ALTERNATE UNIVERSE: The Strays, a Magnificent Seven-Supernatural AU
Follows An Unexpected Gift.
The Strays B&B
Josiah Sanchez tossed his pen into the crack of the open book, then leaned back in his chair and stretched. He felt the muscles in his shoulders slowly begin to relax, allowing the weariness knotted there to settle into his bones. Christ, I'm tired, he thought, the realization prompting a huge yawn.
"It's not that late," a voice commented with no small amount of amusement. "You must be getting old, just like the rest of us."
The leader of a small group of hunters grinned sheepishly and shrugged. "Not just yet, Orin, not just yet. It's these damned signs. They're not adding up to anything good."
"I've heard the same from Bobby, and others," Orin Travis replied as he pushed himself up from the sofa where he'd been sitting, staring into the snapping fire burning on the large hearth. He walked over and stood in front of the large desk that dominated one corner of the library. "It's all tied to John Winchester's boys, somehow."
Josiah nodded. "I agree. We can't afford to let this get out of hand, but I'm not seeing a way to stop it, either. What the hell's going on?"
"I wish I knew," Travis replied. There had been a time, not all that long ago, when he'd been a hunter as well, but now he was just a civilian, the mayor of a small town in the Colorado mountains.
"Hey, it's a living," Josiah said and chuffed out a laugh.
"You have a living – you're a hunter, remember?"
That forced a smile onto Josiah's lips. "Yeah, I know, although I'm more shepherd than hunter these days, just like Bobby."
"Yes, well, it's all for the good that you're training them. I have a feeling we're going to need as many soldiers as we can find in this coming war, and it will be a war, Josiah."
Josiah leaned back in his chair, his expression turning serious. "War is a strong word, Orin."
"I call it as I see it. The signs point to war – a big one."
"I know. Bobby doesn't want to hear it, and neither do a lot of other hunters." Sanchez looked up at the man. "So, why are you really here, Orin?"
The older man tugged an envelope free from the inner pocket of his suit jacket, and handed it to Sanchez. "A man's life is on the line, and his family's."
Josiah opened the envelope and pulled out the papers inside. While he read, Travis returned to the couch and sat, waiting. When Josiah was done, he set the pages aside on his desk and looked over at his long-time friend. "Let me see if I have this story straight… a Congressman decides he needs help winning an election, and now he's in debt to a priestess?"
A nod. "Well, he did win," Travis added. "And he's not a Congressman anymore, he was elected to the Senate last year."
The snort stated clearly that Sanchez didn't think either victory was brought about by magic. "What do you want, Orin?" he asked. "It's late. I want to go to bed."
The older man leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. His expression was grave. "Senator Richard Castillo is an Independent from New York. His constituents are a mix of Puerto Ricans, Haitians, and immigrants from the Dominican Republic. Castillo was born to poor parents, who entered the country illegally. He never did well in school, but he got to college on a baseball scholarship. His grades there were mediocre, at best. After college he held a series of dead-end jobs, then he entered politics, starting with his local school board and working his way up. Somewhere along the way, he also became involved, covertly of course, with a group of Santeria practitioners. It was after that association that he actually began to win meaningful elections."
Josiah leaned back, crossing his arms over his chest. "You know as well as I do that the majority of Santeria has nothing to do with anything supernatural or paranormal."
Travis shrugged. "What we know isn't important. Senator Castillo believes."
"I still don't see why you came to me, to us. There are hunters in New York, several of them."
"Castillo's fight for the Senate was politically bloody, and very expensive. In fact, no one believed he could win against his Democratic and Republican challengers." The older man stood and paced in the library as he continued, "Castillo turned to his old friend, Dominga Alvorado, a Santeria high priestess." Josiah started to object, but Travis held up his hand to forestall any comments. "Castillo won the election by less than 700 votes. As a Senator he's in a position to help us when things do fall apart."
"Hedging your bets?" Sanchez asked, his eyebrows climbing slightly.
Travis nodded. "Yes, I am. Castillo knows what's out there, what we prefer remain out of the public domain, shall we say."
"All right, I understand why you're interested," Josiah admitted. "It's always good to have knowledgeable friends in high places. Where is he?"
"Cat Island, in the Bahamas."
Josiah leaned forward, beginning to look interested. "What aren't you telling me, Orin?"
"Castillo's wife told me that her husband told her that he owed Señora Alvorado for his Senate victory. Alvorado asked the Senator for their oldest son, Edward."
Josiah's eyes widened. "Castillo's son?"
"That sounds like the Señora might have a demon working with her."
Travis nodded again. "Naturally, the Senator refused. Three days later Edward was killed, shot to death while he was sitting in his car at a red light. He was twenty years old, no history of gang involvement, no drug use. The police said he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Señora Alvorado attended the young man's funeral. She expressed her sympathy to the Senator and his wife, then asked Castillo for his oldest daughter, Ana Marie, in payment for his victory."
Josiah cocked his head. "Let me guess, he said no again, and she died, too."
"You're catching on," Travis said, sitting down again and leaning back.
"She died in her sleep. The coroner's report said it was an aneurysm. She was sixteen years old, and in perfect health."
"I take it Castillo didn't buy the ME's report."
Travis shook his head. "Not according to his wife. He was convinced Alvorado was behind his children's deaths, but he couldn't go to the authorities. His wife wanted him to go to the police, begged him to, but he refused."
Josiah nodded. "Of course. How would it look when the press got a hold of the story…"
"Exactly. The Senator decided to handle things himself; he hired someone to scare Alvorado off."
Josiah leaned forward. "And?"
"The men turned up in an alley, mutilated beyond recognition," Travis replied.
"Oh boy," Josiah sighed.
"Three days ago the Castillos' youngest child, Rosella, disappeared. According to Mrs. Castillo, the Señora called the Senator. She told him to come to Cat Island, personally, or his remaining child would also die. He told his wife he was going to go get their daughter, and left for the island. Mrs. Castillo waited twenty-four hours, and when she still hadn't heard from her husband, she went to a friend of the family—"
"And now you're here," Josiah concluded.
"I haven't been able to locate the Senator, or his daughter, but Dominga Alvorado flew to Nassau the day before yesterday. She had a traveling companion, too. A young girl. The girl's passport said she was Maria Alvorado, the Señora's granddaughter."
"I take it she wasn't the granddaughter?" Josiah asked.
"How old is the girl?"
"Rosella's tenth birthday is next week."
"Are they're still on Cat Island?"
Travis nodded. "A local resource has tracked Alvorado to three locations she seems to be using."
"Local resource?" Josiah questioned.
"Yes, an asset – not a hunter any more, but someone who continues to pass along valuable information. She confirmed Señora Alvorado is using these three locations." Travis fished into another pocket and handed Josiah a map. "If the Señora is there, so is the Senator, and his daughter. Alive, we hope. I'm hoping you and your strays will go get them out."
Josiah sighed, then nodded. "I'll tell them tomorrow morning. We should be ready to leave by late afternoon."
"I'll have everything you need by then," Travis said, standing. "Thank you, Josiah."
Sanchez nodded. "Are we going to need a cover story?"
"I've been thinking about that…"
"I figured as much."
"Bobby gave me a little help," Orin admitted with a slight grin.
"Lord help us," Sanchez replied with a chuckle.
The Next day
The Stray's B&B
Josiah studied the faces of his team. He could tell they were already thinking ahead, looking for ways to extricate Alvorado, ways to get on and off the island, ways to blend in with the local population, what weapons they might need to defeat a demon. A ghost of a smile folded the corners of his mouth. He was a very lucky man.
Chris was the first to ask the most obvious, pressing question, "How do we get there without drawing attention to ourselves? I doubt they're going to think we're all there on an office vacation."
Sanchez nodded. "We'll go in with separate cover stories, different modes of transportation."
"That's going to take some time to arrange," JD challenged, looking worried. Josiah had already said they needed to leave A-S-A-P.
"Time we don't have if we're leaving today," Buck added.
Josiah nodded. "I know, but it'll be easier than you think. Travis and Bobby already has some people working on it for us. Everything will be ready when we are. Nathan and I will travel together," he explained, his gaze darting in Jackson's direction. When his eyebrows arched in curiosity, Sanchez added, "A busman's holiday for us."
"Hell, we never get a real vacation, Josiah, you know that," Nathan said and sighed, shaking his head sadly.
The others grinned. None of them had had a real vacation since they'd become hunters.
"What about the rest of us?" JD asked, grinning.
"Bobby's in-country asset says that the locals have some kind of home-grown musical movement going on. JD, you're a drummer—"
"In his dreams," Buck muttered under his breath.
JD shot the man a scathing glare.
Josiah pressed on. "You and Buck will travel as music industry types looking to score some money off the locals."
Buck grinned, puffing out his chest and looking pleased with himself. "I think I can pull that off."
Josiah turned to Ezra. "How's your British accent?"
"Aristocracy," the man replied in a perfectly cultured tone, which shifted as he finished, "or new rich?"
"Let's go new rich," Josiah told him. "A trip to escape the poor weather in England."
"Mmm," Ezra replied, nodding.
Josiah looked at Chris and Vin. "You two will play American tourists. Take scuba and deep sea fishing gear. That'll be real enough if anyone checks you out."
The two men nodded.
"When do we go?" Chris asked.
"This afternoon," Sanchez said. "Go get what you need and we'll meet back here at three, lay out the equipment then. Travis and Bobby should have our traveling papers by then, too."
"And if this priestess is the real deal?" Vin asked.
