” Royston said faintly.
         Talan jogged his elbow, demanding an explanation. Royston shoved the man back, waving at him to be silent. Had he thought the man wasn’t so bad after all? Wrong. He was an interfering prat.
         “There’s a certain…asset they are rather desperate to get their hands on. They think he can help unravel some of the tangles the Council has put in our plans. He may even be able to confirm whether or not you are the real al’Uttarak, or just another mis-read prophecy,” she smirked.
         “And this bloke, the Firm wants us to find him?” Royston asked, grasping for any crumb that might save him.
         “Oh, we know where he is,” she examined the olive before popping it into her mouth. “But a previous mission to…persuade him to partner with us did not go as planned.”
         “Who is he? The bloody President of the United States?” Royston ignored Talan’s grunt of disapproval.
         “He’s a vampire–” Elsa began.
         “Oh sod off. You come in here, interrupt me and my mate having a well-deserved pint and then say you want us to convince a bleeding mythological creature to partner with the Firm?” Royston laughed. “This is complete bollocks.”
         “You don’t believe in vampires?” Elsa raised one perfectly groomed brow.
         Royston’s laugh faded.
         “You’re not…you’re bloody serious? This is….oh sod it,” Royston put his head down on the sticky bar.
         “This particular vampire, Fritz, has the unique ability to read emotions, and, we believe, auras,” Elsa continued.
         “What does that mean, exactly?” Talan asked, his voice unsteady. “What’s an aura?”
         “Auras are like halos of light and color around people—not everyone can see them, and very few people can interpret them. We believe Fritz can. And, if he can, he can tell if Mr. Humphreys here is the real al’Uttarak or not.”
         Royston lifted his head and drained the rest of his beer, staring at the back of the bar as though facing a firing squad. He could feel Talan and Elsa’s eyes on him as he wiped his mouth on the back of his hand; Talan’s mouth hung open slightly. Royston closed his eyes for a moment and then turned to Elsa, resignedly.
         “Well, looks like we bloody better find this vampire then. What do we need to do?”
         Elsa tossed back her martini and smiled.

Just Add Vermouth

The fantastic and sometimes frustrating Chuck Wendig gifted us with another random plot generator this week*.

         “I don’t even know why I’m telling you,” Elsa popped the olive from her fourth (or was it fifth?) extra dirty martini into her mouth.
         Her companion at the bar simply leaned in closer, inviting her to continue.
         “It’s really embarrassing…” her voice dropped.
         “Go ahead,” he coaxed; his voice was friendly, no mocking undertone.
         “I’ve always wanted to…you know, go home from a bar with a stranger,” Elsa felt warmth suffuse her cheeks and looked down into her empty glass. “I’ve never had a one night stand and…I don’t even know your name.”
         “You don’t really want that.”
         “What?” Elsa dropped the vixen charade and gaped at her companion.
         “I said, ‘you don’t really want that,'” his voice was still light, pleasant.
         “You’re turning me down?” her cheeks flamed.
         “You’re not lonely, you don’t even really want to sleep with someone,” his eyes locked on hers, his head tilted as he observed her. “You’re…determined, yes. But not to take me home.”
         “I don’t…that’s not…” Elsa shoved her empty glass away and stood.
         His hand grasped her elbow, lightly, but with enough force to stop her.
         “Please,” he gestured back to the chair.
         “Why should I stay? I don’t even know what you’re talking about. How do you know that I’m not lonely?” she stated the words baldly, her embarrassment forgotten in her anger.
         “Because, I can sense it,” he released her arm and she reluctantly slid back into her seat.
         “What are you psychic?” Elsa asked; her words were more unsteady than she would have liked.
         “No,” he laughed. “I can neither read your mind nor listen to your thoughts. I do receive…impressions of emotions. If they are particularly strong.”
         “That sounds like almost the same thing,” Elsa countered.
         “Not quite, I assure you,” he said, toying with his beer. “It is a useful little trick, I admit, but it is far from foolproof. I cannot tell the reason behind the emotions necessarily, especially if the reaction is not my doing.”
         “I…see,” Elsa let her confusion color her tone, unable to hide her interest.
         “For instance, I could tell if you were very angry but not why or towards who or what it is directed. Although I have found the strongest impressions usually are those aimed at me.”
         “Are some feelings easier to sense than others?” she asked, leaning forward again, her earlier embarrassment forgotten.
         “Oh yes. And they all have different…” he struggled for a way to explain the indescribable. “Textures. This is not the right word, but I cannot think of a better one. Sadness, for instance, very great sadness feels sort of smothering. It is like suddenly walking through a very thick, very cold fog. Anger is sharp and burns. It always makes me think of hot glass.”
         “Are the bad emotions easier to sense?” she shuddered in sympathy at the thought of feeling stuck in a fog or burned by hot glass all day.
         “No, they are just more common, I’m afraid. The good emotions, the happy ones, are usually more sudden. And like lightning they leave a sort of impression—like a memory. Surprise always reminds me of bubbles for some reason and happiness is like sunlight. So very cliche, I apologize,” he laughed.
         “No, not at all, it’s fascinating,” she looked at him dazzlingly. “So you can read me like a book, then.”
         He shrugged, “I can tell when you’re lying.”
         The sudden change in his tone sent a chill up her arms, making the skin pebble. Gone was the pleasant warmth, the friendly banter. In the dim lights above the bar his eyes looked black. She moved her arm surreptitiously away from his.
         “You’re…hiding something,” he said, his dark eyes narrowing. “And you’re nervous. You weren’t before when you were coming onto me…but now you are.” His words came slowly, considering. Elsa found herself wishing the glass in front of her was not so empty.
         “It’s not every day someone meets a mind reader,” Elsa’s laugh sounded forced even to her.
         He smiled, his teeth looking incredibly white in the half-dark, “No, but it is easier when you’re looking for one.”
         Elsa looked around nervously, noticing suddenly how empty the bar had become; they were practically alone.
         “Elsa, Elsa, Elsa,” he shook his head. “You come looking for me and are surprised to find me? I’ll admit, you were fairly impressive at compartmentalizing your emotions and letting me see only those you wished me to see. You’ve had training; it’s clear to anyone who knows about these kinds of things.”
         “Training?” Elsa said breathlessly. “I don’t know what–”
         “Oh, you can drop the act, Elsa, dear. You’ve put on so many tonight it’s been like a one-woman show. I see why they picked you.”
         Elsa fumbled blindly for her purse, trying to free the strap from the back of the raised chair. She kept her eyes on the man across from her.
         “It’s Fritz, by the way,” he said conversationally, downing the rest of his beer.
         The distraction gave Elsa just long enough to reach inside her bag. When she poked the syringe into his arm, he didn’t even flinch. For a moment, she thought she missed.
         “Let me guess,” he said, setting down the empty bottle and looking at the needle sticking out of his bicep. “Distilled essence of hawthorn, wild rose, and just a touch of garlic in holy water? Wait…and you’ve added mustard seed, too. Covering all your bases, good girl. Is there ground-up crucifix in there as well?” He smiled at her and yanked the spent syringe from his arm, dropping it lightly on the bar. He leaned in to whisper in her ear.”Tell the Firm it will take more than a pretty face and some superstitions.”
         Just before he pulled away, she felt his teeth graze her neck. She felt more than saw him stand and ghost out of the bar.
         “Bartender,” she said, sliding forward her empty glass, “Keep them coming.”

* My scenario: The story starts when your protagonist admits a fantasy. Another character is a vampire who is sensitive to auras.

The Vampires strike again this week.