"Then we'll have to find the source of her power, or the demon she's trapped to do her work, and destroy it," Josiah said. "My money's on a demon."
"Now that sounds like fun," Buck said.
JD looked concerned. "You mean Voodoo is real?"
"Voudoun," Josiah corrected. "Yes, like any of the ritual arts, there's a reality to it, although it's usually more psychological than paranormal. But its dark practitioners' powers are often based on power-objects or, more commonly, harnessed demonic power."
"Don't worry, kid," Buck told him, "we'll make sure nobody steals any of your toenail clippings."
JD looked queasy. "God, Buck, that's just… gross."
That response had the others laughing.
The same day
Travis handed plane tickets out to each of the hunters. "These will take you to Miami – three different flights, two different airlines. You'll head to the island tomorrow. Rooms have already been reserved for you at different hotels in Miami for tonight. The reservation information is with your tickets. There are no landing strips on Cat Island. Josiah, you and Nathan will be taking a charter flight from Miami to Nassau tomorrow morning. The resort you'll be staying at has its own boat that ferries guests from there to the island."
He turned to Chris and Vin. "Gentlemen, you'll take a charter flight from Miami to Palm Beach, then over to Freeport, Grand Bahama. There'll be a rental boat waiting there for you. It's a Company asset, so there'll be some extras that might come in handy."
"Appreciate that," Chris said, a predatory smile on his lips.
"Company?" JD echoed. "Like CIA company?"
Travis smiled. "The very same."
"Son, hunters come in all shapes, sizes, and professions," Josiah told the youngest member of the group.
"But CIA?" JD squeaked.
Travis ignored him and turned back to Chris and Vin. "You'll head straight for Cat Island from there. Bobby and I should have a slip reservation arranged for you by then," he concluded.
The two men nodded.
Travis finally turned to the last three men. "There will be a helicopter waiting for Buck and JD in Miami tomorrow morning. You two will fly straight to the island."
The ladies' man smiled. "Sweet. Very, sweet."
Chris and Vin rolled their eyes.
"And me?" Ezra asked.
"A private charter plane that makes a regular run to the island," Travis explained, handing him his paperwork.
With that done, Travis handed Josiah a business card. "Once you're on the Island, give this woman a call. She has a cellphone. Don't use the land lines, they're completely unsecured. She can fill you in on the local situation."
"Dr. Alexandria Blackmoon?"
"You know her?" Chris asked, catching the expression.
"In a manner of speaking, yes. She's a well-known anthropologist who's helped out hunters for many, many years."
"At one time she was married to a hunter," Travis added.
JD's brow furrowed with concern. "Just how old is this woman?"
Josiah smiled again. "I'll call her when we get there."
"If she knows where exactly the Señora is holed up, it'll save you a lot of time. And time is definitely our enemy," Travis told them.
The Following Day
Cat Island, Bahamas
Several of the locals stopped what they were doing to watch as the sleek, black helicopter set down at the edge of Old Bight, the largest town on Cat Island. They shielded their eyes from the bright sunlight with their hands. A moment later they watched the pilot jump down, then run around to the side of the chopper and open the door. Whoever was inside must be very important indeed. A celebrity maybe, an actor or actress, they whispered amongst themselves.
One of the men who stepped out caused the small crowd to break into laughter. He was tall, handsome, even, but he was wearing baggy, bright blue shorts that fell to his knees and a yellow Hawaiian shirt that was almost as bright as the sun. Dark glasses protected his eyes, and he wore expensive all-terrain sport-sandals. He strode purposefully away from the chopper, leaving the pilot to gather and follow with his luggage.
A younger man exited the helicopter as well, and at first a few of them thought he was the white rapper Eminem, but he wasn't. He was just dressed in that style.
Just another couple of rich Americans, the people watching agreed. But no one they recognized. They would be staying at the new resort. "In the biggest suites," one of the men spat, shaking his head.
"Maybe the tall one will want some company," one of the women commented.
"Whore," the man replied.
She cursed him in Spanish, then turned and continued with her errands.
The Pink Sands Resort
Buck sat in the resort's well-appointed lounge, sipping on a club soda and watching the other guests come and go. He saw the horse-drawn surrey pull up outside, Josiah and Nathan climbing out. Josiah was dressed in a bright floral-print shirt while Nathan was dressed in cream-colored Dockers and a brick red polo shirt. They were deep in conversation.
Nathan tilted his head back and laughed. Josiah returned the grin, then fished into his pocket for a tip for the driver.
A bellboy appeared with a luggage cart, loading their suitcases as the two men headed into the lobby. While Josiah spoke to the young black woman behind the counter, Nathan glanced around, a smile on his face. He spotted Buck, his gaze resting on him just long enough to acknowledge him. The ladies' man lifted his glass in a small toast. Now all they needed were Chris and Vin, since Ezra had made his grand entrance almost an hour before Josiah and Nathan had arrived.
After making sure that their gear was well stowed, Chris and Vin tied off their expensive cabin cruiser, grabbed their duffel bags, then walked up the quay to the dock master's office. After paying the inflated slip fees they asked about a nice hotel and were immediately referred to the Pink Sands Resort. They thanked the man, then headed out to hire a taxi.
At the resort they checked in, Vin grinning at the pretty, young, black woman standing behind the counter. She smiled and dipped her head, her dark skin not quite hiding the blush that colored her cheeks.
As she handed Vin two electronic keys she added, "One of our guests is hosting an open bar this evening from six to seven. I hope you'll be able to come down and enjoy his generosity."
"We should be able t' manage that," Vin told her. "When do y' get off?"
"Not until ten," she replied, the blush returning.
"I hope I'll see y' then," he told her.
"You will," she promised.
When they reached the elevators, Chris grinned. "Smooth, very smooth."
Vin smiled and shrugged. "Guess spendin' time around Buck is wearin' off on me."
"It's something, that's for damn certain sure," Chris agreed as the door slid shut.
In the privacy of the elevator Vin asked, "Y' think the lady has her fingers in this pie?"
"I would, if I was her," Chris replied. "I just wish we knew if we were dealing with an object or… something else."
Vin nodded his agreement. Demons were always dangerous, especially one that had been bound into service to a human being.
The Pink Sands Resort
Most of the resort's guests wandered through the lounge and atrium, sipping on their free drinks and enjoying the various treats being carried around on trays by the kitchen staff. Josiah and Nathan stood near the open wall that looked out on the pink sand beach, watching the sun as it dipped lower in the sky. It was going to be a beautiful sunset. Each man sipped on the same glass of champagne he'd picked up earlier.
Josiah's gaze wandered over the guests. When he spotted Chris and Vin he set his glass down on a small table dominated by a large flowering plant and strode across the room. It was show time. "Christopher?" he called loudly.
Chris looked up, then broke into a hearty smile. He slapped Vin on the shoulder with the back of his hand. "Hey, that's Levi Cabrillo," he said, nodding at the approaching man.
The people standing nearby looked from Chris to Josiah, wondering if they should recognize either man. The resort was a known getaway for celebrities and business moguls, but these two men were unfamiliar.
Josiah reached Chris and the two men shook hands like they hadn't seen each other for years.
"Levi," Chris greeted, "it's good to see you."
"How long has it been?" Josiah asked, glancing at Vin.
"Too long," was the blond's reply. "Levi, this is my new business associate, Vincent Tucker."
"Vincent," Josiah replied, proffering his hand.
The sniper shook it. "Mr. Cabrillo."
"Please, call me Levi. Look, I'd like you to meet my business partner," Sanchez continued smoothly. He turned and gestured for Nathan to join them. Jackson smiled and crossed the room.
"Hello," he said as he reached the men.
"Nathaniel," Josiah said, "this is Christopher Chance, the man I told you about. And this is his business partner, Vincent Tucker. Gentlemen, Nathaniel Worthy."
"Mr. Tucker," Nathan said, shaking Vin's hand.
"A pleasure," Vin replied, a smile twinkling in his blue eyes.
Nathan turned to Chris. "Mr. Chance."
"Most definitely a pleasure," he said, shaking Nathan's hand.
"Have you two gotten a drink?" Josiah asked.
"Not yet," Vin said.
"Here, let me show you where the bar is; it's right over here," Josiah offered, leading them over.
As they neared the bar an older woman stepped up and ordered a glass of sangria. The bartender poured her drink and handed it to her. She turned just as the foursome reached her.
"Dr. Blackmoon?" Nathan asked, his eyes rounding in surprise.
"Nathaniel!" the older woman replied. She set her drink back on the bar, then opened her arms. Nathan stepped up and the woman folded him into a warm hug. "It's so nice to see you again! You look wonderful!"
Nathan stepped back, smiling. "Thank you. Oh, Doctor, this is my business partner, Levi Cabrillo."
Dr. Blackmoon looked at Josiah, her gaze appraising. "Well, it's nice to see some more grey hair around here," she concluded.
Nathan chuckled. "Levi, Dr. Blackmoon is the—"
"Anthropology professor you told me about. I remember," Josiah finished for him, taking her hand an placing a light kiss on the back.
"Are you here doing research?" Nathan asked while Vin and Chris ordered their drinks.
"Actually, I'm semi-retired these days, but I can't give it up completely, so, yes, I'm still doing some research here on Cat Island."
"Excuse me," interrupted a British accent.
The group turned. Ezra stood there, wearing a dapper white suit. "Please, forgive me, but I overheard; you wouldn't happen to be the Dr. Blackmoon, would you?"
"Yes, that's me," the older woman said.
"Howdy, friends," came a booming voice and, a moment later, Buck joined them, dressed in a pair of white pants and another Hawaiian shirt, this one black with bright pink flowers. He grinned at the others. "Jimmy Safford, with World Beat Records," he said, extending his hand. "If you're Alexandria Blackmoon, then you're just the lovely lady I was hoping to talk to about the local music scene."
Dr. Blackmoon smiled. "Well, I'd be happy to talk to you, but I just ran into one of my old students—"
"Oh, that's okay," Nathan said, smiling at Dr. Blackmoon. "I'm sure we can get together later. Levi and I will be here for almost a week, and he just met an old business partner—"
"Well, since this is my party, in a manner of speaking—" Buck began.
"You opened the bar?" Chris asked, interrupting.
Buck shrugged. "It was the least I could do, considering I'm hoping to make a great deal of money by bringing the local music to the peoples of the world. Look, why don't you all come up to my suite for supper? You can catch up and I can ask the good professor about what I hear is a most unique musical movement going on here." He glanced around. "Biff!"
JD hurried up, the look in his eye saying plainly that he'd rather shoot Safford than listen to him. "Mr. Safford," he managed between gritted teeth.
"Son, we're gonna have us a party up in the suite, why don't ya order some supper for all of us, and some bottles of Champaign."
"Sure thing, boss," JD grunted and stalked away.
Buck shook his head. "Good help is so hard to find these days…"
"Levi?" Nathan asked.
Josiah glanced over at Chris and Vin. "What do you say?" he asked. "I'd love to hear what the old man's got you doing these days."
Vin and Chris exchanged looks, then the blond man nodded. "Sure, why not."
The guests and resort employees who had seen or heard the exchange drifted back to their own pursuits, nothing of interest taking place.
Pink Sands Resort
In Buck and JD's suite the team and Dr. Blackmoon settled on the chairs and couches arranged at the center of the living room.
"Alexa, it is good to see you. I'm guessing Travis has already talked to you?" Josiah asked.
She nodded. "Orin explained the situation, yes." Dr. Blackmoon was a handsome woman despite her sixty-plus years. Her skin was dark brown and still smooth except for laugh lines carved deeply into the corners of her black eyes. Her thick hair was black, but streaked liberally with silver. Her mixed Native American heritage was obvious in the shape of her face.
"Can you tell us a little about the Island?" Nathan asked.
Dr. Blackmoon nodded. "The Islanders maintain that Columbus Point, which is actually an old Indian cave, is where Christopher Columbus first made landfall in the New World. That's a point debated among historians, but what we do know for certain is that the Spanish were the first to colonize this Island."
"Why is it called 'Cat' Island?" JD asked.
"The Spanish landed here first," the anthropologist explained, "but it was named for Arthur Catt—"
"Ah, a British sea captain," Ezra interrupted, smiling proudly.
"Or pirate, depending on your point of view," Blackmoon countered with a warm smile. "Some say the Island was named for Catt himself, others say it was called Cat Island because of all the wild cats the English found here in the 1600s – descendants of domestic cats the Spanish had left behind."
"Do you know where Señora Alvorado is hiding?" Chris asked, cutting to the heart of their hunt.
"Oh, the Señora isn't in hiding," Dr. Blackmoon replied. "She and her followers have been seen all over the Island the past two days." The anthropologist reached into her large, colorful tote bag and pulled out a map of the Island, which she unfolded on the coffee table so the others could see. "As you can see, Cat is a boot-shaped island, one of the most beautiful in the Bahamas chain."
"It's a lot 'a territory t' cover," Vin added.
"Sixty miles of beaches," Dr. Blackmoon offered. "But some of the island is densely forested foothills. No one lives there. And I doubt the Señora will flee into the wilds."
"Where would you suggest we look?" Josiah asked.
"The Señora has been seen visiting three separate locations, but we can rule out one of the three. It's a house that belongs to a local official. She visited to pay him off so he would leave her alone to perform her rituals."
"That still leaves two locations to check out," Chris said, his expression growing troubled. They needed to have the Senator and his daughter by no later than three o'clock the day after tomorrow if they wanted to keep their cover stories in place.
"I'm afraid so. But, if it's any help, the island is dotted with old cotton plantations that were established in the 1700s. My guess would be she's holed up on one of those. But there are also old slave villages, and caves that the Arawak Indians used to use that honeycomb the island. The Arawak are the indigenous people of these islands. She could be staying at any of the ruins, but I would think that the old plantations would be your best bet. Dominga has always appreciated the comforts of life."
Josiah nodded. "The satellite photos showed her near two of the old plantation sites. The third at a house on the outskirts of one of the villages; I take it that was the official's home?"
The anthropologist nodded.
Josiah considered. "Are there any maps of these plantation sites?"
Dr. Blackmoon shook her head. "No, I'm afraid not, but I'd check the site closest to Old Bight first. That's the largest town on the island, so it would put her closer to anything she might need from town."
"Okay, tomorrow morning we'll split up and start looking," Josiah decided and the others nodded their agreement. He turned back to Dr. Blackmoon. "What can you tell us about Señora Alvorado? What are we going to be up against?"
The anthropologist leaned back and sighed softly. "Dominga Alvorado is a high priestess of a Voudoun cult that includes members in Florida, Haiti, as well as here in the Bahamas."
"What's her specific connection to Cat Island?" Ezra asked. "Why is she here?"
"Her grandfather was an islander," Blackmoon explained. "She regularly travels from the U.S. to the island. Local and Haitian authorities have believed for many years that she's part of a narcotics cartel, but they've never really tried to prove it – they're all afraid of her powers, and with good reason. Those who get in her way have a tendency to die. As far as I know, Dominga has never been questioned by police in any of the countries she regularly travels to, except the U.S. As for why she's here now, if what Orin told me is true, she might be here because she feels safest here."
"The folks here think her mojo's strong?" Vin asked.
Blackmoon studied the young man for a moment, then nodded. "Yes. She's seen as a most powerful woman. No one will willingly betray her by helping you. They're too afraid of her power to do that."
Chris shot the sniper a glance. "She's not what we need to be worried about."
Vin shrugged. "Best t' keep an open mind."
"A healthy attitude in the islands," Blackmoon commented sagely.
They spent the next two hours discussing the island and Dominga Alvorado. By the time they headed back to their individual rooms – Vin heading off to see if the young woman was finally off duty – they had their assignments for the following day worked out. Josiah and Nathan would visit the usual tourist spots, including the area around the plantation houses near Old Bight. Chris and Vin would take their boat and explore along the coastline, checking the second plantation area. And Buck, JD, and Dr. Blackmoon would head out to some of the smaller villages to listen to the islanders play their unique brand of music and to ask about the Señora, and any possible rituals she might be planning.
A middle-aged man stepped into a small room, his fingers crushing the floppy felt hat in his hands over and over as he waited to be acknowledged. His gaze darted over the whitewashed walls, noting each of the symbols painted on them. The room hummed with power and darkness, and he broke out in a cold sweat. He didn't want to be there, but she had called for him, so he had come.
Now and again he found himself staring at the woman who had summoned him, and each time he forced his gaze away, afraid she might notice and take offense.
She was still beautiful, even though he knew she must be close to sixty years old. She looked no more than forty, her long, black hair untouched by gray and her brown skin completely smooth and unblemished. Dressed as she was now, in a loose, white cotton dress that revealed her shoulders and the first blush of her ample breasts, she was enchanting and seductive. A bright, blood red sash cinched the dress in at her narrow waist and the full skirt of the outfit flared out in a circle where she sat, like petals from some island flower. And she was as lovely as an exotic flower, with her high cheekbones, large, almond-shaped eyes and delicate nose.
Her eyes were closed, but the man knew they were a strange amber-gray color that seemed to penetrate into a man's soul. Her lips were full and red. She looked harmless, until you met those eyes. In their depths lay something dangerous, and he was afraid.
Gold earrings and bracelets tinkled as she stirred at last. "Manelo," she said, her voice a rich contralto with the soft velvet brush of an island accent.
He dipped his head and shuffled forward, squeezing his felt hat even tighter.
She stroked her own cheek with long, red-painted fingernails. Her hands were thin-boned, her fingers reminding the man of a spider's legs. And she had ensnared him just like one. His will was hers to command.
She held out her hand then and he stepped forward to accept the offering, brushing his lips against her knuckles. He did not like to touch her, even though her skin was warm and dry. He could feel her, draining his life away when he touched her.
"I have seen them," she said in her soft, deep voice. "They come for Castillo and his daughter."
"Yes," he said, dipping his head. "It was just as you said, Señora, seven men. They are staying at the Pink Sands Resort." He risked a glance up, adding, "But, Señora, they do not seem to know one another, not well. A few, perhaps, but—"
"Oh, they know each other," Dominga replied, her voice hardening. "They are a dangerous force. And Blackmoon?"
He bowed his head. "She met with them, just as you said she would."
"Were they exactly as I described?"
She tossed back her head and laughed, the sound sending a chill down the man's back. Her dreams were just as powerful as they always had been.
"Perhaps you should let the man and his child go," Manelo suggested, but he dared not look at her as he did.
"No." She stood, the white skirt of her dress swirling around her long brown legs. "Castillo accepted my help, he used my power and then refused to pay me what I was due. I will exact my price from him."
"But, Señora, he is a powerful man, with powerful friends. What—?"
"They are not as powerful as I," Alvorado proclaimed arrogantly. She walked around the room, looking at the many drawings on the walls and floor. She finally stopped in front of an alter decorated with a crucifix, candles, flowers, a wooden statue of an old African god, and several fetishes made from decorated animal and human bones. Reaching out, she caressed one made up of a child's finger bones. "I will make one of them my goat. These hunters will not stop me. Castillo and his daughter will be mine. I will have my eyes and ears in the American government, and I will have my protégé – sweet little child."
Manelo swallowed convulsively as her power slowly wrapped around his neck, making it almost impossible to breathe. He dropped his hat, his fingers clawing at the unseen fingers that were strangling the very life from him.
Fetish in hand, Dominga turned when Manelo finally dropped to his knees, his lips having turned blue from the lack of oxygen. She chanted softly, her eyes bright with excitement. A moment later he fell onto his side, his tongue bulging out over his lips as he slowly strangled to death. When she finally saw his life escape through his eyes, her fingers closed tightly around the fetish.
Taking a small knife from the alter, she used it to open his throat. Blood poured onto her hand and the fetish she still held there. When the bones were red she stood.
Going to the door in the room, she opened it. A young man sauntered in, a cruel smile on his face. He looked at the man lying on the floor and frowned. "Seriously?" he asked.
"Now," she commanded.
He sighed dramatically, then titled his head back. A rush of blackness flowed out of his mouth and the young man collapsed to the floor. The murmuration of inky blackness twisted in the air, then dipped and flowed into the dead man's body. The corpse jerked.
Turning back to the alter, Dominga stripped the fetish of its sodden feathers and beads, then dribbled the bones and blood into a small bowl. Working slowly and calmly as she chanted under her breath, she ground the bones into a paste, then added a series of other powders to the mortar bowl, grinding them together. When she was done she poured half of the contents into a small red-leather bag. Next she carried the bowl over to Manelo's body. Whispering a spell, she waited a moment, then knelt next to the dead man. A moment later his unseeing eyes began to cry dried blood. She collected some of the almost black dust, adding it to the remainder of her potion, then grinding it in as well.
"Return to your host," she commanded and the demon fled the dead man's body and returned to the young man's. He stood.
"You may return to your room," she told the demon.
The young man glowered at her back, but he had no recourse. He turned and left the woman, returning to his prison.
When Dominga was done, she poured the dust she had made into small leather bags, then walked out of the room without a backward glance for her victim.
A tall, athletic-looking black man waited for her in the hall. He was young, in his late twenties, and she paused long enough to stroke her fingernails over his bare chest. He trembled under her touch. She handed him the two bags of powder.
"Tomorrow, find the strangers," she commanded. "Use the powder in the red bag on one of the men who come tomorrow. And use the powder in the black bag on his companion. They will come here together. But take care, they are powerful in their own ways. If you fail me, I will punish you."
The man accepted the bags with a slight nod, but there was nervous sweat already beading across his upper lip.
The Following Day
Vin watched the water for any possible obstacles while Chris maneuvered the cabin cruiser into a small natural cove along the Cat Island coastline. As soon as the blond dropped the anchor, Vin turned to their gear and began pulling on his fins, mask, and snorkel. Chris quickly joined him and did the same.
They both sat on the edge of the boat, then fell back into the warm water. They swam around the cove for close to twenty minutes, making sure they would appear to be tourists out for a morning snorkel if anyone might be watching. Under the clear water, Chris tapped his watch and signaled toward the beach.
The pair swam into the low surf, then stood and walked up to the beach. They both flopped down on the pink-tinted sand, the water on their bodies already beginning to dry in the warm morning sun. They talked softly about the weather, the Island, and where they wanted to go next.
About fifteen minutes later, Chris stood, smiling down at his companion. "I'll go take a look around, see if there's anything worth exploring," he said. "You work on your tan."
"Think I can handle that," Vin replied with a grin. He lay back on the sand, enjoying the feel of the sun on his chest and legs. When he started to get hot, he rolled over, letting the warmth form the morning sun relax his back and shoulders. The skin over his shoulder-blades was tattooed in a language very few would recognize. Although he couldn't see it, the ink faded away, leaving Tanner's back unblemished.
Vin listened to the sound of the wind in the foliage, the water lapping at the pink sand, and the constant cries of various birds in the trees. But there was nothing that might tell him Chris was on his way back. Lifting his head, he checked his watch – twenty-three minutes. He frowned. Larabee was three minutes overdue.
Vin pushed himself off the beach and stood.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Chris found the large, square plantation home in six minutes. He waited for six more minutes to confirm his initial suspicion that several well-armed men were guarding the building. He counted seven in all; four of them walking a specific path, watching for any trouble, the others positioned at each of the three patios. Then a little girl stepped out onto one patio, a doll clutched in her arms. A man stepped out after her and quickly escorted her back inside.
The hunter recognized the man – Richard Castillo. The girl must be his daughter. Larabee was just starting to turn back to join Vin when another motion at the side patio stopped him. A black man stepped out and glanced around. He looked nervous, or anxious.
Chris watched the man take a deep breath, then force himself off the patio, disappearing into the trees.
The hunter followed him.
After another five minutes, blond knew the man was headed for the same beach where Vin was waiting. He checked his watch – eighteen minutes. He was due back in two, but there was no way to circle around the stranger now; they were too close to the beach. Besides, he had no idea what the man's intentions were. Better to continue to tail him, just in case.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Vin had just stood up when the black man emerged from the thick foliage. The hunter's trained gaze swept over the stranger. He didn't appear to be armed.
"Hello," the stranger called with an unconvincing smile.
"Hi," Vin replied.
"Beautiful mornin'," the man added, his accent the lilting singsong of a native islander. "Would you like to see some of the local sites, maybe?"
Vin smiled, but his nerves hummed in anticipation. Where was Chris? Was this man responsible for his friend being overdue? "Naw," he replied, shaking his head. "Just waitin' for a friend. We're gonna do some scuba divin' later."
"There are many interesting places around here," the man pressed, walking closer. "Plantations, old slave quarters, even Indian caves. I'd be happy to show you; cheaper than the official guides. I know the best spots, and I can tell you many stories."
Vin automatically stepped into a ready position as soon as the man was within striking distance. The stranger didn't seem to notice, and the hunter hadn't expected him to. Movement in the trees caught his attention and Vin turned his head just far enough to check it in his peripheral vision.
A wave of relief swept over the Texan at the same moment as the stranger lifted his hand as if to shake Vin's. "What do you say?" the man asked. "I even know where you can find willing women… drugs, if you like."
Before Vin could reply, the man raised his hands and flipped it over. In his palm was a small mound of red powder. The man blew the dust into the hunter's face.
Vin sucked in a breath before he could stop himself. He choked and staggered back a step as the powder seared into his lungs. He blinked rapidly as the man, then the foliage, began to undulate like he was looking at them in a bad fun house mirror. The roar of the tide filled his ears, pounding his consciousness painfully before everything went black.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Larabee reached the edge of the trees just as the man walked up to Vin. He could see Tanner was ready for an attack, but the man didn't appear to be threatening, just annoying, trying to secure a job as tour guide. The hunter moved though the shadows, catching his friend's attention.
He watched as the man extended his hand as if to shake hands with Vin, but before Tanner could do so, the man blew something into his face.
"Damn it," Chris hissed, already bolting from cover.
Vin's eyes went wide and his breath caught in his throat with an audible choking gasp.
Chris reached the sand just as Vin stumbled back and fell to his knees. Afraid the man might attack Vin, Larabee caught him with a stunning blow to the back of his neck. The stranger went down onto his knees, but he immediately came back up, fighting. The ferocity of the man's attack took the hunter by surprise. It was like he was possessed, or high on something, and Chris quickly found himself in a defensive position, just trying to keep the man from overpowering him.
Then the stranger suddenly broke off the attack and bolted into the cover of the trees. Larabee took three running steps after him, then swung back to check on Vin, who was slowly climbing back onto his feet. He sprinted back to join the younger man, helping him to stand. "You okay?" he asked, grabbing Tanner's arm.
The Texan nodded, letting Chris support most of his weight until the world stopped spinning. "What the hell just happened?"
"That guy blew something in your face," Larabee explained, quickly checking his teammate over as best he could while he literally held him on his feet. He found a pale red powder clinging to the man's skin and rubbed some off with his fingertips. He smelled it, but could detect no odor. "You went down like he'd cold-cocked you," he said. "You still have some of the stuff on your face. You better wash the stuff off; it might be cocaine or something."
Vin shook his head and blinked rapidly. "It feels like he popped me," he admitted. "Everything's spinnin' 'round."
"Yeah," he admitted, rubbing at the back of his neck as he stood up straighter.
Chris frowned, still keeping his hand on Vin's arm until he was sure the man was steady on his feet. "I think we better get you back to the resort. Nathan can look you over."
"I'll be all right," Vin argued as he walked to the surf and used the seawater to wash the powder off his face. "I'm feelin' better already."
"All right, but if your head still hurts when we get back, I want Nathan to check you out, okay? Who knows what that stuff was."
Vin flashed the man a smile. "Aye-aye, Captain," he teased. "Whatever y' say, sir."
"Come on," Larabee growled, but he was grinning. "I found Castillo."
"Oh? Guess we won the jackpot."
"Yeah, saw him and his daughter; at least they're still alive. The Señora's got at least seven hired guards patrolling the grounds, though."
"Seven?" Vin repeated, his smile getting wider. "Hell, that's a cake-walk."
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
He black man who had attacked Vin stepped out to join Dominga in her private garden. His hands were shaking so badly he forced them into his pockets so she couldn't see them.
She was dressed all in white, as she always was, her back to him when she hissed, "You failed."
"I'm sorry," he begged. "I could only find one man. His companion moved like a leopard, hiding in the shadows. He attacked me."
"I told you to use the powders on both men, did I not?"
"Yes, mistress, but—"
"You have failed me," she repeated, then turned, her amber-gray eyes almost glowing with anger. She held a large white flower in her hand.
The young islander stared at the blossom, his gaze locked on the dew-damp pedals. Still, he managed one step away from the priestess before his muscles locked up and he was frozen in place. Dominga circled around him like a cat toying with a wounded mouse. She reached out, raking her long red nails down one of the man's cheeks. His eyes rolled up in his head and he fell to the ground. She dropped the flower onto his chest, the pedals immediately curling up as if some invisible flame was burning them. The young man writhed in soundless agony, then lay still.
"José!" she called.
An older black man hurried into the garden. He stumbled to a stop, looking down at the body of his nephew.
"Feed him to the pigs," she snapped.
The old man nodded, tears pooling in his eyes as he stooped to take hold of the dead man.
"There they are," Chris said quietly, spotting Josiah and Nathan in the crowd at the Spanish Plaza. When Tanner didn't reply Larabee glanced at the man, worried. "Hey, you okay?" he asked. The younger man's face had gone a sickly gray color and his eyes were glazed like he was running a high fever, but there was no sweat on his skin.
Vin shook his head, sucking in a shallow breath.
"What?" Larabee asked, then reached out and grabbed the man's arm when Tanner swayed dangerously. Several people moving around them, giving the pair a wide berth.
"My head feels like it's gonna explode," the hunter replied, his voice slurred as if his tongue was swollen, or he was drunk.
"You want to sit down?" Chris asked, glancing around and looking for someplace in the shade.
"Chest hurts," Vin moaned. "M' bones, too."
He saw Vin's eyes roll up a moment before he pitched forward. Chris felt the man's knees buckle and grabbed for him. "Vin?" he questioned, worry making his voice tight. He held the man's entire weight for a moment, then lowered him to the ground. Looking up at the people who were passing by, trying to ignore them, he called, "Hey, I need some help here!"
The tourists and islanders looked away, some of them making the sign of the cross as they hurried by.
Chris looked back at his friend. Vin's lips had turned an odd shade of blue and the blond reached out to check his friend's pulse with trembling fingers. He didn't find one. "Vin?" he snapped, shaking the man's shoulder roughly. "Come on… Vin. Damn you, don't you do this to me."
He checked for a pulse again and still found nothing. He leaned over, pressing his ear to the man's chest. "Come on, Vin… please."
Chris recognized the voice and looked up, meeting Josiah's concerned gaze. "He's dead," was all he could manage.
Josiah watched the crowd while Nathan bought a hand-woven shawl from an old woman selling her wares under a bright blue umbrella in the town's central plaza. Raine would appreciate the gift. The Spanish marketplace was a tourist must-see, and they'd moved through it as quickly as they could. Their earlier trip to the old plantation home had turned up nothing.
He and Nathan had been making a point of stopping at each of the vendors who offered anything that even might be related to local religious practices, but thus far none of them had mentioned Señora Alvorado, even when asked about Santeria.
"What do you think?" Nathan asked, holding up the delicate lace shawl. "Think Raine will like it?"
"She'll love it," he said, only glancing at the foam green garment for a moment before he continued to scan the crowd, looking for Chris and Vin. Buck, JD, and Dr. Blackmoon had arrived at the plaza about a half-hour earlier, the ladies' man wearing yet another Hawaiian shirt, sunglasses, and a fedora-style straw hat. They hadn't found anything, either. He glanced down at his watch. Where the hell were they? He was about to suggest that they return to the resort when he finally spotted the two men nearing the edge of the plaza. No hats. They had found Castillo.
He reached out and tapped Nathan on the shoulder. "I'm getting hungry, why don't we go grab a bite to eat?"
Jackson looked up from the shawl, his gaze sweeping over the plaza. He smiled when he spotted the pair. "Sounds good, I'm hungry, too."
They started through the crowd toward the two men. Then Vin went down like someone had clubbed him.
"What the hell?" Nathan said, starting to bolt forward. A strong grip on his arm stopped him.
"Easy," Josiah cautioned, "not too obvious."
Nathan met the man's eyes and nodded. Josiah was worried, too, but he was right. Together they casually made their way to the far side of the plaza. He fought the desire to walk on tiptoe so he could see what was happening over the heads of the crowd.
A few moments later they stepped out of the throng. Chris was kneeling on the ground, leaning forward, his ear pressed against Vin's chest.
"Christopher?" Josiah called as soon as he felt he could.
Larabee looked up, his expression a mixture of shock and anguish. "He's dead," was all he said.
"What?" Nathan said.
He and Josiah rushed forward to join the blond. They knelt on the stone street, both checking for a pulse and failing to find one. Nathan moved to start CPR, Chris joining him.
"I'll call for help," Josiah said.
The Pink Sands Resort
Chris sat hunched over at the resort's poolside bar, nursing a beer, his gaze locked on the surf as rolled in along the beach. Josiah and Nathan sat with him, their expressions carefully neutral. The local police had arrived at the plaza and, after declaring Vin Tanner dead, had immediately set about determining whether or not the man was a victim of foul play. About an hour later they finally sent his body to the morgue.
The three Americans were then taken to the police station and questioned individually for another hour. After the interrogations, they were asked to provide a statement, then allowed to return to the resort.
"What happened?" Josiah finally asked.
Chris shook his head and shrugged weakly. "I— I don't know." He glanced around, making sure no one could overhear him. "We got to the plantation, swam around, then headed for the beach. Vin stayed there and I did the recon on the plantation house. I saw Castillo and his daughter. The house is guarded. I counted seven. Then I saw a guy come out and head toward the beach. I followed him. He and Vin had a run-in. The guy tossed something in Vin's face."
"What was it?" Nathan asked.
Larabee shrugged again. "I couldn't really see it. The guy had his back to me, but there was a fine red powder on Vin's face. He washed it off, but it gave him a headache, made him wobbly on his feet."
"Damn," Josiah sighed. "Maybe it was some kind of a poison. We have to get Castillo and his daughter out tonight."
"Nate?" a voice interrupted.
The three turned to find Dr. Blackmoon walking up to join them. "Dr. Blackmoon," Nathan greeted.
"Are you all right?" Blackmoon asked softly.
"I guess you heard what happened?" Josiah asked.
"Yes. I'm very sorry."
"Could you come up to the room?" Nathan asked. "We could really use the advice of a local right now."
"Of course," she replied.
Josiah nodded and stood. "Christopher, come with us. We'll try to figure out what the next steps are."
They entered the resort together, almost running into Buck, who had rushed into the lobby like a whirlwind, JD right behind him. He met Larabee's gaze and the blond immediately knew something was very wrong.
"Dr. Blackmoon," the ladies' man greeted as he hurried up to join them. "I have a few more questions for you."
"Now isn't a good time," the anthropologist said.
"Join us," Josiah offered. "I'll explain."
Buck nodded and fell in behind them, JD doing the same.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
"Is it true?" JD asked when they were inside the large suite Josiah and Nathan were sharing.
There was a knock at the door. Josiah opened it and Ezra slipped inside.
"I heard what happened," Ezra said. "I went to the morgue to—" He shook his head, took a deep breath and finished, "Mr. Tanner isn't there."
"What?" Chris demanded, stepping up to the younger man.
Ezra at the blond, meeting the man's demanding gaze. "He's gone," he said softly. He reached out and rested a comforting hand on the man's shoulder. "Someone took the body," he explained.
"Señora Alvorado," Dr. Blackmoon said softly.
The hunters turned to look at the woman, waiting for her to explain.
"That's why I came. I heard from an informant that Dominga is planning a white goat ceremony tonight."
"White goat?" Chris asked, his forehead creased in confusion.
"A ritual that includes a human sacrifice," Josiah explained.
"Vin's body?" Larabee asked, his expression one of clear disgust.
"Or it could be the Senator, or his daughter," Buck offered.
"I doubt that," Dr. Blackmoon said. "Each of them has value to Dominga, but your friend…"
"What happened?" Ezra asked.
"Vin just fell over dead," Nathan explained.
"Well," Ezra said, looking a little relieved, "we've seen that before, haven't we?"
"Was he exposed to any kind of a dust?" the older woman asked. "Or a strange drink?"
Chris nodded. "A red dust. At least I think it was dust, something that can be blown off of your hand. I saw a man blow in his face."
"He's not dead," Blackmoon assured them, relief washing over her expression. "That dust is used to simulate death."
"Then he might be this white goat?" Buck asked.
The anthropologist nodded. "If Dominga wanted to cement Senator Castillo's cooperation, she might bind him to her, or bind his daughter to her. In order to do that she'd have to have a human sacrifice. Your man would give her a considerable amount of power."
"We have to get back to that house," Chris said.
"That won't be a problem," the older woman said, reaching into her tote. She pulled out a folded piece of white paper and handed it to Larabee.
He opened the paper and read aloud, "Alexandra, you and your new friends are welcome to attend my party this evening. I think they will find it most interesting. Arrive by six pm. The Renyolds-Smyth Plantation."
"That bitch," Chris hissed, his eyes narrowing dangerously.
Dr. Blackmoon nodded. "It won't be easy. Dominga is very powerful. And no one there will do anything to help you. They will die for her if she asks them too."
"And we can't kill innocent people," Josiah stated.
JD's eyes flashed. "I'm not going to stand there and let her sacrifice Vin, either."
"Maybe we won't have to," Chris said. "Travis' friend left us plenty of goodies on the boat."
"You won't be able to get into Dominga's circle using guns," Dr. Blackmoon warned them.
"Doctor, with all due respect," Chris said, "we'll do whatever it takes to get Vin out of there."
"It would help if we could blend in somehow," Ezra added.
The anthropologist shook her head. "I'm afraid only Mr. Jackson could pull that off."
"Do you know where she might be holding the Senator and his daughter?" Josiah asked the older woman. "If we can get them out, that will give us more options."
Blackmoon thought a moment. "She'll hold the ritual in the main house. There will be about twenty to twenty-five locals who will attend. I'd guess she'd hold Castillo and his daughter in the old slave quarters until the time was right. She would appreciate the symbolism. Your man will be in the ballroom, or nearby, since they will have to prepare him before the ritual."
"Then we'll start in the slave quarters. Once we get Castillo and his daughter out, then we can look for Vin's body," Josiah decided.
"Believe me, he's not dead," Blackmoon assured them. She reached into her tote again, this time pulling out a small white leather bag. She handed it to Josiah. "You'll need to sprinkle the contents on his nose and mouth. He should wake up in a few minutes, but it'll take about ten minutes before he's truly conscious. And be careful, he'll be susceptible to Dominga's powers until he's fully awake."
"And how long will that be?" Chris asked.
"About an hour. Until then she will try to use him against you."
"Not likely," JD muttered.
The anthropologist shrugged as she reached up and removed the small brown-leather medicine bag she wore around her neck, handing it to Chris. "Believe whatever you like, but I've seen more rituals than I can even begin to count. I've seen what Dominga can do. Put this around his neck once you're sure he recognizes you; it should help protect him."
"What's this for?" Chris asked.
"Focus," was the less than forthcoming reply. "Please, don't treat Dominga lightly, or she will destroy you."
"We won't treat her lightly," Josiah promised. "But we have a job to do."
"And if she did kill Vin, she won't be leaving this island – ever," Chris said softly, his voice full of deadly threat and promise.
Josiah nodded. "First we get the Senator and his daughter out, then we find Vin. Last will be finding the source of Dominga's power and destroying it."
"And her," Buck added.
The others all nodded.
The Reynolds-Smyth Plantation
Dominga glanced up as Alexandra Blackmoon entered the ballroom, which was elaborately decorated for the ritual to come. Several people stood along the symbol-inscribed walls, their bodies swaying as they listened to the three men who beat out a soft, steady cadence on their drums. She smiled and swept over, the full white skirt she wore swirling around her legs like clouds.
"Ah, I see you arrived on time," she said as she reached the anthropologist. "And where are your new friends?"
Dr. Blackmoon did not return the woman's smile, nor did she accept Dominga's proffered hand. "I gave them directions. I'm sure they'll be along shortly."
The priestess laughed. "Oh, I am very sure they will." She reached out and fingered the new medicine bag the anthropologist wore around her neck. "Do you really believe that this can protect you from me?" she asked, amused.
Blackmoon stood her ground, her expression unruffled. "Yes, Dominga, I do. And so do you."
The priestess laughed again, but she released the medicine bag and took a step back. "Tonight I will show you just how powerful I have become, Alexandra."
Dr. Blackmoon smiled then. "You've picked the wrong victim this time, Dominga. They will destroy you."
Alvorado's eyes narrowed and her upper lip curled off her teeth. "They cannot stop me," she snarled. "I will not allow it. I will have my sacrifice, my American Senator, and my apprentice."
Blackmoon took a step closer to the priestess, her own anger flaring. "You will not have that child," she said softly.
"She is already mine," Dominga purred.
"If that were true, you wouldn't need the white goat," the anthropologist countered.
Dominga turned away. "We shall see."
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Josiah and Nathan crouched in the thick shadows of the trees and studied the old, vine-covered plantation home. Their trip to the house had taken all of seven minutes – once the two guards waiting for them on the beach had been dealt with. The mansion had been built around a central open quad that had once served as an inner courtyard. There were two breaks in the otherwise square structure, a stately archway at the front of the house that would have once admitted carriages, and, at the rear, one wing that was shorter than the others, leaving an opening for people and carriages to exit to the stables, which were behind the house. Dr. Blackmoon had explained that the shorter wing would be the quarters for those black slaves who worked in the house and the kitchen.
A moment later Buck and JD joined them. "Still seven guards, so maybe the two on the beach were new hires," the ladies' man said. "But there are a bunch of locals going into the house."
"At least twenty," JD confirmed. "But all the noise is coming from the west wing. Probably where the ballroom is," he finished said as Chris and Ezra came up to join them
"Ballroom?" Ezra asked.
"The Señora is going to need a large space for all those people, and most of these old plantation homes had a ballroom. If everyone's in the west wing, that's probably where it is."
"How'd you know that?" Buck asked the younger man.
"I read the tourist information," was his reply, accompanied by an eye-roll.
Chris' gaze lingered on the armed guards, his thoughts focused on how they were safely going to enter the slave quarters. When he had made up his mind, he turned to the others and explained his plan.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
It was getting dark as they approached the building. They pressed up against the wall, waiting for the guard who would eventually round the corner on his usual rounds. He did, and Chris quickly grabbed him.
Buck punched the man in the face three times, so quickly the guard had no chance to duck or fight. He slumped back against Larabee.
"Where is the American and his daughter?" Josiah asked softly in Spanish.
The man shook his head.
Buck kicked the man in the crotch and he gurgled in pain and terror. This time when Josiah asked him again, he replied in a low fear-filled voice.
"The Senator and Rosella are here," Josiah translated. "Second floor, the third room from this end. There's another guard in the room with them."
JD raised the dart gun he was holding and shot the guard in the neck. A moment later the man was unconscious and Buck and Chris dragged him into the trees that had begun to reclaim the stable area behind the house.
Nathan checked around the edge of the building, getting a good look at the large, grassy courtyard, in the center of which sat a large, gurgling fountain. Another guard stood at the edge, staring down into the water while he smoked a cigarette. He raised his gun and fired. The man took a step back, then fell over onto the grass. JD and Ezra hurried out and grabbed the man's legs, pulling him over into the tangle of white flowers that grew in beds along the inside walls.
Chris led the way up the outside stairs to the second floor of the slave quarters. They had to move quickly; they were in the open.
They reached the third room. Chris and Buck kicked the door in at the same time. Josiah and Nathan moved in, both firing at the single guard, who went down with a double dose of the tranquilizer. Rosella squealed, but her father hugged her close, muffling most of the child's cry.
Josiah silently thanked Travis' CIA friend for including the non-lethal dart guns among the "goodies" stowed on the cabin cruiser. Three of the seven guards were already dispatched, leaving only four between them and Vin. "Senator, are you all right?" he asked.
Castillo nodded. "American?"
"Yes. Friends of Orin Travis."
"Okay," Chris said to the others, "let's move back to the south corner."
Less than two minutes later the hunters and Castillo, who was carrying his daughter, reached the corner of the building and slipped around it to reach the stable side.
"I don't know who you are, but thank you," the Senator said.
"Save that for when we get you and your daughter safely out of here, Senator," Josiah said, his gaze sweeping the grounds for any signs of trouble.
Surrounding the man and his child, the hunters quickly moved back into the trees. There they waited several minutes to see if any alarm would be raised. There was nothing.
Chris turned to Buck and JD. "I want you two to get the Senator and his daughter back to the boat and stand by."
"Chris—" the ladies' man began to argue.
Larabee cut him off. "They're the priority. Go."
Buck was unhappy, but he knew Chris' reasons – the blond was pissed. Alvorado had made it personal, and not just for Larabee, but Chris was closest to the younger man, and he'd been the one with Tanner when he'd gone down. He nodded. "C'mon, JD."
The others waited until the two hunters and the hostages had a large enough head start to reach the boat ahead of any guards, then Chris signaled for the others to follow him.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Dr. Blackmoon watched as the ritual began. Dominga was in her element, moving through the gathered men and women like some supernatural specter, dancing and chanting, calling the spirits she desired to help her. The drummers maintained a steady, pounding rhythm that heightened the frenetic energy building in the old ballroom. The priestess was slowly making her way toward a set of large doors that closed the ballroom off from what lay beyond, and the anthropologist had a pretty good idea about what was waiting in what was probably an old dining room – Vin Tanner.
She guessed that Dominga had set up her second alter in the dining room, and the man was already there, unconscious and decorated for the sacrifice. But Castillo and his daughter would have to be present before she could make her sacrifice and, with luck, the other hunters had already freed the Senator and moved him and his child to a safe location where they could be picked up and returned to the U.S. Dominga wasn't going to be happy about that, but her arrogance had grown to such proportions that she had become blind to the truth. Her own sense of superiority was finally going to be her undoing, and Blackmoon found that she couldn't even work up a tiny bit of remorse. Dominga Alvorado had terrorized the people of this island long enough.
Taking a deep breath, Dr. Blackmoon moved slowly toward the closed doors, hoping to be close by when the others rescued their friend. Dominga might be destined to fail this night, but she was still a dangerous force to be reckoned with, especially if her power was being funneled from a bound demon.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Larabee and the others returned to the slave quarters, moving quickly along the outside of the building toward the west wing. They went up an external stairway to the second floor, entering the building. They proceeded down the hallway, checking the rooms they found one by one and finding no one. Loud drumming came from the far end of the hall.
At an intersecting hallway they stopped. Chris leaned forward, getting a quick look down the second hall. There were two more guards headed their direction. Both had rifles, which they had slung over their shoulders, the muzzles down. He signaled the others.
When the men rounded the corner they were immediately hit by darts. One of the men was struck in the neck and went down without a murmur. The second was caught in the shoulder. He staggered back and tried to lift his rifle. Both Nathan and Ezra got off a second dart, and the man went down.
Chris checked the hallway again. He saw no more guards and nodded.
Josiah covered them as Chris and Ezra slipped into the next room. He could hear the soft chants of the islanders escalate in a nearby room. They had to be getting close. He heard Chris announce "Clear," then, "Josiah, get in here," through his ear mike.
Sanchez stepped into the room and closed the door. He turned, his eyes going wide. Lying on a makeshift altar was Vin. He was bound at the wrists and ankles, and naked except for a very long, strategically draped white cloth. His skin had been painted with strange twisting symbols in black, red, and yellow that spread out from his chest and twined down his arms and legs. Similar, but smaller designs, were painted on his neck, curling up over his jaw to splay out across his cheeks. His closed eyes had been painted with black circles that were ringed with white, giving his face a macabre, skull-like look.
"I hate to say it, but there's something pleasingly aesthetic about this," Ezra said, staring down at the man's draped body.
Nathan shot him a questioning gaze, but wisely didn't comment. He checked the sniper, saying softly, "He's not breathing, and I can't find a pulse."
Josiah moved over to the altar and pulled the small leather bag Dr. Blackmoon had given them out of his pocket. He handed it to Chris. "Here, pour this over his mouth and nose."
Larabee accepted the bag.
"You really think this is going to work?" Ezra asked.
Larabee shrugged. "I hope it does."
"Me, too," he replied.
Chris pulled open the bag and sprinkled the fine white powder over Vin's nose and mouth.
The pounding drums grew louder as they waited for one, then two, and then three minutes to pass. The apparent corpse sucked in a sharp breath and moaned.
All four hunters took an involuntary step back from the altar.
It was Chris who moved first to Tanner's side when the man's eyes fluttered sluggishly open. "Vin," he said softly.
Blue eyes blinked owlishly, but Tanner didn't speak, or focus on Larabee.
Chris reached out and gripped the man's shoulder, giving him a gentle shake. "Vin," he repeated, "can you hear me?"
The unseeing eyes continued to look past Larabee, focusing instead on the far corner of the room. Without thinking Chris glanced over his shoulder to see what the man was looking at. There was nothing there. He turned back to his friend and quickly found himself lost in the designs painted on the man's chest. Then the patterns seemingly began to move in time with the drumbeats echoing through the walls. He blinked several times and forced himself to look away.
"Vin," he tried again, shaking the man a little harder this time.
"Chris?" was the barely audible reply.
"Easy," Larabee soothed. "Do you know where you are?"
The hunter glanced around, then shook his head.
"Señora Alvorado's house," Chris explained. "You know who we are?"
"Hell, yeah," the man replied, his voice sounding as dry as old leaves. "Get me loose."
Chris grinned. "Glad to hear it," he said as he started to work on the leather restraints that trapped Tanner's wrists.
Josiah stepped up and began working on the restraints at the man's ankles while Nathan and Ezra stood guard. As soon as they had Vin free, the pair helped him to sit up.
Tanner sat, his fingers curling tightly over the edge of the altar until the vertigo fell off to a tolerable level. He swallowed, then forced himself to stand. He grabbed for the white cloth as it started to slip away, holding it in place to cover himself, realizing for the first time that he was naked. "What the hell happened t' me?" he asked, staring down at his painted body.
"You were dead," Ezra informed him matter-of-factly.
"I'll explain later," Chris said, moving over to the large double doors where Standish now stood.
"Sounds like she's getting ready to unveil her sacrifice," Ezra said. "She's gotten them worked up into a real fever."
"Sacrifice?" Vin echoed, looking confused and unsteady on his feet.
"Here," Josiah said, tossing Chris the second medicine bag Dr. Blackmoon had given them.
Chris caught the small leather bag in one hand. "Yeah, you were voted white goat most likely to win her a U.S. Senator." He quickly slipped the bag over Vin's head.
"Thanks," he said, "but I'd rather have a pair 'a pants."
Larabee grinned. "I'll bet you do."
Tanner muttered something to himself, then turned away so he could use the long piece of white cloth to fashion himself a breechclout.
"Not bad," Chris teased when he turned back around.
"You feeling okay?" Josiah asked, handing Vin a loaded dart gun.
He nodded. "Just don't ask me t' run more 'n a few miles."
Chris grinned. "Let's get the hell out of here. There should be two more guards somewhere, and a shitload of civilians. Let's see if we can't avoid—"
The doors flew open and they were looking into the angry amber-gray eyes of Dominga Alvorado.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Dominga knew her enemies were in the next room; she could feel their energy. They had revived their fallen companion, but they would never leave the house; she had a demon, after all.
She looked at one of the guards who waited by the double doors. "Get Castillo," she said.
He nodded and left. Three minutes later he was back, his eyes wide, sweat beaded across his upper lip. "The American and his child are gone," he stuttered.
"Fools!" Dominga hissed. She stepped to the edge of the circle she had created and, drawing energy from the demon she commanded, waved her hand, throwing open the double doors.
Vin stood closest to the priestess, Chris and Ezra just behind him and to the left. Nathan and Josiah were just behind the sniper on the right. The assembled guests gasped when they saw the Señora's sacrifice on his feet, his blue eyes shining like angry gems inside the black circles painted around his eyes.
Dominga stepped forward, her arms rising above her head. She had a machete in her right hand, its edge black with blood from her first sacrifice. "Come, enter my circle, cabra blanca," she said, gray-amber eyes sparkling with delight.
Tanner took an involuntary step closer, then stopped. He looked down. There was a dead white goat lying at her feet, three headless white chickens next to it. He knew if he stepped into the room, he would die as well.
"Come to me," Dominga commanded, using the demon's energy to compel the hunter.
Chris raised his weapon and fired at a guard who stepped into the dining room, his rifle beginning to come up. The man went down in a heap on the floor. Then his attention shifted back to Alvorado. Even months later, Larabee wouldn't really absolutely sure he saw what happened next.
In the ballroom, a circle of dancing white flames sprang up. Dominga Alvorado stood just inside the writhing spectacle, her dress made up of the same white flames. Chris knew that the room had to be full of the same spectators who had just reacted when they saw Vin, but now all he could see was the priestess and Tanner.
"Come to me," the woman ordered a second time, and this time a swirl of black undulated through the white flames.
Vin drew himself up and took a lumbering step closer to the white flames, the dart gun slipping from his fingers. "Chris," he gasped, "get outta here."
"Not without you," Larabee replied.
"Get out – now!" Tanner commanded, honest fear in his voice.
"The Senator thinks he is safe," Dominga hissed at them, "but I will show him. I will show all of you! I can reach out and steal his child from him from here!" She bent and grabbed one of the goat's horns, jerking its head up. The machete was still poised to strike.
"No!" Vin snapped, taking another lurching step closer to the flames.
Chris wanted to reach out and grab the man's arm, but he couldn't move. He did manage to turn his head slightly, though, finding the others also rooted in place in the old dining room.
Dominga looked up, meeting Tanner's eyes, triumph in her eyes. "I will spare the child if you come to me," she purred. "Do you have children, mio? Imagine how you would feel if your youngest child were stripped from you… Come to me, and I will spare the little girl."
"Y' ain't gonna hurt that girl!" thundered Tanner, his body jerking, his back arching as his wings broke free from his back and spread wide.
Chris jerked, reeling as he was struck by a shock of energy. His heart pounded in his chest. They were in deep, and it wasn't the kind of trouble their weapons were going to get them out of.
Tanner strode forward, his gold edged white wings flaring from wall to wall.
"No!" Blackmoon called to Vin. "If you step into the circle, she will allow the child to live, but she will still be Dominga's to command. You will sacrifice yourself for nothing!"
"Do not interfere, Alexandra!" the priestess screeched.
Vin ignored Blackmoon's words as well, drawing his wings in to clear the double doors and stepping through the flames. In the room screams erupted as the spectators stampeded from the space.
"You are more than I imagined," Dominga purred, moving around Tanner, the swirl of black following her.
"Lady," Vin snapped, "me an' m' friends are leavin'."
"No," Dominga replied, shaking her head, her mouth watering with the thought of the power she might soon control. "You will belong to me, mio."
"I don't belong t' anyone," Tanner hissed, his wings drawing back as if they might strike the priestess.
"Many people fear me," Dominga hissed, her eyes narrowing, "you should be one of them, nephilim." She let the goat fall to the floor and swung the machete at the hunter, but it stopped as soon as it touched Tanner's throat. "No!" the priestess screamed in frustration. She reached for the demon's energy, drawing all she could to her will.
Chris and the others gasped as the designs on Vin's body began to move, undulating and contorting across his skin like they were living things.
Vin threw his head back and cried out, a searing white-hot pain burning along every nerve in his body. Inky blackness swirled around his body, then shot to Dominga, shaping itself around her so she appeared to have wings and horns – the essence of the demon she was draining to try to defeat him.
Vin's body jerked like he was being beaten, but he managed to take two lumbering steps closer to the woman.
Dominga began to chant. The scent of cloves rose, making the air thick and hard to breath.
Josiah and the others felt a second rush of power wash over them, lingering like an electric current running over their bodies, and their skins ached with it.
"You are mine, mio," she hissed. "You, my nephilim, will submit to me. My power—"
"Yer wrong," Vin said, his hands rising from his sides as they began to glow.
Dominga's eyes rounded with surprise. "No!" she cried. "Kill him!"
The black smoke flew into a single point, and less than a second later the demon flew forward toward Vin.
Tanner threw two glowing balls of energy at the demon, which exploded in a rain of ashes and an overpowering stench that had the other hunters gagging.
Vin glared at the priestess.
Dominga fell to her knees, her beauty melting away, revealing her as a woman near Blackmoon's age. "No!" she cried. "How?" Then she screamed and threw all of her power at Vin, intending to kill him.
For the hunters, time and movement both seemed to slow. Chris felt the power swell around them, pushing out to meet that coming from the priestess. The white flames shot higher, obscuring the woman until they fell back lower than they had been. Dominga screamed, summoning her power again and pushing back at Vin.
"Impossible!" she shrieked. She was losing.
Larabee felt the power holding him evaporate. He stumbled forward. It felt like he'd been frozen in a block of ice and he shivered. He reached Vin a moment before the others did. Reaching out, he grabbed the man's shoulder. An electric-like energy jolting through him, making the hairs on his arms stand on end, but now the power he felt was more welcoming.
With his free hand, Vin reached out and grabbed Chris' shoulder. Larabee, in turn, felt Josiah and Nathan rest their hands on his own shoulder. Ezra did the same, creating a solid wall of resistance.
For a moment it felt as if like they had stepped out into the full force of a raging hurricane. Chris closed his eyes, then forced them open when Vin's body quaked under his hand. The painted designs were still moving, this time slipping off his body, curling around their necks. Suddenly, the blond was choking, and he could hear the others gasping as well.
"No!" Vin roared. "Y' won't hurt 'em!"
Chris felt the vice squeezing his throat closed loosen. He sucked in a deep breath, Josiah, Nathan, and Ezra doing the same. Larabee looked at Vin and swore. The painted designs were swirling over Tanner's body again, but then they lifted free of his skin, floating in the air around him.
"You will all die!"
A moment later the designs drove back into Vin's body and slid along his skin, raising long red welts.
Tanner growled low in his chest and Chris felt the sound vibrate through him like it a note being played on some giant violin. The designs, swirling now like tendrils of multi-colored fog, lifted away from Tanner again and moved toward the priestess.
Dominga's eyes rounded in surprise and fear. "No!" she screamed. "It is not possible for a nephilim!"
"Ain't a nephilim y' bitch."
The twisting fog of color and design that circled Vin suddenly shot forward, wrapping around Alvorado. She jerked and convulsed like she was being electrocuted. A moment later she was lying on the floor, her white dress stained red with blood.
Chris sucked in a sharp breath as the white flames disappeared and the world returned to normal in a rush that nearly took his breath away. The guests stood at the edges of the ballroom, staring down at the lifeless body of their priestess. Dominga was dead, her eyes still wide open, her lips curled back off her teeth in a silent scream. Her chest had been ripped open and her heart was nothing but a smoldering bit of flesh in the gaping wound.
Vin's wings stretched fully open and he looked around at the people who cowered before him. "Go home," he told them, and they left as quickly as they could. The wings folded in, then disappeared. Vin dropped to his hands and knees, waiting for the world to stop spinning. His skin was completely clean.
The four hunters moved to Vin's side, helping the man to stand.
"Are you all right?" Chris asked.
Dr. Blackmoon waited until they had Vin back on his feet, then walked over to join them and said, "Amazing."
Vin slipped the medicine bag off his head and handed it back to her. "Think this is yours," he said, his hand shaking slightly.
"Yes, but you never needed it. I had no idea… you're no nephilim."
"Most 'a the time I'm… normal," Vin told her. "Other times…"
"Not so much," Chris finished for him.
She nodded and took the medicine bag and walked over to Dominga's body. Opening it up, she poured the contents over the priestess's body. "Do not linger, Dominga," she said softly. "Move on now to the next world where you will face your judgment."
When she was finished, she turned and looked at Vin. "Whatever you are, I'm glad for it."
Vin nodded silently.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
When they reached the beach, Buck and JD were there to greet them. "We was just on my way back to find you," the ladies' man said worriedly.
"The Senator?" Josiah asked.
"He and his daughter are fine. They're on the boat," JD explained.
Chris turned to Vin. "You up for a short swim?"
Tanner started to nod, then his eyes rolled up and he collapsed onto the sand.
"Is he dead again?" Ezra asked.
Buck and JD both hit him.
"What?! It's a reasonable question!"
"He just passed out," Dr. Blackmoon said, kneeling beside Chris as he checked for a pulse, this time finding a strong, steady one. "He'll slip in and out like that for about twelve hours. It's best if you can get him into bed and keep him there."
"Not likely," Larabee replied, "but we can try." He looked up, meeting her gaze. "Thank you."
The older woman smiled. "You're very welcome, but you really didn't need my help."
"We did," Chris told her. "We did."
Josiah knelt next to Vin as the younger man opened his eyes again. "Hey, you okay?"
"Never better," Tanner groaned. "Feel like I've got the mother 'a all hangovers… an' I didn't even have a drink."
"You sure?" Buck asked. "That's one hell of a costume you've got on."
"Somebody forgot m' pants."
"Come on," Nathan said, "let's get you back to the boat so you can get some rest."
Vin looked from Josiah to Chris, his eyes sparkling with amusement. "Y' gonna find me a pretty little nurse?"
"Maybe," Chris replied. "But only if your prescription calls for a swift kick in the butt."
"Pass," Tanner said, climbing to his feet with help from the two men.
"What happened back there?" JD asked.
"Vin went a little Old Testament on them," Josiah replied.
"Can't wait to hear this one," Buck said.
"Of course, considering that Mr. Tanner was dead for most of it…" Ezra held his arms in front of him and stalked off moaning, doing a passable imitation of a zombie.
The Strays B&B
Four Corners, CO
Three days later
Ezra stretched and yawned, then stood and walked over to turn the television off.
"They got it wrong, all wrong," he muttered as he stabbed the power button on the cable box, cutting short the credits on the classic zombie movie. "I'm going to bed, Josiah," he called to Sanchez, who was sitting at his desk, trying to get caught up with the accounting.
"Okay, good night," Josiah called back.
Standish turned around and jumped when he almost ran right into Vin. "Damnation!" he gasped. "Warn a body, would you?"
Vin just groaned and stared, unblinking, into the man's green eyes.
"Mr. Tanner?" Ezra asked, his voice clearly worried. He took a step back. "Josiah!"
Tanner moaned and took a step forward, rolling his eyes.
Ezra stepped back and bolted for the door. "Not funny, Mr. Tanner!" he called back, then disappeared out of the library.
Vin heard Josiah chuckle. "Evenin', J'siah," he said.
"How long to do plan on terrorizing Ezra?"
Vin shrugged, "Oh, another day or two, I reckon."
Josiah shook his head. "Buy you a beer?"
They walked to the kitchen and the older man fished two bottles out of the refrigerator. He handed one to Vin, saying, "Honestly, how are you doing?"
"Fine," Tanner replied. "Nathan even says I'm good t' go."
"And what do you say?"
"I say I feel fine, an' the dreams ain't too bad. Not much else t' say. I don't rightly know what happened, just know it did."
"The wings…" Josiah shook his head. "It's a little overwhelming."
"Too freakin' weird for a country boy like me," Vin agreed nodding.
Josiah leaned back against the counter and took a swallow before he said, "Vin, why do I have a feeling you're holding out on me?"
Vin grinned. "Well, Boss, it's like this… there ain't a small town in Texas that don't have its ghosts an' goblins."
"Demons and Angels, too?"
Tanner shrugged again. "Reckon."
"I'd like to hear more about it sometime; when you're ready."
Vin nodded and offered Josiah a shy grin. "Some time… after a few more 'a these." He held his bottle up to toast Sanchez.
"It's a date."
"Hell," Vin replied, "in that case I'd rather tell one 'a Buck's 'friends.'"
Josiah laughed. "Well, you know Buck… man's always looking to share."
Vin held up his hands. "No, thanks." He sobered. "Seriously, Josiah, I'm happy t' tell y' what I know, just not sure it's as much as you want."
Sanchez nodded. "Maybe. Maybe not. It's just that I've been tacking signs, Vin, and they're pointing in some ugly directions. I'd like to know where I stand when it comes to…"
"Weapons?" Vin offered.
"You know you're more than that to us," Josiah replied, his tone hurt. "But, yes, it a sense it's true. I just have a feeling things are going to go from bad to worse before it's over."
Vin nodded. "Reckon you might be right. Tomorrow, get the rest 'a 'em together and I'll tall y'all what I know, but I'm tellin' y', it's not that much."
"Anything is better than nothing."
 For those who haven't read any of the earlier stories in this AU, you need to know that Vin is a Champion – a planned angel/human hybrid – in this case the Archangel Michael's son, whose true purpose is unknown at this time. This is set during season one/two of Supernatural.
 See the story "Truth Unfurled."